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A Speech to Remember?

June 10, 2009

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

The most poignant commentary on Obama’s Cairo excursion is by the brilliant political cartoonist Steve Bell. His June 5 Guardian newspaper portrayal of the Obama visit to Cairo has the US president posing on a desert landscape next to a docile, satisfied-looking camel, tickling its chin!

Some praise the speech as historic. In a limited way it was: in tone, in eloquence.

But these qualities are insufficient to assure real changes in US policy and alter how USA may be evaluated across the world. In themselves Obama’s words do not promise substantive change in policy that the world expects and needs.

Obama could have uttered really revolutionary promise with a decision to recognize the Hizbullah and Hamas political parties or an announcement of serious compassionate review of all Muslims held in US custody, at home and abroad. Such declarations would signal true policy change.

There was nothing remotely approaching this. If Obama defined any policy, it was of Washington’s unwavering solidarity with Israel. He explicitly said so, reinforcing the position with support for Jews and Israelis on a number of fronts. Those references stood in sharp contrast to tepid recognition of Palestinian rights and daily injustices at the hands of Israel. Obama left room but very little in concrete terms for their dream –and their right-- to a viable Palestinian state.

President Obama’s Islamic greeting and quotations from the Quran as well as invocations of Muslim contributions to civilization show what we already know—that the present US leader is smart, courteous and charming.

So why did he decide to make this much touted speech on his stopover in Cairo between visits in Saudi Arabia, then Buchenwald in Germany?

Everyone I spoke to and most commentators in the Middle East have said ‘we applaud your oration and good words; but we await action, signs of substantive changes’. While oratory and good manners are a respected feature of Arab discourse, the people to whom Obama’s words were addressed know that a convincing presidential statement must be implemented with deeds. Nowhere is this more anticipated than in regards to Palestinian rights and the rights of Muslims (in the US and elsewhere) suspected of working against US interests.

So why all the fanfare and the long speech? Few commentators are speculating but I suggest this: he plans to ask Arab governments for something major, in regards to Israel, or further financial support, or military bases; he may do so pointing to his Cairo gesture. Perhaps the public is not fooled but Arab leaders may find any request hard to reject after this display of intelligent warmth.

[ A Speech to Remember? ]

What was really going on at Guantanamo Prison?

April 01, 2009

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Guantanamo Bay Prison will close. But what about the files—records of the treatments or ‘experiments’ that went on there?

Don’t expect us to believe that detailed records those thousands of days of interrogations were not carefully amassed. Whether or not the prisoners are guilty of any war crimes, whether they will be released or not, the managers of this torture center have doubtless accumulated hundreds of thousands of pages—not to mention the videos and audio files-- of their ‘sessions’ with the prisoners. I speak not of pages of confessions, but pages of ‘observations’. What is to be done with this material? And do these have some ‘scientific’ value beyond any putative security purpose?

Let us be honest: as abhorrent a thought as it may be to us, torture and interrogation are could be viewed by some as a ‘science’. Careful records of those activities are made. We learn how ‘treatments’ are often systematically applied, reapplied, and applied again. Some reports by former prisoners speak of repeated torture sessions. They are retuned to their cells, then called out and interrogated again, with the same questions, over the over. They tell of promises made, or threats. We learn about the rigorous procedures applied by security staff when prisoners do not ‘behave’. We know about the involvement of ‘doctors’, perhaps psychologists, and of video tapings (for security purposes?). We learn that torture is applied psychologically and physically.

Yes, these ugly, shameful, illegal sessions may be used to secure ‘information’. But what prison needs years to interrogate individuals, using whatever means?

To me, procedures applied through such a sustained program suggest something more sinister than has been spoken of. I suggest the real aim of the torture and captivity was not primarily to extract information. Guantanamo became an “experimental center” on human behavior—specifically the behavior of Muslim men. Information sought was about how these people respond to various torture techniques, what reveals of their faith-- Islam.

Perhaps never in modern history have western authorities had what they might view as an opportunity to understand what they might consider to be ‘an alien religion’. Maybe some of the violence against these men served a masochistic purpose for some guards. Approached more coldly, applications could be conducted with the aim of discovering, for example, how these ‘aliens’ can be humiliated, enraged, converted? For those who resist, the jailers want to discover how their faith help motivates them, protects or defends them?

Experiments on prisoners were conducted in the not distant past. Is America capable of such things today?

 

[ What was really going on at Guantanamo Prison? ]

Calling for The Arrest of An African Head of State

March 01, 2009

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

How ironic. An arrest warrant is issued by a European-based court for an African head of state.

We have just witnessed millions of Palestinians subjected to a massive assault with the loss in just 22 days of 1,400 lives, hundreds of them children, the wounding of almost 5000 following years of an unopposed and unpublicized ethnic cleaning campaign. Can anything happening in southern Sudan match this?

Has anything conducted by Khartoum match the US aggression on Iraq, the displacement of up to 6 million and the deaths of millions, the compounded inestimable destruction, following 13 years of a massive US-designed and executed blockade?

Can anything in Sudan match the assault on Afghan society and nation, where numbers of dead and destroyed livelihoods are not even tallied? Yet, it is an African, an Arab-speaking leader, a Muslim who is indicted by the European court.

To make matters more troubling this policy being vigorously endorsed by the new US administration, where the new US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, sounds chillingly like Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice.

Some Americans are outraged by the abuses of the past former President Bush for what is now agreed was a war (in Iraq) fostered by lies and other deceptions. There is talk of possible prosecutions of former white house officials in connection with abuses. This is largely talk, although someone may be singled out and made a scapegoat. There is almost no chance of George W. Bush or his V-P being charged with any wrongdoing.

 It is clear that indeed there are unresolved conflicts that result in the plight of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese now huddled in the Darfur camps. Meanwhile no major international body is able to or wants to resolve the conflict peacefully. And who is really trying?

In the West, conflicts around Darfur provide a convenient arena for certain international interests to highlight the Sudanese suffering as a campaign of Arab domination and Muslim excesses. It is presented as religious and racial persecution, thus justifying international moral indignation.

In reality, we have the targeting of yet another wealthy Arab nation whose resources are much coveted, but whose competitors-- China among them—are in line ahead of Europeans and Americans. The Sudanese leader may not be far off when the charges his accusers of seeking to make a grab for Sudan’s resources. The country is the largest in Africa and one of its richest. European colonial attitudes and tactics have not changed much.

[ Calling for The Arrest of An African Head of State ]

Gazan Inaugural

January 19, 2009

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

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Co-incidences?

Israel’s assault on the Gazan people began November 4, 2008, the day Americans proudly elected Barak Obama to be their 44th president.

On January 19th, 2009 the eve of Obama’s inauguration, Israel announces its pullout from Gaza territories.

Who are we to thank: the Israeli murderers and their supporting citizenry around the world? American legislators who fund and endorse the long ethnic-cleansing campaign against Palestinian peoples? An indignant but ineffectual United Nations does no more than feed a people forced into penury? Or our glorious celebrity president, Mr. Obama himself?

[ Gazan Inaugural ]

Gaza; end of year, or a beginning?

January 01, 2009

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

It is less heart wrenching if we call the war against Gaza an end of the year review rather than “a beginning of.” Regrettably it is neither. The cowardly punishment of the Palestinians is a long and now well understood agenda.

No one is fooled by statements from Tel Aviv or Washington politicians. Nor are we fooled by the silence of the US president-elect. Remember the guy who made “change” his campaign agenda.

Put aside the numbers of dead and wounded in this campaign, on any side. I have seen enough to remember the blind school for girls, Bashir’s father bedridden and speechless from a stoke, a boy born unable to walk, an aunt in prison, the heart attack of Mona’s mother, the engagement of the boy upstairs, the anticipated university admission of the shopkeeper’s daughter, the pregnant girl, the boy with a limp. All these ailments and hardships, we find in any society, and more.

There are sicknesses, treatments, applications, fights between neighbors or women and daughters-in-law anywhere, including Gaza. think of your own family, and your friends whose children are born with illness, of a father’s sudden death, cancer patients awaiting treatment, a runaway child, or husband, of all that a car crash brings, of a lost gift or a broken sink. A youth wants to write a book, another loves art and dreams to become a sculptor. A young couple fall in love and intend to marry. We all deal with accidents and illness, with marriage and funerals and celebrations, dreams and defeats.

Add to all this, a savage one-sided war. Not just days of bombs, but a siege: no ambulances, broken phones, smashed windows, dwindling food supply, crippled hospitals. Being unable to move from one neighborhood to the next, denied a visit from your son since 1985 because he is barred from returning to his homeland.

This is life in Gaza, in a few sentences. This is everyday in Gaza. The present attacks, in addition to any Israeli and US policy strategies, are aimed at humiliating a people, forcing them to succumb to further disgrace and helplessness. It won’t work.

In his December 28, 2008 address in Lebanon, Hezbullah leader Seyyed Hassan Nassrallah recalls the choice made by Imam Hossein (PBUH): "And how far disgrace is from us! Allah refuses us the life of disgrace, His Messenger and believers do too."

Nassrallah asks: “Why did he declare ‘And how far disgrace is from us’, Why did he say ‘we shall never be disgraced?’ “It was not an emotional outburst! The matter was rather one of humanitarian, ideological spiritual, religious and humane commitment springing from human values, dignity and human rights. As Hossein (PBUH) later tells us ‘...Allah refuses us the life of disgrace, His Messenger and believers do too. Indeed, proud, exalted and lofty spirits will never prefer to obey the vile people, rather than the death of the honorable ones.’"

[ Gaza; end of year, or a beginning? ]


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