Said's immortal voice
Sir-- I was delighted to see you select Edward Said Man of the Year. Yet Edward Said could have been called Man of the Century -- the 21st. As the Arab states will no doubt undergo tremendous change in the 21st century, it will be the immortal voice of Edward Said (and his writings) that will guide people to where they ought to be. Mostly to avoid the present day shallow and commercial secularism of American society which President Bush and his administration are now marketing as "freedom". I am confident that the Arab states can do a whole lot better than this. Happy New Year!
Sir-- Ibrahim Nafie's commentary in "A bleak mid-winter" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 1-7 January 2004) is thought- provoking. He appears to make a good case against Mr Sharon.
As an American, I guess I am in the minority in my views. I believe that Palestinians should and must be allowed to return to their seized lands. Although I strongly support my president, George Bush, I cannot support a policy towards the Israeli state that allows continued refusal to abide by UN resolutions.
Please believe me when I say I have no love for the UN, but it just seems to me that most member states ignore or look away from the Charter when it comes to issues concerning Israel.
It is my hope for this new year, that true peace will prevail and the killing will cease in Palestine. I hope the nations of the world will come together and force the Israeli government to comply with all UN resolutions, not just those it agrees with. Peace can only be achieved through justice, among honourable men, for the well-being of all.
Father of farces
Sir-- Regarding your article "The mother of all farces" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 1-7 January 2004). The mother of all farces is allowing an unelected president to start an illegal war, based on lies, against a sovereign country. As long as the world continues to treat the American emperor with respect he will continue to bully you.
The father of all farces is Bush wanting to make Iraq a democracy while at home he is curtailing our civil liberties.
He's after your oil.
Sir-- After reading "Dubious courage and doddering wisdom" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 1-7 January) by Hassan Nafaa, this word jumped to my mind: "striptease" -- which means removal of clothes by a person, performed as a show. I believe this is what is happening now: a comic, unsolicited, free show. Very exciting.
Where are the shiny slogans? Where is the chronic headache about nationalism, pan- Arabism and revolution?
Balancing the scales
Sir-- Regarding "The other Israel" (Al- Ahram Weekly, 1-7 January 2004). Since the death of Israel Shahak, whose translations from the Hebrew press were invaluable, those of us who are not literate in the language have sorely missed having a steady stream of information about mainstream thinking from the Israeli media.
I therefore heartily welcome the undertaking of Arabs against discrimination, which will also be a countervailing force to MEMRI.
Regions to note
Sir-- I would like to thank Jaideep Mukerji for "Last Frontier" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 1-7 January 2004) -- an article drawing much- needed attention to a fascinating region of China.
Xiangtan, Hunan Province
Sir-- I am writing in response to your article "The first year of the second century" (Al- Ahram Weekly, 25-31 December 2003) by Hani Shukrallah. In this article Mr Shukrallah makes the statement: "International law, the United Nations and basic morality be damned. Brute force works. As any Mafia boss can tell you, crime pays."
Ultimately this statement invokes "basic morality" in defense of the previous government in Iraq. In light of that government's monstrous crimes against its own citizens this is not a defensible position. I think this is important because as long as Arab writers demonstrate this sort of thinking the only logical conclusion is that they are either confused or corrupt.
There are important points to be made and we in the US need to better understand the Arab viewpoint but anyone who defends a mass murderer by condemning his overthrow loses all moral credibility.
Saddam Hussein and his associates were evil. The world is obviously a much better place with them in prison or dead. Arabs need to figure out a way to incorporate this truth in their position.
You were right about the UN though.
Sir-- Regarding "New Year resolutions" (Al- Ahram Weekly, 1-7 January 2004). Dear Mr Shukrallah, I'm so glad to again read something I used to read regularly in the newspaper, until, and without notice, it was gone.
I hope to see your weekly column from now on.
Forces of evil
Sir-- Azmi Bishara's article entitled "Chutzpah, an avoidance strategy," (Al-Ahram Weekly, 25-31 December 2004) like many others, uses the term "Liberal" in a generic way as is conventionally applied to politicians and lawyers. But if one looks up the definition of "Liberal" in an English dictionary, one finds that it simply means "having an open mind". So in actuality the difference between "conservatives", and "liberals" has more to do with whether or not one has an open or a closed mind on given subjects and issues.
In the Reagan and Bush regimes (the real George Bush), when negotiations with the political structure of states like the former USSR and Iran were desired, it was the liberal politicians that were sought as negotiating partners. Why arch conservatives in the US sought out liberals in other conservative regimes is a mystery. Why aren't liberal politicians good on both sides of the water? Why is it that in the US the conservatives claim to be better, but in conservative foreign countries the liberals are the better? Why aren't liberals more desirable in all cases where questions of peace, trade, and foreign relations are concerned? In condemning conservatism abroad, the conservatives in the US condemn themselves. But then, they are consummate hypocrites, are they not ?
The continued blanket support of Israel by all post-war US regimes is irrational. All other UN member nations have repudiated the acquisition of territory by force of arms except Israel. Israel spies on us! The Israelis take helicopter gunship and fire rockets into apartment buildings and call it self-defense (without a whimper from the Western press). While 12,000,000 people were exterminated in the Nazi death camps, in today's world only dead Jews are to be counted, remembered, memorialised. Apparently the other six million are not worthy of
remembrance. Indeed, not one in a hundred Americans knows this, and our children are led to believe as a matter of formal curriculum that only Jews were victims of Nazi programmes. This is a major travesty of history; but as Hitler said "Only the victor gets to write history." If the Jews get to tell the tale, only they suffered.
The Israelis have visited every atrocity visited upon themselves by the Nazis except formal death camps. Palestinians are required to carry "identity papers" at all times under penalty of incarceration and death. They are not allowed to leave their own communities (ghettos), until a certain time, and must return before another deadline under penalty of incarceration and death. Palestinians not only have no vote, but no legal rights. Their title to property (held sometimes by families for hundreds of years) is not recognised by the Israelis. Palestinians may be picked up at any time and incarcerated in concentration camps, sometimes for years and decades, without being told what it was they were arrested for.
They are not given arraignment, bail, or trial. Israelis routinely slaughter Palestinians without rhyme or reason with no charges being brought, or trials being held. What freedom loving peoples would ever condone such behavior? Unfortunately just about the entire Western political infrastructure.
It seems as though the Jews have either been infected by the Nazi disease, or perhaps Hitler had a point. Of all the people who should know better, it is the Jews. Nazi pogroms do not become acceptable just because they are being implemented by former victims of Nazi pogroms. Beauty is as beauty does; and the face of Israel is mightily ugly.
But this does not have anything to do with liberal or conservative. Rather it has to do with righteousness and justice. There was an American patriot named Edmund Burke who said "The only way the forces of evil can win in the world is if enough good men do nothing." By and large such is the case. Apparently there are enough good men (and women) doing nothing for the forces of evil to prevail, particularly in Israel.
A question of logic
Sir-- This is in response to the insightful article "A petty and despicable attack" (Al- Ahram Weekly, 25-31 December 2003), regarding the physical assault on the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher in his recent visit to Palestine.
The irony of this despicable barbarian action is that it was executed by a Palestinian member of the Islamist Hizbul Tahrir Party. To add insult to injury, the barbarian action was done while the minister was in a visit to such a holy place for Muslims as Al-Aqsa Mosque.
If Egyptians, including myself, are rejecting such an assault on a state representative and having a big problem with its source, then we should be fair and honest to ourselves and expect that Westerners, including Americans, will have the same reactions towards huge barbarian attacks against their people and nation as was done on 11 September.
The recent inhumane attacks targeting innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia had a strong impact on North Americans. It is giving us proof that terrorist groups have no religious boundaries or limits (although they use religion as a mask). These groups are showing us that they have no compassion whatsoever towards others, they only care about their stubborn, narrow-minded and extreme selfish personal agenda which they are deploying in every despicable way to force it on the world.
Sir-- Regarding "Turkey: new era or fading false dawn?" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 25-31 Dec 2003). It is more than obvious that the Cyprus issue is reaching a critical juncture but not all is lost from the Turkish perspective. It is clear that the Turkish side is making a move to negotiations on the basis of the Annan Plan and, more importantly, remaining within the context of the Annan Plan. On the other hand, the Greek Cypriot administration seems to be experiencing severe problems selling the Annan Plan to their general public.
Would you be surprised if the Turks actually suggest mild and reasonable amendments to the Annan Plan? The recently leaked Turkish Foreign Ministry paper on the Cyprus issue would suggest this outcome.
In contrast, the Greek Cypriot leadership has no other option but to make its rejection of the Annan Plan known to the entire international community. Do you think that the Greek Cypriot public would accept the Annan Plan?
All is not lost, maybe the Turks can recover the Cyprus issue in their favour at the very last minute.
Learning from Malcom
Sir-- My close friend Lesley Whiting, in an otherwise superb letter, regrettably wrote of "US Zionist warmongering".
This highly-charged phrase carries certain racist overtones that in the end only divide us rather than unite us. Let's keep in mind the lessons of Brother Malcolm who taught us to tear down walls by first building bridges.
Without a trace
Sir-- I would like to get the word out that my brother, an American citizen who was born and raised in California has been illegally imprisoned in Egypt.
He was studying medicine and over 10 days ago he was taken from his bed at 2am by Egyptian authorities. He has not contacted us and has basically disappeared into Egypt's prison system without any due process, not even a phone call to his family in the States or the American Embassy.
We believe it is because he wears a beard.
The weight of words
Sir-- The news that France is to impose a ban on Muslim women wearing head scarves was shocking. What was even more shocking and inexplicable, was Al-Azhar Sheikh Sayed Tantawy's comments, in response to the potential law.
Mr Tantawy stated that "Although it's an unchangeable precept for every Muslim woman to wear the veil, she still advantages from the (license of compellable) when she is being governed by foreign rules". He Also added "We don't interfere in other people's interior business."
Where is the interference, Mr Tantawy, in wearing a head scarf? And what would you say if France decided to ban Muslim prayers in mosques? Aren't both Islamic precepts? And why are Muslim women counted compellable when no such law is active yet? Why did you have to misrepresent us this way, instead of sending a mission to clarify the facts about one Islamic precept like Hijab?
Why didn't you ask the French minister what would he do if a non- Muslim woman decided to cover her hair with a head scarf, like many Christian sisters do in churches?
The misunderstanding of true Islam by the West can be tolerable, but such statements are not, and of course do not represent us.
Sir-- As a Muslim, married to a French Canadian and raising two girls (all wearing the veil), I was surprised to hear Sheikh Sayed Tantawy's comment regarding head scarves in French schools. The dimension of his statement is broad and exceeds his capacity both as Sheikh of Al-Azhar, and as a Muslim.
His statement, if read carefully, can be interpreted in many ways:
1- Support of banning Hijab in non-Islamic countries
2- Permission, or encouragement, for Muslim women to take off the Hijab in said countries as it would fall under the Islamic "code of necessity"
3- Pleasing friendly (non-Muslim) countries on account of our religion and the future of our new generations there
I am not a scholar, but I am an ordinary Muslim striving hard to survive in Canada. Our community spent years and years of fighting for our rights as a minority here, as well as educating others with our values and religion. Then a statement from Sheikh Tantawy comes to destroy all that was built all these years. That is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.
Indeed Tantawy knows Islam more than me and many others, but I lived the experience, he did not. Easy for him to sit in his Al-Azhar office and come up with fatwas and opinions without thinking of their impact on millions of Muslim immigrants all over the globe.
His opinion, if from an ordinary man, would not have much weight, but from Al-Azhar! That is really serious. We all know what he meant, but he has to know that there are new Muslim generations born in these non-Muslim countries. They do not know any other culture other than where they were born. You tell me that these people have no right to practice their religion freely? Dr Tantawy and other policy makers in these non-Muslim countries are ignoring one fact, which is that those wearing Hijab did not ask others to wear it or tried to impose it on them. They were asking basically to practice their right in a so-called free world.
Two final words: people in Sheikh Tantawy's place, if they want to play politics, have to play it right. He is no ordinary man. Also, repeating what our Prophet (peace be upon Him and his companion) said: "Say something good, or hold your peace."
Sir-- We all know that the Palestinians and Israelites throughout history have co-existed in the region. Ancient history and the events leading to the creation of the state of Israel aside, looking at the map of the region now, between all the Islamic nations, carving out 8,000 square miles (about the size of Israel) out of these much larger Arab nations, is an idea the time for which has come.
Without the need to spend scarce resources for war effort, "turning armaments into plowshares" and irrigation systems, it could transform the arid lands into a habitable Palestine.
Just a question
Sir-- Out of curiosity, what do you make of Iran's refusal to accept aid from Israel?
Are most people in Egypt aware that Israel was prepared to offer aid, similar to the aid that saved hundreds of lives in Turkey a few years ago?