Letters to the Editor
The two professors
Sir-- Ben Saul, in his clear and convincing article 'A law unto itself' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 22-28 July), gives us a strange lesson which we should not forget. Especially those of us who have children of University-going age. Professor Alan Dershowitz, from Harvard University, by his article on the ICJ decision in the Jerusalem Post has done much harm to the reputation of his school, where people from many countries tend to send their children for the best possible education in law.
For instance, who would send their son or daughter to Lion University Law School in France knowing that there he/she would undergo stupid teaching of "negatonisme' -- which means refusing the historical truth of Nazi-crimes against Jews and gypsies during WWII? One would rightly think long and hard about it.
Now, who, after having read the article of Harvard Professor in Law Alan Dershowitz in the Jerusalem Post would be confident in the quality of teaching by this professor? Would it be wrong to call Professor Dershowitz's article an attempt on the reputation of Harvard? Would that be wrong?
On the contrary, your author Mr Ben Saul (lecturer at Oxford University in international law) seems clear, coherent and -- most importantly in these times -- ethically responsible.
Sir-- Many thanks to Ben Saul for his article 'A law unto itself' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 22-28 July). Indeed, Mr Saul is right when he writes that the ICJ's ruling stated what we all knew. You can't build a fence in your neighbour's yard and expect them to accept it as protecting your rights. What about the neighbour's rights? Still, I am very grateful to Mr Saul for explaining this in a legal manner and for addressing Allen Dershowitz's absurd remarks.
Now I understand more clearly the legal implications too. First, Israel has legal duties to the Palestinians in the occupied territories; second, the Palestinians in turn have their own rights which cannot be manipulated away by politicians; three, Israel has violated the Palestinians' fundamental rights by building the fence; four, Israel must now remedy the situation by dismantling the fence and compensating the victims. This all seems so straight forward to me. Israel shouldn't have created this mess to begin with. Whatever made them think that "security needs" supersede peoples' rights.
For Allen Dershowitz to say the court's ruling was "bigotry" is simply ridiculous. Comparing it to the white racist Mississippi Court ruling of the 1930s is even more extreme. In fact, as Mr Saul pointed out, if this case were brought to the Israeli court as Dershowitz's wanted, it would have ensured such a bigoted ruling. The Israeli court would have favoured Israeli needs over Palestinian needs; how unjust is the law at times, and people need to understand this. Look what it did to our country by sanctioning slavery and then denying people their civil rights. So Allen Dershowitz is the real bigot here.
Besides, this dispute is not a domestic dispute, as Dershowitz's tried to make it out to be, but rather an international dispute since it involves the borders between two nations. Israel must comply; we won't accept anything less. We are tired of our government's double standards over Israel. Many of us feel terrible about the pain Israel has inflicted upon the Palestinian people over this monstrosity, and Israel had better compensate them. The court was so right in this ruling; if Israel wants a fence, let them build it in their own backyard.
Cleaning up the PA
Sir-- It is hard to understand the recent events on the Palestinian scene. To whose benefit do these disturbances work? But, the smell of deviation in the whole body of the Palestinian Authority became too fishy to ignore. Many of these deeds are due to personal interests and there is no consideration for a national one. Unfortunately, what is happening now gives Sharon a better chance to persuade international opinion that the Palestinians are irresponsible, so he could act unilaterally. I am disappointed to see some selfish, pragmatic ministers playing carelessly with the future of poor people who always pay the price, while those venerable ministers sitting in air-conditioned rooms contemplate their neat neck ties.
Any little hope for the future of Palestine, or even of the so- called peace process, will need drastic reform in the Palestinian Authority. The whole world knows the financial violations and the stolen funds committed by those people. If they are not honest in dispensing the aid coming to their people, do they care about the future or think nationally? I suspect not.
The people are also to be blamed for not choosing those who represent them well and defend their rights. We should pray for the people of Palestine to overcome the unclean hands in the PA, because only then will they be able to deal with Sharon while standing on solid ground.
Ali El-Sharkawy Omar
PR replacing bombs
Sir-- I have always believed in the Palestinian cause, but not the use of suicide bombers to fight the occupation of Palestine; I don't think Arabs understand that people in the West find this tactic appalling. Arabs may not know that we, Americans, during WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam and 11 September were on the receiving end of that tactic.
Palestinians should be attacking Israeli government officials and the military, instead of civilians. There is a large number of Israelis who, in conjunction with Palestinians, protest the occupation and treatment of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, you don't see this in the mainstream media in the US.
In the past, I thought the consistent mention of a Zionist conspiracy was all in the Arab mind. However, I continued to educate myself by reading Al-Ahram Weekly and other Arab newspapers, as well as seeking other sources of information outside the US mainstream. One such excellent source is a satellite channel called LINKTV, and is available on DIRECT-TV in the US.
Although I am not sure about a Zionist conspiracy, I do know that Israel has kept eight major US public relations firms on their payroll for years. These firms have a close relationship with ABC, NBC and CBS, which are the three major mainstream news outlets in the US. I think Arafat needs to use some of the millions of dollars he has in his bank account, and hire his own public relation firms to get the Palestinian cause out into the US media. At the same time, the tactic of suicide bombings must stop, or else the Palestinians will never get the US public on their side.
There's more to it
Sir-- Instead of making an analytical assessment in 'Shoot them all' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 22-28 July) of anti-Semitism in France, and acknowledge an irrefutable fact without any pretext or attenuation, you point out -- often without any evidence -- one or two cases of alleged wrong attributions of anti-Semitic acts; as if these isolated deeds will erase the reality of despicable anti-Jewish acts. You were not able to point out similar criminal acts committed by French Jews on mosques or Islamic religious leaders.
Sir-- The conclusion of the 9/11 Commission, in their presentations on TV (book tour), explicitly demonstrates the manipulative character of elite politics in America. In such commissions, illusions that democracy is at work are dispensed at public expense (tax dollars); but the end product the public receives offers them no solutions and presents no causes. Nevertheless, it is rapidly transformed into a commercial product (the best selling book), which then extracts further funds from the public through its entertainment value. As these reports are canonised and become "Gospel truths", further investigation is effectively sealed which absolves the high and mighty, the puppet masters from any and all responsibility.
It is only a commission chosen from within the same system of organised incompetence -- a system that missed chance after chance across organisational boundaries to prevent the 9/11 attacks -- that we expect conclusions like, "Everyone was responsible, but no one in particular." If a high school student were to conclude his or her research paper in this manner, i.e. "Everything is the cause", they would receive a failing grade.
Investigations are designed, scientifically speaking, to lead to a narrowing down of causes and hence solutions. Absurd statements by the commission like, "It was a failure of imagination," make their "investigation" an exercise in futility. Preventing 9/ 11 cannot in any real sense be a failure of imagination, because imagination regarding causes cannot be transformed into workable solutions in the "real world". Imagination is practically limitless and resources that guide solutions are limited.
As common wisdom has it, "You cannot fool everyone all of the time." The day is coming when the American people will demand their money back from a system that has shown no "lack of imagination" in inventing ways to steal from them.
A different script
Sir-- In reference to the article 'They don't love this movie' by Yasmine El-Rashidi ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 15-21 July), there is one critical question that was not asked: why would this artist, Fawzi, choose a minority religion to base his film on? This makes no sense on two levels. First, a movie about minorities, marketed to the majority, by someone who is a convert from the minority is simply asking for trouble -- art or not. Second, it would seem to make more sense to make the film about the majority, in order to relate to the bulk of the audience.
Personally, I feel this is a personal issue of denouncement by Fawzi and not as simple as "art to be critiqued", as he so patronisingly states.
Sir-- I read with great interest Hani Shukrallah's column 'Out with the old' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 15-21 July), and I share with the writer his outright pessimism about the future repercussion of the latest cabinet reshuffle. The writer referred to the likely conflict between "reformers" and "old guard", and I think a lot of people agree that there is going to be some sort of chaotic hubbub and that both groups will never manage to achieve any kind of modus vivendi.
Perhaps Mr Shukrallah was right when he asserted that "a quarter of a century of 'liberalisation' has failed to produce any liberal politicians worthy of note." But we, the ordinary people of this country, are just fed up with all sorts of politicians, whether they are liberals, conservatives, hardliners or otherwise. Politicians are only good at making speeches which just pollute the air; they promise to build bridges where there are no rivers. It is often too late when we discover that many things done in public interest do not in fact interest the public at all.
I couldn't agree more with the writer that "the only reform that is worth getting excited about is democratic reform." The problem here is that "democracy" is a word all politicians use and very few seem to understand. Isn't it funny that any political candidate will tell you that what this country needs is "HIM".
Essam Hanna Wahba
The old and fragile
Sir-- It is high time Egyptian society, with its different social strata, took a real view of pity and mercy at the deteriorated conditions of the poor, elderly people who are left without support or those who have lost their relatives, one way or another. It is very touching to find an old woman or man over 60 or 70 approach you on the street, eyes full of sorrow, and ask you for a helping hand, help that they really need. Some people cannot help giving them the change left in their pockets; others, though touched by such scenes, leave them without uttering a single word; others still, go away accusing them of being repulsive beggars.
When facing such a situation, the first thought that may strike many of us is: "Who is responsible for the hardship of such people?" In many cases, it is really difficult to say who is responsible for this tragedy. However, many of us are quick to attribute it to the government. Others may defend the situation of the government, saying it pays monthly pensions to such people. To some extent, this is true, but the question here is: "What can a monthly 50-pound pension do for these people?""
Most of them, if not all, are sick. Hence, a paltry sum of money is indeed of no avail to them. The only outlet for some of them is to get out into the streets, asking for the help of others. This is a tragedy which top officials in the government should think about. The elderly people living on this great soil have the right to live like their ilk in the rest of the world. I wish I would see real solutions for the tragedy of such a marginalised group of citizens.
Sir-- Zahi Hawass is not just a brilliant archaeologist (and a fellow Penn graduate) he is also a most generous man and he was generous indeed in his most recent column Dig Days: Hall of Fame (22-28 July) in his description of our (AUC) exhibition last Fall "Creswell's Cairo". What he didn't mention was that he not only provided the introduction for the superb exhibition catalogue that we published on the occasion, and took the lead as speaker at a press conference held on campus just prior to the opening, but it was thanks to Zahi that the necessary permits were provided the team of photographers who tracked down and took contemporary shots of Cairo's Islamic monuments in colour that exactly matched the same perspective for Creswell's own black and white pictures taken 50 or more years ago.
But I must note that the photography team of Chemane Arias and Jenny Marquez was provided by the Islamic Art Network (IAN) not AUC.
IAN manages an extraordinary website -- www.islamic-art.org -- and collaborated with AUC in putting together this great exhibit which as Zahi notes was curated by Noha Abu Khatwa, who is the director of IAN. Part of the confusion is that I wear two hats -- as an AUC faculty member and director of the Sony Gallery which was one of the two participating galleries and I serve as academic liaison officer for IAN and The Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation which sustains IAN and Ms Abu Khatwa is a recent graduate of AUC's Islamic Art Master's degree programme.
Indeed the Islamic Arts Network has reproduced all of the material -- both text and visual -- connected with this show and it is pleased to have the personal support of Zahi Hawas who is a member of our International Advisory Board (now under formation) as well as the opportunity since the exhibition is to work closely with the Supreme Council of Antiquities on other projects of mutual interest.
S Abdallah Schleifer
Director, The Adham Center for Television Journalism
American University in Cairo