December 30, 2006

Saddam Hanged

Rumors were flying all day today as to whether the former Iraqi dictator had been handed over to Iraqi authorities, which would indicate that his execution is nearing. There's not much that can be hidden with the 24-hour news technology we have at our fingertips. Indeed, most major news networks are now reporting that Saddam Hussein has been hanged according to the sentencing of the Dujail trial which ended a few months ago. It is indeed the end of an era, and the end of a brutal tyrant. Unfortunately, it is not the beginning of a good thing either. Iraq today is in shambles. Nevertheless, the actions of this cold blooded murderer should not be mixed with the politics of occupation in Iraq today.

What baffles me is what I will see tomorrow morning when I turn on the television and see the reaction of the Arab and Muslim world, which will likely be a condemnation of the execution. I do understand where many people are coming from, that they consider his trial unfair and the whole issue of the occupation to be tainting it. That is probably the case, and Saddam probably did not receive a fair trial. However, I do not recall that he granted anyone a fair trial when he was ruling Iraq with an iron fist. I consider myself an advocate of human rights, and that any suspect should be innocent until proven guilty. In my eyes, however, Saddam crossed all the lines of humanity and justice. Some might say that he was forced to use such policies to keep Iraq together, but I see that he had no regard for human life.

As the New York Times Editorial wrote today, the trial of Saddam should have been fair so as to set the tone for the new judicial system in the country, and the respect for rule of law:
The important question was never really about whether Saddam Hussein was guilty of crimes against humanity. The public record is bulging with the lengthy litany of his vile and unforgivable atrocities...

What really mattered was whether an Iraq freed from his death grip could hold him accountable in a way that nurtured hope for a better future. A carefully conducted, scrupulously fair trial could have helped undo some of the damage inflicted by his rule.

It could have, but it didn’t. After a flawed, politicized and divisive trial, Mr. Hussein was handed his sentence: death by hanging.
Many people will argue that George W. Bush and many other leaders have more blood on their hands than Saddam. That might the case, but does that mean that if we cannot try one criminal we should not try any? It is a double standard indeed for an occupying and invading force like the US to be calling for justice for Saddam when the US government supported him only a decades ago. But does that mean we should let him go? Allow him to live in exile and disregard the injustices he inflicted upon his people?

A day will come when other tyrants like him will fall. Those who think that they are all-powerful today should read a little history and know that this is what Saddam Hussein thought he was. And now he is dead after people danced around his corpse which was hung to death.

I always hated the old adage, "my enemy's enemy is my best friend". I hate it because it appears to justify actions. It appears to justify that the US collaborated with Saddam when he was the enemy of their other enemy, Iran. I hate it because some people use it to justify their support for Saddam claiming that his enemy is the US which is causing all the chaos in Iraq.

For everyone who says that Saddam is a hero, please stop right here. Please stop, and put yourself in the shoes of the countless families in Iraq who's lives were ruined by this man. The women who woke up to find their husband's bodies lying in a trash bag in front of their homes. The Kurdish families who were wiped out because they dared to ask for equal rights. The Shiites who were massacred because they wanted their voices to be heard. And the Sunnis who were forced to be slaves at the feet of this tyrant to avoid getting shot.

Some Arabs and Muslims will feel ashamed today and degraded because Saddam was technically executed at the hands of American forces, because of the invasion, and because they caught him. Is this really what makes you ashamed? Is it not your own leaders who were silent when he killed your brethren? Are you not ashamed that the Arab world was not able to defend Iraqis in the face of international sanctions a decade ago? Are you not ashamed that you are so militarily incapacitated that any European country could probably invade your territory over night without much effort? Are you not ashamed that you still have leaders like Saddam ruling over you in the most barbaric of ways? Does it not make you ashamed that the Arab world is so far behind the rest of the world? Does this not make you ashamed?! Please tell me what makes you ashamed! If you are ashamed that Saddam is being killed at the hands of foreigners, then shame on you, because there are so many other issues that we should be ashamed of.

Every single Iraqi was a victim of Saddam Hussein, and I am glad he is dead. I am glad that he will now meet the Lord who created him and watched him commit the worst crimes imaginable, and will show him the Justice he deserves.

Will his execution bring peace to Iraq? No. Most Iraqis right now are too worried about their safety to care about this news. They will hear it and feel it. They might be happy, they might be sad. Will it help them put food on the table? Will it allow them to go out in the streets in the day and the night without fear of never coming back home? Absolutely not. The civil war in Iraq today is a direct result of the unplanned aftermath of the military victory which the US claimed.

Saddam's execution will not change that reality. Saddam's execution is a reminder and a symbolic event.

Let those who are following in his footsteps today take note.

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December 28, 2006

Egypt + Guns + Fatah = Trouble

News from the Occupied Palestinian territories gets more depressing and more interesting by the hour. The latest are reports that Egypt has sent a hefty arms shipment to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah affiliated security forces, with the approval and support of the US and Israel. Abbas had met with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert a few days earlier.

Egypt has sent a large quantity of arms to the forces of moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party with the help of Israel, an Israeli official said.

"In coordination with Israel, Egypt delivered a large quantity of guns and munitions to the Abbas forces," the official told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.

The Haaretz daily meanwhile reported that "a load of 2,000 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles as well as 20,000 cartridge clips and two million bullets were transferred to Fatah's armed groups in the Gaza Strip, in coordination with the Israeli army."

Israeli public radio reported that there would shortly be another delivery of weaponry to Abbas's forces in the West Bank, this time from Jordan. [AFP]
These steps seem to follow an expected route since the coup that Abbas attempted last week when he announced his intention to call for early presidential and legislative elections in the territories, effectively sidelining the ruling Hamas party. Since then, it has been clear that Abbas was given the green light for this by the US as American officials expressed support for his declaration. It is no coincidence either that Abbas was hosted by Israeli PM Olmert a week later for some unexpected and somewhat secretive discussions.

Abbas's Fatah affiliated security forces are known to have been heavily involved in much of the violence that has been taking place in Gaza and the West Bank for the past two weeks between various Palestinian factions, armed groups, and criminal gangs resulting in a shameful display of Palestinians shooting and punching one another. The shipment of arms to a corrupt security apparatus like Fatah's can only cause more trouble for the already instable territories.

Instead of calling on Israel to stop its settlement expansion, incursions, wall construction, and the occupation altogether, Egypt has gone on attacking the democratically elected government which Hamas now heads. So much for the "only democracy in the Middle East" and the "champion of democracy around the world."

It is very amusing to see how the Israeli government flip-flops with regards to its relationship to Fatah, condemning them when they want, and supporting them when they want. These days, Fatah represent the "forces of peace":
Amos Gilad, head of political military policy at the Defense Ministry, told Israel Radio on Thursday that the assistance provided to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Presidential Guard is aimed at reinforcing the forces of peace in the area.

"The assistance is aimed at reinforcing the forces of peace in the face of the forces of darkness that are threatening the future of the Middle East," Gilad said, commenting on the news of an arms transfer from Egypt to Palestinian security forces, first published in Haaretz Thursday morning. [Haaretz]
I guess this is what they call "democracy promotion."

All together now, D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y!

On a side note, I wasn't pleased when I heard that Palestinian PM Ismail Haniyeh was going on a trip to preform the Hajj. I'm pretty sure he's already preformed this religious duty, and even if he hasn't, right now is not the time to be leaving your people to fend for themselves for personal trips. Let's not take the Fatah route, shall we? Just because you're going to Hajj, doesn't make it different from Fatah officials' trips to Paris and Milan, even though we know you won't be going to splurge in Mecca.

God I wish I could go train these politicians. I'll give you a discount, what do you say?

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December 25, 2006

Happy Holidays

In case you missed my last post about the holiday season (it didn't show up on some aggregators), Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all my readers who are celebrating at this time!

December 24, 2006

Holiday Lights Galore

In Northern Virginia and Washington D.C., every season is unique and beautiful in its own way. During the spring, we have cherry blossoms blooming all over D.C., and in the summer... well, it's just muggy in the summer. Then comes fall when the trees change colors making every street corner and neighborhood an amazing painting. And finally winter, where scenes of holiday lights mixed with occasional snow covering the barren trees makes the cold weather a little more bearable. The lights start going up after Thanksgiving and the malls start decking their halls and their parking lots.

Although I don't celebrate Christmas, I do enjoy driving around and checking out the lights decorating homes all over the place. Every year they get more elaborate, some a little too much for the eye to handle. But generally, they make the neighborhoods light up with joy.

My favorite things about this time of year: lights in the streets, red holiday cups from Starbucks, candy canes, pretty trees in the windows, sales after Christmas, funny Santa hats on the Metro, "the holiday cheer" (not available in all shopping centers), and a day or two off to wrap the season all up.

To everyone else who surely has more meaningful reasons for celebrating this holiday, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah! Eid Al-Adha is just around the corner too, and I wish it could be this time of year all the time so we can all celebrate together :)
Until then, enjoy these photos of lights around my neighborhood (sorry about the blurriness).

christmas lights & tree christmas lights christmas lights christmas lights christmas lights christmas wreaths IMG_8155 christmas lights red trees christmas lights
Check them all out on my Flickr.

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December 22, 2006

We Don't Need Any More Muslim Congressmen

Definitely none that will take their oath on the Quran. That's what a Congressman from southern Virginia, Rep. Virgil Goode Jr, wrote in a letter to his constituents criticizing the influx of immigrants into this country and indicating that an open immigration policy will only lead to more Muslims becoming members of Congress. Fortunately, most of the public has expressed disapproval of Congressman Goode's remarks. The Washington Post lead editorial today lambastes the congressman for his bigotry:

BIGOTRY COMES in various guises -- some coded, some closeted, some colossally stupid. The bigotry displayed recently by Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., a Republican who represents a patch of south-central Virginia, falls squarely in the third category. Mr. Goode, evidently in a state of xenophobic delirium, went on a semi-public tirade against the looming peril and corrupting threat posed by Muslim immigration to the United States. "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America," he wrote in a letter to constituents.

The inspiration for Mr. Goode's rant is Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who last month became the first Muslim elected to Congress. Mr. Ellison, who was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college, has decided to use the Koran during a ceremonial swearing-in, as is his constitutional right. This does not sit well with Mr. Goode, who, obnoxiously referring to his congressional colleague-to-be as "the Muslim Representative from Minnesota," warned ominously that current immigration policy would lead to an outbreak of elected Muslims in this country and unfettered use of the Koran.

Forget that Muslims represent a small fraction of immigrants to America. And leave aside the obvious point that Mr. Goode was evidently napping in class the day they taught the traditional American values of tolerance, diversity and religious freedom. This country's history is rife with instances of uncivil, hateful and violent behavior toward newcomers, be they Jewish, Irish, Italian or plenty of others whose ethnicities did not jibe with some pinched view of what it means to be American. Mr. Goode's dimwitted outburst of nativism is nothing new.

No, the real worry for the nation is that the rest of the world might take Mr. Goode seriously, interpreting his biased remarks about Muslims as proof that America really has embarked on a civilizational war against Islam. With 535 members, you'd think that Congress would welcome the presence of a single Muslim representative. Whether it can afford a lawmaker of Mr. Goode's caliber is another question. [emphasis added]

The Council on American Islamic Relations the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation have called upon the congressman to retract his statements and apologize. So far, he has stood by what he wrote.

We have a long way to go before we can preach tolerance and democracy to the world.

For more on the subject:

Rep. Goode's Letter

CAIR Questions GOP Silence on Rep's Islamophobic Remarks

Keith Ellison Responds

Goode Defends His Letter

VA Lawmaker's Remarks on Muslims Criticized

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December 19, 2006

Abu Mazen's Coup D'état

No matter how you look at it, the Palestinian president's announcement that he is planning on holding early legislative and presidential elections in the Occupied Territories, is at best an attempt to seriously undermine the democratically elected government and at worst an attempt to overthrow it. Since the constitution does not stipulate what the procedures would be in the case where a 'no confidence' measure is to be taken, president Abu Mazen has decided that he can interpret it in his favor since he is the executive, albeit one who does not seem to want to let the workings of democracy take root.

The constitution does not indicate that the president has the right to call for early elections, but it does not indicate that he cannot call for them either. Abbas sugar coated his decision by indicating that this is the choice of the people, and that he wanted to give them the opportunity to express their choices through the ballot box. However, as the author of this article states, this decision is purely anti-democratic and against the basic laws of the PA:

The Palestinian President relied on what he regarded as one of his constitutional rights by virtue of the second article of the Palestinian Basic Law, which stipulates that the 'people are the source of legislative, executive and judicial authority'. He expressed his desire to leave the choice to the Palestinian people to decide the fate of the legislative and executive authorities.

But the view of the Palestinian President is constitutionally deficient. The phrase 'people are the source of authorities' means that it is the people who elect their representatives in such authorities through public elections on the scheduled time. But to leave the door open for the people to choose their representatives at any time they want, or at the time the President wants, runs contrary to the spirit of constitutional law of any country.

Abbas's comments were purely inflammatory and as the president of a people already plagued with war and poverty, he should have known better than to make such statements that will only divide the Palestinian people at a time when they long to be united. Nevertheless, I don't think that the situation will "erupt into civil war" as the mainstream media would have us believe. Why don't they use those same words with confidence when speaking of Iraq?

It is worthwhile noting that the reactions to the call for early elections have been mixed. One poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza depicted these mixed reactions:
48% believe the government should resign, 47% believe it shouldn't.
61% support holding early elections, 37% oppose.
56% believe that the president has the right to call for early elections, 38% believe he does not.

If parliamentary elections were held today:
42% would vote for Fatah
35 % for Hamas
12 % for independent lists
10 % undecided

If presidential elections were held today between these two candidates:
46% for Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah)
45% for Ismail Haniyah (Hamas)

Public dissatisfaction with Abbas is up 15% compared to three months ago.
Public dissatisfaction with Hamas is up 9% compared to three months ago.
The margin of error is 3% which means that the race for president is at a dead heat, if those two candidates were to run together. As of today, Hamas has said that it would boycott such elections because they are illegal and unconstitutional.

However, if Hamas does decide to participate in the next elections, and is defeated by Fatah, this story will become a perfect example of how Islamists will always fail in a democratic environment. Never mind the fact that they were isolated by the entire world, leaving their population starving and their leaders begging for cash.

Let me say this, Mr. Abbas: at least the leaders in place today are willing to put their lives on the line in order to bring back money into the territories to keep the government running and keep the people alive. This is the exact opposite of what you and your cohorts did when you stuffed the dollars down your throats, vacationed in France and built mansions in undisclosed locations.

It seems like Abbas and Dahlan are desperately missing the cash that used to flow between their fingers. I don't blame you. I'd want early elections too.

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December 15, 2006

A Round Up of the Shameful Violence in Palestine

As if occupation, assassinations, home demolitions, and international siege were not enough to make the lives of Palestinians a living hell, now comes the threat of internal conflict between criminals affiliated with both Fatah and Hamas and opportunists who want to take advantage of the instability that is rampant in the Occupied Territories.

This began when the three children of the head of intelligence services Major Baha' Balousha were brutally murdered on their way to school. Balousha is a member of the Fatah party, and fingers were immediately pointed at the ruling party Hamas, without any evidence for such an implication.
"They drained my blood when they killed my three children, and wasted my lifetime's fruit in the blink of an eye. If they consider that an accomplishment, I congratulate them for it", the bereaved mother said.
According to fellow blogger Laila who heard the shots from her house, some sources indicate that it may have been Fatah members who had grudges against Balousha, which is not far fetched considering the fact that he is head of the sensitive intelligence department.
Apparently, Balousha had some sort of information on another high profile figure within Fateh that somebody thought should die with him. Except, of course, he missed his target.

Balousha had reportedly documented CIA money transfers to Abbas’s Fateh movement, and who was getting paid, as well as some other information about local drug dealers. I guess if you are an intelligence chief, there is a limitless number of reasons that people would want you dead.
Regardless of what the motive was, and who the intended target was, the fact of the matter is that taking the law into your own hands should not be an option. Sadly, children had to die to make it clear to their elders that their actions are brutal and uncalled for.

Unfortunately, the murders did not stop after this horrific incident. A Hamas affiliated judge was shot to death "gang style" by criminals allegedly from Fatah. He was the second judge to be killed in one week.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh cut his international begging trip short after the escalation of violence. He was attempting to reach out to neighboring countries that could help stem the growing despair in the Territories as the international community continues to impose sanctions on the democratically elected government. Israel prevented him from entering Gaza with the cash he received during his trip. The cash would have been used to pay the salaries of government employees who have not been paid for months.

On his way back into Gaza, the prime minister and his guards got into a scuffle with security forces affiliated with Fatah. The scuffle intensified and the PM's body guards was killed and twenty others were injured, including his son. The PM accused Fatah of attempting to assassinate him.
At the bodyguard's funeral, Khalil al-Hayeh, head of the Hamas bloc in parliament, told mourners that Dahlan was trying to instigate a coup against the government and appeared to call for his assassination.

Dahlan said the allegations were an attempt by Hamas leaders "to mask their sweeping failure to manage Palestinian political and social life."
Wait a minute, look who's talking! Dahlan?! One of the most vicious and corrupt members of Fatah?

At a Hamas led rally in Gaza the next day, Hamas officials said that President Abbas wants to start a war among Palestinians. Fatah affiliated security forces fired shots during the rally which caused clashes among protesters and armed forces.

And in the clashes continued in the West Bank:

The fighting Friday in the normally peaceful city of Ramallah began when Hamas supporters tried to march toward the town center, where Fatah-allied police had deployed to prevent a planned Hamas celebration.

Police formed a cordon around a Hamas mosque to prevent those inside from marching, then beat them with clubs and fired their rifles in the air when the activists tried to leave. The marchers fought back, throwing stones and bottles at the police, some of whom fired into the crowd.

So who is to blame?

There is no doubt that many have taken advantage of the deteriorating situation in the OT's. Fatah, in a weakened position after Hamas took control of the government through democratic elections, has been almost revelling as it watches the government fail to maintain control of the streets, keep the government running, or provide basic services for Palestinians due to the international siege imposed on them.

The US should be proud as well, as the Bush administration led the international community in boycotting the Hamas-led government and punishing the Palestinians for taking part in a democratic election. I guess this was part of the democracy promotion plan. It's no wonder then our efforts in Iraq are failing miserably.

To those criminals who are the cause of the violence: please, stop competing with the IDF. Please don't let the world watch as Palestinians grab each others' throats. Stop these shameful and senseless acts and know that your real enemy is the occupation and the individuals who are imposing this illegal occupation on you.


Photos courtesy of Reuters, AP, Getty Images. See NYTimes slideshow.

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December 10, 2006

On "Desert Muslims"

Don't you love it when someone tries really hard to defend us poor, miserable, uncivilized bunch of Muslims and Arabs by indicating that "we're really not THAT bad"? I especially love it when a "seasoned" journalist or politician makes this attempt. This is how I read Nicholas Kristof's editorial in today's New York Times entitled "The Muslim Stereotype".

Kristof is in Brunei, an exotic predominantly Muslim Southeast Asian country, where the "sultan has two wives... women can drive... and young people can flirt together in cafes". There he declares that he "find[s] the common American stereotypes of Islam profoundly warped." One might assume that some good will come out of this piece, right? That Kristof will declare once and for all that Muslims are not terrorists and they don't live in the desert. Well, not quite.

In an attempt to indicate that the international media focuses too much on Arab Muslims (where most of the terrorists come from), Kristof makes a failed attempt at highlighting the "good" that comes of out of the predominantly non-Arab Muslims around the world, and specifically in Asia. He seems to have just discovered that Indonesia is a democracy and that Bangladesh has had two female prime ministers.

He writes that the West is really tried of looking at an Arab world that "sometimes seems to put its creative juices mostly into building better bombs". Someone help me here, please. When was the last time you saw an Arab country building an arsenal of weapons to protect itself? You'd think he would be referring to some of the most powerful nations in the world whose stockpiles of weapons continue to swell and their victims can be found in Iraq and elsewhere.

Oh wait, maybe he was referring to Iran's nuclear weapons program? But Iran is not Arab, or did Ahmedenijad turn it into an Arab state while I was sleeping? Well then he must be talking about suicide bombers! How could I forget?! How creative does one have to be to build a suicide belt? It's really an insult to say that all of Arab "creativity" is focused on bomb-making. If anything, suicide bombs represent a lack of power and a resort to cheap materials to create weapons that are used to attack Israeli checkpoints and Iraqi markets. If they were really creative, Arabs would be building stockpiles of conventional and nuclear weapons to rival the threat posed by the very creative Israelis.

Kristof is right in the sense that "Muslims" are often confused with Arabs, and subsequently, non-Arab Muslims get lost in the picture. This is not a fault of Arab Muslims, however. It's the fault of an ignorant media that chooses to reinforce this misconception. It's also true that most of the news headlines today focus on the Middle East, but that should not translate into "everyone involved in those conflicts is Muslim". He concludes by making an absurd correlation between the level of religiosity and modernity in the Muslim world and the geographical location of the country involved.
The plain fact is that some Muslim societies do have a real problem with violence, with the subjugation of women, with tolerance. But the mosaic of Islam is vast and contains many more hopeful glimpses of the future.

There is a historic dichotomy between desert Islam -- the austere fundamentalism of countries like Saudi Arabia -- and riverine or coastal Islam, more outward-looking, flexible and tolerant. Desert Muslims grab the headlines, but my bet is that in the struggle for the soul of Islam, maritime Muslims have the edge.
This is not in defense of the wrongs that take place in the name of Islam across Arabia. One cannot deny that problems do exist, many of which are caused by oppressive dictators and ignorance of Islamic teachings. But to attempt to highlight the "goodness" of Asian Muslims by overemphasizing the faults of Arab Muslims does nothing to help the ever increasing stereotypes and accusations hurled at Islam on daily basis. Kristof would be well served if he made an attempt to take a closer look at the lives of those "desert Muslims" and the reasons behind the problems he indicated.

After doing that, he should come by to Washington D.C. where cab drivers and children crossing streets are gunned down everyday, where women wait in alleys at night to be picked up, and where airlines pull passengers off planes because they pray to their Lord. Seems to me like a healthy dose of violence, subjugation of women, and intolerance right here in our nation's capital. See you soon, Mr. Kristof.

[The full article is only available to TimesSelect members. If you can't access it, email me and I can send it to you. A simple blog search will also lead to blogs that posted the piece.]

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December 1, 2006

On World AIDS Day

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day, a day of action and raising awareness about this brutal epidemic. On this day, I pray that the leaders of the world unite their power and resources to find a cure. I pray that we unite to erase the ignorance that is so prevalent in this world regarding this disease. I pray that the leaders of the world stop funding wars, buying F-16's and building nuclear weapons, and instead address the problems that we humans around the world agree are more important than this sickening greed for money and power.

Let's wipe out this ignorance and wipe out this disease, one by one, let's educate ourselves.

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