Mosaic Blog

The Grinch Who Stole Eid

Today, 1.5 billion Muslims across the globe celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan. However, one renegade pastor of a church with fewer than 50 members, Rev. Terry Jones, has cast a shadow on their festivities. For the past several weeks, the media has treated us to live theater of the absurd by amplifying a statement made by an unknown preacher from Gainesville, Florida proposing to burn Qurans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.

 

Jones has garnered worldwide news media attention these past few days and become an overnight influence

on American foreign policy and public image abroad, even receiving a call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and many pleas from world leaders and celebrities asking him not to go ahead with his plans. The President of the United States urged him to listen to "those better angels," and military leaders warned that his actions would endanger U.S. troops and give Islamic terrorists a recruiting tool.

The media frenzy over Jones' actions reached a peak this Thursday when he announced he was canceling, and later, that he had only "suspended" what he had dubbed International Burn a Quran Day.

The New York Times sent this "breaking news alert" to my Blackberry: "The pastor planning a burning of the Koran (Quran) on Saturday said he will cancel the event, adding he plans to meet with the Imam planning to build an Islamic center near ground zero."

Minutes later wire services competed to report that Rev. Jones had backed off and then threatened to reconsider burning the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks saying that he was lied to with a promise to relocate the "Ground Zero Mosque" from its current location.

This story has also become headline news all over the Middle East, in an almost coordinated fashion to what is being reported on US networks. This means that viewers in the region were treated to viewing this story not only on CNN International and Fox News, but also on Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and hundreds of regional and international television networks carried on satellite systems in the region. Television viewers in the Arab world had to endure endless coverage of the pastor from Florida, coupled with the controversy over the proposed building of a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan near Ground Zero. Making the matter worse, this happened during the month of Ramadan, the biggest time for watching television in the Arab world, akin to the sweeps season in the United States. This could not have happened at a worse time!

Will Jones set Islam's holy book on fire? Will there be copy-cats? It does not matter.

To millions of Muslims across the globe, the mere thought of such a thing happening is repulsive. If the satanic ritual (as an Egyptian Sheikh has described it) does not occur, then that's because the pastor from Florida has been under intense pressure to give it up. Furthermore, the controversy over the Islamic center in lower Manhattan is not going to disappear anytime soon. Ramadan has been tainted by Islamophobia over the building of a mosque, and Eid has been hijacked by one bigot. The media has created a monster.

 

Article originally published on the Huffington Post

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Direct Talks: Five Myths

Direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis are scheduled to commence in Washington on September 2, a decade after the last real final-status talks, and nearly two years after the last direct talks. Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu will come face to face for dinner and talks in Washington as guests of President Obama after 18 months of shuttle diplomacy and indirect "proximity talks" headed by Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell.

 

President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan, along with Tony Blair, the special representative of the Middle East Quartet are also due to join the inaugural session in Washington.

 

While much hope has been placed on these

talks culminating in an agreement within a year, most Palestinians and Israelis remain skeptical of their success. More importantly, hopes and expectations have been inflated in some media reports, adding confusion and creating myths about what might turn up only to be yet another photo op in DC.

 

Here are some of the myths:

 

Myth No.1- They're not talking


Although Abbas and Netanyahu have not sat face to face for the past eighteen months, contacts and cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government have not ceased on several fronts, most notably in commerce and security.

 

Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, spoke at the Herzliya Conference in February alongside Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at a time when his boss, President Mahmoud Abbas was insisting on a

total halt to settlement construction before peace talks could resume. Also, Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces senior officials have made several visits to Ramallah for meetings with senior PA officials and members of the Palestinian security services. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin recently spent a day in the West Bank city of Jenin as a guest of the Palestinian Authority's security service.

This is Diskin's second visit of this kind to Palestinian Authority territory in recent months, the aim of which is to coordinate security ties between Israel and the PA. The first visit was to Ramallah.


Myth No. 2- Settlement Freeze


Settlement construction is "business as usual" in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Although a few projects were pushed back, construction on existing projects continues unabated. Close to half a million Israeli Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. More importantly, settlers have accelerated their activities taking over Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, in Arab neighborhoods in Sheikh Jarrah, Shu'fat, and Silwan. Furthermore, in 2010, more than 240 Palestinian homes have been destroyed in Area C of the West Bank compared to 182 in all of 2009.

Myth No. 3- Security Fears


Israel's concern over security in the West Bank is exaggerated. Today the Palestinian Authority is policing the West Bank on behalf of the IDF. Very few Israeli deaths, only two in 2010, have been registered due to attacks in the West Bank. In comparison, far more Palestinians have been killed and injured by settlers and the IDF in 2010. Rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip have also subsided. Israel's main security concern these days is Iran.

 

"The threat that Iran poses is very grave for the state of Israel, for peace in the Middle East and the whole world," Netanyahu said in November 2009, repeating variations on this statement on several occasions.

 

Myth No. 4- Abbas & Netanyahu can deliver peace


Neither Prime Minister Netanyahu nor President Abbas have the mandate to deliver a peace agreement. Netanyahu would face strident opposition from within his Likud party and fierce opposition from his own foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who has the ability and influence to unravel his fragile coalition.

 

Abbas also faces a complex problem of legitimacy. His term as President has expired, and under his watch, Palestinian unity was fractured when Hamas managed to route out his forces from Gaza.

 

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said recently that Abbas was too weak to stand up to Israel and negotiate a just deal at the talks in Washington.

 

"If the talks succeed they will succeed to Israeli standards and liquidate the Palestinian cause. They'll give us parts of 1967 lands. They'll draw the borders as they want and they'll confiscate our sovereignty," said Meshaal

 

Myth No. 5- No preconditions


Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted for many weeks that he was ready to come to the negotiating table in Washington, but without "preconditions." In fact both he and President Mahmoud Abbas have already announced preconditions, raising expectations and laying the groundwork for failure.

 

Among the preconditions laid out by Netanyahu for peace with the Palestinians is recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians consider this condition as a non-starter, instead they'd like to delve into sensitive areas such as the construction of Jewish settlements on occupied territory, the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and the right of return, issues that will be difficult to overcome.

 

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he will withdraw from negotiations if settlement activity resumes. The settlement moratorium is due to expire on Sept. 26. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems unlikely to extend it.


Article originally published on the Huffington Post

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Pakistan: A Slow-Motion Tsunami

2010 could go down in history as the year of natural and environmental disasters. We’ve witnessed earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, wildfires and a drought in Russia, a devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and now one fifth of Pakistan is submerged under water due to floods leaving more than 20 million people without potable water, food, shelter and medicine.

 

The United Nations general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, called this latest disaster a “slow-motion tsunami,” and appealed for swift aid.


"Make no mistake, this is a global disaster," Ban said at the UN general assembly. "Pakistan is facing a slow-motion tsunami. Its destructive powers will accumulate and grow with time," he warned.

 

Relief agencies say the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Pakistan is greater than this year's earthquake in Haiti; however, relief for Pakistan may be a long time coming.


"Although governments have been coming forward with increasing generosity, the public response has not been the immediate outpouring of generosity that we've seen for Haiti and the tsunami five years ago," the U.N. Under Secretary John Holmes said.


According to a CBS news report, sixteen days after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, aid commitments totaled $1.4 billion. Sixteen days after Pakistan's floods began, promises added up to just $200 million.


Yet despite the heart-wrenching television images

broadcast across the globe showing massive destruction and enormous human suffering, the world has been slow to react to calls for aid. Why has Pakistan been forsaken?

The most common answer to the slow response is “donor fatigue.” Many believe that there have been too many disasters in one year, and donors have reached their limit in giving, especially since many still suffer from the effects of the financial crisis. Another factor has been a low death toll.  But Pakistan's tarnished image plays a major role, according to a few Pakistani Americans I’ve spoken to.

“Zardari’s government is corrupt,” said Ali Khan, a financial analyst from San Jose. “Many people do not believe that their contributions will reach the right people,” he added.

Another Pakistani American I’ve spoken to placed the blame for the slow response on the anti-Muslim sentiments sweeping the Western world.

Meanwhile, the United States has pledged an additional $60 million to the U.N. flood-relief effort in Pakistan, bringing its contribution to $150 million in a move designed to encourage other governments and private donors to boost their aid.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has pledged $124.29 million in aid for Pakistan’s flood relief campaign, surpassing the western economic giants - and Islamabad’s allies in the war against terror – according to Al Arabiya TV. The UAE has also been leading a massive relief campaign to transport food and medicine to flood-stricken remote areas in Pakistan. Oil-rich Kuwait however,  has been criticized for it’s meager $10 million contribution.

Arab media has given the crisis extensive coverage and has played a major role in creating awareness during the holy month of Ramadan, a month known for giving.

Weather forecasts indicate that there could be four more weeks of rain, which could exasperate the situation even further.

We at Link TV have a set up a page on our website to keep you updated with the news in Pakistan and provide you with a useful guide so that you too can contribute in some way in the saving and rebuilding of lives there.

 

Get the latest updates and find out what you can do to help

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Iraq: Invading Is Easier Than Leaving

There are remarkably few positive things to say about Iraq today. The country seems to be in perpetual upheaval since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Dozens of people were killed across Iraq just days ahead of the start of the holy month of Ramadan, and more will probably lose their lives in the coming few days when insurgents typically step up their attacks. Yet the Obama administration has recently announced that the U.S. is "on target to end the combat mission." The U.S. government plans to withdraw its combat troops by the end of August and to remove all troops by the end of 2011.

 

But Iraq's most senior military officer, Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari, said that his forces, particularly the air force, were not ready to take over, cautioning that his security forces will not be able to secure the country until 2020.


The country has been facing many domestic challenges, such as a period of Sunni Arab insurgency, bloody attacks by al-Qaeda, confrontations with al-Sadr militias, and the ongoing tensions between various political factions; however, it's Iraq's vulnerability to neighboring countries that Zebari was alluding to.

"If America withdraws its forces and one of the neighboring countries causes problems, then we're going to have a problem," Zebari said.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian last week,
Saddam Hussein's former deputy Tareq Aziz warned about a U.S. withdrawal and accused Barack Obama of "leaving Iraq to the wolves". Indeed, and even with the presence of 64,000 US troops in Iraq, both Turkish and Iranian troops have recently crossed Iraq's northern border in pursuit of Kurdish rebels. Last December, Iranian troops occupied an Iraqi oil well in the south, triggering popular outrage but little action from the Iraqi government.

It's worth mentioning that not everyone agrees with Zebari. A couple of days before his cautioning statement, General Ali Ghaidan, the commander of all Iraqi ground forces, told reporters at a news conference that his troops are "100 per cent ready" to take over.

But will the U.S. actually withdraw from Iraq?

Not really. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops will remain in the country to train the Iraqi army and provide it with logistical support. If need be, they will be engaged in combat missions. Meanwhile, the number of private contractors working for the U.S. in Iraq in sectors such as security, communications, utilities, and commerce is estimated at 100,000. This number is likely to increase significantly once the "combat forces" are gone, especially in the security sector.

Move on US Marines, here come Xe Services (better known as Blackwater)!

Meanwhile, the political stalemate between Nouri el- Maliki and Iyad Allawi if not resolved might soon trigger a major political upheaval, something that may cause the Iraqi government with its fragile coalitions to collapse; the last thing the Obama administration needs while withdrawing the troops.

It took 21 days for the U.S. armed forces to reach Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein, but leaving Iraq is proving to be more complicated than invading it.

Article originally published on the Huffington Post
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Nuclear Iran: Is There An Option?

The US treasury has recently expanded its blacklist on Iran to include another state-controlled bank, a shipping line, and more of its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The latest move is the first step by the US in implementing new restrictions adopted by the UN Security Council last week. The Treasury also took a separate step to squeeze Iran's energy sector by identifying some 20 petroleum and petrochemical companies as being under Iranian government control--an action that puts them off limits to U.S. businesses under a general trade embargo.

On Wednesday, Iran announced that it will build four new reactors to expand its atomic research. It denies Western allegations that it is seeking atomic weapons, insisting that it only wants to develop the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In a televised speech, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed to force the West to "sit at the negotiating table like a polite child" before agreeing to further talks, adding that Iran will not make "one iota of concessions."

The Obama administration says the goal of the punitive measures is to deter Tehran from its nuclear-enrichment program. Will these sanctions further that goal? Not really.

Lest we forget, the sanctions that were passed at the UN have been watered down during negotiations with Russia and China rendering them practically ineffective. The additional sanctions by the US and the ones planned by the EU have no crippling effect on Iran's economy and do not entail an oil embargo. Sanctions can be effective only if they threaten the regime's survival, and since these sanctions are all based on Iran's nuclear energy program and not human rights, they remain ineffective. The vast majority of Iranians support their government's nuclear-enrichment policies.

Additional sanctions will most likely come at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable, as they did in Iraq from August 1991 through March 1998.

"[The sanctions] will most probably lead to the suffering of the people of Iran and will play into the hands of people on all sides who do not want dialogue to prevail," according to the Brazilian ambassador to the UN, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti. Brazil, along with Turkey, voted against the draft resolution of the UN Security Council to impose new sanctions against Iran.

Furthermore, the sanctions would allow Tehran to blame outsiders for its economic woes. In fact, the sanctions will do Iran a favor that the Iranian government can't do for itself.

 

As for making a dent in Iran's import- export traffic of energy products, the sanctions will have little effect. Turkey has indicated that it plans to increase its imports of natural gas from Iran. Also, according to The Wall Street Journal, oil traders and oil industry analysts say Iran will have little trouble finding other gasoline supplies in the Persian Gulf, where a black market in fuel products thrives, even if Washington passes measures that would penalize firms or individuals with business in the U.S. that supply gasoline to Iran.

Capt. Mousa Murad, general manager of the United Arab Emirates' Port of Fujairah, says gasoline sanctions will likely give a lift to a thriving black-market fuel trade in the Gulf. The region has no shortage of suppliers, he says, who will continue to hide gasoline shipments to Iran because "prices will go up two times, three times."

What options does the US have?

 

Those who are anxious to stop Iran's nuclear program keep reminding us that the "military option is still on the table." For years, the US has tried to stop India and Pakistan from joining the nuclear club and briefly turned off aid to them. Today, it works secretly with Pakistan to secure its arsenal and has signed a treaty with India permitting it to buy nuclear material. The Unites States option might be no option.

 

Article originally published on the Huffington Post
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