Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Darfur: Where is the American black outrage?

What has been described as "the first genocide of the 21st Century" is raging in Darfur, a region in western Sudan the size of Texas. During the past two years more than 400,000 black African Muslims have been slaughtered and more than 2.5 million made homeless.

The perpetrators of this savagry are the so-called Janjaweed, government-sponsored Sudanese Arab militias whose rampages are clearly racially-inspired. A survivor of a Janjaweed raid told a New York Times correspondent that the raiders called her a slave, ridiculed her black skin, and told her that "we cannot let black people live in this land."

The racial component in this humanitarian disaster has been confirmed by other news reports, emphasizing the strong traditional bias of Sudan's Arabs against the nation's black people. What is happening in Darfur mirrors a similar campaign in recent years by Sudan's Arab Muslim regime against black Christians and animists in the southern part of the country.

The mystifying angle in this tragedy is that most Sudanese Arabs are themselves dark-skinned and would probably be considered Negroid elsewhere. But because of their Arab roots and much lighter skin, they regard themselves as racially superior to the fully African, black-skinned tribes of Sudan's western and southern regions. Despite Islamic doctrine that preaches ethnic and racial universality, it is evident that skin pigmentation is an important cultural element in some Arab societies.

Against the horrendous background of racial cleansing in Darfur, where is the outrage in the American black community? Where are the public rallies, boycott threats against Sudan, demands for international action, and other protest demonstrations?

Some African-American community leaders do participate in the Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of more than 100 human rights groups fighting to halt the butchery and aid the hapless Darfur people. Included in the alliance, not surprisingly, are Jewish organizations which see in the genocide in Darfur a dreadful semblance to the Holocaust.

But I am unaware of an angry outcry about Darfur by the most prominent African-American militants, notably Louis Farrakhan, Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Most striking is the apparent absence of Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, in the effort to defend fellow black Muslims in Africa. If these activists have expressed outrage at the massacres of African blacks by Arab militias, it has certainly been muted.

Ironically, Farrakhan, McKinney and, to a lesser extent, Sharpton and Jackson, continue to devote their energies to bashing Israel and promoting the Palestinian Arab cause. With little critical understanding of the issues in the Middle East, they and some other African-American spokesmen have simplistically demonized Israel.

Instead of continuing to depict the Israelis as colonial ogres oppressing Palestinian Arabs, they should focus on the more relevant issue of the genuine suffering of Darfur's Muslim black people at the hands of Sudanese Arabs.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

MEMOIR: Meeting Henry Kissinger in a Georgia bar

The first time I ever saw or heard of Henry Kissinger was in a bar outside Columbus, Ga. The bar was in the officers' club at Fort Benning. As I recall, the year was 1958.

The occasion was the annual convention of the Association of the U.S. Army, a professional society for career military men. At the time I was working as a reporter covering the Pentagon, and I was one of about a dozen journalists invited to attend the convention.

Kissinger, who was a relatively junior Harvard professor, had recently published a book entitled "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy." The book dealt with such issues as the potential use of "tactical" nuclear arms in a so-called "limited war." Kissinger had been invited to the convention to speak about this exotic subject.

Although unknown to the general public, Kissinger had gained some attention in the military community as an expert on international relations and defense policies. His expertise was displayed in his new book and in research projects at the Council of Foreign Relations and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Kissinger's reputation had been enhanced by his standing as a protege of the fund's key figure, Nelson Rockefeller, who later became New York's governor and the nation's vice-president.

I recall reading somewhere that Kissinger had been an accounting student at the City College of New York before his induction into the Army in 1943. In the service, like many other young German Jewish refugees serving in the armed forces, he had been assigned to the Intelligence Corps because of his personal background.

His assignment brought him into close contact with a high-ranking officer who had been a college professor in civilian life. The professor had been a prominent scholar in the field of foreign affairs. He steered Kissinger's academic interest away from accounting to his own specialty, and he was influential in getting Kissinger admitted to Harvard as an undergraduate after his Army discharge.

Having been a mere Army sergeant during World War II, I am sure Kissinger must have gloried in his status a mere decade later as a consultant to whom generals and admirals would turn for advice.

The convention was scheduled to begin on a Saturday morning. Both Kissinger and I arrived late in the afternoon the previous day. After unpacking, I realized that none of the other journalists had arrived yet. I decided to go to the base's officers club for a drink. Uniformed officers were seated at tables scattered around the room. Standing at the bar I noticed a lone figure in civilian clothing.

It was Henry Kissinger. I introduced myself and told him what I was doing at the convention. He was notably unimpressed by my credentials. He had a sour expression on his face, and seemed bored making small talk with a mere young journalist. Personal charm was not one of his attributes. Our conversation was not very prolonged.

Who would have imagined that this grumpy guy, standing alone at a bar in Georgia, would ever become, for a while at least, one of the world's most influential men?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The joys of blogging

I began this blog nine months ago, motivated by the same reason most amateur painters paint. They paint, not with any intent to exhibit or sell their paintings, but for the sheer pleasure of painting. I was a journalist for 40 years and I like to write. But because of deadlines and other professional pressures, writing for a living was not consistent with recreational pleasure. As a retiree, however, I figured that writing as recreation would be different, and it has been.

I don't play bridge (much to my bridge-playing wife's disgust) or other card games. I played golf many decades ago, but found it a bore and quit. My favorite form of recreation was always tennis, which I began playing as a teen-ager. But my athletic career ended a few years ago after replacing both my aortic heart valve and my right hip and becoming unwilling to tolerate the constant pain of arthritic knees and bursitis/tendinitis in my right playing shoulder. (I never got a clear diagnosis about the shoulder from my orthopedic specialist, even after arthroscopic surgery.)

So what can an old man do for recreation that will produce both pleasure and at the same time exercise my brain cells? I discovered blogging. When my wife complains about the time I devote to it, I argue that blogging is an antidote to senile dementia.

While I share the motivation of the amateur painter who paints simply for pleasure, I would like people to read the stuff I write. I wondered who if anyone would ever see my commentaries on current events and my autobiographical ramblings. So I dumped my blog web address on friends and relatives to assure that at least someone would be exposed to the material.

To promote the blog, I've begun to add my blog address after my name when sending e-mail messages. There are dozens of Internet sites enabling bloggers to maximize exposure to their web pages. Unfortunately, however, I am a technophobe still intimidated by computer complexities, and I rarely succeed in latching on to those sites.

I did get a batch of potential readers by authorizing a Montreal-based online magazine devoted to Jewish issues, "The Gantseh Megillah" (roughly translated from Yiddish: "the whole deal"), to publish any of my blog postings that might be of interest to them..

The online magazine ran a piece in which I wrote that Yiddish is "becoming obsolete like Latin." I received an angry complaint from one reader that I was exaggerating the threat to the language's survival. After an exchange of e-mail messages, she toned down the criticism, conceding that there was some truth to my claim and explaining that she "saw the glass half full while I saw it half empty."

To my astonishment, other strangers out there are reading my stuff, as comments increasingly show up on my blog. In some cases, it's obvious how the writer discovered my blog. A gentleman in Oregon, for example, typed the name "Panagarh" into an Internet search engine and up came my blog. During World War II, I had been stationed briefly at a U.S. air base in a tiny village by that name in eastern India.

I mentioned that in a memoir about my military experiences. The man in Oregon had been an Air Corps pilot stationed at that base. We have since become geriatric pen pals, exchanging messages on politics, religion, medicine, and life in general. We disagree on many issues, but our exchanges have been stimulating and amiable.

I have also developed a geriatric pen-pal relationship with a 78-year old Holocaust survivor in Ontario who, as a teenager, escaped from a Nazi/Slovak labor camp and joined a partisan band fighting the Germans. While browsing the Internet for blogs, he encountered "Octogenarian," and wrote to tell me that he was soon to become one himself and that, as my blog showed, we shared many intellectual interests.

In most cases, however, I am puzzled how the writer found my blog. I was pleased and surprised to hear from a young correspondent who spotted my piece, "Islam's Judaic roots," and wrote that she "liked [my] blog...and wants to be a journalist someday."

My criticism of the Bush Administration and its decision to invade Iraq brought a volley of criticism from "Anonymous." I discovered the source only when a cousin, a retired Air Force colonel and the only known Republican in my family, sheepishly confessed that he was the anonymous critic.

But "Midwest Mad Man" agreed heartily with my observation that while the President had sent volunteer troops into combat in Iraq, neither he nor any other high-level Administration official had family members serving in the military. "None of the politicians want their kids anywhere near the disaster," he wrote. "But it's cool to send the others."

A blog posting entitled "Reflections on a 61-year old photo," dealing with my wartime experiences in India, produced the most gratifying comment a blogger could ever want. It came from a California lady who uses the Internet moniker "Sierrabella." The photo shows me and eight young Army buddies standing in our underwear in front of a volley ball net. With the picture are personal details I still remember about each man. "This is the best written essay I've yet come across in 'blog' world." she wrote. "Thank you!" Sierrabella made my day.

Responding to my message thanking her for her generous compliment, she suggested that I post the actual photo on my blog. When I told her I didn't know how to do that, she graciously e-mailed me instructions that were far more helpful that the instructions provided by the blog server. After I succeeded, she wrote: "Hurrah, you posted the photo!"

Another admirer is a lady rabbinical student in California who requested permission to use something that she had read on my blog. Did she really think I would object to such a kind inquiry? She then posted this message on an Internet web site: "I found a lovely blog recently, Octogenarian. If you are interested in Israel, Jews in America, and/or common sense, I recommend the writing of this retired journalist."

There is indeed joy in blogging.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Arab psychosis

Soon after the people of Jordan absorbed the dreadful news of the recent suicide bombings of three Amman hotels, the word quickly spread that the Israelis were responsible. There is a knee-jerk reaction in the Arab world that whenever a major terrorist act occurs, the perpetrators are Israeli, even when it is clearly evident that Arabs or other Muslims are the killers.

After the World Trade Center was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, rumors floated throughout Arab countries that thousands of Jews in New York City had been alerted not to show up for work that day at the center. Thus it was obvious that Israel was behind the attack.

The American-educated Prince Turki al-Faisal, then Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Great Britain and now his nation's ambassador to the U.S., solemnly declared that the Mossad, Israel's secret service, was responsible not only for 9/11 but also for subsequent terrorist actions in his own country.

In Egypt, Israel was widely blamed for recent terrorist bombings at Taba and Sharm el-Sheik and even for recent sectarian violence between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Alexandria. In Syria, some high-level government officials claimed that Israel had assassinated Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister.

These nonsensical charges of Israeli involvement in such events demonstrate that there is a pathetic inferiority complex in play in much of the Arab world. For example, commenting on last year's attack on the Hilton Hotel in Taba, in which the victims were mostly Israeli tourists, Gen. Fouad Allam, Egypt's former director of state security, argued that the Mossad must have been responsible. In a quote cited by the New York Times, Allam said: "It was very well planned, studied, professional, and with a very high capacity. We never had this kind of capacity over the past 50 years."

After 9/11, allegedly sophisticated Arab spokesmen made similar arguments, claiming that their ethnic/religious brethren lacked the professional skills to successfully plan and conduct such a highly complicated attack.

In effect, much of the Arab world seems to be suffering from a cultural psychosis, at least when it comes to a relationship with Israel.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Iraq and Bush's superficial Presidency

The first Presidential election that I can remember was the 1932 contest between the incumbent, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. I was an 8-year old, and I rooted for Hoover to win. The reason: My cousin, who was my favorite playmate, was also named Herbert.
The same type of juvenile reasoning that induced me to root for Hoover 73 years ago apparently induced enough voters in the 2000 and 2004 elections to install George W. Bush in the White House. After all, Bush was for God and guns, he was against gay marriage, and he was the sort of guy—unlike those sophisticates Al Gore and John Kerry—with whom you’d feel most comfortable sitting down to have a beer.
The past five years have demonstrated that this same kind of superficiality and sheer incompetence characterize the Bush Administration. It has committed so many important domestic and foreign policy blunders that it seems certain to go down in history as the most incompetent administration that the nation has ever been saddled with.
The Iraq invasion was the most serious blunder. Most important, it has weakened the effectiveness of our high-priority war against terrorism by creating new battle fronts and new enemies. It has also alienated many of our allies willing to join us in battling terrorism.
More than 2,000 American troops have been killed, many more thousands wounded, uncounted innocent civilians have been killed, chaos reigns in Iraqi society, and many billions of dollars are being added to the nation’s massive debt load. Meantime, the once glorious image of America has been damaged around the world.
The initial justification for the Iraq invasion was an alleged imminent threat by Saddam Hussein to attack the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction. Before going into Iraq, we had justifiably invaded Afghanistan. That’s where Al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing, was harbored by the Taliban’s extremist Islamic regime.
But instead of concentrating on destroying Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S.invaded Iraq. Although it had become obvious that the WMD threat was a phony one, the Bush Administration claimed that the Iraq invasion was justified because Saddam Hussein had been Al-Qaeda’s collaborator in 9/11.
In effect, Bush was emulating the illogical belligerence displayed decades earlier by Lyndon Johnson, another macho Texan president. Johnson used a phony claim of a North Vietnamese attack on an American warship in the Tonkin Bay to expand what had been a U.S. military advisory mission in South Vietnam into a full-scale war against North Vietnam.
As any honest Middle East expert knew, it was inconceivable that Saddam and Al-Qaeda were allies, making it unlikely that Saddam had a role in 9/11. Iraq was a secular Muslim state, and its dictatorial leader was a hard-drinking whoremonger who violated Islam’s basic religious tenets. Al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts were fanatic Islamic fundamentalists who regarded Saddam and his regime as evil infidels.
It was recently disclosed that the Defense Intelligence Agency submitted this very same analysis to the White House months before the Iraq invasion. It was ignored. The Administration continued to rely on a discredited claim by an informant that there was a working relationship between Saddam and Al-Qaeda.
And the rest is very tragic history.

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