|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
14 - 20 March 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Cartoon by Ossama Qassim
Right on target
Sir- It is almost beyond belief how incredibly on target Hani Shukrallah's "This is the way the world ends," (Al-Ahram Weekly, 7 - 13 March 2002) opinion piece is!
Carnage is still resulting from the Reagan/ Thatcher days. Sadly, I must agree that, indeed, this is the way the world ends.
If we live through the next five years, it will be truly amazing.
It is with sadness that I praise you for your insight at publishing this opinion. [Shukrallah] is correct, and anyone with a brain knows this.
Missing the mark
Sir- Doesn't Hani Shukrallah ever get tired of writing the same column every week? I haven't heard anything new from him since the first time I read him. In fact, the only man in the ink- spilling business with a more monotonous job must be Tom Friedman, who writes the same thing twice a week.
Capitalism has gone crazy, the West is trapped in its Crusader mindset, the world is lost, the oppressors are oppressing, America is rabidly in search of someone to blame.
Copy and paste that paragraph a few thousand times and you've got Shukrallah's columns for the next six months.
I don't begrudge the man the right to say his piece, and God knows he's talented and articulate, but how about a little artistic development?
It would be nice if Egyptian columnists, especially the ones with ability, would spend some of their time helping Egyptians to discover the ways they might repair their own flagging culture, economy and political system. In the long run, the insatiable urge to recite all the failings of the West (which are beyond anyone's control anyway) only serves to distract Arabs' attention from the far more urgent tasks closer to home. Why not tackle some of those issues?
The Israel situation is bad. Terrorism and the overblown war against it are bad. But they are not Egypt's deepest problems. Decaying schools are your problem. Unaccountable government is your problem. The gross mismanagement of resources is your problem. The death of homegrown creativity and intellectual adventurousness is your problem. A culture of blaming others and languishing in self-defeating fatalism is your problem.
The Arab people are living in a nightmare of powerlessness, and columnists like Shukrallah only lull them into a deeper sleep by ceaselessly whispering distant horrors into their ears. It's time to sound the call for people to wake up.
Self-reliance is the antidote to powerlessness, and self-awareness is the key to becoming self- reliant. Hani Shukrallah ought to honestly apply his critical insight to Egypt itself. Or at least give it a try every couple of weeks.
Rancho Santa Margarita,
Seeing and believing
Sir- In response to Edward Said's excellent article, "Thoughts About America" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 February-6 March), I can only say that there are many people in the US who agree with him and who see the same picture he sees. Our voices aren't heard, and it's difficult to speak out in the current climate, but it's evident that many people quietly oppose the US's foreign policies and its expansion of the war into one country after another.
Many of us also disagree with the rhetoric claiming this is a battle of "good" versus "evil." Unfortunately, our media isn't saying anything about US foreign policies that would explain why they are causing such anger throughout the world.
The American people are the last to be informed of what our government does internationally in our names, so those who don't research and study on their own are easily swayed by wartime rhetoric that ignores the facts and reality and presents a completely false, one-sided view of the conflict.
Sir- Edward Said's "Thoughts about America" was brilliant.
We Muslims are not born with some kind of "defective anti-American gene" about which the Pentagon is trying to making us aware of by its publications like that of "American Values." The people of America are among the most progressive-minded in the world. However, it is the US's hypocritical policies that make this nation a symbol of hatred throughout the Muslim world.
When Madeleine Albright, America's former secretary of state, was reminded about the deaths of millions of children in Iraq, she effortlessly replied that the price was worth it! However, for each and every death in Israel, the same government holds Yasser Arafat responsible.
The story is endless, The New York Times recently called it a great wall between two cultures. Thomas Friedman, one of its op/ed contributors, had to strike his head to make himself understand why Muslims hate America.
Anyway, Edward Said's thoughts should be a reminder to America that we don't possess an anti-American gene and therefore we don't need any brainwashing. Just as America expects "concrete actions" from Yasser Arafat, and not just statements, we also want to see concrete actions in the US's foreign policies that give the US a position of respect in the Islamic world.
Handle with care
Sir- After reading Edward Said's "Thoughts About America", I feel that the true situation in America is best interpreted on a much deeper level than through looking at that country's historical development or examining Americans' ideas about themselves.
Under threat, we revert to animal behaviour to survive. This is hard-wired into our systems, and has been honed by millions of years of simian behaviour, where the thoughtful, considerate individuals were quickly killed off by the thoughtless actors who set the tone of human events. It is the unusual human being who retains the ability to function rationally once terror intrudes into his life.
A classic example is Palestine and Israel. Rational behavior would entail stopping one's own violent behaviour for a while to see whether the other side responded in kind. It's like hitting a man on the head because he is kicking you in the shins. The sensible person might stop, once he realised it wasn't going well, whether he was the hitter or the kicker. In reality, the harder one hits, the harder the other kicks. Anyone suggesting a rational solution gets hit and kicked by both.
So it is with the Americans. They've been adventuring in foreign lands with impunity for the past 50 years, and haven't been attacked once on their own soil since Pearl Harbor. The 11 September attack was calculated to be both vicious and horrifying, and is seen by nearly every American as having come with no provocation whatsoever. It's not so much that Americans are different than other people, they're much like everyone else: thoughtful and kind toward their families and friends, cynical and cautious toward strangers. Situations on the other side of the globe don't enter into their consciousness until they erupt on the front page, and the average intelligent person is unaware of the irony of their government's having for years subverted the democratic progress of places like Iran, Chile, Cambodia, Guatemala and on and on, in the name of preserving democracy. What they perceive is that these creatures from hell have attacked us for no reason at all.
Who are they and where do they come from? On our primal, unreasoning level the answer is obvious: they are Arabs, they believe in Islam, they are not like us, with our high regard for human rights, they have no tradition of democracy, etc. On a rational level, of course, this sentiment is deeply buried under our civil rights history and masked in a bit of self-delusion: we see ourselves as racially sensitive, fair and even-handed. We'd like to think that some of our best friends might be Muslim, or Arab -- of course we actually don't know that many, personally. So we don't really get the fact that people are pretty much alike the world over, although like President Bush we emphatically proclaim that this isn't about race or religion. Still, from America it looks and feels at times very much like the Crusade he says it isn't.
So, with 80 per cent of the American public behind him, and flush with seeming victory in Afghanistan, he is now taking his non-Crusade on the road, telling governments from the Philippines to Yemen to Georgia to Indonesia to Colombia -- it's a new country every other day now -- that he stands ready to help them fight terror on their own soil. The strong implication is that these governments are either "with us or against us," and it will take some careful handling on the part of every nation uncomfortable with this situation to preserve its independence.
So my best advice, as an American who has made a few friends in other lands, is to handle us gingerly for the next year or two until this thing is resolved. Be reasonable and patient with us and, sooner or later, we should tire of our outrage and learn the value of becoming good neighbours. I wish us all good fortune.
Energy versus culture
Sir- Gamil Mattar's provocative thesis about the implementation of the Bush Administration's global agenda ("Brooking no dissent" Al-Ahram Weekly 7-13 March) is a very trenchant analysis, even from the perspective of an American very traumatised by the events of 11 September. No doubt those events have been exploited by the Bush team to further objectives that they could have only dreamt about in the past.
Indeed, Mattar could have gone further and cited remarkable pro-American gains in government circles recently in inhospitable places like Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen.
And, amazingly, the inroads in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia were not at the expense of Russia's goodwill. Putin, for reasons of his own, has not passively accepted the Bush initiatives in his regional backyard as Mattar suggests, but has embraced them. And Mattar has been kind to the Bush team in not reminding us of their personal ties to the global energy industry.
The one major quarrel I have with his otherwise exceptional analysis is that the educational and religious reforms that the Americans are seeking in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are not the baggage of cultural imperialism, but a very understandable reaction to the role that religious extremism has played in fueling the deadly attacks on American civilians.
Sir- First, my condolences to the families and persons involved in the train wreck last week.
Since 11 September I have had a tough time. I am sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. I have always thought highly of Islam and still feel that way. But, recently it has become more difficult based on a natural urge I cannot control called self-preservation.
Every day I read about nukes being snuck into New York and Iran's "Death to a America" chants. What should I think? What should Americans think? It is clear after 11 September that there is intent to kill. So as much as I want a peaceful solution, there is a part of me that supports the war because it seems to be the only option on the table.
When I read the Arab press, every article seems to say that the US is the cause of every ill ever done. Do I agree with the US policy in Iraq? No, but is the US 100 per cent to blame? No! What about the corrupt regime that started a bloody civil war with its neighbour and tested chemical weapons on its own people?
There is a lot I do not agree with in US policy, from our war on drugs, which our own demand brought about, to our inability to pressure Israel when such pressure is clearly needed.
But, the Arab and Muslim populations of the world need to admit some of their own problems. Bush's "axis of evil" was a bit much, but what should we say to a country such as Iran that clearly states on a daily basis that its wants "Death to America"? Should we reply, "Oh, OK" and do nothing. If somebody on the street said, "I am going to kill you," how would you react?
While I expect such blatant and simplistic anti- US statements from state operators, to hear them from "intellectuals" is shocking.
Terrorism and its roots
Sir- As an American citizen who fully supports our president's war on terrorism, I am at odds with some statements in Al-Ahram Weekly. The war on terrorism will free us from the uncertainty brought by the misguided and frustrated. However, your coverage does help me to understand the root cause of what occurred on 11 September.
There is one issue that we do agree on: Israel must be held accountable for its part in the murder of thousands of Palestinians. The violence has to stop. It flies flagrantly in the face of almost any religious faith. The words of Ben Gurion that open your coverage of "50 years of Arab dispossession" (see section of the same title on Al-Ahram Weekly's Web archives, or the 1-7 January 1998 issue of the newspaper) are most disturbing: "... And in this fashion, we will end the war and settle our forefathers' account with Egypt, Assyria, and Aram."
As Christians, we are taught to forgive -- to live and let live. Actions that occurred in the far distant past against my Anglo-Saxon ancestors are of little interest to me. What matters to me is that my family, our children and neighbours on this small planet can live in peace and prosperity.
When the war on terrorism is over, we will be well-served by engaging in a war on poverty and illiteracy.
Playa Del Rey, California
A share in the shame
Sir- Your recent article describing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson's comments while in Egypt was quite fascinating ("The politics of rights," Amira Howeidy, Al-Ahram Weekly, 7-13 March), but omitted her remarks regarding the Arab treatment of Palestinians.
While visiting Beirut, Robinson chastised Lebanese President Emile Lahoud for the shameful abuse of the Palestinians, left to rot in the squalor of 12 camps. Lahoud whispered in her ear that allowing the refugees to integrate into Lebanon would destabilise the fragile peace between the country's Muslim and Christian citizens! And you expect Israel to take them in when their own brothers won't?
President Lahoud went on to say that if Lebanon made life too comfortable for the Palestinians, they would lose their will to return to Palestine.
Well, that philosophy has been in place for 54 years, and all it has done is ruin a people and create a volatile situation.
The anti-Palestinian sentiment throughout the Arab world is equally, if not more, harmful than anything the Israelis have done to those people, and you should all be ashamed.
Sir- I commend you for publishing Edward Said's articles. Said is an Arab-American national treasure. His work is worthy of publication throughout the world.
His voice of truth derails all the Israeli lies and propaganda, throughout the world, and in the United States, in particular.
Palo Alto, California
No apologies needed
Sir- Kindly, convey my best regards and expression of support to Galal Amin for his excellent contribution to Al-Ahram Weekly. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his comments in the piece he contributed, entitled, "A hoax in holy mantle" (28 February-6 March).
I have visited Egypt on several occasions and each time I discovered something useful for my profession. My latest trip to Egypt was in 1996, along with a group of university students. Our tour guide was a "well-informed" and well- liked individual with a doctorate degree in archeology. He was a Muslim and a nationalist. However, his explanations of historic buildings, especially those of the Muslim period, left me stunned when he repeatedly pointed out the significance of three windows in a palace wall and on a mosque wall. He said that it showed the influence of Christianity in the design and building of these structures.
Although I am not a specialist in Egyptian architecture, this statement did not seem right to me. When, privately, I asked him why he made such statements, he admitted that he was trying to please foreign visitors. He was embarrassed to know that the entire group was made up of Muslims.
Galal Amin's piece is a reassuring one for me and I am sure for others, who do not wish to be apologetic about our religion. Perhaps, tour guides should be required to be more upright in their confessions.
Sir- Concerning your interview with author Ian Ferguson about Lockerbie ("Hot on the trail" Judit Neurink, Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 February-6 March), I agree completely with Ferguson that an innocent man has been wrongly convicted for the Lockerbie bombing. His book Cover-up of Convenience does an excellent job in exposing some of the fundamental flaws in the prosecution case.
It is therefore regrettable that he and in his partner John Ashton became fixated with the unsubstantiated claim that a suitcase of drugs was found in the wreckage at Tundergarth and advanced a theory even more preposterous that the official scenario based around claims that the sole Arab victim was a drug courier.
If there were drugs on the plane it had nothing to do with the bombing.
Theories concerning Lockerbie centre around who built the bomb and how, at which airport and by whom the bomb was introduced. These are relatively simple questions to answer. The real horror is the extent to which the authorities, for understandable if amoral reasons, colluded in the bombing. I think the Americans were prepared to accept the destruction of a single airliner as quid pro quo for the "Vincennes incident" and the victims were quite literally human sacrifices. What was the alternative?
In 1996, I tested claims made in the House of Commons by the former Prime Minister John Major that the investigation was "open" and pointed out to the authorities how, where and by whom the bomb was introduced. I also drew their attention to some bizarre frauds that might have cast light on claims that an English fraudster may have played a role in the bombing.
It was clear the authorities were hostile to any information that challenged the dubious conclusion on the Fatal Accident Enquiry that the bomb arrived unaccompanied on the feeder flight, PA103A from Frankfurt (a claim unchallenged by the proponents of the "drug theory').
I think one of the most curious aspects of the Lockerbie case is that this conclusion was based on the evidence of the then Lord Advocate's Deputy Andrew Hardie QC, although I am not aware of what personal knowledge he had of the facts. Hardie himself became Lord Advocate and is now a Scottish High Court Judge.
Sir- I am an Egyptian, and the only Egyptian living in Katmandu, Nepal, where I work as a software developer. I am writing to you to ask about and shine light on a matter that causes us Egyptians living abroad to lose faith in our diplomats -- the very people who are supposed to be representing Egypt and Egyptians abroad.
When I arrived here in Nepal, about a year and a half ago, I went to the Egyptian embassy to register, which is when the humiliation began. First, I had to stand outside the Egyptian embassy in the rain of the monsoon season for 40 minutes while a staff member took my passport to obtain permission to let me in -- even though I had phoned the day before to let the staff know that I was coming. When I finally entered the embassy, I was startled to be treated as though I were in an Egyptian police station and under interrogation. "Are you escaping the Indian authorities?" asked one of the diplomats when I said that I had been a resident of India before. Then he asked if I was escaping something in Egypt.
More recently I tried to obtain information about registering my impending marriage to a Nepali woman. My treatment at that point was even more humiliating. Upon presenting myself, I was told, "The ambassador doesn't know that you are still here and better not find out that you are." When I asked the meaning of the employee's strange response, I was told: "Don't ask so many questions."
Do you think sir, that Egyptians should be treated in such a manner when they are living abroad?
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