23 -29 May 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
Loud and clear
Sir- I have taken time to ponder, review my positions and that of others regarding the Arab media summit in Dubai earlier this month. I note the disappointment and anger with which Gamil Mattar comments in "More equal than others" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 9-15 May) on the summit, and I do get irritated.
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Yes, many Western journalists were overbearing, but they were also all invited to discuss only one subject matter -- how to get the Arab view across, preferably the Atlantic, since the Mediterranean doesn't pose the same problem. They were not invited to discuss common, mutual problems, biases on both sides and how to deal with them, the problems of objectivity, the rise of fascist and fanatical movements in Europe, USA and the Arab world and the new moral climate we are all living in.
No, they came to tell how to break Western barriers, and this is exactly what they did. Loud and clear. Sometimes with a lot of sympathy, sometimes with less, sometimes condescending and sometimes respectfully, but they all came to talk about how to get the Arab view across. And then they left, leaving it to the Arabs to act or not to act on their advice.
Personally, I feel that the summit delivered on its avowed goals. Although what was said has been said before, it was nevertheless important to sit face-to-face with people and have things confirmed. Yes, there is institutionalised bias within the BBC, it is not a figment of my imagination; yes, there are other views in the US and pluralism does exist, even though you wouldn't know it by just looking at the White House; yes, all of us who are trying to present the other side of Arabs face the same preconceived, simplified ideas flooding the West.
For me, this was all worth the ticket. But I regretfully conclude that precisely because the summit was geared in one direction only -- Arab to the West -- we never had the chance to talk about issues that are prevalent and of concern to all our societies, such as racism, bias, prejudice and discrimination, which I imagine, would allow for greater equality but would also demand of the Arabs that they shed some of their own myths.
The next summit could pick up from where this one left off and try a different approach. Perhaps [involve] workshops, instead of just listening, and questions that actually need the two sides to answer. We can force equality on anyone if we don't leave people on a podium all the time.
Helena Axelson Fisk
Sir- My understanding from reading A History of The Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani, is that there are such things in the Arab world as blood feuds and blood debts. Strangely enough, there are similar and long-standing customs as these in the US. Grossly simplified, the US has identified certain individuals and groups that it now has a blood feud with. When President Bush declared that governments and peoples would have to decide whether they were "with us or against us," he was speaking to that basic nature within the broad American society.
While dialogue and deal-making are preferable (after all, we are capitalists), there is a large segment of our society that fully expects the total defeat of Al- Qa'eda, its sympathisers, its supporters, its financiers, and its creators. Period. No concessions, no dialogue, no treatments and backroom deals. The goal of the US, due to the casualties of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is unconditional surrender. The Arab world will either side with the US in this venture, or side with "the other guy." It is that simple, and that definite. My suggestion in this matter is that the Arab world will not want to find itself aligned with the "other guy" on this issue.
The US has some very interesting asymmetric capabilities of its own such as reducing domestic oil consumption. As for military capabilities, I would offer the US's actions against Japan and Iraq as cautionary examples. The US will most likely oppose the establishment of another dictatorship in the Arab Middle East, or the establishment of a society that treats non-Muslims as second-class citizens (such as in the Sudan).
We tend to think that a quite less-than-perfect democracy is superior in function and actuality than theological or secular dictatorships. Nothing I have seen in the Arab press would lead me to believe that a theologically-based state would be either preferable, or even acceptable, under present circumstances.
Lastly, for those who wish war with the US and its allies, I would only say the following: We are coming, and we're angrier than you think.
Los Angeles, CA
A better life?
Sir- Now that the Taliban are no longer in control of Afghanistan. Do you think the US led coalition forces have improved the lives of the Afghani people?
Sir- Regarding the referendum in Pakistan, I would like to say that the regime squandered billions from public funds on rallies, electioneering and personal publicity for Mr Musharraf. The very little available for non-military expenditures was also diverted to that lousy referendum. Teachers were herded to his meetings, civil servants were made to raise slogans, public transport was impounded and life came to stand still for more than three weeks.
Official machinery was not misused; it was abused in the most flagrant manner to appease the lust for power of one individual. Loss of production, destruction of institutions, mockery of the constitution, cost of litigation, the time of the Supreme Court consumed for handing down the pre-dictated verdict, all of it appears to be just a prelude to the forthcoming "true democracy."
Clearly, we failed to understand our grand Chief Executive. By "continuity", Musharraf's favourite catchphrase, he must have meant that he would make sure that the squalid traditions of Pakistani politics are kept alive. And he will not allow any progress through free and fair elections. By any measure, the whole undertaking was a shameless spoof to fool the masses.
Does our latest Messiah in khaki -- now fortified with the "heaviest mandate ever" -- has any agenda beyond the continuation of his own rule, perpetuation of the hegemonic role of military in the politics of Pakistan and preservation of the lavish perks and privileges of the top brass? Barring a handful of traditional tactics to prolong their rule, the ruling junta seem to have absolutely no strategy to solve the many predicaments facing the nation.
Thankfully, the unfolding events have exposed the true face of our self-styled saviours and the grand image of a patriotic honest soldier stands completely demolished now.
Of foxes and cows
Sir- The current political situation reminds me of a story I read as a child. The story is about a fox and three cows. There was a white cow, a black cow and a brown one. One day, the fox took the black and brown cows aside and persuaded them that the whiteness of the third cow makes it more attractive, and thus they reached an "agreement" according to which the fox ate the white cow and its friends didn't defend it.
A few days later, the fox took the black cow and convinced it that the lighter colour of the brown cow makes it more attractive. They reached another agreement according to which the fox ate the brown cow. Then the fox came to the last cow with his mouth wide open. The black cow shouted: "How dare you? You can't eat me. I am not alone." But the fox replied with a sly smile: "But you are alone now. Your fate was sealed when the white cow was eaten."
Today, the US (the fox) wants to reach an agreement with the Arab countries (the cows) to attack Iraq (the white cow). I just wonder which country will be the next victim.
Yasser Fouad Abdellah
Peace and coexistence
Sir- I feel that Israel's hostile acts towards Palestinians are catastrophic for the peace process, but I also believe that Palestinian suicide bombers are just as bad, because they are also killing innocent civilians, both sides are in the wrong. I believe that there should be a sovereign Palestinian Arab state, but I also believe that Israel has the right to its own state as well. Both sides have rights to this land, they need to share it and live in peace and face the fact that they are neighbours.
I am a Muslim and I respect all Muslims, Christians and Jews, and I did not agree with the United States being so pro-Israeli during the past months. But lately President Bush has been trying to be fair. It's hard for Americans after 11 September to side with the Arabs, because it will take a long time for the wounds to heal.
What we need now is peace. Enough bloodshed and enough hate. let's put an end to the problem between Israel and Palestine and establish a Palestinian state and never look back from then on, the Arab people need to move into the future, and hate will never help us progress, it will only drive us backwards.
Tarek Mohamed Salah
Sir- As a Jew, an American and a human being, I ask, where shall we encounter the collective outrage for our despicable inhumanity? Where shall we meet the collective sorrow? Where shall we find the mass protest, the life stories of countless men, women, and children shattered because of us? Where are the Rabbis preaching equality, common humanity, and genuine peace between Jew and Palestinian alike? How can we be so misguided? Have we forgotten what it means to be Jewish, to be a child of God, to be a human being? Are we not ready to shed the armour of enmity caging our own souls, and building barricades around our own minds?
We must grieve, grieve, grieve. Grief means acknowledgement, making conscious what remains in darkness. Inhumanity confronted is inhumanity destroyed, and the natural consequence is responsibility -- the first requisite for genuine peace.
More creative ideas
Sir- The "innovative solution" suggested by Shalum Mreef in Readers' corner (Al-Ahram Weekly, 9- 15 May 2002) may have caused a smile or two, yet I believe there is merit in the idea.
The vast majority of Palestinian Arabs are fluent and literate in the Hebrew language, in addition, they also have a deep knowledge of all historical sites in the area and their relevance to the Jewish faith.
As is generally believed a convert is always more enthusiastic to his adopted faith than those born into it. The current secular/religious divide in Israeli society is a cause of concern among the world Jewish religious communities. And to that, is the fact that in the Diaspora out-marriage is causing a substantial reduction in the world's Jewish population. So an influx of enthusiastic knowledgeable converts would compensate and re-vitalise the faith.
It is interesting to note that the world renowned geneticist professor Winston has shown that the basic DNA of Ashkenazi Jewish men is identical with that of Palestinian Arab men.
It's worth a thought.
Globalisation of terror
Sir- In the last few years the world has witnessed the birth of a new word belonging, especially, to the field of business and economics. Most of the people -- capitalists of course -- have accepted it with alacrity and noticeable optimism, labelling it "Globalisation." This word, in a broad sense, means that everything is to be unified and standardised via certain norms and rules. That is to say, instead of talking about different economics, currencies, political systems, etc, through globalisation we will talk about one globalised economy, currency and so forth.
But after the 11 September attacks, and by an indirect decision from the US, globalisation acquired another meaning; which is globalisation of the anti- terrorism struggle. In other words, the majority of the countries in the world should unify with US in its campaign against terrorism and terror masterminds so that peace may be dominant everywhere in the world.
This is a very good initiative, but what is not good is why the US does not consider Israel as a terrorist country and deal with it as a terror mastermind. Maybe the US thinks that Israel is a country which is fighting terrorism, and considers the Palestinians as "terrorists" and Israelis as "friends." But is it possible for the world today to talk about a globalised peace especially at a time when many innocent people are being starved, tortured and killed?
Sidi Abbad Bniyakhlen Benslimane
Sir- As an American (non-Arab, non-Jewish) who like many is appalled by the plight of the Palestinians, and the American government's complicity in Israel's brutal occupation, I have a suggestion, that will seem, perhaps, frivolous, but in fact I think could go a long way to help solve the problem.
Americans, like most people, are driven by the media, and to date there is no Arab spokesperson that elicits sympathy in the American public to both the Palestinians and to Arab causes in general. I'm afraid that 11 September went a long way to tarnish the "image" of Arabs among Americans.
There is, however, one person who I think could go a long way to rectify this situation. That person is Queen Rania of Jordan. After seeing her on CNN, I realise that this person could capture the hearts and minds of Americans. She is attractive, modern, well spoken, and is both an Arab and Palestinian.
I think anyone who wants to present Arab causes would do well to have this exceptional person appear often both in the American media and in Washington. She could be the Arab nation's, and the Palestinians' most potent "weapon" in both explaining their positions and correcting the tarnished image of Arabs in America.
Crossing religious lines
Sir- In a world troubled by terrorism, the conflict is often seen as being caused by religion, even though both sides often have no idea what the other's religion is about. Many are frightened by the other's religion, purely because they are unaware of what it teaches.
I am a Christian, but have read the Qur'an and lived with a Muslim girl, and would invite all people to lay aside prejudices and read the Qur'an and Bible for themselves. This gives a first hand understanding of what they teach, instead of listening to all the different views about it.
Rocks of evil
Sir- Many people are angry about Israel's crimes but feel helpless and do not know what to do. There are, however, many peaceful ways by which ordinary people can take effective action.
One is never to buy a diamond. Israel is the world's leading exporter of cut and polished diamonds. They import rough diamonds from countries like South Africa, Sierra Leone and Angola and cut them by machine in Tel Aviv and other parts of Israel. These polished diamonds are then sold to the rest of the world, mainly to the US, and constitute a huge proportion of Israel's export economy -- one third of total exports. According to the Israeli government Web site www.mfa.gov.l/mfa/go.asp?MFAH07si0: "The country is the world's largest manufacturer of polished diamonds with over $5 billion of such diamonds exported in 1996 and $3.4 billion in the first half of 1997." According to the CIA World Factbook, cut diamonds are indeed one of the top experts of Israel.
There is no doubt that many of these diamonds come in to Egypt, whether legally or smuggled, and there is no point in asking the jeweller where they are from because he will not tell you they are from Israel. So the best course of action is for everyone with a conscience around the world to simply stop buying diamonds along with other Israeli products, until Israel starts abiding by international law and stops occupying Arab land.
A marriage does not have to be sealed with a diamond ring, and a boycott of Israeli goods such as this is the best way for civilians like us to pressure Israel into ending its oppressive occupation. A similar boycott against South Africa in the 1980s forced that nation to end its Apartheid regime. Now it is Israel's turn.
Sir- Regarding Ayman El-Amir's article "Filtering the propaganda" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 16-22 May). How can anyone be so sanguine about the relaunch of a propaganda war and ho-hum the issue with no feeling or depth of analysis?
As a foreigner, I find myself astounded when I read sentences such as "It is likely, therefore, that the claim of 'objective journalism' will succumb to the political exigencies of the United States government." Have we learnt nothing of the past?
To leave room for doubt, with soft words where only the harshest of warnings are adequate, just seems bizarre.
This is not just a case of packaging US positions in a palatable way, it is also of fomenting division and dissent into popular bodies, of bringing into being the "globalised" youth culture that America is constantly exporting, and most importantly of creating the opinions and perspectives which it can then refer to for international justification of future policies and actions.
Just imagine, a "major" social issue campaigned for by this station. In the Arab countries you will have a clear understanding of the actual popular support for the campaign, but over in Europe or America, we will not. We cannot. Therefore we will rely on news and opinions coming out of the Arab countries, if the origin of such news happens to be Radio Sawa, then the propaganda objective is achieved.
We in the West will be sold ready packaged "information" about the Middle East, through Radio Sawa. Whereas now Al-Jazeera does occasionally get reported or referenced, in future this will not be necessary. All that will be required for "credibility" will be to reference a story on Arab radio (Sawa) which dovetails conveniently with US policy requirements.
At present there is little media representation of Arab and Muslim culture in Europe, other than the gutter level criticism of popular rags and the more sophisticated (though equally antagonistic) "debate" in academic journals and "high-brow" media.
Radio Sawa could prove to be a new development in packaging and managing the Western public's perception of the Middle East. In many ways this would seem extremely timely, since the anti-Israeli demonstrations occurring in the streets of London (and those few that we hear about in America), suggest that the media is failing in it's role of subduing and diffusing dissent.
A new approach, originating in the Middle East, could be just what is required to stem the growing tide of dissent in the West.
Murshed Ahmed Choudhury
Defending fair coverage
Sir- As a punctual reader of Readers' corner, I didn't miss Mr Frank Kuti's letter "Lynching the Weekly" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 16-22 May) in which the writer's accusations and threats are scattered everywhere.
First, I was not surprised to see the Weekly being attacked on the pages of the newspaper itself, simply because this is the level of credibility I am accustomed to at the Weekly.
Second, stating pure facts and opinions is the newspaper's axiom. Criticising the Weekly in this way is like blaming The New York Times for publishing the story of the American plane spying on China, or The Washington Post for the White House scandal, or CNN for televising scenes of American Apache levelling poor Palestinians' houses to the ground, on the basis that this coverage would hurt America's image. So if there are anti-America feelings, surely the Weekly is not behind it.
Al-Ahram Weekly being the country's national paper is not a sad joke, the real sad, sour joke is to classify unarmed Palestinians as terrorists, while Israeli assassins are called America's best friends.
Sir, we are not against the American people, but against the American administration's way of handling the Middle East conflict on the basis of self- serving gains.
Nader Fayez Fouad
Sir- In response to the letter titled "Lynching the Weekly" in Readers' corner (Al-Ahram Weekly 16- 22 May), the writer of this message claims that the Weekly is inciting public opinion to hate America, and issued a verdict to "hang the professional hate- mongers" at the Weekly.
I say to this reader that it is not the Weekly which incites people to hate America, but it is America which incites the people to hate America. We harbour no grudge for the American people, but we are vehemently against the stand of American administration in solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; we are against America when it metamorphosed Ariel Sharon to "a man of peace" and the Palestinians to "terrorists;" we are against America when it weighs with two scales and gives Israel a green light for all its actions; and when we see that the war machine used against the Palestinians is made in the USA.
This, in brief, is the interpretation of the negative attitude of the Arab world against America. Presumably I did not add anything new in this respect, but just wanted to remind this reader of these simple facts.
As for his request to hang the staff of the Weekly, I say to him: If you want to express your opinion, please do not insult others specially that they can counter your insult by the same. However, they chose not to and you must appreciate that.
Rejecting the other
Sir- Edward Said is always great. Still, his article "Crisis for American Jews" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 16- 22 May) is one of the best in clearing up the context in which American Jews exist. It points out the Zionists' fundamental problem with the Arabs -- total rejection. The Israelis, and the Zionists naturally, are self-centric to the extent that they see only themselves and their endeavours, but nothing else. This is selfishness. This is one-sidedness. This is rejection of the other.
Mr Said succeeded in showing the emotionally handicapped Jewry of America.
Ihsan Ali Bu-Hulaiga
News from home
Sir- Just a short note to express how much I enjoy receiving your weekly paper.
I am a native Egyptian living in the US (for the last 33 years). It is very easy to lose touch with what is happening in the homeland, but your weekly publication on the Internet is great.
Letter from the Editor
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