In Algiers: Book Fair and Colloquium

I’m writing this on a plane, at the end of a four-day visit to Algiers… In Algiers I was participating in a big international Colloquium on the Arab Spring organized in conjunction with the ‘Salon Internationale du Livre d’Alger’ (SILA– the Algiers Book Fair.) It was really interesting to return to Algeria. I hadn’t been there since 1989; in the interim, the country passed through a truly terrible, lengthy civil war that lasted throughout most of the 1990s and was laced with repeated atrocities, committed by both sides: both the very secular government and the ferocious Islamist opposition. In 1998, at the end of what Algerians today refer to as “the Black Decade”, the government finally won.
On Friday morning, participants in the Colloquium were taken on a tour of the city’s historic Casbah, the labrynthine, historic area of four- and five-story dwellings that clings to a steep hillside in the center of the capital city. Yes, we walked right by the (under-reconstruction) house in which famed national-liberation activist “Ali La Pointe” was entombed along with two other militants, when the French colonial powers blew up the house during the national liberation war, as memorialized in “The Battle of Algiers”. And that night we dined with Madame Zohra Bitat, one of the liberation heroines who figured in the war (and in the movie), who is now Vice-President of the country’s Senate…
When we toured the Casbah our guide told us that for several years up until 1998, the country’s security forces were unable to go into it, so strongly did the Islamists control it. That’s how grave and present the threat was, that the regime felt itself under.
It is notable to me, during the present Arab Spring, that the Arab countries that have experienced grave internal conflict in the past 15 years have not witnessed the kind of mass pro-democracy movements that marked the Arab Spring. We didn’t discuss that phenomenon very much during the colloquium. But we did have a very rich discussion of, in particular, developments in Egypt and Tunisia. There were some excellent analysts– and analyst-participants– from those countries, from several other Arab countries, from the U.K., U.S., Turkey, etc., who also participated. I believe the organizers are hoping to publish some kind of a ‘proceedings’ volume from the gathering. (At which point, you can read the presentation I gave on the reactions of the Anglo-Saxon media to the Arab Spring. A shortened version is here.)

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Chirpstory on Egypt

Okay I get it. Some of you don’t like my Chirpstories. But I do not have time to blog about everything I might want to, so tweeting is a good, quick substitute. And actually, I rather enjoy the speedy interactions on Twitter and other aspects of the system like hashtags.
So for those of you interested in my quick impressions from the few days I spent in Cairo after (and before) exiting Gaza, here they are:

In Gaza

From Monday through Thursday, Bill the spouse and I were in Gaza. The time there was really great: We got to talk to some really interesting people. It is so important to be able to hear from them firsthand and see the conditions in which they’re living– not least because of the terrible isolation into which they’ve been forced by the occupying power (Israel) and the quite inhumane restrictions it has maintained on their freedom of movement (and of commerce.)
I haven’t had time to blog about it, but I have done a bit of tweeting about it, and I compiled those tweets into this ‘Chirpstory’, here.
Now, we’re back in Cairo– and it is still really busy, since there are so many great people to see here, too. Anyway, I thought I’d send you to the Chirpstory. Post your comments there or here!

Open thread, MIC, Tunisia, etc

I am in North Carolina for much of the weekend, presenting at this conference on the military-industrial complex.
Amazing yesterday, driving down here, to hear so many great news reports on the car radio about the unraveling of one small corner of the complex, in Tunisia. There may yet be bloody attempts at a counter-revolution there, of course. But the “big guns” of the MIC are all pretty much well tied up elsewhere and the credibility of the U.S. imperial venture in the region has been in tatters for a long time…
So anyway, this space is for comments. I’ll even try to turn the “pre-moderation” switch off. But I rely on you all to stick to the discourse guidelines. Otherwise, it’ll be instant IP banning for any violators.

Istanbul, for all that ails you

Today, I feel like maybe I died and went to heaven. I am sitting in an apartment that is perched on the heights of Istanbul’s Cehangir neighborhood right across the Golden Horn from the Topkapi Palace. I stare out of the picture windows at the confluence of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Ferry-boats of all sizes ply busily this way and that across the broad waterways. Seagulls wheel and shriek in the light mist. A tram clangs somewhere far beneath me. There is a steady hum of traffic.
Last night the towers of Topkapi, and the great rotund masses of Agia Sofia and the Blue Mosque all sat like jewels, bathed in the amber tones of great floodlighting. All the great mosques of that part of the city– and even many of the smaller ones, including the one near us in Galatasaray– are floodlit at night. The lights from Topkapi and the waterfront mosques bleed out across the water towards us. At night, each ferry-boat scuttles across the water suspended above the inky depths on the insect legs of its own reflected lights.
In the past, I have thought of Istanbul as “Venice on Steroids”: that combination of an organic reliance on waterways and their boat-systems, with the sheer weight and wealth of stupendous religious monuments. But the two cities are different in important ways, as well. Where Venice lies flat, beached (and sinking) at the top end of the Aegean, Istanbul sits astride what is evidently an extremely busy international waterway. Last year when we were here we were sitting at an outdoor restaurant near the second bridge across the Bosphorus and behind our friends as we sat there, there passed a long procession of vast tankers and container boats traveling up to the countries of the Black Sea.
And Istanbul (unlike Venice) is exuberantly 3-D: There is not a flat street in sight except those that flank the city’s many coastlines. Yesterday afternoon we walked to Istiklal Cadessi through a network of small streets that plunged up and down the hillsides here: No other way to get there! City residents must all be extremely fit! Istiklal Cadessi (Independence Street) and a very high proportion of the smaller side streets were all humming with activity. On the backstreets, there are sidewalk cafes just about everywhere. And never mind about those sloping sidewalks: The enterprising business owners have put in long platforms that give each group of tables a flat base to stand on. Okay, it pushes pedestrians into the street; but many of these small streets are actually or effectively pedestrianized, anyway.
We had dinner with Soli Ozel and his family. Great to catch up with him and hear his (generally but not wholly admiring) views of the policies of the present government. The criticisms he voiced were mainly that the government could have been smarter in some aspects of its diplomacy– especially on Iran, where he thought Turkey should have abstained on the recent resolution in the Security Council, rather than voting against it. But he did concur with the judgment that– according to Bill the spouse, who has been here since the beginning of the month– is quite widespread here, namely that PM Erdogan is one of the most talented political leaders that Turkey has ever seen.
There is, as always, a lot going on here politically. I still think that the transition Turkey has made since 1999, from what was still a military-backed system of government to one in which the democratic basis of governance has been much more solidly entrenched than hitherto, is a really important experience that democrats worldwide should hold up and appreciate. And the two facts that this transition has been achieved through almost wholly nonviolent means and that it has been undertaken largely though not wholly by a moderately and democratically Islamist party are both really, really important.
It is great to see Istanbul and the whole of Turkey doing so well in the current times! While economic woes continue to plague much of the “west” today, the course that this country has been on since the end of the Cold War has overwhelmingly been one of opening new markets and new (or, more accurately, renewed) cultural and political ties with all the countries around it in a dazzling 360-degree display of smart outreach. And the success of that outreach really shows– in the buzzing activity, self-confidence, and nice lifestyles you see in the streets here. (Istanbul is stunningly well-run as a city, too. It is significant that Erdogan and his AK Party cut their political teeth here back in the 1990s by proving they could run this city well, before they moved on to take over the commanding heights of national politics.)
Where our apartment is, here near the Galatasaray district, is not far from the area Orhan Pamuk wrote about growing up in, in his memoir “Istanbul”. The Istanbul of Pamuk’s youth was drenched in sadness, neediness, and nostalgia for the loss of the city’s past glories. The contrast with the way the city feels today could not be starker!
I feel so lucky to be here. When Bill first set up the short-term teaching gig he has at Bilgi University, the idea was that we would come together for the month. But then, I realized October would be really busy for Just World Books, so I shortened my stay to one week… Well, I am still doing a bunch of work for the three books JWB will have coming out within the next month– three! count ’em! But at least as I sit here connected to the Intertubes, I have the supreme joy of looking out over this amazing view. And then, from time to time, I can even detach myself from the ‘tubes and go out and have some real-life experiences of today’s Turkey… Wow. Even in the drizzly rain it is all spectacular.

Malta: Some notes from the conference, tweeting, etc

I have wifi inside the conference hall here, which is nice. I did a bit of tweeting already– here.
The appearance of the US ambassador here just now was interesting. On one hand, it’s a welcome new development to see a high-level US official participate in a UN gathering on Palestine. Otoh, he insisted on not sitting on the podium with the rest of the participants in this morning’s session, but had negotiated them giving him a separate lectern so he could not be photographed under the big backdrop saying that says “International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” Plus, the content of his presentation included a strong and quite a-historical anti-Hamas diatribe and repeated appeals to participants in the conference to stop whining about the hurts of the past, etc etc. Altogether, he was far more patronizing than he probably knew, and probably far more than he’d intended.
He was followed by a rep from the parliament of the Russian Federation who spoke in completely fluent Arabic and talked about K. Meshaal’s recent productive visit to Moscow, the need for a resolution to be based on international law and legitimacy, etc. A huge contrast!

In Malta, discussing Jerusalem

Well, on Thursday I was finally able to get out of Washington… I had a long layover in Munich yesterday and got here to Malta, to the U.N. conference on Palestine, about an hour after the start of the session I was scheduled to speak in… No matter, they were running hopelessly behind schedule, so the session started around 20 minutes after I appeared. I didn’t have time to print out my presentation but delivered it by read it on my laptop. Not ideal, but not too bad, I felt.
Wow. I’m really impressed with the U.N. information system. They already have a press release out about the session I took part in, and you can read there the words I would have delivered in dulcet tones had I not been rushing a little through the end of my presentation on Jerusalem. (I gave them the text on a thumbstick. Must get it back.)
Working on the paper, which I did Wednesday and in the Munich transit lounge yesterday, really helped me think through several things about the Jerusalem Question that have been rattling around inside my head for a while now. I argued there that thinking seriously about how to establish a fair and sustainable governance system in Jerusalem could actually help everyone perform the same task regarding the whole of the area of Mandate Palestine… And numerous people– going back to early work that Naomi Chazan, Rashid Khalidi, and others did ways back in the 1980s, and continuing until today– have done some good, often very fair-minded and visionary work on Jerusalem issues.
Within a two-state model for the whole of Mandate Palestine, Jerusalem could be either divided or shared under some form of a corpus separatum model, and I explored in the paper how we might design a CS 2.0 for Jerusalem that would not have the imperialistic overtones of CS 1.0. Dividing it between the two states would almost certainly be a horrendous process, and could lead to the prolongation of many of the gross inequities of the existing, settler-dominated order things there. (See, for example, the Geneva Initiative’s proposal for how to divide Jerusalem.)
It also would still require a huge amount of coordination between the governments of the two states– something that Mick Dumper underlined in this important recent essay.
Wouldn’t it be better, therefore, to go back to the old CS model and explore how that could work in the two-state context– which was, after all, the context in which the CS idea was first presented, during the Partition Plan of 1947, which remains the UN’s last definitive word on territory and governance issues in the whole of Mandate Palestine.
I note, too, that the EU has recently, slightly tentatively, revived its interest in the CS idea.
So you could look at how to devise a fair, sustainable CS model for Greater Jerusalem in the context of a two state solution… and each of the two states could indeed have its national capital well within the city.
My idea of this is laid out a bit more in my paper. As soon as I’ve cleaned it up a bit, I’ll upload it here for you all to see.
Alternatively, once you’ve done all that work on how to govern Jerusalem, why bother with preserving those other territorial units within Mandate Palestine (the rest of the independent states of Israel and Palestine)? Why not just expand the concept of the shared Jerusalem to the whole area and have one state in it that is equitably shared, accountably governed, and to which everyone with a legitimate claim on the land could return?
… Anyway, those were some of my ideas. I also underlined the perilous, extremely oppressive situation in which Jerusalem’s 260,000 Palestinians are currently forced to live and the hair-trigger nature of the situation in the city, which must be of great concern to the whole world community.

CNI study-tour blogging at FPFD

Just a reminder to all readers to check out my/our new blog, “Fair Policy, Fair Discussion”, which now has five or six posts that are quick takes on what we’ve been doing on our CNI study tour (“political pilgrimage”) around the Middle/Near East.
We’ve now had all the meetings and formal activities of the tour, and it’s been tremendous. We have a group of ten people, self included; and we’ve spent the past 16 days traveling to: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Palestine again (Gaza), and back to Egypt.
I’ve never been a tour director before. This one’s been a lot of hard work but also really rewarding.
Expect a lot more blogging about the tour, over there at FPFD, over the next couple of weeks. Thus far, I’ve had no opportunity to give justice to the immense richness of the experiences and personal encounters that we had.
We had with us a great young videographer, Dominic Musacchio, who’s taken many tens of hours of what looks like great footage. He’ll be making cuts of that over the coming days that we’ll post, or at least link to, on FPFD. We also have still photos that we’ll get up.
One of the focuses of the trip has been, of course, Gaza. Another has been Jerusalem, and the ever-explosive situation there. Another, that emerged over time and was sparked in particular by Dominic’s enthusiasm and the help of our last-minute Jerusalem volunteer Kate Gould, has been getting the views of young people. Dominic has what I think is some great footage from talking with and hanging out with young people in Jordan, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
So anyway, head on over there as soon as you can…

That corporate thang

Well, it’s been quite the mindshift transplant for me the past couple of days, getting my head around budgets, HR policies, management structures, etc in my speedily assumed new job as Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest.
When I say “national interest”, I mean– as readers of my book Re-engage will surely remember– “the true interests of the American citizenry”, and not simply the interests of some big US-based multinational corporations, working in the arms industry or whatever…
Last weekend, I was talking with my fabulous son about some of the lifestyle changes involved. He’s an environmental engineer on the west coast. I was telling him, “You know, this past week I’ve been trying to train myself to be ready for this. Up till now, I would get up around around 7 or 7:15, do some leisurely yoga. But now I’ve been setting my alarm at 6:40 and– ”
“Right,” he said, “then doing frantic yoga instead…”
I love his sense of humor. I love and admire all of my kids so much for what they do in the world, and who they are.
But anyway, yes. Frantic yoga is kind of what it’s all been feeling like this past couple of days.
So, ommmmmmm.
People, if you support what I’ll be doing at the Council for the National Interest, or if you want to express appreciation for what I’ve done here at JWN, I urge you to support our work at CNI with a donation.
Also, okay, I understand that getting up at 6:40am and putting in 9- to 10-hour days at an office job is what a lot of people do. It’s no big deal. My daughter Leila gets up at 6 each morning to look after her baby and then go off and teach a class of fourth graders in New York City. You can see why I admire her! But still, if you support what we’re doing at CNI, please do consider giving as big of a donation as we can. this organization can– and will– become so much more effective than it has been until now!
That’s it for now. End of corporate thang.

First-day thoughts: My latest trip

    One cool thing about Quakers is that, by tradition, we don’t use the Nordic/pagan names of the days of the week that are common in western society, but use a simple counting-off system: First-day is ‘Sunday’, Second-day is ‘Monday’, etc. In practice, among the members of my Quaker meeting in Charlottesville, VA, we quite frequently use the Nordic/pagan names, to be more generally understood; though sometimes, amongst ourselves we use the counted-off names, which were once an integral part of what was known as Quaker ‘plain speech.’
    Going to Meeting for Worship on a First-day often puts me in a reflective/spiritual mood that lasts long after the meeting itself. That happened today; so I thought I’d put these ‘First-day thoughts’ onto the blog. I may do so again, in the future. Anyway, here these ones are. ~HC

The trip turned out to be a big one. Qatar, in early May, was a lot more thought-provoking than I’d expected– thanks in good part to a friend who lives there who took me to the old downtown and talked a lot about what the conditions of life are like there for the country’s numerous Arab-national expatriate residents. The UNESCO conference was also a lot more substantive than I’d expected– and it gave me the great gift there of spending a lot of time with someone I’ve long admired, Allister Sparks.
London was good, too. Mainly, to catch up with some old friends and colleagues; to spend some good time with my best friend from Oxford days, the economist Bridget Rosewell; and to catch up with two of my sisters (though I did see them back in April, too.)
But the most memorable parts of the trip were the two weeks I spent in Turkey and the week I spent in Syria. Both these legs were with Bill the spouse. We had planned that part of the trip as a bit of an indulgence, to mark our 25th wedding anniversary; but it all proved extremely informative, as well as enjoyable.
I hadn’t been to Turkey since 1976, when I drove through the country with my first husband in the Fiat 127 we had bought shortly beforehand from Jihad Khazen for 250 Lebanese pounds (!) That trip was part of the longer drive we undertook from Beirut to the UK that summer.
This time, before Bill and I went I thought quite a bit about Mary Fisher, a young London woman who was one of the “Valiant Sixty” of early Quaker leaders, back in the mid-17th century. Some 18 months ago, Friends Journal published a terrific article about Mary, that focused on the journey she undertook in 1658 to go and share her version of the truth with Ottoman Sultan Mehmet IV. I don’t have my collection of FJ’s to hand right now– and the full text is sadly not available online. But what I recall from it is that Mary persuaded a small number of male Quakers to go along with her on the trip– but they all turned back when they received advice from the British consul in Smyrna that there might be “brigands” ahead…
So anyway, she proceeded on her own, and caught up with the Sultan and his court in Adrianople (now Edirne), north and west from Istanbul. And she somehow, without speaking a word of Turkish, talked her way into his exalted presence and got an audience in front of him and his courtiers. He asked her to speak her promised message; and after a short period of silence in the Quaker fashion, she did just that. It was doubtless a classically Christian testimony, as proclaimed by all those foundational Quakers in the 17th century.
The Sultan apparently listened to it with due respect, and thanked her for it. He then courteously asked if he could give her an armed guard to ensure she could return to Smyrna in peace; but she declined the offer, returning quite peaceably enough on her own… Sometime later she was one of the first of the English Quakers who, suffering from repression at home, migrated to north America to find refuge there. She was persecuted by the Puritans there, too; but she ended her days many years later in, I believe, South Carolina…
In the current era, Turkey has been ruled since 2002 by the AKP, a party that is avowedly Islamist but is also committed to pluralism and democracy. It has been ruled very well indeed by them. In 2007, the party was re-elected, with a stronger mandate than before. I was really interested to go there, see some of the country, and meet with Turkish friends and colleagues, though sadly our attempts to meet with a few of the officials who’ve been working on their very innovative Middle East policy did not work out.

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