Monday, September 28, 2015

Obama @ the United Nation's General Assembly (UNGA 70)

I had to refer to the calendar to check that it wasn’t 2016 as President Obama gave what was a lame-duck type speech at the UN General Assembly this morning. It is not that Obama was exceptionally vague on details and lofty on ideals as he usually is. It is that he took off his Presidential hat and returned to being Professor Obama.

As Obama lectured world leaders on the benefits of democracy and the ideals of citizen driven governance, he came across as a teacher pleading with his students to “do as he says” and not as he does.

What is clear is that once again, Barak Obama, the leader of the free world, the head of the one if not the most powerful country in the world, fell short on the world stage. The American President failed to take advantage of an excellent opportunity to rise to the occasion and chart a path of American foreign policy responding to unfolding global disasters.

War crimes by ISIS (ISIL according to Obama), war crimes by Al-Assad of Syria, Iran’s homorganic terrorism strategy in the region, mass migration of Middle Eastern and African refugees, Russian expansionism, Chinese human rights violation and other issues including global diseases and hunger are but some of the challenges global leaders should forge concrete and executable strategies to resolve backed with resource commitments.

The U.S. is burdened with the responsibility to lead and thus must rise to the occasion. Obama’s sermon like pontification lacks the oomph of an elegant orator or an affective world leader. Indeed, Obama is easy on the eyes and softer on the ears when compared to George Bush, but at least we knew where the country was headed under the former presidents’ ill-informed presidency. I acknowledge Obama’s lofty ideals and his inspiring hope, I only hoped that he would able to deliver us to that hopeful utopia.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

American impotence and the ‘Born in Jerusalem’ law

Americans born in Jerusalem will not be able to list “Israel” as their country of birth. This U.S. Supreme Court-handed victory, last week, to the American administration has many layers, most obvious and relevant of which authorizes the U.S. Department of State to deny any requests by passport applicants to list "Israel" as their place of birth. If it were to list “Israel” it would implicitly confirm the status of Jerusalem as an Israeli city. Consecutive American administrations are committed to holding the fate of Jerusalem to negotiations over final status between the Palestinians and Israelis. In a world of heightened sensitivities to America’s language and gestures, such a policy has lived ramifications on the ground for both Palestinians and Israelis.
The perpetual Palestinian-Israeli conflict became fatigued a generation or two ago, its subjects weary of chasing an illusive mirage. It has over the decades morphed from a free for all wrestling match of sorts, with multiple parties engaging on military and diplomatic fronts, to one akin to a boxing match “limited” to two contenders. The travesty is the flagrant disparity between the two contending parties. It is unjustifiable to remain in the stands watching the continued humiliation of the weaker party, the Palestinians, by the much stronger and well-equipped Israelis, knowing full well the inevitable conclusion. In fact, unsavory terror organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS have used the injustice befalling the Palestinians as a rallying cry. Yet, this is exactly the policy the U.S. chose to publicly adopt, all the while imposing it upon the world stage under the guise of neutrality.

Neutrality is a euphemism for impotence

This so called “neutrality” is a mockery, leading to practical support for Israel. Since Israel’s inception in 1948, Palestinians have lost their historic land and are now negotiating for less than 22% of the land that remains. With Israel’s continued expansion; confiscation of lands and illegal settlements, Palestinians continue to vie for an independent state that would be, for all practical purposes, dead on arrival. If the U.S. would loosen the political shackles it imposes upon the process it would open the field up for a possible, although improbable, two state solution steered by the U.N.
Although the U.S. doesn’t hold the key to resolving the conflict, it plays the role of the gatekeeper, preventing the process from reaching such resolution. This political stance is not an arbitrary one, nor a proactive one. Be it Democrat or Republican, this conflict is one which both parties tiptoe around, playing it safe and attempting to strike a delicate balance between personal political gains and U.S. national interest. To that end, neither personal nor national aspirations are adequately satisfied. For one, the annual pilgrimage to gain the blessing of the American Israeli Political Action Committee’s (AIPAC) is a degrading spectacle as many politicians are willing to utter words of support that don’t emanate from a personal belief, but rather from a “conviction” for personal advancement. Having AIPAC bestow its blessing upon a politician running for election in the US prompts its supporters to contribute financially to the said candidate. Although money doesn’t win elections, votes do, a candidate will not be able to convince potential voters of his or her worthiness without serious amounts of money. The 2012 presidential elections had a reported price tag of $7 billion for the presidency and congressional races - this is especially important as we come upon an election year.
The Mideast’s destroyed pottery barn is America’s to fix
Walid Jawad
The power and influence wielded by the U.S. makes it as much of a party to the Mideast conflict, as the primary players; its policies having immediate ramifications on the outcome of the conflict. Regardless of consecutive administrations’ attempts to move the conflict closer to a just and peaceful lasting resolution, the stance of false neutrality adopted by the U.S. has and continues to do more harm than good. Although at face value the accepted wisdom of a two state solution looks “just”, it will never yield a fair outcome for the Palestinians, and will inevitably generate new grievances, eventually spilling over beyond any new Palestinian borders. Palestinian sovereignty will not be complete, their economy never flourishing, and their security a faraway dream, handicapped, beholden to Israel and the whims and fancies of its regime.

The State of Isralestine

The most worthy elements that should be taken into consideration includes the fact that Palestinians (along with other Arabs) have lost to the Israelis in numerous military confrontation over the last century (including those prior to the creation of the Jewish state); that Israel has displaced untold numbers of Palestinians along with their stateless offspring. Yet, Jerusalem is a holy city for the Palestinians; Muslims and Christians. By zooming out to bring the entire Mideast into focus, we find a region in a state of utter disarray. Thousands of miles away and across the Atlantic, here in the States, American Jews are more diverse than ever before, and many continue to actively lobby for peace and a balanced resolution to this devastating conflict. All of these points lead to one conclusion no administration can escape if it is willing to be truthful and courageous enough to preserve America's national interest and its founding ethical and moral principles: a one state solution.
There will be a price to pay, but that price will not be any more costly than the recurring price tag of war (Afghanistan, twice in Iraq, Libya, ongoing military basis in the Mideast and supplying/assisting groups in Syria), or the cost incurred by the instability of global energy prices, or resources expended in fighting terror threats by organized violent groups and/or lone wolves, not to mention increasing cyber attacks. The Mideast’s destroyed pottery barn is America’s to fix. There is no reason to tread lightly when all the eggs are cracked and in pieces. It is time for the American administration to stop straddling the fence, hiding behind an impotent concept of neutrality.
The White House must take a practical stance, even if the short-term consequences are upsetting to both Arabs and Jews alike. Israel must choose to be a democratic state as it claims, and be responsible toward the people it conquered. As such, the U.S. must return to its founding principles of not supporting religious exclusionary systems of governance. The U.S. needs to stop paying for the inadequacies and incompetence of other parties to the conflict and cease from passively contributing to the suffering of Palestinians; it is the moral and practical way forward. 

Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj

published first by Al-Arabiya on June 16, 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Saudi in Yemen; It’s personal now

Finally, the U.S. got what it wished for: Arab countries are dealing with their own problems. This week Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab centric international coalition to battle the Houthis in Yemen. But the U.S. should be careful what it wishes for. Now that Arab states have successfully formed a front to fend off a shared threat, there is no stopping them and enemies abound in the neighborhood. This is a recipe for disaster in a region that is already teetering on the brink of spontaneous combustion.   

By leading this unexpected military action, Saudi Arabia is signaling a new regional posture. Instability in Yemen is not new, begging the questions, why a military option and why now? In public, Saudi has always spoken softly, leaving the tough job of wielding the stick to the American military, allowing Riyadh to adhere, for the most part, to its announced noninterventionist orientation. 
Riyadh’s military action in Yemen coincides with a number of dynamics which share one common denominator, the Iranian threat. As a prolific terror sponsoring state, no longer does Tehran limit its overt operations to the Fertile Crescent and Gulf regions. Rather, it has been expanding the politically grounded Sunni-Shiite fault line, somewhat successfully creating a belt around Saudi Arabia, all the while agitating the grievances of Gulf’s Shiite population. The sphere of Ayatollahs’ influence is choking a weary Sunni Gulf, particularly in Saudi where an estimated 20 percent Shiite population is concentrated in the oil rich eastern province. Iran’s presence across the Kingdom is almost ubiquitous; on the opposite shore of the Persian Gulf to the east, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the north, and now Yemen to its south. Yet, the urgency by which Saudi Arabia’s new King, Salman, acted is not necessarily warranted by events on the ground (the situation to the north being much more dire and pressing in Iraq and Syria). Saudi’s move is less about tactical strategy and more about the personalities in charge.
Saudi prides itself for being a “country of men.” In the true sense of the word, Salman the new King embraces that expectation, making sweeping changes. His dramatic decisions since he assumed the throne in January indicates his previous planning for this moment. Infusing the second generation of royal family members in the composition of his government is evident of this proactive posture. His son, Mohammed bin Salman, the young minister of defense recently installed is perceived to have the King’s ear. This is not to diminish the reputation Salman has earned over the years as a person who thrives on a good challenge. Nevertheless, the symbolic visuals of the young Muhammad sending his even younger brother to the front lines to stand by for possible battles with the Houthis shows how the family sees this conflict as worthy of sacrificing their own blood if need be; a serious message that Iran needs to take to heart. The U.S. also needs to incorporate in its calculations for the Middle East the fact that Saudi’s enmity with Iran is a personal one. 
As the U.S. continues to negotiate with Iran over the nuclear question, this administration fails to understand the existential threat Iran’s neighbors feel. This is not only a Saudi issue, but also an Israeli issue prompting Netanyahu to resort to theatrical measures in his attempts to woo American policy makers. Secretary Kerry’s anticipated deal with Iran over its nuclear program is no more than a “truce” by which Iran is offered more time and a wider margin to wreak havoc in the region. The nuclear deal does not stop Iran from pursuing its hegemonic designs for the region. To think that these designs are sectarian is to fall directly into the trap of rhetoric. This strategy is reviving a historic glory of the great Persian Empire; this time around being presented in a Shiite iteration.
It behooves the U.S. to not be complacent. Favoring such an ill-fated strategy as to pacify the region is indeed a colossal failure in capturing the tectonic movements that are taking place, shifts that have the propensity to engulf the region and perhaps the world. If the U.S. should get its wish for the Arab world taking on its own issues, undoubtedly this would jeopardize the leverage U.S. has enjoyed. Losing the current foothold spells disaster for the Mideast and the U.S. stands to pay a price.
Jawad is an columnist and a conflict analyst and resolution expert. You can follow him @walidaj 

Published first by The Hill 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Oscar Note: Black Shades in the Darkness of Racial Inequality

If not billions of viewers, then hundreds of millions tune in to watch the Oscars every year. Although perhaps not as exciting as the world cup, still lots of oohs and ahs; stress-free watching with limited superstitious rituals needed. In fact you don’t even need to be a fan or have watched any of the movies beforehand to become a spectator of this annual competition - fairweather fans are welcome. In that vain, there are those who start a rigorous regimen of movie watching after the winners are announced. You may count me among those.

This year, like last, I stayed up late (yes, my evenings are short) to watch. Perhaps it is the idea of simultaneously engaging in something almost ubiquitous with millions of my fellow human race, or the idea of bearing witness to a moment of life unfolding before our eyes that is so seductive. The prospect of something off script happening is ever so intriguing. And, every once in a while sometimes shocking does happen; can you spell “wardrobe malfunction”? For me it is more the lust for a revealing politically incorrect comment which that 5 second delay cannot prevent. Oh how refreshing. No matter why any of us watch the Oscars, we do.

Among the untold number of viewers, there are those who share with me such excitement for that political undertone that permeates so subtly throughout an evening of artistic expression; unchecked yet so revealing and powerful to those who choose to notice. This year’s Oscars were hosted by Neil Patrick Harris who was comically unimpressive throughout the four-hour pageant. Some of his punch lines were more successful than others. His play on words in his connecting segue after the CitizenFour Oscar acceptance speech was one. Neil said in reference to the subject of the documentary, Edward Snowden, that he couldn't make it to the Oscars for some “Treason” instead of “reason.” Although his comment secured some chuckles, one can’t help but wonder if it came from “laugh-trolls” (not to be mistaken with seat-fillers) who are asked to cue the audience at the end of choreographed punch line.

The premise of the documentary CitizenFour is an admirable one. It reveals one persons’ quest to expose the National Security Agency’s (NSA) intelligence gathering abuses. If one does not perceived Snowden to be a hero, then he would probably be considered a traitor. Judging Snowden's actions is not the real issue here. The issue is whether the government has encroached upon the privacy and rights of its own people, the citizens of America. The discussions that ensued as a result of his actions are important for the nation to discuss to balance privacy vs. perceived security on the one hand. On the other hand the question: is it ok to infringe on the privacy of a group of Americans because they are not “us”; profiling remains to be an issue in these United States. For one, I conduct my daily life with the assumption that my phone calls and emails are monitored. Lets not forget the saying that “being paranoid doesn’t mean that no one is watching you.” I’m not usually concerned with visual racial profiling specially that I look Latino, but I wonder if some officer will call me Jose and send me “back” to where I came from - Mexico perhaps?

Between the Public Service announcements of J. K. Simmons imploring us to talk to your parents, suicide prevention and PTSD epidemic made it to acceptance speeches as well. More politically charged issues worthy of a substantive discussion or rather rectification raised by Patricia Arquette reminding us that working women are paid less than their male counterparts exposed America’s hypocrisy when it comes to gender equality.

Another inequality, this one is along the black-white line by John Legend reminding us that a disproportionate percentage of those who are incarcerated in the US prison system are “people of color.” This is poignant when the Oscars itself suffers from a racial dilemma. 63% of Americans are non-Hispanic white, but the Oscars are overwhelmingly void of color. This is not to speak of the fact that the tension in the U.S. is not only black-white (12% black), but also brown-white; i.e. around 25% of the U.S. population is Hispanic or white Hispanic (no, its not important to distinguish between the two so long as we are aware of our biases).

Allow me to add an additional dimension to this already complex issue. Within the official white America population of 63% there are several “minority” groups including Arabs. Despite the fact that most Arabs look brown, not white, to the naked eye, we are legally classified as white or Caucasian. If Arabs were legally a minority, white America would be that much smaller and a little more insecure about their privileged status. To level the playing field, I believe that Arabs should be offered the same opportunities extended to other minority groups by reclassifying us as a minority. Depriving us of the benefits of the status of a minority group is one thing, discriminating against us is a whole other ballgame; white in name only, brown in profiling by the authorities.

When many of us are viewed with suspicion and our patriotism is questioned, we find ourselves up the creek without a paddle. This is partly due to the historic precedent we ourselves embraced in our willingness to forego our quest for a minority group classification as long as we were not discriminated against. Now that our Arabic heritage triggers negative images in the minds of many by virtue of the numerous conflicts in the region, our classification of our identity as juxtaposed with the broader American one is being tested and reshaped. This is especially so for those “black” Arabs, who are technically classified as “white,” who often find themselves fighting alongside the African American community for racial justice. This, while being given a “white” flag to wave instead of the race card. America keeps forgetting to take off its skewed color blinders even after the light of justice and equality is shone in its face.

Back to the second largest group in the U.S., the Hispanic community. I wonder if that 25% accounts for the 11 million or so illegal immigrants -- probably not. Regardless, you will be hard pressed to find representatives of the Hispanic community among Oscar’s nominees or attendees. The Oscar's director made an effort to zoom in onto the pepper sprinkling of black within the sea of white - wasn't there anyone else other than Oprah to cutaway to? The nominations were lacking proportional representation of African Americans or Latino Americas. Neil Patrick alluded to that fact in his opening monologue with a slight comment confirming the Oscars overwhelming white population; I will celebrate his comment as thoughtful self-criticism.

Watching the Oscar is revealing. One can see a microcosm of America's social imbalances and a glaring betrayal of its own values. The hot button issues are undeniable even when mainstream media can't be bothered thanks to the courage of these political activists posing as Oscar winners.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

‘The American Lawrence of Arabia’s’ life goes on show in the U.S.

“[T]ime fell asleep.… and the husks of ancient civilizations were buried in the deep sand, preserved like flowers between the leaves of a book” said Wendell Phillips about South Arabia in the late 1940s as he embarked on an archaeological adventure to Yemen. The accounts of his adventures and artifacts he and his team excavated from its desolate deserts are offered in an exhibit hosted by the Smithsonian’s Freer Sackler museums, “Unearthing Arabia: The Archaeological Adventures of Wendell Phillips.”
(Photo courtesy: American Foundation of Man)
A 20-foot black and white portrait of Phillips, who has been labelled the American Lawrence of Arabia, adorns the entrance to the museum showing a young man with a buttoned up white shirt wearing a Yemeni style headdress and two overlapping belts. A young couple asks the information attendance as they walk into the museum “why is Phillips wearing two belts in the photo?” “Believe it or not,” the attendant replied, “it’s a gun holster. He ascribed to the Indiana Jones school of archeology,” she smiled.

The thrills of a Hollywood movie

Wendell Phillips’ journey to Yemen had all the thrills of a Hollywood movie; exotic land, finding and solving clues, securing permission from the king, finding a treasure trove of artifacts and nail-biting excitement escape as he and his team flee gun battles between the local tribes. Phillips wasn’t looking for that kind of heart thumping adventure per se, he was eager to discover and share with the world the hidden treasures buried under mounds of sand in South Arabia, present-day Yemen. Philips warns in his writings that archeology is mostly backbreaking monotonous work of digging and sand moving, which can breaks anyone’s spirit. Yet the reward of discovery is beyond articulation. To that end he went to South Arabia “for one thing, it was almost virgin territory… It had beckoned scholars and scientists for generations, but sand, drought, and native bullets had kept most of them away.” He was in South Arabia in the shadow of a long history of North Yemen being governed by Ottoman Turks spanning centuries while the southern part was controlled by the British since 1839, which was called the Aden Protectorate.
Most of Wendell’s archeological expedition took place in 1951 and 1952. Along with his team, Phillips excavated in Timna, Hajar bin Humeid and Awam Temple. The third location, Awam Temple, became the focus of his expedition because it cradled the largest temple of its kind in the Arabian Peninsula. In addition to its impressive size, it is suspected of being the capital of the Sabaean kingdom, which religious scripture of Jewish Antiquities, the Bible and the Holy Quran all say was ruled by Queen Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba. Even today Awam Temple is referred to as Mahram Bilqis by the locals, which can be translated loosely to the shrine of Bilqis (Mahram is literally taboo or forbidden). Philips didn’t find any reference to Queen Bilqis at this temple, but he found inscriptions referring to it as the Temple of Almaqah, the deity of Marib at the time.

Tribal tensions

Unfortunately, Philips’ team’s work was concluded prematurely as tribal tensions heated up. Wendell and his colleagues, in their haste to get out of harms way, had to leave behind an untold number of invaluable archaeological discoveries. The outlook for finding those artifacts again has since become bleak. Philips untimely death years later in 1975 made the prospect even more hopeless. Nevertheless, the allure of Middle Eastern sand dunes for what historical mysteries it may hold continues to beckon Americans.
Merilyn Phillips Hodgson, Wendell’s sister has picked up where her brother left off. After almost 50 years since Wendell’s departure from South Arabia, the government of Yemen extended an invitation to Merilyn to go back to complete her brother’s work. Merilyn writes, “I’m proud to continue my brother’s work. I went to Yemen to fulfill Wendell’s unfinished dream. After my first excavation at Marib, it became my passion.” Merilyn excavation was conducted in Marib from 1998 to 2006. She is currently the president of the American Foundation for the Study of Man, the mission of which is to preserve and build on the work Wendell started in Yemen.
Dr. Massumeh Farhad, the Curator of Unearthing Arabia exhibit, told Al Arabiya News that the “collection is the largest and most important of its kind outside of Yemen, which was donated by the Foundation for the Study of Man to the Freer|Sackler in 2013.
The collection includes a number of translucent alabaster carvings of women figures mostly funerary statues, limestone funerary plaques, amazing artistic incense burners chiseled primarily out of limestone, and a most impressive pair of bronze lions with riders.
“The exhibition illustrates the rich and complex history as well as the cultural heritage of Yemen and the rest of the Arab world. Such collections are critical to protect and preserve because they are the embodiment of the identity of the peoples who have lived in the region in the past and continue to live there now,” Farhad emphasizes
“Very few people who have lived in Yemen go away without a deep admiration for the country because of the physical beauty of the place and, more importantly, because of the very ancient culture,” Marjorie Ransom, author of the book Silver Treasures from the Land of Sheba, told Al Arabiya News. “I love the ancient sculptures of South Arabia and I am an admirer of Wendell Philips as an explorer, and of his sister who continues his work.”
The sands of Yemen continue to safeguard the key to unlocking the mysteries of an ancient civilization. We can only wait for another Wendell Philips to embark on an adventurous expedition to find the key to unlock the door to our understanding of human progress, artistic expression and man’s quest to decipher life’s mysteries as he looked to the heavens for answers over two millennia ago. For now we can enjoy exploring the magnificent artifacts Philips was able to unearth in Arabia at the U.S. exhibition.
Last Update: Sunday, 1 March 2015 KSA 13:11 - GMT 10:11

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

To Finally See the Invisible Israelis Before Our Eyes

A 30-member delegation of Israeli mayors spent a week in Washington, DC and New York this past week. Despite the level of the delegation, I have yet to come across a single news article covering their visit. Should their visit have garnered media attention, perhaps readers would brush it aside as part of Israel’s ongoing lobbying efforts in the U.S. In effect, consolidating Israel to a one-dimensional player making its decisions within a conflict setting. But the makeup of this particular delegation reveals a complexity that is often missed or ignored. The reality is that Israel is a multidimensional country with a very complex society that we should make an effort to understand, particularly that the Arab world is party to the conflict despite popular views that the conflict is between Palestinians and Israel. Albeit, this unrealistic view provides the Arab world with a sense of detachment allowing it to call for “justice” instead of working with other parties to the conflict on a practical resolution. Without each Arab country fully embracing its role in the conflict a resolution will continue to be elusive.
As a group, the Arabs have an impressive track record of failing to impose their will on Israel. In fact, at almost every pivotal juncture in the history of this conflict Israel managed to win the battle of the day and ultimately increase its geographical footprint. If we were honest, we would accept the defeat without making excuses or assigning blame to others. So long as Arabs have tried and failed at winning the military war, and because they are failing to achieve any tangible diplomatic victories for the Palestinians through the U.N., they should reexamine their assumptions and revise their approach to the conflict.
The Arab citizens of Israel operate on two levels; one, as citizens of a country that discriminates against them. Two, as Palestinian nationalists resisting the aggressions of their own state
Walid Jawad
Granted, the majority of Arab states are battling for internal stability, which in a number of cases has created an opening for Iran and ISIS to extend their destabilizing tentacles. Oddly enough, the thread of the Palestinian conflict is woven through the litany of issues cited by these disruptive forces, which brings me back to my original point. Understanding the centrality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a common denominator of sorts should be reason enough to accept the conflict as an Arab-Israeli conflict. We must make the distinction that the Arab world is not a monolithic entity and therefore none of its countries can defer to those Arab countries that are engaging Israel diplomatically. The lack of research centers concerned with Israel studies is very telling and can be a starting point particularly for those countries concerned with the so called “normalization” with Israel.

Back to the headline

The 30 mayors who are mentioned in the first sentence are actually a group of Arab Israeli mayors which are half of the 60 or so Arab Israeli mayors who represent the 1.6 million Palestinian Arabs of Israel. The majority of this 1.6 million are Sunni Muslims, with a significant Christian minority as well as Druze (some of whom consider themselves more Israeli than Arabs). Though they comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population, they are rarely covered in the news or referenced in political decisions. The goal of the mayors’ visit was to meet with and learn from the political successes of American minority groups. 
Arabs of Israel
The Arabs of Israel are faceless people who are neither counted as part of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict nor the Arab-Israeli struggle.
The Arab citizens of Israel operate on two levels; one, as citizens of a country that discriminates against them. Two, as Palestinian nationalists resisting the aggressions of their own state against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Their peculiar place within the greater Palestinian-Israeli conflict means we don’t hear about their struggles as Israeli citizens nor know the extent to which they are battling the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories seized in 1967.
The systematic discrimination against them by the Israeli government includes land confiscations, limited budgetary consideration amounting to a four percent share only and the numerous laws passed to limit their rights. This systemic discrimination is what brought this group of mayors to Washington, DC and New York. Meeting with and learning from American minority groups such as Arab-Americans, African-Americans, Latino-Americans, Japanese-Americans and Jewish-Americans prompted leader of the delegation Mohammad Darawshe in his talk to emphasize his guiding vision “for Israel to become a society for all of its citizens in addition to serving what it defines itself as being: a Jewish and democratic state.”

Loyalties and investment

Such a statement and other similar ones raise many questions. Are Arab Israelis strategically invested in the betterment of Israel? On whose side should they be counted? Here is exactly where understanding the complexity of Israeli society comes into play. For one, this is the first time Arab Israelis are taking proactive steps toward effecting the outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections. A singular list of Arab candidates will run in this election instead of the usual crowded field of candidates splitting the Arab vote. In his remarks, Dr. As’ad Ghanem said “we will have one Arab Palestinian national list and 80 percent who will vote, will vote for this list, which is an historical achievement.” Although the effect of this new tactic has yet to be seen, it is reasonable to suggest that it will bolster the standing of Arab Israelis as a voting bloc. This is significant in this upcoming election as, by most accounts, Netanyahu is running on a platform that is consumed with giving a new meaning to the “Jewishness” of the state of Israel. The sentiment among the group is that it will make this election about “the status of Palestinians in Israel.” This means that the “Jewishness” of the state of Israel will lead to ethnic cleansing of its Arab population by mass expulsion should Netanyahu win. This is one side of their struggle, on the other side is their struggle against Israeli aggressions.
To that end, Mayor Ahmad Amer said proudly “Al-Bayariq,” citing an example of Arab Israeli resistance. Bayariq is a caravan shuffling a steady stream of Arab Israeli Muslims to and from the al-Aqsa mosque for the purpose of holding a continuous vigil and preventing any attempts by extremist Jewish Israelis to desecrate or vandalize the third holiest site of Islam. Since its inception 14 years ago, Bayariq (meaning banners or flags) has transported tens of thousands of Arab Israelis to al-Aqsa each year. When the Israeli authorities limited males access to the mosque by age group, women, who call themselves al-Murabitatt, took on the responsibility of holding the vigil.
Arab Israelis are confident in their ability to protect the al-Aqsa for the time being. “Arab countries shouldn’t attempt to resolve the conflict before they resolves the conflicts within and between them” insisted one of the mayors. A hope in a resolution to the conflict still tickles the imagination of this group, albeit within a timeframe that is much farther in the future. Some are doubtful of the practicality of a two state solution believing the window of opportunity has closed on that option. Nevertheless, Israeli Arabs believe they have a role to play regardless of how a peaceful resolution would look because they believe they will be the “gatekeepers of the peace in the Middle East.”
Not knowing much about the Arabs of Israel is an unforgiven political travesty. It is time for Arab countries to accept their role in the conflict and educate their populations to see them for who they are with all of their complexity on political, racial and religious lines. The effects of allowing religious leaders to brainwash Muslim youth with demonizing narratives about Israel is problematic. When this is combined with the observable impotent policies of the Arab world in the face of Israel it drives some to join violent groups such as ISIS in a misguided effort to attempt to ultimately restore justice to the Palestinians - one aspect contributing to the instability of the Middle East, which Arab leaders can work toward fixing.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj

Sunday, February 15, 2015

العدالة والمساواة العشوائية: تشابل هيل

 ما هو لون عدسات النظارة التي تضعها على عينك؟ كلنا يرى الأحداث من حولنا من خلال طلاء رقيق يلوّن ما نراه فيضفي عليه عمقا لا يراه بالضرورة الآخرون. فمن يعيش في بلاد يحكمها رجال وليس نظام فيحق له أن يرى المؤامرة في كل إيماء وفي كل خطوة وفي كل تصريح. عندما يكون القانون حَكَما فقط على العامة دون الطبقة المخملية فلا بد وأن يحذر الإنسان من سطوة أصحاب السلطة؛ نظارات ملونة بالخوف حمراء كلون الدماء، سوداء كعتمة الزنازن، زرقاء كالكدمات، بيضاء كالأسنان التي تسطق بصفعات الجلاد. وحَسَنُ النية يرى النُبل والكرم في الآخرين وحتى إن اعتدوا عليه أو على غيره فسيعطيهم الأعذار أو ربما يلوم نفسه بدلا عنهم.لا يمكن أن نلوم تلك النظارات عندما يساندها الواقع الذي تراه العين المجردة وعندما يتنافى الواقع مع لون النظارة فيحتاج الإنسان منّا إلى من يزيل الغشاوة عن عينه. 

في مدينة جامعية يُشهد كأحد أركان المثلث البحثي في أمريكا. جامعة نورث كارولاني في مدينة تشابل هيل سلّم شخص أربعيني نفسه إلى السلطان معترفا بقتل عائلة يافعة مسلمة رميا بالرصاص: ضياء شادي بركات 23 سنة، زوجته يسر أبوصالحة 21 وأختها ذات الـ 19 ربيعا رزان أبوصالحة. كانت العائلة إسلامية في هيئتها حيث كانت الأختان ترديان الحجاب. وكان للقاتل تاريخ طويل من مهاجمة الأديان على وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي وبالأخص مواقف المتطرفين فيها ومنها الإسلام. رصاص في رأس كل من الثلاثة المسلمين وكون القاتل كارها للدين ومنه الدين الإسلامي فيصح لنا أن نستنتج أن هذه الجريمة نابعة من كراهية المجرم للمسلمين وكان الثلاثة هدفا سهلا للتعبير عن هذه الكراهية فقتلهم بدم بارد. بالتأكيد أن الإسلاموفوبيا كان قد تمكن من المجتمع الأميركي بداية من حرب الخليج الثانية وازداد بعد أحداث سبتمبر الإرهابية على الأراضي الأميركية. راهنت الحملات الإعلامية المنظمة للكراهية ضد الإسلام على ضمير الشعب الأميركي.

ليس هناك من يلومنا إذا استنتجنا أن الجريمية هي بالفعل جريمة كراهية خاصة وأن العائلة وبالرغم من صغر سنها كانت مثالا يفتخر به من الكرم والعطاء لفقراء المجتمع الذي يعيشون فيه وللاجئين السوريين في تركيا. حياة هذه العائلة بالفعل تستوجب أن تتأجج لها قريحة كل ذي ضمير حي. ولكنها لا تحتاج بالضرورة إلى أن تنطوي تحت معطف الإسلامفوبيا كي تكسب محبة الناس فهي أرواح تقف على هامة الأفعال الخيّرة التي قدمتها. وإن كانت بالفعل هذه الجريمة نابعة من كراهية فيجب على السلطات أن تتعامل معها من خلال آليات قانونية. مهما تحلينا بالموضوعية وحتى إن أزلنا عن أعيننا غشاوة النظارات الملونة بالإسلاموفوبيا وقلنا أن الجريمة كانت بسبب خلاف حول موقف صف سيارة يصعب تقبل تأخر مكتب التحقيقات الفدرالية من فتح تحقيق موازي للنظر فيما إذا كانت هذه جريمة هي بالفعل جريمة كراهية فهي الجهة المناط بها للتحقيق في مثل هذه القضايا. كما يصعب القبول بتأخر الرئيس الأميركي لأكثر من يومين حتى أدلى بتصريح يشجب الجريمة. 

النظارات التي أرتديها تلون الأحداث التي أراها بطيف من العدالة والمساواة وذلك الطيف قد بدى بعيدا في الأفق عندما نظرت إلى هذه الجريمة الغادرة. بالرغم من أن قراءتي لأخبار الحادثة تقودني إلى الإعتقاد بأن هذه الحادثة المروعة - هذه الجريمة النكراء - حقا ربما تكون في لحظة غضب لشخص غير موزون عقليا أو مهزوز نفسيا ولكن ذلك لا يعني أن العدالة والمساواة قد وضعا نصب أعين الحكومة الفدرالية الأميركية. إن كان ألم فقدان ضياء ويسر ورزان والخوف على مستقبل عائلات عربية-مسلمة-أمريكية أخرى قد يدفعنا إلى رفع راية الإسلاموفوبا غضبا إلا أننا جميعا كأمريكيين مسلمين ومسيحيين ويهود وبوذيين وملحدين وغيرهم يجب أن نغضب حين تكون العدالة والمساواة مجرد خطابا لسياسيين ومسؤوليين يُطبّق عشوائيا دون إعتبار للقيم والمعايير والثوابت التي جعلت ضياء ويسر ورزان يفتخرون بكونهم أميركيين.

نشر المقال أولا في إيلاف:

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

لم أكن "أنا تشارلي" ولا "أنا كواشي" ولا "أنا أحمد" ولكن

لم أكن يوما تشارلي ولكني كنت ضد الكواشي وأتقبل العزاء في أحمد وفي الإسلام الذي يغتاله كل يوم إرهابيون باسم الدين يرتكبون حماقاتهم البربرية بإسمي وبإسم كل من قال إلهُنا هو الله. أما اليوم وبعد نشر تشارلي إبدو (أو هيبدو) لعددها الأول الصادر بعد مجزرة باريس فإني أساند تشارلي في رسمها الإيحائي لرسول السلام محمد بن عبدالله خاتم الأنبياء والمرسلين. هذا الرسم لم يكن قط تمثيلا لهيئة الرسول فكلنا لديه صورة ضبابية للرسول الكريم بهامته العظيمة وعينيه الواسعتين الدعجاء وشعره المُرسل كما جاء في أوصافه الكريمة. أما الكاركاتير فهو رمزي وليس تمثيلي وليس الهدف منه إثارة أو تحقير أو إعتداء على رسول دين يؤمن به أكثر من مليار ونصف إنسان.

أعلن رسام الكاركاتير "لُزْ" أنه مدرك أن المتطرفون لا يريدون لهذا الكاركاتير أن يرى النور. وأنا أقول هنا أن هذا الرسم لا يريده أي منا! ولكني تابعت مشاهدة المؤتمر الصحفي حتى أسمع التفسير للرسم والغرض الفعلي من ورائه. قال "لَزْ" أنه الهدف هو رسم كاركاتير يؤصّل فكرة أن العمل الوحشي الذي أوقعه المتطرفان الأخوان الكوشي لا يقبل به أي صاحب فكر ولا أي إنسان له ضمير حي أيا كانت ملته بل أنه بالفعل عمل لا يرضى به النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم. فكانت فكرة الكاركتير التي تشير إلى بكاء الرسول الكريم تحت عنوان مكتوب عليه "المغفرة للجميع" وهو يقول "أنا تشارلي". كما يعلم أصحاب العقول أن الرسول لم يُستَنْطق في هذا الرسم وإنما الرمزية الفنية - التي تساوي ألف كلمة - حاولت إصال مفهوم السلام والإنسانية. لا يمكن أن يعترض على هذه الرسالة أي محب للسلام ولا أي شخص يستنكر القتل العشوائي ولا أي إنسان يبحث عنما يقارب بين بني البشر ولا مؤمن ينطق بالشهادة. بالفعل ربما كان بالأحرى برسامين مسلمين لو أنهم استطاعوا في رسم واحد أن يؤكدوا للعالم الموقف الحقيقي للسواد الأعظم من المسلمين المعترضين على الإرهاب والمستنكرين لهؤلاء الذين نصبوا أنفسهم حكاما وجلادين. هؤلاء المجرمون الذين أعطوا لأنفسم حقوقا لم يعطيها الله لرسوله فكانت "الرسالة الإسلامية" وليس حملة قتل ودمار "ولو كنت فظا غليظ القلب لانفضو من حولك" فما بالك بمن يريد أن ينشر الإسلام بقتل كل من لم يتحول إليه؟!

في هذا المنعطف الفكري الديني أجد أن روح الإسلام والمبادئ الأساسية من عدل ورحمة وخير تحتّم علي أن لا أعترض على كاركاتير الرسول الأخير. بل أبعد من ذلك؛ أجد أن الموقف الأصح هو تأييد تشارلي إبدو والشد على يد الرسام. لقد تحلت المجلة بأخلاقيات الإسلام والسلام فبدلا من رسمها للرسول الكريم في وضع بربري أو كمؤيد لفعل إرهابي شنيع استطاعت المجلة وهي المجني عليها وبالرغم من أحاسيس الألم والخسارة وربما الغضب لم تنزلق إلى مستوى الإرهابين. فالمجلة في هذا الرسم لم تحكم على الإسلام ككل بأنه دين الدم والدمار. مع أنّي لم أكون تشارلي إلا أنني سوف أشتري هذا العدد من المجلة تأيدا لرسالتهم التي استطاعت أن تخجل المتعنتين الميّالين إلى إسلام سياسي دموي لا يُبقي ولا يذر. متى سنستعيد إسلامنا من تلك الحثالة الإرهابية؟ 

مُتألم من أفعال الإرهابين في كل مكان 

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fighting extremism: Dignity is the answer

Six years into the Obama presidency, his administration continues to struggle with responding appropriately to world events. The calm levelheaded nature he is embodying makes him come across as aloof and uninterested. The latest example is the lack of high-level U.S. representation at the Paris rally on Sunday where heads of states and dignitaries flocked to show solidarity with the French people and stand united against the Charlie Hebdo massacre. To correct the criticism Secretary of State Kerry will visit France Thursday. “The president and our administration have been coordinating very, very closely with the French on F.B.I. matters, intel, law enforcement, across the board,” Kerry said; too little too late. The message the world is getting is that the U.S. is not terribly interested, which terrorists’ interpret as an opportunity to keep advancing their barbaric destructive agenda. The same agenda that flies in the face of their own holy scriptures they falsely proclaim.
Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and freelance terrorists carrying out bombings, beheadings, and lastly the massacre at Charles Hebdo are all committing their atrocities in the name of Islam nullifying its message of mercy and peace. This is a problem for Muslims who proclaim the hijacking of their religion by extremists. It is also a problem for the global community as it adds fuel to the fire.
The Arab and Muslim worlds bear the responsibility of future global terror recruits
Walid Jawad
The Arab and Muslim worlds bear the responsibility of future global terror recruits. They must empower their citizens with tools to effect change in their respective environments and by helping them understand the essence of Islam, an Islam that lives up to its name (Islam is from the root word “peace”). Are Arab leaders willing and able to restructure their rigid and vengeful hierarchical societies to inclusive ones? I don’t think the current crop of leaders in the Arab world are capable of adjusting to a world where a thuggish violent ISIS group provides that bright spot many Muslim-Arab youths are longing for. If Arab governments don’t take this phenomenon seriously enough to change their set ways, they will perish holding on to a mirage reflecting an elusive past of absolute power they have once held over helpless societies; those days are gone and are never coming back.

International Coalition against ISIS

The global response is focused on addressing the destruction caused by terrorist members on two levels: one, internationally by waging a multinational war against extremists in Iraq and Syria; two, locally by taking security measures to quell threats targeting each of their societies. The war in Iraq and Syria, in reality, is a PR campaign helping ISIS recruit more expendable fighters. All the while, each country’s security procedures are resulting in a continuously shrinking public space peppered with unreasonable and many times ineffective measures. Limiting freedoms under the guise of homeland security is akin to ceding to terrorists.
Members of these societies are not only inconvenienced, but also losing their values by turning open societies into guarded prisons where freedoms are stripped from their citizens. Obviously this dual pronged military-security strategy is lacking. There is a pressing need to expand counter terrorism beyond this shortsighted approach. The international community must refocus on stopping the steady stream of recruits from joining “global Jihad.” Three strategic concepts must be tackled: pursuing justice, preserving dignity and empowering Arab youth to become responsible citizens.

Justice, dignity and empowerment

The most pressing and most consuming issue for aggrieved Arabs and Muslims is Palestinian suffering and the injustice they’re still reeling from. Whether the U.S. likes to hear it or not - whether the administration agrees with it, the reality of the matter is that Arab and Muslim youth are enraged by U.S. policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a litmus test for America’s intentions. The dominant narrative points to the symbiotic relation between the U.S. and Israel. The narrative posits that the U.S. is either “controlled” by Israel or that it is hell bent on advancing Israeli interest no matter the injustice befalling the indigence people of the land. Either narrative, they point, is confirmed by U.S. policy announcements. The latest “No” vote rejecting a Palestinian draft proposal for statehood through the Security Council only bolsters this narrative.
If there were ever a way for the U.S. to justify its position to oppose the Palestinian draft resolution it is impossible to excuse the administration’s threat to cut off aid if the Palestinians pursue a membership to the International Criminal Court. Now, and after Palestine have been admitted to the International Criminal Court (starting April 1st), the U.S. must rethink the blowback of cutting off aide to the Palestinians as well as the ensuing PR, which will promote the narrative that the U.S. is insisting on preventing the right of the occupied people of Palestine for armed resistance and from fighting Israel legally by demanding justice through the Security Council and/or the International Criminal Court. Although legal steps taken by the Palestinians for justice will not guarantee them that illusive justice they seek, it will provide them and the rest of the Arab world with a sense of saving face and the preservation of their dignity.
Needless to say, dignity has a profound meaning in the Arab ethos, it is what Arabs live and die for. This is precisely why an increasing number of youth are willing to strap explosives to their chests and blow themselves up. True, they act under a religious banner, but none of their actions follow Islam’s main principles of mercy, peace and battling one’s inner demons. In fact, some of the perpetrators of 9/11 were reportedly spending their last days in bars and strip clubs. That group found an option to exercise power over their feeble existence. Erroneously thinking that by using airplanes as missiles they can die with dignity. Still in this post Arab Spring era, Arab youth are frustrated with an environment that strips them from any practical tools to effect real change, which brings me to empowerment.
Empowerment is not something the U.S. or the international community can ever bestow onto Arab masses. Empowerment lies within the domain of Arab governments. Nevertheless, as long as U.S. national interest is jeopardized the American administration must employ its political powers to nudge these governments to take concrete steps toward reforming educational systems, political inclusion and freedoms. Unfortunately, turning the tide will not be smooth. In fact, this strategy will be long and chaotic. Keep in mind that the current situation on the ground in the Arab world is already disastrous. Instead of the U.S. along with the international community expending blood and treasure on feudal attempts to control the side effects (ISIS), it would be wiser to invest their resources on an honorable outcome; justice, dignity and empowerment for Arabs and Muslims.

Charlie Hebdo

The tragedy of Charlie Hebdo where two Muslim gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar” killed 12 members of the satirical weekly magazine in Paris in what appears to be an act of avenging Prophet Mohammad is providing clues to the nature of the conflict. There is nothing in Islam that demands Muslims to defend the Prophet’s person. On the contrary, there are verses that clearly say that God will defend Islam and his prophet. The prophet of Islam is the most significant identity symbol shared by 1.5 billion people around the world. The saliency of this identity in not equal among these masses, rather it is proportional to individual frustrations, lack of dignity and limited options to make a difference, which answers some of the puzzling questions around the type of people who join global jihad.  The common denominator here regardless of persuasion (Islamic or nationalistic) is the quest for dignity. At this juncture dignity is achievable through the pursuit of justice for the Palestinian and by addressing the litany of Arab grievances including American boots on Arab soil, American hegemony and the perceived war on Islam. The takeaway here is that forging a strategy to fight violent extremists based on a religious premise is futile; dignity is the answer.
 Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj

This article was published first by Al-Arabiya