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Hashem Hamdy

Lessons forgotten in Afghanistan

We recently marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Taliban capture of Kabul, which led to the expulsion of Ahmed Shah Massoud - an internationally-adored mujahid leader and fighter - the public torture and execution of former president Mohammad Najibullah and the creation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This event should serve as a poignant reminder to us of the consequences and unexpected outcomes of foreign policy meddling, well-intentioned or not. The Afghan-Soviet War is widely considered to have been the Soviet Union’s Vietnam, and the metaphor is apt. The Americans were defeated not only by the fighting spirit of the Vietnamese, but also by the significant Soviet military aid given the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. So when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Americans explicitly planned to return the favour. The Americans funded and armed Afghan mujahideen fighters during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, at its peak giving the Afghans a billion dollars a year, which was matched by the Saudis. The mujahideen were given Soviet weaponry produced in China or Egypt, or captured by Israel, and were even given the Stinger missile, a man-portable air defence system (MANPADS) so advanced it had not yet been introduced into regular service with the US Army. The Afghans defeated a superpower with superior fighting spirit and foreign assistance. However, under the administration of George H.W. Bush, American aid programs for Afghanistan dried up, despite the protests of those in the CIA and American government who, quite correctly, claimed that the country would descend into anarchy without foreign assistance for infrastructure and development. When the issue was raised with President Bush, he responded, “Afghanistan? Is that thing still going on?” One unfortunately consistent pattern in Afghanistan is that after an imperial power leaves the country, typically with their tail between their… Read More

Creating campus consensus for Israel

As university students settle in on campuses across Canada and the United States, they become increasingly aware of the major issues that dominate campus discourse. The usual issues predominate: economics, conservatism versus liberalism, abortion, human rights and so on. Unfortunately, these issues typically draw battle lines, with 5% unequivocally convinced of each side of a given argument, and a remaining 90% unconvinced, casual or apathetic about the issue. Perhaps the most impassioned debate surrounds Israel. The intensity of the discourse (if it can be called that) over Israel and its policies, more often than not, turns people off. It is especially difficult to relate an issue to someone who would not have an emotional connection to it. Thus, those supporting Israel are typically perceived as only Jewish, and those supporting the Palestinian cause predominantly Arab or Muslim. This is a gross misrepresentation of both groups. However, it remains more difficult to convince non-Jews to care about Israel than it is to convince people outside of the Arab and Muslim communities to support Palestine. Why is this? The “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is a misnomer that inaccurately frames the moral narrative of problems in the Middle East. It is a very lazy narrative with which people readily identify – Israel being the Goliath to Palestine’s David. But is it true? Save Egypt and Jordan, Israel is surrounded by countries which do not recognize its simple right to exist. Terrorists use Lebanon and Gaza as safe havens from which they launch their cowardly attacks against Israeli civilians. Syria still concentrates three-quarters of its military on the border with Israel. Iran has a proven ballistic missile capability with which they can strike anywhere in Israel. Is this a conflict only between Palestinians and Israelis? Many words are tossed about when discussing Israel – apartheid, racism… Read More

Principle or pragmatism?

The nature of politics is that one must, at times, reconcile one’s principles with pragmatics. Look no further than Canada’s prime minister and the federal Conservatives, who finally achieved a majority by being big-C Conservative with questionable little-c conservative credentials. Does this make Harper a hypocrite? Certainly – but a successful hypocrite nonetheless.Other than raising questions about our own democratic process, the same problem exists when Western countries approach the issue of regime change in developing democracies. The Arab Spring heralded successive popular revolutions in states historically unaccustomed to democracy, where autocracy was the absolute norm.The West has been more supportive of some revolutions than of others. As much as the Western intervention in Libya has been painted as a humanitarian mission to protect civilians, we must call a spade a spade: the West finally had a pseudo-legitimate opportunity to destroy Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, and took it.Calls for Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak ouster, however, were less forthcoming from the United States, which viewed Mubarak as a key ally in the region and, most importantly, a non-belligerent neighbour of Israel. Yet Mubarak, who was widely despised by the Egyptian people, and perceived as a puppet of the United States and Israel, was a brutal autocrat who should not have been a recipient of aid and support from the United States, or, for that matter, from others in the free world.While we all cheer the departure of the Mubaraks and Gaddafis of the world, should we turn so reflexively to embrace future governments of these newly free peoples? If popular democracy were to determine the next Egyptian government, it would likely be Islamist, belligerent to Israel and anti-Western. Is this a government the world needs for the most powerful state in Africa? I think not. But if we truly respect democracy and the… Read More

Recognizing Palestine

126. That’s the number of United Nations member states that already recognize Palestine as a country. It’s grown considerably from the 80 that recognized Palestine in 1988, the last time a Palestinian state was unilaterally declared.This month, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on a non-binding resolution put forward by the Arab League to declare Palestinian statehood. So-called Palestinian activists will have you believe that this is a positive step towards a unified government for the Palestinian people in the Middle East, but we should see it for what it really is: a vote to elevate the political status of the Palestinian National Authority while doing nothing to actually bring Palestinians closer to having a functional state of their own.We should never forget that Palestinians have been offered statehood six different times by either Israel or the United Nations, and each time they have refused it. The first UN Partition Plan in 1947 would have given Palestinian Arabs the majority of the land in dispute, leaving Palestinian Jews (soon to be Israelis) with not much more than the inhospitable desert home of the Negev.Palestinian statehood was offered as recently as 2008 by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a deal which would have given 97 percent of the West Bank—with power-sharing agreements for East Jerusalem—to the Palestinians, which, again, was flatly rejected by the Fatah government of Mahmoud Abbas. It’s difficult to negotiate with a group which, up until the last decade, had a declared position of no negotiations, no recognition, and no peace with Israel.These views are not entirely discarded, however. The disputed Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority and leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, said in 2006: “We will never recognize the usurper Zionist government, and will continue our jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem.”Indeed,… Read More