…Deal!…..Deal!

November 27, 2013

News broke out over the weekend that a deal was finally struck in beautiful lakeside Geneva.

Well.  Technically, it’s a deal to work towards a deal in six months. So you might argue what’s the big deal?   But after 34 years of silent treatment, crippling sanctions and relentless threats of war by irresponsible crazies with way too much clout in the U.S. Congress; a deal to have a deal is a really big deal.

Within minutes the airwaves filled up with news, chatter and commentary; everyone claiming to have their finger on the left or right pulse of the truth.

Joy and relief on one side; rebuke and disgust on the other.  The indefatigable NIAC duo, Trita Parsi and Reza Marashi provided minute by minute updates for what played more suspenseful than a Hollywood blockbuster, and finally posted “Congratulations!” — then their ecstatic beaming photos captioned: “….if you’re wondering how happy we are!”

I clicked that “like” button over and over, more than anytime I remember, brimming with optimism in spite of my reservations toward the Islamic regime — even feeling a certain fondness for Mr. Zarif, who in a PR video earlier that week, had extended a reconciliatory hand in tandem with stressing mutual respect and insisting on all rights to peaceful enrichment for his nation under the NPT.  I liked his tone.

The text of the agreement was released. Iran would dilute their stockpile of enriched uranium; halt the installation of new centrifuges as well as the construction of the Arak reactor site; and allow intrusive international inspections by the IAEA.   

Sounds like a giant step. Whether it was the force of sanctions or the voice of the moderates, Presidents Rouhani and Obama both claimed victory. Whoever needs to pat themselves on the back — be my guest. That’s the nature of good diplomacy.

Conservative hawks denounced the accord as a sell out!  What exactly was being sold out is unclear since the ultimate deal is months away. The Saudis vying for regional dominance rushed to stand with Israel — a laughable alliance in itself — warning the White House against negotiating with the dangerous Iranians in cynical disregard to the fact that one is the prime incubator of the Jihadi movement, complicit in the continuing Syrian carnage and holder of the most dismal of human rights records; the other, serial violator of international law and of basic human rights of millions in the occupied territories.  

Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” after his intense lobby offensive failed to derail the talks. He drew on Jewish history – again – to invoke Israel’s security concerns, evidently clueless to the basic principle that the security of Israel without the security of its neighbors is a fantasy. John Bolton, the mother of all – sorry – the father of all intransigent war hawks called for nothing short of bombing Iran.

Predictably, the U.S. congress scrambled for a new round of sanctions at the run up to negotiations, leading one to believe that not one of them has passed a test in Diplomacy 101.  Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois went so far as to say …Israel is the reason he ran for the Senate. ”… I am totally dedicated to the survival of the state of Israel.”  Surely this is treason if you substitute any other name for “Israel.”

If the chorus line of the belligerents should prove anything, it is the one truism that concern for human rights in Iran is not on anyone’s agenda.   Not really.  Not even for many in the Iranian diaspora who seem more entangled in an ideological debate over Persian vs. Arab; and Moslem vs. Zoroastrian; and whose most hated American President in U.S. History is Jimmy Carter – the only President who ran on a platform of human rights.  

Many in the diaspora have instead found new love for the State of Israel on the premise that the enemy of their enemy must surely be their friend. They echo the same tired old hard lines on permanent replay by the neo-cons who’s foreign policy rhetoric is all of two words: Sanctions and War.  Why not!  Some argue.  Anything to dislodge the Mullahs.  Then our people shall be free!  “Inshallah the day will come to see a mullah hanging from every tree on Pahlavi Street.”   – An interesting strategy towards Democracy.

The voices are clear.   On one side, proponents of peace and moderation looking for a way out of a 34 year old impasse with an ear to the wave of reform and view to new possibilities.

On the other; the intransigence of ideology, real-politik and self-interest.  From the hard line coalition of Netanyahu in the Knesset posturing against a permanent enemy; to the U.S. congress who depends on campaign support from the powerful AIPAC; — from Gulf nations vying for regional dominance to the U.S. war economy aching for another fix; — and finally to members within Iran’s own diaspora who hate the Islamic Republic more than they love their fellow Iranians – each have their own rationale, and none of it about the rights of those living under artificial hardships imposed by a foreign government.  New York times reported even the currency traders in Tehran Manouchehri Square are hoping for more sanctions. They say the Ahmadinejad days were fantastic for business.  

But if there is a global barometer on this subject, Financial Times headlines provided a clue when it reported first thing this week that Iran nuclear deal pushed oil prices lower.  And Reuters news flash came in that Israeli stocks gained. They do say markets know best.

Meanwhile within hours of the deal, the haunting bold letters of the Green movement – WHERE IS MY VOTE – again went viral; this time with the letters amended: …….HERE IS MY VOTE ! 

                                             Image

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/24/israel-condemns-iran-nuclear-deal-binyamin-netanyahu

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/11/john-bolton-only-option-iran-war

http://www.salon.com/2013/11/21/exclusive_gop_senator_unloads_in_private_call/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/21/world/middleeast/money-traders-fret-over-possible-us-iran-pact.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/24/us-israel-markets-iran-idUSBRE9AN0CC20131124

9/11… we shall not forget

September 13, 2013

by: Firouzeh Afsharnia

Another 9/11 anniversary has come and gone.   Flags were hoisted, solemn words of remembrance were uttered, pictures of the fallen were hung on virtual and real walls; and the words….”…we shall not forget” were heard over and over, even as the war on terror rages on and the White House makes a case for an imminent strike against Syria that could most certainly bring about willful death to others.

12 years have passed since the day the world grieved with us, held up candles in silent mourning across the globe and stood with us in solidarity, friend and foe alike, condemning the attacks as a crime against all humanity, against all that we hold dear, just and decent.   How did we transform such abundance of good will to a lecture on the importance of international law, merits of peaceful dialogue and a plea to “…return to the path of civilized settlement”  – by an autocratic, human rights usurping ex-KGB agent no less?

The past decades have been marked by periods of unspeakable violence.   Two world wars, genocides, protracted armed conflicts, man made and natural disasters have lead to unprecedented human devastation leaving us all with tales of human tragedy and injustice we shall not forget; and yet it seems we have done little but transform these events into more tragedy.

The first World War, the war to end all wars, ended in the defeat and humiliation of the Germans at the Versailles convention leading to the rise of nationalism and the Nazi mobilization which destroyed Europe and incinerated millions based on misguided principals of Aryan exceptionalism.

The allied armies emerged victorious over the evils of fascist tyranny only to install the Cold War order across Asia, Africa and Latin America, arming and funding client states which tortured and maimed their own citizens, waging proxy wars ostensibly to uphold “righteous” causes, though not before dropping two atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The fall of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, far from ushering in a new era of peace and cooperation, unleashed decades of repressed grievances and flooded the world with arms and ammunition, the majority of which were traded by the same guarantors of global peace who sit on the Security Council.

As the African continent grapples with hacked bodies, rape, massacre and death of millions from Mali and Sudan to the Congo, CAR and beyond, the Arab spring has turned to cold ashen winter, the budding promise of democracy chocked under the dictatorial armies of the past regimes and the ruthless fundamentalism which has emerged after decades of political and economic injustice and metastasized through the endless war on terror.

This week – as we marked the anniversary of 9/11 to commemorate the fallen, we are engaged in yet another open ended threat to bolster our credibility as if the past 12 years of heavy handed, expanded militarism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and beyond have not made it amply clear that the U.S. is credible in the single minded pursuit of its own brand of exceptionalism which lectures, demands and strikes at will all the while immunizing itself against accountability to International institutions like the ICC, as well as to its own citizens if they threaten to blow the whistle.

This week the main drivers of the attack on Syria – Israel, U.S.  hawks, and humanitarian interventionists alike, continue to make their case invoking human tragedies past and present …reminders of what we must not forget.

Israel will lobby through the powerful AIPAC, pushing for a strike while evoking images of gassed victims in the Holocaust, even as they hold millions of Palestinians under open-ended occupation in ghetto like existence, and work toward ever more crippling sanctions against 75 million Iranians.

Obama’s close circle of liberal advisors like Samantha Power and Susan Rice will push for intervention conjuring memories of the Rwandan genocide while they turn a blind eye to the current support of that same government for the looting and pillaging rebels in Eastern Congo.

The Rwandan state, a poster child for the interventionists and a symbol of what the world must not forget; having defeated the Hutu genociders, for its part has steadily taken up authoritarian measures, stripping human rights, repressing political opposition as enemies of state, sponsoring assassinations of dissidents abroad; and has enshrined “genocide denial” as a crime punishable by imprisonment.

This week pictures of the 1400 dead lying on the cold floor in Syria will be brandished in our living rooms reminding us of all that we must not forget, while images of those killed by drones, missiles and bombs in Afghanistan and Yemen are filtered out.

This week we continue to make our case, reliving the trauma of 9/11 to give us the mandate to pursue justice and national interests whenever and wherever, to create new traumas.

On this anniversary of 9/11, I mourn all those who died innocent and in vain, whether in Syria, New York, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Yemen, or in concentration camps across Europe, with the hopes that we finally stop living traumas of the past — instead focus on preventing new ones.

I am learning how to dabble in stocks.  I, like so many others have now put a small amount on that magic ticker TESLA, follow the daily news tidbits on my iPhone and stare at the numbers as they crawl up and down to determine whether I should buy or sell!   Just yesterday I made $300 and some change while sitting right there at the corner Starbucks sipping my latte!  What a country! I marveled at the miracle of capitalism as I scooped up the virtual dollars into my virtual savings account; then reported my success to my virtual friends on Facebook while dodging random ads on fat melting diets and overstock handbags on my wall.  As I scrolled down I glanced through the multitude of outraged posts and commentaries about the Miley Cyrus video.

Shock and disgust was the general reaction, followed by collective lament on the current downward spiral of pop culture, although admittedly, the outraged crowd must have themselves spent the time to read and watch through the entirety of Ms. Miley’s spectacle before taking precious time to comment.  That’s just that many more clicks on the link.  I suppose it’s a good thing.  After all that’s how success is measured. The number of clicks adds up to traffic, to advertising revenue, higher stock prices, all in all generally healthier economy.  Not that much more different from my own mindless stock trading.  I opened the lid to my Latte and sucked off the last of the foam. Starbucks!  I wondered if I owned any of that stock in my investment portfolio.

In a predictable shift in the eternally Attention-Deficit-Disordered media, this week the news was singularly focused on Syria so much so that one might be tempted to believe that Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and beyond are now oases of peace and tranquility and if we just dropped a few bombs on our new target we could tick that box as yet another job well done in our continuing supremacist adventurism abroad.  The news channels did of course make room for the usual stuff – the armed four year old in a small town kinder garden; the teacher who gets 30 days for raping his 14 year old student who later kills herself; the dog that saved a cat’s life in New Zealand; and the California wild fires — hardly headline news this time of year. The saving grace of course is that Iran gets a breather from occupying the number one slot on the U.S. pariah list.  Although we are reminded of that turbaned looming threat if Bashar al-Assad stays in power.

This week a whole industry of think tanks, journalists, activists and talking heads work overtime analyzing and writing what-if scenarios around reasons to strike or not to strike.  They argue the constitutionality of such an act.  The founding fathers apparently vested the authority to declare war with the congress, and only in the case of present and imminent danger to this country; telling the president in no uncertain terms not to draw ultimatum lines; red or otherwise.

Furthermore, International law requires a U.N. mandate, highly unlikely considering the lack of regional support and the fact that China and Russia sit pretty on the Security Council holding a Veto card. Besides, the inspectors haven’t even ruled on their findings, not that a little thing like the U.N. weapons inspectors report would get in the way of a Western strike when civilian lives are on the line –  lives not labeled as collateral damage by the West that is.  In any case the U.S. has declared the inspections largely irrelevant. “Too late” they say, as if worried that the results could point to the Free Syria Army trying to drag the Americans in.

As a matter of fact the objectives of conducting a strike seem hazy even to Henry Kissinger who these days looks more like Tweety Bird among the modern day hawks of the post 9/11 world.  Taking Assad out he argues, would only fracture the country further and help the Jihadists.  The last time the U.S. intervened in Iraq, they did the Iranians a favor by taking out their archenemy; as for that surgical strike in Libya – it set off a steady stream of rebels into neighboring Mali which ignited a civil war splitting the generally stable West African country in two.

Yet the leaders of the free world say they must to do something.

“Syria gas attack is a moral obscenity” Secretary of State John Kerry went on record. He lectured about a “moral compass” and said our sense of “basic humanity” has been offended.

By the way, I was really amused to hear the hawkish FOX channel in their predictably knee-jerk anti-Democrat stance, oppose any intervention.  Yes; in this crazy world, the democrats have become such war mongers that Hannity has to loop back 180 degrees sounding semi rational if he wants to keep up his ratings as Obama’s number one enemy.  Who knows, maybe FOX will become the new MSNBC, leaving the latter to re-strategize as the liberal voice of reason.  I suppose that just means you and I must hedge our bets on both FOX and General Electric.   You did know that General Electric owns NBC News, right!?

Speaking of hedging, Investors Business Daily says dropping bombs stimulates the economy and that “… investors should note that the Aerospace/Defense industry group surged forward in IBD’s ranking.”   In fact, they said, a military action might ease the effects of the federal budget sequestration.   That’s really great news; don’t you think?

Bloomberg further reported that hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles made by Raytheon Co. could be launched against Syrian targets, followed by a second wave if “…enough destruction is not achieved”.  Satellite-guided bombs could be dropped from Lockheed Martin’s F-15 fighter jets; and Northrop Grumman’s B-2 bombers could drop as much as 40,000 pounds of bombs made by Boeing.

Army General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said attacks from outside Syrian airspace “could be used to strike hundreds of targets at a tempo of our choosing.”  The U.S. Navy’s “Destroyers” in the Mediterranean, each carry 90 Tomahawks.  “With a 1,000 pound warhead and a range of 1,000 nautical miles, a Tomahawk can inflict damage on targets across Syria without putting U.S. troops at risk.” Reported Bloomberg.

Wow!  40,000 pounds of bombs; hundreds of cruise missiles; thousand pound warheads and our boys would still be safe.  That’s just splendid! I wondered however if that might not leave behind more casualties than the 1,300 civilians just gassed.

Boeing (BA ) – Northrup (NOC ) – Lockheed Martin (LMT) – Raytheon (RTN ) – I thought as an informed investor I should check out their stocks.  All of them had doubled in price in the last 2 years.  Who needs fair trade coffee as long as there’s that long Arab Winter.

I wondered.  Is it any different to be killed by a bomb instead of chocking on Sarin gas?

I wondered about the thousands of men and women working on the assembly lines across the United States — regular folks working hard in a struggling recovery to feed their families.  Did they ever wonder where the bombs they made would be dropped?

I wondered if friends and families of the dead would find solace in the fact that they were targeted by the good guys.

I wondered whether to invest my little nest egg in Raytheon or Boeing? Would the Tomahawk cruise missiles inflict larger destruction or was the future of warfare in satellite-guided bombs.  I added the new symbols NOC, BA, LMT and RTN to my daily watch list.

I wondered about the true meaning of “moral obscenity”.   About the hypocrisy of a society that feeds the machinery of obscenity and reaps its benefits yet disconnects from its end results and shrugs off the responsibility for its fallout.   I wondered if Kerry has a right to talk on our behalf about a moral compass and basic humanity when our very economic system thrives on its continued perversion.

I wondered. Would Miley still twerk half naked if she didn’t think she would create a flood of web traffic.

I wondered.

http://news.investors.com/investing-ibd-industry-themes/082813-669052-aerospace-industry-rises-in-rankings.htm?ven=yahoocp,yahoo

http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-27/tomahawk-cruise-missiles-likely-in-u-s-strikes-on-syria.html?cmpid=yhoo

For those of you not familiar with Iranian culture and mind set, last week’s presidential elections with over 72% turnout serves as a mini lesson into the subtleties of Persian temperament and multilayered subtext.

Lesson number one in the art of diplomacy: Do not criticize undesirable behavior.  Instead, encourage and congratulate what you wish to see as final outcome.  Persians are by nature pleasers and would much rather extend a hand of friendship, kiss and make up and let bygones be bygones. You just have to know which button to push.

Rouhani Wins Iran Elections Foto Credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Image

Rouhani Wins Iran Elections
Foto Credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Image

Hassan Rouhani secured the 7th presidency of Iran with 18 million votes, over 50% of the electorate, running on a campaign of “Hope and Wisdom” — a slogan reminiscent of the euphoric 2008 election of Obama who ran on a promise of “Hope and Change”, in the Iranian case “Wisdom” being the operative word.

“Thank you for choosing Hope and Wisdom.”  Rouhani opened his first press conference, congratulating the good people of Iran for having opted for reconciliation, collective interest and rational response. This, he said, was a signal to the world that the people of Iran are declaring solidarity, extending trust and choosing moderation, rule of law, respect and civility instead of self interest and belligerence — a clever opening, moving to close the gaping fissures created during the Ahmadinejad years, and ease the bitterness ensuing the violent crackdowns of the previous election.

To be sure, in a time when so much of the Middle East and beyond is burning in violent conflict from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, not to mention the recent unrest in Turkey; previously known as an exotic oasis of stability, Iranians have laid down a reconciliatory card through moderation, a sure set back for the sanction hawks who have been working steadily towards an imminent implosion.

Lesson number two in the art of diplomacy: Be all things to all people. “If anyone has been alienated in the past, we must find out why and include them.”

Mr. Rouhani’s first press conference presented us with a complex and intriguing character.   In spite of the austere clerical garb and Turban, he exuded a light and personable charm. He spoke in rational and pragmatic terms laced with a glint of humor, even a twinkle in his eyes.  He spoke of inclusiveness, mutual respect, economic growth, importance of civil engagement and justice.   He reached out to the gulf countries, in specific to Saudi Arabia as allies with common interests and history. He hinted at the possibility of progress on the enrichment issue if dialogue and negotiations are pursued on a platform of respect and recognition of international rights rather than cruel and outdated methods of sanctions and threats.  He even extended a cooperation hand to his adversaries; to all persons qualified whether from the old guard or new.

Our very own Obama, I thought – ok –minus the beard; minus the turban; a little rounder perhaps; but the national euphoria was an uncanny echo of the 2008 U.S. elections.  At that time people celebrated in the streets from sea to shining sea, sang the theme to Darth Vader and waved good-bye and good riddance to Bush and Cheney.  This week in Iran, videos went viral within minutes of the election results showing millions rejoicing all across the provinces; men and women dancing to the audible chants of Ahmadi Bye! Bye!

The soft spoken cleric vowed not to allow insults hurled at anyone and promised to advance the cause of cooperation and inclusiveness presenting himself as the man who could be all things to all people; the sole cleric on the panel of candidates, with the name Rouhani – literally meaning “spiritual” – bringing back the lost legitimacy of the supreme leader who this time allowed a genuine tally of the votes; running on the reformist agenda through the backing of Rafsanjani and Khatami; and reminding the international community of his pragmatic approach to the nuclear issue.

Lesson number three in the art of diplomacy: When faced with hostile adversaries; the calmer, the more reasonable you are, the crazier the adversary will seem.

In no time at all, even as it was clear that Rouhani had the backing and support of the majority of the electorates, even as he publicly announced there would be more transparency, even as he reminded the world that never had the world been closer to a nuclear deal than during his tenure as chief negotiator in 2005 before the deal was torpedoed by the US and the UK and that he would work to reopen the talks on a platform of respect and recognition of sovereign rights, Netanyahu dismissed his victory as irrelevant[1], his promises as wishful thinking, and issued a warning that international pressure must continue on Iran “…to stop their program by any means.”   [2]

The white house in turn praised Iranians for their participation in the process but did not congratulate Dr. Rouhani, instead focused again on reminding everyone that the elections took place “…against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media and intimidating security environment;” [3]maintaining their big brother, stick in the hand posture which has proved futile and ineffective to say the least — hardly diplomatic if indeed a rapprochement is sought, leading one to believe that either the Iran experts in Washington need a refresher course or U.S. is singularly focused on regime change and simply using the enrichment issue as a pretext.

"Hope and Wisdom" Foto Credit: Saeed Karimi Nejad

“Hope and Wisdom”
Foto Credit: Saeed Karimi Nejad

“Hope and Wisdom” is Rouhani’s promise.   It turns out Rouhani may be talking to the U.S. and Israel as much as his own people.

It is not clear how Mr. Rouhani’s presidency will evolve.  Is his message of “Wisdom” rather than “Change” meant as a clue not to expect radical departure from what has been policy till now.  Will he turn out to be “window dressing” like Khatami before him.   After all, the office of the presidency has its limitations, as even Obama supporters have come to find out judging by the debate on the drones, Guantanamo, NSA eavesdropping and the expanded war on terror – which – granted has been rebranded in the post-Bush era, yet continues full force.

But since the sanctions and hard lines taken against Iran have produced nothing, why not take lesson number one from the new president and practice a little Persian diplomacy.   Extend a hand of good will and burden Dr. Rouhani with the collective confidence that finally the one with the key to unlocking the troubles has arrived.


It was a double bill.  An Israeli singer and an Iranian who I had heard perform on numerous occasions before that day at this new venue. My ticket named a famous celebrity as the presenter – a producer to the stars, practically the Godfather of the recording industry and the patron saint of who’s who on the A-list.   So I figured it must be a marketing plug.  Probably Mr. Big Shot sat on some board and had graciously lent his name to one among many events on the season’s calendar.  After all, the entire cultural scene in this town runs on philanthropy and celebrity horse trading rather than Uncle Sam’s love for the arts who, judging by those head shots pasted all over the country jabbing his finger in my face and yours, is probably more interested in fine arsenal rather than fine jazz – much less in obscure world music from the rural Middle East. 

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the celebrity producer, in the flesh, a little older and a little heavier than his TV persona, walk up on that stage, slightly hunched, and dressed in his finest, festooned with a blue silk scarf to make the introductions.

He said he was so happy and moved to be presenting an Israeli artist along with an Iranian.  Really?  I am sitting in the audience puzzled as to why that is interesting — more interesting than say an artist from Zimbabwe with an Iranian. Or an Eskimo with the Israeli.  It goes to show the power of music, he said, clasping his hands in reverence.  That despite all their differences, music is the language of peace and can bring people together. Shalom. Salaam ….

Peace? Between Iranians and the Israelis? Does he mean the Jews and Persians?  Jews and Arabs? Israelis and the Arabs?  The Palestinians? One never knows with celebrity activists.

For a while it seemed that an adopted African child was an absolute must have accessory to a designer outfit just in case one was caught off guard walking out of Kitson’s by the paparazzi. But with all the modern day upheavals; the Arab spring, the Syrian revolution, the poor Afghani women sequestered inside their burqa – (now that we know what the heck a burqa is, never mind that they have been wrapped in that thing for centuries) – with the mass rapes in eastern Congo; the Maasai land grab in Tanzania; oil exploitation by Shell in the Niger delta; Yanomami evictions from their ancestral land in the Brazilian Amazon; oppression of the Nepalese Dalit; the Tibetans, Burmese, Darfuries ….and did you know that the Saudi women can’t even drive?… well — Its practically a supermarket out there!

A giant outlet of pet causes, discount and premium brand raison d’etres right for every pocketbook — the privileged Brentwood dweller wishing to get a whiff of the exotic from the safety of her security patrolled, pesticide-free, air conditioned mansion without missing a single Pilates class; the suburban minivan-driving soccer mom wanting to escape the routine of humdrum PTA meetings, Costco hoarding exercises and Wednesday nights at the in-laws; and of course that constant mother lode of activism — the idealistic college kid who has channeled all his frustrations growing up in a dysfunctional family with an abusive or absent parent into saving the world whose army of middle men sit ready at call centers tethered to donate buttons happy to help pay his way into his inner humanitarian through a simplistic, ready packed and pre-digested narrative to fund raise, validate mainstream agenda, and stamp that free-trade locally grown designer-diet, free of guilt in spite of its higher price tag because an undisclosed amount is going to some tribe with an unpronounceable name in the middle of a war zone.

Excuse me, but since when are the people of Iran and the people of Israel at war with each other and in need of peace, understanding and a hearty sing-along? If you can’t recognize a conflict for what it is – namely a pissing contest on the highest levels to wield influence over the cradle of civilization – nowadays simply the cradle of strategic trade routes and bottomless oil and gas fields, kindly refrain from opining on the subject, let alone using your position and status to give it oxygen.  Because you know what?  You may actually be breathing life into a non-existent problem; worse – diverting from the actual one.   In other words, if you can’t be bothered to read an in depth analysis from all angles – and I don’t mean listening to Wolf Blitzer on an infinite CNN loop – then stop.  Do no harm.

But in the event you should find yourself in the position of wanting to engage in the fine art of political activism, here are a few thoughts.

Did you know that over 80,000 homeless wander the streets right here in Los Angeles[1], or that we in the U.S. incarcerate a larger number of our own people than any other country – that’s a quarter of all documented prisoners in the world[2].

Did you know that the prisons are privatized and that their lobbies, like all other lobbies in this great democracy have short-circuited the system, passing laws to maximize sentencing terms for profit?

Did you know that The U.S. is among the top five countries carrying out executions along with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China. [3] And did you know that once the hysteria around the Boston Marathon bombing subsides and the main stream media is done mourning the lives of the three victims and dissecting the two suspects ad-nauseam, there will still be a violent crime committed in this country every 25.3 seconds, [4] that’s up to 30 gun related deaths, 162 injuries, not to mention 53 suicides each day. [5]

Now; in case you do decide on that fundraiser, here’s also an idea for an opening concert:  An evening of songs for peace and understanding – a double bill — An upcoming young Chechen duo along with a band from the Czech Republic!

….Now that is what I call interesting.


The Washington-AIPAC love-fest season is once again upon us.   The New York Times’ featured article sports a picture of Biden and Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, in loving embrace pledging support and allegiance, unconditional and eternal. Kiss! Kiss!

512px-Brezhnev_and_Honecker_kiss

All talk of settlement freeze is shelved for the moment as the most formidable Washington Lobby – for all intent and purposes, agents of a foreign country – push for yet more resolutions choking Iran; seek blanket agreement for congressional backing of whatever measure Israel deems necessary to pursue their interests; and secure their 3.1 billion yearly aid even as sequestration threatens American jobs and economic recovery.   Not bad! If the forefathers could see the turn this democracy has taken, they would be thrilled I’m sure.

My reaction as a hyphenated American is pure horror!   My Persian side – because of the double standard applied to policy issues and the mess it has created by selective meddling in my region.  My American side — because of the constant hemorrhage of resource, blood and money due to this “special relationship” which seems only to benefit the Israeli hardliners and political aspirees in the U.S. Congress. My Persian side – because of the chokehold the sanctions impose on 70 million innocent Iranians destroying generations through lack of opportunities and basic needs; my American side — because it squanders any good will I presume to project in terms of standing up for human rights and democracy to my Persian side. On both fronts, this special relationship pits me against the world and my ideals; my hyphenated existence; and etches ever more deep scars of cynicism in the myth of exceptionalism my adopted country preaches day after day.

In a day and age where my American government routinely throws about terminology invoking notions of “Homeland”, “Patriotism” and “Security”, I wonder how so many of my compatriots can promptly pin their lapels with the American flag, applaud multiple invasions squandering over a trillion dollars at the first breach of air space on 9/11; yet remain unphased by our elected officials who routinely pledge allegiance to the Israeli flag; get fitted for a yarmulke and pose for photographs at the wailing wall before every election; and unreservedly throw about terms like “unconditional support” when support means continued undermining of the rights of other people, of international law and of our own national interests.

The peace process is all but dead in the face of continuing settlements on occupied land thanks to this alliance that extends blanket diplomatic immunity to Israel no matter how outrageous the act. Instead, the focus is squarely diverted on nonexistent nuclear ambitions of Iran even as experts fail to find evidence of such intentions.  The former director of IAEA, Hans Blix, has once again gone on record to confirm that Iran has not violated the NPT; that there is no evidence that Iran has plans to weaponize and that military threats based on mere suspicion is not justified. Yet the hysteria around nuclear threats seems to have a life of its own, continuing to escalate on autopilot as Israel and the U.S. bond in front of cameras just in case anyone had doubts as to how special, special was.

Advocates of this relationship say things will change organically.   Look – J Street is the answer to AIPAC and slowly we are witnessing criticism of Israel and this unique relationship creep into pop culture and mainstream discourse.   Journalists, thinkers, artists have taken a bolder approach to questioning the nature of this relationship and who it is really benefiting.  The recent SNL sketch and the spirited debate over Chuck Hagel’s confirmation are good examples.   The New York Times itself opened the article half-mockingly by referring to the “thunderous ovations” and “slick videos” of the annual conference captioning the Biden – Barak huddle, reminiscent of the 1970’s Brezhnev – Honecker embrace.

This week at the conference there was no mention of settlements. No mention of peace talks.  Instead standing ovations of the 13,000 strong friends of Israel, delighting at promises of military action against Iran.

“From the bottom of my heart, and with the clarity of my brain, words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.” Netanyahu declared. Well, he should know, he is an authority on serial non-compliance yet shielded from action by a special friend who finds it more expedient to tackle the fall out rather than the root problem.

Soon President Obama will be making a visit to Israel – a first American president to go to Jerusalem. It is sure to ruffle some Palestinian feathers who dream of making part of this city their homeland. Contrary to his first term when he pushed for a halt to illegal settlements as a precursor to meaningful peace talks, there will be no more mention of a freeze.  There will be no criticism of Israel for the oppression of Palestinians in occupied land.  There will be no demands for compliance with U.N. resolutions.

Obama is going to Jerusalem to show that the American President does not bluff.  At least not when it comes to Iran.

A few years ago I was traveling through Africa and found my self in a rickety cab. As I bounced up and down in the lumpy back seat, shifting spots to avoid the broken springs and whatever was festering in the exposed paddings, another passenger got in and sat in the front seat.  He was in a jovial mood and had just passed some sort of certification exam.  “I passed! I passed!” He declared.

First I thought it was a college exam, or some life changing professional achievement.   Turns out it was an HIV/AIDS test.   And if you know anything about Africa, you know the importance of such a test.  Conversation rolled from AIDS to lack of employment, poverty, state corruption, war; then the passenger sighed and said.

“You know, I really admire Ben.” The driver agreed.  “Oh yes. Ben. He is a great man.   We need somebody like him here in the Congo.”

I wondered who Ben was.  I had lived in the country for months, and not heard of anyone by that name.  “Sorry — Ben?  Who is Ben?”  I interjected from the back seat, shifting over the lumps and bumping my head violently on the ceiling as the cab cleared another pothole.

“Ben!  You don’t know Ben?  Madame!  He is very famous.  Il est Genial.”

“Ben what?  Who are you talking about?”

“Laden.”  Both men chimed. “Bin Laden!”

Amazing! Here I was in a Christian country.  The Moslem population in Congo is miniscule, and yet Bin Laden represented something of a hero – a symbol of resistance to a higher injustice.

I have traveled almost ten years in Africa.  On this continent, the narrative often goes like this:  Bin Laden was a hero, Ahmadinejad should be admired for standing up to the West, Ghaddafi will be remembered for the many mosques and schools he built; and the Palestinians – well, Palestinians are the very embodiment of suffering; the equivalent of Jungian archetypes for victims of all things unjust, unfair and hypocritical; the ultimate evidence that the lectures on human rights by the masters of the world, and all that talk of democracy are nonsense. Palestinians are the very essence of pain and resistance with whom anyone from any corner of space and time can relate to and stand with in solidarity.

In Africa, most people are only too familiar with hopelessness, lack of recourse, lies, oppression and co-opted systems in which they have no part. They are also familiar with the basic reality that desperate people beget desperate actions.  And when all other options fail, in the absolute vacuum of hope, the most radical elements will emerge to reinvent their own brand of justice to right all the wrongs that cannot find recourse in alternate forums.

This week as rockets fly overhead, the headlines on the 24 hour news cycles focus on the terrorist strikes at the urban centers of Israel. Newly elected Barack Obama who has evidently forgotten that he has nothing to fear from AIPAC anymore, releases his stale clichés on Israel’s “right to defense” even as he stands with his Nobel Prize counterpart and lectures the Burmese Junta on the rights of dignity and equality for all people.  The narrative in the U.S. focuses on “terror” in Israel and the 90% Israeli support for the attacks on Gaza.   Indeed the CNN poll shows that 57% of our own citizenry are in favor of the strikes, evidence of the complete disconnect from context at the confluence of selective reporting, ideology and middle class consumerism.

That the Jerusalem post has printed an op-ed to the effect that entire communities should be flattened in Gaza, left without water, electricity and basics has not triggered outrage in this country, nor has it made a dent in the absurd notion that Gaza has had self-determination since 2005. America’s mainstream stands with Israel.  Congress stands with AIPAC. And Operation Pillar of Defense plays out as a bad sequel to Operation Cast Lead – as if the obscenity of the title in itself is not an outrage.

The casualty figures at the bottom of the TV screen in fact tell the whole story.  Day 6 of the conflict. Gaza: 107 dead; Israel: 3 dead.

Israel maintains it is only pursuing “terrorists” and the rest are unfortunate collateral losses. They even go so far as to say that casualties are results of a deliberate Hamas strategy of employing civilians as human shields, thereby disassociating the reality of the cause of the militants from its fundamental connection to the perpetual anger of a humiliated people – one, an inevitable consequence of the other  — like gravity.

Mr. president – for all the talk of not wishing to lead from behind and being a force for good; for the $1.4 trillion spent to date in pursuit of jihadists; and for the thousands sacrificed in the fight for what has been summarily dismissed as mindless terrorism, how about walking the talk of justice and focusing on the oldest grievance in the Middle East.

How can you pretend to push for human rights by upholding a six-decade Cuba policy while washing your hands from the crushing Israeli blockade of Gaza.

How can you reconcile your crippling sanctions on Iran for possible breach of NPT commitments, while vetoing any measure that would condemn Israel’s continued occupation in violation of International law.

How can you rise up in defense of Libyans and Syrians while staying mum on the continued aggression against Palestinians.

How can you rationalize your national outrage responsible for waging two wars in pursuit of one man culpable of killing 2900 Americans in 9/11, without on some level understanding the outrage against decades of Palestinian humiliation, displacement and occupation and the need to avenge it.

How can you expect to further the cause for democracy and peace if you don’t play the part of the unbiased advocate for dignity for all people.

How do you expect to hold back the wave of anger against the U.S. and the creation of a new generation of activists every time you opt to read from the “unconditional support” script, brandish the lone veto on the Security Council and value the Israeli life over that of a Palestinian.

Gravity is a fact. Those who pretend to live in a void may never fully grasp its meaning. But they are no less susceptible to its effects.

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