Jerusalem has many teenagers, say 18 yr olds, armed with machine guns, both boys and girls. While I understand this may be necessary I find it creepy and wrong. And what is worse is that my 4 year old boy who is here with us is fascinated with guns, something that I am trying to discourage but it’s not easy with boys that age. As he sees these other “kids”with machine guns he goes and talks to them, asks them if he can also have a machine gun to play with. They laugh but I worry.

On a more positive note here are some pictures of Jerusalem which overall is a fascinating place to visit. But the second picture shows my son Leo admiring the young soldiers.

Tonight I had dinner with Shoresh Moradi, a Kurdish surgeon who was educated and lives in Sweden and practices medicine at the Karolinska Hospital. During dinner in Palma de Mallorca, he told me a few moving stories of how his patients react when, instead of getting a Swedish doctor in the emergency room, they get a dark skin Arab looking man, himself. His were stories of prejudice, the prejudice that he has to deal with as an emergency room surgeon every day of his life. Interestingly, in most cases this prejudice is overcome and patients somehow go through a transformation after entrusting their lives to a perceived Muslim doctor. And I said perceived because Shoresh is Muslim in culture more than religion, very much in the same way that I am Jewish. We are both proud of our heritages, but we can also see the inequality in the treatment of women and Goim or infidels, that extreme religiosity entails both in orthodox Judaism and certain flavors of Islam as backwards and damaging to society.

During dinner we spoke about the paradox of prejudice in Europe and we agreed that it had to do with the way immigrants came to Europe. In Europe, immigrants are chosen by the exact type of job they do and that’s what their visa says. So for example an immigrant may come to Spain as a household worker and his visa will allow him or her to do just that, be an “empleado del hogar”. Europeans have no problem publicly arguing that the best jobs should be reserved for natives. This type of discrimination is not seen as prejudice. Americans instead have a system that seeks out immigrants with great qualifications and so do a minority of EU countries like Ireland for example. As a result, in most of Europe, it is immigrants who have the worst jobs and what is worse, they are then blamed for their lack of achievement, a situation that is most unfair considering how they were pre-selected to do them. Europeans conclude that people from those countries where immigrants come from are mostly inept. Now the ultimate paradox is what happens when these immigrants, while driving taxis or cleaning offices, actually go to university and end up, like Shoresh Moradi, as surgeons. Then the prejudice is even worse, as women patients, for example, believe that a Muslim doctor will treat them poorly and it is up to Shoresh to explain how this is not the case. It’s happened to him that he had to justify himself many times ahead of a procedure, or that he had to go in person to interviews in order to try to overcome the fears that his name inspires.

So Shoresh and I both agreed that while poor and unsuccessful immigrants face prejudice, successful immigrants face even more prejudice. Not from the educated elites, but especially from the average citizen in an atmosphere of anonymity (think Youtube comments). The type of citizens that end up voting for anti-immigrant parties. So in the end, both Jews and successful Muslims in Europe suffer a similar prejudice. This prejudice was taken to an extreme in the Holocaust, and is even worse than the prejudice against those who do poorly; it’s the prejudice against those who do very well. Jews have traditionally been detested, not for doing badly but for succeeding. For being one in 500 people in the planet but having one in 5 Nobel prizes or many of the top positions in the billionaires lists, or top writers, or movie makers. And this is still the case in many places in Europe, much more so than in USA where I lived for 18 years before moving here. And yes, we can go about our lives being successful, but in Spain, France and many other countries in Europe if being rich is not well regarded, being a rich Jew or a rich Arab is worse. And this is the other curse. The curse of escaping poverty and finding that prejudice was there all along and remains. If you do very badly you face prejudice because you are a loser, but if you do very well and end up in an “unexpected spot” that defeats the stereotype, there you find an even tougher type of prejudice, the one that confronts Shoresh ahead of many a life saving surgery or me when a newspaper in Spain called me “judío especulador”. If you have doubts about what I am saying and speak Spanish simply google “judío Varsavsky” and read the first 30 results.

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Even though there is a civil war going on in Libya and global powers are divided on a course of action, there seems to be remarkable agreement that whatever is going on in Libya is, for everyone who has something to say about it,  “unacceptable”.

Obama calls the bloodshed in Libya unacceptable.

-at the same time Gaddafi calls the Arab League support for a no fly zone unacceptable.

-and the Russians are calling outside meddling in Libya unacceptable.

David Cameron has called Gaddafi’s regime unacceptable.

-Lastly, possible GOP presidential rival of Haley Barbour called the price of gasoline resulting from the Libya conflict unacceptable.

Now my question is, if what’s going on in Libya is so unacceptable to everybody.  Why is it still going on?

Added a day later, Iran gets into the game calling foreign soldier intervention in Bahrain “unacceptable”

First I recommend that you read the life of Muammar al Gaddafi on Wikipedia. After you are done, you may wonder how such a disgusting human being can still be the ruler of Libya. Now that the people of Libya are being massacred by Gaddafi, and clearly want to see him to go, should not NATO send a few fighters over Libya and turn the tide? I am not saying that an immediate attack makes sense; that may lead to nationalism and even more innocent civilian casualties. But the US and the EU could send a clear message that said: stop killing your people, democratize, give freedom to the press, or we will act. the USA almost killed Gaddafi in 1986, so he would probably get the message. The difference between Gadaffi and other dictators is that he has been a sponsor of international terrorism as in the case of the tragic flight over Lockerbie where 270 people died. In any case Gadaffi may fall out of the pure will of its own people but should he continued killing as he has been doing I think EU and USA should seriously consider a military option. The threat of use of force this time could accomplish more than the actual use of force has accomplished in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It is becoming common for people to say they don’t like Wikileaks because they can’t stand Assange. This is misleading. Few sympathize with Assange as a character. Most of us, myself included, have never met with him. But the issue here is not Assange, his hair or whether he does, or does not have, the ability to have sex with women while they are asleep. What is crucial instead, is the wealth of information that we have learned thanks to Wikileaks. Here’s a good summary from The Guardian. And yes, it is a lot of information. And there is much more. No matter how many experts out there say that “they already knew it all”. Because regardless of whether some experts really “knew it all”, the average Mohammed, Rui or Juana did not. And they are angry. It’s not suprising then that Foreign Policy calls the Tunisian revolt “the first Wikileaks revolution”. Wikileaks has been a catalyst for change in Egypt, Tunisia and in lesser degrees in many other countries. Wikileaks revelations will likely continue to outrage demonstrators and activists around the world for quite a while. And all that change we owe to the diplomatic service of the United States which turned out to be a group of remarkable journalists, the courage of one soldier, and the entrepreneurial spirit of everyone who worked at Wikileaks, including Julian Assange.

Egyptians fought bravely, ousted Mubarak and gave power to the military. But it turns out that USA effectively controls the Egyptian Army. It financed it, trained it and should it go into conflict with it, it can easily defeat it. So Egyptian people, whether they are aware of this or not, gave considerable power to USA. In Latin America and other parts of the world, giving power to US backed military would have been seen as a huge step back in time. So this situation must change quickly and in favor of the Egyptian people. It could also change in favor of US and EU foreign policy in the region.

Egyptians deserve speedy and easy visibility on how democracy will be instituted. Also USA has to be very careful not to be associated with the Egyptian military, but instead with the democratic forces which hopefully will take power. It also needs to prevent the brewing of another Mubarak from inside the military, a military who like Hugo Chavez, after trying to take power as a military leader changed clothes and took power through elections but behaves as a military dictator. The Egyptian people, USA, Obama and Clinton in particular, can emerge as winners in this revolution but there are many obstacles ahead.

After failing promoting democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, USA has a chance to do in Egypt with $50bn what it could not do wasting $1 trillion. It can fund the stabilization of Egypt and prevent the rise of terrorism and Hamas type forces to arise out of discontent. Egypt can become what Iraq never became but it is still one of the poorest nations on earth on a per capita basis and it quickly needs a stabilization fund. Right now what the new government has to prevent is food shortages and provide basic necessities for all. That needs short term EU and US Aid. In short, President Obama can do with Egypt what the Neocons wanted and failed to do with Iraq. Helping Egypt at this moment would be greatly appreciated around the world.

Lastly as soon as things calm down, we can all do our fair share and consider Egypt for our next holiday destination. This will help re start the economy.

I read this article from El País (in spanish) in which El Houssine Majdoub, a Moroccan journalist, blames the West and its “repugnant role” for the suffering of Muslim citizens in their own countries.

When I was growing up in Argentina these types of accusations were common. Whatever was wrong in our countries we only had the “yankees” to blame for. This theme was especially dear to military dictators who frequently played the nationalist card while trained in USA. But then look at what happened. Latin America, a region supposedly controlled by the US, liberated itself. In most countries a better, independent local leadership emerged. In others, such as Venezuela, the military rebranded itself and continued its “Arab dictator like habits”. But overall I would consider today the leadership of Latin America much better, more democratic than that of the Muslim world. And I think that the Muslim world is now, where Latin America was in the 70s. Latin America then was a region dominated by nationalist, dictators who invoked “patria”, “familia” and “religion” to stay in government. Now it is mostly democratic, not perfect but much freer and better.

So if Latin American could liberate itself from its own dictators, Arab countries can do the same. But first its citizens need to stop blaming the West for its problems and focus on their own dictators. Muslim nations are not dictatorships because EU and USA like them so. They are not democracies because their citizens put up with “repugnant” local leaders to use El Houssine Majdoub language. Leaders in EU and USA have to deal with these dictators because they have no other choice. Moreover EU and USA have historically tried to get rid of some of them such as the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi but the results were mixed. If you think USA liked collaborating with Ben Ali you are wrong. USA’s dislike of Ben Ali was made clear thanks to Wikileaks’ cables: “Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems”. In short, not an ideal partner.

So the solution in the Arab world has to be home grown and it is to get rid of their dictators as Latin America did in the 80s. To replace them with leaders who are honest, who govern transparently and who defend their country’s rights and needs. Leaders like Lula of Brazil or Michelle Bachelet of Chile.

Tunisians have finally rebelled on their own, but there are many, many other corrupt and barbaric dictators left in power in the Muslim world. These leaders are great at exploiting their people and telling them how they “protect” them from the West. These were common tactics in the time of General Galtieri in Argentina for example, Falklands invasion included. But just as Latin America nations such as Chile and Argentina, have gotten rid of populist leaders the Muslim world can do the same. The Muslim countries can do it on their own. They may try to export terrorism, as Latin America did, but that will fizzle out as Muslims earn their human rights and self determination.

First of all I would like to say that I am sorry for the repression and the people who have died in Tunisia but excited about the unexpected overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali by its own people.

While I am no expert on Tunisia and defer to others for an in depth analysis I have visited the country a few times as well as many other Arab/Muslim countries (Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt and others). Most Muslim nations have rulers for life and I am happy to see that for once, a corrupt dictator who has been in power since 1987 was thrown out by popular rebellion. And as this article explains it took the American diplomats and Wikileaks efforts to reveal what many Tunisians suspected and that is the extent of the government’s corruption and abuse and ignite the overthrow. Now the paradox here is obvious. USA spends hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of human lives are lost in a bloody military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq with very little success in establishing democracies. And instead, diplomats telling a detailed story about corruption in Tunisia and a group of determined journalist at Wikileaks and a hacker (Bradley Manning) accomplished what a decade of military intervention in the Middle East could not and that is a popular uprising against corruption and dictatorship. Yes, the realities of Afghanistan, Iraq and Tunisia are different but as this New York Times article explains, many in the Arab/Muslim world are watching Tunisia and wondering how long will they put up with their own “Ben Alis”. Especially in nearby Egypt.

It is interesting though that it took a combination of Wikileaks, US diplomacy and a dissident soldier to ignite the rebellion. Most likely if it had been Hillary Clinton alone telling this to the Tunisian people how corrupt Ben Ali was, it would have backfired. I think the State Department should learn a lot from Tunisia and rethink Wikileaks, cellular networks, social networks, and the power of the raw truth when dictators lose control of the popular message.

Here’s a slightly different version of this article in the Huffington Post

This morning I read that most Muslims believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy created by the US government to justify the invasion of Iraq. This worried me. How could the majority of Muslims be so wrong?

But then I thought that the US government and some EU countries did lie to invade Iraq. They lied about the weapons of mass destruction conspiracy and the connections between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

So if I were debating with any of those Muslims who believe that 9/11 was an excuse to invade Iraq, I would have to say “9/11 was not a US/Israeli conspiracy, there is tremendous irrefutable evidence that it was a terrorist attack perpetrated by Saudi terrorists and led by Osama Bin Laden”. And that part is true.

But then I would have to explain other painful truths. I would have to admit that we invaded Iraq despite knowing that neither the 9/11 terrorists nor the WMD where there. That in our countries we created the false impression that Saddam was behind 9/11 and that many believe this lie now. And this is one weak side of the debate.

If we can create conspiracies  about WMD and “muslim terrorism” as if all Muslims act together (Saddam=Osama=Ahmadinejad), attack and destroy the wrong country (Iraq), torture their citizens, post pictures of how we torture them in Abu Ghraib, take some to Guantanamo and approve their torture, share the blame in the killing of 25 times more innocent civilians than those who died in 9/11 and admit to use white phosphorous (chemical weapon) attacking Fallujah; if we can commit such human right atrocities, why is it so far fetched that most Muslims believe that 9/11 was perpetrated by US and Israel in order to invade Iraq and control the second largest oil reserves in the world?

Moreover, in this Wikipedia entry you will be surprised to find out that one third of Americans actually AGREE with the majority of Muslims. They also believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories even though 2% of Americans are Muslims.

Can our argument just be “yes, we do horrible things but not precisely the horrible things you believe we do”? My hope is that, during this decade, we will truly gain the high moral ground against terrorism and cooperate with moderate Muslims to erradicate Muslim extremism without violating human rights in the region. In the end, terrorism is an industry that feeds on angry young men. We have to make it much harder for Muslim terrorists to recruit. As we have been behaving over the last 10 years, it is not surprising that terrorism has greatly increased since 9/11.

I wrote an article in my Spanish blog in which I condemned the actions of the government of Israel. In that article, I argued that instead of boarding the ships, the Israeli forces should have waited until it approached its destination, and then, if anything, leave the boat rudderless, unable to operate, but not kill anyone.

I also argued that Israel, especially in Spain, is constantly being attacked by the press, but that the EU and the US, who frequently violate human rights, are not. Spaniards are strongly anti Israel, and fail to see that Spain was part of the Iraqi invasion and the Afghanistan invasion, and that these two invasions have so far caused over half a million civilian deaths, and have hardly brought any progress to the citizens of those nations who keep dying. The Palestinian/Israeli conflict has had around 5000 deaths on both sides during the same period. One death is one too many, but I was just trying to say that Spain collaborates in wars that have resulted in 100 times as many deaths. I also commented that many of the tactics of the allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the use of missiles to kill families of suspected terrorists, including children and grandchildren, are completely inhumane methods of dealing with terrorism. It cannot be an accepted principle that placing bombs is terrorism and illegal while air bombardments with potential civilian targets is not. The allied forces engaged in torture and significant human rights violations, and Spain, among others, was an accomplice in this, and one can’t have a double standard, or be so harsh on Israel when it commits abuses, and not also be harsh on Spain. But the Spanish press remains lenient toward the allied forces and extremely critical of Israel.

Now, much to my surprise, many of the commentators on my Spanish blogs not only argued against the tactics of the Netanyahu government, which I also opposed, but argued against the mere existence of the State of Israel which they see as an illegal country that should be “returned to the Palestinians”. I was shocked by this in the sense that I believe, like many, in the two state solution along the lines of the Oslo Accord.

So in order to get some objective measure, I have decided to ask the same question in my English blog.

Español / English

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