middle east

The irony of Republican opposition to intervention in Libya 1

With republican heavyweights like Newt Gingrich and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen showing absolutely no reluctance to reverse course on policy in Libya as soon as President Obama actually began to enforce a no-fly zone, it’s worth looking at their opinions from another perspective.

Back in 2001, when former President George W Bush decided to invade Iraq, the decision was made on the pretense that Iraq was amassing weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to Al Qaeda. As many of us at the time said, neither assertion was true, and time has proven us correct. Nonetheless, Bush and his cronies sent American soldiers into Iraq and now nearly a decade later, tens of thousands of them are still there despite the fact that Iraq has never attacked America.

Now the question is what to do about Libya. We largely stood by and watched while the people of Tunisia and Egypt overthrew their entrenched leaders and we are doing the same now in Syria and Yemen.

Many republicans are now staunchly opposed to action in Libya even though they were all for it just a few weeks ago. What nobody seems to be mentioning is the fact that unlike Iraq, Muammar Ghadaffi actually has had his agents attack American interests including Pan Am flight 103 and a German disco frequented by American soldiers. Despite the fact that Ghadaffi actually has a history of attacking Americans (something that Saddam Hussien never actually did) Gingrich and Ros-Lehtinen are opposing action in Libya.

That’s not to say that U.S. forces should be involved, because the results of this are certainly unclear. My point is simply that the Republican leadership are just a bunch of political hacks and hypocrites who stand for nothing more than to oppose a Democratic president in order to further their own ambitions.

Al Jazeera English now available on Roku

For those looking forĀ  more intelligent and thoughtful coverage of what is really going on in Egypt, Al Jazeera English is the place to go. Unfortunately, there isn’t a major cable company in the United States with the guts to carry the Qatar-based channel.

However, thanks to modern streaming technology viewers can bypass the gate keepers at KableTown. If you have a Roku hooked up to your TV, add the Newscaster channel and you will now find Al Jazeera English listed as one of the available programs.
Roku rocks!

Categorizing people 1

There have been some interesting comments on my previous post on Arab Jews. I am by no means a scholar on Middle Eastern history and never meant to imply that. Having said that I think that my knowledge of the region, it’s people and culture surpasses that of most Americans. My post was not meant to be a definitive answer on the subject in any way. In fact it was a fairly simplistic response to a very complex question. I think it was generally accurate as far as it went, but it was definitely not comprehensive. Rather than continuing to pursue the original question, I want to attack it from a different direction.

Why do humans insist on categorizing and dividing everyone? When humans had to catch their food in order to survive and they were under constant threat of either starving or being eaten, it may have made sense to to divide the world in to things that were good to eat and things that you want to avoid. But in the 21st century, it is no longer necessary. We need to stop putting labels on everyone and dividing people into “US” and “THEM”. We are all humans. We all need to learn to live together and stop finding ways to divide ourselves. The reason the original question was so difficult to answer was because with 6.5 billion people on the planet, and endless variations of religions and cultures, you could divide the population into as many categories as there are people. But all this does is drive us all apart instead of pulling us together. In order for our species to survive beyond the next few decades, we need to work together to find solutions to our problems.

Instead of trying to define everyone with labels, we need to move beyond labels. We need to stop being black, white, muslim, jew, christian, hindu and countless other labels. We need to become just humans. We need to stop killing each other because we have different beliefs. Rather the day to day survival of each person as an individual, we face the threat of making this planet uninhabitable to all of us as a species. We potentially face our extinction. In light of some of the things that humans have done in the past, it might be debatable whether we even should survive. But if we are going to survive we need to refocus, and start thinking of ourselves as part of the human family. We are all individuals and we all have our unique personalities. This is a good thing. However, we also all have a lot in common. Let’s forget the labels. It doesn’t matter any more.

Arab Jews? 7

Last night Jules asked me a very interesting question. She had gone out to breakfast yesterday with a friend and the question came up of “Is there such a thing as Arab Jews?” There is not a clear cut answer to this question. I am not by any stretch an authority but based on my heritage and readings I will attempt to provide some insight to the question. Keep in mind that my answers are not to be considered definitive and if you’re interested I would suggest reading more about the history of the region. The answer depends on the direction you approach the question from. From the racial perspective, all the people of the middle east region are considered semitic peoples. Within that however, in various there are various sub-groups. In the geographic region that comprises Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Israel/Palestine (and to some degree northern Egypt) most of the people are actually descendants of the semitic people who have lived in the region for several millenia, and also the Greeks and Romans who conquered and occupied the region in the centuries after Alexander the Great. Further to the south in the Arabian Peninsula most of the people are more “purely” native. Over the centuries many of the people migrated to Europe and became what are considered European Jews but they are still largely descended from those people. Strictly speaking from a racial viewpoint there is no real distinction between “Arabs” and “Jews”.

The people that today are known as Arabs and Jews are historically the same people. The differences such as they are today more cultural and ethnic, than genetic. The idea of an Arab-Jew is somewhat analogous to a French-German or a Greek-Italian. They are people who live adjacent to each other but are separated by cultural, linguistic and religious differences. The people who are considered Arabs live in countries that speak Arabic. Beyond that there are many groups in the Arab world that have as many differences as commonalities. There are “Arab” countries stretching from Iraq and Lebanon in the east and north to Morocco and Algeria in the west. Within these countries probably the majority would count themselves as Muslims. To varying degrees in the different countries a large proportion of those would be considered secular in that they may not go to the mosque all the time and pray 5 times a day. There are also branches of Islam, most notably Sunni and Shiite and to lesser degrees other groups. In certain areas, particularly to the east in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq there are substantial numbers of Christians as well. And of course there are also groups of Jews in each of these countries. Clearly the populations of Arabic speaking nations are not a homogeneous group either in terms of religion, or culture.

Those who are typically thought of as Jews typically speak Hebrew, and believe in Judaism in some form. However, as with the Arabs, the Jews are a very diverse group. Because many of the Jews left Palestine in the first couple of centuries CE following the Roman suppression of the rebellions, there was a fairly large Jewish diaspora. As a result, when many of their descendants returned to Israel in the latter half of the twentieth century, they brought many cultures, languages and sects of Judaism with them. There are Jews from Russia, Europe, America, and Africa who all have differences. In Israel today there is a very diverse population including Israeli Arabs. Israeli Arabs are people who lived in Palestine and there descendants who stayed after 1948. They were granted Israeli citizenship but culturally they are Arabs.

Israel is a Jewish state but not all it’s citizens are Jews. Similarly, there are Jews in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries. Israeli-Arabs often speak Hebrew (as well as Arabic) as a necessity of life in the society. Jews in the Arab countries also typically would speak Arabic as well as Hebrew and would citizens of Jordan, Syria, etc. So what you would have is Jordanian-Jews, Lebanese-Jews etc. So I guess the answer to the question is that there aren’t Arab-Jews but there are Jews living in Arab countries, just as there are Arabs living the Jewish country. Altogether a long-winded and possibly not entirely satisfying answer to a complex question. Hopefully though, it can provide a little bit insight into the people and culture of the region.