Al-Ahram Weekly Online
21 - 27 March 2002
Issue No.578
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Drawing by Ossama Qassim

In America

Sir- Al-Ahram Weekly online is a must read at my house each week.

Without calling attention to any particular writer (they're all good), it is necessary to urge them to look beyond American foreign and domestic politics and to try and discover how ordinary, law-abiding citizens act toward their fellow citizens of all religions and origins in the United States.

According to the United States census there are about six million Muslim-American citizens in this country. In my city of 225,000, there are several mosques that take their places among the churches. If there is a problem, our citizens will protect them [the mosques] as a valuable part of our community.

If 5,000 people, most of whom were non-citizens, were questioned after 11 September, so what? That's nothing. That's not even a trend -- not out of six million. The fact is, most Americans can't tell who is Muslim and don't care to work at it. It is not an issue here in the US but it is reported inaccurately over there, in Egypt and east of Cairo. I've read it reported inaccurately in Al-Ahram Weekly.

It would be good if your columnists would do a little more digging for their pieces. I dare say they would find that people here have a great deal of respect for the Muslim world, which taught us Algebra, saved ancient Greek literature, literally created the European Renaissance, provided us with more than 5,000 years of Egyptian civilisation (longer than anywhere else), showed us Persian art and writing, and gave us most of the major religions of the world.

Any writer who believes that educated Americans don't respect and admire Egyptians, Arabs, Tuaregs, Persians, Kurds, Afghans and Turks is terribly wrong

John H Tasker, Jr
Greensboro, NC


Sir- Last year I wrote to Al-Ahram Weekly about the first "Alexandria in my thoughts" festival mounted by the Jesuit Cultural Centre in Alexandria.

I would like to inform your readers about some of the topics treated by this year's festival, which was held 7-12 March 2002.

Through examining the work of five people for whom Alexandria played a major role in their careers, this year's festival was more focused on the city's history.

In the world of cinema, the festival screened works by directors Youssef Chahine and Mohamed Bayoumi. Chahine's trilogy about Alexandria was shown, and the impact of the city on his filmography was discussed. Bayoumi, who founded in Alexandria Egypt's first cinema institute, was commemorated with the screening of his 1923 film about Saad Zaghloul's return from exile.

In literature, we celebrated the novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, who attended the festival and talked about his affinity for Alexandria and its people, his childhood memories of the district Karmouz and his novel No One Sleeps in Alexandria.

In the world of fine arts, we commemorated the painter Seif Wanley, who played a prominent role in reviving the arts in Alexandria during the 1950s and 1960s.

Nabawiyya Moussa, a proponent of education for girls who established many girls' schools in the city, was the focus of our treatment of the field of education.

Through celebrating the work of the aforementioned pioneers, we traced the history of the city from the blossoming of cosmopolitanism in 1850s until the demise of the trend in the 1950s. With the imminent inauguration of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, we are looking forward to a bright cultural future for our city.

Osama Sakr

Palestine reparations

Sir- I want to commend Edward Said for his compelling and insightful article "What Price Oslo" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 14-20 March).

The news media, particularly here in the United States, seems to be concentrating on only two elements of the peace negotiations -- the cease- fire and how much land, if any, Israel is willing to "give up."

The Palestinians have been oppressed and persecuted for three generations. It is time to right the wrongs perpetrated against the Palestinian people.

In addition to a full Israeli withdrawal, evacuation of all illegal settlements and a just solution to the right of return issue, Israel must be held morally and financially accountable for the suffering of so many civilians and the massive destruction of property.

What I find strange is that no one, not even the international press, is bringing up the issue of "reparations."

What of the injured who have been left permanently disabled and unable to work? What of the children who lost a mother or father, or both, and are now orphans? What of the families whose homes have been damaged or demolished and their belongings and cars destroyed? On 10 January alone, the Israeli Defence Force demolished some 60 homes in the Rafah refugee camp, leaving hundreds of people homeless, many of them children. And what of the businesses that have been destroyed? Who will help in their rebuilding? And what about the infrastructure that has been bombed and shelled, the hospitals, Gaza International Airport, the radio and TV studios, the roads and the security and police buildings? The sheer magnitude of the devastation is mind-boggling.

Millions of dollars will be needed to help the Palestinians recover from the most brutal Israeli assault since 1967.

Israel must be held accountable. And the issue of reparations must be high on the agenda when the Israelis and Palestinians sit down to negotiate.

Karen Russo
New Jersey

Shocked and dismayed

Sir- As an American, I would like to thank Edward Said for his wonderful opinion piece, "Thoughts about America" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 February-6 March).

I, too, am shocked and dismayed at how our politicians are behaving in my name. I would also like to have your permission to copy Said's eloquent editorial so that I can send copies to my local representatives.

Mary Kelley
Medicine Lodge, Kansas

Democratic alternative

Sir- Your critical and enlightening weekly publication is a great source of knowledge over here in Pakistan. We are sorely lacking the kind of realistic, honest and progressive stuff that you produce. That you are able to produce and promote such work in a highly depoliticised society is praiseworthy.

Your efforts are a source of inspiration for many of us here in Pakistan. I, along with other students at Karachi University, print your articles and discuss them, but, alas, at this stage we are unable to do anything for our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are being killed by the Israelis. We, the secular, democratic and progressive people, need to join hands in order to take back the struggle from fundamentalist, ignorant mullahs and Jehadi forces. We, and many Al-Ahram Weekly writers, are the real heirs of this struggle.

In solidarity, and with hopes for a better future that is free from oppression,

Mushtaque Rajpar

The real nuclear threat

Sir- We couldn't agree more with the US on anti-terrorism, but the Iraqi issue is another matter. It is critical that the US administration differentiate between the fight against terror and the non-implementation of UN resolutions.

According to the annual report for the year 2000 by the Centre for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), the military balance in the Middle East is highly skewed in Israel's favour. Israel's military expenditures are equivalent to 120 per cent of the military expenditures of its immediate neighbours. With regards to nuclear weapons, Israel definitely has a regional monopoly as well as possessing a sizeable chemical and biological arsenal, which causes grave discrepancies in the regional balance of power. Israel has refused to sign the nuclear non- proliferation treaty because it deemed it was necessary to maintain its nuclear capabilities as an effective deterrent that would protect it from any Arab threat.

The US must work to make the Middle East a nuclear free zone. It shouldn't apply one standard to the weak and another to the strong; one standard for those who oppose it and another for those allied with it.

Furthermore, the US should censure those in the region who do not abide by the non- proliferation treaty. It should do this using means ranging from an embargo to military action and it should reward those who comply with the treaty by providing them with grants in kind ranging from flour to the most sophisticated weapons.

Police Gen (rtrd) Mohamed Mesbah

Stop shifting the blame

Sir- I followed with a sense of shock and sadness the train disaster in Egypt. I am really concerned about the lack of seriousness in handling people's safety in public transport and the tendency to shift the blame to somebody else. I believe that there is a need to look at what is wrong and address it in a practical way.

I have been living in Australia now for 30 years and admire the way our political system, despite its shortcomings, is capable of improving its performance and overcoming its problems.

One thing we have here in schools, for example, are evacuation plans for all students and personnel in the event of an emergency. There are at least two drill practices every year to make sure that the plans are workable. Every public building also has an evacuation plan and drills. I wonder if it would be viable to have such plans for our schools and government office buildings in Egypt?

Samir Malkad


Sir- As a Canadian I know only too well what it is like to live in the shadow of the United States. The fact that it is our largest trading partner has its economic benefits. Largely because of the US, Canada has been allowed to prosper. This relationship is not without its difficulties, however.

"Recreational complaining" about the US runs rampant in Canadian living rooms and it's easy to feel resentment toward a nation seemingly so self-absorbed. However, I feel dismayed by the sentiments expressed by Hani Shukrallah ("This is the way the world ends," Al-Ahram Weekly, 7- 13 March). The vitriol that he expresses towards George W Bush can only succeed in empowering the US president by causing us to think and behave reactively in response. Bush is an individual who has been elected to power in the US through the democratic process (although barely), and simply put, it is the will of the people that brings to, or removes individuals from, their elected positions.

And on that note, it may be interesting to know that from a Canadian perspective I have felt a change happening to our neighbours to the south. It's a burgeoning awareness of the world beyond their borders. An interesting (although mildly chilling) analogy used a lot by the media lately is that "Canada is now on the US's radar screen."

To be sure, Americans as individuals are growing more concerned with how they are regarded throughout the world. In an ever shrinking world, it is the giants who need a better way of comfortably fitting in.

Susan Ekhlef
British Columbia

Trainable capitalism

Sir- In response to Hani Shukrallah's thoughtful editorial ("This is the way the world ends," Al- Ahram Weekly, 7-13 March), I find it is indeed a sad moment in world history. As an American, it is painful to watch my countrymen embrace the "war on terror" with so little debate about how "terrorism" should be defined, and what its roots are.

It is sad to see the extremists crowding out the moderates from India to Israel.

I hope that Shukrallah believes there is still hope. Capitalism's greatest weakness is that it is greedy and aggressively Darwinist. But its great strength is that it is trainable; its excesses can be tamed if enough people democratically commit themselves to that cause.

Some Arab anger at America and the West is just, but some of that anger is the misdirected fury of people whose own destinies have been frustrated. We all need to look within and correct ourselves, instead of looking so much to place blame on others.

Tucker Parsons
Los Angeles

Lies and bigotry

Sir- We all understand that the perpetrators of 11 September do not represent Arabs and Islam any more than Baruch Goldstein's terrorist attack represents America and Judaism or Timothy McViegh represents America and Christianity.

However, there has been a growing attempt by extremist elements within the American media to seize the opportunity after the 11 September tragedy to demonise Islam and Muslims.

This vicious attack is clearest on the cable channel CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network).

This powerful network has more than 80 million viewers and is led by Evangelist Pat Robertson. Instead of focusing on Christianity's teachings of love and tolerance, CBN is basically spreading outright lies and inciting hatred towards Arabs: Christians and Muslims alike.

Ayman Adeeb
East Lansing


Sir- As US Vice-President Cheney tours the Middle East, trying to convince Arab governments to support the next round of American attacks, the Arab and Muslim worlds must take note of just how dangerous American conservatives (like Cheney) are.

The National Review is one of the most conservative US publications and is widely endorsed by prominent conservative political allies of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney.

In an online discussion, National Review editor Rich Lowry defended pointing nuclear weapons at Gaza City, Ramallah, Damascus, Cairo, and -- above all -- Mecca. That is, he and others seriously entertained attacking centres of the Arab world with nuclear weapons.

National Review senior writer Rod Dreher stated that "it would feel good" to "nuke" Mecca. And he added Riyadh to the list.

As a citizen of the United States, I cannot emphasise enough to the Arab world how profoundly deep American bigotry and hatred are. Despite their protestations to the contrary, moderate and conservative American leaders are hard at work portraying both the Arab and Muslim worlds as villains. When President Bush used the word "crusade," he meant exactly that.

Hugh Sansom
New York

End the occupation!

Sir- Without a doubt you are one of the finest papers in the world. Your writers are some of the most literate and knowledgeable I have ever read. The only news we get about Israel is the casualties they have -- never a single account of what the Palestinians are going through.

How a lifetime is destroyed in a moment, all memories and traces of family history reduced to rubble by an Israeli tank, or whatever they use to destroy private dwellings.

Israel should get out of the occupied areas, after all, they are not called occupied for nothing.

Give the Palestinians a state, tell the US to stop supporting them by giving them money and arms every year, and see how fast the Israelis toe the line.

I am not anti-Semitic, but I am beginning to be anti-Israeli.

I am very happy and proud that some the soldiers are standing up for their beliefs, and that the general public in Israel is beginning find out that they, too, are not immune to the war.

John Kirkwood
Kingman, Arizona


Sir- Linking the fight against terror with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as was done by President Bush in his first State of the Union address before the Congress, implies some grave security perils for Pakistan and is indicative of the ominous hazards that lie ahead.

Likewise, declaring Iran a part of the "axis of evil", despite Tehran's tacit support for (if not very active participation in) Operation Enduring Freedom; despite also its having absolutely no complicity in the events of 11 September, its antagonism to the Taliban, the reformist policies pursued by its democratically elected president, and its opening towards the West. Not only does such a declaration offer a glimpse of a dangerous American political mind-set, but also it vividly illustrates that neither democracy nor sincere efforts to transform the country and steer it away from the reactionary politics are enough to appease the US.

Mr Bush had elucidated his objectives further by declaring that "if you don't hold the values we hold dear true to your heart, then you, too, are on our watch list." In simple words: any act/move by anyone that doesn't serve American interests and/ or can be interpreted as a challenge to American dominance, regardless how just/fair it might be, is equivalent to global terrorism. Or any (Muslim) nation that is not offering blanket submission to the US corporate/strategic agenda and/ or not capitulating to American writ is a rogue/ evil nation.

It stands to reason, therefore, that hopes for long-term security and economic dividends for Pakistan because of the (superficial) popularity of Mr Musharraf in Western capitals would be self- deceptive and absolutely erroneous.

Abrar Akbar
The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH)

Documented genocide

Sir- I was surprised and dismayed by the article "Manufacturing another Great Satan"; (Al-Ahram Weekly, 7-13 March) which sought to downplay Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes and cast doubt on his guilt for genocide. The United Nations' definition of genocide identifies it as one of seeking to "destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group." Such have been exactly the actions committed by agencies and individuals commanded by Milosevic.

One cannot just dismiss the killings, rapes, plunder, burning, and torture by Serb forces in Bosnia, including at Srebrenica, where 8-10,000 Muslims were killed in cold-blood by Serb forces in 1995, or the systematic destruction of Muslim houses, cemeteries, libraries, place-names, and mosques in order to destroy the very memory that Muslims existed. And, likewise, in Kosovo, investigations at sample mass graves have yielded several thousand bodies of Albanians, suggesting a statistical figure of about 11,000 total, given the grave sites still to be examined.

There are also documented cases of Serb officials trying to hide their misdeeds by destroying bodies of Albanians in mine incinerators or by taking them by refrigerator trucks to Serbia proper for disposal (hundreds of the latter bodies were retrieved in Serbia a few months ago by the police).

I have seen first-hand some of the mass graves and destroyed villages and mosques. It strains credulity to deny such hard facts. And, to equate this systematic pattern of official killings in an attempt to establish a "Greater Serbia" by Milosevic and the Serb political elite with events in Croatia's Krajina, where Serb civilians were ordered by their own leaders to leave (and many of whom are now returning), is also illogical. Given the solid documentation by the United Nations, non- government organisations, many Serbian human rights organisations and even admissions by some of the perpetrators, one can only wonder whether the author of the article and the editors at Al-Ahram Weekly have been asleep for the past decade.

Norman Cigar
Vienna, Virginia

Rights and expediency

Sir- I have great sympathy with the views of Salman Abu Sitta (quoted by Sherine Bahaa in "The way home," Al-Ahram Weekly, 7-13 March), and his comments about the Palestinian land still being available may well be correct. However, I feel he misses the real difficulty with a Palestinian right of return -- Israel is a self-declared Jewish state and its fear is not loss of land but loss of its Jewish character.

I believe Israel will never budge on this issue, except possibly for a token few Palestinians.

I view this as a terrible tragedy and an atrocity, but as we all know, human rights are frequently sacrificed to political expediency.

David Murphy

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