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Prospects For South Asia

In a new report by the Century Foundation, entitled “Wake Up, Pakistan,” climate change is mentioned repeatedly, as it is a central issue that will affect the region. Here is a sampling:

• “Climate change…promises to create serious problems in the future, of which the catastrophic floods in Pakistan in the past few years are only the beginning.”

• “Pakistan must take into account reduced water yields due to climate change…”

• “…the prospect that anthropogenic (man-made) climate change will negatively impact economic and humanitarian development throughout the region… In a scenario of rapid climate change the region could see massive refugee flows as areas become uninhabitable.”

• “In a 2013 poll by the Australian-based Lowy Institute, 83 percent of Indians identified climate change as a big threat over the next ten years.”

The future of Pakistan in particular is highly relevant to the geopolitical concerns of top policy-makers. The report, authored by Michael Wahid Hanna, Mosharaf Zaidi, and Robert Finn (identified as the “Principal Investigators”), quotes Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, saying that Pakistan, “a country of 180 million people [now 200 million], likely to be 300 million by mid-century, that borders India, China, Iran and the Arabian Sea will matter to the US, no matter what it did or did not do with bin Laden.” Islamabad, Hanna et al write, has a “deeply complex partnership” with Washington, along with “longstanding ties” with Beijing, “Pakistan’s ‘all-weather’ friend.”

Pakistani ties with Tehran are worrisome to senior American officials, who have “objected” to the idea of Iran “offer[ing] to help build natural gas infrastructure to Pakistan.” Further, “Recent press reports suggest that China is willing to finance the construction of Pakistan’s portion of the pipeline.” Such a cooperative deal between Iran and Pakistan, although many people in Foggy Bottom (and the Pentagon, perhaps) may see it as anathema, “has the potential to ameliorate Iranian-Pakistani ties, in turn reducing Sunni/Shi’a tensions, as well as lessening tensions in Balochistan,” and thus “could be an early, positive reaction to an Iranian nuclear agreement” with the western powers.

In a section titled “Pakistan on a Glide Path toward Failure,” the report observes that the United States “is in the initial stages of a strategic reassessment directed to the shifting of resources and attention to East Asia,” which is a pivoting that “should take into account the potential risks of what might happen to the South Asia region in a status quo or declining scenario.”

With regard to the status quo, Islamabad “has no desire for the Taliban to take control in Afghanistan, but its military and intelligence arms are still attracted to using them as leverage.” Worse, “In a deteriorating scenario, we should expect a continued disconnect between elite decision-makers and the population at large,” in which “most of the electorate are losing or have lost trust in the traditional parties” and “could further give strength to fringe elements, including ultra-nationalist and Islamist movements whose interests would diverge even further from the international community’s.” Everyone who is interested in the future of this critical part of the world should read this report, and take heed.

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The Subjection of Arab Women

There are moments when clarity burns through the screen, incinerating any semblance of doubt. Such a moment happened to Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American activist who received a startling bulletin from Human Rights Watch in 2002 that reported an abominable crime. A girl’s school caught on fire, and fifteen were trampled to death — with another fifty-two injured. “Parents and journalists angrily demanded the resignation of education officials they accused of incompetence and corruption.” The school, dangerously overcrowded, packed about “eight hundred schoolgirls … into a building designed for only two hundred fifty. The main gate to the school was locked. There were no emergency exits, no fire alarms, and no fire extinguishers in the building.” Horrific as it may sound, this is not the most depraved aspect. “Firefighters told the Saudi press that morality police had forced the girls to stay inside the burning building because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas that women must wear in public in that kingdom. One Saudi paper reported that the morality police had stopped men who tried to help the girls escape the building, including firefighters, saying, ‘It is sinful to approach them.’”

At the age of fifteen, Eltahawy lived in Saudi Arabia, where she was “traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — because to be a female in Saudi Arabia is to be the walking embodiment of sin.” The country “is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic god and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to the triple advantage of having oil; being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina; and controlling the flow of petrodollars that keep the weapons manufacturers of its Western allies happily funded.” The key problem is institutionalized, religiously-sanctioned patriarchy, which holds women down so thoroughly that they risk internalizing, and often do internalize, their own oppression. Eltahawy’s argument is at its strongest when she explores the intersectionality between religion, culture, and politics, a matrix of control that keeps half of the population in bondage. She writes,

Male-dominated religions and cultures, which cater to male sexuality with barely a nod to women’s desires, are difficult enough to endure without the judgments of fellow women. I know where these judgments come from; I recognize the need to conform. That need internalizes misogyny and subjugation, so much so that mothers will deny daughters the same pleasure and desire they were denied, and will call them “whores” for seeking it. In order to survive, women police their daughters’ bodies and their own, subsuming desire for the “honor” and the family’s good name.

The triune authority of regime-street-home forms the crux which lays out how the social forces of reactionary culture and religion, coated with a veneer of political rhetoric, subjugate half the human race. Put more simply, in an interview with the New York Times Magazine, “the enemy is misogyny and patriarchy.” “We are in denial if we do not honestly reckon with the role of religion in maintaining the patriarch’s rule at home, including how the men of religion help him to uphold his rule.” Activists at the first-ever regional conference on sexual harassment, which took place in Cairo in 2009, and was attended by representatives from seventeen Arab countries, concluded that harassment was unchecked across the region because “laws don’t punish it, women don’t report it, and the authorities ignore it.” Eltahawy first unleashed a firestorm with an article for Foreign Policy magazine in May 2012 titled “Why Do They Hate Us?” — an experience that led to her feeling like she is “walking into a minefield” when discussing misogyny in the Arab world, putting her between a rock, “a bigoted and racist Western right wing” that co-opts some of what she wrote to confirm their own prejudices, and a hard place, liberals in the West who “are blind to the cultural imperialism they are performing when they silence critiques of misogyny.” Her critics on the left “behave as if they want to save my culture and faith from me, and forget that they are immune to the violations about which I speak,” whereas on the other side, her right-wing critics are “driven by a covert racism.”

Lest anyone suspect that misogyny and sexism have been stamped out everywhere else, “Street sexual harassment is not exclusive to the Middle East and North Africa. It is a disturbing reality for too many women around the world. But a combination of societal, religious, and political factors has made the region’s public spaces uniquely dangerous for women.” In a panel discussion held at the Aspen Institute titled Women and the Arab Revolutions, Eltahawy declared, “You cannot be free when half of your society is oppressed.” Eltahawy is an Arab-Muslim woman, a fearless polemicist, and a self-described provocateur. In the central chapter, Eltahawy quotes Egyptian feminist thinker Nawal el-Saadawi. “Arab society,” el-Saadawi wrote,

still considers that the fine membrane which covers the aperture of the external genital organs is the most cherished and most important part of a girl’s body, and is much more valuable than one of her eyes, or an arm, or a lower limb. An Arab family does not grieve as much at the loss of a girl’s eye as it does if she happens to lose her virginity. In fact if a girl lost her life, it would be considered less of a catastrophe than if she lost her hymen.

During a taping of the TV show “Head to Head” in Oxford Union, on Al Jazeera English in February 2014, after sharing her story of having worn the veil only to finally remove it for good years later, Eltahawy was “chided” by a woman in the audience who wore a full-face covering (known as a niqab) after Eltahawy made it clear that she supports a public ban on wearing it. The woman with the niqab believed that “I was preventing her from completing her own journey” with questions of identity. After the show, the same woman approached the author, this time without a niqab. “I was shocked and asked her to explain why she wasn’t covering her face.” The woman explained that she wore it “depending on the situation,” to which Eltawahy rejoindered that “women in the Middle East and North Africa did not have such a privilege.” In an earlier episode, she is accosted by a niqab-wearing woman, in Cairo, who asked point-blank, “Why aren’t you wearing a niqab?” Eltahawy was dressed quite conservatively, but it didn’t matter. “Isn’t what I’m wearing enough?” she plaintively asks, to which the fully-covered woman says, “If you want to eat a piece of candy, would you choose one that is in a wrapper or an unwrapped one?” Eltahawy’s answer is devastatingly succinct: “I’m a woman, not a piece of candy.”

Manal al-Sharif, one of many women activists who are the heroes of Eltahawy’s book, is a Saudi citizen fighting for the right to drive a car. (Saudi Arabia is the only state in the world that does not accord women this right.) In 2011, al-Sharif told the press “that the storm begins with just one raindrop and argued that the kingdom cannot forever keep at bay the hurricane of women’s rights.” Saudi authorities had her lose her job and al-Sharif fled for Dubai. Saudi Arabia is suffused with “unimaginable obscurantism and misogyny,” forces that affect “the disadvantaged, the most marginalized, and the most vulnerable” most acutely. Eltahawy calls out spineless international organizations, like the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is “continually caving in to … cultural relativism,” whereby “international officials side with the [Saudi] regime and with hard-line clerics and fail to support the brave work of local activists,” such as the courageous women drivers. Saudi Arabia is a contradictory kingdom: “A country that in about six decades built multilane highways across the desert, and is one of the most connected on the information superhighway, keeps its women locked in a medieval bubble — and the world is shamefully silent.”

For a BBC documentary called The Women of the Arab Spring in March 2014, Eltahawy and a producer named Gemmy Newby spoke with women legislators in Tunisia, the country of ten million that sparked the uprisings. Eltahawy hates the term “Arab Spring”: a revolution, she says, is not a season. She interviewed a secular lawmaker and an Islamist lawmaker of the Ennahda party, both women, who drafted the only constitution in the Arab world — and the first in modern Arab history — that mandated equality of the sexes. “Although it remains to be seen whether their efforts will translate into more than words on paper,” Eltahawy writes, “Tunisia’s constitution is the first in the Arab world that recognizes men and women as equals. Unlike their counterparts in that first parliament in Egypt after the revolution, not all female Islamist lawmakers in Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly are foot soldiers of the patriarchy.” Nesma el-Khattab, an Egyptian activist, said that Tahrir Square was not the only battleground: “I would go to Tahrir without our family knowing and my mother would say, ‘You’re not allowed back in the house.’ … I’ve been fighting for years but the revolution took it to another level.”

For the BBC series, Eltahawy also interviewed Libyan women who were fighting for their country’s liberation from Moammar Qaddafi, and liberation from patriarchy, one of whom is Zahra Langhli, “a cofounder of the NGO Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace.” Langhli told Eltahawy that since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011, the ensuing security vacuum has been especially gruesome for women, who are “also being deliberately excluded from the political process.” Jordan, Tunisia, and Mauritania are the only nations in the region that “have laws that specifically address domestic violence,” but they are usually unenforced — Mauritania and Tunisia share the distinction of being “the only countries in the region that have a law against marital rape.” With the compounded effect of so-called Personal Status Codes, millions of women are systematically oppressed and infantilized. She cites a fantastic article from The National (UAE) describing “a forty-year-old [divorcee] whose eleven-year-old son would become the arbiter of her remarriage once he reached the age of puberty. ‘This law is a disgrace. I’m a grown woman and should be allowed to make my own decisions,’ she said.”

Eltahawy’s involvement with feminist advocacy begins in 1994, when she was a correspondent for the UN International Conference on Population and Development, and received “a report on reproductive rights in Egypt” that detailed a story about a teenaged girl, 17 years old, who “was returned to her mother’s home on her wedding night with a note from the young woman’s husband to his mother-in-law: ‘If you want your daughter to be married, you know what you need to do.’ On the spot, the mother called a traditional midwife” to perform female genital mutilation (FGM), a barbaric ritual “practiced by both Muslims and Christians in Egypt, where many believe it is a religious duty, despite the fact that it is not mentioned in either the Qur’an or the Bible.” Eltahawy says she has “blamed the Arab world’s toxic mix of culture and religion for many of the examples of misogyny I cite in this book. Female genital mutilation is such a difficult practice to eradicate precisely because those two behemoths underpin it. Although both Muslim and Christian girls are subjected to FGM, activists have long complained chiefly of the mosque preachers who instruct their communities that it is their religious duty to cut their daughters.” Egypt’s first democratically-elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, had a “women’s affairs adviser … [who] described FGM as ‘beautification,’ and objected to the practice only when it was carried out on girls as young as seven or eight.” In other words, “Girls and women are forced to be cultural vectors. Their bodies are the medium upon which culture is engraved, be it through headscarves or cutting.”

Anticipating the reaction that FGM is “an African thing,” Eltahawy records that half of women at a clinic in Jeddah, the most cosmopolitan place possible in Saudi Arabia, were found to have undergone FGM, according to “the Iraqi German NGO WADI.” Furthermore, “Research by students at Dubai Women’s College reported that FGM is also practiced in the United Arab Emirates for tribal and Islamic reasons. … The U.S. embassy in the Omani capital, Muscat, held a recent panel discussion on FGM in which it emerged that the practice may be quite widespread in Oman,” among many places across the Muslim world. This retched practice is not entirely unknown in the history of the Land of the Free™: “A friend told me that after surviving a rape in the early decades of the twentieth century in the United States, her mother was subjected to a clitoridectomy in the hospital, to protect her from ‘becoming sexually out of control.’” In a recent report by the US Population Reference Bureau, of the top ten countries of origin of “women and girls at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting in the United States,” Egypt tops the list with 109,205. The stories Eltahawy relates are harrowing and infuriating. One of these horrific anecdotes merits quoting verbatim, in full:

Lama did not stand a chance. The five-year-old’s father, Fayhan al-Ghamdi, was a “cleric,” a regular guest on Muslim television networks despite not being an authorized cleric in Saudi Arabia. He beat Lama with canes, burned her with electrical cables, crushed her skull, and tore off her nails. He also raped her repeatedly, “everywhere,” according to a social worker at the hospital where Lama was admitted. It is impossible to imagine what that little girl’s last few months alive were like, and it is equally unimaginable that her father inflicted all that torture on her because he apparently suspected the five-year-old was no longer a virgin. She was admitted to the hospital on December 25, 2011, and died a few months later. A Saudi court sentenced al-Ghamdi to eight years in prison and to eight hundred lashes. Of this term, he served only three months before an Islamic judge overturned the sentence, releasing him. Compare this to the verdict of another Saudi court, which gave four young men sentences of between three and ten years in prison and five hundred to two thousand lashes for dancing naked in public, and gave a verdict of three years in jail to human rights lawyers who were convicted of “disrespecting” the judiciary.

In 1899, Eltahawy recounts, a reformer named Qasim Amin wrote Tahrir al-Mar’a (The Liberation of Women), which “controversially argued that the veil stood in the way of women’s progress and, by extension, Egypt’s. Muslim scholars reacted strongly to Amin’s polemic and demanded that women who remove their veils be imprisoned or at least fined.” Flash-forward to Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, tolerates pedophilia in the form of “child marriage.” In a particularly graphic account, we are visited with a visceral example of one such “marriage”: “Witness the case of Rawan, an eight-year-old Yemeni girl who was killed by her ‘husband.’ She died of internal bleeding after a man five times her age fucked her to death on their ‘wedding night.’” Afterward, “a Dubai-based news organization claim[ed] that the story is a hoax and has circulated a video of a little girl who is allegedly Rawan, alive and well,” although “the Yemeni journalist who originally reported the story stands by it, accusing local officials of a cover-up.”

Or consider the case of another Yemeni girl, Fawziya Ammodi, 12 years old, “who died in 2009 from severe bleeding after struggling for three days in labor. Her baby also died.” In the face of such obscenity, Eltahawy takes aim at euphemism: “Slavish obedience to the clerics, who know how to squeeze every last drop of advantage out of religion, is killing our girls. We must speak — blaspheme, if necessary; be accused of being apostates, if that is what is required.” Since July 2013, Eltahawy observes, “when el-Sisi overthrew President Mohamed Morsi, who came from the Muslim Brotherhood movement, women who are affiliated with the Brotherhood — which has since been outlawed as a ‘terrorist group’ — have also said they were subjected to ‘virginity tests’ in detention. So it does not matter where you stand on Egypt’s political spectrum: if you are a woman, your body is not safe.” The walls are very high, but, on a brighter note, the sexual revolution is “unstoppable.” A sexual revolution is long overdue. The arc of history is long, but whether it will bend toward justice cannot be taken for granted.

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A Matter Of Emphasis

In the past few days, attention has turned to Baltimore, where public fury at the lack of unaccountability over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray continues to boil. On Monday evening, events came to a head. Sometimes it’s useful to take a look at the two major newspapers in the land, and see how each covered the same event.

In yesterday’s issue of the Wall Street Journal, the banner headline read, “Violence Erupts in Baltimore” — as if there was no violence before, but we’ll let that slide. A center photo features a badass-looking dude walking away from a burning police van. The sub-hed reads: “Governor summons the National Guard, declares state of emergency after riots sweep city” — and the lede graf reads thusly: “Riots, looting and violent unrest engulfed swaths of this city Monday, thrusting it into upheaval just hours after thousands of people attended a funeral for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody earlier this month [April 12].”

As for the New York Times, the lead headline was: “Clashes Rock Baltimore After Funeral; Curfew Is Set,” above a large photo depicting a phalanx of Baltimore police officers in riot gear. Sub-hed is “National Guard Is Called Amid Looting” — and the lede graf: “Maryland’s governor activated the National Guard on Monday and the city of Baltimore announced a curfew for all residents as a turbulent day that began with the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, the nation’s latest symbol of police brutality, ended with rioting by rock-throwing youths, arson, looting and at least 15 police officers injured.”

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There Will Be No War On Iran

Thomas Friedman interviewed President Obama on Saturday, April 4, about the recent deal with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, taking pains to emphasize that the Israelis have nothing to fear: “we’ve got their backs,” Obama said, adding “that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.” As Friedman wrote in a corresponding op-ed article, titled “The Obama Doctrine and Iran,” the POTUS believes the understanding between Washington and Tehran is the only diplomatic barrier that lies between allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, which would be unacceptable, and going to war, which would be of benefit to no one.

“You asked about an Obama doctrine,” the president told Friedman. “The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.” With regard to Iran, which Obama identified as “a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens,” their leadership can be deterred, like the Soviet Union. The mullahs in charge are not known to be suicidal. Nicholas Burns wrote in the Financial Times that the agreement made in Lausanne, Switzerland “makes it reasonable to hope that a final written pact can be hammered out by the summer, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Steve Coll, writing in The New Yorker, observed that the Ford administration negotiated in 1974 with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who “asserted his country’s right to build nuclear power plants.”

(Photo c. Nehanda Radio.)

(Photo c. Nehanda Radio.)

“The precise details of Obama’s offer are unknown,” Coll added. “Broadly, Iran would freeze its program in such a way that, if it broke the agreement, it would need at least another year to make a bomb, and it would accept special inspections. In return, the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and China would agree to the lifting of economic sanctions.” Iran would likely get caught, and punished, if it did anything to attempt to “break out,” although policy-makers would be wise to heed the following: “The record of Washington’s interventions in the sectarian landscape of Iran and Iraq is so abysmal that the case for restraint should be obvious.” In any eventuality, Coll concluded, Obama decided to opt for “the risks of nuclear diplomacy over yet more war.”

It was reported that Iran had made significant concessions. The president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), David Albright, was quoted as saying that Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani “may want to break the news back home slowly.” As an example of the discrepancies between the American and Iranian accounts of what the deal entailed, the US “statement says that Iran will be barred from using its advanced centrifuges to produce uranium for at least 10 years. Before those 10 years are up, Iran will be able to conduct some ‘limited’ research on the centrifuges. The Iranian version omits the word ‘limited.’”

In the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens opined that the deal all but guarantees “mutually assured obfuscation,” quoting Foundation for Defense of Democracies executive director Mark Dubowitz as saying Tehran “cheats incrementally, not egregiously, even though the sum total of its incremental cheating is egregious.” Stephens continues by carefully walking the line of fear-mongering, and closes with an unambiguous call to wage war: “Should the current deal hold, Iran will be able to develop all the nuclear infrastructure it wants by the time my youngest child is in college. … Is targeted military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities — with all the unforeseen consequences that might entail — a better option than a grimly foreseeable future of a nuclear Iran, threatening its neighbors, and a proliferated Middle East, threatening the world?” Apparently, all of “the unforeseen consequences” of any “targeted military action” against Iran are irrelevant; it should be enough that one very foreseeable consequence would be ensuring Iran gets a nuclear weapon.

There are, of course, voices of reason. One of them is Ali Gharib, who noted that “killing this deal — the result, so far, of more than two years of grueling diplomacy — would put the US back on the path to confrontation with Iran,” and approvingly quoted Dana Milbank as saying that “the alternative to a negotiated settlement is not stronger sanctions — it’s war.” As Gharib rightfully pointed out, “The progress made cannot simply be undone and remade; American credibility would be destroyed.”

Why do the loudest “patriots” demand to destroy US credibility in the name of a war no one wants? One answer is that there will not be a war on Iran.

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Diplomacy In The Centrifuge: Paranoia Over A Nuclear Iran

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to address Congress tomorrow to deliver a warning: Iran is on the verge of making a nuclear bomb! Forget resolving this conflict non-violently. In the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg warned that Tehran is “an empire-building, Assad-sponsoring, Yemen-conquering, Israel-loathing, theocratic terror regime” that cannot be trusted to verifiably hold fast to “[a]ny nuclear agreement that allows” it “to maintain a native uranium-enrichment capability.”

Image c. Deutsche Welle.

In other words, those devious Persians do not have the right to enrich nuclear fuel, regardless of the stubborn fact that as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty the Iranians have the right to pursue nuclear energy. Goldberg claims that this is “a ‘right’ that doesn’t actually exist in international law,” and fears that Iran will start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East — a frightening prospect even without any mention of the Dimona reactor, much less the established fact of 200 to 400 nuclear bombs there, and insists that we cannot trust the damned Iranians because they will likely cheat on any deal struck with the US and the European powers.

Meanwhile, David Brooks expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, counseling “Western diplomats” to stop “assum[ing] that our enemies are driven by the same sort of national interest calculations that motivate most regimes.” The contested nuclear program in Iran is abstracted away from the realities of crushing economic sanctions, leading to a severe devaluation of the rial and the near-isolation of Iranian businesses from global financial markets, the near-constant drumbeat of US and Israeli officials threatening to attack Iran (for years), the American national interest in taking the use of force off the table — at least publically — and allying with Tehran against barbarian zealots like Da’esh, and Iran’s national interest.

Brooks argues that, inconveniently for “the West,” their leadership does not play by the rules, unlike us: “It could be that Iranian leaders are as apocalyptically motivated, paranoid and dogmatically anti-American as their pronouncements suggest they are.” People like that should not have their finger on The Button. He is hardly a Supreme Leader, but by most accounts Netanyahu is dogmatic and seems to be apocalyptically-motivated. He has the command of an entire nuclear arsenal. And that’s totally fine.

Aside from the liberal media, the Wall Street Journal averred in a recent editorial that Iran is “continuing to stonewall the U.N. nuclear watchdog [the International Atomic Energy Agency] about the ‘possible military dimensions’ of its nuclear program,” dimensions such as ballistic missile development, which is not “even part of the negotiations, though there is no reason to build such missiles other than to deliver a bomb.” The editorial cites a report from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) which is said to show that “Iran was testing advanced centrifuge models in violation” of “the 2013 interim nuclear agreement.”

Further, they claim that the Obama administration “originally insisted that Iran should not be able to enrich uranium at all.” The fact that the administration moved beyond that line is not a concession to Iranian power but to political reality: no sovereign country on Earth is going to accept the demand of another not to do what they believe is their national right to do, particularly under an international accord. Across the spectrum, it seems safe to assume that a nuclear-armed Ayatollah would use it to blackmail the entire region if not also annihilate Israel — knowing that doing so would doom Iran to be “completely obliterated,” in the words of Hillary Clinton.

As the ISIS report concedes, “Iran has pledged to cooperate on addressing the past and present issues related to the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.” Not worth mentioning; cognitive dissonance hurts the party line. The only site in question is the one at Parchin, whose purpose is disputed but is widely believed to be more like Los Alamos than Indian Point. There remains no solid proof, however, that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb.

As many have asked, with all of its oil and gas, why does Tehran need nuclear energy in the first place? The current foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, defended what is, in his view, the raison d’être of his country’s nuclear program in 2007, when he was Iran’s UN ambassador: “From a geopolitical perspective — unlike few other countries in the region that have felt suffocated and have historically espoused expansionist tendencies — Iran has been content with its geography and human and natural resources,” Zarif wrote, “and thus has not had to invade any other country in the past 250 years.” Brooks and other commentators insist we take the Iranians at their word. Zarif continued,

Based on Islamic jurisprudence, the development and use of weapons with indiscriminate impact on the population and the environment are prohibited. The leader of the Islamic Republic has issued a religious decree against WMDs and specifically against the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. … From a strategic point of view, Iranian leaders realize that nuclear weapons do not provide domestic stability or external security. … Iran’s policy makers believe that development or possession of nuclear weapons undermine Iranian security. Even the perception that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons negatively impacts Iran’s power by decreasing its regional influence and increasing its global vulnerabilities.

It is not rational that any country would proceed with a policy that they know to be undermining their own security interests, “decreasing” their “influence,” and “increasing” their “vulnerabilities” — unless, of course, Iran is irrational. Another alternative is that Iran embraced “diversification” of energy sources, “including the development of nuclear energy,” which the United States helped to get off the ground in the late 1950s. Iran’s need for various energy sources is genuine, according to a report released at the time Zarif’s article appeared, in the National Academy of Sciences and titled The Iranian Petroleum Crisis and United States National Security. The author of the study, Roger Stern, comments that Tehran’s “dependence on export revenue suggests that it could need nuclear power as badly as it claims.”

When the Shah, an important US ally, ruled Iran, there was no “nuclear ambitions” issue. Henry Kissinger, as secretary of state to President Ford, believed nuclearizing “will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” This macroeconomic imperative may be no less true given the fact that the leaders are theocrats. Ayatollah Khamenei has not called off the talks, the sanctions are still in place, and the opportunity for a peaceful resolution remains in sight. Michael Adler, a Wilson Center scholar, denied in a 2013 briefing that Iran intended to race toward a bomb. Adler wrote:

Zarif, in his 2007 article for the Journal of International Affairs, stated that “Iran’s current plans to produce 20,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity by 2020 may save Iran 190 million barrels of crude oil every year or nearly $14 billion annually.” On top of that, he insisted that “Iran does not need nuclear weapons to protect its regional interests in the immediate neighborhood.” There is no need to take his word for it. Multiple intelligence reports, from the US National Intelligence Estimate to the Mossad, indicate that Iran is not building an atomic weapon. Netanyahu plans on revealing heretofore secret information on the true nature of the Iranian nuclear program. What he is really planning on is to try to whip up hysteria and sabotage the negotiations; it does not take the judgement of the entire pundit class to figure that out.

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Eyewitnesses In Gaza

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington to address Congress about the threat from a nuclearized Iran, last summer’s military offensive on Gaza will be conspicuously absent from his speech. The real threat to Israel is an unceasing cycle of violence much closer to its borders than the Iranian nuclear program.

It was just past 1:45 in the morning in Tel Aviv when the event at New America NYC, entitled “No Safe Place,” began last week, on the evening of Feb. 19, discussing that overshadowed war, the third between Israel and Gaza in the last five years. Objectively speaking, it was not a war between Israel and Gaza but a war on Gaza, although there was armed resistance from Hamas, which launched thousands of rockets into Israel. Yet attempting such even-handedness would betray the basic fact that it was a one-sided slaughter. The new report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel meticulously documents the civilian toll, and PHR-IL executive director Ran Goldstein and one of the authors of the report, Karen Kelly, were there to talk about their findings. The reality on the ground is even worse than the pictures that flooded world news media.

From left to right, Karen Kelly, Ran Goldstein, and Lisa Goldman. (c. Sharon Goldtzvik)

From left to right, Karen Kelly, Ran Goldstein, and Lisa Goldman. (c. Sharon Goldtzvik)

Gaza is the geographical size of Detroit and has one of the highest population densities on Earth. Since 2007, its 1.8 million people have been put under “closure” by Israel, meaning that there is no movement of people or goods in the territory, eighty percent of whose inhabitants are refugees. “Israel controls the sea and border,” Goldman added. She is the director of the Israel-Palestine Initiative at New America NYC, which hosted the event Thursday evening under the auspices of the Open Society Foundation, peppered Goldstein and Kelly with myriad questions about what they saw there and about their methodology, an area that is frequently subjected to withering scrutiny if not outright dismissal by officials in the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli government. One of the most fantastic claims, Goldstein said, made by the Israeli authorities was that they had not even read the PHR-IL report but had rejected the methods by which the report was created.

The case of Khuza’a, a village in the southeast of the territory near Khan Younis, merited an especially close look. It was bombed on July 20, 2014. There was no road to escape, no safe place indeed. Goldstein related the testimony of a doctor there who did not get a permit to leave from the IDF, so he along with his patients marched waving white flags to another clinic, which was bombed soon afterward. “The IDF came with bulldozers and took out the women and children,” Goldstein said. “Soldiers told the women and children and the old people to go out.” For the remaining men inside, “they took off their clothes and used them as human shields for eight hours.” This was at least one instance of Israelis using human shields, a charge that was often attributed to the Palestinians, for the crime of living in an open-air prison where it is impossible to eliminate militants in “pinpoint” airstrikes.

Entire extended clans of families, huddled 20 to 50 to a house, were obliterated. Kelly was deeply shaken by this. For the report, Kelly and her team visited 68 people. One young man, she said, was burned in over 90 percent of his body. “Nearly everyone had at least one limb amputated,” she said, recalling that the level of amputations was unbelievably immense. “It was devastation,” Kelly told me in an interview after the event ended, agreeing that what took place was “a massacre.” (Goldstein quickly mentioned that it is not the position of PHR-IL that a massacre befell Gaza.) This was Karen Kelly’s first time not only in the Gaza Strip, where she spent four days talking with anyone who would talk to her and her team, but her first experience in working with people abroad in a wartime situation.

It is not in dispute that a humanitarian crisis exists in Gaza, whose inhabitants were subjected to a campaign of aerial bombardment that leveled entire neighborhoods and killed more than 2,000 people. The overwhelming majority of them were not combatants or participants in the fighting or firing of rockets which killed 70 Israelis. The situation there is not, however, what it appears to be in the media: it is far worse. Shifa Hospital has only one X-ray machine, Kelly, the forensic expert, and associate professor of forensic pathology at Eastern Carolina University, said, adding, “A lot of evidence was lost and couldn’t be collected.”

Children comprise the majority of Gazans, who have grown up with three wars in the last six years. Yes, the children of Sderot and other border towns within Israel are shell-shocked; the youth of Gaza are all the more traumatized. 350,000 children in Gaza have post-traumatic stress disorder, Goldman pointed out. “The Palestinians and the Israelis need to know what’s going on in their own environment,” Goldstein said. “It’s a circle of violence.” Someone affiliated with J Street asked a question afterward on how Israel can avoid this level of civilian deaths in the next war. “We should prevent the next war,” Goldstein shot back afterward, “not how to make it better.”

All were agreed that another round of fighting appears to be inevitable. “The next war is really close,” Goldstein said.

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Revisiting Black Power

Malcolm X was assassinated exactly 50 years ago today. Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times today in which she laid out, in her opinion, what he would think after surveying the current state of race relations in the United States:

“In a sense,” Shabazz writes, “his ability to boil down hard truths into strong statements and catchy phrases” — e.g. by any means necessary, the bullet or the ballot — “presaged our era of hashtag activism.” She “imagine[s] he would applaud the ‘Hands Up’ gesture for its sheer dramatic effect, but also critique it as rank capitulation that ironically accommodates the very goal of police brutality — to intimidate and immobilize black citizens, forcing them into a defenseless posture if they hope to survive.”

Shabazz continues, “As it is, today’s protesters often act like they are starting from square one. This disconnect cannot be dismissed as the hubris of youth; it is a symptom of our failure to teach this generation about black history and the way our economic and social systems actually function.” Emphasis is mine. She concludes that activists would be counseled by her father, were he alive today (he would be 89 years old), to not “take the path of least resistance”: “Grass-roots work is not flashy, and rarely celebrated on the national media level, but that is where change begins.”

Two years after the death of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton published a book titled Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (Random House, Vintage paperback). The book is all about how the socio-political system functions and, aside from obvious racial progress, holds up very well. Carmichael and Hamilton call out the existence of “institutional racism,” still under-acknowledged to this day. Those who have perpetrated the canard that theirs is an anti-white tract are under a delusion which would have been easily dispelled had they only read this book. They are crystal-clear: American “society does nothing meaningful about institutional racism … because the black community has been the creation of, and dominated by, a combination of oppressive forces and special interests in the white community. … This is not to say that every single white American consciously oppresses black people.” They add, “He does not need to.”

Institutional racism has been maintained deliberately by the power structure and through indifference, inertia and lack [of] concern on the part of white masses as well as petty officials. Whenever black demands for change become loud and strong, indifference is replaced by active opposition based on fear and self-interest. (p. 22)

Note that they are talking about group interest, not condemning white people qua white people. Answering the “deliberate and absurd lie” that black power is reverse racism, they say: “Racism is not merely exclusion on the basis of race but exclusion for the purpose of subjugating or maintaining subjugation.” (p. 47, my italics) Indeed, “It is a commentary on the fundamentally racist nature of this society that the concept of group strength for black people must be articulated—not to mention defended. No other group would submit to being led by others. Italians do not run the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Irish do not chair Christopher Columbus Societies.” (p. 49) What follows, two pages later, is critical to make this point.

The black community was told time and again how other immigrants finally won acceptance: that is, by following the Protestant Ethic of Work and Achievement. They worked hard; therefore, they achieved. We were not told that it was by building Irish Power, Italian Power, Polish Power or Jewish Power that these groups got themselves together and operated from positions of strength. We were not told that ‘the American dream’ wasn’t designed for black people. (Emphases in the original.)

“Politics results from a conflict of interests,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “not of consciences.” (p. 75) In a pluralistic society like the United States, change happens when groups coalesce around their shared group interest to fight for policies that affect them as a group. It may not sound nice, but given American history it is not at all racist. Some things have not really changed in the near half-century that has elapsed since Black Power was first published. For example, “The core problem within the ghetto is the vicious circle created by the lack of decent housing, decent jobs and adequate education,” they write later on. “The failure of these three institutions to work has led to alienation of the ghetto from the rest of the urban area as well as to deep political rifts between the two communities.” (p. 155) Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King referred to the urban ghettoes as America’s “internal colonies.” It is worth remembering that.

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