Online Conversations

September 1, 2007

Bradley Burston Owes Me.

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 9:26 am

On August 26th in an online conversation on GNblog I made this series of comments:

– And no, I don’t think small Jewish settlements should leave, as long as they are willing to live within the law in the territory they fall under. Of course, if they want to….

– I know what you mean about leaving the settlers, but after much discussion with National Religious settlers who talk about Israel making the WB “Judenfrei” in order to instill some good Jewish guilt, I prefer to provide a soft target and call their bluff.

– Rather than provide the PR nightmare of visions of the IDF dragging them off, ten times more dramatic than in Gaza, I would let them stay, provided they agree, in writing to become residents of Palestine and to abide by its laws. I would also make absolutely clear, to avoid any attempts at stirring trouble, that under no circumstances would Israel invade or go to war over them and that if the Pal government could not protect them, at most they could expect assistance with repatriation to Israel. Just like any foreigner anywhere else. There would probably need to be a trade off with the Pals for good will and their protection, such as a symbolic trade with some 1948 refugees in the WB.

– Moshe – the settlers, whether you agree with their position or not, are grown-ups. No need to infantilize them. To move within the green line/prospective border with appropriate compensation or to remain at their own risk/expense is simple enough to understand.
For an entire nation to be blackmailed by a small minority holding itself hostage in order to affect foreign policy is ridiculous. And this minority will never ever compromise.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this article titled “Let the Settlers stay Where They Are” in Haaretz by noted columnist Bradley Burston and dated September 1st.

Some quotes:

The answer is simple. The settlers are right. They should stay right where they are. No matter what. Even if there is an eventual peace. Even if the land they live on is part of a Palestinian state.

For decades, the leaders of the settlement movement have told us that they will not leave their homes for the sake of a decision of the sovereign government of the state of Israel. They vow to make any future substantial evacuation of settlers from the West Bank so gut-wrenchingly difficult as to be functionally impossible.

…Let us, then, take the settlers at their word. If settling the land captured in 1967 is of paramount importance to the Jewish people, settling the land should also take precedence over making sure that land belongs to the Jewish state.

..And while we’re at it, let us take the Palestinians at theirs. If they are so concerned about the evils of apartheid, then they must accept the idea of Jews living in their midst.

….Let them stay. Let them stay right where they are. Let them have the courage of their beliefs. It’s a test. For the settlers and, especially, for the Palestinians.

And some of the people I had that conversation with (and who disagreed with me) cheerleading in the talkbalks!

I think I will be writing him a letter. Either we share the same mental space a la Jung and his “Universal Unconscious”, or someone read my stuff.


August 27, 2007

Green Building

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 3:44 pm

I got all tied up in a huge argument on another blog and have exhausted myself (silly me).
In the meantime, I will indulge in sharing another interest of mine – green architecture, as in environmentally friendly.

This is a growing field that encompasses everything from the very high tech to a real back-to-basics approach, which is where I would like to start this ongoing topic.

First up is an amazing “hobbit house” built by a young family who couldn’t afford a regular house purchase and were offered some land by a farmer to build a home as in tune with nature as possible. Their results were astounding, and the pictures speak for themselves:

Front of the House

The living area by candlelight, does it get any cosier?

View of the kitchen from the sleeping platform.

For all that it is picturesque, it may be a bit more basic than I would like, but the idea and the images are fascinating.
You can read the story of the house, see plans, and read a detailed account of the building process here.

August 21, 2007

Gods Warriors

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 9:40 pm

CNN is running a special, starting tonight entitled “God Warriors” featuring religious fundementalists from Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Right up my street but I don’t have CNN so will have someone tape it and will not be able to comment on it for a couple of days.
If this stuff floats your boat though, you might want to take a look.

August 20, 2007

Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 11:30 pm

I came across this documentary tonight on one of my local PBS stations (lucky me I have three). It purports to show moderate Muslims in Denmark, France, Canada and the US who have been threatened for speaking out against radical Islam. It shows a Danish/Syrian legislator who spoke out against an attempt to set up a parallel Shaaria system in Denmark, a French Muslim journalist who uncovered a terrorist ring, a Canadian activist, a Sufi Imam in the US, an ex member of Nation of Islam who testified that the Saudis were actively promoting Wahabi Islam in the US and an American doctor who wants to promote Muslim/Democratic centrism.

Below is a trailer for the film. If you find the full version of the program online, be warned that there is a rather graphic segment showing women being stoned to death in the middle.

PBS Censored Documentary – Islam Vs. Islamists – Trailer

After viewing it and looking it up online it turns out that it was subject to a bit of controversy. It was originally commissioned as part of PBS series “America at a Crossroads” which was an 11 part (each independantly produced), 6 night series on Islam and America, but PBS decided not to air it because of perceived bias and inflammatory subject matter. One of the producers is Frank Gaffrey, who it turns out (I hadn’t heard of him) is a super neo-conservative, not exactly someone I share much in common with, but I would still have watched anyway.
I think that in originally banning it PBS gave it more power than it might have had if it had just remained part of the series – which would have fit it better as they chose a pretty narrow subject matter. It became a cause celebre of FOX news, right wing bloggers and the neo conservative establishment which used it as proof positive of “liberal bias” in the media.

So, what did I think? It was OK. I found the production to be a little rough, and was surprised to find that it was produced by a respected director. I also did find it a little narrow and alarmist in its focus. We see a few outspoken moderates who are being threatened by radicals. What we don’t get any idea of is how many radicals there might be, and how representative the moderates are. I would have liked to see more from moderate secular Muslims; it was good to see the ones we did, but they were presented as an embattled minority. The doctor did mention that the radicals are a very small minority and that there is a large silent majority, but that is all we hear.

Some interesting facts did emerge. It appears that the same cleric who was pushing for a parallel Shaaria system in Denmark was the same individual who incited the riots over the Danish cartoons. Even more interesting was that when he travelled to Arab nations to raise support, along with the cartoons, he also took other images, such as pigs with faces, and presented them as anti-Mohammed propaganda when they had no connection whatsoever.
Also, the Danish/Syrian legislator was being hounded by radicals pronouncing that they would never accept democracy or human legislators (making laws made them on a level with Allah, unacceptable). I don’t know how to reconcile that with living in a democratic country.
In the US, the Nation of Islam ex-member told of large amounts of Saudi money that was flowing to congregations and that the focus was on hard line Wahabi Islam. (This actually happened in a mosque near me, the more moderate Levantine congregation is now suing to have the Nation of Islam imam removed, America at it finest). The Sufi Imam mentioned the same thing. The doctor mentioned that the radical clerics moving in focus almost entirely on politics, not on the spiritual at all.

It was definitely interesting, if not the best documentary I have ever seen. I personally like to see separation of Church and State as much as possible – I deplore the extent to which Christianity is seeping into American politics and would like to see Israel separate Synogogue and State, so seeing the political aspects of Islam worries me.

Sectarianism in the Lebanese Media

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 2:53 pm

Americans tend to believe that the media must be impartial. In America, even partisan outlets like to call themselves “fair and balanced”. So it frequently comes as a surprise to them that this is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world. In the UK for instance, newspapers will frequently define themselves as right leaning or left leaning and will happily endorse political canditates for Prime Minister according to their party. This tends to work out where the intended audience knows this and factors this in. Where things become confused is where the digital age has opened up local media to a global audience which is not tuned in to local social mores. Many times I have seen a foreign reader make proclamations concerning a nation using a local media resource without realizing that the single source’s goal is to represent one side in a national discourse.

One such country is Lebanon, where major media outlets are in fact owned by different factions and exist to promote their agendas.

From Lebanon Unplugged.

“Lebanese journalism in Lebanon comes close to nothing but biased to a certain political party or entity. Journalism in Lebanon has lost its meaning, it has lost all of its integrity and objectivity in my eyes, and has turned into nothing but a tool of one of the most fiercest propaganda wars that Lebanon has faced in a long time, maybe since its independence.
But the metaphysical nature has an interesting twist to it. In Lebanon, as a journalist, if you somewhat come close to the truth you are actually set free from your physical nature. To put it more bluntly, you are killed.”

Or from Free Mediathe online publication of the International Press Institute.

“The mission concluded that many publications and radio and television stations are close to political and religious groups, and are, at times, promoting specific political agendas. As media outlets asserted their positions on controversial issues, journalists were increasingly being seen not as independent observers, but as representatives of political movements, open to attack from opposing factions.
This politicization has affected every aspect of the Lebanese media and it has become increasingly difficult for journalists to express an opinion without being accused of serving one political faction or another. Pressure from readers had intensified, as had editorial interference by political representatives.
The level of self-censorship has increased throughout the media. Journalists, who previously have been outspoken critics of political and social developments, now question how safe they are when taking a controversial stand on such issues.”

And Paul Cochrane in a May 2007 article in Arab Media Society asks “Are Lebanons Media Fanning the Flames of Sectarianism?”

Lebanese TV channels are split into two camps: on the one hand, Hizbullah-backed Al Manar TV, the National Broadcasting Network (NBN) and New TV pro-opposition, and on the other hand, Mustaqbal (Future) TV and the Lebanese Broadcasting Company (LBC) pro-government.[3]

“Every Lebanese TV channel has a propaganda leaning. Some try to be balanced, but all have their agendas. It’s pretty clear from the content they produce,” said Habib Battah, Managing Editor of the Beirut-based Middle East Broadcasters Journal.

…Nabil Dajani, a communications professor at the American University of Beirut, said the media were deliberately inflaming sectarianism, but believed the blame does not lie solely with the media.”

It is in many ways not surprising that with Lebanon divided along sectarian lines, the media reflects this. Especially when the consequences for not toeing the line can be extreme.

What is truly important is that international readers know and understand this, especially when quoting one Lebanese source as the “de facto” expert.

August 19, 2007

Wisdom of Terry Pratchett #2

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 10:23 pm

“Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”

Danger of Being a Journalist in Lebanon

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 12:38 pm

Being a journalist can involve calling up the families of the dead to ask about their lives. It can involve writing opinions and being interviewed on television about them; or chatting to the rich, famous or powerful and basking in the reflected glow of celebrity. It can involve watching someone die of hunger and then getting on a plane out of the region well fed and happy. It can involve being blown to bits.

In Lebanon in 2005, three Journalist were blown up in car bombings. Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni were killed. May Chidiac’s political criticisms literally lost her an arm and a leg. They were all critical of Syria, Syrian involvement in Lebanon and Syrias potential involvement in the car bombing deaths of Lebanese polititians.

Being a journalist in Lebanon is dangerous business.

Of course, not long ago there was very little free press in Lebanon at all. As noted in this article:

Opinion pieces and unrestricted programming have existed in Lebanon since the dismantling of Lebanon’s General Security. The special branch of the Ministry of the Interior was off-limits according to media censors until 2005. At the discretion of the security forces, criticism of Syria and nonconformist publications were blocked, and journalists systematically followed.

The Lebanese film maker and Berlin resident, Myrna Maakaron, makes the comparison that “the General Security controlled things in Lebanon the way the Stasi did in the DDR. At the top of the pyramid were Syrian agents.” In addition to direct censorship, the security forces undertook silencing and intimidation of journalists.

More on the topic in this 2000 article:

Lebanese journalists were not immune to violent attack. On October 11 (1999), a group of Lebanese photojournalists, working with the local and foreign media, were assaulted by Lebanese soldiers joined by security guards from a fertilizer factory in the northern town of Selaata. Some of the journalists’ cameras were damaged or confiscated during the melee. They had been accompanying a group of activists from the environmental organization Greenpeace who were attempting to stage a peaceful protest at the factory, which they accused of polluting Lebanese waters.

Syria’s controversial military presence, which critics dubbed an “occupation,” continued to exert a negative impact on press freedom. The memories of 1976, when Syrian troops occupied and temporarily closed the offices of several newspapers upon their arrival in Beirut, are still fresh in the minds of most Lebanese journalists. Several journalists who criticized Assad’s regime in the early eighties were mysteriously assassinated in Beirut. As a result, self-censorship in reporting about Syrian affairs remained widespread. Local media have cited the reports of international human-rights groups on Syria, but Lebanese journalists steer clear of direct criticism that could trigger Syrian retaliation.

Even after Syria withdrew from Lebanon, there is evidence that old habits die hard.
A long freemedia piece details some of the events in 2006, even before the Israel/Hezbollah war in Lebanon.

A number of worrying developments took place within Lebanon’s media environment earlier in the year and sparked concern that journalists were facing increased harassment and intimidation.

…Demonstrators set fire to buildings housing the Danish and Norwegian embassies on 5 February. News photographers and cameramen at the scene were assaulted by protestors and some equipment was destroyed.

…Criminal charges filed against two journalists of the daily Al Mustaqbal on 3 March prompted serious concern that authorities were stepping up judicial harassment of the press. Editor-in-chief, Tawfiq Khattab, and correspondent, Fares Khashan, were charged with insulting and defaming the president after Al Mustaqbal published an interview with former army intelligence chief, Johnny Abdo, in which Abdo criticized President Emile Lahoud. If convicted, Khattab and Khashan could face up to two years in prison. Known for it’s critical stance on political affairs, Al Mustaqbal and its journalists face a total of 12 charges relating to defaming the president and other members of parliament.

…In mid-December, IPI carried out a fact-finding mission to Lebanon to investigate how political instability was affecting the media and observed that as political tensions increased, so did the number of attacks on journalists. A number of reporters covering the demonstrations, which saw tens of thousands of Hezbollah supporters converging on downtown Beirut, were assaulted and threatened while covering events.
Media representatives affiliated with outlets perceived as being anti-Syrian or pro-government, also reported that their correspondents faced increased harassment as tensions heightened, particularly when working in towns in the south of the country, which are strongholds for Hezbollah support. Journalists who work with media outlets that have been critical of Hezbollah have faced intimidation from supporters angry with the outlet’s content.

…Journalists also reported increased concern for their personal safety, with a number of media representatives stating that heightened political divisions made the ominous threat of assassination ever more worrying.

And we have not even gone into the topic of kidnappings of foreign journalists over the years….

Licensed to Reincarnate?

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 11:36 am

Newsweek is reporting in its US paper edition the following:

China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission.

Does it get any more ridiculous than trying to legislate what peoples souls do after they die?

The actual reason for this decree is to cut off the influence of the current Dalai Lama and to give Chinese authorites the power to choose the next one. Supposedly the current holder of the title is now promising to reincarnate outside of Tibet.

Another interesting tidbit at the bottom of the article is that in surveys by a Christian non-profit, 25% of US Christians and 10% of Born Again Christians favor reincarnation over other end-of-life options. Which I believe is not a Christian view. But never mind.

August 14, 2007

For Your Perusal

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 9:45 am

Off to the beach with the kids today, but I have included links to a couple of really great posts if anyone stops by and wants a good read.

Firstly, The Artist Formerly Known as Purple Parrot, (PP) has just returned from a “Fun Day” with her Palestinian office mates in the North of Israel. This is just about the funniest post I have read in a while as PP has a certain wry sense of humour to say the least:

Then a boat full of 16 year-old American girls drifts past, getting stuck in the riverbank trees until my Old City-dwelling colleague masterfully sets them free. “Ohmigod, Israeli guys are like, SO. HOT.” says one of them, gazing at his Palestinian back adoringly as we sail away

Read the rest here.

Also recommended are a couple of posts by Leah at Jerusalem Gypsy. Leah is a Jewish woman, once Orthodox who lives in the “Settlement” of Maale Adumim and who spends a great deal of time working in interfaith groups. Here last two posts detail a trip to the Arab town of Beit Hanina and a hike to Walaja (Jerusalem environs) with a group that includes the residents of some refugee camps in the West Bank. An interesting read.

Lisa Goldman has just posted the article she has written for Time Out Tel Aviv about her recent visit to Beirut. Currently in Hebrew, she promises the English version shortly.

The rest of Journalism and Lebanon will be posted in the next couple of days.

August 12, 2007

Journalistic Bias

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisoosh @ 2:00 pm

I just want to be absolutely clear. When I wrote in the previous post about the weaponization of journalists I did not intend to imply intentional journalistic bias. Rather to indicate that while journalists aim for balance, that goal is frequently difficult if not impossible to acheive and that it would probably be better to be honest about the limitations up front. The previous BBC documentary is a perfect example, some statements come across as factual when in fact they represent the point of view of the interviewees.

Of course, access dictates this to some degree. Journalists in Iraq who are embedded with the army, by their very location, can do no more than present Iraq from the point of view of the army, they can’t show the life of the poor in Sadr City, or and in depth look at the Jihadis. This does not make the reporting bad, just limited. And it is important to show that. Many people seem to think they can show the “real story in Iraq” in a few pages. Is that possible? There are so many stories, from so many perspectives, I would suggest not. The “real story” depends on who you are and what your goals are.

Balance too can be an illusion. A recent Newsweek article on Global Warming pointed out that in attempting to be balanced, most outlets were giving more weight to those who debate it than their numbers warrented. Articles will frequently claim that “some” scientists dispute the evidence. What isn’t clear is that thousands of scientists back the theory that humans are adding to global warming. The scientists who dispute it number in the tens, most aren’t climate specialists, and of those who are half of them are paid serious money by Exxon Mobile and the coal industry. The goal of balance backfires.

Same goes for “intelligent design” presented as an alternative scientific theory to evolution. But Intelligent Design isn’t a scientific theory, it is a matter of faith. Trying to provide balance has actually strengthened a fallacious argument.

I don’t want to criticize journalists here. Most do a good job with what they have. Some risk life and limb in order to inform the world of important and sometimes earth shattering events. And they should be lauded for it. A great deal are prevented from telling the stories they want to because the public has no patience or interest in them.

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