The Murder of Hussein Mumin

November 19, 2008

I know this is a site for discussion about issues  related  to the Middle East but I had to post this story because of the cruel, tragic and senseless nature of the story and the impact it had on me. So please excuse me for posting on a subject on the widest possible margin of this blog.

This is a story about the killing of a homeless man, an Somali immigrant to Australia, Hussein Mumin which I read this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald. Hussein may or may not have been a victim of a racially motivated attack (he had been in the past) but the racial discrimination that Africans- especially the Sudanese and Somalis- have experienced in Australia has been well documented. Hussein was not only an immigrant but also homeless, and combined these two realities made him one of the most invisible members of our society. The horrific nature of his killing is compounded by the neglect of his story in the press and a reminder of how little value our society has for the poor and for minorities. I hope that Hussein’s killers are identified and that the value of the life they took is brought home to them by the judicial system.

Australia’s recent treatment of migrants has been cruel and in numerous cases tantamount to torture. This is case is of an even more heinous nature and is reminder of what can happen when government’s institutionalise and condone racism, as with Kevin Andrew’s comments about Sudanese-Australians last year. The Rudd government has made a good start in overturning this legacy with the apology to indigenous Australians and the embracing of the Obama victory, but much more is still needed to be done to unravel the racialism which was an integral part of the Howard period. A more concerted government effort in battling racism is needed if Australia is to ensure the safety of the numerous African communities that have decided to make Australia their home.  A strongly worded government statement about the tradegy of the death of Hussein Mumin, public condolences and a guarantee that the perpetrators will be caught would send a message that Australia is committed to the protection of all human life, even that of the weakest and most silent members of society. And possibly if this would occur then maybe Hussein’s sister and his friends may start to feel that his brutal death was not in complete vain.

Noah Bassil


Call to action to end the siege of Gaza

November 19, 2008

Here’s an alert we received from a coalition of U.S.-based organizations with some suggestions on how to protest the siege of Gaza:

Action Alert: End the Starvation and Siege of Gaza

Adalah-NY: The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East
Network of Arab-American Professionals of NY
Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee of NY
Brooklyn For Peace
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

November 17, 2008

Take Action

With Gazans already impoverished and struggling to survive, on November 5, Israel completely sealed Gaza’s border crossings. This followed an unprovoked Israeli attack on Gaza that killed six Palestinians, despite a ceasefire, and Palestinian rocket fire in response. As a result of Israel’s closure, the United Nations has been forced to stop food distribution to 750,000 needy people, and 70% of Gaza is now without power due to a lack of fuel.

According to reports, even candles are now in short supply. “Let’s see this for what it is.” said UN spokesman Chris Gunness . “Fifty-six percent of the Gaza Strip are children. Let us not cause suffering of innocent children.” Blocking witnesses, on November 13, Israel denied the entry to Gaza of 20 senior EU diplomats.

Israel also has refused to allow foreign journalists to enter Gaza. Foreign Press Association chairman Steven Gutnik called the ban “a serious violation of freedom of the press” and said “it is essential that journalists be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip since it is the foreign media that serves as the world’s window into Gaza. Read the rest of this entry »

Zogby on Rahm Emanuel

November 18, 2008

I’m reprinting below an e-mail I got from the Arab American Institute.  It’s a thoughtful article by James Zogby about how the Arab world should interpret Obama’s appointment of Rahm Emanuel.

Washington Watch
November 17, 2008

Lessons That Should Be Learned

Dr. James J. Zogby (c)
Arab American Institute

On November 5th, my office sent an email to tens of thousands of our members and contacts congratulating President-elect Barack Obama. In our message, we noted the historic transformation his victory represented and commended the thousands of Arab Americans who participated in this winning campaign.

The initial and near universal response was heartwarming, with many sharing moving anecdotes of their campaign experiences, their reactions to the victory, and their hopes for change.

One day and one announcement later, the tide turned.

With the naming of Congressman Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, the euphoria of some, not all, turned to despair. The emails and calls to my office were both troubled and troubling because much of the reaction was based on misinformation and because of what the entire episode revealed about the larger political dynamics involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Siege on Gaza as the U.N. runs out of food

November 17, 2008

One has to read between the lines of the usual “balance” in this piece (below) — suggesting parity between the starvation of a civilian population and the rocket fire from Gaza — to see that what is taking place is the medieval technique of laying siege to a population and starving them.  But whereas in medieval siege warfare the purpose of starving a civilian population was to make them capitulate and to rule over them, the last thing the Israelis want is to resume direct control over (and hence daily responsibility for) the beleaguered civilian population of Gaza.  So this seige is not a means but the end in itself of Israel’s “Gaza strategy.”

Starvation is, of course, in this day and age subject to strict prohibition under the laws of war (which include the laws governing foreign military occupation) since it fails the first test of humanitarian law — distinguishing between civilians and combatants.  But to the Israeli tactician’s eye, perhaps all Gazans are enemies at some fundamental level.  And so a total blockade on Gaza, which excludes from Gazans even the passage of food and humanitarian aid through United Nations channels, continues to the deafening silence of the watching international community.

Against their own record of war crimes, the Israelis are afforded not only impunity but a generous hearing as the “victims” of purported Palestinian offenses.  So the UN closes shop and leaves the 750,000+ Gazans dependent on UNRWA food relief with no options and the world continues to blame the victim.  At least in this part of the world, hope and change are just two more empty slogans and two more commodities denied to Gazans starving under Israel’s siege. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama and the Middle East, part II: Emanuel redux

November 14, 2008

In the early 1990s, my best friend Joel and I both moved out the apartment we shared in New York’s West Village.  He was a photographer and artist, and I was a bit lost and trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I moved to Saudi Arabia to live with my parents and teach at a Saudi girls’ school, while Joel moved to Israel and joined the Israeli army, a first step towards gaining Israeli citizenship.  I was politically naive then, though I was vaguely aware of the way the Israeli state treated Palestinians because my father had told me about the time he traveled from Jordan to Israel and, crossing the Allenby Bridge, decided to go through the side of the checkpoint reserved for Arabs, instead of going through the tourist side.  My dad told me about how he saw first hand the way the soldiers verbally and physically abused Palestinians, while on the other side it was all welcoming cheer.  “Welcome to Israel! Have a great visit!  Want to stay on a kibbutz?”

So I didn’t think much of Joel’s decision to move to Israel and join the Israeli army, but I didn’t see it as a young man’s political statement; I saw it as a longing to simultaneously inject some military discipline into his bohemian life, escape the reach of his parents, and find his imagined roots (though none of his relatives were Israeli and as an Ashkenazi Jew he traced his heritage back to Eastern Europe).

Since there were no direct phone lines between Saudi Arabia and Israel, we really had to work hard to be able to talk to each other on the phone, but through some strange procedures that I don’t even remember, we somehow managed.  I remember once I called him and I asked him how his attempt to learn Hebrew was going.  He told me that it was going well, and that he was even learning some Arabic.  I asked him what he had learned.  He said, in Arabic, “Show me your identity card!” and “put your hands up!” and “Drop to the ground!”

“Is that all you’ve learned?” I asked him.  “You haven’t made any Palestinian friends?  You just order them around?”  Yes, he told me.  The only Arabs he knew were some dirty cheating people who ran a hummus shop in Jerusalem. They weren’t the sort that he wanted to hang out with.

I thought of this incident when I read about Rahm Emanuel’s repudiation of the remarks his father made to an Israeli newspaper when it asked the senior Emanuel about his son’s likely influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East.   News outlets are widely reporting that the elder Emanuel said to the Israeli newspaper Ma’Ariv, “Obviously he’ll influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to be mopping floors at the White House.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Obama and the Middle East

November 7, 2008

Well, the US election is over and Senator Barack Obama has prevailed. Many people all over the world have let out a deep sigh of relief that the man who sang the words ‘bomb, bomb, bomb Iran’ when asked about how to deal with the putative “nuclear standoff” with Iran is not going to the White House. What more, Sarah Palin will not be in Washington either, which while an equally huge relief, will not please Alaska’s long suffering Moose population.

Anyway, since this is a Middle East blog, I will set aside my other thoughts on Barak Obama and focus the point of this brief post on exploring the question of what Obama’s election might mean for the Middle East. The commentary regarding US foreign policy toward the Middle East  will take shape over the next few days but here a few pieces to get things started. Colin Hallinan, “Terminating the National Security State: A New Foreign Policy” in CounterPunch provides a useful list of suggestions of how to shift US foreign policy in the Middle East towards a more constructive relationship. Hallinan speaks to Obama in the hope that an Obama administration will be open to change. Hallinan’s optimism in Obama might come mainly from the fact that Obama is not Bush or McCain but there is very little Obama has said on the Middle East that would suggest a shift in US attitude. This is why Steven Zunes in “Barack in the Middle East” is more circumspect that Hallinan, expecting that the contours of US policy toward the Middle East will not change, but does expect that Obama will move beyond the crude militarism of the Bush “regime”.

Zunes considers Obama just as Hawkish in regards to Israel-Palestine and that the unqualified, uncritical, unreserved support of Israel’s Middle East policy will probably remain a part of Obama’s platform on the Middle East. Obama explained  during a speech he gave on race relations earlier this year that it was wrong for Rev. Jeremiah Wright to have a view that “sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam”. Criticism of Israel, or US support for Israel, remains a taboo subject in US politics.

This election campaign has clearly shown once more that in the US questioning Israel and US support for Israel is perceived by candidates as political suicide, and no-one ever willingly commits political suicide . A Washington Post editorial from June 7, 2008 makes the point that in terms of the Middle East Barack Obama is clearly, in policy terms, far from radical. Obama’s policies on the Middle East as put forward by the Washington Post, especially on key issues such as Israel-Palestine and Iran could have been written by Benjamin Netanyanu.  Overall, it seems that there is a belief that Obama is a man of change and that his hard-line position on Israel and Iran issues was just political strategy and not long held conviction. Certainly, the Zionist lobby in the US have expressed this fear as demonstrated in their solid support and campaigning for John McCain, fears that are expressed in pieces such as “Barack Obama and Israel” by Ed Lansky of American Thinker.

Over the next few days we will be able to gauge the sentiment from the Middle East, especially from Israel and Iran which will give us a clearer picture of how the press and people of the Middle East see the election of Obama as US president. The concern now is that the Bush administration realising time is up and that the Democrats will take over soon decide to launch a strike against Iran, an option John Bolton predicted might be on the Bush agenda if Obama defeats McCain. If sanity prevails and Bush just bides his time, maybe, just maybe, Obama can demonstrate what constructive dialogue and negotiation can achieve. Its been a long time since we have be able to use the phrase constructive dialogue (and sanity) in the same sentence as US foreign policy to the Middle East, but maybe this is the beginning of a shift in this direction. Even if there is no transformation in US foreign policy during a Obama presidency, we can still believe in and speculate on change, at least for a little while.

Noah Bassil