Sunday, March 02, 2008

Dreams and Shadows: Robin Wright on the Future of the M.E.

Dreams and Shadows by Robin Wright was reviewed in the New York Times today. Wright is a journalist with long experience in the Middle East. Here she describes the forces of change that will determine the future of the Middle East. While the West focuses obsessively about Islamic extremism, she argues that that there are now other, more important and dynamic forces at work. She is generally optimistic describing the rise of a budding culture of change with reformers from Morocco to the Gulf slowly making their mark on civil society across the region. The reviewer of the book is skeptical noting that the influence of these reformers has been minimal as autocratic, dynastic rulers continue to thwart all attempts at change. Take Hosni Mubarak for example, according to Wright, only two other leaders have held power longer than him in Egypt's 6,000 year history. Yet, Wright argues, there are regimes that have responded, at least partially, and sometimes genuinely to the calls for change.

I hope Wright's optimism is warranted. I share her optimism some of the the time. But these days, more often than not, I share the feeling expressed by the Egyptian protester described by Wright during a demonstration in 2006 and whose poster reads: “Arab Majesties, Excellencies and Highnesses, We Spit on You”.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

"Uncle, I don't want to die"

This was the heart-wrenching scream of a Palestinian toddler suffering from severe burns inflicted by indiscriminate Israeli fire. Gaza is aflame again and a total of 61 Palestinians were killed yesterday by the Israeli army, almost half were civilians. In fact it seems to be just the beginning as an Israeli deputy defense minister threatened Gaza with holocaust (!!!) should the rockets continue to fall on Sderot and Ashkelon.

I deeply sympathize with the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza and seethe with anger at the sheer brutality of Israel's behavior. But mostly, I despair at the futility of it all. The Israeli obligingly pulverize everything in Gaza using the rockets as their excuse. Their strategy is simple: make life in Gaza a living hell until it implodes and self-destructs. But I cannot understand Hamas' strategy. What is the purpose of rockets randomly lobbed at Sderot or elsewhere? How does that help the Palestinian cause or the Palestinian people?

I am sure some readers will be indignant at these questions. Do I not understand the right to resist, to self defense, to live in honor and dignity? Sure I do, I understand and appreciate these concepts on an emotional level, but logic and rational thinking dictates that the first order of business should be self preservation. Gaza is completely surrounded by one of the world's biggest war machines and one that has no qualms about raining death and destruction by F-16 and Blackhawk helicopters. The cold hard reality is that Israel can sustain low grade hostilities (and blockades, etc) in Gaza without risking the ire of the international community but cannot go on all out offensive without a cover. But when the first pictures of the distressed people of Ashkelon whose peace and tranquility was inconvenienced by rockets hit the front pages of the international media, Israel will have all the cover it needs to pulverize what remains of Gaza. So why hand the Israelis the cover that they need?

Perhaps Hamas has some clever endgame in mind. If they do, it will come at a very high price for the Palestinian people; too high a price. There must be a better way.