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The World Responds Column Archive


With worldwide attention and some cajoling from Secretary of State Colin Powell, a tentative dialogue appears to have commenced between India and Pakistan. Representatives from the two countries will meet at a conference in Munich, Germany in February, though the gesture seems mostly symbolic and there is some doubt that the root cause of the dispute -- Kashmir -- will be addressed.

Diplomatic progress aside, political and military tensions in the region have not eased. Complicating matters is Tuesday's shooting attack on an American cultural center in Calcutta in which five Indian police officers were killed. Although the investigation has focused on domestic, possibly organized crime, India has added fuel to the fire with speculation that Islamic militants tied to Pakistan's spy agency may have been involved.

An editorial in Pakistani newspaper The Nation, takes India to task for what it deems a "baseless" accusation. Noting India's own history of internal strife and frequent assassinations, the editorial argues:

It has become customary for India to make Pakistan's intelligence agency a scapegoat for its own failure to curb the activities of dozens of indigenous militant outfits spread all over the country. Terrorism is in fact a part of Indian political culture and those involved in it are not confined to any single creed or ethnic group.

Tavleen Singh expresses a more moderate view in Bombay's Afternoon Despatch and Courier, suggesting that India -- while understandably cautious after another suspicious attack -- may be making a rush to judgement:

You can halt a regular army operating under a unified command but what do you with small bands of irregular fighters owing allegiance to shadowy generals in hidden caves? If Pakistan is to blame so is our own government. Despite this "jehad" having gone on in Kashmir for more than seven years we have not learned how to deal with it so our first response to a terrorist attack is invariably to blame Pakistan often without proof.

The Hurricane in Cuba

The Taliban/Al-Qaeda prison in Guantanamo Bay also draws criticism from papers in the region. Tahir Mirza, argues in Pakistan's Dawn that it's not so much the treatment of the prisoners which makes other countries nervous, but rather the dismissive rhetoric of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "The attitude reflects much in the U.S. make-up that so irritates people abroad -- a smug sense of self-righteousness born of power." In order to effectively combat terrorism, Mirza concludes, the U.S. must rethink its me-first approach:

It is unfortunate that there is not enough realization among US policy-makers of the simple fact that, abroad, America is judged only by how it is seen to go about unilaterally imposing its will on other nations. Its domestic strengths, such as its multi-racial society, its democratic tradition, its tolerance, and the accountability of its system of governance, are often forgotten.

Philippine Post

In another Dawn opinion piece, Eric Margolis casts a suspicious eye on the U.S. military's foray into the Philippines to train troops there in combat against Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf. According to Margolis, the situation in the Philippines is far from a clear-cut case of terrorism, but rather "the result of centuries of land disputes, the denial of equal economic and political rights to the Bangsomoro Muslims, and tribal disputes." Margolis points to communist insurgents in the north of the country -- as yet not branded terrorists by the U.S. -- and notes ruefully that only Muslim militants have caught America's attention:

But in Washington's new world view, any Muslims seeking independence - whether in
Kashmir, Chechnya, Palestine, or Mindanao -- are ipso facto terrorists. However, in East Timor - a case that much resembles Kashmir and the Mindanao -- the U.S. and its allies aided the Christian majority in seceding from Muslim Indonesia and winning independence. In short, a clear double standard.

-- Natasha Berger

Middle East

A Wary Eye on the Media

A piece in by Fawaz Turki complains that "bashing Saudi society is now fashionable." Put off by Saudi Arabia's recent wave of bad press in the U.S. and Europe, Turki argues that "these commentators' writings evince a sense of their own absurdity (for that's how outrageously off-track they are) but that doesn't prevent their inherently comic and puerile approach to the subject from being presented in a seriousness so solemn as not to be ignored." According to Turki, the "leader of the pack" is New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, whose "drivel" on December 11th dismisses "not only the ancestral birthplace of every Arab, but the place whence this Arab's culture, religion and history originated" as a " 'big gas station to be pumped and defended but never to be taken seriously as a society'."

In a related press release from Saudi Arabia's Washington D.C. embassy, Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz responds to charges by Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin that Saudi Arabia's educational system teaches hatred and violence. "Charges that Saudis fund schools that do so are baseless and lack an understanding of our society, culture and laws," writes the ambassador.

Huda Fawzi of the Gulf News Research Center reviews Arab press writing about the current status of Israel's diplomatic relations and defense cooperation with India for the Gulf News. Fawzi's research shows that Israel's backing of India's war on terrorism, particularly against Pakistani militants, as well as India's welcome to Israeli officials has, in the words of one columnist, "created great Arab disagreement with the Indian stance and given Pakistan strong reason to allege that India is against the Arab cause."

Fawzi reviews, for example, Zuhair Majed's argument in newspaper Al Watan that the Israeli "visit to India reflects Israel's worries over its security, particularly its fear from Pakistani nuclear weapons, whose missile range exceeds 2,500 kilometres and could reach Israel." Meanwhile, the Al Jazirah television network worries that "Arab countries that reiterated their opposition and condemnation of terrorism by word and act are concerned that the honorable image of Palestinian liberation activities should not be tarnished in the view of other countries," according to Fawzi. "They are concerned that what Israel is doing is to misuse the international campaign against terrorism to support its false claims."

Dr. Abdul Qader Tash also scrutinizes the media, in a piece for Arab News about his recent participation in an international seminar on " 'the image of the Muslim world in the Western media'." Tash decides after reading a paper written by U.S. journalist and seminar participant Nathan Cardelles (which Tash says argues "that the Arabs and Muslims are solely responsible for tarnishing their image in the United States) that:

This American journalist's view is the typical example of the American style of relations with others. He holds himself and his culture above defects and puts all the blame squarely on us. He demands us to undergo a total change while he is unaware of his own glaring shortcomings that need urgent rectification. He orders us to follow a path shown by Americans. He cannot see beyond his own view. In other words, he believes that if we do not copy his ways we will be wiped out of the universe.

A Rise in Anti-Semitism?

But the opposing view is also well represented. Manfred Gerstenfeld blames the "globalization of terror" -- in particular a growth of anti-Semitism in European countries -- squarely on Arab and Muslim shoulders in an opinion piece for The Jerusalem Post:

A few decades ago, the Palestinians were at the forefront of the internationalization of terror. The worldwide presence of al-Qaida has recently become its more visible aspect. Even if many Western Muslims are moderates, their communities often shield fanatics and this will remain a continual threat to the Western world.

A Ha'aretz editorial also worries about the rise in European anti-Semitism. According to the paper, since "the outbreak of the intifada, and the more so since September 11, the continent's two major Jewish communities -- in Britain and in France -- feel under siege as a stormy tide of anti-Semitism rises around them." Ha'aretz cautions Jews all over the world to take preventative and defensive actions.

Hypothetically Speaking…

Daoud Kuttab contributes an imaginative satire for the Jordan Times, pretending to report events as though "the tables were turned," with Israelis playing the part of the Palestinians and vice versa.

Let's Be Consistent

Pondering the situation of the Afghan prisoners in Cuba, Arab News asks in its editorial if "Americans are behaving with a callousness which diminishes their claim to be fighting terrorism in the name of the core values of U.S. democracy." In the name of fighting an international war on terrorism, Arab News concludes, the U.S. should be consistent and abide by international standards and guidelines of justice and human rights.

-- Alyssa Rayman-Read


Geneva Confusion

The European press zeroes in on Guantanamo Bay this week, probing U.S. policy toward the "unlawful combatants" captured in Afghanistan, and finding plenty to criticize. U.K. journalist Robert Fisk, (fresh from a close call with an Afghan refugee mob) gets right to the point in The Independent:

Minus the torture, the United States is now doing what most Arab regimes have been doing for decades: arresting their brutal "Islamist" enemies, holding them incommunicado, chained and hooded, while preparing unfair trials.

Fisk, a veteran Middle East correspondent, argues that decades of arrogant, patronizing and fickle foreign policy in the region have made the Arab world suspicious of American motives -- and rightly so. On recent reports that the U.S. military is no longer welcome in Saudi Arabia, Fisk has this to say:

Could al-Qa'ida have a more potent reason for continued resistance? The "occupation" of Saudi Arabia remains the cornerstone of Osama bin Laden's battle against the United States, the original raison d'être of his merciless struggle against America. And here is Mr. Powell proving, in effect, that Washington had ulterior motives for sending him into the Gulf. When he added that "we shouldn't impose ourselves on the Government beyond the absolute minimum requirement that we have", the phrase "beyond the absolute minimum" tells it all. The United States will decide how long it stays in Saudi Arabia -- not the Saudis; which is exactly what Mr. bin Laden has been saying all along.

In another Independent column devoted to Camp X-Ray, Adam Roberts reminds the U.S. that although "certain prisoners may be denied PoW status does not mean that no standards of protection apply to them."

Roberts lays out his frustration with U.S. actions, the most serious of which appears to be arrogance:

How is it decided who is an unlawful combatant, not entitled to PoW status? Article 5 of the Geneva Convention provides that, in cases of doubt, prisoners shall be treated as PoWs "until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal". This article does not specify the nature of the "competent tribunal", but the Pentagon has a regular procedure for it. The United States' failure to follow this obvious and simple procedure is typical of its cavalier attitude in this crisis.

And in an argument echoed across the whole continent, he adds:

The US-led coalition against terrorism depends on a moral distinction between terrorists and their adversaries. The international co-operation that it embodies has been crucial in providing intelligence about terrorists, and in leading to the arrests of suspects. All this will be jeopardised if the US is seen to ride roughshod over international standards in the treatment of prisoners.

But Roberts also argues for a more complex view of the case. In an indirect rebuke of Fisk, he asks the critics not to get carried away:

However, those who have argued that all the prisoners must be treated in full conformity with all the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Prisoner of War Convention may be letting their own self-righteousness take precedence over understanding a peculiarly tangled situation.

Russian Renaissance?

In a Russian sum-up of 2001, Grigory Yavlinsky, writing in The Moscow Times, praised Russia's response to September 11 and the foreign policy direction Russia is now taking. "The main point is that the direction of foreign policy following Sept. 11 has considerable strategic potential and could provide a basis for Russia to become a European state," Yavlinsky writes optimistically, before plunging into a list of domestic complaints.

-- By Natasha Berger

The Americas

Papers from North, Central, and South America this week look mainly at the regional impacts of world events, and at the U.S. treatment of Afghan prisoners in Cuba.

South of the border: More Tears for Argentina

Many Spanish-language papers in the region still find much to discuss and debate about in Argentina's recent fall into chaos. The pundits offer hindsight and make predictions based on the economic and political crash that threw one of Latin America's boomers into a seemingly irreversible recession.

The Sunday edition of Argentinean paper La Nacion welcomes Argentina's reinvigorated relationship with its North American neighbors. For the second time in one week, U.S. President George Bush confirmed that the U.S. stands ready to assist Argentina in getting back on track once it presents a "credible and sustainable" economic plan. Argentina's recent slow-but-steady walk toward recovery is exemplified in these reestablished contacts with the outside. The recent dialogues with the U.S., for example, "raise hope that Argentina is beginning to be seen by the world as a nation that is not incarcerating itself."

Also in La Nacion's Sunday paper is Jorge Elias' criticism of the U.S.'s Argentina policy. Along with what appears to be another foreign press off-the-cuff pick-up of Bush's close-call fight with a pretzel (Elias jokes after sharing a full pretzel recipe that the result is "the weapon neither Osama bin Laden nor Mullah Omar imagined), Jorge Elias complains of the inequity, hypocrisy and absolution of responsibility demonstrated by the comparison of U.S. Mexico policy vs. U.S. Argentina policy; although both countries embraced the American suggested /imposed free market model: "If Mexico is stuck, the U.S. rescues it; if Argentina gets stuck, the U.S. says goodbye."

Pining for Prison

A piece by Félix Cortés Camarillo in the Mexican magazine, El Milenio, proposes that Mexicans declare war on the United States. Camarillo explains that because the Afghan prisoners are not technically prisoners of war, the U.S. is not held to the human rights obligations stipulated by the Geneva Convention. However, based on his analysis of the protections granted to prisoners of war by the Geneva Convention, such as adequate clothing and medical care, respect of religious beliefs and right to representation, Camarillo has determined that Mexicans could do worse than become war prisoners. With this in mind he sends out his call to arms.

North of the Border: Let Freedom Ring

The Globe and Mail this week prints pieces revisiting a worry that has been at the edge of every argument and decision in Canada since September 11 -- the evolution of Canada as a sovereign country. To what degree, the papers wonder, is Canada's participation in the war on terror also a war on Canada's independence?

The Globe and Mail's Rick Salutin writes another of his tongue-in-cheek pro-Canada pieces this week. Just to make things more clear:

Nothing about sending Canadian forces to operate under U.S. control in Afghanistan makes sense. I don't mean moral or strategic sense; I mean any sense. Canadians will not join the "international" force of "peacekeepers" in Kabul; instead, they will combine with U.S. "combat" troops in Kandahar. But those peacekeepers can't really keep much peace anyway since they are confined to Kabul. How come? The U.S. says it wanted it that way so they wouldn't interfere with military operations. Huh? Just how would peacekeepers get in the way, especially since they would have been under overall U.S. command? As for combat in Kandahar, the U.S. is not sending any of its own troops into battle; they have hired the locals to do that. Or in a pinch would they send in Canadians like cannon fodder, instead of their own?

Is Canada's identity really in peril? Salutin ponders the history, starting between world wars when:

The British imperial influence was in decline and the American version hadn't yet taken firm hold; it looked for a time as if Canada might really become its own, separate place. You could be strongly Canadian without having to fend off what was American. By the 1960s, it felt much more as if you had to either fight them or join them; and since then the pressures have kept increasing. After Sept. 11, the issues are not just political, economic and cultural survival, but individual physical survival, too. That national question has become pretty existential.

Harvard's Kennedy School of Government lecturer Thomas Axworthy's Globe and Mail op-ed echoes Salutin's humorous criticism of Canada's integrationist leanings with some dead serious instructions for his fellow Canadians to prevent the U.S.-Canadian dance from going too far. Axworthy argues that Canada's recent decision to place its troops in Kandahar under the operational control of the U.S. fits into a dangerous post-September 11 pattern.

"Every incremental decision, on every file -- border security, energy, transportation, and peacekeeping -- has moved us step by step into ever-greater integration with the United States," he writes. Because each step is "ad-hoc" and therefore decided on a case by case basis, Canadians have not had the opportunity to deliberate whether they like the forest being planted by each tree. "We are on a slippery slope speeding toward integration," Axworthy warns, "and we need a full-scale national debate on whether this is the future that Canadians want."

Meanwhile, John Godfrey's Globe and Mail piece, "Prisoners of Conscience" -- analyzing the treatment of Afghan prisoners -- argues that although "concerns with the treatment of Afghan prisoners taken by American troops in Kandahar would, at first glance, seem far removed from the question of Canadian sovereignty," in fact, "the two issues are critically connected." Godfrey contends that because "it is hard to reconcile the treatment of the prisoners so far with the provisions of the Geneva Convention," allies of the U.S. like Canada must think long and hard in order "to maintain the moral distinction between ourselves and our enemies by behaving humanely."

-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read