The required reading was at the bookstore, the students had the course syllabus, and space in Political Science 235, "Equality in Social Justice," was standing-room only when DePaul University pulled the plug Friday on what was to have been Norman Finkelstein's final year at the school. A controversial scholar—accused by critics of fomenting anti-Semitism and lauded by supporters as a forthright critic of Israel—Finkelstein attracted wide attention across the academic world when he was denied tenure in the spring. By Monday, the books for his course had been pulled from the DePaul bookstore's shelves, while his case was restarting a firestorm of protest. The American Association of University Professors was preparing a letter to the university, protesting Finkelstein's treatment as a serious violation of academic ethics. Finkelstein vowed not to take the rebuff lying down—or, perhaps more correctly, to do something just like that. In addition to canceling his course, the university informed him that his office was no longer his. "I intend to go to my office on the first day of classes and, if my way is barred, to engage in civil disobedience," Finkelstein, 53, said in a telephone interview. "If arrested, I'll go on a hunger strike. If released, I'll do it all over again. I'll fast in jail for as long as it takes."More on Finkelstein's site.
In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation." But beyond the irony lies China's true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region's Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country.Time for a Tibetan Irhab wal Kebab methinks? Although arguably the Dalai Lama's decision not to re-incarnate in China-occupied Tibet is almost as ridiculous.
A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that's supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors. You've done such a terrible job, in fact, that when auditors from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visit the college in the summer of 2006, their report sounds like something out of one of the Saw movies: "We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate," they write, adding that "the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles" and that "during our visit, a substance dripped from the ceiling onto an assessment team member's shirt." The final report helpfully includes a photo of a sloppy brown splotch on the outstretched arm of the unlucky auditor. . . . The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the "entrepreneurship" of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent "three sleepless nights" putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking "like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later." The two simply "presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract." The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad's airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, "I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog." When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and "refuse to sniff the vehicles" -- as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced. Like most contractors, Custer Battles was on a cost-plus arrangement, which means its profits were guaranteed to rise with its spending. But according to testimony by officials and former employees, the partners also charged the government millions by making out phony invoices to shell companies they controlled. In another stroke of genius, they found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. tax payers as new equipment. Every time they scratched their asses, they earned; there was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes -- $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while."The conclusion:
According to the most reliable estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America's contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste. But what happened in Iraq went beyond inefficiency, beyond fraud even. This was about the business of government being corrupted by the profit motive to such an extraordinary degree that now we all have to wonder how we will ever be able to depend on the state to do its job in the future. If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where's the incentive to deliver success? There's no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after America liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don't pay the bills.But don't expect anyone to be held accountable.
The wisest course would have been for President Bush to use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with his demands, or until they were all dead. Then there would be little risk or expense and no American army would be left exposed. But if he did this, his cowardly electorate would have instantly ended his term of office, if not his freedom or his life. The simple truth that modern weapons now mean a nation must practice genocide or commit suicide. Israel provides the perfect example. If the Israelis do not raze Iran, the Iranians will fulfill their boast and wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Yet Israel is not popular, and so is denied permission to defend itself. In the same vein, President Bush cannot do what is necessary for the survival of Americans. He cannot use the nation's powerful weapons. All he can do is try and discover a result that will be popular with Americans. . . . When the ancient Roman general Julius Caesar was struggling to conquer ancient Gaul, he not only had to defeat the Gauls, but he also had to defeat his political enemies in Rome who would destroy him the moment his tenure as consul (president) ended. Caesar pacified Gaul by mass slaughter; he then used his successful army to crush all political opposition at home and establish himself as permanent ruler of ancient Rome. This brilliant action not only ended the personal threat to Caesar, but ended the civil chaos that was threatening anarchy in ancient Rome – thus marking the start of the ancient Roman Empire that gave peace and prosperity to the known world. If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while terrifying American enemies. He could then follow Caesar's example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield military power to become the first permanent president of America, and end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and the out-of-control Supreme Court.I know the recent HBO-BBC production Rome is excellent and great fun, but really this is taking it a bit far. The lesson to take from this, of course, is not that this is representative of how Americans see the mess of Iraq, but I do think it is telling of how neo-conservatives, with their single-minded obsession with Israeli dominion over the Middle East, care nothing for American institutions, democracy, or human life -- never mind that of other people. You are known by the company you keep. More looniness at Atkin's website, OurCivilization.com, including that AIDS is not caused by HIV and that everything went downhill after the French revolution overthrew the old aristocracy. Sometimes I wonder if these guys exist just to make the crowd that's advising Rudy Giuliani (now featuring the terrible trio of Podhoretz-Kramer-Pipes) look more reasonable.
NAZARETH, Israel - For 15-year-old Issa, days of summer start when the sun rises over a northern Israeli hill, shining on a garbage dump, a thorny field and then the dirty mattress that is his bed. Issa is among hundreds of Palestinian child laborers who sneak into Israel from the West Bank, hawking or begging at traffic junctions.Note that this story just barely mentions the occupation as a primary cause of poverty in the West Bank. Not surprising from AP, whose State Department correspondent (Barry Schweid) is a notorious Zionist and often tilts his coverage in favor of Israel.
OIF is hearing from librarians who are wondering if they must comply with a request from British publisher Cambridge University Press to remove the book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World from the shelves of their libraries. Alms for Jihad is the subject of a British libel lawsuit brought by Saudi banker Khalid bin Mahfouz, who has filed several similar lawsuits to contest claims that the Saudi government has used Islamic charities to fund terrorism. Cambridge University Press chose to settle the suit rather than risk a large damage award at trial. Under the settlement, Cambridge University Press has agreed to pulp unsold copies and to ask libraries to return the book to the publisher or destroy the book. (See "Cambridge U. Press Agrees to Destroy Book on Terrorism in Response to Libel Claim" from the Chronicle of Higher Education.) Critics claim that Mahfouz is attempting to silence critics by using British libel law. Unlike U.S. libel law, which recognizes First Amendment freedoms, and requires plaintiffs to prove statements about them are false, British law places the burden of proof on defendants, who must demonstrate the truth of their claims.Someone should leak an electronic version of the book onto the internet.
I just received the news of the arrest (or re-arrest) of Essam El Erian, Chief of the Muslim Brotherhood's political bureau, who was banned from travelling to Turkey this morning. A number of leaders were also arrested, including Mahmoud Hussien, a member of the Executive Council. El Erian spent most of his lifetime in prison, being arrested one time after the other. I fail to comprehend the logic of his arrest, especially that he is a well -known leader who appears on media outlets all the time, and is well known for his moderate stances, and tolerance. He enjoys the love and support of all political activists in the country, including his political opponents. In fact, some observers make distinctions between his discourse and that of other Brotherhood leaders, and claim that El Erian presents a moderate façade for a group which is not that moderate. El Erian was elected to parliament in 1987, and was arrested several times. I could not count them now of course, but he was arrested in 1978, 1981, 1995 ( and was sentenced to five years in prison by a military tribunal), 2002, 2005, 2006, and was last released in December 2006, only 4 days before the arrest of Khayrat el Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood's deputy chairman. The arrest of El Erian is a clear attempt by the regime to crackdown on the moderate leaders of the Brotherhood who could push the group towards more moderate stances. With El Shater and El Erian being behind bars, the Brotherhood's political leadership is being deprived of two of its most influential and moderate faces. The question remains: who does that serve?It's a good question.
Tunisian democracy: To hope or despair? The policy of repression, compounded by confiscation of public property and murky privatization deals by Ben Ali's relatives and cronies, has prompted many Tunisians to take steps publicly to help stop the degradation of what used to be a well-managed economy and educational system. "Tunisia needs us," says Mahmoud bin Romdhane, an economist and former chair of Amnesty International Tunisia. His diagnosis of the Tunisian economy is alarming, but seems to reflect that there is still hope to push Tunisia forward on the road to democracy. Thousands of competent professionals and committed human rights and political activists of different leanings are eager and able to help lead reform Tunisia. Tunisians and foreign observers who believe that the country is one of the best candidates to become democratic argue that it is the responsibility of Ben Ali's friends in the European Union and the United States to advise him not to run for the presidency in 2009 and to start paving the way for a democratic transition. But this would mean Western states will have to believe that Tunisians and Arabs in general deserve to live in democratic societies. The Westerners must also be able to address, and to accept, the sometimes dangerous consequences of compelling dictators like Ben Ali to take the healthy initiative of ceding power. Will they go through with it?The odd thing is that it's not like Tunisia provides a strategic service to Western powers -- aside from intelligence on radical Islamists and torture services -- so what's the cost of providing a little push? Ben Ali is as deserving of Western pressure as any of the dictators whose names are well-known in European countries. Just because Tunisia is a small country does not mean it's not worth the effort.
Again, proceed with caution due to the graphic nature of the footage.
Update: I didn't realize it at the time of my earlier post, but the boy in the video has died from his wounds. (I had read about the scandal last week, but did not put two and two together.) From what I gathered from various online sources, the boy was quickly buried by the police before a proper autopsy could be carried out. Human rights activists called for his body to be exhumed and a new autopsy carried out, and Mansoura police to be charged:
Egypt to exhume boy's body
Cairo - Egypt's chief prosecutor has ordered the exhumation of the body of a teenager who died in police custody amid family allegations he was tortured to death, said reports.
A new autopsy would be carried out on 13-year-old Mamduh Abdel Aziz, who died in hospital in the Nile Delta town of Mansura on Sunday, four days after police took him there because he lost consciousness while in their custody on a theft charge.
His family immediately filed a complaint against police, claiming they tortured him to death.
The police report said he died of a lung complaint, and the interior ministry denied any torture, saying that burns on his body were accidental.
However, a legal source said on Sunday that the boy had lost consciousness during his six days in police detention, apparently after being beaten.
Related: Egyptian cops find torture kit. What a country.
GAZA CITY (AFP) - Crowds throng the hall to hear the court's decision. In the dock are Gaza's Hamas rulers and their secular rivals Fatah. The verdict, with no right of appeal, comes late and after passionate and stormy debate: "All are guilty of killing the people and the nation." But the dramatic verdict is just that -- drama. The judges and the accused are all actors in a satirical play, "The Nation," which has enjoyed great success in a land where culture is often noticeable by its absence. More than 1,500 people flocked to the Shawa cultural centre in Gaza to see the play, forcing the organisers to add extra seats to the auditorium to meet demand. "The Nation" is the work of Palestinian dramatist Said Suirki and the "trial" is tagged with the number 48.67.2007 -- referring to what the author sees as three seminal dates in the Palestinian tragedy. . . . Palestinians are left with two territories, two powers, two administrations and two conflicting visions of society -- an absurd situation that makes for rich theatrical pickings. "We fast differently (for Ramadan) if we're in Gaza or Ramallah... If I get married in Gaza, is my marriage certificate valid in the West Bank?" asks one of the actors on stage. A dozen men, women and children strike up a mournful refrain to lament "Where is the nation?" -- before being interrupted by the rattle of automatic gunfire. "I wanted to put on a play after seeing the bloody events in Gaza and the huge suffering of its people," says Suirki. "I called it 'The Nation' because it's this that has been the biggest loser in the Hamas-Fatah conflict."
(AP) A career U.S. diplomat indicted this week for sending threatening messages to an Arab political organization has retired from the foreign service, the State Department said Thursday. Patrick Syring retired last month, about a year after he allegedly left racist and intimidating phone and e-mail messages with the Arab American Institute, but before his Wednesday indictment on federal charges of threatening and violating civil rights laws, spokesman Sean McCormack said. . . . It was not clear if Syring's resignation was related to the incidents with which he is charged, which are alleged to have occurred last summer during Israeli military strikes on the militant Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. Federal prosecutors charged in an indictment that Syring had left multiple expletive-laced messages with the Arab American Institute whose founder, James Zogby, had criticized the government for not doing enough to protect U.S. citizens visiting family members in Lebanon. "The only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese. The only good Arab is a dead Arab," Syring is alleged to have said, accusing Zogby of being anti-Semitic, prosecutors said. "You wicked evil Hezbollah-supporting Arabs should burn in the fires of hell for eternity and beyond," Syring wrote in one e-mail, according to the prosecutors. "The United States would be safer without you." Syring, whose tenure in the foreign service was not immediately available, also praised Israeli forces for "bombing Lebanon back to the Stone Age where it belongs" and said "Arabs are dogs," according to an e-mail cited in the indictment.It's hard to believe he was stupid enough to leave traces, but I suppose he was pretty stupid anyway. Even so, some people mount a pseudo-defense of what he did as a freedom of speech case. Perhaps the most astonishing thing is that Patrick Syring was a commercial officer in Lebanon in the mid-1990s. There's a little more info about past abusive messages about Arabs over at Josh Marshall's TPM, which headlines its post rather appropriately: Didn't get the whole 'diplomacy' idea.
Controversial research on Israel and the Palestinian territories has become the basis of yet another campaign to prevent a professor from winning tenure. A group of Barnard College alumni has drafted an online petition asking their alma mater to deny tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of anthropology whose scholarship, they say, is flawed and skewed against Israel. The group’s criticisms of Ms. Abu El-Haj focus on her book Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (University of Chicago Press, 2001), which argues that Israeli archaeologists have produced biased research that bolsters the “origin myth” of the Jewish state. The petition, which has drawn just over 1,000 signatures, accuses Ms. Abu El-Haj of ignoring or mischaracterizing large parts of the archaeological record, of not being able to speak Hebrew, and of treating Israeli archaeologists unfairly in her work. Ms. Abu El-Haj declined to comment today. The petition comes on the heels of a high-profile campaign — led by Alan M. Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor — to persuade DePaul University to deny tenure to Norman G. Finkelstein, a professor known for his criticisms of Israel and what he calls the “Holocaust Industry.” Mr. Finkelstein was denied tenure.Do read the petition and look up its early signatories. For instance signatory #1, Paula Stern, whose website shows she is an enthusiastic supporter of Israel (indeed she is Israeli) and campaigns on various issues in defense of Israel, including against Nadia Abu al-Haj. One things that strikes me about all this is that if Nadia Abu al-Haj's book, Facts on the Ground, was published by the Chicago University Press, not exactly an amateur outfit, and that the matter of whether she will be given tenure at an elite university will surely be the decision of fellow academics who will judge her professional qualities. I doubt that she would even be at Barnard if her academic skills were not solid. So it's hard not to dismiss this petition as yet another smear campaign against an academic who is critical of Israel, or in this case its foundational myths. After Norman Finkelstein's case, is barring academics critical of Israel going to become routine? Let's hope not. On a related note, a Harvard study shows growing fears inside academia that academic freedom is decreasing:
Gross, who has done surveys of public opinion on attitudes about academic freedom, said that one cause for the difficulties faced by academics today is the “disjuncture” between public and academic attitudes about academic freedom. He noted that a survey of the public for the American Association of University Professors last year found that solid majorities support tenure, but that many also believe that in some cases, colleges should be able to fire professors for political views such as belonging to the Communist Party or defending the rights of Islamic militants. Clearly, he said, the public doesn’t understand academic freedom the way professors do. Other speakers saw other reasons for concern about the state of academic freedom, which the sociology association recently created a committee to study. Lisa Anderson, a professor of international relations at Columbia University, said that she likes to think of herself as an optimistic person, but finds herself worried that attacks on academic freedom are getting worse and are likely to continue along those lines. Anderson just finished 10 years as dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, and the last few years of her tenure found her among the Middle Eastern studies scholars who were regularly criticized by some pro-Israel groups for alleged anti-Israel or anti-American bias. The attacks have “deeply damaged the research community,” Anderson said. Anderson said that young scholars of Middle Eastern literature or history (she stressed that she wasn’t talking about those who study policy or the current political climate) are finding themselves “grilled” about their political views in job interviews, and in some cases losing job offers as a result of their answers.As we've seen in some of the recent controversies over tenure -- or indeed the Brooklyn Arabic-language school affairs, or the establishment of Campus Watch -- pro-Israel campaigners are at the center of this attack on academic freedom. On a related note, here's the NYT's coverage of the Walt-Mearsheimer book on the "lobby":
“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” is not even in bookstores, but already anxieties have surfaced about the backlash it is stirring, with several institutions backing away from holding events with the authors.It also appears Abraham Foxman of the ADL has already published a book to counter the Walt & Mearsheimer book -- even though it's not out yet.
Israel and the United States signed Thursday the Memorandum of Understanding on the new American defense package for Israel. Under the new aid agreement, the U.S. will transfer $30 billion to Israel over 10 years, compared with $24 billion over the past decade. Israel is slated to receive the first pay out in October 2008, amounting to $2.550 billion. That sum will grow each year by $150 million, until it reaches $3.1 billion in 2011. In addition, the agreement permits Israel to convert into shekels 26.3 percent of the aid money, thereby enabling it to procure defense equipment from Israeli companies. The rest of the aid must be used to purchase equipment from American military industries.That last part, about being able to purchase from Israeli companies, shows the extent to which the lobby works in favor of Israel, not the United States. Most military aid deals, while they may have valid strategic or diplomatic reasons, are supported in Congress because they generate business for the armaments industry and create jobs and economic activity in a wide range of states. That is probably the most important facet of the recent $20 billion aid program for Arab Gulf states. But in this case, American taxpayer money is not even going to be spent on American firms, with a sizable chunk going instead to Israel's military-industrial complex, one of the backbones of the occupation. Incidentally, the fact that this agreement went through today meant that Egypt has already agreed to the changes in ratio in US military aid to Cairo and Tel Aviv. When was this done? When Omar Suleiman went to DC several weeks ago, separately from Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit? When Condoleeza Rice was in Sharm al-Sheikh as part of her military aid tour? Egyptians, you can ask yourself why your government has not told you that the Camp David agreement was amended.
Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | Hamas is ready to talk: While Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is busily courting Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas as a "partner for peace", successive voices continue to speak out against efforts to sideline the democratically elected Hamas government. As the Britain's Commons foreign affairs committee concluded on Monday, this strategy is counterproductive and doomed to fail, for the simple reason that the support of the Palestinian people is unmistakably lacking. Abbas's party does not democratically represent the Palestinians, yet what is in effect now a dictatorship in the West Bank is being welcomed by Israel and its western allies. The duplicity of this situation is shameful. Israel and its allies were quick to dismiss Hamas and the national unity governments and isolate both, and are now equally as quick to welcome an illegally formed self-proclaimed government for the Palestinians. Is this democracy?It concludes:
Hamas welcomes dialogue. If the international community is serious about peace in the Middle East, there need to be non-partisan efforts to achieve it. It is not sufficient for Israel or its allies to continue to dismiss Hamas as "extremist", as we are made up of every part of Palestinian society. Those who demand the boycott of Hamas repeat flimsy accusations that cannot withstand non-partisan scrutiny. They do so because they want a Palestinian "peace" partner who will not endanger Israel's expansionist aspirations. This is not diplomacy; this is bigotry. The Palestinians have been abandoned by the international community. The cruelty of this treatment will go down in history. It is time to create a new history for the region, and to recognise the real representatives of the Palestinian people.I would have liked to see a more specific call to Fatah and the return to a unity government, but it's spot on in the sentence that "they want a Palestinian peace partner who will not endanger Israel's expansions aspirations." Fatah better do some weeding in its ranks soon and get rid of collaborators, or there will not be anyone but Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda to deal with in the Occupied Territories. Update: On a related note, Le Figaro reports that Mahmoud Abbas is currently considering banning Hamas from participating in future Palestinian elections by passing a law (how, I'm not sure) that would require any party to "respect the PLO charter" and "agree to existing accords with Israel." Hamas has rejected the move and called, to its credit, for "dialogue and national unity." The article also points out that in March 2005 Hamas agreed to the PLO as the only representative of the Palestinian people, but only after it carries out reforms, which it still hasn't done. Egyptian and other Arab diplomats are currently encouraging Abbas not to exclude Hamas, but you have to wonder whether the Israelis and American agents of Israel in the White House such as Elliott Abrams are pushing for this.