There has been a lot of discussion in the press, not to mention on this board, about the Israel’s motivations in Operation Cast Lead. Many will claim that Olmert, Barak and Livini’s main aim was to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel and threatening its population. “Security for Israel” and “Israel has a right to defend itself” are the most often repeated mantras from Israeli officials, their sympathisers and allies. Others on this blog, including myself, have made a case that this war was not about the rockets given that the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas had worked effectively and put an end to hostile fire across the border. Other secondary Israeli motivations include its upcoming elections in February, the outgoing US President Bush and the need for the IDF to restore its reputation after it failed to defeat Hezbollah in 2006.
This 22 day war produced a staggering number of dead civilians – over 1300 – and scores more wounded (estimates range between 4000-5000). Just like the thousand-plus Lebanese civilians who died in 2006, Gaza’s dead have also been reduced to a sad consequence of the war. Casualties are to be expected during such periods of hostility and if they are not intentional then it is somewhat excusable. Following this logic means Israel is, yet again, immune from condemnation and, worse still, from being held to account for its war crimes. Again I have elsewhere argued, following Mirko Bagaric, that the only thing that matters in war are the consequences. This includes the dead civilians even if they are accidently caught in the cross-fire.
Israel and its supporters would like the world to believe that the 1300 dead Gazans are the unavoidable costs of the war. This, however, is not the case. It seems, as Ben White writes in The Guardian, that Israel did deliberately target civilians as part of its war strategy. He writes:
There is . . . no shortage of evidence available that points to rather different Israeli aims [for the war other than Palestinian rockets, Israeli elections, and deterrence] . . . Politicians, diplomats and journalists are by and large shying away from the obvious, namely that Israel has been deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians and the very infrastructure of normal life, in order to – in the best colonial style – teach the natives a lesson.
White goes on list “three alternative purposes” behind the operation in Gaza which move beyond the generic explanations. His three findings are summarised below:
1. The first aim is to humiliate and weaken Hamas. On the one hand, this seems obvious, but contrary to how the goal is often understood, this is not primarily to protect the Israeli public – as pointed out previously, ceasefires and negotiations are far more likely to deliver security for Israeli citizens – but rather it is a political goal. Hamas had withstood isolation, a siege, mass arrests, and an attempted western-backed coup. Moreover, cracks were appearing in the international community’s resolve to parrot Israel’s line on Hamas. The group, with its resilience and ability to deliver on negotiated ceasefires, was threatening the chance to make a deal with the Ramallah “moderates” [i.e. Abbas and the PA].
Arab Media & Society, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a really exciting publication that is a kind of hybrid breed, combining the reader-friendly layout, graphics, and images of a magazine with in-depth academic analysis. The current Fall 2008 issue has a lot of interest, from an analysis of the rhetoric and media techniques of Beshir Gemayal, featuring video and English translations of his speeches, to three articles on cyberpolitics in the Egyptian world: two analysing the Egyptian blogosphere, and one on Facebook politics. There’s also an analysis of what the rise in private media outlets means for Indonesia, and a look at the reception of Deutsche Welle in the Arab world.
[cross-posted to Culture Matters]
CTlab is hosting a virtual symposium on the Hamdan trial, and they’ve got a lot of people, including myself, poised to comment on Dr Brian Glyn Williams’ fascinating account of the trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver. Williams was an expert witness for the defense.
This week, Williams has been posting a five–part narrative account of his experience, and after the fifth installment, CTlab will post comments and observations from a panel of invited legal scholars and social scientists based in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Reporter Jordan Bryon interviewed me about Barry O’Farrell’s attempts to censor Khaldoun this week. The podcast of the interview is available online, if anyone is curious to hear what my voice sounds like!
Barry O’Farrell, the opposition leader for New South Wales, has recently written to the Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University and to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard urging them to investigate and censor Khaldoun for being a “hate-filled,” “anti-Israel propaganda website.” A Macquarie University spokesperson, Greg Walsh, has provided the following response which affirms the university’s commitment to the principles of freedom of speech. Instead of calling for censorship of perspectives they disagree with, Walsh patiently observes, Khaldoun’s critics might better uphold the principles of democracy and free speech by engaging in reasoned debate on this site, or “better still start a blog of their own.”
With Greg’s permission, we thought it worthwhile to publish the entirety of Macquarie’s response here to clarify the relationship between Macquarie University and Khaldoun.
The recent case of internet censorship by the Chinese Government during the Beijing Olympics is a timely reminder that freedom of speech and access to differing points of view are not rights shared by all peoples of the world.
Throughout history, universities have contributed toward the development of democracy and freedom of speech in society by being places where academics could present and argue theories and points of view – no matter how controversial.
The academics commenting on the Khaldoun blogsite – which is not a Macquarie University site – are expressing their professional opinions on subject matter well within the area of their appointment: Middle East politics. The University does not either endorse their views, or those of their critics, our role is simply to ensure the University is a place where different views are tolerated and debated without prejudice.
A measure of the strength of freedom of speech in a society is its ability to tolerate the expression of ideas, even those that may cause some within that society to feel annoyed or hurt. The alternative – the suppression of ideas – only erodes free speech and democracy.
The University does not expect everyone who reads the postings on the Khaldoun blogsite to agree with them, that is the nature of debate – particularly in the area of politics. But rather than calling for the site to be censored, those with a differing point of view could always post a critical response backed up by their evidence, as others have done, or better still start a blog of their own. If they feel statements on the site contravene any specific legislation, then they should pursue complaints with relevant authorities. These are the sorts of measures that democratic societies provide in order to protect freedom of speech.
Macquarie University will not monitor the blog site or try to tell the blog’s authors what to publish or what views to hold. That would be the antithesis of what a university in a free society stands for. Read the rest of this entry »
For those of you who have been following the response to Dutch radical politician Geert Wilder’s film, Fitna, a Saudi blogger named Raed alSaeed has created a 6-minute companion film, Schism, to mock the first. Read the rest of this entry »
As some of you may have noticed, the comments were flying fast and furious over a couple of recent postings. When they started turning racist, we had to stop comments for a few days and think carefully about the blog’s comments policy. I met with Noah, Maryam, and Jumana and we struggled over the question: how do we balance our desire to see ideas shared freely without letting this become a forum for people to vent offensive points of view?
Most of the blog contributors are also on the staff at Macquarie University, and our backgrounds as academics shapes our ideas about how dialog should take place and gives us responsibilities as public intellectuals. Anyone who has sat in on any of our classes knows that we love a fierce debate, but we have little tolerance for those who express themselves in offensive and simplistic ways. When we moderate discussions in our classes or when we give written assignments, we continually press our students to think through their arguments thoughtfully, express them courteously, and provide references to back up their assertions. We hope that we can ask for the same high standard from participants on this blog.
With that in mind, the following is our comments policy at Khaldoun, drafted by Noah and endorsed by all of us:
Khaldoun is a site that places scholarly and informed perspectives into the public realm to promote understanding, tolerance and ultimate peace in the Middle East. Racist and discriminatory remarks are not acceptable. Comments that are deemed racist, discriminatory and vilify on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexuality or sexual orientation will be removed and the responsible party barred from commenting on this blog. Free speech comes with obligations of human decency and comments must meet the basic expectations of a rational, tolerant and inclusive society. We value your comments and will only censor material that is overtly racist and offends on the basis of religion, race, gender, sexuality and sexual orientation, and we will not cease to post political views that differ from those held by the individual contributors. Thank you for being a part of Khaldoun and contributing to the wider understanding of the Middle East.
– Lisa, Noah, Jumana, and Maryam