24/06/2011

A Serious Warning to the United States and Israel

Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia is one of the most respected individuals involved with the Middle East. He is a member of the Royal Family, educated at Georgetown University alongside Bill Clinton with graduate work at Princeton and Cambridge, former Ambassador in Washington and London, Director of the Saudi intelligence service for 25 years, nephew of King Abdullah and a leading candidate to be the next Foreign Minister; when Prince Turki speaks, people listen.

In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post, he gave a dire warning to the United States and Israel concerning the future of the Palestinian-Israeli situation. He wrote, “…the time has come for Palestinians to bypass the United States and Israel and to seek direct international endorsement of statehood at the United Nations”. His message was full of criticism for the failure of President Obama to change the United States’ favoritism toward Israel as well as Israel’s intransigence toward a Palestinian state.

Amid the euphoria of the Arab spring, Prince Turki concluded his article with the following warning: “Now, it is the Israelis who are saying no. I’d hate to be around when they face their comeuppance”. The Israel-Palestine stalemate is the hub of most Middle East tensions and one of if not the central thorn in the relations between the West and the Muslim world. Despite several efforts, the Obama administration has made no headway on the issue. Palestinians are threatening to put this issue in the forefront at the United Nations in September which would put the United States in the awkward position of either vetoing a resolution or going against Israel.

At an international conference on Thursday, Prince Turki called for an end to violence in the Middle East, saying that “much too much blood has been shed”. He did not automatically support dictators in the region, saying in an unofficial capacity that once the people had spoken, the Royal Kingdom would respect their wishes.

Prince Turki has been known as a wise and thoughtful leader. He has never been one to advocate violence. When Prince Turki speaks, people listen. That is why the last sentence of his article in the Post is so startling. Are the right people listening?

June 23, 2011

18/05/2011

DSK and the Clash of Civilizations

Samuel  Huntington's famous article on the clash of civilizations focused on the differences between cultures, citing among others, potential confrontations between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York highlights some fundamental differences within the Western world, especially between France/Europe and the United States. The following comments do not imply his guilt; they are observations about the nature of the debate.

The first difference, especially pronounced in Calvinist Geneva, is the separation between the private and the public. Government representatives, Europeans believe, have the right to privacy; their personal lives should remain outside the public domain. DSK was known to be a womanizer, but journalists kept most of the information to themselves, even when he was accused of using his role at the IMF improperly or eventually compromising the French government politically through a personal relationship with a relative of an important official from a foreign country. In the United States, the public wants to know about the private lives of the politicians, including spouses and children. And, beside Bill Clinton, people like Gary Hart, Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards have paid the price for pretending to be good family men. Journalists in the United States and the public are much more prodding and inquisitive.

The role of women in Europe is also quite different. Roman Polanski was supported by many in France, including the Minister of Culture, for his illegal actions with an underage girl. "Boys will be boys," seems to be the general attitude. In the United States the past behavior of DSK and the accusations against him are taken seriously. Even in American universities today, when the hormone level of both sexes tends to be extremely high, there is little official tolerance for any type of sexual harassment. Relations between faculty and students are carefully scrutinized as well as between bosses and employees in general.

And because there is greater scrutiny in the US in these matters, penalties for transgressions are much higher. Europeans seem shocked at the handcuffing of DSK and his confinement in Rikers Island. I have been to Rikers Island - just visiting I assure you - and it is no Kempinski 5 star hotel. But, the charges against DSK are serious; he risks over 70 years in prison. He is not being accused of a parking violation!

The United States is often accused of skirting the law and having a cowboy culture. In this situation, when the legal system is following the letter of the law, it is being accused of being intolerant. Au contraire! DSK is getting egalitarian treatment under US law.

May 17, 2011