Category Archives: Middle East & Muslim World

American Ports in a Storm

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman criticizes politicians in Washington for their opposition to a proposal to turn management of six US ports over to a state-run Dubai company. In an interview with YaleGlobal editor Nayan Chanda, Friedman argues that a far greater danger than any perceived threat to US security is thinking that holds it untenable for the US to cooperate with an Islamic nation on a business deal. Citing US anxiety over the Hamas election victory in Palestine, Friedman suggests that a nativistic mindset and security concerns threaten to undermine democracy and the free market as the guiding principles of an increasingly interconnected world. The transition to democracy in the Middle East, he holds, is most profoundly blocked by the absence of civil society and an authoritarian system where the “palace and the mosque” are inextricably linked to the exclusion of other guiding powers. Commenting on the war in Iraq, which he supported, Friedman expresses the fear that the “poison of ethnic division” may prove insurmountable. – YaleGlobal


American Ports in a Storm

Columnist Thomas Friedman calls American objection to the Dubai World port deal “shameful”

YaleGlobal, 23 February 2006

NEW HAVEN: A firestorm has broken in Washington over the proposed management takeover of six US ports by a state-run Dubai company. Politicians of both political parties view the impending move a security threat to the US. The company is owned by the United Arab Emirates, a country from where two of the September 11 hijackers came and whose banks were used to transfer money for the operation. New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman calls this uproar, with “a slightly racist overtone,” a “huge embarrassment” for the US, which could trigger a dangerous tit for tat with the Arab world. In an interview with YaleGlobal editor Nayan Chanda, Friedman also argued for not obstructing the newly elected Hamas from running the Palestine authority. “If it’s going to be ousted or it’s going to be de-legitimized,” he said, “then I think that’s for the Palestinians to decide.”

The controversy over the Dubai-ports deal and the western hand-wringing over the terrorism-linked Hamas victory in Palestine have brought into focus the contradictions besetting the globalized world where democracy and free market are supposed to be the guiding principle. The objections to the DP World’s acquisition of US ports management and the Hamas claim to run their territory show that nativistic thoughts and security concerns could trump the very principles supposedly guiding the increasingly interconnected world.

The controversy emerged when it became known that the Bush administration had approved the takeover of the management of the ports by Dubai Ports World from British-owned P&O (The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company). In a recent deal, which awaits approval of the British court, DP World has acquired the worldwide operations of P&O for $6.8 billion. The company manages container terminals and logistics operations in more than 100 ports spread over nearly 20 countries including China, India and Europe. The US politicians have criticized the deal because of Dubai’s past link to the terrorists and have argued that unlike P&O, which too was a foreign-owned company, the DP World is state-owned.

However, Friedman says “We’re not turning over our ports, security over to Dubai Port Authority. We’re turning over the port authority and six ports to people who will say, “Park here, park there. Collect the fees and what-not and manage the traffic of the port.” Inspection will be done by the American workers and not by “cousins” brought from Dubai. “I think it’s a shameful and has slightly racist overtones to it,” he says. “This is about keeping ‘a bunch of Arabs’ out of our country, that’s what this is really about. And it’s a bad thing, not only because it doesn’t reflect our real values.” Friedman points out that American companies like IBM, FedEx or UPS run around, doing business in the Arab world. “What if they then turn around and say, ‘You’re not going to take ours, well, we’re not going to take yours.’ We’re in a very dangerous tit for tat that could get going here.”

Friedman agreed that the unspoken subtext of the American criticism is the fact the DP World is run by Muslims. He sees a dangerous lurch toward such nativism provoking backlash. “It’s part of the dangerous backlash going on. Both sides are guilty of it. When people ransack a Danish embassy in Damascus and the government allows it. You know, governments are there to restrain people’s worst impulses. We have nativists in our country. They have nativists in their country that are going to always want to push these issues. Government’s job is to restrain that, and I think this is a real issue, a really shameful episode. I think the president’s right on this one.”

Asked about Hamas victory and the talk in western capitals to deny Hamas aid unless they disown their stated goal of destroying Israel, Friedman said he was opposed to that approach. “I think that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but I also think that it won a free and fair election and if it’s going to be ousted or it’s going to be de-legitimized, then I think that’s for the Palestinians to decide.”

He pointed out that by forcing Hamas to publicly recant their position would not be convincing.” If we said to Hamas tomorrow, “Well, you don’t get any money, unless you sing “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem. The next day, they say, “Fine” and they start singing “Kol od balevav p’nimah…” Fine, would you believe them? And then you say that “You have to sing ‘Hatikva’ in perfect Yiddish, standing on one leg and pulling your ear. I still wouldn’t believe them.” He said it is pointless to ask someone to do something when you are unlikely to believe them. Instead, he says, “Why not ask them to do something that is really hard and that you would believe. And that’s maintaining a ceasefire with Israel. Oh, that speaks to me so much more than any words. If Hamas is ready to do that, if they’re ready to allow the Palestinian Authority to continue in a dialogue, negotiations with Israel, that’s what’s really important.”

Of course, the Hamas victory is not the only problem lurking in the Middle East. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is resisting democratization, pointing to the specter of victory by fundamentalist Islamic Brotherhood candidates. Friedman says such arguments should be rejected and the West should be ready to accept the Islamic Brotherhood.

“I guess the response should be, ‘Guys, for 50 years, you’ve been telling us that’s it you or the mosque. All you Arab autocrats are telling us, moi or the deluge. Well, you know what, we got the deluge anyway, and it was called 9/11. And it was called 7/7. And we keep getting the deluge. And part of the reason we keep getting the deluge is because you keep producing more of these people with your authoritarian systems. So you know what, we tried that for 50 years. Maybe we’ll give this a try for a couple of years.”

Friedman said that the absence of civil society in the Middle Eastern countries makes a smooth transition to democracy impossible. “You don’t go from Saddam to Jefferson without going through Khomeini in the Arab world, because there’s nothing between the palace and the mosque. There is no civil society at all. So when the palace breaks either by election or invasion, you go straight into free fall, and we have to accept that’s the reality. We have two choices. We can preserve the palace, as we’ve been doing for 50 years, knowing that it’s actually creating a context that’s actually producing more of these angry, frustrated, unemployed young men or just say, you know what, let’s try to liberalize the mosque.”

Friedman had supported the US intervention in Iraq to topple Saddam as a necessary step to bring about democracy. Asked about his thoughts on the current situation in Iraq he said, “What worries me, Nayan, is that we may be too late. I don’t know. We made so many mistakes there. What I worry about is that it may be too late – that the poison of ethnic division is now so much into the bloodstream of Iraq.”

Click here for the full transcript of an interview with Thomas L. Friedman conducted on February 22, 2006.

Click here for the video of the interview.

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Keeping a Moroccan Tradition Alive, One Tale at a Time

Keeping a Moroccan Tradition Alive, One Tale at a Time

Mohammad Jabiri, a storyteller for more than 40 years, at work in the Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh

By MARLISE SIMONS

February 27, 2006
Marrakesh Journal
NY Times

MARRAKESH, Morocco — It’s time for work and Mohammad Jabiri heads for Jemaa el Fna, the main square of Marrakesh, often called the cultural crossroads for all of Morocco.

Stooping a little, he weaves through the crowds, past the snake charmers and their flutes, the racket of drummers and cymbalists, the cheers for the acrobats and the shouting of the kebab vendors, until he stakes out a quiet spot for himself.

Mr. Jabiri is a storyteller, a profession he has practiced for more than 40 years. Every day, he conjures up a real or imagined past that is filled with ancient battles and populated with sinners and prophets, wise sultans and tricky thieves.

For this he needs few props: he puts down a small stool and some colored illustrations. The rest is performance. His eyes can grow large and magnetic and his voice booms or whispers, depending on the intrigue.

Mr. Jabiri, 71, is one of eight bards still performing publicly in the Marrakesh region of southern Morocco. But most, like him, fear that their generation may be the last in a line that is as old as this medieval city.

These men descend from the era — long before radio and television, movie theaters and telephones — when itinerant narrators brought news and entertainment to country fairs and village squares.

Yet somehow, Mr. Jabiri still manages to defy the formidable electronic competition.

“Some people feel that television is very far away from them,” he explained to a visitor. “They prefer making contact, they prefer hearing live stories.”

And so they did on a recent afternoon, as Mr. Jabiri called out a blessing, raised his right hand and began the tale of the young woman who fell in love with a saintly hermit. But the hermit rejected her as an envoy of the devil, so she decided to lie down with a shepherd who crossed her path, became pregnant and said it was the hermit’s child.

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Big Ideas Lecture by Tariq Ramadan

Lecture by Tariq Ramadan

Tariq Ramadan is our first speaker. He is a Swiss-born grandson of one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt whose PhD dissertation was about Nietzsche, the intellectual grandfather of post-modernity. Ramadan defines himself as Western Muslim and he speaks to other Western Muslims about what it means to be both a Westerner and a Muslim. As you can appreciate, he is a very busy man nowadays.

In this talk, which he gave late last Fall at Queen’s University, Ramadan speaks to Canadians as much as to Canadian Muslims about complex identities and multiculturalism. Most importantly, he suggests that for a society to be truly multicultural it needs to be more that just tolerant of immigrants, it must show itself to be receptive to being re-shaped by the newcomers. A subject worthy of your input on our discussion board.

To listen, click here.

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Hamas: The Perils of Power

Hamas: The Perils of Power

Volume 53, Number 4 – March 9, 2006
Exchange
New York Review of Books

By Hussein Agha, Robert Malley

In the days following the Palestinian elections on January 25, in which Hamas won seventy-four out of 132 seats in the Palestine Legislative Council, Hamas officials expressed hope that they could join with Fatah in forming a government. They spoke of national unity and referred respectfully to the authority of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. In statements aimed at the West, they claimed they had never truly advocated Israel’s destruction, and they made it clear they were willing to deal pragmatically with both the Jewish state and the agreements the Palestinian Authority had made with it. They apparently dropped, at least from their immediate goals, their demand for an Islamic Palestinian state; and they said nothing about resuming armed attacks. An outsider could be forgiven for failing to realize that Hamas had done quite well in the voting, let alone that it had won, let alone by a landslide.

Out-and-out victory was not what Hamas had expected or, for that matter, what it had wished for. It had come to see itself as a watchdog on the sidelines, sitting in the legislature without controlling it, shaping the government’s policies without being held accountable for them, taking credit for its successes and escaping blame for any setbacks. Its triumph presents it with challenges of a different, more urgent, and less familiar sort. Hamas suddenly finds itself on the front line, with decisions to make and relations to manage with the world, international donors, Israel, Fatah, and, indeed, its own varied constituents. The Islamists may have secretly expected to sweep the elections but, if so, that secret remains well kept. Referring to Iraq, President Bush once spoke of America’s catastrophic success. Judging from the Islamists’ initial, startled reactions to their triumph, this may well be theirs.

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Bearded Arabs 1; American ladies 0

Bearded Arabs 1; American ladies 0

The Daily Star
Saturday, February 25, 2006

By Rami G. Khouri

Nothing better captures the broad lines of the great contestation that now defines the Middle East than the four very telegenic characters who have crisscrossed the region during the past week: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her colleague in charge of U.S. public policy, Karen Hughes, Hamas official Khaled Meshaal and the young Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Their travels have been closely followed by the news media, which instinctively recognize a gladiatorial battle for the future when they see it, as is the case here.

Two of these four Middle Eastern itinerant ideologues are slick, appointed American political figures who spend many of their waking hours preaching the benefits of democratic elections in the Arab world. Two others are bearded Arab Islamists who have come to power through the American-supported vehicle of democratic elections in the Arab world. It would seem to be a match made in heaven: bearded Arab politicos who wish to expand their own efficient constituencies and militias into governing systems that enhance the wellbeing of their fellow citizens; and the American ladies who combine the bouncy enthusiasm of young high school cheerleaders with the more daring inclination to engage in political genetic engineering in order to enhance the wellbeing of Arab citizens and the security of Americans, in one fell swoop.

This convergence and happy ideological marriage has not happened. Instead, Rice and Hughes, when they are not preaching democracy for Arabs, spend the few remaining hours of their days fighting the incumbency of democratically elected Arabs. In response, elected bearded Arab politicos like Meshaal, the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, and Sadr, who leads a powerful Shiite movement and militia in Iraq, increase their legitimacy and their impact through two parallel routes. They engage in electoral politics by being more responsive and accountable to the needs of their constituents, and they generate wider emotional and political appeal by defying Washington and its policies and presence in the Middle East.

The likelihood is that this past week will go down in the record books as one in which the American ladies significantly lost ground to the bearded Arabs. This is due to the simple reason that both the style and substance of American policies run sharply counter to the sentiments of ordinary Arabs, while the Meshaal-Sadr school of politics caters directly to ordinary people’s powerful emotional and political needs.

Rice’s trip to four Arab capitals embodies the explicit American diplomatic drive to convince Arab governments to quarantine Hamas and starve the Palestinians of aid funds, until Hamas changes its views and actions vis-a-vis Israel. This policy will be rejected by all Arab governments, and is also likely to set back Washington’s standing in the region more than any other action in recent years, even the unpopular Iraq war. That is because opposition to Hamas touches on and sharply inflames several deep nerves that already form the foundation of widespread skepticism about American foreign policy in the Arab world and internationally.

The first is the sense that the United States is neither serious nor consistent about promoting democracy. The second is that it fights mightily against Arabs or others in the region who try to manifest their identity through expressions of Islamism. The third is that Washington wages vigorous battles against any Arabs, Muslims, or others in the world who dare to resist Israel’s occupation and subjugation of Arabs, in Palestine and elsewhere. The fourth is that Washington treats sovereign Arab governments with contempt, expecting them to ignore their own public opinion and bend to America’s desires at the snap of a finger.

Not surprisingly, the trend of public opinion and political sentiments on the ground throughout the Middle East has been in favor of mainstream Islamists who simultaneously accept democratic pluralism, defy the U.S., resist Israeli occupation and colonization, and demand less corruption and more efficient governance at home. So Hamas, Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood and movements like Sadr’s are winning elections, even when America-friendly governments such as Egypt’s restrict their freedom of movement.

Meshaal’s and Sadr’s travels around the Middle East this week were more like a victory lap than anything else. We must challenge some of their past behavior and future plans, to be sure. But we must also admit that these Islamist leaders have more legitimacy in the Middle East than all of Rice’s and Hughes’ copious democratic rhetoric, and all the Marines in Mesopotamia put together.

What to do instead? Elected democratic incumbents in Washington, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere should engage honestly, to move toward a common middle ground where Arab, Iranian, Turkish, European and American policies could happily coexist. This desirable terrain would include indigenous religious and social values, universal good governance standards, global principles that assert national sovereignty and reject colonial occupation, and legitimate leaders who have both the political credibility and the managerial capacity to synchronize all these factors into sensible, sustainable policies. High-profile American officials should explore this more humane, mutually beneficial approach during their visits to our convoluted lands, rather than mainly lecture and offend us.

This week’s score: bearded Arabs 1, American ladies 0.

Rami G. Khouri writes a regular commentary for The Daily Star.

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Interview with Robert Keeley: US Foreign Policy towards the Middle East

“We need to talk to them”

A former U.S. ambassador who met with Hamas leaders on a recent Middle East trip says the Bush administration urgently needs more diplomacy.

By Kathleen Haley

Feb. 25, 2006 | Robert Keeley is an outspoken critic of George W. Bush’s Middle East policies. He also believes in the importance of diplomacy. That’s why the retired U.S. diplomat met with Middle East leaders that the Bush administration condemns.

Keeley, a former U.S. ambassador to Greece, Zimbabwe and Mauritius, was one of seven members of a delegation that observed the Palestinian elections last month and traveled to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. They were the first former American diplomats to meet with Hamas members. They also met with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League.

The delegation was organized by the Council for the National Interest, a group that is highly critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, in particular what it regards as America’s unbalanced support for Israel. CNI, which contains both a nonprofit lobby and an educational foundation, was founded by Paul Findley, a former Republican congressman from Illinois who lost his seat in 1982 after he was targeted by AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israeli lobby.

Salon talked with Keeley about his visit to the Middle East in a recent telephone interview.

Your delegation met with major Hamas leaders, including Mahmoud al-Zahar, Shaikh Naif Rajoub and Khaled Mashaal. Your group also met with many other leaders in the Middle East, including the presidents of Lebanon and Syria. How was your delegation received by these leaders?

Well, they were, I would say, more than welcoming. They were eager to have Americans they could talk to. We were horrified in a way that we had had such easy access. Because that means that other people did not have access, or are not bothering to try to get access. These people are rather desperate to get their message out, and to talk to Americans. I suppose they thought we might be sympathetic, but they didn’t necessarily know exactly what our views were. They gave us lots of time; they were never hurried.

Was that how you were also received by the Hamas leaders? Were they also eager [to meet with you]?

Yes, they were. Hamas is on the list of terrorist organizations, meaning that official Americans can’t talk to them. I don’t know how much the U.S. media people talk to them — I don’t think enough. They’ve decided they want to go into politics. They have made attacks on Israel — violent attacks, sometimes against civilians, what we label as terrorism. I don’t dispute that. But they declared a truce a year ago, and they’ve honored that. So I think they’ve earned what they won. And they were very eager to show a moderate face — that they’ve decided to go into politics and try to achieve their goals through peaceful means, rather than through violence. I would hope that they get a broad spectrum of people joining in, so that it isn’t just a Hamas government. There are other tendencies and other viewpoints amongst the Palestinians.

Hamas does not recognize Israel. What approach do you think Israel should take with Hamas?

Well, it’s not a question of not recognizing. They don’t recognize Israel as it exists. If Hamas is going to talk to Israel, they obviously have to talk to somebody that exists; they can’t pretend they don’t exist. The question is: Where? What is your territory? What are your borders? What are your intentions? Obviously, if they’re going to have a settlement, they have to agree that the other side of the settlement exists.

As regards borders: What is your position on the so-called separation barrier, or the “wall,” which goes beyond the “Green Line” marking the 1967 borders and caves off large portions of Palestinian land? The U.S. has supported it; the International Court of Justice has condemned it.

According to international law, and the Geneva Conventions, and U.N. Security Council resolutions like 242, you’re not allowed to acquire land by military force, by military means, by occupation. If the wall were being built along the Green Line, I don’t think there would be as strong an objection to it. It wouldn’t be impinging on Palestinian land. Furthermore, it wouldn’t be isolating Palestinian cities, towns and villages from each other, and from communicating with other parts of the West Bank.

The other problem is whether Israel — although it doesn’t say so — really intends that to be the permanent border. If that’s the case, then Israel has acted unilaterally and has decided what the borders are going to be. The wall separates Israelis from Palestinians, but it also incorporates major Israeli settlements on the Israeli side of the wall. This makes people think that Israel is planning to incorporate those settlement areas eventually as part of Israel, that is, annex the land.

In regard to the settlements, in April 2004, Bush wrote a letter in which he changed a long-standing U.S. position on Israeli settlements by saying that “realities on the ground” meant that large Israeli settlements on the West Bank would remain. What’s your opinion of that?

I don’t think it was a good move. And it was a definite change in our policy. Originally, way back in the Carter administration, and previously, we considered those settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza, on Palestinian land, to be illegal. Later, the formula began to change. With President Reagan, they had great difficulty in the State Department, and elsewhere, preparing a position paper for the new administration because President Reagan was much more sympathetic to Israel. He didn’t want to say the settlements were illegal. He said they were a difficulty, or an obstacle, in the final negotiations. Later on, under George Bush senior, it became still somewhat different — I don’t remember the exact formula — it was that their future was to be settled through negotiations and so forth. In other words, they were no longer declared to be illegal or even improper. Under President Clinton [the policy] was further transformed. And again, [the Israeli settlements] became part of the final settlement negotiations between the two sides. And [the U.S.] didn’t take a strongly negative position on them.

What George W. Bush did was to, in effect, prejudge these negotiations and say, obviously some of these settlements have to be part of Israel as part of a final settlement deal. In other words, there’s nothing to negotiate about them — it has already been decided they’re going to be part of Israel.

What position do you think the Bush administration should take on [Kadima Party head and acting and presumed next Israeli prime minister] Ehud Olmert’s announced plan (which follows Ariel Sharon’s presumed intentions) to proceed unilaterally with withdrawals from some West Bank settlements, but keep the big settlement blocs on the West Bank and refuse to give up East Jerusalem?

The same thing I’ve been saying applies — that these unilateral decisions preempt any final settlement negotiations. I don’t think those unilateral actions are going to achieve a peaceful settlement because they’re taken by one side without reference to the other side.

Most observers see Jerusalem, in particular, as a “red line” for the Palestinians — i.e., that if they are not allowed to establish a capital in East Jerusalem there will be no peace. Do you think the Bush administration should be pressuring Israel to negotiate on Jerusalem?

On Jerusalem, that’s one of those four issues that I mentioned are supposed to be settled in the final status negotiations. Israel has already, again unilaterally, annexed all of expanded Jerusalem. First of all, it extended the borders of what is the city of Jerusalem, including a lot of West Bank territory, where they’ve established Israeli settlements, going up toward Ramallah in the north and down toward Bethlehem in the south. In other words, they enlarged the city. Then they annexed the whole city, including East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as part of Israel. And [the Israelis] have repeatedly said that this is the permanent, undivided and sole capital of Israel.

That is, no doubt, the most difficult issue of all in this conflict. And it extends well beyond the Palestinians because part of the Old City — the Dome of the Rock, what they call the Haram al-Sharif — is a sacred, holy site for Muslims throughout the world.

How much does the U.S. support for Israel hurt us with the Arab and Muslim world? What effect has it had on the fight against terror?

In my opinion, we’ve pursued a very one-sided policy. And it seems one-sided in the Arab world. That is, we give pretty much unbending support to Israel. I think the Arabs see us as being very biased in favor of one side in a dispute that is between Israel and the Arabs, and between Israel and the Palestinians. In my opinion, if you want to act as an honest broker, you have to be much more evenhanded.

Why do you think the Bush administration has tilted so strongly toward Israel?

I think there are some very influential people in the administration — particularly around Vice President Cheney, on his staff, and some of the people working on the National Security Council, and even some in the State Department — who have a long record of being very pro-Israel activists. They have been advocating policies that are beneficial to Israel, and they have a major influence.

Is the U.S. saber rattling over Syria productive or counterproductive?

I don’t think it’s productive. I think we need to talk to them. I’m a retired diplomat, and of course I believe in diplomacy. What we found on our trip was that there was not enough diplomacy going on and not enough exchange of views. We should be talking to people, even people we disagree with. If you don’t talk to them, there’s no way you’re going to diminish the problems you have with them, or find any solutions.

Based on the things you’ve learned from your trip, what are your recommendations regarding U.S. policies in the Middle East?

I have a specific recommendation. This came to us originally from Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League. The Arab League had a meeting in Beirut, Lebanon, in March 2002. Crown Prince Abdullah, who is now King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, presented a peace proposal, directed at the U.S. and Israel. It was an offer for all the Arab states to recognize Israel de jure, that is, with full diplomatic relations, with no question about Israel’s legitimacy, if Israel were willing to withdraw to the 1967 borders and permit the Palestinians to create a Palestinian sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as their capital.

The Arab League made a major concession on the question of the Palestinian refugees outside the territory. They said that this is a problem that should be negotiated with Israel in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, which is an old resolution about the refugees going back to 1948, 1949. Resolution 194 says that they should be permitted to return to their homes, or be compensated for loss of property if they didn’t return home. The Arab League wasn’t saying all the Palestinian refugees had to go back to Israel; it said the refugee issue could be solved by negotiation.

The U.S. and the Israelis totally ignored this; we didn’t answer it, we didn’t comment on it. I would say let’s go back and look at that.

— By Kathleen Haley

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Furor Over Cartoons Pits Muslim Against Muslim

Furor Over Cartoons Pits Muslim Against Muslim

February 22, 2006
NY Times

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
and HASSAN M. FATTAH

AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 21 — In a direct challenge to the international uproar over cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, the Jordanian journalist Jihad Momani wrote: “What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras, or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony??

In Yemen, an editorial by Muhammad al-Assadi condemned the cartoons but also lamented the way many Muslims reacted. “Muslims had an opportunity to educate the world about the merits of the Prophet Muhammad and the peacefulness of the religion he had come with,? Mr. Assadi wrote. He added, “Muslims know how to lose, better than how to use, opportunities.?

To illustrate their points, both editors published selections of the drawings — and for that they were arrested and threatened with prison.

Mr. Momani and Mr. Assadi are among 11 journalists in five countries facing prosecution for printing some of the cartoons. Their cases illustrate another side of this conflict, the intra-Muslim side, in what has typically been defined as a struggle between Islam and the West.

The flare-up over the cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper, has magnified a fault line running through the Middle East, between those who want to engage their communities in a direct, introspective dialogue and those who focus on outside enemies.

But it has also underscored a political struggle involving emerging Islamic movements, like Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Arab governments unsure of how to contain them.

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