Sunday, September 18, 2005

Arab Leaders and How They Treat Public Criticism

By Dr. Khaled Batarfi

Arab officials are not used to any sort of criticism, especially in public, and don’t tolerate open debate about their performance.

Now and then, I have off-the-record conversations with Arab leaders of various levels in the public and private sectors. Most are unelected.

I ask them: Why don’t they allow intellectual, peaceful dissent and free discussion of ideas and thoughts? They have the power to pick and choose among proposals; so why the imposed silence and unilateral governance?

Their rationale goes like this: Talk to me respectfully and I’ll listen and consider. Do that in public and you put me in a serious dilemma. If I respond positively, I admit to having made mistakes and you take credit and steal the victory. Worse, by relenting to your demands, I show weakness. You can’t run a business, let alone a country like that.

Besides, in our culture, you don’t humiliate your leader, be it a father, a boss, a sheikh or a president. We shouldn’t copy less respectful societies in this regard.

Eastern societies are different. We don’t go around smearing the image of our heads and expect them to take it kindly. Of course leaders get angry; they are only human. Of course they punish offenders; they have prestige, security and unity to protect. Wrong approaches deserve bad receptions.

If you are sincere, then don’t make a scene. If public interest is your goal, come and talk to me in private. Let me take the credit for doing the right thing. It won’t hurt you, but makes me stronger. However, if it is fame, political gain or any other self-interest you are after, I won’t allow you to gain it at my expense. I will fight you to the bitter end. And you will most likely lose, because I have the muscles and you are toothless.

An Arab public official may add: Make a noise and you might get the outside world’s attention. Some foreigners might take up your cause. Western officials might call on your behalf. This helps me prove you are an agent and traitor. Human rights organizations might protest. Pressure may mount. But it is up to me to set you free. And if I do, I could make your life miserable. You can live outside prison, but the whole country will be your jail. The difference is: I pay your expenses inside, but make sure you are not able to pay them outside. Your call! Your choice!

In response I say: “Those with tight chests and short breaths are not good for leadership,” as an Arab proverb says. If you are so sensitive and thin-skinned, be kind enough to leave the headache for those who are not. You are right to be offended if critics were intruding into your personal affairs that don’t affect your job performance. But if people are criticizing, demanding or advising on issues that concern their well being, then you ought to listen, respect and accept.

Say we are a traveling group. We choose you as our organizer and treasurer. You start acting without our authorization, slipping your gambling loses into the budget or changing our travel plans. Isn’t it our right to raise concerns and objections, present suggestions and proposals and call into review your administrative performance? Why do we have to come, one by one, in private, to discuss such issues with you? Why can’t we debate them among us all? And why is no one but you entitled to take credit for our achievements and proposals?

Most disasters in the history of mankind were caused by dictators. Good governance requires teamwork. No one person, no matter how brilliant, decent and strong, can successfully lead for long without decision sharing. Be it a family, small business, sports team or nation, people need and must take part in the managing of their own affairs.

Systems differ, but the basics are the same. Mechanisms may be tailored to suit different cultures and environments, but they all pursue the same goal — public participation in the decision-making process.

Ordinary citizens must have the divine, constitutionally protected right to voice their opinions publicly or privately without fear of persecution, isolation or retaliation. They should be entitled to expect respectful and systematic responses to their questions, interaction with their proposals, and addressing of their concerns.

Some agree with such logic — intellectually. The problem is, when we talk we are all men of principles. When we act, we are chasers of benefits. Without any protecting, overriding and correcting mechanism, leaders will always pursue their own interests — first.

Liar, Liar

By Jason Miller

If George Bush had encountered the same fate as Jim Carrey’s character in the movie Liar Liar, and had been rendered incapable of lying, America would not have been subjected to thirty minutes of manipulative propaganda on 9/15. Compelled to tell the truth, Bush’s oration would have captured the reality of the situation in New Orleans, and of life for the poor and working class in an America dominated by a wealthy aristocracy:

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. It is a very good evening for me. I am still an obscenely wealthy and powerful autocratic leader of a nation of sheeple who falsely believe they are free. While I am surrounded by misery and suffering, I make this presentation of shameless propaganda from a comfortable, beautiful stage set while surrounded by an entourage of thugs who assure my safety. I am speaking to you from what is left of the city of New Orleans, a gem of an American city which was gutted by a powerful force of nature, and by the insidious social experiment undertaken by my malevolent administration. Millions of lives were destroyed by a cruel and wasteful storm, and by a cruel and wasteful federal government over which I zealously preside.

In the aftermath of Katrina, the haves of this nation have gleefully watched the have-nots dispersed to the four corners of this great nation. As the victims search for loved ones and grieve for the dead, America's attention is diverted from my nomination of a Supreme Court Justice who will strengthen the tyranny I have created, Karl Rove's criminal behavior, and my administration's numerous war crimes related to Iraq. The lies and exaggerations of my media lap-dogs have persuaded many Americans that blacks are undisciplined animals who live off of government hand-outs, feeding my agenda to end social welfare programs and perpetuating the lucrative prison-industrial complex. With their persistent cries for civil rights, blacks have been a thorn in the side of the American aristocracy long enough.

These days of joy and elation for me and my base have been marred by acts of courage and kindness by members of the Coast Guard, who rescued tens of thousands of the undesirables in New Orleans. Rest assured that my administration will deal with them accordingly.

I have met first responders who performed their duties in spite of their own suffering. Steve Scott of the Biloxi Fire Department aided in rescue efforts despite having lost his house and car. For his obstruction of the purge of undesirables, I will see to it that he loses more than just his physical possessions.

Across the Gulf Coast, the people whose suffering I facilitated are showing a spirit and a faith in God which not even I could crush. However, there is a powerful determination amongst corporations, contractors, and entrepreneurs to take what is left of these battered areas and utilize them for personal financial gain. Like me, they have no compassion or humility. Our relentless bid for wealth and power will eventually break the backs of the downtrodden.

To the victims of the hurricane dispelled far and wide, I send you this message. Many soft, weak people I call "liberals" care about you. In contrast, my base of the obscenely wealthy and I are relishing your misery. We are salivating at the opportunities to expand our wealth by rebuilding your city with you out of our way. The Crescent City will rise again, and as it does, so will the balances in our bank accounts.

The National Guard and our hired thugs from Blackwater have nearly completed the task of quelling the New Orleans insurgency. Those thugs who were stealing food to survive or staying in their homes to protect their meager possessions have nearly been suppressed. Let the scenes of armed militia battering down doors of private homes be a lesson to you other potential dissidents across this great nation.

As we have restored "law and order" to New Orleans and have scattered the "evacuees" to the wind, we have taken care of the truly important business. With that mass of worthless humanity out of our way, we have resumed trade in the Port of New Orleans, restored the flow of precious gasoline that ensures profits for me and my cronies in the oil industry, and have repaired the levees to prepare for the impending land grab by wealthy business owners.

What I want you to believe is that our first commitment is to meet the immediate needs of the refugees. To help convince you of my concern for them, I have even started calling them evacuees rather than refugees. However, the reality is that the aid the federal government is offering to the evacuees is window dressing to maintain the facade that we still live in a democracy that is "of the people, by the people, and for the people". After days of inaction on my part, Karl Rove reminded me that if we didn't throw the poor some scraps, we could be looking at civil unrest and rioting across the nation. For assistance, please call this number: 1-877-EAT CAKE.

To ensure that Americans believe we are helping the evacuees, but more importantly to start the rebuilding efforts, I have ordered $60 billion in aid. My friends in Congress gave me their usual rubber stamp. Know that this administration has been so generous with your tax dollars because the money will be flowing into the pockets of our friends at Shaw Contracting, Halliburton, and Bechtel National. I have ensured that their profits will be further enhanced by suspending that vexatious Davis-Bacon Act. Forget the damage caused by Katrina. The real tragedy would be if my friends were obligated to pay America's working people reasonable wages, thereby cutting into their disaster profiteering.

Our second commitment, and our true agenda, is to rebuild the Gulf Coast. We will not rest until Trent Lott and I are able to share a drink on the front porch of his newly rebuilt home. Many of the 250,000 uninhabitable homes in New Orleans will be bull-dozed to make way for developments to benefit corporations and the wealthy. While we are orchestrating the theft of their homes, we will implement programs to ensure that the poor, black former denizens of New Orleans are permanently relocated to slums and decaying urban cores of other major cities in the US.

The federal government will be heavily involved in the rebuilding process. I want my people to have ultimate authority to guarantee that my people prosper from this calamity. Many of the same contractors who were awarded large sums to rebuild the infrastructure in Iraq, and have bilked America's taxpayers of billions of dollars, will get the same opportunity here in New Orleans. We will see to it that the city of New Orleans changes its zoning laws, to prevent the re-emergence of the disgusting “jungles” populated by poor black “animals” which existed before Katrina.

I pledge a third commitment: The communities that we rebuild will be better than those before the disaster. We have already eliminated the persistent poverty and racial discrimination prevalent in this region by evacuating the residents to various cities across the nation. Once this region is rebuilt, there will be a multitude of new businesses, including some token minority-owned businesses to pacify the black community. When houses are rebuilt, most of the residents will be white so they can own and not rent.

In keeping with our emphasis on businesses and profit over humanity, I am proposing a Gulf Opportunity Zone in areas touched by the disaster. This program will further the interests of entrepreneurs and business people, and move our nation closer to the raw capitalism that is so near and dear to my heart. The Zone will grant loans and tax incentives to business people so they can begin prospering again while the poor continue to suffer. I want you to believe that entrepreneurship breaks the cycle of poverty, but the reality is that without a reasonable degree of government regulation, it perpetuates impoverishment by keeping money in the hands of entrepreneurs who pay meager wages and offer limited benefits to their employees.

I am also proposing Worker Recovery Accounts to help evacuees find work. This will provide accounts of up to $5000.00 from which evacuees can draw for education, job training and child care as they search for work. I want assurances that the poor who are receiving federal assistance are not using the money to buy crack, and this program will weed out the "trash" of our society.

The Urban Homesteading Act, another of my programs I will submit for automatic endorsement by a Congress which is dominated by members of my wealthy base will take the property in the region which the federal government will appropriate from its rightful owners and create a lottery for low-income individuals. Lottery winners will receive a plot of land on which they will be required to build a home. My friends in the mortgage industry will reap the windfalls of providing the financing. Those lottery winners whose credit is too weak to qualify for a loan from my friends will have to rely on Habitat for Humanity to build their homes. If that does not work out, Wal-Mart sells some very affordable tents.

New Orleans presents a unique challenge. It is a city built below sea level. Now that we have expelled the scourges of humanity, my Army Corps of Engineers will make the levees bigger and better. I will spare no expense ensuring that my friends' investments are protected from future Katrinas.

We have witnessed armies of compassion as Americans have given generously to mitigate the plight of the suffering in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Region. Because I remained on vacation and FEMA acted with gross ineptitude, the burden to aid the storm victims initially fell upon private charities, organizations like the Red Cross, individual Americans, and religious organizations. This is "compassionate conservatism" in action, and I am delighted to see it working so well.

I want you to know that my administration will capitalize upon this disaster, much like we did with the 9/11 tragedy. I have already apprised you of the $60 billion which will flow into the coffers of companies with ties to members of my administration and their friends. The financial windfall will be wonderful, but the true benefit lies in the opportunity to expand our power. I realize that like the WTC catastrophe, the cataclysm in New Orleans has left Americans feeling fearful and insecure. We will prey on this trepidation to broaden executive powers and sweep away the remaining semblance of a republic in America.

America, Big Brother is there for you. Above all, remember:

It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces---the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.

While I realize that Americans expect a more effective response from the federal government when a disaster of this magnitude happens, they need to realize that under my New American Century, domestic programs like FEMA have been rendered impotent. The military is the essence of our government. The US military budget, including money for its ancillary departments, is over $600 billion per year. This siphons money away from domestic, humanitarian programs like emergency response, education, and health care. But the good news is that the rich who have high stakes in entities like the Carlyle Group get richer as a result. Besides, my delayed and feeble response in New Orleans enabled the Gulf Region to rid itself of many of its criminal, useless inhabitants.

Congress is preparing an investigation of the situation in New Orleans. However, the results will be similar to the probes into 9/11 and Abu Gharib. My administration will see to it that no evidence of our culpability comes to light, and if perpetrators are punished, they will be lower echelon scapegoats.

The trials in the Gulf Coast remind Americans of their strength, as they struggle against the forces of nature, and against the corruption and criminal acts of my administration. These challenges also remind them that the poor and working class are bound together, and that despair touches all of them. Meanwhile my rich friends and I raise glasses of outrageously expensive champagne to toast the new opportunities for enrichment and empowerment.

Because my rich, sheltered existence makes it impossible to empathize, I cannot tell you that I understand what you are feeling while you are sitting on the porch where your home once stood or lying on a cot in an over-crowded government internment center. I can say that I doubt that you can imagine a bright future, but rest assured it will come for some of us. My friends and I will prosper at your expense.

Before Katrina and I joined forces to destroy it, New Orleans had a custom for funerals for jazz musicians. Following the funeral procession, a band would play a sorrowful dirge. After the coffin was laid to rest, the band would break into a joyful tune to celebrate the soul's victory over death. No such joyous music will emerge from our new New Orleans. My friends and I will erect a hollow, soulless shrine to the avarice and excesses of capitalism. This I promise you.

Thank you, and may God continue to bless the wealthy of America.


The following editorial appeared in the Jordan Atimes, Amman, Sunday,Sept. 18.

The world's leaders last week got as close as they could to outlawing terrorism, but still steered clear of defining it. This came about when the UN Security Council met on Wednesday at the head-of-state level to adopt a resolution calling on states to outlaw any incitement or encouragement to terrorism, but skirted around the contentious subject of stating precisely what qualifies as terrorism.

Unfortunately, UN member states still cannot agree on something that should have been relatively easy to define, ostensibly because of the political implication and ramifications associated with drawing a crystal clear line between terrorism and acts of liberation. Yet, all nations know very well what terrorism is all about, although they are not quite ready to commit themselves to clearly defined boundaries that separate terrorism from lawful resort to arms.

The definition of terrorism has defied the international community for decades. There was a determined effort to give terrorism a legal expression at the Rome Conference that adopted the Final Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), at Turkey's initiative, in a bid to include it on the list of international crimes that would come within the jurisdiction of the ICC. Ankara's initiative failed to win wide support for the very same reasons that prevented the international community and the UN Security Council to come up with an internationally recognised definition of terrorism. Despite this apparent failure, there are already sufficient “legal hints” on what constitutes terrorism. The Geneva humanitarian law prohibits the killing of non-combatants or targeting civilians, especially children, women and the elderly.

This alone should have been enough to provide a legal basis for a definition of terrorism. Yet the international community could not see the obvious! The UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also came close to outlawing terrorism when it stipulated, in Article 20, that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence [and] shall be prohibited by law.” It goes without saying that terrorism as we know it entails all elements of incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.

Why the world leaders' summit could not come up with a definition of terrorism defies logic and common sense. By confining themselves to outlawing any incitement, encouragement or promotion of terrorism without giving the phenomenon a workable definition, the leaders who represented their nations at the UN Security Council have obviously failed in one of their most important missions.