Friday, June 29, 2007

Marshall Plan for Palestine
By Bashir Goth

In a previous piece I wondered what deal Tony Blair made with George Bush to be so subservient to him despite his seemingly superior intelligence. With his new position, I think the answer has come more quickly than I expected. Other than lucrative retirement benefits and keeping him in the limelight alongside his master, I don’t see what Blair can achieve as minutes-taker when he wasn’t able to make any impact on Middle East issues as an elected leader of a sovereign state with a UN Security Council veto power.

But as trusted secretaries are known to wield enough influence over their bosses, one may hope that Blair will at least give some hard advice to Bush. One important idea could be to push for a Marshall Plan for the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen). Given the grinding poverty and harsh economic realities in which the Palestinian people live, the Quartet’s initiatives will not find receptive ears unless the Palestinian people see a real change in their livelihood. Massive economic assistance can start projects, generate employment, win the trust of people and turn them into stakeholders in peace initiatives.

The fact of the matter is that the ongoing struggle between Hamas and Fatah groups is basically a conflict over resources. It is through improving the people’s lives with funds reaching them from Iran and Islamic charities that Hamas, Hezbollah and many other radical groups in the Islamic world have gained the hearts and minds of the downtrodden masses. It is therefore only by using massive, transparent and well-planned economic assistance that the Western-supported government of Abu Mazen can erode Hamas’s grassroots support in Gaza and elsewhere.

Blair should also do his utmost to convince Israel to exercise the maximum degree of self-restraint against any provocation by Hamas and other radical groups. As Hamas is now politically isolated and its influence confined to the Gaza Strip without any hope of foreign funds reaching it from its conventional allies, the last thing that Israel’s and Abu Mazen’s governments need is to see more Palestinian people killed in Gaza by Israeli bombs. This will galvanize the Palestinian people behind Hamas and will make Abu Mazen’s government appear to act as Israeli stooges.

In order to give the Quartet more teeth and credibility, it may also be wise to enlarge its membership by bring in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and one or two of the most influential Jewish lobbies in the U.S. This would not only secure much needed financial backing for any future peace initiative, but would also strengthen the group’s influence over Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Read more in

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Not the First Accused of Blasphemy
By Bashir Goth
Britain knighted Salman Rushdie like many British citizens before him, honored for their service to Britain. To honor Rushdie as a writer for his contribution to literature is a commendable initiative. This is purely a British affair and has nothing to do with any other people or creed.

To protest against what the UK does or doesn’t do for its own citizens is a flagrant interference in its internal affairs. It is like protesting against granting British citizenship to Rushdie, or to any other individual for that matter. Salman Rushdie is considered to be one of the most illustrious and creative writers of the late 20th century. The fact that some people loathe him for insulting their sentiments or faith is beside the point. Rushdie is not the first and will definitely not be the last writer with a Muslim name to be accused of blasphemy.

The blasphemy sword of Islam has been hanging over Muslim writers, thinkers and poets since the dawn of Islam when the first fatwa was issued against the poet Ka’b bin Zuhair who was accused of insulting the Prophet of Islam in some of his poems. Zuhair had to convert to Islam and beg the Prophet for forgiveness in his famous poem titled “The Cloak” -- as the narrative says, Mohammad removed his own cloak and placed it over the shoulders of Ka’b as a sign of pardon. Ka’b’s poem starts with the following telling lines: “I have been informed that the messenger of Allah has warned me, yet pardon from the messenger of Allah is hoped.”

Mansur bin Hussein Al Hallaj, the 8th century mystic and thinker, was executed for proclaiming “Ana Al Haq” (“I am the truth”). The Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfuz ran afoul of Islamic close-mindedness with his novel Awlad Haratina (Children of Gebelawi). He survived an assassination attempt in 1994 by an angry extremist assassin. His Nobel Prize was also seen as a reward for his betrayal of Islam. Even Egypt’s man of letters par excellence Taha Hussein was blasted for his critical work on pre-Islamic poetry at the turn of the 20th century. Others who came under the hammer included Bangladeshi novelist Taslima Nasrin, Egyptian Nasr Abu Zaid among others.

The tragedy that all these writers share is that almost none of the Muslim mobs protesting against their works and burning their effigies read their works. Angry demonstrations pour out of mosques after hearing sermons by equally ignorant preachers who act on hearsay.

It is baffling to see Muslims making a fuss about books and cartoons or even company logos -- one Saudi scholar once accused the 7 Up soft drink company of blasphemy simply because in his strange thinking the 7 UP logo closely resembled the word “Allah” when seen from the rear. yet none of them flinches a muscle when some of Islam’s holiest mosques are blown up in Iraq by fellow Muslims, when Muslim worshippers are mowed down in a hail of bullets in mosques in Pakistan and Palestine by their Muslim brethren and when innocent Muslim women and children are slaughtered by suicide bombers of their kith and kin in the streets of Baghdad, Gaza, Karachi, Kabul, Mogadishu and elsewhere.

It is beyond my comprehension indeed to see how anyone can compare Bin Laden, a murderer who brought misery and shame to the whole nation of Islam, to Rushdie, a man of letters who uses his God-given talent of thinking to entertain and educate his fellow humankind. Isn’t it the holy Quran that always addresses its message to those “who think… who contemplate… who ponder… who use their intellect and reason”? Didn’t the revelation of the holy Quran start with the word “Read” and told us that it was God who had taught man writing by the pen and taught him that which he knew not. So why is Rushdie ostracized for using that creative faculty which the majority of Muslims fear to exercise?

By honoring Rushdie, Britain has demonstrated the great value it places on human intellect in line with the true teachings of Islam, while by honoring Bin Laden, the Pakistani “scholars” have not only declared beyond a doubt their denial of the sole message of Islam, which means peace, but also their rejection of all human decency and rationale. Read more in Newsweek/Washington Post

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Self-Righteous Obsession Dehumanizes
By Bashir Goth
The tragedy of Alan Johnston and many other Western journalists before him who were either kidnapped or slaughtered in cold blood is not about neutrality or journalistic objectivity; it is about a people living in religious obsession losing their minds. The Muslim world is tangled in benighted hatred of the West. Even the dividing line between extremism and moderateness is blurring by the day.

It is a world consumed by extreme egoism and self-righteousness. People who see themselves as speaking on behalf of God are difficult to deal with. These are people who assume that their religion is the right one, their causes the only just causes, their dead the only martyrs and that no matter how much they kill, maim and slaughter each other, it is only when a Western bullet hits one of their own that all the world’s injustice is revealed. It is a world where children see suicide bombers as their best role models, where mothers celebrate when their sons and daughters take their own lives and the lives of other innocent civilians enjoying quality time with their loved ones in coffee shops and nightclubs.

It is also absurd to blame these actions on occupation or Western intervention because occupation and Western intervention in other parts of the world have not bred such hatred for humanity. The world didn’t witness suicide bombings in South Africa during the apartheid era, nor were Western journalists kidnapped or slaughtered in the former Yugoslavia during the American and NATO intervention in early 1990s.

It is humanly impossible to talk about neutrality and objective reporting in a world wallowing in self-pity and living with an obsessive feeling of victimization, where the only objective report they can relate to is to bloat their grievances and glorify their violence. I can’t see self-respecting Western journalists debasing themselves to describe suicide bombers as martyrs and repeating it ad nauseam in their news bulletins like Al Jazeera. And as long as the Muslim people view every Westerner as a Jew and every Jew as a legitimate target for hatred and bigotry, Western journalists have no option but to carry on the “white man’s burden” in the positive sense of the statement and continue with their noble mission, preparing to sacrifice the lives of more fearless journalists such as Daniel Pearl and Martin Adler and the freedom of more devoted reporters like Alan Johnston. Read More in Newsweek/WashingtonPost