Sunday, August 29, 2004

What Is Wrong With Arabs?

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

An American reader, Gordon Reade, sent me the following question, which is no doubt on the minds of many:
“In America our history books say that while Europe was mired in the dark ages, the Arabs led the world in art, education, science, math, philosophy, military power and you name it. According to our books, a thousand years ago the Arabs were every bit as powerful as America is today.
But what our books don’t tell us is what went wrong. The Arabs of today would be virtually unrecognizable to the Arabs of the past. Clearly you guys suffered some tremendous catastrophe long before 1967 and long before 1948. What went wrong and when did it happen? Do the Arabs have a name for it?”
I answered him: True, we ruled and enlightened the world for some thousand years, reaching China, India, Central Asia, Africa, Spain and northern Europe.
Our contributions to science and culture were immeasurable. They included the invention of the zero, algebra and the astrolabe and the discovery of blood circulation.
We translated Greek, Indian and Persian literary treasures and added our own. Then, we fought each other and the Ottoman Turks took over the Islamic Caliphate and united its disintegrated empire. While the Turks are not Arabs, they are Muslims.
At the time, they used Arabic alphabet and ruled our world in the name of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as his successors “Caliphs”.
The Ottomans were once the most powerful nation on earth. They ruled supreme for many centuries. At the end of 19th century, they began to decline. Their mistake was the one oft repeated by many empires.
They felt so invincible that they had no need to consult with anyone regarding anything they did in the world, no matter how vital or colossal. Arrogance and mistreatment of subject people led to revolts, including some in Arab countries. Still, their rule continued until World War I when they and their allies, the Germans, were defeated.
The Western victors then took over and colonized the Arab world, lasting up to the late sixties. They left behind dictatorial regimes; most still rule today with Western support. America, alone, installed some of the most horrible regimes and leaders like Saddam Hussein and others.
Today, the Arabs suffer from a decline on all fronts. Politically, most of us are prisoners to emergency and revolutionary rules.
Economically, altogether we produce every year less than Spain. Culturally, we print fewer than one percent of the books in the world. We have questionable levels of poverty, quality of education and unemployment rates. That says it all.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

My Jewish Friend

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

Professor Herbert C. Kelman is co-chairman of Harvard Middle East Seminar and director of the program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution in the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. In addition, he is a Mideast expert who has been studying and analyzing both the Israeli and Palestinians for over thirty years. The day after the Democratic National Convention in Boston along with some Arab journalists, I met him.
According to his research, both Israelis and Palestinians want peace. The question we asked was why, if they want peace, have the Israelis chosen the wrong leader? His answer was, “When you are at war you choose a general.” The Israelis mistakenly believed the former Israeli Prime Minister Barak had given the Palestinians an offer they couldn’t refuse at Camp David. They turned it down and a new intifada began in 2000.
In fact, the offer to the Palestinians wasn’t acceptable; Israel would have kept its settlements, cutting through Palestinian land, Kelman says.
Besides, there were unresolved questions about Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees. The intifada, in any case, was provoked by Sharon’s entering the Haram Al-Shareef with Israeli soldiers, despite warnings by the Israeli government. As planned, violence erupted and Sharon made a strong response that seems to work.
Eventually, Israelis think, the Palestinians will see the light and choose peace. The same tactic, creating fear and playing savior, is used by President Bush to win public support. And Americans, like Israelis, fell for it. We all do in an environment of fear. The tough sheriff always wins. It is not much different for the Palestinians. They want peace as much as anyone but they think the Israelis don’t. They need to understand that Arafat is a great freedom fighter but not a statesman. He should be president without authority, as in Israel, and let reformers run the government.
This was the idea behind the creation of the post of Palestinian prime minister. It was an excellent Palestinian idea, undone by Bush and Sharon who insisted on diminishing both the man and his post. Sharon never wanted a peace partner. He needs war in order to justify his existence and unilateral plans.
“What if the Labor party in Israel, the reformers in Palestine and the Democrats in America win? Will peace then automatically win?” Professor Kelman explains: “America has too great an interest in Israel to be a neutral peace broker. At least, however, Kerry is a pragmatic man rather than an ideological one. A peace-oriented leadership in Israel and Palestine would definitely help a Democratic White House with a good historical record of brokering peace in the Middle East.”
Before our meeting ended, I presented Professor Kelman with a portrait I had drawn of him during the meeting as a token of my admiration for my new Jewish friend and partner in peace.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

American Israel: What Difference?

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

James Rubin, senior adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, was blunt when we asked him during the Democratic National Convention in Boston about the party’s stand on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He insisted that America was committed to support Israel, no matter what.
The US would always be prepared to stand against world opinion — the International Court of Justice, the UN, its closest allies or anyone else, using its mighty veto to block any resolution against Israel, which is seen by much of the world as a rogue nation.
The Palestinians, he contends, are solely responsible for the breakdown of the peace process. Israel is simply acting in self-defense when it uses American arms and technology to kill civilians, bomb neighborhoods and assassinate political leaders.
The Israeli wall, considered illegal even by the Israeli Supreme Court, according to Rubin is a legitimate attempt to stop Palestinian suicide bombers whom he alleged are directed and tolerated by Arafat.
The elected Palestinian leader, he went on to say, must disappear in order for the peace process to restart.
The world votes against Israel, he coolly explained, because “Third World countries (even though those voting against Israeli atrocities, settlements and the “wall” include Europe and Japan) have an unbalanced and uninformed view of the situation.”
The supposedly civilized, educated gentleman even brushed UN-documented facts of Palestinian suffering as “exaggerated” and self-inflicted misery. Reflecting on what I had heard from the AIPAC-installed, Rubin and other Zionist Democrats and Republicans, I wondered why we would ever regard America as a sovereign, independent country.
And why would any Arab country respect UN authority if its resolutions only apply to us and never to Israel? And should the Palestinians accept America as a broker in any deal with Israel if US positions are no different from extremist Israeli policies and stands?
If I were Arafat, I would give up on both Israel and the United States of Israel, and listen to the Hamas and Hezbollah contention that there is only one way to deal with state terror: Terror. After all, Arafat is judged a terrorist either way.
I would tell the Palestinian leaders that this so-called peace deal is now too broken to be fixed, too weak to work and too rotten to be digested. The only way out is out — out of the deal, out of the offices and back to the street fight. Give Israel back the territory and let it, as occupier, be responsible for what goes wrong and pay for it.
At least then it wouldn’t have anyone to blame for its shortcomings but itself, and no punching bag to hit in reprisal. I say: Let’s all go back to square one — to the pre-US-guaranteed, US-betrayed Mideast Peace Accords world. That was a much, much more dignified square.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Arab-American Voice Needed

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Arab-American delegates to the Democratic Convention in Boston were more than enthusiastic. When asked for a meeting, they obliged the very same day. Over 10 members representing different parts of the country attended.
They explained their dilemma. Thomas T. George, (CEO, The George Group, Lakewood, Ohio) was eloquent. He and other third generation Arab-Americans told how they had been happy to leave politics to politicians, just like in Arab countries.
They went about their lives, pushing their children to excel in business, science and technology. As a result, the 2.5 million Arab-Americans are among the most educated and prosperous minorities in the US. More than two- thirds are Christians, mostly from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. All had happily melted into the multicolor, multiethnic American pot.
Then came 9/11, and things changed. For one, they were forced to relate to their Arab identity. The FBI, among many security agencies, now classified them as Arabs, treating them as such.
Neighbors, friends, business associates and schoolmates discuss Mideastern issues with them, and expect explanations.
Finally, they decided if they were to live as Americans they must act American. The politics they avoided for generations became now a necessity for survival. The Jews have successfully managed to combine personal successes with political ones, so why cannot the Arabs do the same?
Today, Arab-Americans are learning their way in the political maze. Many are motivated to invest time and money in the political process. In tight races, more than two million votes can — and should — make a difference.
“What party line are you taking?” I asked. Taleb Salhab, coordinator for Florida Arab American Leadership Council, explained that they were taking both sides, Republican and Democrat. First, people are encouraged, as they should be, to freely express their political orientations. Second, the Arab-American voice should be heard in both directions.
“What impact, if any, are you making?” Kerry sounds very much like Bush in his stand toward us. Both kiss Sharon’s hands and ask political favors which AIPAC, the most prominent Jewish lobby group, never fails to oblige. Just like Bush, Kerry had to switch his stand on the wall Israel is building on Palestinian land after hearing from the godfather. He supported Bush’s war on Iraq even though he now blames the president for it. So what difference are you making?
Professor Samia El-Badry, president of the International Demographic and Economic Associates, Austin, Texas, took my question. Yes, the effect is still minimal, she says, but that is a beginning since Arab-Americans began to play very late in the game.
She went on to count some successes on the domestic front, and promised to keep Arab voices clearly and consistently heard. Good luck, Arab Americans. Yours is an overdue step on a thousand-mile marathon.
— (

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Told You So, America!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

I am in Boston, and have been to Washington and North Carolina in a US Dept. reporting tour to cover the elections. During the last 10 days, I have debated the Iraq war, a major election issue, with many American scholars and politicians.
One of their explanations goes like: “OK, as it turned out, Iraq never threatened our security, since it acquired no weapons of mass destruction and had no established link to Al-Qaeda. But we couldn’t risk it. There was no hard evidence, but plenty of doubts. We couldn’t have waited idle and risked a nuclear attack on America.”
So, is it enough to have a suspicion about a country’s intention to invade it? Wasn’t that Saddam’s rationale for invading Kuwait? Isn’t it an irony that America, in accordance with international law and common sense, led the world against this medieval logic in 1991, and then used the same defeated principle to conquer the defeated in the new century? Which way are we heading as time progresses, toward the rule of law or the law of the Wild West? Besides, if that was the case, shouldn’t North Korea with its advertised nuclear capabilities be the first?
The other explanation is romantic: “We warred to topple a dictator, and introduce Iraq and the region to democracy and freedom.”
Well, if the US is now in the liberation business, shouldn’t the Cubans, with millions of relatives in America, be first in line? Castro is a much older enemy of the States, has never served American interests, as Saddam, was an ally of Soviet Union, and once a dangerous neighbor who almost caused a nuclear holocaust. Besides, Cuba is much smaller, nearer and easier to conquer than Iraq. An added bonus would be millions of happy Cuban-American votes, especially in Florida, the state which almost cost Bush his presidency.
But, hey, there is no oil in there, and no Israeli and corporate interests, either. Less war means less guns and fat contracts, who needs that?
When war addicts finally run out of excuses, they throw the ball on you and demand: You think you are Mr. Genius? Give me a better way to clean up the mess?
Great! You design the trap of the century, lead us screaming and kicking into it, then, without even admitting any mistake, expect us to come up with a better way out or we are equally stupid! Somebody has to first come out clean and own up their misdeeds, then we could talk solutions. Otherwise, we will just sit on the fence, shouting at the losing team and its ignorant and arrogant leaders, and enjoy saying: “Haven’t we told you so?”
— (