Saturday, December 21, 2002

OK, just this one: the government is forcing people to vaccinate their kids for all kinds of deseases, and now it does not let people vaccinate their kids for smallpox. The problem, they say, is that unless all kids are vaccinated, the vaccinated kids can transmit the virus to kids that did not get vaccinated. So vaccinate the whole family, and quarantine the kid at home, until it is safe for him to go to school. Then they talk about people whose immune system is weakened, such as people with AIDS. But unless they find a solution for this problem, these people will not get vaccinated anyway. What does it have to do with the rest of the population? Then there is all this talk about the risks. So why not let the people decide? Let us sign a waver, or whatever it is called, if we are willing to take the risk.

I am no small government fanatic. I actually think that there are issues in which government should be more involved than it is now. My health is not one of them. Why do I have to pay a $100 to a doctor, to have him tell me that my son has a strep throat, as if I cannot see (and, er, smell) it myself, as I did counless times, since he switched from ear infections to strep, only to get a prescription for his usual antibiotic? (Not to mention sitting in a waiting room full of sick kids for at least an hour. Did I say an hour? Last time we watched "Monsters Inc" twice).

And don't even start me on sodomy laws.
Well, I thought I'd make at least some kind of a noise, so that you all don't think that I am gone for good, or something. The truth is that I really don't feel like blogging right now. After totally depressing myself, I looked outside my patio door, and the view is anything but depressing. The weather is gorgeous, school is out, life is not bad at all. Last night we watched the second of the "Muppet Show" DVDs that I got Pashosh for his birthday. This one has George Burnes, some other comedian whose name I forget, and Bob Hope. It is not as good as the first one (John Cleese, Dudley Moore, and...?), but I bought it because of the Swedish Chef. Not as advertised, I tell you: only one Chef segment. Still, good shows. Of course, those were a gift for myself at least as much as it was for him, but he did laughed 'till he got the hiccups, so I should not feel guilty at all.

As someone noted, blogging is addictive on both sides, i.e. both the reading and the writing side. And the writing side does include the prerequisite reading, of course, otherwise things like this happen. So I am catching up on my reading, along with some long-neglected work. Speaking of reading, I still have this book on my nightstand, and I barely got past the first page. And believe me, it is not Mahfooz's fault.

So I hope to be back in full swing in a few days. Meanwhile, if any of you have school-age kids, and you are worried about their education, I would encourage you to check out Connie Dutoit. It is a good blog in itself, but the education links are here. I don't necessarily agree with everything there, and our particular educational situation is quite different, but it is a good place to start thinking about the subject.

Oh, and BTW, I think the war will start in February, but what do I know?

Thursday, December 19, 2002

I did not have time to post anything original the last few days, but I received this today, and found it iunteresting. It is from Tomer Schwartz, who is the chairperson of Union of Israeli Students in the UK. The article is by Michael Freund, who served as deputy director of communications & policy planning in the (UK) Prime Minister's Office:

It is a cruel and ruthless military occupation, one which has persisted for decades and been declared illegal by international organizations. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs have been turned into refugees, as settlers sent by the occupying power slowly but steadily alter the tenuous demographic balance. Human-rights abuses are rampant, and although the government signed a peace treaty years ago, intended to grant the residents a voice in determining their own future, it has done everything in its power to prevent the deal from being realized.

Welcome to Western Sahara, a large strip of land subjugated by Morocco along northern Africa's Atlantic coastline. If you have not heard of the area, nor of its myriad problems, that is probably because it receives little if any coverage in the Western press. Apparently the world is too busy berating Israel for defending itself against the Palestinians to take much notice, particularly since it is an Arab state doing the "occupying."

Cases such as Western Sahara provide the most compelling proof of the international community's double standard regarding Israel and various other global conflicts. For all the attention devoted to every IDF roadblock set up, every curfew enforced and every Palestinian terrorist's home demolished, virtually nothing is said or heard when it comes to other land disputes, such as Morocco's brutal occupation of its neighbor.

In 1975, after the Spanish colonial regime in Western Sahara was withdrawn, the region's populace, known as the Sahrawis, looked forward to finally obtaining their long sought-after independence. Their hopes, however, were quickly dashed when the Moroccan army invaded, seizing control and claiming the area as its own.

In October 1975, the International Court of Justice ruled that Morocco's claim to the area was illegitimate, issuing an advisory opinion stating there was insufficient evidence to support "any tie of territorial sovereignty" between Western Sahara and Morocco. The Organization of African Unity, as well as some 75 nations worldwide, rejected Morocco's position and recognized the Sahrawi government-in-exile as the area's legitimate ruler.

But that has not stopped the Moroccans from pursuing their expansionist aims. Since the very beginning of their occupation they have been pouring money, resources and settlers into the area in a brazen attempt to "Moroccanize" Western Sahara and undermine any chance of it achieving freedom.

In 1980 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing "the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence" and expressed "deep concern" at the aggravation of the situation in Western Sahara as a result of the continued occupation of that territory by Morocco.

Though a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire was meant to give the Sahrawis a choice between autonomy under Moroccan rule or outright independence, the Moroccan monarchy has spent the past 11 years hindering, delaying and stalling, and no vote has taken place.

AS FAR back as 1995 Human Rights Watch concluded that Morocco "has regularly engaged in conduct that has obstructed and compromised the fairness of the referendum process." In February this year 23 US Congressmen wrote to President George W. Bush accusing Morocco of having "created various obstacles to the referendum." Meanwhile, some 200,000 Sahrawi refugees languish in camps in neighboring Algeria, living in terrible conditions and afraid of returning home.

But the world, it seems, has little patience for such matters, preferring to court Morocco's King Muhammad VI rather than confront him about his country's policies. As a result, barely a peep is heard about the plight of Western Sahara. Indeed, how often does the international media file reports from "occupied Western Sahara"? How frequently do television and radio talk shows discuss Rabat's attempts to forge "Greater Morocco"? How many stories have appeared about gun-toting Moroccan settlers, backed by a trigger-happy army, moving in and displacing hapless Sahrawis from their homes? The answer speaks for itself.

The fact is that the media and various international groups place undue emphasis often bordering on obsession on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. We are bombarded so often with news and information about Israel and the Palestinians that it often seems to be the only crisis in the world other than Iraq and terrorism.

Take, for example, the European Union, whose Council of Presidents met in Copenhagen last week for a two-day summit. In a statement released after the meeting, just two major international issues, aside from the EU's expansion, received special mention: the Iraq crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the latter being the only conflict over
borders to merit such attention. And yet there are plenty of other border disputes out there, some of which pose a potentially far greater threat to international peace and security.

There was no mention in the EU statement of the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, of China's insatiable desire to swallow Taiwan, or even of Russia's ongoing war in Chechnya, despite the fact that the protagonists in these conflicts all possess nuclear-weapons arsenals.

Instead the Europeans chose to devote their energies to sharply condemning the expansion of Jewish housing construction in Judea, Samaria and Gaza as if the addition of an extra bathroom or the refurbishing of a Jewish family's kitchen is a threat to global peace and stability.

This singular fixation on Israel is not only outlandish, it is hypocritical as well. Jews may indeed be news, as the old saying goes, but that doesn't mean all the news must be about Jews, and only about Jews. There are many other compelling human dramas out there such as the Sahrawis of Western Sahara which have yet to be scrutinized and dealt with.

By leaving these stories untold and instead focusing so intently on Israel, the international community is betraying not only its mandate, but its fairness and objectivity as well. And ultimately that is to everyone's detriment.

The writer served as deputy director of communications & policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Again, I am afraid I do not share Steve's optimism. I agree that everyone, including Sharon, is waiting for the US to depose Saddam, and to consequently destabilize the entire Middle East. I also agree that in the more or less immediate future we are likely to see a significant improvement in the security situation in Israel, since there wiil not be enough money to sustain the Intifada. There even might rise a new Palestinian leader, who might reach an agreement with Israel. So there will be some quiet for a few years, which is not something to sneer at. But the only thing that can ensure a long term peace is a permanent viable solution, while at the same time a true cultural revolution should take place in the Arab world. I already foresee several scenarios where such revolution is impeded. For one thing, what happens after this administration is gone in 2008? Or even in 2004, if the economy is to take a serious nose dive? And, of course, there is any number of developments abroad that can change any administrations priorities overnight: it's a crazy world out there - just look at North Korea.

Even in the event the US stays its course on the Middle East revolution, it will take many years. Like I wrote in previous posts, I think that the Arab vindictiveness should not be underestimated. So if they, after about a century, are still bitter about Palestine, and some are even bitter about Vienna (3 centuries?), imagine how long will they be bitter about Iraq. All this is not to say that we should give it up - this is not an option. But it will be a very long and tedious process, and in the meantime there is likely to be more bloodshed in Israel.

Another problem I have with Steve's vision of the future solution is that he assumes that there is such thing as Palestinian People. This is not true historically, and it is not true today. There is, however, such thing as the Palestinian problem. It is very real, and many people, both Palestinian Arabs and Israelis (Jewish and Arab) suffer as a result. The problem has to be solved, but it does not mean that the underlying assumption has to be an independent Palestinian state. Any solution to the problem has to assume the worst: that it will take many years for the Arab culture to change, if at all. Israel's security - no, its existence - cannot depend on who the next Palestinian leader is. In a way, it is a blessing that Arafat was the Palestinian leader when Barak made his last offer. If it was someone more reasonable and less corrupt, I doubt that he would have been alive today, and the major reason for this is that the Palestinian state as proposed by Barak would not have been viable under the specific circumstances that exist in that region. Such things can work in Switzerland. They cannot work in today's Middle East.
I am still reading Pravda, and what is this all about?
This is an interesting article in Pravda, that deals with Russian oil interests in Iraq. It looks like Saddam is trying to arm-wrestle Russia into supporting him in his confrontation with the US, by kicking Russian oil companies out of Iraq. He is probably counting on the fact that Russian Foreign Ministry is still occupied by the "children of Gromiko and Primakov", as IBA radio's russian correspondent put it this morning. There are also many related links on that page. The English is somewhat unpolished, but readers of this blog are probably used to this kind of thing by now anyway.
A couple of related links. BTW, is this true: "Jordan receives half of its oil from Iraq for free, while the remaining portion is sold to the Kingdom at a concession price, four to five dollars less than the world market price."?

Monday, December 16, 2002

Turkey is building up forces on Iraqi border (some 400km long). IBA radio quotes Turkish papers as saying that 50 trucks full with American weapons entered Iraq's northern region, populated by Kurds. Those weapons are reported to be enough to arm 2000 people, and this is also the number of Kurds allegedely being trained by 500 American military advisers.

Update: same in Pravda.
Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz says that if Iran and Syria do not restrain Hezbullah, Israel will have to clean-up southern Lebanon, to remove the threat of long range missiles. (Via IDF radio).

Sunday, December 15, 2002

I have just read an interesting article (link to the site via Israpundit), that discusses Islam. It is not the best article I have read on the subject, mostly because the writing itself is not excellent. And, while it relies on some information on the history of Islam that is consistent with what I have read in reliable sources, like Bernard Lewis, other information may need some verification. Also, I have no idea who the author is.

All that said, the writer makes some interesting points that I have not seen elsewhere, but that are consistent with historical facts, as noted above. The major idea of the article is that Islam is a religion that was designed as a tool to support Arab imperialism and the Arab warrior culture. This strongly echoes what I have written here and here. While it is very important to examine Islam while analyzing the current conflict, it is a mistake to focus on Islam as the root of the problem. Instead, one has to focus on the larger Arab culture, Islam being an integral part of it.

It is true that there are many Muslims that take part in this war against the West who are not Arabs. And it is also probably a fact that by now most Muslims in the world are not Arabs. But I would argue that they are mere followers, who do so for a variety of reasons specific to their particular situation. Also, if one looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is clear that its origins have nothing to do with religion at all. Most Palestinian Arabs and their PLO leadership were largely secular until around 80ies, when movements like Hamas and Islamic Jihad came into being.

To say that Islam is at the root of this war is like saying that Nazism was at the root of WWII. This would be totally ignoring the long history of German imperialism and belligerency, which long predated the rise of Nazism. Nazism was, among other things, a tool that served those tendencies. And the fact is that the US still has a military presence in Germany, long after Nazism has been defeated: we are there in large part to make sure that Germans don’t misbehave again, under whatever ideology/religion. What about the Japanese and the Italians? They followed for their own particular reasons, while at least the Italians adopted the Nazi “religion” to some extent.

My goal is not to vilify Arabs as a people, just like it would be a mistake to do this to Germans. Most people in every nation or ethnic group are, after all, just that – people. Most want to live their lives as happily as they can. But some cultures have traits that can be threatening to others, under certain circumstances. I believe that the Arab culture is such one now, and, in fact, has been for several centuries.

An important point has to be made here: when we use the word Arabs, we have to keep in mind that the Arab nation consists of many sub-nations and ethnic groups. While all of them have a lot in common, there are also important differences. Thus, they exhibit different degrees of belligerency and imperialism. In this context it is interesting to note that Islam, as a warrior religion, originated in Arabia, and Arabia is still at its center. We all know that this is where the problem is. My gut feeling is that Egypt is a close second – I might be wrong, of course.
And, of course, it does not at all mean that we have to attack Saudi Arabia first, and then proceed to Egypt – this is nonsense, and it has been explained extensively elsewhere. Moreover, I find it significant and even symbolic that we will start with Iraq, which may be the least Islamic, the least backwards, and even the least belligerent (current “leader” notwithstanding) Muslim Arab nation. It is the most logical place to start the reform of the Arab culture, including its religion.

P.S.: if you follow the links from this post to my earlier ones, you will eventually reach a link to Steve DenBeste's debate on the subject with Aziz Poonawalla. And, last but not least: Charles Krauthammer, as always, nails it.