Letters to the editor
Down the tube
Sir-- Reading 'Reflections: Friends, Frasier, flotsam' by Hani Shukrallah ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 26 February - 3 March) was pure pleasure. Sad to say, most Americans watch TV with the same sort of mindless enthusiasm that leads to new holidays in the Middle East.
As he points out, the government can't or won't hire the best but the folks who want to sell everyone on the idea that their lives are incomplete without the latest fad are past master at manipulating human nature. I guess people all around the world really are alike.
Too bad this is how they show it; but hey, I guess there's worse things than Friends.
Nothing to sell
Sir-- In 'Friends, Frasier, flotsam' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 19-25 February), Hani Shukrallah decries the use of American taxpayer's money to publish magazines directed towards the Arab readers. American taxpayers were told that this money is spent to keep them safe at home.
There are no imperial masters in the White House, they are imperial idiots thinking that there is a product to sell (Bush foreign policy), and it needs advertising material ( Hi and others). I saw a copy of Hi -- it is a typical PR pamphlet, high-quality printing and no substance. Yes, these publications are a manifestation of cultural invasion that has politics behind it.
International relations students learn that a government should utilise its military, economic, cultural and foreign aid capabilities to achieve its foreign policy goals. The attempted Soviet cultural invasion in the 1960s and the billions of dollars the Saudis spent to spread Wahhabi ideas are examples. It is the failure of the left-leaning educated elites, and the backwardness of the Wahhabi-leaning preaching that opened the door for the cultural invasion.
Arabic video-clips are popular probably because the national TV programmes are meaningless; at least these clips are enjoyable. Music, song, dance, theatre and literature can be influenced by American culture, but the neo-cons cannot prevent anybody from enjoying the Arabic Music Ensemble, reading good Arabic books, or attending a high-quality performance.
Two years ago, I went to see Jerusalem will never Fall at Al-Gumhouriya Theatre and People on the Third Floor at the National Theatre. The attendance was anaemic; the National Theater was packed when I went to see Al-Fata Mahran in the 1960s. I can't see how the neo-cons or the "Imperial Masters" affected the taste. Maybe we should look for other underlying reasons.
Sir-- It was wonderful to read Hani Shukrallah's thought-provoking article 'Friends, Frasier, flotsam' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 19-25 February) on the Amercanisation of Arab/Muslim societies.
It has become a worldwide trend, be it in Asia, Africa, Latin America or part of Europe, both East and West. The question is what tools we have to counter this trend; it is a battle in the mind. We, the educated people of Afro-Asia, have to start with grass-roots movements.
Part of Western Europe is also facing the same onslaught from the United States. These energies have to be channelled to produce a civilised culture vis-ˆ-vis the gross, greedy consumerism of the United States. Within the United States, liberal thought has to be reinvented, since it unfortunately has taken a beating by the neo-cons.
One thing is very clear, most Americans have no sense of culture and cowboys should not be allowed to rule the world. The coming US election will be a clear test: either we are going to be humiliated for another four years, or we will get a chance to breath and search for new solutions for half of mankind who are living in pathetic conditions, despite the digital/technological revolutions.
Israelis as partners
Sir-- In his 'Peep Show' in the daily Al- Ahram, Mr Ahmed Bahgat said once that so long as the Israelis willingly elected Sharon, it means that they are not interested in peace. I think it's the other way around. As any other peoples, the Israelis are peace-loving and compassionate. We still remember the Israelis who decided not to fight the defenceless Palestinians; they went down in history as Refusiniks. Every now and then, such acts are being reported. As such, it is a phenomenon and a tip of a huge iceberg. The Palestinians themselves tell us that once the Israeli tanks hit at the defenceless Palestinians and depart the raided area, the Israeli neighbours, much often than not, hasten to their (brothers and sisters) for rescue and condolence.
Before signing the 1979 Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel, Sadat considered the dismantling of the Yameet settlement a prerequisite. Begin was apprehensive at first, but once opinion polls had been conducted almost all the Israelis voted in favour of the elimination of the settlement. I think this trend still exists in Israel until now. Nothing is equal to peace of mind and security.
The only blooper the Israelis committed was that they elected the megalomaniac Sharon, regardless of his gory record. Now, the Israelis and the Palestinians are alike, paying dearly for that. Unfortunately, the Israelis were brainwashed and tantalised by his hollow promises on security. There is still a glint of hope on the horizon however -- the latest opinion polls in Israel state that 56 per cent of the Israelis disagree with Sharon's policy. Those who brought him to power, are eligible to kick him out of the Knesset.
Once another Rabin takes over premiership, a new era in the Middle East will start. Sharon's metastasising Apartheid Wall will tumble down and all the shelved UN resolutions will be implemented. On the other hand, the Palestinians are required to dovetail their efforts along with those of the Israeli masses and organisations inside and outside Israel, to achieve this end. At this serious turn of events, the Palestinians are expected to execrate the suicide bombing strategy and stretch out their hands with an olive branch.
Learning from the past
Sir-- 'Reform and democracy' by Mohamed Sid-Ahmed ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 4-10 March) is a good article on how difficult democracy is to be achieved and maintained.
Western democracies have gone through a long, painful and bloody history to be where they are now. This process goes all the way back to the failure of democracy to sustain itself in Athens. In each country, the path was different and difficult, but all humans have the capacity to learn from their mistakes as well as those of others.
It is this capacity that should be exploited in the Arab world. When planning changes, the questions should be whether this has been tried before and what were the results.
Sir-- Some people think that France's hijab ban contradicts its principles of democracy and personal freedom. I argue that perhaps this French attitude is more humane than many other ones.
One may notice that France objects to the US war on Iraq, cares for the Palestinian suffering and bans the hijab (as well as other religious insignia). France cares, if one admits it or not, for human rights, justice and secularism. Unfortunately, all religions, or as far as I know, have a dividing line between 'we (the religious)' and 'they'. Nevertheless, I believe for one that all such lines -- which we can call 'discriminatory lines' -- are not God's.
Secularism is different.
France only wants her people to look human and treat one another as humans, not as Muslims, Christians, Jews, non-believers, etc. This ban is against prejudice and discrimination, not religions. It should be viewed from this perspective but people take it personal. People can still be religious and human concurrently, but they have not learned to be so, and perhaps, will never learn to be.
Sorry for being pessimistic, but I also am human.
Sir-- Arab-Americans brought their love, dedication and loyalty to their home countries with them to the USA.
Even the small efforts and small triumphs of ordinary Arabs in the USA are worth noting and recognising.
Sir-- In reading Jonathan Cook's article 'No Arabic at McDonald's Israel' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 4-10 March), I am recalling the first time in my life that I experienced discrimination. It was when I, an American woman living in Jerusalem who needed a job, applied for a typing position at the Hebrew Union University. (My landlord, a lovely Jewish lady, had told me that they badly needed someone who could type English well, and I was there within the hour). I vividly recall how delighted the staff was that I was there to apply for the position, that I was available to begin work immediately.
Even more poignant was how utterly crushed I was after I answered the interviewer's last question: "Are you Jewish?" and saw her crumple up my application and throw it into the trash bin beside her desk. Her whole manner changed, her words, "Only Jews can work in Israel" still rings in my ears.
The discrimination that Cook's article touches upon is not new. My encounter with being a part of the minority being discriminated against happened 25 years ago. Although McDonald's certainly shares the responsibility in part, the franchise owners must abide by Israeli law, which says that only Jews may work, or vote, or marry, or attend college, as Cook also addresses.
Is it not naive for Israel to believe that the minority population would not oppose their illegal possession of their homeland? Non-Jewish citizens have a documented record of peaceful protests that began many years ago, but yet nothing has changed for 36 years. Doesn't this suggest that to co-exist (as both sides claim they want to do) amending Israeli law to end discrimination should remove a great source of contention?
At the present rapid decline towards total disregard for all decency, a great change must quickly happen. Surely, all can see that killing is not the answer. Anything even faintly resembling human decency and basic human rights as set forth by International Law only barely remains today in Israel, and I truly feel all the citizens mourn this.
Justice is what is needed here, not more bombs or more killing. Ask, "Is Justice to be found in the law, and if so, then justice for whom? For all, or only for some?" That is the problem. But who can change this? Someone must be accountable, and quickly, before all perish.
Sir-- Well that's it for me. After reading 'No Arabic at McDonald's Israel' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 4-10 March) about McDonald's in Israel, I will never go to another McDonald's here in Canada.
What a farce to fire someone for speaking their own language where it is legal to do so.
Sir-- Regarding 'No Arabic at McDonald's Israel' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 4-10 March), please note there is no hijab -wearing workers at McDonald's Egypt.
Two states or bust
Sir-- Regarding 'The essential agenda' ( Al- Ahram Weekly, 4-10 March), someone needs to tell Azmi Bishara that the two-state solution was adopted for Israel-Palestine, because the two sides in this conflict cannot live together in one state. The only possible one-state solution, is one in which one side or the other goes away.
Mr Bishara's advocacy of the elimination of the "Zionist" side, is the flip side of Ariel Sharon's creeping elimination of the Palestinian side. The chief difference between the two, is that Ariel Sharon is selling his constituency on something that he might actually achieve; Mr Bishara's constituency will get nothing but a kick in the teeth from this strategy.
St Paul, MN
Sir-- I am alarmed by the Israeli government's recent efforts to oust the Bedouin from their land in Negev by sending out a second fleet of crop- spraying planes to spray their fields with powerful herbicides last month. The spraying of wheat and barely fields that support the Bedouin and their livestock seems criminal to me. Yet I realise at the heart of this ugly government campaign is a plan to build more settlements. But Talib Al-Sana, an Arab member of the Knesset said, "There are plenty of government lands in Negev where new settlements can be built."
Still, the Bedouin people have suffered terribly at the hands of this wretched policy. The powerful herbicides that were sprayed over their fields in mid-January caused barely and wheat shoots to shrivel up and die. Now local farmers are reporting that over 400 sheep have had miscarriages due to the ingestion of sprayed feed. How cruel. This was Rachel Carson's worst nightmare about the impact of pesticides (herbicides) in her earth-shattering book, Silent Spring (1962). She writes:
"It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was no sound... On the farms the hens brooded, but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs -- the litters were small and the young survived only a few days. The apple trees were coming into bloom but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit... No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves."
Mr Sharon and the Land Authority must end this destructive crop spraying at once, and avoid silencing more innocent voices of spring.
Truly incredible woman
Sir-- Regarding 'Barbara Harrell-Bond: For the good of it' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 9-15 October, 2003), I am a foster father to two Sudanese young men that Barbara assisted while they were in Cairo.
She truly is an incredible woman. Thank you so much for your wonderful article.
Grand Rapids, MI
Sir-- The US House of Representatives and the US Senate have introduced like legislation to reinstate the military draft once again. This, after a lengthy period of having an all-volunteer military for years. This legislation has been kept very low key in light of this being an election year and is surely going to be a very sore spot for many Democrats who have sponsored it, and are presently trying to sail it through as quickly and quietly as possible. This would allow the US government to perhaps add as many as half a million troops or more to its armed forces, within a very short period of six months or less.
As the word is spreading to college campuses across the USA, this might be a very difficult bill to pass in the next couple of weeks, as was hoped. If it is, many legislators will have to do a lot of explaining to their constituents before and after the election. This could perhaps be an upset for many legislators, and even change many votes for Ralph Nader, as well as many members of Congress in tight races.
Students in Hawaii are already starting to react in a very negative way just upon hearing about this, and it will be a noted controversy nationwide very soon.
More on Kashmir
Sir-- I have found valuable information in Al-Ahram Weekly, on the culture, social and economic life of the people of Egypt, a Muslim-dominated country. I would like to see more coverage about the peace process for resolving the Kashmir problem.
Mohammad Saleem Bhat
Sir-- I just read Circle of Silence by Preeti Singh. It is supposed to be a love story, but it was not what I expected.
It was good and it is true in many ways; until today in India as well as the UK, many Indian brides disappear and horrible things happen to them, especially if they are out of favour with their mothers-in-law. The dowry is also a problem and is a very big issue until today.
Nothing to show for it
Sir-- I hope this message will be read by any government official. We heard about the anti- trust law to confront the rise in prices but nothing can be seen; we heard about consumer protection laws, but nothing has been implemented; we heard about holding specialised committees for confronting these various phenomena but nothing can be done; we heard about the government's protection of limited- income citizens, but nothing is felt.
The only thing we can see is just hikes in prices.
Saddam as PoW
Sir-- I was moved to write some insight regarding the combatant status of Saddam Hussein after reading Nyier Abdou's 'No way out' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 29 January - 4 February). I am a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and an Army officer for over 12 years. Saddam's Prisoner of War status was determined to give him the "benefit of the doubt", a very small one, regarding his rights as described in the Geneva Code.
The legal protections of the Geneva Code can only be maintained if the "soldier" under investigation had conducted himself as combatant within the Geneva Code. We all know that Saddam will not be able to substantiate this point; within a few days of his trial, Saddam would be re-defined as a "War Criminal", to be judged by the nation he had tortured.
First of all, the evidence will show that Saddam was captured through the exploitation of intelligence which was derived by investigations into the insurgency which has killed many Iraqis and Coalition members. This alone, acts of sabotage and terrorism, would invalidate Saddam's PoW status because the violence had occurred after a new governing authority was institutionalised in Iraq. Saddam was no longer the legal leader of the legitimate combatant forces of his nation when he planned and approved attacks upon the new government of Iraq. Saddam was obligated to surrender when his military forces could no longer maintain their integrity and provide for the security of his regime. Saddam became a rebel and rebels cannot be awarded PoW status.
Secondly, Saddam had disregarded the Geneva Code when he gassed the Kurds and Iranians; when he committed mass murder against Shia civilians; when he invaded Kuwait in 1990; when he murdered religious leaders, women and children as a matter of policy in the conduct of his aggressive wars. The legal protections of the Geneva code can only be maintained if the "soldier" under investigation had conducted himself as combatant within the Geneva Code. We all know that Saddam will not be able to substantiate this point.
The PoW status of Saddam Hussein is a temporary legal condition which will be re- evaluated and removed in due course. There will be justice.
New York, NY
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