Know Your Enemy

I would like to thank those who showered me with a torrent of angry correspondence about my previous article on Israel, who accused me of calling for a normalization of relations, promoting the Hebrew language, and glorifying Israeli liberalism.

This response was to be expected because I breached a taboo. However, I am sorry to say to those people, despite my appreciation of their opinions, that their outrage will not change the reality. Israel will remain as it is; a small state but stronger than the rest of the Arab world.

My previous article was not about the Arabs’ political stance towards Israel because this was already settled during the Beirut Summit in 2002, when the Arabs endorsed their peace initiative. This summit will forever remain a key for political resolution because it entitled the Arabs to regain their rights and establish normal relations between themselves and Israel. In my previous article, I was merely blaming the Arabs for their arrogance and for declining to know their enemy under the pretext that it would be tantamount to recognizing Israel’s existence.

However, the bitter truth is that although we Arabs refuse to openly recognize Israel, we implicitly acknowledge it through the martyrs’ tombs, the refugee camps, the Palestinian diaspora, the occupied territories, the periodical wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and the settlement projects. If we insist on denying the reality, we will remain alone in the dark.

Knowing how Israel lives, how it develops, how it learns, what it produces, and even what sports it plays is not the same as normalizing relations. Knowledge is not necessarily a relationship between two sides; it can be an individual relationship between one and oneself.

Ignorance is man’s worst enemy, whereas the greatest desire a man may have is to learn more. Curiosity and the urge to understand are intrinsic feelings akin to the instincts of thirst and hunger. The honorable Arab nation must ask how it can ever hope to find its way in the dark when it keeps turning away from the light of the torch.

It is not necessary for the Arabs to learn the Hebrew language in order to understand their enemy. Not all the Israelis can speak Arabic well, nor do they have the inclination to do so. However, because language is one of the tools of knowledge, Hebrew must at least be on the radar of Israel’s neighboring states because Israel will remain their neighbor as well as their enemy for some time to come. Do not believe the calls to wipe Israel off the map, only the US search engine Google can do this.

Arabic is an official language in Israel because one-fifth of the population is Arab. However, Israel’s Arabs are not the main impetus behind the push to study Arabic there. The reason for the Israeli eagerness to do so is because isolation, even if they were a stronger force, will never be in their interests. Although we believe that we are in a state of war with Israel, the war is a trick, a trick based on knowledge.

You do not have to go far to find this out. Just browse some internet sites and observe the number of pages Israel has posted with both Arabic and Hebrew language support for readers. Look at the number of Israeli newspapers and magazines with Arabic-language versions, some of which specialize in the customs and traditions of the Middle East, whereas others carry domestic news of Arab states that Israel considers as enemies.

To add further salt to the wound, consider what the spokesman of the Israeli ministry of defense says on Twitter. You would be amazed to know that he is a thirty-year-old man who speaks Arabic fluently, posting tweets and news on the Israeli army. During every Islamic religious occasion, he tweets the Israeli army’s congratulations to Muslims and says “may you have a happy Eid, may your fast be accepted and may your pilgrimage be blessed”. By the very nature of the medium, the Israeli spokesman is not addressing Israel’s Arabs or the Palestinians only, but rather he is addressing all the Arabs on Twitter. He is provoking them through calm dialogue and even if they react with outrage and unleash a torrent of swearwords and insults, he continues with his endeavor. He is not keeping pace with them, rather he is targeting their cultural depth.

In addition to the language issue, notice how the Arab media deals with Israel. It never dares to publish news of a cultural or economic nature-even some political stories are banned-because it fears that ordinary people would accuse it of championing Zionism. Thus, Arabic media outlets avoid presenting the facts in full and instead publish only a few of them. Even at the time when the wars on Gaza and Lebanon were at their peak, Arab satellite channels were cautious or altogether avoided hosting someone to speak for the Israeli side. Of course, this was to ensure that Arab self-opinionated audiences would not turn against such media outlets, even though listening to both sides of the story is the crux of any journalistic work. Only Al-Arabiya dared to buck the trend, and it was not long before some branded it as Zionist for choosing to do so.

The Arabs have been preoccupied with range and blind hatred since 1967. During this time, Israel has managed to build eight public universities and 200 museums that receive nearly 4 million tourists a year. It has also become a rival to the US in the programming and software industry.

Without meaning to further enrage those furious Arab zealots, let me also say that Israel’s annual GDP is USD 240 billion. Annual US aid does not exceed 1.5 percent of this figure and three quarters of this aid is spent on weaponry. In this sense Washington is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Hence it is untrue to claim that America is feeding the Israelis and funding their education and health; Israel is a rich state that does not need others to support it. Its economic figures, to a large extent, are close to that of South Korea.

We must understand the Israelis to know how we compare. Wars cannot be won by sentiments of hatred alone; otherwise the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.

Know your enemy so as not to suffer greater losses. This is all that I am saying.

The Israel We Do Not Know

Being something of an exception in the Middle East, the Israeli elections are often great fun and full of surprises. This time we saw the emergence of politician Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party that has won the admiration even of its political rivals after gaining 19 seats in the Israeli Knesset. Lapid is a TV presenter and a news anchor who decided only a few months ago to enter politics, competing with and even embarrassing senior politicians such as Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Lieberman, and forcing Benjamin Netanyahu to ride on the back of coalitions in order to remain as prime minister. Lapid, a moderate political leader who we will hear more of in the future, is primarily concerned with developing education and achieving social equality. His liberal concepts are completely alien to the Jewish clergy and a source of ridicule among the far right.

Another interesting observation from these elections is that the majority of rival parties’ platforms emphasized improving the internal situation, including living standards, health and education, as well as achieving greater social justice. Political parties were largely indifferent towards foreign policies such as the Iranian nuclear issue and the two-state solution with Palestine; they were more inclined towards internal affairs. We saw this previously with the recent US elections when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tried to portray the US as a small family home where the owner only wished to support its inhabitants and ensure that they were warm and well fed. It seems Hamas was right when it said that the results of the Israeli elections were a reflection of the recent battle in Gaza. This is true because the existing truce there has achieved a degree of safety that has enabled Israeli political parties to focus on their country’s internal situation.

It is sad to say that Israel—the invasive, oppressive, occupying state—lives amongst us but we still do not know it.

It seems that the Arab street’s awareness of Israel came to a virtual standstill in October 1973. The Arabs may only remember the Camp David agreement because it surfaced recently in Egypt after the ruling regime changed there. What I mean by the Arab street is the youth category-which makes up the backbone of any country-rather than the intellectual or political elite that is engrossed in reading books, issuing condemning statements, and making notes of Israeli aggression over the past sixty years. Young Arab generations lack awareness about Israel; a country that is now totally different to how it was in 1948, 1956, 1967 or 1973. This is not because it has transformed into a friendly state, for it is still considered our bitter enemy that continues to occupy Palestinian soil. What has changed in Israel, like any other state, is that now there is an emerging generation that harbors dreams and expectations different to those cherished by a leader like Netanyahu. Young Israelis have their own vision that is detached from military life and is inclined towards civil interests, a love for life, and decent living standards.

What Arab youths do not know is that in Israel there is a strong sector that opposes the state’s supremacist policies towards the Palestinian people in particular, and the Arabs in general. These youths are not only leftists; there are also centrist civil servants and university graduates who strongly believe that Israel’s stability is conditional upon its coexistence with the Arabs.

However, it is ridiculous to read political analysis comparing these Israeli youths with the Arab youths that revolted in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya, in the sense that those Israelis took to streets against Netanyahu last year to demand social justice in the same manner that the Arab Spring revolutionaries also took to streets to demonstrate. This is untrue because the youths in the Arab Spring states were rising up against ruling regimes that were light years away from their citizens. The rulers of these states stayed in their palaces and were unable to hear their people or sense their needs. Here, people became outraged because of their needs and their leader’s negligence or arrogance, and whenever they sought to make their voice heard in the elections, these same leaders would return the next day and declare their victory with an overwhelming majority. In Israel, this situation does not exist; the regime in Tel Aviv is truly democratic and the rungs on the power ladder are fixed. What the demonstrators in Israel are demanding is an improvement in living standards; they are not starting from scratch as in the Arab Spring states. In these states there was no democratic political climate prior to the revolutions, and in fact we are still waiting for such a climate to emerge amidst the security, economic, and political failures that we see every day.

In Israel, politicians are distinguished by their sincerity and devotion to the higher interests of the state, rather than their affiliation to a certain group, and this is something we have yet to see in the Arab Spring.

The Arab youths turned to poets with their cheap words, and to politicians who heap insults upon Israel from their luxurious hotel rooms. However, they are still unaware as to where, why and how these feelings of hatred towards Israel came about.

A simple means of demonstrating our ignorance of Israel can be found in the fact that its neighboring states are ignorant of the Hebrew language. In Lebanon and Syria, people prefer to study French rather than the language of a country that continues to jeopardize their own security every day. In Egypt and Jordan, people do not prioritize of publicize the study of the Hebrew language, while in Israeli educational institutions there is ample opportunity to study the Arabic language. It is for this reason that we find a considerable number of Israeli politicians and media representatives who speak Arabic fluently. I do not know many Arab foreign ministers in Israel’s neighboring states that can speak Hebrew. As for those who say that the Israelis speak Arabic because the language is more common than Hebrew, or because the Israelis have intruded on our region, this justification is irrelevant. The reason why Israel enjoys superiority over the Arabs is because it has sought to understand them through their language; it can gauge the thinking of the young and old. Israel is well aware of the Arabs’ strengths as well as their weaknesses, and it can understand them simply because it has immersed itself in their culture.

Therefore, it is no wonder that we hear youths in Tel Aviv listening to Umm Kulthum songs, eating hummus and considering the television series ‘Rafat El-Haggan’ to be a comedy. The Israelis are not only occupying our soil, but they also highly active in our culture, which is the real cause for their power.

Empowering Saudi women

Is it really true? Have Saudi women really been appointed to the Shura Council as full members, without prejudice, exception or curtailment? All of these questions were on the minds of Saudi women as they listened to the royal decree appointing 30 women to the Shura Council.

My God, isn’t it sweet when dreams become reality? This time the issue passed smoothly and peacefully with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques securing a victory for women, based on Saudi women’s accomplishments and decades of determined pursuit of academic qualifications and successful achievements.

This also drew attention to King Abdullah’s confidence in Saudi women’s ability to put forward objective and substantive views.

All issues relating to Saudi women-even if these are relatively simple- always create controversy as a result of the interlocking cultural differences present in Saudi society.

This soon shifts to become a huge ball of complexity that is impossible to untangle.

This means that women’s causes remain in suspense, between those who support this and speak up on its behalf and those who oppose it.

It is also no secret that even the terms used in discussions regarding issues important to women are subject to scrutiny. For example, the word “empowerment” is not viewed favorably when looking at strategic projects relating to Saudi women’s future. This word is always replaced by the term “consolidation” or “improvement” because “empowerment”-unlike the latter two words-indicates a continual and on-going process of change, particularly as this is based on the word “power”.

The state of affairs has changed and time does not flow backwards.

What happened was not something ordinary; it is a change in the very structure of Saudi society’s cultural roots. We cannot consider the royal decree that one fifth of the Shura Council should always be comprised of women as a mere administrative decision, rather this reflects a complete shift in women’s status and faith in their influence.

History will record that King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz extended a helping hand to Saudi women, enabling them to overcome tremendous cultural obstacles, significantly shortening the time it would have taken Saudi women to achieve this “empowerment” on their own.

King Abdullah will go down in history as the leader who sought to achieve the principle of equal citizenship rights between men and women, laying the foundations of a new principle that ultimately changed the country’s future features.

In fact, this historic step was initiated by the King himself; this was not taken by virtue of public opinion or popular support. If Saudi women had waited to enter the Shura Council as a result of their own efforts or support from society then they may have found themselves waiting for a long time, perhaps a century.

The Saudi people today are comparing the Shura Council with Scandinavian parliaments in terms of female representation. Regardless of any other considerations, the mere presence of female Shura Council members represents our desired objective; it does not matter how woman were admitted, or how and where they will be seated inside the council chambers or even how they will express their opinions.

Rather, what matters is that Saudi women now possess this important and valuable right.

Saudi women have broken the sound barrier and can now vote “yes” or “no” inside the country’s the Shura Council; this is a historic leap that is not too different than Felix Baumgartner’s famous skydive in which he broke the physical sound barrier.

It is very important that we all believe that this “empowering” of women is not a luxury, nor is it part of media propaganda. This is a crucial building block in the country’s development and something that can no longer be ignored in view of the critical need for both Saudi men and women to participate in all fields, particularly in light of an Islamic cultural background of female participation in political work and social activity.

Amidst this jubilant climate, we must remember that the appointment of female Shura Council members does not mean that they must shoulder the burden of improving Saudi women’s overall status or resolve all issues overnight, nor should they solely focus on women’s issues.

Such demands would not be realistic and the presence of men in all parliaments across the world does not mean that all problems have been resolved or all obstacles surmounted.

Female participation at the Shura Council is a solution to the biggest problem facing Saudi women, namely that of curtailing or limiting their role in society.

Therefore, the royal decree specifically alluded to the fact that women will enjoy full participation at the Shura Council alongside their male colleagues. This marks the beginning of something important, and this is something that will outlast the four year term of office of this batch of Shura Council members.

I congratulate myself and all Saudi women who view this decree as a good omen and who are reassured to finally realize this historic achievement which is something that we have long dreamed of.

I also congratulate the virtuous Saudi women appointed to the Shura Council on the royal trust that has been shown to them, and this is a trust that we reciprocate.

Each of these female Shura Council members represents a success story in their own right, and success breeds success.

With immense gratitude, we would also like to express our appreciation to King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz for his wisdom and vision.

Since the kingdom opened the path for women to enter education in the 1950s, we have never experienced a qualitative leap like that represented by women being appointed to the Shura Council. King Abdullah is a genuinely sincere man who is dedicated to his country and its interests, and he will be well aware of the positive results of this courageous step.

A new page has been turned in the life of Saudi women.

From Saudi girls going to school to Saudi women being empowered in the Shura Council; this is a story of struggle that truly deserves to be told.

Women: Partners, opponents or victims?

Over the past months, numerous women in the Arab region, including doctors, media figures and academics, have been on the receiving of verbal and physical abuse. There have been accusations of infidelity, slander and corruption, especially on the internet and social media networks, where Arab societies are still getting used to this newfound freedom of expression and unaware of how to handle such a gift responsibly.

When Egyptian political activist “Ola Shahba” appeared in a press conference, everyone was horrified to see her face swollen and bruised as a result of the severe beating she had received. Speaking in a calm but despairing tone of voice, Shahba, who fell victim whilst participating in a demonstration staged in front of the presidential palace in protest against the proposed Egyptian constitution, condemned her detention, sexual harassment and the beating she received at the hands of President Mursi’s supporters in full view of the police. She seemed to have expected the Islamists to treat her gently according to Islamic teachings, but she was disappointed to find out that these were ordinary people ignorant of such prophetic guidance. Ola Shahba is by no means the only woman to have encountered an attack by the Islamists or another group since the eruption of the Egyptian revolution. Historically speaking, women have always been among the greatest spoils of war and a constant weak spot in struggles between opponents, until laws were enacted to protect their human rights in the 1950s.

In Tunisia, the picture is even uglier, as women are being prosecuted for ridiculous charges with the aim of humiliating them and undermining the gains they acquired during late President Habib Bourguiba’s era. Even during the era of Ben Ali, Tunisian women did not suffer such suffocating social conditions.

In Saudi Arabia, the government is striving to make more job opportunities available for the ever-increasing unemployment rate among women – a rate that exists nowhere else in the world. In fact, the unemployment statistics do not reflect a genuine lack of job opportunities; rather they reflect the cultural barriers, pitfalls and obstacles that stand in the way of women.

I do not want to talk at length about Yemen, for it has stories akin to fiction yet they continue to happen, such as those disclosed in the 2010 book entitled “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.” This book reveals the inhumane social conditions suffered by women in remote and rural areas of Yemen, as well as in other Arab states. Here a child wife has to listen to advice about giving birth and obeying her husband when children of a similar age in other parts of the world are enjoying the innocence of their childhood.

In Kuwait, women were dealt a defeat in parliament at the beginning of last year after the elections revealed gains for the [Islamist] majority. However, women were assisted in returning to parliament through a decree issued by the Emir himself, amending the election law as was the case in 1999. What happened in Kuwait is typical of the Gulf States; women are advancing only through political decrees, rather than through public will.

The first thing that comes to the mind of any civilized human being is that the majority of women’s problems could be solved with laws enacted to protect them. Yet the majority of Arab states are yet to pass laws that criminalize sexual harassment, violence against women and child brides. I doubt that these hesitant legislators would allow their daughters to be married as children, or remain silent if their female relatives suffered harassment.

Perhaps the outlook in the Arab world is not as bleak when compared to East Asian countries where a girl could be shot simply for demanding the right to education, or her husband could cut of her nose and ears as a punishment for disobeying his orders, or in other situations, a girl’s situation could become so desperate that she sets herself on fire. With regards to the Europeans and the Americans, the picture is not entirely rosy. Many people are unaware that women’s rights in the West are still incomplete, especially in the field of work. A month ago, a report was issued by the American National Women’s Studies Association that showed a continual gap in wages between men and women. It revealed that women continue to receive only 88 percent of men’s salaries, despite working in the same place, holding the same degree and having the same level of experience. These reports have quite an impact on decision-makers, for they provoke legislators into reconsidering their laws and some states have already rushed to deny discrimination in their payroll systems. Nevertheless, it is quite apparent that there is a direct correlation between the status of women and the development of a country.

We cannot single out 2012 as a particularly bad year for woman as many of the unsavoury events witnessed over the past year have historical roots. Nowadays media outlets can convey to use what was previously behind closed doors and, as a result, it gives the impression that women are being subjected to more attacks and abuse. Yet many Arab women have failed to grasp this amidst the rapid technological advancements that are providing greater transparency and exposure. Some of them have launched wild attacks against society as a result. Others believe that Arab women have actually been harmed as a result of this new open climate, for they live in conservative societies where sometimes a woman’s name is not even uttered in public. Now they fear the overt criticism that comes with media openness, and hence they retreat and hide behind men once again.

There cannot be an achievement without a price, nor can there be a change without a cause. Such is the heated kitchen of public life, and women must adapt to changes and accommodate them patiently, otherwise they risk returning to their old status at home.

Those who are courageous enough to appear in public must have the strength to confront others.

Now, the Israeli electorate must have its say

If the Israeli people choose Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming election, then we will see another four years of security mismanagement in Israel, as well as further postponement of the settlement negotiation. In either case, the Israeli citizens will be the biggest losers.

The radical Netanyahu is today gambling with the attacks on Gaza in order to win the elections, however he was previously defeated by Ehud Barak in the 1999 elections. Besides this, he failed to win the requisite majority in the 2009 elections against his opponent Tzipi Livni, whose party may have won the most number of votes, but this was insufficient to allow her to form a government. In the end, President Shimon Peres charged Netanyahu with forming a coalition government. This, however, means that Netanyahu is prime minister by appointment rather than election, and so he will fight desperately in order to avoid encountering a third defeat, particularly as he is not facing stiff opposition this time around.

The Arabs are unlucky that Netanyahu’s assumption of the post of prime minister coincided with Obama’s US election victory, for he was keen to remedy the harm that befell Arab-American relations caused by his predecessor George W. Bush. In fact, Obama brought Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu together at the White House to urge them to start negotiations, although ultimately nobody was happy about this meeting’s outcome. The Palestinians had stated that all settlement construction and the issuance of construction permits must stop as a precondition to any negotiations, whilst the Israelis mocked this point by saying that every day that passes without negotiation allows them to build even more settlements. Eventually, neither negotiations nor the cessation of settlement construction was achieved. With the emergence of the Arab Spring, the cards were shuffled and the Palestinian issue was put on the back-burner.

The Hamas movement, which is in charge of the Gaza Strip, is not innocent regarding the attacks that Gaza is suffering today because it is well aware that its modest combat operations are a pretext that gives legitimacy to Israel’s savage retribution. In addition to this, the ousted Hamas government has attracted a lot of criticism for acting along the lines of Hezbollah in 2006 when it installed missile launch pads against Israel in the midst of residential areas, including mosques and schools. This means that Palestinian civilians have become legitimate targets of the enemy’s fire. Hamas, with all the weapons it has received, should have built shelters for the civilians who were not consulted regard the initiation of this war.

It is important to view what Hamas is doing with a sense of realism, specifically in terms of the significant change in the group’s circumstances. This is to say that the collapse of Hamas’s relations with the Syrian regime was a sudden blow to it, namely its leadership abroad, which had been using Damascus as an administrative headquarters and believed that they had the upper hand against the Gazan leadership. It was the leadership abroad that was responsible for financing the movement and protecting it politically. Hamas did not choose to separate itself from the al-Assad regime in order to then remain uncovered; this is very improbable, particularly as it took its stance in support of the Syrian uprising approximately one year after this revolution first erupted. This is despite the fact that the al-Assad killing machine did not stop for a single night during this period and its arm even reached the Palestinian camps. It is clear that Hamas took its stance towards the Syrian revolution only after it became reassured regarding the strength and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Hamas is exercising extreme pragmatism to maintain its political gains, for it has been harmed by Israel’s targeting of its leadership and claims that it has fallen victim to Israeli electoral calculations. This may be true but it is also true that Hamas has electoral calculations of its own, particularly as half of the Egyptian street is furious with the group after being convinced that Hamas must bear part of the responsibility for the security unrest in the Sinai Peninsula, and that it must have a hand, whether directly or indirectly, in what is happening there. The victim role being played by Hamas has helped it earn the sympathy of the nationalists and leftists in Egypt, in addition to the Islamists, and has saved the Egyptian leadership from embarrassment. This has resulted in diplomacy and compassionate language thriving.

However, the worst thing about managing the Gaza crisis is that Egypt – the spearhead – is not confident in what it is doing. It is managing the crisis in an intensely emotional manner, listening to demands urging it to activate its Brotherhood view, regain the stolen Arab rights and win back the Arab dignity destroyed by the Camp David Peace Accords. Such demands are impossible for Egypt to achieve at present, thus the Egyptian leadership’s response involved a clear and sincere message to everyone. This was made clear in the visit paid by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, together with the Egyptian Minister of Health – rather than the Defense Minister, for example – to the Gaza Strip for a period of no more than three hours to oversee the transfer of wounded to Egyptian hospitals.

The Freedom and Justice Party was mistaken to state that they reject Egypt’s previous role as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, and were wrong to emphasize that they are no longer a mediator but on the Palestinian people’s side. In fact, mediation is not something negative, nor is it an abandonment of one’s Arab duties. Rather, this is the most important duty Egypt can do for the Palestinian Cause, for it is the only Arab state that has the historical, geographic and political attributes required to play such a significant role. As for political bias, these carry with it huge expectations that Egypt will not be able to meet, and the Brotherhood leadership will have nothing to offer in this regard but more promises and promotional speeches in return for modest work.

The Israeli voters are keeping their eyes on all these variables: the confused Egypt, crises-stricken Jordan and the tense situation in the Golan Heights. This is not to mention their lack of satisfaction about the domestic economic situation, unemployment rates, and the Israeli prime minister’s inclination to exaggerate the dangers of the economically weak Iran and its armed adherents purely for political reasons. Thus, the security issue remains the trump card in the race for power.

In view of all these challenges, it does not matter if Ahmed al-Jabari is to Netanyahu what Bin Laden was for Obama. This is because Obama won his election battle only after the US troops withdrew from Iraq, unemployment rate decreased, social justice and women’s rights were consolidated and health services improved. These are the issues that the Israeli electorate must be concerned with when taking shelter from Hamas’s aimless and stray rockets.

Obama’s concept of military intervention

The Obama administration continues to reject military intervention in Syria without international cover. Obama does not want to go down the same path as George W. Bush, who occupied Iraq in a blind fury without any consideration for the United Nations, as a result of unconfirmed reports about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

There is nothing wrong with the US President upholding his country’s right to adopt a policy of peace and dialogue when it comes to settling international disputes; however behind this glittering ideal lies the Obama administration’s silent war, a war of drone strikes, missiles, assassinations and condemnations.

For the last two years, the New York Times has focused on the reported increase in drone attacks since President Barack Obama took office. During this time, the CIA has launched drone attacks against al-Qaeda elements in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and Somalia. The newspaper has dealt with this particular issue from more than one angle, highlighting the moral, military and political aspects of this, all of which disprove the peaceful approach that Obama is putting forward to the international community. The newspaper has regularly criticized the US President for saying one thing and acting otherwise, in a manner that actually consolidates the idea that the US is the world’s policeman yet it undermines international peace by interfering in other countries’ sovereignty. This in turn has jeopardized US national security and weakened all its values and principles. However, two months ago, the New York Times displayed a new degree of leniency when it published statements issued by academics and experts in philosophy and ethics, who emphasized that the targeting of terrorists using the drone technique is not only safer with less collateral damage, but it has also become a moral obligation for the US.

The American debate over this issue is yet to be settled in Congress, and it is taking place in a calculated manner without clamor.

The American people have no reservations about such air strikes as long as American soldiers do not go to the battlefields, and there is also little international outcry because these acts do not involve mobilizing foreign armies into conflict areas. Politically speaking, these drone attacks are carried out with the utmost secrecy, except in well-known instances where members of the al-Qaeda leadership have been targeted, such as Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen and Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan. When it comes to the assassinations of minor figures, these pass by unnoticed and are largely unreported by the news agencies.

It is modern warfare in the linguistic sense of the word, and electronic warfare in the scientific sense.

The emergence of advanced and critical technology in the military industry will impose a new reality. Today, we see the world mocking the Syrian air force, as the Russian-made MiG jets continue to fall as a result of missiles launched by Syrian rebels in the Idlib countryside, as easy as hunting birds. This is because these jets are old-fashioned and can no longer avoid modern anti-aircraft missiles. China surprised the US when it broadcasted a promotional documentary demonstrating its ability to manufacture a drone. Russia, India and Iran are acting likewise. Tomorrow, the sky will be full of electronic games initiated by the US. We will soon hear of missiles, bombs and rocket-launchers with expiry dates – as is the case with milk – that can be destroyed automatically and remotely after a specific time. Then the US will have no excuse for failing to provide arms to helpless people like the Syrian rebels, for fear of such arms falling into the hands of al-Qaeda later on. This is because the US will be able to destroy these weapons remotely from any American base around the world.

The international arms market no longer just consists of jets, submarines or tanks, because modern technology has brought about advanced monitoring tools and sensors, which are all major tools of guerilla warfare, as we can see in Syria today.

Despite all this, one cannot help but call what the Obama administration is doing in Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq and Yemen, military intervention without international cover. These countries have expressed their strong discontent towards what the US is doing, as in Pakistan nearly 2,000 people, including civilians, have been killed as a result.

Therefore, a big moral question has been raised as to whether it is possible in the democratic tradition for a military intervention to take place, bombarding locations in Pakistan and Somalia with drones irrespective of the results or targets, whilst the US refrains from providing the Syrian rebels with arms or imposing a buffer zone in a country where atrocities are taking place.

Nothing can motivate the stance of the US, with its Democratic and Republican parties, as much as rhetoric about al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda alone can prompt Washington to jump above any principle or moral obligation. Yet, Obama must be conscious that his hesitant stance towards the Syrian revolution will enable the extremists there to gain a foothold, and will also incite hatred among the Syrian people and their sympathizers in the region towards the US. This is exactly what George W. Bush did, and Obama blamed him for his failure.

Nasrallah is panic-stricken

No one cares for the speeches of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah anymore. For years, satellite channels neglected to broadcast his speeches simply because people weren’t interested after they lost their luster and relevance. Yet, the speech he delivered recently on the anniversary of the July 2006 war was somewhat different, for it was delivered shortly after several of the Syrian regime’s prominent leaders had been assassinated; leaders who were once considered to be the umbilical cord feeding and supporting Hezbollah.

The speech was different this time as Nasrallah appeared apprehensive and anxious to an unprecedented degree, even more so than when he came out in August 2006 to beg the Arabs to mediate with the US and force Israel to end its bombardment of Lebanon. In his recent speech, Nasrallah tasted the bitterness of losing key symbols in the Syrian regime, whether as individuals, such as Assef Shawkat, or in their capacity as Syria’s Ministers of Defense and Interior. Nasrallah was part of the crisis management cell administered by the Syrian regime’s elements and adherers, considered to be the most aggressive and tyrannical entity involved in repressing the rebels. This is why he was telling the truth when he said that those killed were his comrades in arms.

The speech highlighted the state of panic that has engulfed the al-Assad regime’s allies, who are now attempting to muster strength following the assassination of some of the regime’s prominent leaders. However, the speech also contained rhetoric that was largely anticipated, as Nasrallah stressed his explicit support for Bashar al-Assad, and even extended his heartfelt condolences to the crisis management elements who lost their lives, despite the fact that they carried out massacres against Syrian civilians.

The speech touched upon two important issues that deserve to be contemplated: Firstly, Nasrallah demonstrated a great degree of simplicity and naivety in attempting to clean up Bashar al-Assad’s face when thanking him for manufacturing the missiles that Hezbollah used against Israel in the summer 2006 war, and that Islamic resistance groups launched against Israel from Gaza. In fact, this was not an endorsement for Bashar, but rather an accusation. If al-Assad really had enough armament potential to defend Lebanon and Gaza, then why hasn’t he liberated the occupied Golan Heights, which are closer and more pertinent to Syria? Besides, the missiles used by Palestinian resistance factions are manufactured locally and are considered extremely primitive. Armament experts call them “cartoon missiles” because they are mere fire crackers that only produce noise; they fly off at random directions and never hit their targets. Even when Bashar al-Assad tried to bring Syria into the domain of manufacturing nuclear warheads, when he built a small facility in Deir al-Zour deep in the Syrian soil, Israeli troops infiltrated the site and spent a full night there inspecting, examining and collecting samples, whilst Bashar al-Assad and his army leaders were all asleep.

Nasrallah justifies what the regime is doing in Syria on the grounds of confronting a Zionist conspiracy to dismantle the only Arab army that is standing up to Israel. This is despite the fact that for more than a year, the whole world has witnessed the Syrian army, with the logistical assistance of the Russians and the Iranians, fighting against Syrian revolutionaries who began with a peaceful revolution, before they later on received the military support of army defectors. Yet no one has sought to offer heavy or advanced weaponry to the revolutionaries. The international community remains reserved, Jordan is abstaining from offering any assistance in order to ensure its internal security, Turkey has failed to impose a buffer zone, whereas in Lebanon, the Syrian regime’s opponents do not dare to bring even a motorbike or a kite across the border into Syria.

Nasrallah says that the West refuses to arm any country that may pose a threat to Israel, but does not object to arming the Gulf States. Yet the irony here is that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Iran’s ally and Nasrallah’s rival, last week appealed to Washington to help arm the Iraqi army’s air and ground forces. In the coming period, especially after the fall of the al-Assad regime, Iraq will be of great importance to the regional dispute between the Arabs and their Persian rival.

The other striking issue in Nasrallah’s speech is that he neglected to mention that during the Syrian revolution, the Syrian regime’s forces, including elements from Hezbollah, have bombarded Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Al-Raml camp in Latakia was shelled by gunboats, and the regime’s forces also attacked Yarmouk camp in Damascus, as well as camps in Aleppo, Hamah and Homs. In his speech, Nasrallah dared to warn the Palestinians against returning the Palestinian cause to the Arabs, claiming that it would be lost for another 60 years. He reminded them that the “resistance” axis that has sided with them in recent years is now on the verge of collapse.

Nasrallah is well aware that the Palestinian resistance factions, especially Hamas, have agreed a truce with Israel and that, ever since the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin eight years ago – may God rest his soul, we can no longer count the number of ceasefires and armistices that Hamas has brokered with Israel. Ahmed Yassin, whose assassination was bemoaned by all Arabs, was a symbol of pure struggle and resistance, and hence, he received considerable Arab support. The day of his release from an Israeli jail in 1997 was a cause for real celebration, and Arab states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all competed to provide treatment for him. He headed first to Egypt under the invitation of President Hosni Mubarak, and then on to Saudi Arabia where he received a hero’s welcome and a royal reception, and was visited in hospital by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who was crown prince at the time. The King was quoted as saying to him “I have come to emphasize to the world that I adopt the same stance as you.” At the time, Ahmed Yassin was heading the resistance movement, and despite his intellectual and methodical differences with the Palestinian Authority, he was keen for the reconciliation of the Palestinian people and was even keener for improved Arab relations. In fact, we can say that the Palestinians only abandoned their resistance to Israel and became embroiled in in-fighting after the Palestinian cause became a commodity to be bought and sold by Ayatollah Khamenei.

In reality, the Palestinian cause has never once been detached from the Arab mindset, apart from Gaza, which is subject to the domination of an estranged government that has chosen to side with others. As for the Palestinian cause, with all its historical and human depth, it has remained in the hearts of all Arab states.

The idealistic Human Rights Watch

Recently, the organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) was both upset and enraged by NATO, because of its response to a HRW report, citing the reasons for the air strikes that allegedly killed 72 civilians in Libya, including women and children, during the NATO war on the Gaddafi regime. These air strikes included sorties targeting the village of Majer, about 160 kilometers east of Tripoli, where NATO bombed two family compounds leading to the deaths of 34 civilians, and more than 30 others wounded. NATO responded in defense saying that the Majer compounds were military bases where Gaddafi’s forces had gathered and resided.

Certainly, the life of every human being has its independent value, but in the circumstances of war the situation on the ground is not idealistic, and it is futile to try to portray it as such. Out of the roughly 26,000 air sorties carried out by NATO in Libya, 9,600 were strike missions, and 5,900 targets were destroyed. It is likely that there were unintentional civilian casualties, but it is difficult to avoid this regardless of the good intentions and the efforts exerted beforehand. The NATO forces were the first line of defense for the Libyans in their battle against the Gaddafi regime, and they were the spearhead of their attack against it.

The information that a fighter pilot receives from the operations room in any battle is effectively their compass to hit specific locations, and in many cases this information is inaccurate. During the sixth Yemeni war between the regime and Huthi insurgents, it was said that the Saleh regime gave the wrong coordinates to the Saudi air force, who subsequently questioned the validity of the information and did not strike the location, which turned out to be the headquarters of Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the northwest region. Had the pilot carried out the strike, this could have sparked another crisis at a critical time between the Yemenis, and between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The target sites may be hideouts where militants have deliberately chosen to conceal themselves in residential areas, and often sides in a battle will use civilians as human shields. We can remember when Hezbollah, in its war with Israel in the summer of 2006, commandeered densely populated areas to launch its rockets, to which Israel responded by opening fire upon family residences. The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, came out the next day to declare that Israel was targeting civilians, and released human rights reports condemning these actions.

War is not a video game where the targets and objective components are revealed on screen in detail in front of the player. In a fierce battle such as the one to overthrow the oppressive Muammar Gaddafi, the lives of 50,000 people were lost, and hence it seems strange to talk about the deaths of 72 civilians and then hold NATO accountable, even though it saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It also seems strange to distort NATO’s intervention that saved the population of Benghazi from a genuine massacre. When human rights organizations adopt such stances, they are in fact working against the principle of human rights.

If it is our moral duty to observe human rights, then it is logical to take into account the rights of any group of people. If this is the case, then why is it considered an issue that 72 civilians were killed in a liberation battle in Libya, when this many people die in Syria every three days?

The rights of any group of people deserve the attention of the international community, but this community has recently been hit by a curse of “selective victimization”. Hence its value has diminished in the eyes of the people, who now see the international community standing incapable, bewildered and hesitant in front of human tragedies that are unprecedented in our modern history. Its prestige and legal standing has declined dramatically, and now it seems comparable to a system only fit to regulate traffic and pedestrians on the streets, let alone be concerned with people’s lives and their safety.

Human rights organizations are correct to emphasize the value of every Libyan civilian killed, but it is also important that their reports demonstrate realism and objectivity. Blaming NATO for the deaths of 72 civilians in a battle that brought about the downfall of the Gaddafi regime, which subjected 6 million Libyans to murder, torture and displacement throughout its forty year rule, reflects an idealistic outlook on a situation where it is difficult to measure humanity on paper, because the reality was chaotic, full of confusion and time sensitive.

Television’s hegemony

Social networking websites caught the attention of the people and governments of the Middle East after their impact and influence on the course of the Green Revolution in Iran, following the presidential election there in 2009. Such websites motivated the Iranians to protest against vote-rigging, and continue with their resistance against the savage and systematic “Basij” forces. These websites undertook the task of providing people with audio-visual dispatches of up-to-the-minute news and details of what was going on in the street, something that the regime’s traditional media would never allow.

Twitter functioned as the first stage for distributing media material, which was uploaded via YouTube.

We all remember the assassination footage of the young woman Neda Sultan during the Iranian people’s revolution. This scene made her an icon of freedom, although she was not a political activist and was killed simply for crossing the street at the wrong time, being shot in the neck by one of the Basij elements. Yet, thanks to a passing camera, the world watched the last moments of her life.

It was a pure coincidence that I was among the first people to view this painful footage, after it was uploaded on Twitter and YouTube. This gave me the opportunity to keep track of how people would interact with such exciting new ways to deliver news. In the space of one hour, the number of viewers had increased to nearly 5,000, and this figure continued to rise constantly so that within a few hours it stood at around 100,000. The surprise, however, was that only one day later the viewer increase rate had declined dramatically. As time passed, the number of viewers watching the footage came to a standstill.

What happened? Had people lost interest in viewing, or had the incident lost its value?

The only apparent reason was that Arab or Western satellite channels had picked up on the footage and displayed it in front of their audiences, but after adding analysis and commentary. In other words, these channels were not only filling people in on the incident alone, but also on its related consequences.

To those who are inclined to say that Facebook and Twitter have surpassed television in terms of influence, because these websites serve as the primary stimulant of Arab public opinion, I would say that they should reconsider their opinion. Let us begin the story from the outset: When the internet first entered the Arab region in the late 1990s, people rushed towards online forums that provided unprecedented room for opinion and expression. Some closed societies discovered that there were other people that existed with them on earth; people that were different from them, with whom they could communicate on the internet, removing any distances or barriers between them. Today, people have abandoned their old forums and migrated to Twitter, believing that it is an easier and more appropriate tool to express an opinion, obtain information and interact with others.

In reality, every technology has its lifespan, and every modern technology threatens the one that preceded it, meaning that these tools are unstable, and depend on the people themselves who feel bored, excited or influenced by them. Twitter can shape public opinion only in societies that lack a wider awareness of what is going on, because its credibility is doubtful, and it operates in a non-selective, unspecialized and irresponsible environment. However, Twitter functions as a very good distributor and a rapid means of publication. It is a suitable arena for gossip and venting anger, and a good indicator to gauge the public mood.

To provide two pieces of evidence, let us first recall the day when Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem came out in a press conference to show the world a video recording of killings and mutilations, claiming that the crime was committed by armed terrorist groups, which Syria claims to be fighting against. When people saw this footage screened on their television screens, they accused Muallem of lying, and exposed the truth, namely that the images were of crimes committed in Lebanon in 2008 that had nothing to do with the Syrian situation.

The al-Assad regime was successful in creating and promoting this news item on Facebook and Twitter, yet it failed to do so when it screened it on television.

The second incident also relates to the situation in Syria, namely when President Bashar al-Assad boasted of being strong and having control of the ground during the current crisis in Syria, meaning his military and security domination. Yet, he admitted that he had no control over “space”, meaning his inability to influence the satellite channels that stand against him and uncover the true state of affairs in Syria. Here al-Assad did not disparage Facebook or Twitter – as both of these tools are available to him in the same manner that they are available to anyone else – but with regards to television, the calculations are different.

Satellite channels’ dominant influence over Arab public opinion with regards to the situation in Syria frightens the al-Assad regime, and therefore it is striving to jam their broadcasts and hack into their websites. Al-Assad was right to consider the satellite media as a worthy adversary to his military operations, for what is happening in Syria is indeed a war between the Syrian regime and “space” [satellite television channels].

Without a doubt, television is still the giant in the media. It is a direct influence that has transcended living rooms to hair salons, medical clinics and airports, and has withstood all other modern communication equipment and technology. It has earned the trust of the people because its professionalism is subject to the assessment of its audience, in every minute of its broadcast. Therefore, respectable satellite channels must scrutinize and examine the news they receive before they approve or retract its screening, or comment upon, analyze or repeat the broadcast.

Any other media tool is in fact working to the advantage of television, consolidating and strengthening its hegemony.

Is this a French campaign against Islam?

The West’s relationship with Islamic extremists is like a ranch owner who knows that his land contains a bad tree, which he passes by every day but simply looks the other way, never thinking of uprooting or treating it. He grows accustomed to regarding its existence as a universal norm or an act of God, until one of his sons dies from its poisoned fruit. In response, he then rushes to burn down all the trees on his ranch, the good and the bad alike.

Recently, the French government denied a group of highly celebrated Muslim clerics’ entry into the country. Two of them were Egyptians: Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Mahmoud al-Masri while the other two were Saudis: Aaidh al-Qarni and Abdullah Basfar. France justified denying them entry by contending that they held radical ideas, particularly with regards to women’s issues such as violence against women, the segregation of women and female circumcision. This is in addition to their alleged justification of suicide attacks against Israel, and the killing of apostates. Of course, this is a load of nonsense. Most of those clerics, until very recently, were perfectly welcome in France, which now claims to reject their ideas. For decades, France has been harboring extremist Islamic groups formed from the remnants of the Soviet – Afghan war. Those remnants still have connections with radical groups in Iraq and Pakistan. One of the outcomes of such connections was the operation carried out a few weeks ago by Mohammed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin affiliated to al-Qaeda. The attack left seven dead in the city of Toulouse: three children and their teacher from a Jewish school, as well as three French Muslim soldiers of Moroccan origin. It was a premeditated heinous crime committed under the pretext of protesting France’s ban on the niqab, and avenging the children of Palestine and Afghanistan.

The French authorities’ position on the Muslim clerics, who were heading to attend the 29th Annual Meeting of France’s Muslims, came against the backdrop of the Toulouse attack. The French government – or rather the ranch owner – was enraged by Mohammed Merah and so has decided to burn down all the trees on its ranch indiscriminately. It has expelled a number of Muslim clerics, or denied them entry into the country. The French authorities have also launched an arrest campaign against a group of suspected French Islamists, including one of Mohammed Merah’s brothers. It turns out that this man is just like his brother; a suspicious character with links to extremist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention his criminal record. So why did the French authorities remain silent regarding such people for all these years, and only start to act against them now? Was their vision so blurred that they needed the deaths of three innocent children to clear it?

Some Arab governments have repeatedly warned the West about harboring extremists and guaranteeing them security and accommodation, whether they are immigrants or refugees. But European countries in particular have always ignored those warnings. They even ignored the voices of the extremists themselves, who used their territories and exploited their governing systems, which allow the freedom of speech and expression, to incite against and attack them. Following the infamous September 11th attacks, the stance of Western countries began to change as they became more apprehensive. They forced a lot of hardline Islamists to stop propagating their ideas, or at least amend them, but the polluted soul remained the same.

The West imagines that fanaticism and extremism come in different forms, and that ideological personalities vary in accordance with the nature of their ideas. This is an inaccurate interpretation of extremism. Those who are intolerant with regards to social issues are likely to have similar attitudes to political, cultural, economic and even behavioral ones. The principle of extremism is indivisible. It is an abnormality in the thought process.

Unfortunately, the guests of the 29th Annual Meeting of France’s Muslims suffered from poor timing. Had the invited Muslim clerics been a little wiser, they would have understood that the Toulouse attack had raised the level of anger on the French street. And as the French presidential elections draw nearer, the right-wing President Sarkozy seeks to appear more vehement and more involved in such incidents. In reality, it would have been better for the Muslim clerics to withdraw their attendance before being denied entry into the country.

The primary problem for France is not al-Qaradawi, al-Qarni, or any of the visitors coming from afar to stay for a few days. The French government has no right to blame anyone for the Toulouse attack, not Islamic organizations, not Muslim clerics and not Muslim immigrants. It should rather blame itself for turning a blind eye to suspicious characters that were always labeled with a red circle. However, the French government allowed them to live on French soil and make use of their French nationality. It is incumbent upon France, Europe as well as Arab and Islamic countries to adopt a tough stance towards any individual connected with radical organizations; figures who stir up and incite people against other cultures, no matter how plausible their motives might seem. The world is burning with the fires of partisanship, sectarianism, pan-nationalism and ethnicity. All these battles and collisions are a direct result of initial mistakes, misdealing and a failure to respond, downplaying the behavior of those who provoke malignancy and spitefulness. Those who didn’t learn the lesson the first time will see it repeated before them on a different level.

At the same time, France has made few attempts to cure those returning from Pakistan and Afghanistan from the disease of extremism, as many other countries have done through rehabilitation programs. On the contrary, it left them to face poverty, unemployment and the disdain of society, until the monster of hatred within them grew bigger and they began to kill innocent people in cold blood.

Unfortunately, those who will now suffer most from the Toulouse attack are the moderate Muslims residing in France. Amid the upcoming flurry of France’s presidential elections and the use of the Islamic extremism card, those moderates will have to restate their own innocence and distance their faith from acts of killing and terrorism. They will have to exert more effort to assimilate into French society and present themselves as moderate Muslims and good citizens, no matter how much extremists try to set up barricades to isolate them from the society of their state.