From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Saudi Family Values: In 50 years, Saleh Al-Saieri, a Saudi businessman has married 58 women, including his cousin and (just a month ago) a thirteen-year-old, and then divorced 54 of them.

As soon as Al-Saieri gets the itch to marry again, he draws lots between the current four wives to choose which one will be divorced. Under Islamic Shariah, he is not allowed to marry more than four wives at a time. Al-Saieri said, “I first got married to my cousin when I was 14 years old because of my father. The ceremony took place in Sharura, southern Saudi Arabia. A few months later, I divorced her even though she gave birth to my first son, Omar. He is now 50 years old and works as an engineer and a businessman.”

“Six months later, I married my second wife. I loved her because I had known her when we were young. I started my marriage campaign immediately after the second marriage,” he added.

He said, “My wives only meet each other occasionally. Each lives far away from the other. Some of my sons only found out that they were brothers through similarity of names at school.”

“I married university graduates and illiterate women. The oldest wife I am married to is 40 and the youngest is 13, who I married just one month ago. She lives in southern Saudi Arabia,” he boasted.

“I will stop when I reach wife number 60,” he concluded.

Wow. Can you say “state sanctioned misogyny,” er, “true love”?

Oh, and dig this: I was reading a piece in Arab News by Barbara Ferguson and was struck by how oddly familiar it sounded. Compare and Contrast the first two paragraphs of these two news articles: Ori Nir, writing in the Forward’s March 12th edition in an article entitled Groups Back Bill To Monitor Universities:

Risking a clash with civil libertarians, major Jewish communal organizations are lobbying the Senate to approve a bill that would tighten federal monitoring of government-funded Middle East studies programs at universities.

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly, is pitting the Jewish organizational community against professors associations and leading international studies scholars as well as against traditional allies such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Barbara Ferguson, writing in Arab News one week later, in an article entitled US Jewish Groups Back Congressional Bill to Monitor Universities (sound familiar?):

Major Jewish organizations are lobbying the Senate to approve a bill that would authorize federal monitoring of government-funded Middle East studies programs throughout US universities.

The bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives and is now before a Senate committee, would establish a federal tribunal to investigate and monitor criticism of Israel on American college campuses.

Déjà vu, nu? And besides, uh, paraphrasing from the Forward (and, yes, Ferguson, we use a “the” when referring to the Forward), Ferguson also manages to quote from the revolting, conspiracy mongering American Free Press:

The American Free Press newspaper is more critical: “In other words, it would be another federal ‘blue ribbon’ panel akin to the Warren Commission that ostensibly investigated the JFK assassination and the now highly-suspect federal commission looking into the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

You can read more about Willis Carto and the American Free Press here.

And note that Ferguson’s AFP quote is from none other than Holocaust denier Michael Collins Piper .

Hmmm, and speaking of Ferguson’s piece sounding oddly familiar, please note that Piper writes: “One other group has lent its support: the U.S. India Political Action Committee, an Indian-American group that has been working closely with the Israeli lobby now that Israel and India are geopolitically allied.”

And Ferguson writes: “Another group supporting the bill is the US India Political Action Committee, an Indian-American group that has been working closely with the Israeli lobby now that Israel and India are geopolitically allied.

Déjà vu all over again, nu?

Piper explains that “the primary individuals promoting this effort to control intellectual debate on the college campuses are known for having a political axe to grind: they are all prominent and outspoken supporters of Israel and harsh critics of the Arab and Muslim worlds.”

And Ferguson explains that, wait for it, “the main promoters of this effort to control intellectual debate on the college campuses are all prominent and outspoken supporters of Israel and harsh critics of the Arab and Muslim worlds.”

Piper: “Two members of the board would be appointed by the Senate, two by the House, and three by the Secretary of Education, two of whom are required to be from U.S. federal security agencies.”
Ferguson: “Two members of the board would be appointed by the Senate, two by the House, and three by the Secretary of Education — two of whom are required to be from US federal security agencies.”

And all this in an article about academic matters…

One is always amazed at the stupidly high standards of journalistic integrity and professionalism employed by Arab News.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The myth of the megaphone martyr: As I noted yesterday, testimony from ISM’s own eyewitnesses contradict claims that Rachel Corrie was wielding a bullhorn when she was killed. Unfortunately, this image of the bullhorn wielding shahid (martyr) seems to have taken root. Even Ha’aretz has bought into it: Rachel Corrie was carrying a bullhorn and wearing a fluorescent orange vest to make clear that she was an activist, as she climbed a mound of earth to bar the path of the immense Caterpillar D9 bulldozer. The presence of the bullhorn may be a minor detail, yet it’s also a revisionist embellishment of an already emotionally charged incident.

Whether Corrie’s death was in vain is debatable, of course, although it’s fairly obviously it’s been a propaganda bonanza for her organization. On another message board somebody noted that Corrie is more useful to such efforts now that’s she’s dead. That’s awfully cynical, but it doesn’t seem that the ISM and other such parties have spared much effort to publicize her death. The Ha’aretz reporter notes that “In Israel her name has been all but forgotten, but Rachel Corrie is still viewed by many leftists abroad as a symbol, even a saint.” I’d suggest that it’s not just in Israel, though, but pretty much everywhere. But I think even people who have forgotten her name remain familiar with the outlines of the story (the woman who was run over by a bulldozer), if only because it was one that was played out in large part with overly simplistic language and images. As a result, productive discussion in the matter seems to have been quashed from any number of directions. Deriding Corrie as, say, a Darwin Award Winner or elevating her to sainthood is polarizing, not to mention emotionally bludgeoning, and neither approach offers much in the way of productively addressing anything of necessity. Perhaps this is why so many people are so eager to either beatify her or denigrate her.

Last summer an ISM member explained to me that a major reason Corrie’s death didn’t receive major coverage in the media (although one could argue that it most certainly did) was because it had been eclipsed by the Iraq invasion. This was very unfortunate, as in other circumstances, so she believed, Corrie’s death would have received far more media attention than it already had, and thus more people would have become aware of Israel’s, y’know, sordid behavior and stuff. Her disappointment and regret seemed to be less that someone had died but that the media had squandered an opportunity to vilify and scandalize Israel. This struck me as a bit callous, and it’s this sort of thinking that makes me wonder if the ISM is less (if at all) pro-Palestinian and simply anti-Israel. (And to what ends have the ISM and its ilk used—exploited?—Corrie’s death for anything other than catalyzing and disseminating anti-Israel rhetoric?) I suggested to her that perhaps not having even more media coverage of her death had been a good thing, if not for the ISM but for Corrie’s family and friends. After all, despite whatever anti-Israel sentiment might—or might not—have subsequently arisen from additional coverage of Corrie’s death, the level of ridicule and derision directed at her (and her family, friends, and supporters) would most like have increased as well. Plus, I mentioned to her, there was no guarantee that any extra media coverage would have been at all favorable towards Corrie and/or negative towards Israel. This coverage might well have portrayed her not as a noble human rights worker who had been murdered, as this ISM activist seemed to assume Corrie would have been depicted in further exposure, but rather as an insufferable, terror-enabling radical who had played “chicken” with earth moving equipment and got what she deserved. (I don’t subscribe to either version, by the way.) The activist didn’t seem to understand what I was getting at, but perhaps in the world of the ISM even bad publicity is good publicity.

And, unlike this woman, I’m not so sure that, absent the Iraq invasion, Corrie’s death would have garnered (even) more media attention. Indeed, perhaps what’s notable is that Corrie’s death was covered to the degree that it was. The Gaza strip, after all, is but one troubled area in a troubled region in a very troubled world. And there have been other Americans who were killed (deliberately and brutally) in the last year in Gaza, not to mention in Haifa and Jerusalem, yet none of them received the sort of media coverage that was devoted to Corrie. (Quick: Name any of the other Americans killed in, say, Gaza or Jerusalem in the last year. If you can’t do it, ask yourself why you know Corrie’s name but not any of theirs.) And how many hours did it take before pictures of a bloodied Corrie had been posted on the Internet for the world to gaze upon? And for what end? (Incomplete post. I grow tired. Something about this reminds me of an incident from my youth. My father was driving us somewhere and we saw the aftermath of an accident. Two kids lay in the street, their bikes next to them, traffic backed up. Help was there, but traffic was being turned back. My father turned the car around, and then suddenly he was angry, furious. One of the kids had on black tennis shoes. Stupid. This is why you have to be careful. You have to be careful. Stupid. Angry. This shouldn’t have happened. Waste. Stupid waste. (Oxfam oranges and blood and death and bullhorns and stupid poetry.))

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Comments enabled. 500 extra credit points to anyone who can tell me how to resize the comments link and how to situate it in the "posted by" line.
Huwaida Arraf, the wife of Adam “Free Ticket” Shapiro’s and one of the founders and coordinators of the International Solidarity Movement, has a piece in the Jerusalem Post entitled The price of nonviolent resistance. The article is fairly predictable in its rendition of the circumstances surrounding Rachel Corrie’s death, although now we learn that Corrie kept repeating “These actions are a violation of international law. Demolishing homes is a war crime. Please stop" and that “right before she was run over Rachel asked the driver, ‘What would your mother think?’” Interesting, to be sure, but oddly enough none of the eyewitness affidavits concerning Corrie’s death mention her making these statements. Probably just an oversight.

According to Arraf,

Rachel was wearing a fluorescent orange reflector jacket and, along with seven other volunteers from the ISM, was attempting to appeal to the conscience of the bulldozer driver – getting in his way and speaking to him through a bullhorn.

This seems disingenuous. According to accounts and affidavits of ISM partisans who were there, when Corrie was killed she was the only person trying to get in the bulldozer’s way (playing “cat and mouse,” as the Electronic Intifada calls it) and she had given the bullhorn to someone else.

That Corrie was shouting through a bullhorn when she was killed is one of the more frequent misrepresentations of the incident. But it contradicts the signed affidavits of at least two ISM members, Tom Dale (“I was holding the megaphone. Rachel had been using it all day until a few minutes before hand (sic), when I had come from where I was standing, go (sic) the megaphone and went back to my position.”) and Richard Purrsell (“By this time Rachel had given the megaphone to another activist”), both of whom note that Corrie had relinquished the bullhorn. This embellishment is testimony to the apocryphal and contradictory nature of various accounts of Corrie’s death. Indeed, even the ISM claimed she “was speaking through a bullhorn when she was brutally run over.” And this, despite the ISM’s own eyewitnesses stating the opposite. Perhaps when the ISM bewails Israel for supposedly disseminating false and inflammatory accounts of Corrie’s death they should look in the mirror.

Anyway, ISM human shield activities such as this contradict the ISM’s statement (posted on their own webpage) that “We cannot run around trying to ‘protect’ people, be they Israelis or Palestinians, as that does not deal with the real problem.” Perhaps Arraf might re-read her organization’s own FAQs and remind ISM members who serve as human shields or who otherwise try to protect Palestinians that their behavior is in contravention of an official ISM statement.

Also, according to Arraf,

[T]he Israeli media (without a single journalist in the Gaza Strip) repeatedly reports exactly what the Israeli army says without question…. According to these reports, the IDF is engaged with people who are terrorists, there are terrorists in the area, or suspected terrorists were there. This goes unchallenged in the Israeli media, even in left-wing newspapers.

This is nonsense, of course. To cite but one example, Ha’aretz almost always characterizes Palestinians killed in clashes with the IDF, even when they belonged to terrorist organizations, as “militants” or “activists,” and almost never as terrorists. And the fact that Arraf is spouting off again in the Jerusalem Post—a conservative paper, no less, and it’s not her first appearance there—belies even further suggestions of media acquiescence to IDF accounts.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Pirated DVDs of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (not “The Passion of Christ,” by the way) are selling like hot cakes in Jeddah. And in Riyadh, the government has continued its crackdown on travel agents, many of whom have been detained and had their heads forcibly shaved. Yes, that’s right: They’re arresting travel agents and shaving their heads. Divestment, anyone? I didn't think so.
“Celebrating murder”: Writing in Al-Ahram, Egypt’s government affiliated and leading daily newspaper, somebody named Khaled Amayreh claims that “the Israeli army saw to it that the Purim rituals were reenacted more authentically and that as much ‘enemy blood’ as international public opinion would allow was shed.” After a rather snide and patronizing description of Purim, Amayreh writes:

On 7 March, thousands of Israeli soldiers, backed by tanks and armoured vehicles and supported by several Apache helicopters, swept into the crowded Gaza refugee camps of Nuseirat and Bureij. The rampaging forces ganged up on the unprotected camps and the lightly armed activists who tried rather desperately to put up a semblance of resistance against the heavily armed attackers. The ensuing bloodbath, which lasted for seven hours, left at least 15 Palestinians dead, including four children, and up to 80 others -- mostly innocent civilians -- maimed and injured. There were no Israeli casualties.

Thousands of Israeli soldiers? Rampaging Israeli forces? Sounds like gratuitous hyperbole. According to a Knight Ridder report, “In Sunday's raid, 30 Israeli armored vehicles backed by Apache helicopters moved into the Bureij and Nusseirat refugee camps under cover of darkness. Palestinian witnesses reported seeing Israeli sniper units stationed on rooftops, while soldiers began searching houses.” No mention of Amayreh’s thousands of Israeli soldiers. Plus, you’d think that thousands of soldiers and rampaging Israeli forces would have killed more than fifteen people, if killing as many people as possible had really been their objective. After all, an even smaller force was able to massacre hundreds in Jenin, or something.

It is not clear why the carnage was carried out on the very day Jews were celebrating Purim.

Oho, not clear, eh? Perhaps the Israelis needed to retrieve more blood for baking their Hamentashen, hmmm?

Palestinians say it was not a coincidence, and many Israelis, including right-wingers who say what they mean and mean what they say, seem to concur.

Pray tell, what are the names of some of these “many Israelis” who “seem to concur” that the Sunday date of the Gaza operations and Purim was not a coincidence?

Israeli military officials, including Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, were quoted as saying that "our activities" in Gaza were just "a continuation of our policy". Commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip Gadi Shamni put it more succinctly: "We have no problem to continue fighting for as long as it takes."

I can’t find any evidence of Ya’alon saying this. If he did, the quote is likely taken out of context, just like the Shamni quote, which had nothing to do with Purim.

Some Israeli commentators, like Ha'aretz correspondent Amos Harel, suggested that the real goal was to kill as many Palestinians as possible at one time. He quoted a field officer who had commanded similar raids as saying that the aim of the operation against the two refugee camps was to "deceive and kill" Palestinians. "The aim is to deceive the enemy (sic) in order to get him to react in an area where he is surrounded by our forces and is in an inferior position."

Fact check: Here’s the Amos Harel article in question (if the link doesn’t open to the article, click here). As you can see, nowhere does Harel suggest “that the real goal was to kill as many Palestinians as possible at one time,” and nowhere does the phrase “deceive and kill” appear. Did Khaled Amayreh somehow misread Harel’s article, or is he just fabricating things? Survey says…

Almost all Israeli commentators implied that the Gaza raid was meant, first and foremost, to shed as much Palestinian blood as possible on the Purim holiday.

Again, what are some of the names of these Israeli commentators (almost all of them, apparenty) who have “implied” this? The only person I’ve read making implications about shedding Palestinian blood on Purim is Khaled Amayreh. Not surprisingly, Amayreh conveniently forgets to mention that Harel’s article also describes Palestinians using human shields, including children. Later in his article, Amayreh claims that “This week, Israeli press reported widely on the army's desire to kill as many Palestinians as possible, both in Gaza and the West Bank, before carrying out the purported Israeli plan to evacuate some Gaza settlements.” Um, O.K., but again, who are some of these reporters in the Israeli press who’ve been writing about “the army's desire to kill as many Palestinians as possible,” and where are the articles in which they make these claims (much less substantiate them)?

A modest proposal: If killing as many Palestinians as possible is indeed the IDF’s desire, then they’re certainly going about it in a highly inefficient and self-endangering manner. That is, if the Israeli army really wants “to kill as many Palestinians as possible, both in Gaza and the West Bank,” you’d think that rather than dispatching Israeli soldiers—thousands of them, apparently—into harm’s way to confront Palestinian militants, er, “lightly armed activists,” that the military would instead, say, carpet bomb the targets. Such a tactic is quicker and easier than sending in snipers and foot soldiers; it would keep Israeli soldiers out of the line of fire; and it would be far more effective in killing large numbers of people. And there would be enough Palestinian blood shed to last until Passover!

Speaking of Al-Ahram, notice the Israeli soldier with the bloody bayonet and the Swastika arm band in the bottom cartoon by Ossama Qassim. Here’s another of his cartoons, in the same issue. Charming.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Say wha'? Interesting math in today’s Arab News:

Wednesday's Madrid massacre is arguably Europe’s Sept. 11. It came three and a half years to the day after Al-Qaeda’s murderous attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The danger is that this latest outrage may wreak the same change in attitudes among Europeans as the New York and Washington crimes did for Americans.

Well, who’s counting, anyway? Interesting editorial, too, and good to see Arab News is admitting Al-Qaeda was behind at least one 9/11, albeit not the 9/11 most people think of in relation to Al-Qaeda.

Indeed it may be worse. Europe’s racist bigots like France’s National Front are bound to try and cash in, claiming their vicious xenophobia has been vindicated. Europe could easily be infected with American paranoia and illiberalism. Most crucially, it might start to accept Israel’s craven claims that it too is a helpless victim of fanatical Muslim terrorism.

Ah, yes, don’t you just love good ol’ “American paranoia and illiberalism”? If only we could more liberal and tolerant like our Saudi allies:

RIYADH, 13 March 2004 — A court in Riyadh sentenced a Saudi teacher accused of denouncing religion to three years in jail and 300 lashes. The man was banned from teaching and writing in newspapers.

The court dropped an apostasy charge but found him guilty on other charges of blasphemy. The court took statements from three witnesses under the age of 15 in addition to other teachers at the same school.

According to students, the teacher “allowed” what was religiously forbidden such as homosexuality and adultery. He also referred to the Syrian poet Nizar Qabani as “Nizar (peace be upon him).”

Three years in jail and 300 lashes: Good thing for him he wasn’t practicing black magic. What’s that you were saying about other folks being paranoid and illiberal, hmmm?

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I just noticed that Dave over at Israellycool has also addressed some of the ISM’s FAQs. He does a nice job in highlighting various aspects of the ISM’s predictable rhetoric of dishonesty and obfuscation. For example, he shows that the ISM’s statement that “We cannot run around trying to ‘protect’ people, be they Israelis or Palestinians” is yet another blatant falsehood, and backs it up with evidence (including pictures) of ISM functionaries, um, protecting Palestinians. And these are just a few examples of when the ISM, despite such asinine and dishonest protestations to the contrary, has been more than willing to “run around trying to” protect (and “protect”) Palestinians. Well, gosh. It’s just this sort of blatant contradiction and mendacity that makes me wonder, once again, if even the ISM takes itself seriously. After all, for years now its members have been publicizing their efforts to protect Palestinians, yet now we’re supposed to believe that ISM does not engage in such activities. How delightfully Orwellian! (In other news, Oceania was never at war with Europa, either, and everybody knows that Oceana is peaceful and nonviolent and simply cannot run around trying to protect people, much less wage war.) It speaks volumes about the ISM’s honesty and seriousness (or lack thereof) that today they’re pandering nonsense about not protecting Palestinians, even though we’ve been reading, for years now, about their efforts to do just that. For anybody remotely familiar with the situation, this sort of ISM revisionism would be almost insulting if it weren’t so predictable.

In short, the ISM’s self-serving “answers” to their FAQs offer little reason to regard them as anything other than self-publicizing propagandists. Their rhetoric, as exemplified in these responses to FAQs about their organization, is, to say the least, self-contradictory and intellectually (if not morally) degrading. As such, the ISM does us all the favor of effectively dismissing themselves from any serious or honest discussion about the situation. Indeed, as these FAQ responses show yet again, the ISM’s contributions to such matters offer little more than rhetorical pollution and moral debasement. It's all rather predictable, but so it goes…

Friday, March 05, 2004

ISM Freudian slip? Speaking of the International Solidarity Movement, they’re apparently quite upset about this editorial from the Jerusalem Post. In their latest grammatically garbled email they ask us to protest the JPost’s op-ed to, um, our members of Congress:

Below is a disgusting op-ed about Rachel Corrie that was recently published by the Jerusalem Post, Israel's main English-language newspaper, followed by two letters that were published regarding the op-ed, one by the US Embassy. Please protest this disgusting op-ed about Rachel to your members of Congress. http://www.congress.org/congressorg/home/
Point out how cheap American lives are treated in one of the main English newspapers and sites of America ’s “closest ally”.

I’m assuming their characterization of Corrie’s life as “cheap” is just another typo on their part, although it is striking how certain folks have been more than willing to use her unfortunate death for anti-Israel publicity and propaganda. Talk about cheap. Interestingly, the other editorial included in the email alert is from the International Herald Tribune and was written by Corrie’s cousin. She offers the predictable spin about Corrie’s death, and there’s little that’s especially notable about her editorial, save for this newest rendition of the tale: Now the story has become that “an Israeli soldier and his commander ran over Rachel with a nine-ton Caterpillar bulldozer.” One of these days, we’re going to learn that it was none other than Ariel Sharon who was driving the bulldozer.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

And this is all this even when yes I said yes I will Yes. Or: Palestinian Suicide Bombers, e.g., a.k.a, “a tragic weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with.” On February 8th I posted an entry that included the following:

How one answers the above questions will, I think, say a lot about how one regards the Palestinians as human beings. Are they people, with free will and control over their actions, especially when it comes to supporting terrorism, not least suicide terrorism? Or are their actions less their own fault than of the situation they find themselves in? Knowing that other groups have lived through far worse than the Palestinians have without resorting to repeatedly suicide-bombing civilians, do we nonetheless apply an ethical substandard to them in order to see this campaign of suicide bombings against civilians as some sort of natural result of such situations, even though such behavior is in fact not only anomalous but unprecedented? Do we pervert, even if unintentionally, the experience and humanity of Palestinians by suggesting that they, unlike every other oppressed group in memory, somehow had no other choice or somehow couldn’t help but to begin detonating themselves in restaurants and similar settings, as if such behavior somehow fits a normal pattern?

To not hold Palestinians responsible for their actions, especially actions like suicide bombings against civilians that so many Palestinians have supported, and continue to support, is itself a form of racism and dehumanization. Yet this is exactly what Palestinian apologists do: Palestinian terrorism is the result of the occupation, they moan. It’s the cycle of violence, they wail. What else can we expect of people who live under brutal occupation, they cry. To which, I think, one must say: No, this is not so: It is the fault of the Palestinians who carry out these barbaric acts, along with those who support them, aid them, celebrate them, mythologize them, and otherwise endeavor to place the blame and responsibility on anyone and anything other than Palestinians. It is these people who are racists and ideological oppressors, because they are the ones who insist on portraying Palestinians as having little or no control over their actions, or attributing Palestinian actions to a “cycle,” thus denying Palestinians any sort of existential depth or maturity or self-agency, much less any responsibility for this campaign of terror and mayhem against Israeli society, a campaign that they themselves launched, on their own prerogative. To blame Palestinian actions such as suicide bombings of buses on the occupation or the “cycle” rather than on Palestinian choices and Palestinian behavior, not only diminishes the barbarity of such actions but diminishes the morality and experience of Palestinians. Its effect is to dehumanize Palestinians. And to suggest that Palestinians have so little control over themselves that Israel can provoke or manipulate them into blowing themselves up is to not only place the blame for Palestinian suicide bombers on the victimized party but to negate Palestinians of any sort of rational humanity or self-control. To suggest that somebody can be manipulated into detonating himself in a civilian area strips the person of any intelligence and self-agency, and makes him little more than a trained seal. Yet this excuse—that Israel provokes Palestinians into exploding themselves, as inherently racist and dehumanizing as such a characterization of Palestinian intelligence and morality is—is but one of many such locutions offered, almost by rote, for Palestinian suicide attacks.

For is Palestinian psychology and behavior so haplessly malleable that Palestinians can be routinely influenced—by an enemy, no less—into terminating their own lives? I find it chilling that people who bewail Israel as a racist state so often have no problem stooping to such blinkered, even racist, characterizations and rationales for Palestinian terrorism. Has there ever been another group of people of whom it has been suggested so often that their enemy could provoke them into killing themselves? Rather than employ a dehumanizing caricature of Palestinians that portrays them as desperate pawns with little choice but to detonate themselves in crowded civilian areas, should we not hold them responsible for employing and supporting such actions, just as the world would (maybe) if it weren't Jews they were always murdering? Palestinians are human beings and their actions, especially suicide terrorism, must be addressed and examined as such, not as the result of external factors or in a way that somehow normalizes such actions or bleaches them of any true sense of human agency. For, as we know, such actions, be they in response to oppression and desperation or anything else, are a stunning exception in the history of humanity, and thus cannot be explained or accepted as some sort of predictable or normal outcome to living an oppressed existence. Other peoples have lived through far worse without resorting to regularly blowing themselves up in civilian areas, yet we are expected to believe that these widespread and widely supported actions among Palestinians—a sustained campaign to murder civilians via suicide-bombings—somehow fit into a predictable historical or human norm, despite the fact that no previous example of this particular implementation of terrorism has ever existed.

Please recall, also, that back on December 24th I noted that the International Solidarity Movement had posted some “frequently asked questions” (FAQs) about the ISM on their website, FAQs for which I then took a stab at preemptively answering for them. Well, after weeks and weeks of keeping us in suspense, the ISM finally got around to posting their own twisted, grammatically garbled answers a few days ago, and the intellectual dishonesty and mendacity is staggering. Just about every sentence contains a misrepresentation, a red herring, a straw man, or some other method of rhetorical subterfuge. And, as I predicted, the thrust of their FAQ answers focuses on the Israeli Occupation and how it, not Palestinians, is the real root cause of terrorism, the conflict itself, and so on, and how criticizing Palestinian terrorism is but merely to address its symptoms rather than its root causes (i.e. the Occupation). Oh, did you know that “The Palestinian community is almost completely united its (sic—?) call for an end to violence on all sides, starting with an end to occupation”? No, I didn’t think you did, for (among other things) if this were true 75% of the Palestinian community in the territories wouldn’t have approved of the Maxim Restaurant suicide bombing. Perhaps the ISM meant to write “united in”? Or “united against”? (And notice both the whitewashing of the Hamas’s ten-year “truce” with Israel and the ISM’s benevolent appellation of “political party” to one of the world’s premier genocidal terrorist groups). Either way, it’s hard to take people seriously who characterizes suicide bombers who strap on explosives and then detonate themselves in crowded civilian areas as somehow being “a tragic weapon.” Yes, in the world of the ISM, people who equip themselves with explosives laced with ball bearings, nails, and/or rat poison are considered “a tragic weapon.” Oh, so tragic! Oh, so gag-reflex inducing. Oh, so predictable.

Yes, predictable: For example, back in December, writing in ISM-speak, I wrote: “Although the effects of suicide bombings are indeed terrible… the effects of the Occupation are full worse, and it is the Occupation that breeds the despair and humiliation that engenders suicide bombings. Indeed… we must look at the real root cause of suicide bombings and other Palestinian terrorism—that is, the decades old illegal and brutal Occupation of Palestine—and place blame accordingly. Never mind, of course, that other people have lived through far worse than the Palestinians have without resorting to a campaign of suicide terrorism against civilian targets, a campaign that is unprecedented in the history of humanity. We acknowledge that never before have self-detonating human bombs been launched against civilian targets (Japanese Kamikazim and the suicide bombers of the Tamil Tiger at least had the decency to restrict themselves primarily or entirely to political or military figures). To be sure, this isn’t much of a contribution to humanity, yet so terrible is the plight of the oppressed Palestinians, who have had to endure an Occupation of unprecedented scope and scale (did we mention that it’s brutal and illegal, too?) that they have had little choice but to resort to such measures of self-sacrifice. And it’s hardly the fault of the Palestinians that in this monumentally unequal struggle that their weapons so often include only their own bodies, albeit with some explosives, some nails, and some rat poison attached. Such barbarity and its widespread support is symptomatic not of Palestinian society but of the despair and desperation bred by the illegal and brutal Occupation of Palestine. Indeed, as a banner that used to be displayed on our website proclaimed, ‘It’s the Occupation, Stupid!””

Good stuff, eh? Now, compare what I wrote with what ISM states: “In order to stop attacks on Israeli civilians this kind of violence, we must look at the source of violence and address that, instead of arguing about whether one act of violence is worse than another. We need to treat the disease of all the violence and not just one of its symptoms.

“Occupation forces and policies are degrading and dehumanizing; they injure, kill the soul and make life near impossible for Palestinians, and this is all this (sic—huh?) even when the Israeli army is not actively attacking (e.g.,a.k.a. (sic) carrying out operations in Palestinian villages, towns and cities). We oppose the tactic of suicide bombings, especially those that have been carried out against civilian targets. We don't however think that it is a more brutal tactic than dropping a bomb from a fighter plane on a civilian-occupied apartment building, firing a tank shell down a crowded city street, or placing dynamite in a family home. They are all brutal and repulsive acts.

“That some Palestinians have turned themselves into weapons is not something inherent to Palestinians or Muslims. Rather, it is a tragic weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with. This does not justify the action, but we are certain that if the Palestinians had F-16s or Apache helicopters, they would not use their bodies and explode themselves. This does not mean the ISM calls for an escalation of weapons armament, rather the ISM maintains that all military tactics should be stopped by all sides in favor of nonviolent alternatives. Most importantly, we’ve concluded from experience that as long as occupation remains, and the Palestinian people are denied freedom, human rights and self-determination, there will be those who will use violence against the underlying, systematic basic and foundational violence of the occupation.”

And this is all this e.g., a.k.a. and w.t.f?

Non sequiturs, misrepresentations, begging the question, irrelevance, equivocation, and so on: the ISM’s answers to their FAQs employ all of them. But this is par for the course, in that every rhetorical effort is made to displace responsibility for Palestinian actions such as suicide terrorism onto Israel or larger external considerations, all the while portraying Palestinians as simply reacting to Israeli violence and injustice and other such circumstances. Indeed, “That some Palestinians have turned themselves into weapons is not something inherent to Palestinians or Muslims. Rather, it is a tragic weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with. This does not justify the action, but we are certain that if the Palestinians had F-16s or Apache helicopters, they would not use their bodies and explode themselves.” Oh, such moral certainty! Why, if only things weren’t sooooooo unfair and the Palestinians had F-16s, too! Indeed, if only the Intifada had access to F-16s. As if the same people who plan and execute suicide bombings would somehow be any less barbaric if they were armed with F-16s. (Of course, that the Palestinians haven’t been supplied with military jets—from Arab countries, say— obviously suggests that Israel and the United States are hardly alone in preferring that Palestinians not have access to such weaponry. Just ask King Hussein or the Saudi Royal Family how they’d feel about seeing Palestinian F-16s and other armaments just over their borders. Black September, anyone?)

And this sort of pusillanimous and purple (as per prediction) prose by which suicide bombings become transformed into—oh, swoon!—“a tragic weapon” is but the tip of the iceberg for the ISM. As I noted in a recent post on my blog, I think this shiftiness—both moral and rhetorical—in the face of imparting responsibility to Palestinians for their suicide-terrorist actions is itself a form of racist dehumanization. It portrays Palestinians as somehow unable to live up to the same standards of humanity as did (and do) all the other peoples who have lived through occupations and worse, yet who (unlike Palestinians) did not resort to blowing themselves up in crowded civilian areas. And this intellectually grotesque notion that Palestinian suicide bombers are a “weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with” is, at best, maudlin, decrepit mendacity, not least in light of all the innumerable pictures of gun toting Palestinians. These pictures, along with all the other evidence of Palestinian weaponry, easily put the lie to such pithy claims. Indeed, how many “last testament” videos have we seen that showed the Palestinian suicide bomber clutching, say, an assault weapon? Did the bomber forget that he or she had “nothing else to fight with” besides his or her body, as the ISM would have us believe? Is the ISM really so stupid that they don’t know that groups like the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, Hamas, and the other various mavens of suicide terrorism are perfectly well armed, even in addition to the explosives they use in their bombs, or is the ISM just being misleading and duplicitous with such obviously counterfactual claims? From these FAQs and other writings of the ISM, it appears that for them, it’s the Occupation, the Occupation, the Occupation, with an occasional dash of putrid silliness about how the Palestinians have no other weapons (even though they do) or some other such maudlin circumlocution, with nothing about choices or moral self-agency or political indoctrination. Yet, as I noted in the earlier post, blowing oneself up in a crowded civilian area cannot be logically argued to be a result of desperation or the like, especially when military targets are so numerous and accessible.

And Palestinian suicide bombers are “a tragic weapon”? Good lord, give us a break. Has the ISM no sense of decency? One would think that Palestinians themselves would reject such asinine characterizations as this, that not only strip them of moral agency but apply to them a unique (and degrading) structure of morality vis-à-vis desperation and self-detonation. Suicide bombers aren’t a tragic weapon: They’re an extremely vicious, deliberate, and premeditated weapon, whose intention is to murder and maim as many people as possible. That there exist people who can bring themselves to apply the term “tragic” to this despicable weapon probably has Aristotle spinning in his grave.

Anyway, either I’m a fairly good prophet of how these people think and write or else their rhetoric is just laughably predictable. As you can see, the ISM’s basic rhetorical mode is to construct arguments, usually of the grammatically challenged variety, by which an airplane gracefully lifting off the runway and an airplane about to slam nose first into the ground are both pretty much in the same situation, since they’re both ten feet off the ground. Hence, the Occupation is as bad, if not worse, than Palestinian terrorism, and Israeli military operations against terrorism, since such operations employ violence, too, are very bad, just like acts of Palestinian terrorism that employ violence. Violence is violence; ten feet off the ground is ten feet off the ground; we must look at root causes (Israeli actions) that create Palestinian symptoms (rat poison and nail-laden suicide bombers, and so on). Of course, Palestinian terrorism preceded the Occupation, thus negating the main plank of such tendentious arguments, but who needs facts when you’re the ISM….

Not surprisingly, this base rhetorical pseudo-equivocation comes to a screeching halt and reversal in the ISM’s characterizations of the Occupation and of Palestinian suicide bombers. The occupation, of course, is oh-so degrading and dehumanizing, yet suicide bombers are, predictably, a tragic weapon, sniff. Oh, so tragic. While the ISM and their ilk bend over backwards to insist that we address and understand and appreciate the various alleged and supposed root causes of suicide bombings and other such terrorism, they waste no such time in immediately condemning the Occupation. Thus, on the one hand, The Occupation is totally super-bad and awful and so on, and requires no further examination, much less any sort of serious or honest consideration of the historical context and realities by which the Occupation came about. The Occupation, unlike Palestinian terrorism, does not necessitate an appreciation or sensitivity or understanding for its underlying causes. It’s an encapsulated term, and one that the ISM uses to sidetrack or resituate just about any argument regarding Palestinian violence and terror, not least by redirecting such arguments back to the malfeasance of the Israeli Occupation.

But Palestinian suicide terrorism, on the other hand! Well, rather than being abhorred and condemned as such, this “tragic weapon” must also be seen via a larger context that addresses its causes and roots and sources and so on and so forth. In the ISM’s rhetorical world, the Occupation is, a priori and de facto, simply evil and bad, as such, and that’s that, but when it comes to Palestinian terrorism, why, “we must look at the source of violence and address that.” No simplistic encapsulations there, to say the least. On the contrary, we must understand the factors that have brought Palestinians to adopt such measures, especially the oh-so tragic weapon of the suicide bomber. If the ISM were even one iota as vehement against Palestinian terrorism as they are in bewailing the Occupation there might be reason to take them seriously.

In short, one key aspect of the ISM’s rhetoric is to (tendentiously) complicate—to problematize, one might say, if it were done in an honest or intelligent fashion—Palestinian terrorism while at the same time grossly simplifying or decontextualizing Israeli actions Thus, according to the ISM, a Palestinian suicide bomber who detonates himself in a crowded civilian area, murdering those around him and sending ball bearing and rat poison into the bodies and skulls of innocent people, is somehow not “a more brutal tactic” than “placing dynamite in a family home,” even when that family home is, say, empty or being used as a base for terror operations. “It’s the Occupation!” is thus a sufficient and viable intellectual proposition, but “It’s the suicide bombings” is, quite the contrary, intellectually lacking because it, y’know, only addresses symptoms and stuff and not, like, the root causes that bring Palestinians to blow themselves up. (This relates to another point I made in another post: If, after the Palestinians have their state, the suicide bombings continue, what will they be attributed to then? The people who support, plan, and execute suicide bombing aren’t simply going to disappear upon the arrival of a Palestinian state. And will the ISM still consider such attacks “a tragic weapon”?)

Another quick point to make about these FAQs is that the ISM claims that “We also do not assist or engage in any form of armed resistance, no matter what form it may take. We do not associate, support, or have anything to do with armed or violent resistance to the occupation, legal or illegal. We believe that nonviolent action can be a powerful weapon in fighting oppression and we are committed to the principles of nonviolent resistance.”

Well, if you say so. Yet it’s because of statements like this that folks who follow the ISM have had to add an extra setting—an eleventh gradation, no less—onto their b.s. detectors. Indeed, it’s difficult to see how this quotation is anything other than a blatant lie or, at best, an exceptionally creative redefinition of terms like “violent” and “nonviolence” and “have anything to do with.” For example, ISM protests against the nefarious Apartheid Wall have been anything but nonviolent, and I’ve documented elsewhere on this blog efforts of ISM activists to stall Israeli soldiers until people can show up to heave rocks (or worse) at them. This is but one way the ISM deliberately involves itself in violence against Israelis. Yet somehow we’re supposed to believe that the ISM does not associate or have anything to do with “violent resistance.” (And if the ISM does not have anything to do with violent resistance, then why have ISM members, according to their own emails, attended rallies that featured terror groups like Hamas?) They doth protest (nonviolently, of course!) too much.

Also, that “The ISM does not support or condone any acts of terrorism” becomes fairly irrelevant and meaningless in light of their characterization of suicide bombings as “a tragic weapon” and other such unctuous rhetoric.

But it’s nice to know that the ISM does “not have links with suicide bombers or groups that equip suicide bombers” and therefore “have no way of knowing what the next target may be.” Hmmm, perhaps the next time ISM members attend a rally that features just such terrorist groups the noble human rights activists might think to ask. Can’t hurt to ask, after all. Dude, we don’t have links with the Klu Klux Klan, we just attend rallies that feature them, dig? Ah, but for some reason, we’re not supposed to regard ISM members, who attend rallies that feature murderous terrorist groups like Hamas and PFLP in the same light that we do folks who attend rallies that feature, say, the KKK. Just because the attendees in question have no idea where the next cross burning, lynching, or suicide bombing is going to be hardly makes their attendance at such events any less odious. After all, happily (and by choice) attending a rally that features Hamas et al is little different than happily attending a rally that features white power groups or other such garbage. No links with terrorist groups, indeed. Well, other than occasionally attending the same rallies (as documented in ISM members’ emails and journal entries), that is. Keep trying, guys.

The ISM also introduced a few new questions, phrased in a conveniently obnoxious and accusatory fashion (“You're just anti-Semitic, aren't you?”—how cute), all the better to highlight their own putatively mature and rational responses. These new questions are in addition to the original ones I answered, and include a response to the suggestion that the ISM is, gasp, anti-Semitic. Their limpid answer to this notion, of course, is as absolutely predictable as it is pathetic (not to mention that it doesn’t even answer the query—accusation, really—in question): Oho, the ISM declares, but we have Jewish members! Including two of our founders, thank you very much! Yet by this (pseudo-) logic, since there were Jewish Nazis it would be similarly unfair to call them anti-Semitic, too. Myriad other examples abound as well. Playing the “But we’ve got Jewish members” card doesn’t answer or even address the question. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of dropping an “Old Maid” card into an UNO game.

Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less whether the ISM is anti-Semitic or not, but their exceptionally lame response to the suggestion makes me wonder if they simply cannot or simply will not address this topic honestly, much less directly. The ISM’s insistence on this sort of illogical and, let’s face it, rather stupid “But we’ve got Jews—see, see!” argument in regards to anti-Semitism is quite telling. Indeed, is the absence on their part of any sort of logical response to this question, not to mention their willingness to trot out their Jewish members at the drop of a hat, merely an implicit admission in such matters, or is it symptomatic of a deeper malady that no degree of Jewish membership can cure? It appears that the best “proof” the ISM can muster to counter claims of anti-Semitism is that, y’know, they have some Jewish members, too, and that certain (conveniently unnamed) Jewish groups support them. But such ethnic information is beside the point. (And doesn’t it seem that such people enjoy the prospect of being accused of anti-Semitism? Ho hum.) And how convenient that Adam “Free Ticket” Shapiro, despite telling the Guardian last May that “I don't regard myself as Jewish” is nonetheless publicly touted by the ISM as being, you guessed it, Jewish. How delightfully post-modern, or something. I’m not a human rights activist, either, but I play one on television. Oh, and my brother Max has a good memory, only he forgets.

Also, the ISM’s claim that approximately 15-20% of their “active volunteers” are “Jewish” strikes me as dubious, although perhaps they’re defining terms like “15-20%” and “Jewish” in the same creative manner by which they define “nonviolence.”

So there you have it: Suicide bombings are “a tragic weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with,” having Jewish members is verification that an organization is not anti-Semitic, and so on. But this is about the level of intellectual sophistication we’ve come to expect from the ISM. Indeed, one wonders if these FAQs are addressed less to non-ISM people than to ISM members themselves. After all, even the most progressive anti-Zionist conscience might need assuaging from time to time.

All this leaves me with the impression that the ISM “and many more of the same bevy that I know the dressy age dotes on,” to quote Hamlet, has “only got the tune of the time and outward habit of encounter; a kind of yesty collection, which carries them through and through the most fond and winnowed opinions; and do but blow them to their trial, the bubbles are out.”

The bubbles are out, indeed. Of course, anyone who seriously believes that Palestinian suicide bombers are “a tragic weapon” (and does anyone really believe this?) probably doesn’t even have the tune of the time. But so it goes.

I’m a bit swamped at the moment, but I may do a further compare-and-contrast between the ISM’s answers and what I predicted they would write. Needless to say, their craven “symptoms/symptomatic/Occupation/desperation” rhetoric is as predictable as the sunrise, albeit far less enjoyable to watch. If you can stomach it, check out their answers at palsolidarity.org.

Incidentally, I also predicted that my answers to the ISM FAQs would be quite a bit better and more informative than the ISM’s own responses. If I do say so myself, I think I was right on that number, too.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Speaking of Arab News: Yipes! Jail for Black Magic

A Shariah court has sentenced a man to four years in jail and 600 lashes for bewitching a female high school student. The man confessed saying he resorted to magic after all other attempts to get the girl to notice him failed “because of her religious beliefs”. Relatives of the girl say they were alerted to the man’s occult activities when the girl fell ill.

Yipes again! Boys Flogged

Eleven male students were lashed in front of a girls’ school, in fulfillment of a court sentence, reported Al-Jazirah. The students were reported to the authorities after repeatedly harassing female students before and after school. Parents in the area expressed their support for this course of action because of their concern for their daughters’ safety.

Yipes again! Maid Rescued

The Fire Department saved the life of a maid, Al-Madinah reported. The woman locked herself in her room after receiving news that the money she had been sending to her family to buy a house had in fact been used by her husband to marry another woman. Her employers called the authorities who found her

And this just in from Dubai:

The first Arab reality TV show ended yesterday after three months of controversy over its format — parading women before suitors in a luxury apartment for 24 hours a day.

The Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) suspended the show Al-Hawa Sawa (On Air Together), an Arab version of the hit reality TV show Big Brother. The show caused a public outcry in Bahrain where it was being filmed.
The announcement came three days after some 1,000 people, mainly Islamists, protested against the show, which MBC was producing at a villa in a resort called Amwaj on Muharraq island, the second largest in the Bahrain archipelago.

Critics damned the ground-breaking show as too liberal, but fans writing on Internet diary sites said it supported traditional values of limited contact before marriage.

Suitors could view the girls 24 hours a day and contact them before a possible meeting in the flat to propose marriage. In a region of 280 million Arabic speakers, such shows have huge potential audiences and provoke much public debate.

And Yipes again! Sacked Anti-Begging Officers May Become Beggars

The Anti-Begging Department has been forced to terminate the contracts of 16 employees, Al-Bilad Arabic newspaper reported. A number of the men told the paper this made it impossible for them to provide for their families and could force them to turn to begging.

And yipes again! Cell Phone Killer Arrested

A Bangladeshi national was arrested after he killed a compatriot in a dispute over a long-distance cell phone call. The victim, Aziz Ali, 27, was stabbed to death in the city’s Muhammadiyah neighborhood after he refused to pay the attacker an inflated rate for a call to Bangladesh.

And yipes again! 23 Injured In Accident

Twenty-three cleaning workers were injured on the Hada-Shafa highway when a small car plowed into a pickup truck carrying the men to work, overturning it…. A lack of coordination between the ambulance department, health administration and the Civil Defense caused a delay in the rescue operation,

And, perhaps the biggest “Yipes!” of all, good ol’ Prince Bandar wants us all to know that the Saudi Kingdom is Open to All Tourists, even Jews! As long as they’re not practicing witchcraft, I suppose, or trying to smuggle in teddy bears or Valentine’s Day goodies. Well, after reading today’s Arab News, I know I’m just dying to visit Saudi Arabia. I mean, even more so than usual, and you can flog me in front of school if I’m lying. Just kidding.

And, of course, don’t forget today’s disgusting Arab News editorial cartoon, which looks like something that might have come straight out of Der Sturmer (time sensitive link).

Updates regarding the last two posts: The cached page from Saudi Arabia’s Super-Duper Supreme Commission for Tourism has been updated and no longer displays the aforementioned (and shocking, shocking!) nastiness about Jews (but I imagine a screenshot of the original page exists somewhere on the Internet); and Arab News appears to have purged all mention and trace of John R. Bradely, its former managing editor. How delightfully Orwellian. See you in Riyadh (or maybe not)!

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