Letters to the editor
Let's not sing
Sir -- This Christmas when the Christian world raises its voice in joyful choruses to the song, "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem", I will remain silent in protest over the Israeli army's siege of the town of Bethlehem and its sad reflection upon the Christmas message: "Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men".
Today, Bethlehem is far from the idyllic scene we picture it in books and postcards. According to native born writer Mike Odetalla, "Bethlehem is home to some of the poorest people on Earth." A recent report by the World Bank noted that almost half the Palestinian population are living below the poverty line on barely $2 a day or less. As many as 600,000 Palestinians are unable to meet their basic needs in food, clothing and shelter to survive. Unemployment is rampant in many towns and villages due to travel restrictions, closures and curfews. The World Bank has urged the Israeli government to ease travel restrictions.
As Odetalla notes: "Bethlehem today is virtually cut off from the rest of Palestine: choked by settlements that surrounds her." In a recent interview, Mayor of Bethlehem Hanna Nasser criticised "the silence of the Christian world" amidst the military aggressions and violations in Bethlehem and called them "shameful."
Unlike the Holy Mother who found refuge in a quiet stable to give birth, expectant mothers are often forced to endure long waits at checkpoints to reach the safe haven of a hospital. Many expectant mothers have given birth on the streets and in taxis. Some mothers and their newborns have died because they weren't allowed through the checkpoints in a timely manner.
So when the Christian world raises its voice in joyful choruses this Christmas to sing: "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem", I shall remain silent in protest while this unknown author sums up the reality all too well:
Oh, Little town of Bethlehem
Oh, Little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
A wall is laid where tourists stayed, and tanks go rolling by.
And in thy dark streets shineth, no cheerful Christmas light;
The grief and fears of four sad years, are met in thee tonight.
How silently, how silently, the world regards it all,
As now thy heart is torn apart, by Israel's ghetto wall.
They terrorise a people -- a war crime and a sin;
Their winding "fence" can make no sense;
Revenge can still get in.
O promised child of Bethlehem, cast down the iron cage,
The wall of hate that separate, and harden and enrage;
Bring justice and make equal; come down from far above;
And come to birth upon this earth as hope and peace and love.
Sir -- Concerning Joseph Massad's article, ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 9-15 December) I have been rejoiced as much as impressed by such a display of lucidity.
This "new anti-Semitism", much rationalised today by Arab- haters in the West in the context of this fraudulent war on "terror" (or is it Arab terror?) is conveniently ignored by a large majority of people, indulging in easy categorisation. The extent of this racism is extremely disturbing, when it can be noticed that everywhere in America and Europe, Arabs and other Muslims feel the need to constantly "apologise" for their faith, and to borrow such problematic and racist labels such as "moderates" to justify and clear themselves of suspicion. It should be shown, by the way, that this "moderate" label is an impossible contradiction. It requires both the refusal of the Muslim faith more than nominally, and/or the endorsement of Western superiority by denigrating the Arab world and by refusing to endorse the Arab-Muslim struggle against oppression.
Another point in Massad's argument with which I feel is of special concern is the notion of genocide and the denouncing of the irresponsible and demagogic attitude adopted by certain individuals in playing down number and circumstance to rationalise massacre and deny genocide. This brings me back to a certain article of this nature, published in October in the conservative American magazine Commentary, in which the author used such sophistry to deny the occurrence of the widest, most sustained genocide in human history, the one which occurred during the colonisation of the American continent. Civilisations were destroyed, entire people exterminated, and the survivors who remain today still live in scandalous conditions, denied of their most basic rights, still victims of unacceptable, yet largely endorsed racism. And for them, the "international community" remains silent.
It's good for us
Sir -- I would like to respond to the various articles in your last issue regarding the thawing of Egyptian relations with Israel and increased inter-Mediterranean cooperation. I am extremely disappointed that some commentators are against the new QIZ agreement between Egypt, Israel and the United States. The fact of the matter is Egypt's future lies with its past. Historically, countries like Israel, Greece, Iran and Syria have been intertwined with Egypt. We Egyptians are right next door to a first world technological superpower with a lot of money and no place to invest it. It is imperative that we take advantage of this. Imagine what a union between Israeli money and technology and Egypt's location and skilled workforce would create: an international economic powerhouse.
Egypt and Israel have more mutual interests than is commonly assumed. They both want a stable Middle East, are dependent on tourism, share a common border, are secular and religiously diverse, have important holy sites, are close to America, and are active Mediterranean players. The closer Egypt and Israel get, the closer we will be to a renaissance of Egyptian economic power, regional superiority and political influence.
Also, when NATO extends a hand of friendship, we must accept. As the largest Arab power with military force and secular traditions, Egypt is well-positioned to be influential in NATO and guide the policies of that organisation. Egypt should also push for closer relations with Greece, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries. Egypt is a Mediterranean nation. It is more Mediterranean than it is Arab or African. Egypt played a major role in Mediterranean affairs until the 1950s. We must continue on a path of Mediterranean unity and rapprochement. Perhaps an eastern Mediterranean union of Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon and Libya would be a good idea.
Do three things
Sir -- A retired general asserts our military force is at a "breaking point" of being torn asunder by this Iraq fiasco. That our ground force strength must be drawn down to three divisions within six months if we are to preserve the integrity of these forces, although five divisions are necessary to carry on this war.
The Air Force is using C-130, C-5A and C-17 transport aircraft as a means to re-supply our troops in the field. However, these shipments do not include fuel and water. These aircraft configurations, likewise, as in the case with our ground elements, are being taxed beyond their capacity utilisation rates to handle the demands associated with this theatre of operations.
America, don't fool yourselves into thinking that Iraqi insurgents will not in the very near future begin attacking and bringing down our aircraft with their countless numbers of surface-to-air missiles as our pilots perform these re-supply missions.
Now, in an unprecedented move, Republican senators McCain and Hagel have publicly voiced a "no- confidence" vote in (US Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld. Given that President Bush has endorsed Rumsfeld's performance, one may deduce that these senators now manifest a "no-confidence" in this president. Such a public display of these high-ranking Republicans indirectly criticising their sitting president, and his chief defence steward directly, is truly something I have never seen in my lifetime.
Meanwhile, this administration refuses to accept the reality of this quagmire. Bush's talking-head surrogates continue to pontificate the high-handed attitude that this war is justified on moral grounds. That Bush is Providence's guiding light in this endeavour to spread the concepts of democracy and liberty throughout not only this region but to all the world's huddled masses. Remember, it is these same people with their "Alice in Wonderland" mind-sets who told us that US forces would be greeted as great liberators to be showered with flower-throwing appreciative Iraqis in their craving quest for democracy. Well, we all know now about that little fairy tale!
To all these politicians with all their pious platitudes to justify war, I, along with untold countless Americans who are just as disgusted as I am by having to listen to their excuses and general rhetorical nonsense, just zip it!
Three things must now be done, but realistically there should have been a fourth element involved: (1) Fire Rumsfeld; (2) Divide Iraq into three sovereign nations on the basis of Kurd, Shia and Sunni territorial interests; (3) and most importantly, get our troops home ASAP. As to the fourth, it's no secret: this president should have received his "pink slip" six weeks ago, but sadly 59 million Americans really blew it.
Terre Haute, Indiana
Just like them
Sir -- It is good news that Western textbooks dealing with Arabs and Muslims shall be rewritten as long as the same process will take place vice versa in Arab countries.
It is not obvious that the picture of the Arabs and Muslims will improve by being rewritten as realities are rather grim, both in a long- and short-term perspective.
Most textbook presentations in the West have a good portion of "cosmetics" and "face-lifting" in their presentations of Arabs and Islam as it is. On the other hand, the misperception of the secular West in Arab countries might be more of a challenge to present correctly since Arab governments will have to tell a success story of how poor countries have transformed into welfare states with prosperity for everyone and with freedom from any type of suppression. It might turn out to be impossible to tell the true story in Arab countries as it might sound like a genuine devaluation of the society where the Arabs live. But let's do it.
My guess is that at the end of the day, the Arabs prefer to stick to their more comfortable misleading presentation of the West back home and thus it might be impossible to have a mutual agreement -- or is it that only the West needs to correct its misperceptions?
Sir -- Your article on chocolate ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 9-15 December) just tingled all my taste buds. As a chocoholic it made me buy a huge bar and indulge in the sweet joy of it.
Congratulations for delivering an excellent newspaper every week.