Letters to the Editor
Sir-- Israel could have easily arrested Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a 67-year-old quadriplegic and the most prominent Palestinian Islamic figure, and tried him for his alleged crimes. However, this savage act should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's actions. The killing of Sheikh Yassin is part of the Israeli offensive ahead of the evacuation from most of Gaza. Sheikh Yassin's assassination sent the message that when the Gaza disengagement is finally implemented, Hamas will not be able to claim that the withdrawal was prompted by the group's military operations.
Sharon's logic is impeccable: Israel is an overwhelming military power, its strongest ally is the mightiest military force in the world, therefore, as long as its conflict with the Palestinians remains within the military arena, Israel will maintain a strong and steady upper hand. Key to keeping the conflict on the military arena is taking strategic actions that will sabotage any peace initiatives or efforts to make progress on the political front.
Yet as glaring as the outlines of this strategy have been, US media continue to tell us that Sharon's Israel wants to resolve the conflict equitably and peacefully, that it is interested in moving towards a political solution, only if it could find a serious partner on the other side of the table. Israel's assassination of Palestinians will only enflame retaliation, not deter them.
It is incumbent upon our government to strongly condemn this political assassination not by bland statements, but by cutting the flow of American taxpayer dollars to Israel; it is these tax dollars that pay for the weapons Israel uses to carry out such illegal attacks. In addition, our government should cancel Sharon's upcoming visit to Washington.
American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
The monster lives
Sir-- In the aftermath of the unspeakable crime committed by Israel, murdering in cold blood an invalid elderly man confined to a wheelchair on his way home from his house of worship, one of Israel's cabinet ministers boasted that "Israel's Bin Laden is dead." No he isn't, he's alive and well and very effective in generating world hatred, killing and wounding innocent people and blaming the destruction on threats to his ideology.
His name is Ariel Sharon and his supporters consist of a group of people so driven by their maniacal belief in their supremacy, that any means of achieving their objectives has become acceptable. In fact, the bloodier, more senselessly provocative and ultimately self-defeating, the better. In a nutshell, they are everything that they accuse their enemies of being in terms of sheer destructiveness, following a leader who is more than equal to the task.
Sir-- Curtis Doebbler's legal argument against Israel's assassination of Yassin in 'Israel's unwitting tribute' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 25-31 March) omits one important fact, rendering the whole of his argument incorrect: Israel and paramilitary Hamas are at war. His entire analysis, which is appropriate to the criminal context and not to a context where each side has declared war on the other, is irrelevant.
The legality of Israel's action is thus subject to simple proportionality analysis. Yassin was the leader of a terrorist organisation, and thus not a civilian. His assassination was carried out in a way that harmed few civilians and was thus permitted under international law.
Doebbler's analysis in defence of a man who sanctioned the murder of children, is that of what Immanuel Kant, referring to lawyers who did such things, called an "inveterate consoler".
New York, NY
Sir-- I am a native born Caucasian American (I am not Muslim) and, although in no way do I speak for my country, I wish at least for the sake of those Americans who do not countenance murder, to say that the life or death of Muslim people is as precious to me as would be the death of my nearest neighbour.
I am deeply ashamed of my country's enabling Israel in their ongoing pogrom against the Palestinian people. The sad people of Palestine are in my thoughts on the occasion of the wilful and cowardly assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Sir-- There was no shortage of condemnation of the murder of Sheikh Yassin by Arab and European leaders, from Cairo to Beirut and from London to Athens. However, Washington -- the so-called cornerstone of the civilised world -- had not a word of criticism.
The State Department, in another demonstration of political correctness, simply said that "both sides must exercise restraint", but Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser, not only failed to condemn the killings but appeared to both condone and arrogantly gloat over them when she said: "Let's remember that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and that Sheikh Yassin himself has been personally, we believe, involved in terrorist planning."
Ariel Sharon's decision to incinerate a 67- year-old blind quadriplegic cleric outside his local mosque will certainly go down as one of the most spectacularly counter-productive acts of violence in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The United States and Condoleezza Rice can believe what they want and remain buried in ignorance of the fact that Yassin was the spiritual leader of Hamas -- Hamas being not just a resistance movement like any other that has resorted to revolutionary violence to free its people from an already 37-year old brutal occupation, but also an organisation that spends millions of dollars on schools, clinics, orphanages, mosques, food distribution, sports leagues and other social programmes to help a people who have been deprived and insulted by that very same occupation.
What matters is how the Palestinian people themselves will internalise and act upon this latest outrage. Any sane observer who lives outside the environs of the White House administration knows perfectly well that there was no peace process. This will be yet another nail in the coffin of a moribund process, which wasn't going anywhere anyway. The United States has refused to deal with the elected leader of the Palestinians; Israel has refused to deal with the elected leader of the Palestinians -- Yasser Arafat. You can't go around that, so there's not going to be a peace process.
Reform begins at home
Sir-- In Dina Ezzat's article in this week's Al Ahram Weekly (25-31 March) "Egypt offers to host Arab summit", I was interested in the final paragraph in which a senior Arab affairs correspondent is reported to have said "This is a total shock... There was no sign of sharp disagreements. Arab ministers always have their quarrels and they do not cancel the summit meetings ...Women and human rights? Last year Arab foreign ministers were fighting over whether or not to stand united in the face of the American occupation of Iraq but the summit was not cancelled. Something must have happened to make the Tunisians take this decision."
Maybe, just maybe, Arab leaders and their representatives should start realising that "women and human rights" are vastly more important issues, worthy of attention, and needful of reforms, than some of the ones that they traditionally focus on.
Maybe "reform" should start with some change along these lines.
The logic of war
Sir-- Your article 'We are all Hamas now' by Khaled Amayreh ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 25-31 March) devotes a good deal of space to threats of revenge against Israel. From my American perspective the reason this has not deterred Israel is that every possible method of attack against Israel within actual reach of the Palestinians is already being pursued. The situation has degenerated to the point where both sides are purely following the logic of war.
This is a tragedy for both sides but will ultimately prove disastrous for the Palestinians. The more Sharon goads Palestinians into launching attacks, which can never achieve military signifiance, the more his military approach appears to be a reasonable response.
The only hope for Palestinians is a complete unilateral ceasefire.
Whether you look at it idealistically or cynically there is no way America can pressure Israel to stop attacking Palestinians while Israel remains under attack and America continues to pursue the destruction of Al-Qa'eda by any means necessary, which we are.
On the other hand a Palestinian ceasefire would generate tremendous pressure by America on Israel. The problem is, this requires logical thinking and leadership devoted to the best interests of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately what the Palestinians seem to get is overwrought emotional reactions and leadership devoted to narrow factional interests.
The final tragedy is that there seems to be no reason why the situation cannot continue essentially as it is indefinitely. The initially indifferent reaction in America to the killing of Mr Yassin reflects the low level of interest generated by a situation that appears to be in static equilibrium, the modern equivalent of trench warfare.
Struggle for independence
Sir-- The parallelism between the Palestinian struggle for homeland and that of the 18th Century American War of Independence from Britain may surprise some of your readers. Nathan Hale, a great American patriot said: "I regret that I have but one life to give to my country." Those words that ring so loud and clear more than 200 years later, were his last words just prior to being hanged by the British.
From the fog of those distant days, emerges many rallying cries familiar to students of American history -- "Give me Liberty or Give me Death" and "Live Free or Die" are but two examples. For the American government to dance to the tune of a criminal like Sharon is at best unbecoming of a great country and at worst a betrayal to the very roots of history that once made America the beacon of liberty and human rights. What we need to do is recognise evil when we see it, greed when it is so obvious and propaganda when it is so devious. Someday we shall, someday.
Fikry Boulos Salib
A rare thing
Sir-- I would like to apologise. I have read the British press every day since I was about 15, I have a bachelor degree in international history and politics, I consider myself to be well-read and open-minded, and until today I held a series of uninformed and illogical opinions based largely on the distorted and highly polarised opinions disseminated in the British media regarding the issue of Israel/Palestine. I am a Jew, and I believed for a very long time that there was a serious lack of correlation between what my religion condones, and the actions being committed by and on behalf of the Israeli state.
There is a widely-held belief in the UK that the Arabic press is uniformly anti-Semitic and has a vicious degree of bias on this issue. Furthermore, the equation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel in the minds of the majority of Jews, and the fact that only the most inflammatory comments on these matters are ever reported in the British press, gave me a degree of defensiveness that prevented me from gaining any real understanding of the conflict. I imagined that every Arab, and worse, every Muslim, personally wanted me dead.
Even though I had Muslim friends, I could rarely, if ever admit to them that I was a Jew, much less talk to them about Israel/Palestine, such was the fear engendered by what I had read, heard and seen.
Today, while looking for information about the boy whose failed suicide bombing was reported in the media, I found a link to your newspaper. Expecting it to be saturated with anti- Semitic polemic and suchlike, I was very lucky that I came across an article by Azmi Bishara. Whatever you are paying him, please double it. Please ensure that this man's voice is never silenced because his words have opened my eyes and my mind, and I am profoundly grateful.
It is a rare thing to physically feel the dark corners of one's ignorance and fear being pushed back, and I feel a sense of shame for voicing for so long and so vehemently, opinions that I now realise were groundless, offensive, and just plain wrong.
Thank you, and God bless you for lifting the burden of blind hatred from my soul.
From the heart
Sir-- Thank you from one American who had the rare good fortune to live in Egypt from 1955 until 1958, and for the next 20 years returned for a visit nearly every year.
I was a Marine Corps guard at the US Embassy and my experiences in Egypt and my love of its people remained with me. After university, I went to work for CARE International and worked in foreign aid for 30 years. But in spite of the other 15 nations I visited/lived in during the course of my career, Egypt remains the most loved country after my own.
My best wishes to one and all.
Boulder City, NV
Vote them out
Sir-- The people of Spain were against the war in Iraq. The last election proved that the people of Spain were not afraid to vote the right-wing government out of office, even if Al-Qa'eda did the bombing. The people of Spain proved that their actions are principled, regardless of any outside events.
I hope the people of the USA will do the same and vote their right-wing/Zionist government out of office in November.
Sir-- I usually appreciate your articles because of the wider view they reflect and I strongly recommend them to others, particularly regarding the Palestinian issue.
Now, however, I'm disturbed by the story 'Recurring nightmares' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 25- 31 March) from Sarajevo -- probably written by someone with a Bosnian background and a bias against Serbs. There are obviously false statements made (for example what led to the drowning of three ethnic-Albanian children), non-relevant issues introduced (Muslims versus Orthodox Christians).
I profoundly hope that the above article does not reflect Al- Ahram Weekly 's stance on the matter.
JJ van Kempen
Right to respond
Sir-- I am writing in response to Professor Edward Said's remarks about my memoir A Border Passage in his article 'Living in Arabic' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 February). Let me begin by saying Professor Said's book Orientalism is one of the classics of our age. It's recasting of the history of imperialism and of the literary productions of imperialism, and most notably of the literature on other cultures and in particular on Islam and the Arab world, inaugurated a new era in academic studies in American universities and colleges, and indeed globally. It is a work whose intellectual impact and continuing significance will of course be studied for years to come.
In my book A Border Passage, I did make some critical remarks regarding his book Orientalism. These were criticisms arising from my own first book, a book on which I first worked as a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, under Professor A J Arberry, then the Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at that University.
My book was on the Orientalist Edward Lane. Because of my close knowledge of Lane's life and work, I questioned the accuracy of some of Edward's dismissive remarks about Lane in Orientalism. I discussed, too, some of the ways in which my own perspectives on a number of further points also differed from those that Said put forward in Orientalism and I speculated, in the course of discussing these differences, that our disagreements perhaps reflected our different national experiences and our different genders.
I was sorry to learn following the publication of my memoir that Said was deeply angered by my criticisms. Unfortunately, we did not make the occasion to continue this dialogue before his untimely death. A few days ago, a colleague drew my attention to Edward's article in your paper. Here I would like simply to correct some misunderstandings.
First, Said writes in that article that in A Border Passage, I wrote in praise of Egyptian vernacular Arabic (a language I do indeed much appreciate) and that I also, "admitted" that I did not know classical Arabic. I did not make such a statement, nor is there any truth to this allegation. Said's statement on this matter surprised me as I knew that he had read and in fact had written in high praise of my book Women and Gender in Islam, a book in which I draw on books in classical Arabic. Indeed, Said's comments praising Women and Gender in Islam are quoted on the back of the Yale University Press paperback edition of that work.
Second, Said erroneously refers to me in his article as a professor of Islam at Harvard. I am not a Professor of Islamic Studies, I am a Professor of Women's Studies in Religion. Interestingly, the field of Women's Studies did not exist when I went to college. The history of academic fields, as Said surely knew, is always shifting -- old fields are reshaped and new fields emerge as scholarship keeps pace with new social, intellectual and academic insights and developments.
The scholarship of Edward Said has certainly had an important role in the dynamic reshaping of academic fields.
Victor S Thomas Professor of Divinity
The Divinity School
Ark on the web
Sir-- First, I'd like to voice my deepest appreciation for you publication that has become a role model for Egyptian journalism, thanks to your estimable stsff and the high-caliber of your coverage, reports and editorials.
Second, I have a suggestion, one that I think has already been mentioned, which is to establish an e-forum or a chat-room for your paper. I believe you are able to create such forum for the following reasons: 1- Such a forum would help promote the cause of human mutual understanding and tolerance, a cause to which show great concern; 2- you've got what it takes to promote such ideas (i.e. the creative minds and the know-how); 3- because now is the time to boost cross-civilizational dialogue, especially that the whole world is starting to buy the "Clash of civilisations" fallacies.
That speaks for the urgency of such initiatives that I regard as Noah's ark, one that that would shelter humanity from the deluge of hatred, intolerance, indifference and racism.
And I believe that conducting a survey on the subject would help you decide the feasibility and form of such forum.
Al-Ahram Weekly reserves the right to edit letters submitted to Readers' Corner for brevity and clarity. Readers are advised to limit their letters to a maximum of 300 words.