|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
18 - 24 October 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Letters to the editor
Deal with this
Sir- So many of your correspondents seem to believe that the US is wrong to be attacking Afghanistan in the physical manner that we are. They believe that we should feed them and clothe them and all of the other "feel good" nonsense that comes from being weak and sniveling.
cartoon by Osama Qassim
I notice with a wry disdain that many Arab countries do not treat dissidence with the open arms of inclusiveness. Indeed, they are rather brutal in their intolerance of dissent and punishment of dissenters. Egypt a number of years ago had a terrible problem with terrorists. I do not believe the final solution to that was to sit around a fire and drink tea. I believe that the army was sent to root out the terrorists and kill them. Isn't that interesting? Yet the US is castigated for "rushing to judgement" and "lack of caution." You make me laugh.
I only wish I had a policy position with the government so that I could assure your readers that there is no more waiting for consensus and begging other countries to please not hate us. I do not care if you hate the US or not. I would hope you do not. I certainly do not hate anyone. But I am not going to hear that it is the fault of the US because we support the state of Israel. That support is so strong because of Arab insistence that Israel be destroyed!
People like Bin Laden are not interested in talk or the resolution of conflict or anything else. They chose to be terrorists. Any other "explanation" is specious and is rank-dissembling. If it is truly believed that terrorism is wrong, why have the imams and leaders of Islam not demanded that the acts cease and that the perpetrators be dealt with by any authority. They did not. America will. Your readers can either join us, stand aside, or be part of the problem we will deal with. It's all about choices.
The future -- really
Sir- The vitriolic letter of Lt. Col. Michael Kaiser of Operation Enduring Freedom (Al-Ahram Weekly, 11-17 October) may have sounded like a rant from an American version of Bin Laden. Aside from his pathologically anti-Arab and anti- Muslim views (prevalent among the majority of Americans), he made some violent strategic predictions in the context of America's war on Afghanistan: (1) there will be no Palestinian state; (2) in the US oil policy, the Americans "will take what we need, wherever and whenever"; (3) OPEC "will do what they are told"; (4) "Literally and physically, we [the Americans] are planning the destruction of some 43 entities [undefined], and any response, whatsoever, will simply result in a longer list"; and (5) "Our [American] monies, charity... etc. will no longer flow your [the Arab nations'] way, that is, after the actions are complete." In other words, after we Americans take total control, you Arabs will be disposed of like yesterday's garbage.
Unless the Arab nations wish to continue living in a dream world, what Lt. Col. Kaiser wrote is, in fact, the Americans' long-term strategic plan. He is part of the American military machine; he is privy to the thinking and planning; and this is what the Americans propose to do -- despite the soothing words of President Bush and his slavish yes-man, Tony Blair ("Yes, Boss! Brilliant, Boss! Right away, Boss!"). There have already been many hints that the action won't stop in Afghanistan: Iraq is openly mentioned as the next target. After that? Sudan? Iran? Syria? Who knows? But the thinking and planning is already in place. That is real.
Make no mistake about it, America's plans for the Middle East have never, and I mean never, had Arab or Muslim interests in mind. Not once. Their interests have been, are and will continue to be three: (1) Oil and its control; (2) Israel and its security and expansion; and (3) Political/ military domination and control. A fourth policy interest of lesser importance has been arms sales: the Arab states have been the major customers of American weapons systems for decades. In the last couple of years, approximately half of America's sales have been to the Middle East. A lot of American votes and jobs depend on this.
This is how the "Afghan scenario" will probably play out. The military actions in Afghanistan will intensify, Bin Laden may or may not be killed or captured, but in the resulting chaos, an effectively American puppet regime will be set up and immediately recognised by the Western world, Western-supplied arms will flow in, and the civil war will intensify with direct American air and land support. The Taliban will be reduced to a rump in Afghanistan, to be dealt with at leisure. Afghanistan gets continuing military and some economic support. In return, the US and Britain will get permanent military bases at the eastern edge of the Caspian Sea oil fields, which will be buttressed by more permanent bases in Uzbekistan.
At the end of the Afghan military activity, Iraq will be bombed heavily, and the present Iraqi "opposition" coalition, based in London and funded and basically controlled by the US via its "minders," will be flown to Iraqi soil and immediately recognised by the US, Britain and the Western governments. This will form Iraq's American puppet regime. With the use of small numbers of American and British ground troops and incessant and overwhelming bombing all over Iraq, the Saddam Hussein regime will begin to crumble. The disorder will be used to raise a Western "UN Peacekeeping Force" with the US in the lead (to offload the costs onto the UN), which will complete the occupation of Iraq. In return, the puppet Iraqi regime will provide permanent military bases to the US and Britain, and immediately "privatise" the Iraqi oil industry (in line with globalisation ideology and practice). The buyers of the Iraqi oil industry at "fire sale prices" (well, it is in pretty bad shape after the bombings and embargo, isn't it?) will be the US and British oil firms, with a few small sops thrown to others to give the veneer of "impartiality."
Thus the Americans will have military bases throughout the main and controlling oil producing areas: Afghanistan/Uzbekistan in the east; Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrein in the centre; and Turkey and Israel in the west. The Arab oil producers will be caught in a strategic vice, where any countries protesting the "new economic (oil) order" can be attacked on very short notice. OPEC will be, as Lt. Col. Kaiser stated, "irrelevant", and "will do as they are told." And the Americans can, with impunity, "take what [they] need, wherever and whenever" as far as the oil is concerned. Israel will be given a free hand, probably forcibly pushing the Palestinians into Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, and killing the rest -- a real ethnic cleansing. (The Arabs will be expected to pick up the costs.) For who is going to stop them?
And yes, at that point the Arab states will effectively be protectorates once more; not British or French, but American. History will have been turned back over half a century. The Arabs will have regressed, not advanced. They will become nothing "nations" and irrelevant peoples again.
And the supreme irony of it all? To keep themselves in power and uncontrolled luxury, many Arab states invited the Americans and British in after 1991: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrein, Oman, with supporting roles played by Jordan and Egypt. The only independent states left were those the Americans conveniently labelled "terrorist states" (i.e. opposed to American hegemony): Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran (quite a coincidence, isn't it?). Now the proverbial American camel was totally within the Arab tent. The nose entered in 1991.
So, as during the Gulf War, the US used the pretext of invasion/terrorism to violently put in place its own strategic plan of total control of all the major oil supplies of the world. With active Arab help.
And then? "Back to the future" again. Classical Western imperial control. But this time its America's turn -- and the imperial prize is enormous: control of some 2/3 of the world's oil reserves (Saudi Arabia and Iraq have the most). Now the US will set prices, not OPEC -- and decide who gets oil in the first place. Virtually complete control of the world's economic activity. Single- handedly.
And the Arab producers will have cooperated in seeing it happen. What a legacy to leave to their generations.
Hendrik S Weiler
Sir- In his article, "Addressing 'the nation', targeting America" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 11-17 October), Diaa Rashwan states "... or else [Bin Laden] has found out beyond doubt that no Arab or Islamic groups were involved in these precisely coordinated attacks -- a viewpoint for which there seems to be a great deal of evidence -- and has thus decided to capitalise on America's fear of him anyway."
I would find his argument more compelling if Mr Rashwan had included some reference to the evidence he mentions. If such evidence is in great supply, as he suggests, then it should be easy for him to tell his readers where to find it. Please continue to provide your welcome analysis of the on-going struggle for understanding in the world.
Humans, not demons
Sir- As someone who was born in Egypt and has been living in America for over 30 years, I am glad to have discovered Al-Ahram Weekly. It took these events for me to think about seeking out the voice of Egypt. I find myself constantly forwarding the voices of your editorials to friends and co-workers. I think the level of ignorance about the Arab point of view in the West is much more obvious when one has an opportunity to read and listen to Arab voices. It is wonderful to read about the political but also the current cultural state of Egypt.
I particularly enjoyed Hani Shukrallah's "Operation enduring madness" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 11-17 October).
Thank you, and please make it more widely available. Our world is a better place when we can humanise each other, not demonise.
This is not jihad
Sir- According to Islamic law, there are at least six reasons why Bin Laden's barbaric violence cannot fall under the rubric of jihad:
1) Individuals and organisations cannot declare a jihad, only states can;
2) One cannot kill innocent women and children when conducting a jihad;
3) One cannot kill Muslims in a jihad;
4) One cannot fight a jihad against a country in which Muslims can freely practice their religion and proselytise Islam;
5) Prominent Muslim jurists around the world have condemned these attacks and their condemnation forms a juristic consensus (ijma') against Bin Laden's actions. This consensus renders his actions un-Islamic;
6) The welfare and interest of the Muslim community (maslaha) is being harmed by Bin Laden's actions and this equally makes them un-Islamic.
Assistant professor of Islamic Studies
New York University
Sir- Edward Said's article, "Adrift in similarity" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 11-17 October), both represents and advocates a measured, thoughtful approach to the post-11 September situation confronting all of us in one way or another. His characterisation of terrorists and the attacks on New York and Washington is meaningful. It is also made clear that the polarisation of extreme attitudes is the dangerous expression of a need to make sense out of fear and confusion. The reduction of religion to practice and behaviour, in effect a "penal code, stripped of its humanism, aesthetics, intellectual quests, and spiritual devotion," as he quotes Eqbal Ahmad, is not restricted to Islamic fundamentalism but can be seen within many -- if not all -- religions.
Said's comments on Conrad's The Secret Agent could similarly apply to William Golding's Lord of the Flies, which disturbingly reveals "civilised" behaviour as a thin veneer. Thoughtfulness more than anything else is called for at this time. Distinctions must be made between reality and fantasy, e.g., the fear in American minds of terrorists behind every bush, much like fears in the Middle East that "we could be next."
US missile strikes against an elusive enemy, which "unfortunately" kill a few (or more) innocent Afghans, are not acceptable as a palliative for American outrage, any more than was the supposedly zealous nihilism of the terrorist attacks on the US. Although the US could be seen as having carefully built up alliances with world governments, including Middle Eastern and other Islamic ones, a notable gap exists between some of these governments and their people.
In the US, existing emotions are directed and choreographed by the administration and the media. But vigilantism has been a recurring phenomenon in its history. Violence, fear and hatred feed on each other and could spiral out of control. Though the "clash of civilizations" may have started out as a "big idea" and then was promoted as a fashionable, intellectual "gimmick", it could turn into grim reality.
Nancy Roberts Moneir
Be fair, Mr Kaiser
Sir- First of all, this is the first time I write to you though I've been a regular reader of the Weekly since it started over 10 years ago. I have always been tolerant with the few foreigners who criticise the paper or are unkind to Egypt or the Egyptians, especially that these people almost always find other foreigners who know Egypt to answer them. But this time I was so shocked by the letter sent to you from Lt. Col. Michael Kaiser (Al-Ahram Weekly, 11-17 October) that I decided to answer him, hoping he will read my reply.
I am an Egyptian, Christian elderly woman. I spent most of my life with Americans -- working with the Presbyterian Church Mission in Egypt, the US Embassy and USAID, or Naval Medical Unit No. 3 in Cairo. I was also brought up in the American Mission School, Cairo, all through my scholastic years. I am not a writer or a scholar -- in fact, I haven't written an English composition for the past nine years and therefore may not be up to the intellectual standard of the Lt. Col. But I respect and love my country second only to God, and therefore found the Lt. Col.'s letter truly outrageous and hateful.
Mr Kaiser, you started your letter by describing the Weekly as "a pseudo-intellectual pretence, trying to imitate a journal of free thought." Then you describe us readers as "only... probably unsophisticated readers [who] are fooled by your presentations."
Why the impudence? You probably know nothing about Egyptians. You don't know that an Egyptian 12-year-old child has to learn English besides the Arabic language, and 14- to 16-year- olds must learn English and French or German before they can enter university in Egypt. How many languages do you or your children and grandson know besides your American English? Regrettably, one of your worst defects in America is the vain feeling of self sufficiency and superiority. You don't know anything outside of your country. And by the way, Mr Kaiser, the last three US ambassadors to Egypt (Wisner, Walker and Kurtzer) will unfortunately fall among the "unsophisticated readers" because they all respected and read the Weekly all through their tours in Egypt. In fact, procurement offices were officially advised by these ambassadors to subscribe to the Weekly as one of the best, most honest and decent sources of information in the Middle East. Almost all the Weekly staff had their schooling and university education in Egypt, not "university in America or England perhaps."
Why, Mr Kaiser, do you take all our writers' comments as snide? Why do you take "hoping [the war] will not provoke a reaction more deadly than the terrorist attacks" as a threat, not an earnest hope or fervent prayer?
Did you know, Mr Kaiser, that we in Egypt have been suffering from terrorist attacks ever since our great Sadat visited Israel and made peace with it and was martyred after that? In the past 15 years one writer was killed and another survived an attack. Our Nobel winner Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck and is still disabled; one prime minister was killed and another survived (though several schoolgirls died in the attack). There have been attempts to assassinate four ministers, topped by the attempt on the life of Mr Mubarak himself; deadly bombs in a café in Cairo, on tourist buses in the Pyramids area and near the Cairo Museum; attacks on the Muharraq Monastery in Upper Egypt and finally on Luxor tourists. By God's grace and because He has blessed Egypt, we were finally able to contain those terrorists. For 15 years President Mubarak has been pleading with the world to hand over escaped Egyptian terrorists and unite under the UN to eliminate terrorism. But alas, you all gave them asylum. The whole world could have avoided the 11 September atrocities.
We love America, Mr Kaiser. We still grieve for the tragic death of thousands of innocent people. We pray for the bereaved families and for the thousands who lost their sources of income in the US and worldwide. We are a warm people, Mr Kaiser, but still we cannot watch wrong and keep quiet about it. We cannot watch the Palestinians butchered daily (700 killed and 13,000 maimed); the closed roads that hinder people's movement; the kids who cannot go to school or hospital or even to buy food. We cannot watch all this and turn deaf ears or blind eyes and sing the praises of Sharon from whom all blessings flow. Simple people watch all this and, knowing that US F-16s and Apache planes are used in this irrational fight, will surely damn the US.
Be fair, Mr Kaiser: in the days of Rabin things started to improve. Jordan was encouraged and made peace with Israel; Syria started negotiating and was about to achieve peace; Palestinians started negotiating and many Arab states start having commercial and cultural relations with Israel, until radical Jews killed Rabin and everything started deteriorating. I just listened to Mubarak yesterday in an interview with a Jewish correspondent from Israeli television. He said that when Mr Rabin had to close crossings in the past, he immediately paid Arafat $15 million to make up for Palestinian labourers who couldn't go to work. Where is this now? Sharon's deeds aim at choking those poor people to death. Come on, Mr Kaiser, be reasonable and honest: who started all this mess in the Middle East? Isn't it Sharon? Why on earth was he going to Al-Aqsa Mosque? I am a Christian; I pray in church. Muslims pray in the mosque and Jews pray in the synagogue. Was he going to visit? He had not been invited. I know that the Reverend Dr Robert Schuler from Crysthal Cathedral in California received an invitation to visit the grand sheikh in his mosque in Damascus on 17 December 1999. He went, preached there and was greatly appreciated by all Muslims. In fact, he received another invitation last week. But Mr Sharon was never invited. So why did he go with over 1,000 policemen for his security if not to challenge and provoke Muslims?
In your letter you say:
"In our oil policy we will take what we need, wherever and whenever... If we had used our power... we could have conquered or destroyed the entire world a thousand times over. We beat the Nazis and Imperial Japan... We are feeding the Afghans, before and now... Millions to Egypt... OPEC is, now, without power or relevance. They will do what they are told... We are planning the total destruction of some 43 entities, and any response... will simply result in a longer list."
Mr Kaiser, what kind of gibberish is this? You should be ashamed. I am very sorry you are American, because I have known and worked with and loved and still enjoy the friendship of many good American people. I worked with six USAID directors, most of whom were wonderful people. In fact one of them, the late Mr MPW Stone, when he finished his tour in Egypt and returned to the US, became secretary of the US Army. I still cherish a letter of appreciation he sent me in August 1992.
I also worked with an arrogant lieutenant at Namru-3 in 1975 (Namru-3 in Cairo was started in 1940-41 as a dispensary/ seclusion area for US servicemen infected with typhoid fever while stationed in the Suez Canal zone). Once after a hard day's work he arrogantly came waving his cleanliness report at me. I was secretary of the medical department and responsible for its cleanliness. There was a patients' ward -- patients who had tropical diseases and were being treated and followed up for medical research. At this time Namru was still built of hard cardboard and sheet metal. The patients had to sit on the floor and eat their hot lunch of rice and vegetables with their fingers. The lieutenant asked me what I thought of his report, in which he had stated that there were a few grains of rice dirtying the clean floor. I felt very frustrated, as I had worked very hard to keep the ward and village patients clean. I honestly told him his report was unfair and that the whole Namru unit was a disgrace to the US Navy and the US at large, that they should at least seat the patients at a table and give them spoons to eat with so that rice would not fall on the clean floor.
Of course he was furious and reported me to the commanding officer to be fired. But the CO commended my honesty and hard work and requested a survey for special funds to build a new, decent unit. Namru-3 was completely reconstructed, with beautiful buildings and a first-class ward with kitchen and dining room. The unit still exists and assists the Egyptian Ministry of Health in many medical researches and has very good relations with the Egyptian government. You see, Mr Kaiser, truth and honest criticism -- however hurtful -- can be very constructive, while hateful comments are very destructive. Your "millions to Egypt" are not alms -- both America and Egypt benefit from aid, just as those poor village patients from whom blood was taken every other day served the US Navy and were healed in the process.
I always watch CNN and heard Mr Bush asking the American children to donate a dollar each for an Afghan children's fund. If this is done graciously, the US will be applauded by all. But if it is done in the spirit you express in your hateful comments, it will be totally rejected!
We and all the world know that you are a great nation -- a rich nation. You don't need to brag about it. The good Lord gave it all to you because your ancestors were great pious people; and He can take it back. We pray that the Lord will assist you in eradicating Bin Laden and all his evil men. He alone is able to rid the whole world of their evil, whether suicide bombing or anthrax or whatever.
You ended your letter by asking God to have mercy on us. May He truly have mercy on us and you and the whole suffering world. Just remember, Mr Kaiser, that God is love; He is merciful and kind. A great deal can be achieved by love. God bless Egypt and America and the whole world.
Sharing the planet
Sir- Please know that some of us in America are horrified by newspaper reports of Afghan civilians being killed in the continued bombing. I am keeping in my thoughts the children and grandparents, friends and neighbours, parents and colleagues, and all others trying to flee their country in fear. My heart breaks for them.
I am a mother, and I am saying a special prayer for the Afghan mothers who are worried or desperate or grief-stricken.
Newspapers here recently carried stories about Afghans in some of the drought areas eating grass, cattle feed and locusts in order to survive. I'm cautiously hopeful that our government will bolster humanitarian aid and that it won't engage in ongoing threats that convince aid workers to abandon Afghanistan.
Two weeks ago, my husband and I located a group collecting goods for Afghan families. We were fortunate enough to be able to donate some new and used winter clothing, and we will donate to this group again. It is not much, I know, but please know we care and want to help in any way possible.
We care also about Iraqi children who are dying for lack of medicine, but feel helpless to do anything because we are unaware of any groups here that are working to ease their suffering.
We are not political people, and are not even especially well-travelled. America is my home and there's much that I love about it. But if these newspaper accounts are true, I am sickened by what our government's campaign is doing to Afghan civilians.
Violence between countries or organisations is never the answer. After all, we share a small planet.
S M O'Connor
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