Posts Tagged NGOs
Good point by Robert Merry regarding American Government-funded NGOs working to “spread democracy” throughout the world:
The Times reports that the United Arab Emirates has shut down the offices of the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit U.S. agency whose mission is to promote democracy around the globe. The NDI is often called an NGO, short for nongovernmental organization, which might leave some people a bit quizzical given that this particular NGO is funded to a significant extent by the U.S. government. But Wikipedia helpfully explains: “In cases in which NGOs are funded totally or partially by governments, the NGO maintains its non-governmental status by excluding governmental representatives from membership in the organization.”
… For anyone trying to understand why this anger is welling up in those countries, it might be helpful to contemplate how Americans would feel if similar organizations from China or Russia or India were to pop up in Washington, with hundreds of millions of dollars given to them by those governments, bent on influencing our politics. One supposes it would generate substantial anger among Americans if these groups tried to tilt our elections toward one party or another. But suppose they were trying to upend our very system of government, as U.S.-financed NGOs are trying to do these days in various countries—and have done in recent years in numerous locations.
Well… that actually does happen – hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by foreign governments on lobbying the US government every year — but that’s beside the point.
This is a problem that Israel is also dealing with – foreign governments fund organisations that operate within the country and have the express goal of bringing-down the current system. This is not to say that I disagree at all with what the organisations in Egypt are doing (I disagree completely with the ones in Israel), but if they are funded by the US government, the argument that they do not answer to the government directly does not hold much weight.
Whether or not the government actually has a representative on the board is not particularly important. Any organisation is beholden to its funders. The organisations in Egypt are in a position where they can only operate because of the US government and therefore the US government can shut them if it so chooses. That means that they pretty much have to do what the government tells them, it also means that the government is effectively sending them to Egypt. It is understandable, then, that the Egyptian authorities would be a little upset that the organisations are actively working against them.
Again, I completely support trying to bring democracy to Egypt, I just don’t like this “secret” diplomacy. It’s like the US give a wink and a smile to the Egyptians and say “don’t worry, we’re still friends, they aren’t really acting on our behalf. We’re just paying them to be there, that’s all.” It’s not fooling anyone.
The opinion pieces dealing with the Arab world this morning from The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald come from complete opposite viewpoints, but each accuse the other of being condescending and helping to stereotype the Arab people and so perpetuate their dictators. In the SMH, New York Times commentator Nicholas Christof writes that anyone who doesn’t assume that these protests will create democracy is applying a “crude stereotype”:
Is the Arab world unready for freedom? A crude stereotype lingers that some people – Arabs, Chinese and Africans – are incompatible with democracy. Many around the world fret that ”people power” will likely result in Somalia-style chaos, Iraq-style civil war or Iran-style oppression.
That narrative has been nourished by Westerners and, more sadly, by some Arab, Chinese and African leaders. So with much of the Middle East in an uproar today, let’s tackle a politically incorrect question head-on: are Arabs too politically immature to handle democracy?
I’m not too sure I like the way he backs-up his argument:
The common thread of this year’s democracy movement from Tunisia to Iran, from Yemen to Libya, has been undaunted courage. I’ll never forget a double-amputee I met in Tahrir Square in Cairo when Hosni Mubarak’s thugs were attacking with rocks, clubs and Molotov cocktails. This young man rolled his wheelchair to the front lines. And we doubt his understanding of what democracy means?
In Bahrain, I watched a column of men and women march unarmed towards security forces when, a day earlier, the troops had opened fire with live ammunition. Can anyone dare say that such people are too immature to handle democracy?
I can dare say that. These examples no doubt show tremendous courage, but why is that the same as being able to handle democracy? I don’t understand how a man rolling his wheelchair into the front lines shows that he understands democracy. If Kristof can write for one of the leading newspapers in the democratic world and not understand democracy, why is understanding assured for a brave, somewhat handicapped, Egyptian protester?
Maintaining a functional democracy requires voting rights for all citizens; the rule of law; an independent executive, legislature and judiciary; the ability to criticise those in power; a free press with which do to so and an army/police force that will maintain the rule of law and protect all of the above-mentioned rights. How exactly this relates to marching unarmed into a massacre I’m not entirely sure.
David Burchell in The Australian explains this kind of viewpoint very eloquently:
What seems obvious about the young Libyans in the streets of Tobruk, Benghazi and Tripoli – like young Iranians and Egyptians, and quite possibly many Syrians and Saudis too – is that they no longer want any truck with those miserable self-serving fantasies of Arab victimhood and Zionist sorcery. Instead, they merely want to live – as Said was lucky enough to do – in a “normal” country, where their persons will be treated with dignity and their views with respect. But about how to create such a country, beyond toppling statues and setting fire to police stations, they have been left almost totally in the dark – partly through the agency of their own rulers, and partly by us.
The “miserable self-serving fantasies” he is referring to specifically come from Arab-American intellectual Edward Said, who created the theory of “Orientalism”, which basically explains that the West in the present day continues a patronising, colonial attitude towards the Orient, despite not actually colonising it anymore, meaning that we feel the need to impose our values and mindset on a people who don’t want or need them.
Said presented a political perspective of almost child-like simplicity: the West, in its domineering ignorance, was forever doomed to “other” the Orient, and to treat it as its inferior, even while Said and his disciples blissfully “othered” the Middle East themselves, as a sepulchre of Arab suffering, in a mirror-image of those they deplored. Said’s acolytes are probably less familiar with the articles he wrote over many years for the Egyptian state press – articles devoid of the criticism of any existing Arab government; (least of all Mubarak’s); and which reduce all the problems of the Arab world to the actions of those two familiar pantomime villains, the US and Israel. You will not be surprised to hear that Said had nothing whatever to say about Libya’s absurd Mussolini imitator, Gaddafi – except to heap abuse upon the US when it responded to the colonel’s various terrorist provocations.
Said reserved special contempt for brave Arabs who criticised the region’s political, economic and social backwardness. As he wrote, in his customary lachrymose tones, in Egyptian state weekly Al-Ahram in 2003: ‘I recall the lifeless cadences of their sentences for, with nothing positive to say about their people, they simply regurgitate the tired American formulas: we lack democracy; we haven’t challenged Islam enough, we need to drive away the spectre of Arab nationalism.’
So according to Burchell, Said and his “acolytes” attach a baseless romanticism to Arabs, meaning that they support everything that they do and assume that they can do no wrong and always know what’s best for themselves, without any need of Western intervention or values, because the West only ever does harm. Ironically, Kristof (and Paul McGeough) seem to fit this description exactly. In fact, it explains why, as I wrote yesterday, Western NGO’s refused to investigate the Taliban for war crimes and only wanted to scrutinise Western forces in Afghanistan.
These dictators are facing criticism now, but I only remember these commentators blaming Israel and the US for all of the Arab woes in the past. At the time, they followed Said’s point of view that Western ideas like secularism and democracy didn’t need to apply to the Arab people. I tend to agree with Burchell – our desire to be optimistic and tolerant is glossing-over the very real changes that these countries need in order to create functional democracies. Hopefully our leaders at least can see this.
So Iran’s nuclear program has a few more years, giving Israel a little breathing room, and the Palestinians aren’t attacking, for now at least. Apparently, Israeli Arabs are even more scared by terror attacks than Israeli Jews, meaning that Israel doesn’t need to worry so much about internal terror – for now at least.
There’s even a brief respite in the North – Hizballah has just decided to pull out of the ruling coalition in Lebanon and so collapse the Lebanese government:
Lebanon’s year-old unity government collapsed Wednesday after Hizbullah ministers and their allies resigned over tensions stemming from a UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The walkout ushers in the country’s worst political crisis since 2008 in one of the most volatile corners of the Middle East.
The tribunal was widely expected to name members of Hizbullah in upcoming indictments, which many fear could re-ignite sectarian tensions that have plagued the tiny country for decades.
This is terrible for Lebanon, which is looking more and more likely to go into a civil war. As Hizballah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon, the only way that it would not win the civil war would be for other countries to intervene, turning the civil war into a regional war, which would not be fun for anyone.
That said, until that happens, Hizballah is probably too pre-occupied with Lebanon to start attacking Israel (unless they decide to attack Israel as a distraction, as explained here).
So point is, no one is really shooting at Israelis right now. So what’s the problem? Well Israel Beitenu has just decided to set-up a Knesset committee to investigate a few left-wing NGOs because apparently they are trying to “stop the IDF from doing their job”. This is bad, whichever way you look at it – singling out NGOs who disagree with their specific agenda makes a mockery of everything people like me have been saying about free speech in Israel. In fact, in response to some members of ruling right-wing party Likkud voting against the idea, Beitenu head Avigdor Lieberman said:
”When I saw people from the right vote together with [Arab MPs] Ahmed Tibi and Haneen Zoabi, it was a strange spectacle.”
This is 100% true, but not for the reason Lieberman thinks. It says a lot more about the proposal than Likkud – it’s not even that it’s right wing, it’s just a really bad idea. It also reflects really badly on Israel, it’s crazy that a man who would push this kind of thing through so blindly is actually supposed to be Foreign Minister – representing Israel to the world. In fact, he’s doing a really bad job of it. Just as Israel was mending relationships with Turkey, a key ally, Lieberman ran his mouth and ruined it all; he also undermines everything the rest of Israel is saying about trying to reach peace by saying that it is not possible.
Netanyahu responds to all this by saying that Liberman is “entitled to his own opinion” and rightly pointing-out that despite his title, Lieberman’s ideas are his own and are not Israeli policy. The problem is, Netanyahu feels that he can’t drop Lieberman from the coalition and take the centrist Kadima instead, since then Likkud would be seen as moving left and Beitenu would become the party of the right.
And I mentioned the Israeli Arabs before. Problem is, there are a bunch of rabbis who are trying to stop them from being able to buy land from Jews. This is understandably causing a very bad reaction amongst them. It also again makes Israel look awful and undermines the idea of Israel being an equal society with human rights. The Haredi (ultra-orthodox) community just lives in a different world – they don’t serve in the IDF, they have extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty and they have a warped world view. Of course, this is the view of a minority and is not Israeli policy, but try explaining that to someone who is prejudiced against Israel already. Also, if current demographic trends continue, Israeli Arabs and Haredi Jews will make up the majority of Israel’s population later this century; if current social trends continue, Israel may look a lot like Lebanon at that point.
It’s really difficult to see a way out of the current situation, but one thing is clear – in this period of relative calm, the biggest threat to Israel is probably from within. I have no idea how these problems could be solved.