Monday, February 21, 2011

Revolution is in the Air

Revolution is in the Air

Nobody would’ve believed just a couple months ago that protests demanding freedom and democracy would erupt across the Middle East, and that two long time dictators would be driven out of power with more to come. As it happens both were aided in their tyranny and kleptocracy by US approval and assistance but it isn’t just America’s long time ‘friends’ and promoters of ‘stability’ who are feeling the heat.

Changes in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired Libya’s people to try to end their 42-year-long nightmare with Gaddafi and Iran’s theocratic rulers are also facing demands for reform, the institution of fundamental human rights we all purport to believe in. The same freedoms America doesn’t mention much when the despised tyrant is our friend and is willing to do our bidding. Now that the people of Bahrain are clamoring for democracy you have the amazing spectacle of uprising in one of the richest countries in the area. So consider Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, in addition to Egypt and Tunisia, the two who are already down, and you have rich and poor, secular and theocratic, Arab and non-Arab, almost the entire Middle East in flux.

Moreover there should be no doubt that the people of Iraq would also be deposing Saddam if Bush and Blair hadn’t jumped the gun. Instead of the few hundred Saddam would’ve killed trying to maintain power, Western action to stop the threat of non-existent WMD’s cost a million Iraqi lives and displaced another four million. To be fair, one should also take into account the number, probably in the thousands, of Iraqis who would’ve suffered in one way or another over the eight years since Saddam was ousted, but still, that doesn’t compare much to the million who died, or maybe even the numbers who are still dying nearly every day from insurgent attacks and suicide bombers.

Just two months ago the conventional wisdom had it that the Arabs weren’t ready for democracy, or interested in electing their leaders; that they were better off with autocratic rulers. Israel could also tout itself as the only democracy in the area, though that’s not really true since Lebanon is governed by elected leaders and the Palestinians held free and fair elections in 2006. The reason why the Palestinians don’t have a legitimate democratic leadership now is that Hamas, the party they chose back in 2006 by a wide margin, didn’t meet with the approval of the US or Israel, thus began the purposeful economic and political squeezing and strangulating of the Palestinian people.

Moreover, the word democracy can only be applied very loosely to what takes place in Israel. In the first place, while Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s population they hold only 5% of the seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. That’s not to say democracies have to be perfect, as anomalies are frequent. The US Senate in particular is one of the most glaring examples of inequality since a senator from California represents 70 times more people than one from Wyoming. But at least in the US there are some checks and balances. There are also countries like Malaysia where one group, the indigenous Malays, receive a lot of benefits from the state which the Chinese and Indians, though they they’ve lived in the country for more than a century and make up 40% of the population, don’t receive, but that’s not a true democracy, and neither is Israel’s. True democracy absolutely requires that all citizens have equal citizenship rights. It’s not possible for a democracy to have second class citizens as the Arabs are in Israel.

It is not possible, as far as I’m concerned, for any country based on a single religion or race to be a true democracy. America’s founding fathers understood that more than two centuries ago. They put an impenetrable (at least in theory) wall of separation between church and state and placed an absolute prohibition of a religious test for leadership or citizenship. There can be no exceptions: either all human beings are entitled to the same rights or they are not; there’s no such thing as a part democracy or sort of democracy or a democracy for one group while others are discriminated against or subjugated.

Meanwhile in the midst of clamor throughout the Middle East for freedom and democracy, the US once again comes down on the wrong side of history in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for continued settlement building in the West Bank. The resolution was sponsored by 130 countries; the Council vote was 14-1 against Israel. America’s UN rep said we too condemn settlement construction, we just don’t think this is the place to bring it up. Bullshit. Pure cowardice. Once again a light shining on America’s hypocrisy. We believe in all that human rights and stuff… but only when it suits us politically. As long as we are beholden to and afraid of Jewish donors and the right wing Jewish lobby, then humanity be damned.

What a terrible message to send to all those millions on the streets, all those people putting their lives on the line for freedom to say justice for Palestinians is not important, that protecting Israel from censure for acts that arrogantly flout international law and norms and that are almost universally disdained if not despised around the world is necessary and correct in a craven political calculation even if it’s not politically correct. The US used intense pressure to try to stop the Palestinians from bringing the measure up before the Security Council because Obama didn’t want to be shamed and embarrassed by vetoing it, but at this point the Palestinians have nothing to lose. Every day they see their land being usurped and colonized and their opportunity for a viable state diminished.

It took a long time for Apartheid to be vanquished but it had to end because it was fundamentally unfair, an affront to humanity. Israel is in the process of making a two state solution impossible so its Jews will eventually wind up with a single state they will have to share with the Arabs. It won’t come soon or easy, but there is becoming no other option. Apartheid was brought down by world pressure in the form of sanctions, boycotts and divestment. The same will happen to Israel.

On another topic, I have to bring up the case of Raymond Davis the American ‘diplomat’ who killed two ‘thieves’ in Pakistan and is being held in that country on a murder charge in spite of America insisting he has diplomatic immunity and wide ranging threats if he isn’t released into America’s custody.

In the first place, it is widely known outside America that the two ‘thieves’ were Pakistani intelligence agents who were trailing him. Also, in one account I read he shot them in the back so hardly self-defense. He had lots of spy devices on his person when arrested including a GPS that was used to designate targets for drone attacks. Two days before the incident the US embassy sent Pakistan a list of employees for the record, something they are required to do by law. Davis’ name wasn’t on the list. The day after the incident, the embassy sent Pakistan a revised list with his name on it. So hardly eligible for diplomatic immunity. In fact, he’s a security contractor. Besides, there is no immunity for serious crimes; diplomats don’t get away with murder.

To bring a personal threat from Obama demanding his release into US custody means the US is deathly afraid of what Pakistan will learn from him. So great fun as far as I’m concerned.

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