Saturday, May 27, 2006

Neoconservatism: A Brief Tour, With Paranoid Fumes

From the New York Observer's MondoWeiss

Neoconservatism: A Brief Tour, With Paranoid Fumes


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Remember this guy?! The "Shah" of Iran...

The above ad was run by Boston Edison, Eastern Utilities Associates, New England Power Company, Public Service Company of New Hampshire, New England Gas and Electric Companies... it is for real... not a parody.

via the Monthly Review Zine.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hamza el din

inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun

Hamza El Din

Monday, May 22, 2006

Army Chaplain James Yee on Democracy Now


James Yee, a Muslim Chaplain, was posted in Guantanamo Bay, in 2002, but less than a year after serving there, he was accused of espionage by the military and faced charges so severe, that he was threatened with the death penalty. Yee was locked away in a Navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina, spent 76 days in solitary confinement and was subject to abusive treatment. In 2004, the government dropped all charges against him.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

We support the fight against terrorism - but not carte blanche to do anything. We continue to ask for peace. Today, almost two months later (after 9/11/01) we ask for peace. Let us find solutions , let us find the terrorists. But not like this. Look at these children, they were alive yesterday. These children were eating with their parents when a bomb fell on them. One of the bombs being dropped on Afghanistan. This is wrong. They say it was a mistake. Are they going to keep making mistakes?

We demand that you think before you act. We demand it. I repeat. You cannot fight terror with more terror. (President Hugo Chavez)
Click here to watch an online video/film on the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Dear Humanity

On behalf of our Creator, we would like to apologise for Their inability to contact you directly. Unfortunately, the very nature of Allah (swt) precludes any form of uninterceded contact on health and safety grounds.

This issue has been actioned. Speaking in contemporary parable, the aforementioned hazards indicated the need for a risk analysis, which concluded that a danger of contact was likely where human iniquity invited direct intervention in human affairs by God, on ethical grounds. In such instances, the probability of complete and final obliteration of the soul or souls concerned was calculated to be high. Such annihilation was perceived as being in direct contravention of the Covenant of Alast, during which each human soul was led to understood that Allah (swt) is Merciful.

Consequently, Allah (swt) created us, and charged all our number except one with the protection of human beings from such contact, with the additional proviso that we would also assist humans in preparing for the closer proximity to the Divine that is inevitable after death. Moreover, instructions were given to explain how humans might, of their own volition, engage in activities such that life after death would be a cause for eternal celebration and joy.

You should be pleased to learn that the aforesaid health and safety guidelines are available in spoken and written form, for humanity to learn and disseminate throughout the biosphere. These guidelines were delivered by our most venerable colleague, Jibreel, directly to the most noble Prophet Muhammad (aws), in the early part of the 7th century CE in Arabic. They are now widely available in translation at a low cost or free, for your consideration.

Praise be to Allah, Lord of all the Universes. We trust this has clarified the current predicament of your species.

In Peace

The Angels

The above letter is an exegesis of the opening ayah of surah 42, focusing on the name of Allah 'The Magnificent' (ayat 4).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Al Nakba

May 15th is observed as the day of Al Nakba , marking the expulsion/ethnic cleansing carried out by the Zionists of nearly a million or more Palestinians from their homes and homeland.

see Al Nakba web site and Palestine Remembered

And listen to Dr. Hatem Bazian interviewed by Jeff Blankfort on the current Palestinian situation, the abuse of language to justify occupation and dispossession, the war in Iraq and the role of the Israel Lobby and the significance of the Mearsheimer-Walt paper.

Click here to listen to the interview on the ihsan podcast and/or click here for web stream.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

While we were sleeping, they created the Biggest Database Ever!

All you petty dictators and military rulers - you all have been left in the dust! I was thinking that maybe they have a list of a few tens of thousands of activists whose phone records are being monitored... but you see, this is America, and as Americans we do things right!

So this Bush decided to outdo 'em all - none of this selective phone monitoring - lets monitor the entire country. Thats right, the entire United States phone records are in this humongous database - and we are all suspects!

Welcome to America, land of the free...democracy, milk (lactose free, and goat milk also available), and honey... etc. etc.


The National Security Agency has been amassing a vast, secret database with records of tens of millions of telephone calls made by Americans, USA Today reported on Thursday. Telephone companies started to turn over records of millions of their customers' phone calls not long after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The government has created the largest database ever assembled, according to an anonymous source quoted by the newspaper.

The government apparently has even bigger plans "to create a database of every call ever made within the nation's borders" to identify and track suspected terrorists.

Think about that. Every phone call ever made.

Friday, May 12, 2006

the immigration debate continues...

A couple of articles that ihsan readers might appreciate - both these articles discuss wider implications of the immigrant rights movement, and, significantly, point out how the so-called "controversy" or "anger" at immigrants are misplaced.

Brian Kwoba writes in Birth of a new left?

May Day 2006 was the biggest and most inspiring resurgence of labor (and civil rights) militancy that this country has seen in a generation. More generally, the immigrant rights movement holds the possibility of reviving a vibrant left in the US of the kind that we haven't had since the 1960s.

Because the immigrant rights movement is so predominantly working-class, it can provide an even wider basis for struggle around key political questions. For example, it can be linked to the struggle against the war in Iraq, whose victims (Iraqi and American alike) are predominantly working-class, and thrust into combat because of the economic and military consequences of the US-dominated world order. It can also be linked to the struggle for reproductive rights, whose beneficiaries are predominantly poor and working-class women, particularly Latinas (among other minorities). It can be linked to the African-American struggle for justice on the basis of unity against racism and resistance to prison-industrial-complex-style militarization, which attempts to control both populations.

Margaret Kimberley writes in the Black Commentator:

The activism in the mostly Latino immigrant community has been controversial throughout the country, but that controversy is especially tragic for black America. The sight of millions of recently arrived Americans who demand citizenship and the full rights of other Americans, has created resentment among a group who should see the opportunity for allies on a host of issues.

Like the broken clock that is right twice a day, (Ted) Hayes is correct that black America is struggling. The struggle is not caused by day laborers looking for work at Home Depot. It exists because corporate interests who once employed millions of Americans and paid living wages no longer do so. The struggle exists because a functioning public education system has been replaced by a prison industrial complex.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Location of Culture

Once upon a time, there were a young woman called Ms Milsum. She was of the age when the desire is keenest to know everything there is to know about the world. With this in mind, she made the acquaintance of Ms Malsi, who knew everything worth knowing about Ms Milsum’s people and their ancestors, and their relationship to the cosmos. The way this knowledge was structured and imparted is impossible to describe. All that can be said is that the knowledge was known as nid and everyone knew that you obtained this knowledge by hanging around people like Ms Malsi.

Near the end of her time with Ms Malsi, Ms Milsum met a stranger on the road, who introduced himself as Mr. Eripme. He came from a place far away but somehow he knew Ms Milsum’s language. When he spoke, he sounded rather like Ms Malsi, except that the things he was saying didn’t seem quite right. Indeed, a few things he said horrified Ms Milsum to such an extent that she tried to interrupt him. But he refused to be silent.

Eventually, when Mr Eripme had finished speaking, Ms Milsum responded that she already had a good friend in Ms Malsi and her nid and she had no need of Mr Eripme’s clever words. Best thing was that he went on his way in peace. But all of a sudden, Mr Eripme smiled the most charming smile and asked Ms Milsum to explain what nid meant. This stumped her. She had never explained nid to anyone – you see, nid was not learned by explaining.

Then as if by magic, Mr Eripme produced a book from his pocket. Amazingly, it was called Ms Malsi, and at once he began to read from it. The words sounded oddly familiar, but it was as if Mr Eripme had met Ms Malsi but learned absolutely nothing from her. In fact, it even suggested she was really a prostitute. Heartbroken at such insults, Ms Milsum ran weeping to Ms Malsi, where she recalled the events that had just taken place on the road.

Ms Milsum's friends overheard her talking and mentioned that they too had met Mr Eripme. They had learned he was from a place far away, but he had come with an army who had killed the Queen. They had sent a man who was not of royal descent to rule in her place. “They may rule instead of our Queen,” proclaimed Ms Milsum, “But these people will not mock Ms Malsi and nid. I will write a book like the one Mr Eripme carried with him in their defense.”

Having said this, Ms Milsum set off for the Queen’s old city in order to study at the greatest seat of learning in the world. But the task she had set herself turned out to me more complex than she thought. To begin with, the nid taught at the great seat of learning was different from Ms Malsi’s nid. Yet her teachers – many of whom were of the same mind with regards to Mr Eripme – had declared their nid the one true nid. This, they argued, would convince their people to ignore Mr Eripme’s book of lies.

Just to make matters more confusing, some teachers were writing books as if they were actually addressing Mr Eripme, and not Ms Milsum’s people. Some even included ideas from Mr Eripme’s book in order to ‘improve’ nid, which – they claimed – had always changed with the times, anyway. Nid was indeed something that had always changed with the times, but Ms Milsum wondered exactly whose times they were changing it for now.

In the end, Ms Malsi realised she would have to learn all about Mr Eripme’s people in order to properly oppose his ideas. To help her in her studies, she decided to spend some time living in Mr Eripme’s land. Once there, she learned to speak the language, made a few good friends, and discovered a great many new ideas. But she was never content. She was troubled at the way Mr Eripme’s people were so obsessed with power and wealth, even though a small number of rebels argued for a different way of life.

Ms Milsum was sympathetic with the rebels and tried to teach the people about Ms Malsi’s nid, since it seemed to promise many of the things the rebels, and indeed all the people of Mr Eripme’s land, yearned for. But few were interested. It was then she discovered the people of Mr Eripme’s land had once had their own nid, but most people had rejected it. Oddly enough, many of the remaining teachers of the local nid talked about the ‘one true nid’ in the same way as teachers had in her own land.

Eventually, Ms Milsum returned to her house and to Ms Malsi. But it wasn’t long before she realised it was no longer her home. Even though she could assume the habits and ways of her people with ease, having grown up there, she was astonished to find that Ms Malsi and her friends had grown rather strange. Whenever Mr Eripme was mentioned, they pretended he didn’t exist and the Queen was still alive. Yet Mr Eripme’s army, who now ruled the world, had created terrible problems that needed new ideas and solutions to solve them.

Many years later, after Ms Masli had grown so old she could no longer speak for herself, a small group of people came to visit Ms Milsum. Some of them were from Mr Eripme’s land, and some were from places even further away. They had many skills, and wanted to use them to make the world a better place. But they realised that no lasting change could ever be possible, unless they had nid. With this in mind, they wanted to spend some time around Ms Milsum…

Friday, May 05, 2006

Race, Culture and Empire

The racialization of discourse is becoming normalized in the UK. The current media debacle over the Home Office’s failure to consider foreign prisoners for deportation has rarely questioned why ‘foreign’ ex-convicts pose a greater threat to society than ‘native’ ones. There has been little attempt to link the media discourses on foreign criminals to the racist trope of ‘dangerous alien’. Indeed, when it was discovered that a foreign suspect in a police murder had previously ‘evaded’ deportation, people across the political spectrum expressed outrage at the Home Office's failure to deport him immediately after a previous spell in prison.

His country of origin is Somalia. It doesn’t matter if the British foreign Office warn people never to visit Somalia under any circumstances. He should have been deported after his previous prisoner term. His crime? Robbery. Are these people calling for the death penalty for ‘foreign’ robbers? It would seem so. And by ‘foreign’, we mean people officially granted asylum. People who have settled in Britain. People who may have families growing up here.

Ever since I finished reading Paul Gilroy’s After Empire, I have been conscious of race in Britain in a different way. Partly, it has made me look again at British culture from a race perspective. Take Harry Potter. It's culture looks so familiar, it's characters so much like the suburbia I grew up in. Very white. And Harry is the white innocent, part of the great white sleep. The white man has no original sin. Colonialism never happened. There is no racism. There is no relationship between our prosperity and global poverty, as confirmed by Saint Bob.

Gilroy has also made me revisit what I had previously taken to be anti-white racism among Muslims against British converts. I sensed this as an issue when an argument blew up between myself and an Asian Muslim taxi driver a few weeks ago. But the problem is one of culture – race’s cousin, and the way all self-conscious cultural groups define themselves in terms of what they are not. South Asian Muslims are not white liberal Europeans.

That’s why Bosnian Muslims living in my home town get a hard time. “How can they be Muslims? Their wives wear short skirts!” Being white, I represent a boundary marker. My claims to being a Muslim have to be verified. “Do you pray?” How many times have I been asked this question, or similarly interrogated? “Do you pray?” South Asian Muslims are Muslims whether they pray or not. It’s in their fitra. It’s in their genes.

Contemporary discourse on fitra is often reductionist, appealing to biotechnical determinism – in the laws of God/nature/binary, only (non-Muslim) nurture deflects human beings from their naturally occurring Muslimness. Reversion is deprogramming, a return to the manufacturer's settings. Islam is ‘the natural way’ (Hamid, 1989). Ironically, ‘naturalization’ was also a technique used by European colonial ideologues in their construction the concept of ‘race’. Now it seems Muslims have co-opted the same racist trope in their quest for postcolonial 'cultural' identity.

Skimming Tariq Modood’s Multicultural Politics, I read how the author’s father defined Islam against the British mores of the 1960s. The Qur’an was kept safe from the 1960s. The Qur’an, unlike the Bible, cannot be interpreted individually and symbolically without rupturing Muslim identity. Marriage cannot be understood as loving commitment. Prayer cannot be understood outside of ritual. You cannot be gay and Muslim. You cannot be a white liberal Muslim. That’s a problem, because I am a white liberal Muslim.

Being a white liberal Muslim only becomes feasible inside race consciousness. Liberalism too often colludes with Empire, either in seeking to disavow cultural diversity or in trying to impose a pacifying liberalism in the guise of a superior cultural understanding. Being a white liberal Muslim becomes one of a multiplicity of possible ‘islams’ only when it unites with other Muslims against the political, economic and cultural Imperialism of Empire.

Why? Because fighting racism means fighting to abolish the essentialising concepts of 'race' and 'culture', and replace them the one that begins so many ayat in the Qur'an: 'O People!'. But unless we wanna be all white, that also means fighting the political culture from whence these essentialising concepts came.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

An "Enemy Combatant"

Moazzam Beg was one of those classified as an "enemy combatant" by the United States. He was kidnapped ("arrested") by the Americans in Pakistan on January of 2002, and later transfered to the Guantanamo Gulag, he was released on January of 2005 - after being held on "suspicion" for three years.

According to the Caged Prisoners.Com website:

At 12, Moazzam went to stay with relatives in Pakistan where, his father says, his interests in humanitarian work began. He performed charity work in the Asian community and told his parents that he wanted to help alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims. In June 2001, a year before his arrest, Moazzam Begg left his home in Birmingham and moved his wife and four young children to a new life in Afghanistan. There they established a school in a remote area and worked on a project to install water pumps.

In December 2001, following the United States-led operation to remove the Taliban regime, Begg told his relatives that he was moving his family back to Pakistan. He described the situation in Afghanistan as "unbearable". The family moved to an apartment in Islamabad to wait out the strikes. They planned to return when the dust had settled. But Moazzam was arrested and the family's funds - about £8,000 - were seized, leaving Sally and the children to fend for themselves in a country where they did not speak the language.
Since his release, Beg has been actively advocating on behalf of Muslim prisoners still being held at the Guantanamo and other American gulags.

Listen to a talk by Moazzam Beg on his experience at Guantanamo, Muslim activism, and more ... subscribe to the ihsan podcast, and/or listen to real audio web streaming here.

And check out Beg's book:

Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey to Guantanemo and Back.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

An Aussie Cambodian Mum

Recently I joined around 100 other members of the Catalyst Network Limited, an initiative of young Sydney-based professionals and business people from both sides of the Tasman. They help raise awareness as well as money for a variety of charities.

On Wednesday evening 3 May, we gathered to listen to an Australian woman who chooses to make a difference to the lives of hundreds of young people.

Geraldine Cox manages the Sunrise Children’s Village in Cambodia, a project supported by the Australia-Cambodia Foundation. Geraldine shared with us something of her life as well as the lives of young Cambodians she has been able to support.

Cambodia is a tragic place which seems to attract four classes of people we may refer to as the four M’s – missionaries, mercenaries, misfits and masochists. Geraldine describes herself as a misfit. She is the daughter of a South Australian milkman who worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Asia, the Middle East and the United States for many years.

Geraldine’s first posting in Asia was in Cambodia during the early 1970’s, just when the Vietnam conflict had crossed the border. She was 25 years old at the time, and spent 2 years in the country before moving to her next posting.

Geraldine spent 3 years in Iran where she met and married someone she describes as “the only alcoholic Iranian Shia Muslim”, a chap named Mahmoud. She took Mahmoud on her next posting – 3 years in Washington which included a period during the hostage crisis when Iranians weren’t exactly the most popular people in the United States.

Geraldine says she enjoyed her time in Foreign Affairs – the cocktail parties, the politics, the first class travel and plenty of other perks. But somehow she always felt like something was missing. She left the Department and returned to Sydney where she started working in an international bank.

It’s pretty awful working in a field that provides about as much enjoyment as a Jew or Muslim would feel at a pork sausage convention. On top of hating her job, Geraldine had to go through the humiliation of being sacked hardly 3 days before her work colleagues had arranged a party to celebrate her 50th birthday.

Geraldine then entered what is commonly known as a mid-life crisis. She decided to return to Cambodia where she worked for various Australian companies. On weekends, she would engage her maternal instincts on Cambodian children living at an orphanage managed by the Cambodian Royal Family.

Eventually, Geraldine set up her orphanage (which she prefers to describe as a “Village”) which has been forced to move 6 times before finding its present permanent home. The Village takes in orphans, many of whom are victims of Cambodia’s long civil war.

Geraldine described the work of her Village and other similar projects as literally saving Cambodian children. She said that for illiterate and impoverished women without any economic support, life presents only a limited number or combination of grim choices – they could starve, beg, steal or become sex workers on the streets or in brothels.

She told of one Cambodian mother who approached the Village with her two daughters who were in their early teens. The woman begged the Village to take the two girls whom she could no longer afford to support without selling one to a brothel owner.

Geraldine agreed to take the girls, and their mother would visit on weekends. Only God knows which grim choice the mother took to feed and clothe herself, but she would laugh with joy on seeing her daughters doing their homework and enjoying the company of other children.

For young Cambodian male orphans, the choices weren’t much better. They were often sold as slaves to work in factories or farms in return for small amounts of food. One young orphan had his eyes gouged out, presumably to be used in the organ trade, before Geraldine could reach him.

Geraldine now lives permanently in Cambodia. Her friends describe her as a serious hedonist, though she says that her pleasures are now gained from less materialistic sources. At 25, she was dumped by her husband-to-be after she was informed by doctors that biological motherhood would be impossible.

Now, in her 60’s, Geraldine Cox has hundreds of young Cambodians who call her “mum”. She realises that true happiness and fulfilment in life comes from service to others. What the Sufis call khidmat is the only real way to achieve inner peace. Those of us unable to directly serve Geraldine’s children can at least do our bit by supporting, promoting and donating to her Village.
© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Monday, May 01, 2006

Se Ve, Se Siente, El Pueblo Está Presente!

Click here for more reports on May Day from all over the United States.

Statement of National Council of Arab Americans

No Human Being is Illegal

Throughout the course of the past several weeks, a blossoming movement demanding dignity and justice for millions of undocumented workers and their families has emerged across the United States. This movement was ignited by the accumulation of discriminatory immigration polices, the latest installment of which was the passing of House Resolution 4437, also known as the Sensenbrenner Bill. This bill would make it a felony to be an undocumented worker, and would further criminalize all service providers to this community. It would also seek to develop the militarization of the US-Mexico border by constructing a massive 700 mile wall.

Needless to say on basic principles of human dignity it is essential to oppose this bill. But our criticism of this bill and our support for this movement is rooted in more than these basic moral arguments.

Everyone knows that US driven neoliberal economic policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have wreaked havoc upon the people of Latin America. It is also known that many of these people are forced to abandon their families and trek hundreds of miles through dangerous terrain, to take up low-paying jobs in the US, because they are forced to out of material need. The gross exploitation and discrimination this community often has to endure at the hands of their bosses to try and protect its basic rights of family unification, decent work conditions, and a fair wage and benefits are truly shameful.

Furthermore the scapegoating, incitement and harassment heaped on by police, border patrol agents, Homeland Security officials, politicians, vigilantes and corporate media personalities only add insult to an already clear injury.

The National Council of Arab-Americans stands in full solidarity with the millions of our immigrant sisters and brothers from Latin America demanding full legalization, and an
immediate end to the criminalization, exploitation and racism they suffer beneath. Our strident support for this movement is rooted in a perspective which is both in solidarity with them as the major force behind this rising movement, and which also sees our rights and interests directly tied to this movement.

Not only did the great majority of Arabs in the United States come here under similar conditions, often having to flee their homeland after it was either occupied by Western colonial powers, or made destitute by the shameful policies of reactionary Arab governments (often in alliance with the US). It is also not uncommon to find amongst the Latino immigrant community in the US, many who actually come from Arab backgrounds themselves, meaning that their families were forced to emigrate more than once, often within the short time span of the past 100 years.

Once arriving in the US, Arab immigrants have suffered similar practices of exploitation and racism at the hands of their employers, and tremendous difficulties in obtaining visas for uniting their families. Moreover, after September 11, 2001 and particularly with the signing of
the USA Patriot Act, the racism, scapegoating and wholesale eradication of any pretense of due process or civil rights for Arab- Americans has been comfortably done away with by the powers that be. As a result, Arab-Americans have been routinely detained, beaten, deported,
intimidated, and sometimes even killed for simply being who they are, while law enforcement agents either turn a blind eye, or openly participate in this xenophobic behavior.

The NCA sees these practices as part of a historical trend whereby racist policies have been used by the US government against a domestic immigrant population to justify its foreign policy endeavors. This was the case with similar legislation and detainment of Japanese, Chinese and Italian-American immigrants at different times in US history. Today while the US government blatantly supports and arms Israel in its occupation of Arab land, continuing to prevent the return of millions of Palestinian refugees to their ancestral homes; as it occupies and exploit the people and land of Iraq; and as it actively defends and arms reactionary Arab governments erecting military bases throughout the Arab world - it comes as no surprise to see how Arabs, Muslims and Arab- Americans must necessarily be dehumanized and criminalized, to grease the wheels of US imperialism and its economic and geopolitical interests.

Moreover, it comes as no surprise to see US government efforts to establish a wall on the US- Mexico border, after its brazen support of the Israeli Apartheid wall in Palestine. In both cases, military force was used to unilaterally delineate a border as a means to annex another
peoples land. In Palestine, the Israeli Apartheid Wall has been constructed in the past 5 years to take large tracts of land from the West Bank; along the US-Mexico border, military force was used at different stages in history to take over enormous tracts of land which belonged to Mexico in present day California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and even sections of Wyoming and Colorado. Today plans for the US-Mexico wall seek to finalize this conquest, which to many Mexicans is still seen as unjust.

Needless to say, the points of intersection between our histories and rights are many, though by no means comprehensive. Ultimately our support for the immigrant rights movement does not stem from any perfect parallel between our causes, but rather is derived from basic principles which we- together with millions of other working class Americans, particularly in communities of colors -are fighting for: human dignity, civil rights, justice and the rejection of all forms of racial, religious or national bigotry and intolerance.

*For this reason we proudly call upon the Arab- American community to join in the immigrant rights movement in full force linking arms in our collective struggle and declaring:* *

* Support and Participate in May 1st - "The Day Without an
Immigrant" National Walkout!
* Full immediate legalization and amnesty for the undocumented!
* Family Reunification Now!
* No Fines or humiliating conditions!
* No Guest Worker programs!
* No to militarization of the US Mexico Border!
* No to the US Patriot Act!
* Immediately End the US occupation of Iraq and the Israeli
Occupation of Palestine!
* Tear Down the Racist Apartheid Wall in Palestine!
* Yes to the Right of Return for all Palestinian Refugees to their
lands and homes!


*The National Council of Arab-Americans
26 April 2006*

Past and Present Terrorists Must Start Talking

The Middle East is a confused and confusing mess of slippery alliances and rhetorical flourish. It is also the region of the world that produced the three great Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In this region, politics and religion are intertwined. In parts of the region, people of different faiths live together as they have for hundreds of years. In other parts, religion is used as an excuse to hate and terrorise and kill.

In the most recent elections of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas narrowly defeated the incumbent Fatah faction formerly led by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for s string of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings on Israeli territory.

Yet Hamas does not have a monopoly on religious extremism or violence. For each Israeli citizen killed in the violence, at least five Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) are killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers.

For many Westerners, Israel is seen as an island of democracy and religious sanity in a sea of instability and intolerance. Years of erstwhile lobbying by groups such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have created an image of Israel that Israelis themselves are quick to deny.

Israel’s cheer-squad of lobbyists across the western world will never mention the multi-faceted reality that Israeli citizens take for granted. While Hamas is demonized, we are never told what most Israeli experts admit – that Hamas was created by Israel as a means of creating an indigenous Palestinian leadership that would rival the constantly-fueding factions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The first Palestinian Intifadeh (an Arabic word meaning literally “shaking off”) erupted in December 1987 after an Israeli lorry ran into and killed four Palestinians. This spontaneous protest was an indigenous affair, though supported by the Palestinian leadership then based in Tunis.

Israel saw the PLO as a threat, and its friends in Western countries labeled the PLO as a terrorist organization. Israel supported and funded Hamas, a grassroots organization which grew out of the Palestinian branch of the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) movement founded by Egyptian Sufi Hasan al-Banna.

The Brotherhood was initially formed as a movement for education and social reform. Its growing popularity meant it was increasingly viewed as a threat by Egypt’s rulers who were still under British control.

The Brotherhood fought in Palestine during the late 1940’s. Following Israel’s creation, the Brotherhood maintained a branch within the Palestinian community. It operated largely unmolested by Israeli army and intelligence. Its activities were largely limited to the management of institutions such as mosques, clinics, schools and orphanages.

Among the Brotherhood’s early recruits in Egypt during the 1940’s was Yasser Arafat, then a young engineering student. Following Hasan al-Banna’s assassination in 1949, the movement splintered into factions of varying degrees of radicalism.

Israel has its own problems with extremism. For over a decade, Jewish fundamentalists have dominated senior ministries. While first Palestinian Authority government appointed a Christian woman (Dr Hanan Ashrawi) as its Education Minister, the portfolio of education in Israeli administrations is traditionally held by a member of any one of Israel’s numerous fundamentalist parties.

Israel’s Jewish fundamentalist movements have been active supporters of Israeli settlers who refused to abandon their outposts in Gaza following Ariel Sharon’s decision to quite Gaza. The rhetoric of Israeli clerics has been increasingly racist toward both Christian and Muslim Arabs in East Jerusalem.

But it isn’t just Arabs who bear the brunt of racism. Recently I attended a screening of the French-Israeli screen co-production Live and Become. The film is the story of a young Ethiopian Christian boy whose family is driven by famine into a refugee camp in the mid-1980’s. The boy’s mother pushes him forward to join a group of Ethiopian Jews being airlifted to Israel as part of its Operation Moses.

The boy pretends to be a Jew and experiences first-hand the racism faced by black-skinned Jews at the hands of European Israelis who refuse to regard the Ethiopians as their equals. The discrimination faced by Ethiopian Jews continues to this day.

In one scene, the boy joins a group of other Ethiopians who are called for an interview by Israeli immigration authorities. The so-called interview turns out to be a surgical procedure ordered by Israel’s European rabbinical authorities who suspect the Ethiopians are not “ethnically” Jewish.

Both Palestinian and Israeli societies contain ugly, xenophobic and violent elements. Today’s Palestinian government includes terrorists just as successive Israeli governments (including former Prime Ministers such as Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin) include former terrorists.

If peace is to prevail in this region, present and past terrorists have to take the example of the Begins and Arafats and behave like statesmen. Israel, largely responsible for turning Hamas into a Palestinian power, must now learn to deal with it. Hamas must learn that it can achieve more by holding an olive branch than a gun.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and writer.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2006