Arabs' negative synergism
Sir -- Regarding Ms Dina Ezzat's "Egypt's Way of Reform" ( Al-Ahram Weekly, May 27-June 2, 2004), as an American , I am concerned by the obvious reluctance of Arab leaders to act on reform, merely paying lip service to it only by forming consultative councils and repealing a law here or there. They criticize my country for not signing the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court while at the same time I can assure you they will never ratify it themselves. They criticize the human rights record of United States only to avoid upholding human rights themselves. Abuse in Arab prisons is worse than what happened in Iraq. At the same time, nothing is said against the throat slashing of Nicholas Berg, like a sheep in a Biram festival. By reforming themselves and ceasing always to connect democratic rights at home with regional conflicts in Israel and Iraq, as though favourable geopolitics was an a priori to domestic rights, these regimes would become stronger and the world might start paying them some attention.
Criticizing US neo-conservatives will not do the Arab countries any good. Let them spend more time self-evaluating themselves beyond merely bragging about being the oldest civilizations. What they contributed seven thousand years ago must be weighed against contributions in the last two to four hundred years. What counts is what you are doing today and tomorrow. FIFA, perhaps, proved as adept a political analyst as any in giving Egypt a big fat zero for its efforts. Let the leaders ask their populations about their desires rather than speaking about "stability" (read stagnation) and reform from "within" (read at a turtles' pace). Frankly, Western pressure on Arab regimes is more than justified. Did we hear anything about reform before the democracy bomb was dropped by the West on the Greater Middle East ahead of actual bombs from B-2s and F-16s?
How could Egypt say no to both the G-8 and NATO under the pretext that as Arabs the apt forum for coordination is the Arab League? At the League's recent conference Arab leaders refused to pass a resolution agreeing to act as one entity! Libya quit in a manner fitting more for the theatre than for serious political deliberations, while Egypt left before the reading of final statements was concluded. They behave like children who, if you don't do it their way, quit playing ball.
Ms Ezzat fails to point out in her article the blatant dichotomy. Arabs speak from both sides of their mouths, extremely reluctant to accept criticism but only to their own detriment. They have to change or the world will change them by force in the interests of world peace and justice.
Dr Izzy Latif
Los Angeles, California
Don't rush to judgement
Sir-- Mohamed Sid-Ahmed's article regarding torture of Iraqis 'An American holocaust?' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 20-26 May) is interesting but somewhat misleading. First, we do not know (although many and I include myself suspect it was) if the ill treatment of Iraqi prisoners was systemic or not. However, as I write this the US Congress is attempting to determine whether the treatment of Iraqi prisoners was ordered by senior officers, or if it was the work of a small number of individuals. Until that is known, I think prejudices should be set aside.
Second, his reference to "The atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a delayed response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour" is far from the truth. I am one of the few former journalists still alive who actually interviewed President Harry Truman on that subject and received an explanation from him in person as to why the two atom bombs were dropped. His explanation, which has stood the test of substantial research, was that the cost in casualties of invading the Japanese mainland (in both American and Japanese lives) would have been far greater than the number of people killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He cited immense casualty figures estimated by American, British and other Allies as to the numbers of Allied soldier who would be killed. There was substantial justification for the estimates, based on the number of soldiers killed in recent American invasions of islands such as Iwo Jima, Saipan, Okinawa, and others.
The dropping of the two bombs in no way was a delayed response to Pearl Harbour but a military decision pure and simple, and one that worked eventually to the betterment of all countries involved -- but of course not to the betterment of those killed or maimed in the two cities where the bombs were dropped.
On these two points at least, I think the writer of the article was inaccurate.
No more Saddams
Sir-- For any polished analyst, the situation in the Middle East is more farcical than tragic. The US -- the country that claims it has come to topple a dictator -- has turned into the real dictator, shedding blood and spreading anarchy and disorder hither and thither in the region. Unfortunately, the blood of the Arabs is so cheap for the US and its allies that they shed it without even a word of apology.
The US and its allies have given their soldiers the green light to kill, torture and humiliate the Iraqi people freely. No serious steps of any sort have been taken on the part of the US or the so-called international community to put a halt to all these absurdities, as though the blood of the Arabs is of no value at all. This is the net truth that we should come to believe in. We are to be sure of the bitter truth that occupation has come back, but this time it has its ugly masks uncovered.
It is farcical to hear that the occupation forces in Iraq have fired a soldier or two, or have sentenced them to a year in jail for torturing the Iraqi people at Abu Ghraib prison. Demolishing Abu Ghraib or punishing one or two of those involved in torturing Iraqi prisoners are far from enough. There must be serious steps to put a halt to all these absurdities. The US and its allies, more specifically Mr Blair, must know that they are more "Saddamistic" than Saddam himself.
Enough of all this; put you house in order before it is too late. No more Saddams, Bushes, Blairs and their ilk. All that people care about is real peace instead of all these brutalities; we need peace in the true sense of the word.
Sir-- The Arab world should be thanking us for getting rid of Saddam's regime. I, as an American, do not apologise for a few soldiers who humiliated a few Iraqis. At least they did not have their heads cut off like Nick Berg. Unlike Berg, they still have their lives.
Sir-- During an hour-long interview recently, Lynndie England, a prison guard who has been prominent in the photographs of torturing the Iraqi detainees, said "to us, we were doing our jobs which meant doing what we were told". England, 21, asserted that she acted on instructions from superior officers. She added that "the pose and the pictures were a result of direct orders." These confessions certainly uncover many unknown crimes. She was asked if there were worse things that went on with prisoners at Abu Ghraib than the things shown in the pictures, England said yes, but there was an effort "to keep it hush-hush".
I hope the American president is touched by the loyalty of his men. Somewhat surprisingly, when the Iraqis resist this unfair imperialism and this systematic abuse, we find Bush describing them as "thugs and assassins" or "die-hard loyalists". Clearly, this intentional mistaken description indicates erroneous policy, and unveils the US's real aims in Iraq and its false claim of "democratising Iraq".
Allaa Gamal Abd-Alhakim
Stories of torture
Sir-- The Arab countries practise torture as a matter of course; what about Saudi Arabia, who is going to make them answer to the appalling human rights they practise? Nobody. They admit that beating of the feet is a good deterrent to use (as noted by Prince Al-Turki). I know exactly what a torture victim suffers; not only were Britons abused on a daily basis, Muslims were beaten and screams of these poor souls who are probably innocent were heard in the ministry. Every one must answer to these abuses of human rights.
James Cottle and our children went through hell. Why isn't Tony Blair appalled at the torture going on with his best friends, the Saudis? What about the British men who have proof they were tortured? Embassy officials who were accused of giving the orders, what did my children think when he was made to confess on world TV?
James Cottle was abused, beaten, tortured in the most horrific way. I sent a report to the foreign affairs committee of James's proof he obtained from the world renowned clinic in Copenhagen. The Saudis want this to go through the courts and that is what they will get; that's a promise. The press coverage on this has hardly begun and we are calling, as are many MPs, for diplomatic ties to be cut off over this.
These men had skin hanging from their bones when they were released and it was pitiful. James also has PST and he wanted to be executed because the pain was unbearable. He was set up in an elaborate plan to be kidnapped from Bahrain, and now James is disabled for life. This will never be forgotten until justice prevails.
In one leap
Sir-- If the Arab League ever wants to make a great contribution to the Palestinian cause and peace in the region, it should unequivocally and unanimously recognise the state of Israel within the 1967 borders. This will set in motion a diplomatic train that will engage Palestinians and Israel in a peace process, which would have removed one of its main obstacles: Israel's fear that an agreement that does not have the legitimacy of the Arab and Islamic world is doomed to fail.
Too much ambiguity in the statements of Arab and Palestinian leaders, rather than being a contribution to peace shows no willingness to achieve it. Maybe next year as the League celebrates its 60th anniversary, it will be time for such a contribution to peace.
Sir-- In her article 'Defining tomorrow' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 27 May - 2 June) Fatemah Farag gives us a helpful overview of the potential move towards democratic beginnings in Egypt today. She tells us about a new party "Al-Ghad" with Mona Makram Ebeid as its general secretary; what a wonderful idea. However, she finishes her article with the downhearted and unhopeful: "At the end of the day, Al-Ghad's future hangs on the skewed scales of the Political Parties Committee." Alas, she is, of course right.
I am of the generation of those Egyptians who have given up hope of political reform in Egypt. I believe that although we are in the majority, we are the crushed, silent, absent and unheard majority. It baffles me that the powers that be are content to perpetuate the status quo and to consistently ignore, or rather suppress, the admittedly weak and few and far between calls for reform. In most countries in the rest of our world such initiatives as Al-Ghad would be encouraged and supported, if not openly promoted.
We continue to feel ignored, unloved, unwanted by our own country because of the crushing political system that oppresses it. This cannot bode good for the future.
Sir-- Commendations to Jill Kamil for her article 'Egypt in Nubia and vice versa' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 20-26 May). As a Sudanese Nubian, it is heartening to read historical truths regarding Sudanese Nubia in the Egyptian media. The dismantling and re-erection process that occurred in Egypt with the help of Western specialists, was not afforded to Sudan. The painfully bitter result was the inundation of the great city of Halfa with its 7000 year history, artefacts and magic.
In light of the article, the construction of the High Dam could be seen as the final Egyptian conquest -- displacing city-dwellers, separating people from their land and subjugating a culture. That the sole purpose of the Dam was for the benefit of Egyptian farmers in Lower Egypt is a fitting Nubian tragedy.
Sir-- Regarding 'Ahmed Osman: Beyond belief' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 8-14 January), I think there is much merit in Ahmed Osman's historical analysis. They seem to fit in well with much of the material published in Gary Greenberg's The Moses Myth (later renamed The Bible Myth ), which sees the rise of monotheism as originating in Mosaic Egypt and Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy's The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'Original Jesus' A Pagan God?, which establishes the unhistoricity of the conventional view of the New Testament and traces the mystery resurrection back to Egypt, though neither book cites Osman, and Osman's (1987) book on Joseph appeared before either of theirs.
As one might expect, these other texts do not mesh perfectly in detail with Osman's but the overall outlook is not incompatible. Osman still credits non-iconic monotheism as stemming from Abraham, the Semitic journeyer from Ur, which Greenberg does not uphold, while Freke and Gandy believe that the Jesus figure is purely mythical, with no physical existence. But Osman, Greenberg, and Freke and Gandy, also see an interweaving of Egyptian and Hebraic concepts and ideals. That is probably the best aspect of these mysteries, that people are interconnected and should be free to accept the best ideas and ideals available regardless of origins.
Sects don't mix
Sir-- In America, my friend's wedding was cancelled because elders said a Shia could not marry a Sunni. I am baffled. A class at Georgetown University on Islamic political thought emphasised Islam's human rights foundation, equality. The faiths of Jews, Christians, and Muslims all spring from Abraham and the same God. How can such prejudice be sanctioned by preventing a Shia woman from marrying a Sunni man? Is it a faith thing, or because the woman is second class? I don't get it.
Sir-- I find the article of J Sri Raman 'Catholic conspiracy' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 27 May - 2 June) interesting and enlightening, but it seems to presume that what the BJP-led NDA government pursued in the last six years was "Manmohanomics" of 1991-96. The latter, in fact, was for reform to suit the changed conditions of India's economy and the global economy, as tellingly highlighted by a forex crisis of 1991. Neither total "no" to reform nor equating of reform with marketisation and privatisation is likely to prove relevant in the long run. Even in developed countries, conservatives generally brought in reforms in the 1980s but were thrown out by the electorate, and the Left came to power and implemented the same or similar but modified reforms, but more successfully.
Sir-- It has been almost three years now since I first read about the atrocities which the Arab world has suffered, and ever since then I've been trying to grab as much information on the topic as I'm able to. One thing I'm really saddened by, and even find offensive, is the fact that people around the world identify the USA as America. I really feel the need to tell people around the world that an issue as simple as that must be re-considered, in order to stand against the so-called world's most powerful nation.
Mexico is part of America and it's no good to include it in the "America" that these people (US citizens) want to show to the rest of the world. I really wish greater nations can do something against this imperial powers to which, unfortunately, we are all somehow subjugated.
Sir-- In Hisham Shaalan's letter 'Big Brother, Uncle Sam' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 27 May - 2 June) he wrote that George Orwell would be disappointed, had he lived to present times, to see that Big Brother was Uncle Sam. Well, let me refresh his memory that Big Brother was indeed the United States and Great Britain, along with Australia. George Orwell was not referring to the Soviets as Big Brother or predicting its future in 1984, that would be Animal Farm.
Furthermore, Orwell's vision is not yet fully realised as Mr Shaalan claims, not even remotely. I think he would find it very disappointing if he read it again to read about the fate of the Middle Eastern nations in that book, maybe then he can see if that vision is fully realised or heading towards it.
Dilemma at the stem
Sir-- The world's first stem cell bank opened recently in Britain. Genetic science has great potential for either serving or degrading humanity. Its proper use requires moral reflection and the establishment of moral limits. There are many uses of genetic engineering, such as "somatic cell" therapy that are morally acceptable. In this instance, a genetically determined malfunction in a particular kind of human body cell is corrected using genetically altered cells. The goal here is to serve human life and human dignity.
"Germ-line" therapy performed on early human embryos is more problematic because it alters the basic genetic constitution of the person and all of his or her future offspring. This type of therapy requires using reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation to produce embryos in the laboratory, where they can be observed and manipulated. Here, a relationship of domination of researchers over their embryonic subjects exists which not only opens the door to new threats against life, but is contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.
Genetic screening used for the deliberate destruction of human embryos can never be justified because here we are dealing with murder. All governments have a moral obligation to protect human life in all phases of its existence, from conception to natural death.