Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category
Quebec Solidaire co-spokesperson (and general pain) in the ass Amir Khadir has stepped down from his party’s co-leadership role, though he will remain MNA for his riding of Mercier. I’ve narrowly escaped being represented by him by about half a block — though my local Pequiste MNA on this side of the street is not much of a consolation prize. At any rate, this leaves the relatively popular Francoise David — who was out in front during much of the last campaign — as the party’s sole spokesperson for now, and presumably leaves the door open for someone new to step up as co-leader in time for the next election.
QS is probably reacting to the upswing in popular vote that they enjoyed in the last election, which didn’t translate to seats but provided them with a foundation. Khadir has been a controversial, polarizing figure for most of his political career, and QS might be banking on more success next time around with a different face on their posters. Too, they may be reacting to the news this week that the NDP is considering forming a provincial party in Quebec, which would provide a federalist alternative for voters on the left who are unimpressed with their current options. QS is unabashedly separatist, but gets a lot of support from the progressive groups regardless of their stance on national unity, and a provincial NDP could siphon off some of that support… eventually.
Meanwhile in Laval, Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt plans to announce his resignation on Tuesday, according to new reports. He’s been hunkered down ever since the testimony of the Charbonneau Commission basically followed a trail of corruption right to his doorstep.
And here on the island, speculation is rife that Mayor Gerald Tremblay will step down as well. The wolves are circling here too, and Tremblay has a negative-a-thousand percent chance of getting re-elected or holding onto his job. Though there has been no official word yet, he probably has no choice but to step aside. The only question is whether there will be anyone worthwhile to take his place.
The opposition at city hall pretty much consists of bigots and crackpots — which is why so many of us knowingly voted for the crooks in the first place. But with anger over the impunity of the corruption — and the ill-timed tax hikes — at an all-time high, there may be no choice but to let those chips fall where they may. Personally, I don’t believe that the next mayor will be any better, since the corruption at city hall is so institutionalized as to be practically part of the walls. As Henry Aubin points out, simply booting the mayor without getting someone better in as a replacement won’t help much. It’s like covering up mould and mildew with a coat of paint; it does nothing to solve the underlying issue.
The Charbonneau Commission is bringing to light all sorts of allegations that most Quebecers assumed to be true for a long time. However, it risks being used — by the PQ, by the opposition — as a sort of witch-hunt tool. If all it does is to bring in regime change, the corruption will simply change hands to the new politicians. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Update 11/05: Tremblay has made it official.
Ten years ago today, this was the scene at Concordia University:
The riot was a culmination of more than five years of tensions at Concordia between the radical left-wing CSU groups, which were dominated by members of the pro-Palestinian group SPHR, and pro-Israel groups like Hillel.
Concordia Hillel had invited Benjamin Netanyahu, who at the time was the former Israeli PM, to speak on campus. The radical anti-Israel groups saw this as a reason to mount a mass protest, which quickly turned into a full-fledged riot. Protesters smashed windows, hurled antisemitic slogans at ticket-holders, assaulted and beat up several attendees, and were eventually contained by police. Five people were arrested and faced charges in connection with the riot. The rioting also inspired two documentary films, a rash of ill-advised free speech restrictions on campus, and worldwide infamy for my school.
I’d graduated from Concordia the previous spring, after spending three years on campus dealing with the events that led to that flashpoint, and they were fresh in my mind. As it happened, September 9th 2002 was my first day of my first post-university job, and news of what was happening back at my former campus filtered to me as I was sitting in my new office immersed in training materials.
In a way, the riot was the catalyst that inspired me to start this blog a couple of months later. I focused a lot on the goings-on and events at Concordia for the first couple of years, though the posts eventually tapered off as I gained more distance from my university years. But at the time, as a recent graduate with a lot of friends still directly involved in the day-to-day events on campus, I had a lot to say, and this blog gave me a platform to share news and views about the events that followed.
Now, a decade later, Benjamin Netanyahu is once again Israeli Prime Minister, the radical Left is busy bringing down Quebec governments and staging pots and pans protests, and Concordia University is in the hands of a new generation of student leaders who, since 2003, have been mostly moderates. However, some students have noted that the situation isn’t necessarily any less hostile to Jewish students, just quieter. Concordia has hosted an “Israel Apartheid Week“, an event by the ever-present SPHR, for the past 8 years running. Despite the presence of a couple of new pro-Israel student groups at Concordia, the tensions continue. It’s not difficult to see why Jewish students continue to choose McGill over Concordia by an overwhelming margin.
Furthermore, on university campuses across North America and Europe pro-Israel students are still dealing with having their right to free speech denied, barrages of anti-Israel propaganda from campus activist groups, “boycott Israel” events and other such nonsense. A recent study by the University of California, published in July of this year, found that:
“Jewish students are confronting significant and difficult climate issues as a result of activities on campus which focus specifically on Israel, its right to exist and its treatment of Palestinians. The anti-Zionism and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements and other manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment and activity create significant issues through themes and language which portray Israel and, many times, Jews in ways which project hostility, engender a feeling of isolation, and undermine Jewish students’ sense of belonging and engagement with outside communities.”
Another report released earlier this year found that “More than 40% of students confirm anti-Semitism on their campus; some 41% of students have encountered anti-Israel remarks made in class by professors.” From North America to Europe, the situation for Jewish students remains pretty grim.
As Quebec students continue to lobby for free or cheaper education, it’s worth asking just what sort of education they will be receiving.
A West Bank resident has been imprisoned for insulting Islam on Facebook:
A mysterious blogger who set off an uproar in the Arab world by claiming he was God and hurling insults at the Prophet Muhammad is now behind bars — caught in a sting that used Facebook to track him down.
The case of the unlikely apostate, a shy barber from this backwater West Bank town, is highlighting the limits of tolerance in the Western-backed Palestinian Authority — and illustrating a new trend by authorities in the Arab world to mine social media for evidence.
Residents of Qalqiliya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was leading a double life
Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father’s barbershop, Husayin was secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time.
Now, he faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.” Many in this conservative Muslim town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.
“He should be burned to death,” said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqiliya resident. The execution should take place in public “to be an example to others,” he added.
At a time when the United Nations is trying to pass a resolution that would make blasphemy illegal, it’s important that we see cases like these as cautionary tales of what we can expect when we allow political correctness to trump free speech. There is no free speech in the supposedly secular, liberal Palestinian Authority. None whatsoever. There is no free speech in Iran, or in Saudi Arabia, or in Egypt, or in Pakistan, or in most of the countries sponsoring the resolution. And while the supposedly pro-freedom left marches and protests against the supposedly imperialist Israel and in support of the poor, suffering Palestinians, it can never be pointed out often enough just where the free speech limits exist in that part of the world.
Nor is it only in the Arab world where these laws exist. Ireland passed anti-blasphemy laws last year. Laws against blasphemy or religious defamation exist, to some varying degree, in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Greece, in Finland… even Canada’s hate speech laws allow for a lot of grey areas and potential abuse depending on which way the political wind blows.
These types of “anti-blasphemy” resolutions and laws are just tools wielded by extremists to silence any voices of freedom or dissent. Speech – whether or not it’s offensive – should be protected, and the right to satirize, insult, offend or simply denounce religion is a right that we need to protect, for all our sakes. And that, in a nutshell, is the basis for my position on freedom of speech.
Good guest op-ed in the Gazette by Frida Ghitis: “No one much cares about what they endure, unless it can be blamed on Israel“:
Palestinians are indeed victims of mistreatment. But you won’t hear much about what they endure, unless someone can pin the blame directly on Israel. Conditions in Gaza, for example, have made for a tough existence there. But human-rights activists have turned a blind eye to the systematic assault on individual freedom that has beset the population ever since the Islamic militant movement Hamas took over in 2005.
Read the whole thing.
So what really happened in the game of “the tree was on my property” that broke out on the Israeli-Lebanese border yesterday, resulting in a lethal exchange of fire? Pajamas Media takes a crack at deciphering the finger-pointing and media spin games. And the Jerusalem Post has more on UNIFIL’s role in this mess.
Plus, a whole bunch of other wars, conflicts, armed skirmishes, and general disputes: The Power of Ridiculous Reasons:
I mention these examples because I think the world needs another ridiculous rule to solve some big problems. And it’s no fair saying my new rule is ridiculous because that’s exactly the point. The new rule would be this: Any land controlled by a country for 50 years straight is legitimately theirs. It’s like a statute of limitations for armed resistance.
Is it too soon to suggest that Dilbert be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize?
The Palestinian people, anyway. This according to a new poll conducted by Ramallah-based Near East Consulting that surveyed 880 Palestinians. Overall support for Fatah is at 48%, while Hamas is down to 11% support:
“There is widespread support for Fatah,” Dr. Jamil Rabah, director of Near East Consulting in the PA, told The Media Line. “They support the Fatah political process and don’t think Hamas is on the right path politically.”
[ . . . ]
“It doesn’t surprise me that the sentiments of the people are in this direction,” Abdallah Abdallah, chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s Political Committee, told The Media Line. “Over a year has passed since the Gaza war and still people are living in the streets. People want those responsible for this to go and I think the sentiments of the people after three or more years of this is that it’s about time that those who are not capable of running the affairs of the people – go.”
Hamas swept to power in Gaza first by exploiting people’s frustration with the corruption of the Fatah administration, and then through a violent show of force. Popular support for suicide bombings and attacks on Israeli civilians was high, and Hamas was able to claim to the world (though maybe not with an altogether straight face) that it was a “legitimate” political party. Now, after promising to “crush” Israel and succeeding in doing little more than crushing Gaza, it seems that the Hamas option has lost its shiny lustre to a lot of disillusioned Palestinians.
But it would be a mistake to take this polling data at face value. People vote out of ideology, sure, but also out of self-interest. And in the Palestinian territories, where hatred is a powerful weapon that can be stirred up almost at will to redirect people’s frustration, these things can shift quickly. There will be those who will back the strongest horse, those who go looking for the options that are even more extremist than Hamas, and those who will get disgusted with voting altogether in a place where democracy doesn’t exactly have deep roots.
We’ve seen this before. Support for a political approach rises among Palestinians when there appears to be no threat of any progress actually being made. The minute this threat arises – whether at Camp David in 2000, or after Oslo or Wye – the people balk and something triggers another wave of violence. And if it’s not Hamas out in front, then support will go towards whoever is shouting the loudest, shooting the most, and inspiring the most fear.
And what the poll won’t tell you is that the bigger picture in the Middle East is also a factor – maybe the factor. As Iran battles Saudi Arabia for regional dominance, Hamas is engaged in something of a proxy war against Iran-sponsored Hezbollah, jockeying for power using the gruesome metric of dead Israeli civilians as credentials.
But, for the moment at least, Hamas’s popular support is way down. And if the Palestinians actually had real elections, this might actually have implications.
The U.N. nuclear agency on Thursday expressed concern for the first time that Iran may currently be working on ways to turn enriched uranium into a nuclear warhead, instead of having stopped several years ago.
Its report appears to contradict an assessment by Washington that Tehran suspended such activities in 2003. It appears to jibe with the concerns of several U.S. allies that Iran may never have suspended such work.
Really now? What tipped them off? Ahmadinejad has been playing nuclear chicken with the United Nations for years. What exactly caused the U.N. to wake up today and tentatively acknowledge blazingly obvious reality, instead of continuing to close its eyes as it has been all along? Why now?
That’s the big question, after all. For the United Nations to even make such a statement, there has to have been a sea change somewhere else behind the scenes that triggered it. If China or Russia is prepared to put more pressure on Iran, this could be indicative of a change in the game, even if the U.N.’s statements are, in and of themselves, essentially worthless. The world will be watching closely, that’s for certain.