News Round Up (15 April 2008)

The potential deal between Turkcell and Syriatel, Rami Makhlouf's company, is the one to watch to judge whether Washington's latest Syria sanctions have international teeth. If the Turks push through with the deal, Washington will just be gumming on the perimeters of Syria's economy.

Turkcell continues talks on Syriatel stake
By Ercan Ersoy, 14 April 2008

ISTANBUL, April 14 (Reuters) – Turkish mobile operator Turkcell is still in talks for a majority stake in Syriatel, despite fresh U.S. sanctions against the Syrian operator's owner, the Turkish company said on Monday.

A source familiar with the deal told Reuters that the talks were taking longer than expected because some Turkcell executives had U.S. passports. But Turkcell said that "any possible U.S. citizenship held by management" would not affect the process. Turkcell, Turkey's largest mobile operator, is listed in Istanbul and New York.

In February, the United States froze the assets of Syriatel owner Rami Makhlouf under economic sanctions aimed at stepping up pressure on Damascus. Washington said Makhlouf benefited from corruption in the Syrian government, and the measures against him forbid U.S. citizens or entities from doing business with him.

"The talks on the Syrian matter continue," Turkcell told Reuters in a statement on Monday. "We are aware of the situation between the United States and Syria. But since Turkcell is a Turkey-based company and there is no legal restriction on the purchase of Syriatel, the situation does not have any impact on the talks," it said.

Turkcell CEO Sureyya Ciliv told Reuters in late February that he had expected to complete talks with Syriatel in a month and Makhlouf said around the same time that talks with the Turkish operator were continuing. Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Co (Zain) said last month it was also interested in Syriatel, saying then that it was still an open competition.

Makhlouf, the cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, owns 69 percent of Syriatel. Gulf investors and Syrian shareholders own the rest of the company, which controls HITS-Unitel, a Yemeni cellphone operator. Turkcell CEO Ciliv said in February that Syriatel had 3.4 million subscribers and a 54 percent market share.

On Monday Turkcell stock fell 4.5 percent in Istanbul, bringing its losses since April 9 to 12 percent, compared with a 3 percent fall on the main index <.XU100>. Analysts attributed the fall to an initial public offering for fixed-line operator Turk Telekom due in May, which they expect will draw funds out of Turkcell in favour of the newly listed company. (Editing by Quentin Bryar; Editing by Erica Billingham)

Arab world sees U.S. in poor light, poll shows
By Sue Pleming, Reuters (Thanks to FLC)

….83 percent had an unfavorable view of the United States and 70 percent had no confidence in the superpower……

Over 80 percent of respondents identified the Arab-Israeli conflict as a key issue but just over half — 55 percent — did not believe there would ever be a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians despite U.S. efforts…….

In the Lebanese conflict, only 9 percent expressed sympathy with the majority governing coalition supported by Washington while 30 percent backed the opposition led by the militant group Hezbollah, which the United States opposes……

In the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, only 8 percent said they sympathized most with Fatah and 18 percent were more partial to Hamas, while 37 percent said they backed both."

New “Pro Israel, Pro Peace” Political Group Launches: JStreet Hopes to Prod Washington MidEast Policy Towards Center
Laura Rosen in MoJo, here (Thanks to FLC) or Some Jewish Liberals Seek New Lobbying Group: Wash. Post

"…One of JStreet’s Israeli organizers in Washington, former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy, says Israeli leaders need pressure from Washington to have domestic cover to make concessions that could contribute to the peace process. “I think there comes a point when, if the Israeli leadership actually wants to see this thing resolved, it’s clearly easier to say yes to the president of the United States, rather than to the [Palestinian Liberation Organization],” Levy told me. “You need to have to have the president of the United States to help carry you there.”

Lee Smith, writing in The New Republic, makes the argument that Barack Obama’s policy of engaging with dictators is particularly ill-suited for Syria. While not reflexively rejecting a policy of engagement, Smith argues that Syria presents a unique case in which non-engagement is actually working to our advantage right now. (Thanks to PMED)

President Carter:

"I think there's no doubt in anyone's mind that, if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next-door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process," said Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

From Tony Karon

The inevitability of talking with Hamas is already widely recognized in U.S. policy circles, and especially in Israel. Already, the Israelis negotiate secretly over issues such as the fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit, prisoner exchanges and a cease-fire with Hamas through intermediaries such as Egypt. And a poll published by the Israeli daily Haaretz in February showed that two out of three Israelis support direct talks between their government and Hamas — an option publicly advocated by such high-profile Israeli leaders as former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy and former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami. And just as some Israelis are recognizing that Hamas cannot be eliminated, so too do some Hamas leaders appear to realizing that Israel isn't going to be militarily defeated, either.

Into the Lion's Den
By Hussein Agha, Robert Malley
New York Review of Books
Volume 55, Number 7 · May 1, 2008

There are choices. Regional and international actors can acknowledge that without a Palestinian consensus, the quest for peace is an illusion. They can face the fact that without Syria, the hunt for a stable endgame will remain elusive. Or they can compound wishful thinking with wishful thinking and hope that Olmert and Abbas somehow will find strength amid their frailty; that a peace agreement somehow will be reached; that violent opposition somehow will not torpedo it; that the regional polarization somehow will not interfere; that popular support somehow will be mustered; and that the deal somehow will be implemented. In that case, they would not be following a strategy. They would be pursuing a perilous chimera.

"Syria will not break ties with its allies but might act in more subtle ways. Neither Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic Jihad is a Syrian proxy. But they depend on vital support from Damascus and can read the regional map. Today, they feel winds in their sails. They sense a rejectionist popular mood and believe that with Syrian and Iranian help they can steer it toward their goals. A resumption of Israeli–Syrian talks and an eventual agreement would send unmistakable signals that those winds are shifting, the map changing, and their strategic depth narrowing. In the event of a peace agreement, Damascus knows it will have to rein in its militant allies and stop supporting their military activities. Inevitably, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad will reconsider their options. They are unlikely to modify their ideology. But they could be forced to alter their behavior, a result more practical and, one would think, of greater import."

The second Iraq Security Conference Just Ended in Syria

Officials from countries neighboring Iraq have ended two days of security talks in Syria during which they agreed that protecting the Iraqi border is a joint task.

The meeting came ahead of wider discussions on Iraqi security due in Kuwait on April 22.

A Monday statement says the participants underlined their "respect of Iraq's unity, sovereignty and independence" as well as their commitment to preserving Iraq's "Arab and Islamic identity."

The statement also says the officials praised "positive cooperation" between Iraq and its neighbors in "fighting terrorism" and efforts to "improve the security situation" in Iraq.

Who was present: An Iranian delegation comprising senior managers of Iran's interior and foreign ministries attended. Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Kuwait will be present, but Saudi Arabia did not attend. Representatives from Egypt, Bahrain and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, the European Union and G8 also were present.

In the first Iraq security conference, held in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on May 3-4, 2007, neighboring countries agreed on joint responsibility for the security of Iraq borders.

Two Indonesian terror suspects on caught entering Malaysia on false passports had been en route to Syria where they planned to link up with militant groups, police said Tuesday. (AP)

History brings tourists to Syria BBC

SYRIA: Lebanon Intransigence Increases Isolation 
Thursday, April 10 2008 Oxford Analytica 2008

EVENT: Saudi and Egyptian leaders met yesterday to discuss the Lebanon crisis.

SIGNIFICANCE: The recent Arab summit in Damascus highlighted the gap between Syria and fellow Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, on Lebanon. Syria refused to buckle to pressure to facilitate an agreement between its Lebanese supporters and the anti-Syrian opposition, despite the widespread boycott of the summit. Relations with Riyadh have reached a new low.

ANALYSIS: A small country with a weak state, Lebanon has long been accustomed to having its politics shaped by struggles between much stronger external actors. The most recent example of this is the political deadlock between the anti-Syrian camp currently in government (the March 14 movement), and pro-Syrian opposition, over the presidency

Proxy battleground. Washington, as well as Arab states that boycotted the summit at the end of March, hold Syria responsible for the intransigence of opposition politicians. Washington has many problems with Syria: Damascus hosts a number of Palestinian militant groups, allegedly does too little to prevent jihadis crossing its border to fight in Iraq, and — most significantly — refuses to abandon its military and political alliance with Iran:

* United States. Washington reads the Lebanese political scene as a microcosm of wider regional politics: it strongly supports the pro-Western, liberal March 14 movement, which it sees as a democratic trend-setter blocked by the pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian opposition bloc. As a result, it sees efforts to put pressure on Syrian influence in Lebanon as part of a much wider regional struggle to contain Syria and Iran.

* Syria. For Damascus, 'resistance' to neo-colonial conspiracies to remake the Middle East has become a key component of political discourse. Syria has long claimed to retain a commitment to the greater Arab cause that other states in the region have forgotten. Additionally, Damascus has no intention of allowing Washington to influence events in neighboring Lebanon, which, from a Syrian perspective, is little more than a tiny Taiwan to their powerful China. Consequently, Damascus has little concern for the best interests of the Lebanese polity Even if there is no open fighting in Lebanon, the country remains as much a battlefield for external powers as it was during the civil war.

Saudi relations. Only half the 22 Arab League heads of state of the attended the conference. Lebanon boycotted the event entirely; Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan sent only low-level delegations. As part of its efforts to isolate Syria and loosen its grip on Lebanon, Washington had exerted pressure on many Arab leaders to boycott the gathering.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem declared that the summit was a success — despite its manifest inability to discuss anything of substance — and that Washington had failed to divide the Arabs.

However, Syria's differences with Saudi Arabia go beyond US influence on bilateral relations, originating in the February 2005 murder of Rafik al-Hariri, former Lebanese prime minister and Saudi favourite. Since then, events and fundamental differences of approach have exacerbated tensions even further:

* Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has been critical of both Syria and Hizbollah, including making negative comments about the latter during the July 2006 war. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad retaliated by calling those who criticized Hizbollah — essentially Saudi Arabia and Egypt — "half-men".

* Palestine. Saudi Arabia has thrown its weight behind the Palestinian National Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas; Syria continues to support Hamas and other militant factions.

* Media war. Last August, Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Shara commented that Saudi foreign policy was "ineffective" and "semi-paralyzed". Riyadh countered with harsh accusations in the Saudi media that that Syria had betrayed the Arab cause, while Okaz newspaper said that Syria had pursued a policy of systematic murder in Lebanon for the last 30 years.

* Diplomatic war. Shortly after the Okaz comments, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon was obliged to leave the country after receiving a string of anonymous death threats. Riyadh later recalled its ambassador to Syria, ostensibly for bureaucratic reasons, but it has yet to nominate a replacement in what represents a calculated snub to Damascus.

At a press conference timed to coincide with the opening of the Damascus summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal publicly blamed Syria and its supporters in Lebanon for blocking a solution to the political crisis.

Syria and Iran. One reason for Syria's lack of haste to rejoin the ranks of the other Arab states is its alliance with Iran. While Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are increasingly haunted by the specter of a resurgent Iran, Syria's long-standing ties with Tehran put it in an entirely different position). Syria's alliance with Iran is built on three main factors:

* Political convenience. The 'axis of resistance' formed by Syria, Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas is essentially a bloc of all the groups which have been demonized by Washington since September 11, 2001. The axis has its historical origins in Syria and Iran's common interest in opposing Iraq during the 1980s.

* Military cooperation. A mutual defense pact was signed between Damascus and Tehran in June 2006, though this was primarily a symbolic affair.

* Economics. Iran accounted for 400 million dollars of the 800 million of investment from non-Arab sources in 2006. Vast numbers of Iranian pilgrims visit Syria, bringing valuable custom. A joint Iranian-Syrian company now manufactures Iranian car models in Syria.

The United States and Israel demand that Syria sever its ties with Iran as part of a future peace deal, to prove its sincerity. Damascus counters that its relations with Tehran did not hinder peace talks with Israel in the 1990s. It also believes Iran to be more ideologically flexible — and more rational — than Washington gives it credit for.

However, in the meantime, the Syria-Iran alliance continues to poison Syria's relations with Saudi Arabia. While it provides Syria with reassurance, it only serves to entrench its present isolation and is structurally unconstructive for its foreign policy. The alliance constrains Syria's room for maneuver in the diplomatic arena and — apart from enhancing Syria's ability to act as a potential 'spoiler' in the region — does not give Syria any viable exit routes from its current predicament, leaving it with little option other than to maintain the status quo indefinitely.

Outlook. Syria values its influence in Lebanon more than its good standing with other Arab states. It also believes that its alliance with Iran compensates for poor relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

However, ties with Tehran only serve to dig Syria deeper into an already well-entrenched position. While Lebanese politicians await some dramatic international intervention to break through the impasse, Syria seems to be hunkering down for the long haul.

CONCLUSION: Syria has no intention of being rushed into a settlement in Lebanon. Damascus has sufficient material and political resources to withstand external pressures to reach a solution. Given the minute level of bilateral trade, US sanctions on Syria and individual regime members can be effectively ignored. Short of the military option, in the short term Washington has few other means to coerce Syria. The regime believes that US policy will change dramatically after the presidential election and that all it needs to do is wait until then — at which point its free hand in Lebanon will be restore

Ehud Olmert on the Damascus road
By Spengler, Asia Times, May 15, 2008

The only practical way to defeat irregular forces embedded in a civilian population is to destroy the states that back them. That is why America overthrew Saddam Hussein, and also why Israel is considering a pre-emptive war on Syria on the model of 1967….

The Arabs are a failing people. It is not only the triumph of globalized Western culture over traditional society that threatens them, but the ascendancy of Asia. Last week's food riots in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East bring the point home. Arabs are hungry because Chinese are rich enough to eat meat, and buy vast quantities of grain to feed to pigs and chickens. If the rise in Asian protein consumption portends a permanently higher plateau of food prices, the consequences are dire for populations living on state subsidies, from Morocco to Algeria to Cairo to Gaza. A people that have no hope also have nothing to lose.

This week's edition of Bitter Lemons is on: Ramifications of Syrian-Israeli tensions

Two Palestinian views

Palestine is being affected by the ongoing regional rivalry between Iran and the United States that started with the Iraq invasion.

The Syrians will not sell out the Palestinian cause.

Two Israeli views

  • Through an Iranian prism by Yossi Alpher

    A successful Israeli-Syrian negotiating process could improve the prospects for an Israel-PLO agreement.

  • Syria's role  by Moshe Ma'oz

    Ostensibly, Israel can continue its conflict with Syria for a long time provided it can settle its dispute with the Palestinians soon.

Comments (180)


T said:

Study Estimates Assets of Arab Lands’ Jews
Jewish Forward Apr 10, 2008

NEW ARRIVALS: A new study estimates that the losses incurred by Jews exploded in fury last week after who fled Arab countries after Israel’s creation totalled $6 million.

In the first effort to methodically calculate the amount lost by Jews who fled Arab countries after the creation of Israel, a Holocaust restitution expert estimated that the losses amounted to $6 billion.

The study, performed by Sidney Zabludoff and published this month in a journal published by the conservative Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, estimated that Jewish losses were significantly more than the amount lost by Palestinian refugees from Israel.

Close to 1 million Jews were forced to leave Middle Eastern and North African countries after the creation of Israel — a fact that has become a political volleyball as Palestinian refugees have pushed for compensation for their own expulsion from Israel.

Zabludoff peppers his paper with political references and proposals, and it seems likely that his figures will encounter protest from Palestinian groups. He estimates that the 550,000 Palestinian refugees lost $3.9 billion.
Palestinian critics argue that speaking of restitution is an insidious way of ruling out the possibility of a return to Israel — and Zabludoff is explicit in his paper that there should not be a right of return for Palestinian refugees.

“This is an insidious argument, because the advocates of Jewish refugees are not working to get those legitimate assets back but are in fact trying to cancel out the debt of Israel toward Palestinian refugees,” said Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University’s Edward Said professor of Arab studies.

Advocates for Jewish refugees are already seizing upon the new data to advance their cause.

“Just as the issue of Holocaust restitution became a priority for Jewish advocacy a decade ago, this issue needs to become a priority now,” said Elan Steinberg, vice president of the gathering of American Jewish Holocaust Survivors & Their Descendants, who worked with Zabludoff on restitutions at the Word Jewish Congress in the late 1990s. “It brings something that had been hidden in the Jewish consciousness to light.”

After years of neglect, Jewish groups have become increasingly vocal on the issue through an umbrella group called Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, which has pushed a variety of measures in Congress and at the United Nations that recognize the fate of Jewish refugees.
Last month, it scored a symbolic victory when the House passed a resolution demanding that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees be matched by a similar reference to Jewish refugees.

“The issue of refugee assets has taken prominence in recent years, since the Palestinians began asking to replicate the Holocaust restitution mechanisms and the Israeli government responded by bringing up the issue of Jewish refugees in Arab lands.” said Michael Bazyler, a law professor at Whittier Law School and the author of “Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts.”

Zabludoff, a former CIA and Treasury Department official, reached the estimates without using any actual figures from North African and Arab countries. Instead he extrapolated the refugees’ per capita assets from earlier research on Palestinians and applied them to Jews after finding that they matched the pre-World War II figures for Eastern European Jews.

Zabludoff’s figures for Palestinian refugees were drawn from calculations made by a number of previous researchers. He said the difference between the Jewish and Palestinian totals was due not only to the higher number of Jewish refugees but also to the fact that Jewish refugees tended to be more urban and involved in trade activities.

He told the Forward he had undertaken the work on his own and that he did not receive any instructions or financial support from Jewish groups.

No comparable estimates of refugee assets have been published previously. For instance, the Palestinians have often added to property losses psychological damages and lost income, reaching figures between $180 billion and $290 billion (in 2007 dollars), according to a study by Palestinian scholar Sami Hadawi. The World Organization of Jews From Arab Countries, for its part, has collated Jewish community assets and individual ones in coming up with a $100 billion figure.

“Sid is a reference in the field of assets evaluation,” Bazyler said, noting that the Israeli government had endorsed his figures about Holocaust-era assets. In the paper, Zabludoff is not shy about stating the policy proposals that he sees arising from his research.

The refugee issue “remains as a bargaining chip for Arab and Palestinian negotiators who continue to emphasize the issue via their political drumbeat. The only way to move toward the reality of how such events have been handled in the past is to stress the clear fact that there were more Jews who fled Middle Eastern and North African countries than Palestinians who left Israel,” Zabludoff writes.

To address the Jewish and Palestinian refugee grievances, Zabludoff proposes to create a $10 billion global fund, essentially extending to Jewish refugees a long-discussed mechanism for Palestinian refugees.

“What I would like to see is that instead of being framed as a political issue, it is addressed as a restitution issue,” he told the Forward.

—————–VS————————————-
Security around MK Eitam boosted after anti-Arab speech

Bodyguard assigned to rightist lawmaker a few weeks after he told Arab MKs ‘day will come when we will banish you’
by Amnon Meranda ynet.com April 15, 08

The Knesset has recently assigned a bodyguard to Effie Eitam following a vehement speech in which the National Union-NRP member told Arab-Israeli lawmakers that “the day will come when we will banish you from this house (Knesset) and from the national home.”

‘Treacherous Protest’

Eitam to Arab MKs: Day will come when we will banish you / Zvi Lavi

Religious MK says Arab lawmakers who participated in ‘treacherous’ Umm al-Fahm protest against IDF operation should be ‘expelled to Gaza’; El-Sana: Eitam should stand trial for his actions during first intifada

In his speech last month the rightist Knesset member added: “You (Arab MKs) should be expelled to Gaza, where your people, who are fighting us, dwell; that is where you belong.”

After delivering the speech, while making his way to the apartment rented for him by the Knesset in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood, Eitam was approached by a man who said to him in an Arabic accent “don’t think you can expel us from here; we heard what you said.”

A similar incident that occurred just a few days later prompted Knesset security to boost security around Eitam as he enters and leaves his flat.

A few weeks ago the Knesset increased security around Kadima MK Otniel Schneller following threats he had received. Schneller told Ynet at the time “I will never be deterred by threats. I will continue to walk tall

April 15th, 2008, 7:07 pm

 

norman said:

The Jews are welcome to come back , ARE THE PALESTINIANS ?.

April 15th, 2008, 7:23 pm

 

Seeking the Truth said:

Proferssor Landis, Alex,

T supposes in his comment
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=666#comment-133542
that this blog is sponsored by a public American university. Is this blog sponsored to any extent by University of Oklahomo?

April 15th, 2008, 7:24 pm

 

idaf said:

Here’s an additional news round up..

Reform: It seems that the Syrian government is offering carrots and sticks simultaneously to curb on public sector corruption. A new law has been issued that increases the punishment for public embezzlement and bribery regardless of the amount of money stolen. At the same time the government is introducing a package of incentives and salary adjustments to public sector employees as well as the private sector, according to Dr. Dardari. Meanwhile, the Baath party is drafting a public sector reform law.

Regional Politics: This might be the first fruit of the Arab summit in Damascus.. Mauritania will “review” its relationship with Israel

Military: Syria is receiving a new Russian Pantsyr air defense system, in preparation for “a war that Israel will launch in May”!

EconomyOn the economic front, Turkey has just replaced Saudi Arabia as the top trading partner with Syria. More on the economic reform in Syria.. this article by Gaith Armanazi sums up the atmosphere in the Syrian street on economic reform:

The Syrian Reform Programme: external & internal dynamics and constraints

By Ghayth N Armanazi

The Syrian Reform, by most accounts, is no longer seen as an exercise in cosmetic tinkering with the aim of sustaining a system, while pretending to change it. A system that needs to be kept, so the detractors of the reform say, in its essential mould to ensure the survivability of those who at the helm of that system, and who enjoy the fruits of their monopoly power.

The evidence of the last seven or eight years does point to a serious attempt at overhauling the system; at minimum political and social cost .At the start of the reform, it has to be said, the pace of change was painfully slow- giving ammunition to the ready-made accusations that no real change is envisaged, and that the old corrupt, inefficient and closed economic environment (not to mention the political one) remains immovable and unshakeable.

In the last few years, however, there has been a visible burst of energy injected into the change agenda, to the extent that it is no longer credible to dismiss the whole process as meaningless, even if it remains difficult for those in opposition to the regime to concur with such an assessment. The visitor to Damascus today is bound to notice the signs of change: in the banks that are opening up, in the stylish shops and boutiques, in the cafes and restaurants, in the burgeoning consumerism and fashionable lifestyles. All that may be seen by many as the ‘ugly’ face of creeping capitalism, touching the lives only of the privileged classes, and covering up the misery of the underclasses that lay below and are scarcely able to benefit from the economic liberalisation process underway.

These manifestations, however regrettable, of conspicuous consumption and indulgence in the new market economy are almost unavoidable by-products of the change from a socialist, planned economy, to a freer one .We saw it in Eastern Europe, we are seeing it today in China, and yes, we are seeing it in Syria. It is tangible proof of change although it is the least socially and morally acceptable aspect of that change, when set against the real challenges of transforming the lives of the whole as opposed to the few.

Even if one admits that the Syrian economy , at the current pace, effective application, and the spread of the reform process, falls far short of the ideal in ensuring a level playing field, transparency and the necessary legal framework, and also still leaves in the hands of a comparatively small circle of well-connected business elites the levers of economic and commercial patronage , there is flowing through the fabric of Syrian society an unquestionable current of expectation , and a realisation that a new economic era, with all its faults is at hand. The very economic overlords who a few years ago would have sought umbrage in maintaining the old protective and closed system, seeing in it a preservation of their interests, now realise that that these very same interests are best served by a liberalisation that allows them access to the wider, globalised, world, and especially to the golden goose of inward investment from a market –chasing cash-rich Gulf. Ironically, these powerful business interests, who once owed their position to the ‘old’ system of politically-driven economic privilege, are the engines of current change, pitting them against the ideologues and apparatchiks, their erstwhile allies, who are now seen as obstacles to their new ambitions as big players in an emerging market economy.

Still, this parting of the ways between the emerging new liberal-minded and market-oriented business class , and the doctrinal custodians of the interests of ‘the masses’ is being subtly and very cautiously navigated by both sides of the socio-economic divide. In effect neither camp –that of the modernisers on the one hand and the resolute defenders of the state-run economy on the other- can afford to jettison the other entirely. The former still needs the legitimacy of its ‘roots’ to maintain the political underpinnings of its economic muscle. The latter while clinging to the ‘sacred gains’ of the socialist yesteryear, would rather the more pliant , politically and socially sensitive proponents of capitalism ‘lite’ , rather than the spectre of the unfettered rampaging model , and the resultant cost to what remains of their economic and social safety nets , the inheritance of decades of positive state intervention in their favour.

This gentle tug-of-war has meant that the Syrian reform agenda remains in the grip of a transitory and amorphous dynamic. This is best exemplified by the long dithering over how and when to end or even substantially reduce the subsidy on fuel which by any strict economic measure is an unsustainable drain on the country’s treasury. The issue has been on the agenda of the reform process for some time, but remains in limbo over anxieties about the looming socio-political consequences of such a break with a long-established public benefit, affecting the livelihood of millions belonging to the most vulnerable sectors of society.

But, of course, the process of Syrian reform is not simply governed by internal factors and the pressures of competing vested interests within the confines of the state economy. Any knowledge and appreciation of Syria’s geo-economic and geo-political position will lead to awareness of how dependent it is on the ‘outside’ to advance its economic prospects. This is especially so in the light of dwindling oil revenues, a source of income that was the mainstay in the eighties and nineties for keeping at bay the ‘hard’ choices of economic change. There has never been a period in recent Syrian history that has potentially exposed the economy more to the constraints of a globalised and regionalised module; one that allows little room for maintaining a country-centric distinct approach to questions of economic philosophy or management.

Yet, and despite this compelling impetus for the integration of Syria into the global economic culture, providing ,as it inevitably does, a valuable propellant for the agents of reform within the country, it seems that that very ‘outside’ is in objective alliance with the opponents of reform. With little regard for the ultimate consequences , it is trying to impose a technological and economic siege on the country under the banner of enforcing ‘accountability’ and imposing ‘regime behaviour change’ and ,if need be, even ‘regime change’. I am referring, of course, to the American-led campaign to isolate and coerce Syria, using the reality of current and the threat of future mounting sanctions as the instrument for exacting political and strategic concessions out of a regime that sits astride its nexus of interests in the Middle East: a nexus that comprises Lebanon and Israel on one flank, and Iraq stretching to Iran on the other.

Syrian spokesmen try to belittle the effects of the sanctions and continue to insist that the reform process will not be affected by them. Yet the evidence is there to be seen in many aspects of economic life. In the domain of IT development, in the field of aviation, and in hindering the smooth operation of the developing banking and insurance sectors, among other areas of essential activity, the heavy hand of U.S. foreign policy clumsiness is apparent.

Instead of seeing in the Syrian reform programme an opportunity that encourages the sort of socio-economic change that , if Washington is to be believed, it advocates because ‘freer ‘ and more liberalised economies nurture moves away from extremism and towards more stable and secure societies, it is pursuing policies that seem intent on having the opposite effect. Nothing suits the opponents of reform better than the claim that their country is caught in a tightening stranglehold, and that retrenchment, rather than ‘opening up’ is the only option available.

Syria has shown signs over the years that it will not be deterred or deflected off its chosen course through the coarse use of pressure and intimidation. An example of how that pressure was recently applied was presented very recently in the context of the holding at the end of March of the Arab summit conference in Damascus. Frantically, Washington lobbied almost every Arab leader in sight to get them to boycott the event. It was a mark of the Bush Administration’s desperation that Condoleezza Rice chose to visit the area at the same time as the Conference was convening, scheduling appointments in order to pre-empt the attendance of some leaders, and making urgent phone calls to others even as they were boarding their planes to fly to Damascus!

A handful of important Arab leaders did not, of course, attend, but many others defied the pressures and did participate. The overall picture that emerged was of a successful summit, against many of the expectations of those who looked to the event as an occasion to isolate and humiliate Syria. In fact the country came through the intense campaign of pressure with much credit for its handling of the event; for the good organisation, for the patient and calm way it chaired the debates, and especially for the opening speech delivered by President Bashar Assad, which struck what many observers considered the right conciliatory note. The summit may now provide the opportunity for advancing inter-Arab entente, with Syria necessarily taking a leading role by virtue of its year-long Presidency of the Summit. A likely result of the Summit is that more and more countries will become aware of the senselessness and impracticability of policies that seek to isolate Syria.

It is, of course, too much to hope that the same sanity will prevail in the minds of Washington’s leaders. Unfortunately, we are probably destined to suffer the consequences of their blind approach to international politics, and especially their dangerous ham-fisted intervention in the affairs of the Middle East for at least until the change of leadership in the New Year.

Yes, Washington still has teeth, in the economic, technological and financial fields that it can deploy in pursuance of a remorseless and ill-judged vendetta against Syria. Such an approach, as we have seen over and over again, will not result in any political or strategic gains for American policy-makers.

It will not serve American long-term interests in three ways:

a)The political and geo-strategic direction of Syria will not be affected –indeed it may reinforce the trends that Washington finds so objectionable in a manner reminiscent of self-fulfilling prophecies

b)While not directly affecting the political class in Syria, the U.S. sponsored sanctions policy will naturally impact negatively on the economic outlook facing the country, and damage the prospects for an emerging, liberalised economy, the fallout from which –as any clear-headed American analyst would surely surmise- would be in the long-term interests of normalising relations with state and society in Syria.

c)It will militate, contextually and practically, against a sober assessment of the benefits of working with Syria to resolve the pressing issues of the region, namely a comprehensive resolution to the Arab Israeli conflict, starting with a revival of the Syrian-Israeli peace track, and entering into constructive engagement relating to the future of Iraq and the crisis in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the period of transition through which the Syrian reform programme is steadily moving is not likely to be a short one. partly because of the external reasons just explained, and partly because the internal debate over the extent and depths of those reforms continues amid few signs that some of the more difficult and drastic structural transformations (e.g. the thorny question of privatisation) are about to incorporated into the reform agenda.

What is patently obvious, however, is that the reforms in one shape or another are irreversible and have taken root despite the obstacles and the doubters. We may still be in a period of transition , but there is no doubting the authenticity and the significance of the process underway, nor of the seriousness of its impact on a society that has awakened from decades of semi-hermetic ‘cocooning’ to find itself adrift in a new economic and social world where new, and sometimes harsh rules apply .

* Remarks at UNIVERSITY OF ST. ANDREWS, CONFERENCE ON ECONOMIC TRANSITION IN SYRIACENTRE FOR SYRIAN STUDIES, 11-12 April 2008.

April 15th, 2008, 7:27 pm

 

idaf said:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7347613.stm

It’s interesting that among 4000 Arab respondents to this survey by the University of Maryland (which was carried out in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates), the top two political Arab leaders in the eyes of the public are Hasan Nassrallah and Bashar al-Asad.

This constitutes more solid evidence to the anecdotal arguments about the popularity of Bashar inside Syria itself. Which should be inline with these findings.

Additionally, it’s extremely interesting to see that despite all the vilifying and demonizing that Syria and Bashar took in the Saudi funded media (which happens to be the majority of the Arab media) for 3 years now, that this did not have any effect on the Arab public opinion towards both.

Personally, I have repeatedly referred on Syria Comment to the endless anecdotes by people from different nationalities, sects and background in the Arab world. They have repeatedly went out of their way to express to me there admiration for Bashar and affection towards Syria. It was always amazing to me that all the billions of dollars spent on vilifying Bashar and demonizing Syria had no affect on the Arab public. This survey had proved that this popularity is even more spread than I first assumed.

On the Lebanese front, one of the key arguments of the M14ers and the Lebanese government is that “we have the support of the Arabs” (compared to the opposition) and that Syria is isolated in the Arab world. Both of their arguments proved to be false as this survey clearly indicates that among the surveyed Arab public 30 percent favor the opposition while only 9 percent view the M14 favorably.

What a waste of Saudi and Lebanese money on the anti-Syria propaganda campaign for 3 years! I might also add what a waste of Hariri’s money on Khaddam and what a waste of American tax payers on the Washington and London based Syrian “opposition”.

April 15th, 2008, 8:08 pm

 

Leila Abu-Saba said:

Re: the alleged Olmert comment about “the only practical way to destroy an irregular army” – he says Israel wants to do to Syria what America did to Saddam and Iraq. Presumably to destroy Hizbullah? But how well has America’s project in Iraq worked to “destroy” any irregular army? They/we destroyed the army of a sovereign nation and now all manner of irregulars are making the place ungovernable.

The whole Olmert piece from Asia Times sounds delusional. Can he really have said such things? Does he really believe them? Or is he just blustering, still stinging from the way Hizbullah bloodied Israel’s nose in ’06?

It’s weird. How unsafe is Israel really at this time? A few rockets. Their automobile crash death rate dwarfs their death rate from rockets and terrorist bombings. But invading Syria and destroying the government, which would involve destroying the whole country as the US has done to Iraq – can that possibly make Israel safer or more stable? Does not seem too likely to me.

I should not read these articles. I’m in treatment for a significant disease. I ought to just let it go and ignore it all. But I am here to tell you that this thinking is insane, and I will pray for sanity to creep into the minds of all the leaders of the world.

April 15th, 2008, 10:49 pm

 

Alex said:

Thank you IDAF.

But if it makes it an easier for you to understand the money they spent on Khaddam and on attacking Syria in their media empires … compare that waste to the three trillion dollars cost of the Iraq war … and the million+ dead Iraqis and 4,000 dead American soldiers and 14,000 seriously wounded, and tens of thousands of psychological illness cases with soldiers coming back from battle … and the 4-5 million Iraqi refugees.

April 15th, 2008, 10:51 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Actually, it is about 29,000 american soldiers seriously wounded. How about that…..

April 15th, 2008, 11:03 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Leila, I think it was Stengler talking in the piece , not Olmert. Altough maybe he quotes Olmert here and there. The noxious part (or whole) is Stengler. It is a rather horrible read… scary, since it pretty much a recommendation for war – and attack Syria. I find it hard to comprehend when people speak from such a pure strategic viewpoint devoid of any human consideration at all.

April 15th, 2008, 11:06 pm

 

Alex said:

Bondo,

The last sentence was offensive. I removed it.

April 15th, 2008, 11:30 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Innocent Criminal said (on the last post):

QN,
that game was so funny. but i was really hoping Hassan Nasrallah was one of the characters. I think the developers self censored by using Nabih Berry.

IC, me too. But after the fiasco at Basmat Watan, people have learned their lesson. Nasrallah is, apparently, off limits (just like his weapons).

Idaf & Alex,

What do you make of Bashar and Ahmadinejad’s popularity rankings? To me, it’s clear they’re popular because they represent the so-called axis of resistance against America. So… big whoop. George Bush was hugely popular in the US when he was vowing to smoke Bin Laden and the ‘terrists’ out of their holes. People like big, tough talk. Plus, it helps that most of the rest of the Arab leaders are either scumbags or flying under the radar, and that Bush is unquestionably the worst president in the history of the United States.

I am waiting to see how Bashar plans to make peace after we get a new U.S. president (because that looks like the time horizon that is being used). He has spent a lot of energy cultivating his resistance axis and winning popularity contests. How will he turn the ship around? I don’t think anybody really knows… it will be interesting. If he can do it, more power to him, but my guess is that all of those people who voted for him in the popularity contest are not going to follow him to Jerusalem to sign a peace deal at the expense of the Palestinians. (That is how it will be viewed by many, as it was by Arafat).

We’ll see.

April 16th, 2008, 12:20 am

 

Alex said:

QN

“George Bush was hugely popular in the US when he was vowing to smoke Bin Laden and the ‘terrists’ out of their holes. People like big, tough talk.”

Does Bashar talk “big”? .. no. He is very moderate. He says things like: “we have a tough year ahead of us”.

Did he try to retaliate against Israel? … no.

Did he use the Arab summit in Damascus to mount a massive attack against the Saudis and Egyptians who did not show up? .. no.

There is very little tough talk there. His popularity is due to his being much more dependable than the others.

April 16th, 2008, 12:32 am

 

Alex said:

Bondo,

You called them traitors… it is a generalization based on their religion.

If we follow this style, then we will get M14 Lebanese calling Lebanese Shia traitors (Iran lovers) … and M8 supporters calling Lebanese Sunnis traitors (following Saudi Arabia) …

Let us not get there please.

April 16th, 2008, 12:41 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Alex,

I disagree. Bashar may not talk big and tough (like Ahmadinejad, Meshaal, and Nasrallah) but he has firmly fashioned himself as a stalwart member of the resistance axis. Joshua has reminded us several times: Bashar promised two things to the Syrians: (1) resistance; (2) economic progress.

I don’t think that Bashar’s popularity with the average man on the street is due to his “dependability”. People like him because he is not allied with the U.S., plain and simple. The U.S. is totally radioactive right now, and for good reasons: Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon 2006, Iran, etc.

Anyway, it’s not important. It’s just a popularity contest. 😉

April 16th, 2008, 12:53 am

 

Leila Abu-Saba said:

Zenobia – if what Stengler is proposing is “purely strategy” then it’s dumb strategy. Leaving aside the human cost (argh) let’s just say that the strategy has not worked in Iraq and would not work in Syria. In fact the strategy is based on false premises and has no really good operational plan behind it. “Destroy” a government, occupy the country, and then what? With what troops? What administration? what’s the benchmark for leaving? What’s the reason for going in? Etc.

Delusional is the nicest word I can use for such raving.

April 16th, 2008, 12:53 am

 

Enlightened said:

Debate last night in Australia featuring David Pipes for those that are interested!

Islam passes the democratic test … just

Is Islam incompatible with democracy?

Paul Bibby and Alex Tibbitts
April 16, 2008

IT was a debate over one of the most vexed issues of our times – one that pitted not only ideas and opinions against each other, but entire civilisations.

In front of a packed audience of 1200 passionate souls, a panel of experts on politics and Islam opened the Intelligence2 debate series by ripping into the proposition that Islam is incompatible with democracy.

The security guards and flyer-wielding campaigners at the doors gave some indication of the fraught nature of the subject matter from the outset. And those on stage did not disappoint, taking the discussion from the soaring heights of Islam’s philosophical antecedents to the cold, hard reality of suppression under Sharia law.

Having told another Sydney audience earlier this week that Islam would dominate Europe, the director of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, immediately provided a cutting criticism of the world’s second largest religion.

“Islam is undemocratic in spirit,” he said. “It takes a lot of learning to have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association. These are things that are learnt over a period of time and it is that which the West has achieved and which Islam is a long way from learning.

“Yes, there are Muslim states which are democratic in form, but true democracy is yet to take root. The great obstacle to this change is the fact that in the Middle East the social system is fundamentally tribal and that obstructs the development of the key requisites of democracy.”

The rebuttal from the Pakistan-born director of the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Muslim States and Societies, Samina Yasmeen, was a cool cloth to Pipes’s fire.

“You will see what you want to see and if you want to identify Islam as incompatible I have no doubt that you will continue seeing that,” she said.

“How is it, though, that Muslims in non-Muslim societies are able to get on so well when Islam is incompatible? I would argue that Muslim majority states do show a lot of tolerance, not only of the Muslim community, but also of the non-Muslim community.”

Amina Rasul, a human rights activist and director of the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy, followed the theme. “What the West should not do is criticise states which are not democratic while supporting despots who suppress human rights because it is in their economic benefit,” Rasul said.

“There are 800 million Muslims living happily and successfully in democratic nations – why is it that the extremes are always focused on?”

The Herald columnist Paul Sheehan brought the question into stark relief by comparing a trip to Mecca with a trip to Rome.

“When you visit the Vatican, one thing that is for certain is that you will be allowed in,” Sheehan said. “When you visit Saudi Arabia the checks at the airport and for those travelling into Mecca are not just for security reasons, they are to prevent non-Muslims from coming in.”

Finally the statements were brought back to first principles by Waleed Aly, the young lawyer, writer and spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria.

“My opponents have defined terms such as Islam and Sharia law to suit their arguments and in so doing have ignored the myriad interpretations of these terms.”

In the end, the audience had the final call and it delivered a victory to hope – but only just. A poll conducted as the audience entered found 38 per cent for the affirmative, 42 per cent for the negative and the remaining 20 per cent undecided. In the tradition of many a democratic poll, the numbers had tightened by the end of the night – with the proposition going down by a narrow margin of 52 to 48 per cent.

“The response to this debate has been phenomenal and I’ve been trying to find an explanation for this overwhelming response,” said Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre. “For the past decade people have not really engaged with these issues. People have formed hasty judgments and not engaged with the details. They’ve been more focused on their own concerns in their community and in their backyard. But there has been a change in mood in Australia.”

Indeed, it could have been a hostile affair, but there were no howls from the audience. Sheehan referred to threats against Pipes before the event and the need for security to protect him. As it turned out, the guards had little to do.

Not even Michael Darby could get a reaction in the foyer afterwards as he handed out pamphlets on “how you can ensure Australia remains a Christian nation”. Darby said: “I may have handed out some to Muslim people but I can’t tell who is Muslim. I can say ladies with scarves did not rush me.”

The IQ2 debate series is a partnership between the St James Ethics Centre, The Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC and the City of Sydney.

April 16th, 2008, 1:31 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Enlightened,

Thanks for reporting! Did you attend? How did you vote? 😉

April 16th, 2008, 1:36 am

 

Enlightened said:

QN:

It wasn’t possible for me to go to the debate last night, I spoke to someone who did this morning, and they tell me that it was very civilized , every speaker got a fair go (australian colloquialism ), no one hounded Pipes, and every speaker spoke without being heckled.

Australians are fairly moderate in their views, had this debate being held in the states, I think that the audience would have voted affirmative in the high 60’s mid 70’s.

To me the topic was a no brainer, anyone with even a fundamental understanding of Islam would have voted the affirmative down, there is a sura in the Quran alluding to the election of leaders and so forth , but the battle for democracy within Islam and Islamic states will be a long battle. The only hope for true democratization I believe will be led by those Muslims living in the West, but this will be a long battle I dont think i will see it in my lifetime, but perhaps our children will see it.

On another note, there is a growing sentiment within the current Labour government to debate in the parliament the plight of the Palestinians in a non partisan way, a topic that that has been strictly taboo in Australia for a long time because of the un stinting loyalty of Australia towards Israel. This should be interesting when it comes up in the next six months. (If it doesn’t get drowned first by some mad settler woman on a vicious campaign LOL)

Ps:

Hows your thesis going?

April 16th, 2008, 2:03 am

 

norman said:

I think that President Assad is popular for a simple reason , he is popular with me and my mother because he believe in Arab Nationalism and the Arab public feels that they have a defender in Bashar Assad .

April 16th, 2008, 2:17 am

 

ugarit said:

Let’s hope that this can somewhat blunt Israel’s next aggression

“Today Syria is getting the most modern air defense system Pantsyr-S1.

Today the Syrian delegation has arrived to Tula, where the system is produced, to take its order. The Pantsyr-S1 is self-propelled short-range missile air defense system.

United Arab Emirates funded the development of the system and were the first to make an order. At the moment all the contracts are for the sale of 64 Pantsyr units for about USD 2,5 billion, the sum can reach soon USD 5 billion.
Syria was reported earlier to have made the order for 36 units, UAE -50 units, Alger-38 units. The Russian armed forces will get the first Pantsyr –S1 in 2009, two more in 2009.” — http://www.russia-ic.com/news/show/6174/

April 16th, 2008, 2:45 am

 

ugarit said:

What’s silly about the concept that Islam is not compatible with democracy, is that no monotheistic religion is really compatible with democracy. Only after the Church had lost control in Europe did modern liberal democracies begin. Monotheistic religions are about complete control of the masses and that’s incompatible with the tenants of liberal democracy.

April 16th, 2008, 4:21 am

 

ugarit said:

Norman said: “I think that President Assad is popular for a simple reason , he is popular with me and my mother because he believe in Arab Nationalism and the Arab public feels that they have a defender in Bashar Assad”

and that’s one of the reasons he’s demonized by the US/Israel because he’s not a puppet like the leaders of Egypt/Jordan/KSA.

April 16th, 2008, 4:24 am

 

Shai said:

Ugarit,

I agree with you about religions normally being incompatible with democracy, hence the term and concept of “separation of church and state”. But surely in the Muslim world, there will need to be some incorporation of religion as one of the major players in the drive for democracy, no? Can democracy happen in the Middle East, without the support of the religious (at least in some countries here, it plays a major part, such as KSA, Iran, etc.)?

As for your second comment, how do you suppose Syria can/should better market itself, so that it will be tougher to demonize her or her leader? I think Syria’s “PR” is seriously lacking, and much better job can be done. Don’t you think so?

April 16th, 2008, 4:33 am

 

ugarit said:

Shai:

Islam will play a major role in any fair election, were it to take place. People must freely try political variations until they are satisfied with the outcome. A non-liberal democracy could be a possible outcome, as in Iran, but it may evolve to a more liberal model, but liberal as defined by the locals and not some Westerner.

I’m afraid PR is not going to help Syria when you’ve got a superpower demonizing it. It’s simply not possible, however, what is more possible is for Syria to take the high road, be proud, honorable, be calm and be focused and be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

On a side note:
Syria should just pull out of the Arab League until the Arab League acts in the interests of the Arabs.

April 16th, 2008, 4:39 am

 

Shai said:

Ugarit,

While I do understand the extreme frustration Syrians must feel as they watch American and European channels on satellite TV, seeing how they are being demonized, I’m not sure that the “PR battle” is lost. True, Arabic media also hasn’t exactly helped Syria as of recent, but I think Bashar has proven his wisdom and patience throughout the past 8 years, and could very likely “sell himself and/or Syria” better than George W. Bush can his own country. Bashar is smarter, more sophisticated, and can very well verbalize his rationale for doing various “Western-opposed” things, such as supporting HA/Hamas/Iran. With the exception of a few interviews with Diane Sawyer and the like, in Damascus, I haven’t seen much more. I believe Syria can and should indeed explore marketing campaigns to change public opinion in the West. For me, personally as an Israeli, I would like to see the same towards Israelis. I believe Bashar should consider talking directly to the Israeli public (not its leaders), and if need be, more than once. We don’t hear him here, and we should.

Additional note: Nasrallah, for instance, is doing a superb job talking to the Israeli public. We hear him, and the public is developing real respect for him, and a belief that he means what he says, and says what he means. Bashar can do as good a job, if not better. I’m sorry I keep talking about what Syria should do, and not what Israel should (as so many here are angry at me for). If I thought there was a chance in the world that our current leadership could do something positive, I would immediately call for it. But they are so impotent, that nothing good should be expected… unfortunately.

April 16th, 2008, 4:52 am

 

idaf said:

QN said:
“Anyway, it’s not important. It’s just a popularity contest”

But ya QN, elections (a cornerstone of democracy) are all about popularity, aren’t they? If Syrians can vote openly now, Bashar would win this easily if we take this poll as representative of Syrian opinion too. Personally I think Bashar enjoys even more popularity inside Syria compared to the rest of the Arab world. The average Arab might like Bashar for his stands regarding Israel, Iraq, and the US, but the average Syrian also appreciates the economic reform and the general sense of “improvements” in his or her daily life. I can assure you, that the reforms are very much appreciated inside Syria despite them being very limited and slow. This stems from the fact that the average Syrian very much appreciates such reforms being made despite the fact that unbearable economic, military and political pressures are mounting on his country. In addition, the fact that such reforms are coupled with national stands and are not a “price” in return of sacrificing national interests to external powers (such as the case of Jordan, Egypt, etc.) pushes the popularity of the Syrian leadership through the roof.

Popularity is very important in a democracy. Such polls and such results might help the Syrian regime democratize moderately as it might view democracy less of a threat to its survival (unlike the case of Egypt, Saudi, Jordan and co.)

The fact that the Syrian leadership managed to draw its legitimacy from local popular support is a great first step to the 7-15 democracy road map that Alex suggested. On the other hand, as long as Egyptian, Saudi, Jordanian, Lebanese and other Arab leaderships draw their legitimacy from external support from an unpopular super power, any step towards democracy would be doomed to failure as those regimes would view such a step as a definite suicide.

The more such positive poll results on Syria’s policies and Bashar’s popularity are made available, the easier for the reformists in the Syrian regime to argue for more freedoms.

Ya Alex, 🙂

I posted a comment yesterday (before the one above) and sent you an email yesterday, but it is still caught in the spam filter! Help!

April 16th, 2008, 6:16 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

The role of religions used in politics around the world has been growing simply because of the present lack of forceful ideologies, which would gather people. After the fall of communism (when communism destroyed it self, not by the USA) there is basically no international strong ideology left. Democracy in it self is no ideology. Free trade even less.

Using religion is probably the easiest way of establishing fast a strong political movement. It is easy, the party’s ideological foundation is in the “holy books”, then is only needed rhetoric and propaganda to gather the people. When religion is used in politics it also needs a more or less defined enemy = the people who believe to other religions, corrupt secular leaders, abortion, stem cell research, Darwinism etc.

The claim is Islam compatible or not with democracy is rather lunatic. When any religion is used in politics it always creates a movement which is interested, besides getting power, in morality and uses this their own morality as a weapon against others. We can see this also in the US Christian (extreme) movements and Jewish religious parties behaviour. They are not interested in democracy.

Sad that USA and Israel are more afraid of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, than about Islam. 🙂

April 16th, 2008, 6:22 am

 

Shai said:

Simo,

Combine religion with poverty, unemployment, and corruption, and you’ve got a winning ticket to just about anyone starting a movement, or a party. In Israel, Shas has known how to take advantage of the other parties’ reluctance to tackle these tough issues in our poorest towns and cities. Much like Hamas, they too speak of morality, provide alternative hope, food on the table, education, etc. Two decades ago, no one knew who they were. Today, almost no government can exist without them. Their political blackmail power is immense. Israelis should neither fear Arab nationalism, Arab socialism, nor Islam. They should first fear their own movements, and the direction they’re heading in. But, as always, most people tend not to use that cognitive space between their ears more than the absolute minimum, and certainly do not seem interested or capable of considering historical perspective.

April 16th, 2008, 6:50 am

 

Alex said:

IDAF,

Sorry I did not notice that email .. I had an especially busy day today.

I released you r comment and here it is again:

Here’s an additional news round up..

Reform: It seems that the Syrian government is offering carrots and sticks simultaneously to curb on public sector corruption. A new law has been issued that increases the punishment for public embezzlement and bribery regardless of the amount of money stolen. At the same time the government is introducing a package of incentives and salary adjustments to public sector employees as well as the private sector, according to Dr. Dardari. Meanwhile, the Baath party is drafting a public sector reform law.

Regional Politics: This might be the first fruit of the Arab summit in Damascus.. Mauritania will “review” its relationship with Israel

Military: Syria is receiving a new Russian Pantsyr air defense system, in preparation for “a war that Israel will launch in May”!

EconomyOn the economic front, Turkey has just replaced Saudi Arabia as the top trading partner with Syria. More on the economic reform in Syria.. this article by Gaith Armanazi sums up the atmosphere in the Syrian street on economic reform:

The Syrian Reform Programme: external & internal dynamics and constraints

By Ghayth N Armanazi

The Syrian Reform, by most accounts, is no longer seen as an exercise in cosmetic tinkering with the aim of sustaining a system, while pretending to change it. A system that needs to be kept, so the detractors of the reform say, in its essential mould to ensure the survivability of those who at the helm of that system, and who enjoy the fruits of their monopoly power.

The evidence of the last seven or eight years does point to a serious attempt at overhauling the system; at minimum political and social cost .At the start of the reform, it has to be said, the pace of change was painfully slow- giving ammunition to the ready-made accusations that no real change is envisaged, and that the old corrupt, inefficient and closed economic environment (not to mention the political one) remains immovable and unshakeable.

In the last few years, however, there has been a visible burst of energy injected into the change agenda, to the extent that it is no longer credible to dismiss the whole process as meaningless, even if it remains difficult for those in opposition to the regime to concur with such an assessment. The visitor to Damascus today is bound to notice the signs of change: in the banks that are opening up, in the stylish shops and boutiques, in the cafes and restaurants, in the burgeoning consumerism and fashionable lifestyles. All that may be seen by many as the ‘ugly’ face of creeping capitalism, touching the lives only of the privileged classes, and covering up the misery of the underclasses that lay below and are scarcely able to benefit from the economic liberalisation process underway.

These manifestations, however regrettable, of conspicuous consumption and indulgence in the new market economy are almost unavoidable by-products of the change from a socialist, planned economy, to a freer one .We saw it in Eastern Europe, we are seeing it today in China, and yes, we are seeing it in Syria. It is tangible proof of change although it is the least socially and morally acceptable aspect of that change, when set against the real challenges of transforming the lives of the whole as opposed to the few.

Even if one admits that the Syrian economy , at the current pace, effective application, and the spread of the reform process, falls far short of the ideal in ensuring a level playing field, transparency and the necessary legal framework, and also still leaves in the hands of a comparatively small circle of well-connected business elites the levers of economic and commercial patronage , there is flowing through the fabric of Syrian society an unquestionable current of expectation , and a realisation that a new economic era, with all its faults is at hand. The very economic overlords who a few years ago would have sought umbrage in maintaining the old protective and closed system, seeing in it a preservation of their interests, now realise that that these very same interests are best served by a liberalisation that allows them access to the wider, globalised, world, and especially to the golden goose of inward investment from a market –chasing cash-rich Gulf. Ironically, these powerful business interests, who once owed their position to the ‘old’ system of politically-driven economic privilege, are the engines of current change, pitting them against the ideologues and apparatchiks, their erstwhile allies, who are now seen as obstacles to their new ambitions as big players in an emerging market economy.

Still, this parting of the ways between the emerging new liberal-minded and market-oriented business class , and the doctrinal custodians of the interests of ‘the masses’ is being subtly and very cautiously navigated by both sides of the socio-economic divide. In effect neither camp –that of the modernisers on the one hand and the resolute defenders of the state-run economy on the other- can afford to jettison the other entirely. The former still needs the legitimacy of its ‘roots’ to maintain the political underpinnings of its economic muscle. The latter while clinging to the ‘sacred gains’ of the socialist yesteryear, would rather the more pliant , politically and socially sensitive proponents of capitalism ‘lite’ , rather than the spectre of the unfettered rampaging model , and the resultant cost to what remains of their economic and social safety nets , the inheritance of decades of positive state intervention in their favour.

This gentle tug-of-war has meant that the Syrian reform agenda remains in the grip of a transitory and amorphous dynamic. This is best exemplified by the long dithering over how and when to end or even substantially reduce the subsidy on fuel which by any strict economic measure is an unsustainable drain on the country’s treasury. The issue has been on the agenda of the reform process for some time, but remains in limbo over anxieties about the looming socio-political consequences of such a break with a long-established public benefit, affecting the livelihood of millions belonging to the most vulnerable sectors of society.

But, of course, the process of Syrian reform is not simply governed by internal factors and the pressures of competing vested interests within the confines of the state economy. Any knowledge and appreciation of Syria’s geo-economic and geo-political position will lead to awareness of how dependent it is on the ‘outside’ to advance its economic prospects. This is especially so in the light of dwindling oil revenues, a source of income that was the mainstay in the eighties and nineties for keeping at bay the ‘hard’ choices of economic change. There has never been a period in recent Syrian history that has potentially exposed the economy more to the constraints of a globalised and regionalised module; one that allows little room for maintaining a country-centric distinct approach to questions of economic philosophy or management.

Yet, and despite this compelling impetus for the integration of Syria into the global economic culture, providing ,as it inevitably does, a valuable propellant for the agents of reform within the country, it seems that that very ‘outside’ is in objective alliance with the opponents of reform. With little regard for the ultimate consequences , it is trying to impose a technological and economic siege on the country under the banner of enforcing ‘accountability’ and imposing ‘regime behaviour change’ and ,if need be, even ‘regime change’. I am referring, of course, to the American-led campaign to isolate and coerce Syria, using the reality of current and the threat of future mounting sanctions as the instrument for exacting political and strategic concessions out of a regime that sits astride its nexus of interests in the Middle East: a nexus that comprises Lebanon and Israel on one flank, and Iraq stretching to Iran on the other.

Syrian spokesmen try to belittle the effects of the sanctions and continue to insist that the reform process will not be affected by them. Yet the evidence is there to be seen in many aspects of economic life. In the domain of IT development, in the field of aviation, and in hindering the smooth operation of the developing banking and insurance sectors, among other areas of essential activity, the heavy hand of U.S. foreign policy clumsiness is apparent.

Instead of seeing in the Syrian reform programme an opportunity that encourages the sort of socio-economic change that , if Washington is to be believed, it advocates because ‘freer ‘ and more liberalised economies nurture moves away from extremism and towards more stable and secure societies, it is pursuing policies that seem intent on having the opposite effect. Nothing suits the opponents of reform better than the claim that their country is caught in a tightening stranglehold, and that retrenchment, rather than ‘opening up’ is the only option available.

Syria has shown signs over the years that it will not be deterred or deflected off its chosen course through the coarse use of pressure and intimidation. An example of how that pressure was recently applied was presented very recently in the context of the holding at the end of March of the Arab summit conference in Damascus. Frantically, Washington lobbied almost every Arab leader in sight to get them to boycott the event. It was a mark of the Bush Administration’s desperation that Condoleezza Rice chose to visit the area at the same time as the Conference was convening, scheduling appointments in order to pre-empt the attendance of some leaders, and making urgent phone calls to others even as they were boarding their planes to fly to Damascus!

A handful of important Arab leaders did not, of course, attend, but many others defied the pressures and did participate. The overall picture that emerged was of a successful summit, against many of the expectations of those who looked to the event as an occasion to isolate and humiliate Syria. In fact the country came through the intense campaign of pressure with much credit for its handling of the event; for the good organisation, for the patient and calm way it chaired the debates, and especially for the opening speech delivered by President Bashar Assad, which struck what many observers considered the right conciliatory note. The summit may now provide the opportunity for advancing inter-Arab entente, with Syria necessarily taking a leading role by virtue of its year-long Presidency of the Summit. A likely result of the Summit is that more and more countries will become aware of the senselessness and impracticability of policies that seek to isolate Syria.

It is, of course, too much to hope that the same sanity will prevail in the minds of Washington’s leaders. Unfortunately, we are probably destined to suffer the consequences of their blind approach to international politics, and especially their dangerous ham-fisted intervention in the affairs of the Middle East for at least until the change of leadership in the New Year.

Yes, Washington still has teeth, in the economic, technological and financial fields that it can deploy in pursuance of a remorseless and ill-judged vendetta against Syria. Such an approach, as we have seen over and over again, will not result in any political or strategic gains for American policy-makers.

It will not serve American long-term interests in three ways:

a)The political and geo-strategic direction of Syria will not be affected –indeed it may reinforce the trends that Washington finds so objectionable in a manner reminiscent of self-fulfilling prophecies

b)While not directly affecting the political class in Syria, the U.S. sponsored sanctions policy will naturally impact negatively on the economic outlook facing the country, and damage the prospects for an emerging, liberalised economy, the fallout from which –as any clear-headed American analyst would surely surmise- would be in the long-term interests of normalising relations with state and society in Syria.

c)It will militate, contextually and practically, against a sober assessment of the benefits of working with Syria to resolve the pressing issues of the region, namely a comprehensive resolution to the Arab Israeli conflict, starting with a revival of the Syrian-Israeli peace track, and entering into constructive engagement relating to the future of Iraq and the crisis in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the period of transition through which the Syrian reform programme is steadily moving is not likely to be a short one. partly because of the external reasons just explained, and partly because the internal debate over the extent and depths of those reforms continues amid few signs that some of the more difficult and drastic structural transformations (e.g. the thorny question of privatisation) are about to incorporated into the reform agenda.

What is patently obvious, however, is that the reforms in one shape or another are irreversible and have taken root despite the obstacles and the doubters. We may still be in a period of transition , but there is no doubting the authenticity and the significance of the process underway, nor of the seriousness of its impact on a society that has awakened from decades of semi-hermetic ‘cocooning’ to find itself adrift in a new economic and social world where new, and sometimes harsh rules apply .

* Remarks at UNIVERSITY OF ST. ANDREWS, CONFERENCE ON ECONOMIC TRANSITION IN SYRIACENTRE FOR SYRIAN STUDIES, 11-12 April 2008.

April 16th, 2008, 7:35 am

 

wizart said:

Thanks Enlightened for sharing that nice conference perspective.

I’m pretty much of the opinion of what Ugarit said recently:

“What’s silly about the concept that Islam is not compatible with democracy, is that no monotheistic religion is really compatible with democracy. Only after the Church had lost control in Europe did modern liberal democracies begin. Monotheistic religions are about complete control of the masses and that’s incompatible with the tenants of liberal democracy.”

Thanks Alex for your fair and diplomatic moderating efforts which have already given a better opportunity for more voices to emerge and thanks to QN for inviting Qifette to join our beauty contest 🙂

April 16th, 2008, 7:41 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

Shai religion is not only used to gather poor, unemployed people. “You” can use it also to rally other “classes”. “You” on only need a suitable enemy for that “moral” movement. Fear of not own religion immigrants, terrorists (representing a different religion naturally) etc.

Religion is used undercover especially in Israel and USA. After 911 in USA this we (Christians, Jews) against them (Muslims) is clearly used by the regime. Bush uses constantly religious terms and brings on every opportunity up this religious “juxtaposition” even he doesn’t say it completely clearly.

Israel in self is created on religious basis. Your whole tribe, nation what ever is solely defined by religion. From which follows that Israel is a based on religion. So every party in Israel which supports the idea of a Jewish nation and special rights for Jews uses religion in politics.

What comes to Palestinians. After PLO’s failure of course the religion is the only political foundation Palestinians can build on. How could in the present situation Palestinians form popular parties based on secular social democracy (labour party), conservative party etc? Also because their enemy is clearly showing their religion, they also have to “fortify” around their religion. It is fair to say that Israel has created Hamas and forced Hamas to choose its religious based strategy. Israel has created this fight between Judaism and Islam by not merging Palestinians to Israeli population and by creating a religious nation. If Israel would be a normal modern secular state one could say that the claim of the clash between religions is not true.

Hizbollah on the other hand is equivalent to North Ireland’s situation, where the poorer Catholics did / do fight a traditional class war against the richer Protestants. Both Hizbollah and North Ireland’s Catholics (IRA) use religion as a political connective factor to improve their social status and power position in the country.

April 16th, 2008, 8:06 am

 

Shami said:

I dont think that in the arab world bashar is more popular than ben laden or saddam ,anyway…history has its logic ,baath,family regime and the statues of asad will not remain for ever and nobody other than this people will break down these statues(no need american tanks here) and when it will happen IDAF ,people like you will be in the first lines in shouting anti bashar slogans.

Salam

April 16th, 2008, 8:17 am

 

ausamaa said:

And shouldn’t we all be worried about Religion becoming really dangerouse when Belivers such as the President of the USA starts believing and saying in public that GOD speaks to him. Personally! (what the heck did HE tell Bush exactly???).

Those guys make GOD look very particular indeed; he is speaking to certain people but at the same time it seems. Bush, OBL, King Abdullah for sure, and few similar others….

It seems HE does a better job when he talks to the masses. It can be incorporated at least.

April 16th, 2008, 8:22 am

 

Shai said:

Simo, I agree with you. But although Israel was indeed founded on the basis of serving a nation for the Jewish people, its ideology was anything but religious. In fact, our founding fathers probably hated religion more than our leaders today, and only enabled them political representation out of the wish to form a democracy. We’ve often used the saying “Ben-Gurion would be turning in his grave if he saw how strong the religious parties have gotten”. There was never an intention to make Israel a religious state. The treatment non-Jews are getting in Israel does not stem from religion, it stems from ignorance, bigotry, racism, and irrational fear. Not because Arab-Israelis are Christian or Muslim.

April 16th, 2008, 8:22 am

 

wizart said:

Excellent Insight there Simo!

It seems to me from that perspective that Syria is on a modern secular path since the government is already secular and much more tolerant to all religions and classes than Israel seems capable of ever becoming.

That’s a lesson I wish some Israelis can take home for a happy passover 🙂

April 16th, 2008, 8:24 am

 

Shai said:

Thank you Wizart. But unfortunately, the Passover story talks about the Jews running away from enslavement under Pharoh of Egypt… so, I don’t know about religious tolerance lessons this week… 🙂

April 16th, 2008, 8:28 am

 

wizart said:

I am not going to address you Shai because I’m still afraid you might feel “hurt” if I get any more specific so let’s just leave it there 🙂

April 16th, 2008, 8:31 am

 

Shai said:

Well, you did address me. And I’m starting to feel hurt again… 🙂 But I’ll respect your request. Trust me, not easy for me either.

April 16th, 2008, 8:34 am

 

wizart said:

Everytime somebody says trust me, I run away. I hope you understand 🙂

(Ping!)

April 16th, 2008, 8:37 am

 

offended said:

This is quite weird… the ‘edit’ tool was active beside wizart’s comment and it was me who added the ping..

sorry Wizart, was just a little illustration for Alex!

And btw, I am no hacker. I just think it’s a glitch in the website..that’s all…

April 16th, 2008, 9:02 am

 

Shai said:

I won’t stop you… 🙂

April 16th, 2008, 9:05 am

 

offended said:

Shai, I scanned the local newspapers here in the UAE this morning, no reference to the Saudi-Iranian defense pact. However, my friend Idaf is more knowledgable than me with regards to the Iranian-GCC (gulf cooperative council) relations. I hope he’d chime in on the matter…

April 16th, 2008, 9:05 am

 

Shai said:

Offended, Keef Halek? I heard it on radio yesterday, quoting the Al-Safir paper in Lebanon. I checked their website, but it doesn’t have an English version… I’m sure it’ll pop up sooner or later, especially if indeed such a delegation will visit Tehran.

April 16th, 2008, 9:13 am

 

Shai said:

Alex,

We must remedy this anti-zionist conspiracy immediately! 🙂 I want these glitches also when I’m posting!

April 16th, 2008, 9:20 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

Of course Shai Israel is based on religion. Jews are simply followers of Judaism. There is no reason to hide that fact. Genetically you and Lieberman are probably as close as you and me. The only thing that binds you and Lieberman together is the Jewish religious tribal tradition.

It is absurd when a person says that I am an atheistic Jew. An atheist is an atheist. An atheistic Finn is still a Finn but he is not an atheistic Lutheran.

Naturally the original Zionists were secular in their many of their writings and how they thought they organize the country (kibbutz etc), no doubt about that. But the so were the Christian social democrats in Sweden and Finland. But there is a clear difference between those worker Zionists and Nordic social democrats. Worker Zionist ideological and fundamental arguments basis were your holy texts and religion. It was no social political movement in common sense. If it had you would have chosen your country elsewhere or anywhere. Of course all Zionists, from communists to conservatives, used religion in their politics. And used much of it.

Naturally in the present situation where the Jewish state is a reality with its Jews favouring legislation and system, it is in your interests to erase the religion (Judaism) from the worlds eyes so much as possible. But that “secular image” is only political theatre and public relations efforts.

A perfect example how religion is indirectly used in Israeli politic.

Report: Netanyahu says 9/11 terror attacks good for Israel

“We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” Ma’ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events “swung American public opinion in our favor.”

Bibi did not say directly that it benefited us Jews in our war against the Muslim Nations and Muslim Palestinians. But that he did mean.

April 16th, 2008, 9:39 am

 

Shai said:

Simo,

I do agree with you that Israel is a Jewish state, and in that sense it does indeed use religion in politics, especially when doing public relations against a one-state solution (i.e. it brings up the fact that it is a Jewish state). I’m not suggesting that there is separation between church (synagogue) and state in Israel. Unfortunately, there’s way too much mixture of religion in our internal politics as well. But to suggest that religion runs the country is incorrect. The religious in this country are still a minority, and the largest parties still see themselves as secular parties. The fundamental arguments you speak of, which use the word “Jewish”, are used by the same secular parties merely as political PR, vis-a-vis potential voters (or to silence opposition) which may be religious. For example, when Ehud Barak says that Israel must have a Jewish majority, he is trying to both warn secular Israelis (who don’t know how many books the bible has, nor what a synagogue even looks like on the inside) against a one-state solution, and at the same time try to win over some religious voters, showing them that he hasn’t forgotten the “religious” aspects. But again, to suggest that Labour’s, Likud’s, or Kadima’s platforms and policies are religiously-based is not correct. Obviously, the minute one adopts a term like “The Jewish state”, it seems clear that he is basing all his policies on Judaism. But in reality, it just isn’t so. The common denominator amongst all the parties (except for the Arab parties) is that Israel should remain mostly Jewish, hence the two-state solution. But what character Israel should have, or how it should be run, is viewed in a completely different way between religious and secular parties.

April 16th, 2008, 10:24 am

 

Shai said:

Simo, one last point: Many people do not understand that for an Israeli to say “I’m Jewish” is not the same as for a European or American to say “I’m Christian”. To us secular Jews, Judaism is much more about historical and cultural identity, than it is about religion. That is, if a French person identifying himself as a Christian is quite likely a practicing Christian (praying, going to church), an Israeli identifying himself as a Jew may not know any of the prayers, nor have ever set foot in a synagogue, or fasted on Yom Kipur. In fact, he may not even believe in God. Yet he may see himself as a Jew merely in the sense of belonging to the 13 million Jewish people today, who share a common history, and not much more than that.

April 16th, 2008, 10:35 am

 

T said:

If a state defines itself with religious idealogy, The Jewish State or The Islamic State, it is fair to examine what those idealogies entail? Just as The Communist State, Russia, was examined for its idealogy. If I dont like what I find in that examination- does that make me anti-muslim, anti-jewish, anti-communist? And so what?

All things being equal, why is it acceptable to be anti-communist, but not anti-jew or anti-islam? Because all things are not equal? Why? Because “not all” of the persons believing in those three idealogies are bad. But if there are items in the foundation itself- the idealogy- why can’t we dislike it?

Please see following fatwah and ‘other’ poll-

All of the Palestinians must be killed; men, women, infants, and even their beasts.” This was the religious opinion issued one week ago by Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, director of the Tsomet Institute, a long-established religious institute attended by students and soldiers in the Israeli settlements of the West Bank. In an article published by numerous religious Israeli newspapers two weeks ago and run by the liberal Haaretz on 26 March, Rosen asserted that there is evidence in the Torah to justify this stand. Rosen, an authority able to issue religious opinions for Jews, wrote that Palestinians are like the nation of Amalekites that attacked the Israelite tribes on their way to Jerusalem after they had fled from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. He wrote that the Lord sent down in the Torah a ruling that allowed the Jews to kill the Amalekites, and that this ruling is known in Jewish jurisprudence.

from: Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) April 2008
“Israeli society is reaching new heights of racism,” said Sami Michael, one of the country’s most celebrated equality advocates and president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). A growing body of research indicates that racist sentiments are not the preserve of the right-wing fringe but increasingly prevalent across Israeli Jewish society.

One particularly disturbing indicator is that the chant “Death to the Arabs” is voiced not just by mobs of right-wingers angered by this or that Palestinian attack. Rather, “in the late 1990s and onwards,” writes Amir Ben-Porat, a professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Ben Gurion University, “‘Death to the Arabs’ became a common chant in almost every football [soccer] stadium in Israel.” Ben-Porat, who authored a study on the use of the chant, says that because of the importance of soccer in Israeli society and its high profile in the media, “This chant is heard far beyond the stadium.”

In its 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, the Israel Democracy Institute found that 87 percent of all Israeli citizens rated Jewish-Arab relations in the country as being “poor” or “very poor.”In addition,
78 percent of Israeli Jews opposed having Arab parties or ministers join Israel’s government.

Just 56 percent of Israeli Jews support full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and an identical number agreed that “Arabs cannot attain the Jews’ level of cultural development.”

75 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement that “Arabs are inclined to violent behavior” (as compared with 54 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel who had an equivalent view of Israeli Jews).

43 percent of Israeli Jews agreed that “Arabs are not intelligent” and 55 percent agreed that “the government should encourage Arab emigration from the country.”

A recent Haifa University survey found that half of Israeli Jews object to Arabs living in their neighborhoods (56 percent of Arabs supported residential integration with Jews).33 Similarly, ACRI reported that 75 percent of Israeli Jews surveyed said they would not agree to live in the same building as Arabs. The same survey found that more than half of Israeli Jews felt that Arabs and Jews should have separate recreational facilities.

There are two consistent trends among all these surveys: both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews hold some prejudices towards each other, but on almost every measure, Israeli Jewish views of Arabs are more negative and extreme than Arab views of Jews; second, the negative trends have risen markedly in recent years as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has intensified. Between 2005 and 2006, there was a 26 percent rise in racist incidents targeting Arabs, and the number of Israeli Jews reporting they felt “hatred” towards Arabs doubled to 30 percent.

While the conflict is undoubtedly the overarching context for these sentiments, an important contributing factor may be the consistently dehumanizing and denigrating stereotypes of Arabs that have for decades been presented to Israeli Jewish schoolchildren in their textbooks and media.

April 16th, 2008, 12:04 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Idaf,

I’m sorry but I do think that you’re putting the cart before the horse. Actually, you’re putting the cart before a huge team of horses.

You say:

Popularity is very important in a democracy. Such polls and such results might help the Syrian regime democratize moderately as it might view democracy less of a threat to its survival (unlike the case of Egypt, Saudi, Jordan and co.)

So what happens if/when Bashar’s popularity wanes as it has in the past? End of democracy plans?

I can understand why Bashar is popular in Syria and with the average man on the street. It is because he talks resistance and supports Hizbullah and Hamas, all the while inching glacially towards reforms. Resistance against Israel and the U.S. is like a magic potion in the Middle East. If you can fashion yourself as a great hero battling the West, then you can count on your popularity to go through the roof. It doesn’t take much more than that. The social, economic, political, and human rights conditions are so abysmal in our region that people have basically forgotten that they should be the REAL standards of popularity. Such things don’t even make it onto the list. Instead, popularity is measurable according to a single standard: how big a game do you talk about resistance to the west?

I can understand this sentiment coming from people living under a dictatorship. What I find unfathomable is that Syrians abroad are drinking the Koolaid too. How does it make sense to you, with all of your knowledge and experience, to stand on the sidelines and clap for Bashar because he won a popularity contest judged according to these criteria? How can you possibly convince yourself that this “popularity” translates into anything approximating a democratic referendum on his record? In a democracy, Idaf, people get to run against each other. Other political parties are allowed to function and operate. People are allowed to criticize the regime. With a few other names on the ticket and the freedom to choose anybody to lead the nation in a different direction, do you still think that Bashar would still be the most popular man in Syria? I imagine not.

My point is not to trash Bashar, and I know that you are merely saying that popularity may be an incentive for the regime to introduce democratic reforms. However, all too often on this blog I feel that you guys are drinking too much of the resistance Koolaid. The “popular sources of support” upon which Bashar draws his legitimacy are sources that have been severely curtailed and determined by the regime. Just as Bush and the neo-cons effectively re-defined American patriotism after 9/11 as “fighting terrorists” and “with us or against us” and swindled the American people into buying into this notion of patriotism (hence Bush’s high approval ratings), the same goes for Bashar and Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad. They’re playing the same game.

But you guys don’t have to play it too.

April 16th, 2008, 1:38 pm

 

T said:

Bondo,

My point is equality vs double standards. After 911, US gov and media demanded “why dont more of the billions of Muslims around the world come out and condemn these acts and fatwahs issued by extremist Muslims?” But I have NEVER heard a similar call when a jewish extremist issues a fatwah like the rabbi above. “Why don’t jews areound the world come out and condemn this hate-speech?”

Have you ever heard thisdemand applied to the other side?

April 16th, 2008, 1:56 pm

 

wizart said:

QN,

Resistance is not free. It calls for sacrifices. I don’t think you can put a price on stability, internal security and honor. Certainly a Lebanese should know better having gone through all recent wars, etc.

Your last sentence reminds me of AIG’s attitude and dissatisfaction which might indicate you might have drunk some koolaid yourself? 🙂

Please remind me of the major lessons of the 15 year Lebanese civil war and what specifically do you think Syria should do to perform better overall over the next 15 years considering your own experience with Lebanon and what you might have heard from your family insights over the years. Perhaps we can benefit?
—————————————————————–

April 16th, 2008, 2:14 pm

 

Sol said:

For one thing Bondo, british jews, american jews, syrian jews, russian/soviet jews, brazilian jews, ethiopian jews, cuban jews, south african jews will be sitting down in three days time at the Passover Seder, like they have been doing for two thousand years, and re-telling the story of their slavery in Egypt and freedom. The Seder will end as it always ends with ” Next Year in Jerusalem”.

More importantly what are Bondo’s motives in defining what is Jewish history, culture and civilization?

April 16th, 2008, 2:39 pm

 

wizart said:

Sol,

He’s probably saying they never had a common history, culture and civilization and that’s what they wanted to do by creating a state in 1948. It’s possible they could have remained assimilated and blended with other cultures and civilizations where they have always been to until hell broke lose when tragedy struck with world war 2, etc.

April 16th, 2008, 2:53 pm

 

Sol said:

Unfortunately anti-Semitism did not begin in 1939 with the outbreak of WWII. After all in 1894 Theodor Herzl, an assimilate Jew, turned to Zionism only after covering the Dreyfuss trial in Paris, the home of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, and witnessing mobs shouting “Death to the Jews”.

And putting aside modern Zionism the land of Israel has always been central to Judaism. A substantial portion of Jewish law is tied to the land of Israel, Jerusalem is mentioned more than 700 times in the Bible and as I mentioned before, as just one example, the Passover Seder meal concludes with the words; “This year we are here. Next year in Jerusalem”

My only concern with Bondo is not his legitimate criticism of Israel and it’s policies but his attempt to deny the Jewish historical connection to Israel. It reminds me of of Yasser Arafat’s statement in 2002, who in spite of irrefutable archeological evidence to the contrary stated “For 34 years the Israelis have dug tunnels around the Temple Mount. They found not a single stone proving that the Temple of Solomon was there, because historically the Temple was not in Palestine.”

My question still remains the same. What are Bondo’s motives?

April 16th, 2008, 4:03 pm

 

wizart said:

Why is the Vatigan and the Pope not located in Jerusalem as well since Christanity also originated in the holy land? Don’t the billion plus Christians in the world have a historical connection to that land too?

Another question just out of curiosity..why were the jews persecuted when the evidence suggests they have always studied and worked hard?

April 16th, 2008, 4:20 pm

 

Observer said:

Several points that I would like to make in view of the current debate about the news:
1. The sanctions regime for more than three decades against Iran imposed by the US has not brought any change to speak of
2. AIPAC is doing its utmost to increase the presssure and the passage of S970 resolution punishing any firm in the world doing business with Iran will be defeated at the WTC and certainly will not slow the nuclear program
3. Iran is now feared by the West for two reasons
3.1. It sits on large reserves of oil and gaz that are being developed and exploited INDEPENDENTLY and is in the central hub of the energy producing region of the world
3.2. Despite isolation and sanctions, Iran is achieving technological independence regardless of whether it is after the bomb or not. Like Israel and perhaps Japan it is better to keep the opponent guessing on whether you can develop a snap nuclear bomb and more importantly that you can do it without relying on imported technology at all.
4. The control of Iraq is the first shot in the energy wars especially since the US has opted not to develop alternative energy sources after the 73 oil crisis in contrast to France. Theere is now a transfer of wealth and power from the energy deficient states to the energy rich states and an emergence of new centers of power.
5. The division of the Arab world rather than the deficit of freedom is at the core of the lack of progress. The Gulf people are the only ones moving in the right direction with shared electriciy grids, currency, etc… and even there it is still inadequate.
6. Spengler makes good points but arrives at the wrong conclusion: it is appropriate to think that Israel would like to hit Syria, the problem is that the price to pay is quite steep and maybe prohibitive. Shai is right when he says that Israel is essentially delaying the process and it is the best time for Israel to give up the colonies and make peace otherwise the next generation will make the likes of UBL look like boy scouts.
7. I said before on this post, the role of the next president of the US is going to be to tell the people that the style of life they enjoy and expect is part and parcel of the dream of the past and the second is to tell the people that the US is no longer capable of fending off other powers to remain the eternal top dog and has to live within its means both fiscally and politically. Too bad that the fundamentalists will take credit for destroying another superpower where in reality we know that superpowers are never slain: THEY COMMIT SUICIDE

Here is some reading for you today
Throughout history, major shifts in power have normally been accompanied by violence – in some cases, protracted violent upheavals. Either states at the pinnacle of power have struggled to prevent the loss of their privileged status, or challengers have fought to topple those at the top of the heap. Will that happen now? Will energy-deficit states launch campaigns to wrest the oil and gas reserves of surplus states from their control – the George W Bush administration’s war in Iraq might already be thought of as one such attempt or to eliminate competitors among their deficit-state rivals?

The high costs and risks of modern warfare are well known and there is a widespread perception that energy problems can best be solved through economic means, not military ones. Nevertheless, the major powers are employing military means in their efforts to gain advantage in the global struggle for energy, and no one should be deluded on the subject. These endeavors could easily enough lead to unintended escalation and conflict.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/JD17Dj04.html

April 16th, 2008, 4:25 pm

 

SimoHurtta said:

Shai no doubt that much of what you said is true. But much is untrue.

What you say about Christians is not true. If you ask from a Finn are you Christian, most of them answer yes (as I suppose most Europeans do). Even they do not pray, go to churches only for weddings and funerals. Also our culture in bound to religion and tradition. I also identify my self as such a religiously not active Christian. A secular Christian.

Without doubt there are numerous religiously not active or not very active (or even atheistic) Iranians or Palestinians, probably more that religiously active and in every case many times more than religious extrimists. But do we in the western media hear much of that reality? No, thanks to propaganda, everything is lumped together as religious extremists. But in Israel’s case we read very little about the religious side. That is why I see important to discuss about this religion issue. Because in Israeli propaganda the religion of the other side is seen as the enemy.

But to suggest that religion runs the country is incorrect. The religious in this country are still a minority, and the largest parties still see themselves as secular parties.

What comes to religion running the country. That is something I do not directly claim. You do not have a such centralized religious authority like in Iran. But neither do Palestinians have. Like in Israel, Iran and Palestine (in future hopefully) 95 percent of the normal running of the country has nothing to do with religion. But religion is in root of your system and existence. Religion did not command Israelis to develop nukes, neither does it Iran. It is purely a political decision. The religious authority either approves or doesn’t that. We speak about the Islamic nukes (Pakistan), but very rarely of Judaism’s nukes. Why? Has Israel secular, democratic nukes?

You Israelis use so much energy in portraying your country and your “tribe” as secular and normal, that it seems from your answers that you self have begun to believe at that propaganda. But in reality Iran is closer to Israel’s social / political character than the western countries. The difference is that Iran doesn’t hide its religious identity, Israel does it mostly. What makes it so dishonest is that Israel’s main claim of Iran’s (or Hamas’) dangerousness is based to that they as a country (or organization) are religiously oriented.

“The parties see themselves as secular”. Well that is pure propaganda by them. If they would be secular in reality they would drop the Jewish “demands” from their programs and begin to develop the country where peoples religion is no issue.

Naturally I understand the “importance” why Israel is hiding its religious nature. It would not be very convincing when known religious “nuts” condemn a different religious “nuts”. That is why Moldavian Lieberman wants the west to see him as “a secular democrat” defending “us all” against the bad Islamic terrorists and terrorist supporting Islamic states. 🙂

April 16th, 2008, 4:38 pm

 

Sol said:

Maybe because unlike the Pope and the Vatican the Jewish ties to the Land of Israel are central to it’s religion and civilization. The Jews have historically turned to Jerusalem in prayer as they continue to do today. The daily prayers and grace after meals which Jews have recited over the centuries are replete with references to the restoration of and return to Israel. The solemn service for the Day of Atonement,Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, concludes with the words “Next year in Jerusalem.” At the end of their day of fasting and communion with God, Jews the world over throughout the generations, reaffirmed their hope for a “return” to their Homeland, not at some indefinite date in the remote future, but “next year.”

It is interesting to note that Jews have simultaneously been hated for being a lazy and an inferior race – but also for dominating the economy and plotting to take over the world. Jews have simultaneously been hated for stubbornly maintaining their separateness – and, when they do not assimilate – for posing a threat to racial purity. They are hated as pacifists and as warmongers; and hated as capitalist exploiters and as communists.. Trying to understand why Jews have faced prejudice, discrimination and irrational hatred is not easy but it seems to me that blaming the victims, the Jews, for anti-Semitism is similar to blaming women for being rape victims.

April 16th, 2008, 5:12 pm

 

wizart said:

I am still waiting for the motivation behind the racism?

Why are they hated? is it because they’re obsessed about their religion? are they convinced by their moms that they’re the “chosen” people? Are they religious addicts? is religion the source of the problem? Do you think the problem could be solved by raising more secular jews? kind of cure the superiority complex from birth?

I’m not trying to judge. I’m just curious to find out the real truth.

April 16th, 2008, 5:24 pm

 

Sol said:

But why do the victims of racism have to justify and explain why they are hated? What justifies two thousand years of hatred and persecution? Let’s not forget for Nazism it was irrelevant if you were a religious Jew or not. Being a secular Jew did save you. In fact if you converted to Islam or Christianity you were still sent to the gas chambers.

Maybe instead of being called the “Chosen People” the Jews should be called the “Chosen Victims”.

April 16th, 2008, 5:49 pm

 

Zenobia said:

I don’t follow what Wizart said. are you asking why there has been racism against jews?
historically speaking?

why are all your sample ‘motivations’ located in the one who is hated. I think rather that the source of the motivation lies in the hater – not the hated, even if there were some qualities that were pointed to as worth hating… that is a displacement of motivation not the source.

April 16th, 2008, 5:51 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Wizart,

I’ll take literacy over honor. But that’s just me.

As for internal security and stability, that’s fine. Bashar earns high marks there, and I am not a fan of regime change. However, I’d like to see them picking up the pace, and keeping their hands off Lebanon.

As for lessons learned from the Lebanese civil war, here’s a list:

1. Sectarianism will tear Lebanon apart.

2. The confessional system must be fully dismantled and replaced by a democracy that does not discriminate on the basis of faith.

3. EVERY militia should be disarmed, and pronto.

4. State institutions must be strengthened at the expense of sectarian leaders and institutions.

5. Diplomatic relations should be established with Syria, and together the two countries should determine a viable strategy for pursuing peace and stability in the region.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

April 16th, 2008, 5:54 pm

 

canaanite said:

According to Hebrew Biblical mythology the Hebrew King David conquered Jerusalem from the Canaanites and committed genocide against them. Is it then appropriate to say “Next Year In Jerusalem” when even the mythology itself shows the genocidal tendencies of King David?

April 16th, 2008, 6:09 pm

 

wizart said:

Yes Zenobia I think I’m looking for the underlying cause of racism against jews and making a hypothesis that perhaps the problem lies in the underlying religious teaching of what it means to be a jew.

I’m no theology expert and that’s why I was asking these questions.

Perhaps I was too blunt although like I said I didn’t mean to offend.

April 16th, 2008, 6:10 pm

 

Zenobia said:

no. i don’t think the question is offensive. i think it is just phrased backwards because I am not understanding why you are looking for the source of the racism against jews – within the jews. It is within the racist.

It would be like asking what is the source of racism against blacks in america…. gee is it because they really are lazy and oversexed and criminals and live on welfare all the time and their teenagers get pregnant all the time, and they are less intelligent than ‘white’ people.? ???

or.. what is the source of the racism against Arabs? Is it in that they come from “backwards” countries (quote from AIG) and they breed too much, and they are violent aggressive and totally irrational people?, religious fanatics?, and they dress funny in certain countries, and they have to barter over everything which means they are trying to cheat you at all times? and they like to be ruled by dictators and don’t know how to form enlightened societies with developed forms of government? And they abuse their women and “treat” them “like shit”…????

hmmm. why are these people all causing and ‘motivating’ others to be racist against them by being so terrible. I wonder.

April 16th, 2008, 6:18 pm

 

Sol said:

“perhaps the problem lies in the underlying religious teaching of what it means to be a jew”.

Unless I’m mistaken I thought Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are monotheistic religions that believe that God is the origin and source of all that exists. I thought all three religions believe that God cares about the entire creation and desires the well-being of all. I thought all three religions believe that God is just and has provided basic rules for our guidance so that we may be good and righteous, according to God’s intention. I thought all three religions believe that God is also merciful and give us strength to be more like what we ought to be.

I guess I was wrong.

April 16th, 2008, 6:18 pm

 

wizart said:

QN,

Syrian high school graduates and universities can hold their own relative to universal standards although they need more resources.

As for Lebanon I feel there’s room to translate what had been learnt into useful reality. I did look into what Ehsane2 suggested recently and I agree with him there’s probably a need to have a strong central government in Lebanon that can have decisive power over other minorities so as to avoid civil strives and instabilities.

I am all for seeing both countries succeed, cooperate and build on common grounds as opposed to focusing on all the dividing issues.

April 16th, 2008, 6:19 pm

 

Shai said:

Simo,

I do agree that there are plenty of Christians (perhaps even most) who are secular Christians, and not practicing, or believing ones. But that’s not what I mean. I mean that an Israeli sees himself as a Jew because that is the only thing he can belong to, which has lasted more than 60 years, and in fact for quite a few thousand years. Since most Israelis still feel that their very Jewishness is being threatened around the world, and in this region in particular, the one thing that ties them all together, is their belonging to the Jewish people. I believe that if there were 1.2 billion Jews in this world, you wouldn’t hear so many secular Israelis referring to themselves as Jews.

I must make something very clear, because maybe I haven’t said it before. I am completely, one hundred percent, against anyone saying that the enemy is Islam, or even fundamentalist Islam. That is pure BS, and a total lack of understanding of the conflict that is going on in the Middle East, and worldwide. Speaking in terms of “us=moderates” vs. “them=fundamentalists” only gets the opposite result, namely, further isolation, alienation, demonization, and providing all sides the exact “proof” of their claims (a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy). So any Israeli, Jew, or non, claiming that our battle is against Islam, understand nothing of what they’re talking about. The same, of course, goes for the other side, or those who claim that the enemy is Judaism, or Jews. Few commentators on this site (very few) actually suggest, or say very plainly, that this is the “enemy”.

But to end the religious issue, I must also tell you that you’re not reading the politics in Israel correctly. There is no hiding of Israel’s religious side. The opposite, as I suggested earlier, this is the main argument that always comes up when suggesting that Israelis cannot accept a one-state solution now. If when you say “religious” you are referring to those who uphold the holy-scriptures, then this is farthest from the secular parties as could be. There is no propaganda in Israel about this. The secular parties, which are the clear majority (still) end up occasionally giving into the religious parties (Shas, for instance) on issues like budgets for the religious ministry, or for the religious schools (which are not part of the majority, regular, secular schools). They give in, sometimes, because of the blackmail-capacity I spoke about earlier (their ability to pull out of the coalition, and bring about early elections, again and again).

I don’t know Iran well enough to compare its social/political system to that of Israel’s, and perhaps in some ways we are more alike, than in the U.S. But certainly our democratic system (as undemocratic as it may be) is incomparable to Iran’s. Any candidate can run in Israel. He can be a lunatic, calling for a totally ultra-religious state. He can be a homosexual. He can be running for special rights for Taxi drivers. He can want political power for people who meditate. He can run with a main platform of legalizing certain drugs (I know someone like that). And all of them will be given equal chance. No one will be “advised” out. And also no one will win 99.4% of the votes… Simo, there are certain things Israelis have not been told enough about over the years. One of those is our part in driving hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees out of their land. But a hidden propaganda of anti-religious character depiction is not one of those things. The opposite, if politicians wanted to solidify their electorate base further, they would be making religious declarations without end. Fact is, they don’t, because they’re mostly secular. Most of them don’t believe in God, most of them drive on our Sabbath, most of them don’t fast on Yom Kipur, most of them don’t keep Kosher. That is also what most of Israelis are. Not the black-hat religious zealots, or colored yalmuka settlers in the West Bank, you see on TV or in magazines. I may not know Syria as well as Syrians do, but I do know Israel quite well, I believe.

April 16th, 2008, 6:22 pm

 

Alex said:

Qifa Nabki,

I agree with everything in your list.

Questions

1) The Palestinians in Lebanon .. what do you think Lebanon should do about them?

2) timing .. when do you disarm THE militia ..Hizbollah? … before or after the other reforms?

3) When you have one-man one-vote and you give the Shia 35 to 40% of the overall vote … how ready are the others to wake up the next day and realize that Hizbollah (the political Hizbollah) is now the king maker in Lebanon … every national Unity government needs to please hizbollah to be able to have any majority. think of how Israeli National Unity governments are formed when they never seem to get a simple majority in any of their recent (last decade?) elections.

If Hizbollah had some excessively conservative demands and some Sunni/Hizbollah Muslim coalition could be formed that was willing to accomodate Hizbollah’s demands … What would the remaining liberals or Christians do?

If Hizbollah wanted special relations with Iran but not with Saudi Arabia … then some Christian-Druze parties accepted (but not the Sunni parties) … How will the Sunnis react to their new government?

what I am trying to say is that as long as people in Lebanon are still largely going to vote for their favorite candidate based on religion, and as long as religon-based parties are going to be allowed to be part of the political system .. it will be very challenging.

You need to disarm militias AND dissolve all your existing political parties that are based on sectarian lines… and you need to change the mentality of most Lebanese about the relationship between church and state.

One can, with difficulty, have democracy in religious societies when one religion has a 90%+ majority … but when minorities are more than 25% … religion should be not allowed into politics.

Same with ethnic backgrounds.

April 16th, 2008, 6:22 pm

 

Observer said:

I do not believe that Jews bring hatred upon themselves in any way. I do believe that religions that proselytize assume that “their way” is the door to salvation/happiness/paradise/etc… and that carries within it the potential for intolerance.
I do think however that the Zionist ideology does benefit from anti semitism in the sense that the identification with the jewish people in countries where the jewish community is fully tolerated like Canada and the US prevents complete absorption into the national identity. It is even more so in countries where they are not accepted or tolerated. It is this intolerance that feeds into the concept of an exclusive jewish state in the holy land. I have no problem with all of the jews in the world to come and live in the holy land, but not in an exclusive state rather in a secular state just like the one I live in right now whereby my full citizenship does not pertain to my religion or creed of sex or whatever.
Now one has to remember what Karen Armstrong said in her book about the Crusades and their impact on the modern world: it was the idea of the Crusade that defined the Western world in a negative sense by identifying the other. Pope Urban used the Crusade to stop the infighting and directed the energy towards recovery of the tomb of Christ. Thereafter, the first Crusades started by having pogroms of the Jews in Europe and then by sacking Constantiople as they eastern church was considered a heresey.
I quoted Renan in the past: the national identity is a glorified myth about ones past combined with intense hatred of the neighbor. In this all of us are guilty.

April 16th, 2008, 6:25 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Observer,

so if I follow you correctly… you are implying that Christianity and Islam are the most intolerant, far more than Judism? is that correct?

April 16th, 2008, 6:33 pm

 

offended said:

Alex, QN and Wizart:
What do you think is the significance of this?

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council called Tuesday for the disarming of Hezbollah and other militias in Lebanon along with greater progress toward a cease-fire and a solution to the conflict between Lebanon and Israel.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,351411,00.html

April 16th, 2008, 6:34 pm

 

Shai said:

Zenobia, SOL,

It should be asked why one is seeking to understand what might be at fault with the persecuted, instead of with the ones doing the persecuting. It smells an awful lot like an “honest and intellectual” search for a possible legitimization of that persecution. Imagine I was to suggest that we open up the subject of racism against blacks in the U.S., to better understand if perhaps the blacks themselves, the way they acted, or lived, or taught, or practiced, had something to do with their persecution! Am I the only one to suspect something here….?

Zenobia, imagine the question you were asked was the following:

“I’m looking for the underlying cause of racism against Muslims and making a hypothesis that perhaps the problem lies in the underlying religious teaching of what it means to be a Muslim.” Would it now sound offensive to you? I would dare say absolutely yes. And for good reason.

April 16th, 2008, 6:36 pm

 

Zenobia said:

dearest Shai,
that is just what i was saying. I was being ironic with my analogies, but perhaps you didn’t catch that.

I said I didn’t understand his line of questioning because:

“It would be like asking”..etc etc… the most ludicrous crap i could come up with, albeit all recognizable racist stereotypes.

pardon if i did not make that clear – that i was going to be offensive to make a point.

April 16th, 2008, 6:39 pm

 

Sol said:

“I have no problem with all of the jews in the world to come and live in the holy land, but not in an exclusive state rather in a secular state just like the one I live in right now whereby my full citizenship does not pertain to my religion or creed of sex or whatever”.

Are you equally upset by the Islamic nature of Saudi Arabia? Islam is after all the official religion in Saudi Arabia and the law requires that all citizens be Muslims. In addition the Government prohibits the public practice of non-Muslim religions. Are you advocating for Saudi Arabia to become a secular state also?

April 16th, 2008, 6:45 pm

 

Shai said:

Zenobia,

Sorry, I now understand what you meant… It is quite amazing, isn’t it?

April 16th, 2008, 6:46 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Yes, yes it is amazing.

and regards to Sol’s last comment.
answer: I am. I am much more disturbed by Saudi Arabia. : )

is there such a thing as a Christian Jew? I bet there is.

April 16th, 2008, 6:48 pm

 

Shai said:

SOL, Observer,

Good points you both make, but you must understand that today Israel must still be a “Jewish homeland”. And, until Israelis see that they can live in peace with their neighbors, that their fear of being “thrown to the sea” is irrational, and no longer belongs to this era, and that indeed Jews can be safe in Israel and in the Middle East, they will still need to have a Jewish majority. But one day, soon I hope, Israel can become a truly secular state (in the classic sense, as many other nations are), and enable the demographics to be whatever they may.

April 16th, 2008, 6:50 pm

 

Seeking the Truth said:

Norman said in
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=666#comment-133508
“…i…never criticize the regime…”
I’d like to remind you Norman, that in your reply to my question
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=640#comment-128882
regarding your statement
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=640#comment-128852
you said:
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=640#comment-128934

April 16th, 2008, 6:50 pm

 

offended said:

SOL,
Saudi Arabia doesn’t have an indigenous minority amongst its citizens that is non-Muslim. Whether it stays religious or goes secular it’s really irrelevant. Your analogy is wrong.

April 16th, 2008, 6:54 pm

 

wizart said:

Zenobia,

You’re saying human nature is to blame for racism towards jews and I’m saying there’s more to that than just a matter of discriminating between blacks and white. There’s nothing different between blacks and white except the color. What’s so different among jews and non jews that makes them stand out? it’s only religion and that’s something people can excercise control over. Blacks can’t change their color but jews can change their approach and understanding of their religion.

Anyway, I’m all for asking dump questions because sometimes they do produce significant insights 🙂

cheers!

April 16th, 2008, 7:06 pm

 

wizart said:

Offended,

The United Nation needs to undergo massive restructuring so it could better reflect today’s balance of power. It’s quite ineffective now.

April 16th, 2008, 7:13 pm

 

Sol said:

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t have an indigenous minority amongst its citizens that is non-Muslim.”

So it’s o.k. that Saudi Arabia imposes an official religion on it’s entire population because the vast majority of it’s population is Muslim? Is it o.k. that the few non-Mulims that live in Saudi Arabia are regularly threatened and harrassed by extremist vigilantes, which are supported by the Saudi government? Is it o.k.that the wearing of non-Muslim religious symbols is restricted? Is it o.k. that the printing, possession, importing, or distribution of any non-Muslim religious material is banned? Is it o.k. that according to the State Department members of the Shi’a minority continued to face institutionalized political and economic discrimination, including restrictions on the practice of their faith?

What percentage does a minority have to be of the total population for that not to be o.k.?

April 16th, 2008, 7:17 pm

 

wizart said:

Why is the US fighting Iran and not Saudi Arabia if that’s so not ok?

April 16th, 2008, 7:23 pm

 

ugarit said:

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t have an indigenous minority amongst its citizens that is non-Muslim.”

That’s because they forced them to convert, forced to leave or killed them. Anyhow, I’m not sure if Wahhabi’s would consider the Shiite’s in Saudi Arabia as true Muslims. I may be wrong.

April 16th, 2008, 7:25 pm

 

Sol said:

“What’s so different among jews and non jews that makes them stand out? it’s only religion and that’s something people can excercise control over.”

Wizart please explain something that I am having a hard time with. If in 1938 the entire Jewish population denounced their Judaism, converted to Christianity and pledged their allegiance to the German people Hitler would have still called for the genocide of those former Jews. Why? Maybe because racism is irrational and looking to blame the victims is a bit disturbing. Should we blame the Bosnians for their treatment at the hands of the Serbians on Islam?

April 16th, 2008, 7:26 pm

 

offended said:

SOL,
Steady on! Why don’t you go and ask the Saudis? Last time I checked they were the ones who had imposed these kind of restrictions (which are mostly non-Islamic, but rather tribal and backward) on the country.

My point was that Israel, unlike Saudi Arabia, had expelled large portions of the indigenous population of Palestine/Israel in order to see its Religious State materialized. This is a difference I felt should be accentuated.

You can carry on bashing Saudi Arabia now… thank you very much…

April 16th, 2008, 7:28 pm

 

wizart said:

SOL,

I blame religion and nationalism for the source of all evil.

How is that for a solution?

What’s so wrong about being secular? isn’t that the power of education and mind over outdated scripture and endless wars and death?

Let’s not get lost in details. Let’s focus on the forest not just the trees. If everybody knows that religion is like “opium to the masses” why in the world do you build a religion based nation in the middle of an other existing religion and then plead to be forever “a victim?”

April 16th, 2008, 7:33 pm

 

Shai said:

Zenobia,

The case cannot be made any clearer now. If Jews didn’t want to be persecuted for two millennia, they should have “… change(d) their approach and understanding of their religion.” In other words, let’s not get bogged down with silly attempts to focus on those who persecuted the Jews, and their crimes in doing so, let’s instead focus on the Jews, because they could have changed their ways… right?

So maybe we should also not focus on Israeli persecution of Palestinians for the past 60 years, and the horrific crimes committed against them, and instead, focus on the Palestinians themselves, who surely could have changed the ways they brought up their children, the ways they taught at school, the ways they practiced Islam and Christianity, the way they innately sought independence and freedom, the way they developed a justified hatred against their persecutors. After all, the Palestinians weren’t blacks that couldn’t change their skin color, they were an indigenous people that could have changed their behavior… right?

I don’t know about you, but this thing is a little sickening, isn’t it?

April 16th, 2008, 7:35 pm

 

offended said:

Ugarit,
“That’s because they forced them to convert”

What specific incident are you referring to?

Not only Shia’t, but there are also some Yazidis in the south (Abha). But they advertise their faith as Islamic, I am not sure if that is correct…

Couple of weeks ago there was a Saudi guy on BBC Arabic who claimed that he had converted to Christianity but couldn’t go public with his faith lest he gets killed. I am not going now to question the death sentence to the renegades and its authenticity in Islam. Believe me that’s even worse than opening a Pandora box. But I am only glad that this sentence has never been given to any one in the recent past (as far as I know)

April 16th, 2008, 7:38 pm

 

wizart said:

Religion is a private matter so it should never be used as a political tool in my opinion. In reality it is used as such and abused as well.

Religion can be sickening in that way and at some point it can turn into religious addiction which is as damaging as excessive narcissism. That’s if you’re serious about getting to the heart of the matter and not just about feeling “hurt” , “victimized” or god forbid “sick.”

April 16th, 2008, 7:39 pm

 

Sol said:

“My point was that Israel, unlike Saudi Arabia, had expelled large portions of the indigenous population of Palestine/Israel in order to see its Religious State materialized. This is a difference I felt should be accentuated.”

Offended

I understand your concern but why is you indignation selective? In Aug. 1947 the partition of Pakistan and India along religious lines resulted in the largest migration in human history. Muslims were fleeing India; Hindus and Sikhs were fleeing Pakistan. Plea’s to regard religion as a personal matter, not a state matter, were ignored. It is estimated in the communal rioting and the mass movements of population that followed the June 3, 1947, London announcement of imminent independence and partition that casualties were close to 250,000 dead and 12 million to 24 million refugees. Why are you not advocating the return of Muslim refugees to India?

You can carry on bashing Israel now… thank you very much…

April 16th, 2008, 7:51 pm

 

offended said:

Wizart,
I am not sure this is the right venue for a ‘secularism vs. religiosity’ debate. But stating that religions are like ‘opium to the masses’ is an over-simplification of the matter. There are two contradictory statements usually made by atheist on the issue of religions: sometimes they claimed it’s the source of all evil, sometimes they claim it’s a power and control tool. I don’t see how these two things run together. Because if you can control people through religions then it should be easier to rein in the violence in the world, isn’t it? Unless the leaders who’s in control is evil himself of course, which negates the initial idea.

My belief is that religion is a private matter. As much as I am not morally entitled to label anybody for their lack of religiosity of any kind; I feel that it’s equally extreme when atheists and secularists label religious people as backward or stupid.

April 16th, 2008, 7:51 pm

 

Shai said:

I imagine many persecuted Jews suffered from “narcissism”, feeling “hurt” and “sick” quite often. Perhaps they should have brushed up, and changed those ways, in order not to be persecuted, right?

As a side note, I personally hate what all religions have done to humanity, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. But I hate even more what bigots and racists have and are continuing to do.

April 16th, 2008, 7:53 pm

 

offended said:

SOL said,
“why your indignation is selective?”

it’s not selected, it’s prioritized…

btw, where are you from SOL? I need to pigeonhole you, so what’s your background if I may?

April 16th, 2008, 7:55 pm

 

Sol said:

Wizard

I am a vegetarian bi-sexual Polish-Pakistan Buddhist-Catholic who believes in reincarnation. Does that help?

April 16th, 2008, 8:00 pm

 

offended said:

it’s offended,

and that just gives more holes than needed for a good game of golf, good on you!

April 16th, 2008, 8:03 pm

 

wizart said:

Offended,

It’s a control tool in addition to being a personal matter especially when there’s inadequate education which is the case in the Middle East. Having said that all religions are open to interpretation so there’s significant leeway in how much tolerant to other religions one is led to believe and that’s when politicians can abuse religion to push their agenda and feed their egos.

In theory religion should be about “I shall not kill” and about love. How often do we see that in reality? How many millions have been killed in the name of one religion or another. Why not discuss it?

April 16th, 2008, 8:06 pm

 

Alex said:

Guys,

I am busy at work today. I just checked quickly and all i can see is Jews, Christians, Islam …

Is everything fine?!! … I feel nervous now that I am not able to moderate much and all you are talking about is religion! … should i delete any comment? ban anyone for a week?

April 16th, 2008, 8:07 pm

 

wizart said:

Hola Alex 🙂

We’re trying to explain how to make a smiley for T and how to solve all world problems at one go as they say in Aistralia 🙂

Everything is cool Alex. No world wars for today!

Leave your number handy in case of any emerging development 🙂

April 16th, 2008, 8:13 pm

 

Sol said:

it’s not selected, it’s prioritized…

Offended

Just out of curiosity where does the German exodus from Eastern Europe after WWII rate in you list of priorities?

Some reports indicate that up to 16.5 million Germans were forcibly deported.And though some ethnic Germans were expelled because of their Nazi activities during the war, yet the single most common reason for their expulsion was their German ethnicity.According to some German sources, more than 2.5 million lost their lives during this process.

Or where do the Greek refugees in the early 20th century rate in your list of priorities?

The persecutions, massacres, expulsions and death marches of the Asia Minor Greeks were renewed during the early 20th century by the Young Turk administration of the Ottoman Empire and during the subsequent revolution of Kemel Ataturk. The Pontic Greek population was the most severely affected; its misfortunes became known as the Pontic Greek Genocide.It is usually estimated that the refugees in Greece numbered approximately 1.5 million people.

Or where do the Sudanese refugees of the last 20 years rate in your list of priorities?

It is estimated that in the last twenty years 4,750,000 Sudanese found refuge in other countries, excluding the greater than 1,300,000 who died in the flight.

How do you actually prioritize you list?

April 16th, 2008, 8:19 pm

 

Observer said:

I do not think that anyone religion is more or less intolerant. Intolerance is a human attribute not a religious one. Now, if you look carefully at the major broad differences between religious creeds over time, you will see that the basic concept of a deity and the relationship between man and nature depends on whether the society is agrarian or nomadic. Nomads believed (native americans are a good example) that man and nature are one, that mother nature cannot and would not be exploited. When asked about ownership of the land a chief wondered how could one own his/her mother. Now in agrarian societies, God gives the earth and its fruits for man to exploit. This concept of the relationhsip of man to nature is one of supremacy of man over other creatures and also is essentially antagonistic to the nomadic way of life. In conjunction with the development of excess food and the specialization that it entails a concept of possession of resources that to this day fuels conflict between agrarian and nomadic people and then between agrarian societies. In many an instance, religion was used to justify conquest as you will find in the old testament. I would say that the book of Genesis is a good source of information regarding the way man thought of nature over the last 5000 years. Alas, the reality is that this concept of ownership is no longer compatible with life on earth. If all the people on earth were to live the way I live today in the US, the earth would have to supply the equivalent resources for 72 billion people clearly an impossible proposition. Now it does not take a rocket scientist to say that the American way of life is
1. finished
2. not a model for the world.
I hope this answers your questions.
Now in response to Shai, assuming that all the people of the ME were to live in peace with a jewish state in the 67 borders and with utilization of water in a fashion similar to the life style of the current Israeli society, I can assure everyone here that Israel would revert to a desert. Today, Israel still does not permit Lebanese to pump water from the Litani river and still would not want Syria to use fully all the resources of the Golan heights otherwise the Jordan river and the aquefires of the west bank would dry up.
I am sorry, I do not believe that clinging to your nationalism is going to solve our problems, clinging to ones culture is one thing but the nation state concept is not possible when for example pollution and global warming are so universal and require global solutions.

April 16th, 2008, 8:21 pm

 

Sol said:

“but the nation state concept is not possible”

Observer

I advocate that Israel should be the second country in the United Nations to voluntarily give up the nation state concept. Who do you think should be the first country to volunteer to disband?

April 16th, 2008, 8:30 pm

 

Shai said:

Observer,

You might be pulling me into a very philosophical discussion, in which I would admit to all sorts of very far-seeming ideas, such as the creation of a single religion, which incorporates all the major religions, but decrees that all non-religious, or even atheist, people on earth are complete equals to religious ones. As well, that essentially the nation-state concept should be abolished, and instead, a single-planet democratically elected body would rule, with its various “provinces” or “states”, but not separate nations as we have today. There would be no borders, and no ownership of land by nations, or their people. This planet will be owned by all its citizens, together. You will have a right to live and work in Israel just as much as I would. Decisions regarding water, and other essential resources, would be decided by the planetary governing body, and not by local governments. And yes, the standard of living, in the first 50-100 years of this united planet, would be considerably lower than that enjoyed by Americans or Luxembourgians at the moment.

But this is the stuff I’ll be talking to my daughters about, seeing as I probably won’t live to see any of it take place… In the meantime, let’s see if Boaz Wachtel’s Peace Canal Pipeline project, or others, can help our region when the time comes for peace.

April 16th, 2008, 8:36 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Sol said:

“I am a vegetarian bi-sexual Polish-Pakistan Buddhist-Catholic who believes in reincarnation.”

Sol, where have you been all my life? Qifette Nabki has just fallen in love.

Alex,

1) The Palestinians in Lebanon .. what do you think Lebanon should do about them?

Give them the option of accepting Lebanese nationality, no question. For those who choose not to accept it, then give them some kind of permanent iqaama that entitles them to all rights of a resident foreigner. Dismantle the ghettoes (refugee camps), encourage assimilation into Lebanese society.

2) timing .. when do you disarm THE militia ..Hizbollah? … before or after the other reforms?

In my opinion, the sooner Hizbullah disarms, the better. The issue of Hizbullah’s weapons is among the biggest obstacles to de-confessionalization. The weapons create paranoia among the other sects, and encourage people to remain in their old mindset. If Hizbullah gives up its weapons, it will begin to make people relax and feel better about ceding power to the state. As long as the weapons remain, people will view the Lebanese government as so weak as to tolerate the state within a state that is Hizbullah, and so they will conclude: “Why should we give up our community’s safeguards when the Shi`a won’t do the same?”

what I am trying to say is that as long as people in Lebanon are still largely going to vote for their favorite candidate based on religion, and as long as religon-based parties are going to be allowed to be part of the political system .. it will be very challenging.

Alex, I think that you are overestimating or mischaracterizing the importance of sectarian identification in Lebanon. Surely, for many people, it is clearly very important to them that they are Maronite or Druze or Shi`i. But, as I quoted recently, a major proportion of Lebanese (some 34%) do not particularly identify with their sect at all, to the extent that they don’t care how many seats they are awarded in parliament! (I am one of these people).

So if 34% of Lebanese couldn’t care less, I would imagine that probably another 30% care to some degree, but still feel much more “Lebanese” than Maronite, Druze, Shi`i, etc. And the last 1/3 of the population is maybe still very sectarian. What I’m trying to say is that this is a very solvable problem. It will take time, but it’s not the kind of thing that is insurmountable.

If Nasrallah wants to do something truly visionary — which I believe that he is capable of, and which the FPMers are kind of hoping for, a bit helplessly — he should prepare his party to begin the process of giving up its weapons upon the fulfillment of certain de-confessionalizing political reforms in Lebanon.

But he may not feel that he is able to do this, given that Hizbullah is primarily only valuable to its largest patrons (i.e. Syria and Iran) as a militia.

April 16th, 2008, 8:57 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Ok. I came back for a minute.

Don’t worry Alex. See what happens when you aren’t minding the children. But I think nobody has gone overboard yet.

Shai,
Exactly. lol. well, we will try not to be sickened too much over it. Not everybody studied Racism 101.

Personally, I too could do without most of religion and what has been done its name. What is between Man and his/her god(s) is fine by me, but politics and religion or foreign policy and religion need to be in different worlds.

Wizart and Sol,
I think you still don’t get it that being Jewish is not about religion. You need to spend more time in America or Israel to understand that, i think.

Even to go back to the dreaded (sorry to do it) topic of Nazi Germany…. Hitler didn’t go after the jews essentially because of their religion. He was against Christianity too as you might recall. The Nazis were almost Pagans in their ideology. No, this was about ethnicity and race. As such, Gypsies were just as maligned, but there weren’t six million of them. And if Germany had been victor in WWII, eventually Hitler would have sold out the other ‘semites’ of the middle east too when he was done using them in wartime.

The founding and original settling of Israel was not even about religion. It was about land and pretty soon, refuge too.

Interestingly, it was at a later point that the sense of religious heritage and the significance of religion (maximized by the settler movement) came about and became part of the PR of Israel. To go back to our discussion the other day of Nadia Abu-Haj and her research (junk as AIG put it) – this was precisely what it was about (although i did not read her book). Her defenders are saying correctly that she was not writing about the FACTs of Archeology. She was analysizing the epistomology (the how) of knowledge. The question of HOW Israel developed its particular mythos about its history and did so through archeology and knowledge creation.

Wizart, you should get this since you gave us a little Wikipedia style lecture on it.
She was interested in how, quite late, in the establishment of Israel as a nation – there was the development (meaning a deliberate effort) to establish an archeological basis for the religious and historical justification for the Jewish homeland.
But her point is that this process of CREATING a history is a political and nationalistic decision. She didn’t say (as her critics are attacking her for) that the archeological FACTS were wrong or fabricated, simply that there were used as part of an epistomological process and a political process.
It wasn’t there at the start. It came about later.

So, the basis of Zionism was NOT actually religious in the beginning. this came later.
It was an ideology about a Jewish (secular but ethno-cultural)project of settling land and cultivating it, and building a kind of society around a cultural ethos (not a religious one).

I think it was the later immigrants and settler movement that hijacked the society into an emphasis on the religious mission of Israel. But I believe if you go back to Tel Aviv, you will find a huge portion of Israelis who want nothing to do with that ideology.

anyway, any Israelis about – feel free to correct me if I have made some mis-characterizations or got my history wrong.

April 16th, 2008, 9:20 pm

 

SimoHurtta said:

is there such a thing as a Christian Jew? I bet there is.

I suppose Karl Marz and Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman) were / are such Christian Jews. 🙂

Has anybody heard about a Hindu Jew or Buddhist Jew?

—-

Shai the definition of Jew makes it a religious “clan” not a nation. If I understand right the history of Jews, a considerable amount of the Jews are descendants of converts (during the history), especially among the Soviet Jews. Also now basically anybody can be a Israeli citizen if he chooses the “right” religion. Why on earth do these today’s and tomorrows new Jews (the converts) need a safe haven in Middle East, unless it is purely a religious safe haven.

If Israel would not use religion in its internal politics and especially in its external enemy picture manipulation, this religion discussion would be irrelevant. But I do not want to world to turn to Israels, Saudi Arabias or Irans.

Sorry Shai, but I do not believe your claim that Israel is a modern almost normal almost secular democracy and you in reality believe it could change to a secular state. That is impossible after all what has and will be done.
‘Olmert offers Abbas 64% of W. Bank’

I do think however that the Zionist ideology does benefit from anti semitism in the sense that the identification with the jewish people in countries where the jewish community is fully tolerated like Canada and the US prevents complete absorption into the national identity.

There would be no Zionist movement any more without constantly keeping up the victim image and hugely exaggerating the so called anti-Semitism attacks in modern world. There was interesting article how anti-Semitism is raising in Holland and how a Jewish activist girl was painting Nazi symbols and then complaining about anti-Semitism.

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=482#comment-88769

Naturally there is still exists real anti-Semitism, but so there is anti-Islamism, anti-Arabism etc. And the later anti things are fast becoming much more serious problems than the first anti thing.

April 16th, 2008, 9:24 pm

 

Zenobia said:

lol.
California has A LOT of Buddhist Jews…and christian buddhists and wanna be buddhists… so on and so forth

Simohurtta,
I thought that Israel has become a very popular destination for the NEW jews and anybody who can get in by because it is actually a much better economic situation than the places they are emigrating from.
Russians and others from Eastern Europe being the best example.

April 16th, 2008, 9:32 pm

 

Alex said:

QN,

I will have to disagree with you about those numbers.

1) If 34% answered: “I love Lebanon, I don’t vote only for Maronite (or Shia or Druze or sunni or Rastafarian) candidates” … then half of them are not telling the truth. I am sure you know many people who insist they are secular but are really not.

There is always some pressure when one is asked such a sensitive question. People feel the need to give the most politically correct answer (or the most nationalistic answer). When they vote, no one is watching them and recording their votes.

2) things change when election campaigns start. When it is time to vote against your own religion’s candidate somehow you might feel some pressure or guilt. I know how religious parties campaign and they often succeed in convincing many border-line secular people to switch.

3) Most polls say that 90%+ of Shia’s support Hizbollah and most Druze support Jumblatt .. so … why do you feel that they will change?

I am not saying it is impossible. But Lebanon is not ready for it now .. it will take you some transition period too my frined .. just like Syria : )

And … cooling down regional conflicts is also very useful for facilitating this transformation in Lebanon. When America and Saudi Arabia stop calling Iran a threat, then Lebanon’s Shias become less of a threat .. when Syria and Hizbollah are not worried anymore about American and Israeli plots that Seniora and Hariri are implementing, then the Sunnis and MAronites will be less suspicious to the Shias …

April 16th, 2008, 9:34 pm

 

T said:

Simo,

There is a group called “Jews for Jesus”

Zenobia,

What about the Khazars of the Caucasus that then spread to Poland and Russia. Many purists dont consider them matrilineal blood jews, yet they are the present day ‘ashkenazi’?

April 16th, 2008, 9:34 pm

 

Zenobia said:

T,
i know not about this. Please feel free to elaborate.

April 16th, 2008, 9:38 pm

 

Sol said:

“Also now basically anybody can be a Israeli citizen if he chooses the “right” religion. Why on earth do these today’s and tomorrows new Jews (the converts) need a safe haven in Middle East, unless it is purely a religious safe haven.”

SimoHurtta

If I understand correctly I can become a Saudi citizen as long as I convert to Islam and only then will I be able to practice my religion freely and publicly. But if I do not choose to convert to Islam I will be regularly threatened and harassed by extremist vigilantes, which are supported by the Saudi. But why on earth do I need to convert to be a new Muslim in the Middle East, unless Saudi Arabia is purely a religious dictatorship and Muslim safe haven?

April 16th, 2008, 9:46 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Alex, I would love to argue with you further about this, but as you know I have a very big science project due in a few weeks, so …

April 16th, 2008, 9:51 pm

 

ugarit said:

SOL:

Most Arabs and Muslims I have met don’t like Saudi Arabia’s militancy and therefore using Saudi Arabia as an analog defeats your argument.

Are you saying that Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s approaches are the same? I do agree with you that they are in some sense similar.

April 16th, 2008, 9:53 pm

 

Alex said:

SOL

I agree with most of your comments above, especially your answer to my friend Offended earlier about difficulty of prioritizing.

But I agree with both you and Simo on the last point … Both Israel and Saudi Arabia (and to some extent Iran) worry me … the formula is simply not right. The Saudis who do not allow women to drive and do not allow others to worship freely, and Israel which imports Russians and makes them Jews … And Iran that is going more and more conservative against the wishes of its youth…

A Shia, Sunni, or Jewish state is bound to offend, frustrate, disappoint, or threaten some people… Israel offends the Palestinians who are replaced with imported Russians, Saudi Arabia offends Christians when it wants to finance the biggest mosque in Rome while refusing to allow any church on Saudi soil, Iran scares Sunni Arabs and secular Lebanese …

And Mr. George Bush who started with his announcement that god is speaking to him …

April 16th, 2008, 9:58 pm

 

Sol said:

“Are you saying that Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s approaches are the same? I do agree with you that they are in some sense similar.”

Ugarit

Yes I think Israel and Saudi Arabia are exactly the same.(Except Israel allows religious minorities to practice their faith freely and publicly, and Israel allows women to vote and drive, and Israel does not cut off the hands of people convicted of stealing, and African Muslim refugees risk there lives to cross over from Egypt to get into Israel not Saudi Arabia, and Israel is not an absolute monarchy, and in Israel the press frequently condemns the government and it’s policies, and in Israel an Arab member of the Parliament can fly to Qatar to shout at the Israeli Foreign Minster calling Israel an apartheid government. So yes Israel and Saudi Arabia are exactly the same. But why the double standard? Why do we never discuss Saudi Arabia’s religious militancy?

April 16th, 2008, 10:13 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Bondo, I think you need to cool it with your anti-Jewish diatribes, my friend.

April 16th, 2008, 10:29 pm

 

Sol said:

“But I agree with both you and Simo on the last point … Both Israel and Saudi Arabia (and to some extent Iran) worry me”

Alex

I totally understand your concern but I think one of the biggest problems is we tend to define Judaism in Christian/Muslim terms. For example If I were to tell you I was an Catholic atheist or a Sunni agnostic you would probably point out these are mutually exclusive terms. And while I can participate and enjoy aspects of Christian or Islamic civilization I can’t be a declared Muslim or Catholic atheist. A Jew could scream from the tallest building that God does not exist and would still be counted in a quorum for any religious ceremony. The ethnicity and the religion of Judaism, the traditional faith of the Jewish nation, are strongly interrelated, and converts to Judaism are both included and have been absorbed within the Jewish people throughout the millennia.

April 16th, 2008, 10:35 pm

 

Sol said:

“Bondo, I think you need to cool it with your anti-Jewish diatribes, my friend.”

Alex

I’m new to this site and I am not familiar with AIG, who I understand has been banned temporarily from this forum, but is he as mean spirited and hateful as Bondo?

April 16th, 2008, 10:40 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

On this post alone the word “Jew” was mentioned 198 times thus far.

Speaking for myself, I think that the time that is spent discussing the word and its derivatives is rather excessive.

Clearly, I must be in a minority when it comes to the intense interest in the subject matter.

April 16th, 2008, 10:54 pm

 

Alex said:

Bondo,

Please note that I banned AIG few times so far for different reasons. One of those reasons was his occasional excessively aggressive tone.

Syria comment is an American Blog on Syria. all of you should know that discussions about religion often lead to heated debates during which one or more of the participants will offend others. I joked about it earlier, but it was more of a warning, because I have seen it on this and other forums too many times to ignore it.

And this is what I was telling Qifa Nabki about Lebanon (above) .. even secular people, when pushed into deeper discussions, start sounding different.

unfortunate, but true. Please let us retire the topic for the day and allow me to go have my dinner : )

Sol,

In AIG’s case there was a big difference … numbers of annoying comments … he would leave tens of comments every day and would engage many commentators simultaneously … once a week it goes out of control and I ban him … but I spent few months giving him warnings before I moved to banning him for one week at a time. I removed a couple of Bondo’s statements above.

April 16th, 2008, 10:57 pm

 

ugarit said:

“Why do we never discuss Saudi Arabia’s religious militancy?”

We just did and we should do it more often. KSA is not an example for anyone.

April 17th, 2008, 12:10 am

 

ugarit said:

Why don’t Palestinians convert to Judaism and solve this problem of Israel only wanting Jews to dominate the landscape of Israel?

April 17th, 2008, 12:53 am

 

Honest Patriot said:

Bondo,

( http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=665#comment-134020 )
So… according to you, 13 Million “Jews” are managing to control the world and inflict evil left and right. This is in a world that is pushing towards the 7 Billion population mark.

Regrettably, by lumping all issues into a simplistic right (you) and wrong (the “Jews”) division, you are really doing a disservice to anyone genuinely and competently trying to arrive at an equitable solution in the Middle East, a solution that alleviates the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Without realizing it, you are strengthening the arguments of any extremist in Israel, and sabotaging the efforts of real peace lovers like Shai (do you know who he is?).

I’m sure you mean well and your feelings are genuine, but I do take issue with your logic and intellect. Here’s one example: you’re blaming Iraq war #1 on the “Jews” ? Sheesh, what history are you reading, or, if you actually were of age during Iraq war #1, what were you smoking then brother? No offense. I disagree with you and I believe your extremism is very destructive. Otherwise I like the handle. The first three letters mean “good” in French. The last two letters are 1/2 of a colloquial word that means “sleep” in French. So I say Bonne Nuit dear BONDO.

April 17th, 2008, 12:59 am

 

norman said:

QN,

I do not want to think that you will not be writing for weeks , can i take the test for you?.

April 17th, 2008, 1:02 am

 

norman said:

Zenobia,

I know somebody who is one of these Jews for Jesus , they Christian in belief but Jews in ethnicity ,

April 17th, 2008, 1:12 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Lak ya Norman, inta 3asal.

I will ask my teacher, but I doubt it.

April 17th, 2008, 1:18 am

 

norman said:

Ehsani,

What do you think about the new Mazoot vouchers , Do you think it is appropriate to subsidise every family or you would prefer to help the law income families while leaving the rich Syrians who go to the EU and the US on vacations pay free market prices , Your input is appreciated.

April 17th, 2008, 1:18 am

 

norman said:

QN,

I am always there for you.

April 17th, 2008, 1:19 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Alex,

A quick break from preparing my science project.

You said:

I am not saying it is impossible. But Lebanon is not ready for it now .. it will take you some transition period too my friend .. just like Syria : )

I agree. But I am, as you know, a pragmatist. I am suspicious of transition periods, because they have a way of going on far longer than necessary, in our region. Furthermore, the longer these periods go on, the more likely they will be co-opted by some other cynical party who is interested in maintaining the status quo. (By the way, I count ALL Lebanese politicians as cynical parties).

And … cooling down regional conflicts is also very useful for facilitating this transformation in Lebanon. When America and Saudi Arabia stop calling Iran a threat, then Lebanon’s Shias become less of a threat .. when Syria and Hizbollah are not worried anymore about American and Israeli plots that Seniora and Hariri are implementing, then the Sunnis and MAronites will be less suspicious to the Shias …

Again, my instinct is to keep my foot on the gas at all times! Why? Because even though things look grim in Lebanon, and the past three years have been a nightmare in certain ways, look at the difference today in Lebanon. What are people arguing about? The Constitution! Who are the allies? Hizbullah and…. Aoun??!?!? Bkirki and … Moukhtara?!?!?

I like these alliances. I like the fact that Aounist Maronites are discovering for the first time that the Shi`a are also Lebanese. I like the fact that the Sunnis are discovering for the first time that “Arabism” isn’t always the answer and that sister Syria isn’t always so sisterly. I like, in short, the changes brought about by political upheaval (within limits of course).

But, I take your point.

April 17th, 2008, 1:28 am

 

norman said:

I just finished the book, ( The Israeli lobby and America’s forign policy ),

What Bondo claiming is said in this book about The Iraqi war of 2003 .

April 17th, 2008, 1:59 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

So, the basis of Zionism was NOT actually religious in the beginning. this came later.

I think it was the later immigrants and settler movement that hijacked the society into an emphasis on the religious mission of Israel. But I believe if you go back to Tel Aviv, you will find a huge portion of Israelis who want nothing to do with that ideology.

Zenobia,

“Hijacked”? That implies someone (the GOI) did something against the wishes of the people. Sorry, Israel has always been a democracy.

Although most of the first Zionists (in power) were secular, European, Labor party types, (and not very sympathetic to the religious), they understood that Israel would be a “Jewish State”, with a “Jewish Majority”. Whether or not a jew is religious, he/she still identifies him/herself as a “Jew” (just ask Shai;).

The “settler movement” began at the beginning, before the turn of the twentieth century, way before there was an Israel and before there was a term called “occupation”. Jewish villages were popping up in many places, including kibbutzim. The “settler movement” was started by many jewish organizations, and the biggest was the secular Labor parties (Mapai, Mapam).

Anyway, the Ha’Tikva may give one an understanding of how religion plays in the national ethos…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatikvah

For your iPod:

http://stateofisrael.com/anthem/HaTikvah.mp3

IMHO, religion in Israel plays an important, almost vital role, which is open for anyone who wants it or rejects it.

But it isn’t down-your-throat like Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Pakistan.

April 17th, 2008, 2:31 am

 

ugarit said:

AP said: “Although most of the first Zionists (in power) were secular, European, Labor party types, (and not very sympathetic to the religious), they understood that Israel would be a “Jewish State”, with a “Jewish Majority”. Whether or not a jew is religious, he/she still identifies him/herself as a “Jew” (just ask Shai;).”

Being secular does not necessarily mean they were decent humans. These same secular Jews wanted a Jewish Majority when the majority in Palestine were not Jews so there was a solution and that was to expel the majority. Just like Christian Europeans expelled/exterminated the natives of America. Wanting a Christian/Jewish/Muslim majority is troubling to say the least.

April 17th, 2008, 3:14 am

 

Alex said:

Dear Bondo,

Please limit your valid criticism to either

1) Israel or
2) freinds of Israel, or supporters of Israel.

Even if most of the neocons, who I despise, are Jews .. even if most (all?) of the highjackers of the 9/11 planes were Muslims … all the crusaders were Christian … it does not give anyone the right to attack any of those religions.

It is not fair Bondo. Even if 90% of Jews (or Muslims or Christian) were evil people … it is not fair for the other 10%.

Here is how religion related discussions end up sounding like … we don’t need to immitate them:

April 17th, 2008, 3:33 am

 

Alex said:

QN,

I take your point too… it is the classic perceptual delta in our respective risk assessments… ya3ni I am worrying more about Lebanon than you are.

But that’s what we, mature Syrians, are good at.

And go study. Let me know if you need help with picking the right transistors for your electric circuit project.

April 17th, 2008, 3:56 am

 

Enlightened said:

YES!

Leave your religion and your worship in the confines of your own surroundings and home. I for one do not want to hear them!

Bet you that those that put Memri together have a field day laughing when they see things like this!

April 17th, 2008, 4:01 am

 

Karim said:

What next ya Bashar ?

إيران ستحتفي بالذكرى السنوية للخميني في دمشق

ذكرت مصادر إيرانية في العاصمة السورية أن إيران ستحتفل بالذكرى السنوية لرحيل الإمام آية الله الخميني لهذا العام في دمشق والمدن السورية الأخرى

وقال آيه الله مجتبي حسيني ممثل قائد الثورة الإسلامية في سورية في تصريح لوكالة الأنباء الإيرانية إن مراسم الذكري ستقام في مقامي السيدة زينب والسيدة رقيه بدمشق، وفي المساجد والمراكز الثقافية في سورية بالتعاون مع السفارة الإيرانية والمستشارية الثقافية الإيرانية في سورية. مشدداًُ على ضرورة “العمل لاطلاع الشعب السوري على الأفكار النيرة لمؤسس الجمهورية الإسلامية الإيرانية”

ورأى حسيني أن شعبي سورية ولبنان “يبحثان عن هذه الآراء والأفكار أكثر من بقيه شعوب العالم”. وقالت إن إيران تملك “مشروعاً” ينطلق بأبعاد “مذهبية وثقافية واجتماعية واقتصادية”، ويتناقض مع شرائع الإسلام الأساسية. واستنكرت ما يلقاه هذا المشروع من دعم النظام السوري وقواه الأمنية

إلا أن سورية وعلى لسان مسؤولين سياسيين ودينيين ومن بينهم مفتي الجمهورية رفضت هذه الاتهامات واعتبرتها غير صحيحة كلياً، ونفت أن يكون هناك أي عملية “تشييع” في سورية كما تدعي بعض الأوساط المعارضة وبعض الدول العربية الأخرى

ومن المعروف أن إيران حليف لسورية منذ قيام الثورة الإسلامية وخلال حربها مع العراق، وتطورت العلاقات الاقتصادية بين البلدين تطوراً كبيراً خلال ربع القرن الأخير وخاصة في مجال الاستثمارات الإيرانية في سورية، كما تطورت سياسياً في دعم الطرفين للمقاومة اللبنانية وحزب الله، ومواقفها المتماثلة من الصراع العربي الإسرائيلي

آكي

April 17th, 2008, 4:54 am

 

Alex said:

Karim,

can you read this part again … is it a proper and meaningful sentence?

ورأى حسيني أن شعبي سورية ولبنان “يبحثان عن هذه الآراء والأفكار أكثر من بقيه شعوب العالم”. وقالت إن إيران تملك “مشروعاً” ينطلق بأبعاد “مذهبية وثقافية واجتماعية واقتصادية”، ويتناقض مع شرائع الإسلام الأساسية. واستنكرت ما يلقاه هذا المشروع من دعم النظام السوري وقواه الأمنية

April 17th, 2008, 5:01 am

 

Enlightened said:

Alex :

What does it say? Can you translate?

April 17th, 2008, 5:05 am

 

Karim said:

Yes bro Alex of course ,insulting the wife of the prophet and the sahabah are not considered muslim manners by the syrian muslims.

April 17th, 2008, 5:06 am

 

Alex said:

Enlightened, Karim,

That sentence is translated roughly this way:

Hoseini (rep of the leader of the Islamic revolution of Iran in Syria) believes that the Syrian and Lebanese people “seek the enlightened ideas of the late Imam Khomeini, they seek it more than any other people in the world”. And She (or it) said that “Iran has a project with sectarian, cultural, social, and economic dimensions” and that project is contradictory with basic Islamic principles.

My point is: This sounds like there was some cut and paste going on. Starting the sentence with he (Hoseini) and continuing with she or it …

Karim … I understand your fears. But this story sounds like a serious case of fabrication… Do you really believe it? … where did you copy it from? Al-Syassa?

April 17th, 2008, 5:48 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

SimoHurtta

If I understand correctly I can become a Saudi citizen as long as I convert to Islam and only then will I be able to practice my religion freely and publicly. But if I do not choose to convert to Islam I will be regularly threatened and harassed by extremist vigilantes, which are supported by the Saudi. But why on earth do I need to convert to be a new Muslim in the Middle East, unless Saudi Arabia is purely a religious dictatorship and Muslim safe haven?

Sol indeed you are right by comparing Israel to Saudi Arabia. Because a suitable comparison point for Israel is Saudi Arabia (or Iran). Yes in Israel others can practice their religion or do not that. Women can drive in Jerusalem cars, but have to sit in the back of buses. 🙂 Are Palestinian regularly harassed by Jewish extrimists? Yes they are. Does Saudi Arabia have millions of people with another faith behind walls? No it doesn’t. Is it a theocratic dictatorship (and loved by US regime). Yes it is.

It is a pity that this discussion degenerated to the level that yes there are Buddhist Jews in California (by the way do Buddhist Americans really need a homeland in Middle East) and how bad Saudi Arabia is (which it is). Originally this discussion started about how Israel does erase its own religious image and how it uses the religion of the enemy as a propaganda weapon. That is more essential than how secular the Jews are in USA or in Israel. And how Jews are in “reality” a normal ethnic tribe, which it by all intellectual honesty clearly isn’t.

Naturally the Israel / Palestine fight in Middle East is a war between to two different people groups. But religions are the primary weapon used in this battle. As they are in Iraq and Lebanon. How religions are used in the battle is more important as what the “details” of the different religions are. The Islamic terrorists or extrimists (as they are called often) in Gaza and West Bank are hardly “terrorists” because of Islam. They are “terrorists” because they are dispossessed, not free and humiliated.

Barak: Security of Israelis more important than Gazans’ plight

April 17th, 2008, 5:58 am

 

Shai said:

Simo,

Good Morning. Here’s something our President (Peres) is hoping to do… (he will not succeed, in my opinion):

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/975946.html

Do most Saudis or Iranians treat their minority “ultra-orthodox” the same way we secular Israelis do?

April 17th, 2008, 6:22 am

 

MSK said:

Ya Alex,

I just finished my own science project (mud vulcanoes are SO cool!) & have a moment to spare for SC …

Here’s why a lot of Lebanese are wary of HA:

http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?openform&F05921F9F3000A47C225742E001C64BE

However, if HA were to disarm & it would be made sure that nobody else has arms either & ‘normal’ politics could commence, then HA would have to work very hard to keep their support among the Shi’ites as high as it may be today (although real numbers are impossible to ascertain). There are already other Shi’ite parties and there would then be more – just like among other groups – PLUS all sorts of non-confessional parties.

As for the image of Nasrallah/Asad among non-Lebanese & non-Syrians … Mao Tse Tung & Che Guevara were iconified by loads of people who didn’t actually have to live in their countries. Nuff said.

As for the Palestinians – they should get iqamas in Lebanon but NOT citizenship for two reasons. (1) Until it is de-sectarianized it would explode the domestic situation in Lebanon. (2) It would give Israel yet another ‘argument’ against the acceptance of the Right of Return. Give Palestinians iqamas, let them work, buy property, anything else, but not citizenship. In any case – that pretty much tallies with what the Palestinians here want.

–MSK*

April 17th, 2008, 6:51 am

 

Zenobia said:

Simohurtta,
you brought it up, actually, so i guess you degenerated it.

No, actually I think it is More ESSENTIAL (there are some capital letters for you) to understand that Israel is not erasing its image as religious because if in fact that is an “image” then it is not necessarily an essence, is it.

I think underneath it is more essentially an ethnic/cultural state (despite the recent influx of converted jews) – and that if you go back to the beginning it was more secular than religious.

I am not sure what a “normal” ethnic tribe is. Maybe they are an extraordinary ethnic tribe.
However, it is perfectly relevant to understand the makeup of American Jews and whether they are particularly religious or more secular, since the discussion began with the assertion by some of Israel being a religious state. I disagree. Although, i thinking in the later period this became a more and more powerful part of the ideology- along with demonizing Islam.
But i feel that racism is far more dangerous and powerful than religious conviction.

Akbar, point taken that ‘hijacked’ is too strong a word. I guess I should have said something like ‘influenced’ ‘altered’ shifted the emphasis.
and Yes, of course, whether the secular Israeli during the founding or the socialists or labor party types were not focused on religion, they were dreaming about a Jewish State with a jewish majority. I was not disputing that. I am just trying to say/show that it wasn’t based on religion primarily in the beginning.

When i used the word “settler” I was really referring to the contemporary ones of the territories, not the ancient ones or ones like your ex-father in law. I think it was the later settlers with expansion that the religiosity came in.
I think that Israel was always from day one about ‘settlement’ but based on a different ideology than religious historicity.

Anyhow, i am not sure why i am belaboring this point. I guess it is because I actually don’t think all of this is primarily about religion and I try to argue against that viewpoint. I grew up surrounded by Jewish Americans, many with families that cared or have some strong sentiment about Israel, and I hardly remember very many of them being particularly religious at all except for the normal holiday stuff. It wasn’t about that. It was about cultural heritage and connection with each other.

but of course, i am probably ‘degenerating’ the conversation to bother to talk of such things.

April 17th, 2008, 6:54 am

 

Zenobia said:

Excerpt from the article Shai just linked :

“Peres to declare reconciliation between secular and Haredim.”

“The president blasted the secular public’s attitude toward religious and ultra-Orthodox people.

‘I totally reject the scorn (displayed) toward the religious and ultra-Orthodox Jew, whether he wears a capote (a long, black jacket) or a four-fringed garment. There is no place for condescension, derision or mockery. Such behavior heightens the barriers between us,” Peres said.
“The secular public must stop treating the ultra-Orthodox community with contempt,” he said at the time.
Peres told the rabbis that he would address “first secular people, before complaining about the ultra-Orthodox and others. I’ll say: Let’s examine ourselves before preaching to others. After all, we’re the majority. This is no way to behave, with disrespect, with lack of restraint. I hope this voice will be heard in all the communities. This issue must become part of the public discourse.'”

Well well well. It sort of implies that my characterization is not so far off.

And notice that he says of secular Israelis that “we are the majority”… hmm.
But i guess Simo will argue that this is all subterfuge. Actually these Israelis are all religious but pretending to be secularists.

…. and thus, I guess they are pretend secularists pretending to be antagonistic and contemptuous and mocking of and alienated from religious jews???

April 17th, 2008, 7:29 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

Shai what does Peres mean in the article you linked?

You cannot be Israeli without being Jewish,” Peres told Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Migdal Haemek Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, the publication reported.

“Our fathers, who revived the Jewish settlement in Israel, acted in two ways. First physical national revival, for we were a nation without land. Then spiritual revival – reviving Jewish culture and heritage, which I see as no less important than the physical revival,” Peres said.

So Israeli Arabs are not Israelis because they are not Jewish or what? Isn’t Peres the president of Israel? The president of all citizens. What if the an European president would say that that you cant be a Finn, German etc without being Christian? Surely the Jewish minorities here would not like that. Surely we Christians would not like our president to say such things in this modern age.

Do most Saudis or Iranians treat their minority “ultra-orthodox” the same way we secular Israelis do?

No they don’t. But on the other hand they do not have millions of “slaves”. They do not shoot children and reporters in ghettos.

So Shai are Iran and Saudi Arabia worse or better than Israel? I suppose that is not the point. The point is why does Israel emphasis the faith of the enemy in their propaganda? Terrorists do not do “things” for the sake of pure religion. If you or I would have born and raised in a Gaza like environment and raised families there, we would have taken a gun because there is obviously no other way to solve “the problem”. Religion is not the issue. The people of Palestine happened to be Muslims and Christians. If they would have been Hindus, you would have to face Hindu “terrorists”.

Well well well. It sort of implies that my characterization is not so far off.

And notice that he says of secular Israelis that “we are the majority”… hmm.
But i guess Simo will argue that this is all subterfuge. Actually these Israelis are all religious but pretending to be secularists.

Hmmmm Zenobia, Peres said: You cannot be Israeli without being Jewish.

Is an Israeli Arab citizen a secular Jew? 🙂 🙂 🙂

Zenobia if you think that Israel is a modern secular democracy with no religious nature, you are completely free to think so.

Peres also said:

“Let’s return to our roots,” he said.

“There is no dispute that Israeli youth must learn the Torah. You cannot be an Israeli without being Jewish. Why should we give up the great treasure of Jewish literature? What have our Jewish fathers left us? Neither houses nor pyramids. What is the people of the book? A nation that has books, so why shouldn’t this people study them?” Peres said.

Why must Zenobia Israeli youth learn Torah, if they are not members of the religion. For example those Buddhist Jews children. Not to mention the local Christians and Muslims children.

Secular and not religious based indeed ….

April 17th, 2008, 7:33 am

 

wizart said:

Zenobia,

I think you bring in a valid observation and so does Simo. I lived and worked closely with many Americans from all different religious and ethnic backgrounds. I think “what is essential is invisible to the eyes” in that they all feel a certain spiritual connection to the “mother land” Israel and they go out of their way to visit and send their kids to summer camps there, etc. I understand your point earlier that describes Israel as a nation for all jews (religious or not) and my argument is not about discrediting this notion in its entirety.

I just think and feel that the lessons from “racism 101” today should be applied to the present day state of Israel and non- state of Palestine. This is where the propaganda machine takes over to create an image that Israel is a majority secular democracy even though many many want and preache that their kids study the Torah and practice “the only book” that their godfathers left them.

I especially value opinions from independent sources unhindered by Jewish tilted American public education system or mass propaganda.

Anyway, I appreciate religious discussions because I think they’re pretty essential to understanding the politics of Syria & Israel especially when mutual respect is present. When there’s something I don’t understand I quickly look it up and often share any related findings. Sometimes that comes across as a lecture or a ceremon!

I look forward to meeting your Scandinavian godmothers 🙂

April 17th, 2008, 7:52 am

 

Shai said:

Simo,

I agree with you, which is why I believe Peres will not succeed. But Israeli society is, overwhelmingly, secular. I also agree that portraying Islam (moderate, fundamental, Sunni, or Shia) as “the enemy”, is plain bigotry and just as racist as suggesting that Jews were persecuted for two millennia because they didn’t change their “ways.” Peres’s statement that being Israeli means being Jewish was idiotic and insensitive, because it did alienate those 20% who are also Israelis, but not-Jewish. If he was running for PM right now, he’d suffer the consequences in the elections. But he no longer has to worry about that…

Btw, torah being studied in secular schools is not taught with religious undertones (prayer, observance, etc.) but rather almost like a history book. I can show you books that I read as a kid in 3rd and 4th grade, without needing to understand anything about mitzvot, or prayer, or anything else. The Torah I read were plain stories from the bible. It is the only way to keep some knowledge of Judaism alive also in the minds of secular Jews, who are the majority. Since they practice little if any Judaism at home, or in a synagogue, if they don’t even read something about their history, you could indeed have a situation 50 years from now, where you’d have only 2 million people around the world (Israel included) identifying themselves as Jews. That could easily lead to the end of Judaism, and I understand the concern of those who wish to fight that. Again, don’t look at this through the lens of a Christian in a world of a billion-plus Christians, where your religion has no immediate existential threat over its head (even from within, not necessarily from outside forces). Look at it from the point of view of 13 million Jews around the world. 65-70 years ago that number was 18 million. The Jewish population in the U.S. is actually reducing each year, mainly due to intermarriage. I’m not against that, but I do understand the concern of many about where our religion is heading.

April 17th, 2008, 8:17 am

 

Zenobia said:

In the context from which Peres is speaking, he is trying to promote the idea at that moment that you must be religious to be Israeli, and he is trying to sell the idea that Israeli youth ‘should’ read the Torah.
He is doing this as part of his day of reconciliation, not because it is actually true. and that is the point.

April 17th, 2008, 8:40 am

 

wizart said:

The operative word is to sell and to promote the Torah. I don’t know how well he succeeds as you pointed out although given his track record succeeding to become prime minister I wonder why he wouldn’t succeed! I mean religion sells like hot cakes in the land of the holy scriptures. “secular religious” classrooms sound like a contradiction to me since that sounds like an evolving intersection where dangerous politics and incomprehensible stone age scripture readily interact.

April 17th, 2008, 9:04 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

When i used the word “settler” I was really referring to the contemporary ones of the territories, not the ancient ones or ones like your ex-father in law.

Zenobia,

I understand, and I accept your clarification. Yes, I thought “hijack” was a bit too strong a word.

I think it was the later settlers with expansion that the religiosity came in. I think that Israel was always from day one about ’settlement’ but based on a different ideology than religious historicity.

I think many people assume the “settlement” issue is a “hardline, right-wing, orthodox Jew-created phenomenon”. And though most settlers today could be put in that category, I think it is misleading. MANY “settlers” who have been living in the West Bank for years have been “secular” (not very religious). I would venture to say about 50%. Some of these settlers relocated after the PA took control of many areas. We’re talking about 200,000 to maybe 250,000 Israelis, total.

Let’s look at it this way: which political party was in charge after the ’67 war? When did the Likud come into power? During those 10 years from 1967 to the mid-seventies, numerous “settlements” in the West Bank were created.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/israel/cron/

My point is, after the “3 Nos”, Israel took it upon herself to expand her borders and improve her security. And it was the LABOR PARTY which started it. Personally, I think that was the correct choice. And, BTW, if Israel didn’t do that, there wouldn’t be a Palestine today. Think about that for a minute.

Anyhow, i am not sure why i am belaboring this point. I guess it is because I actually don’t think all of this is primarily about religion and I try to argue against that viewpoint. I grew up surrounded by Jewish Americans, many with families that cared or have some strong sentiment about Israel, and I hardly remember very many of them being particularly religious at all except for the normal holiday stuff. It wasn’t about that. It was about cultural heritage and connection with each other.

Glad someone around here has actually met Jewish Americans. We’re not all bad;)

April 17th, 2008, 11:26 am

 
 

T said:

Shai,

Maybe a sister site, Israeli Comment? I am afraid though that AIG would ban me?! Or Palestinian Comment- with Palestinians’ joint sponsorship and input there?

Wizart,

Thank you for your emoticon help/concern. I will ask my computer cleaner if he can show me in person when I take in my machine for a new transmission. (Someone here said I must download a special program).

April 17th, 2008, 12:09 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

T

Maybe you just need to get in touch with your emotions.

April 17th, 2008, 12:30 pm

 
 

Qifa Nabki said:

Shai,

You are a born facilitator.

T (and Shai)

If you replace the colon with a semi-colon, you get a wink. (Although for some reason it doesn’t always work).

😉 (see?)

April 17th, 2008, 12:57 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

MSK,

With respect to that story about the 100 Hizbullah men surrounding the security forces and freeing the two bearded dudes on mopeds without ID’s, I’m sure those two guys were just regular Lebanese citizens. I know that whenever I forget my ID at home, and get stopped at a checkpoint without it, a group of 100 Hizbullah guys always shows up within ten minutes carrying my ID.

You should see how many show up when I lose my wallet.

*sigh*

April 17th, 2008, 1:05 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Bondo said:

compared to the evolving or devolving usa civilian/corp/zionist govt, you aint even seen anything coming close to absolute totalitarian control.

Tell me, Bondo, why is it that so many Arabs are desperate to flee their paradisiacal regimes and immigrate to the West where totalitarian control is so hegemonic?

I guess you didn’t do a good enough job during your 6 months in Syria, explaining to people why the “regime” in America is so much more totalitarian than their own.

Please, visit Lebanon next! We have a brain drain! Our young men and women are desparate to get out and move to the West. For God’s sake, get over there and tell them the truth!!!

April 17th, 2008, 1:40 pm

 

wizart said:

America is a great place to immigrate for anybody experiencing instability and lack of economic opportunities. That doesn’t validate or invalidate the global judgment often made about the U.S.A

Everybody knows America’s popularity is in decline and yet America was built from the start by migrant workers and still attracts millions of immigrants from around the world not just from Arab countries.

On the other hand it’s foreign policy is clearly biased towards its own self interest just like most other countries. The reason this bias has dramatic effect is because it’s won the cold war and now maybe at a risk of severely abusing its global reach and economic superpower status. That’s why a United Nation restructuring is perhaps needed to keep its military in check.

April 17th, 2008, 2:05 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

if you have further questions, ask. i will try to give my view a bit later.

No, I think it’s quite clear, thanks.

April 17th, 2008, 3:13 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

the nonjewish neocons are what i call ‘neopets’. they are probably strong believers in israel and are imperialists but they are not the power nor are they equals. they take marching orders, eg, woolsey, gaffney. maybe in their hearts, they are jews?

Bondo,

Thank you for your extraordinary insight into American politics.

Tell us, who is more powerful than Condi Rice, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney?

But I DO think you touched on it toward the end of your statement:

“They are Jews”.

April 17th, 2008, 3:39 pm

 

wizart said:

No they all just have minor symptoms of Narcissism in the morning and slightly over elevated super duper ego on weekends. Nothing major.

April 17th, 2008, 3:45 pm

 

Alex said:

Akbar, Bondo,

This argument is not going to lead to anything useful. I removed two comments (one each),

April 17th, 2008, 4:30 pm

 

offended said:

I am just dropping by to salute my fellow syrians on the national day. Heopfully, we’ll celebrate the next year’s national day on the soil of Jolan inshallah.

April 17th, 2008, 4:53 pm

 

offended said:

Alex said:
“sa o3teeka al majal, sa o3teek al majal… ya jama3a …ya jama3ah….ya jama3ah…!”

April 17th, 2008, 4:55 pm

 

SimoHurtta said:

In the context from which Peres is speaking, he is trying to promote the idea at that moment that you must be religious to be Israeli, and he is trying to sell the idea that Israeli youth ’should’ read the Torah.
He is doing this as part of his day of reconciliation, not because it is actually true. and that is the point.

Zenobia in what world are you living? Peres is the president of the country. In his position a person has no luxury of saying something that he doesn’t “mean” and must stand behind what is once said. Does Peres actually personally believe at the topic and words he said, is completely irrelevant. What if Peres would say after two months – “I was joking to the rabbis. I didn’t mean what i said.” Well that would be a “show”. Do you seriously believe that rabbis forget what Peres recommended and promised? They will quote in future Peres’ word and use them. So it works in real world.

Zenobia can say what ever she wants, that has no or little effect. But when the president of Israel (or basically any country’s formal leader minus those lunatic presidents, or is Peres one of them) that has an effect in the nation / country.

“you must be religious to be an Israeli” – so only Jews can be religious. Peres spoke only about Jews. So do you. Why should your Buddhists friends’ children be forced to read Torah. Or Israeli Christian and Muslim children. Oh yes, Peres was cheating the rabbis, no need to do that.

Zenobia you obviously believe / know that Jews have a big variety of different religions and almost all are secular or atheists. Why then not support a totally religiously free Israel and separate religions in the way it is done in modern countries? That would be ideal and simple, wouldn’t it? No more “real” Jews, Buddhist Jews, Hindu Jews, Christian Arabs or Muslims Arabs – only Israeli citizens. Maybe Peres could “joke” about that idea.

April 17th, 2008, 5:17 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

This argument is not going to lead to anything useful.

Alex –

With all due respect, what will lead to anything “useful” here except:

1.) Keeping up the pro-Assad propaganda and articles

2.) Keeping AIG out of all discussions

3.) Demonizing Zionism

4.) Shai’s understanding of the Arab narrative.

Did I miss anything?

Sim asks:

Why then not support a totally religiously free Israel and separate religions in the way it is done in modern countries?

As we say state-side, “Been there, done that”.

April 17th, 2008, 5:26 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Actually, this was said at an event of reconciliation DAy!… and he was promoting a view….
At that particular moment he is busy pandering to the religious right or to the Rabbi so and so… that is clear.

Like in America – so far- presidential candidates, certainly, often pander to the religious right because that segment of the population is extremely powerful and political and revengeful at times. I believe the same is true in Israel, even if they don’t make up the numerical majority or correctly represent the core ethos of the country/ state itself.

and since when don’t presidents say different things in different contexts????
Actually, I have heard numerous times that Peres is notorious for flip flopping on his views and policies and that over the years -he has contradicted himself over and over.

but really, this is irrelevant to my original points which dont’ have to do with this specific situation but with the argument about the Jewish State being motivated and organized around religion – which i disagreed with.
I NEVER said that I thought that Israel had “varied” religions or that the population is “almost all” are secular or “atheists”.
Please stop putting words in my mouth and then attacking them.

Really, “What world are YOU living in??? ” Simohurtta??

obviously, it is one in which you think you can keep condescending to me and acting like I am irrational because I don’t happen to agree with you.

I meant to say last night that I rest my case. Let the article and anything else evident to others or that you have said … speak for itself.
I don’t need your interpretation of my view anymore- since you pick on details out of context of anything presented and seem to lose sight of the whole. We just disagree.
And it wasn’t even a really amazingly critical issue to disagree on, surprisingly, as I would still count secular Israelis as being very racist against arabs in many many instances. So, whether injustice is based on religion or based ethno-cultural egocentricity, we get the same result which neither of us approves of.

Lets give it a rest now, why don’t we.

we can move on to the new wonderful heartwarming articles and editorial from the egregious Washington Post.

April 17th, 2008, 5:45 pm

 

Alex said:

Akbar Palace said:

Alex –

With all due respect, what will lead to anything “useful” here except:

1.) Keeping up the pro-Assad propaganda and articles

2.) Keeping AIG out of all discussions

Well, Akbar … let me explain to you something that I don’t have more tolerance for: having to waste more of my time to respond to lies and cheap old AIPAC and camera.org tactics.

Keeping AIG out of ALL discussions??!!

AIG will be back on Sunday (after one week ban) … as you realize above, I quickly started to limit BONDO’s participation here when I realize it could lead to the same chaos that AIG’s participation often leads to. Because I don’t want to hear your cheap AIPAC arguments, In AIG’s case I tolerated him for few months before I started to ban him one week at a time, not completely ban him like many participants asked me too.

So I have been much more tolerant of your friend and you still want to waste my time again to reply to your camera.org type of nonsense.

Don’t bother me again. Next time you make a statement watch carefully the meaning of a word like “ALL”. The same way I did not accept BONDO’s use of “all jews” arguments, you also need to work a bit on your “all”-class of accusations before you post them. For example … go to the “categories” above and click on “opposition” … those are not exactly regime propaganda news.

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?cat=6

If you have any more remarks send me an email.

April 17th, 2008, 6:07 pm

 

Minister of Culture & Information said:

Hear ye, hear ye,

O denizens of Syria Comment, please refrain from any further discussion of banning and censorship. That is the job of the Ministry of Culture & Information.

Please refrain from pestering Alex, as he is but a humble employee of the ministry.

As of this moment, you are now banned from discussing banning and any future comments about censorship will be censored.

Yours informationally,

Jacob Tafnis
The Minister of Culture & Information
Syria Comment

April 17th, 2008, 6:41 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Because I don’t want to hear your cheap AIPAC arguments…

Alex –

I know. I’m sorry. I promise to keep my “cheap AIPAC arguments” to a minimum. I will let Shai’s more politically correct “AIPAC arguments” rule the day here, and I surely do not want to see Syria Comment waste its time with more “useless” posts (what ever that means;).

BTW: How do you determine a “cheap” argument, from a good one? Is there some sort of objective criteria?

April 17th, 2008, 6:59 pm

 

Alex said:

Yes Akbar,

It is quite simple.

When there is a consistent attempt to insinuate that I am censoring views I don’t like .. especially ALL the time, like you suggested above. It is very cheap.

AIPAC does that … anyone they want to silence and they can’t, they start assembling arguments against him in order to totally discredit him or at least to raise some doubts about his credibility … You are attempting that with me.

Minister Qifa Nabki,

If you don’t go study I will tell your dad

: )

April 17th, 2008, 7:15 pm

 

wizart said:

“Negotiation is the settlement of conflicting interests without resorting to force.”

April 17th, 2008, 8:15 pm

 

wizart said:

AP,

It sounds to me from your trademark attitude and my observations that your way of thinking has to always be right despite all evidence to the contrary which you seem to ridicule wholesale quite often. I find that quite abusive and a nuisance really for those of us who wish to understand Syrian’s perspectives not just yours.

One of the most crucial skills of critical thinking is that of deciding what is essential and Alex has proved his metal in remaining as objective as can be while still safeguarding the blog against those who wish to destroy it by their attempted witch hunts for anything that may discredit the gravity of the occupation and blame the other side for it. You must acknowledge the gaps in your knowledge about our conflict with your beloved second country Israel, rather than feel compelled to let pride and fear of the truth lure you into assuming the role of knowing it all. I trust in the judgment of the administration and I appreciate their time.

April 17th, 2008, 8:23 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Wizart opines:

AP,

It sounds to me from your trademark attitude and my observations that your way of thinking has to always be right despite all evidence to the contrary which you seem to ridicule wholesale quite often. I find that quite abusive and a nuisance really for those of us who wish to understand Syrian’s perspectives not just yours.

Wizart,

I am not always right. I always try to present fact; not prejudicial opinion like so many here present. If, for example, AIPAC “silences” people, like Alex posted above, I would like proof showing how they do it. How did AIPAC “silence” Jimmy Carter? How did AIPAC silence James Baker? How does AIPAC silence Senator Obama?

So you see, my questions are annoying, “cheap”, “useless” and a “nuisance”, especilly if one can’t seem to face the facts in spite of their anti-Israel and anti-Jewish prejudices.

OTOH, respectful posters who are quite pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian, and quite anti-Zionist (I’m thinking of Zenobia), can have the intellectual honesty to be open, accept that a comment may have been “over-the-top”, and open to learn something new or different.

I do not agree with Shai on his ideology and his approach, but I think Shai is tolerant of all people. He’s not a rejectionist (like Bondo), and he’s willing to hear the Arab narrative. Few people on this website can stomach the Jewish-Israeli narrative.

One of the most crucial skills of critical thinking is that of deciding what is essential and Alex has proved his metal in remaining as objective as can be…

Perhaps Alex is “as objective as can be…”, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement. Especially if Alex is selling the opinion that AIPAC “silences” anyone here in the largest democracy on Earth. I also have to stomach other anti-Zionists like Simohutta who claim Israel never made peace.

What is one to do Wizart?

You must acknowledge the gaps in your knowledge about our conflict with your beloved second country Israel, rather than feel compelled to let pride and fear of the truth lure you into assuming the role of knowing it all. I trust in the judgment of the administration and I appreciate their time.

Tell us Wizart, habib, what “truth” do I “fear”?

April 17th, 2008, 9:20 pm

 

Alex said:

Akbar,

Read carefully please what I wrote:

AIPAC does that … anyone they want to silence and they can’t, they start assembling arguments against him in order to totally discredit him or at least to raise some doubts about his credibility … You are attempting that with me.

I said “they want to silence BUT THEY CAN’T”

Then check this link from camera.org who can not silence president Carter, but they sure try their best to discredit him:

http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=31&x_actionitem=81

“Kenneth Stein, Dennis Ross, Michael Oren, Alan Dershowitz, Melvin Konner and Rachel Ehrenfeld are among the contributors who offer important insight about the former president’s lamentable distortions.

The book is an opportunity to restate essential facts and to underscore the need for reform of publishing houses, such as Simon and Schuster, that violate basic standards of accuracy, while promoting and profiting from such non-fiction books.”

And here is Camera’s Mearsheimer “book review”

http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=8&x_nameinnews=189&x_article=1106

So .. the same story always … anyone that gets on their nerves will have to waste his time for the next few months answering allegations about his “distortions” or “bias” or “lack of professionalism”.

Akbar … these tactics are not gaining Israel many friends. Carter’s book is still popular and Carter is still determined to seek a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians even if camera and AIPAC don’t like it.

To send lawyers picking details of a Carter or Mearsheimer book trying to find anything that looks like “distortions” is really aggressive … tell your friends that they can do much better reinventing AIPAC into a kinder, gentler, smarter, and more subtle 21st century lobby for Israel.

Carter is the man who gave Israel peace … without him Egypt would have been your enemy for many more years and many Israeli young soldiers would have died from another war with Egypt and Syria … had Carter not helped Israel accept the Camp David accords.

It is really disappointing how you are treating him.

April 17th, 2008, 9:53 pm

 

Roland said:

Historically, religious fundamentalists have often helped bring about democratic change.

The Calvinists in Switzerland come to mind.

And it was the strength of the Puritans–Christian fundamentalists–under Cromwell which resulted in the victory of Parliament over absolute monarchy in England.

Note that it was NOT the secular rationalists who played a main part in English parliamentarianism. They were mostly supportive of the absolute monarchy, which at the time was considered the world-class political benchmark.

Only the fundamentalists had the good sense to take the Divine Right of Kings and cut it short–quite literally!

Puritan refugee colonies in the Americas helped establish American democratic traditions. Yes, they also banned plays and burned witches. Democracy can be like that sometimes.

April 18th, 2008, 12:44 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

… anyone they want to silence …

Alex –

Exactly. Who does AIPAC want to “silence”? The obvious answer is: no one.

AIPAC, along with many other Jewish organizations are ready, willing, and albe to respond to anyone concerning Israel.

This isn’t Syria. AIPAC doesn’t “want to silence”; this is either your prejudice at work or a bad choice of wording.

April 18th, 2008, 1:06 am

 

Alex said:

You are right. it i a bad choice of words. Too dramatic.

They want to bother .. annoy … make life difficult for … waste their time … make them spend the next few months defendig themselves against AIPAC’s attacks on their character.

Simon and Schuster got this one for daring to publish Carter’s book:

“that violate basic standards of accuracy, while promoting and profiting” from the “distortions” of the ex-president

Boy! … makes you get the feeling these guys at Simon and Schuster are so greedy and evil.

April 18th, 2008, 4:15 pm

 

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