Morocco is an amazing country, extremely beautiful. Most Moroccans are nice and generous, landscapes are beautiful and it is one of the few opportunities that this planet offers for time travel. Go to the Medina in Fes and you will be transported to the Middle Ages among other things because it is the largest city without cars in the world. But Morocco has some drawbacks: the main three being polluted landscapes, police crime and tourist harassment (begging or offering services that you don’t need or want). Let me start with the caveats and then move on to the pluses.

Moroccans don’t seem to mind littering which sometimes makes the tourist experience somewhat disgusting. I personally saw many Moroccans opening packaged goods and then simply throwing the packaging on the floor. There are vast areas full of plastic bags and other plastic garbage and that is sad. Secondly, and even worse, are the police. The Moroccan police are the only danger we encountered traveling around Morocco in our car brought from Spain. They are criminals in uniform. They stop you and demand bribes for no reasons and they go even further. In the case of a friend of ours, they planted drugs in his car and demanded 100 euros with the other choice being jail. Our friend was petrified and swore never to go back to Morocco. Other friends were asked for bribes four times in the journey from Tangier to Marrakesh. Now, to be fair, in our drive from Marrakesh to Fes, we were not asked for any bribes but that seems to be the exception more than the rule. Lastly there’s the issue of aggressive begging or the infamous tourist guide that shows up every time you walk around. While many complain about these characters I found that just saying no worked.

Having read this, I can understand that criminal police, pollution and tourist harassment maybe enough to stop you from visiting Morocco. I instead chose it to celebrate my 50th birthday because I do believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. For the positives you can cite remarkable restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, scenery, culture and some shopping. In order to make my point for the positives, here are some videos and pictures:

Pictures from the whole celebration

Tannerie de Fes

The Ouzoud Falls

Ouzoud from Martin Varsavsky on Vimeo.

Walk around Fes

Fes from Martin Varsavsky on Vimeo.

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This just appeared in the Huffington Post

Iraq, Afghanistan: lessons from the Pros

The Iraqi and Afghan military interventions have caused the death of over a million people, have cost trillions of dollars, have greatly weakened the US military, have increased the budget deficit, have hurt the dollar, have resulted in much greater terrorism in the Middle East (now expanding into Pakistan), have fortified Iran’s position as the strongest regional power determined on its quest for an atomic bomb. In short it´s been a disaster. As a result while calling to an end of the intervention was the home of “the weak” (i.e. the Dems according to the Republicans) now “the brave” as well are asking for withdrawals. As criticism of the US and European policies in the Middle East grows this article looks at how the failed policies in the region could be reshaped by learning from those who have managed to do suprisingly well for themselves in this troubled part of the world: the Israelis, the Iranians and the Afghan drug lords.

Lessons from Israel

First allied forces should emulate the strategy of Israel to deal with terrorism by ending occupation in South Lebanon and Gaza, by ending occupation in Afghanistan and Irak while keeping key bases in the region from which to retaliate should it be necessary. Israel tried and failed with occupation. It found it too costly, inhumane and inefficient. In the end it withdrew or separated with a wall from all occupied territories. Israel’s new strategy is to stay away from areas where terrorists are but to always stand ready to retaliate when attacked from them. As controversial as it is, retaliatory, short lived invasions as the ones of Lebanon and Gaza, rather than permanent occupation, work best at deterring Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel has not solved the conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah but the death toll has dwindled to the lowest levels ever on both sides in 09. History has shown again that military interventions are much easier than occupations. Why insist?

Lessons from Iran

Secondly US/EU should learn from Iran and emulate their tactics but of course, in favor of peace. What Iran does best is to influence Middle Eastern nations by proxy. Iran provides key donations and training in areas that improve people’s lifestyles and wins their approval for their own objectives which unfortunately are not peaceful. Many Lebanese and most Palestinians now love the Iranians for the help they receive for schools, hospitals, job creation and a vision for the future. We should emulate the Iranians but finance an alternative Muslim lifestyle that is compatible with peace. We should also fund better schooling, housing, jobs and health but along the proposals of Jordan not Iran. Our opportunity here is to work with the very able King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan. If we only endowed a foundation led by the King and Queen with a fraction of what we are spending in the war efforts we could outspend and outsmart the Iranians at their own strategy and win good will for a future based on cooperation. The GDP of Iran is a third of that of Spain. We can do much better if we help our allies in the region help everyone else.

Lessons from the Drug Lords

Lastly and sadly, in Afghanistan we must learn from the Afghan drug lords who are the only ones who seem to thrive in this horrible conflict. Allied forces in Afghanistan must understand that the war in that country is mainly about drugs which make 1/3 of the country´s GDP. We should also accept the unfortunate truth that if it were not for Europe and USA drug consumerism, drug lords would have no income. It is our mental health problems that finance their drug traffic. We are mainly responsible for it. Drug lords finance their wars against us with our money. How? They buy drug crops at very low prices and collect market prices from our consumers of drugs in Europe and USA through their mafias. What is the solution? What we should do is buy all the drug crops from Afghan peasants directly from them outbidding drug lords and cutting them out of the value chain. After we have the crops we should simply destroy them. Interestingly peasants in drug producing nations such as Colombia or Afghanistan get a tiny fraction of the end value of drugs, drug lords make a living by collecting the spread between what they buy the crops at and what they sell them for as drugs in our markets. But we must get in that market and neutralize their income without hurting the peasants. Another similar solution that is costly but “very European” is to imitate the Common European Agricultural Policy of subsidies to Afghanistan. By paying a surplus for each Afghan sheep and cow we will make it more profitable for Afghans to raise cattle than growing drug crops. This would have the appeal of ending the drug crops altogether. But whatever we do we can’t fight the livelihood of most of the population if we want to stabilize the country. People must make a living and the drug lords provide one.

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Russia suffers from Islamic terrorism. China suffers from Islamic terrorism. The USA is involved in two lethal and expensive wars against Islamic terrorism. It seems that the Obama administration is connecting the dots and beginning to deal with China on this matter. I think the same should be done with Russia. If the most destabilizing threat to our security is Osama Bin Laden´s successors armed with nuclear devices why not collaborate with nations with whom we have much more in common, than say with the Taliban, to avoid this threat. Moreover these nations are geographically much closer to the epicenter of Islamic violence than USA and in the case of Russia have fought the same enemies as the USA. And there many other reasons to collaborate beyond the real, yet not probable threat, of massive nuclear terrorism. Russia and China were communist dictatorships. Now they are capitalist and autocratic – not yet democracies in our sense of the word, but certainly much closer to us than in the 70s. This evolution alone seems to be a move in the right direction and reason enough for closer ties. With Bush, I had the feeling that the old hawks running foreign policy just could not accept that Russia and China had greatly changed for the better. With Obama and Clinton, we may realize that the era of forcing others to be like you is over and a new year of “we both have our flaws but we can still be friends” is here. Moreover, in the “terrible abuses” competition, the USA is up there as well. As far as human rights are concerned, with the death penalty, Guantanamo, Abu Gharb and air bombings of civilian populations, there´s more harm that has been done by the USA than Russia and China combined in the last 20 years. So let´s be friends.

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

As Israel fights in Gaza and I, as a Jew, question the morals and effectiveness of this military campaign, as I objected that of the invasion of Lebanon in 2006, I still hear the old appeasement song. I hear it again, again, and again from my Jewish friends. Hitler, Hitler Hitler. Hezbollah is Hitler, Hamas is Hitler, Iran is Hitler, the Palestinians are Hitler, the Arabs are Hitler. They are all Hitler. They are all for the systematic extermination of the Jewish people. And when voices are heard in Europe, USA and other regions; when commentators disapprove of the methods used by the Israeli government when dealing with Hezbollah and Hamas, my Jewish colleagues are quick to dismiss those as opinions of antisemites. In their mind people who disagree with the foreign policy of Israel are simply waiting for the enemies of the Jewish people to complete the work they left undone by the Nazis. For them the Palestinians are not a people with valid claims to a country but instead a neo Nazi group that was created to make sure that Hitler´s final solution gets finally….implemented.

Now let´s compare the situation of the Jews to that of the African Americans for a moment. African Americans deserve to be mentioned in the Jewish debate because they were, as recently as 1960 in USA discriminated against in the most virulent forms. The country that now has an African American President did not allow African Americans to sit in an empty bus seat because it was reserved for whites. And in the previous century African Americans were sold as cattle and enslaved for life, frequently raped and killed without charges. As such the history of African Americans is comparable in horror to that of Jewish history.

Yet somehow, the vast majority of African Americans do not believe that slavery or mass prejudice could ever happen to them again. But unfortunately, many Jews still believe that another dictator intent on wiping the Jewish people out of the planet could arise at any moment in the world. Some believe that this could even happen in the United States. Indeed it is clear that Obama´s Muslim ancestry was an issue for Jews in America as some saw that Hussein middle name as a clear sign that it maybe him who endangers Jewish life as we know it. As unlikely as it sounds I have Jewish friends who still argue that Jews are safer in Israel than in USA or worse that Jews in USA are safer in USA thanks to the existence of Israel, something that if true, it´s probably true the other way around. Most Jews still argue that the State of Israel exists to provide a safe heaven to the Jews of the Diaspora, an argument whose validity has long expired. Now, surrounded by hundreds of millions of enemies, I believe that without the Jews of the Diaspora, and especially without the Jews in the United States the State of Israel would be in worse trouble. As military technology improves and becomes available for all it is hard to see how 5 million Jews can defend themselves against so many rich and well armed enemies. The chances that Jews are picked up country after country by Neo Nazis and exterminated as it happened during WWII is as probable as the chance that the same happens to Gays, Blacks, native Americans or any other minority that used to be discriminated against. Instead, the chances that Islamic Terrorists or Islamic states end up defeating or greatly damaging Israel with the use of advanced weapons over the next 20 years are significant. And it is my opinion that invasions such as that of Lebanon or Gaza increase the possibility of this tragic event happening. If there is ever another holocaust again in my view it will sadly happen in Israel.

The reason why I firmly believe in the right of Israel to exist but oppose the recent policies of the Israeli government including the invasion of Lebanon and of Gaza is that I believe that both invasions are unethical and tactically wrong. They are unethical because in both cases Israel is attacking, killing and greatly damaging the infrastructure of other countries or quasi countries (Lebanon and Gaza) in retaliation for dangers that are minimal. Casualty ratios of 900 to 13 can hardly be called a war regardless of the fact that human life should be impervious to mathematics. In Spain where I live we take higher number of casualties from Islamic and Basque terrorists. I am not happy to live in Madrid 10 minutes from an airport that was partly blown up a year ago with 2 casualties. But I do not want my government to send helicopters to Bilbao to shoot missiles at the Basque terrorists who are guilty of that crime. Such action would only make it more likely for ETA to recruit members and grow. Where 5 are killed, 50 others would arise. Moreover, in asymmetrical warfare of the kind that Israel fights, the danger to Israel is not that it is defeated by the regular armies of its neighbors, the danger is that its neighbors evolve to have better and better terrorist weapons and that next time Israel is hit with 4000 missiles these actually hit their targets. I am concerned that Israel is precipitating the evolution of Hamas into a more sophisticated enemy. And it is only a matter of time for terrorist technology to get better. Terrorism is defeated by making it harder for terrorists to recruit and evolve, not by attacking terrorists hidden among the general population with regular armies and killing hundreds of children whose siblings will grow up with the single minded purpose of destroying you. Terrorism is defeated as we do in Spain by patiently making the case for terrorists weaker, not by military force.

Furthermore I see another risk and that is that as Israel escalates in violence the Muslim world unifies against it. Yes I do know that Fatah hates Hamas and that the Muslim world is divided in all sorts of battles. I do know that in the last 20 years over a million Muslims have died killed by Muslims and less than 10,000 killed by Jews in all sorts of Muslim-Muslim conflicts such as the Iran Iraq war or the constant Sunni and Shia conflicts. But there are many Muslim leaders out there who are waiting for a unifying theme to get to rule whole Muslim world. Osama Bin Laden tries, Ahmadinejad tries, and unfortunately the theme of exterminating Israel grows more popular every year. Indeed Ahmadinejad seems to have better than Osama Bin Laden because he picked Israel and not USA as his stated enemy and now Al Qaeda seems to also be shifting in that direction.

So before invading a country, destroying its infrastructure, because they kidnap some soldiers as in the case of Lebanon, or because they throw potentially lethal rockets after a truce as in the case of Gaza, I think that Israel should think about how easier it makes the life of Islamic terrorist recruiters when it retaliates with tremendous force. Terrorists feed on anger and invasions, air bombardments, massive killings are certainly valid reasons for the attacked population to be angry about. Jews should learn from African Americans and realize that it is possible to be discriminated in the past, to be hated in the past, to be enslaved in the past, to be abused in the past and somehow…not be hated in the future. That if you lose a few soldiers is bad, but creating the conditions to lose your whole country is worse. Jews seem to talk about history as if it is destiny when instead I believe it is the destiny of the current generation of Jews to change history forever and make peace. Jews should learn to distinguish from the people who hate them because of territorial claims and the rest of the world who temporarily hates them because of the way they react against people who have territorial claims. These claims, while not valid in the case of the Lebanese, are pretty valid in the case of the Syrians and the Palestinians and as Jews we must acknowledge this and move back towards Oslo. Jews should learn that the reason why most people in secular Europe dislike us Jews is for the aggressive policies of the State of Israel. Jews should not confuse disagreement with Israel´s foreign policy with the virulent racism that characterized societies of 70 years ago. This type of racist thinking is historically over. It´s over against African Americans and its over against Jews. Indeed it´s so over that in the current anti Israel demonstrations in Europe the right wing parties, traditionally known as Neo Nazis were not present. Moreover I am convinced that if tomorrow Israel and Palestine learn to live in peace most people around the world will forget about both countries. They will be as relevant to the world as Croatia and Serbia are today. An irrelevance that is surprisingly great as a country tries to rebuild its future in a peaceful manner.

The present dislike for Jews around the world is not because of rampant global antisemitism but because most non Jews and non Muslims believe that Israel is reacting too strongly and too unfairly to the aggression it receives. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself. But while at the beginning of its history the world saw Israel as a country trying to survive, now the world sees Israel as a country using excessive force against the right of another country to exist. The best hope for Israel is that Palestine has a strong leader, that Israel can deal with in matters of security. Even as enemies Israel and USA are better off when the enemy is a state and not a terrorist entity. Until such leader arises Israel will not be safe but Israel must know that this leader will be somebody that is hard to deal with. History has many former terrorists who became respected leaders including some of the founders of the State of Israel. A strong leader who focuses on peace maybe difficult to deal with, but it will not be hard as fighting the Hamas Hydra that Israel is currently confronting.

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Spain pulled out of Iraq and terrorists attacked stopped. The typical anglo saxon commentator explanation to this policy decision is to say that Spaniards made terrorism pay off. That we did not have the “cojones” to stay in Iraq, that we quit. I have a different view. We pulled out of Iraq (and not of Afghanistan and peacekeeping in Lebanon) because being in Iraq was wrong in the first place. Recognizing that we made a mistake, even of tragic proportion, was the right thing to do. Having our young continue to die in Iraq and suffer the consequences of Islamic terrorism in our capital was simply unacceptable. Pulling out of Iraq made us less likely to be victims of Islamic terrorism. The UK opted to stay in Iraq and terrorism goes on and on in that country as witnessed in the Glasgow attack today. Now what analysts who say terrorists are barbaric people with no logic forget is that Spain´s army is still present in many Arab/Muslim countries like Lebanon and we are still not being attacked. This means that even the terrorists, as crazy as they seem, have their “logic”. Even they see that invading Afghanistan, when it was ruled by Al Qaeda and the Taliban who were bragging about the dead of 9/11 was “reasonable”. But what the US, UK, Spain and others did by invading Iraq was illogical not only to most voters in the Western world who were not deceived by the WMD arguments, but also to the citizens in the mostly oppressed Muslim world. Terrorists have their opinions and they express them to the media and on the Internet. When I read what they say, they condemn the Iraqi occupation much more than the occupation of Afghanistan or the peacekeeping mission in South Lebanon where Spain still is. While Spain recently lost 6 soldiers to terrorism (or warfare) in South Lebanon I think it´s unlikely that we would be attacked in Madrid for sending peacekeeping troops to Lebanon as we were in March 11th 2004 when 200 people died and over 1000 were injured over the Iraqi invasion. These in Spain attacks require the collaboration of enraged Muslim immigrants in Spain and peace keeping missions don´t seem to elicit the necessary rage to get it. Terrorists see in the invasion of Iraq, in the air bombardments of Fallujah a reason to act in the tortures of Guantanamo, a reason to act. As much as I dislike terrorists and their methods (my foundation co hosted the largest conference on terrorism ever organized) there is a “logic” to their madness. USA and UK keep saying that Iraq will fall into chaos if they pull out. But there is tremendous chaos in Iraq now and thanks to Abu Gharb, air bombardments, mass killings, Al Qaeda is having incredible success recruiting a new generation of terrorists. We made it easy for them. I am not saying that terrorism will stop if we leave Iraq. But I think that it will be less likely to happen. Terrorism is like any type of crime. There always be crime but where there´s economic inequality and lack of opportunity there will be more crime. We in the West did not start terrorism. We did not ask for 9/11. But what we did in the last 6 years clearly made matters worse. We must stop and regain the moral high ground. We cannot continue squandering billions, thousands of human lives on both sides and instead we should keep our scarce resources to fight the new wave of much more dangerous terrorism that is coming; the terrorism that will have the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam did not have. What USA has accomplish creating the category, War on Terror, is to fight an invisible enemy. Saddam could have been coerced into becoming another Qaddafi. But terrorists are much worse enemies simply because we don´t know who they are. Indeed if we want to be successful fighting terrorists nowadays it may be paradoxically better that they gain power so we can then overthrow them that we continue to fight them in the underground. Instead what we are doing now is adding fuel to their cause and increase their chances of succeeding. And we have been making many wrong moves making easier than ever for them to recruit and eventually succeed at causing serious damage in Europe or USA. Especially if we keep antagonizing Russia which has most of the nuclear technology and material that terrorists need.

PS written 2 days later:  I just found out that 7 Spanish tourists were killed in Yemen.  What I don´t know is if they were killed because they were Spanish.  If they were singled out for being Spanish I guess many of the things I said before are simply wrong and there is no logic to their madness as the current policies of the Spanish government are hardly inflamatory by any standards.

Many of my English readers, especially those from USA and UK, would be surprised to know how anti US, anti UK, anti Israel and pro Arab the continental European press is. Because very few people in the world read press in translation or are both bilingual and interested in knowing what others think, this strong dislike for the policies of the US, the UK and Israel has mostly gone unnoticed in the anglo saxon world.

Living in Madrid and running a foundation like Safe Democracy, I have had a hard time dealing with commentators who have lost perspective as of the causes of the wars in the Muslim world. It is difficult for me to read newspapers like El Pais who frequently attribute all evil in the region to the bad policy choices of the US, the UK and Israel to the point in which the average Spaniard now thinks of Israel as a nation who invaded not just the Palestinian territories (a view which I share) but Israel itself (a view that is simply wrong). While I do believe that these three nations have made tragic policy mistakes in the region, and many times have done more harm than good I am also convinced that the problem of radical Islam has little to do with US, UK and Israel. Radical islamists hate fellow Muslims more than they hate Christians, Jews and anyone else in the planet. Most likely, even without any intervention from USA, UK or Israel the Muslim world would have been a part of the world suffering from horrendous wars similar to those that were found in the Christian world a century before. A proof of this is that during the last 20 years many more Muslims have been killed by Muslims than Muslims by Infidels. This is evident right now in the three Arab Civil Wars: the civil war between Al Fatah and Hamas, between the Lebanese and Palestinians and the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. These conflicts have caught the Continental European progressives by surprise as it is becoming more and more apparent that it is hard to blame USA, UK and Israel for the virulent Muslim vs Muslim character of these three wars.

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In this video I comment on this article on the FT that I read on my way to the airport in Hamburg (today was Hamburg, Cambridge and now Dublin). As I read it I thought how tough the choices were for Israel. On one side I strongly believe that the settlers should leave the West Bank. On the other side I believe that Israel does have a good case that if they pull out from the West Bank completely as they did from Gaza more and more rockets will fly into Israel. Israel should pull out but it can´t have Palestine managed by a party, Hamas, whose political platform calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.

I normally don´t blog about weird things but since I have a six month baby who is frequently breastfeeding nearby I just could not resist to blog this story.

Ezzat Attiya had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, saying adult men could breast-feed from female work colleagues as a way to avoid breaking Islamic rules that forbid men and women from being alone together.

Everyday life for women is severely restricted in Saudi Arabia, where women enjoy next to no political or social rights. What strikes me as particularly ironic, however, is that the voices are calling most loudly for change in Saudi Arabia are those of radical Islamists like Al Qaeda who want to make the condition of women even worse.
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I am on the board of One Voice a not for profit organization that promotes understanding between Palestinians and Israelis. Right now there´s a live session going on at Davos that is called Enough is Enough: Israel and the Palestinian Territories. What follows is an email from the founder of One Voice, my friend Daniel Lubetzky. You can watch the session here.
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