Thursday, April 29, 2004

What Do Our Women Want?

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi •

Are women unfairly treated in Saudi Arabia? The West I lived in and have been communicating with for years takes this as a fact. Women’s rights organizations, human rights groups and the media demand that our women be able to decide and plan their own life and future. They object to restrictions on the extent to which men and women can mix in society, the restriction on their ability to travel and marry without family permission, driving, career opportunities....
The US ambassador to Riyadh, Robert Jordan, told me he is against intervening in social and personal matters and focusing on trivial issues. “The men and women of Saudi Arabia will ultimately have to decide for themselves on how they want to adjust to the evolution of women’s rights. What we are really talking about is ways in which women can participate in the economy, the society so that they have the ability to decide for themselves what environment they want. At least have the ability to participate in those decisions,” he explained.
On the other hand, there are those who believe that the Western campaign to “liberate” women and those who support it among us are part of a religious crusade against Islam and Muslims. They contend that Saudi women are well taken care of, and live a better and more decent life than Western women who have had to sacrifice their modesty fighting their way in a men’s world. Rules, like not allowing them to drive or work in a mixed environment, are meant to save them from sexual harassment, temptation and compromising situations. The consequences of Western women’s “liberty,” they point out, include indecent relations, low levels of marriage, higher divorce rates, and increasing numbers of orphans and one-parent families.
While I agree with our conservatives on moral issues, I do feel we are confusing religion with customs, exceeding Islamic requirements in our zeal to protect our women. While the Hanbali school of thought requires women to cover their face, others say that they don’t have to. Rules like not allowing women to drive, manage their own businesses, taking certain jobs and reach high positions, are not Islamic.
I do respect the noble motivations behind such beliefs, but limiting religious interpretation and studies in these issues to a certain school of thought leads to religious judgments “fatwas” that do not represent the richness of Islam. Because of this, I was very much encouraged by the conclusions of the “National Dialogue Forum” set up by and addressed to Crown Prince Abdullah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard, such as the review of obstacles limiting women’s participation in development, activating a broader religious discussion, establishing “fatwa” departments in every region, and restricting the use of “sad al-thara’a” principle (i.e. pre-emptive measures to prevent possible sins resulting from acceptable acts.)
I stand with the best half of our nation in thrilled anticipation and great expectation, and hope we won’t be put off or disappointed... this time.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Way Out, America!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

When Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times asked me what I would do if I were Mr. Bush, I didn’t hesitate. I was then attending Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of the Most Effective People” course.
Our Saudi trainer, Eng. Ziad Abu Zenada, had just taught us one of the most important habits: Learn before you teach.
I told Neil, it is almost too late to fix the situation, but it is never late to do the right thing. Bush’s credibility is now as good as Saddam’s, not only in Iraq but in the whole region and the world beyond.
US intentions are always in doubt, and it is getting worse with every mistake and horrendous crime — like the Fallujah massacre and the blind support of Sharon.
Still, if I were Bush, I would first sit humbly before the descendents of one the first civilizations on Earth, the Babylonians, and asked them the fundamental, obvious, first-thing-first question: What do you want?
If the US is really there to make the Iraqis happier, then it should ask them how can this happen? Why are they angry and disappointed? What kind of life, government and future do they aspire for?
I would ask similar questions, which I should have asked long ago, of the neighbors. These are mature and proud people, the descendents of great civilizations; the Pharos, Persians, Arabs and Turks. I wouldn’t prejudge and second-guess them before they even finish their thoughts. The neocons and Zionists in Washington and Tel Aviv cannot know (or mean) better.
I would also ask the UN and the international community similar questions. But first, I would stop bossing people around, listen to their complaints, apologize for past mistakes, ask for their help and promise a more cooperative multilateral approach. This time, it would be “I mean what I say, and say what I mean” whether “the Man of Peace” Sharon likes it or not.
I would recognize that solving the Palestinian issue is fundamental to my mission and my Greater Middle East plans. I am the president of the greatest nation on Earth, so I won’t allow the bully and war criminal Sharon, and his cronies in Washington, to intimidate me and dictate my policies. I would tell them I didn’t need fourteen bases in Iraq, my fleet and land bases in the region would do. No more wars are needed as far as US — not Israel’s — interests are concerned.
Instead, I would save my budget to rebuild the country I destroyed, as promised, and prove my good intentions. I would allow free elections, no matter who won. Since I didn’t have a stake, why would I care?
Then I would just pack up and go home.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Problem With Our Public Performance

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi •

When asked on the BBC’s “Hard Talk” last week about teaching hate in schools, Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Matroudi, deputy minister for Islamic affairs, explained that the concept of fighting Jews during Armageddon is a religious concept believed and taught by other religions including Judaism. The issue here, he explained, is whether it is prudent to teach such concept to 9th graders. This reminds me of a point usually forgotten in our response to similar questions — our fanatics are no worse than theirs.
In an article published in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, Nicholas D. Kristof writes about a call by some leading evangelicals at a Washington conference for their fire-breathing brethren to tone down their badmouthing of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Giving examples of outrageous statements by Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Vines, he reports a new rationale not to provoke Muslims. Kristof explains, however, that the change of tone doesn’t reflect a change in conviction — it is more a PR move that also tries to protect traveling evangelicals.
These fanatics are part of an empire that receives billions of dollars annually, with huge support from governments, political parties, religious and public organizations. What they get in a year is more than all Muslim organizations put together have received in their entire history. Besides hundreds of TV channels and radio stations, superpowers, led by the US, put their huge political, economic and even military resources at the service of such organization.
The NYT report mentioned one George W. Bush as the world’s No.1 evangelical. The support received by the Christian militant movements in Sudan and Indonesia are examples of such support. On the other hand, Muslim charities are harassed, banned and pressured. Their employees are sometimes taken prisoners of war for being in the wrong place at the wrong time — even though this is exactly the kind of environment that requires charity presence.
Going back to Dr. Matroudi’s interview, one couldn’t help noticing his unconvincing performance. I don’t blame him. To appear on such a challenging program, you need more than English — and he wasn’t great at that, either. More important is to know what you are talking about, to have up-to-date and comprehensive information as well as some freedom to speak your mind, let alone the truth.
Avoiding the questions and speaking in vague and outdated terms does not work. It doesn’t help your credibility either to assume that your host doesn’t know enough so you can cover up and embellish embarrassing facts. Journalists do a lot of research these days, and they do know what they are talking about.
I would recommend we appoint capable spokespeople representing each department, give them proper training and information and enough space to be more transparent and straightforward. Otherwise, it is better for us to opt for “no comment!”

Sunday, April 18, 2004

American Propaganda Revisited!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

The American propaganda machine is trying to justify the killing of over 30,000 Iraqis and the destruction of their country (in order to rebuild it) by saying that: This is the tax of war. We are here to help. Just look down the road, the New Iraq is just around the corner. If you just wait a little bit longer, it will turn out just fine.
The Afghans were given that “round the corner” promise and are worse off today, with a government based only in the city of Kabul while the rest of the country is in the hands of gangs and drug lords.
Apparently, the Iraqis know better. Besides, if the US is really just there to make them “happier”, it follows logic that they would leave once it becomes clear that they have overstayed their welcome.
Stalin once said, kill a man and it is tragedy, kill a million and it is a statistic.
Why is the burning of four mercenaries from Blackwater, a US-owned, Israeli-run security firm, such a terrible crime, while scorching tens of thousands with B52 firestorms is just a war? Why is bombing Palestinians and Afghan villages, mosques and schools restoring civil order, but bombing a bus or a cafe is barbaric? Why, when asked about the human cost of Vietnam, Americans tend to count only the 50,000 American casualties and forget the millions of murdered Vietnamese?
I won’t ask a soldier’s mother to cry for the thousands he killed before being killed. But she should be blaming those who sent him. That’s what the American rebels told the British occupiers’ moms. The Redcoats, on the other hand, said exactly what US propaganda says today: In war, civilians suffer; we are legitimate, the rebels are not; we have a license to kill, they don’t; we are not responsible for civilian casualties, they are.
For freedom fighters, this was plain nonsense; they were liberators. So was the French resistance against Nazi Germany. Palestinians, Afghans and Iraqis, as the Vietnamese before them, aren’t any different.
Finally, for those who cry foul for war brutality and claim civility, please check your photo albums — historical photos like that of Hiroshima, Korea and Vietnam, and contemporary as the picture of bombed-to-death, burned-to-bones elderly and crippled Sheikh Yassin, by US weapons with American approval and support.
It was an American hero, Gen. William Sherman, who, in justifying the burning of the South and the killing of millions of innocent civilians and Indians, explained: War is Hell. “Nuclear” Truman said: Amen. “Shock and Awe” Bush agreed. It is about time the inventors test what their invention is like.
I only hope that our good, decent and innocent American friends won’t be caught in the crossfire.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Disliking US Policies, Not America

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

I didn’t mean to provoke, but my last article “Why Muslims Hate America” angered many readers.
Many thought by “America” I meant the great country, civilization and people we admire and respect — of course not. Muslims dislike certain American policies. They protest against attitudes and actions that hurt their interests, affect their lives and insult their dignity. They include: Support for Israel’s criminal policies and waging a destructive war on a big lie (WMD) and destroying and colonizing two Muslim nations.
What was this neocon, pro-Israeli administration thinking? Did it expect 1.5 billion Muslims to enjoy being raped and robbed? Sorry to disappoint, but we do react naturally to aggression and hate — we hate and hit back, sometimes in the same barbaric way, if on a smaller scale. “Why was it wrong for the US to depose Saddam Hussein?” a reader asked.
It wasn’t the goal but the process — and look at the results. Is the world today a better and safer place? Is Iraq now as previously advertised? “If you were Bush, how would you have reacted to Sept. 11?”
I would start by asking why and working on the roots of the problems. I would be courageous enough to admit my mistakes and fix them. If my support for Sharon’s criminal policies is giving me a bad name, I would correct my position to better reflect my nation’s noble principles. I would work for peace and prosperity in a region I either neglected or where I supported the wrong sides — dictators and oppressive regimes. I wouldn’t blame others for my sins. Saddam was US-made, so were the Taleban. They brought us all to the miserable state we are in.
Fixing mistakes of this magnitude is not a job for generals alone. Bombs don’t fix, they destroy. They are not simple answers to complicated questions. So, let’s take our time and work harder and smarter for just, practical and lasting solutions — such as the formula of two viable states, Palestine and Israel, approved by the Arabs, supported by the UN and US, and rejected only by Sharon.
A reader shot back: “Exactly how were your bad guys the creatures of America?”They were installed by the CIA against their people’s will, and supported against their political opponents and neighbors. They only became bad guys when they began damaging US interests. Remember Saddam’s and the Taleban’s war on Iran and some Arab leaders’ liquidation of Islamic parties? Why were they then good guys?
It is never too late to do the right thing. If America were to correct its policies today, I assure you tomorrow it would become once more the world’s greatest role model — the beacon of justice, freedom and democracy.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Why Muslims Hate America

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

I get lots of angry e-mails. I understand. The writers may be missing some facts and need to look at issues from different perspectives.
I believe in human decency, fairness and goodness, and have been proven right in many cases when anger and misjudgment gave way to more understanding and even agreement. Such is the power of man’s greatest innovation — communication.
Last week, an American reader fired a question at me: “I need to know why in hell people would murder in the name of Islam and take such apparent joy in it.”
I felt the man was innocently puzzled, maybe because he was caught up in the mood of the moment. He must have just watched a news story about a Palestinian suicide bomber avenging the Israeli air “bombing” of Hamas’ elderly leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. He could be one of those fast-food, fast-lane news-biters who don’t have time for backgrounds, observing the world via flash news, probably on Zionist Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.
When they wonder about the insanity of the world, I understand their confusion. After all, with my limited knowledge of the CIA’s dirty history in Latin America, how would I know why over 80 percent of Latinos hate the US?
I answered my puzzled reader: Let’s start with injustice. For half a century, Palestinians have been robbed of life, property and dignity. The world has been watching, applauding or even sponsoring their adversary, as America has. When death becomes more attractive than life, desperate, insane things happen.
Religion has always been used to rally troops. Catholics in Ireland fought a religious war for decades. Europe went to war for religion, which propelled both Crusaders and colonizers for centuries. Indians and ex-Yugoslavians still fight over religion. Russians abuse their Muslim Chechens. Sharon, Blair and Bush are killing Muslims in the name of God. The latter claimed twice that God instructed him to wage war — no kidding.
I don’t advocate violence, not against innocent civilians. But, like you, I never experienced the hard trials many Native Americans, Palestinians, Irish, Chechens, Muslim Chinese, African Americans and Japanese Americans had. To be fair, we should at least acknowledge motives. Imagine the victim of a lynching and burning raid in the name of a white God being asked: Why in hell are you hitting back?
In a 2000 poll three quarters of the 200 million Muslims in Indonesia had a favorable opinion of the US. After the insane response to Sept. 11 and as a result of its blind support of Israel’s world-defying policies, only 15 percent still do.
Anger is a reaction, Bob, and hell needs fuel to burn. In many Muslim cases, Hell has sponsors.