Friday, July 20, 2007

Progress by Whose Standards?
By Bashir Goth
Any claim of progress in Iraq may prompt the unavoidable question “progress by whose standards?” The White House’s claim is clear: by the standards of an administration that sold the invasion of Iraq as a war of liberation; that claimed that Saddam was a breath away from producing weapons of mass destruction and was part of a notorious Axis of Evil; that the U.S. army would be welcomed with roses in the streets of Baghad; that democracy and freedom would ring in the Arab and Islamic world; that Al Qaeda would be defeated and America would be safer.

Now, four years after Baghdad’s fall, one can sum up the progress achieved since then in the toppling of Saddam’s famous bronze statue, the capture of Saddam Hussein in a foxhole immortalized by Paul Bremer’s famous bravado “We got him,” his trial in a kangaroo court and gruesome hanging. Saddam Hussein dominated Iraq’s post-invasion history just like his personality and name had dominated Iraq in the prewar era. His unflinching disposition at the guillotine amid the vengeful behavior of his executors even allowed some to portray him as a latter day Uthmān ibn ‘Affān, the third Caliph of Islam who was killed by a vengeful mob.

Apart from the saga of Saddam, internecine killing and mayhem are on the rise in Iraq. The entire country has fallen to the hands of Al Qaeda and other mafia gangs. The Iraqi people have become divided into sects, tribes, ruthless assassin groups and innocent, helpless and hopeless civilians who fall like flies in daily suicide bombings. The post-Saddam American-installed juntas have all failed to come out from under the cloaks of the Iranian mullahs. The Maliki government gets protection and funds from Washington but lends its ear to Tehran. Iran has become more influential and feels more comfortable in the region than America. Tehran’s power is felt in Lebanon, Palestine, even as far as Yemen. It is in this context that the Iranian Supreme Leader’s media advisor recently claimed Bahrain was an Iranian territory. Call it a ruse or bait to keep America on the hook if you wish, but it sounds a bell in the Gulf region, particularly as Iran occupies three islands belonging to the United Arab Emirates.

Against this backdrop, one finds the rejection of the U.S. troop withdrawal proposal by the U.S. Congress as a bitter but inevitable pill to swallow. Hard as one may find it to associate himself with the policies of the White House, it seems this is the only right thing to do at present.

As the saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right. Iraq’s invasion was wrong but it is also wrong that America turn its back on the Frankenstein it has created. The U.S. Congress and the American people may want to punish the Bush administration for committing such a historical and strategic blunder -- but not at the expense of Iraq whose whole existence is under threat, and surely not at the expense of the peace and security of the whole region from which America gets its oil. Read More in Newsweek/Washington Post

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Djibouti: plying smoothly in troubled waters
By Bashir Goth, Khaleej Times, 17 July 2007=
THE Horn of African Republic of Djibouti has celebrated its 30th independence anniversary bearing the hallmarks of becoming the Dubai of East Africa. But this former French colony, perched on the Gulf of Aden at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, did not show any potential for future development when it gained its independence from France on 27 June 1977.

Not only did it sit on a harsh terrain of stony desert, with scattered plateaus and languished under torrid and dry climate, but it was also the bone of contention between two neighbouring, socialist, and belligerent regimes. On the southeast border Somalia under General Mohammed Siyad Barre was poised to bring Djibouti back to the Somali fold to fulfill its historical dream of uniting all Somali ethnic people in the Horn of Africa under one national flag, while Ethiopia on the west and south under Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam was ready to go to war over Djibouti to prevent its historical rival from grabbing its marine gateway.

Coming under France’s suzerainty in 1884 when European colonial powers divided the Somali peninsula among British, Italian and French domination areas, the people of Djitouti had shared the dream of unity with their fellow Somalis in the Horn of Africa. Djibouti’s economy, however, heavily relied on its populous neighbour Ethiopia since the Ethio-Djibouti railway became operational in 1901. Faced with the dilemma of either ditching his people’s nationalistic sentiment of uniting with Somalia or risking his country becoming a battleground, Djibouti’s Independence leader and first President Hassan Gouled Aptidon wisely steered his tiny new republic away from danger by declaring it as a sovereign state and allowing the French garrison to continue its presence in the territory for protection.

The new nation, however, didn’t have enough respite as the old demons came haunting her when Somalia and Ethiopia clashed over their old territorial dispute on the Somali region of Ethiopia, popularly known as the Ogaden. The railway was blown up and thousands of refugees sought resort in Djibouti, thus putting the country’s meager resources under intolerable strain. With the port, Djibouti’s sole revenue provider, suffering heavily from the war, the country had to survive by French and international aid. And with the Eritrean liberation struggle against Ethiopia at its height, Djibouti’s borders were all in flames at one time. It needed more than a miracle to survive. Read More in Khaleej Times.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Men Die for Other Men, Not for God
By Bashir Goth
Hard as it may seem, I can understand people rejecting change and determined to continue to live as the Prophet lived in the 14th century. But what I cannot understand is how they are able to twist the words and actions of the Prophet, in whom they so vehemently believe, and commit such inhuman crimes in his name.

There are in fact a number of Prophet Mohammad’s sayings and Quranic verses that glorify martyrdom. But as the commander-in-chief of the Muslim army, the Prophet may have encouraged martyrdom in the battlefield to raise the morale of his soldiers. With the absence of military rank, medals and all modern methods of honoring soldiers, and with his role as spiritual leader of his followers, Mohammad could only promise mystical rewards. Martyrdom was, therefore, limited to the battleground; the Prophet promised heavenly paradise to those who fell during battle. The holy Quran, meanwhile, admonishes Muslims not to count those killed fighting for Allah: “And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision,” says a verse 169 of Aal-Imraan chapter.

Despite this, it is indeed neither Prophet Mohammad nor the holy Quran that is to blame for today’s mayhem, simply because any rational human being would place these canonical texts in their historical perspective and realize that they applied to a different time, different world and different circumstances.

I am unaware of any occasion or record in which the Prophet or even the holy Quran sanctioned people to kill innocent children, women, elderly and non-combatant civilians in their homes, work places, mosques and schools. It is unfortunate that Islam -- which opened the minds of people to science and research, liberated man from the worship of rocks and sculptures, challenged human beings to think and reflect, which started its message with a veneration of the written word -- has been ossified into a dogma of death and ignorance. Read More in Washington Post.