Sunday, March 8, 2009

Extortion as a political ploy: from Sudan to our US Congress

The Morality of politicians is always suspect. And for most of us, a politician of integrity and solid principle is the exception rather than the rule. This applies everywhere, and regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Two news items, from very different parts of the world, were cases in point for me.

The first case comes from one of the most forsaken places where bloodshed, rape, ethnic cleansing and vicious starvation have been the norm for over a decade. That place is Darfur. the northwest territory of Sudan. Nothing compares to the scarcity of food and morality in that part of the world than the dearth of information about the truth of what has been going in Darfur. The true story underlying ethnic, social and economic strife there has never been told adequately by unbiased and honest people. The little that is truthful about the situation there is lost in the midst of the widespread lore about it, lore that depends on where you are on the planet, and on what your favorite media outlet is. On the one hand you find islamophobes and hardcore pro-Israeli groups who championed the cause of the poor people of Darfur as a way to sustain the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab feelings in some parts of the West. Their popular narrative is that 'Muslim Arabs' are committing genocide against 'black Africans', forgetting the simple truth that on both sides, Sudanese people are Africans and black. Moreover, most of the displaced and starved people of Darfur are actually Muslims too.

The horror described in darfur is real, but the descriptors of the victims and perpetrators are expedient.

On the other hand, you find the apologists for any government or group lead by an Arab or a Muslim whose first knee-jerk reaction is to blame 'Crusaders, Zionists, and Colonialists' for any evil in the world without giving a damn about the truth in the matter under study. They easily rush to defend those with Muslim names without spending a moment to figure out for themselves if those Muslims are on the right path or not.

Frequently, those apologists rush to the defense of Muslims accused by Western and non-Muslim agencies, forgetting - or ignoring - that the victims of the accused Muslims are frequently their own people - who mostly are also Muslims. In the zeal to defend some of their own, they trample on the rights of the victims amongst their own.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir, on war crimes charges over six-year counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur that claimed 150,000 lives in some estimates.

And, like any other dictatorship in that part of the world, the leadership manages to get the people to 'erupt in spontaneous demonstrations' defying the world, and announcing their loyalty to the 'infallible' leadership [that, in my opinion, generally runs their economy, civil rights and national interests in the ground for one decade after the other].

And like any cruel dictator that gets stuck in a corner, they resort to extortion.

Al-Bashir has actually decided that his response to the international charges and warrants -- be it right or not -- would not be by logical discourse and setting fact-finding mutually agreeable missions and in legal and public opinion arenas, but would be to ban tens of the largest international humanitarian groups from providing food and services to the beleaguered people of Darfur.

I guess for such a leader and his apologists, starving few more thousand people to death in the area he is accused of committing war crimes against seems like a rational response to the ICC charges.

So, this is happening in a part of the worlds we think of as backward, clannish, and full of zealots. How about one of our politicians doing the same thing? It is not as inconceivable as you may think it is.

Less than 2 months ago, Israel waged a large scale destructive campaign against Hamas in Gaza. The horror inflicted on Gaza Elderly, women, children and non-combatant civilians has not been forgotten. The whole world saw first hand the cruelty of the Israeli Military in their desire to punish Gaza for 'harboring Hamas', or punishing Hamas militants by killing their families, neighbors and destroying their impoverished cities.

While that was a form of extortion (and even war crimes as per the pending law suits against Israel in some European courts at present), it is not the extortion I am talking about here. I am talking about something closer to home; something committed by our tax-dollar salaried employees that carry the title of 'honorable' representative of the US people.

Few weeks after the pace of Gaza war slowed down (it is not over yet, in case you have not been following the news) our new Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, did something that makes sense, and is actually admirable. Clinton announced that the US is dedicating $900 millions of aid for Gaza reconstruction effort. This is a rare instance where the American government has engaged in such a high profile effort that truly aims at helping Palestinians in distress, despite the US government ideological disagreement with those in authority in Gaza.

I admired the announcement, and it gave me some hope that finally we, Americans, can reach to the average person on the Arab street in a way that positively influences their lives without our help being conditional. To put it simply, we are helping because they need our help. This simple announcement by Clinton showed a level of political maturity that I pray will continue so that our moral integrity is revived after years of dormancy, and years of the usual expediency especially in our Middle East foreign policy.

But a US congress person could not help but try to throw the wrench in the gearbox. According to Haaretz in an article titled Proposal in Congress: No Gilad Shalit, no Gaza aid, "Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada drafted a petition to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which demanded that the financial aid be delayed for as long as the rocket fire continues and Shalit remains in captivity."

In the eyes of the 'honorable' representative Shelley Berkley of Nevada, Gaza people are collectively responsible for the Israeli soldier's return. Never mind that Israel failed to find him or save him over 3 years despite its military might, the thousands or tens of thousands of Israel's agents operating in the Palestinian territories and despite Israel's total control over all borders and communication lines in and out of the poor Gaza strip. Still, the average Gaza person should be held hostage -- in the eyes of the honorable representative -- till they bring back the Israeli soldier.

In the eyes of the congress woman, described by Haaretz as "a Jewish politician well-known in Congress for her support of Israel", extortion of the poor people of Gaza is a legitimate thing to do -- although expedient seems a more appropriate word than legitimate. In her eyes, the desire to support Israel gets her to petition to block one of the few resolutions in recent history that we, Americans, can use to show that we stand with innocent people regardless of who is oppressing them, be it Omar Bashir or Israel.

Her co-sponsor for the extortion petition, the 'honorable' Mike Coffman of Colorado, said that "Giving the money to the Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip is no different than giving the money directly to Hamas...".

These 'honorable ones' are paid from my tax dollars, and the tax dollars of my fellow Americans, to represents our American interests. I would love to see how they see their petition (promoting the suffering of 1.5 million Palestinians till they produce the Israeli soldier) as serving the American public relations effort, American national interests or American foreign policy long term goals.

The distance between the President of Sudan and some of our members of Congress is vast, but extortion at the expense of the poor and oppressed seems like a useful political ploy of universal appeal.

As for my tax dollars paying the salaries of the honorable pair: does any one know how I can get my money back?



  1. I agree that giving aid relief to Gaza shouldn't be conditional on whether Gilad Schalit is released.

    But how does one insure that Hamas doesn't get any piece of the pie? Also, don't forget how many Gazans danced in the street on 9/11.

    Supporters of the bill that would block aid from going into Gaza would ask, "How can I get my money back?" if aid does go to Gaza.

    It all relies on where your interests are. Some would support giving aid to Gaza because they just share a religious bond (Muslim) with them. Some would support giving aid to Gaza because it is partially America's responsibility and like we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, we are also responsible to rebuild it no matter whether you supported the invasion.

    To others who are against giving aid to Gaza, it is not because they are Israel-philes but because Gazans need to learn not to provoke Israel and support Hamas. This might be cold and partially collective punishment but how would one ensure security to the Israeli populace. I say "partially" because sometimes hurting some people benefits the greater good. An example to help explain this - if you know that a child is infected with a deadly disease which can easily pass from one person to the other is in a classroom, would you quarantine the classroom the child is in dooming the rest of the class to become infected, or would you not quarantine the classroom and risk having some unknown infected children leave and most surely infect the entire population beyond containment.

    Of course I'm exaggerating. Unless you are a staunch supporter of Hamas, you'll support measures that would hurt Hamas. But to most people that do care about the well being of the Palestinians and aren't supporters of Hamas, I guess the only issue they would have with this "partial collective punishment" is that they see Hamas rockets or any other Hamas threat as insignificant. To Israel, the rockets aren't insignificant and if Hamas got more and better weapons to achieve the goals stated in their charter, the security situation would be much dire.

  2. That Picture from CNN showing People in Gaza dancing after 9/11 was a false one and in reality it was from 1991 during the first Gulf war when Sadam launched scud missiles against Israel,( by the way I do not approve either one,not the missiles launched nor the reaction of the people).Until we understand the reality of the Palestinian suffering and the unjust ices committed against the average Palestinian as a human being ,we will never be able to achieve a just and lasting peace, We have to look much deeper in to the problem and not to ignore it is roots and ramifications.In my opinion the conflict is much bigger than the Gaza issue,or one single soldier held hostage ( remember Israel Holds 12000 Palestinians in prisons). THE ISRAELI PALESTINIAN PROBLEM NEEDS AN OPEN MINDED PEOPLE FROM BOTH SIDES TO ADDRESS THE REAL ISSUES AND TO SOLVE THEM FAIRLY ,AND BY DOING THIS ALL THE EXTREMISTS MOVEMENTS WILL HAVE NO BASE TO STAND ON.