Lessons of survival
Sir-- I wish to thank Rasha Saad for her report "I feel I am burying Bam" (Al-Ahram Weekly 1-7 January 2004). How shattering it was to hear and read about this great human tragedy in Bam. An earthquake that only lasted 12 seconds, measuring 6.6 on the Richter Scale, shattered 70 per cent of the sun-dried mud-brick homes and buildings in Bam, and took over 30,000 lives.
I can't imagine how grave-diggers like Jamshid Rashidi who told Saad, "I feel I am burying Bam" will ever have a normal life again. The mass graves overwhelmed us all watching, listening and reading the reports. It is ironic that while the rest of the world is trying to come to terms with uncovering mass graves in Bosnia and Iraq, Bam should be forced to bury their dead in mass graves.
However, as Saad pointed out, among the despair and debris there were "rare moments of joy and hope": from the clergyman who was reciting the final prayers and miraculously saw some shrouded bodies move; the baby girl who was found cradled in her dead mother's arms, and the two chirping pet canaries that led to the rescue of two children buried alive under the rubble -- and the countless other rescue stories that occurred in Bam.
Not to mention the outpour of assistance from nations all around the world -- and the coming together of old foes like the USA and the Iranians. Though I was sorry to hear the Iranians did not recognise aid from Israel. In times of trouble people must put aside their differences. Such expressions of goodwill can provide opportunities for healing.
Perhaps the most troubling question of all in Saad's report was the question posed by an Iranian girl, who was interviewed by The Guardian: "I don't know how many quakes we must have for the government to make the buildings in our country earthquake-proof." That question must also be on the minds on many -- especially in the capital city of Tehran not far from Bam -- where seven million people live. As Saad pointed out, the city "lies on the southern fault line that runs along the Al-Borz heights."
A study done recently by a Japanese group said a serious quake could destroy over 80 per cent of the city. Hopefully, the Bam earthquake will serve as a wake up call to Tehranians to upgrade their homes and buildings and avoid another earth-shattering quake.
Divided they stand
Sir-- Regarding "Kurdish concerns" (Al-Ahram Weekly 8-14 January). One of the 14 points prescribed by the American President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 was self- determination. This concept drove the re-alignment of European nations, but was disregarded when the national boundaries were drawn throughout the "Mandate Territories" in the Middle East.
Self-determination for the diverse ethnic and religious peoples in Iraq were ignored to facilitate the consolidation of oil concessions for British interests throughout the "Mandate" of former Ottoman provinces in Mesopotamia.
Today, the self-determination of Kurds will empower them, for the first time in history, to negotiate as a people from a position of autonomy and strength. This upsets the traditional, and unfair, balance of power between Kurdistan and Turkey, (Persia) Iran, the Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs.
A federal system of government for Iraq should be considered if Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish territories can be self-reliant. The interests of all Iraqis will not find political expression consolidated within one party or individual. The British installed the Sharifian King Feisal to achieve this in 1920. Today, this expediency will not be tolerated. The special interests of each group will only find legitimate representation within a federal province.
In time, the political needs and economic opportunities of the former republic of Iraq may allow bridges to be built across the ethnic divide of Kurdish, Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs. Until that day arrives it is imperative, finally, that the self-determination of the people of Iraq be expressed through autonomous federal provinces. After all, European peoples were given the same opportunity over 80 years ago.
Sir-- Regarding "Veiled dependency?" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 8-14 January 2004). It is most regrettable that the French government should interfere in the requirement of Islam that women wear the veil. However, this is not the first time that such a pointless action has been tried in France.
I lived in France in 1988-91. At that time the French bureaucrats attempted the same action. Girls living in the Marseilles region were told to discontinue wearing their veils. Eventually, the dissatisfaction in the Islamic community, coupled with support from French citizens, caused the government to back off.
It is interesting to note that the only support outside the government was from a radical right-wing politician named LePen who was generally despised in France for his hatred of immigrants to the country.
While I am not Muslim, I do support each person's right to practice their own religion and respect its tenets. I will hope that this injustice ceases.
Gestures of goodwill
Sir-- Regarding "Veiled dependency?" (Al-Ahram Weekly 8-14 January). In reference to the French law regarding veils, it would be much better if understanding between the groups were fostered educationally rather by token moves which create nothing but resentment towards the authorities, and perhaps even increased antagonism among the groups.
But what the Grand Imam Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi is saying, I think, is that believers complying with state law would not be held personally responsible, which is only fair. Muslims should not feel singled out, as all religious groups are asked similarly. Honouring the request is a gesture towards the country which on the whole grants Muslims the ability to practice their religion to a much greater degree than most Islamic countries do to non-Muslims.
Just say "No"
Sir-- I felt bad when I heard about the banning of the veil in France, but I felt worse when the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar made his recent fatwa and allowed such a thing to take place .
We may not have the power to change what we see wrong but at least we have the power to protest against it, refuse it and raise our voice in a clear way, expressing our right.
To all those who share my feelings, there is a petition against the banning of the veil in France at this Web site http://www.PetitionOnline.com/icnany/petition.html.
I ask you to sign up, let us show ourselves and stand together. There is a say by our prophet which means: "If you see something wrong, change it by your hand; if you cannot, change it by your words; if you cannot, change it by your heart and that is the least to do."
A humanitarian issue
Sir-- Regarding "The difference democracy makes" (Al-Ahram Weekly 8-14 January). As one who has campaigned relentlessly against what I see as Israeli abuse of Palestinian rights, I must ask if there are people in the Arab world who have an equal ability to demand honesty from Arab states. Whatever the merits of religious systems, there seems to be a uniform, anti-Western bias in Arabic media and a failure to recognise the absence of democracy in most Arab states.
My support for the Palestinian cause is based ONLY on humanitarian issues and on issues relating to the behaviour of the Israeli democracy -- which currently discredits true democratic standards. But without those same Western democratic standards, the Arab world is incapable of doing more than perpetrating the views of one ruling clique or another. This might be a despotic religious regime in Iran which hides behind the Qur'an and allows the Basij to frighten and torture its people, a despotic ruling family that is more interested in gold bath taps and the rights of princes or a family that simply passes power from father to son like the family Assad or, maybe, Mubarak.
Since it is almost impossible to e-mail Arabic newspapers and have comments published, I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the hostility of Arab states is so great and unreasoned, that I should make clear my own support for the democratic tradition. If Arab states won't have a dialogue based on truth, then there is nothing to do but to be confident in our own democratic systems and to oppose almost every regime in the Middle East.
Sir-- Regarding "A short history of apartheid" (Al-Ahram Weekly 8-14 January). This is a very good article. It should be translated in all major languages so that the world understands what Israel is all about and what the Palestinian people have to deal with, challenge and defeat. Israelis should be ashamed of themselves. Their state is racist.
What Palestinians and Arabs need is less of the UN or the US involvement, but more and more contacts and dialogue with the Jewish people of Israel, of all kind, to help them change their racist state.
The future of the Palestinian state is in Israel and not in the corridor of the UN or in the hands of the Kamikaze. Israeli people must believe that it is better for them to live in peace and harmony with the Palestinians. We should help them to achieve that. I am sure they need our help.
Arabs and Jews
Sir-- Regarding "A short history of apartheid" (Al- Ahram Weekly 8-14 January). I am writing in response to Azmi Bishara's article. As usual, the issues are presented in black and white, the Israelis are the "bad guys", the Palestinians the "good guys". This type of thinking and writing is childish, not helpful, and more likely harmful, unless the only point is to inflame the passions of would-be suicide bombers.
It is unfortunate that in the Arab world it is rare to see anyone write about this problem, examining both sides. They would likely be assassinated for saying anything positive about Israel. I will simply identify just a few comments.
"Ethnic cleansing", a term he uses repeatedly, is a term used for systematic massacres, such as those in Serbia-Herzegovina. He uses this term, with little factual basis, to accuse Israel of removing its Arab population. If Israel did this, why is it that no less than one million Arabs live and move freely within Israel, have equal voting rights and are, in fact, members of the Israeli government?
And let's talk about "ethnic cleansing". Where are the three quarters of a million Jews that lived in practically every Arab state, prior to 1948? Oh, yes that's right, they were shipped off. Can he name one Arab government that allows a Jew to hold a political office, have equal voting rights? Of course not. So please, stop with the usual victim crying, and write about what are the true obstacles to peace, namely, right-wing fundamentalists, on BOTH sides.
Sir-- Regarding "A short history of apartheid" (Al- Ahram Weekly 8-14 January). The majority of American voters believe that God promised Greater Palestine to present-day Jews. Greater Palestine includes the whole of the West Bank, and parts of Syria and Lebanon.
American politicians of both parties are committed to the same vision of Israel. Very few, apart from population geneticists, are aware that European Jews (Ashkenazi) are not Semites; they are mostly Slav. The Ashkenazi who are colonising Palestine now are offered land, technology and armament by the richest and mightiest nation; could they refuse?
The American public believe that the nation of Israel should be ready to welcome the returning Christ as their king. The Ashkenazi colonisers do not mind.
Sir-- Regarding "A short history of apartheid (Al- Ahram Weekly 8-14 January). I'd like to commend your paper for the brilliantly described dynamics of Israel's attempt at demographic "solutions" to the occupation of Palestinian lands described in this article.
As an American I've been shamed by my country's outright acceptance of the blatantly racist and supremely non-democratic practices of the Israeli government whenever the issue concerns the rights of Palestinian people living in their midst.
I hope that views such as those expressed so eloquently in the article can come to be understood by Americans here, most of whom are completely ignorant of the history of the region and instead derive their knowledge unfortunately from the propaganda-infested and staunchly pro-Israeli American media outlets.
Hopefully, the future coupled with the dissemination of the facts as espoused in the article will lead to peace and true equality for all man in the Israel/Palestine region regardless of creed or religion. Know that there are Americans just as outraged and outspoken over the travesty of the occupation and American support of Israel in any form.
A collective duty
Sir-- Regarding "New Year resolutions" (Al- Ahram Weekly 1-7 January). For our intellectuals and professionals, time has come to consecrate those assets [thoughts and actions] to the service of the common good of the nation.
Grass-roots activities, through NGOs and similar mechanisms, ought to be instigated to educate, and prepare, the various local communities on how best to take part in the social, economic, and political processes of the state; how to actually take charge of and responsibility over the national patrimony.
This means the current governments have to progressively, and aggressively, decentralise and abdicate authority and divest such powers to local communities, thereby creating launching pads for true reforms, those coming from the bowels of the nation, where any impact is strongly felt, and any rewards certainly deserved, due and enumerated.
It is incumbent on our thinkers and doers to, in par with government actions, divest some , if not a majority of their energies towards clarifying and defining the common good. Scientists and engineers can produce decipherable virtual models that best match the actual events, their unfolding and impact, thereby birthing a range of answers and subsequent actions to counter any eventual harm to the people's patrimony. Only through concerted citizenry efforts can the common good be protected and nurtured.
In terms of where the most responsibility and power resides, the natural answer is the people, from which society's aims and goals sprout. The people's "Pandora's box" has been breached, and what might come forth, might not be to the liking of those doing the breaching. The collective consciousness of the people has been in a state of catharsis, due to past and present elite's depletion of the common good, and needed a good jolting, which has come, wouldn't you know it, from an outside source.
The patient is out of a coma but requires intensive care, however. The task then becomes clear for the thinkers and doers to help that collective consciousness [patient] put itself in operational mode. These actions [from the thinkers and movers] should not be interpreted as acts of largesse and gifts to the forlorn of society amongst us, despite what some may say, but as a responsibility and duty to the community at large from which we sprout, and hither wither.
Those who can participate in the process should, while those who can't ought to be taught how to and why and given means to proceed. The tasks ahead could not be any clearer, nor more urgent.
Poor is poor
Sir-- Regarding "Competing agendas" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 8-14 January). First of all, Ibrahim El- Issawi's has his history all wrong. National competitiveness in trade was the chief concern of the writers referred to as Mercantilists, who argued about how to make their nation's industries more competitive in the 17th century, not the late 20th century.
Second, his concept of competitiveness is totally confused. The concept does apply to countries, not just companies. Countries are more competitive because their companies are more competitive. By competitive, we mean that more customers want to buy our products than the products of another country. Why would customers prefer our products? Because they are cheaper, better or both. It's that simple.
And yes, productivity increases are the main drivers of competitiveness.
Mr El-Issawi is correct that many poor countries have not benefited from increased openness to trade. But the fault is not in the system of free trade. It's in the countries that suffer from high levels of corruption as well as a lack of laws and honest law enforcement. Mr El-Issawi betrays his Marxist roots by insisting on government oversight of the economy and if Egypt follows his advice, Egyptians will find themselves in greater poverty and misery in the future.
He doesn't like the per capita income measure of growth. Most Marxists don't, because Marxism can't create per capita income growth. But per capita income growth is the only measure that tells us if people are becoming wealthier, or not. And contrary to the words of Mr El-Issawi, higher per capita income does tell us that people are better off. Would anyone other than a Marxist argue that rich people are not better off than poor people?
The only way to greater per capita income for a country is to increase investment in business within that country. If the country itself is too poor to generate the investment, the necessary investment must come from outsiders. But for outsiders to invest, the country must assure them that their investment is safe and won't be stolen by the government or criminals. That's where Egypt has failed. Egyptian and foreign investors are certain that their investment is not safe in Egypt, so they invest elsewhere.
People like Mr El-Issawi add to this fear of the safety of investments in Egypt. He argues for protection of domestic industries for poor countries like Egypt. But readers should ask themselves what Egypt has been doing for 40 years if not protecting domestic industry, and what has that achieved?
The answer is grinding poverty! Essentially, Mr El-Issawi argues for continuing the same failed policies that have led Egypt into the quagmire!
Sir-- Regarding "Messengers of mass deception" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 8-14 January). How much time and money did Saddam spend in trying to deceive the world that he had such weapons?
Yes I agree that Bush should answer the question of where the weapons are. But an acceptable answer would be: I fell for Saddam's trick, I believed what he said. He spent so much time and money making the world think he had these weapons that some of the world believed him. I also believe that many of these weapons have been hidden and that many of them went across the border.
Sloppy and wrong
Sir-- I think that Jennis Strickland's letter under the banner "Forces of evil", saying that a liberal is a person with an open mind is a wonderful juxtaposition. The author then takes the remainder of the letter to demonstrate conclusively that she has a closed mind when it comes to Jews. Clearly, in Strickland's mind the Jews -- the source of evil as have been all US governments since 1948 -- are the only ones persecuted. I believe the US State Department would find this enlightening since it did everything possible to prevent the United States from recognising Israel.
Clearly, Strickland lacks any insight into, or understanding of, the functions of governments now or in the past or she would not have written such a letter.
This lack of insight is appropriately mirrored in the errors in the quotes used to support various fallacious propositions. Without wanting to appear pedantic, I might point out that Edmund Burke was Irish and not an American patriot as Strickland said; and Hitler was not the first to say history is written by the victors, if he said it at all. While no direct authorship can be found for that phrase, sources indicate that it was used by the Greeks sometime before the first millennium. However, closer to our own time, Churchill did use the phrase as any book of quotations will show.
People who make broad, sweeping pejorative generalisations as Strickland did in her letter should at least relieve us of the burden of having to check the accuracy of the quotes used. I only note that because I believe that people who are sloppy in their attributions of quotes are also sloppy in their reasoning. Strickland qualifies on both counts.
Sir-- I cannot think of one word to describe the present status of the Iraqis. They are not prisoners of war, since even prisoners of war have certain rights. I have heard the term slave applied to Iraqis. I know that Iraqis are not slaves, but even slaves may hold important offices and may be rich. It sounds strange to say so, but in the terminology of anthropology, slave is the closest word to describe the present status of the people of Iraq. I do not believe that the people of Iraq live in a democracy. I do not know what Iraq is, but I do know that Iraq is not a democracy and a military government at the same time.
Iraq is a militarily-occupied country, and there is no democracy in a militarily-occupied country. Americans are here to protect America. When it comes to government, governments are very selfish and do not concern themselves with the welfare of other governments and peoples.
When Americans leave Iraq, what will become of this country? This question troubles me. There will be no Iraq and no people in Iraq because Iraq is a military base for America and Israel.
Sir-- I urge Al-Ahram Weekly to use the correct lexicon when reporting on the Middle East. Please visit this site http://www.pmwatch.org/pmw/language/ to see what I mean.
I am an Egyptian who reads many English newspapers, and find that the Western press uses slanted language, shying from depicting the Palestinians as victims of a catastrophic injustice. They depict the struggle as one between two equals. Not between right and wrong, weak against strong.
This only prolongs the conflict.
Al-Ahram Weekly should adopt the correct language in English reporting.
United Arab Emirates
Sir-- I saw the TV documentary about the attempt to identify the mummy as Nefertiti, paying particular attention to the X-rays. I observed briefly the X-ray of the pelvic area, but could see no sign of the ossified pubic symphysis which would be evidence of parturition.
Queen Nefertiti was supposed to have borne several children. Have I missed something?