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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 7    Issue 01   16-31 May 2012

Netanyahu Slammed for Belligerent Iran Stance

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hysterical and increasingly belligerent outbursts against Iran’s nuclear programme and his threat to launch a preemptive strike at its nuclear facilities have met with global condemnation and have added to the international isolation of Israel. Significantly, Netanyahu’s bellicosity and his repeated invocation of the Holocaust in relation to the Iranian ‘threat’ have been exposed and repudiated by prominent Israeli politicians and former security chiefs, including the former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, the former head of Israel’s security agency, Yuval Diskin, the former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, and the former military chief, Dan Halutz.

Speaking at a conference in Manhattan on 29 April, 2012, former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert launched a blistering attack on his successor for his aggressive and irrational foreign policy and urged Netanyahu to desist from rushing into unilateral military action against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme. Mr Olmert accused the Israeli prime minister of being disrespectful to the United States, Israel’s closest ally and supporter, dismissive of the international community, and unwilling to offer a meaningful solution to the Palestinian issue. Referring to Barack Obama, Mr Olmert said, “You have to respect him. He is the president of the most powerful nation on earth, and happens to be a friend of Israel.” He added that “America is not a client state of Israel—maybe the opposite is true. Why should we want America to be put in a situation where whatever they do will be interpreted as if they obeyed orders from Jerusalem?” Pointing to Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, Mr Olmert said, “They talk too much, they talk too loud. They are creating an atmosphere and a momentum that may go out of their control.”

On 27 April, 2012, Yuval Diskin, the former head of Israel’s security agency, attacked Netanyahu and the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak, saying that they could not be trusted to head Israel, and added that “the present leadership is messianic.” Diskin said, “I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defence minister. I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings. They are misleading the people on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won’t have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race. Over the past 10-15 years Israel has become more and more racist. There is racism towards Arabs and towards foreigners, and we have also become a more belligerent society.”

On 29 April, 2012, Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief, supported Yuval Diskin and said that a strike against Iran’s nuclear programme would be “stupid.” He said that the ruling regime in Israel was more dangerous than the perceived Iranian threat, and added that Israel was on the brink of an abyss.

Israel’s top military commander, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, questioned the rationality of Netanyahu’s belligerent stand on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme and disagreed with the Isreali leadership on the likelihood that Iran would pursue a nuclear weapons programme. Dan Halutz, who was Israel’s military chief from 2005 to 2007, criticised Netanyahu for invoking the Holocaust imagery in describing the Iranian threat. “We are not kings of the world. We should remember who we are,” he added.

US Suspends Anti-Islam Military Course

When George W. Bush, former US president, launched the much-trumpeted ‘war on terror’ in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the United States on September 9, 2001, he declared that America’s war was directed at terrorists and extremists, represented by organizations such as Al Qaeda, and not at Islam or its followers. The Obama administration has also reiterated that the war against terrorism is directed at extremism and should under no circumstances be misconstrued as an assault on Islam.

The events that unfolded after 9/11 and the record of the US government and the military belie such hollow claims. The fact of the matter is that Islamophobic sentiments have made deep inroads into the US administration, intelligence agencies and the army, national media, the Evangelical church and mainstream American society. Prominent leaders of the Christian Right in the United States have often demonised Islam. In 2001, Franklin Graham, the Rev. Billy Graham’s son and successor, declared that Islam was a “very evil and very wicked religion.” In 2002, televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition, the Rev. Pat Robertson, called the Prophet Muhammad “an absolute wild-eyed fanatic….a robber and brigand….a killer.” The Washington Post/ABC News poll in 2006 found that nearly half of Americans (46 per cent) had a negative view of Islam. According to the poll, the proportion of Americans who believe that Islam helps stoke violence against non-Muslims had more than doubled since the 9/11 attacks. Similarly a Pew Research Center survey found that about a third of Americans said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its followers.

The invocation of the Crusades by George W. Bush while launching the war on terror, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the flushing of copies of the Quran at Guantanamo, the video showing US marines urinating at the dead bodies of Afghan fighters, and the burning of copies of the Quran at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan in February 2012 testify the extent to which hatred for Islam and Muslims has seeped into the country’s political and defence establishments. In 2011, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the University of California released a report entitled “Same Hate, New Target: Islamophobia and Its Impact in the United States 2009-2010.” The report warned of an alarming rise in Islamophobic sentiments in the country since Barack Obama’s election as president. In July 2011 the Federal Bureau of Investigation used training materials that contained derogatory references to Islam and Muslims. Among other things, the materials described Muslims as “terrorist sympathizers.”

A further confirmation of this fact has been provided by a shocking revelation posted by an Internet blog Wired.com in April. Since 2004, the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia has been conducting an eight-week elective course entitled “Perspectives on Islam and Islamite Radicalism.” During the past eight years some 800 mid-level and senior US military officers have taken the course. A US soldier, who recently completed the course, lodged a complaint that the course had anti-Islamic and highly derogatory overtones.

The instructor of the course, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Dooley, is a highly decorated officer who has served in Iraq, Bosnia and Kuwait. Part of the controversial material, present by Dooley in a power point slide, asserts that the US is at war with Islam and goes on to say: “We have now come to understand that there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam.’ It is therefore time for the US to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction.” Dooley called the present American position of seeking common ground with Muslim countries as “illogical” and suggests that a better option is waging a “near total war.”

The course suggests that the US might ultimately have to destroy the holy cities of Mecca and Madina—following the example of Hiroshima--without regard for civilian deaths. It also says that international laws protecting civilians in armed conflict—such as the Geneva conventions—are “no longer relevant” in the context of the afore-mentioned scenario.

The revelations have left the Obama administration and the Pentagon red-faced. The Pentagon has ordered the suspension of the course, but Dooley has not been sacked. General Martin Demsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter on 24 April to leaders of the US army and other security services, ordering a review of all training and education materials across the country. Demsey said the material in the Norfolk course was counter to “American appreciation for religious freedom and cultural awareness” and was totally objectionable.

Neo-Nazi Terrorism in Germany

Racism and xenophobia, which are deeply entrenched in the cultural consciousness of European societies, are gathering strength. This is manifested in the growing anti-immigrant sentiments across large parts of the continent, in the spurt in extremist ideologies and far-right political parties, in the growing use of violent methods by neo-Nazi and other extremist groups, and in the rising wave of hostility towards Islam and Muslims. The global economic downturn and the eurozone crisis have added to the popularity of far-right parties in several European countries.

Neo-Nazi groups, which are active in Germany, Austria, Sweden, France, Belgium, Greece and other European countries, seek to revive the Nazi ideology. They are wedded to militant nationalism, racism and xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. They are anti-globalisation and anti-democracy. According to Germany’s intelligence agencies, there are some 25,000 far- right persons in the country, including 5,600 neo-Nazis. Human rights groups say that more than 180 people of immigrant background have been killed in far-right attacks in Germany over the past two decades. The profile of the neo-Nazis--who generally describe themselves as the “Free Forces”—has undergone a significant modification in recent years. Many of them are now drawn from the educated middle classes with a professional background and use text messages and the social media to disseminate their ideology and to coordinate their activities, including demonstrations. The neo-Nazi leadership tries to win the support of the upper classes, professionals and students.

In November 2011 German intelligence agencies discovered that a neo-Nazi cell, called the Zwickau cell (named after the town where they were hiding) had engaged in a spate of racially motivated murders between 2000 and 2006. The victims included 8 Turkish men, one Greek immigrant and a German policewoman. The group is also suspected to be involved in more than a dozen robberies and a bomb attack in Cologne. The existence of the cell came to light when two of its members died under mysterious circumstances and a third—a German woman—surrendered to the security agencies. A fourth person belonging to the group was arrested a few days later. The trio, describing themselves as the National Socialist Underground, had made a DVD in which they boasted about the killings and proudly declared that their act was in the service of the German nation. Much of the evidence for the involvement of the group in the killings came from the wreckage of an apartment in Zwickau in eastern Germany, where some of the suspects had been living. The suspects tried to destroy the apartment through an explosion so as to destroy all evidence and to cover their tracks. But the police recovered a weapon and a propaganda video from the wreckage.

German media revealed that the group was under the surveillance of the German intelligence agencies for several years, and had even found a bomb-making factory back in 1998. Strangely, the German police and security services blamed the killings on the Turkish mafia. Following the revelations of the ghastly crimes committed by the neo-Nazi cell and the utter ineptitude of the German security agencies in apprehending the culprits in time, some people in the country are now asking whether there are certain elements in the German police and security agencies that harbor secret sympathies for the far-right.

Germany’s federal and state interior ministers have announced that concrete steps are being taken to track down neo-Nazi fugitives and to ban the extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). Though the National Democratic Party does not have much support with the electorate, it has sent representatives in two of Germany’s 16 provincial parliaments.

The World’s Endangered Languages

Language is not only a vehicle of communication but also mirrors the worldview, culture and value system of its speakers. It is an important component of a people’s collective identity and an invaluable part of the living heritage of humanity. According to UNESCO estimates, some 6,700 languages are spoken around the world, which can be classified into about 20 language families. And about half of them may disappear by the end of the 21st century. About 473 languages are classified as nearly extinct in the sense that they are spoken on a regular basis by only a few elderly people and children are not actively learning them. The Summer Institute of Linguistics at Texas estimates that as many as 182 languages are on the verge of extinction, with 152 in the Pacific, 84 in Asia, 46 in Africa and 9 in Europe.

The factors responsible for the decline and extinction of native languages are multiple and complex, including the pernicious legacy of colonialism and imperialism, large-scale migrations, urbanization, globalization, accelerated social and technological changes, climate change and the modern education system which privileges established languages and discourages students from speaking native languages. Australia, prior to the colonization of the continent by the British, was home to nearly 250 native languages. European colonization had a calamitous impact on Aborigines. The indigenous people were forcibly evicted from forested areas and shunted to far-flung regions. They were prevented from speaking their native languages. Now only about 20 indigenous languages are spoken in the country on a daily basis. Between 1869 and 1969, at least 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander children were taken away from their parents by force or deceit and placed in the care of white foster parents or Christian missions with a view to inculcate them with “civilized” European values. These children—known as the “Stolen Generation”--were cut off from their biological families, were forcibly assimilated into mainstream white society and alienated from their native languages.

In the 18th and 19th century, France banned the use of Breton and Basque languages in schools. French enjoys a preeminent position as France’s national language, and indigenous languages such as Breton, Corsican, Basque, Occitania and Alsace are neither officially recognized nor taught in state schools. Britain suppressed the use of languages other than English, including Welsh and Cornish. Soon after the Hawaiian islands were conquered by the United States, the teaching of the Hawaiian language in schools was prohibited. Consequently the number of children who spoke their native language steadily dwindled.

The United Nations estimates that about 60 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030, thanks to the massive, uninterrupted exodus of people from rural areas. Migrations bring about rupture and rootlessness in respect of cultural traditions, languages and identities. The accelerated pace of urbanization is having adverse consequences for native languages. Climate change is also contributing to the decline of native languages. In consequence of ice melt and shifting weather patterns, some Arctic communities are forced to alter their hunting and herding practices, and in the process of doing so, a good deal of the vocabulary relating to the traditional habitat and economy is disappearing.

There has come about a good deal of interest in the issue of the world’s endangered languages, thanks to the dedicated work of linguists and anthropologists, UNESCO and civil society organizations. It is now being recognized that the decline and extinction of a language is not an irreversible process and that it is possible to resuscitate and revive endangered and forgotten languages. A prime example of this fact is provided by Hebrew, which was on the verge of extinction as a spoken and written language a few decades ago, but has been revived under the auspices of the Israeli government.

Language, music and cultural identity are closely intertwined. Efforts are underway in some parts of the world to use indigenous and folk music for the revival of dying languages. In Europe, for example, the annual Liet International Song Festival brings together hundreds of musicians and folk singers in Europe’s indigenous languages and offers awards to the best among them. Globalisation has paradoxical features and consequences. On the one hand, it encourages homogenization of cultural patterns, information and communication flows, lifestyles and entertainment. On the other hand, modern information and communication technologies, including social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin and video-sharing sites such as YouTube and yFrog, CDs, the Internet and television, are playing a highly important role in the revival and revitalization of native languages. The Ktunaxa language, spoken by an indigenous people in north-western America, is related to no other language on earth, and is now spoken by only a handful people, those of the older generation. Fearing that Ktunaxa might soon become extinct, some dedicated community members are working hard to preserve and revitalize it by publishing recordings in Ktunaxa and preparing games for children and written material online.

There has come about a resurgence and revival of indigenous cultures and languages in France in recent years. This revival is marked by the proliferation of Basque and Breton-language schools, the rising popularity of Celtic music, the boom of regional tourism and the growing interest in local cuisines and provincial festivals. Breton language, which was long suppressed by successive French governments, is experiencing a unique revival. The revival is marked by a network of private schools that offer a bilingual curriculum in Breton and French. Founded in 1977, these schools now teach thousands of pupils and adults. TV Breizh began broadcasting in Breton as France’s first regional channel in August 2000. International tourism has provided an additional stimulus to this revival. Brittany attracts about 10 million visitors a year. The annual Inter-Celtic Festival, held in the port city of Lorient in August each year, draws nearly half a million visitors from across large parts of Europe and North America and has become an internationally celebrated event for the projection of Celtic culture.

Many small communities around the world, whose languages are in danger of dying, are making determined efforts to protect, revive and resurrect their native languages. In the face of the fear that the Hawaiian language might disappear altogether, a group of community leaders and activists launched what came to be known as the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s. The project was aimed at the revival of the Hawaiian language through the resurrection of the indigenous tradition of folk songs and dancing. Alternative schools were established where Hawaiian was taught along with English. A separate curriculum was developed whereby preschool children were taught only Hawaiian. Community leaders and activists successfully lobbied with the authorities to overturn the law which stipulated that only English could be taught in schools. Today, some 2,000 native Hawaiian students attend Hawaiian schools. The University of Hawaii offers Hawaiian language courses.

Academics and researchers who had developed a reading programme for native Hawaiian students decided to repeat the experiment among the Navajo Indians in Arizona in the 1980s, hoping that the programme could be adapted or modified by incorporating Navajo language and culture. The programme turned out to be an amazing success story. It improved the Navajo Indians’ grasp of their native language, refurbished their cultural identity and brought about a marked improvement in multiple subjects, including English comprehension. The students became bilingual and developed superior abilities in language and in mathematical skills.

Recent scientific research suggests that bilingual children are smarter than monolingual children. Bilingualism has a profound effect on the child’s brain, and plays a highly important role in improving cognitive skills and even acts as a shield against dementia in old age. Bilingual experience improves the brain’s executive function, which involves problem solving, planning and performing various mentally demanding tasks. It also heightens the ability to monitor the environment. The experiences of bilingual and trilingual people from different parts of the world and different cultural backgrounds seem to confirm the scientific evidence.

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