who is Jonathan - I try to avoid all labels that don't apply to me, but I think "old liberal" is perhaps best. By "old liberal," I am referring to the values of free speech, anti-racism, liberal internationalism, freedom of religion, anti-totalitarianism, and free thought. My intellectual heroes are varied, but I have deep respect for Harry Truman, Ed Koch, Joe Lieberman, Vaclav Havel, Adam Michnik, Tahar Djaout, Alain Finkielkraut, Raymond Aron, Emmanuel Levinas, and Barry Goldwater. A real mix, to be sure.
What brings me to the Free Arab Forum? Simple : belief in the idea that all people, men and women in the Arab world, deserve to live in freedom. I have had many friends and colleagues from all over the Middle East. And you know what always strikes me the most? That they are afraid to speak their true thoughts 'back home.' lest they be arrested in the middle of the night or their families are put in harms way. Over the past few years, I have written on the Middle East for numerous publications, stressing the creation of diaspora communities in the United States. Very often, I get complimentary emails from Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Assyrians, Kurds, and others thanking for me discussing topics that are taboo back in the Middle East. In December, I wrote an article on the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt - something you will NOT see in an Arab newspaper. The fact that this topic isn't discussed is part of the problem. Until the Arab world is able to have a free dialogue, there will be no real change. I am happy to keep writing on behalf of my friends and colleagues from Algeria to Iran, Assyrians and Copts, Jews and Lebanese, Circassians and Kurds, who cannot speak or say what they really feel. To my friends from Beirut, from Teheran, this is hopefully the beginning of a new era, a time when you will not have to hide the fact that you have corresponded with me, to a time when an American Jew can visit Teheran and have lunch and an Iranian Muslim can visit Tel Aviv to go for a coffee. This vision - of open borders, free markets, a Jewish democratic State of Israel living in peace with a democratic Palestine, is what terrifies the Islamists and Ba'athists. It is my vision and one I will fight for, knowing all the time that I have many friends who, for now, must remain silent, shackled under the oppressive reign of dictatorships
Some thoughts on second thoughts
There is a certain stigma attached to free thinking Arabs who dare to question the prevailing political and social orthodoxy in the Arab world. Because we are pro-Democracy we are automatically labeled as "tools" of the American government and Zionist lobby by Ba'athist regimes like Bashar Assad's, neo-Ba'athists like the AAI (American Arab Institute) and ADC (American Arab anti-discrimination committee), and of course by your run of the mill Islamist radical groups. However, the true mantel of patriotism both as an American and as an Arab lies with those who have the courage to stand up on behalf of democracy and human dignity. It is easy to hid behind the cowardly mantra of nationalism or religious extremism; it is easy to denigrate anti-Ba'ath and anti-Islamists as tools of some imagined conspiracy. The true men of courage are those who have the backbone and principle to take a stand for a free Arab world--this is no easy task. The strain of narcissistic group-think that is holding back the Arab world from realizing its immense potential for social, political, and economic advancement can only be rolled back by intellectually honest men and women who are willing to open their minds to second thoughts. What do I mean by “second thoughts”? I mean having second thoughts of the lies of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism shoved down our throats by a failed past generation, I mean having second thoughts of the lies of neo-Ba’athist apologists and intellectual frauds like Edward Said, but most of all, second thoughts mean questioning those who seem to have no moral qualms with the Arab peoples suffering for another 500 years in a social environment that hates individualism, stifles creativity, and has no sense of respect for human dignity to even begin a dialogue on the importance of upholding fundamental human rights.
If we are to live, we must live free. This is why I'm proud both as an American and as a Syrian to join the struggle in combating the disease of despotism with its only known cure: the spread of liberty and democracy.
al-Jazeera also has a good report today about how Islamists are threatening Iraqi musicians
Next time you hear someone talking around the "Iraqi people," demand that they take a stand on this issue. Should Iraqis be allowed to play music? When? At all times? What kinds of music? Notice that al-Jazeera (not a hotbed of Zionism) refers to "some Muslim radicals" - This just shows that Islamism is not the creation of the Western media or a Zionist conspiracy to defame Islam, but a very real problem for the more cosmopolitan peoples of the Middle East.
Iraqi musicians have been targeted by some Muslim radicals who want to wipe out many features of secular Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein last year.
Famous across Iraq for their sea shanties, musicians in southern Iraq's Basra port, who have endured conflict and poverty under the 12 years of sanctions, are facing a new threat from Shia radicals who want to silence their instruments.
Grenade attacks blamed on Shia extremists have already targeted the cluster of shops crammed with drums, lutes and trumpets in the backstreets of old Basra's Summar district, where musicians meet to practise and take bookings.
This is a post from Australia Radio regarding how the Israeli government has charged a soldier in the death of a British civilian in Gaza. Two interesting details about this report.
(1) If Israel was such the horrible, oppressive, anti-human rights government that the Far Left says it is, why would the government arrest one of its own soldiers? When was the last time the Syrian regime arrested a soldier for killing a Lebanese civilian?
(2) The story does not mention that the arrested soldier in question was not Jewish, but was a Bedouin Muslim. Yes, that's right - Bedouin Muslims serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, so here we have the case of a Muslim soldier in the army of the Jewish State shooting a white anti-Israel protestor from Britain. I think this must confuse a lot of people.
ABC Online, Australia
Feb 13 2004
Israeli soldier charged in Briton's shooting death
The Israeli military says it has charged with manslaughter a soldier
suspected of shooting dead a British activist as he helped Palestinian
civilians take cover during a clash in the Gaza Strip last year.
The soldier had faced aggravated assault charges but these were
upgraded after Tom Hurndall died last month of a head wound sustained
in Rafah refugee camp on April 11, 2003, an army spokeswoman said.
The new indictment was served on Wednesday.
A member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, Mr
Hurndall volunteered to go to Rafah, which sees regular clashes
between Israeli forces and Gaza militants waging a more than
Witnesses said he was wearing a bright orange jacket and helping
Palestinian children cross a street when he was shot.
The soldier initially said he had shot at a gunman but later "admitted
to firing in proximity to an unarmed civilian as a deterrent",
according to the Israeli military.
Manslaughter carries a 20-year jail sentence under Israeli military
The trial was due to begin in March, the army spokeswoman said.
Algerian politics are once again in turmoil and I have yet to hear a single Arab-American organization take a stand on the issue
In this past Wednesday's online edition of the National Interest, I wrote that:
This coming April, Algeria will have its presidential election. This will be a good bellwether for the political future of North Africa. In many ways, Algeria is a laboratory for the relationship between Islam and the West and for many of the political conflicts engulfing the Arab-Islamic world. Such fundamental questions as the roles of both Islam and military authoritarianism in politics, the relationship between Arabism and ethnic minorities, the role of a free press, and attitudes toward Israel, have all been contested in the Algerian public sphere throughout the 1990s and up until today.
and discussed the increasingly vocal opposition to President Bouteflika's autocratic rule:
Bouteflika is now also facing a major challenge from the country’s large Berber, or Kabyle, population. The descendents of the indigenous, pre-Arab population of North Africa, the Kabyles constitute close to one-quarter of Algeria’s population and have faced discrimination at the hands of the Arab-speaking government and violence at the hands of the Islamists, many of whom deliberately targeted secular Kabyles such as the novelist Tahar Djaout for execution in their violent jihad of the early 1990s. Although Kabyles have achieved a great deal of success in post-independence Algeria, the greater and more nationalist Kabyle community has recently threatened to sit-out the April election unless their demand for government recognition of their ethnic language, Tamazight, as an official language is met. The Kabyles have rejected the suggestion of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia (himself a Kabyle) that the only way Algeria could make Tamazight an official language on par with Arabic was through a national referendum.
today, i was pleasantly surprised by a report on al-Jazeera discussing Algeria's sad and violent history and, what impressed me the most (and I am not a particular fan of al-Jazeera, mind you) was a good report on Algeria that not only mentioned the Kabyle population but also discussed the horrific death toll of the Islamist insurgency in Algeria and the military counter-insurgency.
Algeria is just coming out of a decade of violence sparked by the cancellation of parliamentary elections that a now-banned hardline Islamic party was set to win in 1992.
The ensuing violence, much of it at the hands of the hardliners calling for a Taliban-style state, led to the deaths of more than 150,000 people, according to human rights groups.
The United States has criticised the North African country for keeping an emergency law which bans demonstrations. It is critical of a clampdown on the independent press and for not giving the opposition more time on state media.
AS I SAID, I AM NOT AN AL-JAZEERA FAN, but....... this article represents a sort of intellectual honesty that is sorely needed
Max Singer's article Willl Saddam's Removal Change Things ? is a must read.
"It is likely that the removal of Saddam is an early piece of a pattern of causes that will gradually lead to a major change in behavior in the Middle East. In some cases, such as Libya, this will happen because the regime recognizes the need to accommodate US goals concerning terrorism and WMD, and in other cases it will happen because different regimes come to power—either because of US efforts or because of internal considerations, or through a combination of both. One result of the changes that flow in the wake of Iraq will be a movement in the direction of freedom—a movement that is not likely to be either rapid or steady, but which will eventually result in the Middle East becoming much less different from the rest of the world than it was a year ago"
One really cannot stress enough the refreshingly radical paradigm of the Bush Doctrine: The understanding that dictatorships anywhere are indeed a threat to democracies everywhere and we must actively confront them if we are to curb the rising tide of WMD proliferation and Islamist social penetration in the middle east. It is more clear than ever that Ba'athist dictatorships like Saddam's are reckless and whose totalitarian lack of regard for human life drives them to accumulate weapons of mass destruction and support international terror. We are now seeing the other Ba'athist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria respond to the new geopolitical reality that has been created by American military and economic dominance. But this ought not blind us to the fact that the ends that our policy ought to strive for are the total defeat and dismantelment of pro-terror dictatorships. Conciliatory measures on behalf of countries like Iran, Libya, and Syria are done out of a prudent sense of realpolitik and shrewd analysis of the international order; this is not to say that they have totally discounted terror and WMD's as tools of statecraft. Dictators know that they have the luxury that democratically elected governments do not have: time. We cannot let another generation of Arabs live under the rule of another generation of tyrants; the time is now, the settings for reform are in place, and America has a moral and national obligation to engender a critical mass for democratic change in the Arab world.
According to the website of Arab Students United at NYU the organization advocates democracy, peace, knowledge, justice, tolerance, equal rights and better human understanding for all people the world over
This is, of course, an extremely laudable vision and a noble goal. I would take it from this website that the members of ASU would, if asked, be prepared to denounce the fact that the Ba'athist regime in Syria - a regime cloked in the mantle of Arab nationalism - denies Kurdish citizens of Syria equal rights? Would they join me in my work to secure tolerance and justice for the Assyrians of Iraq whose very identity was officially denied by the former regime of Saddam Hussein? I strongly believe that the State of Israel should do more to help promote the rights and interests of non-Jewish minorities in Israel and am extremely proud to say that I have been active in this process. Will ASU members follow suit and work to promote the rights of Kabyles in Algeria, Copts in Egypt, Assyrians in Iraq, and Shiites in Bahrain? I hope so. If they remain silent, I will be forced to believe that they really don't believe their own rhetoric.
If one listened to groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations, you would get the impression that there was such a thing as a Muslim-American vote or that American Muslims were obsessed with Palestinians. Is this really the case? A different viewpoint here!
Is Syria's ambassdor to the US a real reformer or just another Ba'athist apologist ?
It has long been my contention that the Arab world needs to seriously reflect upon its treatment of non-Arabs living in predominantly "Arab" societies. It is downright hypocritical to denounce Israel for its "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza, while simulataneously ignoring the fact than many non-Arab minorities in the region feel as if THEIR land is being occupied. Israeli Jews have long been at the forefront for peace and, in many ways, for the creation of a Palestinian state at peace with Israel. Israeli newspapers will daily denounce the government of Israel for alleged and real human rights abuses. Where, may I ask, in the Arab media, do intellectuals regularly and vocally speak up about the crimes committed by Arab regimes against Assyrians, Berbers, Copts, and Kurds? Why the silence? When Arab-Americans protest against US policy in Iraq and speak about the Iraqi people, do they have Kurds in mind? Can we freely discuss Arab racism towards Kurds in the manner than Israeli intellectuals regular discuss racism in Israel?
Thank you America
This article was written by free-thinking Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya right after Iraq was liberated. It's an appropriate first post for this blog because I think it best encapsulates the reasons why Arabs ought to reject the conspiracy-driven intellectually bankrupt mode of thought peddled by so-called advocacy groups and despotic Arab governments.
The only thing fettering Arabs today is not the evanescent boogeyman of Zionism, capitalism, or imperialism; it is our endemic dearth of freedom. We must first liberate our minds from the intellectual tyranny of hate that imprisons any critical and objective analysis of what truly ails the Arab world. Then we must liberate Arabs under the pernicious occupation of Ba'athism and Islamism--this is my goal. For the freedom of a proud people, for the security of our American nation, the insanity must be stopped. Please join my compatriots and me as we tread upon this path of liberation for the sake of humanity and civilization.