Tag Archives: International Relations

Islam and Terrorism are not Synonyms

A couple news stories have come out lately that have really annoyed me.  People’s aversion to Islam and Muslims is really appalling, especially in a nation that is supposed to be a beacon of democracy and a nation of immigrants.  I know that other nations are struggling with anti-Islam sentiments as well, especially in European countries with high levels of Muslim immigrants.  However, I’m an American and so, am particularly peeved at what is going on here in the U.S.

A recent article in the Economist reported on the city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where locals are protesting the building of a mosque.  Signs announcing the construction have been vandalized, local “leaders” such as congressional candidates and pastors have been outspoken about the negative impact of the mosque, and construction equipment at the site has been set on fire.

Now, three of the residents have brought a lawsuit to block construction of the mosque, citing that they “have been and will be irreparably harmed by the risk of terrorism generated by proselytising for Islam and inciting the practices of sharia law.”

First, in typical religious zealousness, the pastor forgets the principles of his own religion.  What happened to love thy neighbor?  Or the general human practices of acceptance, tolerance and understanding.  Or just not being ignorant.  Instead the pastor guides his flock by inciting hatred, suspicion and bigotry by pronouncing, “We have a duty to investigate anyone under the banner of Islam.”  Please. 

Are there extremists who practice Islam and may in fact either truly believe they are living by the Qur’an or use Islam as lightning rod for gathering followers and a cover for their true, non-religious motives?  Of course there are.  Very few would deny this.  However, there are extremists in virtually EVERY religion.  There are people who hide under a veil of religion to achieve non-religious goals.  There are people that truly believe that their atrocious acts are what devout followers of X religion should do.  This is not unique to Islam.  Christians do this.  Hindus do this.  There was the 1995 Sarin gas attack on Tokyo carried out by the religious group Aum Shinrikyo.  The Westboro Baptist Church protests military funerals proclaiming that those deaths were god’s punishment for our tolerance of homosexuals.  It goes on and on. 

What is completely ridiculous, and really just adds to the problem, is assuming that anyone practicing Islam is a terrorist.  Islam and Terrorism are not synonyms.  Some Muslims are terrorists, but MOST are not.  Innocent until proven guilty is how our justice system is supposed to work and as a personal value, I always try to belive the best in people and look for the positive.  This is not to say that we should all walk around wearing rose-colored glasses in a constant state of naive, delusional “the world is perfect” bliss.  But, to go over board and be suspicious of all “under the banner of Islam” is absolutely absurd.  In fact, one-fifth of the world population is Muslim.  So because a small portion of these followers of Islam are terrorists, we should believe that over 1 billion people are terrorists because they are Muslim?  Just stupid.

Another problem is the congressional candidate.  Politicians often deserve the ridiculous reputation they have earned themselves.  People make fun of them for a reason – they say dumb things, change their opinions to pander to voters, donors, party leaders or whomever else can help them in some way.  At the worst, they abuse their powers, are corrupt and don’t care about enacting any positive policies.  Of course, there are other politicians who really work hard to do the best they can to balance constituent concerns, broader national concerns, personal beliefs etc. to make tough legislative choices and represent their constituents well.  This TN candidate is likely to be more of the former if she continues to make statements such as this one where she says that she is “opposed to the idea of an Islamic training centre being built in our community”.  Besides the inherent ignorance in a statement like this, which I have addressed above, it is stupid for another more practical reason – there are already mosques in the community!  This mosque is not even a new mosque, but an existing mosque that bought a larger property.

Finally, if you are going to assume a leadership position of sorts, such as a congressional candidate or pastor, you have some sort of responsibility to the general public to be more thoughtful in what you say and to think about what the consequences might be.  Of course there are amendenments that give you a lot of leeway in what you can legally say.  However, what is legal and what is right does not necessarily go hand in hand.  As Uncle Ben says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” 

Anyways, it looks as though this case will go to the TN Supreme Court.  Hopefully they will do the right thing. 

The second story comes from Oregon, where a Somali-born teen was caught in an FBI sting in which he was plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting in Portland.  Yes, this particular person was going to do something wrong in the name of Islam.  It is fantastic that the FBI was able to catch him and that he was not able to cause any harm.  But the reaction of his community was intolerant and short-sighted.  The mosque that the the man occasionally attended was burned.  The rest of the story is here.  What about the rest of the worshippers that have done nothing wrong and simply want to attend religious services like any other religious person?  Punishments should be dealt to those who have committed crimes, not to everyone associated with them.

The most worrisome part of an increasingly ignorant view of Islam, is that it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way.  Our attitudes and news stories such as these, fuel the extremists and help them persuade people that they are right – that Americans hate Islam and Muslims.

I know we can do better, so let’s stop the nonsense.

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Posted by on December 2, 2010 in Foreign Policy


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The Dip in Diplomacy

Sometimes, diplomacy really gets a bad rap.  Being diplomatic doesn’t always come with a positive connotation and instead could be meant to imply that you are full of BS and don’t actually accomplish anything.  The irony is that trying too hard to be diplomatic can have unintended consequences.  Diplomacy really is a balancing act and a good diplomat knows when to push, when to finesse, when to give ultimatums, etc.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the US is doing such a stellar job on this front.  Let’s look at two recent examples:

As way of follow up to an older post on the peace process, Israel has announced even more settlements.  Plans have been unveiled which would provide for the building of around 1,300 houses in East Jerusalem.  Although Israel disputes this, East Jerusalem is considered part of the occupied territories by the international community.  As such, these settlements would be just as illegal as the ones in West Bank and Gaza.  Adding insult to injury, East Jerusalem is where Palestinians would likely place their capital when they have their own nation.  But not to worry, the US has exerted its mighty influence…. As reported in BBC News, a US state department spokesman Philip Crowley said the White House was “deeply disappointed” by the announcement and viewed it as “counter-productive.”  Very powerful stuff.  Superpower indeed.

In my opinion, the US is doing the Palestinians and Israelis a major disservice by not playing their cards right.  Certainly more pressure than a finger-wagging could be applied here.  It’s no wonder that Palestinians are toying with the idea of going through the United Nations to establish their nation instead of trying to work out a peace deal.  I do not necessarily think this is the right move, I’m just saying I can see how they would be fed up with this process.  Although, the UN probably won’t get them anywhere since the US has a veto position on the Security Council and will almost positively veto any UN resolution creating a state for Palestinians.  Which leads me to my next example of a diplomacy hiccup…

On my way into work today, I read that President Obama endorsed the idea of India joining the UN Security Council on a permanent basis.  On the surface, this doesn’t seem like much of a problem.  However, it could be.  UN Security Council reform has been an issue for years and will likely continue to be.  As of right now, only 5 nations hold a permanent spot and veto power: the US, China, Russia, France and the UK.  In addition, 10 other members are elected to temporary spots.

As I said, for years many nations have wanted to reform the council.

Japan, Germany, Brazil and India are most frequently suggested as possible permanent nations.  But it’s not just these nations that have opinions on the matter.  There are other nations that would also like to be considered.  Also, countries in the developing world think that they should have a representative.  Many in the southern hemisphere support Brazil because there are no countries in the permanent 5 that are in the south.  Even if everyone agrees on the need for reform (which they don’t), those who want reform generally can’t agree on how best to go about it.

Additionally, there are those that are against permanent membership for certain countries.  For example, Pakistan would not be too psyched on India’s permanent status.  This is one reason why it was not necessarily very smart of President Obama to publicly support India’s bid while we are working with Pakistan on terrorism and Afghanistan.  It’s likely not enough to make Pakistan super angry at us, but I’m sure they aren’t thrilled.  China also would probably be against India’s inclusion because they both are competing as an emerging economic power.

The other complicating factor is criteria for being a member.  When the Council was formed, it was immediately following World War II and the victors from the war became the Security Council members.  A lot has changed since then and some of the currently seated veto members wouldn’t necessarily meet the criteria that many nations believe any new members should have.

Any way you look at, getting everyone to agree on Security Council reform is a big task and I don’t think that President Obama should have necessarily spoken to India’s prospects.

So, to sum up… push the peace process MORE, push India’s Security Council bid LESS.

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Posted by on November 9, 2010 in Foreign Policy


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Get Your Mind Right World

In 2000, the United Nations put forth eight goals known as the Millennium Development Goals.   

  1. End Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership

Within each goal there are varying numbers of targets, with 21 targets between all of the goals.  

This September, a summit was convened to examine the progress made thus far and to discuss how we can continue to strive toward the goals and what changes should be made.  As reported in  The New York Times, the United Nations says that only two of the targets seem to be on track to be met:  cutting in half the number of people who lack safe drinking water and halving the number of people who live on $1.25 or less daily.  Additionally, the number of people who have risen above the $1.25/day threshold is likely skewed due to the huge economic progress in China.

And of course, as what always seems to happen when a group of leaders convene, everyone wants to shuffle blame and talk about who should be doing more, giving more, etc.  Other people have complained that the goals are weak because there isn’t an entity holding the world accountable for reaching these goals and thus, there is no sense of responsibility or ownership over the progress and eventual success/failure of the goals.

First, I think that meeting two of the targets is fantastic and are big targets to have achieved.  I do agree that China’s success has probably skewed the numbers, but many other countries have made significant progress.  Plus, it’s still a good thing that the lives of all of those Chinese people have improved, even if it would be more ideal and more telling for the global efforts if the gains were widespread.

Additionally, even if the other targets do not look like they will be met, we can still work toward them as diligently as possible to achieve as much as we can.  Any amount of progress is positive and progress has been made toward each target.  Of course, this is not to say that we should just keep blindly forging ahead without discussion.  It is incredibly useful to analyze programs that have been successful in order to model new programs after them or modify existing programs.  It is also a good idea to analyze unsuccessful programs to see what may have gone wrong, so that adjustments can be made and so those mistakes can be avoided in future programs.  I think that the summit in September, and its media coverage, should have focused most of its attention on analysis of programs and trying to take positive steps forward to continue toward meeting the goals and targets.  Instead of focusing on the negative side of maybe only meeting two targets, successful programs could have been highlighted to motivate people to want to continue working toward achieving the goals.  

Also, I don’t think that it is worth discussing the lack of responsibility or consequences.  Just as answering to a boss doesn’t necessarily make all employees do their best work, the lack of a supervisor or someone you must “answer to” doesn’t mean that an employee will do substandard work.  It’s all about incentives, which can also involve social and moral incentives.  For example, in the book Freakonomics, a story is told about a boss who brings bagels into the office every week and then puts out a basket with the suggested price.  On average, 90% of the people paid the full price for the bagel.  Eventually the man decided to quit his job and become a bagel provider to the area businesses.  What he found was that on average, he was paid 87%.  The slight decline is likely attributable to the fact that his coworkers knew him and would feel bad about cheating him out of the money, whereas a stranger would not have that same concern.  Still, 87% is much higher than what most of his economist friends thought he would receive.  My point with this is that there doesn’t have to be someone watching in order for people to do the right thing. (Hint hint to all you hovering, overbearing bosses out there…you aren’t helping anything, you are just annoying people.)

As far as the Millennium Development Goals are concerned, I think that it is an especially dumb idea to worry over who the world will be accountable to if we don’t reach the goals and that the lack of accountability somehow depletes the desire to allocate the necessary resources.  Instead, if countries are not putting forth enough money, staff, supplies, intelligence, etc to reach the goals, then it is likely because of economic downturns–and subsequent loss of political will–and shifting aid to other areas such as recent natural disasters in Chile, Haiti, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc.

Overall, I just think it is a better use of time to focus on reaching the goals rather than focusing on what happens if we don’t reach them.  If we don’t, then we just keep working!

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Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Foreign Policy


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Politics of Peace

Here’s an update to one of my previous posts on the settlement freeze:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not extend the moratorium on settlement building.  Building has resumed, re-adding another hurdle in this decades-long process.

However, there has been some pressure on Israel to continue the freeze and Netanyahu may have felt as though he needed to respond in some way.  His response was to call on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for an extended settlement freeze. Where to start with this….

First, to be clear… Netanyahu is not asking Abbas to recognize the state of Israel, but Israel as a Jewish state.  This is an incredibly important difference.  If we were discussing the recognition of the state of Israel, many would argue that the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization, the governing party of the West Bank) sufficiently recognized Israel years ago.  Anyways, let’s put aside the issues of statehood for Palestine, settlements in the West Bank, etc., and focus just on Israel for a second.  Within the state of Israel itself (not the occupied territories of West Bank or Gaza), almost 20 percent of the population is Arab Israeli (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs).  This population is mainly composed of those who were living there prior to the establishment of Israel and their direct descendants.

Within Israel, the Arab Israelis are generally separated into Arab areas and towns.  This is a widely recognized observation and is even mentioned on the website linked to above for the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, albeit the website purports that this is by choice.  The Arab Israelis face many hardships in their daily lives and are truly treated as second-class citizens.  Building permits are routinely denied and when people are forced to expand illegally, they face demolition for illegal building.  These areas have substandard services such as water, sewage, electricity, infrastructure, etc.  In addition, their schools are given far less funding and face much harsher scrutiny into their curriculum.

Where am I getting this information from?  Well, many sources; but, most recently and I think the most comprehensively and compellingly from the book The Other Side of Israel by Susan Nathan.  Nathan is a Jewish woman who used the Right of Return to move from Britain to Tel Aviv after raising her children.  After spending a little time in Israel, Nathan becomes uncomfortable with the relationship between Jews and Arabs and decides to move to an Arab town to get a better sense of what it is like and what conditions the Arab Israelis face.  It is a FANTASTIC book – I highly recommend it!

So, maybe you are thinking “What makes this different from any poor neighborhood in any other country?”  One aspect is that generally if the Arab Israelis attempt to move to another more affluent neighborhood, they are often denied based solely on the fact that they are Arab.  It is also remarkably difficult for Arab Israelis to get some of the better paying jobs working for the state, again because they are Arab.

It also differs because of the extreme lack of interaction between the two sectors.  This is on BOTH sides.  Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis alike are often leery of meeting anyone from the opposite group, which only exacerbates many of the problems including the housing and occupation issues.  Perhaps if the two groups understood each other more and knew each other, than there wouldn’t be such an aversion to integrating.  It is not uncommon for someone from one group to have NEVER talked to someone from the other group.

To address this lack of understanding, some groups exist to bring Arabs and Jews together for meetings.  Also, there was a great documentary about it, Promises, released a few years ago.  In it, B.Z. Goldberg travels to Israel and interviews both Jewish and Arab Israeli children.  He asks them about their feelings toward the other and if they would ever like to meet children from the other group.  Some seemed willing, while others (on both sides) openly said that they would not be interested in that at all.  They had intense feelings about it, which likely stemmed from family members.  Eventually, the children meet and form friendships.  However, the end is not all rainbows and sunshine…(it’s on Netflix, so check it out).

Circling back – how is the situation between the Arab and Jewish Israelis connected with the current request from Netanyahu (recognition of a Jewish state)?  Many people believe that recognition of a Jewish state will have a negative impact on the Arab Israelis and their already worrisome status.  In a recent New York Times article, Mohammad Darawshe (Israeli-Arab co-executive director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, an organization that promotes coexistence and equality among Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens) was quoted saying, “I think the Jews deserve a homeland of their own, but not one that negates the rights and status of other citizens.”

Palestinian Right of Return

Another major issue with recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is the implications it could have for the right of return claim that some Palestinians would assert and would want to be part of any peace negotiations.  Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes or were displaced during the Arab Israeli wars.  Some are in the occupied territories and others are in refugee camps throughout the Middle East.  Overall, there are currently around 4 million Palestinian refugees.  Logically, if all of these refugees are allowed to move back into Israel, then Arab Israelis would soon out-number Jewish Israelis.  Now, this of course would be problematic for a nation that wants to be both a Jewish state and a democracy….

Perhaps more on Right of Return and democracy issues for a later post.

The Ball’s in Your Court

One final thing as I wrap up this very wordy post…There has been speculation that if the international community or the US perceive Netanyahu’s proposal as a genuine effort to continue the peace process, then the ball will be back in Abbas’s court.  I truly, truly hope this is not the case.  I think that the idea of asking Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for a cessation of building on settlements that are illegal and part of land that would be Palestine (in most proposals for a two-state solution) is ABSURD.  This is not a sincere gesture on Netanyahu’s part, it is politics at its worst.  It is especially irksome when you consider that by agreeing to this, Abbas could essentially be conceding one of the objectives that Palestinians would like to achieve during the peace process – right of return.

All in all, I know that the peace process seems laughable and I know that many people are pessimistic (even apathetic), but I like to remain hopeful.  Given that, I honestly hope that both sides can get away from these silly antics and get back to work on what is certainly a daunting and arduous task – creating a lasting and viable peace agreement.

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Posted by on October 27, 2010 in Foreign Policy


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Settlement Building Demolishes Peace Process

I know this is a loaded topic and all, but it’s a rainy Monday and it has been in the news a lot so I have decided to opine a little bit on Israel and Palestine – specifically, the end of the settlement construction freeze and what that means for the peace process.

I will try my best to stay on this smaller topic without too many digressions…I did write an entire honors thesis on Hamas so I know I can get a little wordy… :).

As a quick overview, settlements are areas in the West Bank and Gaza where Israeli settlers have formed communities on land that is generally accepted as land that would be part of Palestine in a two-state solution.  Of course, the obvious problem is that if Israelis are living there and building communities, then they would not likely be willing to give up their homes and lives to move if the land were to become part of Palestine.  More likely would be that Israel would take the position that these lands should be part of Israel because it would be heartless and impractical to move all of these people from their homes….ironic, huh?  Essentially, the settlements are a land grab and have been deemed illegal by the World Court.

Quote from UN Chief Ban Ki-moon: “The world has condemned Israel’s settlement plans in east Jerusalem,” Ban told a news conference after his brief tour. “Let us be clear. All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and must be stopped.”

So, for 10 months, there was a “freeze” on any construction in the settlements.  Even this freeze had loopholes and did not stop all construction.  However, for the most part it was seen as a goodwill gesture.  Now that the freeze has expired and was not extended, it leaves Abbas in a tricky position.  There is the argument that he loses credibility if he continues peace talks with Israel, as Israel seems to be undermining the process and making the facts on the ground inconsistent with peace proposals.  If Abbas continues, Palestinians may be further upset with him and feel as though he is pandering too much to Israel and America.  This could then translate into broader support for Hamas, which controls Gaza.  Or even if support is not shifted to Hamas, it may simply just dwindle and leave Palestinians feeling even more helpless and less confident in their government.

However, if Abbas pulls out of the talks, then Israel can continue what they are doing and will be able to rightly say that they did not stop the peace process – the Palestinians backed out.  Even though Israel would have essentially forced Abbas to do so, they would be technically correct.  It would be nice to think that if Abbas pulled out of the talks, then there would be international pressure on Israel to freeze the settlement building so that talks could resume.  Unfortunately, the international community seems unwilling to put pressure on Israel to do anything.  Instead, the general theme seems to be to express “disappointment” in Israel.  This is diplomatic fluff and means nothing.  With continued monetary and military aid, Israel has no reason to care if America or any other Western nation is “disappointed” with their policies.

So, if you are Abbas – what to do?  It is truly unfortunate that Abbas would have to sacrifice a little bit of integrity to be able to participate in a peace process that is unlikely to produce any real outcomes.  But what’s the alternative?  To not try at all?  In the end, I do think that it is best for Abbas to continue with the peace talks.  I also think that it is crucial for Hamas to be engaged in the process as well.  In an ideal world, the U.S. would do more than express disappointment and instead would use its assistance to Israel as leverage to help persuade Netanyahu to continue the moratorium on settlement building, return to the peace process and actually try to achieve something.  An even more savvy approach would be to include Hamas.  Hamas won elections in 2006 for a reason and to not respect those outcomes was not only ridiculous from a democracy-supporting standpoint, but was also incredibly blind to the realities for Palestinian people.

Now, if we could just get people to care a little more and become a little more educated, then maybe peace would have a tiny chance.  In the meantime, I hope for the best and am crossing my fingers that the extreme opinions on either side of this won’t de-rail an already slow-moving, dysfunctional train and ruin the chances, yet again, for the majority of the people living in that region that just want to live in peace.


Posted by on October 4, 2010 in Foreign Policy


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