Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hero of the Day

Notice that David Ignatius of The Washington Post shows the same kind of objectivity and fairness in moderating the discussion between Turkish Prime Minster Erdogan and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres as he does when he covers Middle East issues in his newspaper.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Danger of Dennis Ross Still Looms

Believe it or not, and contrary to the direction some of my formerly Obama-maniac friends are going, I am actually becoming more hopeful in what is possible under an Obama administration. Anyone who was present among the masses gathered during inauguration can't deny that this guy is different, or at least different enough that it is worth engaging him. Instead of withdrawing, the progressive forces who are responsible for bringing Obama to power should continue to press him to make sure that he is held accountable for his promises.

And many have been doing that already. It appears that the outcry against Dennis Ross as the Special Middle East Envoy was successful. The appointment of Mitchell, while sure not to please everyone in the progressive community, is certainly perceived by most as a positive development.

Unfortunately, insiders in DC are now discussing rumors that while Ross may not receive any kind of "envoy" status, he may still be in charge of an "Iran Portfolio." The scope and nature of this position is not yet clear, but for all of the reasons outlined in my previous post, putting Ross in charge of Iran policy is tantamount to putting the wolf in charge of the chicken coop.

If Obama is serious about changing Iran policy, then he must steer clear of appointing someone who could have easily been appointed by the Bush-Cheney administration. While I understand the pragmatism and rhetoric of "working with both sides of the aisle," there is no need to reach out to extremists and place them in the most sensitive posts.

I hope everyone who is well-placed, or not so well-placed, will speak out against the appointment of Dennis Ross to any and all government positions dealing with Iran or the region more broadly.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pictures from Pre-Inauguration Concert in DC

Approaching the site of the concert, the Washington memorial can be seen on the left, and Stevie Wonder is on the screen:

A view of some of the port-a-potties (something like five thousand total) that are supposed to serve the couple of million people who are going to be on the mall on Tuesday:

The FBI and other security forces:

A view of the lincoln monument. U2 was playing and I think you can catch a glimpse of them on the screen:

This is another view of the lincoln monument during Obama's speech (you can see him on the screen):

These were among the many kitschy items for sale today:

This guy was my favorite person of the day. What I really wanted a picture of was his full length fur coat, but that was covered by what you can see is a very large portrait. He said he was here all the way from Minneapolis.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dennis Ross as "Special Envoy to Iran"

Around three days ago, CNN reported that Dennis Ross was likely to be appointed "ambassador at large" to the Middle East. While some insiders in DC are reporting that the Ross appointment as ambassador at Large/special envoy to Iran is not yet a 100% done deal, the fact that he appears to be the top candidate is very telling.

For those who may not know Ross, I am including below a list of relevant facts. Ross (along with Martin Indyk) are well-known for their disastrous impact on Palestine-Israel issues, but I am going to limit most of my points here to facts which will highlight why Ross will also be a huge disaster for Iran:

- Ross (again with Martin Indyk) co-founded the self-described "America's Pro-Israel Lobby", AIPAC, as well as its "think-tank" arm, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

-Ross was the director for policy planning in the State Department under President George H.W. Bush.

-In a November 2008 piece in Newsweek, Ross, after repeating all of the familiar--and baseless-- accusations about an Iranian nuclear weapon, insisted that "the more Washington shows it's willing to engage Iran directly, the more these other parties, will feel comfortable ratcheting up the pressure." This stance against straightforward negotiations , of course, in direct contradiction to Obama's campaign-time statements about his plans to hold unconditional talks with Iran.

-In a April 2008 testimony to Congress, Ross' options for "diplomacy" include suggestions to "tighten the noose" on Iran (meaning more devastating sanctions on the people of Iran). Although he says that he is for talks with "pressure", it seems to be a smokescreen so that they can say they tried diplomacy. Ross directly reveals this cunning strategy when he says: "Tougher policies—either military or meaningful containment—will be easier to sell internationally and domestically if we have diplomatically tried to resolve our differences with Iran in a serious and credible fashion."

For further reading on Ross and further proof (as if one needed it) for why Obama's-change-is-a-joke, you can see the following links:

-Dennis Ross interview with Nathan Gardels on the Huffington Post

-Top Obama Adviser Has Long Ties to Neocons by Michael Flynn.

-Obama's Neocon in Residence by Philip Giraldi

-The Same Old Change:Obama's Middle East 'czar' signals the Lobby's still in charge by Justin Raimondo

Friday, January 09, 2009

My friend Sima sent me the above photo from the gathering to protest the unprovoked murder of 22 year old Oscar Grant in Oakland, CA.

In case you can't read the sign, it says "Justice for Oscar Grant! Justice for Gaza! End Government Sponsored Murder in the Ghettos of Oakland and Palestine."

If you can stomach the horror, here is the video of the police officer shooting Oscar Grant in the back at point blank range. As you will be able to see, Grant was on the ground, on his stomach, in a position of surrender.

For the massacres in the Gaza ghetto, there are too many ghastly images to post, but this video posted in an earlier comment section, is another sad example of government sponsored, unaccountable murder of innocent civilians.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

"a big concentration camp" and the Ashura of our Time

You can always count on Ron Paul to say it like it is, as he did in this statement a few days ago, where he described Palestinians as being confined in a big "concentration camp" in Gaza. A representative of the Pope also spoke out in calling Gaza "a big concentration camp". I'm sure both the Pope and Ron Paul will shortly be bombarded with accusations of antisemitism.

In addition to nightmarish visions of Nazi concentration camps, the situation in Gaza is also prompting many to compare it to Ashura, the day on the Islamic calendar month of Muharram marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammad. On his way to Kufa, at the Battle of Karbala, Hossein and his small army of men, along with scores of womenandchildren, were slaughtered by the massive army of Yazid, and the historic battle is often viewed as a symbol of the importance of fighting against injustice, even if one is outnumbered and facing a brutal army that shows no mercy.

One of the things still mourned to this day is the failure of the people of Kufa and others to come to the aid of Hossein.

The orientalists working for the Israeli Ministry of foreign affairs, apparently in their zeal to further the strife they have been creating and nurturing between Shia and Sunni, seem to have been so convinced about their own narratives about Shia/Sunni dischord that they figured bombing during Muharram would go unnoticed by the Muslim world.

Well, it hasn't. Calling Gaza the Ashura of our times in a recent speech, Hassan Nassrollah successfully tapped into the resonance of this story in a way that goes beyond Sunni/Shia divisions.

In addition to fueling world outrage against itself, Israel may have also dealt a blow to the US-Israel project of fostering Shia-Sunni sectarianism.

Yesterday, in marking Ashura, Iranians also remembered Gaza, making the same link between the historical tale of injustice and the story playing out before our very eyes. You may be surprised if you see the faces of some of the people who joined this commemoration, here is one example:

(original picture from here)

Despite the best efforts of State Department funded VOA and similar stations trying to brainwash the Iranian people to worry about their own troubles (why don't you take your own advice, State Department!), there are plenty of Iranians who can think and see for themselves.

I am happy that people of various beliefs, in Iran and throughout the world, are putting aside their ideological differences and joining one another in raising their voice against the massacres of Gaza.

Thousands of protesters around the world. The UN. Ron Paul. The Pope. Girls in Tehran with too much make-up and girls with their plastic surgery bandages still on their nose. I'm proud to be part of this diverse group!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Continuing Pressures on Shirin Ebadi

While I am still critical of Ebadi's statement on Gaza and other issues, she makes some important points in an interview published today about all of the pressure she has been under. I've translated a few excerpts from it and pasted it below. I have to say that I admire her tenacity and was moved by her declaration that she would never leave Iran. Countless people would have long left Iran if they faced the troubles she has faced; in fact, sadly, many people go looking for trouble just so they can have a remotely believable reason for asylum applications. There is a guy here in DC, one of Tabarzadi's gang now working for Voice of America, who apparently used to seek out and take money from desperate Iranian refugees in Turkey, promising in exchange to put their names in "student movement" newsletters so they could claim that they were politically active and couldn't go back to Iran. Anyway, back to Ebadi and the interview:

Question: Some say that one of the goals of these pressures is to force you to leave Iran. What do you think about this?

Answer: I can only say that as long as I am alive, I will leave Iran under no conditions. I am an Iranian and must live, work, and die in Iran.

Question: Mr. Ahmadinejad once said that he is willing to provide you with protection given the threats that had been made against you. But you did not accept. Why not?

Answer: My aim is defend all citizens. Providing body guards for one or a few people will not solve anything. Society should be safe and calm for all citizens so that they can live in complete security. And I'm sorry that I had to call the police for help on Thursday and two people from Yusuf-abad even came, but in their presence and right in front of their eyes, [the protestors] tore down the sign from my office and spray painted slogans against me all over the walls. And the police showed no reaction. My legal question for them is this: do gatherings and protests require permits or no? If they are not needed and the police did not stop those who attacked my house, then how come when women show the slightest protest in opposition to discriminatory laws, they deal with them in the harshest of ways? And if gatherings do require permits, then how come the police didn't deal with [the protesters] and just stood there watching? And if they had a permit, then they must announce which authority granted them that permit. This is a legal question and I put it out their for general consideration.

Question: How long will you bear these illegal actions?

Answer: As long as I am alive.

The full article in Persian is available here (I think this may be a fishy website, but the only other option was to link to gooya, so it is a lose-lose situation. If this interview appears on a less troubling site, I'll replace the link).

Thursday, January 01, 2009

More Empty and Shameful Statements

Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and her organization, the Defenders of Human Rights Center, have been under a tremendous amount of pressure lately. First, the Iranian authorities shut down the Center on December 21, then they confiscated documents from Ebadi's private law office on December 29, and just this morning, a group of about 150 protesters showed up at her private residence, condemning her silence on Gaza.

It goes without saying that official harassment of Ebadi and her colleagues is unacceptable and must end immediately, but when one reads the maddeningly inane statement Ebadi's Defenders of Human Rights Center just put out, it is hard not to feel frustrated with its calculating hypocrisy. Had Ebadi not said anything at all, it would have been better. I have copied and pasted the full translated statement below in italics, with my comments after each paragraph:

What has transpired in recent days in Gaza has been cause for serious concern of human rights defenders and supporters of peace around the world. The raw and extreme violence perpetuated in Gaza has injured the conscience of humanity and it is clear that such developments will only work to further endanger sustainable world peace.

"What has transpired" and the "extreme violence perpetuated"? What, pray tell, has transpired and by whom? I understand the prevalence of passive construction in Persian, I use it all the time myself, but why doesn't Ebadi's statement name Israel in this or any other paragraph? Why don't they give us a sense of "what has transpired"? Why so vague?

The defenseless women and children of the region have been victimized even further by the perpetrators of violence who fathom nothing else but increasing their own power.

Here we go with the womenandchildren again. Are womenandchildren the only ones victimized? Are all dead, wounded, or starving men in the Gaza strip fair targets? And to say that these womenandchildren are victimized "by the perpetrators of violence who fathom nothing else but increasing their own power," is this not the most thinly veiled accusation against Hamas and only Hamas?

The world community has grown tired and impatient with the acts of murder, bloodshed and violence, and what is taking place in Gaza today is yet another example of these bitter and bloody events.

Ok, yes, "the world community", whatever that phrase means, have grown tired of bloodshed. But you know what else is tiresome? Carefully crafted statements by so-called human rights organizations who don't have the guts to call a spade a spade when it comes to anything having to do with Israel and Palestine. This used to be a problem that was particularly evident in the case of US-based organizations, but I guess when you start imagining that your main audience are the US-based groups who invite you to their conferences and arrange speaking tours for you, you have to adjust your language to that which pleases them.

We call upon the international community to react quickly and with force through whatever means possible to end the murder and violence in Gaza, and call upon humanitarian organizations to take necessary steps to defend the basic human rights of the citizens of Gaza and to quickly, seriously and effectively respond to and address the needs of victims in Gaza.

Even in the concluding paragraph, the writers can't bring themselves to name the perpetrators or to give an example of the violence they claim to abhor.

I haven't been this disappointed in Ebadi since she decided to parrot the US demands on Iran regarding the nuclear issue.

The Office for the Consolidation of Unity,dafter-e Tahkeem-e Vahdat, put out a statement on Gaza that was so shamefully bad that it makes Ebadi's look like a the work of a conscientious radical. I may write about them in another post, though I am not sure if they are worth the effort. It suffices to say for now, that I wouldn't expect anything more from a group whose leaders/role models are the likes of former NED fellow Ali Afshari and AEI favorite Akbar Atri.