Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2006, pages 37-38

European Press Review

Italy’s Repubblica Sees Déjà Vu Over Iran Standoff

By Lucy Jones

The March 9 decision by the United Nations Security Council to take up the issue of Iran’s nuclear activities heralds “a new phase in the confrontation,” wrote the BBC Web site’s world affairs correspondent, Paul Reynolds, that day.

The move, following an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report which said it could not conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran, “takes the crisis to an arena where Western powers are determined to put Iran in the dock, and where they will try to muster support for sanctions,” wrote Reynolds.

But, he said “sanctions are a long way off, and might not come at all,” because Russia and China, which hold veto powers on the council, are reluctant to see them applied.

“So, a long period of warnings is likely to follow,” he predicted. “These will demand that Iran comply with the requirements of the IAEA to suspend its fuel enrichment program.”

Spain’s El Pais of the same day also agreed that the permanent members of the Security Council will face serious problems trying to reach a consensus on what action to take over Iran. “Some non-Western governments...believe Iran has been treated unfairly compared to Pakistan, Israel or India,” the newspaper noted.

“A surreal atmosphere of déjà vu,” was how Italy’s Repubblica of March 9 characterized the situation. “[As in] the replay of a tragic film already seen some three years ago, the Bush administration, Europe and the U.N. are apparently restaging the script of the war in Iraq in order to apply it to Iran,” it commented.

Berlin and Paris should increase their efforts to bring an end to the standoff, urged Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel that day, as their opposition to the Iraq war increases their weight in negotiations with Iraq.

“Through their rhetoric, Berlin and Paris must compensate for what London has forfeited, and Washington would be well advised to remain in the background,” the newspaper continued.

However, the UK’s Guardian of March 18 saw hope, particularly after Washington two days earlier had authorized its Baghdad envoy to hold talks with Iranian officials on Iraq.

“The contradictions increasingly evident in Washington are illustrated by the fact that the U.S. is both working to isolate Iran because of its pursuit of a nuclear weapons option and reaching out to it for help in bringing order to Iraq,” the newspaper pointed out.

“The obvious quid pro quo for Iranian help in Iraq would be a deceleration of the American campaign on the nuclear issue,” continued the newspaper. “Since that campaign is already slowing because of Russian and Chinese objections and European anxieties, this might come about and then, if one wanted to be very optimistic, lead to a similar slowing down of the Iranian programs.”

German Press Split Over Alleged Use Of German Intelligence in Iraq War

German newspapers were divided in March over whether there should be a parliamentary investigation into allegations that German agents helped the U.S. invade Iraq. There have been claims that the agents assisted the U.S. military in selecting bombing targets.

To set up an inquiry would be “right and proper,” argued Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung on March 7.

Activities that have now emerged were “initially denied by the government and only admitted when a committee was threatened,” the newspaper noted.

But the previous day’s Der Tages­spiegel deemed a probe unnecessary. The paper said it was already common knowledge that the Social Democrat and Green government cooperated more closely with Washington than many are willing to admit today.

“This cooperation was right and proper because the German ”˜no’ to the Iraq war could not imply just as forceful ”˜no’ to the U.S. government,” the newspaper said.

There is “no scandal” to be investigated, agreed the same day’s Frankfurter Rundschau. What has surfaced reflects the “dilemma” posed by a war which Germany rejected but which was being waged by its main ally.

BBC Sees “Real Anger” on Third Anniversary of U.S.-led Invasion of Iraq

Iraq is “teetering on the brink of a bloody civil war,” wrote Peter Javurek in Slovakia’s SME on March 20, the third anniversary of U.S.-led invasion.

“The only aim [of fundamentalists and terrorists] is bloody chaos which would give rise to a theocratic Islamist regime in Iraq, a regime as undemocratic as Saddam’s and perhaps even more dangerous,” he said. “This is why the calls for an immediate withdrawal of the U.S. and its allies from Iraq are ill-conceived, to put it mildly.”

In the opinion of BBC world affairs editor John Simpson, writing on the same day, “Few Iraqis will even think about the anniversary of the invasion.

“Many are still glad that Saddam Hussain was taken off their backs,” he wrote on the organization’s Web site. “But there is a real, abiding anger that the richest nation on earth should have taken over their country and made them even worse off in so many ways than they were before.”

“Three years after the original invasion, supporters of the war should assess the situation with pitiless clarity. Three years is more than enough time to have trained a new generation of police recruits and native soldiers,” wrote the UK’s Daily Telegraph on April 3.

“The continuing insurgency can no longer be regarded as a mopping-up exercise, or a prolongation of the military campaign,” the newspaper said. “The question we need to ask ourselves is whether our troops are containing a civil conflict that would be occurring anyway, or whether they are in fact exacerbating the unrest by their presence.”

But according to the London Times of March 18, “despite the undoubted and avoidable mistakes made in the 12 months after the Ba’athist regime expired, there are grounds for realistic optimism about the future.

“Although there have been hardships a-plenty since 2003, Saddam Hussain’s attempts to obtain popular sympathy for himself from the dock have been met with derision,” the paper editorialized. “Whatever else they may think about their present situation, the vast majority of Iraqis do not want a return to the dire days of his dictatorship.”

School Response to Girl Who Fought To Wear Jilbab Called “Exemplary”

British newspapers generally applauded the March 22 decision by the House of Lords to back a school which was told it unlawfully excluded a Muslim pupil for wearing a traditional gown. The Court of Appeal had said Denbigh High School denied Shabina Begum the right to manifest her religion in refusing to allow her to wear a jilbab. But in a unanimous ruling, judges at the House of Lords overturned the ruling.

“Thank God, the law lords have seen sense,” wrote The Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting on March 22. “The case was so strongly against Begum. Denbigh High School’s behavior was exemplary; they had consulted with the community on a suitable uniform for the 75 percent of their pupils who are Muslims of a shalwar kameez and head covering. At the time Begum attended the school, the head teacher was a Muslim,” she noted.

“The nightmare that worried me was the scenario of teenage girls feeling under peer pressure to don the niqab—the face covering which leaves only the eyes exposed,” Bunting added.

“This is not a question of one person’s rights being trampled by a racist system; it is a question of balance and degree in the competing rights of the devout student to express her faith, and the school’s need to set rules that can apply fairly to each pupil,” editorialized The Observer on March 19. “Everyone sacrifices personal expression when they don school uniform. They do it so that all are seen to be equal when they enter the classroom.”

“I met Shabina before she went to court,” wrote Fiona Phillips in the March 25 Daily Mirror. Begum, she said, had told her she was “an intelligent girl” and that “no one tells me what to do.” But, noted Phillips, “her brother does [tell her what to do].” Phillips went on to point out: “Shabina dug her heels in over her uniform after being counseled by a radical Muslim group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, to which her brother belongs. They campaign for Britain to be subjected to Muslim rule. When Shabina was pushed on a question,” Phillips added, “she didn’t seem to know her own mind—looking to her barrister to answer.”

“Shabina was just turning 14 when her brother, then a 19-year-old university student, and another man took her, wearing the jilbab, to school on the first day of term in 2002,” the London Times reported on March 23.

“Lord Scott of Foscote, in his judgment yesterday, noted that it seemed to be the men who were requiring Shabina to cover up,” the newspaper said.

Most newspapers referred to the fact that Begum had been represented by the prime minister’s wife, Cherie Blair, and had lost two years of schooling to fight the case.

Muslims Invented Coffee, Pin-Hole Camera and the Windmill, Reports London’s Independent

From coffee to the fountain pen, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life, London’s Independent reported in its March 11 Science and Technology section. Credited with discovering coffee is an Arab named Khalid, the newspaper said, who was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry.

The first person to realize that light enters, rather than leaves, the eye was the 10th century Muslim mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham, the newspaper noted. He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters.

Muslims are also credited with perfecting the recipe for soap, the article continued. While the ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans, who used it more as a pomade, it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics, such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders’ most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash, the newspaper said. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mohamed’s Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV, it continued.

The newspaper also credits Muslims with inventing distillation; the crank-shaft; quilting; the pointed arch so characteristic of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals; the windmill (invented in 634 for a Persian caliph); the smallpox vaccination; and the fountain pen. 

Lucy Jones is a free-lance journalist based in London.

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