Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mideast Media Sampler 07/28/2011

From DG:
1) About that compassionate release

I could find no editorial in the New York Times from the time that Megrahi was released, however it ran two op-eds, both favoring his release, one by Garrison Keillor:

Standing in stark contrast was the simple humane decision of the Scottish government to release the Libyan Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds, a man near death from prostate cancer, who was convicted in 2001 on the basis of thin circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a paid witness for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. A shaky conviction of a man for a crime that had to have involved many others who, it would seem, Britain and the U.S. have little interest in finding, what with Libyan oil in the balance. Mr. al-Megrahi had “patsy” written all over him. The Scots did the right thing. And caused a public uproar, and so what? Right is right.
and one by that part scholar, part monk, part model, part policy wonkSaif Al-Islam El-Qaddafi

So, from the Libyan point of view, the reception given to Mr. Megrahi was low-key. Had it been an official welcome, there would have been tens if not hundreds of thousands of people at the airport. And the event would have been carried live on state television. 
At the same time, I was extremely happy for Mr. Megrahi’s return. Convinced of his innocence, I have worked for years on his behalf, raising the issue at every meeting with British officials. 
Of course the reason for releasing was that Megrahi was imminently dying. Clearly he was not.

And he's recently shown his appreciation for his release, to his boss.
Video broadcast on Libyan state television on Tuesday of a rally in support of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government appeared to show Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.
The public appearance in Libya comes nearly two years after Mr. Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds and said to have just three months to live.
I especially liked the reaction of Pesach Benson.

I could say this is an example of:
There is a broader issue: A disturbing, and growing, tolerance across the West for extremists especially if they are Muslim or Arab. Inflammatory political rhetoric is increasingly tolerated. And anti-Western  parties and governments are getting stronger across the Middle East.
But I wouldn't generalize like that.


2) Al Qaeda for freedom?

Ayman Al Zawahri has come down on the side of the protesters in Syria.
The Egyptian-born al-Zawahri, who long served as bin Laden’s top deputy, directly addressed the Syrian protesters who have risen up against Assad’s rule despite a bloody government crackdown. The message appeared to be an attempt to place al-Qaida firmly on the side of the anti-government demonstrators.
“You are an example, explaining lessons to your Arab and Muslim nation in sacrifice, steadfastness and the struggle against oppression,” al-Zawahri said of the protesters. “How could you not? You are the sons of the Levant, the front for jihad and martyrdom.”
Bizarrely Al Zawahri claims that Assad is on the side of the United State and Israel.


3) Look up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. No it's ...

The New York Times features an article Comic-Book Heroes Help Change Image of Islam, which begins:

As provocative as Wonder Woman, but in an entirely different way, Batina the Hidden is a character in the hit comic book series “The 99” who is not only a Muslim girl from Yemen, but one whose outfit of choice when fighting evil is a burqa
I have no idea what "provocative ... in an entirely different way" means.

There's some more background here:

The idea of cultural crossover is one that Dr. Al-Mutawa has grown up with; as a child, his Arab Muslim conservative parents sent him to a culturally Jewish summer camp in New Hampshire by mistake in 1975. He did not realize this until later, yet continued to attend for a decade. His five boys currently spend their summers there.
...
Eventually, he returned to Kuwait and flirted with a few business ventures before coming up with the idea to start a comic book with Islam-inspired superheroes. Within a few months, he raised $7 million from 54 investors in eight countries. Today, the project has secured more than $40 million in financing and is expanding into an animated series.
“His concept is potentially world changing,” said Elliot Polak, founder and creator of Textappeal, a British firm that provides cross-cultural marketing and advertising expertise for global companies. “Dr. Al-Mutawa is working on rebranding, not of a product or service, but the rebranding of Islam.” 
Additionally, the article reports that this effort has come to an agreement with DC, which will include a crossover featuring a fully clothed Wonder Woman, among others.

The Times had previously reported on this effort in 2006.

The Washington Post reported a year earlier on a similar effort, which concludes with:

One thing distinctly missing from the AK Comics series is any direct reference to the religion of the heroes. A note in one issue explains why: "The religious backgrounds of the heroes remain undisclosed so that no religion or faith can be perceived as better than another." Yet another first in the region.
This is kind of fascinating as earlier we read:

Jalila survived an explosion at the Dimodona nuclear plant -- a barely disguised reference to Israel's Dimona nuclear research reactor, which was instrumental in developing the country's nuclear weapons. She was protected from radiation by a lead suit tailored by her father, a scientist. Nonetheless, rays penetrated and gave her elephantine strength, the speed of a gazelle and the ability to send out vibes that melt metal. She stays busy protecting the City of All Faiths (read: Jerusalem) from the warring Zios Army (the Zionists) and the United Liberation Force (the Palestine Liberation Organization). Both forces, according to a description of Jalila's activities, cling "to their extreme views, both wanting to solely control the City of All Faiths."
Well maybe no religion is perceived as better than another, but this suggests the belief that one religion is worse than others.


4) What's Bibi got to do with it?

Back in May, The Lede reported:

On Friday morning, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that is Mr. Netanyahu “is prepared for a confrontation with President Obama,” because, in the words of one of Mr. Netanyahu’s aides, “Obama apparently does not understand the reality in the Mideast.” 
This being the Lede, Netanyahu's rebuke was treated to a healthy dose of (misinformed) skepticism.

As The Lede explained on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu has for decades resisted American pressure to start negotiations based on Israel’s frontiers in 1967. In 1992, as an aide to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Mr. Netanyahu said that an Israeli state without the territory it seized in 1967 would be in such peril that it would have, “the borders of Auschwitz.” 
Of course the "Auschwitz borders" commented should be attributed to Abba Eban.

But what's the reality of the Middle East?

Today the New York Times reports that the Palestinians cannot pay salaries.

More than 150,000 state employees, whose salaries support a million people, had their wages cut in half this month. Palestinian banks have lent the government more than $1 billion and do not want to lend more. Some ministries have temporarily lost electricity because they have not paid their bills. Last week, the government ordered a reduction in the price of bread, leading to bakery strikes. Garbage is piling up.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts next week; nightly family gatherings and a three-day holiday mean that spending will double. Many people already have large bank loans. September will bring bills for educational fees and school supplies; the olive harvest, when Israeli settler violence is expected to increase; and a likely diplomatic showdown at the United Nations. 
“This is, without doubt, the worst financial crisis the Palestinian Authority has ever faced,” said Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, generally known for a can-do, upbeat attitude. “This could not have come at a worse time. I don’t know how this ends. I don’t have an answer.” 
Remarkably the PA does have the money to pay some people: jailed terrorists. As Palestinian Media Watch documents:

"The PA's Ministry for Prisoner Affairs said that its policy had always been to pay salaries to prisoners and their families 'regardless of their political affiliations.'" 
Furthermore, Palestinian moderates aren't moderates by objective standards as Barry Rubin shows (his words are regular type, Shaath's from a MEMRI interview are italicized):

Nevertheless, it is reasonable to call Shaath as moderate as anyone in the PA’s leadership, more moderate than the Fatah leadership. And what does Shaath say in an interview on July 13, 2011:
Nabil Shaath: The recognition of a [Palestinian] state…will make many things possible in the future. Eventually, we will be able to sign bilateral agreements with states, and this will enable us to exert pressure on Israel. At the end of the day, we want to exert pressure on Israel, in order to force it to recognize us and to leave our country. This is our long-term goal. 
In other words, the goal is not to come to a deal with Israel but to gain recognition from other countries which will pressure Israel and force it to give the PA what it wants. (Incidentally, this is pretty much Yasir Arafat’s strategy from 30 years ago, though he was using a higher level of violence in that process.)
But what does the phrase “leave our country” mean as a “long-term goal?” Does “leave our country” mean just the West Bank and east Jerusalem (pre-1967 borders without mutually agreed swaps) or wiping Israel off the map and replacing it with an Arab Muslim state? It’s ambiguous, isn’t it? So perhaps Shaath is a moderate (as advertised in the Western media? In this case, though, Shaath gives us an answer. 
“[The recent French proposal, quite frienly to the Palestinians generally] reshaped the issue of the “Jewish state” into a formula that is also unacceptable to us-–two states for two peoples. They can describe Israel itself as a state for two peoples, but we will be a state for one people. The story of `two states for two peoples’ means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people
here. We will never accept this….We will not sacrifice the 1.5 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who live within the 1948 borders, and we will never agree to a clause preventing the Palestinian refugees from returning to their country.”
In other words, Shaath, one of the most important and relatively moderate Palestinian Authority leaders, is against a two-state solution. First, there will be a Palestinian state “for one people,” that is an Arab, Muslim state. But there can be no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state because that implies a permanent peace. Shaath and the Palestinian leadership almost unanimously seek a second stage in which 
the “Palestinians with Israeli citizenship” plus the “returning…to their country” of Palestinian refugees will turn Israel into an Arab Muslim Palestinian part of Palestine 
This is merely a restatement of the “two-stage” solution of the PLO adopted forty years ago. No real progress in 40 years, despite all the disasters and potential lessons seen by the Palestinians! I have been very skeptical about the peace process, especially for the last 15 years, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that has so brought home to me why this is such a mirage because Shaath is so open about it and if anyone could be expected to support a real two-state solution it would be him. 
The diplomatic initiative being pursued by the Palestinians is described by Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe as:

The implications of this long-forgotten editorial, and all the other statements, are in the first instance that Israel does not bear full and exclusive responsibility for the Palestinian refugee situation – the Arab states and the Palestinians themselves do too. This also puts their upcoming “Unilateral Declaration of Independence” into a wholly different light.  
In effect, Palestinian leaders have asked the United Nations for yet another opportunity to turn the clock back to give them another chance at achieving statehood that could have been theirs in 1948 or even in 1938. Meanwhile, some Palestinian officials have begun floating the idea of returning to the 1947 partition plan, the same plan that their predecessors rejected summarily in 1947. When do these chances run out? In the process, as their predecessors did in 1949, they blame everyone but themselves for not having achieved their goals to date.  
A culture without a sense of responsibility for its own decisions, that blames others for its own decisions and at the same time perpetually demands that its maintenance is someone else’s responsibility, is not likely to create a stable, functioning nation-state. Any new Palestinian state would be an instant pauper, utterly dependent on aid, primarily from the American taxpayer.
In effect, then, the Palestinians are demanding neither statehood nor peace, but a redo. And as shown above they take actions and make arguments that belie their professed desires for statehood or peace.

That is the reality that too many politician, diplomats, academics, journalists and assorted peace processors refuse to acknowledge. Israel cannot make peace right now and it has nothingn to do with who is Prime Minister.

5) Followup

Yesterday I criticized the New York Times for mentioning that Anthony Weiner supported the Zivotofsky family. I assumed that there were other Congressional supporters of the case. Weiner filed the sole supporting brief for the case being heard by the Supreme Cournt and was the original sponsor of the Israeli Capital Recognition Act. It was proper for the Times to credit Weiner. Thanks to reader Lynn for pointing this out.

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