Monday, January 30, 2006

Some words of wisdom from Mark Twain

Chad Goldberg passes along a characteristically pointed formulation by Mark Twain that he recently happened to encounter:
"People seem to think they are citizens of the Republican Party and that that is patriotism and sufficiently good patriotism. I prefer to be a citizen of the United States." (Mark Twain, 1884)
"Sadly," Chad comments, "I'm afraid Twain's wry observation may be apt once again." Hard to disagree with that. --Jeff Weintraub

Paul Krugman - Health Care Confidential

Paul Krugman's columns are always indispensable reading, but some are even more illuminating than others. The piece below, "Health Care Confidential," zeroes in especially well on one aspect of a more pervasive problem--namely, the extent to which so much everyday public-policy discourse in US politics is detached from reality.
American health care is desperately in need of reform. But what form should change take? Are there any useful examples we can turn to for guidance?
Well, I know about a health care system that has been highly successful in containing costs, yet provides excellent care. And the story of this system's success provides a helpful corrective to anti-government ideology. For the government doesn't just pay the bills in this system — it runs the hospitals and clinics.
No, I'm not talking about some faraway country. The system in question is our very own Veterans Health Administration, whose success story is one of the best-kept secrets in the American policy debate. [....]
Last year customer satisfaction with the veterans' health system, as measured by an annual survey conducted by the National Quality Research Center, exceeded that for private health care for the sixth year in a row. This high level of quality (which is also verified by objective measures of performance) was achieved without big budget increases. In fact, the veterans' system has managed to avoid much of the huge cost surge that has plagued the rest of U.S. medicine. [....]
The dissonance between the dominant ideology and the realities of health care is one reason the Medicare drug legislation looks as if someone went down a checklist of things the veterans' system does right, and in each case did the opposite. For example, the V.H.A. avoids dealing with insurance companies; the drug bill shoehorns insurance companies into the program, even though they serve no real function. The V.H.A. bargains effectively on drug prices; the drug bill forbids Medicare from doing the same.
As a result, the Republican Congress managed the impressive feat of slapping together a program that combines extravagantly wasteful expense, inadequate coverage, and maximum confusion. As everyone knows, the introduction of Medicare prescription drug program has been attended with precisely the kinds of chaos and inefficiency predicted by serious and intelligent analysts when the bill was originally passed. Some apologists have suggested that this kind of confusion and dislocation is just inevitable when any big new government program is introduced. But as Jonathan Cohn pointed out in the New Republic (posted 1/19/06), this is no more than a flimsy excuse. A simple comparison makes this clear.
But consider what happened when the Johnson administration rolled out Medicare for the first time in July 1966. Back then, the obstacles were even more daunting than they are today. Rather than simply adding a benefit for a relatively narrow class of services (prescription drugs), introducing Medicare meant establishing an entirely new insurance program in just eleven months. [....]So what happened on the day that this complex program was implemented? Thousands of senior citizens simply went to the hospital and got the health care they needed.
This isn't surprising, considering that the administration designed its Medicare plan to serve its ideological agenda--privatizing government services and enriching special interests like the insurance and pharmaceutical industries--rather than senior citizens.
[For a useful elaboration of the last point, see this New Republic editorial.]
Krugman would like to close his column on an optimistic note:
Still, ideology can't hold out against reality forever.
It would be nice to think so. (Meanwhile, read the whole column.)
--Jeff Weintraub
New York Times
January 27, 2006

Health Care Confidential
By Paul Krugman

American health care is desperately in need of reform. But what form should change take? Are there any useful examples we can turn to for guidance?
Well, I know about a health care system that has been highly successful in containing costs, yet provides excellent care. And the story of this system's success provides a helpful corrective to anti-government ideology. For the government doesn't just pay the bills in this system — it runs the hospitals and clinics.
No, I'm not talking about some faraway country. The system in question is our very own Veterans Health Administration, whose success story is one of the best-kept secrets in the American policy debate.
In the 1980's and early 1990's, says an article in The American Journal of Managed Care, the V.H.A. "had a tarnished reputation of bureaucracy, inefficiency and mediocre care." But reforms beginning in the mid-1990's transformed the system, and "the V.A.'s success in improving quality, safety and value," the article says, "have allowed it to emerge as an increasingly recognized leader in health care."
Last year customer satisfaction with the veterans' health system, as measured by an annual survey conducted by the National Quality Research Center, exceeded that for private health care for the sixth year in a row. This high level of quality (which is also verified by objective measures of performance) was achieved without big budget increases. In fact, the veterans' system has managed to avoid much of the huge cost surge that has plagued the rest of U.S. medicine.
How does the V.H.A. do it?
The secret of its success is the fact that it's a universal, integrated system. Because it covers all veterans, the system doesn't need to employ legions of administrative staff to check patients' coverage and demand payment from their insurance companies. Because it's integrated, providing all forms of medical care, it has been able to take the lead in electronic record-keeping and other innovations that reduce costs, ensure effective treatment and help prevent medical errors.
Moreover, the V.H.A., as Phillip Longman put it in The Washington Monthly, "has nearly a lifetime relationship with its patients." As a result, it "actually has an incentive to invest in prevention and more effective disease management. When it does so, it isn't just saving money for somebody else. It's maximizing its own resources. ... In short, it can do what the rest of the health care sector can't seem to, which is to pursue quality systematically without threatening its own financial viability."
Oh, and one more thing: the veterans health system bargains hard with medical suppliers, and pays far less for drugs than most private insurers.
I don't want to idealize the veterans' system. In fact, there's reason to be concerned about its future: will it be given the resources it needs to cope with the flood of wounded and traumatized veterans from Iraq? But the transformation of the V.H.A. is clearly the most encouraging health policy story of the past decade. So why haven't you heard about it?
The answer, I believe, is that pundits and policy makers don't talk about the veterans' system because they can't handle the cognitive dissonance. (One prominent commentator started yelling at me when I tried to describe the system's successes in a private conversation.) For the lesson of the V.H.A.'s success story — that a government agency can deliver better care at lower cost than the private sector — runs completely counter to the pro-privatization, anti-government conventional wisdom that dominates today's Washington.
The dissonance between the dominant ideology and the realities of health care is one reason the Medicare drug legislation looks as if someone went down a checklist of things the veterans' system does right, and in each case did the opposite. For example, the V.H.A. avoids dealing with insurance companies; the drug bill shoehorns insurance companies into the program, even though they serve no real function. The V.H.A. bargains effectively on drug prices; the drug bill forbids Medicare from doing the same.
Still, ideology can't hold out against reality forever. Cries of "socialized medicine" didn't, in the end, succeed in blocking the creation of Medicare. And farsighted thinkers are already suggesting that the Veterans Health Administration, not President Bush's unrealistic vision of a system in which people go "comparative shopping" for medical care the way they do when buying tile, represents the true future of American health care.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Jewish Organizations Plan a Big Push Against Genocide in Darfur (Forward)

An article passed along by Chad Goldberg, who adds:
Welcome news from The Forward. I'm going to attend the April 30 rally in DC. Years from now, when my grandchildren (if I ever have grandchildren) ask me, "What did you do?" I want to be able to look them in the face.
For information on the rally in Washington DC being planned for April 30, 2006, keep an eye on the Save Darfur Coalition website.
--Jeff Weintraub
January 27, 2006
Jewish Organizations Plan a Big Push Against Genocide in Darfur
By Marc Perelman
Jolted by the tepid response to the genocide in Darfur, Jewish communal organizations are mobilizing at an unprecedented level for an issue that might appear tangential to Jewish concerns.
National and local Jewish organizations are gearing up for a rally to be held April 30 in Washington under the aegis of the Save Darfur Coalition, which brings together more than 150 faith-based and human rights groups and in which Jewish organizations figure prominently.
Organizers also intend to deliver a million handwritten and electronic postcards to the White House at the time of the rally, demanding a more effective American response and American support for a stronger multinational force to protect civilians in the war-stricken region.
"Darfur hit a heartstring in the Jewish community," said Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The council is a body that coordinates 13 national and 122 local Jewish agencies on issues of social justice, among other concerns. "It shows that when we say 'never again,' we mean it.... It is one of those moments when everybody seems to be saying the same thing and we see an extraordinary force coming about."
The Bush administration in 2004 applied the term "genocide" to the repressive actions conducted by the Sudanese government and its henchmen against the population of Darfur. The United Nations passed a series of resolutions, and the African Union introduced troops into the area. Even so, according to diplomats and relief groups, the situation on the ground has worsened.
"This is the first time the United States has determined that a genocide was taking place while it is still happening, but at the same time, the administration has failed to act on it," said Ruth Messinger, president and executive director of the American Jewish World Service. The AJWS, a Peace Corps-like charity, has spearheaded advocacy efforts on Darfur for the past two years. "This is what gets the Jewish community moving. They know the price of silence during the Holocaust and Rwanda," Messinger said.
While the 1994 genocide in Rwanda took place over several months and garnered little attention, the crisis in Darfur is now entering its third year and has grabbed the attention of politicians and pundits such as Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times.
The organized Jewish community lobbied for Western intervention in Bosnia in the early 1990s, but most activity occurred at the leadership level, and grass-roots involvement was minor, according to Jewish officials involved at the time.
Ronny Strongin, a spokeswoman for the AJWS, said that this time around, the call for more public action actually came from the grass roots.
"We were reluctant because it means a lot of resources and energy, but this is what people want; there's an itching to march and demonstrate," she said, adding that the AJWS had secured financing from a donor and hired a professional staff to prepare for the event.
Gutow of the JCPA said that the strong grass-roots involvement is impelling major Jewish groups to be even more vocal in lobbying the administration and Congress.
"What you see here is an attempt to bring more single voices from the community together with the big voices," said Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee's Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights, which has been pushing for stronger engagement on Darfur.
The AJCommittee has asked its local chapters to bring leaders of other faiths to Washington on February 15 to lobby Congress and the administration.
Some Jewish officials acknowledged privately that the idea of pressuring Sudan's radical Islamic regime motivated some Jewish groups to join the action. They said, however, that the fact that Jews are mobilizing to end Muslim-on-Muslim violence in Darfur sends a positive message to the Muslim world.
[Maybe, but I confess I am skeptical on this point. In principle, this should be received as a positive message, since what is going on in Darfur constitutes, by far, the largest ongoing mass murder of Muslims anywhere on earth. One should therefore expect other Muslims to welcome efforts to end these crimes. In reality, however, the Darfur atrocity seems to have generated remarkably little active outrage in most of the Muslim world--in part, perhaps, precisely because it is a case of "Muslim-on-Muslim violence." So I suspect that such efforts on behalf of victims in Darfur, Muslim or not, are just as likely to generate skepticism, hostility, and conspiracy theories ... which, of course, is not a good reason to abandon these efforts --JW]
Open warfare erupted in Darfur in early 2003 when two rebel groups attacked military installations in an effort to redress the region's chronic economic and political marginalization. The international community has accused the government of responding to the rebels by dispatching militias known as janjaweed, composed of fighters of Arab descent, which attacked the civilian population. The militias embarked on a wave of indiscriminate killing, looting and mass rape, as well as massive displacement.
Since February 2003, according to international estimates, more than 400,000 men, women and children have died while another 2.5 million civilians have been forced into refugee camps in Sudan and in neighboring Chad.
Congress recently cut $50 million it had earmarked to support the military mission of the African Union in Darfur. Darfur advocates want lawmakers to reinstate the funding, and they are calling for dispatching U.N. peacekeepers to assist the A.U., which has been struggling to implement its monitoring role.
"It is absolutely essential that President Bush directs the State Department to introduce a Security Council resolution calling for the United Nations to assume control of the African Union mission in Sudan when the U.S. takes its turn as president of the Security Council for the month of February," said David Rubenstein, coordinator of the Save Darfur Coalition. "While the African Union has been doing the best that it can with its limited funding and equipment, the U.N. would bring considerably greater resources to the task of protecting the civilians of Darfur."

Uri Avnery - "Pity the Orphan"

[The following message comes from a recent e-mail exchange with a friend who had forwarded to me a piece by the long-time Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, "Pity the Victim". Some passages have, unfortunately, become even more pertinent since the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. --Jeff Weintraub]
Subject: Re: Avnery - Pity the Orphan
Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2006 09:59:11 -0500
From: Jeff Weintraub
To: X

Hi X,
What Avnery says here is partly right and partly wrong. In particular, his analysis of Sharon's strategy in dealing with the PA (under Abbas as well as Arafat) is right on target, alas.
Even if Mahmoud Abbas wanted to disarm Hamas, he would be unable to. His weak position, combined with the weakness of his Fatah movement makes such a measure impossible.
This weakness, which also finds its expression in the Fawda ("anarchy"), derives mainly from one source: the sly efforts of Sharon to undermine his position.
I have pointed this out more than once: for Sharon, the rise of Abbas constituted a serious danger. Being favored by President Bush as an example of his success in bringing democracy and peace to the Middle East, he threatened the exclusive relationship between the US and Israel, perhaps even opening the way for American pressure on Israel.
To prevent this, Sharon denied Abbas even the slightest political concession, such as releasing prisoners (Marwan Barghouti springs to mind), changing the path of the Wall, freezing settlement, coordinating the withdrawal from Gaza with Abbas, etc. This campaign was successful. The authority of Abbas has been significantly weakened.
Now Sharon's successors are using this very weakness as a pretext to reject serious negotiations with him and the next Palestinian government, calling to mind the story of the boy who, having killed both his parents, threw himself upon the mercy of the court: "Have pity on a poor orphan!"
Whether or not the weakness of the PA and its inability and/or unwillingness to act constructively is "mainly" due to Sharon's strategy is an open question, but it was certainly Sharon's intention to help promote this outcome (with help from a lot of other people, not least the Palestinian leadership itself).
However, much of what Avnery has to say about Hamas is naive at best, and even involves a degree of self-deception.
This week, the protest against the Fence was interwoven with Palestinian electioneering.
I was happily marching along in the wintry sunshine, holding high the Gush Shalom emblem of the flags of Israel and Palestine side by side. We were approaching the line of armed soldiers that was waiting for us, when I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by the green flags of Hamas.
Ordinary Israelis would have been flabbergasted. What, the murderous terrorists marching in line with Israeli peace activists? Israelis marching, talking and joking with the potential suicide bombers? Impossible!
But it was quite natural. All the Palestinian parties took part in the demonstration, together with the Israeli and international activists. [....] The green flags of Hamas, the yellow of Fatah, the red of the Democratic Front and the blue-and-white of the Israeli flag on our emblems harmonized, as did the people who carried them. [....]
The participation of all Palestinian parties was in itself an important phenomenon. It was no doubt encouraged by the Palestinian elections, due to take place this coming Wednesday. It was curious to see the same faces on the posters along our route and right next to us in the crowd.
But it also showed the importance the Fence has assumed in Palestinian eyes.
There's a dangerous element of unreality about this whole discussion. Of course Hamas would oppose the security fence/wall/barrier. It appears to have worked--in the sense of making suicide attacks inside Israel much more difficult to carry out. This is, frankly, good news for everyone on both the Israeli & Palestinian sides, except rejectionists. In discussing the fence/wall/barrier, it is absolutely essential to distinguish between (a) its existence per se, which appears to be an unfortunate necessity, and (b) the route along which it is built, which was the wrinkle that allowed Sharon to politically hijack a proposal originally emanating from the so-called "left" in Israel. Avnery doesn't make this clear at all, so his position cannot be taken seriously.
Avnery also says:
Thirty years ago, when I started secret contacts with the PLO leadership, I was almost the only person in Israel in favor of negotiating with the organization that was at the time officially designated as "terrorist". It took almost 20 years for the Israeli government to come round to my point of view. Now we are starting again from the same point.
This is partly right--an important part. But it leaves out another very important element, so that the overall picture presented here is quite misleading.
For years, the US was desperate to get the PLO involved in a diplomatic "peace process," and would have put very heavy pressure on Israel to negotiate with it ... if the PLO would accept Israel's existence in principle and indicate that its goal was no longer Israel's destruction, but instead some kind of negotiated peace. (They didn't even have to mean it, just say it.) If Arafat & the PLO had been willing & able to do this 30 years ago, or even 20 years ago, when their position was much stronger, it would have been very difficult for any Israeli government to hold out against pressure to negotiate with them. But they didn't. It wasn't until after the first Gulf War, when the PLO found itself in a position of extreme weakness and isolation, facing terminal collapse and in danger of being superseded by political forces within the Palestinian territories themselves, that Arafat finally decided to make these verbal accommodations ... which, in turn, helped to make negotiations with the Rabin/Peres government possible. But if they had done this 30 (or 20 or 15) years earlier, they would have been in a much stronger position.
In short, one could draw quite different implications from this story than the one Avnery draws, which is a bit too simplistic and one-sided. It takes two to tango. That was true then, and it's true now.
Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A sad truth from Schopenhauer

From a post by Norman Geras at Normblog (taken in turn from A Special Way of Being Afraid):
There are very many thoughts which have value for him who thinks them, but only a few of them possess the power of engaging the interest of a reader after they have been written down.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sam Fleischacker - Jewish/Muslim Studies Initiative

My admirable friend Sam Fleischacker is a philosopher by trade, and one with more social, cultural, and historical sensitivity than many academic philosophers. This perspective has led him to write, among other things, valuable books on The Ethics of Culture and A Short History of Distributive Justice as well as a series of important works on Adam Smith as a moral and socio-political thinker, including A Third Concept of Liberty and On Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations": A Philosophical Companion.

Sam is also, unlike me, an observant Jew. His religious commitment has inclined him to be more, rather than less, open to other religious traditions. Over the years, he has been impressively persistent in pursuing practical efforts at inter-faith dialogues with Christian and Muslim groups, despite repeated tensions and disappointments. In addition, he has now launched an effort to promote intellectually serious and rigorous comparative study of Judaism and Islam through a Jewish/Muslim Studies Initiative (at the University of Illinois in Chicago and Chicago-Kent College of Law). To quote from a recent article about this initiative:
Professor Sam Fleischacker had a vision.

"Imagine Jewish and Muslim students poring over a sura of the Koran together or a page of the Talmud," he wrote in a statement about the new program he is launching at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Imagine them learning together about the influence of Islam on Judaism, and vice versa ... Imagine them discovering the similarities in Jewish and Muslim conceptions of law and of Scripture, in theology, or in their experiences as minorities in the West, both in the past and in the present day."

Fleischacker's ambitious dream is now a giant step closer to realization. Beginning with the new semester in January, UIC, along with Chicago-Kent College of Law, is establishing a Jewish/Muslim Studies Initiative; its centerpiece is a course available to students at both institutions. Public lectures, one of which has already taken place, and a theatrical performance will augment the academic program in its first year. [....]
Fleischacker, a professor in the philosophy department, has long envisioned just such an initiative, he said in a recent phone conversation. "I've been concerned with Jewish-Muslim dialogue for many years," he said. "I think that Judaism and Islam in many ways are closer than Judaism and Christianity. They both share a strong monotheism, and they shared a very good history until the early 19th century."

Today, he said, as is well known there is tremendous anti-Semitism and hostility towards Israel in the Muslim world, yet "one on one I've had very lovely interactions with Muslims, and they are very interested to know more about Judaism." Especially since Sept. 11, "I thought such interactions were crucial, yet I haven't found very many venues where it takes place," he said. An exception is Chicago's Interfaith Youth Corps, where high school students of many religions work together on social justice projects.

Yet, Fleischacker said, he was looking for a different type of setting. "Because I'm a professor I believe in intellectual work," he said. "Dialogue breaks down because people have terrible misimpressions of each other, false views about the Talmud, about the Koran. I think universities can contribute something that you don't necessarily get outside of universities."

Last year, Fleischacker chaired the UIC Jewish Studies program after another professor left and his idea for the initiative began to come together. "We have a very large Muslim population and also a significant Jewish population, and I thought it might be an appropriate, interesting thing to do," he said. With help from the Jewish Studies program, the school itself and Chicago-Kent, the idea for the program quickly came together.

Fleischacker's ultimate vision is "to bring Jewish professors to teach Islam and Muslim professors to teach Judaism--well-trained, scholarly people with a deep interest in the other tradition, and who are not prejudiced. It would provide them with an opportunity to learn the tradition itself more than they would ordinarily do and provide an incentive for scholars in the two disciplines to get to know each other."

For students, he said, "it would provide a wonderful opportunity for Jewish and Muslim students to work on each other's traditions together. It will be interfaith dialogue in a scholarly setting. [....]"
From an intellectual and scholarly point of view, there is no question that this is an excellent idea that deserves serious imitation elsewhere. Sam hopes that it may also have practical benefits.
The benefits of that will be great, he believes. "Among the most serious rifts in the world today is the one between Jews and Muslims," Fleischacker said. "Universities can play an important role in enabling dialogue, fostering understanding and developing cooperative relationships."
Maybe. We should all wish him luck.

(For further information, see HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

--Jeff Weintraub

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

David Hirsh & Jon Pike - Resist the politics of demonization

In the spring of 2005 David Hirsh and Jon Pike were prime co-founders of the Engage website, which played a major role in coordinating opposition to the blacklist of Israeli academics by the Association of University Teachers in Britain. Since the repeal of the AUT blacklist, Engage has been continued as a focus for opposing anti-Zionism and anti-semitism, particularly on the left, from a position broadly supportive of the Israeli peace camp and of a negotiated two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (I strongly support this position, and in fact I'm an Advisory Editor of Engage.)
Hirsh & Pike have just published an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz with a lot of valuable and important things to say.
Prospects for peace, already dire since the collapse of the Oslo process, are deteriorating still further. The open anti-Semites of Hamas seem likely to win a significant mandate in Palestine, and those who oppose a Palestinian state still persuade a significant proportion of Israelis. Kadima's project of unilateral disengagement, even if implemented fearlessly, is unlikely to lead to a just settlement of the conflict. We will see more terrorist attacks worldwide, and an intensification of the "war against terror." This context may accelerate the polarization of opinion in the United Kingdom between those who demonize Israel and Jews on the one side, and those who demonize Palestinians and Muslims on the other. We oppose both of these ways of thinking. [....]
For many on the left in the U.K., Israel has come to symbolize global US-centered imperialism just as, for some, Jews once symbolized the evils of capitalism. Palestine is often treated as a universal victim that stands for all the victims of imperialism. [....]
We need a movement in the U.K. for a just peace, one that campaigns in solidarity with the Palestinian and Israeli peace camps. Such a movement has to be conscious of where the boundaries lie between reasonable criticism of Israeli and Palestinian actions on the one hand, and the demonization of Israel, Jews, Palestinians and Muslims on the other.
And not only in the UK ...
--Jeff Weintraub
January 24, 2006

Know the boundaries
By David Hirsh and Jon Pike

Prospects for peace, already dire since the collapse of the Oslo process, are deteriorating still further. The open anti-Semites of Hamas seem likely to win a significant mandate in Palestine, and those who oppose a Palestinian state still persuade a significant proportion of Israelis. Kadima's project of unilateral disengagement, even if implemented fearlessly, is unlikely to lead to a just settlement of the conflict. We will see more terrorist attacks worldwide, and an intensification of the "war against terror." This context may accelerate the polarization of opinion in the United Kingdom between those who demonize Israel and Jews on the one side, and those who demonize Palestinians and Muslims on the other. We oppose both of these ways of thinking.
The Palestine solidarity movement in the U.K. is dominated by campaigns to boycott Israel. These campaigns divide those who want a just peace, and they portray Israel as a racist pariah state like the old South Africa. For five weeks last year, our union, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), held Israeli academics responsible for the actions of their state in a manner in which it did not propose holding anybody else in the world responsible.
The boycott policy was advocated by people who argue that Israel is the only "illegitimate" state in the world; that Israeli nationalism is essentially different from other nationalism; that Zionism is a form of racism, apartheid or Nazism; that Israel plays a pivotal role in global imperialism; that the Zionist lobby has huge, covert and illegitimate influence; that Israel is guilty of genocide. Some academics, who rightly wanted to do something to help Palestinians, naively went along with this campaign. The boycott campaign discriminated against Zionist Jews and relied on hate-filled generalizations about Israel and Zionism. The boycott campaign amounted to a singling out of Israeli academics, without any politically or morally relevant reason, for special punishment and particular abhorrence.
We forced a full, informed and democratic debate in our union, and the AUT membership overturned the boycott. We will continue to oppose an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, whether the boycotters pursue it openly or covertly. We will oppose ways of thinking that risk licensing an anti-Semitic movement in the U.K. But we will not do so on the basis of a hypocritical defense of academic freedom that stays silent about the impact of the occupation on Palestinian academics and students, or by muting criticism of the wrongful actions of the Israeli state.
One reason that the loathing of Israel is becoming respectable in British society is that the Israeli state often acts wrongly. Israel still hangs on to the West Bank, encourages Jews to build settlements there, and rules it as a colony. The Israeli government acts as though it plans to annex a significant proportion of the West Bank to Israel. Within pre-1967 Israel, there is still discrimination against Arab citizens, some of it formalized in law. Because Israel is the occupying power, and because it is vastly more powerful than Palestine, it must accept a major share of responsibility for squandering the opportunities for peace in the 1990s.
Anti-Zionists often talk about Zionism as though it was a monolithic entity. It is portrayed as one single project from the 19th to the 21st century, and the different political traditions within Israel are air-brushed out of history. Hostility toward Israel, in any form, is thought of as nothing but a response to so-called Zionist crimes. This mirrors the way that Israel's maltreatment of Palestinians is sometimes portrayed merely as a legitimate response to those who seek to "wipe Israel off the map."
The term, Zionist, has become a term of abuse that denotes an evil and racist ideology. It is thrown venomously at anyone who thinks Israel has the right to exist. The collapsing of Israeli and Jewish opinion into Zionism holds Israelis and Jews collectively responsible for the worst excesses of Israeli nationalists. Some people reserve particular venom for the crimes of "the Zionists" that they do not use when talking about other crimes. The genocide in Darfur is currently intensifying and is an incomparably bigger event in terms of human rights abuses than the conflict in the West Bank, but the actions of the Janjaweed do not make the blood of the average British liberal boil in the way that the crimes of "the Zionists" do.
For many on the left in the U.K., Israel has come to symbolize global US-centered imperialism just as, for some, Jews once symbolized the evils of capitalism. Palestine is often treated as a universal victim that stands for all the victims of imperialism. In this way, actual events in the Middle East are sometimes subsumed into a symbolic struggle between good and evil in the left's imagination.
We need a movement in the U.K. for a just peace, one that campaigns in solidarity with the Palestinian and Israeli peace camps. Such a movement has to be conscious of where the boundaries lie between reasonable criticism of Israeli and Palestinian actions on the one hand, and the demonization of Israel, Jews, Palestinians and Muslims on the other. We need to resist those who try to force us to choose between one camp and the other. We need to work for the politics of peace and reconciliation within both Israel and Palestine.
David Hirsh is a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London and editor of Engage; Jon Pike is a senior lecturer in philosophy at The Open University and chairman of Engage (

Friday, January 20, 2006

Kanan Makiya Interview (Part 1) - Putting Cruelty First

The Iraqi democratic intellectual Kanan Makiya is, among other things, the author of two genuinely great books: Republic of Fear (1989), a brilliant and pathbreaking analysis of the Iraqi Ba'ath regime that is also a significant contribution to the larger consideration of 20th-century totalitarianism, and the powerful and moving Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising, and the Arab World (1993). He has also consistently proved himself to be a figure of exemplary intellectual and moral independence, courage, honesty, and integrity, even in the face of quite exceptional amounts of wrenching disappointment, hysterical abuse, and political isolation.
(I was struck by the way that all these qualities are brought out in the critical but sympathetic portrait of Makiya in George Packer's recent book about the Iraq War and its aftermath, The Assassin's Gate, despite the fact that Packer also wants to suggest that Makiya may have been overly optimistic about Iraq's post-Saddam political possibilities.)
The latest issue of the journal Democratiya carries the first half of a two-part interview with Makiya. The second part, dealing with the Iraq war, will appear in the next issue of Democratiya (issue #4, March-April 2006).
This wide-ranging interview is worth reading in full. Some excerpts follow.
--Jeff Weintraub
Democratiya 3
January-February 2006

Putting Cruelty First: An Interview with Kanan Makiya (Part 1)

Kanan Makiya is the Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University, and the President of The Iraq Memory Foundation. His books, The Republic of Fear: Inside Saddam's Iraq (1989, written as Samir al-Khalil] and Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World (1993) are classic texts on the nature of totalitarianism. Makiya has also collaborated on films for television. The award-winning film, Saddam's Killing Fields, exposed the Anfal, the 1988 campaign of mass murder conducted by the Ba'ath regime in northern Iraq. In October 1992, he acted as the convenor of the Human Rights Committee of the Iraqi National Congress. He was closely involved in the Iraqi Opposition in the run-up to the Iraq War, which he supported as a war of liberation. The interview took place on December 16 2005.
Alan Johnson: Can you tell me about your family background in Iraq?
Kanan Makiya: I was born and brought up in a middle upper class family in Baghdad. I recall a very liberal outlook at home. My mother is of English origin but she cut all her ties with England when her family refused to acknowledge her marriage to my father. I've have never known anybody from the English side of my family, the rejection was so great. My father's mother accepted my mother and she integrated in Iraq. So I grew up as an insider with an outsider's perspective, reading English from a very early age, especially fiction that others of my generation might not have read. [....]
My father was Head of the Department of Architecture at Baghdad University, so we had circles of architects and artists in and out of the house all the time. I sort of grew up with them. I drew on that background when I wrote The Monument (1991).
The first political event of my life was the 1967 Arab/Israeli war. Although I had no political background, I started to listen to the BBC during the war. In Baghdad we were getting triumphalist speeches from the Arab Nationalist Regime (that preceded the Ba'athist takeover in '68) telling us the Arabs were winning, and that the Israelis were on the run. All lies and bullshit. And I remember knowing that it was bullshit at the time. [....]
In the summer of 1967 Iraq cut all its relations with the United States and Britain. But I won an acceptance to study architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). [....] I became very active in the anti-war movement, which was burgeoning in the United States. And I was very active in supporting the emerging Palestinian Resistance Movement. I passed through the Nationalist Palestinian groups and I ended up in the Marxist one. All of this happened very rapidly. Within a span of a year I became a Marxist and was attracted to Trotskyist politics. [....] I started to soak up books and I became active in the Socialist Workers' Party, the American section of the (Trotskyist) 4th International. I moved to Britain in 1974 and I became active in the International Marxist Group (IMG). I recall there was a Lebanese Trotskyist organisation, remnants of an Iraqi Trotskyist organisation, and some Egyptian and Tunisian Trotskyists. I spent a lot of time in those countries meeting those people, going backwards and forwards to Lebanon. I was a full time political activist. [....]
The Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975 between the so-called 'progressive' and 'reactionary' forces. That's how we tended to view it. There were those who were on the side of the class struggle and those who were against. But that form of classification was really at odds with the way the war was unfolding. Sectarian and communitarian tensions were at work in the so-called 'left' front of forces, which was really nationalist and radical-nationalist and sometimes capable of the same sorts of atrocities as the Christian forces, or 'reactionary' forces as we insisted on calling them. The left insisted it was not a sectarian war. That was troubling to me but I had no other set of categories. [....] A tension was building up between the way the Middle Eastern world was, to my eyes, and the way our categories described it. The two didn't match. [....]
I stayed in this contradictory position for three or four years, until the Iranian revolution. My wife was an Iranian and a student at Harvard. She had quit and joined revolutionary politics. The line of the 4th International was that the Iranian revolution was a progressive thing. We were all supposed to think that. Everyone was working against the Shah and his secret police. But, as the clerics became stronger and stronger, even before the revolution itself, I started to become deeply critical. My wife had returned to Iran and was fighting the good fight from inside Iran. [....] My wife returned broken. The left had been smashed. The Iran-Iraq war broke out. [....]
I was now totally alienated from my previous world view. I thought it didn't describe the world I was now in. These had been seminal events: the Lebanese civil war, and the behaviour of the Palestinians, when they lost their halo entirely from my point of view, the Iranian revolution and the Iraq-Iran war. [....]
Stories were coming out of Iraq from family and friends of the horrific things that were going on. I had blocked Iraq out of my mind. A whole generation of Arabs of my age threw themselves into supporting the Palestinians post-1967 at the expense of facing the degradation of politics going on in their own countries. But as these stories started to filter out I had the idea of writing a book about Iraq. I threw myself into it and that was the turning point.
The writing of what became The Republic of Fear took six years. I had returned to England. It was probably the 6 most wonderful years of my life, in some senses. Nobody knew I was writing this book, except 4 or 5 friends. My parents didn't know until they discovered by accident, but that's a long story. I discovered writers I'd never read before, above all Hannah Arendt. Also Isaiah Berlin, John Stuart Mill, Hobbes: very basic texts that I'd never read. I had spent weeks and months studying Capital and Theories of Surplus Value, but I had never read John Stuart Mill! This was the lopsided education that we all had. These basic texts I discovered, as I was writing Republic of Fear, became very important to me. They changed my whole way of thinking about politics, though they didn't change certain underlying values. [....]
So I went hunting for a publisher. This was 1986. I had over 70 rejections before anybody would take up the book. But I was 'on a roll' as they say. I had been buoyed up by that feeling that I was changing and doing something new, and perhaps important. I started writing another book even before the first one found a publisher! I was circulating a manuscript under a pseudonym and nobody knew who I was. My first wife, Afsaneh Najmabadi, who is now an academic in the States at Harvard, vouched that I existed! In the end the California University Press came to the rescue when they took on The Republic of Fear and the book was finally published in 1989. [....] Until Saddam Hussein went into Kuwait only Iraqi exiles were interested in the book. It sold 300 or 400 copies at most. It was about to die a death as many books do. But when Saddam Hussein entered Kuwait it started selling in great numbers and overnight I found myself in a whole new world. I finally went public about my identity in March 1991, at a public event at the Centre for Middle East Studies at Harvard University, with other Iraqi oppositionists. Bahr al-Uloom, who was a cleric, Hoshyar Zebari, who is Iraq's Foreign Minister today, Ahmed Chalabi, and myself, had been invited by Roy Mottahedeh, the Director of the Center.
The talk I gave at that meeting was expanded into an article that appeared in the New York Review of Books. I argued that the war should be finished by going all the way to Baghdad. That was a very controversial position.
Alan Johnson: Did a storm break at that point?
Kanan Makiya: Yes. The previous good wishes that had been passed in my direction from the left ended. I was viewed as a complete traitor. I was called a 'quisling'. But my position [that the uprisings should be supported and Saddam should be deposed] was a logical continuation of the changes that had taken place in my thinking during the course of the writing of The Republic of Fear. The be-all-and-end-all of politics was removing this dictatorship in Iraq. Abstract considerations—such as the categories 'imperialism' and 'Zionism'—became totally secondary in importance to the removal of dictatorship. I had written in The Republic of Fear that the legitimation of this dictatorship had taken place on the grounds of Zionism and the threat the Zionists represented to the Arab world. In throwing away that rhetoric and the whole political language associated with Arab Nationalist politics it was the internationalist spirit—present in my early formation in the Trotskyist movement—that was very much present. [....]
The Arab left had essentially become a moribund force. It was locked into old categories. All through the 1980s it could go nowhere. There was nothing new coming out of the political culture. We were locked in the dynamic and the language of the Lebanese civil war. Issues of human rights, of building civil society, of dictatorship, of our own responsibility for our own ills, were all constantly being subordinated by the old language of anti-Zionism and anti-Imperialism. I had come along with Republic of Fear and said the most important thing is what we have done to ourselves. I was bending the stick, as we say. Many Arabs, and people on the left who identify as 'pro-Arab', objected. Why? Well, the moment one passes from analysis and description to political action a boundary is crossed. [...]
Alan Johnson: In the preface to Republic of Fear you noted 'the terrible silence of the intelligentsia'. You asked 'Where are the Arab Vaclav Havels and Christa Wolfs who will call Saddam to account?' In your next book Cruelty and Silence (1993) you exposed, indicted and explained this silence of the intellectuals. Faced with the cruelty of the Iraqi regime towards its people, parts of the Arab intelligentsia, and the western, often 'left', intelligentsia, had offered up a catalogue of evasions: silence, exculpation, complicity, rationalisation, subject changing, denial, avoidance. How did you come to write Cruelty and Silence?
Kanan Makiya: It was born in the tumultuous last moments of the 1991 Gulf war and was filled with the anger and energy of somebody caught up in that moment. It was a cry for elevating cruelty, violence, and abuse over any other consideration.
The first Gulf war had suddenly opened up this enormous reservoir of Iraqis who wanted to tell their horrific stories of the Anfal, of being in prison, of being crushed during the uprising, and of daily life under Saddam's regime. The people's testimonies were the driving force of Cruelty and Silence.
The book is divided into two parts, cruelty and silence. Part one gives a platform to the words of victims. It's almost two thirds of the length of the book. I spent days taping interviews with these individuals. Each individual victim stood for a lot of others with similar experiences. I wove a larger story around these individuals. Around Khalid, the Kuwaiti, I wove the story of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Abu Hayder, the Shiite officer who accompanied Majid al-Khoei when he went to beg for help from the American forces, symbolised the uprising that followed the first Gulf War. The story of Umar, the Sunni Arab, stood for all the people who had gone into Ba'athist prisons for no reason at all. (In his case somebody told a joke in a party. He entered hell and came out again to tell the tale.) The story of the Kurds was told through two other individuals, Mustafa and a young boy called Taimour.
In the second part of the book, called Silence, I pit the words of Arab and western intellectuals of my generation, many of the left, against all these Iraqi words about violence and cruelty. The point was that between the two sets of words there was a chasm. The intellectuals offered rhetoric about 'nationalism', 'Imperialism', 'the Crusades', and so on. The focus of the book was about the rhetoric that the war had generated and the chasm between that rhetoric and the reality. Between these two realities - the words of the intellectuals and the words of the victims - was a yawning gap. [....]
In writing that book, I was naïve. I had thought that I would simulate a debate in the circles I had come from. There was no debate or dialogue. I thought that the weight of the words of the victims would make the case. All you had to do was read the first half of the book. As it turned out, most of these intellectuals only read the second part of the book and the references to themselves. I was naming names, you see. I couldn't just write general abstractions. I was pitting words against words. Two sets of words had to clash with one another. So I named names. That upset people no end, and there was a huge backlash. The book was blasted by the very people I thought I was opening a dialogue with. I realise now how naive that whole approach was.
[One of the intellectuals criticized in Cruelty and Silence was Edward Said. These brief but entirely deserved critical remarks must have hit a nerve, since right up to the end of his life Said continued to try to smear Makiya with slanderous ad hominem attacks and unabashed character assassination--for example, this 2002 piece in Al Ahram. --JW]
[....] But this hostile reaction was not an Iraqi reaction. I was buoyed up by that fact. A chasm had opened up between the way Iraqis viewed politics and the way the rest of the Arab world, and the left, did. Among the latter there were only individuals—I have in mind people like Fran Hazleton, Peter Sluglett, David Hirst, and, of course, the CARDRI people (The Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq)—who really faced the nature of this regime. [....]
The positive element which I carried from the Trotskyist movement, from the writings of Trotsky himself, was an internationalist spirit. It was more alive in me, I think, than in many of those who claimed Trotsky's mantle, but did not practice that internationalism. It is a very sad state of affairs. The left has turned against its own internationalist traditions and thrown away its own universal values. The older left was able to cross boundaries and think across boundaries. That was its strength and its weakness.
I am not saying that intervention is always a good thing. I argued for intervention in Iraq because of particular circumstances. First, the exceptional nature of the Saddam Hussein regime. Second, the world owed the people of Iraq after putting them in the straightjacket of sanctions for 12 years and giving them no way out. The country was rotting. Society was rotting. Sanctions weren't working. The regime was not toppling from within. You either remove the regime or you re-legitimise the regime. Continuing with the status quo was morally unacceptable. The price being paid inside Iraq was too high. The case for war, the case for regime change, can be made on many levels in the Iraqi case. These don't necessarily apply elsewhere. They certainly don't apply for Syria, or Iran today. Everything has to be looked at in terms of the concrete circumstances. [....]
The 'civilisational challenge' is this: can the Arab Islamic world come to terms with the fact that it is responsible for its own ills, and for pulling itself up by your own bootstraps in order to get into the world, rather than keep finding ways of staying out of it? This is not an easy thing. [....]
Islam is largely at war with itself. The greatest number of people who are dying on the battlefields are Muslims. Muslims are fighting Muslims. Think of Algeria. Think of the struggle inside Egypt. Think of the Lebanese civil war. The greatest number of casualties so far, 9/11 notwithstanding, is Muslims fighting Muslims. But we don't have a properly focussed debate, with those trying to reform and transform the religion leading one side and those trying to hold it back leading the other.
However, there are very important changes starting to take place, New voices are being heard. [....] So while there are reasons for optimism, there are also reasons to worry. Because, as yet, these new voices aren't anywhere near as strong as they need to be. Moreover, Jihadi Islam now has a substantial social base it didn't have ten years ago. One could even say we look like we're losing the battle at the moment. I certainly hope that's not the case. But we are in the throws of a deep convulsion that is taking place within Islam itself, among Muslims, and we have no way of clearly predicting how this is going to turn out. I call that a civilisational crisis of the first order. [....]
Alan Johnson: The western left has responsibilities here. When the left shouts that 'Bush is engaged in a war on Muslims' it isn't just factually wrong. It's politically dangerous. It echoes the message of the Salafi or Jihadi groups, it boosts them, and it leaves the Muslim democrats and reformers isolated from a left that should be its natural ally.
Kanan Makiya: You're right. And Alan, I'd go even further. It's not just the left. People like myself, those of us who went into Iraq after April and March 2003 as part of the effort to transform this country, have felt betrayed by Europe as a whole. We were attacked by the media of all the surrounding countries, countries utterly hostile to the sort of values on which Europe rests. Satellite stations distorted what was going on. The silence in Europe at that moment gave enormous sustenance to all those forces struggling against the transformation of Iraq. It enabled the Jihadis, the Ba'athists, the extreme Arab nationalists, and the Arab regimes, to say 'Look at the hostility of Europe to what the United States has done!' Europe made it possible to isolate not just the United States but everything that is represented by the west. Europe gave strength to the argument that it was a traditional colonist land grab or oil grab, which was nonsense, of course. [....]
Iraqi people are angry that for the last three years the Arab world has not supported them. In fact the Arab world seems to support the terrorists, in the name of 'Arab solidarity' or 'Arab unity'. There is a real fury about this. Take the case of the Jordanian suicide bomber, Raed Mansour al-Banna , who killed 125 Iraqis in Hilla when he blew himself up on 28 February 2005. When his body was flown to Jordan instead of a funeral there was a party, a giant celebration of the hero's return! [....]
But in spite of the European silence, and the Arab silence and complicity, we now see the ripple effects from what has happened in Iraq. Think of the reaction to Rafiki Hariri's assassination in Lebanon! Think of the isolation of Syria. Think of the civil society movement in Lebanon. I was almost a pariah in Lebanon for ten years, because of Cruelty and Silence. Suddenly, all these Lebanese NGOs appear, interested in memory, and in what happened during the civil war. They are digging up mass graves and inviting me over to speak. Hostility to Syria is now the predominant tenor of Lebanese politics (with the exception of Hezbollah, which is still supposedly fighting the good fight, and waiting for the good struggle against Israel). And there is opposition inside Syria itself. The Syrian regime is in its final stages. Lebanon was one of the bastions of the old rhetoric, and it is changing as we speak. The overwhelming majority of people are angry, and they know exactly who is behind these assassinations and bombings. The attempt of the Syrians to pretend there is some greater plot to isolate Syria in the world (they haven't yet managed to specify exactly how Israel is behind it) is not persuading anybody. There's not a single Lebanese who thinks anybody but Syria was behind the assassination. So you have change taking place in spite of everything.
Part 2 of the interview, in which Kanan Makiya discusses the Iraq War, will appear in Democratiya 4 (March-April 2006).

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Christopher Hitchens defends civil liberties in "wartime"

Christopher Hitchens has joined a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration's program of illegal domestic surveillance. In some passages quoted by Norman Geras in the post below, Hitchens zeroes in on the key issues at stake in his usual trenchant manner. But read the whole piece.
--Jeff Weintraub
January 18, 2006

Establishing a clear line
Christopher Hitchens on why he is participating in a legal challenge to the surveillance activities authorized by the US administration. He writes:
We have recently learned that the NSA used law enforcement agencies to track members of a pacifist organisation in Baltimore. This is, first of all, an appalling abuse of state power and an unjustified invasion of privacy, uncovered by any definition of "national security" however expansive. It is, no less importantly, a stupid diversion of scarce resources from the real target. It is a certainty that if all the facts were known we would become aware of many more such cases of misconduct and waste.
We are, in essence, being asked to trust the state to know best. What reason do we have for such confidence? The agencies entrusted with our protection have repeatedly been shown, before and after the fall of 2001, to be conspicuous for their incompetence and venality...
I believe the President when he says that this will be a very long war, and insofar as a mere civilian may say so, I consider myself enlisted in it. But this consideration in itself makes it imperative that we not take panic or emergency measures in the short term, and then permit them to become institutionalised. (Thanks: GMG.)
Posted by Norm at 12:26 PM

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Fraudulent "Appeal to Save Iraq's Academics"

I was responding to a few pieces of the usual left-wing "anti-war" propaganda about Iraq forwarded to me by a friend who goes for that sort of stuff ... including this petition that struck me as especially detached from reality ... and, the more I thought about it, even more offensive than usual.
--Jeff Weintraub
Subject: Re: "Urgent Appeal to Save Iraq's Academics"
Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2006 20:00:20 -0500
From: Jeff Weintraub
To: X
This "Urgent Appeal to Save Iraq's Academics" is quite bizarre, and the fact that people like John Pilger have put their names to it shows that sometimes chutzpah has no limits. It's absolutely true that there has been a devastating pattern of attacks and assassinations not only against Iraqi academics but also against journalists, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. (The dangerous and difficult situation of Iraq's academic community was captured in a genuinely urgent and concerned Joint Statement by MESA, the AAUP, & the AAAS back in November 2004.) But the implication that this campaign is somehow being carried out by (or with the approval of) the US occupation authorities is ludicrous. We all know who is doing this killing--Pilger's friends in the various branches of the so-called "resistance" (including, in this respect, not only the Ba'athists and jihadis in the Sunni Arab "insurgency" but probably also some Shiite fanatics linked to Naomi Klein's hero Muqtada al-Sadr). At the beginning, some academics may also have been caught up in revenge killings against former Ba'athists (real or alleged), and of course they've also been hit very hard by kidnappings and other kinds of ordinary crime. But the idea that all this is happening to them as punishment for the fact that "the secular middle class ... has refused to be co-opted by the US occupation" is either delusional or (in the popular sense) Orwellian.
Naturally, I am pleased to see that John Pilger is concerned about the "brain drain" from Iraq and the decimation of "the secular middle class"--both of them real and terrible problems "with far-reaching consequences for the future of Iraq.". Of course, Pilger may have forgotten that while good old Saddam Hussein was still running the country, over 3 million Iraqis had already fled abroad, including large numbers of educated people, and the ones still in Iraq weren't doing so well, either.
But it's too easy to ridicule Pilger, since he has made it abundantly clear that he is simply an idiot not worth being taken seriously either morally or intellectually. On the other hand, as you know, despite all the foolish, pernicious, and sometimes outright dishonest things that Robert Fisk has said over the years, I believe he cannot be dismissed quite so easily. However, if he really did write this ...
Already on July 14, 2004, veteran correspondent Robert Fisk reported from Iraq that: "University staff suspect that there is a campaign to strip Iraq of its academics, to complete the destruction of Iraq's cultural identity which began when the American army entered Baghdad."
... and if he really meant it (i.e., he was not simply repeating conspiracy talk he heard in Iraq), then that might be a sign that he's going over the edge, too. Could be, and he's certainly done it from time to time ... but I suspect that even Robert Fisk doesn't believe such obvious drivel.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. By the way, I strongly agree with certain parts of this petition, for example ...
2. We urge that academic institutions and organisations declare solidarity with their Iraqi colleagues.
3. We urge that academics forge links between Iraqi educators, both in exile and in Iraq, and universities worldwide.
4. We urge that student organisations link with Iraqi student organisations.
5. We urge that educators mobilise colleagues and concerned citizens to take up the cause of the salvation of Iraq's intellectual wealth, by organising seminars, teach-ins and forums on the plight of Iraq's academics.
These are all great ideas, and in fact I wish they had been carried out decades ago, but it's never too late. However, for anyone who genuinely wants to do these things now, the crucial first step would be to denounce the people circulating this appalling petition, who (among other things) supported leaving Iraq under the control of a genocidal fascist regime and now either call for abandoning Iraqis to the fascists and Islamist fanatics of the so-called "insurgency" or, in some cases, actually support these murderers outright and without subterfuge.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2006 10:48 PM
Subject: Urgent Appeal to Save Iraq's Academics

Call for action to save Iraq's Academics
To: special rapporteur on summary executions at UNHCHR in Geneva and international Human Rights & Law organisations
A little known aspect of the tragedy engulfing Iraq is the systematic liquidation of the country's academics. Even according to conservative estimates, over 250 educators have been assassinated, and many hundreds more have disappeared. With thousands fleeing the country in fear for their lives, not only is Iraq undergoing a major brain drain, the secular middle class - which has refused to be co-opted by the US occupation - is being decimated, with far-reaching consequences for the future of Iraq.
Already on July 14, 2004, veteran correspondent Robert Fisk reported from Iraq that: "University staff suspect that there is a campaign to strip Iraq of its academics, to complete the destruction of Iraq's cultural identity which began when the American army entered Baghdad."
The wave of assassinations appears non-partisan and non-sectarian, targeting women as well as men, and is countrywide. It is indiscriminate of expertise: professors of geography, history and Arabic literature as well as science are among the dead. Not one individual has been apprehended in connection with these assassinations.
According to the United Nations University, some 84 per cent of Iraq's institutions of higher education have already been burnt, looted or destroyed. Iraq's educational system used to be among the best in the region; one of the country's most important assets was its well-educated people.
This situation is a mirror of the occupation as a whole: a catastrophe of staggering proportions unfolding in a climate of criminal disregard. As an occupying power, and under international humanitarian law, final responsibility for protecting Iraqi citizens, including academics, lies with the United States.
With this petition we want to break the silence.
1. We appeal to organisations which work to enforce or defend international humanitarian law to put these crimes on the agenda.
2. We request that an independent international investigation be launched immediately to probe these extrajudicial killings. This investigation should also examine the issue of responsibility to clearly identify who is accountable for this state of affairs. We appeal to the special rapporteur on summary executions at UNHCHR in Geneva.

This petition was launched by the Brussells Tribunal and is already endorsed by CEOSI (Spain), the Portuguese hearing of the WTI, (Germany), the Swedish Antiwar committee, the IAC (USA), the International Association of Middle East Studies (IAMES), the German Middle East Studies Association (DAVO) and the European Association for Middle Eastern Studies (EURAMES), and several personalities, like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tony Benn, Eduardo Galeano, John Pilger and Michael Parenti. See the list of endorsers.
See also the call for action underneath and more information on

Call for action to save Iraq's Academics
1. We call upon all people, especially academics and students, to help end the silence that surrounds the ongoing crime of the assassination of Iraqi academics and the destruction of Iraqi's educational infrastructure, and support Iraqi academics' right and hope to live in an independent, democratic Iraq, free of foreign occupation and hegemony.
2. We urge that academic institutions and organisations declare solidarity with their Iraqi colleagues.
3. We urge that academics forge links between Iraqi educators, both in exile and in Iraq, and universities worldwide.
4. We urge that student organisations link with Iraqi student organisations.
5. We urge that educators mobilise colleagues and concerned citizens to take up the cause of the salvation of Iraq's intellectual wealth, by organising seminars, teach-ins and forums on the plight of Iraq's academics.
The world's academics and intellectuals must act now to save the lives of their colleagues in Iraq.

[The Brussells Tribunal, in cooperation with other organisations, has started to build a network of contacts and raise public awareness and can provide information and support to individuals and groups who wish to mobilise on this issue. We are able to act as a depository and hub for this campaign]
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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Khartoum Escalates Conflict in Eastern Sudan, Southern Sudan, and Darfur

As the process of mass murder in Darfur continues unabated, the intensity of the larger crisis in and around Sudan is also increasing, leading to possibilities of a wider war. See these recent pieces by Eric Reeves and Nicholas Kristof ("A Tolerable Genocide" and "Genocide in Slow Motion"). As Kristof says in the last piece (New York Review of Books, February 9, 2006):
The basic lesson from that long negotiation is that Sudan's leaders will brazenly lie about their repressive use of power, and you will get nowhere in dealings with them unless you apply heavy pressure—and you have to be perceptive about what kind of pressure will work.
In the case of Darfur, the solution is not to send American ground troops; in my judgment, that would make things worse by allowing Khartoum to rally nationalistic support against the American infidel crusaders. But greater security is essential, and the African Union troops that have been sent to Darfur are inadequate to the task of providing it. The most feasible option is to convert them into a "blue-hat" UN force and add to them UN and NATO forces. The US could easily enforce a no-fly zone in Darfur by using the nearby Chadian air base in Abeché. Then it could make a strong effort to arrange for tribal conferences—the traditional method of conflict settlement in Darfur—and there is reason to hope that such conferences could work to achieve peace. [....]
The most obvious response to genocide—strong and widely broadcast expressions of outrage—would also be one of the most effective. Sudan's leaders are not Taliban-style extremists. They are ruthless opportunists, and they adopted a strategy of genocide because it seemed to be the simplest method available. If the US and the UN raise the cost of genocide, they will adopt an alternative response, such as negotiating a peace settlement. Indeed, whenever the international community has mustered some outrage about Darfur, then the level of killings and rapes subsides.
But outrage at genocide is tragically difficult to sustain. [....]
The slogan "Never Again" is being transformed into "One More Time."
Some excerpts from Reeves's report are below. But read the whole thing.
--Jeff Weintraub
Khartoum Escalates Conflict in Eastern Sudan, Southern Sudan, and Darfur
Kofi Annan belatedly acknowledges the need for robust international intervention to replace AU force in Darfur
Eric Reeves
January 14, 2006

A wide range of recent news and policy reports clearly reveal the consequences of ongoing international failure to confront Khartoum’s National Islamic Front, the dominant force in Sudan’s nominal “Government of National Unity.” For the NIF continues to escalate a series of militarily-driven crises in Africa’s largest country, all of which imperil the widely heralded north/south peace agreement of a year ago. Physicians for Human Rights and the International Crisis Group have released particularly important reports: on the aftermath of genocidal violence in Darfur; on the growing military confrontation in eastern Sudan; and on Khartoum’s continuing support for the destabilizing Lord’s Resistance Army in southern Sudan and northern Uganda. Yet other reports suggest that a border war between Chad and Sudan, in areas that are filled with desperate refugees and internally displaced persons, may break out at any time.
The common thread in all of these crises is the National Islamic Front (NIF), which has sought to re-name itself, euphemistically, the “National Congress Party.” But the leadership, ambitions, and power structures of the NIF and the “National Congress Party” are essentially unchanged, with the complex exception of Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Turabi, who was expediently sidelined in 1999. The only point of this attempted name change is to obscure as fully as possible the ugly history of the NIF, which seized power from an elected government by military coup (June 1989) in order to abort Sudan’s most promising chance for peace since independence in 1956. Sadly, all too many in the international community are eager to accept a change in name as signaling a change in character. [....]
To be sure, there is an argument that ideology is now for the NIF ultimately an instrument of power, rather than the representation of real belief or commitment. But for the purposes of political, diplomatic, economic, and military assessment, this distinction is not telling: the NIF is a ruthlessly survivalist regime, which has surrendered virtually no power under the working terms of the “Government of National Unity,” and has repeatedly shown itself willing to use genocide as a domestic security policy. This policy will soon be in evidence again in eastern Sudan, directed primarily against the non-Arab Beja peoples of the region. This is ominous in the extreme, as military conflict between Khartoum’s regular forces and SPLM forces still in the east, which have been allied with Eastern Front rebels, could very well re-ignite war in the south (see below).
Recent news wire dispatches have reported in detail on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s shamefully belated acknowledgement of what has long been obvious: the African Union force in Darfur is radically inadequate to the security crisis on the ground. Yet support for the AU monitoring mission has been the default international response to genocide in Darfur for over a year and a half---by Annan himself and his special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk; by the US; by the European Union; by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan; and by every other international actor of significance.
Rather than mount the humanitarian intervention that might have saved as many as 200,000 lives (see my February 25, 2004 Washington Post op/ed “Unnoticed Genocide” , the international community has relentlessly indulged the deadly fiction that unobserved cease-fires and a conspicuously inadequate AU force could stop massive genocidal destruction directed against the non-Arab or African populations of Darfur. Many of the consequences of violence orchestrated by Khartoum---from 2002 through 2004, into 2005, and presently continuing---are detailed authoritatively by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) (“DARFUR: Assault on Survival; A Call for Security, Justice, and Restitution,” January 11, 2006).
Genocidal violence in Darfur, chronicled by PHR and other human rights organizations, has destroyed the livelihoods of over 2 million Darfuris, and has led to overall human mortality that likely exceeds 400,000 (see my August 31, 2005 morality assessment). But PHR has led the way in establishing, in meticulous detail, how the actions by Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia allies massively contravene the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (particularly Article 2, clause [c]):
“By eliminating access to food, water and medicine, expelling people into inhospitable terrain and then, in many cases, blocking crucial outside assistance, the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed have created conditions calculated to destroy the non-Arab people of Darfur.” (Executive Summary)
In order to halt the genocide, PHR recommends that the Security Council “immediately authorize a multinational intervention force in Darfur,” three times the size of the present ineffectual AU force, and that this force operate “under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter,” i.e., with peacemaking (not merely peacekeeping) authority. Exercising Chapter 7 authority requires heavily armed, substantially equipped soldiers, with robust rules of military engagement in confronting belligerents.
It is this recommendation---which has recently come from many quarters---that Kofi Annan this week appears to have accepted, if with a circumspection that hints at various political and diplomatic difficulties the UN leadership is unlikely to overcome. The most conspicuous of these difficulties are Khartoum’s already announced opposition to any non-AU force (dismayingly articulated by Foreign Minister and SPLM member Lam Akol) and China’s likely veto threat (see below).
But the military essentials are clear from Annan’s reported comments: he spoke of the need for “an expanded force with troops from outside Africa” and went on to say:
“Any new force would have to be a mobile one with tactical air support, helicopters and ‘the ability to respond very quickly.’ Asked if this would include rich countries, like the US and European nations, Annan said, ‘Those are the countries with the kind of capabilities we will need, so when the time comes, we will be turning to them.’ ‘We will need very sophisticated equipment, logistical support. I will be turning to governments with capacity to join in that peacekeeping operation if we were to be given the mandate.’” (Reuters, January 13, 2006)
As context for this belated recommendation, Annan invoked previous genocides, including one for which he bears a central responsibility:
"‘Today, as we recall our collective failures in places like Rwanda and Srebrenica, it remains my hope that we may never again be found wanting where so many lives hang in the balance,’ Annan said.” (Inter Press Service [dateline: United Nations], January 12, 2006)
These words must ring with a terrible hollowness for the millions of ethnically targeted people of Darfur, who for over two years have found the international community shamefully “wanting.”
Moreover, even in making his recommendation, Annan has deferred in all too many ways to the political sensibilities of the AU and others. Before any UN deployment,
“Annan said that first the Sudan government, the 15-member Security Council, and the AU, which has sent the only foreign troops to Darfur, had to agree to a UN operation.” (Reuters, January 13, 2006)
But it is clear that the AU will surrender its singular role in Darfur not because it is incapable of providing security, or because it troubled by its inability to mount a force remotely approximating the one Annan describes. The AU will allow the UN to take over only if it runs out of money, which will happen shortly: [....]
The most basic truth is that the AU has neither the requisite manpower, resources, nor ability to absorb such resources. Most tellingly, it is without political courage to demand of Khartoum an appropriate mandate for Darfur, one that would permit aggressively active (as opposed to narrowly reactive) civilian and humanitarian protection. The AU has failed and appears now interested mainly in securing a stamp of “mission achieved” on its exit visa. As Samantha Power wrote in a recent edition of The New Yorker, “soon, this stopgap [AU] mission will fail not only those in need of protection but all the other interested parties as well.” In particular, Power reported that, “the AU is looking for a peg to hang success on so it can walk away gracefully,’ one UN official told me” (The New Yorker, November 28, 2005).
These truths have not been lost on the European Union, which (in the organization of funding tasks by Western nations) bears primary responsibility for AU operational costs in Darfur. Though much has been made, rightly, of the ham-fisted US Congressional refusal to authorize an additional $50 million for the AU mission, the real problem lies not in Washington but in Brussels. The US State Department has signaled that it can, if necessary, find the $50 million in other accounts (though at costs to other important international operations). But the EU leadership in Brussels seems distinctly disinclined to commit more money to AU operations. [....]
In short, because the AU has stubbornly refused to ask for the help it so obviously needed---only for more money---the only recourse in the minds of many who wish to see the operation in Darfur brought under UN control is to cut off funding, quietly and inconspicuously. This, too, is far from “dignified,” and reveals finally a contemptible diplomatic cowardice.
On the other hand, because the UN cannot possibly mount an effective intervening force by March, there will be a last-minute infusion of temporary funds to sustain the AU---in an amount determined by the likely expedient calculations of UN planners, who will be trying to determine when they might do at least marginally better than the AU. [...] But a look at southern Sudan suggests that the chances of timely UN deployment are remote:
“Last week, Annan complained about the slow deployment of troops by the UN peacekeeping mission currently underway in southern Sudan. ‘The pace of the UN military deployment has increased but remains behind schedule, owing to delays in the force-generation process,’ Annan said in a report to the Security Council. As of mid-December [nine months after the UN Security Council authorizing resolution], the number of troops with the UN Mission in the Sudan stood at only 4,291, or 40% of an expected total of some 9,880-10,000 troops.” (Inter Press Service [United Nations], January 12, 2006).
In particular, Russia and China---consistently obstructionist forces on the UN Security Council in responding to Sudan’s crises---are consequentially reneging on their commitments:
“Russia and China have delayed promised helicopters and medical units to a UN peacekeeping force in [southern] Sudan, thereby causing other countries to postpone sending troops, [UN’s Jan Pronk] said.” (Reuters, January 14, 2006)
The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations had two years to plan and prepare for a peace in southern Sudan, and now has failed to deploy in a timely way, even as there are acute observational needs (the oil regions, Abyei, as well as Juba, Wau, Malakal, and other towns from which Khartoum, unobserved by monitors, has not withdrawn its troops as scheduled).
But how likely is it that a force for Darfur such as Annan describes will actually be approved by Khartoum and the UN Security Council---both approvals stipulated by the Secretary-General as requirements for a UN mission? [....]
“Sudan on Friday rejected a suggestion by [ ] Kofi Annan that US and European troops be sent to Darfur, saying the international community should give more cash to African forces already on the ground. ‘We [the “Government of National Unity”] think that the AU is doing a good job and so far they have not said they are unable to do that job,’ Foreign Minister Lam Akol [said]. ‘Naturally what should happen is to give them the money they want, not to complicate matters by involving another force on the ground.’” [....]
But no powers of diplomacy can change the fundamental political reality in Sudan: so long as the NIF controls virtually all national wealth and power---political and military---peace will never come to this tortured land (see my Washington Post op/ed “Regime Change in Sudan,” August 23, 2004).
In Darfur, we continue to see signs of the real character of this regime. Khartoum has recently increased its troop strength along the border with Chad, and a “hot” war seems increasingly likely, one that holds the potential to destabilize much of the region, a threat made explicitly by AU Commission Chairperson, Alpha Oumar Konare. (See Angola Press [dateline: Brazzaville, Congo], January 10, 2006).
Revealingly, Khartoum’s regular forces in Darfur continue their practice of disguising themselves as AU peacekeepers, a violation of international law that clearly increases the risk to AU personnel, who have recently suffered additional casualties in Darfur:
“Sudanese troops are disguising themselves as African peacekeepers to launch surprise attacks on rebels in the country's troubled Darfur region, the AU chairperson charges. In a report to be submitted to the AU's Peace and Security Council on Thursday, AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare said the Sudanese troops were painting their vehicles white, the colour of AU peacekeepers' vehicles ‘to disguise their identities and launch surprise attacks on their opponents.’” (News 24, South Africa [dateline: Addis Ababa], January 12, 2006)
In its duplicity, its contempt for international efforts to halt war in Sudan, and in its supreme callousness, this vignette offers us the perfect portrait of the National Islamic Front today.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Some Arab reaction to Sharon

From a BBC News report, "Arab media ponder Sharon legacy":
The extensive coverage the Arab media have devoted to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's battle for survival has reflected his key role in the Arab-Israeli conflict over the past 50 years. [....] Palestinian loathing of Mr Sharon has also been widely expressed, with some of those interviewed in Palestinian towns or refugee camps regretting not that Mr Sharon appears close to death but that his fate has not been more painful and extreme.
The London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, an independent newspaper with a fiercely anti-American and anti-Israeli line, has room in its headline for the detail that Palestinians are distributing sweets as they rejoice over Mr Sharon's illness. [....] "It is not surprising that some frustrated Palestinians celebrate Sharon's stroke... the man was a horrible and bloody nightmare for them, inside and outside the Occupied Territories," the paper's editorial reads.
On the other hand:
One Palestinian listed what he described as Mr Sharon's crimes and then said he wished the Arab world had a leader like him.
Several Arab papers sound a similar note.
"Courage and objectivity require us to admit that Ariel Sharon has lived all his life for his people's benefit," a commentary in Jordan's al-Dustur reads.
"If he were an Arab leader and behaved as he has done in Israel, he would have been the idol of the masses from the Atlantic to the Gulf."

Friday, January 06, 2006

Spielberg, Kushner, & "Munich"

Hi X,

Ageliki and I went with a friend of ours on Wednesday to see "Munich." I think I basically agree with your assessment. It's technically a very well made film ... but intellectually and morally, it's banal and superficial. What makes it even more annoying is that the people who made the film clearly believe that they have achieved great moral depth and complexity. (And a depressingly large number of viewers and critics agree with them--in ways that usually involve simply projecting their own preconceptions onto the film.)

That doesn't necessarily make it a bad film. Some of the dilemmas it tries to deal with are real (though this is far from the first time they've been addressed), and it does have some striking moments. I suppose I would be less irritated by the film if it hadn't been so over-hyped. And the idea that carrying out these kinds of assassinations could have emotionally devastating effects on the people who do it--which is really the major theme of the film--is quite plausible in general terms, but the ways that this is actually portrayed in the film mostly struck me as psychologically unconvincing (which is the difference between art and editorializing).

Incidentally, I also couldn't help being struck by the extent to which the viewpoint of the film is so exclusively, almost solipsistically Jewish--and that's especially true at moments when the dominant tone is one of Jewish self-criticism and anguished hand-wringing. (We're an odd people.) My impression is that this Jewish claustrophobia hasn't been adequately noted in the reviews I've read. In that respect, this movie is oddly like movie "Exodus"--in genuinely human terms, Arabs barely exist except as part of the background. Europeans are a little more real, but not much. All this may, conceivably, have been intentional ... but it's still odd.

In fact, if I step back from my own reactions to the film itself, I suspect that understanding the range of viewers' reactions to the film would itself be culturally interesting. For example, I know that in the US a few people--not than many, but including people who should know better--have suggested that the film is anti-Israeli, or insufficiently sympathetic to Israel. This strikes me as absurd. The more general reaction seems to be that the film shows that "violence never solves anything"--which, in most cases, is just a mindless cliché. I'd be curious to know how people react to this film in Europe, where the cultural and political atmosphere surrounding these issues is very different (not least in terms of the pervasiveness of pathological anti-Zionism). I can easily imagine a range of possibilities: e.g., Europeans might respond (a) that the film is too sympathetic to the Israelis, or (b) that the film proves the whole problem is the Israelis' fault, or (c) that the film is too "American." (Maybe all three?)

At all events, these are my impressions.

Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Every time Avner and the others have personal contact with one of their targets, they seem to be constantly astonished by the fact that these guys don't LOOK like monsters, and this seems to have a big effect on them. For all I know, something like this may occasionally happen in real life, but the way it was portrayed in the film struck me as especially simplistic. And the only time that Avner has an extended conversation with one of the PLO people, namely the terrorist with whom he's sharing a "safe house" in Greece, what the other guy says makes it clear that compromise between them is impossible, since he won't stop killing "the Jews" until the ones in Israel have all been driven into the sea. (That was realistic, at least.) So why should Avner feel a moment of hesitation about shooting him later on? All these elements strike me (fairly or unfairly) as artistically weak.