Posts Tagged third worldism

The real crisis is the America-centric Zionism

Jordan Chandler Hirsch has given the best review that I have seen yet of Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism (UPDATE: except this one) (disclaimer: I have not read the book myself). For those who don’t follow these things, for the past couple of years, Beinart has been trying to pioneer some new form of “liberal Zionism” that, for reasons explained below, I find deeply flawed.

Before I get into that, I would just like to highlight one important point that Beinart has backtracked on. In the New York Review of Books essay with which Beinart originally launched his campaign, he had a premise that was very popular with quite a few of the Jews who were inclined to agree with his position anyway (hi Liam): that the reason American Jews have become increasingly alienated towards Israel is that they cannot “blindly support” Israel the way AIPAC does (which AIPAC doesn’t actually do).

This is understandably an attractive prospect for Beinart and his followers — who wouldn’t want to believe that everyone naturally agrees with them and if only the establishment were different, they would be super popular. Unfortunately for Beinart (and Liam), this assumption is not grounded in reality.  He has since been proven wrong and quietly moved away from this position:

Diaspora Divided > Jewish Review of Books.

Beinart—though he doesn’t explicitly admit to it—largely walks back his theory of political distancing in The Crisis of Zionism. In fact, in direct contradiction to his article in The New York Review of Books, he endorses Cohen’s argument that, for the vast majority of American Jews whose ties to Israel are weakening, intermarriage is a more important factor than politics. Noting that the intermarriage rate among Jews today is “roughly 50 percent,” Beinart admits “the harsh truth is that for many young, non-Orthodox American Jews, Israel isn’t that important because being Jewish isn’t that important.” Later, he states, quite rightly, “it would be wrong to imagine that young, secular American Jews seethe with outrage at Israel’s policies.” “For the most part,” he writes, “they do not care enough to seethe.”

Hirsch goes on to explain the important flaws in Beinart’s thesis. He more-or-less describes my point of view as well: rather than addressing the problem, Beinart is just presenting Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Roxon right on Sharia

I have to confess to being a little underwhelmed when I heard that Nicola Roxon had been appointed Attorney-General instead of Robert McClelland – a solid if unremarkable A-G. This, of course, is the same Nicola Roxon who, as then health minister, once referred to herself as “Nanny Nicola”. From what I could tell, she was definitely cast from my least favourite political mould – the “I know what’s best for you and I’m going to make sure you do that whether you want to or not” kind of politician. I am a big boy now, thanks, and I very much resent this attitude.

That said, it seems I may have underestimated Ms Roxon to a degree. I was very happy to read this headline over the weekend:

Roxon baulks at role for sharia by Australian Muslims | The Australian.

“There is no place for sharia law in Australian society and the government strongly rejects any proposal for its introduction, including in relation to wills and succession,” Ms Roxon said.

“The Australian government is committed to protecting the right of all people to practise their religion without intimidation or harassment, but always within the framework of Australian law.”

Note: I will forgive Roxon this, but “sharia” means “Islamic law” – calling it “sharia law” is a tautology.

Roxon was speaking in the context of a woman who wanted to obey the “sharia” with regards to inheritance for her children, which means that her sons inherit double the share inherited by their sister. It is very important to be aware of these kinds of rules within sharia, because many people from Roxon’s side of politics will defend the right of Muslims to their own sharia courts on the basis of moral relativity in various guises, such as “ethnic diversity” or “cultural sensitivity”.

The inheritance law is not the only aspect of family sharia that is inimical to Australia’s (and the West’s) values. For instance, as anyone who has seen Academy Award-winning Iranian film A Separation will know, sharia also mandates that in a divorce, the husband has the right to decide: a) if his wife is even permitted to divorce him and b) who keeps the children. Note that this is not dissimilar form the Orthodox Jewish concept of a “Get” – one that I strongly oppose and one that most Orthodox communities try desperately to find loopholes around (such as effectively excommunicating husbands who refuse to divorce their wives).

I will pause at this point to note that, Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments

Dyilo could have stopped Kony: on war crimes and unintended consequences

While I am a little hostile to the Kony2012 campaign on a number of levels, there is definitely one thing to be said for it: I now know quite a lot more about Uganda, and I’m sure that I am not alone. For all its flaws, the campaign did genuinely raise awareness in a way that has not really been achieved before.

For instance, one of the articles that I came across while researching a detailed response to the video came from Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama. As a result, I began following Izama, who alerted me to a very important event tomorrow that I had somehow missed, along with – it seems – the rest of my Western bubble as we were all too fixated on Kony:

The Trial and Tribulations of Thomas Lubanga « Angelo Opi-aiya Izama.

On Wednesday, March 14, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will witness its first verdict for war crimes in its history. The timing of the verdict this week is special for the following reasons. The accused is Congolese, his main crime is the use of child soldiers and his fate, at the hands of international justice is at the heart of the debate of external intervention into Central Africa’s conflict zones. Most of the other pending trials at the court are Congolese. All the courts cases and investigations are in Africa so its safe to say that it is also the African Criminal Court.

The trial and pending verdict of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) highlights the intricate knitting of crimes and criminal enterprises in the region. A one time ally of Uganda, Lubanga’s UPC was in action well after Uganda had referred in a special arrangement with ICC Prosecutor Louis Moreno Ocampo- the case of the LRA in 2003. While Mr.Kony, who has been the subject of a major cyber debate this last week, remains free and operational in Eastern DRC where UPC used to run riot, Lubanga may be spending the rest of his life in jail if convicted. The relationship between the two rebel leaders, their careers and their alliances in the region is not deeply questioned in the present atmosphere.

Joseph Kony has long been an adversary of Ugandan authorities whereas Lubanga was a one-time ally. Now Kony is being hunted in the fields that Lubanga vacated by Uganda and its allies and for crimes that Kony himself was the first to be accused of. That is at the ICC.

I hope everyone who just read that feels as embarrassed as I do. While we have spent the last week or so being self-righteously pro-Kony2012, anti-Kony2012 or above the whole fray, the ICC has been hearing the case of an almost identical man who none of us had heard of before either.

Dyilo was allied to Kony’s enemies in Uganda, which goes even further to illustrate what I had said earlier about who really poses the biggest threat to the children we are so intent on “saving”. Dyilo used to control the territory that Kony is now busy terrorising, which means that had Dyilo not been captured, he may well have sealed Kony’s fate when Kony found that there was nowhere to run. That is not to say that capturing and trying Dyilo was a bad move, but it really goes to show how intervention in these affairs can have huge unintended consequences.

I cannot help thinking that a huge amount of harm could come from a serious campaign to “find Kony”, especially if it’s driven by some kind of combination of post-colonial guilt, a “save the children” Western superiority complex and “let’s get him” American-style bravado. Perhaps we should all take a step back rather than continuing to pave the path to hell for the people of Africa.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Human Rights Watch and letting Muslim states have the rulers they want but don’t deserve

A whole long list of NGO officials have come out in criticism of Human Rights Watch and its CEO Kenneth Roth, slamming Roth for his hypocrisy in supporting Islamist regimes that are serial abusers of human rights. As usual, my bold:

Women and Islam: A Debate with Human Rights Watch | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

You say, “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but you fail to call for the most basic guarantee of rights—the separation of religion from the state. Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling. And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control. You, however, are so unconcerned with the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities that you mention them only once, as follows: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.” Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

Nor do you point to the one of the clearest threats to rights—particularly to women and religious and sexual minorities—the threat to introduce so-called “shari’a law.” It is simply not good enough to say we do not know what kind of Islamic law, if any, will result, when it is already clear that freedom of expression and freedom of religion—not to mention the choice not to veil—are under threat. And while it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been in power for very long, we can get some idea of what to expect by looking at their track record. In the UK, where they were in exile for decades, unfettered by political persecution, the exigencies of government, or the demands of popular pressure, the Muslim Brotherhood systematically promoted gender apartheid and parallel legal systems enshrining the most regressive version of “shari’a law”. Yusef al-Qaradawi, a leading scholar associated with them, publicly maintains that homosexuality should be punished by death. They supported deniers of the Holocaust and the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, and shared platforms with salafi-jihadis, spreading their calls for militant jihad. But, rather than examine the record of Muslim fundamentalists in the West, you keep demanding that Western governments “engage.”

A side note, but the term “sharia law” is a tautology – Sharia means “Islamic law”.

Meanwhile, the parts in bold are very important. All across the Muslim world, horrible acts like honour killings become the norm not necessarily because they are official state policy, but because regimes will publicly condemn these acts whenever they are criticised while not actually taking any steps to prevent them.

In fact, they often condemn with one arm while encouraging with the other – as the letter above pointed out.  Qaradawi is not a fringe radical, he is a celebrity cleric with his own show on Al Jazeera Arabic and one of the most prominent spiritual leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood; yet he encourages violence, terror and intolerance with impunity.

This is another example of the “third-worldism” that I wrote about recently. HRW are refusing to listen to the Muslim Brotherhood when they say that homosexuality is a crime punishable by death, Jews are a plague on humanity and should all be killed, Christians should be expelled from Egypt and women should be not seen and most definitely not heard. All it takes is for Muslim Brotherhood members to say “we are committed to the rights of women” and HRW believes that they must be “moderate”. Remember that the “rights” that they speak of are not what our Western minds think when we hear “women’s rights”.

HRW replies

The HRW response is also very revealing:

In the introduction to Human Rights Watch’s most recent World Report, released on January 22, Kenneth Roth wrote that Western governments cannot credibly maintain a commitment to democracy if they reject electoral results when an Islamic party does well. That was the hypocritical stance of the West when, for example, it acquiesced in the Algerian military’s interruption of free elections that the Islamist Salvation Front was poised to win and then in the brutal suppression of that party in the early 1990s, or when President George W. Bush cut short his “democracy agenda” after Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006 and the Muslim Brotherhood did better than expected in Egyptian parliamentary elections in 2005.

Western governments should reject this inconsistent and unprincipled approach to democracy. Human Rights Watch called on Western governments to come to terms with the rise of Islamic political parties and press them to respect rights. As rights activists, we are acutely aware of the possible tension between the right to choose one’s leaders and the rights of potentially disfavored groups such as women, gays and lesbians, and religious minorities. Anyone familiar with the history of Iran or Afghanistan knows the serious risks involved. However, in the two Arab Spring nations that have had free and fair elections so far, a solid majority voted for socially conservative political parties in Egypt, and a solid plurality did so in Tunisia. The sole democratic option is to accept the results of those elections and to press the governments that emerge to respect the rights of all rather than to ostracize these governments from the outset.

Notice that they pulled the “Bush card”. This is an argument reminiscent of the Reduction ad Hitlerum fallacy, a corollary of Godwin’s Law, whereby anything that George W Bush did is considered to be wrong by virtue of the fact that he did it. It’s an argument used by the kind of idiots who genuinely think Bush was comparable to Hitler, not to mention the kind of idiots who would assume that something must be bad just because someone they don’t like did it. That said, Bush was wrong – HRW just don’t understand why.

Bush was not wrong to reject Hamas after they were elected, he was wrong to let them stand for election in the first place. Hamas was always very open about what it was: an organisation that opposed democracy, advocated Medieval morality, called for genocide and committed violence – hell, you can learn all that by just watching their TV channel:

What Bush and HRW do not understand is that the mere fact that a government is “elected” does not make a for a democracy. This is a historical fact that actually can be proven by a Hitler comparison: the Nazis were elected into power in Germany. A measure of whether a government is democratic is not how it comes into power initially, but how it stays in power.

Elections are the last step in forming a democracy, not the first. The single most important component of a democracy is the rule of law – the rulers must be under the law, there must be some kind of peaceful mechanism for removing them from office. In order for that to happen, the society needs a separation of powers – the rulers must be accountable to the legal system and not the other way around; the use of physical force (i.e. army and police) must be separate from both. There also has to be some kind of mechanism for the legal system to find information about the rulers’ activities to see if they must be removed from power and the rulers must be unable to stop this information from getting out: you need freedom of political communication.

Even a society with: the rule of law; free speech; and an independent judiciary, army and government; is not ready for popular elections. For the people to elect their leaders, they need to be informed enough about the different options to make a decision; there needs to be a well-established media and at least two realistic options to vote for who can scrutinise each other, otherwise any election will automatically go to whoever has the most widespread networks (i.e. the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood).

Also, it is perfectly acceptable to exclude parties who are openly anti-democratic. Israel has banned “Jewish terrorist” Meir Kahane’s party from running in the Knesset for that exact reason.

Finally, the most important thing to realise is that democracy does not happen overnight. Rushing into elections is stupid, it will only put revolutionaries into power and if there is anything to be learned from post-colonial Africa, it’s that revolutionaries do not generally make great rulers.

Let Islamists be Islamists and treat them like Islamists

Tragically, while HRW are (I believe genuinely) trying to avoid imposing Western morality onto the Arab people, they are in fact doing something arguably worse. Rather than openly trying to change Arab societies into something resembling Western ones, they are approaching the Arab peoples with an entirely Western mindset and just treating them as though they are Western, no matter how much they themselves reject Western values. This attitude is extremely destructive, it will result in more Afghanistans and less Indonesias.

We must be honest with ourselves and we must be willing to take Arab parties at their word. We want an Egypt that does not oppress women, homosexuals, Jews and Christians; we want an Egypt with democratic institutions where people are not persecuted for anti-government or “un-Islamic” activities. The Muslim Brotherhood do not want this Egypt and they say that openly – why do we refuse to believe them?

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments

A warning for Arab women, hope from Palestinians but in spite of everything, Israel still way out in front

In an article that I will probably discuss later, Israeli academic Eyal Gross rebuts a theory by another academic that, in his words, “what he calls the ‘racist’ narrative of gay-friendly Israel versus homophobic Palestine confirms Israeli perceptions of the collective others by representing the queer Palestinian as a helpless victim of Palestinian homophobia in need of the benevolence and protection of the Israeli state.” As Gross notes, the reality is that this is true: there are a lot of persecuted gay Palestinians who would find some kind of solace in Israel. Of course, Israel does harbour some intolerance and it is not fair to stereotype all Palestinians as homophobes, but it is equally true that mainstream Israeli society is against homophobia, whereas Palestinian society is a very difficult place to be gay – openly gay Palestinians are quite literally risking their lives.

The reason I am relating this is to illustrate the unfortunate tendency in some parts of the Western “left” to reject as “racist” any criticism of non-Western (and especially Middle Eastern) societies. In their well-meaning eyes, they see all people as basically “good” and do not want to accept that, for instance, Arab society tends to be extremely sexist, homophobic and racist. Ironically, they attribute the belief that this is, in fact, the case to a “colonialist” attitude – white people thinking that non-whites are barbaric savages. Ironically, it is these “third-worldists” who are in fact taking a patronising/colonialist attitude. Even worse than stereotyping Arabs as “backwards”, they are taking their own interpretation of “good values” and imputing it onto the Arabs.

This patronising attitude has been showing-up everywhere since the “Arab Spring” began last year. As “the people” of Egypt, Libya and Syria were protesting dictators, the third-worldist wisdom was that they must want a more democratic society. Then suddenly, after decrying everyone who was worried about an Islamist takeover as “racists”, they are shocked when the Libyan National Transitional Council announce that they plan to implement Shariah. The reality is that the Libyan revolutionaries were always open about where they stood on Islamic law, the third-worldists just refused to listen to them when they criticised Qaddafi for discouraging women from wearing the veil and for being accepting of Jews and Christians.

How short everyone’s memory is. Even if you can’t think back to Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, remember what happened when the Afghans became free from Russian oppression? Well if your memory could use some jogging, Morwari Zafar has written an amazing obituary for her grandmother, Massouma Esmatey-Wardak, an Afghan leader and politician who was hit as hard as the rest of Afghanistan when the once relatively prosperous and modern nation was taken over by Islamists.

Determination Defined: Remembering an Afghan Pioneer – by Morwari Zafar | The AfPak Channel.

In the wake of her successes at the helm of AWC, President Najibullah Ahmadzai appointed Massouma as Minister of Education in 1990, though she was not a part of his contentious political party. Her appointment at a post formerly held by her husband, who supported her, was part and parcel of the political reformations in the country at that time. Under the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), the country was progressing socially in a way that seemed incongruous with Islam. And more than ever, Massouma was determined to secure access to education and promote literacy for women. The efforts were condemned by most Mujahideen [holy warriors] leaders, who perceived the developments as a communist endeavor destined to obliterate Islam from the country’s core values, and promote sexual anarchy.

Women’s rights disintegrated in the chaos of the civil war … After the Soviet withdrawal, President Najibullah agreed to transfer power to the Mujahideen in an effort brokered by the United Nations. Headed by President Mojadeddi, the former Jihadists took key ministerial positions in the new Islamic Afghan Government … The Taliban dealt the final blow to the social development and women’s rights of my grandmother’s generation. The current Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan maintains a sketchy record of human and women’s rights, and yet 50 years ago, even women in some rural areas had access to education and healthcare. Neither my grandmother nor my grandfather was born to wealthy families with vast social capital. They came from modest families that understood the value of education — especially for women — as a part of Islam, not divorced from it.

Afghanistan was starting from a better position than any of the “Arab Spring” countries: Wardak was the Minister for Education there, no “Arab Spring” country ever had a woman in a prominent leadership role. The only one that genuinely seems to be showing progress towards a more free and open society is Tunisia, where the Islamist al-Nahda was forced to join in a coalition government with secular parties. Egypt and Libya do not look so lucky, and by refusing to acknowledge how serious the situation there is, the third-worldist West is damning the women, Christians and other groups to some very unpleasant circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians seem to be actually making some progress against their retrenched prejudices. Jillian Kestler-D’Amours has reported on a Palestinian female-run radio station that could signify something extremely important (my bold):

FM Radio Spells Change, Success for Mideast Women – IPS ipsnews.net.

Launched in June 2010, Nisaa FM is an almost entirely female-run Palestinian radio station based in Ramallah, West Bank and the only radio station in the Middle East devoted solely to women’s issues. Its director Maysoun Odeh Gangat says that the station aims to inform, inspire and empower local women.

“Through the positive role that the women are playing in the society that we portray, we believe that we can empower women economically and then socially and politically. It could be any woman from the rural areas or the refugee camp, or a woman parliamentarian or minister,” Gangat told IPS.

In addition to suffering from a myriad of human rights abuses stemming from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza, Palestinian women face challenges from within their own society.

According to a 2009 report released by the Palestinian Women’s Information and Media Centre (PWIC) in Gaza, 77 percent of the women in Gaza had experienced some form of violence; 53 percent had been exposed to physical violence and 15 percent to sexual abuse.

The bolded paragraph is key: this fact is almost never admitted by anyone on the “pro-Palestinian” side. The Palestinian people have for decades remained in a self-perpetuated misery by blaming everything wrong with their lives on Israel and refusing to look within their own community. In a way, they have been simply believing what the third-worldists tell them; amazingly I have actually heard people blaming Palestinian oppression of women/homosexuals on Israel, in spite of the fact that the Palestinians are no different in that regard from all of the neighbouring Arab countries.

If the Palestinian Authority is now allowing a voice like Nisaa FM to start accepting some culpability and criticising their own culture for its flaws, maybe we will actually start to see progress in peace talks.  Addressing domestic violence and sexual abuse is a start, but a lot can potentially follow. That said, there is still a long way to go until they are even close to Israeli society, as was demonstrated recently. Despite all of the many issues with the ultra-orthodox and gender segregation, all three centre-left parties in the Knesset now have female leaders; this means that if anyone can unseat Netanyahu, Israel will have its second female Prime Minister by next year. Recognising the difference between the two societies is neither racist nor colonial, it is simply allowing yourself to see.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

Where the real battle for sexual equality is and why it matters

Women could be the saviours of the Arab World

The Australian media this week has been intently focussed on how many women we have on corporate boards, why there aren’t enough and how to solve this. There was even an odd slip-up from shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, who in a complete break from the Liberal Party’s usual position, promoted the idea of gender quotas for corporate boards on ABC’s Q and A (this was subsequently rejected by Tony Abbot).

For the record, I am completely against the idea of quotas – I believe that it is dangerous and counter-productive. People promoted in order to fill a quota know that this is why they were chosen for the position and so do their colleagues. Not only is it extremely patronising to be told “we’d like to bump you up to management because we’re trying to put more [minority] there”, but the person will likely struggle with a position that they are not qualified for and they will be resented by their colleagues who had to work harder to get to the same place.

So now that I’ve finished that little rant, here’s a more interesting point. I was sent this article ages ago, but only just got round to reading it – it’s an interview with veteran Middle East analyst Bernard Lewis by David Horovitz for the Jerusalem Post. Lewis reaffirms a lot of what I’ve been saying about democracy in the Middle East, particularly the Western fixation on elections, but he adds some great insights. One thing worth reading the article for is his idea of consultative rather than electoral democracy as a model that would work in the Middle East.

The other thing that stuck out was what he said about women:

A mass expression of outrage against injustice.

There’s one other group of people that I think one should bear in mind when considering the future of the Middle East, and that is women. The case has been made, and I think there is some force in it, that the main reason for the relative backwardness of the Islamic world compared to the West is the treatment of women. As far as I know, it was first made by a Turkish writer called Namik Kemal in about 1880. At that time an agonizing debate had been going on for more than a century: What went wrong? Why did we fall behind the West?

He said, “The answer is very clear. We fell behind the West because of the way we treat our women. By the way we treat our women we deprive ourselves of the talents and services of half the population. And we submit the early education of the other half to ignorant and downtrodden mothers.

It goes further than that. A child who grows up in a traditional Muslim household is accustomed to authoritarian, autocratic rule from the start. I think the position of women is of crucial importance.

I’ve heard this argument before and it makes a lot of sense. The Middle East is being run by men who were raised by uneducated and subjugated women, in households where their fathers were unquestionably in charge. It does not require a huge amount of imagination to see how this would result in an autocratic culture.

The exclusion of women in the work force also leads to the extremely high fertility rate that is really the cause of all this Arab unrest – there are constantly more and more youth reaching working age and less and less jobs to acommodate them; this led to the anger that we saw exploding so vividly.

Arab economies lag rest of world, despite oil and natural gas.

Growth rates are consistently too slow to keep pace with the population, and little space remains for private entrepreneurship. In its 2009 Arab Human Development Report, the United Nations found that, as of 2007, the Arab states as a whole were less industrialised than they were in 1970, with governments using revenue from oil, gas and other outside receipts to maintain the large public workforce and cheap goods.

It feels really ironic that there has been such an outcry in a country with a female prime minister and a number of women in very high-profile positions. Obviously Australia has a lot to work on, but really we’re lightyears ahead of some parts of the world. Consider the problems we’ve been debating in our newspapers with the debate in Saudi Arabia. For example, Samar Fatani for the Arab News:

Empowering women the biggest challenge – Arab News.

Economists stress that the high cost of living and inflation make it difficult for single-income families to provide the basic needs of the average family living in Saudi Arabia today. The participation of women in the work force is no longer a luxury; it has become an economic necessity. Therefore, it is crucial now to mobilize a more effective national program to tap women’s talent, enhance their skills and provide them with career opportunities so they may contribute equally in our nation’s social and economic development.

Women have every right to be provided with a healthy, civilized lifestyle more in tune with the 21st century way of life. We need to see women in the council of senior scholars or as advisers to the grand mufti to address their needs and grievances and have a say in decisions that affect their lives and their families. Women face injustice and discrimination because many judges and senior ulemas are unaware of the suffering.

Cultural limitations and tribal laws rather than religious rulings are the impediments that are strangling our country. It is time for the educated to boldly counter the vicious campaign of the extremists — men and women — who continue to attack progress. It is ironic how these “medievalists” so resistant to change adopt the Internet and modern media to attack the educated calling for the empowerment of women in Saudi society.

Of course, this isn’t absolutely true across the Middle East. Lewis points to Tunisia as the notable exception and Fatani also praises several of the smaller Gulf states, such as the UAE and Kuwait. Nevertheless, there are not only tribal regions and societies, but entire countries in the Middle East where a 7th century view on human rights, as well as women’s rights, is seen as the ideal – with social norms and legislation reflecting this. This attitude is detrimental to the whole society and is one of the key reasons for the backwardness of the region in relation to the rest of the world. If women take a leading role in these revolutions that are happening everywhere, there may be a chance of genuine progress in the Middle East.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

And who said dictators were going out of fashion?

 

What a beautiful and happy Western-looking family

Joan Juliet Buck, from leading fashion magazine Vogue, wrote a longform profile on a high-profile Middle-Eastern lady, who, in Buck’s words, is “glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement.'”

Buck chronicles this woman’s high-level Western education, how she grew-up in London, went to Queen’s college, has an MBA from Harvard and worked at Goldman Sachs, but is down to earth, with an accent that is “English, but not plummy”. Buck details visits to the Louvre, impressing Brad and Angelina and even the charitable NGO that she runs to educate refugee children. She even fights extremism “through art”.

And who is this beautiful, caring, glamorous Arab leader, who sounds just like the Western celebrities that Vogue usually profile? None other than Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad. And Syria sounds great too:

Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert – Vogue Daily – Vogue.

Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark. Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote. In Syria, power is hereditary.
“It’s a tough neighborhood,” admits Asma al-Assad

Huh. Let’s take another look at that passage for a second, shall we?

As the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.”

To keep them safe, right? Sounds like something any kind, friendly leader would do. Like her husband, who won 97% of the vote – the people must love him! Just one thing that Ms Buck forgot to mention, he was the only candidate in the election. And why was he the only candidate in the election? Well, you see, these security forces that keep Syria “safe”, also keep his regime “safe”, but brutally crushing any dissent.

Reading on:

The country’s alliances are murky.How close are they to Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah?There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk, and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons. Its number-one enmity is clear: Israel. But that might not always be the case. The United States has just posted its first ambassador there since 2005, Robert Ford.

Might not always be the case, hey? Because the US broke-off and then re-established diplomatic relations, that means that Israel may no longer be its number-one enmity? Hold on a second:

Iraq is next door, Iran not far away. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is 90 minutes by car from Damascus. Jordan is south, and next to it the region that Syrian maps label Palestine. There are nearly one million refugees from Iraq in Syria, and another half-million displaced Palestinians.

Seems as if Syria doesn’t recognise that there is an Israel, funny that. And as the article already glossed over, Ms Assad and her husband harbour, support and train terrorist groups that attack Israel, not to mention being Iran’s strongest ally. Syria also militarily occupied Lebanon for years and is still meddling in Lebanese affairs. Neat, huh?

What else can we divine from Buck’s profile? Well, Syria is a great example of a tolerant, multicultural society:

Back in the car, I ask what religion the orphans are. “It’s not relevant,” says Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. That’s how religions live together in Syria—a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these lands—the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans—make up who I am.”
“Does that include the Jews?” I ask.
“And the Jews,” she answers. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”

The Jewish quarter of Damascus spans a few abandoned blocks in the old city that emptied out in 1992, when most of the Syrian Jews left. Their houses are sealed up and have not been touched, because, as people like to tell you, Syrians don’t touch the property of others. The broken glass and sagging upper floors tell a story you don’t understand—are the owners coming back to claim them one day?

So the abandoned Jewish quarter tells “a story you don’t understand” then? I guess no one knows why there were 30,000 Jews in Syria in 1947 and only 200 today. Well at least Joan Juliet Buck, former editor of French Vogue, doesn’t understand, but then she doesn’t seem to understand much, otherwise this article would read a little differently.

It is, in fact, not a mystery what happened in 1992. This was when finally, after years of campaigning, 4,500 Syrian Jews were allowed to leave Syria. One person who does understand is Alice Sardell, president of the now defunct Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews.

Point of no return: How Syria’s Jews obtained their freedom.

Freedom for the Jews of Syria beginning in 1992 came about after a long and intense American and international human rights campaign led by The Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews, with the United States government at the forefront.

But they weren’t just fleeing for nothing:

Since 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel, Syria’s Jewish community had been held as hostages living under Syria’s Secret Police and subject to arbitrary arrests and systematic torture.

Where were these little details in Buck’s profile?

Buck could have written about the brutal secret police, the sponsorship of terror, the alliance with Iran, the nuclear program and the decades of the despotic reign of terror that Assad and his fellow Allawite leaders have subjected the Syrian people to. She even could have mentioned that Assad and her husband prevented protests like the ones spreading through other Arab countries by shutting off the internet and suppressing protesters with beatings and arrests. Instead, she gave the guy a goddamn podium to speak from:

Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”

So now he’s against terrorism is he?

This article was disgusting to be honest. To read more, including Buck’s extremely underwhelming response, see the links below:

Vogue Defends Profile of Syrian First Lady – Max Fisher – International – The Atlantic.

Vogue’s ridiculous puff piece on Syria’s ruling family | FP Passport.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments

%d bloggers like this: