Hour of need: Residents of Syria’s besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, crowding a destroyed street during a food distribution led by the UN
When I first saw this photo, I couldn’t believe it was genuine. I thought perhaps it was a CGI from some post-apocalyptic movie.
But apparently it’s for real. Click to enlarge and get the full impact.
The World Post reports:
A sea of hungry, haunted faces looks out from a massive queue that snakes through the bombed out Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Syria. In the photo, taken on Jan. 31 of this year in Damascus’ Palestinian refugee camp, men, women, and children are on line for aid that includes desperately needed food and medical supplies. There are more than 18,000 people in the Yarmouk camp, and many are starving to death.
The camp was originally built in 1948 to house Palestinian refugees fleeing the Arab-Israeli war. Since the start of the Syrian conflict the area has become a humanitarian disaster zone as fighting between government and rebel forces hinders attempts to deliver food and medical treatment to those within.
Dozens have died in the camp from malnutrition, with reports of those trapped in Yarmouk sometimes resorting to eating grass and cats in order to survive. Aid from the United Nations has trickled in slowly since January 2014, sometimes only 60 parcels a day, and when it does arrive it results in the harrowing scenes such as the one you see in this photo.
The United Nations has set up a special site to donate to the people of Yarmouk, which you can visit here.
At the risk of possibly helping to feed some people who don’t like Israel, I’ve kicked in some cash.
As DaveM made clear last month, the death and suffering in Yarmouk are a result of the Assad regime’s months-long brutal siege of the neighborhood.
Any organization or blog which claims to be “pro-Palestinian” and does not feature this photo on its website isn’t pro-Palestinian at all. It’s simply anti-Israel.
Update: OK, my first instinct was correct. It appears the photo was enhanced after all.
Here are some genuine photos of UNRWA’s food distribution in Yarmouk– which are heart-rending enough.
The situation in Gaza is bad but to compare it to the Holocaust is grotesque. Yasmin Qureshi is right to have apologised
By Mark Ferguson, re-blogged from Labour List:
As I rule I try to write about the Middle East only when necessary so as to avoid the black hole into which all online commentary about the that subject inevitably falls. But sometimes someone who should know better says something so completely wrong – and they have to be pulled up on it.
Here’s what Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said in a Westminster Hall debate:
“What has struck me in all this is that the state of Israel was founded because of what happened to the millions and millions of Jews who suffered genocide. Their properties, homes and land – everything – were taken away, and they were deprived of rights. Of course, many millions perished.
“It is quite strange that some of the people who are running the state of Israel seem to be quite complacent and happy to allow the same to happen in Gaza.”
Now it seems very clear to me that the situation in Gaza, and the hardship faced by so many of those who live there, is harsh. The Palestinian people deserve the right to their own state, and have suffered incredibly for many decades. Cameron once called the Gaza Strip a “prison camp” – that seems an accurate description
But to compare the treatment of people in Gaza to the holocaust is grotesque. Qureshi appears to be comparing the situation in Gaza with the mechanised and industrial extermination of an entire people. No-one who has seen the gas chambers and the ovens of Auschwitz could honestly make such a comparison. No-one who has any knowledge of the mechanical way in which Jews were rounded up, shipped off and murdered in the Holocaust could compare any other form of oppression or repression to that cold, calculated and brutal attempt at extermination.
I’m afraid that however strong your feelings are on the undoubted injustices that the people of Gaza have faced, they are not seeing anything comparable to the holocaust.
Yasmin Qureshi should apologise. And she must do it today.
Update: I’ve had a response from the party – and it’s fair to say I’m not impressed. Here’s what they’ve said:
“These remarks were taken completely out of context. Yasmin Qureshi was not equating events in Gaza with the Holocaust. As an MP who has visited Auschwitz and has campaigned all her life against racism and anti-Semitism she would not do so.”
Except it’s clear from reading the full quote of what Qureshi said (see above) and reading the whole Westminster Hall debate – which we’ve linked to – that Qureshi was making a comparison between the impact of the Holocaust and the situation in Gaza, whether that was her intention or not. Instead of trying to get her off the hook, the Labour Party should be telling Qureshi to apologise.
Update: Yasmin Qureshi has released a statement apologising for any offence caused by her remarks:
“The debate was about the plight of the Palestinian people and in no way did I mean to equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust.
“I apologise for any offence caused.
“I am also personally hurt if people thought I meant this.
“As someone who has visited the crematoria and gas chambers of Auschwitz I know the Holocaust was the most brutal act of genocide of the 20th Century and no-one should seek to underestimate its impact.”
Qureshi’s apology should draw a line under this, and rightly so. If there was no intention to cause offence or equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust I am happy to accept that. But it’s also a salutary reminder to MPs from all sides of the house – if you’re talking about hugely emotive topics, be careful with your metaphors, and don’t be sloppy with your language…
* H/t: Roger M
* Related posts at Labour List:
- The Holocaust was not simply a moment in time
- The Holocaust is the clearest warning from history of what happens when we leave prejudice unchecked
- As we focus on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe – let us also remember what happened in Rwanda
- Labour and Gaza: Hamas is not Palestine
- Ed Miliband on Gaza: “a full scale ground invasion would be a disaster”
This piece by J.S. Rasfaeli is so good that we’ve lifted it from That Place: not everything they publish is rubbish, and this article is a brilliant reply to the idiotic anti-Israel-fanatic rock “star” Waters. It also deals with a number of widely-held misconceptions about Palestinians (who are indeed, oppressed) in Israel:
Above: anti-Israel fanatic Waters’ pig drone (note Star of David)
Dear Roger Waters,
The other day you posted an open letter to Neil Young and Scarlett Johansson on your Facebook page. This letter was primarily made up of a series of questions regarding the Palestinian employees of SodaStream’s factory in Ma’ale Adumim, addressed to Ms Johansson.
I see that neither Neil Young or Scarlett Johansson has offered you any answers to these questions, so I thought I might have a go.
There are several hundred Palestinians employed at this particular factory, I don’t know each of their particular circumstances, so I have taken my lead from the people interviewed in this recent article, and this video.
Enjoy the answers Roger, I hope they shed some light:
Do they have the right to vote?
Since 1994 Palestinians have voted in Palestinian elections – presidential, parliamentary and municipal. Following disputed elections and violent power struggles in 2005/6 the Palestinian polity has been split: Gaza ruled by Hamas, and the West Bank dominated by Fatah. All the Palestinian workers at SodaStream are from the West Bank.
The last local elections in the West Bank were held in October 2012. The internecine Hamas/Fatah rivalry prevented both local elections in Gaza, as well as new presidential or parliamentary elections for Palestine as a whole, but this has nothing to do with SodaStream.
Do they have access to the roads?
In the article above several Palestinian SodaStream workers are interviewed. Four of them identify where they live: Achmed Nasser and Nabeel Besharat, from Ramallah, Ptiha Abu-Selat from Jericho, and Mohammed Yousef from Jaba.
Ramallah and Jericho are both in Area A of the West Bank, as defined by the Oslo Accords. This area is under full control of the Palestinian Authority, thus they should access to the roads there. There are several towns called Jaba in the West Bank; it is impossible to know which one Mohammed Youssef is referring to, and thus what his road access is like.
In Area C of the West Bank some Israeli-built roads are reserved for the use of Israelis (Arabs as well as Jews) travelling between communities beyond the Green Line, often known as ‘settlements’. This leads to frequent chatter in the West about ‘Jewish only’ roads. This is nonsense. How would this be enforced? Would traffic cops stop drivers and ask them to recite the Torah from memory?
Can they travel to their work place without waiting for hours to pass through the occupying forces control barriers?
SodaStream provides a bus service to take workers to and from the factory – as seen in this video. They pass through one checkpoint. It doesn’t appear too onerous, nor have any complaints been registered around this issue.
Do they have clean drinking water?
Access to water and other resources is of course a contested issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and will be a factor in any peace deal. But, to actually answer your question, the latest figures (from 2011) indicate that 89.4% of homes in the West Bank were connected to the water network, and 70.9% of respondents in a poll rated the water quality as ‘good’.
The West Bank’s agricultural sector, though under pressure from Israeli occupation and mismanagement, is functioning. People are not dying of thirst or water-born diseases in Palestine as they are in so many other places in the MENA.
Do they have sanitation?
The figures above apply to water for sanitation as well as drinking. One suspects that the employees of SodaStream, earning between three and five times the local average are able to afford a better standard of sanitation than their neighbours.
Do they have citizenship?
Interesting question. Until 1988 residents of the West Bank were citizens of Jordan. Jordan then stripped Palestinians of citizenship based on ethnocentric lines. Israel has not done this to its own Arab citizens.
The Palestinian Authority has been issuing its own passports since 1995. The United States recognises these as travel documents, but not as conferring citizenship, as they are not issued by a state the US recognises. However, in 2007 the Japanese government stated, “Given that the Palestinian Authority has improved itself to almost a full-fledged state and issues its own passports, we have decided to accept the Palestinian nationality”.
So the answer is yes and no. The West Bankers who work at SodaStream do however have something considerably closer to citizenship than Palestinians in Lebanon, who are denied both citizenship and residency, despite many families having been there for several generations.
Do they have the right not to have the standard issue kicking in their door in the middle of the night and taking their children away?
According B’tselem, as of the ‘end of December 2013, 4,768 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons’. This number includes petty criminals, those who have maimed and murdered Israeli civilians, and very likely some poor souls who got scooped up by a crude judicial machine.
Law enforcement in the Occupied Territories is rough. Israel and the Palestinians are in a state of conflict; this does not engender light touch policing. But even its critics say that Israel does maintain the separation of its Legislative and Judicial branches. One hopes that the innocent will be set free – but this has little to do with SodaStream. One would expect the company to support any of its employees who were wrongly incarcerated.
Do they have the right to appeal against arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment?
As far as I am aware there are no categories of prisoner in Israel without the right to appeal.
In cases of Administrative Detention the prisoner may be held for six months without charge. This can be appealed in the Military Court, the District Court and the Supreme Court.
I am not aware of any SodaStream employees having been put into Administrative Detention.
Do they have the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before 1948?
Do you actually know whether the workers at SodaStream vacated homes or properties during the 1948 war?
If they did, then the answer is no, at this point they do not have the right to return to those homes (assuming said homes are still standing). However the so-called ‘Right of Return’ is a questionable ‘right’ at best. At the end of the Second World War millions of Germans were forcibly displaced from homes their families had occupied for centuries in Eastern Europe. The same happened to two million Greeks and Turks in the early 1920s, millions of Indians and Pakistanis during the Partition in 1948, and roughly 750,000 Jews from the Arab and Muslim world at roughly the same time as the Palestinian Nakba. Most of these Jewish-Arab refugees ended up in Israel, where they became citizens. None of these groups is said to possess a ‘Right of Return’, none of them have ‘the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before’.
The Palestinians are uniquely cursed with this notional ‘Right of Return’, not least because even three of four generations after the fact, the Arab states where the Palestinian refugees ended up have declined to grant them citizenship or equal rights.
Do they have the right to an ordinary, decent human family life?
This is too nebulous a question. I’m not sure anyone can answer it, least of all Scarlett Johansson. From the article and video above, one might draw the conclusion that, inasmuch as the workers at SodaStream have this right, their positions at SodaStream help them to more fully exercise it.
Do they have the right to self-determination?
The workers at SodaStream are all free to leave the factory and find other employment. Thus far it seems none have chosen to do so. Perhaps you should ask yourself why?
Do they have the right to continue to develop a cultural life that is ancient and profound?
Again, a nebulous question – there is a room set aside for use as a mosque in the Sodastream factory (it’s in the video link). Prayer times are not deducted from break times. One of the more touching sections of that video is the part about the workers seeing each other pray, and families starting to celebrate each other’s holidays. In the Middle Eat this is new, and it is very profound.
So Roger, I hope that answers some of the questions you posed to Scarlett Johansson.
Part of me does suspect that you weren’t actually looking for answers to these questions– that you posed them rhetorically. What I would say to you, Roger, is that this part of the world doesn’t need any more rhetoric. Shrill, canting rhetoric is what got the Israelis and the Palestinians into the parlous state in which they find themselves. What is needed is calm, sober analysis, hard-headed realism, a sense of perspective and some good old-fashioned deal making by the politicians. You do no one any favors by adding to the noise, least of all the Palestinians who have chosen to work at SodaStream.
One last thing, Roger. At the end of your open letter, you tell Scarlett Johansson she is ‘cute’ but hasn’t been paying attention. This sails pretty close to what might be called ‘patronizing sexist bullshit’. Johansson is a grown woman who considered the facts and made her choices. You would do well to consider that. If you want to talk politics leave out the 1970s stand-up comic routine.
Cheerio Roger – think on it.
Here’s something you won’t often read at Shiraz or hear from me: I recommend you to buy this week’s New Statesman.
Perhaps intended to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, the current issue carries two articles on anti-Semitism: Anthony Clavane on anti-Semitism and the left, and Andrew Hussey on Dieudonné and the re-emergence of the “negationist” tradition in French politics. Both are very informative and well-argued pieces, but their real significance is that they appear in the New Statesman at all. In recent years the magazine’s anti-Zionism has often taken on a strident tone and in the case of regular contributor John Pilger, veered dangerously close to outright anti-Semitism. And, of course, back in 2002, under then-editor Peter Wilby, the magazine brought out its infamous “A kosher conspiracy” edition. An apology was eventually extracted from an initially defiant Wilby, but the wretched man continues to contribute a regular column.
The present issue is not yet available online, so I’m reproducing an excerpt from Clavane’s piece, including a reference to the “A kosher conspiracy” row:
Criticising Israel, as many Jews do, and Zionism as an ideology, which a much smaller number but still a significant minority of the community does, are perfectly valid positions. Publishing an anti-Zionist cover story featuring a golden Star of David stabbing a pliant Union flag with the headline “A kosher conspiracy?”, as the New Statesman (then under different ownership and editorship) did in 2002, is not. It should not have to be spelled out, though this magazine’s then editor did so in a subsequent apology, that all principled critics of Israeli policies should avoid using anti-Semitic images and narratives. They should not, as the BBC’s Tim Llewellyn once did, accuse American politicians such as Dennis Ross of hiding behind “a lovely Anglo-Saxon name”. (Llewellyn went on to say that Ross is “not just a Jew, he is a Zionist … a Zionist propagandist”.) They should have no truck with vile anti-Jewish calumnies, including the blood-libel slur, routinely rehearsed in anti-Zionist Arab textbooks.
“The Zionist lobby,” Dieudonné told the Iranian-funded Press TV, “have taken France as hostage and we are in the hands of ignorant people, who know how to structure themselves into a Mafia-like organisation and…have now taken over the country.”
As Dave Rich at the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Jewish attacks in Britain, explains: “this is not the anti-Zionism of people who think that the Palestinians get a raw deal from Israel: it is the anti-Zionism of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a conspiracy theory that believes Jews pull all the strings.”
“We need to keep things in perspective,” warns David Feldman, of the Pears institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. “we have experienced the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, with Jews prominent in many places [in finance]. Yet in contrast to the situation 80 years ago, few radicals have proposed anti-Semitic explanations.”
As Jonathan Freedland, who writes a weekly column in the Guardian and a monthly column in the Jewish Chronicle, points out, so far only “a few marginal political voices” on the British left have flirted with anti-Semitic tropes. However, after a property website owned by a Jewish businessman withdrew its sponsorship of West Brom on 20 January, and then the FA announced it was charging Anelka, the liberal-left commentariat was presented with a perfect opportunity to take a stand against such tropes. Yet more silence. In fact, it was left to the right-wing controversialist Rod Liddle to condemn the striker’s “repulsive” support for his Jew-baiting friend.
“On this issue,” Freedland told me, “all anti-racists of good conscience should have leapt in. Dieudonné is aligned with the far right. He’s had criminal convictions for anti-Semitism. My worry is that, as time passed before the FA’s announcement and the lack of outrage continued, it didn’t send out a strong message about anti-Semitism
“The quenelle was a previously obscure gesture in this country and now it’s known. So this is the moment to make the point that no self-respecting person on the left should accept a supposedly ‘anti-establishment’ position which in fact says it’s the Jews who are ‘the establishment’.”
Anthony Clavane’s latest book is “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?” (Quercus £6.99)
Guest Post by Pink Prosecco
I have recently read an apparently thoughtful and informative piece on Israel’s security barrier by Alan Johnson over at That Place. Although associated with pro-Israel advocacy, Johnson appeared willing to engage with the complexity of the situation in Israel/Palestine, and attend to the Palestinian as well as the Israeli perspective.
“Because the constructive pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace approach we need has three characteristics:
First, it is open to the full force of the sheer bloody complexity of the conflict, and is willing to wrestle with that complexity, not evade it.
Second, it is fully aware of the determining contexts of the conflict, among which is security.
Third, it refuses to demonise either side, working with both parties, seeking co-existence, compromise, mutual recognition and peace.”
Ben White has now written a response to Alan Johnson’s piece. Sneering, smearing and insufferably smug he may be – but does his argument stand up? This seems reasonable:
“Even if that were all true — that the wall was only built as a response to suicide bombings, and that it was solely responsible for a 90 percent reduction in attacks — criticism of the barrier from a human rights and international law perspective remains valid.”
Security and liberty are not always fully compatible and it is appropriate to ask how far, and in what circumstances, it is permissable to curtail liberties in order to enhance security. And you can welcome the part the wall seems to have played in making Israelis feel more safe while criticising the way it has been implemented and acknowledging its impact on Palestinians.
White’s next points don’t really strike me as convincing. Just because some people wanted a physical barrier even before the violence of the second intifada does not prove that security is not its primary purpose. However elements in his concluding analysis – seeking to demonstrate that there is no (or little) correlation between the wall’s construction and the decline in violent attacks – seems worth engaging with. However (as usual) White seems to want to alienate readers who feel any sympathy for the Israeli perspective rather than encourage them to adjust their views in the hope of achieving the goals of mutual recognition, peace and compromise set out by Alan Johnson. White’s habitual lack of empathy for Israelis makes me doubt whether he has researched the issue of the security barrier in a spirit of genuine enquiry. But I’d be interested to know whether Shiraz Socialist readers find his arguments, or those of Alan Johnson, more compelling.
Given the enthusiasm with which the PSC and others push the claim that Israel is an “apartheid” state, and the suggestion that Mandela endorsed that view, the following article by Jeff Weintraub is of considerable importance:
The history of Israel’s relationship with South Africa, before and after the end of the white-supremacist apartheid regime, is a story with many complex, difficult, and deeply troubling aspects. That complexity was highlighted once again by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute decision, on a pretext that looked pretty flimsy, to cancel his scheduled trip to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral on December 10—a decision so unwise and unfortunate, even scandalous, on the face of it that I still find it a bit inexplicable (though I’ve seen a range of speculative analyses). President Shimon Peres had a plausible-sounding medical excuse that also kept him away. Whatever one thinks of Netanyahu, he’s smart enough that he must have realized how bad it looked for both of Israel’s top political figures to be absent from Mandela’s funeral, so I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t some complicate behind-the-scenes angle here that we may eventually learn about. At all events, Israel was represented at the funeral by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and five other Israeli legislators (including one African-Israeli Knesset member, Penina Tamanu-Shata, who was born in Ethiopia).
I mention this recent unpleasantness mostly as background to a more important story about Mandela and his relationship to Israel, reported (below) by Alan Johnson, editor of Fathom. It confirms for me something about Mandela’s record of which I was only partly aware, and gives me new reasons to admire Mandela’s historic role and greatness of spirit.
Here is a statement that Mandela made as President of the African National Congress in 1993, the year before he was elected President of South Africa. (If you’re skeptical about whether the quotation is accurate, you can also find it on the ANC website.):
As a movement, we recognise the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognise the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigour support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.
This formulation is clear, straightforward, and important. And as far as I can tell, it was Mandela’s consistent position through the end of his life.
Mandela and the ANC were, of course, thoroughly committed to the Palestinian cause and regarded the PLO as a fellow liberation movement. So it’s unsurprising, as well as entirely proper, that Mandela would have endorsed the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation and national self-determination. What is more striking, in this context, is that Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported Israel‘s right to exist. That is, he didn’t just indicate a willingness to accept Israel’s existence as an unavoidable (though perhaps unwelcome) fact of life, but asserted that Israel has a right to exist. And he supported Israel’s right to exist, explicitly and unambiguously, on the grounds that Jews have the same right to national self-determination as any other people. That cuts to the heart of what is as stake in the whole controversy. Everything else is details—though the details are obviously very important.
(Lest anyone think that I am overdoing the significance of Mandela’s position on these issues, it is worth noting that, to this day, almost no one in the entire Arab world has publicly accepted that Israel has a moral right to exist or that Zionism is a legitimate national movement—even people who, over time, have grudgingly come to accept the idea of making peace with Israel for reasons of prudence, realpolitik, or simple exhaustion. I can think of a few exceptions, but they can be counted on my fingers. As the New York Times journalist Ethan Bronner, who spent years covering the Middle East, wrote in 2003:
I once asked King Hussein of Jordan whether he considered Zionism legitimate. Did he accept that there was any historical basis to the Jews’ claim to a portion of Palestine as their homeland? He looked at me as if I were from Mars and ducked the question. Later, he told a Jordanian colleague that only a Jew could have posed such a strange question. Perhaps by the time of his death in 1999 he had softened his view. But his reaction still exemplifies that of the vast majority of Arabs today. Even the many who favor peace with Israel under certain conditions accept its reality but not its legitimacy. [....]
(“On the Israeli side,” Bronner added, “there are similar denials” regarding the legitimacy and moral claims of Palestinian nationalism—though nowadays significant numbers of Israelis, and certainly a major proportion of Israel’s supporters world-wide, do accept, at least in principle, that Palestinians have a right to national self-determination.) And I know people here in the US who have no desire to see Israel destroyed but who reject, or at least are uneasy about, recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish nation-state, though they have no trouble accepting the legitimacy of an Irish or Greek or Turkish or Egyptian or Palestinian nation-state—which means, whether or not they’re fully aware of it, that they don’t really accept that Jews have the same rights to political self-determination as other peoples.
In short, Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported the principle that can be summed up with the formula “two states for two peoples“. Like it or not, that fundamental principle continues to be the only possible basis for a just, durable, and non-catastrophic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—which, in turn, can work only in the context of a more general Arab-Israeli peace settlement that includes genuine Arab acceptance of Israel’s existence and security. That outcome is by no means inevitable, and in fact there are many good reasons for feeling pessimistic about whether it will actually happen. But all the realistically conceivable alternatives lead to catastrophe. So it’s a good idea to take Mandela seriously on this matter, as on many others.
P.S. And speaking of the details … here are a few of Mandela’s statements to reporters during his visit to Israel in 1999, after retiring as President of South Africa. On the one hand: “My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands.” But on the other hand: “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders.”
Mandela made these statements toward the tail-end of the Oslo era, before the dramatic collapse of the supposed “peace process” in 2000. But they still sound like a good basis for a package deal. Some tendencies in the Arab world have been inching in that direction over the years (and the broad outlines of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement along these lines were put forward, albeit with significant gaps and ambiguities, in the Saudi-inspired Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002—which, so far, has not been followed up from either the Arab or the Israel side). Other tendencies have been moving even further away from it. All the available evidence suggests that a solid majority of Israelis are willing, in principle, to agree to a peace deal on this basis—but most of them have no confidence that it’s actually a realistically available option. What will happen in the future remains to be seen … though, again, excessive optimism would be foolish.
[Update 12/16/2013: I've been reminded that there is a a quotation from Mandela floating around the internet in which he accuses Israel of pursuing "apartheid policies" like the old South Africa. This quotation is often cited by people hostile to Israel. But it happens to be a fake. To be fair, it appears that the person who originally wrote that statement didn't pretend that it was an actual quotation, but instead meant it to suggest what Mandela would say if he were really expressing his innermost thoughts. But it now gets quoted and re-quoted as something Mandela actually said—which he didn't.]
I have been unable to ascertain the date of this interview (first published in The Progressive), but clearly it took place sometime between 2001 and 2006.
Sharon: aimed to prevent a Palestinian state
Uri Avnery: I joined the Irgun when I was just fifteen years old, and I left when I was nineteen years old. I joined because I wanted to fight for our freedom and a state of our own against the British colonial administration of Palestine. I left it because I did not approve of the methods and the aims of the Irgun.I have always been conscious of the importance and the strength of nationalism, and this has led me straight to the acknowledgment of the nationalism of the Palestinian people. I believe there is no way around this: We have to have a solution based on two national states, which will hopefully live and grow together and establish a relationship between them in something like a European Union.
Q: Can you discuss your 1945 essay, “Terrorism: The infantile disease of the Hebrew revolution”? And how does it relate to current Palestinian terrorism?
Avnery: When we in the Irgun put bombs in the Arab markets of Jaffa and Jerusalem and Haifa and killed scores of people–men, women, and children–in retaliation for similar acts by the Arabs, I didn’t back this. But it left me with a lasting understanding of what gets people to join such organizations, and I understand the Palestinians who join these organizations.I am against violence on both sides. But I understand people who believe that without violence they will not achieve anything at all. It is our responsibility as the stronger party, as the occupying power, to convince the Palestinians that they can achieve their basic national aims, their just national aspirations, without violence. Unfortunately, the behavior of the Sharon administration, and before this of the Barak administration, has shown the Palestinians the opposite: namely, that they will achieve nothing without violence.
Q: According to the United States and Israel, it is the Palestinians–more specifically, Arafat–who must take the initiative in ending the “cycle of violence.” Edward Said once said: “Since when does a militarily occupied people have responsibility for a peace movement?” Is it the responsibility of the Palestinians to end the violence?
Avnery: Violence is part of the resistance to occupation. The basic fact is not the violence; the basic fact is the occupation. Violence is a symptom; the occupation is the disease–a mortal disease for everybody concerned, the occupied and the occupiers. Therefore, the first responsibility is to put an end to the occupation. And in order to put an end to the occupation, you must make peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people. This is the real aim, this is the real task.
Q: Can you describe the impact of the wall on the peace process?
Avnery: One of the main aims of Sharon is to prevent a Palestinian state–a real, viable, sovereign, free Palestinian state. It has been the major task of his life for the last forty years. What Sharon wants to do is “shorten the lines,” in military slang. He wants to give up some positions which are untenable, or which cost too much to keep, and to withdraw to where he wants Israel to be.The route of the wall is not a straight line. It is a kind of checkerboard leaving the Palestinians 45 percent of the West Bank. It is six, eight, maybe twelve, Palestinian enclaves, big and small, each of them surrounded by Israeli territory. Israel will keep all the highways and all the settlements–except a few isolated ones. Israel will cut through the West Bank, east and west, north and south, in three or four ribbons or strips. One has to see the map to believe it.
The wall is being built for this purpose. The route looks completely surreal. It snakes through the landscape around and around and around, cutting off several Palestinian towns and villages, surrounding them completely, leaving one little gate for them to come and go.
This is all part of the picture in the mind of Sharon. His so-called two-state solution will be, let’s say, twelve Palestinian enclaves, which will be called a Palestinian state. It will be connected by, perhaps, a series of bridges, tunnels, and highways, which can be cut off at any moment at the whim of the Israeli government or Israeli army.
All the other territory–55 percent–will be annexed to Israel. To an American reader, these numbers may be without meaning. In 1949, the country of Palestine was partitioned after the war in such a way that the State of Israel-proper consisted of 78 percent of this country of Palestine. What was left to the Arabs was 22 percent, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
When Sharon wants to annex 55 percent of this, it means that what will be left to the Palestinians will be about 10 percent of the small country which used to be called Palestine. This 10 percent will be cut up into five, ten, maybe, twelve enclaves and this will be called the state of Palestine. This is a joke, this is a farce. It is a continuation of the war by other means.
You will not find one single Palestinian leader who would agree to this. This is not a plan for peace, it is a plan for war. It guarantees that the war between us and the Palestinians will go on forever. If President Bush and the government of the United States give Ariel Sharon the OK for this plan, it means that President Bush is opting for war.
Palestinians want a state of their own. They want to live in freedom. They want to get rid of the terrible misery in which they are living. They are ready after fifty years to accept a state of their own in 22 percent of what used to be the country of Palestine. I think it is the height of stupidity on our part if we don’t grasp this opportunity.
Q: Sharon has said that he will evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip. Can you describe how this might play out?
Avnery: Contrary to the impression that has been created in Israel and all over the world–that Sharon is zigzagging, that he doesn’t know what to do, that he has no plan–he does have a very clear plan.
What he wants to do in the Gaza Strip is to evacuate most of the settlements. The Gaza Strip is not really a part of the settlement scheme of Ariel Sharon. He does not need these settlements. They are quite superfluous. They cost a lot of money. There are altogether about 7,000 settlers in all of the Gaza Strip in the middle of a million and a quarter Palestinians.
The army is investing huge resources to defend these people. There is a whole military division employed just for the Gaza Strip. To give them up is really a great benefit to the state, because these resources will now be employed in order to keep the settlements in the West Bank.
To turn the settlements over to the Palestinians would be, politically, a very difficult decision to make. It will mean that Sharon will see on his television screen the next day the Palestinians taking over Israeli settlements. In order to avoid this in the Sinai, Sharon destroyed the whole town of Yameed, which was the pride of Israel. I saw it after. It was surrealistic. The whole town was lying on the ground, roof next to roof next to roof. Sharon did this because he could not stand the idea that the Egyptians would take hold of this beautiful settlement.
It is a very complicated thing, complicated politically, militarily, economically. You can declare we should leave, but between this declaration and its implementation there is a huge gap.
Q: Perhaps you can describe some of the motivations Israelis have for living in a fortified Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.
Avnery: There are Israeli institutions whose raison d’etre is to create settlements. There is the Jewish Agency, which gets a lot of money from the United States, from American Jews, whose sole job it is to create settlements. It enlists people all over the world–especially in Russia, and in the United States, by the way–to come and settle in the Occupied Territories as a kind of religious statement, a kind of nationalist statement: “This is a country given to us by God.” A lot of Israelis who do not believe in God believe that God has given us this country.
Individually, it is a beautiful thing to be there. Because, if you are a Jewish Israeli, you go to Gaza, you get the villa of your life, the villa which you did not dream of ever getting in Israel, a beautiful two-story villa with green meadows and so on, practically for nothing. Then you put up hothouses of tomatoes or flowers; you take the very Arabs from whom you grabbed this land and employ them as laborers in your hothouses. Israeli law does not apply in Gaza: There is no minimum wage, no annual vacation, no compensation for dismissal–so you get the work very, very cheap. It is a wonderful setup economically.
Q: Do you see any signs of hope?
Avnery: There are lots of grounds for hope in Israeli society. We are seeing Israelis getting fed up with war, looking for solutions. The youngest soldiers are refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. Some are volunteering for army combat units but are refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. We have the elite of the Israeli army, the air force pilots, some of them refusing orders which they consider illegal. We have a movement of people who support the so-called Geneva Accords, a draft peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. We have lots of people come out to Gush Shalom demonstrations against this terrible wall. There are lots of signs that average Israelis want peace. But after such a long war–this conflict has been going on now for 120 years–you have a fifth generation being born into it on both sides. Such a conflict creates hatred, fears, stereotypes, and demonizations of the other. It would be an illusion to believe you can put an end to this overnight. You have to fight for the soul of your people, you have to fight for the souls of millions of people on both sides, to overcome the legacy of this struggle and create a readiness for peace.
You must get Israelis to understand the feelings and the hopes and the traumas of the Palestinians. You have to get the Palestinians to understand why Israel is behaving the way it does: What is the legacy of the Holocaust, what are the fears of average Jewish people? It is a big job, and we are committed to this job, and we will win in the end. I am quite sure, because there is no other alternative. What is the alternative to peace? A catastrophe for both peoples.
Q: What about the Palestinian right of return?
Avnery: The Palestinian right of return has many different aspects. There is the moral aspect, the political aspect, and the practical aspect. I believe that Israel must concede to the Palestinian right of return in principle. Israel must, first of all, assume its responsibility for what happened in 1948, as far as we are to blame–and we are to blame for a great part of it, if not for all–and we must recognize in principle the right of refugees to return.
In practice, we have to find a complex solution to a very complex problem. It is manifestly idiotic to believe that Israel, with five million Jewish citizens and one million Arab citizens, will concede to the return of four million refugees. It will not happen. We can wish it, we can think it’s just, that it’s moral–it will not happen. No country commits suicide.
Now the question is: How do we solve the problem by allowing a number of refugees to return to Israel, allowing a number of refugees to return to the Palestinian state, and allowing a number of refugees to settle, with general compensation, where they want to settle? It is not an abstract problem. It involves four million human beings, and more than fifty years of various sorts of misery. But it is not an insolvable problem. It involves some good will, and a readiness to give up historic myths on both sides.
Q: So what’s the solution?
Avnery: The solution is perfectly clear. All parts of the conflict have been amply debated and discussed. Many plans have been put on the table–hundreds. And everybody knows by now exactly the parameters of a peace solution. We at Gush Shalom have published a draft text of a peace agreement, and I am fairly certain that when peace comes about, it will be more or less on these lines.
The solution is this: There will be a state of Palestine in all of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Green Line, the border that existed before 1967, will come into being again. Jerusalem will be the shared capital–East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine, West Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel. All settlements must be evacuated. The security must be arranged for both people, and there must be a moral solution and a practical solution.
On these lines, there will be peace. And if you ask me, they could make peace in one week. The trouble is that both people find it very difficult to come to this point. And when I say both people, I don’t want to establish a symmetrical situation. There is no symmetry here; there are occupiers, and the occupied. And as the occupier, we have the responsibility to lead this process. This is what I, as an Israeli patriot, tell my own people.
– Jon Elmer is a freelance photojournalist who reported from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He is the creator and editor of the online journal FromOccupiedPalestine.org.
David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) may or may not have been Peter O’Toole’s greatest achievement, but it was certainly his finest film. Though not in all respects historically accurate, it still tells a us a lot about British imperialism and its accompanying racism. It was also a brilliant, beautiful and moving piece of cinema:
This is from the New York Times:
Peter O’Toole, an Irish bookmaker’s son with a hell-raising streak whose magnetic performance in the 1962 epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” earned him overnight fame and put him on the road to becoming one of his generation’s most accomplished and charismatic actors, died on Saturday in London. He was 81.
His daughter Kate O’Toole said in a statement that he had been ill for some time.
A blond, blue-eyed six-footer, Mr. O’Toole had the dashing good looks and high spirits befitting a leading man, and he did not disappoint in “Lawrence,” David Lean’s wide-screen, almost-four-hour homage to T.E. Lawrence, the daring British soldier and adventurer who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks in the Middle East during World War I.
The performance brought Mr. O’Toole the first of eight Academy Award nominations, a flood of film offers and a string of artistic successes in the 1960s and early ‘70s. In the theater — he was a classically trained actor — he played an anguished, angular tramp in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and a memorably battered title character in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.”
In film, he twice played a robust King Henry II, first opposite Richard Burton in “Becket,” then with Katharine Hepburn as his queen in “The Lion in Winter.” Both earned Oscar nominations for Best Actor, as did his repressed, decaying schoolmaster in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” and the crazed 14th Earl of Gurney in “The Ruling Class.”
Less successful was his Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” Arthur Hiller’s 1972 adaptation of the Broadway musical, but it emphasized that his specialty was increasingly becoming the outsider or misfit: dreamy, romantic, turbulent, damaged, or even mad, but usually larger than life.
Mr. O’Toole threw himself wholeheartedly into what he called “bravura acting,” courting and sometimes deserving the accusation that he became over-theatrical, mannered, even hammy. His lanky, loose-jointed build; his blue eyes; his long, lantern-jawed face; his oddly languorous sexual charm; and the eccentric loops and whoops of his voice tended to reinforce the impression of power and extravagance.
Mr. Burton called him “the most original actor to come out of Britain since the war,” with “something odd, mystical and deeply disturbing” in his work.
Some critics called him the next Laurence Olivier. As a young actor Mr. O’Toole displayed an authority that the critic Kenneth Tynan said “may presage greatness.” In 1958 the director Peter Hall called Mr. O’Toole’s Hamlet in a London production “electrifying” and “unendurably exciting” — a display of “animal magnetism and danger which proclaimed the real thing.”
He showed those strengths somewhat erratically, however; for all his accolades and his box-office success, there was a lingering note of unfulfilled promise in Mr. O’Toole.
It was no surprise when Olivier chose Mr. O’Toole to inaugurate Britain’s National Theater Company in 1963 with a reprisal of his Hamlet. But the first night left most critics unmoved and unexcited and the actor himself lamenting “the most humbling, humiliating experience of my life.”
“As it went on,” he said, “I suddenly knew it wasn’t going to be any good.”
A production in 1965 of David Mercer’s “Ride-a-Cock-Horse,” in which he played an adulterous alcoholic, was booed at its London opening.
Onscreen, mixed reviews followed his performances as the cowardly naval officer seeking redemption in “Lord Jim,” Richard Brooks’s 1965 adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel; as a playboy in “What’s New, Pussycat?” a 1965 comedy with Peter Sellers and written by a young Woody Allen; and as the Three Angels in “The Bible: In the Beginning,” John Huston’s 1966 recreation of Genesis. And his sadistic Nazi general in Anatole Litvak’s “Night of the Generals” (1967) was panned.
His carousing became legend, particularly in the 1970s. As he himself said, he had long been “happy to grasp the hand of misfortune, dissipation, riotous living and violence,” counting Mr. Burton, Richard Harris, Robert Shaw, Francis Bacon, Trevor Howard, Laurence Harvey and Peter Finch among his drinking companions. He lost much of his “Lawrence” earnings in two nights with Omar Sharif at casinos in Beirut and Casablanca.
Though he won many lesser awards during his career, triumph at the Academy eluded him, perhaps in part because he had made no secret of his dislike of Hollywood and naturalistic acting, which he considered drab. He was nothing if not ambitious, but success would come on his own terms, not the movie industry’s. He had made that plain at 18, when an acting career was already in his mind. In his notebook he made a promise to himself:
“I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony. I do not crave security. I wish to hazard my soul to opportunity.”
Marc Santora and Robert Berkvist contributed reporting.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Lib Dem idiot David Ward
Early Day Motion 739 is a call for the freedom of movement of Palestinian journalists. Its primary sponsor is Jeremy Corbyn, who once invited Raed Salah, a promoter of the blood libel, to Parliament, and it is being supported by many other usual suspects: George Galloway, who refused to debate with a student at Oxford once he realized he was Israeli, David Ward, who bemoaned the fact Jews hadn’t learned more of a lesson from the Holocaust and Bob Russell, who has drawn a false equivalence between the Holocaust and the suffering of the Palestinians.
However those of us who are inclined to defend Israel from disproportionate scrutiny and exaggerated, even racist, criticism will sometimes find ourselves on the same ‘side’ as people with views just as deplorable – eg: Israel supporters who deny the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and assert that they are a “made up people” with only themselves to blame. So it doesn’t seem rational to dismiss this EDM just because supporting it will put one in some unwelcome company. Here is the full text.
That this House notes that, on a daily basis, Israeli authorities restrict journalists’ movements and there are hundreds of military checkpoints that constrain or forbid journalists’ movements; further notes that despite the long standing campaigning by journalists and civil rights organisations, the Israeli authorities continue to reject identity cards, accreditation and press cards, including the International Federation of Journalists press card, when carried by Palestinian journalists; condemns the continuous attacks by Israeli soldiers on Palestinian news gatherers, in particular photographers and camera crews, the level of attacks has increased during the first half of 2013, in 2012 the attacks involved rubber coated steel bullets, tear grenades and stun grenades; and reaffirms that freedom of movement is a central tenet of independent professional journalism and, in restricting such a right, Israeli authorities are in breach of international covenants and the right to report.
There would seem to be two possible objections to the EDM. First, the claims may be exaggerated; secondly, even someone who is, or seems to be, a journalist may still pose a threat. Here’s a link to a story about a clearcut example of this, a newsreader who dropped off a terrorist before going to work to report on the bombing: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/27/arts/television/27genz.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1386088156-piyAlCJHUvKKlpjcZCsThg
Yet security concerns don’t justify the apparently brutal treatment some Palestinian journalists have experienced, as documented here:
Trying to establish whether the EDM is reasonable or not, like most lines of enquiry relating to Israel/Palestine, has the same bewildering effect as looking at this ambiguous picture:
Is the journalist featured in this story (link below), Mohamed Jamal Abu Khdeir, a victim of Israeli heavy handedness or a real security threat?
While looking up recent news stories about Palestinian journalists I found an example of one unfortunate man, George Canawati, who had been beaten up for mere “slander and abuse” - making derogatory remarks about a police officer. However in this case the violence was carried out, not by Israeli forces, but by the Palestinian Authority:
However, even though one might wryly note that some sections of the media won’t be so quick to report on this attack on press freedom as on Israel’s shortcomings, that doesn’t mean those shortcomings aren’t real. The monitoring organisation Reporters without Borders doesn’t have the kind of profile one would associate with reflexive Israel-bashing, yet it seems increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian journalists:
So, whether or not one goes along with every element of the EDM, it certainly seems to highlight a genuine cause for concern in a year which has seen Israel’s press freedom ranking fall sharply:
Above: Prof Ramadan
Comrade Coatesy draws our attention to the unspeakably depressing fact that Tariq Ramadan (Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford and poster-boy for supposedly “moderate” Islamism) has been chosen deliver this year’s Orwell Lecture.
Now, Orwell was no saint, and certainly had his prejudices and blind-spots. He can reasonably be accused of a degree of sexism and homophobia. There are passages in his writings that have been considered anti-Semitic. He was a child of his time, and did not always rise above the prevalent backwardness of that time. But he was aware of his weaknesses and seems to have made genuine efforts to fight his inner demons. He was nothing if not scrupulously honest, self-critical (to a degree that sometimes played into the hands of his enemies), and humanist. He was also hostile to all forms of totalitarianism, religion and spirituality, despite a sentimental soft spot for the rituals of the C of E. All of which makes the choice of Professor Ramadan to deliver the lecture named after him, especially unfortunate.
The French revolutionary socialist and Marxist Yves Coleman wrote a trenchant critique of Ramadan back in 2007, published by Workers Liberty. We republish it below, preceded by Workers Liberty‘s introduction. Given Ramadan’s evident popularity not just on sections of the “left”, but also with Guardianista-liberals, and his selection as the Orwell lecturer, this is a timely reminder of just how unpleasant his underlying politics are:
“40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot” was written by the French Marxist, Yves Coleman and has been reproduced by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The text presents factual information about the politics of Tariq Ramadan.
There are many issues the Left must address.
First is the question of honest polemic.
Useful political debate requires clearly presented political positions and an attempt to honestly engage with opponents.
And yet Yves Coleman believes that it almost impossible to either ‘catch’ or ‘corner’ Tariq Ramadan. He is difficult to pin down. The reason is simple: Tariq Ramadan often says one thing to one group, and something different, or contradictory, elsewhere.
This slipperiness connects with the second issue for the left.
No doubt, given the support Ramadan has on the “left”, there will be further “left” attempts to refute the damning contents of this document. However, it will not be good enough to answer Yves Coleman by producing further quotes from Ramadan.
It just won’t do to reply to the reactionary statements Ramadan has made on the issue of women’s rights, for example, by presenting other quotes suggesting he is a liberal on the question (and so implying Ramadan can’t have made the statements cited by Yves Coleman without having to address the quotes directly). Ramadan might well have made both the reactionary and the liberal statements. As Yves Coleman shows, on many issues Ramadan has done exactly that.
It will not do to protest that Ramadan is more liberal-minded, less rigidly reactionary than extreme Islamist groups like Hizb-ut Tahrir. He is. Mainstream Catholic ideologues are less rigidly reactionary than the Tridentines. They are still not allies for the left.
Nor will it do to try to change the question by saying that the left has also had Christian preachers sometimes share platforms with it to denounce apartheid or war. The left will work with campaigners who may be Muslims on the same basis. But Tariq Ramadan’s left-wing friends promote him not because he has campaigned on some progressive political issue (and despite his Islamic ideas), but because he is a (sometimes left-sounding) Islamic ideologue, regardless of him doing nothing for progressive politics other than making bland statements against poverty and so on.
The only possible “left” responses to this document are: to attempt to prove Coleman has mis-quoted Ramadan; or to attempt to explain away Ramadan’s statements (by claiming some sort of special privilege for Muslim bigots); or to accept Ramadan is a reactionary.
Third is the peculiar fact – one which Yves Coleman notes in his text – that the left finds no problem in condemning Catholic reactionaries, but often praises and promotes Islamic reactionaries such as Ramadan who have similar views. Criticisms of Tariq Ramadan are often called “Islamophobic”. But we do not say that Ramadan is worse than a Catholic reactionary because he is Muslim rather than Catholic. We only say that a Muslim reactionary is no more defensible than a Catholic reactionary.
The problem is that large sections of the left have degenerated and decayed to such an extent that they become unable to differentiate between critics of existing society who offer a positive alternative to capitalism (the working-class, class-struggle left), and those critics who are backward-looking reactionaries.
The kitsch-left has – seemingly – forgotten what it positively stands for, and can only remember what it is against (Blair, Israel and, most of all, America). Since Islamists are against Israel and the USA, and Catholic reactionaries generally are not, the kitsch-left thinks the Islamists are progressive. Or that Ramadan, a Swiss university professor, is the best person to invite to be a “Voice of the Global South” at the European Social Forum, precisely because he is an Islamic ideologue.
It is organisations such as the SWP – which found itself unable to condemn 9/11, and which supports the so-called resistance in Iraq – that promote Ramadan.
Forth is to understand Ramadan’s project.
Yves Coleman writes: “The basic thing is that Ramadan wants is to enlarge the power of control or religion on society. Ramadan always invokes French racism (which exists and can not be denied) and colonial history to explain the hostility he provokes in France. In this he is partly right, but what is at stake is the meaning of secularism. For him (as well as for the SWP and its French followers) secularism means that all religions are treated equally by the State and are respected. For the French Republican tradition, it means something different: it means (in theory) that people should not express religious views in the public sphere (in their job, in the schools, in Parliament, etc.) and should keep their religious views to the private sphere. That’s where the difference lies.
“Ramadan may not be a fundamentalist of the worst sort but he is clearly training a whole generation of religious cadres who are trying to change the content of secularism in France in a more pro-religious direction.”
Fifth is to understand the role Ramadan is playing in NUS.
Behind Ramadan – urbane, reasonable sounding – stand the Islamists of the MAB/Muslim Brothers.
Ramadan is the reasonable face of Islamic politics, and he is the thin end of the wedge.
Finally, we need to understand that attempts to shout down Marxist critics of Ramadan with demagogic accusations of “Islamophobia” and even “racism” are absurd.
Discrimination and even violence against Muslims are real. We oppose such bigotry.
However we also demand women’s liberation, gay liberation. The AWL is an atheist organisation, and fights for secular values. Therefore we will not ignore Ramadan’s bigotry or backwardness.
40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot
By Yves Coleman
Tariq Ramadan often complains that the media accuse him of being two-faced. He considers that this critique is a plain racist slander in the line of the eternal cliché about so-called Arab “deceitfulness”. If we read Mr Ramadan’s writings we reach a much simpler conclusion: Tariq Ramadan is a sincere Muslim who defends reactionary positions on a number of issues, but that does not prevent him from holding critical views on many injustices, while being fundamentally a moderate in politics.
Just as Pope John Paul II condemned the “excesses of capitalism”, unemployment, greed, poverty, the war in Iraq and the way Israel treats the Palestinians.
Only somebody who has never thought about about the function of religions (of all religions) can be surprised by this coexistence of different interpretations of the world: a faith in myths (as in the Bible, Torah, Quran, Upanishads, etc.) and absurd superstitions; a use of reason in many daily (manual and intellectual) activities ; a sincere revolt against all injustices; a misogynist and homophobic moralism; a need for dreams and utopias, etc.
Revolutionaries do not question Tariq Ramadan’s right to defend his religious beliefs, or to proselytise. After all, as he rightly notes, nobody in France is scandalized by the constant propaganda waged by missionaries like Mother Teresa or Sister Emmanuelle in Asia. Nobody protests against the repeated presence of Sister Emmanuelle, Cardinal Lustinger (former cardinal in charge of Paris) and other priests, nuns and monks in all sorts of French TV shows and programs.
Nor is this a matter of a theological dispute with somebody who is always going to know Islam better than any “Western” atheist.
What we insist on is that there are other interpretations of Islam, from Muslims who are much more democratic and secular than Ramadan.
And we reject the dishonest gambit used by this Swiss philosophy lecturer to deflect criticism: each time a Muslim intellectual defends an opinion which is different from his, it is because she or he is “westernized”, has adopted a “West-centred vision”, or worse, has sold out to imperialist, colonialist and racist Western powers.
Revolutionaries do not claim that Tariq Ramadan holds reactionary positions on all issue. We simply ask his “left-wing” friends not to knowingly dissimulate his obscurantist positions and not to dismiss in advance the positions of other Muslims who are much less conservative than him as regards morals, secularism and all the issues of daily life.
This dissimulation comes sometimes from a unworthy paternalism (“he will shift as he comes into contact with us”), sometimes from a manipulative approach (“we are not interested in him, but in the immigrants he influences”), and sometimes from a political vision which blurs all class divisions (“the confluence of all anti-capitalist movements”, the “revolt of the multitudes”, and other such rubbish), sometimes from the cynical relativism of disillusioned former adherents of dialectical materialism (“after all, no-one knows whether scientific truths exist”), and sometimes from a “Third Worldism” which has still not given up on the Stalinist illusion of “socialism in one country”.
In all these cases, such hypocritical attitudes to Ramadan’s bigotry do a disservice to workers who still believe in Islam but who also want to fight against capitalism. And after all, as revolutionaries, it is those “Muslims” who interest us.
Tariq Ramadan does not approve of flirting, sex before (or outside) marriage, homosexuality, women’s contraception or divorce. He thinks that Muslim women should submit to their husbands if they are “good” Muslims. He believes that men must be financially responsible for the well-being of their family, and not women. In other words, Tariq Ramadan is opposed to or equivocal about feminism, women’s rights, gay rights and sexual liberation. One should also have strong doubts about his respect of the freedom of speech and thought: in Switzerland he contributed to a campaign against a Voltaire play, and he wants Muslim parents to control the content of State school programs according to “Islamic values”, to give only two examples. But that does not prevent him from constantly using the key words of today’s public relations industry: “respect”, “tolerance”, “communication” and “dialogue” in the manner of a cynical politician.
What a strange friend for the Left! Read the rest of this entry »