The Ground Zero of Politics

Bin Laden and associates must be celebrating in glee watching the degeneration of American politics those days.

Allen West is the Republican candidate for congress in Florida this year. Here he is speaking about Islam in a public forum:

Writing on ThinkProgress.org, blogger George Zornick gives a bit of a background about Allen West:

West began his political career after resigning from the military following an investigation into his interrogation tactics. In 2003, West was interrogating an Iraqi policeman who was not being cooperative. According to his own testimony during a military hearing, West watched four of his men beat the suspect, and West said he personally threatened to kill the man. According to military prosecutors, West followed up on his threat by taking the man outside and firing a 9mm pistol near his head, in order to make the man believe he would be shot.

Saban Center Wants Your Opinion

Interesting findings from the opinion poll firm Zogby International today which in collaboration with the University of Maryland, is releasing its “2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll“. It’s a survey conducted from June 29 to July 20, 2010 in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. The poll is released on Thursday at the Brookings Institute in Washington by Shibley Telhami, the principal investigator, a fellow from the university of Maryland. Telhami coincidently also works for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

The Saban Center is a well known pro-Israel think tank within the Brookings Institute, founded in 2002 by influential American-Israeli lobbyist Haim Saban, former music manager turned media mogul. The Center is headed by Martin Indyk, a professional Israel apologist and former research director at the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC. Indyk was recruited by Saban himself as the head of the Center 8 years ago.

For what it’s worth, and with the aforementioned sponsors in mind, I think it’s interesting to see what the poll has got to say.

We learn that the positive enthusiasm that accompanied the election of President Obama, is in fact dwindling, both at the level of the popular perception of the person of the U.S. president as well as at the level of his foreign policy. This is hardly surprising given the toothless stance of the American administration in face of unwavering Israeli policies of occupation, expropriation and settlement.

Conversely, the poll shows that a majority of interviewees still think that the one policy of the Obama administration they are most pleased with is his attitudes towards Islam. Not clear what that means exactly. “Attitudes towards Islam” is quite a large notion. Have interviewees been asked to consider “collateral damages” in Afghanistan or have they been enjoined to stick to the president’s rhetorical niceties? Apart from Obama’s short-lived inclination to pressure Israel to stop (freeze) the contruction of Jewish settlements in occupied land, and the change in rhetoric when dealing with Islam and Muslims as opposed to the previous administration, I frankly don’t see what decidedly inspired that choice. But it is not a big surprise though: I think the image of Obama reaching out to the Muslims during his rather nice Cairo speech, still reverberates across the region and will continue for some time to come.

Interesting also is the apparently diminishing importance the question of withdrawal of American troops from the Arabian peninsula now seems to have. According to the poll only 35% (versus 50 two years ago) consider this to be an important policy the U.S. should undertake in order to improve their image in the region as opposed to other steps such as to help broker an Israel-Palestine peace agreement (54%), withdraw from Iraq (45%) or stop aiding Israel (43%).

Another finding has caught my attention. According to the the poll a considerable proportion of people interviewed (a little more than half) still have “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” views of American people (30% and 27% respectively). A survey commissioned by the U.S. House International Relations Committee and conducted by Pew Global Attitudes 5 years ago reached similar conclusions. This suggests that the Obama charm offensive hasn’t succeeded yet in decidedly conquering hearts and minds in the region. The Zogby poll shows, also, almost no inclination in younger people to view the U.S. more favorably.

Interestingly, according to the poll, more Arabs seem to question the invulnerability of Israel. A majority thinks Israel acts on its own and influences U.S.’s foreign policy in the region, other than the other way around. Indeed fewer think Israel is a tool in the hands of the Americans.

Unsurprisingly, Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal outweighs Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as the most admired Palestinian leader.

A chapter in the poll is called “Empathy”. It starts by asking about feelings evoked by watching movies and programs on the holocaust. According to the poll more than half of the people interviewed say they resent those movies and programs since “they bring sympathy toward Israel and the Jews at the expense of the Palestinians”. Interviewees seem to have been given the choice between either one of three: I resent, I empathize or I have mixed feelings (without specifying what those mixed feeling are). Dangerous thing with polls is you can make them say whatever you want them to say. Just cook the questions carefully enough not to let room for nuance and common sense et voilà! Those who empathize with Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis but who still think Zionists are using this human tragedy to justify the horrific ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, won’t count on this poll. The final result claims for example that 0% of Moroccans asked have no empathy whatsoever with Jews who suffered during the holocaust, 15% have mixed feelings and an astounding 85% resent watching works that commemorate the holocaust (?).

One of the most unlikely outcomes the poll comes up with is the apparent love affair Arabs are having with France. It is quite dazzling especially given the current state of affairs. Apparently Arabs would like to see France rule the world and offer them refuge if they had to flee their home countries. They also seem to see France as the one country that plays the most constructive role in the region. Give me a break! I don’t know what the questions asked looked like in this particular department but I would be more than careful not to draw any serious conclusions out of these outcomes. They just seem unrelated to reality. Either questions were inaccurately asked or the sample was non representative.

And then comes the one result that looks to me quite consistent with what seems to be prevalent in the Arab street at the moment. To the question “what world leader do you admire the most”, unsurprisingly Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes first (20%) well ahead of Hugo Chavez who comes second (13%) and (unadvisedly) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad third (12%).

A large proportion of Moroccans interviewed seem to think that government policy should be conducted according to what is good for Islam first. Another majority (61%) says Islam is what defines Moroccan identity. I’m aware of the conservative nature of the Moroccan society, but this comes nonetheless as a surprise. Conversely I was happy but not completely surprised to see that the Lebanese surveyed were more inclined to define themselves as citizens first and think government policy should be motivated by secular and national concerns.

Finally, interviewees were asked about their primary source of news, their use of the Internet, the language they are more likely to use while browsing the Internet and the channels they might tune into for entertainment. Whilst I can perfectly understand why people might be surveyed about their sources of entertainement, I also consider it legitimate to question the motives behind this kind of polls, the way they are conducted and the use made of the data collected, given the activities of the major sponsor of this survey, namely Haim Saban, and his unambiguous and fanatic support for Israel.

Grotesque Institutionalized Feudalism

The ceremony hastily organized to “choose” a successor to Benazir Bhutto at the head of the Pakistan “People”‘s Party, was a complete masquerade. A tragic-comedy, glorifying the Bhuttos and celebrating nepotism and the feudal system which kept this region of the world as backward as it is! I have to admit, I was myself naively dragged into thinking (hoping) that the PPP was a kind of representative of a shining, secular and progressive branch of Muslim World’s politics. I’m afraid I was wrong. And the way, the Aftermath of the murder of Ms. Bhutto has been handled goes to show how power-obsessed the people around her were, especially her husband. I’ve come across this enlightening article by Tariq Ali, Pakistan-born writer, broadcaster and commentator, published last monday in The Independent, which I think, puts thinks in their right order.

Pictures courtesy of Christiane Michaud & PPPUSA.org

Zeroes & Heroes

Many actors played different roles in shaping the ups and downs of last year events. Some usual suspects who left already their print in previous years have proven to be resiliently present in 2007. Others have emerged as new figures. Here are the makers and breakers who caught my eye in ’07.

The Zeros

The gangster administration in Washington

Responsible for the killing (in a way or another) of well over one million Iraqis (according to the most conservative estimates) and the displacement of more than four million others, the Bush administration has persevered in manipulating the facts and succeeded in stirring up factional and sectarian divisions within Iraq. Divide and rule as the old adage goes. The puppet regime in Baghdad, a rubber stamp of what ever Washington decides has shown complete incompetence and subservience and proved to be completely disconnected from the Iraqi people. Although one can only be pleased by the relative decrease in the number of terrorist attacks (from whatever source they might come) and casualties among civilians, the fact remains that Iraq is still under occupation by a colossal number of foreign troops, backed by some hundred thousands mercenaries; and that its oil resources have now been de facto mortgaged by major American oil companies through the euphemistically called Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs).

The Apartheid regime in Israel

Israel has shown, yet again, to those who had a shred of doubt about its real -barely hidden- intentions, that it is not, had not and will not be prepared to pay the price of JUSTICE, the only and genuine road-map for PEACE. Its lobby and supporting “think” tanks have shown, beyond any reasonable doubt how influential they were in shaping American foreign policy towards the question of Palestine. Scholars have yet again been silenced and the systematic accusation of anti-Semitism has been brandished to all those who dared challenging the received wisdom about Israel branded as the “only democracy in region,” when it is the only remaining apartheid state in the World. The Gaza concentration camp has been squeezed into a cruel embargo which is aimed at collectively punish the Palestinians for having democratically voted in the wrong way. A stooge government has been anointed: “the legitimate government of Palestine,” effectively playing the role of the I’D’F in oppressing the occupied people in Palestine. Signed agreements (remember Annapolis?) have been dishonoured and more illegal settlements have been built up on equally illegal colonies planted on the land stolen from the Palestinians.

Arab despots and potentates (without exception, from the Atlantic to the Arabian-Persian sea)

At the very root of the complete tragedy experienced by Arabs and Muslims all over the world, the Arab regimes, 22 in total, managed to stay in power in large part because (or thanks to) the Western support. These are the most incompetent, backward, inept, power-obsessed and megalomaniac heads of states on the planet. Of course, the peoples have only the kind of government they deserve.” This is true to a large extent, and one should not easily put all the blame on external conspirators, although the conspiracy is not all theoretical. Taha Hussein, the dean of contemporary Arabic literature and a pioneer of enlightenment in the Arab World (according to ArabWorldBooks.com) once said:

“We want to be free people in our countrie[s], free of foreigners such that they cannot oppress us or treat us unjustly, and free with respect to ourselves, such that no one of us can oppress or treat another unjustly.”

Religious fanatics of all sides

Since 9/11, religious fanaticism has been thriving. Alqaeda found in the actions of the Bush administration, which has mainly gained the white house -especially in its second term-thanks to the very “generous” support of very influential Christian fundamentalists -most of them openly Zionists-, the more powerful recruitment argument for its campaign of terror and nihilist destruction. Extremes have always campaigned for each other!

The Heroes

President Hugo Chavez

The Venezuelan president has won more democratic and transparent elections, and more popular referenda than any other living leader. He is independent and pro-people, hence the hostility of the Western establishment towards him. More power to you Chavez!

Illan Pappé

The courageous Israeli historian has published at the beginning of this year, the English version of his book “”Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine.” A refreshingly honest account of how Israel seeks, as it had always sought to, to systematically and methodically kill, harass, terrorise and push the Palestinians to the edge so that they lose hope and renounce their rights and eventually leave their homeland.

Norman Finkelstein

Another victim of the Israel lobby in America, forced to resign from his position for no reason other than being forensically objective about the realities of the middle east. Fascism is still alive and kicking!

John Pilger

Award-winning independent journalist and a renowned documentary film-maker. “The War on Democracy” is his latest opus. A startling reminder of the ravages that capitalism has already caused in Latin America, considered for decades to be the American (USA) preserve. Based on an arrogant imperial vision of the world and on the so-called Washington Consensus which theorized and underpinned the neo-liberal policies for the last two or three decades, successive American administrations made sure that no genuine democracy springs in the southern half of the continent: putting absolute potentates at the head of States, overthrowing democratically elected governments and sponsoring a class of plutocrats monopolizing their country’s wealth at the expense of impoverished populations.

Aboubakr Jamaï
The founder of the most popular Moroccan magazine, Le Journal Hebdo, was forced earlier this year, to leave Morocco in order to avoid paying a record breaking fine of $350,000, that would otherwise bankrupt his magazine. He is one of the most popular and charismatic young journalists that the country has ever produced, and one who marked the recent Moroccan journalistic scene by bringing a revolutionary new style of professional investigative journalism. He openly challenged the monarchy and the military and literally paid the price. In November 2005, Jamaï wrote a ground-breaking open letter to Mohamed VI in which he urged the monarch to grab the opportunity of his political virginity and his capital of popular sympathy to put the country on the tracks of reform. The letter fell on deaf ears.

Happy new year to all.

Qui Bono?

Benazir Bhutto 1953 – 2007

Multiple Choice Question:

Who benefits from the murder of Ms. Bhutto?

A. The Pakistani ruling junta ready for anything to maintain the status-quo?
B. The fundamentalist nutcases and their nihilist and cowardly vision of the world?
C. Some external forces who might find some benefit in keeping Pakistan as volatile and unstable as possible?

Ms. Bhutto has been accused of incompetence, nepotism and corruption in the past, nevertheless she has never been convicted nor has any evidence ever been brought against her. One thing is for sure: she was a hell of a courageous, beautiful and charismatic woman. A Muslim woman who undeniably loved her country and refused to hand it over to arbitrary rulers or to absolutist fanatics.

Pakistan -a nuclear power- is a bullet away from Islamic revolution which would plunge the whole country into a night, darker than the one it already struggles to override. I think that the best homage that her followers may offer to her memory is for their party to get rid of the current prevailing nepotistic system and transform it into a modern and democratic party, offering the secularist alternative that most Pakistanis are today in bad need for.

Rest in peace Ms. Bhutto.

Some Links:

> Murtaza Shibli’s summing up of the life and death of Binazir Bhutto and the surrounding drama unfolding in Pakistan.

> Benazir Bhutto hosted by Aljazeera’s David Frost, last november.

> The life and death of Benazir Bhutto.

> This is what the Moroccan blogosphere thinks about this tragedy (Thanks Jillian!)

Image courtesy of Aljazeera.net

It’s the People We’re Talking About!

It’s always refreshing to find that someone out-there is sticking the argument right on the correct place and making the good diagnosis and proposing the right answer:

No to imperialist war!
No to the theocratic regime!
The immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US/UK troops from the Gulf region!
Opposition to Israeli expansionism and aggression!
Support to all working class and progressive struggles in Iran against poverty and repression!
Support for socialism, democracy and workers’ control in Iran!
For a nuclear-free Middle East as a step towards a nuclear-free world!

These are the words of the people of Iran (look at “Hands Off the People of Iran“), not the Mullahs, nor the puppets presenting themselves as “the Iranian opposition” and who are fuelling the rhetoric in Washington and helping the neocons campaign to go further in their path to demonise Iran and push the theocratic regime there to commit the unthinkable, offering them the cassus belli they’ve been waiting for for so long. The recent joint American intelligence agencies’ report which confirmed a bit of what any reasonable observer knew already, doesn’t seem to deter the Bushies from keeping on with their calumny business.

Musharaf Mounts a Coup Against Musharaf

Gen. Pervert… Oh Sorry! Pervez Musharaf has cancelled democracy in Pakistan, put journalists, Human Rights Activists, lawyers and secular political opponents in jail, dismissed irreverent judges and imposed a de facto martial law. All this, amidst almost complete silence apart from some timidly pronounced half-condemnations from the major western capitals, most of which are heavily involved in the current volatile situation.

One thing still torments me: how many medals are they on this uniform? I counted 16… I guess most of these decorations have been won by the General while sitting on his sofa playing some odd war games… Certainly not on the battle field.

The Rise of Muslim-Democracy


Reading my July 21st Post (titled “pretentiously” I have to admit: mini-Manifesto) may suggest that I oppose any religious interference in matters of politics. I wrote that Muslims should be aware of the dangers of conflating religion and politics and that the public should have his say in all matters of public life. The resounding victory of the AK Party or AKP (described as ‘rooted in political Islam’) in turkey yesterday, may sound as a rebuff to the claims from secularists (like me) who want a clear separation between the state and religion; but it is not. I’m delighted by this victory. Secularism, as far as I understand it, is a political system that rejects religious diktat at the level of the institutions; in other words, it rejects Theocracy.

I don’t see any reason why a party, be it rooted in Islam or Christianity or any other system of thought, should be banned from the political game (as some “fundamentalist” secularists -especially here in France- advocate) as long as it abides by the rules of democracy, and as it doesn’t call for violence or hatred against its political opponents.

The AKP has shown during his five years in power, that a Muslim-Democracy type of governance was possible, and successfully so. The government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the popular AK party leader, proved to be economy friendly, pro-European and surprisingly even more progressive than other self proclaimed secularist parties. Despite a campaign of fear mongering fueled by the Turkish establishment and some Western media urging people not to allow a party that they claim had an “Islamist hidden agenda” and which could undermine Turkey’s secularist tradition, the voters decided otherwise and gave almost half of the seats of Parliament to the AKP. This victory, as I see it, is an important milestone, and a great achievement for democracy even beyond Turkey’s borders.

In Morocco, at the Western edge of the Muslim World, will be held in next September, the legislative elections that would probably give the PJD (a party rooted in political Islam) a widely expected victory. If the Makhzen (the Moroccan establishment close to the monarch) doesn’t intervene to rig the elections as it traditionally did, Morocco could become the first Arab country governed by Muslim-Democrats. (PJD for Party of Justice and Development- peculiarly the exact title as the Turkish AKP.)

I wouldn’t describe my self as a conservative nor as adherent to ideas advocated by Muslim-Democratic parties, but I welcome any inclusive political system that allows as many ideas and groups as possible within the framework of democracy and power sharing.

(picture by “Brockodil“)