Bored to Death in Afghanistan (and Washington)
"One day in October 2001, a pilot for Northwest Airlines refused to let Arshad Chowdhury, a 25-year-old American Muslim (“with a dark complexion”) who had once worked as an investment banker in the World Trade Center, board his plane at San Francisco National Airport. According to Northwest’s gate agents, Chowdhury writes in the Washington Post, “he thought my name sounded suspicious” even though “airport security and the FBI verified that I posed no threat.” He sued.
"Now, skip nearly a decade. It’s May 6, 2011, and two New York-based African-American imams, a father and son, attempting to take an American Airlines flight from New York to Charlotte to attend a conference on "prejudice against Muslims," were prevented from flying. The same thing happened to two imams in Memphis “dressed in traditional long shirts and [with] beard,” heading for the same conference, when a pilot for Atlantic Southeast refused to fly with them aboard, even though they had been screened three times.
"So how is the war in Afghanistan going almost 10 years later? Or do you think that’s a non sequitur?
"I don’t, and let me suggest two reasons why: first, boredom; second, the missing learning curve.
"At home and abroad, whether judging by airline pilots or Washington’s war policy, Americans seem remarkably incapable of doing anything other than repeating the same self-defeating acts, as if they had never happened before. Hence Afghanistan. Almost 10 years after the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan and proclaimed victory, like imam-paralyzed airline pilots, we find ourselves in a state that might otherwise be achieved only if you mated déjà vu with a Mobius strip.
"If you aren’t already bored to death, you should be. Because, believe me, you’ve read it all before. Take the last month of news from America’s second Afghan War. If nobody told you otherwise, you could easily believe that almost every breaking Afghan story in the last four weeks came from some previous year of the war."
The Arab Spring comes to Israel
"Contrary to the line taken by the Israeli leadership, the Palestinian protests on May 15, Nakba Day, were not an Iranian or Syrian plot but rather the grassroots protests of a dispossessed and displaced people that refuses to accept its fate as flotsam of the earth, deprived of their identity and dignity by the great Israeli Expulsion of 1948.
"The Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar reports that the Palestinians in the south of that country wanted to commemorate the Great Defeat (Nakba) of May 15, 1948, but rather than commemorating it they had to relive it. Thousands left their refugee camps all over Lebanon early in the morning Sunday and joined a lively procession they called “Parade of the Return to Palestine.” When they reached the southern Lebanese village of Ra’s Maroun, a few hundred were able to get past the Lebanese army line and to get near the barbed wire that marks the Israeli border, beyond which their parents or grandparents homes had been. The Lebanese army had tried to prevent them from reaching the barbed wire fence, firing shots over their heads. The Palestinians, undeterred, began throwing stones into the Israeli side, and waving Palestinian flags, and putting posters on the barbed wire. Israeli army troops were just a few yards away from all this.
"For reasons that are not clear, the Israeli troops abruptly opened fire at the crowds along the barbed wire, killing 10 persons and wounding 112, some of them severely– according to a communique of the Lebanese army. The Guardian reports only 2 killed and does not mention the wounded. An Israeli general is quoted as saying the Palestinians were “vandalizing” the barbed wire fence, thus attracting the fire, and denied knowledge of Palestinian casualties. The Palestinians seem to have been convinced that the gunfire came in retalitation for the rock-throwing. For Israeli soldiers to fire over the border into Lebanon and kill Palestinians on Lebanese soil was felt by the Lebanese as a violation of their sovereignty."
"After more than 100 Palestinians breached Israel's border with Syria on Sunday, knocking down a fence and striding into a village in the Golan Heights, overmatched Israeli security forces scrambled to glean what they could from the protesters who had just, without so much as a sidearm, penetrated farther into the country than any army in a generation.
"Under close questioning, the infiltrators closed the intelligence gap with a shrug and one word: Facebook. The operation that had caught Israel's vaunted military and intelligence complex flat-footed was announced, nursed and triggered on the social networking site that has figured in every uprising around the Arab World — and is helping young Palestinians change the terms of their fight against Israel."
"Why did thousands of Palestinians yesterday converge upon Israel’s borders? Partly because Syria’s war-criminal leader, Bashar al-Assad, and his ally, Hezbollah, wanted them to. But there’s more to it than that. Palestinians also marched from Jordan and Egypt, whose governments did their best to stop the protests. In fact, they marched from every corner of the Palestinian world, in a tech-savvy, coordinated campaign. What hit Israel yesterday was the Palestinian version of the Arab spring.
"Something fundamental has changed. I grew up believing that we—Americans and Jews—were the shapers of history in the Middle East. We created reality; others watched, baffled, paralyzed, afraid. In 1989, Americans gloated as the Soviet Union, our former rival for Middle Eastern supremacy, retreated ignominiously from the region. When Saddam Hussein tried to challenge us from within, we thrashed him in the Gulf War. Throughout the 1990s, we sent our economists, law professors and investment bankers to try to teach the Arabs globalization, which back then meant copying us. In a thousand ways, sometimes gently, sometimes brutally, we sent the message: We make the rules; you play by them.
"For Jews, this sense of being history’s masters was even more intoxicating. For millennia, we had been acted upon. Mere decades earlier, American Jews had watched, trembling and inarticulate, as European Jews were destroyed. But it was that very impotence that made possible the triumph of Zionism, a movement aimed at snatching history’s reins from gentiles, and perhaps even God. Beginning in the early 20th century, Zionists created facts on the ground. Sometimes the great powers applauded; sometimes they condemned, but acre by acre, Jews seized control of their fate. As David Ben-Gurion liked to say, “Our future does not depend on what gentiles say but on what Jews do.” The Arabs reacted with fury, occasional violence, and in Palestine, a national movement of their own. But they could rarely compete, either politically or militarily. We went from strength to strength; they never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
"That world is gone. America and Israel are no longer driving history in the Middle East; for the first time in a long time, Arabs are."