Sunday, December 24, 2006

Return of the ‘American’ Jedi

Dr. Khaled Batarfi,
The Israeli lobby in America is under pressure these days. It seems they crossed so many red lines that some hot-blooded Americans felt obliged to protest.
The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner, former US President Jimmy Carter, is not alone with his recent book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” and LA Times and Guardian article, “How I See Palestine.” A recent Harvard study entitled “The Israel Lobby” by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt details the ways of the lobby and its victims. Tellingly, they later joined the victim list. There are similar studies and books exposing the lobby, like “They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby” by 22-year veteran Congressman Paul Findley whose stand cost him dearly, and “Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment” by American-Jewish insider, J. J. Goldberg.
Some still think this is a lobby like any. An American friend argued that the tobacco and gun lobbies are among the strongest in the US. They use similar aggressive methods to advance their agenda and influence decision makers in Congress and the Administration — what is the difference? I explained that these groups are working on an all-American platform, claiming to represent and defend the interests of the American public and businesses. In the Israeli lobby case, it is Americans for Israel. They fight and pressure not for the good of the American nation, but for that of a foreign country. They even dare to say it loud and clear, like former House Majority Leader Dick Armey who pronounced in September 2002: “My No. 1 priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.” (Not America)!
This Christian Zionist congressman and chief author of the Republican Contract with America, who called in May 2004 for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, is not alone. According to the Harvard study, the lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Tom DeLay, former majority leader in the House of Representatives and Trent Lott, Senate minority leader. All of whom believe Israel’s rebirth is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God’s will. Neo-conservative gentiles such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also steadfast supporters. Other Jewish senators and congressmen work to ensure that US foreign policy supports Israel’s interests.
You can’t argue with success. For decades, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history.
According to the Harvard study, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War II, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the US foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a budget surplus and a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.
Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s agenda. The US consistently supported the Israeli position in every peace negotiation. An American participant at Camp David in 2000 later said: “Far too often, we Israel’s lawyer.” Finally, the Bush Administration’s ambition to transform the Middle East is at least partly aimed at improving Israel’s strategic situation.
Israel knows it could rely on the lobby and its friends in the American power structure. They never fail it even if it means sacrificing their own country’s best interests. Whatever Israel wants Israel gets.
That is why Israeli former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Oct. 3, 2001 said to Shimon Peres, as reported on Kol Yisrael radio, “Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that...I want to tell you something very clear: Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.”
I wonder what type of Americans know this and accept it. I am pretty sure it is not the American public.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Carter’s Book: The Lobby Strikes Back

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

I have been asking the same questions President Jimmy Carter raises in his new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” and LA Times article “How I See Palestine,” but I stood no chance of convincing most Americans for the simple reason of being an Arab.

During my graduate studies in the US, I noted how difficult it was for any, even in a university sanctuary, to debate, let alone criticize, Israel. It is suicidal, I was told, for politicians, writers, journalists, professors and even students, to ask the wrong questions about Almighty Israel. You may deny the existence of God, if you wish, but you will be crucified if you doubt the right of Israel to exist or the holy “pay me for life” arrangement with the budget-surplus state. Freedom of speech does have its limitations. Like any mafia, the Israeli lobby knows how to muscle and reward. They buy whoever is for sale and character assassinate anyone whose soul isn’t available. They think and operate with their bucks and guns. And they have plenty of both.

Please, don’t take my word for it; don’t even take the words of the Harvard study, “The Israeli Lobby,” or the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Maybe we are all conspiring against poor Israel and its poorer lobby. Let’s listen here to the words of a great American president who happened to be a world class peacemaker, observer and advocate. He is also the godfather of the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords, the first Arab-Israeli peace agreement. And if his words are not enough, I’ll bring you, next week, powerful Israeli voices, including those of a former president and prime minister.

In the LA Times article, Carter reveals: “The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize policies of the Israeli government is due to the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.

On the ways of the lobby, he discloses the open-secret unknown only to the American public: “It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians.”

Of the American “free” press compliance with the lobby, he complains: “What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land. Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that ‘he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel.’”

The myth of the freedom of information, research and debate in academia is also visited by Carter. “My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors.”

So what is so wrong about the book that put the lobby on fire? According to its author, “the book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine’s citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine, to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers.”

Carter goes on to denounce the treatment of Palestinians, “In many ways, this is more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens. Obviously, I condemn acts of terrorism or violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the casualties on both sides.

He concludes, “The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort.”


Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report, Amen!

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

The most important recommendations the Iraq Study Group (ISG) came up with were exactly what we, US friends in the region, were calling for since the start of the disastrous invasion-occupation of Iraq: Solve the Arab-Israeli issue, cooperate with Iraq’s neighbors, and bring all Iraqi parties to the table — your enemies included. My last article reached those conclusions.

Many American readers felt I was an Arab extremist. Now, their own officials and senators, from both the Democratic and Republican parties, are in agreement. Interestingly, the pro-Israel neoconservatives and evangelicals are accusing the Baker-Hamilton group of weakness and appeasement — the opposite of extremism and wickedness charges against me.

It is understandable, though, that the “Israeli more than Israel” are nuts about uncovering the Israeli link to the Iraqi debacle. It was much easier and safer for their Zionist deity when the blame was squarely on the savage side — the extremist Arabs and Muslims.

As they portray it, the Crusaders, on God’s orders, were only spreading the light of democracy, freedom and love! The champions of peace and prosperity were fighting the ghosts of darkness and forces of evil.

They had to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders as a small price to pay for defending superior values of a superior religion, culture and race. They had to burn the woods to save a tree. Now that they failed, it is entirely the others’ fault. That includes not only the long list of enemies, but also agents, allies and friends. The only exception, of course, is the one who dragged them there — Israel.

It is frustrating to hear the arguments of the ISG critics. They come strong, for example, against any contacts with the so-called evil regimes — Syria, Iran and Hamas. That is amazing coming from a country that kept a presidential hotline with the worst of its enemies, the Soviet Union, for forty chilling years.

Such contacts saved America and the world from nuclear annihilation more than once, the most famous being the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The lesson here was, you lose nothing by talking to your enemies, but you may lose everything by not doing so.

You and your enemies have shared interests. If you start on them, you build a working relationship that could help your negotiation about contrasting interests. In the case of Iraq, all, except Israel and the warlords, have the same interests — peace and stability. This is a good start.

Then there are valid concerns and legitimate interests you should appreciate. You cannot ride over to people’s backyard promising loud and clear: I’m going to change your world forever. Iraq first, Syria and Iran next, then the rest of the Arab world, and expect all to wait in the slaughter line peacefully. You cannot let yourself be led by Zionists, spilling rivers of blood, yours included, to make the world a better place for Israel, and expect Arabs and Muslims to be cooperative. You cannot divide a united nation, taking sides, and letting one party prevail over the other, getting away with theft and murder, then blame the oppressed losers for fighting back.

More importantly, you cannot set a standard that can only apply to you. If you break the universally agreed rules you can’t blame the others for charting their own. In Iraq, you shocked and awed the whole population as a proudly announced strategy. You shot and bombed on suspicion and collectively punished, collaterally damaged your enemies.

Why, then, do you expect the reaction to be any different? In your treatment of prisoners of war, you killed and tortured, and when exposed, lightly punished the perpetrators and let their superiors get away untouched. In doing so, you set an example that endangers your own as the insurgents felt justified in doing the same to their hostages.

Appreciating your opponents’ valid concerns and showing your readiness to accommodate their legitimate interests will help win their confidence and cooperation. It is not a zero-sum, win or lose game. There are enough gains for all from a comprehensive peaceful solution for the region’s staggering conflicts — including Israel. That is what the Iraq Study Group found, and that is what we were advocating for ages.

Simply put, you cannot pick and choose what to fix in a falling roof. Every column has to be raised, every window has to be fixed, and every weak link and leak has to be addressed. Solving the root of all troubles, the Arab-Israeli conflict as the group recommended, is a must.

Since America, with the powerful Israeli lobby in control of its Mideast policies, cannot play the honest broker, the way out is what the Baker-Hamilton report advised: An international conference that includes every stake holder in the region plus Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Europeans and the United Nations. The same goes for Iraq and Iran — the multinational, multilateral approach is the one and only way to go.
From what I hear, the new Congress is all for the ISG recommendations. The question is, will this administration buy in? Or is it too invested in its arrogant policies that we have to endure the hell waiting until a new administration takes over? Only Cheney can tell!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Restoring Credibility, America!

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

My American host was genuinely puzzled. Why was it wrong to liberate Iraq from an oppressive regime, introduce democracy to a cave-age region and rid it of weapons of mass destruction? He also wants to know where America went wrong, and how to rectify that, make friends with the Muslim world and get out safely from Iraq.
I was on a two-month training program, The Emerging Leaders Fellowship, sponsored by the US State Department in the Northwestern University Media Management Center and the Seattle Times.
Questions on these lines were asked in many media and academic circles by people concerned about their country’s dire standing in the world, and the Iraq quagmire.
I start by asking them to read the Harvard research paper, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Part of the study explains how the Iraq invasion was drummed up by Likud allies in the US government, Congress, media and think tanks against basic American interests. Christian Zionist senators and congressmen, like majority leader Tom Delay and Dick Armey who proclaimed that protection of Israel is their highest priority and God meant for Israel to exist and expand, went out of their way to push the White House into this war.
Not even oil, arms and construction business were higher in their agenda.
If getting rid of dictatorships in the world was the real motivation, the closer-to-home Castro regime should have been first. Communist Cuba has been a constant pain and challenge to the US for half a century. Two generations of victims are now American citizens and residents.
Then, there is North Korea — an absolute Stalinist state that never hid its nuclear ambitions. To achieve such aspirations, hundred of thousands of citizens died of malnutrition. It is a present and clear danger to its neighbors who are US allies and a challenge to Washington’s strategic interests.
Instead, America took on the more difficult, less urgent task of overthrowing the Iraqi government. Why?
The “Clean Break” plan to invade Iraq was actually drawn by neoconservatives in 1996 and presented to the then Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a Likud hard-liner, who thought it was too extreme. The same plan was later presented to President Clinton, then to his successor Bush and his deputy, Cheney. All turned it down. After 9/11, the campaign was renewed and intensified by pro-Israel groups. This time the plan was endorsed. To sell it to the American public and the world, pretexts and evidences, like Iraq’s link to Al-Qaeda and its weapons of mass destruction, were manufactured.
Knowing why America really went to war, which was obvious to all, except the American people, explains why recently America and Israel were globally voted the most dangerous nations threatening world peace and stability, ahead of North Korea and Iran.
The Israeli link also explains the unprecedented animosity the US built up in the Arab and Muslim world. Understanding this background will help find a lasting, comprehensive and peaceful solution for the region and a safe and easy way out for America.
Getting into a mess is easier than getting out. America went to the war with an attitude. Its leadership felt they know all they needed to know, depending on Israel’s intelligence with its American supporters and Iraqi agents. No one else, including Arab allies and internal opposition in CIA and State Department, were given a fair hearing. All plans were focused on winning the war, not the peace. They counted every bullet and bomb up to the day of victory, but not much attention to details for the day after.
Ignorance combined with arrogance is an explosive mix. Leaders who didn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shiite, and have never fought a war, assumed they knew better than seasoned political and military experts. Even when it was obvious the drive was slipping in the wrong direction, they “stayed the course” rather than admit mistakes.
To change this perception of being an Israeli hunting dog, America needs to declare its independence from Israel. It is easier to talk business with those who care only about their own interests, and exclusively represent their own country. Double loyalty is confusing.
Second, you need fresh leaders who can credibly say: I had nothing to do with this! Recycling the same discredited faces makes it much harder for people to believe their sincerity.
Finally, you need to humbly and sincerely apologize to your victims, ignored allies and people whom you turned enemies.
Then you should invite all, foes and friends, to the table; sell your plans; ask for help and support; and make sure they believe you. People recognize their interests when they see them.
Governments, groups and individuals will cooperate if your offerings solve their problems, allay their fears, relieve their pain and/or give them better options. It is basic human nature. And humanity is what has been missing in this game.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

History Answers the Pope!

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

My last column, “Is the Papal Apology Acceptable?” has generated some enlightening and angry responses. If the pope were wrong about Islam and violence, some wonder, why would Muslims react to his accusations with violence?

I agree with them that we shouldn’t and apologize unconditionally for the acts of some misguided Muslims. However, this is what happens usually in angry protests. This is not an excuse, but an attempt to explain the few incidents where churches, synagogues and mosques were attacked. Religious and sectarian conflicts from Ireland and Spain, to Iraq and India are the worst examples of how irresponsible actions or words can cause great damage. Responsible leaders, therefore, refrain from incendiary speeches in such environment of mistrust, misunderstanding and animosity as the world is living since 9/11.

But religions and prophets should not be held responsible for the wrong actions and statements of misguided followers, even if they happen to be presidents, prime ministers and religious leaders.

Here are representative samples of readers’ reactions:

“I don’t get it. The pope refers to the violent history of Islam’s conquest; Muslims, worldwide, respond with, “Don’t call us violent or we’ll kill more of you.” — Joel

“Islam needs a reformation that supports human reason as a cure for the literal understanding of the Qur’an.” — John

“The person the pope quoted called Islam ‘evil and inhuman’ for spreading its religion by the sword. But this is like the pot calling the kettle black: the church also spread its religion by conquest. If anything else, the pope is a hypocrite.” — Mark

“The Catholic Church has many problems! Why wouldn’t its leader deflect criticism by disparaging Islam? It seems to have worked. He has not spoken out against the war being waged against Islam!” — Otis

“The pope needs not apologize for the truth. Christians do not excuse the awful pain inflicted on people around the world in the name of Christianity. It’s history. In the West we are free to write and read about history-good and bad. Sadly, Muslims are stuck in the Middle Ages and are too insecure to accept their own shortcomings and some of their own miserable history.” — JHM

“Westerners have difficulty in understanding jihad. Where are the moderate Muslims, we ask without looking at our policies of invasion and unconditional support of Israel.” — KGB

I was about to write this article in response to these and similar comments when I received an essay that mirrors my thoughts by Uri Avnery, an Israeli Peace Activist. I decided instead to quote him. Here are my favorite quotes:

“Jesus said: ‘You will recognize them by their fruits.’ The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to ‘spread the faith by the sword’? Well, they just did not. For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration.

The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

“In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Christian Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith-and they were the forefathers of most of today’s Palestinians.

“There is no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the ‘spreading of the faith by the sword’?

“What happened afterward is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: To become Christians or to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries.”

Thanks Uri Avnery. And to the Holy See I respectfully say: I accept your apology, appreciate your reach-out, hope for the best ... and rest my case.

– (

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Is the Papal Apology Acceptable?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

Half an apology is better than none. Finally the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of one billion Catholics saw that what he uttered during the speech at Regensburg University in Germany was insulting and offensive enough to endanger the vulnerable relations between Christians and Muslims. Personally, I accept the apology even though I still have many unanswered questions regarding this episode and past stands of the man, the school of thought he represents and the extremist conservative group he leads.

"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address," the pope told pilgrims at the summer papal palace, Castel Gandolfo, last Sunday, "which were considered offensive." So far, he is expressing sorrow for the reactions and is not admitting that his statements were "offensive". Being considered so could be a mistake of the other, but not necessarily yours!

Then comes the half-satisfying explanation that "These were in fact quotations from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought. The true meaning of my address in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."

If you don't agree with a quote, why would you introduce it without registering your disagreement? Would it be acceptable for a Muslim religious leader to quote German theologian and religious reformer Martin Luther's views of the Vatican, and the insulting remark that the pope was "a donkey," without comments?

Anyway the pontiff apologized; now the question is: Was that enough? We were told that this was an extraordinary apology. The pope is supposedly someone who cannot make mistakes. Apologizing is not an option because it hurts his holiness and credibility.

That's why popes refrain or should refrain from saying or doing controversial things. They have lots of smart consultants, experts and speechwriters to help them say and do the right thing. So what went wrong?

According to Vatican insiders, there is a new group, a kind of neocons, who are worried about the growing number of Muslim immigrants to Europe, and the rapid growth of Islam in the world. Islam, in their view, is not a religion to be treated on the same footing as Christianity. Therefore, they are against any civilization dialogue that would treat Islam as equal to Christianity that in their view is anyway superior.

The late pope, like his predecessor, was a believer in peaceful coexistence among religions and peoples. The dialogue with Muslims reached a historical level in the last decade. His popularity in the Islamic world reached similarly high peaks.

Pope Benedict, on the other hand, belongs to the other camp. He campaigned against the membership of Muslim Turkey in the European Union. Since taking over, he demoted the office responsible for dialogue with Muslims to a clerical level. His view of how Islam does not equal Christianity is well known. Is it any surprise then he would quote a medieval text that agrees with his line of thought without distancing himself or contradicting these views?

I would say: Yes, it is surprising. A pope is not just a religious leader; he is also a political figure. While he is entitled to his personal stands and views, he should act his position and carefully weigh his actions and statements.

Any politician should know that saying what he said about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islam right after Bush coined the term "Islamic fascists" and Christian cartoonists drew the Prophet as a terrorist would be very bad timing, to say the least. Extremists and conspiracy theorists among us were warning Muslims of the hostile intentions and scheming of the neo-crusaders. Now, who would furnish a better proof for such allegations than the successor of the popes who incited and rallied the Crusaders to kill Muslims, destroy Islam and spread the Christian faith by the sword in the Holy Land for centuries?

At a time when a billion and a half Muslims feel besieged by the "war on terror," here comes yet another attack on their faith and Prophet. What purpose would that insult serve, I wonder?

Hopefully, the pope and his conservative consultants now realize that the best way to serve God and save His children is to build bridges of dialogue and foster understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

This can be achieved by continuing the same path as his predecessors followed, and building on the strong bases they worked so hard to establish. It is not too late to say and do the right thing, Your Holiness!


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lessons of Lebanon and 9/11 Attacks

Dr. Khaled Batarfi
Sunday, 10, September, 2006

What is the difference between a report and an Op-Ed piece? A reporter should cover all sides in his/her news story or analysis. A column, on the other hand, is meant to express a writer’s own opinion. At least this is my understanding. Obviously my American friend does not subscribe to this view or he does not recognize this vital difference. Hence his suggestion that I should be “fairer” in my articles about the Lebanon war. A journalist, he says, should represent all sides of a conflict, regardless of his or her own views.

I explained to him that I am not writing as a journalist, but as an opinion writer. Besides, Israel and company have powerful media forums whereas Arabs have very few. It is not fair to share the little space we have with Israeli apologists. Readers have greater access to the other side, so they won’t have a problem getting the Zionist message.

My friend insisted that at least I be logical, sensible and credible. For my opinion to be heard and respected by all sides, he argued, it has to show restraint, factuality and reason.

I agree. I must not lie or twist facts to support my stand or to convince my readers. Like a lawyer arguing a case, I could highlight certain facts and ignore others, knowing my opponent would focus on them, but abusing the truth is not permissible.

I should also be moral. For example, I must not preach hate, support injustice or advocate violence and terrorism. No moral writer can be anti-Semite, support Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Lebanon or Palestine, or apologize for Al-Qaeda targeting civilians.

However, as long as I adhere to standard ethic rules, I am free to take any stand I feel right.

Anger, my friend contented, blurs reason. I should not write when I can’t control my emotions. He noted that my articles after the cease-fire in Lebanon were more like me than the ones I wrote during the war.

I told him that in the heat of conflict, sense and sensibility takes a back seat to anger, obstinacy and revenge. It is just hard for people under fire to think kindly of the shooters, or find excuses for their behavior. Shouts and war cries silence any fair reasoning and logical review. We are but humans.

However, after the battle storm dies down, sanity should rule. Now that Lebanon is on the road to recovery, we could afford to breath easier, think logical, and be fair even to our enemy.

We expected this from the world’s only superpower and leader, USA, soon after 9/11. Wounds were supposed to start healing, and forward, positive, scientific and constructive thinking was expected to take over. Emotional responses were the last thing anyone predicted. Yet, that is exactly what happened and still happening five years after the event.

Adventures like Iraq invasion justified with lies and truth-twisting backfired on the perpetrators. Supporting other criminal adventures like “bombing Lebanon to the Stone Age” and destroying Palestinian towns and villages drained whatever left of world sympathy toward America after 9/11, as international polls show.

In Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, mostly innocent people and their homes and towns were destroyed. The bad guys are still at large, regrouping and attacking with the support of large portions of their societies. Victims are turned into avengers. Angry fellow brethren all over the Muslim world became a huge pool of potential jihadists against the occupiers. If only half a percentage of some 1.5 billion Muslims went down that road there would be multimillion fighters.

From Spain and UK to Indonesia and the Philippines, and from Morocco and Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the terrorist attacks have increased many folds. Against all security preparations, terrorists managed to deal blow after blow to all of us. Evidently, the world is less safe today than it was before the war on terror.

Instead of stopping the bleeding, more blood, American included, was spilled all over, and enormous economic costs slowed the development of a better world. Worse, fear, hate and mistrust ruled a globe that was starting to be interconnected with instant and affordable communication, trade and education — a world that was starting to establish a new order based on the rule of law, justice and human rights.

Within months of 9/11, the dream we nurtured for half a century since the end of World War II evaporated with the first B52 bombing of villages and farms in poor Afghanistan. Instead of healing the wounds and uniting the world against preachers of hate and manufacturers of death, the theories of “The Clash of Civilization” and “The End of History” are now becoming more and more a reality.

In five years, we witnessed how the leaders and builders of the emerging free, peaceful world gradually turned into its jailers and destroyers. We deserved better!

People Have the Power to Change Govt Policies

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
"Why do you hate us?" asked the American lady in the next seat after she found I was an Arab. "But I don’t' hate you?" I responded. "You hate my country that is the same thing?" She countered. "No," I explained, "Your country is too large and diverse for anyone to hate. You have some eight million Muslim Americans, not including residents. Your country helped the world ending two great wars, and your scientists saved it from epidemic diseases and gave us electricity and so many other great civilization advancements. You can't hate a country as a whole, let alone a great one like yours."
"Then who do you hate in America?" She demanded. "It is rather what," I clarified. "I know some of us confuse the issues, maybe intentionally, but the majority don't. A poll after poll showed that most Muslims hate certain US foreign policies, just like most people in the planet—from its disregard of global treaties on environment and human rights, to exporting war and fear, to its blind support of Israel. Change of policies will change attitudes. Trust might take longer, but cooperation will fly right away."
"I hate war. I don't understand politics and have no say in the making of said policies. Why would I walk in any Arab street afraid of what people may do or say to me?"
"People in the street won't harm you, but they might tell you what they think of your government's policies. Since you are a taxpayer citizen in a democratic country, you do have a say and a vote. And you should use them."
I told her a story. After 9/11, I visited Eugene, Oregon, where I lived and studied for five happy years till the end of 1999—two years before the terrorist attack. I was afraid that the wonderful liberal, friendly environment had changed. I was pleasantly surprised.
To the contrary, my Arab and Muslim friends told me. Right after the event, many concerned citizens surrounded the mosque to protect it from possible attacks. Emotions were running high, and those beautiful Americans were afraid some militant groups or angry individuals might take revenge.
The good people of Eugene sat up daily vigilance for more than a week. The mayor and police officers attended a number of Friday prayers and reassured the Islamic Center management and Muslim residents of their commitment to protect them and allow free and safe access to the mosque. The University of Oregon administration showered its Arab and Muslim students with care, support and sympathy. So did professors and fellow students.
Proactive actions like this, especially when coming from ordinary American citizens, improved the attitude of Muslims towards their host country, and failed the terrorists' attempt to breed hatred and mistrust in both sides.
Other actions, like street demonstrations, as we witnessed in Europe, Australia, South America and the Far East, distance citizens from wrong state policies. There are other ways of influence, like writing campigns and protest calls to concerned legislative and state department as well as the media.
In democracy, the people are the base of the whole system, the source of all powers. Before 9/11 some may accepted the notion that Americans did not know or care about what went in the rest of the world. Now that the world is visiting the homeland, that is not an option ore an excuse any more. To say I have nothing to do with my government cannot be acceptable or believed even by the average man in streets of Third World countries."
My neighbor lady was silent for a while, looking ahead and ignoring me. Then suddenly she turned around smiling, shook my hand and introduced herself as "your American friend." She didn't promise anything, but in her now glittering eyes I saw a strong determination to change. More importantly, at that moment she seemed to understand that we don't hate her or her fellow Americans—only disagree with certain government stands and actions.
I never ceased to be amazed by the power of people to people communication. I am also amazed by the power citizens can exercise if well informed in domestic and international affairs, well aware of the game of power, and well trained on the tools of democratic influence.
The Internet, another American great invention, provided us with the tools we needed to overcome not only physical obstacles, but also established mass communication monopolies, such as media. Today, we could know more; work better, faster and more organized to make our voice heard and our wishes respected by states and leaders. Power to the people!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ending the Cycle of Violence in Middle East

Dr. Khaled Batarfi
Tragedies in history are repeated, because we don’t learn from our mistakes. The world has witnessed so many holocausts since the dawn of time. Empires grow, weaken and die for the same reasons. They decline when they reach a certain level of arrogance and ignorance. That is when they look down on smaller and weaker nations, and stop listening to their opinions, complaints and criticism. This has been the case from the ancient civilizations of China, Iraq and Egypt, to colonial era of European powers, to the new age of Soviet Union and USA.
We have already repeated our mistakes in the Greater Middle East from Afghanistan to Iraq, Palestine to Lebanon, and now Iran. So, before going further on the repetition course, let’s take a timeout for reflection on the latest crisis — the Lebanon war.
It is tough to be evenhanded and balanced when your own family is being slaughtered to pieces. Still, I learned a couple of valuable lessons from some Israeli writers and journalists, who, in the midst of a maddening war, were sane, fair and courageous enough to expose the fallacies and wrongs of their government. Against popular emotional stands, they strived to get their criticism across. Time proved them right, and more Israelis are now having doubts and questions about long-held beliefs and strategies, as we all should.
Israel has a natural right to live in peace. Arabs must show their unsure neighbor that there is light at the end of the tunnel. No nation in a strong position will ever part with war-gained spoils unless they get something solid in return. For even the most pacifist Israelis, it is not reasonable to give concessions without rewards. We must guarantee them peaceful and friendlier neighborhood.
I agreed with many of my Israeli counterparts that King Abdullah’s peace initiative, sponsored by the Arab League in 2002, should be the blueprint for comprehensive peace project. It is based on UN Resolution 242 and accommodates Israeli demands for border adjustments and some concerns regarding return of refugees.
Unfortunately, the last Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded to this historical grand Arab gesture by bombing late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters, destroying Jenin and pressuring the US administration to change its initial support of the initiative. He and his like won the day. We all, Arabs, Israelis and peace seekers all over the world, lost.
They say Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, but so are Israelis, especially the rightists. There were times, with the last Labor government, when we were on the verge of real victory for all — peace. The Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations brought all players — Palestinians, Israelis and neighbors to the negotiation table. It worked, till Arafat made a historical mistake of refusing an admittedly inadequate deal instead of negotiating changes. The Israeli opposition refused it, too, and vowed to defeat it. To kill the project in its infancy, Sharon provoked the second intifada by booting the grounds of Islam’s third holiest shrine — Al-Aqsa. After winning the elections, he made sure the project was buried forever.
For long, Lebanon has been the playground of many recurring mistakes. The Lebanese, Syrians, Arabs, Americans and French committed terrible mistakes. Israel was the worst. The invasion of 1982 and the occupation of parts of Lebanon for eighteen years destroyed the capability of the Lebanese Army, justified the interference of other players, like Syria, Iraq and Iran, and gave birth to the resistance movement of Hezbollah.
The latest Israeli invasion and bombardment of its northern neighbor doesn’t look like the last mistake. Instead of eradicating the Hezbollah, Israel weakened the very government which was supposed to disarm the group, and the very people it tried to turn against it, not to mention the radicalization of the whole region. Iran and its protégé only dreamt of the status they now enjoy in the Muslim world from Morocco to Indonesia. By violating the terms of the cease-fire, Israel is on course to repeat history once more.
The Arabs and Israelis should, instead, use the lesson of this tragic event to restart the project of peace, cooperation and prosperity for this long-troubled part of the world. The terrible loss of lives and economic potentials should make us aware of the downhill journey we are taking.
Only via the road to peace can we turn around the Lebanon corner. If leaders are not yet ready to make the move, then it is our responsibility, the peoples of the region, to make them be. After all, it is our children’s future we are talking about.

Israel and US: Why Should Arab Opinion Be Any Different?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi,

Sunday, 20, August, 2006

In conflicts, interested people usually take extremely different stands. Writing about such issues usually invites angry responses. To my last article, “The Death of Moderates in Muslim World,” I received lots of steamy messages that I typically put on my e-mail list. Good examples are the comments from two American readers presenting different views about Israel, Zionism and the US stand.

The first, from a dear fellow journalist, said: “I reject your bitter abuse and overuse of the term ‘Zionists’ and the rather distorted twist of facts to support your presumptive and fragile view of the events of the past and of the present.

“As for Jews being in collusion with many fundamentalist Evangelists, guess you are reading something that is secret; as a Jew I know nothing about it. I consider those radicals to be in the same category as other radicals; now you share their company in terms of my list of suspects promoting intolerance and hatred. Let’s get something straight: Zionism was about a homeland for peaceful existence and protection and not about colonialism.

“Israel had no choice but to defend its population; Hezbollah had a choice of returning the two abducted soldiers, fighting in the open and not hiding behind women and children. The many deaths and the destruction will never sit right with me and though I understand the fangs of war, one wonders why we are intense about killing each other. You have given us the answer; lies breed anger and anger breeds hatred.

“My regret is that you are ignoring the whole story and your broad brush is food for those who thrive on bigotry and division.

“This reminds me of the KKK but as they have twisted Christianity, so perhaps are you twisting moderate Islam. -Ed”

Scott read Ed comments and responded: “An old movie, ‘The Hornet’s Nest’, opens with Italian civilians facing Nazis in an impromptu firing squad, repeatedly asking, ‘Where are the partisans? No answer? Murder them all —women, elderly and kids included.

“Here again, Israelis seemed to ask: Where are Hezbollah fighters? No answer? Bomb Lebanon’s airport, harbors, schools, homes, and nurseries!

“This unacceptable use of terror on civilians in Lebanon, the unbelievably excessive use of force and the brutal destruction of a struggling, and fledgling democracy have changed me forever. While I still respect Jews, I no longer respect Israel. I will forever look forward to the end of this failed social experiment.

“Israel has been in violation of UN Resolution 242 for over 35 years now. They refuse to sign the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and appear to have a fleet of nuclear weapons —the WMDs we cannot allow any nation to have in the Middle East. They habitually use US jets and helicopters (which ties regular Americans to these attacks) to assassinate alleged resistance or terror leaders.

“I saw Pat Robertson last week telling his millions of viewers to pray for Israel. I’m not sure if Zionists or Jews are in collusion with fundamentalist Evangelists, but these nuts sure are pulling for the nation of Israel. Regardless of the motive, we do not represent ‘honest-brokers’ any longer.

“In World War II, arguably, the Jewish people suffered the greatest in that dark chapter of human existence. Yet, what they learned appears only to be the methods of brutality. The assault of Lebanon confirms this.

“I now stand with the billions in the world who do not accept this cancer in the midst of Muslims. It was a difficult task to create a Jewish nation, and expect so many to relocate. Rather than exhibit the glorious patience that has characterized Jewish history, we have seen only excessive brutality and a complete lack of compassion for others.

“Israel was created by a UN vote in 1947. It is time to rescind that vote. It is time to end the failed experiment of the nation of Israel. The Palestinians have not been ‘right,’ but the Israelis sure have been wrong.”

Salam and shalom...Scott”

I am frequently asked: Do Arabs endorse the existence of Israel? We had to “accept” but I, for one, would never “endorse” its existence. This is a “certified” terrorist organization by even UN mandate authority. Britain still regards as wanted terrorists the prime ministers of Israel, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Their terrorist organization was made into state, displacing native Palestinians, stealing their homes, farms and lands and denying them the right to return. However, thanks to the superpowers of the world, Israel became a reality. We accepted all UN resolutions, such as 242, and collectively sponsored King Abdullah’s initiative of 2002, assuring Israel normal relations if it returns to pre-1967 borders. Israel refused even the road map sponsored by the US, its protector and benefactor.

Overwhelmingly, the world public opinion, from Britain and Germany to Korea and Japan, regards the US and Israel as the greatest threat to world peace and stability. Why would the Arabs be any different?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Death of Moderates

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
In the war of hotheads, the cool heads lose out. Radicalism invokes the worst in us. It makes us angry, hateful, aggressive and crazy. Those with cooler temper and wiser brains cannot make themselves understood, acceptable or even heard. In the noise pollution that goes with fanaticism it is really hard for any differing voice to float over the herds' cheers and shouts.
Thanks to Israel and company, all volcanoes of suppressed, clamed and negotiated hard feelings are now erupting in the Muslim World. All old and new wounds are now open and sour: from the creation of Israel on Arab land, to 1967 War that grabbed more lands including Islam's third holiest shrine, Al-Agsa Mosque, to 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the over twenty years of occupation of its South, to Qana I that killed scores of civilians to Gaza and Jenin massacres up to the recent history from Afghanistan to Iraq. The list of wounds is long and hurtful, and whenever it seems to cool a bit, an adventure like this hit again. No lull is long enough for moderates to preach peace, forgiveness and logic.
Mel Gibson is right when he said in a recent Los Angeles Times interview that Zionists are behind all ugly wars in the world. They are everywhere; the neoconservatives in the US administration are only the tip of the iceberg. Millions more are spreading like cancer in the civilized world, from places of worship to academia, to think tanks, to governments. Their ideologies surpass their sense and sensibility. Reason takes a back seat to a sick obsession, like getting all Jews into Palestine, so Jesus would come and start the Armageddon and end the world as we know it.
This unholy alliance between two influential, ideologically driven groups, the Zionists and Evangelicals, took the world into a hellish journey. To end History, they decided to burn the temple—our world—down. The Irony is: the Evangelicals believe that at the end of this journey Jews and others (including Muslims) would either convert to Christianity or be eradicated. The Jews, on the other hand, believe the opposite. So both are allied for now against Muslims, but know in advance that they will have to eliminate the other once they finish us.
On our side, there are those who understand what is at stake, and read the writing on the walls. Their response is one of a kind. Jihadis meant to get the snakes heads out, and shoot them. They always contented that under the civilized and liberal skin of the superpowers of the world hide crazed devout crusaders who would do anything to reoccupy the Holy Lands. By terrorizing them with hits like 9/11, they would throw their masks and show their faces. Knowingly or unknowingly, the overkill reactions proved their point. Now Israel and allies are stressing the same point.
In such an environment, the nice and pacifist, the logical and reasonable cannot compete with the trigger happy, hell makers, hate spreaders and fire breathers of the world—on all sides.
Try defending Israel's allies these days or blaming Iran, Syria or Hezbollah for starting this fire, in any Arab street. Try warning from the defying the UN and world public opinion in any Israeli street. Try calling for restraining Israel and pushing for immediate ceasefire in America. If you do, you are likely to be labeled defeatist, liberal, unpatriotic, unbeliever if not outright traitor.
Like Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, Hezbollah and Nasrallah were relatively small players. Overnight, they were made huge and powerful by their enemies. With the only choice given to Arabs and Muslims "Either you are with me or against me", most chose the Muslim brethren over Israel and allies. You can't call Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, the certified war criminal of Sabra and Shatila, Man of Peace after his Jenin massacre and still maintain credibility with Muslims. In fact you only give credibility to the man who in October 3, 2001, as Israeli Prime Minister, told Shimon Peres, on Kol Yisrael Radio: "Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that . . . I want to tell you something very clear: Don't worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it."
This is the same "Man of Peace" who as Foreign Minister told a meeting of militants in 1998, "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours... Everything we don't grab will go to them." When this and similar actions provoked Palestinians into the second Intifadeh, it was blamed on Arafat.
With such fanatics, who would blame the average man for silencing the moderates and listening, if not following, to hate and revenge preachers?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

They Defy Logic and Deny History

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

“It is hard to convince someone who knows he is right.” True, especially when the other is not so conversant with the complexities of history, geography and politics. Add bias, anger and Zionist media and you get a typical pro-Israel audience.
What many American readers lack is the big picture. That’s why they are genuinely surprised when told of the bad news from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most really believed that they were going in as celebrated liberators, just like World War II documentaries showed they did in Europe. For them, the world is simple, people are good or evil, places are the same, and experiences are replicable. During the Cold War, the world was simpler to comprehend. Movies helped and news sound bites made it an easy task — who needs the headache? Education by entertainment is an established industry. Well! Welcome to the real world. Welcome to the Middle East.
Now, how could an Arab writer change a lifetime perception of who is “The Beautiful, The Bad and The Ugly” in this part of the world?
Here is the picture that was fed to generations of Americans. Israel is the historical homeland for Jews. They went back to an “empty” land (some how it stayed empty for 4,000 years!) to live in “peace” with Arabs who were supposed to gladly give away their homes and farms to the nice European Jews.
Instead they fought and denied them a legitimate right to establish a “Jewish government” on a “Jewish land”. Later, the Arabs tried to destroy Israel so the civilized world led by America had to support the small, democratic and peaceful Israel against the barbaric, primitive, anti-West Arabs.
The mostly Third World members of the UN, influenced by communists, tried to cast Israel as an aggressor and rogue nation. America had to use over 80 vetoes to rescue poor Israel from harsh Security Council resolutions. Later it had to support Israel’s position not to implement other ones like Resolution 242 requiring the Jewish state to give back the land it occupied in the 1967 War to its Arab neighbors.
Not even peace agreements signed in the White House and Camp David should be binding. Unlike “standard” members, like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Israel should not be put under any pressure to comply with UN resolutions. After all, Israel is the Land of the Chosen People. Even in equality, there are people who are more equal than others.
True, King Abdullah’s Peace Initiative sponsored by the Arab League in 2002 clearly promised the establishment of normal relations with Israel if it returns to pre-1967 borders. Arabs cannot be trusted. They simply hate us because we are freer, richer and infidels. Didn’t we see them dancing in the streets on 9/11? Let Israel wipe them off the map. The world would be a happier and safer place without terrorists. Now, please don’t confuse the issues by citing their long list of complaints against US policies and steadfast support of Israel. And of course no need to mention that Arabs are also Christians and Jews, “with us and against us.”
In the last episode of such “simple” history, the chain of events was too tall and complicated for many. Instead an even simpler version, that fits the established perception, was fed to the “simple” audience. It all started with “terrorist” organizations (never mind they were only labeled so by Israel and its allies) capturing three Israeli soldiers — one in Gaza, two in Lebanon.
All preceding Israeli actions, like their incursions into Palestinian and Lebanese territories to kill, destroy and abduct from farmers to government ministers were omitted as too much unnecessary details. So was the fact that over ten thousand Arab abductees are rotting in Israeli prisons for 27 years, including women and children, most without trial. Who cares, they are Arabs, for God sake!
Historical facts are omitted too. Who cares if Hamas was cultivated by Israel to stand up to Fatah, or that Hezbollah was established to fight the Israeli 1982 invasion of Lebanon and its occupation for over 20 years? Who cares if both organizations are legitimate political parties with representations in their respective governments and Parliaments and never were involved in any terrorist activities against any but the occupiers of their lands? Who cares if Hamas is democratically elected to govern the Palestinian territories and if the disarmament of Hezbollah is an internal Lebanese matter?
Who is interested in the tiny historical fact that Qana was shelled exactly ten years ago by Israelis resulting in similar massacre? All these details can be distracting from the main focus, would certainly confuse the audience and — God forbid — may cast a slur on the moral standing of Israel.
You know what? Maybe the Arabs should stop trying to make their point by arguments alone. Maybe, the US Founding Fathers’ armed way is the only way. Maybe Hamas and Hezbollah’s way is the way.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Israel's Allies and the Lack of Civility!

Dr. Khaled Batarfi (30 July 2006)

My pro-Israel reader was giving me a history lesson. He had most of his facts right but, like many of Israel's defenders, he was putting the events of the current Middle Eastern crisis in the historical order that fits his biased position.
Hamas and Hezbollah, according to him, started this war by capturing three Israeli soldiers. "Hamas" he asserts, "conducted a cross-border raid which resulted in the death of three soldiers and the capture of one. Israel then responded to them and only them. Then Hezbollah conducted a cross-border raid that resulted in the deaths of eight soldiers and the capture of two. Are these not acts of war?"
In my response I said: This is exactly our problem with Israel's allies and supporters. They choose the most convenient point of history to start from. No, please, let us start from the beginning of the episode.
In the case of Hezbollah, there are more than ten thousand Arab abductees rotting in Israeli prisons, most without trial for twenty-seven years. Five hundred of them are women. Some were born in prison.
In the case of Hamas, thousands of Palestinians have been killed, not to count the injured; all of them, except a few are civilians. More are imprisoned, many without trial, including ministers and legislators in the Palestinian government. All this is forgotten history, thank you very much, what is remembered is one Israeli hostage in Gaza and two in Lebanon. For them millions in Lebanon and Palestine had to be collectively punished. How much cheaper could we go before we could respond in kind?
Another reader asked me if I have Jewish friends, and went on to declare: "A basic assumption these days is that it is preventable to have civilian casualties. This is stupid and inane, especially when Hezbollah chooses to use their populace as shields. You should be writing an article on the restraint the Israelis have had so far."
I e-mailed him back assuring him that I do have Jewish friends. Some are writers and journalists; others are teachers and classmates during my graduate studies in America. Many are against Israeli aggression and ashamed of its recent actions.
Israel is targeting civilians after failing to find soldiers in the hope of using the tragedy to force a political solution. Hezbollah's soldiers are underground on the border area, not in children's schools, hospitals, mosques and refugee buses heeding Israeli warning to leave. To find soldiers, Israel must invade with ground troops. Now that they have done, they are finally finding Arab soldiers - the hard way.
A third reader wrote: "I think you have been caught up in the Al-Jazeera hype. Hezbollah and Hamas are terrorist organizations. They have been condemned by just about every civilized country in the world. The UN has called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, but Lebanon has been unable to do this. After weeks of random missile attacks and armed incursions into undisputed Israeli territory, Israel was forced to respond. Israel has no territorial ambitions in this conflict, but they are risking their citizens' lives and security to clean up a mess that other Arab countries are powerless to address - terrorism.
"Granted, there have been civilian casualties. When Hezbollah hides in residential areas and launches missiles from apartment complexes, those are the consequences. Israeli bombs and shells have been carefully aimed at known hide-outs and launching sites of Hezbollah, but I don't think the same can be said of the missiles launched by Hezbollah. Rather than condemn Israel, we should compliment them for doing what is right under the circumstances. Chris."
I wrote back: Chris, I believe you are caught up in the Zionist hype. No civilization in the world regards freedom fighters as terrorists except Israel and its allies. Strange enough, your buddy, Britain, once regarded the American freedom fighters as terrorists. According to your standards, which I don't agree with, they were right and we now have a terrorist "civilization".
Please, check the latest count on who is with and against an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon. Only the "civilizations" of US, UK and Israel are against. The rest of the world "civilizations" are for an immediate stop of the killing machine.
Four hundred were killed in Lebanon - only a handful are soldiers. The clearly marked and isolated UN base was shelled fourteen times, four observers were killed. Then their rescuers were shelled. All calls to Israeli Army didn't help.
Inside Israel, those killed by Hezbollah's primitive rockets number less than 20 - half were soldiers. No hospitals, schools or refugee buses were hit. How come a guerrilla group with no smart weapons or super intelligence can be more accurate than the world's best-equipped army and the third best intelligence agency? Go figure.
Another problem with most comments I received so far is the lack of sympathy for Arab victims - like we don't count - so much for civility and civilization, Chris.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Hezbollah’s Script and Israel’s Play

Dr. Khaled Batarfi
War is hell, explained Yankee Gen. William T. Sherman as he burned Atlanta during the American Civil War. Today, the Israelis are saying the same thing as they burn Gaza and Lebanon. They have been in this hell-making business for ages and have forgotten what it is like to be at the receiving end.

This time, it is different, for a change. Israelis are feeling the heat they used to export, just like the Serbs did at the end of the Kosovo War. And like the Serbs, they kept brutally pushing to advance their gains, until the tide finally turned against them.

So what happened here? The Israelis pushed Hamas to a corner. Put simply, they didn’t like what democracy brought — a government they hated to do business with. Characteristically, they tried to change the environment to their liking. As they overran the democratically elected Arafat government, they sought to overrun its successor too. The Palestinians are punished once more for making the wrong choice. According to Israeli rules, Arabs must elect not those who serve their best interests, but those who serve the interests of the Israelis. Hamas definitely didn’t fit the bill.

According to another Israeli rule, no rules, moral or legal, are applicable to the Jewish state. And since Hamas arrogantly refused to accept the role of yes, sir, they may all go to jail or hell, ministers and legislators included. They get killed or kidnapped until they agree to Israeli terms. This was easier done with the under-the-thumb Palestinian Authority. Hezbollah, however, is another story.

You see, the Israeli Army has got so used to flex its muscles on civilians that it has lost its ability to wrestle with soldiers. Operating missiles and jet fighters to bomb cities and villages from far and above is not the same thing as going down and dirty to fight real men. The surrounding environment helped. In the largely unarmed Lebanon and Palestinian territories, they could hit anywhere and fly over any place without even the pretense of a resistance. The Arabs also got used to being at the receiving end of the death and destruction assembly line. This changed a little bit with Hamas, and more so with Hezbollah. Escaping a humiliating war in south Lebanon, Israel had to withdraw in shame and shambles. The lesson they learned the hard way was: Stick with aerial bombardment and never try your super army with Arabs carrying primitive guns and superior determination. Your soldiers end up bleeding and running.

So, it was inevitable that Israel would want so badly to disarm and dislodge the unyielding, disobedient and out of control armed group from the inconvenient location it occupies. And since Israel is never alone, it uses its political capital and connections to get the big powers of the world to back it up in its quest.

Hezbollah and its backers, Syria and Iran, were acutely aware of these maneuvers. After the dislodging of Syria from Lebanon, time was dangerously short for the group. Disarming Hezbollah would have demoted it from its prominent position as the one and only militarily capable unit to a toothless political party. With West-backed government in Lebanon and collaborating Arab governments, the grip was tightening. So a script, like the one Osama Bin Laden wrote for the West, had to be executed in the hope that Israel will play along, as the West did.

The insulted and agitated Israeli government eager to show that its civilian leader is no less war criminal than his predecessors easily and eagerly complied. In the hasty and overkill response they weakened the same force they relied on — the Lebanese government — to neutralize the group. However, Hezbollah has escaped, so far, safe and sound. In fact, they became politically stronger in the Arab and Muslim world. Like other radical groups, they become more popular and credible with every outrageous action from the enemy camp. When forced to choose, no true Muslim or Arab will ever choose Israel over a brethren.

Armed with its military and political successes, Hezbollah will be a more important player in the region. All they need to do in this test is to survive. With their vast stocks of missiles and tested expertise in guerrilla warfare, this is almost a given.
The question Israel and its allies and friends must ask themselves, as they should have in Iraq and Afghanistan is, how they could complain and claim to be mystified about the rise of radicalism and Iranian dominance in the Muslim world if they serve them so well with such inhuman and barbaric actions as targeting civilians from Kandahar to Haditha to Beirut? The ignorant and arrogant, says an Arab proverb, is his own worst enemy.

Monday, July 03, 2006

What Choices Our Divorced Women Have?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi
Arabnews (July 3, 2006)

My last article “What is It Like to Be a Saudi Woman” evoked many responses, positive and negative.
Some thought I was generalizing, and claimed that Lila’s story was either exaggerated or unique.
Most women, they asserted, are happy and content with their role and position in society. But since most respondents are men, I wasn’t too surprised.
Women, on the other hand, were overwhelmingly in agreement. Some related their own tragic stories. I had to do some investigation to confirm the basic facts. To protect their true identities, I won’t use their real names.
Suha is the daughter of a prominent merchant — very beautiful, sweet, and smart. Her mother used harsh methods to bring up her daughters as obedient and respectful girls.
When a young man from a prominent merchant family came along, Suha welcomed him without asking too many questions. She was barely seventeen and had just finished high school. Her unhappy experience at home made her think that it won’t get any worse. It sure did.
The husband was cruel, self-centered, womanizer and distasteful. While she continued her college education, he was busy building up his family business empire. She didn’t mind his absence; what she dreaded was his presence.
So harsh were his methods, she longed for her mother’s cruel ways.
But one child after another made her hesitant to opt for divorce. She was so attached to her five children that she couldn’t bear to leave them behind.
Finally, she decided to end her misery. After a year without her kids, she was granted divorce, but custody of the children went to her husband. Another year passed without getting the court-set access to her children. Her ex-husband decided to punish her by denying her what she needed most.
She described how she used to hide in her car every morning outside their school to watch them go in and out. And how it tore her to pieces not to be able to hug and kiss them.
Finally, with the help of her father’s connections, she managed to get back custody of her kids. In the meanwhile, she finished her university, found a good job and established herself as a women’s rights activist.
Hanaa is another intelligent, sophisticated beauty queen. She was forced into a marriage she hotly refused.
Her suitor of choice was accepted at first, then refused because the rest of the family thought he was of a lesser class. Her father was adamant that she accept her cousin.
The boy was so stupid that he couldn’t understand that she wasn’t kidding when she told him to look elsewhere.
After the marriage, she tried to make it work, but couldn’t. Her husband had no character, no education, no sensitivity, no romance, not even a mind of his own.
His family controlled him completely. He couldn’t stick to any promise he made, like letting her finish her college.
Fourteen years and four children later, her psychiatrist gave her two options: Either to get divorce or be treated indefinitely for depression and related illnesses. When she finally divorced, her sister, married to a man of similar personality, “congratulated” her. She might follow suit, soon.
Roeda was in love with an airline captain. Her father refused him because flying would take him away from his wife so often. To escape the immense pressure they put on her, she took the first suitor they chose for her on two conditions: She would be allowed to finish her college studies and invite her divorced mother to the wedding party. She got both wishes, but for a romantic girl of eighteen, the man was too vulgar, insensitive and cruel.
After a year of increasingly unhappy life, she decided enough was enough. Against enormous resistance, she got what she asked for — divorce. Her punishment was movement restriction for eight years. This means she could hardly see a friend, attend a party or go out. All suitors were refused for one reason or another. Now 28 years old, she finally got married to a married man with wife and children.
He is kind and considerate, but too shallow and primitive for her taste. Why accept him? She was escaping her torturing at home and a cruel father. What choices did she have?
To those who felt I was generalizing and exaggerating, please look around you. We have enough cases to regard the situation as quite normal. Without protected and enforced rules and regulations, we cannot claim that all our women have their rights.
Leaving it to the conscience of society and the kindness of male guardians is not fair. Justice can only be upheld with law and authority.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What Is It Like to Be a Saudi Woman?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi,
June 25 2006

Lila is the daughter of a brand-name family. This is important in the marriage market, but she has other important qualifications too. She is beautiful, smart, cute and moderately religious. In the beauty section, she is golden dark, tall with thick, long, flowing hair. In school, she had always been top of her class. Her friends and family love her for her good nature, optimism and sense of humor. She never misses a prayer or a religious duty, and lives a modern life with sophisticated attitude. In short, she is a poster-wife.
Her first shocking lesson came at an early age. The family promised to send her to medical school if she achieved A+ grade in high school. She did, but they changed their mind. That was her life’s dream and it was brutally shattered. Instead of becoming a heart surgeon, as she hoped, she is now a high school teacher. Why? Because this is a job where she doesn’t have to mix with men!
Later, there were more shocking lessons. Her suitors were turned away, one after another. Reasons varied, but mostly it was about their social and economic class. Since she inherited a fortune from her father and has a good salary, her brothers suspected that any man with lesser fortunes was after her money.
By the time the “right” suitor arrived, they had already soaked most of her savings. With promises of profitable investment and wiser management they divided her inheritance as well as that of their mother and sisters among themselves. If persuasion didn’t work, they applied social pressure. A woman who refuses to accommodate her own sons and brothers is called names and denied peace of mind.
Finally, they agreed to a suitor. She wasn’t given enough time to check him out, let alone love him. He turned out to have no merits except coming from a brand-name family. He has a shallow, childish personality, who lets his mother run all his affairs and make all his decisions. She couldn’t communicate or meet at any intellectual or emotional level with him from day one.
No one understood her reasons to demand divorce. Her family, tribe, the court and the whole community were against her. As long as he provides for her, and doesn’t mistreat her physically, there were no acceptable legal, logical or social grounds for divorce. She was lucky, because her husband gave up on her, and his mother agreed. They demanded compensations and got them. Gladly, she paid them back the dowry, gifts, jewelry, and whatever cost them for the wedding party and other events.
After divorce, she was socially punished for her rebellion. Her male guardians still wouldn’t accept suitors of lesser class. Suitable ones wouldn’t marry a divorced woman with rebellious attitude. And she wouldn’t accept silly, shallow, old and expired men just because they happen to come from the right tribe.
Now in her mid-thirties, her chances and choices are increasingly limited. The few suitors who trickle now are mostly in their fifties and sixties with wives and kids. In this range they are usually too traditional for her taste. Some are looking for self-financing, salary-earning wives. Others want to escape busy wives and noisy kids to spend some time every now and then with a young, light and lonely woman. Who needs that?
Lila is still waiting. There are many like her — some in a worse situation than hers. At least, Lila can work — a good investment of energy and time. She can go on the net and communicate with people like me. But others I know are not permitted even to leave home, unless really necessary. More decided to accept the hell they know, rather than try the terrible life of the divorced. Then, there is the problem of kids. Mothers have to stay the course with unpleasant husbands and continue to lead unhappy lives so their children won’t be taken away from them.
A lot has to be reviewed, changed and improved: Laws, rules and customs. Islam gave women their due rights and traditions took them away. Since we claim to be Muslims, we should abide by Islamic rules and follow the noble example set by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Are We Treating Our Guest Workers Right?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

"Arabnews" Sunday, 18, June, 2006

Let me begin by quoting a letter from an expatriate:

“We were talking about the stock market crash when my Arab friend suddenly said: Many Saudis are trying to figure out why Allah is punishing them so hard. Of the reasons they came up with, moral decadence tops the list. I agree, but not from the same perspective. By moral decadence, they mean materialism, commercialism, dating, indecent entertainment, and less religious devotion and mosque going.

I see it from a different perspective. As a long-term expatriate, I can testify to how tough it is for foreigners to work and live in your country.

I can talk from now to the wee hours of the morning about what many employers are doing to their ‘sponsored’ employees and how the system is less than just to us.

Take me as an example. I signed a contract with a company for a certain salary and benefits. After the company became my sponsor, the contract was suddenly changed, duties were increased and rewards reduced.

I could have gone to the Labor Bureau, but I’d need an expensive lawyer. Besides, I’d have to stay home for a while without any source of income. In addition, in retaliation, my sponsor could accuse me of any number of things, from laziness to theft. He has all the power, connections and tools, and I don’t. So I decided to accept the new terms and stay on.

Like me, thousands get their salaries late, sometimes after months. Others are sent home without compensation or left in the street to find jobs and then pay part of their wages back to the sponsor for keeping them sponsored. And don’t tell me they should complain. You know what it is like when they do it. Their employer could report them to the authorities as absconders. Once captured, they get sent home after staying for a while in the infamous ‘deportation facilities’.

In conclusion, I say: To please Allah, Saudis must re-evaluate the way they treat their guest workers.”

I was ashamed to say much in defense. While, I hope, the majority of Saudi employers are decent and just, too many are not. We have heard stories about the abuse and harassment of nurses, maids and domestic servants. However, we didn’t hear of major changes to labor laws that would prevent such abuses. I understand that the government cannot enter every house, know about every case and protect every expatriate. The authorities cannot, by their nature, interfere in a dispute if the parties didn’t ask for interference. But nongovernmental organizations concerned with human rights can actively seek and find these cases. On behalf of the victims, they should sue the offenders and collect compensations. Hot lines to concerned authorities and organizations should be established, publicized and given to every expatriate on arrival. Random checks on work places and interviews with employees should be conducted. Recently allowed, labor committees in private companies should be activated and given more powers and authority to look after members, like any decent union would.

In addition, we have to be strict with abusers. Punishment must fit the crime. Long prison terms and hefty financial penalties should apply to serious cases of abuse, for males and females alike.

Our media should extensively cover these cases, and publish the proceedings and penalties. Offenders should know what awaits them if they misbehave; we should make it crystal clear to potential abusers that we have a zero-tolerance policy for such crimes.
Major changes to the sponsorship laws are long overdue. So are better facilities and higher capacities for the offices of the Labor Ministry that deal with labor disputes. A worker cannot wait forever without a source of income hoping for a verdict in his favor. Many are driven to despair because it takes too long, sometimes years to get justice.

The human rights body should focus more on the problem. We should encourage them and charity organizations to facilitate and provide services to guest workers under stress, including safe havens, social, medical and psychological consultations and legal representations.

This is much more important than fixing the stock market. If we do that, we could assure our position as the Kingdom of Humanity, the moral authority and leading inspirer to the Muslim world.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Call for West-Islam Open-Doors Policies

Dr. Khaled Batarfi
(Arabnews) Sunday, 11, June, 2006

I was in the middle of an interesting debate about why and how the fanatics on all sides are winning while the project for repairing and extending the bridge of understanding between the West and the Muslim world is slowing. Suddenly, I received a call. It was from a friend I hadn't heard from for ages. Once the best of friends, we broke off on a sour note.
As I explained to members of a visiting German parliamentary delegation last week, my friend and I were too angry, arrogant and impatient to offer explanations and ask for answers. Pain was buried in anger, and anger fueled by pain. A vicious circle that led us so far away from each other, that we couldn't even meet or talk. Jealous, ignorant and unwise friends didn't help. To one side or another, they offered sympathy, support and undying loyalty. That helped us through our psychological turmoil, but reduced the need and motive to solve our disagreement.
Many years later, my friend called. It was so unexpected and pleasant a surprise. In the first call we didn't discuss our differences. Later, we aired them and found they were so trivial and silly. We couldn't believe we had so much energy and focus invested in so unimportant issues while a lifetime of good and beautiful relations and feelings were sacrificed and forgotten. Misunderstanding, miscommunication, misinformation, acting on haste and jumping to wrong conclusions are mostly the reasons why so many good and prosperous relations go sour and keep that way.
I told Joachim Horster and his colleagues that mistrust and fear come out of ignorance and divide. When we meet and talk, a simple smile and hello go a long way toward solving complicated issues. The rest will melt away with enlightened discussions and civilized interaction.
The best way to achieve harmony between civilizations is to open doors and encourage people-to-people exchange. When I was invited to America as part of a Saudi press delegation shortly after Sept. 11 my beloveds were horrified. My mother almost prevented me from going. I wasn't as sure as I pretended, but I won my case and went.
Yes, at the airport there was some "special" treatment for Arab citizens. I was lucky but others had to endure hours of wait to fill forms and prove they were what their passports claimed they were. Once out of the airport all went as normal as it could be.
The Arabs and Muslims I met in that visit reported few, if any, inconveniences, mostly from overzealous or racist FBI agents and citizens. But there was no general trend or policies. No public hatred, closure of mosques, mass arrests of Muslims, or biased laws and regulations against them.
If only my fellow Arabs and Muslims could see that! If more of us could visit America and the rest of the Western world and experience first hand how untrue and unfounded their worst suspicions and misgivings were! But, alas, gates are tight for most, closed for so many. Millions of Muslim students, merchants, tourists and patients were denied US visas in recent years. Visas to other Western nations are becoming more difficult to obtain. Denial doesn't always come with explanation, which makes the denied feel rejected. Some were returning students, visiting parents, vacationing families and seriously ill patients.
In the meanwhile, the media and fanatics are busy feeding negative messages to both sides. No day is lost without stories aired and published about mistreatment of Muslims in the West, and Westerners in the Muslim world. Sermons, speeches, comments and op-eds exaggerate and inflame what is already an aggravated state of mind.
The only way out of this bad-to-worse situation is for governments to design and encourage all kinds of people-to-people visitation such as exchange programs, tourism, educational and cultural cooperation.
I know I have said this over and over again in the years since the breaking point of 9/11, but it is worth it. And as nerves cool down, anger is abated and wisdom birds return home, the call to welcoming and cooperation policies may find more sympathetic hearing and supportive attitudes.
I bet on this overdue outcome for the sake of humanity, civilization and our best interests.

The Twisted Logic of the Fanatics

Dr. Khaled Batarfi
Arabnews (June 4, 2006)

It is awfully hard to persuade someone who is convinced he is right. No matter how persuasive your logic, you will find them immune to persuasion with a locked logic of their own. I found this is true with fanatics of all kinds. Ours are no different. Examples are plenty.

Let’s take the latest. The Labor Ministry has given a year’s notice to shops selling women’s clothes to employ Saudi women only. They later had to extend the deadline to an as yet unspecified date.

This was an overdue move. Most shops today employ men to sell women’s stuff, such as lingerie. It is embarrassing, to say the least, for a woman to take advice on what nightclothes to wear for her husband or on the latest panties and swim dresses.

Besides, our women need jobs and the system is not helping. The girls’ curriculum is not geared for work. Graduates, therefore, have few work options, mostly as teachers, doctors or nurses. If a girl wants to be a civil engineer, a lawyer, a pilot or a diplomat, she will have to study abroad.

After graduation come other obstacles. Women must work in women-only environment. Except for hospitals, mixed work environments are forbidden by law. This means the overwhelming majority of job opportunities, by default, go to men.

So, while more than half our graduates are girls, few can work. The rest hang their certificates at home and stay there. What a waste!

As expected, the fanatics threw a fierce fight against the Labor Ministry for suggesting the new law. Their logic is absurd. Women working in shops are vulnerable. Male shop owners and shoppers may take advantage of salesgirls. In their paranoid view, only by staying home could women be safe. And if at all necessary, they can work as teachers in girls-only schools or at home and in women-only businesses.

The underlying assumption here is that our women are weak and cannot be trusted. They are easy prey and can easily fall to temptation. Men are wolves lurking outside looking for any chance to jump on them, as soon as they leave their castles.

With such conviction, no logic in the world may help. You tell them that many women are poor and need to support their families, and they say they should go to charities. You remind them that dire circumstances may lead some to immoral ways, and they say, “the free die of hunger rather than sell themselves to the Devil.”

Another example of twisted logic and locked mentality is the reasoning behind banning women driving. Again, fanatics talk about protecting women. They liberally use the “what if” logic: What if a car broke down in a deserted area? What if men followed a girl or tried to attack her where no help is available? What if she broke a law and policemen had to take her to a male-dominated station? You give them solutions. You tell them: Let’s agree first on the principle, and then study how we solve expected problems. You remind them of a million or more male drivers working in our homes. You list the dangers that are not mere “ifs” but solid reality. You point to the contradiction of worrying about males in the street and accepting males in the driving seat. But you can’t get anything across.

What is really frustrating in their logic is their insistence on forcing the rest of us to follow it. A girl may opt to study Home Improvement in college, but it is not her or her family’s business if my daughter chose to study home building, instead. A woman may choose not to work, but she is not entitled to tell other women not to. Another may insist she won’t work in a mixed environment, but she shouldn’t object if others choose to. She could opt to have a man driving her around, but why would she care if other women choose to drive themselves?

The problem with fanatics is not that they force their logic on their families and dependants — and that’s bad enough — but they insist the whole society follow their lead. All of us should wear as they wear, eat what they eat, study what they study, work and live according to their rules. Not that we are following a different religion.

This has nothing to do with Islam, but with a certain school of thought that belongs to a certain sect. Islam has never forbidden women working or driving, but certain cultures and traditions did.

Good for them, if they choose to but they should not, may not intervene in other peoples’ choices — people from other cultures and with different ways and thoughts. Your freedom must end where others’ starts.

Why Change Business Rules All Too Frequently?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

I asked the Honda dealer for a car with window shades, and was told they don't have them. Why not? After years of strict no, the government finally allowed cars to be shaded in the back windows. The dealer smiled sweetly and teased: And what if they changed their minds, again?

He is right. I remember when they changed their minds before and car windows were smashed at the customs before they were allowed in. Luckily, the shaded Chrysler minivan I brought home after I finished my Ph.D. studies in the US was spared such a fate because the law had just changed. Since then, it has changed twice. Each time car and shopowners had to cope with a hefty price. Shades were pealed off cars, and inventories in shops and warehouses were confiscated or wasted with no compensation.

Abrupt rule changes are not new. In the late 1990s, shops in Jeddah had to close down in many areas because the newly appointed mayor revised the commercial zone system. Owners were given until the end of their contracts to move out. If that happened to be only days away, so be it! Many went bankrupt because they had invested their capitals in decorating and establishing their businesses. They couldn't afford to lose all these investments and just move on. "It isn't like a tent you fold and carry," I told the mayor. He wouldn't listen. Nobody cared then, nobody does now.

Today, we have three glaring examples of such arrogant and ignorant bureaucratic attitude. The Shoura Council has just approved a law that prohibits shops remaining open beyond 9 p. m. The committee that designed the law had already listened to representatives of shopowners who explained why a law that works for a village may not work for a city, or what suits school season may not be good for the holidays. The bureaucrats who might never have been in business decided that closing shops earlier will provide jobs for Saudis. How? I understand that more shifts mean more opportunities. But the way they see it is this: Saudis can only work eight hours a day, and if businesses are forced to stick with this time limit then more citizens would be encouraged to work for them.

They forgot that we, Saudis, especially in our typically hot summer, prefer to get out and about only at night. Closing shops earlier deprived both merchants and customers of the best time for conducting business.

While we encourage local tourism, mindless laws like this make it very hard for the industry to thrive and compete with the more alluring regional and international destinations. In Dubai and Bahrain, for instance, malls can stay open as late as past midnight. In hot and humid weather, where else, if not in air-conditioned malls, people can spend their leisure time?

Another example is the order to close live-bird shops. I understand the concern about bird flue, but the question is: Who should shoulder the burden? The shopowner, who may have invested his life's savings in the business or the government? If it is absolutely necessary to close these shops, then the government should compensate the owners or make it up for them by finding ways to recoup their losses and change course. The ever-modified law of furnished apartments is another case in point.

To just make laws, implement them, then wash your hands off the dire consequences for the affected parties is not fair.

The reason why laws had to be changed back and forth is that they were not well studied and conceived.

A good case is the limousine Saudization law. After issuing a decree that forced limousine companies to be fully Saudized within six months, the implementation was first delayed, then forgotten. For a start, there weren't enough Saudi drivers to fill the gap. The King Fund that gives interest-free loans to Saudis to buy taxis has not generated enough interest.

Besides, taxi companies were not consulted. In many instances, even after the concerned parties are consulted regarding a new law, their views are not always taken into account. When the universal rent contract was finally approved by the Shoura Council, the concerns of building owners were not heeded.

For businesses to prosper, we need stable laws and regulations. Investors must be quite sure that their investments won't be spoiled all on a sudden because some smart bureaucrats thought of changing the rules in the middle of the game. If this happens, then the government should shoulder the losses, not the players. This is only fair.

Helping the Stock Market Victims

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

You hardly join a discussion these days without dwelling on the stock market Big Bang. People are confused, astonished, and angry.

When three to four million Saudis out of 13 are hurt you don't need a whistle-blower to tell you that something is worth keen attention. Unfortunately most discussions are focused on the market itself, less time is devoted to the social effects of the crash.

What do you do to help millions of affected people? Some sold all their worldly possessions to "gamble" in the bourse. Others left their secure jobs to find time and energy to invest in high-flying stocks. Many sold their homes, cars, shops and businesses below market prices to raise some reasonable capital. Women used their life savings, jewelry and dowry to get on board.

The crash was worse still for those who bought cars at installments and then sold them at much less than the original price. Also for those who got long-term bank loans and the workers who took advanced salaries from their companies. They all hoped to pay debts and make a fortune in a market that doubled in value for two consecutive years. They all turned into players in stock trade. Even the likes of my illiterate poor mother-in-law suddenly became proud shareowners, keen readers and armchair analysts of market trends.

A person I know was typical of many. He resigned a good position, collected retirement compensation, as well as the jewelry of his wife, daughters and sisters, plus some friends' savings. Then sold his farm and three loaned cars and put all proceeds in a bank portfolio. Against his three million riyals, the bank gave him three more. After the crash, he lost half the portfolio and the bank reclaimed the other half. He came out from this business with huge loans and debts and no revenue to pay them back or even to live on. He is now in deep depression after some heart and other health complications.

Like him, people of limited means and huge losses, are struggling to make ends meet. Imagine the short- and long-term effect of this shocking experience on them socially, psychologically, mentally and politically. How are they going to feel about those "fat cats", who stole the market? How are they going to evaluate the performance of the government agencies that were supposed to well manage the market and protect the weak and the unaware? And where will they go to pay huge debts and to cover daily expenses?

When crises hit, you need strong crisis management. We urgently need a high commission made of highly professional representatives of all concerned authorities and parties. Their mission should be to study and manage the social calamity and to provide solutions to affected people.

After the New York Stock Exchange crash of 1929, millions went broke and hungry, until President F. D. Roosevelt sponsored the congressional bill that created the Social Security Act of 1935. The new system provided a safety network for the needy and unemployed. It also helped spur the economic recovery in the 1940s and 1950s.

What we need is urgent steps to help people cope with their losses and challenges. For example, we should reach an understanding with loaners such as banks, government loan funds and car companies, to reschedule loans to market victims. We ought to make it easier for those who resigned jobs to reclaim them. And we must give more support to charities to help them provide food, shelter, medical and social services to the deprived.

We also need more good economic news - more business and job opportunities, greater investments and projects, higher public spending, lower rates on services (electricity, natural gas etc.) and salary bonuses. For the unemployed, we should provide social security benefits.

When the stock market crisis hit Asia in the mid-1990s, most governments were financially ill prepared to deal with the aftermath. Fortunately, our finances are in good shape with oil prices hovering around $70 a barrel and we could afford to deal with this situation.

Fixing the stock market is top national priority; so is helping the victims and providing for the most affected.