Letters to the editor
Sir-- On seeing the cartoons of Mr Fathi Abul-Ezz published on Page 13 of Al- Ahram Weekly, 12-18 February, I could say that the Japanese people felt uncomfortable with the drawing showing a large Japanese hand using the traditional Japanese chopsticks to pick a blind- folded Iraqi person as if he is about to be eaten by the Japanese. I wish that you would allow me to say that the idea reflected in this drawing is totally wrong and deeply mistaken. I believe that there is a huge misunderstanding of the Japanese role and intention in Iraq.
First of all, the Japanese Self Defence Forces are not on a combat mission. They are not going to engage in any military action because their real mandate and mission is to assist the rebuilding of Iraq and help Iraqi people on the humanitarian aid level. Contrary to the cartoon shown in your paper, Japan is not attempting by any chance to take advantage of the Iraqi people. The Japanese people are not thinking of themselves as a "Big Hand" that can grab and eat the Iraqi people. We believe that the Japanese hand is a friendly peaceful hand extended to help, assist and rebuild; not to torture, exploit and destroy Iraq.
In fact, Japan's relation with all Arab people is great; our relations are based on mutual respect and appreciation. The Japanese presence in Iraq is not under the coalition forces, it is independent and it has a specific mission to assist the Iraqis.
Second secretary, political section Embassy of Japan
Sir-- I tried to join the 800 AUC students in protest over the violations of human rights in Israel, but I was cut off before I could sign my full name. I am trying again to say that I support the protest made by AUC students against the violation of human rights by the "democratic" state of Israel.
Mr Barghouti is a Freshman who is entitled to visit his family in Ramallah, and the Israeli authorities who jailed him because they do not like his name are out of line. I salute Reem Nafie for the excellent report 'Guilt by name only' ( Al- Ahram Weekly, 19-25 February).
The US press do not report any such injustices by the State of Israel.
San Gabriel, CA
Zionists want peace
Sir-- Joseph Massad's 'Rome and Jerusalem revisited' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 19-25 February) was full of typical distortions, inaccuracies unbecoming of a college professor. It is not true that most Zionists would like to see Israel and the territories free of Palestinians. The vast majority of Zionists, Israelis included, firmly support the concept of two states for two peoples, as poll after poll has shown, and reject expulsion policies.
Kach, Meir Kahane's political party, is outlawed. Parties which promote the concept of voluntary transfer make up under 10 per cent of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. It is a shame that Mr Massad uses his platform at Columbia University and his column in Al-Ahram Weekly to work against peace, by spreading fabrications about how Jews think and feel.
New York, NY
Sir-- Hamas is not a "faction" but a terrorist organisation; the barrier in Israel is a monument to Hamas.
Until Palestinians come to terms with this ridiculous group and the indifference to the sanctity of life, nothing, will move towards what we all want: the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Sir-- As an American citizen, a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest who has not only been stationed approximately 40 years overseas, 10 of which were in the Holy Land (roughly from 1965 to 1975) and returning to it annually with my Study-Tour- Pilgrimages, I am profoundly concerned with two things. First, the illegal construction of the unthinkable Nazi-like wall; but second, from a historical perspective, I fear for the future of the Jewish people.
With the whole world against their politics under Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party -- so staunchly supported by my immoral USA President Bush with R Cheney and D Rumsfeld, I cannot in conscience support "Israel's" position that the wall is for "security motives".
It's definitely not that at all. It's an inhuman, contrary to international law, perpetration and provocation, as well as a blatant invitation to war against an innocent people -- the Palestinians.
Sir-- I was extremely touched by Dr Hassan Nafaa's matchless article 'New trumps old' ( Al- Ahram Weekly, 12-18 February). The article is as logical and breath-taking as most of Dr Nafaa's work. I could not agree more with what he said. The model of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is so unique that we can hardly find it a peer in our current conditions. Sheikh Hassan stands alone on a rough sea trying to sail against the wind.
I failed to find a meaningful explanation to the absence of the Arab League from the deal, which was a golden chance to rectify its image and restore some of its lost credibility before the eyes of the Arabs. The upcoming Arab summit in Tunis, despite preparation and media exaggeration, will be a copy of previous ones. The agenda will give trivial, if any, concern to the occupation of Iraq. I wonder if the temporary puppet regime of the Americans, the Iraqi Ruling Council, attend? Will it be legal for them to represent Iraq?
I notice that only three countries, including Egypt, are discussing the matter while the others will hardly attend the meetings or yawn their way through the sessions. Why should not Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah be invited to the summit as the only decent sign of success in the Arab world?
Ali El-Sharkawy Omar
Sir-- With respect to Halliburton and VP Cheney, let's not forget the millions (billions?) in US taxpayer dollars which have gone to subsidies for a company and management which have shown nothing short of contempt for the American public.
Sir-- The signs on the horizon suggest that next US president is going to be Senator John Kerry. The Democratic nomination is almost his, the primaries, as I heard a BBC reporter say, more a coronation walk than a contest. Not because Kerry is fortune's child or exceptionally gifted, but because George Bush has set himself up to be punished for his Iraq misadventure. As Will Hutton, writing in the Observer says, "In a democracy you pay for fundamental misjudgments with your job and Bush will pay with his."
John Kerry's importance is derivative. The Democrats appear to be choosing him over his rivals not because of anything he stands for but because he seems to be the most "electable" person to beat George Bush. Central to this US presidential election is Bush and his march to war in Iraq. Those voting for Kerry will not necessarily be for him -- they'll be against George Bush.
We have witnessed a defining moment of this year's American presidential election. Rather than helping, George W Bush's hour-long televised interview the other Sunday will haunt him, so laced was it with falsehoods and impregnated with questions. If you add his other recent pronouncements, and those of Cheney, Rumsfeld and others, it becomes clear that the administration has decided not to come clean on the invasion of Iraq. It is going to tough it out. That guarantees a continuation of the ever-shifting rationale on why about 16,000 Iraqis and 525 Americans are dead, so far.
As self-defeating as the strategy may be for the Republicans, it will benefit the American body politic. The election can now be about what it should be: Bush's integrity and judgement in waging a unilateral war on false premises, squandering the most precious commodity of an American president abroad -- legitimacy.
Bush take two
Sir-- Please do not mistake what you see in the American media for a true representation of the majority American sentiment with regards to President Bush.
Barring any unseen events between now and November, he will win the election. I predict that it will be by at least a 60 to 40 margin. Every poll and pundit declared Howard Dean the runaway Democrat candidate, and they were quite wrong.
Sir-- Rasha Saad's report 'Grim jubilee' ( Al- Ahram Weekly, 5-11 February) on the political climate in Iran before the upcoming Silver Jubilee of their Islamic revolution, is reminiscent of the annual May Day celebrations in Moscow during the 1980s.
The "old guard" knew their days were numbered, but they had to pretend they were not leaving to keep public discontent from gaining momentum. The Guardian Council is no different than the Soviet Politburo whose job it was to protect the "revolution" from reactionaries. It has institutionalised rampant nepotism, protects its members and associates from arrest for smuggling, pilferage and other illegal activities. The mullahs would be wise to learn from the Soviet Union's history in its last years. If they do not, it will be repeated in Tehran.
As for Gamil Mattar, he wrote a very biased editorial 'Cold War defrost' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 5-11 February) which disregards the conditional obligations which have faced all people throughout history. Every generation has had to clean up the "mess" of those who came previously. Each generation has had to try to build upon the ruin and immoral consequences of their civilisation and learn from the mistakes of those who were empowered before them.
It would have been evil ignorance to keep Saddam in power; he was the refuse of the Cold War, an instrument of the proxy wars between the Soviet Union and the Capitalist West. There are other proxies who have outlived their utility in the Cold War and they will either adapt or be overthrown, I will include Israel in this company.
The focus of all people should be to build the wastelands of their corrupt history and/or change the circumstances which perpetuate their selfish interests and injustice. The Cold War has ended and it is up to all of us to make this world a better place. Many of Mr Mattar's hypothesis should be studied critically; all nations are guilty of the selfish policies he only attributes to the US. At least, the US returns to correct the damage it was a party to in its conflict with the Soviets during the Cold War. No other nation has ever done this -- look at the continued exploitation of former colonies by European states.
Mr Mattar should be more critical of contemporary Europeans before he champions their historical record, which leaves much to be desired.
New York, NY
Sir-- It's amazing how Mr Azmi Bishara has managed to encapsulate, in one article 'Arab Valentine' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 19-25 February), an extremely intricate set of confusions the Arab world is facing -- consciously or not.
Only a well-rounded intellectual like Mr Bishara could so clearly and insightfully perceive the links between politics and modern social phenomena emerging in the Middle East.
The article is impressive not only for its subject matter but also for this fascinating flow of words and ideas so particular to Mr Bishara.
Who's to blame?
Sir-- It is long past the time for the Arabs to wake up and smell the coffee and realise that most of the problems in the Middle East are of their own making -- and are therefore problems for themselves to fix. As the UN Arab Development Report noted, the Middle East is the least developed region of the world, economically, politically and culturally. That is not a result of the US occupation of Iraq, or the stagnant situation in Israel/Palestine, but rather a result of the Arabs' obsession with living in the past, and blaming others for their problems.
Egypt has been living in a state of emergency for more than a generation, and is hardly a bastion of democracy. Tunisia is a dictatorship, Yemen is living in the Dark Ages, Saudi Arabia has a myriad of problems such as incubating Wahhabi terrorism, and Syria is repressive plutocracy. The female sector of the population is undereducated and massively under-employed, over 60 per cent of Arab populations are illiterate, and book and article publishing is the lowest in the world.
These are Arab problems, for the Arabs to fix. Stop blaming others for your problems and get to work.
Sir-- 'Talks about talks', by Gamal Nkrumah ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 19-25 February), is decidedly fatalistic and utterly negative in its attitude towards the Sudan. Having an armed rebellion resulting in massive displacement of people and a potential humanitarian disaster, is not a stroll in the park. However, in the light of the peace negotiations in Naivasha, much can be applauded. There is a cease-fire in the South that has seen the distribution of aid and the return of many southerners to their region of origin.
This is telling of that which can be achieved at the table, as opposed to that which corrupt thugs wish to achieve on the battle-field at the expense of innocent civilians. Will an objective article on what Sudan has achieved or what it has to offer ever be written in your publication?
Isn't what is going on in Tanzania, in terms of their disregard for Egyptian interests, in terms of using the water of Lake Victoria in abrogation of the 1929 Colonial-era Nile Treaty, an indication of how little favour you collectively have with your neighbours to the South? Sudanese people, of which I am one, feel patronised by the Egyptian media. We and our country are more often than not figuratively relegated the status of the docile, domestic, simpleton servant who the master (Egypt) cannot do without, and who knows nothing but the master.
Needless to say, that view underestimates the Sudanese and is both backwards and skewed. There is a clear dichotomy in how we (Egyptians and Sudanese) view Sudan, an example of which is our respective views on Sudanese history pre- and post- independence which are diametrically opposed.
I have faith in the Egyptian people and since you pride yourselves on modernity and being at the cutting edge, please acquire a 21st century attitude towards dealing with the Sudan and its people. I would also like to completely abhor the stereotype attributed to Sudanese people and Blacks in general in Egyptian cinema; the movie Africano was appalling. Not one educated, middle class, independent Black South African was portrayed. Shame, shame, shame.
Choosing the hijab
Sir-- I would like to respond to 'An unholy alliance' by Nawal El-Saadawi ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 22-28 January). It seems El-Saadawi asks the questions that help to validate her views regarding the Muslim veil. From her viewpoint, any woman who wears the hijab is brainwashed and cannot possibly, out of her own will, make that decision for herself after a careful study of Islam. Like the Iraqi women she met who were happy to be liberated, El-Saadawi suffers from the same disease called narrow-mindedness.
The Iraqi women were so happy that Saddam was gone that they did not realise that the colonial powers were not a solution. Likewise, El- Saadawi is so obsessed with Muslim fundamentalists that she does not realise that the feminist movement in America is also not a liberator. Had she cared to look and ask questions, she would have found that women suffer tremendously in the West.
Check out the shelter homes and the homeless for starters, and check out the women sold as sex slaves. Not to mention the women who bombard men with songs and images to "knock them dead" and sexually incite them and then say no. Is this freedom?
Maybe El-Saadawi wants this role, but try to accept some women are choosing to wear hijab out of their own understanding. If anyone is brainwashed, it is El-Saadawi with her own super-rationalisations and intellectualising everything, to the extent that she cannot see reality on the ground.
A high price
Sir-- I read in a newspaper that the governor of the Central Bank of Egypt has a salary of LE200,000.
I would like to know what are the achievements of the last three CBE governors to deserve this salary. I doubt that if I look at their performance that it will be much better than the national Egyptian football team, who know many things except how to do their job.
Sir-- Regarding Catarina Melica's letter 'Love of the dance' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 February), I don't see in any culture a semi-naked woman performing in front of a bunch of drunk men to stimulate their erotic feelings. Therefore, I assure her, we are not afraid of any invasion of any kind. We are only afraid of losing moral values -- if that is any concern of hers.