Sunday, September 26, 2004

Darfur and Crusaders

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

An American friend asked me what I meant when I claimed in a previous article (Double Talk, Double Standards) that Evangelists collect billions to support Christian revolts in the Muslim world. I gave him three examples: East Timor, South Sudan and Darfur. He seemed to recognize the first two but not the last. I had to explain:
In many wild parts of the globe there have been continuous struggles among various groups for racial, economic and religious reasons. Darfur is a huge countryside, the size of France. It has all kinds of tough terrains: Jungles, deserts and mountains.
Most of its inhabitants, if not all, are Muslims. They come from Arab and African origins. The Arabs are mostly nomads and Africans farmers. In dry seasons, nomads move to farming areas to feed their camels and sheep. They fight over rights. This is an ancient, global phenomenon.
It was worse when central governments were weaker, like before the present government took over. In recent years the nomads got stronger because they joined the state in fighting the southern revolt. After the peace accords, they returned home veterans and well-armed. In their absence, some Africans revolted with foreign help. Support comes from the same sources that sustained the southerners — Evangelical organizations, neighboring countries and Israel.
The goal is to cut off the Arab Muslim Sudan from the rest of Africa. The state called on the Arab nomads again, this time against their old rivals. Another war ensued. Like in the southern war, the Western world took notice only when the government forces seemed to be winning.
No one is denying that the situation is bad. Five thousand people were killed or died from both sides, more from the insurgents. Both rivals committed atrocities. The government should stop supporting the nomads, and the foreign powers must cut off arms to the separatists.
Terrible as is, the situation has not reached the level of genocide, and the government cannot alone improve the situation. More than 2,500 Iraqis were killed in a month, half the number of people killed in Darfur in 18 months. Close to a million (and counting) of Hutus and Tutsis were killed lately in similar conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi.
The situation is worsening there, as well as in Iraq, Afghanistan, the occupied Palestinian territories, Chechnya, Kashmir, Muslim parts of China and Philippines.
No one is calling this genocide or charging the US and the concerned governments of responsibility. Why only Sudan is the focus of all attention and actions? Is it because in most other cases Muslims are the victims? Or is it because all the right ingredients are present here: Oil, Islam, Arab, Israel and the Bush-Blair crusade?! You tell me, my American friend!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Double Talk, Double Standards

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

There is no humiliation and provocation worse than applying different standards of justice and morality — one for the rich and powerful and another for the less fortunate. You add insult to injury when you justify the unjustifiable by framing the issues. This is an ancient art. In recent history, the Nazis, Communists, Zionist (and now neo-conservatives) were masters of this.
When the Zionists talk about the right of return, they don’t mean for all — only the chosen ones. Those who left four thousand years ago have a right to reclaim lands, farms and houses now occupied by those who lived there in the intervening centuries. Talk about the same rights for those who have been recently kicked out and you are sued for anti-Semitism and inciting hatred.
In the “war on terror,” the Russians continue their unspeakable atrocities in Chechnya as do the Israelis and Americans in countries which they occupy. On the other hand, when the driven-to-insanity victims retaliate with the only means available to them, they are labeled “savage terrorists.”
Israel is expanding its settlements and building a dividing wall in defiance of the Security Council, the International Court of Justice, road map to peace and the Israeli Supreme Court. Still, Israeli and American “framers” call the wall “defensive,” the expansion “natural growth,” and the raids on civilians “retaliation,” and to hell with international laws, world opinion and common sense.
When American religious leaders, including presidential advisers, insult Islam, call for war on Muslims, and collect billions to help Christian revolts in Muslim countries, it is their constitutional right. But when Muslims support Islamic charities and causes, and when our extremists express their frustration, anger and desperation, it is inciting hatred and support for terrorism. Worse, we are all held responsible and punished collectively.
During World War II, the French resistance against the Nazis was accepted as necessary and right and justified as both. But when Palestinians, who have no other course of action, react to Israel’s state terrorism with suicide bombs, the Palestinians are guilty of savagery.
A Pakistani nuclear bomb is called Islamic, and the “alleged” Iranian quest for nuclear power is regarded as a threat to world peace and security. But Israel, which the world voted the most dangerous state, is not even mentioned as a nuclear state and its bomb is not called “Jewish.”
These contradictions and this selective application of justice have convinced many Muslims that the West is on a new crusade. The law of the victor is therefore met with the desperate resistance of the proud but injured underdog. Your terrorist is their Mujahid. Your “war on terror”, is their “Zionist-Christian Crusade.” And your liberation is their neo-colonization.
The conflict of civilization, thanks to the US and the UK, is therefore guaranteed. The other side has nothing to lose. The question is: For how long can such prolonged bloody conflict be sustained?

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Missing ‘Why’

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

One of the most important lessons I learned during my studies in the US was always to ask “why.” After the school shooting in Springfield, Oregon where I lived, all America asked why. It took ages for the questioning and debate to calm down. After 9/11, that important question was sidelined and the discussion moved instead to “what.”
Others naturally enough followed the US lead. Russia ignored its brutal occupation of Chechnya and focused on global jihad.
More savage, inexcusable attacks and hostage-taking resulted, but President Putin wouldn’t even admit the cause, let alone that Russian policy may have been to blame. India took a similar position concerning Kashmir. Sharon, the godfather of US neo-conservatives and many Congressmen and administration leaders, never asked the question. American rhetoric and its blind support for Israel helped him avoid it.
Now, the whole issue of savage occupation, daily raids and incursions, as well as the dividing wall and the stalled peace process are not even mentioned. To this war criminal, Palestinians blow themselves up for cultural, religious and genetic reasons. They are part of a global terror movement and the only way to deal with them is to kick and kill in return; no one in the shooting gallery, guilty or innocent, is spared and no civilized rules are respected.
Today, thanks to the US example, states and terrorists are playing on the same low, dirty level. The proverb “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” is now a virtual motto for the war on terror.
We Arabs are equally guilty of not asking the important and difficult questions. We tend to ask “why” only when it relates to others and the answer will not incriminate us. That’s why we are at the bottom, kicked and humiliated by all, including small but mighty Israel. Of course, our enemies won’t help us out of the hole; that is up to us. Colonization is history. What has happened to us in the last fifty years is mostly our own doing. Competitors and alliances conspire against each other and that is a fact of life. Why can’t we do the same? We can’t even agree on a common market and a common currency. Why do we not ask “why.”
Governments intent on implementing their own agendas and unwilling to admit errors and fix them have no reason to ask or to answer hard questions. Beyond such shallow responses as “They hate us because we are democratic, rich and free.” Well, why don’t “they” hate the far richer and freer Scandinavians.
Even more important and of greater significance, why are the rest of us not asking the question? Why are our intellectuals, our media and our self-styled academics silent? In this part of the world, we don’t have enough freedom but what about the democratic world? What are the forces influencing and filtering the debate? How can we overcome this democracy-killer dam? For the sake of humanity, some questions are worth asking — and answering.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The War on Business

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

Sometimes it seems as if there is a secret war on business led by officials and bureaucrats who regard businessmen as the enemy. Somehow those people have developed the notion that all capitalists are corrupt, scheming, unpatriotic selfish individuals who should be checked, controlled and restricted. The result is all the maddening rules and regulations, produced by different ministries contradicting one another and competing for the ultimate say. Years may pass and vast sums be paid before a project is approved. And after the project is finished, things may change.
No man-made laws are immutable. At least, however, nobody should amend the rules overnight without consulting with those affected by the change; certainly the rules should not be changed in the middle of the game as they sometimes are here. You issue me a license today to open a shop and after I have spent my life savings doing so, you decide to withdraw my license or introduce new regulations that will completely disrupt all my plans or — and this is a cruel new twist — open a shop in competition with mine.
When public hospitals and colleges were unable to cope with demand, we encouraged private investment. Many people took up the challenge and built good hospitals and schools. With a little help and in spite of the most confusing standards and rules, they still managed to provide services equal to, or better than, public hospitals and universities. The state funded institutions have, just like the private ones, recently begun providing services and instruction for those who are willing to pay. Insured as well as rich patients may choose to get faster and better service in specialized, military and university hospitals. Students who cannot afford private colleges but don’t qualify for free education pay less at government universities.
While this is good news for patients and students, it is unfair competition to investors who don’t get public facilities and funds to subsidize their services. Such tactics, if continued, will force many institutions to cut costs drastically which may affect the quality of their services. Some may leave the business and new investment will be discouraged.
Instead of competition leading to better and more affordable services, the opposite has happened and we are all losers. With competitors defeated, state hospitals and colleges won’t have the incentive to improve services, and then we are back to square one.
I do appreciate the budgetary pressures that have led public institutions to sell part of their services and the desire of many parts of society to have access to more choices and more affordable services. Instead of win-lose situations, however, we could all win if we let the private sector run the private business for public institutions. That way, health and education businesses could offset their losses and coordinate service fees to avoid crippling price wars. And we could stop yet another war on the private sector.