Sir-- This is an open letter from the Ahwazi- Arabs for Freedom and Democracy in Iran to Mr Maurice Copithorne, the special representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR).
It has come to our attention that in your report to the UNHCHR on the situation of human rights in Iran, while mentioning the Azeri-Turks, Kurds and others, you did not make any reference to the Arab national minority population.
The Iranian-Arab minority population is over five million, the majority of which live in the southwestern province of Khuzistan (Arabistan or Al-Ahwaz) bordering Iraq. We, the Ahwazi Arabs in Iran are an oppressed and ill-treated national minority. We are being denied our basic human rights, namely the ability to study and speak our native Arabic language, the right to exercise our culture and customs, and we are even being denied the rights to choose Arabic names for our newborn babies.
Demands for our basic human rights, including education in our mother tongue, have often been labelled as "nationalistic", "separatist", and "secessionist" by the Iranian regime. They see our calls for cultural rights as "disintegration tendencies" and as "threatening Iran's national security".
While slight progress has been made in the realm of minority rights in recent years in Iran, these minor freedoms have not been afforded to the Iranian Arabs.
The Islamic Republic continues the policy of "Persianisation", however this time in the guise of Islamic brotherhood and national unity. The Iranian government authorities in the Khuzistan province refuse to register and issue birth identity cards to Arab newborn babies who do not assume Persian names. Despite being at the heart of economic prosperity in the country, the Iranian-Arab population is kept severely backwards, with extremely high illiteracy rates, unemployment, abject poverty, and drug usage among the youth.
Ahwazi-Arabs for Freedom and Democracy in Iran
New York, NY
Sir-- I just read 'Israel's eid gift' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 December). I am an old man, a Jew, many miles away but I am angry and very sad. What has Israel become? I leave that to history. But now, I see Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians and others dipping pens into the smoldering ink of outrage at what Israel does, while they do nothing.
The so-called 'Holy Land' has become a land of an eye for an eye and thus, I have to ask the sage politicians to tell me what happens when in the end all are blind?
Sir-- In the opinion piece entitled 'In the face of reason' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 21-18 December), Mr Nafie describes the attacks perpetrated upon UNWRA employees by the Israeli Oppression Forces in the illegally occupied territories. Several employees have been injured and murdered, and the response from UN officials has been just as history should teach us by Zionists behaviour since 1947 -- by using terror tactics the Zionists can drive the UN out, just as they did many Palestinians during half a century of brutality and terror.
Thank you Mr Nafie for your excellent work.
J Morley Smith Jr
Right to exist
Sir-- I read with great interest Mohamed Sid- Ahmed's column 'A pitfall to be avoided' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 12-18 December). I still could not understand whether Mr Sid-Ahmed was advocating the destruction of Israel as a state, or its recognition within the 1967 borders.
As an Israeli, I found the key sentence to be "All in all, the situation does not make it easy for Arab public opinion to make a distinction between Zionism and Judaism." You see, a very parallel situation exists among Israelis. When our civilians are intentionally targeted, it is hard for us to make a distinction between disagreeing with Israeli's policies or its existence.
Even at the height of the attacks on us, a majority of Israelis actually favoured negotiations for full Palestinian statehood based on the Saudi proposal. There is a sense here that it is Arafat who prefers confrontation rather than mutual recognition.
Furthermore, we are extremely aware of the anti-Israeli rhetoric and hatred, and it does nothing to increase our sense of confidence in our adversaries' ability to live in mutual trust and recognition. But most of us are still willing to try. If it's really about the occupation, there could be peace tomorrow morning. If it's about our existence as a state, we will defend ourselves vigorously. It's an important distinction for the readers of Al-Ahram Weekly to understand -- and perhaps advise the Palestinians.
Sir-- Thank you for the very important article 'A pitfall to be avoided' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12- 18 December). It is most vital that the distinctions you are talking about should be made and brought to the forefront of public attention in both Arab, Israeli and worldwide Jewish communities. I fully identify with a key notion in Mohamed Sid-Ahmed's article, namely the sharp distinction needed not only between Judaism and Zionism, but also between being Israeli and Zionist. I am a secular Israeli, Jewish by origin, but I am not a Zionist. I hope to live one day in a truly secular modern nation state in Palestine, the homeland of free and equal Israelis, Jews, Palestinians and any other citizens of all religions who chose to live here and share a common present and future.
Ramat Ha Sharon
Blame the Arabs
Sir-- The Mohamed Sid-Ahmed opinion piece 'A pitfall to be avoided' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12- 18 December) would be more persuasive if it began with a frank discussion of Muslim/Arab anti- Semitism. Anti-Semitism has been the bread- and-butter of Arab nationalism since the opening of the 20th century. Jews have been killed by Muslim Arab mobs, are routinely slandered, are attacked by Muslim Arabs in all parts of the world, and have been dispossessed of their homes by the hundreds of thousands.
You say it yourselves, only you aren't listening. The several million Jews who live in the Lands of the Arabs must "go to Russia" (Auschwitz) and be replaced by similar numbers of Muslim Arabs. Then everything will be fine. Pat Robertson can hear you, and he's not even especially interested in Muslims as a rule. We all hear you. It's a measure of the bankruptcy of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism, that "Kill the Jews" is the only thing that they can say without equivocation.
St Paul, MN
Zionists against Jews
Sir-- I heartily agree with Mohamed Sid- Ahmed's point. The State of Israel in its present state must in no way be confused with Judaism, which is about doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God, just as Mohamed the prophet said.
I recently read an account by a Jewish professor of an incident she witnessed in Gaza in 1985. An old man and his little grandson came down the street and some Israeli soldiers decided to stop them and terrorise them, eventually compelling the old man to kiss the donkey's rear end. These Israeli soldiers were exactly imitating the behaviour of the SS men toward Jews in the Warsaw ghetto in 1939.
In treating a helpless old man this way, these Israelis were expressing their hatred and contempt for their own fathers who had helplessly submitted to the Nazis. The real target of Israeli contempt and hatred is their own Jewish fathers and mothers, which is also why they treat Judaism itself with such aggressive contempt and the Israeli occupation so closely resembles the Nazi treatment of Jews.
Israeli hatred of Judaism also reveals itself in Israel's heartless exploitation of the Jews outside Israel. Israel demands all sorts of tribute and unconditional support of its conduct, although it totally repudiates everything Jewish. Israel shows itself completely unconcerned that its revolting colonial war endangers the Jewish people by arousing hostility toward them everywhere. Indeed, Israel finds bad news for Jews outside Israel to be good news for its own imperial ambitions, realising that any trouble Jews get into outside Israel will motivate some to go to Israel. Does anyone wonder why Sharon's government seems to go out of its way to arouse hatred against Jews all over the world? It's not an accident.
The last thing anyone opposed to Israeli policy should do is to be hard on Jews outside Israel and frighten them. The State of Israel is the principal enemy of Judaism and of the Jewish people today, endangering Jews all over the world and bringing shame to the name "Jew" -- precisely because Israelis hate and despise the weakness of their Jewish fathers and mothers under the Nazis. Israel must not be allowed to identify itself with Judaism, which it hates and is warring against.
Chino Hills, CA
Sir-- It's hard not to be aware that 98 per cent of your editorial cartoons are directed at the American government and its policies. It implies an agenda and bias on the part of your newspaper, since Muslim and Arab countries are so vastly under-represented in your abrasive criticism. No matter how much truth these cartoons have, the realisation that it is coming from a people who are supported by the same country they are so hostile towards, makes you look a little foolish and hard to respect. Why not show your anger at the US government and their policy by refusing US aid? Seems like all these angry anti-American people aren't quite willing to give up our handouts.
The myth of freedom
Sir-- In 'Prompt response' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 5-11 December), the press attaché at the US Embassy in Cairo criticised a state-owned TV station in Egypt. Here are the questions about the myth of the American freedom of speech.
1- In the US, all TV stations are licensed by the American government, and any deviation in the news from the official policy of the American government could lead to suspension and revoking of the their license.
2- Only certain journalists from certain new agencies can enter the news conferences in the White House, State Department, etc, and most questions are pre-scripted.
3- Journalist who criticised George Bush lost their jobs.
4- The media in the US is owned by giant corporations such as General Electric, Disney and controlled by their advertisers. Any deviation in favour of just solution in the Middle East will be impossible.
In conclusion, freedom of speech in America is a myth.
Mohamed Abu Eliz
Sir-- Mr Frayne, we believe your country's actions, not your words. Bush's actions against the Arab and Muslim nations are clear to us. Marketing Coke, McDonald' s and your policies is not working.
Sir-- The CIA says that it is over 75 per cent likely that Saddam, about to be toppled, will authorise biological attacks on the US homeland. When we invade Iraq to depose Saddam, we lose the deterrent card. Iraq is generally believed to have smallpox and probably has the technology to make superpox, which our vaccine is ineffective against. Iraq might have been sold a Russian strain of smallpox which is vaccine- resistant.
Delivering a highly contagious, vaccine- resistant biologic weapon is as easy as infecting one person and have them ride airplanes and hang around the airport.
We will cause what we are invading to prevent. Attacking a country that possesses vaccine- resistant smallpox is extraordinarily reckless.
Sir-- The Gulf War, ordered by Bush the father was justified. It had the blessing of the international community, it had an objective that serves the interests of the American people, the loss of life was light, and there were idiots able and willing to foot the bill. Bush's popularity went up to 89 per cent.
With the bankruptcy of foreign and domestic policies of Bush the son, a war with Iraq will not achieve the 89 per cent popularity this time around. Not all Gulf wars are created equal. This one will be very bloody, loss of life will be heavy, the economy is in shambles and cannot afford it, and there are no idiots to foot the bill. We should ask ourselves, are we preventing terrorism or creating it, and what are the consequences on the world's economy?
For a long time, Bush was calling on Saddam to come clean. Saddam submitted 12,000 pages to prove he is clean. Bush claims he has intelligence information, but will not share it with the inspectors or journalists. Can a war decision, that has severe adversary consequences, not only for America but for other Western countries, that was never debated or discussed, be taken behind the back of the American people, based on fabrication?
Who should come clean?
Sir-- Brent Sadler, calling in from Northern Iraq recently, has yet again proved that CNN is not entitled to claim that it's reporting is unbiased. Sadler reminds viewers about the barbaric gassing of the Kurds 14 years ago but what he conveniently forgets to mention is that, at that time, the then US president was deeply in love with all Saddam's ferocious outrages. That disgusting administration played godfather to the monster of its creation and didn't even have the decency to pretend disapproval by recalling its ambassador. In fact, that shameful body, almost as shameless as the present one, was actually in awe of Saddam's heinous massacre.
Has Sadler so quickly forgotten the foursome romance of those days -- US\Iraq\Israel\Iran? This unholy alliance was responsible for yet one more bend of the knee for the poor Middle East. Journalism is an honourable profession in the right hands, but this standard of reporting abuses the privilege of belonging to such a fraternity. Sins of omission are just as mortal as the other kind and we all agree that guilt by association is a reality.
Reporters who encourage war on the long- suffering people of Iraq, North, South, East or West must shoulder the responsibility of their contribution to the murder of innocent souls.
Sir-- Iraq had nuclear and biological weapons. Great. They need to protect themselves from Israeli nuclear bombs.
Sir-- I would like to commend Abdel-Moneim Said on his series on the Arabs. Such critical and thoughtful thinking is exactly what can bridge the gaps of culture, religion and bigotry.
Given some of the other material in your newspaper and the less analytical approach of some of your contributors that caters to the "us against them" mentality, his articles should be required reading for them.
I now look forward to reading all of his material.
Sir-- Let me first express my profound admiration of Mr Abdel-Moneim Said for his article 'Learning about the other' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 5- 11 December). I found it very informative and insightful. I agree with him that both the Arabs and Muslims on one hand and the Americans on the other, have an incredibly poor knowledge and understanding of each other. Both of us need to correct this distorted mental image about the other, should understand the other's heritage and contribution to mankind.
From my point of view as an Egyptian Muslim, I find no apparent reason for hating or not dealing with Americans, those who proved a powerful capability of turning the resources -- especially human resources -- at their disposal to wide-scale mass production for their prosperity. Though I cannot approve of some aspects of their foreign policy, especially their attitude towards some countries -- regrettably most of them are Arab and Muslim -- and their attitude towards international environmental issues, but I firmly believe that our bilateral relations should be kept broad and strong.
We need a better understanding of each other.
It makes sense
Sir-- 'Learning about the other' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 5-11 December) is the most sensible article I have read about the US and the Arab world in a long time -- maybe ever.
Richard S Stone
Sir-- Our heartfelt congratulations to Saadeddin Ibrahim and his family, to the Egyptian Human Rights Association, to Egyptian journalism and especially our favourite Al-Ahram Weekly. I am sorry all of you could not convince the "ruling authorities" in Egypt that this case has tarnished their reputation badly enough, and that the longer it goes on the more the present regime will suffer morally and ethically.
Victory for humankind
Sir-- As a Human Rights attorney practicing in Chicago, Illinois, I am pleased that the Court of Cassation has acted in such a decisive and convincing manner in the case of Saadeddin Ibrahim 'Conviction unsound' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 5-11 December).
My son Brett came to Egypt to study under Dr Ibrahim, and perhaps now he will have that fortunate opportunity. I celebrate with all Egyptians the victory for human rights and the rule of law.
Sir-- 'Preacher on the run' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 December) by Gihan Shahine is an excellent article that touches on a very sensitive issue. Why would a law-abiding citizen be driven out of his homeland? It is a shame on whoever was responsible for banning free speech. Egypt, which has for long bragged its openness and tolerance for all ideologies and political orientations, seems to have lost its compass for one single man. Is it true that after hosting ousted presidents and monarchs of other countries such as Iran, Sudan, Libya, we are no longer willing to tolerate one single scholar, who does not even challenge the authorities?
Amr Khaled's message has been that of chastity, decency and integrity of youth. Is this too bad? He has been harassed for years for guiding youth out of perversion through his moderate and widely received words. In an era of open skies and trans-global communication, banning enlightenment is increasingly old-fashioned, sixties style.