Friday, August 10, 2007

A feast of Al Jazeera today

I tuned in to Al Jazeera English this morning to watch the weekly discussion program Inside Iraq, something I consider must-see viewing for anyone who wants an unfiltered perspective on the Iraq occupation. However, I wound up staying tuned for several hours. In addition to the News Hour, today featuring extensive coverage of the upcoming elections in Sierra Leone, Al Jazeera had a news special called Inside Gaza. With 40% unemployment and rampant poverty and malnutrition, events in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian Territories have a ripple effect throughout the Middle East, including within Iraq itself. Today's Witness was an Al Jazeera exclusive: host Rageh Omaar had several interviews with Maulama Abdul Rashid Ghazi, one of the key figures in the Red Mosque madrassah, beginning a few days before the siege. The students were aggressive and even sometimes violent in pushing their interpretation of Islamic law outside the school, but inside they were quiet and studious. The madrassah itself provided medical care and other assistance to the students and to others in the community, with a well-stocked clinic and a general store. A bit later, the Talk to Jazeera interview program featured former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sherief, talking about the desperation of the government of military dictator Pervez Musharraf to hold power.

The key lesson of 9/11 that the Bush administration has never learned is that events in the rest of the world, and particularly the way the rest of the world views American involvement in those events, directly affect the security and prosperity of the United States. Palestine matters because it is a flashpoint for Muslim anger at what they view as the US-Israel axis of oppression. Right or wrong, that view affects the willingness of Muslims to sacrifice their own lives to harm the United States. Events in Pakistan are vitally important, because they affect the safe haven that Al Qaeda and the Taliban enjoy in the provinces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, not to mention the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

Sierra Leone's importance is a bit less obvious. Finally emerging from a long and bloody civil war, Sierra Leone is ranked the second poorest nation on earth. Seventy percent of the people live on less than one dollar a day. However, Sierra Leone has vast mineral riches, including diamonds that were used to finance both sides in the civil war. Extreme poverty, malnutrition, and devastated infrastructure have created the conditions that could easily lead to further violence, possibly including terrorism. Many of the nearby West African countries have recently had civil unrest or outright civil wars in recent years.

Today's Inside Iraq explored the attitudes of Iraq's neighbors to the U.S. invasion and occupation. Some of Iraq's neighbors initially welcomed the removal of Saddam Hussein, but all of them now view the occupation as an ongoing disaster. The guests were Dr. Faysal Al-Miqdad, Deputy Foreign Minister of Syria; Dr. Nabil Shaath, former Foreign Minister of Palestine; and Hisham Yusuf, a spokesperson for the Secretary General of the Arab League. Syria currently has more than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees. The Palestinian people, even in the midst of their own struggles, feel a strong bond of kinship with the struggles of the Iraqi people. The Arab League is deeply concerned by the possibility that the civil war in Iraq might expand to a regional war. Unfortunately, all three agreed that there are no good options in Iraq, and that national reconciliation must come from within Iraq. Neither the United States nor the Arab League nor the United Nations can push the factions together; they must find the political will to form a functioning nation-state.

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