Proud to be human
Sir-- In the bleak outlook called Middle East reality, you showed a beam of light with a balanced, sensitive depiction of the suicide bombing of a bus in Jerusalem (Al-Ahram Weekly, 21-27 August).
Without getting into the blame exchange, you just reported what ought to be reported -- this was a terrible crime, as Mr Abbas called it. Other crimes, committed by Israel, should be reported too, but the fact that a leading Arab newspaper is judging these terrible crimes for what they are makes me proud to be a human being.
I just hope soon there will be two states living side by side, prosperous, and equal; with a great friend to both to the south -- Egypt.
New York, NY
A lost battle
Sir-- Nyier Abdou's excellent article 'Wanted: dead or alive' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 August - 3 September) shows the infamous duplicity of the US in handling war criminals. Yugoslav Slobodan Milosevic was turned to the Hague International Court of Justice, but the Bush administration killed the sons of Saddam Hussein without a domestic or international trial. It will not allow any international court to have jurisdiction over the trial of Al-Majid who is presumably responsible for the gassing of Kurds.
The US is trying to seek legitimacy from the UN by asking for help from other members of the international community, but it is clear that it is relentlessly seeking to make its war against Iraq legitimate on its own terms: Kill all Ba'athists suspected of war crimes without international legitimacy or trial and 'liberate' Iraq from terror.
There is no alternative to international courts to try war crimes. Without the UN and the Court of Justice the US loses legitimacy and cannot win the war.
Sir-- Please note that like some Iraqis were downtrodden, in the sense that they did not have much say with respect to their government's decisions, some Americans suffer the same suppression.
Not all Americans are blood-thirsty killers; there are many Americans who disapprove of the war and the tactics of their country during and after war. But we are the same as the people of Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein; we don't have much control over our leader's decisions.
In the dark
Sir-- Regarding 'Sign of the times' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 August - 3 September). It is truly shocking that I, an American, have to read Al- Ahram Weekly to find out about the appointment of Daniel Pipes to the United States Institute of Peace.
This is further demonstration of the pro-Israeli tilt of this administration and its complete lack of understanding of the Arab position. I thank Mohamed Hakki for his insightful and informative article and your paper for publishing it.
San Diego, CA
Breaking the truce
Sir-- Contrary to widespread views among European and American political circles and news media, the Palestinian militant organisations are not primarily responsible for the failure of the recent peace negotiations and the truce. Regarding the roadmap, it was clear that since the announcement of the plan those organisations were attacking only the Israeli occupation army, an act which is legitimate according to international law. However, Israel continued its liquidation of Palestinian leaders (which are extra-judicial executions and serious violations of international law). In reaction, the Palestinian organisations committed several suicide attacks which are of course serious violations of human rights -- but also a reaction to the liquidations.
Regarding the truce, when Hamas and Jihad announced a one-sided truce, this implied a halt of all military actions against Israel, and Israel unofficially declared a temporary end to the liquidation of Palestinian leaders. Although the air-strikes stopped, at least twice the Israeli army barricaded homes and two Hamas leaders and one Jihad leader were killed. In reaction, these organisations committed a suicide attack in Jerusalem on 19 August killing 20 and wounding 100, and after that Israel began its air strikes against Palestinian leaders again. Of course the suicide attack is highly condemnable, but also it has to be seen in light of the continuous Israeli violations of the roadmap and the truce.
Although both parties are guilty of serious violations of human rights (air-strikes, demolition of Palestinian houses, the killing of Palestinians in refugee-camps, suicide attacks), Israel bears the primary responsibility for the failure of the peace negotiations and the truce.
Out on a limb
Sir-- My impression of both Jonathan Cook's article 'Eyes wide open' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 21-27 August) and Ran HaCohen's article 'Eyes wide shut' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 7-13 August) is that they both deliberately omitted the flip side of the coin: decades of ever escalating Palestinian violence.
A debate between Cook and HaCohen is like seeing two birds singing on a tree limb. HaCohen lives in Israel and claims ignorance of Palestinians suffering? I seriously doubt it. The Israeli press does a remarkable job of covering the horrible conditions that the Palestinians are forced to live under -- in Israel as well as in their 'Arab brother states'. When you consider that the vast majority of Israelis have cable TV and Internet access to give them independent sources of information, there is no way Israelis can claim ignorance.
Cook is right, the vast majority of Israelis serve in the military and have a good first hand impression of the conflict -- from both sides. They see the burning Israeli buses, and the inside of Palestinian homes with mothers and children shaking in fear.
This conflict isn't a one-way street, as Cook would like to portray it. The once powerful Israeli peace camp didn't implode all by itself. The typical Palestinian has not been exposed to the ever- escalating violence that the Israelis have been subjected to for decades. In fact, it seems that if they could see it, they would enjoy it, since they already dance in the streets when they hear a 'successful' homicide bomber has struck in Israel. The Palestinians' version of an educational system seems to include hatred of Jews, and incitement to commit violence. After all, a culture based on hate isn't conducive to making peace.
Cook, as is typical with his style, dismisses any Israeli point of view as either a fetish, or some kind of sick cultist societal twitch, or outright conspiracy.
Neither side is guiltless in this conflict, and to dismiss Israeli concerns, and at the same time portray the Palestinians as guiltless, is a disservice to his profession, as well as those who would like to see the conflict resolved -- both Palestinians and Israelis.
Sir-- I agree with Khaled Amayreh's article 'Is the hudna over?' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 14-20 August) in which he points out that more Palestinian intellectuals are now calling for a secular, bi- national state in Palestine. This one-state approach may be the only pragmatic solution for Palestine. The first UN peace negotiator in Palestine, Count Folke Bernadotte, proposed an economic union and certain other measures that could have resulted in a re-unified Palestine. Unfortunately, he was murdered by elements of the Stern gang in September, 1948.
Most Americans would probably support a plan whereby Palestine would become a constitutional, pluralistic democracy. Universal suffrage and universal enfranchisement for all citizens of this state, regardless of race, religion, colour or ethnicity, are themes that would resonate in the USA.
The ballot would replace the bullet; the Holy Land would be shared by both Semitic peoples. This would not violate holy scripture. A well- planned and executed campaign to influence American public opinion to support such a plan should be initiated as soon as possible.
James E Knight
Can't say no
Sir-- All countries more or less work for the good of their people. This is what dictates their economical and political decisions. We don't have a right to blame America, Israel or others on how they act regarding Palestine, Iraq, etc. They are motivated by their economic interests, national security concerns and so on. With all respect to France and Germany and their position on Iraq events, they too had agendas of their own on how to achieve economic gains from the Iraqi conflict; they just did not correspond to the US plans.
We have ourselves to blame, we have our governments and rulers to blame. The governments and rulers who are supposed to represent us and work in our best interest. Instead, under their regimes, we have become poor, sick, ignorant, weak and dependent on our enemies for our basic needs such as bread. We cannot say no to the American administration even if we disagree with their actions.
Freedom to speak
Sir-- I was provoked by the letter 'Envious anger' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 7-13 August) and hence have decided to comment.
Mr Dominianni, you are indeed a wise man to say that 'peace in the Middle East is not possible' but not because of our lust as Arabs for violence, but rather as a result of your lust for hegemony.
As for our hatred of Israel, we hate their policies and not their people. I also believe that we have more freedom in our country that allows you to publish your venom.
Sir-- In his article 'The politics of denial' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 14-20 August), Jamil Dakwar dances around tackling the issue of the inconsistency of the UN and the US in applying international law in genocide crimes. The international community' lack of attention to these horrible crimes not only leaves the perpetrators undeterred and at large, but also encourages such crimes to continue. Both authorities have yet to respond to genocidal crises in a timely manner because they are overly cognizant of the complex dynamics of their narrow interests with rogue member states within their organisation or alliance.
This conservative culture within the UN and the US system of alliances prevents a concerted response against nations that are committing crimes against humanity. The US will not acknowledge the Armenian holocaust because it will offend its NATO partner, Turkey. Israel will not address the wholesale murder of Armenians during the Great War because Turkey is supplying it with water, and Turkey's Kurdish policy validates Israel's subjugation of Palestinians.
Why have not the UN or the US addressed the genocide being perpetrated by the government in the Sudan against its citizens in the oil rich Southern part of their country? There was no punitive consequence for the massacre of Sunni Muslims in Hama by the Alawite regime in Syria. In many areas of the Middle East and Pakistan, Shi'ite Muslims are killed, denied religious freedom and/or put into ghettoes like Saddam City in Baghdad by the Sunni-led governments.
This is just a small list of injustices being perpetrated by members of the UN and the NATO alliance. To demand the uniform application of international law and punishment will demand the community of nations to refuse to protect their own narrow interests. It would be a brave and noble act by any nation to pursue such action in the realm of international relations. It would require politicians to become politically self-destructive; sadly, this is why we cannot expect it to happen. It is up to individual citizens who make up the nations of the world to refuse to allow injustice and murder to be the tradable commodity of domestic and international policy.
Citizens of the world must demand the application of universal morality from their political representatives. Only then will things change; only then will mothers stop crying for the murdered and hungry children who lay at their feet.
Sir-- Thanks to Edward Said for his article 'Preface to Orientalism' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 7-13 August); he could not have said it any better. I wonder all the time how our leaders in the 'West' are oblivious to the failure of the Oslo peace process, the outbreak of the second Intifada, the awful suffering of the Palestinians in the re-invaded West Bank and Gaza, and the US-led war on Iraq and its occupation.
I wish Mr Said was an advisor to the current Bush administration so he would enlighten them once and for all about the prevailing situation. In all cases, I believe that most of them will fail to understand what Mr Said is trying to convey to the world at large. Yet, I do believe that the world will continue to benefit from his objective and intellectual writings.
Food for thought
Sir-- Galal Amin's analysis of capitalism and socialism at the start of the 21st Century 'Do you call this capitalism' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 August - 3 September) is refreshing and thought provoking. I have one question which came to me while reading it. Let's admit, as he says, that "Neither the capitalist system, nor any other one, can sustain more than a certain degree of income disparity, after which growth becomes impossible." On the other hand, he will probably recognise that in capitalism, income disparity is at the root of the formation of the pool of investment money which is needed to fuel growth. Then it should be an essential task for economists to figure out carefully the (undoubtedly shifting) balance between distributing wealth fairly (both to encourage consumption-growth and to reduce social frictions), and maintaining the level of income disparity indispensable for capital accumulation.
And an even more essential task for economic planners is to devise measures to attain and preserve that balance through changing conditions. How come I've never seen theoretical equations or models to calculate this 'ideal' state, and we never hear public debates on the corresponding political or fiscal measures?
Sir-- Grateful thanks to Galal Amin for his analysis of capitalism and socialism 'Do you call this capitalism' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 August - 3 September). Admittedly, if there is a tendency in his approach, it favours my own.
But most importantly, his perspective touches on the two great elements of society, personal interest and general welfare. To some extent, Amin points out that both pure capital's and pure statism's race to replace the ancien regime has run up against his truism: great changes take place very slowly. Undoubtedly, the imbalance of the 19th Century gave rise to the schism of the 20th, both to be seen one day as puerile, but by those with insight such as Amin, as inevitably part of the process.
Santa Monica, CA
Sir-- Concerning Galal Amin's article 'Do you call this capitalism' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 August - 3 September). The world has gone through a radical change and it seems not a single soul is aware of it and not a single soul could have predicted it -- Artificial Intelligence.
For analysing a very complicated illness and finding a prescription for it, nowadays computers are at the helm and not the doctors. And this is just a humble beginning.
The motto that characterised the old world was that 'nobody is irreplaceable.' The motto that characterises the new world is that 'everybody is replaceable.'
Sir-- Thank you for Professor Amin's economics essay 'Do you call this capitalism' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 August - 3 September) discussing how Marxism and Hegel/Keynesian predictions have evolved over the last 150 years.
As we've seen in the past, speaking of black and white in a full-colour world only insults and causes further confusion. Describing the entire spectrum can be rather enlightening. As I was reading, I heard the wonderful burbling of water wisely following its path around rocks and boulders, flowing through the meanderings and elevations of history avoiding the obstacles of dogma and single-minded ideology that would create a future pent-up catastrophic flood of ignorance and foolishness; finally emptying into a sea of knowledge, to be evaporated into starting another cycle of learning.
If I found a genie in a lamp on the beach here, surely one of my three wishes would be to be 17 years old again and be a student in Professor Amin's classes.
Los Angeles, CA
Sir- Having been fascinated by and having followed the project from the start in the media, I was very anxious to visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina when in Egypt last month. However, during my visit I was in for several surprises that somehow made me frown.
Surprise number one: no one is allowed to carry a bag (not even a modest size lady's purse) inside the building. On the other hand, books cannot be taken out and must be read or consulted in the library. Question: How is a reader who needs to do some studying at the library supposed to carry his textbooks, notebooks, pencils and pens and eventually a laptop? Should he/she carry everything in his/her arms? Can he reserve the books he needs for a second session or for several days or weeks to make sure he can finish his work?
Surprise number two: entrance to the "adult" section is forbidden for people younger than 18 years, even if accompanied by his/her parents or another adult, not only for visitors but also for members/ readers. Rather bewildered by such a draconian measure, we asked several security men for the reason. Their answers were all the same: Egyptian parents are incapable of controlling their children, so they (the children) ended up running, screaming, yelling, shouting and crying for their parents all over the place. That is why this regulation was put in place.
Now, that might be the case for some very young children and for some parents, but what the Bibliotheca is actually saying here is that young people 17 years of age, on the verge of, or already going to university are not capable of a proper attitude while visiting a library. This, I cannot believe. There must be another reason. But what?
Surprise number three: adults (18+) and youngsters (12+) are not allowed in the children's library (for 6-12 year olds) -- not even the parents. Surely the reason cannot be that adults would be upsetting the place with their running, screaming, yelling and shouting! So we asked the security agents. The answer was very concise: "There is not enough room to let parents in". I beg your pardon? A library project that took more than a decade to be realised, that has been internationally funded, in a country where 65 per cent of the population is younger than 18, the children's library is too small to allow parents in? Peeping in from the door, I could indeed see that it is very small. (It is about one third of the children's library in my hometown, a small provincial town with 225,000 inhabitants). Again, if that is the real reason, shouldn't someone be called upon for a justification for such a lack of consideration for young people's education?
Discussing this regulation with the security person, she said that specially trained personnel are guiding the children in finding, selecting, reading and studying books. However, I noticed that the large majority of the children were sitting in front of a screen, watching cartoons! Moreover, it seemed to me that very little staff was available to work with the children. Isn't the parent the best person to know the reading and general intellectual level and needs of his child? I wonder how a stranger (even if he/she is trained), at a random encounter, knows exactly the intellectual capacities, needs or wishes of the child who visits the library. Why are Egyptian parents and children, brothers and sisters, deprived of the intimate joy of exploring together the wealth of books?
By the time we wanted to visit the young people's library, we knew what was coming. Peeping in from the door, we saw the reading room which again seemed too small for such a large population of young people and which moreover is very badly lit. Here, for the young people, you cannot find the direct sunlight the library is so proud of in its adult section. It is so dark in this room, I wonder how one can read or study here for a couple of hours, without wrecking one's eyesight.
I had especially included Alexandria in my trip to Egypt to visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. But after the visit to the library, I was disappointed, feeling that the Bibliotheca Alexandrina has more to do with prestige and image-building than with the education of the Egyptian people.
I sincerely hope that I am mistaken. Maybe you or your readers can correct me.
Astrid Van Damme