Posts Tagged third worldism
Jordan Chandler Hirsch has given the best review that I have seen yet of Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism (UPDATE: except this one) (disclaimer: I have not read the book myself). For those who don’t follow these things, for the past couple of years, Beinart has been trying to pioneer some new form of “liberal Zionism” that, for reasons explained below, I find deeply flawed.
Before I get into that, I would just like to highlight one important point that Beinart has backtracked on. In the New York Review of Books essay with which Beinart originally launched his campaign, he had a premise that was very popular with quite a few of the Jews who were inclined to agree with his position anyway (hi Liam): that the reason American Jews have become increasingly alienated towards Israel is that they cannot “blindly support” Israel the way AIPAC does (which AIPAC doesn’t actually do).
This is understandably an attractive prospect for Beinart and his followers — who wouldn’t want to believe that everyone naturally agrees with them and if only the establishment were different, they would be super popular. Unfortunately for Beinart (and Liam), this assumption is not grounded in reality. He has since been proven wrong and quietly moved away from this position:
Beinart—though he doesn’t explicitly admit to it—largely walks back his theory of political distancing in The Crisis of Zionism. In fact, in direct contradiction to his article in The New York Review of Books, he endorses Cohen’s argument that, for the vast majority of American Jews whose ties to Israel are weakening, intermarriage is a more important factor than politics. Noting that the intermarriage rate among Jews today is “roughly 50 percent,” Beinart admits “the harsh truth is that for many young, non-Orthodox American Jews, Israel isn’t that important because being Jewish isn’t that important.” Later, he states, quite rightly, “it would be wrong to imagine that young, secular American Jews seethe with outrage at Israel’s policies.” “For the most part,” he writes, “they do not care enough to seethe.”
Hirsch goes on to explain the important flaws in Beinart’s thesis. He more-or-less describes my point of view as well: rather than addressing the problem, Beinart is just presenting Read the rest of this entry »
I have to confess to being a little underwhelmed when I heard that Nicola Roxon had been appointed Attorney-General instead of Robert McClelland – a solid if unremarkable A-G. This, of course, is the same Nicola Roxon who, as then health minister, once referred to herself as “Nanny Nicola”. From what I could tell, she was definitely cast from my least favourite political mould – the “I know what’s best for you and I’m going to make sure you do that whether you want to or not” kind of politician. I am a big boy now, thanks, and I very much resent this attitude.
That said, it seems I may have underestimated Ms Roxon to a degree. I was very happy to read this headline over the weekend:
“There is no place for sharia law in Australian society and the government strongly rejects any proposal for its introduction, including in relation to wills and succession,” Ms Roxon said.
“The Australian government is committed to protecting the right of all people to practise their religion without intimidation or harassment, but always within the framework of Australian law.”
Note: I will forgive Roxon this, but “sharia” means “Islamic law” – calling it “sharia law” is a tautology.
Roxon was speaking in the context of a woman who wanted to obey the “sharia” with regards to inheritance for her children, which means that her sons inherit double the share inherited by their sister. It is very important to be aware of these kinds of rules within sharia, because many people from Roxon’s side of politics will defend the right of Muslims to their own sharia courts on the basis of moral relativity in various guises, such as “ethnic diversity” or “cultural sensitivity”.
The inheritance law is not the only aspect of family sharia that is inimical to Australia’s (and the West’s) values. For instance, as anyone who has seen Academy Award-winning Iranian film A Separation will know, sharia also mandates that in a divorce, the husband has the right to decide: a) if his wife is even permitted to divorce him and b) who keeps the children. Note that this is not dissimilar form the Orthodox Jewish concept of a “Get” – one that I strongly oppose and one that most Orthodox communities try desperately to find loopholes around (such as effectively excommunicating husbands who refuse to divorce their wives).
I will pause at this point to note that, Read the rest of this entry »
While I am a little hostile to the Kony2012 campaign on a number of levels, there is definitely one thing to be said for it: I now know quite a lot more about Uganda, and I’m sure that I am not alone. For all its flaws, the campaign did genuinely raise awareness in a way that has not really been achieved before.
For instance, one of the articles that I came across while researching a detailed response to the video came from Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama. As a result, I began following Izama, who alerted me to a very important event tomorrow that I had somehow missed, along with – it seems – the rest of my Western bubble as we were all too fixated on Kony:
On Wednesday, March 14, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will witness its first verdict for war crimes in its history. The timing of the verdict this week is special for the following reasons. The accused is Congolese, his main crime is the use of child soldiers and his fate, at the hands of international justice is at the heart of the debate of external intervention into Central Africa’s conflict zones. Most of the other pending trials at the court are Congolese. All the courts cases and investigations are in Africa so its safe to say that it is also the African Criminal Court.
The trial and pending verdict of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) highlights the intricate knitting of crimes and criminal enterprises in the region. A one time ally of Uganda, Lubanga’s UPC was in action well after Uganda had referred in a special arrangement with ICC Prosecutor Louis Moreno Ocampo- the case of the LRA in 2003. While Mr.Kony, who has been the subject of a major cyber debate this last week, remains free and operational in Eastern DRC where UPC used to run riot, Lubanga may be spending the rest of his life in jail if convicted. The relationship between the two rebel leaders, their careers and their alliances in the region is not deeply questioned in the present atmosphere.
Joseph Kony has long been an adversary of Ugandan authorities whereas Lubanga was a one-time ally. Now Kony is being hunted in the fields that Lubanga vacated by Uganda and its allies and for crimes that Kony himself was the first to be accused of. That is at the ICC.
I hope everyone who just read that feels as embarrassed as I do. While we have spent the last week or so being self-righteously pro-Kony2012, anti-Kony2012 or above the whole fray, the ICC has been hearing the case of an almost identical man who none of us had heard of before either.
Dyilo was allied to Kony’s enemies in Uganda, which goes even further to illustrate what I had said earlier about who really poses the biggest threat to the children we are so intent on “saving”. Dyilo used to control the territory that Kony is now busy terrorising, which means that had Dyilo not been captured, he may well have sealed Kony’s fate when Kony found that there was nowhere to run. That is not to say that capturing and trying Dyilo was a bad move, but it really goes to show how intervention in these affairs can have huge unintended consequences.
I cannot help thinking that a huge amount of harm could come from a serious campaign to “find Kony”, especially if it’s driven by some kind of combination of post-colonial guilt, a “save the children” Western superiority complex and “let’s get him” American-style bravado. Perhaps we should all take a step back rather than continuing to pave the path to hell for the people of Africa.
Women could be the saviours of the Arab World
The Australian media this week has been intently focussed on how many women we have on corporate boards, why there aren’t enough and how to solve this. There was even an odd slip-up from shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, who in a complete break from the Liberal Party’s usual position, promoted the idea of gender quotas for corporate boards on ABC’s Q and A (this was subsequently rejected by Tony Abbot).
For the record, I am completely against the idea of quotas – I believe that it is dangerous and counter-productive. People promoted in order to fill a quota know that this is why they were chosen for the position and so do their colleagues. Not only is it extremely patronising to be told “we’d like to bump you up to management because we’re trying to put more [minority] there”, but the person will likely struggle with a position that they are not qualified for and they will be resented by their colleagues who had to work harder to get to the same place.
So now that I’ve finished that little rant, here’s a more interesting point. I was sent this article ages ago, but only just got round to reading it – it’s an interview with veteran Middle East analyst Bernard Lewis by David Horovitz for the Jerusalem Post. Lewis reaffirms a lot of what I’ve been saying about democracy in the Middle East, particularly the Western fixation on elections, but he adds some great insights. One thing worth reading the article for is his idea of consultative rather than electoral democracy as a model that would work in the Middle East.
The other thing that stuck out was what he said about women:
There’s one other group of people that I think one should bear in mind when considering the future of the Middle East, and that is women. The case has been made, and I think there is some force in it, that the main reason for the relative backwardness of the Islamic world compared to the West is the treatment of women. As far as I know, it was first made by a Turkish writer called Namik Kemal in about 1880. At that time an agonizing debate had been going on for more than a century: What went wrong? Why did we fall behind the West?
He said, “The answer is very clear. We fell behind the West because of the way we treat our women. By the way we treat our women we deprive ourselves of the talents and services of half the population. And we submit the early education of the other half to ignorant and downtrodden mothers.”
It goes further than that. A child who grows up in a traditional Muslim household is accustomed to authoritarian, autocratic rule from the start. I think the position of women is of crucial importance.
I’ve heard this argument before and it makes a lot of sense. The Middle East is being run by men who were raised by uneducated and subjugated women, in households where their fathers were unquestionably in charge. It does not require a huge amount of imagination to see how this would result in an autocratic culture.
The exclusion of women in the work force also leads to the extremely high fertility rate that is really the cause of all this Arab unrest – there are constantly more and more youth reaching working age and less and less jobs to acommodate them; this led to the anger that we saw exploding so vividly.
Growth rates are consistently too slow to keep pace with the population, and little space remains for private entrepreneurship. In its 2009 Arab Human Development Report, the United Nations found that, as of 2007, the Arab states as a whole were less industrialised than they were in 1970, with governments using revenue from oil, gas and other outside receipts to maintain the large public workforce and cheap goods.
It feels really ironic that there has been such an outcry in a country with a female prime minister and a number of women in very high-profile positions. Obviously Australia has a lot to work on, but really we’re lightyears ahead of some parts of the world. Consider the problems we’ve been debating in our newspapers with the debate in Saudi Arabia. For example, Samar Fatani for the Arab News:
Economists stress that the high cost of living and inflation make it difficult for single-income families to provide the basic needs of the average family living in Saudi Arabia today. The participation of women in the work force is no longer a luxury; it has become an economic necessity. Therefore, it is crucial now to mobilize a more effective national program to tap women’s talent, enhance their skills and provide them with career opportunities so they may contribute equally in our nation’s social and economic development.
Women have every right to be provided with a healthy, civilized lifestyle more in tune with the 21st century way of life. We need to see women in the council of senior scholars or as advisers to the grand mufti to address their needs and grievances and have a say in decisions that affect their lives and their families. Women face injustice and discrimination because many judges and senior ulemas are unaware of the suffering.
Cultural limitations and tribal laws rather than religious rulings are the impediments that are strangling our country. It is time for the educated to boldly counter the vicious campaign of the extremists — men and women — who continue to attack progress. It is ironic how these “medievalists” so resistant to change adopt the Internet and modern media to attack the educated calling for the empowerment of women in Saudi society.
Of course, this isn’t absolutely true across the Middle East. Lewis points to Tunisia as the notable exception and Fatani also praises several of the smaller Gulf states, such as the UAE and Kuwait. Nevertheless, there are not only tribal regions and societies, but entire countries in the Middle East where a 7th century view on human rights, as well as women’s rights, is seen as the ideal – with social norms and legislation reflecting this. This attitude is detrimental to the whole society and is one of the key reasons for the backwardness of the region in relation to the rest of the world. If women take a leading role in these revolutions that are happening everywhere, there may be a chance of genuine progress in the Middle East.
Joan Juliet Buck, from leading fashion magazine Vogue, wrote a longform profile on a high-profile Middle-Eastern lady, who, in Buck’s words, is “glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement.’”
Buck chronicles this woman’s high-level Western education, how she grew-up in London, went to Queen’s college, has an MBA from Harvard and worked at Goldman Sachs, but is down to earth, with an accent that is “English, but not plummy”. Buck details visits to the Louvre, impressing Brad and Angelina and even the charitable NGO that she runs to educate refugee children. She even fights extremism “through art”.
And who is this beautiful, caring, glamorous Arab leader, who sounds just like the Western celebrities that Vogue usually profile? None other than Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad. And Syria sounds great too:
Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark. Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote. In Syria, power is hereditary.
“It’s a tough neighborhood,” admits Asma al-Assad
Huh. Let’s take another look at that passage for a second, shall we?
As the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.”
To keep them safe, right? Sounds like something any kind, friendly leader would do. Like her husband, who won 97% of the vote – the people must love him! Just one thing that Ms Buck forgot to mention, he was the only candidate in the election. And why was he the only candidate in the election? Well, you see, these security forces that keep Syria “safe”, also keep his regime “safe”, but brutally crushing any dissent.
The country’s alliances are murky.How close are they to Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah?There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk, and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons. Its number-one enmity is clear: Israel. But that might not always be the case. The United States has just posted its first ambassador there since 2005, Robert Ford.
Might not always be the case, hey? Because the US broke-off and then re-established diplomatic relations, that means that Israel may no longer be its number-one enmity? Hold on a second:
Iraq is next door, Iran not far away. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is 90 minutes by car from Damascus. Jordan is south, and next to it the region that Syrian maps label Palestine. There are nearly one million refugees from Iraq in Syria, and another half-million displaced Palestinians.
Seems as if Syria doesn’t recognise that there is an Israel, funny that. And as the article already glossed over, Ms Assad and her husband harbour, support and train terrorist groups that attack Israel, not to mention being Iran’s strongest ally. Syria also militarily occupied Lebanon for years and is still meddling in Lebanese affairs. Neat, huh?
What else can we divine from Buck’s profile? Well, Syria is a great example of a tolerant, multicultural society:
Back in the car, I ask what religion the orphans are. “It’s not relevant,” says Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. That’s how religions live together in Syria—a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these lands—the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans—make up who I am.”
“Does that include the Jews?” I ask.
“And the Jews,” she answers. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”
The Jewish quarter of Damascus spans a few abandoned blocks in the old city that emptied out in 1992, when most of the Syrian Jews left. Their houses are sealed up and have not been touched, because, as people like to tell you, Syrians don’t touch the property of others. The broken glass and sagging upper floors tell a story you don’t understand—are the owners coming back to claim them one day?
So the abandoned Jewish quarter tells “a story you don’t understand” then? I guess no one knows why there were 30,000 Jews in Syria in 1947 and only 200 today. Well at least Joan Juliet Buck, former editor of French Vogue, doesn’t understand, but then she doesn’t seem to understand much, otherwise this article would read a little differently.
It is, in fact, not a mystery what happened in 1992. This was when finally, after years of campaigning, 4,500 Syrian Jews were allowed to leave Syria. One person who does understand is Alice Sardell, president of the now defunct Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews.
Freedom for the Jews of Syria beginning in 1992 came about after a long and intense American and international human rights campaign led by The Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews, with the United States government at the forefront.
But they weren’t just fleeing for nothing:
Since 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel, Syria’s Jewish community had been held as hostages living under Syria’s Secret Police and subject to arbitrary arrests and systematic torture.
Where were these little details in Buck’s profile?
Buck could have written about the brutal secret police, the sponsorship of terror, the alliance with Iran, the nuclear program and the decades of the despotic reign of terror that Assad and his fellow Allawite leaders have subjected the Syrian people to. She even could have mentioned that Assad and her husband prevented protests like the ones spreading through other Arab countries by shutting off the internet and suppressing protesters with beatings and arrests. Instead, she gave the guy a goddamn podium to speak from:
Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”
So now he’s against terrorism is he?
This article was disgusting to be honest. To read more, including Buck’s extremely underwhelming response, see the links below: