Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 October 2012
Issue No. 1117
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Readers' corner

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Global red lines

Sir-- Long years of inter-faith dialogue and efforts to teach people about other cultures in order to avoid a clash of civilisations have not all gone up in smoke. Believers and non-believers are enraged by the most regrettable events surrounding the so-called "film" about the Prophet Mohamed. A few heinous persons of various religions plotted, by their horrendous "film", knowingly or not, to bring peoples and nations into confrontation.

At the outset, let me be clear on two points: one, I am a Coptic Christian and my condemnation of the killings which took place is limitless. Two, I hold in high regard Madam Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. My publications in the New York Post, in December 2010 and February 2012 are witness. However, I was quite puzzled hearing Ms Clinton, while condemning the killing in Libya of four American Foreign Service personnel including the American ambassador, saying: "Today, many Americans are asking -- indeed, I asked myself -- how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated, and at times how confounding, the world can be." Indeed, this question is equally complicated in the sense of how well were the lessons learned from the killings following the recent burning of the holy Quran in Texas and in Afghanistan. Have we forgotten the furore over Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses which quickly became an international event? Rushdie, a Muslim novelist, has nothing to do with the US-made film Innocence of Muslims which sparked violent protests across the Muslim world. Yet, an Iranian religious foundation has increased its reward to $3.3 million for Rushdie's death as part of its response to the film that mocks the prophet. Northern Ireland recalls how Christians fought among themselves, again, against a religious background.

Where have the distinguished "advisers" gone, those who could have given their opinion to prevent all this from happening? Free speech and human rights are sacred as long as they do not provoke violence.

Commenting on the film, a leading columnist in Egypt argued that all religions must be respected on the same footing and supported the application of laws similar to those condemning anti-semitism.

Thus, we have to overcome a heritage of misunderstanding and prejudice, the "holy war mentalities" of the Crusades and Jihad. It's time to break the silence and for a committee of wise men and women with cooler heads, rapidly constituted from among various faiths, to see to it that red lines are put in place by law to protect the world from bigotry, tyranny and conflict.
Ambassador Safwat Ayoub

Executive Director
South North Forum
Canada and Egypt

Egypt's Tablets

Sir-- I worked with Zahi Hawass and his staff for many years concerning the repatriation of objects illegally excavated and illegally exported from Egypt. We had some great successes, such as the return of the coffin which was shipped to Miami from Spain, which was ultimately returned to Egypt. As of late, however, there have been some serious losses, such as the loss of the case involving the mask of KaNefernefer, which is still in the hands of the St Louis Museum of Art (SLAM). This was a tragic loss for Egypt and was all the more upsetting as I worked on the case from its inception, ever since Dr Hawass first discovered it in St Louis and demanded its return. I was the attorney who wrote to the St Louis Museum on behalf of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, demanding its return. I was very familiar with the evidence of the case, which made it clear the mask was stolen from Egypt and should be returned to it.  

That loss now appears to be irreversible, but the loss of the Tablets of the Law may not be. Accordingly, when I read an article in the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), claiming that Israel is the rightful owner of the Tablets, despite the clear fact that they were illegally excavated in Egyptian territory during Israeli's temporary occupation of the Sinai, I was compelled to write a lengthy rebuttal to BAR.

As stated in the article, the excavation was illegal, done during war and the "archaeology" was in fact looting, as it was always clear the territory was Egyptian, not Israeli. Though the Israelis will never concede the point, it is very reminiscent of what was done by the Germans during World War II. They looted Europe as they conquered it, shipping thousands of artefacts and works of art to Germany. The international community recognised this as illegal and all the objects that were traceable were returned to their countries of origin after the war.  

Those who are holding the Tablets for Israel and denying Egypt's rights to them need to know there is international legal support for Egypt's position, that there will be consequences over this act and that Israel is not free to simply unilaterally decide that it has the right to possession of the Tablets, especially in these circumstances, where the Israelis have violated the basic foundation of their own antiquities law by asserting Israel should retain the Tablets.   

Edward Johnson

Canada and Iran

Sir-- Re 'Canada's diplomatic disaster' (Al-Ahram Weekly 13-19 September), as to reasons for Canada's severing relations with Iran, please include the largest industrial project on earth -- the Canadian oil tar sands. If Iranian oil and gas are not "taken off the market", exploitation of tar sands, shale oil and fracking will become economically unfeasible. Canadian tar sands are considered the largest industrial project in human history. They have no intention of stopping unless a barrel of oil drops below $60. War mongers are war mongers, and the bankers behind the scenes pull the strings. Canada has the most to lose if there is peace with Iran. The bankers will gladly destroy the world's largest source of fresh water for a few dollars more.

Peter Rathvon

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