The World Responds Column Archive
Rebuilding on Splintered Foundations
Although Hamid Karzai's interim government has taken residence in Kandahar, few Afghani citizens have faith in its success; after two decades of chaos, many people in Afghanistan have no memory of an effective national government, remembering instead a decade of civil war, five years under the thumb of the Taliban, and a country where distrust and factionalism have replaced cohesive national identity. While the last of the Taliban soldiers flee across borders, into caves, or into submission, Karzai and his cabinet must try to repair the damage left in their wake, a task that many Asian journalists worry may be wholly impossible.
The Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn paints a particularly bleak picture of Afghani affairs, describing the interim government as a "sham 'coalition' government run by the Northern Alliance." One columnist argues that Prime Minister Hamid Karzai "represents no one but himself," and that the other members of the cabinet are either non-representative of the many Afghani tribes, or chosen solely to please the West.
Even in the newspaper's news reporting, overtones of resentment and criticism are detectable. In a front-page article, the newspaper printed the headline "Pakistan Backs UN Peace Efforts: Bonn Accord Flawed, says Fawzi," giving the story a somewhat misleading spin. Though Ahmed Fawzi, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General representative Lakhdar Brahimi, did indeed state that the Bonn agreement was not representative of all the Afghan factions, he went on to state he thought it was "a good step along a very long road towards a new constitution and holding of free and fair elections in Afghanistan within two years starting June 22, 2002."
Gulf News columnist Nasim Zehra, a Pakistani affairs analyst based in Islamabad, is more positive about the interim government, describing it as "the best possible [interim authority] against the backdrop of the two decade-old Afghan history and the U.S.-created post-Taliban Afghan context." Zehra too believes it is an imperfect agreement -- not only can it never satisfy all power contenders, it likely lacks the power to bring "all mujahideen, Afghan armed forces and armed groups in the country . . . under the command and control of the interim authority." Nonetheless, Zehra urges "complete, not selective" compliance by both Afghanistan and all its neighbors, as "the country-wide reconstruction projects will provide the interim authority, the regional influentials . . .
tribal chiefs and the local people an opportunity to interact with each other."
Moving Forward; Looking Back
The Far Eastern Economic Review takes on the subject of military tribunals in its lead editorial this week, supporting the U.S. decision to authorize military tribunals for suspects linked to the September 11 attacks. Though such tribunals have separate rules from federal courts -- they don't apply the same rules of evidence, allowing certain leniencies not permitted by civilian court conventions -- the editorial writers argue:
[R]eservations about military tribunals are wrong. The September 11 attacks must be understood as acts of war. That the assailants weren't under the insignia of any army or belonged to any national armed forces is immaterial . . . Such tribunals also are proper because acts of war are military undertakings that seek to destroy civil conditions. And anyone with a part in this has consciously chosen to put himself outside the reach of civilian institutions.
Meanwhile, two Pakistani writers, J.N. Raina of the Afghan online news source Afgha.com, and Ikram Sehgal, editor of Defence Journal, Karachi, look toward more overarching solutions. Citing Pakistan as the epicenter of terrorist activity in south Asia, Raina blames the country for "destroying the fabric of society from Kashmir to Kandahar, by breeding Talibans . . . and brainwashing youth in their adolescence through [madrassah] culture." Sehgal takes the argument one step further:
[G]iven the technological advances, theology is hopelessly mired in the past. Instead of investing in more schools and colleges, [Pakistan] allowed madrassahs to move into this vacuum, proportionately increasing ignorance among our schoolgoing children. An absence of basic world knowledge among our youth virtually asked to be exploited by the religiously motivated.
Sehgal urges Pakistan to "wake up and listen to what is being said by the incoming interim administration. For starters, instead of 'interfering in Afghanistan' . . . we must start interfering in our own affairs. With religious extremists on the run, we must take steps to ensure they never ever reach a position to hold this nation . . . hostage again."
Yet columnist Dr. Ayesha Siddiqua-Agha writes in Pakistan's Dawn that madrassahs "will continue to thrive unless the entire educational system is revamped." Critics blame the dearth of resources and lack of political will to divert funds from defense to education; Siddiqua-Agha urges Pakistan's leadership to "start thinking of developing human capital," but warns, "what is essential before any aid is received is to evaluate the system, policies, and environment that led to the creation" of madrassahs as tools for terrorists.
-- Cara Feinberg
The Jerusalem Post continues running hard-line columns supporting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's violent retaliation in the occupied Palestinian territories. Ha'aretz continues trying to halt the seemingly endless cycle of violence.
The two English language papers duke it out this week over recent changes in U.S. Middle East policy. What do the recent changes in U.S. policy signal for Israeli leaders and how will perceptions of U.S. policy shape Israeli actions?
Monday's Jerusalem Post editorial praises the recent U.S. decision "to ditch the evenhandedness that had plagued U.S. policy toward Israel's fight toward terrorism." But the Post remembers how Bush's policy has wavered, ranging from the regretful choice to leave Hamas and Hezbollah off the list of U.S. targeted terrorist groups to the "diplomatic fawning over Iran and Syria" and the "initial soft touch toward Palestinian Authority Chairman [Yasser] Arafat's terror campaign against Israel." The Post is glad to see the U.S. policy toward the Middle East process back on track; not only does the "sharp departure from evenhandedness" seem permanent, it does not sacrifice U.S. credibility or cause the "sky to fall." Looking ahead, the Post argues that Israel might want to support the improved President Bush by bulking up its own role in the joint missile-defense program with production of Israeli Arrow missiles. And to make the case for expanded U.S. support for Israeli military efforts, the Post says, "Israel should also state clearly that the Arrow system should be supplemented by a much more effective boost-phase missile defense system that Israel cannot field by itself."
The generally more liberal Ha'aretz runs a different take on recent U.S. policy changes. A Ze'ev Schiff column warns readers against drawing exaggerated or politically motivated conclusions from spin rather than fact, complaining that despite "the impression some are trying to create here, it is simply not true that the U.S. has given a green light to an Israeli strategic plan to eliminate the [Palestinian Authority] in stages." In fact, after Schiff carefully reviews recent interpretations of international developments, he makes the accusation that many Israeli politicians and pundits "enthusiastically express satisfaction over what they see as a golden opportunity for Israel to operate with near total freedom in the conflict with the Palestinians."
(Don't) Follow the Leader
Many papers in the Gulf region this week question where their leaders are leading.
Although Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has been the focus of recent debates and forecasts about the future of the Palestinian political leadership, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finally gets torn apart by the press, including his own. In a Jerusalem Post column, Daniel Bloch says, "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has succeeded in proving that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat holds the major responsibility for the increase in terrorism and for the almost total collapse of political channels between Israel and the PA. . .But Sharon still has no credible plan of what to do the day violence stops." Without a better-formed internal policy on economic and social issues, "Sharon's interim success against Arafat has a short life span."
Michael Jansen writes with some resignation in Arabialink.com about Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's participation in the predictable "cycle of attack and counter-attack" to which all sides are addicted. Jansen describes Sharon bitterly as an enemy of peace; someone who "voted against all the peace agreements. . .and someone [who] is not held responsible by a right-wing and Likud-connected U.S. administration for his role in the increased Middle East violence we see today.
Criticism in Saudi Arabia's English language daily, Arabnews.com rips apart former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk who, according to columnist Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, "embarrassed his government more than any other had done." In fact, according to Al-Rashid, "as an extremist, [Indyk] was once classified as one of Israel['s] most fanatic supporters." Although now safely voicing his anti-Arab rhetoric from the confines of the Brookings Institute rather than from a supposedly diplomatic post, Rashid maintains that Indyk's suggested strategy for solving the Middle East conflict is ridiculously pro-Israel:
When Indyk says there can be no peace unless Saudi Arabia sits at a table with Sharon, he is only throwing a lifeline to Sharon, a lifeline out of the current situation. . .The talk of more meetings, further negotiations or increasing Israel's diplomatic offices in the Arab World is only prolonging a serious illness and torturing those who have already endured too much torture -- the Palestinians.
Fighting to Keep the Peace
Amnon Rubenstein reminds readers in Ha'aretz that the problems facing Israel are much more complex than the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While such a pressing conflict keeps the factions within Israel unified against a common enemy, there are plenty of issues threatening to divide Israel from within should external pressures ever abate enough to give domestic issues due process. If Israelis paid attention, Rubenstein says they might realize that "the general state education track is about to undergo a radical change, losing its status as the primary education current in Israeli society and becoming a secondary one." The Orthodox community is quietly but persistently enrolling thousands of secular and non-Orthodox families into schools run by the ultra-Orthodox. "In the past school year (2000-2001)," writes Rubenstein, "20.4 percent of the country's Jewish schoolchildren attended Haredi schools -- a dramatic increase from the 7.6 percent of just 10 years ago." Such figures are evidence of the rise in Israel's religious fundamentalist influence, an influence many in Israel have worried threatens statehood as much as any Palestinian violence.
-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read
In Latin America this week, some columnists write hopeful pleas for a better future, calling for reforms promoting social justice and human rights, while others highlight the many divisions that continue to erode peaceful relations between different cultures, races, and classes.
Two columnists call for immediate social change and reforms as a preventative antidote to the kind of cultural strife that laid the foundation for the terrorism of September 11th.
Sociologist Rene Leal Hutado's intellectual essay [this and the next two links in Spanish] for the Chilean magazine El Siglo describes the social forces that inform post-September 11 globalization. She argues that many contemporary conflicts were both predictable and preventable. The key is how to learn lessons from the knowledge we have about the formation of violence so that current tensions do not erupt in the future. Hutado's solution calls for a revitalization of the left -- "a political identity that breaks the existing dichotomy and that opens a pathway for social justice, respect for life, and for the rights of everyone inhabiting this earth." Because the "right" has historically assumed inequalities are inherited and proscribed liberties accordingly, a unified and globalized left is needed to revolutionize the global order that allows unfair double standards to dictate policies and constructs horribly messy and intractable social tensions. Hutado leaves no instructions for the building of this revolutionary movement, however.
Rina Sanchinelli Pilon's piece in the Guatemalan magazine, Siglo XXI (Century 21), also calls for social change. Following many U.S. columnists worried about civil liberties during wartime, Pilon warns the Guatemalan government against either/or scenarios where patriotism is pitted against the value and liberty of the individual. Transforming fanaticism into "conscious patriotism" is "not easy work," admits Pilon. "It is the work of all Guatemalans, and the. . .government is not helping."
The Columbian weekly, Semana, asks its readers provocatively if the recently released video of Osama bin Laden celebrating the September 11 attacks could be fake. While many view the homemade video as final proof of bin Laden's guilt, others think the timing too conveniently unifies the American public against Osama bin Laden as his capture becomes imminent. The article carefully lists the possible methods of a video-conspiracy, such as a high-tech production splicing together Osama bin Laden images and speeches, or a carefully worded script acted out by look-alikes. More convincing, according to the article, are theories questioning bin Laden's motive in allowing the video to be made in the first place: "[I]t is not difficult to argue that no one in his right mind, standing in Osama bin Laden's place, would permit the recording of his conversation with such content."
Furthermore, someone with a proven capacity for organizational and logistical precision like bin Laden would never have left the tape in a place "exactly in the region his enemies are covering meter by meter." Yet the article concludes, despite its lengthy build-up presentation of potential conspiracy, that the theories are weak; the White House would never risk such a sham, if only because public opinion would castrate the administration, forcing Bush out of office and revealing the entire war in Afghanistan as groundless.
In Canada this week, The Globe and Mail newspaper prints columns casting wide nets on everything from the many forms of fundamentalism, to the drowning of international reporting, to the formation of new security legislation.
The Real Fundamentalists
Rick Salutin throws some heavy punches as he draws connections between the Al-Qaeda attacks in NYC with the Orthodox Jewish settlers in occupied Palestinian territories, with the "fundamentalist Christianity of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who opposes dancing, just like the Taliban," or with the "born-again version of President George W. Bush." According to Salutin, the U.S. war on terror demonstrates its own "jihad quality." What is wrong with this and other examples of what he deems "religious fundamentalism in politics?"
Well, it hinders self-criticism, therefore it blocks renewal and change. . .it makes it unnecessary to even consider policy changes on your own side to defuse the situation. If you embody God's will, and evil is the problem, why bother making moves internally? You just get out there and exterminate the devil.
Bits and Bytes and Bad Bylines
Another Globe and Mail piece, by William Thorsell, laments the replacement of smart journalism with the dumbed down punditry and "wet-suited anchors reading bits and bytes surrounded by a maze of ticker-tape information and pulsating boxes showing weather forecasts and stock trends." The war may have momentarily pushed international news into the mainstream radar and into our living rooms, but things will be back to their unfortunate mediocrity soon. Thorsell explains, "[t]he first casualty of war is not the truth but our diversions. Not even good conversation can stand up to them."
Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
And The Globe and Mail's Hugh Winsor compares the processes by which many Western countries have recently adapted security legislation as a consequence of the September 11 attacks. "Government House Leader Don Boudria argues the Canadian Parliament has spent more time and debated the issues more thoroughly than the legislatures of some of our allies," Winsor explains. He wonders if similar measures passed by U.S., German, and British governments might have been rush jobs, fueled more by politics than pragmatism, and thus lacking well-deserved debates and scrutiny. "In contrast," Windsor praises Canada's policy makers, "the Canadian Commons has spent more than 50 hours in special debates on terrorism and related issues since Sept. 11, plus many more hours on legislation. . .In the process, there has been a reduction of Parliament's traditional sclerosis, and that is no bad thing."
-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read
America the Unilateral
As the international sympathy precipitated by September 11 begins to wear off, European and Russian newspapers are back to bashing the United States as arrogant and -- as The Moscow Times puts it, "Unilaterally Ballistic." The Moscow Times is, of course, referring to President Bush's decision to unilaterally pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Bush has dismissed as a "relic" of the Cold War. Writing for the Times, Pavel Felgenhauer chides the United States for using Russia when it needed it to win the war in Afghanistan -- and then abusing Russia by pulling out of the ABM treaty as soon as "Russian aid in securing bases in Central Asia is no longer essential."
The Russian military establishment will draw encouragement from seeing Putin's pro-Western foreign policy endeavor rewarded with such a public humiliation. They will surely say, "We warned you never to trust the Americans,"; and proceed to ask for more weapons procurement money.
But, he argues, despite the U.S.'s dastardly betrayal, "Russia. . .needs an alliance with the West more than the West needs an alliance with Russia."
The Independent's Bruce Anderson goes after the U.S. for its bullheaded decision-making on what to do about Iraq and the Middle East, among other issues. He argues that the United States can't rely on the British public's support for targeting Iraq, "partly because the liberal left [has] succeeded in depicting George Bush as a dunce president controlled by hawks and cold war warriors."
Anderson also charges the United States government with naiveté for its refusal to "[impose] peace on Israel/Palestine." America's decision making is based on a new mood, writes Anderson: "a superpower stung to anger and then to action, determined to exert its strength and to minimise its future vulnerability." And that doesn't lift the spirits of the Brits.
Madeleine Bunting of The Guardian is also skeptical. In an article titled, "A fairy tale at Christmas," Bunting charges the war has been "short; it's been successful; and we've had right on our side. All so neat, just too neat, and I don't buy it." For one thing, she explains, "The World Food Programme estimates that as many as 3m-4m people have fled their homes because of the bombing."
After all the trashing of the United States, one British columnist defends his country's ally. The Guardian's John Sutherland protests that "America has its advantages." Among his "Fifty-two things they do better in America" are: everything from "Free refills of coffee (without asking)" and "Iced water placed on your table (and refilled) without nagging" to "Big things with wings that kill America's enemies from 50,000ft (also known as 'Afghan butt')."
With all these mixed messages, maybe what Americans need is #21: "Over-the-counter sleeping pills, guaranteed to knock you out, from any drugstore."
Peace on Earth, Perhaps
At least one columnist is in the Christmas spirit (or, some might say, going a little heavy on the egg nog.) The Guardian's Polly Toynbee writes a relentlessly optimistic column predicting peace on earth -- or at least in Afghanistan. "Afghanistan, reputed to be pre-historic, war-addicted, incapable of peace, unfit for democracy," she gloats, "turns out to value life and freedom from oppression by a psychotic cult, as people do." Furthermore, she pooh-poohs any who would worry about Bin Laden remaining at large ("On the run with a $25m bounty on his head. . .he cannot rebuild a network of thousands of mesmerised killers. . .His mystique must wane with failure: who will be seduced to martyrdom by a jihad seeker who ran?") as well as those who charge that the United States is reverting to its despotic tendencies:
If Iraq is the next target despite global opposition then the world will indeed have a maverick, rogue superpower on the loose. But so far it hasn't happened. Why does Bush bother to talk to Blair four times a week? Similar intense daily traffic between Washington and other coalition governments does not suggest disengagement. More friendship than froideur has been created thus far -- with Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, despite Bush's wanton abrogation of ABM and Kyoto.
The Observer's David Mack is not so sanguine about the U.S.'s record on Iraq -- though he's definitely no scrooge. While he argues that "The Middle East can greatly benefit from the re-entry of Iraq into the international community under a new leadership" -- and that the United States should dump Saddam -- he charges that U.S. policy on Iraq has a serious flaw. "Where current policy has manifestly failed is in the projection of a positive future for Iraq, a future which is both anti-Saddam but also pro-Iraq," he writes. "It is necessary to give Iraqis, both inside the country and in exile, a clear sense that conditions would improve greatly after Saddam and his henchmen are no longer in power."
We Haven't the Energy
While the American right and left duke it out over whether September 11 clearly indicates the need for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (the right), or the need to ride bikes and go solar (the left), Britain's Economist suggests a middle ground. Both sides of the debate stress a need for the U.S. to wean itself off foreign oil, particularly from the Middle East. But The Economist charges that while the U.S. shouldn't be engaged in the region for the purpose of feeding SUVs, neither should it entirely disengage. It writes, "It is also a woeful error to think that anti-western sentiment in the Middle East would be assuaged by radical economic disengagement: Plunging the region deeper into poverty might well achieve the opposite." So The Economist proposes a gradual reduction in reliance on Middle Eastern oil. The perfect way to do it? Gasoline taxes.
-- By Lindsay Sobel
The World Responds will not be published next week due to the holiday.