Saturday, July 25, 2009

Settlers' Spin

The Israeli settlement issue has been dominating the headlines in both Arab and Israeli media. It has also been the single biggest source of friction between the United States and Israel since Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel's prime minister in March.
The Israeli Haaretz newspaper reported that the Obama Administration has issued a stiff warning to Israel not to build in the area known as E-1, which lies between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. Any change in the status quo in E-1 would be "extremely damaging", even "corrosive", the message said. Four years ago, after resigning from Sharon's government, Netanyahu criticized him for giving in to American pressure on E-1. "A sovereign government must build in its eternal capital," he said. "Sharon set a precedent that will lead to the division of Jerusalem."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Europe & Islamophobia

ISLAMOPHOBIA has taken a range of forms in Europe, including the more traditional types of socio-economic discrimination and racist attacks historically suffered by other ethnic minorities. In recent years many high-profile incidents from across Western Europe have exemplified this trend:

-The 2005 publication in a Danish newspaper a cartoon portraying the Prophet Mohammad as a terrorist leading to riots across the Muslim world.
- The online release by Dutch right-wing politician of the movie Fitna, which directly links Islam with terrorism.

- The banning in French schools of the Islamic hijab and the debates which are raging throughout Europe over the right to build mosques.

Add to these examples two major new issues I observed on a recent trip I made to France:

The first one:

"The martyr of the hijab" is what Egyptians are now calling Marwa al-Sherbini. The 31-year-old veiled Egyptian who was fatally stabbed in court by a German man identified only as Axel W, who had been prosecuted for calling her a terrorist (among other things) while she was playing with her three-year-old son in a park. When Marwa's body was interred in Cairo, thousands of angry Egyptians attended her wake, some of them chanting: "There is no God but God and the Germans are the enemies of God."

The case has sparked anger in the Arab world and Egypt in particular for its perceived under-reporting in the western media and a belief that the attack, described by German authorities as an isolated one perpetrated by a "lone wolf", is the culmination of consistent nurturing and legitimization of Islamophobia in Europe.

Bloggers and commentators have played the "what if" game, reversing the race and nationality of the victim and attacker in order to highlight the muted response from Germans and Europeans more generally. The murder of Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist in 2004, has been invoked as an example of the unequal value attached to the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims.

The second example is the Burqa Controversy:

Marwa's killing has occurred against the backdrop of President Sarkozy's recent comments on the burqa saying that burqas imprison women and would not be tolerated in France. In a speech at the Palace of Versailles, Mr. Sarkozy said that the head-to-toe Islamic garment for women, the burqa, “is not a sign of religion”, but rather “a sign of subservience.”

Human Rights Watch, and several Muslim groups and clerics have criticized the ban and asked Sarkozy to reconsider his statements citing that the proposal "stigmatized" Islam.

Many French Muslims believe that by framing the wearing of burqas and other body veils under the guise of showing concern for women’s rights, Sarkozy has also found a roundabout way of targeting Muslim women and putting them in the human rights’ defendant’s seat, engendering another religious debate. The number of French Muslim women who wear the burqa is minuscule, and one would have to go out of his way to visit les banlieues (Paris’s poor suburbs) to spot one or two. So why is Sarkozy proposing the ban and stirring all these emotions?

Critics to Sarkozy’s proposal claim that he deliberately initiated a burqa polemic to distract from his low approval rating of 32 percent down from 60 percent for the six months following his election. The burqa is Sarkozy’s nationalistic prop, and its emotional appeal temporally outweighs his unfulfilled promises on such issues as guaranteeing workers five weeks of paid leave annually and the 35-hour workweek which Sarkozy had to get rid of once the economy started to sink. All the while maintaining a flashy lifestyle, which have earned him the title, “le Président Bling-Bling.”

Many European Muslims believe that Europe is in the grip of an anti-Islamic bias that is becoming institutionalized in the continent’s otherwise ordinary politics. In the UK, a research report published by the Institute of Race Relations argued that Islamophobia is hindering efforts to integrate Muslims into European societies.

Follow Jamal Dajani on Twitter:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sarkozy Hiding Behind the Burqa

PARIS- It's been almost three weeks since French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that burqas imprison women and would not be tolerated in France. In a speech at the Palace of Versailles, Mr. Sarkozy said that the head-to-toe Islamic garment for women, the burqa, "is not a sign of religion", but rather "a sign of subservience."

The burqa is the most concealing of all Islamic veils as it covers the entire face and body, leaving only a mesh screen to see through. It should not be confused with the niqab which is a face veil that sometimes leaves the eyes clear and is sometimes worn with a separate eye veil.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Letter from an Israeli Jail

By Cynthia McKinney

This is Cynthia McKinney and I’m speaking from an Israeli prison cellblock in Ramle. [I am one of] the Free Gaza 21, human rights activists currently imprisoned for trying to take medical supplies to Gaza, building supplies - and even crayons for children, I had a suitcase full of crayons for children. While we were on our way to Gaza the Israelis threatened to fire on our boat, but we did not turn around. The Israelis high-jacked and arrested us because we wanted to give crayons to the children in Gaza. We have been detained, and we want the people of the world to see how we have been treated just because we wanted to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.

At the outbreak of Israel’s Operation ‘Cast Lead’ [in December 2008], I boarded a Free Gaza boat with one day’s notice and tried, as the US representative in a multi-national delegation, to deliver 3 tons of medical supplies to an already besieged and ravaged Gaza.

During Operation Cast Lead, U.S.-supplied F-16’s rained hellfire on a trapped people. Ethnic cleansing became full scale outright genocide. U.S.-supplied white phosphorus, depleted uranium, robotic technology, DIME weapons, and cluster bombs - new weapons creating injuries never treated before by Jordanian and Norwegian doctors. I was later told by doctors who were there in Gaza during Israel’s onslaught that Gaza had become Israel’s veritable weapons testing laboratory, people used to test and improve the kill ratio of their weapons.

The world saw Israel’s despicable violence thanks to al-Jazeera Arabic and Press TV that broadcast in English. I saw those broadcasts live and around the clock, not from the USA but from Lebanon, where my first attempt to get into Gaza had ended because the Israeli military rammed the boat I was on in international water ... It’s a miracle that I’m even here to write about my second encounter with the Israeli military, again a humanitarian mission aborted by the Israeli military.

The Israeli authorities have tried to get us to confess that we committed a crime ... I am now known as Israeli prisoner number 88794. How can I be in prison for collecting crayons to kids?

Zionism has surely run out of its last legitimacy if this is what it does to people who believe so deeply in human rights for all that they put their own lives on the line for someone else’s children. Israel is the fullest expression of Zionism, but if Israel fears for its security because Gaza’s children have crayons then not only has Israel lost its last shred of legitimacy, but Israel must be declared a failed state.

I am facing deportation from the state that brought me here at gunpoint after commandeering our boat. I was brought to Israel against my will. I am being held in this prison because I had a dream that Gaza’s children could color & paint, that Gaza’s wounded could be healed, and that Gaza’s bombed-out houses could be rebuilt.

But I’ve learned an interesting thing by being inside this prison. First of all, it’s incredibly black: populated mostly by Ethiopians who also had a dream ... like my cellmates, one who is pregnant. They are all are in their twenties. They thought they were coming to the Holy Land. They had a dream that their lives would be better ... The once proud, never colonized Ethiopia [has been thrown into] the back pocket of the United States, and become a place of torture, rendition, and occupation. Ethiopians must free their country because superpower politics [have] become more important than human rights and self-determination.

My cellmates came to the Holy Land so they could be free from the exigencies of superpower politics. They committed no crime except to have a dream. They came to Israel because they thought that Israel held promise for them. Their journey to Israel through Sudan and Egypt was arduous. I can only imagine what it must have been like for them. And it wasn’t cheap. Many of them represent their family’s best collective efforts for self-fulfilment. They made their way to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They got their yellow paper of identification. They got their certificate for police protection. They are refugees from tragedy, and they made it to Israel only after they arrived Israel told them “there is no UN in Israel.”

The police here have license to pick them up & suck them into the black hole of a farce for a justice system. These beautiful, industrious and proud women represent the hopes of entire families. The idea of Israel tricked them and the rest of us. In a widely propagandized slick marketing campaign, Israel represented itself as a place of refuge and safety for the world’s first Jews and Christian. I too believed that marketing and failed to look deeper.

The truth is that Israel lied to the world. Israel lied to the families of these young women. Israel lied to the women themselves who are now trapped in Ramle’s detention facility. And what are we to do? One of my cellmates cried today. She has been here for 6 months. As an American, crying with them is not enough. The policy of the United States must be better, and while we watch President Obama give 12.8 trillion dollars to the financial elite of the United States it ought now be clear that hope, change, and ‘yes we can’ were powerfully presented images of dignity and self-fulfilment, individually and nationally, that besieged people everywhere truly believed in.

It was a slick marketing campaign as slickly put to the world and to the voters of America as was Israel’s marketing to the world. It tricked all of us but, more tragically, these young women.

We must cast an informed vote about better candidates seeking to represent us. I have read and re-read Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s letter from a Birmingham jail. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that I too would one day have to do so. It is clear that taxpayers in Europe and the U.S. have a lot to atone for, for what they’ve done to others around the world.

What an irony! My son begins his law school program without me because I am in prison, in my own way trying to do my best, again, for other people’s children. Forgive me, my son. I guess I’m experiencing the harsh reality which is why people need dreams. [But] I’m lucky. I will leave this place. Has Israel become the place where dreams die?

Ask the people of Palestine. Ask the stream of black and Asian men whom I see being processed at Ramle. Ask the women on my cellblock. [Ask yourself:] what are you willing to do?

Let’s change the world together & reclaim what we all need as human beings: Dignity. I appeal to the United Nations to get these women of Ramle, who have done nothing wrong other than to believe in Israel as the guardian of the Holy Land, resettled in safe homes. I appeal to the United State’s Department of State to include the plight of detained UNHCR-certified refugees in the Israel country report in its annual human rights report. I appeal once again to President Obama to go to Gaza: send your special envoy, George Mitchell there, and to engage Hamas as the elected choice of the Palestinian people.

I dedicate this message to those who struggle to achieve a free Palestine, and to the women I’ve met at Ramle. This is Cynthia McKinney, July 2nd 2009, also known as Ramle prisoner number 88794.

Cynthia McKinney is a former U.S. Congresswoman, Green Party presidential candidate, and an outspoken advocate for human rights and social justice. The first African-American woman to represent the state of Georgia, McKinney served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1993-2003, and from 2005-2007.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Selling Confidence in Iraq

As Iraqi forces took control of towns and cities across the country on June 30, a car bomb in the northern city of Kirkuk exploded, killing at least 33 people and injuring more than 100, serving as a grim reminder of the security challenges that Iraqis face following US troop pullout. Kirkuk was also the scene of two suicide bombings last month in which 14 people were killed. It is the center of northern Iraq's oil industry and home to a volatile mix of Kurds, Arabs, Christians and members of the Turkmen community.

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