Monday, March 21, 2011

What’s Next in the Arab World?

As the uprising in Libya turned into a full-scale civil war with the Libyan pro-regime forces regaining control of most of the towns lost earlier to the rebels, the UN has imposed a ‘no-fly zone’ over the Libyan airspace to protect civilians. To the anti-regime rebels and their supporters – home and abroad - the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is a much desired one although it seemed to have come so late.

From the very start it was a foregone conclusion that the Libyan revolutionaries demanding the ouster of the strongman Gaddafi won’t be able to cakewalk -- slogans and the Internet won’t do what it had achieved for two of their neighboring states; it would require lots of sacrifice to topple the brutal regime. They also needed international support to neutralize the overwhelming lethal superiority of the regime. This resolution is, thus, a serious moral booster for them. As part of the phase 1 of the Operation Odyssey Dawn towards the implementation of the UNSC resolution, hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles have already been launched from the Mediterranean to knockout Libya’s Air Defense sites.

The permanent members of the UNSC needed lots of soul-searching before passing the resolution. After all, the UN was previously duped and misused by the Bush regime for invasion of Iraq, deemed illegal by its own Secretary General. Its reluctance to stop the Rwanda genocide and prolonged foot-dragging in Bosnia and Kosovo that saw the genocide of hundreds of thousands of unarmed Muslims, let alone the selective amnesia with all crimes committed by the Zionist regime in Israel and the overzealous attitude to punish Iran, the old boys’ club has lost the credibility within the Muslim world.

Not to be forgotten in this context is the fact that not too long ago many of these UNSC members had a very gainful relationship with the Gaddafi regime, in spite of the latter’s not-so-secret crimes against its own people. Some members were not sure how to react to the changes happening across the Arab world. Some bigotedly questioned as to how mature the Arabs were to handle democracy? Their experts have warned against regime changes saying that the opposition groups are led by the so-called Islamists, the West’s mortal enemies. What if Libya becomes another Congo, if Bahrain becomes an Iranian satellite, if Egypt, Jordan and Syria become controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood? It was not the people’s interest in those affected places that mattered prime to these western leaders. It was their self-interest that governed their decision. Thus, President Sarkozy of France wanted to bolster the falling Mubarak regime in its dying days. Even the USA had opted for a peaceful regime change there. And they have been rather muted when it came to pro-democracy protests in friendly countries like Yemen, Jordan, Oman and Bahrain. Interestingly, while the Obama administration has frozen Libyan assets inside the USA, it has failed to take similar measures against hidden treasures of Mubarak and Zine ben Ali. It has no problem with the Saudi and UAE forces now deployed to protecting the unpopular, autocratic regimes in Bahrain and Yemen, respectively.

Revolution is contagious. And the Saudis are genuinely worried and so are the other monarchs in the region whose reliance has always been to foreign masters like the USA, France and the UK – rather than God and their own people. Thanks to their billions and propaganda machines, they were successful before in the post-Shah era to stem the flood of Islamic revolution sweeping from Iran. They are now gravely serious to stop this Tsunami, all happening in the Sunni-ruled Arab world. As Tariq Ali has pointed out in the Guardian the Arab Revolution of 2011 is like 1848 of Europe when revolution first erupted in France, then hit the Italian states and German principalities, and eventually reached the remote outposts of the Austrian empire – engulfing some 50 local and national uprisings, all in the name of liberty.

Syria is the latest country to join the Arab revolution wagon. Syrians have long lived with a constant fear that they are being monitored, and will be punished for behavior regarded as dissenting or unpatriotic. Public discussion of domestic politics remains taboo. Maintaining that fear is helped by a heavily censored media and 50-year-old emergency laws that allow activists and dissidents to be routinely rounded up and imprisoned on vague charges such as “weakening national sentiment.”
A few days ago some school children in Deraa, south of Damascus - influenced by the protests in Tunisia and Egypt - wrote the popular revolutionary slogan on the wall: “The people want the fall of the regime”. Fifteen school children were arrested. Several families later gathered to demand their release. A ‘day of rage’ has now been held in several cities - Damascus, Homs, Banyas, and Deraa. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the southern city of Deraa after Friday prayers on March 18 chanting ‘God, Syria and freedom -- that’s enough!’ The security forces opened fire on the protesters and have killed five people and injured hundreds of others since March 18. Fears of the regime and its pervasive leather-jacket-clad mukhabarat are still helping to quell any revolutionary aspirations.

In Yemen, three senior army commanders have recently defected to a movement calling for the ouster of U.S.-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, leaving him with virtually no support among the country’s most powerful institutions. They all belong to Saleh's Hashid tribe. Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the army's powerful 1st Armored Division, who has defected, told reporters that he “will order his troops to protect protesters demonstrating against the country’s longtime president.” Meanwhile, Yemen’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia has sided with the protesters and Yemen’s ambassador to Syria has resigned. More members of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) have resigned in the last few days in condemnation of the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters outside Sana’a University last Friday, including Yemen’s ambassador to the UN, Abdullah Al-Saidi.

In Syria, like Yemen, it is not the Facebook or Twitter generation that is taking to the streets. It is the ordinary people who are tired of poverty and decades of repression. Like Libya, here, too, the struggle won’t be an easy one. The armed forces, drawn almost exclusively from the minority Nusayri sect that has been ruling the country for more than four decades, will not hesitate to repeat the crimes of 1982 in Hama when some 40,000 Syrians were massacred there by the murderous Assad regime. No Arab leader in our time has been as brutal as Hafez al-Assad was to his own countrymen! As clearly evident from the latest heavy-handed tactics, when threatened by unrest, his son Bashar who now rules Syria, will not be any less evil.

We won’t be surprised either if President Bashar al-Assad, like Gaddafi and many Arab leaders, would use the bogeyman of Islam – the threat of a Muslim takeover by extremists — to win sympathy from a United States that is prone to seeing Islamic revolutions, al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamists at every corner. Will he be able to arrest the tide of revolution now knocking on his door? That would depend how serious the Syrians are for liberty.

Liberty, like revolution, is, however, exhilarating. Massimo d’Azeglio, a Piedmontese aristocrat, wrote what are probably the most profound words about liberty’s promise and its perils: “The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the urge to walk.” For decades, the Arabs -- brutalized and maimed by their leaders -- were afraid to walk, let alone wishing to ride or run. Now that fear is gone. They are willing to take liberty’s ride and die for it. No false propaganda is going to derail their genuine movement.

Soon after the missile attack on Libya, Gaddafi and his spokesman, while condemning the strike from western governments as a crusading act, still tried to shift the blame of current internal unrest on the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, formed by the veterans who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the network’s North African affiliate, which has endorsed the Libyan uprising. As, however, noted by Mr. Abud al-Jeleil, a former minister with Gaddafi who defected to the rebel side, in an interview with Al Jazeera: “We want one country — there is no Islamic emirate or Al Qaeda anywhere. Our only goal is to liberate Libya from this regime and to allow the people to choose the government that they want.”

Very few autocrats, unless threatened by more menacing powers, would let go of their power. Years of unopposed dictatorship had made them behave like demigods. Thus, revolutions against such dictators are seldom won without sacrifice. If a brutal regime has no bite of conscience from its own brutality, very little could an unarmed resistance do to bring about the desired change! No MLK singing: ‘we shall overcome’ – would change the status quo. It is here that the notion of ‘the best revolutions are completely organic’ falls flat on its face. As much as the American Revolution had foreign help, so did the Maoists in China before coming to power. It is sometimes absolutely necessary to have that outside help when the vast majority inside have no other way to save themselves from a brute.

The events in Libya over the last few weeks have shown that the vast majority of the people are against the Gaddafi regime and they want a change. With the newly passed UN Resolution and the air strikes inside Libya now they know that they have friends outside who would not allow them to die like the Marsh Arabs of Iraq. While appreciative of such moral and material support, they nevertheless ought to guard their own revolution in such a way that when, and if, victory knocks on their doors, it is not hijacked or dictated by foreign masters who came in sheepskins to rob it altogether.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Despicable Hypocrisy of Congressman Peter King

In the post-9/11 era, bigotry and xenophobia against Islam and Muslims have become a rewarding profession for some people. Peter King, the New York Congressman who now chairs the powerful Homeland Security Committee, is a hawkish card-carrying member of that dastardly group of zealots, xenophobes, intellectually disadvantaged retards and low-lives who have been using the bogeyman of Islam to make a filthy living. He has been an anti-Islamic Christian crusader for quite some time. His book ‘Vale of Tears’, though presented as a work of fiction, is a sufficient testimony of how low he would sink in an attempt to attain publicity. As noted by many reviewers, it takes an enormous amount of evil in someone’s heart to write such a book. Fortunately, the book was a total flop with harsh reviews.

Last Thursday, King opened the first of a series of committee hearings into the so-called threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism and the bogus allegation that American Muslims have failed to cooperate with law enforcement efforts to foil terrorist plots. As much as you can’t teach an old dog new tricks so is the case with perennial bigots like Peter King. No matter how abundant the evidences are to prove otherwise, like his more notorious spiritual mentor - fellow Republican, former Attorney General Ashcroft (who violated the Fourth Amendment rights of U.S. citizens by using material-witness laws as a pretext for arresting and detaining suspects without probable cause), King behaves like a drooling, fixated hound-dog on scent: other crucial disasters may be happening all around him, but his eyes and nose are locked onto the imaginary American Muslim radicals.

To King, almost every American Muslim is a suspected radical. In 2004, King claimed in an interview with conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity that ‘no American Muslim leaders are cooperating in the war on terror,’ and that ‘80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists. . . . I’ll stand by that number of 85 percent. This is an enemy living amongst us.’ In a September 2007 interview with the website Politico.com, Congressman King said that “There are too many mosques in this country... There are too many people sympathetic to radical Islam. We should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them.” It is, therefore, no shocker that the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim rights group, had called King’s comments ‘Islamophobic bigotry.’

So what’s new with King’s demonic agenda against American Muslims? The New York Times editorial stated that in this hearing, King offered not a scintilla of substantiation for his charges that more than 80 percent of American mosques are run by radicals — ‘an enemy living amongst us.’ Nor did he offer an iota of evidence to support his assertions that “law enforcement officials throughout the country told me they received little or — in most cases — no cooperation from Muslim leaders and imams.” He ignored a study conducted last month from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security which indicated that in a hefty 40 percent of domestic extremist plots that were thwarted, law enforcement had help from Muslims. He disingenuously hides the fact that the father of the teenage ‘underwear bomber’ had warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria about his son. Nor does he mention that the first person to alert the police of a suspected SUV belonging to Faisal Shahzad, parked in the Time Square of Manhattan, containing bomb materials, was a Muslim street vendor.

Despite his claims of insider law enforcement knowledge, King didn’t call a single police witness to testify. The Democratic minority did, allowing Sheriff Leroy Baca of Los Angeles to tell that there was nothing to support King’s false claims of non-cooperation by American Muslims. Bennie Thompson, the ranking member of the committee which Congressman King heads, has responded by saying that none of these [law enforcement and intelligence] officials have backed King’s assertions that the Muslim community has not been helpful in thwarting terrorist attacks. The Triangle Center’s work also debunks King’s assertion that Muslim leaders are not speaking out against terrorism. They are. The reason that such activities fly below the news radar is because Muslims have no national leader and no media channel. Muslim community voices are often ignored.

As expected, King did not call any large established Muslim American organization to testify. He preferred to feature two aggrieved witnesses offering anecdotal tales about radicalized relatives, as if that proved his case. By the end of hearing, King only proved that there is nothing courageous about pandering or sowing hatred and fear. There is a name for this dangerous obsession – it’s called McCarthyism. He has only proved what a bigoted moron he has become, and nothing else. Simply said, the hearing was an abuse of his public office.

This Congressional hearing is rather absurd given the fact that not too long ago Peter King was a fervent, unapologetic supporter of the terrorist group, the IRA, responsible for killing thousands - including hundreds of civilians in random bombings in bars and department stores. In 1982, speaking at a pro-IRA rally in Nassau County, New York, King said: “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who, this very moment, are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.” In 1985, he convened a press conference before the start of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade (for which he was the Grand Marshal), and offered a defiant defense of the IRA: “As we march up the avenue and share all the joy,” he declared, “let us never forget the men and women who are suffering and, most of all, the men and women who are fighting.” Regarding the 30 years of violence during which the IRA killed over 1700 people, including over 600 civilians, King said, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it.” King compared IRA leader Gerry Adams to George Washington and asserted that the ‘British government is a murder machine.’

King was friendly with Michael McKevitt, a senior leader of the IRA in charge of arms acquisition, esp. those from the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi during the mid-1980’s. He was also very close to the IRA’s former Operations Officer in Belfast, Anto Murray, who was convicted in 1990 of kidnapping a suspected British spy. As Belfast Operations Officer, Murray planned or authorized every IRA bombing, shooting and killing in the city. King became involved with NORAID, an organization financing IRA activities and providing them with weapons.

So, King’s bogus allegations against American Muslims show what an evil hypocrite he is. He should be tried in the International Court for sponsoring terrorism that has killed hundreds of innocent civilians.

Congressman King opposed Senator John McCain’s calls for an end to torture methods used during terrorist suspect interrogations. King has supported the Iraq War since 2002. As The New York Times pointed out King was “the Patriot Act’s most fervent fan.” Six weeks after September 11, 2001, King told WABC radio that the military should use tactical nuclear weapons in Afghanistan if it was believed that Muslim terrorists would deploy chemical weapons on American soil.

King criticized the activities of WikiLeaks and in December 2010 suggested that they be designated a “terrorist organization” and treated as such by U.S. agencies. King opposes the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. He voted for the Wall Street bailout and has been a vocal opponent of illegal immigration. Yet in 2008, King spoke in defense of bail for a fugitive IRA member, Pól Brennan, who had escaped from prison in the UK and been detained in Texas 15 years later. The IRA member, who had broken out of prison during the Maze Prison escape and entered America illegally, was being held without bail after his work permit expired.

As can be seen, King’s is a psychotic case that requires serious psychiatric help.

The American Muslim community is genuinely concerned about personal safety and security as any other Americans are. They are doing their best to erase the stigma now so conveniently labeled against them by bigots and xenophobes for the insane activities of a few misguided folks. It is not the mosques that have produced the likes of Faisal Shahzad and Major Nidal but the Internet with global reach. It would be foolish to ignore the latter’s impact on how information is gathered and absorbed.

It would be foolish to say that no terrorist threat exists in the USA. Surely, they do exist. However, the more complex and worthy issue of threats to the nation come not from radical American Muslims but from a wide array of homegrown militants that law enforcement officials must deal with -- from neo-Nazi militias to wannabe Christian jihadists.

As rightly pointed out in the New York Times editorial of March 11, not much spreads fear and bigotry faster than a public official intent on playing the politics of division. Congressman King demeaned the crucial issue of homeland security — building a Congressional hearing around his foolish, provocative and hurtful claims of widespread radicalization of Muslim Americans. He should be censured by the Congress for his evil McCarthy-like tactics that tried to demonize a small peaceful community.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Arab Revolt – Time for Qaddafi to Leave

September 1, 1969 marks the coming to power of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi – the man who was destined to rule Libya for more than four decades. Aided by Army officers and conspirators he upended a feeble but tolerant monarchy. He was not the only one that grabbed power in what we call today as an unconventional way in the Arab world where by then military coups had become rather common. Egypt had already shown the path some seventeen years ago when in 1952 her corrupt but tolerant monarchy was overthrown by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s coup.

Originally all of these political changes had noble goals like republicanism and getting rid of the vestiges of colonialism, which even allowed people to rally behind these new rulers. However, by the 1980s Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Yemen transformed themselves into repressive “national security states” with awesome means of control and terror. The new rulers were merciless. They re-ordered the political world, and killed abundantly to further solidify their grip on power. Truly without checks and balances, required in any civic society, with unbridled power they evolved into authoritarian regimes behaving as if they owned the country; they were no longer servants of the state but rather the masters. As the rulers aged they entertained dynastic ambitions and in Syria, Hafez al-Assad even succeeded in turning the republic into a monarchy in all but name by bequeathing it to one of his sons. To these new rulers, the very idea of willingness to relinquish power was an alien concept.

As noted in a recent article by Prof. Fouad Ajami of the Johns Hopkins University, a world of cruelty settled upon the Arabs. Fear was now the glue of politics. Average men and women made their accommodation with things, retreating into the privacy of their homes. In the public space, there was now the cult of the rulers, the unrestrained power of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, Hafez al-Assad in Syria and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. The traditional restraints on power were swept away and new social contract between the ruler and the ruled emerged. These new rulers, being half-educated themselves and coming mostly from the lower middle class of the society, had no love for education and talented people, and thus surrounded themselves with equally ignorant and incompetent people who were happy to be the new class of sycophants which allowed them to munch the bones thrown at them by their new benefactors.

The goodwill of the ordinary citizens was not something that these regimes cared about. Their national wealth was utterly mismanaged and a huge fraction spent in buying weapons that were used mostly against them. Such arms deals also allowed huge commissions that were often stashed away by the ruling family and their cronies in foreign accounts.

None of these regimes tolerated political dissension. The only protests allowed were against a remote enemy (most notably Israel) but not their own. Soon the prisons got filled with the members of the dissenting parties. The worst victims of such state terrorism were the moderate Muslims – the social democrats, especially those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood or its sister organizations that had refused, unlike the secular parties, to cave into submission. Worse still, Islamic piety came to be seen as a crime and the pious Muslims the greatest threats to the stability of the regime. And the pattern was same everywhere. As much as the pro-western regimes of Hosni Mubarak and Abdullah II used the bogeyman of these so-called Islamists to curry favor and justify their tyranny against the Egyptian and Jordanian peoples, respectively, so did their counterparts in anti-western regimes of Libya, Iraq (during Saddam era) and Syria.

Overall, the modern Arab world is a history of shame and betrayal.

Today’s Arab rebellions are fueled by a desire of the Arab people to erase that stain of shame and betrayal. They want to cleanse themselves of the guilt of having given in to the despots for too long. And no one craved for this change more than its young ones. To them, the old slogans of Arab nationalism, secularism, socialism and republicanism meant nothing more than mumbo-jumbo bankrupt fallacies that had failed to better their lives by offering freedom and equal opportunities. Economics mattered. However, all the doors to economic prosperity seemed to proceed from the palaces and mansions of the rulers and their lackeys. There was nothing left for ordinary citizens. And this deprivation, albeit a forced one, in spite of the enormous natural resources that these countries were blessed with, notably the oil wealth, was simply inexcusable and unbearable. They had to rebel and demand fairness. They were done with the politics of acquiescence, fear and silence. They are not looking out for regime changes that are done at the behest of vultures waiting in the sideline. They want the change solely for themselves, unadulterated by foreign masters – no matter how supportive they may sound today.

And Libya is no aberration in this general scheme of state repression and the ensuing rebellion that has followed. For the last 42 years the Libyan people have been forced to chant words of praise to their leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi. He was a pan-Arab hero, a powerful voice for African unity. Forgotten were his crimes against their own kind, let alone against others -- near and abroad.

Who would have imagined of such brutality in Qaddafi’s Libya! After all, the ‘brother leader’ – the perennial revolutionary (often touted as the Che Guevera of the age) had financed revolutionary causes all around the world – from the African National Congress to the IRA! He also supported oppressed groups like the Native American Indians. He once promoted pan-Arab unity, and in 1977 changed Libya’s form of government from a republic to a ‘jamahiriya’ – ‘government by the masses.’ Unfortunately, behind the veneer of all such high-sounding, and probably, well-meaning causes, he created a police state where some 10 to 20 percent of the population worked in surveillance for the revolutionary committees.

Qaddafi’s security apparatuses were brutal. They picked anyone suspected of opposing the regime - young and old, and put them to prisons, including underground dungeons (and there were too many of these living hells inside the Libyan soil), and were never to be heard back. Prisoners were almost routinely denied medical care, and many died while in prison. Once imprisoned, no matter for what duration and under what charges, they were blacklisted for life and thus, denied government jobs. They were continuously monitored and interrogated to check any affiliation with Islamic politics. Even those who managed to leave Libya were no safe. When deemed a threat to the regime, they were pursued by hit squads as ‘stray dogs’ to shoot down. As a matter of fact, by the 1970s, the regime had managed to eliminate all opposition systematically. Any activity construed as political opposition was punishable by death. Even the influence of the tribes, once an important factor in defeating Italian colonialism, was feared as they might coalesce into groups opposing the Qaddafi regime. Thus, during the first two decades of the coup the regime tried to erase their influence. However, as their power seemed unwavering, Qaddafi co-opted the tribal leaders into his Social Leadership People’s Committee to control the tribes.

Qaddafi’s Green Book – a set of slim volumes published in the 1970s containing his political philosophy -- was thrust upon as the most important book purporting to have answers to all problems. While Qaddafi sent his sons for studies abroad, he removed foreign languages from school curriculum, further isolating Libyans from the rest of the world. As one protester recently said, Qaddafi kept his people ignorant and blind-folded. Libya became the most censored country in the Middle East. While he lavishly spent on supporting revolutionary causes and minority rights – as long as these aligned with his anti-imperialist goals, his own people remained hungry. Always apprehensive of a military coup, he kept his armed forces ill-trained and ill-prepared, and instead, continued to rely heavily on the foreign mercenaries to further his objectives.

Qaddafi’s is a difficult personality to analyze. The son of a Bedouin, his moods and aims also changed like the shifting sand-dunes of the Sahara. He supported Slobdan Milosevic – the Butcher of the Balkans responsible for committing genocide against the Muslim population. His regime is responsible for the disappearance in 1978 of Imam Musa Sadr, the founder of the Amal, a liberal-Shi’ite resistance movement in Lebanon.

In the post-9/11 era, Qaddafi dropped his controversial nuclear program and became a bulwark against al-Qaeda’s influence in Africa. He became a good friend of the West. As rightly noted by David Blair of the Daily Telegraph, “In his four decades as Libya's 'Brother Leader', Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has gone from being the epitome of revolutionary chic to an eccentric statesman with entirely benign relations with the West."

Libya is now burning with fury. Qaddafi disingenuously blames the rebellion on ‘drugged’ youth, al-Qaeda and refuses to confess that Libyans had enough with his four decades of brutal experiment. He mismanaged the country’s economy and humiliated its citizens. His pro-government forces, including foreign mercenaries, are now using lethal weapons against those demanding his ouster. In so doing, his regime has lost all credibility to rule. Lately, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court following its crackdown on protesters. A continuation of his unpopular regime would only bring more suffering to his people and would not salvage his tarnished image. As enfeebled and ill-equipped his opponents may appear today, history is on their side.

And yet in his recent speeches, like Mubarak of Egypt before him, Qaddafi sounds defiant. He even tried to present himself as a modern-day Umar Mukhtar, the Libyan national hero – the Lion of the Desert -- who fought against Italian colonialism that had savagely killed half the population of Cyrenaica, Libya’s eastern province. The claim of Qaddafi is ludicrous. He is neither Umar Mukhtar nor are his goals honorable and Islamic. And if he has any wisdom left in him, he should bow to people’s verdict and quit. Otherwise his fate may not be any better than that awaited his buddy – the late Milosevic of Serbia.