Category Archives: Arab-Israeli Conflict

Jumping on the Anti-Mubarek Bandwagon

I’m not proud to admit this, but, until recently, I did not support the protesting in Egypt. Why would these protesters try to topple their own government and implement a democratic system, when this has failed in many other Middle Eastern countries? Why would these protesters demand the resignation of their country’s leader, who helped maintain stability in the region?

I was afraid of what these protests would mean to the Middle East. Certainly, if Mubarek stepped down or was thrown out, this would cause problems for its neighbors, who must now reacquaint themselves with a new regime. Would this mean that the peace treaty signed with Israel would still be valid? I believed if these protesters ‘won,’ then other nearby countries would learn from their example and wreck similar havoc in their own countries.

My concerns were selfish, as I was only considering the safety and stability of the region, and not of the Egyptian people themselves. I had forgotten the key reason to these protests: food.

Yes, I think these protesters can sum up what they want in one word. They want food. Unemployment is so high in Egypt, the poverty level has been rising for years and there is barely any food, despite receiving billions in foreign aid per year. And so, it’s easy for people like myself sitting comfortably in their homes, fridges stocked full of food, to forget how unnatural and horrifying hunger is (and this lack of food represents so much more: poor living conditions, high death rates and, of course, the government failing to disperse foreign aid to their domestic population and failing to provide a normal living situation for their citizens).

So once I remembered this basic human right, I decided to ‘jump on the anti-Mubarek bandwagon.’

But I’m still weary as to what exactly will benefit the protesters. Yes, I understand their desire to fight their government to provide them with human rights like food and bearable living conditions, but I do not think that democracy is a right. Controversial as that may be, democracy is not for everyone. Many countries have tried to implement it – and failed. Forcing democracy on Middle Eastern countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan, has failed.

You might then ask, well, the Egyptians want democracy, so surely this is a different situation. Well, it’s not.

The Egyptians want a better living situation than the one they have now. They don’t want to riot in the streets for food. So they equate democracy with a solution to their increasing problems. Because, democracy looks great in the west! After all, it seems like the Western democratic countries have food galore with governments who protect their basic human rights.

Yes, I value democracy and would not want to live in a society without it. But I don’t think everyone shares my views. I think some people don’t care if they can vote or not, if they have multiple parties, if they have a fair say in government, especially people who pride themselves on being fiercely independent and responsible for themselves.  I think we’ve tried to implement democracy in the Middle East, because, we too, equate democracy with these other benefits.

The problem in Egypt is not democracy, but a corrupt government. Not all authoritarian governments are corrupt and not all democratic governments are honest. The way to get rid of a corrupt government and increase the standard of living in Egypt is not to implement a costly, lengthy, tiring transition to a democratic system, especially one that will be influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood (which will then probably revert back to corruption). Mubarek should resign so that another leader, perhaps democratically elected, perhaps not, can take his place to provide his country with the things they need. Implementing democracy right now is not the best option.

I think Mubarek should resign. As Thomas Hobbes believed, if a leader cannot protect and provide for its people, then it’s not doing its job. Like Hobbes, I don’t think we need to establish a democratic system here. Maybe that’s what will happen one day in the future – but for now, the people are crying out for one thing – and it’s not really democracy.

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Perspectives: The Extremism Cycle

This is my second article from my column in the McGill Tribune.

On his blog for the New Republic, the neo-liberal magazine he owns and edits, Marty Peretz recently wrote of American Muslims: “I wonder whether I need honour these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” This shocking and seemingly racist line, which he later apologized for, is an example of how the always-difficult debate on the role of Islam in American culture has recently become even more difficult, and more uncomfortable.

One of his critics, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, argued that Peretz’s statement is reflective of “how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become.” That one sentence indeed did not help Peretz make his argument, which was otherwise well thought out.

In the blog post, Peretz argued that there has never been any serious condemnation by Muslims of the heinous actions of some of their co-religionists. He pointed out that when Muslims kill other Muslims in the Middle East and Africa, few Muslims publicly speak up in criticism.

Peretz was roundly criticized for his line, “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims,” for which he did not apologize. Peretz also wrote: “I want to believe that Muslims are traumatized by the unrelieved murders in Islamic lands … This intense epidemic of slaughter has been going on for nearly a decade and a half … without protest, without anything.” This is in contrast to when, for instance, the Israeli intelligence agency killed a Hamas operative in Dubai a few months ago, and the world was outraged and protested vehemently. There seems, to both Peretz and to me, to be a double standard at play here.

Kristof, who called Peretz’s statement racist, said the “suggestion that Muslims don’t value human life is … a slur.” But describing the sad state of affairs does not mean he is encouraging it. Peretz wasn’t making a racist comment, but simply noting the absence of free discourse and open dialogue in Muslim societies. If Muslims do disagree with the actions of their fellow Muslims, they seem to stay mostly quiet about it, whether out of fear or just ignorance.

My main problem with Peretz is that he tends to generalize. He writes that there has not been a “single demonstration aimed at Muslim or Arab interests or their commitments to foreign governments and, more likely, to foreign insurgencies and quite alien philosophies.” It is unacceptable for a prominent writer to generalize that all Muslims have the same views and loyalties. Throughout the article, he uses specific, cherry-picked examples to indicate that all Muslims act and think alike, which only reflects his ignorance about Muslims, and especially Muslim-American culture.

This generalization can have consequences beyond inaccurate reporting. Newsweek quoted a Taliban operative who argued that by virtue of the protests against the “mosque” near Ground Zero, “America is doing us a big favour. It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support.”

The kind of extremism exhibited by the mosque’s opponents—and by Peretz at his worst—only supports the cause of Islamic extremists, and undermines those American Muslims who might otherwise be more confident in speaking out against their violent brethren.

The return to the not-so-holy land

So a few weeks ago, I returned to Canada from my five month voyage to Israel (and a brief stop in Zurich, Switzerland). I already miss the language, hearing little kids speak hebrew, the great food, the sensuous smells, the chaos and the holiness. But being home has its comforts too – its nice to host others, rather than always being hosted and its great to continue my ‘real’ life, get excited for the summer and start my great internship.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve realized that it’s hard to remember everything you learned abroad. It’s easy to forget you spent five months in another country, learning and growing from others around you. What I’ve learned is that all the answers I thought I would have by now don’t exist. I’ve learned that I have more questions – about the Arab-Israeli conflict, about the future of Israel, about the value of education and about the possibility of world travel and new experiences. I may not have all the answers, but I feel I have gained from my time abroad, enough to know that those experiences were valuable and necessary for my education. And when I bring them back to my final year of my undergraduate study program, I know I can make a meaningful contribution to my academic career and the educational institute I will be in.

Getting close to the end

With just under a month left to go, my time in Israel seems very precious. I’m not sure when I will be back but I hope it will be soon. What is it about this land, that makes us yearn to be here, fight over this valuable land, die for this land?

Last week I visited the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hevron, a mostly-Arab town. It surprised me how easy it was to get there. We went to the regular Jerusalem bus station and took a bus for an hour and arrived right in front of these tombs. The minute we got there, we heard the afternoon Arab call to prayer. It was ironic, or perhaps a little sad, that this holy Jewish site is now surrounding by those that do not value it. When you walk inside, you are immediately struck by the intricate designs of these caves. Beautiful patterns decorate the wall, but if you look closely, you see that the walls are covered in Arabic writing (which I could not read – new goal in life: learn to read Arabic), which shows us the transfer of power throughout history: a once Jewish site was once controlled by Arabs and is now back in the hands of Jews.

It’s striking that by traveling only an hour away you enter a completely different world: Arab children playing with goats and chickens, broken down homes with rooster pens, and, sadly, the appearance as if this town is in a third world country. Why can I travel such a short distance and suddenly appear in an opposite world? I wish I could understand the reasons for these differences – is there someone we are to blame? Is it the Israelis? or is it the lack of self-determination and the Arabs refusal to become independent? Is there a way out of this situation? I know attempting to make a town like this more developed by simply providing them with higher technology tools might not solve anything, but is there something we can do?

It seems to be that the Arabs feel, and are, stuck: they have lived in these conditions for so long, it’s hard to imagine anything else. But that is precisely the problem. The Jews in the early creation of Israel refused to live in these conditions and so they began to develop the country. Why has this technique failed in Arab villages? Has this technique ever been attempted?

And finally, what does the future predict for these Arab villages? Can we expect any sort of change?

Finding my own place in the conflict

During the past few years, I have learned a lot (or tried to learn) about the Middle East Conflict/Arab-Israeli Conflict/ Israeli-Palestinian Conflict etc etc… I’ve learned that both sides make big, life changing mistakes. I’ve also learned that it is impossible to believe everything the media says. In an ideal world, the media would report simply to let us know the truth – but in our world, every media outlet has their own agenda and if spinning a story a certain way will allow them more access to future stories, then they will do it. And sometimes the ability to talk to terrorists is what the media wants – not always to justify their actions but to claim a coveted spot in the hierarchy of media outlets (the more evil the terrorist, the more coveted the interview, the more respected the media).

At the end of the day, I still have hesitations. I read the papers and I find flaws in their understandings and their insinuations. I find flaws in the history of the conflict – who started what? who is to blame? can we even place blame? And it just makes me want to learn more. Maybe I’m only searching for the answers I want to hear, the answers I’ve been taught from birth – or maybe I’ll put aside my feelings and just search for some semblance of truth.

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