Ali Abunimah on Obama’s Lecture

Watching Obama in Cairo (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Watching Obama in Cairo (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Personally, I found it unpleasant to see Obama lecturing the Arabs, and the handpicked audience clapping ecstatically whenever the President (rather like Napoleon in Cairo) made an Islamic allusion. Most depressingly, Obama’s address was heavily influenced by the Bernard Lewis school of Orientalism – Arab and Muslim anger is caused by the cultural trauma of modernity and a “self-defeating focus on the past,” rather than by present realities, such as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the destabilisation of Pakistan and Somalia, the unwelcome military bases in the Muslim world, and the support of dictatorial regimes such as Mubarak’s. Obama’s assumptions repeated falsities, such as the notion that Arab regimes focus on Palestine to distract the people from their own failings. In fact the Arab regimes do everything they can to take the focus off Palestine, as the Palestinian tragedy is the key symbol of the bankruptcy of the client regimes. And Obama mocked violent resistance while not saying a word about the 1400 just killed in Gaza or the million slaughtered in Iraq.

The best response I’ve seen to the speech is by Ali Abunimah, posted here at PULSE, who studies Obama’s phrases well: “Suffered in pursuit of a homeland? The pain of dislocation? They already had a homeland. They suffered from being ethnically cleansed and dispossessed of it and prevented from returning on the grounds that they are from the wrong ethno-national group. Why is that still so hard to say?”

It’s Finished

Peter Brookes on the bailout
Peter Brookes on the bailout

In an excellent, thorough investigation of the financial crisis in the last issue of the London Review of Books, John Lanchester had presented the scrapping of pensions in the public sector as a worst case scenario. Looks like it has already started to happen in the private sector with Barclays scrapping the pensions of its 17,000 employees. This does not, of course, affect the President Bob Diamond who last year raked in £21 m, nor does it affect the rest of the the 1,500 best paid employees. Here is Lanchester (however, let me warn that this piece is more than 14,000 words long, so you better have a good strong copy of coffee and plenty of free time before diving in; also, I’ve appended a reader’s letter correcting an accounting error made by the author):

It’s a moment of confusion and loathing that most of us have experienced. You’re in a shop. It’s time to pay. You reach for your purse or wallet and take out your last note. Something about it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s the wrong shape or the wrong colour and the design is odd too and the note just doesn’t seem right and . . . By now you’ve realised: oh shit! It’s the dreaded Scottish banknote! Tentatively, shyly – or briskly, brazenly, according to character – you proffer the note. One of three things then happens. If you’re lucky, the tradesperson takes the note without demur. Unusual, but it does sometimes happen. If you’re less lucky, he or she takes the note with all the good grace of someone accepting delivery of a four-week-dead haddock. If you’re less lucky still, he or she will flatly refuse your money. And here’s the really annoying part: he or she would be well within his or her rights, because Scottish banknotes are not legal tender. ‘Legal tender’ is defined as any financial instrument which cannot be refused in settlement of a debt. Bank of England notes are legal tender in England and Wales, and Bank of England coins are legal tender throughout the UK, but no paper currency is. The bizarre fact of the matter is that Scottish banknotes are promissory notes, with the same legal status as cheques and debit cards.

These feared and despised instruments, whose history has long been of interest to economists, come in three varieties from three issuing banks: the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Clydesdale Bank. Small countries with big ambitions but few natural resources need ingenious banking systems. The history of the Netherlands, Venice, Florence and Scotland show this – and so does the tragic recent story of Iceland. ‘In the 17th century, when English and European commerce was expanding by leaps and bounds,’ James Buchan wrote in Frozen Desire, ‘the best Scots minds felt acutely the shortage of . . . what we’d now call working capital; and Scots promoters were at the forefront of banking schemes in both London and Edinburgh, culminating in the foundation of the Bank of England in 1694 and the Bank of Scotland in 1695.’ The powers down south, however, came to think – or pretended to think – that the Bank of Scotland was too close to the Jacobites, and so in 1727 friends of prime minister Walpole set up the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Continue reading “It’s Finished”

A Bush in sheep’s clothing

Mubarak-Obama
Obama meets the Egyptian dictator

Ali Abunimah puts a bit of perspective on Obama’s call for a “new beginning” by taking to task the US President’s reference to “America and Islam”. This is the same old terminology in use by the Americans which refers to the former as a “concrete specific place”, with the latter reducing over a billion people to a “single, coherent entity” (to borrow a phrase from Edward Said).

Once you strip away the mujamalat – the courtesies exchanged between guest and host – the substance of President Obama’s speech in Cairo indicates there is likely to be little real change in US policy. It is not necessary to divine Obama’s intentions – he may be utterly sincere and I believe he is. It is his analysis and prescriptions that in most regards maintain flawed American policies intact.

Though he pledged to “speak the truth as best I can”, there was much the president left out. He spoke of tension between “America and Islam” – the former a concrete specific place, the latter a vague construct subsuming peoples, practices, histories and countries more varied than similar.

Continue reading “A Bush in sheep’s clothing”

Facts in the Air

The web, writes Palfest participant Jeremy Harding, is one of the few places where Palestinians, losing ground by the day to the realities of occupation and settlement, can make their aspirations plain. Jeremy’s first diary piece on Palestine is here.

A good way to grasp what’s happening to East Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories is from the air. Google Earth can do that for you, but there’s a history of contention: in 2006, users created tags for Palestinian villages that were destroyed during the war of 1948-49; the following year Fatah’s al-Aqsa Brigades were said to be checking potential Israeli military targets against Google Earth pictures; last year there was a controversy over the Israeli coastal town of Kiryat Yam, when a user called Thameen Darby posted a note claiming it was formerly a Palestinian locality ‘evacuated and destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war’. Kiryat Yam, its residents protested as they reached for the nearest lawyer, was built in the 1930s.

Continue reading “Facts in the Air”

Robert Fisk: Police state is the wrong venue for Obama’s speech

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

For Obama’s Cairo speech to have any resonance among Arabs, writes Robert Fisk, he would have to deliver his lecture from Gaza and not one of the world’s worst human rights violators, Egypt.

Maybe Barack Obama chose Egypt for his “great message” to Muslims tomorrow because it contains a quarter of the world’s Arab population, but he is also coming to one of the region’s most repressed, undemocratic and ruthless police states. Egyptian human rights groups – when they are not themselves being harassed or closed down by the authorities – have recorded a breathtaking list of police torture, extra-judicial killings, political imprisonments and state-sanctioned assaults on opposition figures that continues to this day.

The sad truth is that so far did the US descend in moral power under George W Bush that Obama would probably have to deliver his lecture in the occupied West Bank, even Gaza, to change the deep resentment and fury that has built up among Muslims over the past eight years. This, of course, Obama will not do. So Egypt, sadly, it has to be, though he will see nothing of the squalor and fear in which Egyptians live. Continue reading “Robert Fisk: Police state is the wrong venue for Obama’s speech”

Nasrallah’s Turn

Nicholas Noe tracks the evolution of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s rhetoric since 2006.

nasrallahOver the last decade and a half, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Lebanon’s militant Shiite movement Hezbollah, has steadily moved front and center in the often vitriolic (and regularly under-informed) Western debate over the threat that ‘radical Islam’ is said to pose to the world at large.

Now, as Nasrallah appears ready to lead what could be a new majority in the Lebanese Parliament, the steady stream of accusations and threats have, somewhat predictably, turned into a deluge – with Arab states, Arab media and prosecutorial offices far and wide at the forefront of efforts to paint him as public enemy Number One.

A central reason for all the attention in the past, of course, has been that Nasrallah and Hezbollah have managed – for better or worse, depending on your perspective – to inflict a series of increasingly significant setbacks for US and especially Israeli interests: the ignominious, unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in May 2000, the failure of the Bush administration to vanquish Hezbollah and Syria in one go following the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, and, of course, the July 2006 war – vigorously encouraged by the Americans and lost by the Israelis.

Continue reading “Nasrallah’s Turn”

Coming Down to the Wire in Lebanon: Parliamentary Immunity, Israeli Spies and Fake IDs

Franklin Lamb writes from Beirut’s Abdel Kadas Kabbani High School Polling Station

95 hours and the Polls will open

lebanon electionsAs election volunteers in Lebanon work this morning to spruce up its hundreds of Polling Places for Sundays’ election, Minister of Education Bahia Hariri, sister of the murdered Rafiq, canceled school for Saturday and Monday as a precaution, and the US Embassy just an hour ago issued an advisory for Americans to avoid public places and “reminds American citizens in Lebanon that even peaceful gatherings and demonstrations can turn violent unexpectedly.” As for the voters, they are preparing to elect 128 Parliamentary Delegates from more than 550 candidates who theoretically will chart this country’s course over the next four years.

Beirut’s airport is jammed with thousands of Lebanese, often given free tickets, arriving to vote from all over the world, but most heavily from the US, Canada, and Europe.

Drop-outs can succeed

More than two dozen candidates have dropped out of the race (and may now be millionaires if they were not already). This electoral phenomenon regularly happens just before the voting in Lebanon. One drop-out candidate confided to a Carter Center STO (short term observer) that he put two kids through college in France with what he earned by abandoning his candidacy.

Continue reading “Coming Down to the Wire in Lebanon: Parliamentary Immunity, Israeli Spies and Fake IDs”

Pro-Israel group mobilises Christians ahead of European elections

More from board member Harald Eckert

According to Christian Today, ‘The European Coalition for Israel has launched a campaign to mobilise Christians ahead of the European Parliament elections which are to be held this week.’  As can be seen in their promotional video above, they’re abusing the memory of the Holocaust while perpetuating the myth that Iran threatens Israel with a nuclear ‘Holocaust’, all to boost the pro-Israel vote.

The other main European Israel lobby group, European Friends of Israel, are taking a rather more shadowy approach with no mention of the election on their website.  Instead, they have links to a film on the Lebanon war of 2006, viewed through civilian eyes, Israeli civilian eyes, and another to an article on the erroneous Jewish Nakba.

The campaign aims at mobilising constituencies in all 27 member states to take an active part in the election campaign by educating themselves about the issues and by engaging in dialogue with the candidates.

Continue reading “Pro-Israel group mobilises Christians ahead of European elections”

Racists for democracy: the fascist odor of the new Israeli coalition

The chambers of the Israeli Knesset

“The factory of racist laws with a distinct fascist odor is now working at full steam,” writes Uri Avnery, on the swathe of bills currently passing through the Knesset that discriminate against the native Arab population.

How lucky we are to have the extreme Right standing guard over our democracy.

This week, the Knesset voted by a large majority (47 to 34) for a law that threatens imprisonment for anyone who dares to deny that Israel is a Jewish and Democratic State.

The private member’s bill, proposed by MK Zevulun Orlev of the “Jewish Home” party, which sailed through its preliminary hearing, promises one year in prison to anyone who publishes “a call that negates the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State”, if the contents of the call might cause “actions of hate, contempt or disloyalty against the state or the institutions of government or the courts”. Continue reading “Racists for democracy: the fascist odor of the new Israeli coalition”

Cultural Liberation

Robin Yassin-Kassab and Jeremy Harding with students at Bir Zeit.
Robin Yassin-Kassab and Jeremy Harding with students at Bir Zeit.

Jeremy Harding, one of the Palfest writers, hints at the crucial role culture will play in the liberation of Palestine. Read on to see the great Suheir Hammad.

Last week, the Palestine Festival of Literature organised a discussion about travel and writing at the Dar Annadwa cultural centre in Bethlehem. One of Palfest’s star guests, touring the West Bank and East Jersualem, was Michael Palin, whose early glories, before his reinvention as a traveller, were much on people’s minds. He spoke well about growing up in Sheffield and cultivating a passion for Hemingway, but the audience was delighted when someone suggested that living under Israeli occupation was a bit like being in the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil. As the panellists stood up and tidied their books, a young Palestinian in the seat in front of me said she couldn’t believe we were all with Palin in Bethlehem – Bethlehem! – and no one had thought to ask about Monty Python’s Life of Brian. But with two other writers on the stage, there’d been a lot of ground to cover.

Continue reading “Cultural Liberation”