Ed: 36: September/2011
It seemed like a politician's nightmare: hundreds of thousands of people, often young and educated, swarming into the streets across the country, week after week, demanding a fundamental overhaul of domestic policies.
When one August night the demonstrators totalled more than 300,000 people, it became clear that what began with a few thousand tent-pitchers camping out in downtown Tel Aviv had swelled into a grassroots movement whose numbers, backgrounds, drive, and main slogan, "the people want social justice," could potentially shake Israel's entire political system.
The terrorist attack in southern Israel on August 18 in which eight Israelis were killed - six civilians and two from the security forces - was initiated and executed by the Palestinian terrorist organisation known as the "Popular Resistance Committees", which operate as a terrorist arm of Hamas. The operation represents a change in the approach of Hamas toward the issue of the "Arab Spring", from acting only passively as an observer, limiting itself to damage control, to an entirely new stance in an attempt to reshape reality in the Middle East.
The Libyan regime is imploding, as rebels opposed to Muammar Gaddafi have now taken control of most of the Libyan capital. It is immensely inspiring to witness this triumph of the Libyan majority over a particularly ruthless, totalitarian and bloody dictator, achieved against great odds and at a terrible cost. As US President Barack Obama said in welcoming the news, "the future of Libya is in the hands of its people."
However, that future remains unclear. It will be important over the next few months and years that the international community not view the departure of Gaddafi as the end game and do what it can to continue to support Libya in its transition to democracy, while preventing extremists from hijacking the people's revolution.
Cabinet divisions over a US-brokered reconciliation deal to resolve the Mavi Marmara crisis, and, it was hoped, allow Turkey and Israel to renew a normal strategic dialogue, have exposed a deep suspicion and distrust in Israeli political circles of Ankara's ruling Islamist government. Prospects for emerging regional realignments once the wider revolutionary turmoil in the region subsides have not dispelled these concerns.
The two countries appear headed down a path of increasing confrontation, following Israel's definitive "No" last month to Turkey's demand for an apology over the May 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, where violent resistance from mainly Turkish activists led to a clash in which nine activists died aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara.
With the departure of the Mubarak dictatorship, one thing it would be nice to hope for would be a freer and more responsible and professional press in Egypt. Traditionally, the Egyptian press has been government controlled, and used to both bolster the regime and spread anti-Israel hatred together with, very frequently, conspiracy theories. But achieving anything resembling genuine democracy in Egypt is going to require media independence and a freer, more responsible press.
Early signs are not promising. For instance, following the cross-border terrorist incident near Eilat on August 18, in which five Egyptian security officers were killed allegedly by Israeli fire, it is perhaps not surprising, that the Egyptian media played up the story, and especially the Egyptian deaths allegedly at Israel's hand, big-time. After all, they do need to sell papers and/or attract viewers.
Ah, social science. All those numbers. All those technical terms. How comforting. How reassuring.
Case in point: Robert A. Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, who made a big splash with Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005). He began with a sweeping claim to scientific certitude, informing readers, "I have compiled a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 through 2003 - 315 attacks in all." And what did all those numbers prove? That "there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism... Rather what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland."
Question: Do the following characteristics/actions/behaviours seem suspicious?
Having (and carrying) more than one passport while travelling. Wanting to contact your family and friends in any way possible after being caught up in a natural disaster. Leaving a country (to go home to your family) as soon as possible after being caught up in a natural disaster. Being a citizen of a country whose government representatives check up on its citizens if they are in a foreign country when a disaster occurs. Being a citizen of a country whose government offers a range of assistance to another country after a disaster has occurred.
Answer: Yes, apparently, they do in New Zealand.
It was late evening in Sydney.
Not many hours earlier, I had arrived home from South Africa, having participated in the World Conference Against Racism ("Durban I") and the NGO Forum which had preceded it.
The Jewish community in Sydney had asked me to provide a first hand account of the events, given the reports which they had heard of antisemitism, anti-Israel extremism, bullying and thuggery.
So I found myself giving what I had thought was a dry, unemotional recounting of the lows and highs of my previous two weeks.
When the Spanish-American War of 1898 ended with a victory for the United States, John Hay, US ambassador in London, felt moved to celebrate. In a letter to Teddy Roosevelt, he described it as a war "begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by the fortune which loves the brave." It was, in short, "a splendid little war."
The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya has inclined many contemporary commentators to similarly effusive bursts of cheer. But does the war in Libya deserve all the praise being bestowed upon it? Will this be the dawn of a new era of low-cost, humanitarian intervention? Was this our own era's "splendid little war," a model for future wars to come?
The Libyan people are right to celebrate as their country's benighted Muammar Gaddafi era comes to a definitive close, but the country's new leadership should also not forget that its work is just beginning. Building a new political order will be difficult, not least because Libyan political culture is notoriously underdeveloped, with only the barest history of civic engagement.
However, if the leaders of the National Transitional Council (NTC) prove to be as politically canny as they were physically brave, they'll soon realise that their national vice is actually a potential virtue.