Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Palestinian Question

Thomas Friedman is an op/ed columnist who regularly writes for the New York Times. He has been an unabashed supporter and promoter of the Israeli cause, and thus, his past writings had often been so biased in favor of Israel that they never helped us to find solutions beyond the current impasse.

In one of his latest op/ed columns, Tom proposes that Palestinians hold non-violent processions to force the Netanyahu government to come to the negotiation table. He imagines that such non-violent protests would make the big difference in the heart and minds of the Israelis.

This proposal belies the truth. Before the years of Intifadah, the Palestinian people have tried such options in the past, but to no avail. He ought to know that the Gandhian marches simply don’t work with regimes that are racists and bigots, who put no value to the lives of the ‘other’ people. This is why the Gandhian non-violent protests have failed not only inside the Indian Occupied Kashmir but also in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. When such monstrous, lethal actions are supported by a religious scripture – the Bible, it becomes easier and kosher to kill and maim the ‘other’ people without feeling any remorse or moral bites for their savagery.

Israel is a settler, colonial enterprise, which came into existence by displacing the indigenous Palestinians. Force was used to curb the newer frontiers, and build the settlements in occupied territories. It is difficult for expansionist leaders of Israel to stop that process, which they found so useful to push their agenda. Thus, the methods suggested by Tom would not work, and it never did. As I have written before, Hamas did not appear in vacuum. It evolved out of the realization that non-violent means – the protest marches, slogans and endless negotiations -- simply did not bear the desired fruit with the Israelis. They saw the time-buying hypocritical tactics of the Israeli leaders very loud and clear. They felt that they had a moral duty to challenge the daily harassment, murder and injustice committed by the Zionist regime.

But as we know better, Hamas’s tactics of firing homemade rockets and missiles is stupid. It is short-sighted and won’t work either. The apartheid state of Israel is too strong militarily to be harmed by such childish ploys. Its racist leaders have no sympathy for the lives of ordinary Palestinians, and as such, for every slingshot from an amateur Palestinian the Israeli leaders don’t mind killing hundreds on the Palestinian side.

That is why a new strategy is needed which can find an honorable solution to both the parties – the indigenous Palestinians and the settler Jews and their children and grandchildren that grew up there. It is obvious that the settler Jews will not volunteer to pack their baggage and depart from the occupied territories. The Palestinians can’t force them out either. They have to share their territories with the Israelis. So, both the parties must compromise.

The best option, therefore, lies in either a single state that is democratic with equal rights guaranteed for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, or a two-state formula that is based on the pre-1967 borders where the territories of the West Bank and Gaza would comprise the state of Palestine. As much as the Government of Israel has allowed all these decades the immigration of Jews all across the globe into the occupied territories, any realistic formula must also allow the Palestinian refugees and their family members to return. If the single state option is the chosen option, the rights enjoyed by a Jew cannot be denied to a Palestinian Arab. The character of the state also has to become truly democratic where democracy is not just limited to the voting process for the Palestinian people, as is the case today with the Israeli Arabs who are discriminated and marginalized on all accounts. The holy city of Jerusalem (Al Quds), in that case, can become the capital of the new state. In a two-state formula, Jerusalem, however, has to be shared between the two peoples (if necessary, under the UN supervision), ensuring the rights of each religious community – Jewish, Muslim and Christian – to worship freely at its holy sites.

The status quo is unsustainable for both the parties to the conflict. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation that forces the indigenous Palestinians to either live behind the apartheid walls in mini-Bantustans or get evicted en masse. As we have seen throughout history, any person of dignity, robbed of its basic human rights, would be compelled to oppose that apartheid system. The spirit of freedom is in our DNA. As the Israeli leader Yehud Barak once said had he been a Palestinian he would have chosen terrorism. That is the reality faced 24/7/365 by every Palestinian today!

Since 1967, the Israeli leaders have used negotiations as part of a delaying tactics to deny statehood to the Palestinian people. Armed to the teeth with all the latest weapons of mass destruction and billions of dollars of annual handouts from the USA and the western governments, these eliminationist leaders of the pariah state have been too conceited to make an honorable deal with the Palestinian leadership. Worse still, they chose to shut their eyes to the reality of the apartheid state that they created ruling millions of Palestinians who are entitled to neither a vote nor a country. Only an arrogant fool can afford to be so oblivious or unconcerned about the demographic future.

Washington is much to be blamed for this Israeli attitude. As I see it, Israeli leaders have some of the most powerful supporters within the western capitals, especially, in Washington, D.C., who have never failed to reward them for their illegal settlements and murderous activities. Look at the 29 standing ovations that Netanyahu recently received during his uncompromising speech at the Capitol Hill, in front of the members of the both the houses of Congress. I don’t recall any U.S. president ever getting that many standing ovations in Congress. There was no partisanship, no bickering in support of one of the worst white collar genocidal maniacs of our time! Netanyahu knows very well that the Capitol Hill is his ‘Amen Corner,’ which, on his government’s behalf, can challenge any initiative coming from the White House. And he is absolutely right!

This understanding has been at the heart of the failure of every U.S. mediated effort to finding a peaceful resolution of the crisis. This has allowed the Israeli leaders to ignore the pleas for a negotiated settlement of the problem in an equitable way, even when such proposals and pleas came from none other than the president of the USA.

In his May 19 speech at the U.S. State Department, President Obama said, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.” He said they should leave aside for now more deeply emotional questions like the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, which he suggested could be dealt with after border and security issues. To allay fear of the Israeli public, he even suggested a “non-militarized” Palestinian state. Never mind the questions: why should the future independent Palestine state be non-militarized when Israel has nuclear bombs in her possession, and have not more Palestinians died of Israeli aggression than the reverse case.

Because of all the hoopla generated by his speech, Mr. Obama saw it fit to explain the phrase ‘mutually agreed swaps,’ in his speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2011: “By definition, it means that the parties themselves -- Israelis and Palestinians -- will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That's what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. … It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.”

In spite of such appeasing words from Obama, look at the responses he got from the Democratic and Republican politicians. “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” said Mitt Romney. Tim Pawlenty wrongly said Mr. Obama had called for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, which he called “a disaster waiting to happen.” Rick Santorum said Mr. Obama “just put Israel’s very existence in more peril.” Representative Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee, a former presidential candidate, said Mr. Obama had “betrayed Israel.” The worst line came from Representative Allen West of Florida, who somehow believes Mr. Obama wants to keep Jews away from the Western Wall and wants to see “the beginning of the end as we know it for the Jewish state.” Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader from the Democratic Party, said that no one outside of the talks should urge the terms of negotiation, clearly repudiating the president’s attempts to do just that. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, and other Democrats have made similar statements.

As a recent editorial in the New York Times said, pandering on Israel in the hopes of winning Jewish support is hardly a new phenomenon in American politics, but there is something unusually dishonest about this fusillade. “Most Republicans know full well that Mr. Obama is not calling on Israel to retreat to its 1967 borders. He said those borders, which define the West Bank and Gaza, would be the starting point for talks about land swaps.”

In his address to Congress, Netanyahu rejected the idea of sharing Jerusalem saying that Israel would never return to the “indefensible” pre-1967 boundaries. We should not be surprised. This Sunday Fareed Zakaria of CNN showed an old video clip of a forum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where 33 years ago the young Netanyahu said, “I think the United States should oppose the creation of a Palestinian state for several reasons, the first one being that it is unjust to demand the creation of a 22nd Arab state and a second Palestinian state at the expense of the only Jewish state. There is no right to establish the second one on my doorstep, which will threaten my existence. There is no right whatsoever.” It is obvious that Netanyahu has not changed a bit. He simply doesn't want a deal. He always has a new objection, a new problem, a new delaying tactic because, at core, he has never believed that the Palestinians should have a state.

I am, therefore, not so hopeful about the prospect of a peaceful resolution in our time. Blaming Hamas for the current impasse won’t solve the problem either. Through its approval of the pre-1967 border, in essence, Hamas has already recognized Israel within that border. That should be enough to stop this charade against it that it doesn’t recognize the state of Israel. Deplorable and insane as their tactics may be in relation to firing home made rockets, they feel like a cat which has been cornered. When a cat is corned with no way out, it knows that the only way for it to get out of that corner and run away is to attack; otherwise, it would be harmed.

The international community is tired of the stalemate and an endless negotiation process that never produces an outcome. It must demand the western governments stop their support of the illegal expansionist agenda of the Israeli leaders by denying the rogue state all material and other forms of support. Only then Israel would be forced to compromise and a peaceful solution would emerge. On its part, if the Israeli public is serious about peace, it must dump leaders like Netanyahu who have nothing but the same old uncompromising messages. The time is running out for Israel.

This is the time for bold ideas to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel did not seize it during his recent visit to the USA. In his address to Congress, he showed — once again — that he has no serious intention for the kind of compromises that are necessary to create a two-state solution and guarantee both Palestinians their long-denied state and Israel’s long-term security. President Obama has also appeared too wishy-washy, a biased pro-Israeli politician who is not unmindful of the influence of the Jewish Lobby. His administration has been too generous and too soft on Israel, while being too harsh about the choices made by the Palestinian people. He has no problem inviting a mass murderer to the White House but has all the chastisement reserved for the Palestinian leadership for its desire to close its ranks and unite for a common cause of statehood. Worse still, he doesn’t appear to have a strategy for reviving negotiations. He simply can’t be trusted as a reliable mediator of the crisis. Truly, the Palestinian people are no better off with his support and won’t be any worse off without his support.

A recently leaked WikiLeaks document revealed how weak the Palestinian leadership has been. There Saeb Erekat is heard complaining to Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell: “Nineteen years of promises and you haven’t made up your minds what you want to do with us…We delivered on our road map obligations. Even Yuval Diskin (director of Israel’s internal security service) raises his hat on security. But no, they can’t even give a six-month freeze to give me a fig leaf…” All that the U.S. government was interested in, Erekat continued, “PR, quick news, and we’re cost free”, ending up with the appeal, “What good am I if I’m the joke of my wife, if I'm so weak?”

I hope and believe that the Palestinian people and its leadership have learned their lessons well. After years of waiting and betrayal, they have decided the right course of action: Ask the United Nations in September to recognize their state. The measure may not get them what they want, and the United States will veto it when it gets to the Security Council. But still, it is better than the current stalemate, and seems to be the only logical thing to do for the Palestinian people. Let the world know who is on the right side of history and who is not.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tom Friedman’s ‘Lessons from the Tahrir Square’

Since publication of Friedman's book 'The World is Flat' I have developed a habit of browsing his articles in the NYT. Tom is an unabashed supporter and promoter of the Israeli cause, which does not help find a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Thanks to the protesters in the Tahrir Square, it is good to see that he is having some second thoughts these days about the zero-sum diplomatic activities to resolve the issue.

In his latest op/ed column in the New York Times, Tom proposes that Palestinians hold non-violent processions to force Netanyahu to come to the negotiation table. This statement belies truth. The Palestinian people have tried such options in the past, but to no avail. Gandhian marches simply don't work with regimes that are racists and bigots, who put no value to the lives of the 'other' people. When such actions are supported by scripture, it becomes kosher to kill and maim the 'other' people without any moral bites. Peaceful protests, therefore, didn't and don't work in places like in the Occupied Palestine and Occupied Kashmir. If Tom were to objectively look at his suggestions, he would find that these simply won't work.

Israel is a settler, colonial enterprise, which came about by displacing the indigenous Palestinians. Force was used to curb the newer frontiers, and build the settlements in occupied territories. It is difficult for expansionist leaders of Israel to stop that process, which they found so useful to push their agenda. Thus, the methods suggested by Tom would not work, and it never did. As I wrote elsewhere the Hamas kind of activities did not happen overnight. It evolved out of the fact that non-violent means simply did not bear fruit. As it is also obvious, their tactics of firing homemade rockets or missiles won't work either. That is where a new strategy is needed which can find an honorable solution. It is obvious that Israelis will not choose all on a sudden to depart from their illegal occupation of the land. The Palestinians have to share their territories with the Israelis. So, both the parties must compromise.

The best option therefore lies in either a single state that is democratic with equal rights for both the Israelis and Palestinians, or two-state formula based on the pre-1967 borders, which allow for return of the evicted Palestinians from their homes in the wars since 1948. The current status cannot allow for Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic in character. As Tom has stated elsewhere Israel cannot afford to be both at the same time. The tactics of the Israeli leaders since 1967 has been that of an ostrich, or Mubarak, who tried to ignore the writings on the walls. Only a fool can afford to be so oblivious or unconcerned about the future.

The problem I see is Israeli leaders have some of the most powerful supporters within the western capitals, who reward them for their illegal settlements and murderous activities. This allows Israeli leaders to ignore the pleas for a negotiated settlement of the problem in an equitable way. When our western governments stop their support of the expansionist agenda of the Israel by denying it all material and other forms of support, Israel would be forced to compromise and a peaceful solution would emerge. Everything else is only hypocritical and deceitful means to buy time.

I, therefore, am not so hopeful about the prospect of a peaceful resolution in either Tom's or my time. Blaming Hamas won't solve the problem. By stating that it is okay with pre-1967 border, in essence, it has recognized Israel within the pre-1967 border. That should be enough to stop this charade against it that it doesn’t recognize Israel. Deplorable and insane as their tactics may be, they feel like a cat which has been cornered. When a cat is corned with no way out, it knows that the only way for it to get out of that corner and run away is to attack. Otherwise, it would be harmed. As the Israeli leader Yehud Barak once said had he been a Palestinian he would have chosen terrorism. That is the reality faced 24/7/365 by every Palestinian.
Those who truly care about human rights ought to look outside the box to seriously analyze and find measures to stop this great curse of our time.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Unholy Alliance of Blackwater Mercenaries with the UAE Rulers

Remember Blackwater USA, the private military group, which worked as contractors for the U.S. State Department? Since June 2004, it has been paid more than $320 million out of State Department budget for the Worldwide Personal Protective Service, which protects U.S. officials and some foreign officials in conflict zones. Inside Iraq alone, at one time, it employed no less than 20,000 armed security forces. In the post-Saddam Iraq, they drew much notoriety for their trigger-happy, gung ho attitude. Between 2005 and September 2007, Blackwater security staffs were involved in 195 shooting incidents; in 163 of those cases, Blackwater personnel fired first.

On March 31, 2004, Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah attacked a convoy containing four Blackwater contractors. According to Iraqi accounts, the men broke into homes and raped some women. The four contractors were attacked and killed with grenades and small arms. Later their bodies were hung from a bridge crossing the Euphrates. In April 2005 six Blackwater independent contractors were killed in Iraq when their Mi-8 helicopter was shot down.

On February 16, 2005, four Blackwater guards escorting a U.S. State Department convoy in Iraq fired 70 rounds into a car. An investigation by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service concluded that the shooting was not justified and that the Blackwater employees provided false statements to investigators. The false statements claimed that the one of the Blackwater vehicles had been hit by insurgent gunfire, but the investigation found that one of the Blackwater guards had actually fired into his own vehicle by accident. However, John Frese, the U.S. embassy in Iraq’s top security official, declined to punish Blackwater or the security guards because he believed any disciplinary actions would lower the morale of the mercenary group.

On February 6, 2006 a sniper employed by Blackwater Worldwide opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry, killing three guards working for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network. Many Iraqis at the scene said that the guards had not fired on the Justice Ministry. On Christmas Eve 2006, a security guard of the Iraqi vice president was shot and killed while on duty outside the Iraqi prime minister’s compound by an employee of Blackwater USA. Five Blackwater contractors were killed on January 23, 2007 when their helicopter was shot down on Baghdad’s Haifa Street. In late May 2007, Blackwater contractors opened fire on the streets of Baghdad twice in two days, one of the incidents provoking a standoff between the security contractors and Iraqi Interior Ministry commandos. On May 30, 2007, Blackwater employees shot an Iraqi civilian who was said to have been “driving too close” to a State Department convoy that was being escorted by Blackwater contractors.

The Iraqi Government revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq on September 17, 2007, because of the death of seventeen Iraqis. The fatalities occurred while a Blackwater Private Security Detail (PSD) was escorting a convoy of U.S. State Department vehicles en route to a meeting in western Baghdad with USAID officials. As in many other previous cases, here again, it was found that Blackwater’s guards had opened fire without provocation and used excessive force. The incident sparked at least five investigations, and an FBI probe found that Blackwater Employees used lethal force recklessly. The license was reinstated by the American government in April 2008, but in early 2009 the Iraqis announced that they have refused to extend that license.

Documents obtained from the Iraq War document leak argue that Blackwater employees have committed serious abuses in Iraq, including killing civilians. In the fall of 2007, a congressional report by the House Oversight Committee found that Blackwater intentionally “delayed and impeded” investigations into the contractors’ deaths (of March 31, 2004).

So negative was the public perception of the mercenary group, it had to change its name twice – first in October 2007 to Blackwater Worldwide and then to Xe Services LLC in February of 2009.

After all those serious incidents of unprovoked murderous orgy of unarmed civilians in Iraq by the trigger-happy mercenaries working as contractors for the U.S. State Department in the post-Saddam era, we thought that we had seen the last of Blackwater and its CEO Erik Prince. But we were wrong. Utterly wrong! We forgot that evil sells big time! An ugly monster is more preferable to a Mafia Don than an attractive good hearted man.

Erik Prince has settled in Abu Dhabi, and has opened a mercenary wing there. It goes by the name Reflex Responses. The company, often called R2, was licensed last March. Outside Americans, Brits, French and some Colombians, R2 has recruited a platoon of South African mercenaries, including some veterans of Executive Outcomes, a South African company notorious for staging coup attempts or suppressing rebellions against African strongmen in the 1990s.

Last week the New York Times (NYT) had a detailed report on this mercenary group which is employed by - who else this time but - the oil-soaked Emirates prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi to protect the sheikdom from threat. The lucrative deal is worth $529 million. R2 spends roughly $9 million per month maintaining the battalion, which includes expenditures for employee salaries, ammunition and wages for dozens of domestic workers who cook meals, wash clothes and clean the camp.

Emirati law prohibits disclosure of incorporation records for businesses, which typically list company officers, but it does require them to post company names on offices and storefronts. Over the past year, the sign outside the suite has changed at least twice — it now says Assurance Management Consulting.

We are told that the foreign military force was planned months before the so-called Arab Spring revolts that many experts believe are unlikely to spread to the U.A.E. People involved in the project and American officials of R2 told the NYT reporters that the Emiratis were interested in deploying the R2 battalion to respond to terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside the country’s sprawling labor camps, which house the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners who make up the bulk of the country’s work force.

It is worth pointing out that the UAE is the abysmal bottom of today’s Arab world without democracy. Through its unfathomable wealth it has transformed itself into a new high-tech federation that is lived by two low-life communities – a body of modernist Arab (21% of population) and western capitalists (8%) in total play-mode, who have very little touch with the great deen of Islam, and a body of foreign migrant workers (totaling 71%) -- 27% Indians, 20% Pakistanis, 8% Bangladeshis, and 16% other Asians -- unpaid or underpaid, without papers or their own (confiscated) passports, working all-day in any heat without medical aid or supervision. Like the Egyptian slaves of the Biblical times that built the pyramids, these migrant workers – denied their basic human rights -- are the modern-day slaves that have built the Burj Khalifah (the tallest building in the world) and continue to build a playground for the world’s capitalist elite – a zone without rules and without fear of recourse to law. As noted recently by Shaykh Abdal Qadir as-Sufi, “There are no suicide-bombers in the U.A.E.; only the weekly suicide of a worker in despair of his salary, his work conditions, his foul dormitory and his future.”

The UAE, like many of the Gulf states, has a highly discriminatory pay-scale that is based on one’s nationality. For example, the top wage earners are white westerners (from the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand) followed by the GCC nationals, East Asians (from Japan, Korea), South-east Asians (from Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand), South Asians (from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh) and other African countries (in that order).

While the corrupt princes and sheiks live an opulent life of parasites drawing benefits from God’s gift to the nation – the oil and natural gas resources -- and the fruit of the labor of their ‘slave’ workers that work in those oil and natural gas fields, the construction industry and the shops or malls, these workers are paid some of the lowest salaries imaginable. The building workers work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and are paid around 370 AED ($100) per month. The ‘workers’ are bound by the Kafala System not to move from their job to another one, and are ‘tied’ to their employer. Employers house workers in dormitories known as labor camps, usually on the edge of urban zones. In Al-Quoz and in Sonopar in Dubai the typical dwelling for an average construction worker is a small room (120 sft) which must take up to eight workers. Al-Quoz Camp has 7,500 migrant workers sharing 1,248 rooms. Withholding of wages, in total disregard of the Islamic ruling, is commonplace. The greedy employers don’t like their Muslim workers to fast during the month of Ramadhan, fearing that their labor efficiency would go down.

In May 2010 hundreds of workers marched from their Sharjah Labour Camp to the Ministry in Dubai demanding to be sent home. They claimed they were unpaid for over six months and were kept in squalor. The authorities finally sent home 700 stranded from Sharjah’s Al-Sajar Labor Camp.

So, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand the rationale behind the deployment of R2 in the UAE. The authorities are afraid of these low paid workers and their legitimate rights of which they are robbed. The unholy alliance with a hated trigger-happy murderous group like Blackwater has much to do about containing potential labor unrest, and thus avoiding catastrophes like the ones visited by the former Shah of Iran, and Zine ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. But as history has shown so many times when the time comes no mercenary group can protect an unpopular regime.

In recent years, the Emirati government has showered American defense companies with billions of dollars to help strengthen the country’s security. A company run by Richard A. Clarke, a former counterterrorism adviser during the Clinton and Bush administrations, has won several lucrative contracts to advise the U.A.E. on how to protect its infrastructure.

Emirati military officials had promised that if Erik Prince’s first battalion of R2 was a success, they would pay for an entire brigade of several thousand men. The new contracts would be worth billions, and would help with Mr. Prince’s next big project: a desert training complex for foreign troops patterned after Blackwater’s compound in Moyock, N.C.

In a recent spring night after months stationed in the desert, the R2 mercenaries boarded an unmarked bus and were driven to hotels in central Dubai. There, some R2 executives had arranged for them to spend the evening with prostitutes. Where else in the Arab world but UAE can one find such displays of sexually immoral acts?

In a well-known hadith, Muhammad (S), the Prophet of Islam, said, “Allah the Most High says: ‘There will be three persons against whom I shall fight on the Day of Judgment: (1) the person who makes a promise with an oath in My name and then breaks it, (2) the person who sells a free man as slave and appropriates his sale proceeds, and (3) the person who engages a workman and having taken full work from him fails to pay him his dues.’” [Bukhari: Abu Hurayrah (RA)]

Muhammad (S) also said, “Give the laborer his wages before his sweat dries.” [Ibn Majah: Abdullah b. Umar (RA)]

Something has gone profoundly wrong in the Arab world. The once camel-riding and tent-dwelling, and now jet-flying and high-rise-dwelling modern-day Arabs of the desert had been so busy taking on the modalities and values of modern techno-society that they had completely lost the Deen in all its civic and spiritual identity. They forgot that the best security comes not from mercenaries but from a satisfied workforce that are treated fairly and humanly.

Let John Lindh go free

The New York Times published an op/ed column from Mr. Frank Lindh, father of John Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, pleading for his son's release from the prison. Mr. Frank Lindh wrote, "John was a scapegoat, wrongly accused of terrorism at a moment when our grieving country needed someone to blame because the real terrorist had gotten away. Now that Bin Laden is dead, I hope President Obama, and the American people, can find it in their hearts to release John, and let him come home. Ten years is enough."

I endorse the plea and would like our president to release John. He is no traitor to the USA. He was never threat to America and in all likelihood will never be a threat to his country. He has remained behind the prison walls for the last ten years. It is time to say enough is enough, and let John live a free life.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Can America Learn From Others?

In the March 3 issue of the Time magazine Fareed Zakaria analyzed America’s status in the world. To his own rhetorical question – ‘is America #1?’ he answered: “Yes, the U.S. remains the world's largest economy, and we have the largest military by far, the most dynamic technology companies and a highly entrepreneurial climate.” As to some other metrics, America ranks 12th among developed countries in college graduation, 79th in elementary-school enrollment, 23rd in infrastructure, 27th in life expectancy, 18th in diabetes and first in obesity. Zakaria writes, “There are some areas in which we are still clearly No. 1, but they're not ones we usually brag about. We have the most guns. We have the most crime among rich countries. And, of course, we have by far the largest amount of debt in the world.”

As to the reason behind this low ranking, Zakaria rightly concludes that other countries are catching up to America through efforts that were once the defining strategy for America’s ascendancy in our globe. These being: the interstate-highway system, massive funding for science and technology, a public-education system that was the envy of the world and generous immigration policies. Through her well-funded research universities and institutions – some of the best in our world, especially in science and engineering – America, even in the post-World War II era, was able not only to attract the best brains to study here but also to absorb and retain these foreign talents internally with lucrative jobs and opportunities that helped the country to lead in technological revolution. Not surprisingly, therefore, that there is not a single prestigious university and institution within the USA that does not have foreign sounding names in its esteemed faculty list. The same is true in the engineering, research and development divisions within the industrial sector.

Niall Ferguson, who now writes for the Newsweek magazine, mentions six basic elements, which he refers to as the ‘secret sauce’ of Western civilization. These are: competition, modern science, the rule of law and private property rights, modern medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. In his book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, Ferguson writes, “For 500 years the West patented six killer applications that set it apart. The first to download them was Japan. Over the last century, one Asian country after another has downloaded these killer apps…” Obviously Ferguson, a neo-con promoter of empire-buildup and global hegemony, does not mention the other not-so-secret sauces which were responsible for creating this western success story – colonization, immigration, exploitation of labor, unfair trade & commerce rules, robbery of outside resources while crippling the indigenous economy of the exploited nations. I doubt these erstwhile colonial powers would have been this successful without the savage acts of slavery, colonial plunders and exploitations. Ferguson’s thesis also fails to explain why China, where the government at moment’s notice can disown anyone of its property rights, is succeeding, without downloading the so-called western killer applications.

And as every student of economics knows with material success consumerism sets in. What was once a delighter or ‘nice to have’ need becomes a performance need, and what was once the performance need later becomes a basic or ‘must have’ need. It is thus not difficult to see how this shifting tendency in meeting needs can translate into borrowing beyond one’s capacity. Gone are the days that these former colonial powers could afford to do the kind of things (e.g., invasion and colonization to steal wealth of other nations) that once ensured economic success and prosperity to their people. (But as the American invasion of Iraq has shown, the empire-builders have not abandoned their age-old savage means altogether. It backfired!) So, most of these countries are now debtor nations, who have spent money unwisely beyond their means.

The world we live in today is quite different than the world in which our grandparents and parents grew up, and in all likelihood would be different for our children. It has become a global village, thanks especially to the advances in technology, esp. in the communication front from the cell phones to the Internet to the Twitter and Facebook. There is fierce competition in the business sector where previous models for growth and customer satisfaction (and retention) are continuously being challenged by the newer realities of our time. And yet, to a customer the three most important criteria have remained the same. These are quality, cost and speed. People in general like things that are of good quality, delivered on time, and yet cheap or affordable. It is this latter criterion, which pushed many American and European companies to outsource their manufacturing operations in places like China and India. In many instances, even the entire service sector was outsourced.

As a result, while millions of jobs were lost inside America and Europe, tens of millions of jobs were added in cheaper labor markets of China and India. The paradox is: while an unemployed worker in these developed countries was upset with his/her loss of job, he/she did not like to invest in stocks or shares that did not guarantee handsome dividends. It is this mindset about maximizing the benefits to their investors, which forced the corporate directors sitting in the board to kill the geese that were laying golden eggs! And on the top of that while the corporations were losing, the CEOs and Directors bestowed unbelievable bonus payments unto themselves. A wrong combination!

The International Monetary Fund (IMF ) recently said in a report that gross domestic product (GDP) of China will overtake the U.S. in 2016 in a comparison based on purchasing power parity (PPP), i.e., the real economy. That figure exceeds the forecasts of U.S. GDP, which at that time would reach 18.8 trillion from the current 15.2 trillion. This prediction should not be too surprising given that with almost 4 times the population of the USA, it’s simply a question of time when China (and for that matter India one day) would catch up to the US economy. Over the years, her government has invested in human capital, and her workers have learned to copycat many inventions made in the West. The prolonged political stability - albeit an authoritarian one - and a prudent economic plan, which was able to woo foreign investors, provided the necessary glue required for a winning formula in China.

One of the thorniest economic issues facing the developed world is: how to maintain manufacturing competitiveness against low-cost emerging economies like China and India. In my opinion, Germany offers that road map for the U.S. and other European countries. Even in hard times of 2008 when the demand was low for many chemicals, at BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, instead of laying off cherished staff, management deployed idled workers to new assignments. And the nation prevented the sort of large-scale layoffs the U.S. endured during the recession with a short-term work program in which the government subsidized firms to keep workers. Major German companies also refused to outsource everything to the developing world.

While the American, Spanish, Irish, Greek and other Europeans were gorging on debt, building too many houses and giving themselves fat pay raises, Germans were busy fixing their economy. German companies poured money into R&D and cut expenses. Loosening up the tightly regulated labor market to make it easier for firms to hire and fire helped. Union cooperation meant Germany was the only major European economy that reduced labor costs for several years after 2005. And on the top of all these measures, Germany never forgot the value of superior quality and the precision engineering work. Her manufacturers know that customers will pay extra for the “Made in Germany” label whether it is for the Mercedes Benz or other utility tools or equipment that they buy.

Is America ready to adjust and repair? A crucial aspect of beginning to turn things around would be for the U.S. to make an honest accounting of where it stands and what it can learn from other countries. This kind of benchmarking is quite common in the business world. Can America learn form others, especially Germany that had fought two major wars, which ruined her economy? Can it spend more on science, technology, innovation and infrastructure, which will produce growth and jobs in the future? Can it avoid its faulty empire-building instincts which in recent years have bankrupted this country? Can it continue to attract, retain and reward meritocracy instead of the not-so-hidden agenda of chauvinist politicians and corporate leaders that discriminate and pull their own guys to upper echelons of power and authority?

Only an insane can choose to shut its eyes to the potholes on its path.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Newt Gingrich - the clown and immoral politician

The New York Times has an excellent editorial on Newt Gingrich. As you may know Newt has entered the race for presidential election. As I have analyzed a few times, he is a highly polarizing figure in the USA. Except for conservative racists and bigots, very few will vote for him. He is a highly flawed individual with no morality and no sense of what is right and wrong. He has been a debauch, fornicator, adulterer, cheat, immoral, bigot and racist all his life, who will use everything possible to prove his worth to our nation, and in so doing reveal his clownish politician self. He calls him a historian. What a joke! If he is a historian, self-claimed at best, history has failed to teach this moronic student its lessons. Worse still, Newt Gingrich is a hypocrite. He could do all the evil known to mankind and yet, has no shame, no bite of conscience to criticize others for doing a small fraction of his own evil acts.

Does Newt have a chance? Nope!

You can read the NYT piece by clicking here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How will history judge Osama bin Laden - Hero or Villain?

Osama bin Laden (OBL) is dead. America celebrated the killing of her most wanted man last Sunday (May 2). The U.S. government has been on his trail for almost 13 years since his alleged involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. After 9/11 with a $25million bounty put on his head – dead or alive -- he simply became the target of the largest manhunt ever taken in the history of mankind.

The last time the U.S. came that close to killing OBL was in the summer of 2007 when Bush administration learned that he would be meeting the Taliban leaders and foot soldiers in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. The military set into motion one of the largest strike missions of its kind, with long-range bombers, attack helicopters, artillery and commandos all ready to pummel the rugged mountain valley. In one of its latest reports, the New York Times says that just as the half dozen B-2 Stealth bombers were halfway on the 3,000-mile flight to their target, commanders ordered them to return to their secret base in the Indian Ocean, because of doubts about the intelligence on OBL. Seemingly, it was Bush’s last chance at redeeming his administration’s dismal failure to capture or kill OBL after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, when he was cornered in the same Tora Bora region.

This time, upon learning about OBL’s hideout at a private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, President Obama authorized an assassination attempt that was ultimately carried out by members of the U.S. Navy Seals. Initial reports from the Obama administration suggested that bin Laden was armed and shooting at U.S. personnel, and that he had possibly used a woman as a human shield when he was killed. All those claims are subsequently revised and the White House conceded that OBL was unarmed and that he did not use anyone as a human shield when he was shot by Navy Seals.

Many keen observers of the OBL episode have questioned the legality of the killing. Others have called the so-called raid a "cold-blooded" murder arguing that bin Laden did not resist arrest. Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero went the farthest, becoming the first European leader to say openly that he would have preferred bin Laden stand trial. Last Wednesday Zapatero told Spanish Parliament, "Any democrat would have preferred to see him stand trial." The German newspaper Der Spiegel questioned, “Is this what justice looks like?" Which law governs the execution of OBL? After all, the American law requires trials before the death penalty. Could this decision to kill OBL be political?

Geoffrey Robertson, a prominent human rights lawyer in Britain who is currently defending the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was scathing in an interview on the BBC. Obama’s assertion that justice was done was “a total misuse of language,” Mr. Robertson said. “This is the justice of the Red Queen: sentence first, trial later.” Professor Nick Grief, an international lawyer at Kent University said that the attack had the appearance of an "extrajudicial killing without due process of the law".
Human rights groups, lawyers and academics have suggested, among other things, that this could violate an Executive Order that forbids the U.S. government and its employees from engaging in 'political assassination'.

In the face of these accusations, Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the raid on bin Laden's compound was lawful "as an act of national self-defense." "He was the head of al Qaeda, an organization that had conducted the attacks of September the 11th," Holder said. "It's lawful to target an enemy commander in the field."

Critics have questioned how bin Laden could constitute a threat to the lives of the Navy Seals if he was unarmed. Had OBL been shooting at U.S. personnel, he would easily have met the legal standard of a legitimate combat target. Some experts say that the Obama administration has justified the operation legally by citing the Authorization to Use Military Force Act of Sept. 18, 2001, which allows the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against persons who authorized, planned or committed the 9/11 attacks, as well as international law derived from treaties and customary laws of war. But as the human rights lawyers would say the authorization to kill a suspect is a law of the jungle and can’t define the modus operandi of a government that portrays itself as the poster boy of rule of law.

Pakistanis are upset that the U.S. raid has violated their territorial sovereignty. More troubling is the inaptitude of their intelligence and military forces for not only missing the hideout of OBL in Abbotabad, located just a few blocks from its Kakul Military Academy – Pakistan’s Sandhurst, but also for allowing their sky to remain so vulnerable to outside intruders. What if their mortal foe – the Indian Air Force -- strikes Pakistan’s national security sites, entering the country the same way the American Navy Seals did?

Islamabad needs to conduct a thorough examination of its security failures, let alone its partnership with the U.S.A., which has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of its unarmed citizens since the days of General Musharraf when he bowed down to Bush’s cowboy bullies. Since the days of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the country has been exploited by successive U.S. governments to further American interests in the territory at a terrible cost to her own sovereignty. She has lost more soldiers fighting in the tribal areas than America lost in 9/11. Her raids, bought by American billions and dictated by the Pentagon and the CIA, within the tribal areas have not only violated all the pledges with the tribal chiefs during the 1947 Partition but have also sown the seeds of dismemberment of the country. As noted recently by Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, “Pakistan rulers have sold its citizens’ blood to the United States and its allies in exchange for dollars.” (The Express Tribune, April 24, 2011)

Without a unifying leadership at the center that is ready to mend its relationship with the tribes, and find a negotiated settlement of the Afghan problem between all warring parties, including the Taliban, the country risks becoming a failed state. Consistent with Mr. Khan’s demand, Pakistan must now demand a complete stoppage of all drone attacks inside its territory. In the aftermath of OBL’s assassination, any reluctance from the U.S. government to honor such a demand can be counterproductive to its long-term strategic objectives, let alone short-term objectives like the withdrawal of troops from the region.

The demise of OBL has revived a national debate about torture that raged during the Bush years. The former president and many conservatives, including Cheney and Rumsfeld, argued for years that force was necessary to persuade al-Qaeda operatives to talk. Human rights advocates, and Mr. Obama as he campaigned for office, said the tactics were torture, betraying American principles for little or nothing of value. Now that OBL is dead, we are reminded by those who approve such criminal measures that had it not been for water-boarding and other similar torture techniques, which are illegal according to international laws, the U.S. could not have obtained information about the trusted courier of OBL, which eventually led to his assassination. Among these supporters is John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who wrote secret legal memorandums justifying brutal interrogations. Last Monday, soon after OBL’s death was announced, he wrote in the National Review, a neo-conservative paper, “President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success today but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration.”

But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying OBL’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. According to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations, one detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was water-boarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.

Glenn L. Carle, a retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002, said in an interview last Tuesday that coercive techniques “didn’t provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information.”

In spite of such claims and counterclaims, it is conceivable that the USA will continue to employ such illegal techniques to extract information from her detainees. She will also continue to violate other countries’ sovereignty and commit extrajudicial Mossad-style murderous campaigns. To her policy makers: the ends justify the means. By so doing, she has once again forfeited her claim to higher moral ground.

Now that OBL is dead we shall probably never know the real truth about his alleged involvement with embassy bombings and 9/11. As if it was by design, the Obama administration deprived us all of that opportunity to learn the whole truth. It even didn’t see it fit to allow his burial on ground. What was it afraid of? We are thus left to one-sided propaganda or media campaign fed from the Obama administration. For what it’s worth, we can either choose to accept or reject it.

How will history judge OBL? Or, more importantly, how will Muslim historians judge him? Will he be dumped as a terrorist in the dustbin of history whose nihilism brought so much carnage and destruction to the world, especially to the Muslim people by courtesy of the USA and her NATO allies? Or, will he be celebrated as a revolutionary who renounced wealth, recruited fellow Arab youths and fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, rebelled against a decadent regime that exiled him, and despised the prevalent order and the most dominant power of his time and its lackeys? Which narrative will they choose?

Five years ago, when I wrote my piece “Understanding OBL through the lenses of the past,” little did I realize that the article would be cited in the U.S. House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Committee on Foreign Affairs, 110th Congress, Second Session, July 31, 2008 for the fight against terrorism and proliferation: leveraging foreign aid to achieve U.S. policy goals. There, citing Michael Scheuer, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s bin Laden unit, I said that OBL’s most important ally has been American foreign policy. I wrote, “As long as the West continues to prove him right through its illegal interventions in Muslim countries, its criminal blockading of the Muslim world through alliances, its vicious attack on the Prophet of Islam, … and its double-standards in matters of democracy, freedom, equality and human rights, OBL’s [broad] appeal would resonate loud and clear.” His crowd becomes Osama - each clamoring: “I am Osama.”

In the aftermath of OBL’s demise, will the foreign policy of the USA and her allies become even-handed that is not seen as hypocritical, hegemonic and neo-crusading in the vast Muslim world? Will these western leaders continue to protect and reward the war criminals in the neo-colonial settler enterprise called Israel for crimes against the indigenous Palestinians? Will they continue to side with the autocracies in the Muslim world?

Contrary to hateful propaganda of their enemies, Muslims are a peaceful nation whose desires in matters of economic prosperity, personal security, justice, equality and freedom are no less genuine than their counterparts in the West. The Qur’an describes them as a “middle nation” that despises extremism. The current pro-democracy movements in the Arab world have once again reinforced that fact. Unless absolutely forced by necessity in an uneven war, they have not resorted to violence.

Richard Rodriguez, one of the best essayists in America, once said, “A historical figure ascends to myth when his life matches some common pride or grievance or sorrow. Then history is subsumed into myth. Spartacus, Joaquin, Che, Gandhi, Osama... Dead or alive, Osama bin Laden already is mythic. The grievances of millions of people in the Middle East are joined to his name, and his name surely will outlast his death.” (Ref: Villains or Heroes: Essay by Richard Rodriguez, PBS TV, January 14, 2003)

And Allah knows the best!

CUNY's Shame - the Kushner case

The trustees of the City University of New York supported the political agenda of an intolerant board member and shunned one of America’s most important playwrights, Tony Kushner. CUNY decided to deny his honorary degree for political reasons. Mr. Kushner, who is Jewish, described the ousting of Palestinians from their homes in the 1940s as a form of “ethnic cleansing.” He has also said Israel is engaged in the deliberate destruction of Palestinian culture.

Obviously such politically incorrect remarks does not endear him to many Jews who have been on their immoral trajectory to support the case of Israel no matter how terrible the crimes of the pariah state are against the indigenous Palestinian people. The trustee responsible for blackballing Mr. Kushner is Jeffrey Wiesenfeld. Interestingly, one may recall that Wiesenfeld told The Times’s Jim Dwyer that some Palestinians are not human. So what kind of standard is CUNY upholding? Should not the school call for the resignation of Wiesenfeld for his obscene and racist remarks? Instead it chose to deny an honorary degree to a voice of conscience of our time. What a joke!

What are we coming to when a public university that is supposed to nurture free speech and free thought decides to quash them? Shame on CUNY!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rushdie on Gandhi

Here is a link to an old article on M.K. Gandhi which is worth reading. It touches upon many open secretes, which are unfortunately not known to many of our western readers who nowadays make a saint out of the Indian national leader. It is written by the author S. Rushdie.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Obama says Osama is dead

After some fourteen years of massive manhunt dating back to 1997, according to the USA government sources, OBL is dead. He was killed yesterday (May 1) in Abbotabad, nearly 60 miles away from Islamabad in a secured compound. It was a Navy Seal operation that took some 45 minutes to complete the operation. According to reports, he was killed with bullet shots to his eyes, and then his body was dragged through the stairs before being lifted in the helicopter and flown out. It is reported that after completing an Islamic funeral, the dead body was dropped in the ocean.

These government reports leave many questions unanswered. For example, why was OBL not given a regular burial, which is the preferred mode in Islam, esp. since he was killed in action on land and not on sea? What happened to the bodies of other individuals killed? Are they dropped to the sea the same way? Why? How does this mode of burial help anyone believe the American story? Those suspicious can tell that the entire matter had an ulterior motive with true essence of the entire episode. Allah knows the best!

To view two excellent articles to learn about the death of OBL, click here and here.