Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2006, pages 59-60

Other People's Mail

Compiled by Kate Hilmy and Delinda Hanley

Some letters by or to other people are as informative for our readers as anything we might write ourselves.

In the Nation’s Interest

To The Washington Post, April 15, 2006

John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt [“Academic Paper Stirs Debate; Report on Effect of Israel Lobby Distorts History, Critics Say,” news story, April 3] must have known that their study would unleash a firestorm of accusations of anti-Semitism, but they have placed before us an issue that needs public debate because of the effect on the lives of Americans.

George Washington, in his farewell address of 1796, cautioned about forming “passionate attachment[s]” with other countries to avoid “a variety of evils.” He warned of creating the “illusion of an imaginary common interest” where none exists, and he feared that we would be diverted from pursuing our real national interests. Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt are saying that the pro-Israel lobby has done just that.

Accusations of anti-Semitism distract us from exploring these critical issues. We should not be deterred but should discuss the subject of the study:

Does the pro-Israel lobby encourage U.S. administrations to pursue policies in the Middle East that are contrary to this nation’s interests?

Mona A. Bashir, Harrisburg, PA

America’s Failure in Iraq

To the International Herald Tribune, April 11, 2006

Your excellent editorial “Endgame in Iraq” belatedly acknowledges “that America should be ashamed to support” that country’s leadership. Torture chambers and death squads allied to the government took root at least a year ago, without strong U.S. action to terminate them.

Your editorial also completely downplays the U.S. role in promoting sectarian divisions as it sought to win support for the occupation from a hostile Shi’i majority by comprehensively isolating and persecuting the long-dominant Sunnis.

One of America’s central strategies in cementing control over Iraq was to formally reorganize its political activity along ethnic and religious lines. Those in the first Governing Council in July 2003, for example, were chosen not as Iraqis but as representatives of the Shi’i, Kurdish, Sunni, Assyrian, Chaldean and Turkoman communities. Such confessional politics prevailed in Lebanon and led to that country’s 15-year civil war that ended in the early 1990s through Arab mediation.

The “vital goal” of ditching Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari that you mention will be marginal to ending Iraq’s civil war. What is needed is for the United States, now loathed by Sunnis and Shi’i alike, to leave Iraq, and allow a new order to possibly emerge there with guidance from a disinterested United Nations/Arab mission capable of winning Iraqi support.

Salim Lone, Nairobi, Kenya

Facing the Threat of a Nuclear Iran

To The New York Times, April 19, 2006

By invading Iraq, ignoring North Korea and continuing to arm Israel, the Bush administration has done everything possible to encourage Iran to go after a nuclear deterrent.

As for the argument that nuclear energy is a wasteful use of resources for an oil producer like Iran: before the 1979 overthrow of the shah, the American administration argued the opposite, that nuclear power would both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.

David Michael Williams, Hiroshima, Japan

America as the Bully

To the International Herald Tribune, May 4, 2006

There was a time when the United States was universally admired for freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It seems that those days have passed. The letter you published from Ilya Gutman under the headline “U.S. and Iran” (April 28) exposes how those virtues have been replaced with the morality and arrogance of a playground bully.

The letter reflects a monumental delusion of power and certitude that is usually only exhibited by tyrants and dictators.

It was clear from the invasion of Iraq that the United States and Britain have no respect for international law and seem to believe they can take the law into their own hands.

I would ask your letter writer, and anyone else who believes that might makes right: Should the biggest thug on the block be making decisions about nuclear issues or should such matters be decided by international agreement?

There is no evidence that Iran has breached international agreements in any significant way. Washington is making the same baseless claims it made to “justify” the slaughter in Iraq.

It’s really a question of how we want the world to be organized. Do we want to believe in democracy and the rule of law or do we want to be ruled by America?

Christopher Leadbeater, Ashford, UK

Does Iran’s Letter Open a Door?

To The New York Times, May 11, 2006

It is appalling that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would abruptly dismiss the letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to President Bush after 27 years of no relations.

Relations between the United States and China thawed through “Ping-Pong diplomacy.” President Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger, then the national security adviser, were imaginative enough to accept the invitation to visit China from Chairman Mao Zedong and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, even though neither Ping-Pong nor a simple visit touched on the basic issues between China and the United States.

Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger recognized that any angle sufficed to open the possibility of a potential thaw that could spread its benefits to the United States and the world.

Now we have unnecessarily humiliated a large and powerful country that went out on a limb to offer us a peace feeler.

James Adler, Cambridge, MA

Secret “Genocide”

To the San Francisco Chronicle, May 6, 2006

The genocide in Darfur is well known. But there is another genocide that has been going on for the last 39 years and few people know about its horrors: the genocide of the Palestinian people.

We heard how the Israelis generously gave Gaza to the Palestinians, by pulling out the illegal Israeli settlers there. The settlers, however, should never have been there in the first place; and Gaza was never Israel’s to give away.

Now that there are no Israelis in Gaza who could get hurt, Israel has launched 2,400 artillery shells and 34 missiles into Gaza. They have also dammed off the water supply into Gaza, so that 1.2 million people living there have no fresh drinking water.

In addition, they have built a massive wall around Gaza, with the few gates to the outside world controlled by the Israeli military; they decide who and what may pass through, and who and what may not. All the bakeries in Gaza were forced to close when the Israeli military refused to allow flour through, even though 40 percent of the children there already suffer from malnutrition. Furthermore, thousands have been made homeless through home demolitions by the Israelis.

With 80 percent unemployment (fisherman cannot earn money when the Israelis deny them access to the sea) most of Gaza is dependent on aid. Congress is now debating H.R. 4681, a resolution to cut off financial aid. If we do this, thousands of Palestinians will starve to death.

Jane Chesterman, San Rafael, CA

The Power to Change the Arab World

To The Washington Post, May 8, 2006

Too bad Anthony Shadid’s excellent article about the mighty aspirations of Dubai [“The Towering Dream of Dubai,” front page, April 30] didn’t appear during the Dubai Ports World squabble—especially the part about “little official corruption, less political instability” and high rankings in surveys “on rule of law and regulatory quality.”

The article captured the Dubai I know: an ambitious city that caters to tourists rather than terrorists in a country where the motto should be “Over the top is not nearly high enough.”

Starting in 2002 I spent almost three years in Dubai as the dean of the College of Communication and Media Science at Zayed University, a public university for Emirati women. The college tries to instill its students with the professional skills of Western journalism and the concepts of a free and adversarial press—a Sisyphean task in many ways.

Zayed University was founded in 1998 and joined the American University of Dubai and the American University of Sharjah in bringing American-style education—in English—to a generation of young people whose parents were unlikely to have finished high school.

The United Arab Emirates’ investment in educating its people—especially its women—will cause a sea change in the country that will make Dubai’s dazzling commercial success just the beginning. The UAE’s embrace of educational models that require critical thinking, questioning assumptions and respect for the scientific method can make coming generations of Emiratis powerful forces for change in the Arab world.

Janet Hill Keefer, Des Moines, IA

Falling Short on Training in Arabic

To The Washington Post, May 15, 2006

The U.S. government is experiencing a worrisome shortage of Arabic speakers. I’m not going to harp on the reasons Arabic is an important language for government employees to know; this is self-evident.

However, the multiple rejections that I and thousands of other interested Arabic speakers received, largely involving language fellowships funded by the State Department, shed light on an issue that may have direct national security implications: The federal government is not devoting enough resources to train employees in languages of critical importance. I can’t tell you the reasons for this.

But I can say that I’m still planning on moving to the Middle East to learn Arabic after I graduate, only now I’m forced to borrow money from the federal government to fund this endeavor. I’m getting there with Uncle Sam’s money one way or another. Perhaps the thousands of other rejected applicants may be doing the same thing. But given the considerable financial impediments in picking up and moving to a random Middle Eastern nation, it’s more likely that most of those potential Arabic speakers will remain in the United States and never advance beyond the beginning or intermediate levels.

This is a matter of priority and funding, and the priority has not been met with the necessary funding.

Hugh Edward Naylor, IV, Washington, DC

Pointing Fingers

To the San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney needs to be informed that a country whose official policy is torture has lost the privilege of criticizing other countries for human-rights violations.

James A. Baker, Berkeley, CA

Insightful Portrayal of a Teen Hijabi

To The Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 2006

The April 12 article, “A teen hijabi comes of age,” explains why so many Americans appreciate the Monitor. Regardless of race or religion, your insightful articles are generally accurate and impartial.

The story about Sarah Ismail is a case in point. As an American Muslim with five hijabi sisters, I felt that Sarah could easily have been mistaken for one of my sisters. Her modest dress code, strong belief in God, commitment to her education, compassion for her parents, and love of her Americanism—including the freedoms of expression and tolerance—all remind me of the ordinary young American Muslim females of today.

Thank you for sharing with the world how Muslims can also be Americans.

Nader Khalaf, Albuquerque, NM

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