Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Why did Constantinople get the works? That's nobody's business but the Turks..."

More Jitters in the Middle East... As if we didn’t have enough already...

Why did Israel Launch a Strike on Syria Last Month?



On September 6th, Israeli jets launched an airstrike on Syria. Why? Israel hasn't really said anything official about it. Syria said nothing about it at first, but eventually said that the Israelis had struck an "unused military building", and that Syria had the right to retaliate at a time of its own choosing. North Korea protested angrily. Nobody's talking much, but we did get this...
Last week opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu chipped away at that wall [of silence], saying Israel did in fact attack targets in Syrian territory. His top adviser, Mossad veteran Uzi Arad, told NEWSWEEK: "I do know what happened, and when it comes out it will stun everyone." - The Whispers of War, Newsweek, Sunday, 23 September 2007
All sorts of rumors are flying around. According to some, it might have been an attack on a nuclear weapons program facility being sponsored by the North Koreans. Others claim that American intelligence was leaked to the Israelis, tainted by neo-con political considerations, which snookered the Israelis into launching the attack. Others simply claim that Israel was either trying to send a message to Iran via Syria, or was testing Syrian air defenses in order to scout out a possible route for a future strike on Iran. Can't be good news, no matter what it was.

One of the things I've always been sensitive to on this blog is the persistent problem of anti-semitism. I think that as Catholics, we have a particular historical legacy here that has been far from being stellar. Having said that, does it mean that Israel must be forever free of criticism? Authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer don't think so. They have written a controversial book called The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. They make a case that the Israel lobby in the US has had enormous, and in some cases, undue influence on US foreign policy, often to the detriment of US interests around the globe. The book has provoked a backlash, with some claiming that this brings up the old scapegoating canards about Jewish cabals controlling the hidden levers of power in the world, and of them being disloyal citizens with a secret agenda. Dennis Ross takes the authors on in this On-Point Program. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League Chairman Abe Foxman (who wrote a book in rebuttal called The Deadliest Lies) takes Mearsheimer on here on the Jim Lehrer Newshour. Interesting debates worth listening to.

Getting back to Syria for a moment... Tensions are very high right now in the Middle East between Shia Iran and Sunni states like Saudi Arabia and Jordan. I've always had a hard time understanding why Syria, which is an overwhelmingly Sunni country, would be such a strong ally of Shia Iran, even to the point of being such strong patrons of the Shia Hezbollah militia in Lebaonon over the last 25 years. It's because Bashir Assad, like his father before him, Hafez al-Assad, is from the minority Alawite sect. Most Sunnis don't consider them to be true Muslims. Iranian imams, however, have recently said that Alawism is a valid form of Shi'ism. It has a few distinctive beliefs of its own, including veneration of the Virgin Mary. Says wiki:
Several sources suggest that Alawism is a syncretic sect and has affinities with Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and ancient Phoenician paganism, but these claims are hard to verify, due to the secret nature of the sect.They are believed to celebrate Christian festivals such as Christmas, Easter, and Epiphany, as well as the Zoroastrian new year, Nawruz, along with regular Shiite festivals

Should Congress Have Passed a Resolution on the Armenian Genocide At This Time?



Yesterday, a House Congressional Committee passed a resolution labelling the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in and around the year 1915, as genocide.

This resolution has enraged the Turks, who seem unable to come to terms with what clearly was a case of genocide, blaming the situation on the collapsing state of the Ottoman Empire at the time, and the alleged role of Armenians in assisting the Russians against Turkey in World War I.

Watertown Massachusetts is a town close by to us with a large percentage of ethnic Armenians. I've seen what a raw and powerful issue this has been with this community. Years ago, my friend "Tunj" told me about a young Armenian-American man who was a friend of hers. He was haunted and obsessed with the notion that he must travel abroad in order to "kill a Turk" in revenge for the massacre that had been perpetrated against his people. The emotions within this community are still excruciatingly painful and the memories still vivid.

The question I have regarding this resolution is, why now? Why pass this resolution 92 years later? Is it within the purview of Congress to take on such matters and pass these kinds of resolutions in the first place? The Bush administration reacted forcefully before and after the resolution, pointing out the importance of Turkey as an ally in the "War on Terror". About 80% of the air freight that supports Coalition forces in Iraq passes through Turkey. They are also barely being restrained by the US from pursuing Kurdish separatists that they claim are seeking sanctuary in northern Iraq. The Turks are warning darkly that a "politically correct resolution" that will be forgotten in the US within weeks will have an adverse effect on Turkish-US relations which will last for decades.

Why pass the resolution now, at this point in time? Was it the right thing to do? On the one hand, genocide must always be condemned and called out for what it is. As Hitler assured his generals and his SS men before embarking upon the Final Solution, "Who spoke up about the slaughter of the Armenians?"

On the other hand, haven't we some house-cleaning of our own to do? Is Congress going to pass a resolution condemning the undeniable genocide against the Native-Americans in this country?

Was there an ulterior motive here? Was this actually a surreptitious was to fight against the war in Iraq, and to try to force it's conclusion? How much moral principle is in play, and how much Realpolitik is being played by both sides?



We're heading into the weekend. Don't want to end on a down-note. So, on the lighter side... I enjoyed hearing the Harvard Din & Tonics singing this number a capella many years ago...

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) – They Might Be Giants

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks

Istanbul (Istanbul)
Istanbul (Istanbul)

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks

Istanbul

18 comments:

crystal said...

Costantinople is more fun to say that Istanbul, though :-) Is that Hagia Sopjia?

Jeff said...

More fun to say, but tougher to spell. :-)

Yes, that's the Hagia Sophia.

Garpu the Fork said...

The situation is so messed up in the middle east...I wonder how much worse we've made it.

Jeff said...

Hi Garpu,

That's a good question. It may take a generation or more to sort out what's been done.

crystal said...

Jeff - I have an unrelated question.

I was reading about Costa-Gavras movies today and saw there was one called Amen. (from the play The Deputy) that was about Pope Pius XII .... it basically says that the Pope knew about the Nazi death camps but refused to publicize them. I don't really know anything about Pope Pius XII - is this true? Thanks.

Jeff said...

Crystal,

A couple of years ago my brother-in-law wrote an article for America magazine that was one of the best articles about Pius XII and his attitudes towards Hitler and the Holocaust that I've seen. Here it is:

Personal, Private Views

crystal said...

Thanks, Jeff :-)

cowboyangel said...

Jeff,

Como siempre, an excellent post, bringing up some very crucial and timely questions.

First of all, neither Israel nor any other government should ever be free of criticism. That's what leads to totalitarianism, no? As Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice eveywhere." Israel, of course, is in a very difficult position, and there is a lot of blame to go around on all sides for the unceasing Israeli-Palestinian situation. And I haven't read Walt and Mearshimer's book, so I can't weigh in on its merits or wrongs. But I do know this - there are pro-Israeli groups in this country that are very much trying to shut down legitimate debate about important issues. Walt and Mearshimer themselves, for example, are serious scholars who've written a book which should be debated openly in public. If nothing else, just to say they're wrong. But they have been barred from speaking at several places about the book, including my own City University of New York Graduate Center. As far as I know, Abraham Foxman and the pro-Israeli groups aren't having these problems. The Graduate Center is one of the most radical institutions of higher education I've encoutnered in the U.S. (my experience is, albeit, limited.) For them to cancel the Walt and Mearshimer event shows some very powerful forces at work.

I'm surprised, though, that you haven't mention the disturbing cancellation of the week in realtion to this topic, especially since it involved a Catholic university. I was going to post on it myself, but was really busy this week at school. The University of Saint Thomas, in Minneapolis, cancelled an invitation to Desmond Tutu to speak on campus, because a pro-Israeli group called the Zionist Organization of America claimed Tutu had compared Israel to Hitler. (Of course, he did not.)Nobody bothered to fact-check, to actually go back and read Tutu's speech, neither the Jewish Telegraphhic Agency that ran with the story, nor Fr. Dennis Dease, the President of the University. Particularly appalling in this case was that the university allowed Ann Coulter to speak on campus two years ago. So the venomous Coulter was okay, but Desmond Tutu, one of the most highly regarded spiritual leaders in the world, Nobel-Prize winner, etc. was not, simply because he had criticized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

Well, for once, this story has a happy ending. After getting a lot of bad press about the decision, and after the St. Thomas Law School Faculty sent an open letter to the president in protest, Dease reviewed the situation, discovered that he had been misled regarding the accusation - i.e., it wasn't true - and on Thursday rescinded his decision and re-invited Tutu to speak.

The point, however, is that situations like this are taking place in the U.S. too often. Part of it is due to our paranoia and ugly post-9/11 mentality of fear, which is being exploited by various groups (not just pro-Israeli ones) for their own political ends. I guess working in an academic environment, and being a strong believer in the power of democracy, free speech and intellectual debate, I find this repugnant and dangerous. And the anti-Semitic charges being lobbed by pro-Israeli groups at people who would dare to criticize Israel is part of this disturbing trend. Luckily, a lot of Jews in the U.S. aren't in agreement with the pro-Israeli groups and speak up themselves, as Mitchell Plitnick and Cecilie Surasky of Jewish Voice for Peace did in an article about the St. Thomas case, saying that stifling criticism of Israel only makes matters worse. I agree. I find the Jewish culture one of the most beautiful in our world. And I don't think that perpetuating injustice and contributing to an unstable situation in the Middle East is ultimately good for Israel. Also, considering that my tax money and yours goes towards the billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel, I think it's our right and duty to demand that it doesn't go towards unjust applications. The Israeli-Palestinian situation has gone on for far too long without any real progress. It's a pivotal aspect of the war on terror. At this point, I think we can begin to ask how our money is being used.

Somewhat related were some recent experiences I had on my trip to Texas with several people into Christian Zionism, including a visit to a TV station/shop that promotes this ideology. I find it very disturbing, even moreso since some of my family seems to be getting into it. I couldn't believe some of the things I saw and heard. I'm sure the right-wing Zionists in Israel must love this. The hatred and racism I heard towards Muslims was really repulsive. I really start to get worried, Jeff, that religious fanatics are going to blow up the world. Or at least give it a good try. This kind of apocalyptic mentality - whether on the part of Islam, Judaism or Christianity - seems to smack of death worship. It's evil stuff. Fueled by people who think they're being godly. Frightening.

I don't kow what was going on with Syria. I do know that the fear-mongers are gearing up for war with Iran, so I'm pretty skeptical right now.

The House resolution on the Armenian genocide is also strange. Juan Cole at Informed Comment has had some posts on the subject the last two days. I, too, wondered if it wasn't someone's way of trying to end the war. But as much as I want us to withdraw, I'm not very comfortable with that as a method of forcing things to happen. I would prefer to simply cut off funding. Granted, the Turks do need to deal with the genocide, but the timing was very, very weird. Maybe somebody wants to stir things up so we stay in Iraq. "See, the Turks are invading Kurdistan. We can't leave!" I'm not sure who sponsored the resolution. That would be interesting to know.

cowboyangel said...

Jeff,

Did you see this morning's NY Times article about Israel's airstrike against Syria - supposedly to wipe out a "nascent nuclear project."

I've been doing some digging around on the Armenian Genocide resolution (H.R. 106). It was authored by Adam Schiff (D-CA), whose district is heavily Armenian. He voted for the war in Iraq and all of the funding bills since then. And the Committee includes a number of Republicans against the war, including Tom Tancredo. Tom Lantos, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had this to say about the committee's vote: "A key feature distinguishing today’s debate . . . is that U.S. troops are currently engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops depend on a major Turkish airbase for access to the fighting fronts, and it serves as a critical part of the supply lines to those fronts. A growing majority in Congress, and I am among them, strongly oppose continued U.S. troop involvement in the civil war in Iraq, but none of us wants to see those supply lines threatened or abruptly cut.

All eight living former secretaries of state recently cautioned Congress on this matter. And I quote, “It is our view,” write former Secretaries Albright, Baker, Christopher, Eagleburger, Haig, Kissinger, Powell and Shultz, “that passage of this resolution … could endanger our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and damage efforts to promote reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey.”

Three former secretaries of defense – Carlucci, Cohen and Perry – this week advised Congress that passage of this resolution, and I quote again, “would have a direct, detrimental effect on the operational capabilities, safety and well being of our armed forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”

Members of this committee have a sobering choice to make. We have to weigh the desire to express our solidarity with the Armenian people and to condemn this historic nightmare through the use of the word “genocide” against the risk that it could cause young men and women in the uniform of the United States armed services to pay an even heavier price than they are currently paying. This is a vote of conscience, and the Committee will work its will."

There have been similar resolutions in the past, including one in 2000 that also passed the Foreign Affairs Committee vote. But Bill Clinton persuaded Majority Leader Hastert, a Republican, to withdraw the resoution before it could be voted on. Turkey had threatened action then as well.

So, I'm not really sure it's being used to either prolong or end the war in Iraq. It's just that it comes at an awkward time. But Schiff has been working on this for a while. It was probably always destined to be controversial. As long as we care about Turkey as an ally, any resolution like this will probably fail.

cowboyangel said...

I'm sorry - I should've said "a number of Republicans FOR the war."

Although, Ron Paul is actually on the committee as well.

BTW, Adam Schiff is originally from your neck of the woods - Framingham." Went to Harvard. Not sure how he wound up in an Armenian district in sunny Cal.

Jeff said...

William,

Great feedback as always. It’s disturbing to hear that Walt and Mearshimer have been barred from speaking at various venues, particularly ones like the Graduate center. It reminds me of a debate I saw broadcasted once from an Ivy League university that was being moderated by Michael Kinsley. One of the professors in the debate was known for holding some controversial conservative views. About a third of the way into the debate, every time he spoke, a group of students would stand up and start drowning him out with shouted slogans. Eventually this prompted Kinsley to say “Stop it. You’re acting like a bunch of Stalinists… It’s not a compliment.” I never respected Kinsley more.

Students are one thing. For administrators to shut down discussions can be worse. I happen to like the fact that Columbia let Ahmedinejad speak. I like that the President stood up and told him what he thought of him beforehand. I like the fact that Ahmedinejad made a fool out of himself by claiming that there were no gay people in Iran. Wasn’t that better than banning him from speaking? He’s a head of state (for better or for worse). I’m not saying that every racist should have a venue any time he likes, but as I’ve listened to Walt and Mearshimer, I think they’ve been extremely careful to craft their arguments in a way that takes the old canards into consideration, and are sensitive to the mistakes of the past.

Regarding Desmond Tutu, I was not aware of the controvesy at St. Thomas until you mentioned it. (Just an aside, it’s funny that you mention Tutu, because when I went on retreat at a Benedictine abbey a couple of years ago, the only speaking we heard was the monks chanting their daily office and audio tapes of Desmond Tutu reading from one of his books while we ate dinner. The readings were very good!). I’m glad that Fr. Dease wound up doing the right thing once he had all the facts at hand. I have to tell you, looking over the remarks that people were leaving on that post at Informed Comment, I was taken aback by how many of them had their own presuppositions about St. Thomas and its leadership and were completely barking up the wrong tree. I really do think that Fr. Dease initially erred on the side of caution with what turned out to be a poorly considered desire not to offend. Due to the Church’s unhappy history vis-à-vis Judaism, there is a great deal of a sort of jumpy awareness on the part of Catholic clerics around the political and cultural baggage in dealing with Catholic-Jewish questions, especially after the recent motu proprio freeing up the 1962 missal (with “perfidious Jews” in the Good Friday liturgy), and with the pope recently meeting with a Polish priest, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who has been accused of making anti-semitic remarks. I really do think that heightened sensitivity (and fear) was behind that decision.

Both with Dease and with some of the comments people left at Juan Cole’s website, I think it’s a regrettable case of what we see a lot of these days – a tendency for people to respond emotionally and shoot from the hip before they have enough facts to make an informed decision. That tendency enables people like certain members of the Israel lobby to use half-truths or outright untruths to smear their perceived opponents so that they won’t get a fair hearing. And I say that as someone who is pro-Israel. I am not neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian question, in all honesty. I am pro-Israel. That doesn’t mean that I won’t criticize them when they are wrong, as I haven’t shied away from criticizing my own country and my own Church in certain instances. The Israeli settlement movement has created enormous problems that are having worldwide repercussions.

Although I support Israel, that Christian Zionism thing, though, is really creepy. Strange bedfellows indeed. Two groups using each other, one to get continued US support for settlement policies and continued aid and subsidies, and the other to get the armageddon train rolling. How cynical can you get?

I saw a really disturbing program the other night on one of the Christian television stations, called Zola Levitt Ministries, which aired a feature called “Bad Moon Rising” (a reference to the Islamic crescent). Ugh. Interesting and sad to see what passes off as “ministry” these days….

Thanks for the update on the Syrian thing. Adam Schiff is from Framingham? He’s practically a homeboy.

The news on Turkey is really starting to heat up this week.

cowboyangel said...

Both with Dease and with some of the comments people left at Juan Cole’s website, I think it’s a regrettable case of what we see a lot of these days – a tendency for people to respond emotionally and shoot from the hip before they have enough facts to make an informed decision.

You know, until I read your reply, I hadn't realized how rarely I read comments anymore. I read Cole's site several times a week - I can't even remember the last time I actualy read what anyone had to say in response. Because, you're right, most people respond emotionally, and too often in the stupidest and crudest ways possible. I'm guessing that's always been the case to some degree but that the internet has allowed highly emotional responses to go public immediately. Also, not having to talk to someone face-to-face, people say vicious things they would never say in person. I find it all extremely disappointing. When a lot of the political blogs started, I thought it would be an opportunity to carry on interesting discussions about important topics. There's so much that could be discussed about politics in out country - in postive, constructive ways, even when in disagreement. How do we move forward? How do we find new ways to deal with controversial topics? How do we change things that need to be changed? Slowly but surely, however, I quit posting, quit commenting, quit caring. Only on the smaller, personal blogs do I find more human and serious attempts to discuss issues. And, as both you and I know, it's even hard on our blogs to avoid heated arguments sometimes.

What intrigues me is how adolescent so many of the nasty comments on various blogs are. I feel too often like I'm stuck in a room full of 13-year olds sometimes. I think that's why I stopped reading them.

But I'm glad you continue to write such great posts and that you obviously try to hold intelligent and caring discussions with people, even when you disagree with them. My hat's off to you.

cowboyangel said...

Except when we're talking about the Patriots and Jets, of course. Then you're just flat out wrong and misguided. Something to do with that Boston drinking water, I'm sure. :-)

Jeff said...

Except when we're talking about the Patriots and Jets, of course. Then you're just flat out wrong and misguided.

Why, you GangGreen-loving MoFo... Not only do they stink, but they have the fugliest uniforms in the league too.

"Memo to Eric Mangini: 'Mangenius' is a really cool nickname. 'ManKotite' will not be."

What intrigues me is how adolescent so many of the nasty comments on various blogs are. I feel too often like I'm stuck in a room full of 13-year olds sometimes.

;-D

Jeff said...

Thanks for the kind words, William, football notwithstanding. :-)

I think Juan Cole's site is very good, by the way.

cowboyangel said...

they have the fugliest uniforms in the league too

Did you see the horrid throw-back uniforms from the New York Titans days? Oh my God. You're 1-4 and struggling, so you wear totally embarrassing uniforms from a career .450 team that went bankrupt. That's the kind of year we're having here, Jeff.

cowboyangel said...

Of course, your fashion analysis of the Jets' uniforms is tempered by the fact that you root for the team that until not long ago had by far the wimpiest looking helmet logo in NFL history. I mean, really! Pat Patriot! He looked like a gay guy at the Halloween parade in the Village dressed up in a colonial period costume! Trying to hike a football! How fear-inducing was that? :-)

You're much better off with the Flying Elvis.

Jeff said...

ROFL. Now that was a classic Cowboyangel rant. Pure poetry. Pat Patriot as Village Person. You need to package that up somehow and put it into your next chapbook.

I like the Flying Elvis and the blue jerseys better too. The old uniform just reminds me of LOSING... I also could never figure out in the old days why the Patriots were dressed like "redcoats".

Another win today, but yes, there are some concerns about the defense. Very poor tackling. They might have some problems with the run, but luckliy they are burying teams before it becomes an issue. So far.