Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2014-10-31T06:31:36Z WordPress contributors <![CDATA[Halloween Poetry: W. B. Yeats, “All Souls’ Night”]]> 2014-10-31T06:29:52Z 2014-10-31T04:48:31Z All Souls’ Night

By W.B. Yeats

Midnight has come and the great Christ Church bell

And many a lesser bell sound through the room;

And it is All Souls’ Night.

And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel

5 Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;

For it is a ghost’s right,

His element is so fine

Being sharpened by his death,

To drink from the wine-breath

10 While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.

I need some mind that, if the cannon sound

From every quarter of the world, can stay

Wound in mind’s pondering,

As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;

15 Because I have a marvellous thing to say,

A certain marvellous thing

None but the living mock,

Though not for sober ear;

It may be all that hear

20 Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Horton’s the first I call. He loved strange thought

And knew that sweet extremity of pride

That’s called platonic love,

And that to such a pitch of passion wrought

25 Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,

Anodyne for his love.

Words were but wasted breath;

One dear hope had he:

The inclemency

30 Of that or the next winter would be death.

Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell

Whether of her or God he thought the most,

But think that his mind’s eye,

When upward turned, on one sole image fell;

35 And that a slight companionable ghost,

Wild with divinity,

Had so lit up the whole

Immense miraculous house

The Bible promised us,

40 It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.

On Florence Emery I call the next,

Who finding the first wrinkles on a face

Admired and beautiful,

And by foreknowledge of the future vexed;

45 Diminished beauty, multiplied commonplace;

Preferred to teach a school

Away from neighbour or friend,

Among dark skins, and there

Permit foul years to wear

50 Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.

Before that end much had she ravelled out

From a discourse in figurative speech

By some learned Indian

On the soul’s journey. How it is whirled about

55 Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,

Until it plunge into the sun;

And there, free and yet fast,

Being both Chance and Choice,

Forget its broken toys

60 And sink into its own delight at last.

I call MacGregor Mathers from his grave,

For in my first hard spring-time we were friends,

Although of late estranged.

I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,

65 And told him so, but friendship never ends;

And what if mind seem changed,

And it seem changed with the mind,

When thoughts rise up unbid

On generous things that he did

70 And I grow half contented to be blind!

He had much industry at setting out,

Much boisterous courage, before loneliness

Had driven him crazed;

For meditations upon unknown thought

75 Make human intercourse grow less and less;

They are neither paid nor praised.

but he’d object to the host,

The glass because my glass;

A ghost-lover he was

80 And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.

But names are nothing. What matter who it be,

So that his elements have grown so fine

The fume of muscatel

Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy

85 No living man can drink from the whole wine.

I have mummy truths to tell

Whereat the living mock,

Though not for sober ear,

For maybe all that hear

90 Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Such thought — such thought have I that hold it tight

Till meditation master all its parts,

Nothing can stay my glance

Until that glance run in the world’s despite

95 To where the damned have howled away their hearts,

And where the blessed dance;

Such thought, that in it bound

I need no other thing,

Wound in mind’s wandering

100 As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.

W. B. Yeats

For more see Paul Muldoon :


Related video added by Juan Cole

National Geographic: “Halloween History”

contributors <![CDATA[Unprecedented Damage to Gaza & its People can’t be repaired with Just more Aid]]> 2014-10-31T03:59:21Z 2014-10-31T04:39:01Z By Sara Roy, Harvard University

In the near three decades that I have been involved with Gaza and her people, I have never seen the kind of physical and psychological destruction that I see there today.

In all Gaza’s long and tormented history, there is no precedent for its extraordinarily dangerous position in 2014. The situation is dangerous not only for Gazans, but for Israelis as well; as the scholar Jean-Pierre Filiu recently wrote: “If there is ever to be Israeli-Palestinian peace – with all other options having been exhausted – Gaza will be the foundation, and the keystone.”

This is because Gaza has long been, and remains, the heart of Palestinian nationalism and resistance to Israeli occupation. The war in the summer of 2014 was not about rocket fire, Israeli security or Hamas: it was about subduing and disabling Gaza, something Israel has consistently been trying to do ever since it occupied the territory together with the West Bank nearly 50 years ago.

Israel’s principal strategy has long been to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state by dividing and separating Palestinians, particularly via the annexation of the West Bank. But complete control over the West Bank – the obvious goal of the settlement enterprise and the separation barrier – cannot be achieved as long as Gaza remains a source of resistance and as long as the possibility of a unified Palestinian state exists (which came a step closer last June with the formal announcement of a Palestinian unity government, the proximate cause of the war on Gaza).

Dynamic of disintegration

The separation and isolation of Gaza from the West Bank was a goal of the 1993 Oslo process – and had the direct and sustained support of the US, the EU, and the Palestinian leadership. It has not only precluded the development of a unified political system but has also eliminated the geographic basis of a Palestinian economy, making the creation of a viable Palestinian state a virtual impossibility.

This is the status quo, institutionalised over the past 21 years of “peacemaking”, that Israel must preserve. And this is the context in which the large-scale destruction of Gaza’s civilian life last summer must be understood.

Ultimately, Operation Protective Edge was designed to set in motion what one of my colleagues recently called a “dynamic of disintegration”. That disintegration has taken a number of forms, some of them completely unprecedented.

A whole indigenous economy has been all but destroyed, with extensive damage to civilian infrastructure; Gazan society has been reduced to almost complete aid dependence. It has also been radically economically levelled, with the virtual destruction of its middle class and the emergence of a broad new class of “poor”.

Gaza’s social fabric has greatly weakened, and is now characterised by a new kind of fragility and disempowerment; entire neighbourhoods have been eliminated, and their community life destroyed. Emigration is rising fast, and hope for peace with Israel is being abandoned, to a degree never seen before.

Getting on with it

Despite the size and urgency of the task at hand, efforts to “reconstruct” or “rebuild” of Gaza have long been deeply problematic.

Although billions of dollars have been pledged by donors, reconstruction is always planned or implemented within an unchanged (and unchallenged) political framework of continued Israeli occupation, assault and blockade. Meanwhile, Gaza’s subjection to Israeli military attacks and economic sanction is at best ignored and at worst endorsed by key forces in the West, notably the US and EU.

But the current attempt at reconstruction is a new low.

On with the reconstruction – whatever that means.
EPA/Oliver Weiken

Never mind that Gaza’s recent devastation, met largely with laissez-faire silence from Western states, is completely unprecedented; the agreed-upon plan for addressing the situation clearly prioritises limited short-term gain at the cost of a long-term entrenchment of Israel’s destructive blockade.

As one donor official put it to me: “If we can get cement and other construction materials into Gaza, it’s a win.” Another admitted: “Donors backed the plan before they had even seen it.”

There are now several published documents describing the reconstruction and recovery plan for Gaza – but the most damning one, the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, has not been published (at least to my knowledge), and it is unlikely that it ever will be. Another key document, the Materials Monitoring Unit Project, Project Initiation Document (UNOPS), is available, but has not been widely distributed outside the donor community.

I have seen both documents, the latter in its entirety. They read more like security plans, carefully laying out Israeli concerns and the ways in which the United Nations will accommodate them. They do not speak to the comprehensive recovery of the Gaza Strip.

The reconstruction plan they detail has so many problems that in my view, it is clearly doomed to fail.

Bad priorities

The plan calls for a cumbersome administrative and bureaucratic apparatus for project selection and implementation that transfers risk to Palestinian beneficiaries/suppliers and totally ignores the power asymmetries and security realities that will undeniably affect outcomes.

In fact, what is being created is a permanent and complex permit and planning system similar to the one Israel uses in Area C of the West Bank, which is under total Israeli control. This system will be difficult if not impossible to implement, and as structured, any implementation failure will be blamed on the Palestinians.

Israel will have to approve all projects and their locations and will be able to veto any part of the process on security grounds.

There is no mention of reviving Gaza’s export trade or private sector development (other than in relation to specific private-sector companies vetted by the PA and Israel for individually approved projects). Both are essential for rehabilitating Gaza’s moribund economy. Similarly, there is no reference to the free movement of people, another urgent need.

No mechanism for accountability or transparency will apply to Israel. Nor will there be any mechanism for resolving disputes, which can only be decided through consensus: the occupier must agree with the occupied.

The plan mainly serves to legitimise Israel’s preferred security narrative. According to the UNOPS document, the outcome of the reconstruction project must be “the establishment of an intermediate system of dual-use items monitoring that will facilitate the import approval of construction materials and machinery into Gaza. This will be achieved through the reduction of [Israeli] security concerns of materials being diverted for use in the enhancement of military capabilities and terrorist capacities”.

Meanwhile, not only will the blockade of Gaza be strengthened, but responsibility for maintaining the blockade is in effect being transferred to the UN, which is tasked with monitoring the entire process. As a colleague working as an analyst in Jerusalem so succinctly put it: “Israel retains the power, the UN assumes the responsibility and the Palestinians bear the risk.”

The document also makes it clear that the donors are the singular funding source for Gaza’s reconstruction; Israel assumes no financial responsibility. The UNOPS document has only this to say about the Israeli role: “The [government of Israel] plays no operational role other than approvals and as recipient of the monitoring reports. As such consultation and approval will be required in the development of the report templates.”

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the plan is successfully implemented, its intended outcome is still completely unclear. It does nothing to explain what kind of economy is supposed to be enabled, or what exactly is being rebuilt. Is it what was lost in 2000, 2006, 2007, 2008-09, 2012 or 2014? Is it people’s lives and livelihoods?

Beyond bricks

After all, reconstruction is not simply about buildings and public works: it’s about securing a real future, and creating a sense of place, possibility and security. Life in Gaza cannot be rebuilt with cement and cash handouts.

Of course, people desperately need assistance. What is at issue is the terms on which that assistance will be provided, and what political ends it will serve. Gaza does not just need aid; it needs freedom and the right to interact normally with the world. Anything short of this is unsustainable.

More than 20 years after the so-called peace process began, the donor community funding the rebuilding effort still has big questions to answer. In the absence of a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is shocking that the occupation and continued dispossession of more than 4m Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank continues to be tolerated by the West.

Equally, the blockade, the unravelling of Gaza’s economy and the widening impoverishment of 1.75m people in the Gaza Strip (a great many of them children) are met not with outrage, but with support from Western governments.

The truth is that as long as humanitarian aid is used to address political problems, all “reconstruction” will mean for Gaza is continued ruination.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Related video added by Juan Cole

teleSUR English: “Lack of medical supplies affects Gaza population”

contributors <![CDATA[“Pilot Program” of Segregated Buses banning Palestinians in Israel]]> 2014-10-31T03:38:45Z 2014-10-31T04:32:54Z AJ+

“The defense minister [Moshe Ya'alon] … hasn’t issued a blanket ban but believes integrated buses are “a recipe for a terror attack.” So he’s launched a pilot program of segregated buses between Israel and the West Bank for “security considerations.”

AJ+ “Israel Bans Palestinians From Riding Buses”

contributors <![CDATA[Afghanistan’s Women: After 13 Years of War, the Rule of Men, Not Law]]> 2014-10-31T04:09:06Z 2014-10-31T04:25:27Z By Ann Jones via

On September 29th, power in Afghanistan changed hands for the first time in 13 years. At the Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president, while the outgoing Hamid Karzai watched calmly from a front-row seat.  Washington, congratulating itself on this “peaceful transition,” quickly collected the new president’s autograph on a bilateral security agreement that assures the presence of American forces in Afghanistan for at least another decade. The big news of the day: the U.S. got what it wanted.  (Precisely why Americans should rejoice that our soldiers will stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years is never explained.)

The big news of the day for Afghans was quite different — not the long expected continuation of the American occupation but what the new president had to say in his inaugural speech about his wife, Rula Ghani. Gazing at her as she sat in the audience, he called her by name, praised her work with refugees, and announced that she would continue that work during his presidency.

Those brief comments sent progressive Afghan women over the moon. They had waited 13 years to hear such words — words that might have changed the course of the American occupation and the future of Afghanistan had they been spoken in 2001 by Hamid Karzai.

No, they’re not magic.  They simply reflect the values of a substantial minority of Afghans and probably the majority of Afghans in exile in the West. They also reflect an idea the U.S. regularly praises itself for holding, but generally acts against — the very one George W. Bush cited as part of his justification for invading Afghanistan in 2001.

The popular sell for that invasion, you will recall, was an idea for which American men had never before exhibited much enthusiasm: women’s liberation.  For years, human rights organizations the world over had called attention to the plight of Afghan women, confined to their homes by the Taliban government, deprived of education and medical care, whipped in the streets by self-appointed committees for “the Promotion of Public Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” and on occasion executed in Kabul’s Ghazi stadium. Horrific as that was, few could have imagined an American president, a Republican at that, waving a feminist flag to cover the invasion of a country guilty mainly of hosting a scheming guest.

While George W. Bush bragged about liberating Afghan women, his administration followed quite a different playbook on the ground. In December 2001, at the Bonn Conference called to establish an interim Afghan governing body, his team saw to it that the country’s new leader would be the apparently malleable Hamid Karzai, a conservative Pashtun who, like any Talib, kept his wife, Dr. Zinat Karzai, confined at home.  Before they married in 1999, she had been a practicing gynecologist with skills desperately needed to improve the country’s abysmal maternal mortality rate, but she instead became the most prominent Afghan woman the Bush liberation failed to reach.

This disconnect between Washington’s much-advertised support for women’s rights and its actual disdain for women was not lost upon canny Afghans. From early on, they recognized that the Americans were hypocrites at heart. 

Washington revealed itself in other ways as well.  Afghan warlords had ravaged the country during the civil war of the early 1990s that preceded the Taliban takeover, committing mass atrocities best defined as crimes against humanity.  In 2002, the year after the American invasion and overthrow of the Taliban, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission established under the auspices of the U.N. surveyed citizens nationwide and found that 76% of them wanted those warlords tried as war criminals, while 90% wanted them barred from public office.  As it happened, some of those men had been among Washington’s favorite, highly paid Islamist jihadis during its proxy war against the Soviet Union of the 1980s.  As a result, the Bush administration looked the other way when Karzai welcomed those “experienced” men into his cabinet, the parliament, and the “new” judiciary. Impunity was the operative word.  The message couldn’t have been clearer: with the right connections, a man could get away with anything — from industrial-scale atrocities to the routine subjugation of women.

There is little in the twisted nature of American-Afghan relations in the past 13 years that can’t be traced to these revelations that the United States does not practice what it preaches, that equality and justice were little more than slogans — and so, it turned out, was democracy.

Taking Sides

The American habit of thinking only in the short term has also shaped long-term results in Afghanistan.  Military and political leaders in Washington have had a way of focusing only on the most immediate events, the ones that invariably raised fears and seemed to demand (or provided an excuse for) instantaneous action.  The long, winding, shadowy paths of history and culture remained unexplored.  So it was that the Bush administration targeted the Taliban as the enemy, drove them from power, installed “democracy” by fiat, and incidentally told women to take off their burqas.  Mission accomplished!

Unlike the Americans and their coalition partners, however, the Taliban were not foreign interlopers but Afghans. Nor were they an isolated group, but the far right wing of Afghan Islamist conservatism.  As such, they simply represented then, and continue to represent in extreme form today, the traditional conservative ranks of significant parts of the population who have resisted change and modernization for as long as anyone can remember.

Yet theirs is not the only Afghan tradition.  Progressive rulers and educated urban citizens have long sought to usher the country into the modern world. Nearly a century ago, King Amanullah founded the first high school for girls and the first family court to adjudicate women’s complaints about their husbands; he proclaimed the equality of men and women, and banned polygamy; he cast away the burqa, and banished ultra-conservative Islamist mullahs as “bad and evil persons” who spread propaganda foreign to the moderate Sufi ideals of the country. Since then, other rulers, both kings and commissars, have championed education, women’s emancipation, religious tolerance, and conceptions of human rights usually associated with the West.  Whatever its limitations in the Afghan context, such progressive thinking is also “traditional.”

The historic contest between the two traditions came to a head in the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of the country. Then it was the Russians who supported women’s human rights and girls’ education, while Washington funded a set of particularly extreme Islamist groups in exile in Pakistan. Only a few years earlier, in the mid-1970s, Afghan president Mohammad Daud Khan, backed by Afghan communists, had driven radical Islamist leaders out of the country, much as King Amanullah had done before. It was the CIA, in league with the intelligence services of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, that armed them and brought them back as President Ronald Reagan’s celebrated “freedom fighters,” the mujahidin.

Twenty years later, it would be the Americans, spearheaded again by the CIA, who returned to drive them out once more.  History can be a snarl, especially when a major power can’t think ahead.

Whether by ignorance or intention, in 2001-2002, its moment of triumph in Afghanistan, the U.S. tried to have it both ways. With one hand it waved the progressive banner of women’s rights, while with the other it crafted a highly centralized and powerful presidential government, which it promptly handed over to a conservative man, who scarcely gave a thought to women.  Given sole power for 13 years to appoint government ministers, provincial governors, municipal mayors, and almost every other public official countrywide, President Karzai maintained a remarkably consistent, almost perfect record of choosing only men.

Once it was clear that he cared nothing for the human rights of women, the death threats against those who took Washington’s “liberation” language seriously began in earnest.  Women working in local and international NGOs, government agencies, and schools soon found posted on the gates of their compounds anonymous messages — so called “night letters” — describing in gruesome detail how they would be killed.  By way of Facebook or mobile phone they received videos of men raping young girls.  Then the assassinations began. Policewomen, provincial officials, humanitarian workers, teachers, schoolgirls, TV and radio presenters, actresses, singers — the list seemed never to end. Some were, you might say, overkilled: raped, beaten, strangled, cut, shot, and then hung from a tree — just to make a point.  Even when groups of men claimed credit for such murders, no one was detained or prosecuted.

Still the Bush administration boasted of ever more girls enrolled in school and advances in health care that reduced rates of maternal and infant death.  Progress was slow, shaky, and always greatly exaggerated, but real. On Barack Obama’s watch, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed American promises to Afghan women.  She swore repeatedly never to abandon them, though somehow she rarely remembered to invite any of them to international conferences where men discussed the future of their country.

In the meantime, Karzai continued to approve legislation that tightened restrictions on the rights of women, while failing to restrict violence against them. 

Only in 2009, under relentless pressure from Afghan women’s organizations and many of the countries providing financial aid, did Karzai enact by decree a law for “The Elimination of Violence Against Women” (EVAW). It banned 22 practices harmful to women and girls, including rape, physical violence, child marriage, and forced marriage.  Women are now reporting rising levels of violence, but few have found any redress under the law.  Like the constitutional proviso that men and women are equal, the potentially powerful protections of EVAW exist mainly on paper.

But after that single concession to women, Karzai frightened them by calling for peace negotiations with the Taliban. In 2012, perhaps to cajole the men he called his “angry brothers,” he also endorsed a “code of conduct” issued by a powerful group of ultra-conservative clerics, the Council of Ulema. The code authorizes wife beating, calls for the segregation of the sexes, and insists that in the great scheme of things “men are fundamental and women are secondary.” Washington had already reached a similar conclusion. In March 2011, a jocular anonymous senior White House official told the press that, in awarding contracts for major development projects in Afghanistan, the State Department no longer included provisions respecting the rights of women and girls. “All those pet rocks in our rucksack,” he said, “were taking us down.”  Dumping them, the Obama administration placed itself once and for all on the side of ultraconservative undemocratic forces.

Why Women Matter

The U.N. Security Council has, however, cited such pet rocks as the most durable foundation stones for peace and stability in any country. In recent decades, the U.N., multiple research organizations, and academicians working in fields such as political science and security studies have piled up masses of evidence documenting the importance of equality between women and men (normally referred to as “gender equality”).  Their findings point to the historic male dominance of women, enforced by violence, as the ancient prototype of all forms of dominance and violence and the very pattern of exploitation, enslavement, and war.  Their research supports the shrewd observation of John Stuart Mill, the nineteenth century British philosopher, that Englishmen first learned at home and then practiced on their wives the tyranny they subsequently exercised on foreign shores to amass and control the British Empire.

Such research and common sense born of observation lie behind a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions passed since 2000 that call for the full participation of women in all peace negotiations, humanitarian planning, and post-conflict governance. Women alter the discourse, while transforming unequal relations between the sexes changes men as well, generally for the better.  Quite simply, countries in which women and men enjoy positions of relative equality and respect tend to be stable, prosperous, and peaceful. Today, for instance, gender equality is greatest in the five Nordic countries, which consistently finish at the top of any list of the world’s happiest nations.

On the other hand, where, as in Afghanistan, men and women are least equal and men routinely oppress and violate women, violence is more likely to erupt between men as well, on a national scale and in international relations. Such nations are the most impoverished, violent, and unstable in the world. It’s often said that poverty leads to violence.  But you can turn that proposition around: violence that removes women from public life and equitable economic activity produces poverty and so yet more violence.  As Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong put it: “Women hold up half the sky.”  Tie our hands and the sky falls.

Women in Afghanistan have figured this out through hard experience.  That’s why some wept for joy at Ashraf Ghani’s simple words acknowledging the value of his wife’s work.  But with that small, startling, and memorable moment came a terrible sense of opportunity wasted.

Some in the international community had taken the rights of women seriously. They had established women’s quotas in parliament, for instance, and had written “equal rights” into the Afghan constitution of 2004. But what could women accomplish in a parliament swarming with ex-warlords, drug barons, and “former” Taliban who had changed only the color of their turbans?  What sort of “equality” could they hope for when the constitution held that no law could supersede the Sharia of Islam, a system open to extreme interpretation? Not all the women parliamentarians stood together anyway. Some had been handpicked and their votes paid for by powerful men, both inside and outside government.  Yet hundreds, even thousands more women might have taken part in public life if the U.S. had sided unreservedly with the progressive tradition in Afghanistan and chosen a different man to head the country.

The New Men in Charge

What about Ashraf Ghani, the new president, and Abdullah Abdullah, the “CEO” of the state?  These two top candidates were rivals in both the recent presidential election and the last one in 2009, when Abdullah finished second to Karzai and declined to take part in a runoff that was likely to be fraudulent.  (In the first round of voting, Karzai’s men had been caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.)

In this year’s protracted election, on April 5th, Abdullah had finished first in a field of eight with 45% of the votes.  That was better than Ghani’s 31%, but short of the 50% needed to win outright.  Both candidates complained of fraud. In June, when Ghani took 56% of the votes in the runoff, topping Abdullah’s 43%, Abdullah cried foul and threatened to form his own government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hustled to Kabul to lash the two men together in a vague, unconstitutional “unity government” that is still being defined but that certainly had next to nothing to do with electoral democracy.

Both these men appear as famously vain as Hamid Karzai in matters of haberdashery and headgear, but both are far more progressive. Ghani, a former finance minister and chancellor of Kabul University, is acknowledged to be the brainy one. After years in academia and a decade at the World Bank, he took office with plans to combat the country’s notorious corruption.  He has already reopened the superficial investigation of the Kabul Bank, a giant pyramid scheme that collapsed in 2010 after handing out nearly a billion dollars in “loans” to cronies in and out of the government.  (Ghani may be one of the few people who fully understands the scam.)

Abdullah Abdullah is generally credited with being the smoother politician of the two in a country where politics is a matter of allegiances (and rivalries) among men. As foreign minister in the first Karzai cabinet, he appointed a woman to advise him on women’s affairs. Since then, however, his literal affairs in private have become the subject of scandalous gossip.  In public, he has long proposed decentralizing the governmental structure Washington inflicted upon the country. He wants power dispersed throughout the provinces, strengthening the ability of Afghans to determine the conditions of their own communities.  Something like democracy.

The agreement between Ghani and Abdullah calls for an assembly of elders, a loya jirga, to be held “within two years” to establish the position of prime minister, which Abdullah will presumably want to occupy.  Even before his down-and-dirty experiences with two American presidents, he objected to the presidential form of government. “A president,” he told me, “becomes an autocrat.” Power, he argues, rightly belongs to the people and their parliament.

Whether these rivals can work together — they have scheduled three meetings a week — has everyone guessing, even as American and coalition forces leave the country and the Taliban attack in greater strength in unexpected places. Yet the change of government sparks optimism and hope among both Afghans and international observers.

On the other hand, many Afghans, especially women, are still angry with all eight candidates who ran for president, blaming them for the interminable “election” process that brought two of them to power. Mahbouba Seraj, former head of the Afghan Women’s Network and an astute observer, points out that in the course of countless elaborate lunches and late night feasts hosted during the campaign by various Afghan big men, the candidates might have come to some agreement among themselves to narrow the field. They might have found ways to spare the country the high cost and anxiety of a second round of voting, not to mention months of recounting, only to have the final tallies withheld from the public.

Instead, the candidates seemed to hold the country hostage. Their angry charges and threats stirred barely suppressed fears of civil war, and fear silenced women.  “Once again,” Seraj wrote, “we have been excluded from the most important decisions of this country. We have been shut down by the oldest, most effective, and most familiar means: by force.” Women, she added, are now afraid to open their mouths, even to ask “legitimate questions” about the nature of this new government, which seems to be not a “people’s government” consistent with the ballots cast — nearly half of them cast by women — but more of “a coalition government, fabricated by the candidates and international mediators.”  Government in a box, in other words, and man-made.

Knowing that many women are both fearful and furious that male egos still dominate Afghan “democracy,” Seraj makes the case for women again: “Since the year 2000, the U.N. Security Council has passed one resolution after another calling for full participation of women at decision-making levels in all peace-making and nation-building processes. That means a lot more than simply turning out to vote. But we women of Afghanistan have been shut out, shut down, and silenced by fear of the very men we are asked to vote for and the men who follow them… This is not what we women have worked for or voted for or dreamed of, and if we could raise our voices once again, we would not call this ‘democracy.’”

Ask yourself: Would you?

Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Kabul in Winter, and War Is Not Over When It’s Over, among other books, and most recently They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project.  She and Andrew Bacevich will be in conversation November 12 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as part of Lannan Foundation’s cultural freedom program.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s just published book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2014 Ann Jones

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Related Video added by Juan Cole:

National Geographic: ” Meet a New Generation of Women in Kabul”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Far Right Extremist Avigdor Lieberman says Swedish Recognition of Palestine will Strengthen Extremists]]> 2014-10-31T06:31:36Z 2014-10-31T04:05:01Z By Juan Cole

There was a time when people like Avigdor Lieberman were not welcome in Israeli politics, or, indeed, in Jewish circles in the United States. Dogged by accusations of corruption (though acquitted in the Israeli courts) and widely considered a racist and flamethrower, Lieberman has emerged as Foreign Minister, a powerful cabinet post. There is no European cabinet minister who comes close to Lieberman’s far, far right positions, and if there were he or she would be boycotted by the other Europeans. Probably Hungary’s Jobbik (some 1/5 of parliament seats) comes closest to the themes of the ruling Israeli far right at the moment.

Lieberman denounced Sweden’s recognition of Palestine on Thursday, saying:

“The decision of the Swedish government to recognise a Palestinian state is a deplorable decision which only strengthens extremist elements and Palestinian rejectionism . . . It is a shame that the Swedish government chose to take this declarative step which causes a lot of harm and offers no advantage . . . The Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA and that they have to act with responsibility and sensitivity.”

So Lieberman led a charge to reject the John Kerry peace process in 2013-2014, and Lieberman’s colleagues on the Israeli cabinet called Secretary Kerry “messianic” and said they wished he would leave them alone. That is, the “rejectionists” are the Israeli government, the leaders of which refuse to recognize Palestine. Palestine recognized Israel two decades ago, giving away this key card for the sake of initiating the Oslo Peace process, which Israeli leaders such as Binyamin Netanyahu derailed, stealing ever more Palestinian territory on the Occupied West Bank and planting hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters there, far beyond the recognized borders of Israel.

As for extremism, here are Lieberman’s positions:

“The The Electronic Intifada lists “Some of Avigdor Lieberman’s infamous statements”:

‘ # In 1998, Lieberman called for the flooding of Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat.

# In 2001, as Minister of National Infrastructure, Lieberman proposed that the West Bank be divided into four cantons, with no central Palestinian government and no possibility for Palestinians to travel between the cantons.

# In 2002, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Lieberman in a Cabinet meeting saying that the Palestinians should be given an ultimatum that “At 8am we’ll bomb all the commercial centers … at noon we’ll bomb their gas stations … at two we’ll bomb their banks …”

# In 2003, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to take them there.

# In May 2004, Lieberman proposed a plan that called for the transfer of Israeli territory with Palestinian populations to the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, Israel would annex the major Jewish settlement blocs on the Palestinian West Bank. If applied, his plan would strip roughly one-third of Israel’s Palestinian citizens of their citizenship. A “loyalty test” would be applied to those who desired to remain in Israel. This plan to trade territory with the Palestinian Authority is a revision of Lieberman’s earlier calls for the forcible transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel from their land. Lieberman stated in April 2002 that there was “nothing undemocratic about transfer.”

# Also in May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens would “have to find a new Arab entity” in which to live beyond Israel’s borders. “They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost,” he said.

# In May 2006, Lieberman called for the killing of Arab members of Knesset who meet with members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.’ ”

Now that’s extreme. And it doesn’t even cover all Lieberman’s outrageous comments of the past 8 years.

As for Sweden, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström observed, “We are not picking sides. We’re choosing the side of the peace process… The government believes that the international law criteria for the recognition of the State of Palestine has been met. There is a territory, there is a population and there is a government”.

Responding to journalist Hala Gorani concerning Lieberman’s crack about Ikea, Wallström is said to have remarked:


Related video:

RuptlyTV: “Sweden: Swedish FM comments on Palestinian recognition”

contributors <![CDATA[This day in History: Madrid Arab-Israeli Peace Conference (a Process that Netanyahu later Boasted of Derailing)]]> 2014-10-30T06:01:08Z 2014-10-30T06:01:08Z The Madrid peace conference convened October 30, 1991, hosted by President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, aimed at initiating a peace settlement between Israel and the Arabs.

Bush senior warns that if Israel and Palestinians don’t make peace, sooner or later “weapons of mass destruction” could be deployed in the Middle East.

“President George H. W. Bush speaks with Baker Institute founding director Edward P. Djerejian about the legacy of the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference. The interview was conducted in October 2011 as part of a Nov. 2 Baker Institute conference co-hosted with the United States Institute of Peace.”

Baker Institute: “President George H. W. Bush on the Madrid Peace Conference’s legacy”

Madrid led to the Oslo Peace accords, which Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu boasted of having destroyed.

contributors <![CDATA[Jerusalem tensions over al-Aqsa Mosque turn bloody as Far Right-winger is Shot]]> 2014-10-30T05:27:50Z 2014-10-30T05:27:50Z BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Right-wing Jewish activist Yehuda Glick was shot and injured at a rally in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, Israeli police and medical sources said.

Glick was reportedly shot in his upper body at “close range” at an event outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, where a number of Israeli members of Knesset and right-wing activists were in attendance, Israeli news site Ynet said.

Ynet also reported that Jerusalem police said the shooter was on a motorcycle at the time of the incident, though the details were still unclear.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed to Ma’an only that a “known right-wing activist” had been shot.

The attack was reported after a conference focused on the reconstruction of a Jewish temple on top of the al-Aqsa mosque was concluded at the center, with top right-wing Jewish officials and activists in attendance.

Member of Knesset Moshe Feiglin was quoted by Ynet as saying: “The would-be killer turned to (Glick), confirmed in Hebrew with a thick Arab accent that this was indeed Yehuda and shot several bullets at him from point blank.”

“What happened is horrible but very expected. Glick was constantly threatened. The fact that he was not assigned protection at all times is a failure. I say this as someone who is the target of constant incitement,” he continued.

“Weakness and incompetence were behind this attack. This was a relaxed conference, the room was half full. This was not an impassioned event. An Arab came there with the urge to kill.”

The incident comes amid increasing tension in Jerusalem over an expected Knesset vote to potentially divide the al-Aqsa mosque compound — the third-holiest site in Islam — between Muslims and Jews, or else restrict Muslim worship at the site.

Although mainstream Jewish leaders consider it forbidden for Jews to enter the area, right-wing nationalist activists have increasingly called for Jewish prayer to be allowed on the site.

Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, an agreement with Jordan has maintained that Jewish prayer be allowed at the Western Wall plaza — built on the site of a Palestinian neighborhood of 800 that was destroyed immediately following the conquest — but not inside the al-Aqsa mosque compound itself.

Yehuda Glick is an American-born Israeli and the chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Fund, an extremist Jewish organization focused on “strengthening the relationship between Israel and the Temple Mount.”

He has been previously banned by Israeli authorities from entering the compound due to provocations while on the site.

Critics charge that the Fund actually leads Jewish tours to the site with the intention of leading Jewish prayer there — currently banned under Israeli agreements — and encouraging Jews to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and build a Jewish temple there.

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency


Video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “Israeli far-right activist shot and wounded in Jerusalem, says media”

contributors <![CDATA[GOP Voter Suppression: Comedian Louis Black says F#%! it!]]> 2014-10-30T05:14:16Z 2014-10-30T05:14:16Z ACLU

“At a photo shoot with ACLU’s Voting Rights Project Director Dale Ho, ACLU voting rights ambassador Lewis Black gets so f#%!in’ tired of politicians trying to deny people the right to vote.

The ACLU is fighting against bad voter suppression laws across the country.

The rules of voting are still in flux in many states, so to make sure you know your rights when you vote, go to ”

ACLU Videos: “Lewis Black Says F#%! Voter Suppression