Thursday, February 28, 2002
by Bjørn Stærk
Interesting study, however it is fatally inaccurate, containing information based on a book that is not available in Palestine. How did that information book get into the survey? It is mentioned once in a real Palestinian text-book. There is an Israeli obsession with text-books, as part of a larger campaign of denial. It's not oppression, murder, and political violence that drive Palestinian animosity, it's textbooks! There is surely a great faith on the part of Right-wing Israel in the Palestinian educational system! Not only do they educate their children, but the quality of that education is so strong that it causes the students to fight for their beliefs! I think we need some books and teachers like that in the States (not to mention Norway)....
I would think it's very interesting to know what Palestinians teach their children, and certainly not irrelevant! I don't deny that the Israeli occupation fuels Palestinian hatred, that's what they're fighting against, after all, and to resist occupants is normal human behavior, often commendable. But the choice of method of the Palestinian resistance, to blow up enemy teenagers in pizza restaurants, is not normal. For one thing it's evil, corrupting the Palestinian population much more than the occupation corrupts the Israelis. It's also counterproductive. There are other ways to independence, (such as peaceful resistance), but they involve a major change of attitude on part of the Palestinians.
Education can work with this process, or against it. Bad education doesn't create suicide bombers, but it may create one of the conditions that allow them to exist. If children are taught that Jews are the eternal enemy of the Arabs, then education is part of the problem. Not the primary cause, but neither insignificant. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect Palestinian textbooks to be more peace-oriented and friendly to Jews than the general Palestinian population, but that is the second reason why these reports are interesting. In a society without free speech, and without democratic elections, it's difficult to know what people really think. The contents of Palestinian textbooks is at least more guided by popular pressure than the speeches of Arafat, and give an alternative, more honest look into the Palestinian world-view. We can debate the accuracy of the CMIP reports, and whether bad education is more a cause or an effect, but that Palestinian education is an interesting subject is beyond discussion.
But now you've seen my ideological bent. Let's throw both our perspectives for a second and consider this: The study you cite was done by a group whose leader (and driving force) is a Settler, living illegally on occupied land in the West Bank. He is a rabid, right-wing Jew with a clear agenda. However he does seem to be a person who passionately cares about the situation and wants to make a positive difference. This study: http://www.geocities.com/nathanbrown1/Adam_Institute_Palestinian_textbooks.htm, undertaken by George Washington University Professor Nathan Brown, a Fulbright scholar, has sharply different conclusions than the study you cite. He finds that Palestinian text-books endorse neither a 'war' or 'peace' platform, but come down in a hazy middle, largely ignoring the sensitive details of peace-making. Read the survey for yourself and see.
Who do I trust on the merit of their title alone? Certainly not a professor of political science. A report based almost entirely on translated quotes from easily available sources can be verified or disproven, but anyone can become a professor. As it turns out, Browns article is actually quite good, and raises interesting questions not so much about the accuracy of the CMIP reports, but of their selection and interpretation. I'll get back to his article below, but first, lets throw some uninformed insults in each others general direction, and see if some of them stick:
I realize that this doesn't fit into your exisiting notions, but maybe you ought to open your mind a little and realize that things in Israel and Palestine are no so one-sided as they appear.
Why, now that you mention it, it occurs to me that maybe all Palestinians aren't bloodthirsty demons, that some of the measures taken by the Israelis are unnecessarily brutal, and that in fact the entire creation of Israel was a mistake. But wait - I'm repeating myself.
Back to Nathan Brown, who, unlike me, have read Palestinian textbooks, and believe that the CMIP are guilty of selective quoting:
In particular, three sets of flaws characterize its work (and much of the public debate about Palestinian textbooks more generally). First, the Center generally ignores any historical context in a way that renders some of its claims sharply misleading. In its 1998 report, the Center adduced numerous incendiary statements about Israel and Jews from books in use in Palestinian schools. The statements quoted were accurate. Some indeed were highly offensive to Jews and sharply anti-Israeli. Yet they came not from books authored by Palestinians but from Egyptian and Jordanian books used in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively.
What the CMIP does is very important, and Browns is oddly apologetic towards the continued use of viciously racist Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks in Palestinian schools, but all these points seem to me valid criticisms of the CMIP reports. Brown brings the debate further by pointing out weaknesses in CMIP's method, and by describing trends and alternative interpretations that the CMIP pays little attention to.
According to Brown, the non-mention of Israel or its borders in PA-written textbooks is not a denial of its existence, but timidness in face of controversial political issues. He also applauds what he calls a progressive pedagogical movement among Palestinian teachers, which apparently have shaped recently written textbooks. I'm not sure what he means by progressive pedagogics, (apparently it combines the scientific method and relative truth, whatever that means), but it's an interesting development.
If there is a major weakness in Browns article, it's the almost complete lack of quotes from the textbooks he mentions. Brown attacks the CMIP for selective quoting, but he does, apparently, expect us to take him on his word. There's a reason outfits like CMIP, and their counterparts in MEMRI, are so popular. They serve an information vacuum for translated social and political material from other cultures. Much as it is interesting to read Browns conclusions, I would be more interested in reading the books he based them on, in the same way that I'm more interested in CMIP's quotes than their interpretations.
One thing is certain: You'll learn more about Palestinian textbooks by reading both CMIP and Browns critique than by reading either alone. And the issue is not settled. Are there other quote-happy reports on Palestinian textbooks, confirming or contradicting the CMIP? Bring them on!
Tuesday, February 26, 2002
by Bjørn Stærk
by Bjørn Stærk
(The only thing that worries me about all of this is the size of this weblog network. How are we supposed to organize, elect leaders, and eliminate dissent within our ranks when we haven't even begun to map the movement? And why haven't anyone volunteered to draft some rules of conduct? Why, it's anarchy!)
Monday, February 25, 2002
by Bjørn Stærk
I didn't vote for him, but I am enormously pleased that an American president has spoken up for our ideals from the middle of a brutal, authoritarian state. (You might check Michael Ledeen's column on a recent WSJ Opinion entry; he makes the interesting case that what China is evolving towards is not democracy but a form of fascism.)
For those of my readers who, like certain bloggers, were not born at the time, Ramona Cotca offers this long, deliciously detailed history of US-Romanian relations, which were, as it turns out, almost friendly in the mid 70's.
Sunday, February 24, 2002
No matter your background or your circumstance of birth, in America, you can get a good education, you can start your own business, you can raise a family, you can worship freely and help elect the leaders of your community and your country. You can support the policies of our government or you're free to openly disagree with them. Those who fear freedom sometimes argue it could lead to chaos. But it does not. Because freedom means more than every man for himself. Liberty gives our citizens many rights, yet expects them to exercise important responsibilities. Our liberty is given direction and purpose by moral character, shaped in strong families, strong communities, strong religious institutions, and overseen by a strong and fair legal system.
NTB, Norway's primary news agency, misses the story, and focuses on a bunch of pre-selected, censored (as well as self-censored) questions from the audience about Taiwan:
President George W. Bush rejected a question concerning US policy towards Taiwan when he spoke to Chinese students in Beijing, Friday. But he had to answer in the end. After he answered several questions with humor, making skeptical students at the prestigious Tsinghua University laugh, the issue he most wanted to avoid arose: Taiwan. This silenced the laughter. Media student Huang Rui didn't want to give up a question Bush first had rejected. - We're back on Taiwan again, Bush joked disarmingly. [..] Students at Tsinghua University's competitor, the Beijing University, joked about Bush's unease at discussing Taiwan, not appearing as the tough political leader most Chinese see him as. - He twice was too afraid to answer a question, and had an embarassed look on his face, wrote a student on the university's electronic bulletin board.
Who cares about the opinions of brainwashed students on censored bulletin boards? What I want to know is how much of this compressed introduction to the ideals of democracy were lost or censored in the translation on Chinese TV, and how many seeds it planted in the minds of viewers.
Update: Quite a lot were censored in the official Chinese transcript of the speech, apparently. (And, btw, who does care about the opinions of brainwashed students on censored bulletin boards? Well, I do, obviously, but at least I realize that finding out what people really think about anything in a socialist dictatorship is near impossible.)
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Any threat to the Dear Leader was handled with brutal dispatch. Once a fishing boat slipped through the 16-km cordon in front of the beach house, coming within a few hundred meters of the shore. Lee saw a guard let off warning shots and then open fire, killing two people on board. The guard got a medal; the families of the victims were told their relatives died in the line of duty and were awarded color television sets and refrigerators.
I'm sure they appreciated the thought, but you know what they say: One channel, and nothing to watch. (And refrigerators - now that's just plain cruel, when there's nothing to fill them with.) Kim is also something of a party lion:
Kim's real partying took place at one of his two residences in Pyongyang, where he could drink, act the big shot and get close to pretty girls. The beverage of choice was Paekdu Mountain Bulnoju (or Eternal Youth) a fiery liquor made from rice. Female band members and dancers wore micro-minis and tank tops and the men gave them drinks if they performed well. The women were trained not to drink too much but the men, including Kim, usually ended the evening trashed. During the working day, the drinking started again, sometimes as early as noon (although Kim didn't get sloshed at the office).
Free drinks and micro-minis? Where do I sign up for a trip to this haven of earthly pleasures? (I can't? I have to organize a revolution of my own and enslave an entire people first? Oh, never mind then.)
by Bjørn Stærk
by Bjørn Stærk
Monday, February 18, 2002
Sunday, February 17, 2002
Any sustained inquiry into the sanctions issue runs up against waves of propaganda and reckless disregard for the truth, and it would be all too easy to declare the issue settled after a quick dismissal of the most glaring lies. But that would be an abdication of responsibility. Many of those who support continued pressure on Saddam Hussein tend to focus on a few key counterpoints while ignoring piles of haunting in-country surveys and the damning testimony of former U.N. officials who have quit to campaign full-time against U.S. policy in Iraq. Sanctions proponents, if they are not careful, run the risk of aping the foolish debate tactics of the critics they condemn.
On the eve of President Bush's state of the union address, Saddam's deputy, Tariq Aziz, flew to Moscow and met with the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov. The latter then announced that Moscow opposed U.S. military action, and called for sanctions against Iraq to be lifted. On Jan. 30, the day after the speech, Mr. Aziz flew back to Moscow. But neither Mr. Ivanov nor any other ranking Russian official would now agree to see him.
by Bjørn Stærk
by Bjørn Stærk
Friday, February 15, 2002
Thursday, February 14, 2002
by Bjørn Stærk
(Or maybe not. I just looked up Australia on the map, and it's big, and apparently got loads of dangerous animals! Maybe we'll just let this whole thing pass. But don't let it happen again, whatever it was.)
Wednesday, February 13, 2002
by Bjørn Stærk
Somewhat higher on the punditry, but no less oriented towards facts, here's a recent CMIP study on Palestinian textbooks. Unlike the ones I've mentioned previously, this one looks at and extensively quotes books written recently, for the 2000-2002 school years. Improvement? Decide for yourself, I've taken the day off from opinions.
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
by Bjørn Stærk
When reformist President Mohammad Khatami came to power on May 23, 1997, the stringent laws restricting the issuance of new publishing licenses were relaxed and more than 500 new licenses were issued in less than six months. In February, 1998, Iran's first reformist newspaper, Jameah (Society), began publishing out of Tehran. It was an overnight success. Within a few months, more than 50 reformist newspapers and weeklies began publishing around the country. For almost two years, the Iranian press enjoyed an unprecedented freedom to reflect public opinion and to conduct investigations into government corruption.
Monday, February 11, 2002
You know, there's this old American dictum: no taxation without representation. What is sometimes overlooked is that the converse is also true: no representation without taxation. And with our revenues, they didn't need taxes; therefore, they didn't need assemblies to levy taxes. And they were made independent of public opinion in their own countries with this untold wealth accruing from oil revenues. This greatly strengthened the power of autocratic governments, far greater than it had ever been in the past. Now if traditional Islamic government is authoritarian, but it is not dictatorial or despotic, it is governed under certain rules and so on. In modern times, the power of the author--the power of the ruler has been vastly augmented by these huge revenues so that he doesn't need public support or public approval of his taxes. It has also been increased by all kinds of modern devices for surveillance and repression so that any tin pot dictator today wields far greater powers than were ever wielded by Suleyman the Magnificent or Harun al-Rashid or any of the legendary rulers of the Islamic past.
I loved it, but as a politics student it got tiring explaining that yes, people could go outside and not get shot in the US. Your most recent post, on the Dagbladet article, reminded me of a lecture I went to in Seattle given by a Norwegian foreign office functionary about a year ago. This being a very liberal, idealistic audience and this being a Norwegian diplomat fresh off his success in "solving" the middle east. After his talk, one Norwegian student and I pressed him a bit at having put the entire palestinian situation in the win column so quickly. You could see his face change - he looked through this Norwegian woman with barely disguised contempt - "They've gotten to you," you could almost hear him say. He was so convinced that dialogue was the key to everything - trumping ideology, reason, etc., that he could not hear of criticism. Like the post on USS Clueless today, he confused dialogue with peace. Dialogue is great, but it doesn't solve the world's problems in every instance. Hence those weird little headers in the Dagbladet story: Very Difficult, Unpleasant. What? You're talking about prosecuting a war on the perpetrators of unspeakable evil - and you talk about administrative unpleasantness?
by Bjørn Stærk
Stein Tønnesson, Director of the International Peace Research Institute, fears Bush is trying to imitate Reagan:
Tønnesson jumped in his chair when George W. Bush talked about the state of the union and an "axis of evil", of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, two weeks ago. Now he fears the consequences of Bush's speech. - I reacted with alarm to how one-sided and dogmatic the speech was. Bush turns such three different countries as Iraq, Iran and North Korea into the new enemy, to take over after the Soviet Union and fascism. He creates a false enemy image. [..] In World War 2 there were a genuine axis, and the Soviet Union were a genuine empire. But Iran, Iraq and North Korea have no alliance between them. They are three authoritarian regimes the US don't like.
But neither, I hope, do we. I don't think it has been proven to me that these three countries are a significant threat to the US, or to Europe, nothing like Soviet anyway, but they are a significant threat to their own population, and to the region. I won't urge anyone on, but if the Americans feel they can improve their own and/or world security by removing Saddam Hussein, and are willing to pay the price, I won't protest, and neither will most Iraqis.
Military action against Iran is absolutely out of the question, but unlike European pundits I don't interpret everything Bush says in the worst sense. We're not talking about trigger-happy cowboys here, but a mostly well-meaning super power with 50 years experience in real world diplomacy. Dialogue and compromise is an important part of diplomacy, but so is the art of making threats. Norway can't make threats, we're right below Care Bears on the cuddly-scale, so we favor and recognize the only weapon we have: talk. American threats carry much weight, and if they're planning to attack Iraq anyway it makes even more sense to include other countries on the same list. It does not mean that they're searching for someone to fill their basic need of an Enemy - I thought we all agreed to abandon that idea five months ago, when the "false enemy" of the early 90's, Muslim terrorists, turned out to be rather real after all.
Kåre Willoch, former Prime Minister, Conservative Party:
I am particularly puzzled that three such different countries are put in the same category. I see a significant difference between Iran and Iraq. And I see a significant risk connected with disturbing South Korean attempts to open a dialogue with North Korea. The world obviously needs a world police, but not one that works alone, with no cooperation with other countries. It is also my opinion that the American policy in Palestine is strangely unwise - and by itself enough to undermine the conditions for removing terrorism.
One of the strangest books I own is a Norwegian translation, published in 1972, of "A Short Account of Comrade Kim Il Sungs Revolutionary Activities", by the Institute of Party History for the Korean Workers Party Central Committee. It's good for many laughs, (and a good introduction to the art of propaganda, if that is something you want to learn), but there's nothing funny at all about the situation in North Korea. Like Afghanistan under Taliban, it is a hell created by humans, but this one has been in operation for 50 years.
What happens when one million desperate, brainwashed and armed men are set loose on their own population? What happens when the State implodes in a country where State is all? How can a famished people, which have lived mostly on religion and water for years, behind some of the tightest borders in the world, absorb the reality of their southern neighbours without going mad? If the inclusion of North Korea in the axis of evil means that the US plan military action against it, this does not make me happy, but at least I'm honest about why: It's the dead animal in the basement dilemma. It has lain there, decomposing, for a while, and the smell will only get worse the longer I put off removing it, but I'm afraid of what will crawl out when I pick it up. Someone has to clean up the mess, but I don't want to be close when it happens.
But nowhere, of course, in the ultimate solution, does "dialogue" come before the fall of Kim Jong-Il and the Juche ideology. The idea is ridiculous. Dialogue assumes there's something to discuss, but to the North Korean government, all that matters is survival. With that there can be no meaningful dialogue, only blackmail and threats. No matter what demands Kim Jong-Il (or whoever is pulling the strings in there) pretend to give in to, the path to wealth, peace and freedom for North Korea is shorter through the accellerated, but unavoidable, fall of his regime. It will still be very long and painful, though, and whoever triggers it is likely to receive the blame.
Geir Lundestad, Director of the Nobel Institute:
The American policy in Afghanistan has been very successful, and that is partly why one now talks of continuing the success. But there is a genuine danger of overplaying this role, that the US will do whatever they like. Many in the Defense Department are itching to get started, and Powell has lost many fights. I am completely opposed to an invasion of Iraq.
Colin Powell is, of course, the Thinking Man's Republican, in the eyes of European punditry. The rest of the gang is an untrustworthy lot, bullying third world dictators and that nice president we liked.
Svein Melby, Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy:
Bush keeps turning the question of terrorism into a question of good versus evil. This simplifies, and at the same time makes it difficult to attack Bush. The "Axis of Evil" is a clear and simple challenge intended to maintain public support, and signals an enormous will to reach the goals that are set. It is rather a question of being feared and respected, than of being loved.
Perhaps not such a bad idea, as long as it achieves the goal, and is done for the right reasons. The Americans have protected Western Europe for half a century, and most of our intellectuals still can't stand them. One speculates how the US should have acted, for the Taliban to have given them bin Laden out of love.
Janne Haaland Matlary, University of Oslo, Section of International Politics:
The US is a super power with a vastly superior military arsenal. They also have a very simplified view of the terrorist problem. In worst case this means that the US, on its own, will attack all countries they claim harbor terrorists. If there are no new signals of a discussion of international law and cooperation, we will notice a division between the US and Europe.
A division between the US and Europe? No kidding! Between certain sections of the countries, anyway. We are still one culture, broadly speaking. The center of it currently resides on the other side of the Atlantic, but not necessarily for long. (When Americans go to Norwegian websites to read opinions about their own foreign policy, tell me, who's the cultural imperialist? Does anyone still keep track of these things?)
Friday, February 08, 2002
by Bjørn Stærk
Saturday, February 02, 2002
The emancipation of women, more than any other single issue, is the touchstone of difference between modernization and Westernization. Even the most extreme and most anti-Western fundamentalists nowadays accept the need to modernize and indeed to make the fullest use of modern techonology, especially the technologies of warfare and propaganda. This is seen as modernization, and though the methods and even the artifacts come from the West, it is accepted as necessary and even as useful. The emancipation of women is Westernization; both for traditional conservatives and radical fundamentalists it is neither necessary nor useful but noxious, a betrayal of true Islamic values. It must be kept from entering the body of Islam, and where it has already entered, it must be ruthlessly excised.
If the peoples of the Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner or later in yet another alien domination�perhaps from a new Europe reverting to old ways, perhaps from a resurgent Russia, perhaps from some expanding superpower in the East. But if they can abandon grievance and victimhood, settle their differences, and join their talents, energies, and resources in a common creative endeavor, they can once again make the Middle East, in modern times as it was in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, a major center of civilization. For the time being, the choice is theirs.
I tried to dig up some dirt on Lewis - if he were sloppy with facts, or agenda-driven, I would not be in a position to tell - but found little of value. There's Edward Said, of course, who calls Lewis a "veteran orientalist" with "ideological colors". This critique by a Saudi academic is heavy on the accusations, but offers no examples of actual mistakes. A French court sentenced him to a 1 franc fine for denying the Armenian genocide of 1915. (Rebuttal here.) The most interesting (but propably least reliable) accusation comes from the Executive Intelligence Review, which basically accuses Lewis of almost single-handedly causing the Iranian revolution and the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979. Wow.
Friday, February 01, 2002
by Bjørn Stærk
This same press has succumbed to the influence of the Washington-based pro- Israel organization that translates the Arab press into English, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Muslims feel that if Arab Muslims established a group in the United States to show the hatred published against the Arabs, they would be accused of anti-Semitism. Thus we see a concerted campaign against anything organized for the Muslims anywhere in the world and we all know who is behind this campaign.
It's a bit hard to know who "you *cough*zionist*cough* know *cough*conspiracy*cough* who" is, when you know who is never named. Whom *cough*international*cough* could he be *cough*jew*cough* referring to?
by Bjørn Stærk
by Bjørn Stærk