Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dennis Prager: Five questions non-muslims would like answered

In a recent LA Times article, radio talk show host Dennis Prager has addressed five provocative questions to the US muslim community that, he contends, non-muslims would like answered. The questions are as follows:

(1) Why are you so quiet? [i.e. : in the face of all the terror committed in the name of Islam]

(2) Why are none of the Palestinian terrorists Christian?

(3) Why is only one of the 47 Muslim-majority countries a free country?

(4) Why are so many atrocities committed and threatened by Muslims in the name of Islam?

(5) Why do countries governed by religious Muslims persecute other religions?

After having asked the above questions, he goes on to explain his motives:

"As a member of the media for nearly 25 years, I have a long record of reaching out to Muslims. Muslim leaders have invited me to speak at major mosques. In addition, I have studied Arabic and Islam, have visited most Arab and many other Muslim countries and conducted interfaith dialogues with Muslims in the United Arab Emirates as well as in the U.S. Politically, I have supported creation of a Palestinian state and supported (mistakenly, I now believe) the Oslo accords.

Hundreds of millions of non-Muslims want honest answers to these questions, even if the only answer you offer is, "Yes, we have real problems in Islam." Such an acknowledgment is infinitely better — for you and for the world — than dismissing us as anti-Muslim.

We await your response."

Now, here is a chance to explain our side of the story to somebody who is willing to listen. Any ideas on how one may, in an honest and objective way, address Mr. Prager's questions?

Monday, November 21, 2005

الرجل الثالث

In yesterday's al-Hayat, another great opinion piece by Ghassan Sharbal about the situation in Iraq: lucid and to the point.

Looking at the situation from afar, it seems to me that sunni arabs, being the great losers of the current war, have a very hard time agreeing on the new rules of the political game in Iraq, rules that are dictated by demographics and by the sheer numbers of non-sunni arabs, i.e. of shias and kurds. On the other hand, the shia and the kurds were so oppressed by successive sunni governments (not only by Saddam) in the last 40 years (in fact since the fall of the monarchy in Iraq, the latter having reportedly been more lenient toward them) that they won't trust sunni arabs anymore. The fact is, the situation in Iraq is far more complex than what most arab commentators will dare to admit, and as Ghassan Sharbal is explaining in his essay, it will take a lot of wisdom and of goodwill from all sides in order to achieve some sort of peace in Iraq and avoid the terrible specter of a civil war that has been looming on the country's horizon since the toppling of the Baath regime back in 2003.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

On the fate of al-Khalil's palestinian population

In yesterday's al-Hayat, an interesting article about the palestinians of al-Khalil (Hebron), and how they were coerced into fleeing their homes in the past decade:

أكد تحقيق صحافي نشرته صحيفة «هآرتس» أمس ان المستوطنين في محافظة الخليل وبدعم مباشر من جيش الاحتلال الاسرائيلي كانوا وراء إرغام نحو 30 ألفا من سكان المدينة على الرحيل تاركين وراءهم ممتلكاتهم وبيوتهم ليستولي عليها المستوطنون ويسكنوا بعضها ويدمروا أخرى ويعيثوا خراباً في ما تبقى.

وكتب الصحافي ميرون ربابورت بعد جولة قام بها في المنطقة المعروفة بـ «اتش 2» التي ما زالت تخضع للاحتلال الاسرائيلي ان الجيش الاسرائيلي يبرر ما حصل للفلسطينيين بأنه «فصل بين اليهود والعرب،» فيما يصفه الفلسطينيون بـ «الترانسفير» ويطلق عليه قائد قوات المراقبين الدوليين في المنطقة «تطهيراً». وأضاف الكاتب تحت عنوان «مدينة أشباح»: «تحت ضغط مزدوج من المستوطنين والجيش الاسرائيلي فرغ مركز مدينة الخليل من سكانه الفلسطينيين. لم يحصل مثل هذا الأمر منذ العام 1948. لم يبق من المواطنين الـ30 ألفاً سوى قلائل، والشوارع بدت خالية حتى يوم عيد الفطر».

To read the full text of the article, click here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

In memoriam

Mostafa Akkad, 1933-2005

Great Arab movie director, killed, with many others, in an ugly
act of mass murder in a Jordanian hotel while attending a wedding.

May your sole rest in peace. Amen.

Enemies of Life - Al-Hayat article (english)

Al-Hayat (arabic): مصطفى العقاد نشر رسالة الاسلام سينمائياً وسقط ضحية التطرّف

Asharq al-Awasat (arabic): عرس الدم: بطولة مصطفى العقاد

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A few thoughts about the Mehlis report

Now that the initial dust has settled, here are a few thoughts about the Mehlis report:

1. First, as most observers have noted, the report did not identify any single suspect. Instead, it has hinted to several possible leads, with only fragments of proof here and there, and no material evidence a prosecutor can build a case on, as of yet.

2. There has been a lot of fuss in the media (especially western media) about the role played by Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, and hence about a possible involvement of the Syrian government. Particular emphasis was put on the short but tense meeting between then Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and Syrian President Bashar Assad, where Assad bluntly told Hariri that Lahoud's mandate was to be extended for an additional term, or else to be prepared to incur Syria's wrath. As a good friend of mine pointed out to me, all this happened in August 2004, and Hariri has backed from his position (which was never publicly known anyway) and bowed to Assad's demand, and Lahoud's extension passed. Now, here is my question: how do these events constitute a motive for the assassination ?

3. In fact, there is nothing new in these elements: any observer even remotely familiar with lebanese affairs knew before the Mehlis report that Syria had a lot of influence in Lebanon, to say the least. The fact that a Syrian official (in this case the deputy foreign minister) has lied to the Mehlis commission cannot reasonably be considered as tangible proof of official Syrian involvement in the assasination. As my friend told me: "What did you want the Syrians to say ? That "yeah, we interfered in Lebanease affairs..."? Or that "yeah, we were running the show behind the scenes"? Of course they lied, as all other powers do every single day... Is that a reason to invade or embargo a country? If it is then there are many western democracies which should be invaded and embargoed in the first place." He may not be totally wrong.

4. Obviously, Syria's involvement in Lebanon was well-known to western governments, but not to the western public at large. In constitutional democracies, a certain degree of public support is needed in case a war is to be waged. It thus appears that the Mehlis commission was set up so that Syria's abuses in the Lebanon could be exposed in western media for later use by the war propaganda machine.

5. Of course, the Syrian government is a brutal dictatorship, which is capable of acts worse than this one. Yet, in this particular case, a clear motive for syrian involvement is lacking. Syria has not benefited in any way from Hariri's murder, and it is somehow difficult to believe that the syrians, which have played their lebanese cards so intelligently in the past, may have (mis)calculated that they would reap any benefit from the crime. Of course, I am not trying to absolve the Syrians, but sometimes, one has to look for the culprit in the most unexpected places.

To read more:

Jihad al-Khazen, on the possible role played by the sect of the Ahbash: The International Investigation and Old Security Files

Hazem Saghieh, on how Baath's ideology has driven Syria to the current impasse: Sacrificing the Baath to Rescue Syria

Mohammad Sayed Saeed, on what might be next for Syria: اختيارات صعبة بعد تقرير ميليس

Abdulwahab Badr Khan: الجميع كان يعرف

Dawood Shirian, recounting a meeting with Syrian Defense Minister before he "commited suicide": This is how I saw Ghazi Kanaan