Monday, May 14, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 5/14/2012: Congress vs UNRWA

From DG:
1) Not refugees

Cliff May explains one of the sources of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and it has do with a definition (via Daily Alert):
After World War II, the British left Palestine, which was to be partitioned into two independent nations. One would have a Jewish majority, the other a Muslim majority. About 750,000 Muslims left the territories that became Israel. A similar number of Jews left Arab/Muslim lands. Today, not one of the Jews remains a refugee. But there are still Palestinian refugees — indeed, their number has mushroomed to almost 5 million. How is that possible? Through two mechanisms. First of all, a refugee, by definition, lives on foreign soil, but for Palestinians the definition has been changed, so that a displaced Palestinian on Palestinian soil also receives refugee status. Second, the international organization responsible for resettling refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was cut out from the start. A new organization was set up exclusively for Palestinians: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
In 1950, UNRWA defined a refugee as someone who had “lost his home and his means of livelihood” during the war launched by Arab/Muslim countries in response to Israel’s declaration of independent statehood. Fifteen years later, UNRWA decided — against objections from the United States — to include as refugees the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those who left Israel. And in 1982, UNRWA further extended eligibility to all subsequent generations of descendants — forever.
May writes that some in Congress are attempting to change that:
A few members of Congress have figured out what’s going on and plan to do something about it. Senator Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) is working on an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that, for the first time, would establish as U.S. policy that only a Palestinian refugee can be classified as a Palestinian refugee — not a son, grandson, or great-grandson, and not someone who has resettled and taken citizenship in another country. The Kirk amendment would require the secretary of state to report to Congress on how many Palestinians serviced by UNRWA fit the traditional definition of a refugee. 
Representative Howard Berman (D., Calif.), ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, also is considering legislative options in response to these problems. At the very least, these approaches would ensure that descendants of refugees would be listed — with unaccustomed clarity — as “descendants of refugees.”
One weakness, is what if the Secretary of State doesn't go along or obfuscates instead of abiding by the terms of the law? And what if the administration pressures Congress not to pass the measure on account of it interfering with its conduct of foreign policy?

2) Of liberals and Islamists

An op-ed in the New York Times, Can Islamists be liberals? by Mustafa Akyol starts off promisingly.
But there is another reason for concern: What if elected Islamist parties impose laws that curb individual freedoms — like banning alcohol or executing converts — all with popular support? What if democracy does not serve liberty? 
This question is seldom asked in the West, where democracy is often seen as synonymous with liberalism. However, as Fareed Zakaria warned in his 2003 book “The Future of Freedom,” there are illiberal democracies, too, where the majority’s power isn’t checked by constitutional liberalism, and the rights and freedoms of all citizens are not secured. This is a risk for the post-Arab Spring countries, and even for post-Kemalist Turkey. The real debate, therefore, is whether Islam is compatible with liberalism.
But as it progresses the essay becomes more apologetic towards Turkey:
These obstacles to liberal democracy are unrelated to religion though; they are the legacy of years of secular but authoritarian politics. But the A.K.P., which has been in power for almost a decade and has introduced important liberal reforms, has lately let its progressivism wane. The party has absorbed some of the traditional illiberalism of the establishment in Ankara, the capital, that it now fully dominates. It has not been too Islamic; it is just proving to be too Turkish. 
As the A.K.P.’s rule empowers Turkey’s religiously conservative majority, it is imperative that the new elite liberalize the political system, rather than simply co-opt it for their own advantage. And as new questions about religion and public life emerge — Should schools promote Islam? Should alcohol sales be restricted? Should the state instruct private TV channels to uphold “moral values”? — the government must protect civil liberties, including the “freedom to sin,” and constrain those who seek to use state power to impose their values on others.
To Akyol then the consolidation of power by Erdogan and the AKP, have nothing to do with Islam but with Turkey's political culture. Given Turkey's crackdown on journalism and the military, on the basis of what evidence does he hold out hope of Turkey liberalizing under the AKP?

Paul Berman profiles an Islamic reformer who can't be silenced (via memeorandum):
The EFD statement quotes Ms. Manji: “Four years ago, I came to Indonesia and experienced a nation of tolerance, openness and pluralism. Things have changed. Islamic radicals have been allowed to close down legitimate debate about issues which Indonesians hold dear to their hearts—the reform of Islam from within. But we will not be silenced. Our work of speaking truth to power has in fact been strengthened by this cowardly attack. We are not going away and will continue to fight for freedom of speech!” 
In case you think Ms. Manji makes such statements only to her own supporters, I quote an interview with her from last Sunday, which I find online at the Jakarta Globe: “If you want to talk about foreign imperialism, believe me, it’s not America or Israel that is the problem in this part of the world,” she said. “It’s Saudi Arabia.” This is known as not mincing words.
Berman's concludes:
It is fashionable among the Western apologists for the Islamist movement to insist that genuine reformists and liberals have no audience in the Muslim world. The claim is false. Manji’s earlier book, The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, has been published, according to the EFD, in more than 30 countries. Manji runs a website,, offering translations in Arabic, Urdu and Farsi, which are said to have been downloaded more than 2 million times. But then it shouldn’t be necessary to cite numbers to demonstrate the ability of the genuinely independent thinkers to make themselves heard. Why else are they attacked, after all? Nor do these attacks occur only in Muslim-majority countries. Manji has lately had trouble in Amsterdam, too—where, as everyone will remember, she is hardly the first person to come under attack.
I'm not sure I fully agree. It isn't so much that genuine reformists and liberals have no audience; it's  that they have no power and, more often than not, are ignored.Barry Rubin quotes from one in a recent column:
In a recent letter to me, a Middle Eastern democracy advocate who fled revolutionary Islamism to the West–there will be thousands more in the years to come–reflected on his experiences in light of my articles. These are the people the West is betraying, to its own detriment. The so-called liberals (leftists pretending to be liberal) who apologize for, lie about, and even help anti-Western Islamist dictatorships should take note of such individuals who are the hope of their homelands but have themselves lost hope:
“At the very beginning of the Iranian revolution (before the revolution was highjacked by the Islamists), many youth including myself considered ourselves as leftists. To us, people on the left were progressive, social justice oriented and were struggling to establish freedom and equality. But once the Islamists took power and consolidated their dictatorship, these young moderates were “killed, [went into] hiding or forced to leave Iran.

When I came to the West, I connected myself to the leftist movement right away, but distanced myself more and more from them when I realized that I could not convince them of the dangers involved with the Islamist ideology. They did not believe my own personal stories of horrific life in Iran under a reactionary-repressive Islamic regime. I still challenge them whenever I can regarding the crimes committed by Hamas and other Islamists in the Middle East or elsewhere. However, unfortunately, we have no voice among the so-called progressive leftists.
3) Ahmadinejad in fine form

FARS news agency quotes the Iranian President in a recent speech:
"Israel is nothing more than a mosquito which cannot see the broad horizon of the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said, addressing a large gathering of the Iranian people in Khorassan Razavi province, Northeastern Iran, on Saturday.
Russia Today quotes similarly provocative language; though the source of the speech is not identified.
Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that there is no need for war in order to destroy Israel. He stated that if Israel’s neighbors severed ties with the country it would bring the Jewish state to its knees. 
Ahmadinejad spoke out against his nation’s arch-enemy during a tour of Northeast Iran on Saturday emphasizing that “the destruction of the Zionist regime does not necessitate making war.” 
"If countries of the region cut ties with the Zionists and give them dirty looks, it will spell the end of this puppet regime," said the president.
(Both via memeorandum)
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