Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Food Crisis

"If the government cannot lower the cost of living it simply has to leave. If the police and UN troops want to shoot at us, that's OK, because in the end, if we are not killed by bullets, we'll die of hunger." — A demonstrator in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

In Haiti, where most people get 22% fewer calories than the minimum needed for good health, some are staving off their hunger pangs by eating "mud biscuits" made by mixing clay and water with a bit of vegetable oil and salt.[1]

Meanwhile, in Canada, the federal government is currently paying $225 for each pig killed in a mass cull of breeding swine, as part of a plan to reduce hog production. Hog farmers, squeezed by low hog prices and high feed costs, have responded so enthusiastically that the kill will likely use up all the allocated funds before the program ends in September.

Some of the slaughtered hogs may be given to local Food Banks, but most will be destroyed or made into pet food. None will go to Haiti.

This is the brutal world of capitalist agriculture — a world where some people destroy food because prices are too low, and others literally eat dirt because food prices are too high.

Record prices for staple foods

We are in the midst of an unprecedented worldwide food price inflation that has driven prices to their highest levels in decades. The increases affect most kinds of food, but in particular the most important staples — wheat, corn, and rice.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that between March 2007 and March 2008 prices of cereals increased 88%, oils and fats 106%, and dairy 48%. The FAO food price index as a whole rose 57% in one year — and most of the increase occurred in the past few months.

Another source, the World Bank, says that that in the 36 months ending February 2008, global wheat prices rose 181% and overall global food prices increased by 83%. The Bank expects most food prices to remain well above 2004 levels until at least 2015.

The most popular grade of Thailand rice sold for $198 a tonne five years ago and $323 a tonne a year ago. On April 24, the price hit $1,000.

Increases are even greater on local markets — in Haiti, the market price of a 50 kilo bag of rice doubled in one week at the end of March.

These increases are catastrophic for the 2.6 billion people around the world who live on less than US$2 a day and spend 60% to 80% of their incomes on food. Hundreds of millions cannot afford to eat.

This month, the hungry fought back.

Taking to the streets

In Haiti, on April 3, demonstrators in the southern city of Les Cayes built barricades, stopped trucks carrying rice and distributed the food, and tried to burn a United Nations compound. The protests quickly spread to the capital, Port-au-Prince, where thousands marched on the presidential palace, chanting "We are hungry!" Many called for the withdrawal of UN troops and the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the exiled president whose government was overthrown by foreign powers in 2004.

President René Préval, who initially said nothing could be done, has announced a 16% cut in the wholesale price of rice. This is at best a stop-gap measure, since the reduction is for one month only, and retailers are not obligated to cut their prices.

The actions in Haiti paralleled similar protests by hungry people in more than twenty other countries.

* In Burkino Faso, a two-day general strike by unions and shopkeepers demanded "significant and effective" reductions in the price of rice and other staple foods.
* In Bangladesh, over 20,000 workers from textile factories in Fatullah went on strike to demand lower prices and higher wages. They hurled bricks and stones at police, who fired tear gas into the crowd.
* The Egyptian government sent thousands of troops into the Mahalla textile complex in the Nile Delta, to prevent a general strike demanding higher wages, an independent union, and lower prices. Two people were killed and over 600 have been jailed.
* In Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, police used tear gas against women who had set up barricades, burned tires and closed major roads. Thousands marched to the President's home, chanting "We are hungry," and "Life is too expensive, you are killing us."
* In Pakistan and Thailand, armed soldiers have been deployed to prevent the poor from seizing food from fields and warehouses.

Similar protests have taken place in Cambodia, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Zambia. On April 2, the president of the World Bank told a meeting in Washington that there are 33 countries where price hikes could cause social unrest.

A Senior Editor of Time magazine warned:

"The idea of the starving masses driven by their desperation to take to the streets and overthrow the ancien regime has seemed impossibly quaint since capitalism triumphed so decisively in the Cold War.... And yet, the headlines of the past month suggest that skyrocketing food prices are threatening the stability of a growing number of governments around the world. …. when circumstances render it impossible to feed their hungry children, normally passive citizens can very quickly become militants with nothing to lose."[2]

What's Driving Food Inflation?

Since the 1970s, food production has become increasingly globalized and concentrated. A handful of countries dominate the global trade in staple foods. 80% of wheat exports come from six exporters, as does 85% of rice. Three countries produce 70% of exported corn. This leaves the world's poorest countries, the ones that must import food to survive, at the mercy of economic trends and policies in those few exporting companies. When the global food trade system stops delivering, it's the poor who pay the price.

For several years, the global trade in staple foods has been heading towards a crisis. Four related trends have slowed production growth and pushed prices up.

The End of the Green Revolution: In the 1960s and 1970s, in an effort to counter peasant discontent in south and southeast Asia, the U.S. poured money and technical support into agricultural development in India and other countries. The "green revolution" — new seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, agricultural techniques and infrastructure — led to spectacular increases in food production, particularly rice. Yield per hectare continued expanding until the 1990s.

Today, it's not fashionable for governments to help poor people grow food for other poor people, because "the market" is supposed to take care of all problems. The Economist reports that "spending on farming as a share of total public spending in developing countries fell by half between 1980 and 2004."[3] Subsidies and R&D money have dried up, and production growth has stalled.

As a result, in seven of the past eight years the world consumed more grain than it produced, which means that rice was being removed from the inventories that governments and dealers normally hold as insurance against bad harvests. World grain stocks are now at their lowest point ever, leaving very little cushion for bad times.

Climate Change: Scientists say that climate change could cut food production in parts of the world by 50% in the next 12 years. But that isn't just a matter for the future:

* Australia is normally the world's second-largest exporter of grain, but a savage multi-year drought has reduced the wheat crop by 60% and rice production has been completely wiped out.
* In Bangladesh in November, one of the strongest cyclones in decades wiped out a million tonnes of rice and severely damaged the wheat crop, making the huge country even more dependent on imported food.

Other examples abound. It's clear that the global climate crisis is already here, and it is affecting food.

Agrofuels: It is now official policy in the U.S., Canada and Europe to convert food into fuel. U.S. vehicles burn enough corn to cover the entire import needs of the poorest 82 countries.[4]

Ethanol and biodiesel are very heavily subsidized, which means, inevitably, that crops like corn (maize) are being diverted out of the food chain and into gas tanks, and that new agricultural investment worldwide is being directed towards palm, soy, canola and other oil-producing plants. This increases the prices of agrofuel crops directly, and indirectly boosts the price of other grains by encouraging growers to switch to agrofuel.

As Canadian hog producers have found, it also drives up the cost of producing meat, since corn is the main ingredient in North American animal feed.

Oil Prices: The price of food is linked to the price of oil because food can be made into a substitute for oil. But rising oil prices also affect the cost of producing food. Fertilizer and pesticides are made from petroleum and natural gas. Gas and diesel fuel are used in planting, harvesting and shipping.[5]

It's been estimated that 80% of the costs of growing corn are fossil fuel costs — so it is no accident that food prices rise when oil prices rise.

* * *

By the end of 2007, reduced investment in the third world, rising oil prices, and climate change meant that production growth was slowing and prices were rising. Good harvests and strong export growth might have staved off a crisis — but that isn't what happened. The trigger was rice, the staple food of three billion people.

Early this year, India announced that it was suspending most rice exports in order to rebuild its reserves. A few weeks later, Vietnam, whose rice crop was hit by a major insect infestation during the harvest, announced a four-month suspension of exports to ensure that enough would be available for its domestic market.

India and Vietnam together normally account for 30% of all rice exports, so their announcements were enough to push the already tight global rice market over the edge. Rice buyers immediately started buying up available stocks, hoarding whatever rice they could get in the expectation of future price increases, and bidding up the price for future crops. Prices soared. By mid-April, news reports described "panic buying" of rice futures on the Chicago Board of Trade, and there were rice shortages even on supermarket shelves in Canada and the U.S.

Why the rebellion?

There have been food price spikes before. Indeed, if we take inflation into account, global prices for staple foods were higher in the 1970s than they are today. So why has this inflationary explosion provoked mass protests around the world?

The answer is that since the 1970s the richest countries in the world, aided by the international agencies they control, have systematically undermined the poorest countries' ability to feed their populations and protect themselves in a crisis like this.

Haiti is a powerful and appalling example.

Rice has been grown in Haiti for centuries, and until twenty years ago Haitian farmers produced about 170,000 tonnes of rice a year, enough to cover 95% of domestic consumption. Rice farmers received no government subsidies, but, as in every other rice-producing country at the time, their access to local markets was protected by import tariffs.

In 1995, as a condition of providing a desperately needed loan, the International Monetary Fund required Haiti to cut its tariff on imported rice from 35% to 3%, the lowest in the Caribbean. The result was a massive influx of U.S. rice that sold for half the price of Haitian-grown rice. Thousands of rice farmers lost their lands and livelihoods, and today three-quarters of the rice eaten in Haiti comes from the U.S.[6]

U.S. rice didn't take over the Haitian market because it tastes better, or because U.S. rice growers are more efficient. It won out because rice exports are heavily subsidized by the U.S. government. In 2003, U.S. rice growers received $1.7 billion in government subsidies, an average of $232 per hectare of rice grown.[7] That money, most of which went to a handful of very large landowners and agribusiness corporations, allowed U.S. exporters to sell rice at 30% to 50% below their real production costs.

In short, Haiti was forced to abandon government protection of domestic agriculture — and the U.S. then used its government protection schemes to take over the market.

There have been many variations on this theme, with rich countries of the north imposing "liberalization" policies on poor and debt-ridden southern countries and then taking advantage of that liberalization to capture the market. Government subsidies account for 30% of farm revenue in the world's 30 richest countries, a total of US$280 billion a year,[8] an unbeatable advantage in a "free" market where the rich write the rules.

The global food trade game is rigged, and the poor have been left with reduced crops and no protections.

In addition, for several decades the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have refused to advance loans to poor countries unless they agree to "Structural Adjustment Programs" (SAP) that require the loan recipients to devalue their currencies, cut taxes, privatize utilities, and reduce or eliminate support programs for farmers.

All this was done with the promise that the market would produce economic growth and prosperity — instead, poverty increased and support for agriculture was eliminated.

"The investment in improved agricultural input packages and extension support tapered and eventually disappeared in most rural areas of Africa under SAP. Concern for boosting smallholders' productivity was abandoned. Not only were governments rolled back, foreign aid to agriculture dwindled. World Bank funding for agriculture itself declined markedly from 32% of total lending in 1976-8 to 11.7% in 1997-9."[9]

During previous waves of food price inflation, the poor often had at least some access to food they grew themselves, or to food that was grown locally and available at locally set prices. Today, in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, that's just not possible. Global markets now determine local prices — and often the only food available must be imported from far away.

* * *

Food is not just another commodity — it is absolutely essential for human survival. The very least that humanity should expect from any government or social system is that it try to prevent starvation — and above all that it not promote policies that deny food to hungry people.

That's why Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was absolutely correct on April 24, to describe the food crisis as "the greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model."

By Ian Angus

America has blood on its hands

Reverend Jeremiah Wright appeared on PBS Bill Moyers Journal on Friday night and delivered a knockout punch to the bully-boys in the corporate media. It was an impressive performance that left the political assassins over at FOX News choking on their sausage-rolls. Wright showed that he is neither a fanatic nor an “America hater”; just an extremely well-read and principled man with an unshakable commitment to justice. Wright has also paid his dues; he's an ex-Marine who served in Vietnam when most of his critics were either hiding behind their student deferments or languishing in the "Champagne Unit" of the Texas National Guard. He's earned the right to say whatever he chooses.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright:

"And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing God bless America? No, no, no. Not God bless America; God damn America!

No one disputes Wright's summary of US history. His comments have simply been taken out of context to beat up on Barak Obama; everyone knows that. Just like everyone knows that the media has been retooled to destroy political enemies, which means anyone who poses a challenge to America's unelected corporate oligarchy. That's why it is so frustrating to hear people say, "The media is not doing its job."

That's just plain wrong; the media IS doing its job. It's cheerleading the country to war, it is diverting attention from the main political and economic issues of the day, and it is destroying its political enemies. That's what it's paid to do. Its foolish to think the media should perform differently because of the PR nonsense about a “free press”. The media gets its marching orders from its corporate managers; that's who issues the paychecks on Fridays. It's their agenda that counts, not ours. The political assassination of Barak Obama just happens to be on the top of their list this week. That's why the media is zeroing in on Rev. Wright; he is the sacrificial lamb.

What the media is trying to do by singling out Wright is to make it look like blacks are outside of the mainstream and hostile to white American society. It's all pretty straightforward. They're trying to create the impression that blacks conceal a deep sense of grievance which expresses itself in rage. This generates feelings of fear among whites which, of course, is all part of the strategy. The message is simple; "blacks are angry, blacks are dangerous" and, oh by the way, Obama is black.

Is it fair to say that that is essentially a racist message?

What's so clever about the attack on Wright is that it was set up in a way to make it look like the Reverend—a man whose entire career has been devoted to social justice—is a racist. That took a bit of maneuvering. In fact, the media, and their friends at the right-wing think tanks, had to dig through 15 years of Wright's sermons to find just the right snippets they needed to destroy Obama. Now that's determination! The attacks on Wright bear all the earmarks of a well-engineered Karl Rove-type operation. Nothing has been left to chance. All the mud-slinging and poisonous innuendo has been arranged with the greatest attention to detail and with real professionalism. These guys are pros. They know what it takes to ruin people and they are good at it.


They decided the best way to go-after Obama was by using his "blackness" against him. It took considerable skill to invoke the "race card" without being discovered. The tables were turned in a way that made it look like Wright and his parishioners were the racists and whites were merely blameless bystanders. That's the real genius of the Wright smear-campaign.

For more than 5 months Obama had been able to run on a campaign on issues and experience, but the attacks on Wright have changed all of that. Now the public sees Obama as a black man; at least that's the intention. Race has become one of the dominant issues on the campaign-trail and Obama routinely fends off charges that blacks foster a hidden resentment towards whites because of the way they have been mistreated. Obama is no longer just a man running for office; now he's a black man. That's how swift-boating works. Like they say in the Godfather; “It's not personal; it's just business”. The business of personal destruction.

Fortunately, Bill Moyers, one of the giants of journalism, decided to give Wright a chance to acquit himself before the public. Wright took the opportunity and made the most of it.

Rev. Wright: “God is the giver of life. Let me tell you what that means. That means we have no right to take a life whether as a gang-banger living the thug life, or as a President lying about leading a nation into war. We have no right to take a life! Whether through the immorality of a slave trade, or the immorality of refusing HIV/AIDS money to countries or agencies who do not tow your political line! We have no right to take a life!”

Wright showed that the doctrine he preaches, Black Liberation Theology, is neither discriminatory nor racist as the media has suggested. Rather, it integrates the teachings of Jesus Christ with the real-time struggle for social justice and equality. Compassion is not possible if one does not have a grasp of one's own culture and identity. That's why Wright tries to reconnect his congregation to their roots, so they can be proud of who they are and have more productive lives.

Rev. Wright:

"You know, you come into the average church on a Sunday morning and you think you've stepped from the real world into a fantasy world. And what do I mean by that?" He said pick up the church bulletin. You leave a world, Vietnam, or today you leave a world, Iraq, over 4,000 dead, American boys and girls, 100,000, 200,000 depending on which count, Iraqi dead. Afghanistan, Darfur, rapes in the Congo, Katrina, Lower Ninth Ward, that's the world you leave. And you come in; you pick up your church bulletin. It says, there is a ladies tea on second Sunday. He said, "How come the faith preached in our churches does not relate to the world in which our church members leave at the benediction?”

This is the essence of Black Liberation Theology; how to make sense of the world we live in so the word of Christ can be applied in practice. Wright thinks that faith should be a transforming experience that changes behavior and shapes lives, not just a few hours of prayer every week at Sunday services. Does that make it “a race-based theology? (as Moyers asks)

Rev. Wright: “No, it is not. It is embracing Christianity without giving up Africanity. ...We're not givin' up who we are as black people to become somebody else...No mas. Nada mas. We're gonna be ourselves. We're gonna be our culture. We're gonna be our history. And we're gonna embrace it and not say one is superior to the other. Because we are different. And different does not mean deficient. We talk about God of diversity? God has diverse culture and we're proud of who we are and that's not a race-based theology.”

Wright has also been skewered in the media for suggesting there may be a connection between American foreign policy and the attacks of 9-11. The media considers any analysis that doesn't square with Bush's crackpot "they hate our freedoms” theory to be either anti-American or outright heresy. In his most famous sermon, Wright elaborates on the "blowback" theme as well as the so-called war on terror:

"We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arawak, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism! We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism! We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard-working fathers. We bombed Gadafi's home and killed his child. "Blessed are they who bash your children's head against a rock!" We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to payback for the attack on our embassy. Killed hundreds of hard-working people; mothers and fathers who left home to go that day, not knowing that they would never get back home. We bombed Hiroshima! We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye! Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up children after school, civilians - not soldiers - people just trying to make it day by day. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and Black South Africans, and now we are indignant? Because the stuff we have done overseas has now been brought back into our own front yards! America's chickens are coming home to roost! Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred and terrorism begets terrorism."

America has blood on its hands. America, as Martin Luther King said, "is the greatest perpetrator of violence in the world today." So what else is new?

What's new, is the media is using every soapbox in the country to preach uber-nationalism and vilify America's critics as unpatriotic. Their "Love it or leave it" gibberish is being used to tar a presidential candidate who hasn't sufficiently prostrated himself before his corporate overlords to make them feel that he can be trusted to carry out their directives. That is what's really happening. Obama is just unpredictable enough to make the parasite class nervous that he might do something crazy, like serve the public interest. That would be a real disaster. It'd be better to install the appalling Ms. Clinton than take a chance on the “populist” Obama. That's why the wrath of the media has descended on Obama like a Texas hailstorm; they're afraid he doesn't understand who really runs things in America.


Wright means nothing to the media or to the men behind the curtain. If he didn't provide an avenue for denigrating Obama, he'd be treated with the same indifference as the thousands of other blacks who were herded at gunpoint into the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. It's Obama's scalp they want; that's the real prize. This is a turf war; the big-wigs are defending their fiefdom from interlopers. They're even rolling out the heavy artillery expecting a full-blown conflagration. The election season is shaping up to be a real donnybrook. Better buckle up. Obama has entered the crosshairs of America's criminal oligarchy and things are bound to get nasty.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

American Hegemony Is Not Guaranteed

Exactly as the British press predicted, last week’s congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Green Zone administrator Ryan Crocker set the propaganda stage for a Bush regime attack on Iran. On April 10 Robert H. Reid of AP News reported: “The top US commander has shifted the focus from al-Qaida to Iranian-backed ‘special groups’ as the main threat . . . The shift was articulated by Gen. Petraeus who told Congress that ‘unchecked, the special groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.’” http://wiredispatch.com/news/?id=122754

According to the neocon propaganda, the “special groups” (have you ever heard of them before?) are breakaway elements of al Sadr’s militia.

Nonsensical on its face, the Petraeus/Crocker testimony is just another mask in the macabre theatre of lies that the Bush regime has told in order to justify its wars of naked aggression against Muslims.

Fact #1: Al Sadr is not allied with Iran. He speaks with an Iraqi voice and has his militia under orders to stand down from conflict. The Badr militia is the Shi’ite militia that is allied with Iran. Why did the US and its Iraqi puppet Maliki attack al Sadr’s militia and not the Badr militia or the breakaway elements of Sadr’s militia that allegedly now operate as gangs?

Fact #2: The Shi’ite militias and the Sunni insurgents are armed with weapons available from the unsecured weapon stockpiles of Saddam Hussein’s army. If Iran were arming Iraqis, the Iraqi insurgents and militias would have armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenades and surface-to-air missiles. These two weapons would neutralize the US advantage by enabling Iraqis to destroy US helicopter gunships, aircraft and tanks. The Iraqis cannot mass their forces as they have no weapons against US air power. To destroy US tanks, Iraqis have to guess the roads US vehicles will travel and bury bombs constructed from artillery shells. The inability to directly attack armor and to defend against air attack denies offensive capability to Iraqis.

If the Iranians desired to arm Iraqis, they obviously would provide these two weapons that would change the course of the war.

Just as the Bush regime lied to Americans and the UN about why Iraq was attacked, hiding the real agenda behind false claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and connections to al Qaeda, the Bush regime is now lying about why it needs to attack Iran. Could anyone possibly believe that Iran is so desirous of having its beautiful country bombed and its nuclear energy program destroyed that Iran would invite an attack by fighting a “proxy war” against the US in Iraq? http://tinyurl.com/4em9uh
That the Bush regime would tell such a blatant lie shows that the regime has no respect for the intelligence of the American public and no respect for the integrity of the US media.

And why should it? The public and media have fallen for every lie the Bush regime has told.

The moral hypocrisy of US politicians is unrivaled. McCain says that if he were president he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics because China has killed and injured 100 Tibetans who protested Tibet’s occupation by China. Meanwhile the Iraqi toll of the American occupation is one million dead and four million displaced. That comes to 20% of the Iraqi population. At what point does the US occupation of Iraq graduate from a war crime to genocide?

Not to be outdone by McCain’s hypocrisy, Bush declared: “The message to the Iranians is: we will bring you to justice if you continue to try to infiltrate, send your agents or send surrogates to bring harm to our troops and/or the Iraqi citizens.”

Consider our “Christian” president’s position: It is perfectly appropriate for the US to bomb and to invade countries and to send its agents and surrogates to harm Iraqis, Afghans, Somalians, Serbians and whomever, but resistance to American aggression is the mark of terrorism, and any country that aids America’s victims is at war with America.

The three-week “cakewalk” war that would be paid for by Iraqi oil revenues is now into its sixth year. According to Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, the cost of the war to Americans is between three and five trillion dollars. Five trillion dollars equals the entire US personal and corporate income tax revenues for two years.

Of what benefit is this enormous expenditure to America? The price of oil and gasoline in US dollars has tripled, the price of gold has quadrupled, and the dollar has declined sharply against other currencies. The national debt has rapidly mounted. America’s reputation is in tatters.

The Bush regime’s coming attack on Iran will widen the war dramatically and escalate the costs.

Not content with war with Iran, Republican presidential candidate John McCain in a speech written for him by neocon warmonger Robert Kagan promises to confront both Russia and China.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/04/11/wuspols311.xml

Three questions present themselves:

(1) Will our foreign creditors--principally China, Japan and Saudi Arabia--finance a third monstrous Bush regime war crime?

(2) Will Iran sit on its hands and wait on the American bombs to fall?

(3) Will Russia and China passively wait to be confronted by the warmonger McCain?

Should a country that is over-extended in Iraq and Afghanistan be preparing to attack yet a third country, while threatening to interfere in the affairs of two large nuclear powers? What sort of political leadership seeks to initiate conflict in so many unpromising directions?

With Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea threatened by American hegemonic belligerence, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario that would terminate all pretense of American power: For example, instead of waiting to be attacked, Iran uses its Chinese and Russian anti-ship missiles, against which the US reportedly has poor means of defense, and sinks every ship in the American carrier strike forces that have been foolishly massed in the Persian Gulf, simultaneously taking out the Saudi oil fields and the Green Zone in Baghdad, the headquarters of the US occupation. Shi’ite militias break the US supply lines from Kuwait, and Iranian troops destroy the dispersed US forces in Iraq before they can be concentrated to battle strength.

Simultaneously, North Korea crosses the demilitarized zone and takes South Korea, China seizes Taiwan and dumps a trillion dollars of US Treasury bonds on the market. Russia goes on full nuclear alert and cuts off all natural gas to Europe.

What would the Bush regime do? Wet its pants? Push the button and end the world?

If America really had dangerous enemies, surely the enemies would collude to take advantage of a dramatically over-extended delusional regime that, blinded by its own arrogance and hubris, issues gratuitous threats and lives by Mao’s doctrine that power comes out of the barrel of a gun.

There are other less dramatic scenarios. Why does the US assume that only it can initiate aggression, boycotts, freezes on financial assets of other countries and bans on foreign banks from participation in the international banking system? If the rest of the world were to tire of American aggression or to develop a moral conscience, it would be easy to organize a boycott of America and to ban US banks from participating in the international banking system. Such a boycott would be especially effective at the present time with the balance sheets of US banks impaired by subprime derivatives and the US government dependent on foreign loans in order to finance its day-to-day activities.

Sooner or later it will occur to other countries that putting up with America is a habit that they don’t need to continue.

Does America really need more political leadership that leads in such unpromising directions?

By Paul Craig Roberts; former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, has been reporting shocking cases of prosecutorial abuse for two decades. A new edition of his book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions, co-authored with Lawrence Stratton, a documented account of how Americans lost the protection of law, is forthcoming from Random House in March, 2008.

The Grand Chessboard

In Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), he outlines his case for how current American global supremacy should be used to further a long running elite plan for the unification of the world under the dictates of the United Nations.

For those who don’t know, among many other things, Brzezinski was an advisor to John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Jimmy Carter. He was also the first director of the Trilateral Commission and board member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Currently he is a top foreign policy advisor to the Barack Obama campaign for presidency.

Controlling Eurasia With American Imperial Power

From The Grand Chessboard:

"In brief, for the United States, Eurasian geostrategy involves the purposeful management of geostrategically dynamic states and the careful handling of geopolitically catalytic states, in keeping with the twin interests of America in the short-term preservation of its unique global power and in the long-run transformation of it into increasingly institutionalized global cooperation. To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."

"...the issue of how a globally engaged America copes with the complex Eurasian power relationships - and particularly whether it prevents the emergence of a dominant and antagonistic Eurasian power -- remains central to America's capacity to exercise global primacy."

"A geostrategic issue of crucial importance is posed by China's emergence as a major power. The most appealing outcome would be to co-opt a democratizing and free-marketing China into a larger Asian regional framework of cooperation."

"In effect, Japan should be America's global partner in tackling the new agenda of world affairs. A regionally preeminent China should become America's Far Eastern anchor in the more traditional domain of power politics, helping thereby to foster a Eurasian balance of power, with Greater China in Eurasia's East matching in that respect the role of an enlarging Europe in Eurasia's West."
False Choice

Like a good con man, Brzezinski insists that there is only one alternative to American imperial domination of Eurasia and thus the world. Of course, there is little time to take advantage of this "narrow window of historical opportunity".

"In brief, America as the world's premier power does face a narrow window of historical opportunity. The present moment of relative global peace may be short lived. This prospect underlines the urgent need for an American engagement in the world that is deliberately focused on the enhancement of international geopolitical stability..."

"The sudden emergence of the first and only global power has created a situation in which an equally quick end to its supremacy -- either because of America's withdrawal from the world or because of the sudden emergence of a successful rival -- would produce massive international instability. In effect, it would prompt global anarchy."

"In that context, for some time to come -- for more than a generation -- America's status as the world's premier power is unlikely to be contested by any single challenger. No nation-state is likely to match America in the four key dimensions of power (military, economic, technological, and cultural) that cumulatively produce decisive global political clout. Short of a deliberate or unintentional American abdication, the only real alternative to American global leadership in the foreseeable future is international anarchy. In that respect, it is correct to assert that America has become, as President Clinton put it, the world's "indispensable nation." " [emphasis mine]

The Legacy of American Imperialism is United Nations Control

"Accordingly, once American leadership begins to fade, America's current global predominance is unlikely to be replicated by any single state. Thus, the key question for the future is "What will America bequeath to the world as the enduring legacy of its primacy?" "

"Meeting these challenges is America's burden as well as its unique responsibility. Given the reality of American democracy, an effective response will require generating a public understanding of the continuing importance of American power in shaping a widening framework of stable geopolitical cooperation, one that simultaneously averts global anarchy and successfully defers the emergence of a new power challenge. These two goals-- averting global anarchy and impeding the emergence of a power rival-- are inseparable from the longer-range definition of the purpose of America's global engagement, namely, that of forging an enduring framework of global geopolitical cooperation." [emphasis mine]

"In brief, the U.S. policy goal must be unapologetically twofold: to perpetuate America's own dominant position for at least a generation and preferably longer still; and to create a geopolitical framework that can absorb the inevitable shocks and strains of social-political change while evolving into the geopolitical core of shared responsibility for peaceful global management. A prolonged phase of gradually expanding cooperation with key Eurasian partners, both stimulated and arbitrated by America, can also help to foster the preconditions for an eventual upgrading of the existing and increasingly antiquated UN [United Nations] structures. A new distribution of responsibilities and privileges can then take into account the changed realities of global power, so drastically different from those of 1945." [emphasis mine]

In Closing

"In the course of the next several decades, a functioning structure of global cooperation, based on geopolitical realities, could thus emerge and gradually assume the mantle of the world's current "regent," which has for the time being assumed the burden of responsibility for world stability and peace. Geostrategic success in that cause would represent a fitting legacy of America's role as the first, only, and last truly global superpower."

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s described in his book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), how the focus of American global primacy should be to unify the world under the dictates of the United Nations.

There are many problems associated with the emergence of the United Nations out of the ashes of the American empire. Brzezinski makes clear his distain for the limitations that "populist democracy" puts on his desired movements around the Eurasian chessboard and his revulsion at the potential for an "impotent global power".

"It is also a fact that America is too democratic at home to be autocratic abroad. This limits the use of America's power, especially its capacity for military intimidation. Never before has a populist democracy attained international supremacy. But the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion" [emphasis mine]

"A genuinely populist democracy has never before attained international supremacy. The pursuit of power and especially the economic costs and human sacrifice that the exercise of such power often requires are not generally congenial to democratic instincts. Democratization is inimical to imperial mobilization." [emphasis mine]

"Indeed, the critical uncertainty regarding the future may well be whether America might become the first superpower unable or unwilling to wield its power. Might it become an impotent global power?"

Four Key Dimensions of Power

"In that context, for some time to come-- for more than a generation-- America's status as the world's premier power is unlikely to be contested by any single challenger. No nation-state is likely to match America in the four key dimensions of power (military, economic, technological, and cultural) that cumulatively produce decisive global political clout."

Little needs to be said about the first three dimensions of power; military, economic and technological. The fourth dimension, culture, is very important and rarely given appropriate attention. Brzezinski and the elite above and around him are well aware of the power of the creation and manipulation of culture. It is an essential component to convincing the American public to execute the elite designed imperial goals as well as the eventual and necessary removal of American primacy to make way for the emergence of the United Nations’ rise to dominance.

American Culture and the Demise of Empire

The current culture in America is aimed at the ruination of the American society and the empire few Americans realize they are a part of. This process requires many different things, but Brzezinski highlights the major themes; lack of association with empirical accomplishments and goals, lack of social cohesion, individual decadence, etc.

"Moreover, most Americans by and large do not derive any special gratification from their country's new status as the sole global superpower. Political "triumphalism" connected with America's victory in the Cold War has generally tended to receive a cold reception"

"More generally, cultural change in America may also be uncongenial to the sustained exercise abroad of genuinely imperial power. That exercise requires a high degree of doctrinal motivation, intellectual commitment, and patriotic gratification. Yet the dominant culture of the country has become increasingly fixated on mass entertainment that has been heavily dominated by personally hedonistic and socially escapist themes. The cumulative effect has made it increasingly difficult to mobilize the needed political consensus on behalf of sustained, and also occasionally costly, American leadership abroad. Mass communications have been playing a particularly important role in that regard, generating a strong revulsion against any selective use of force that entails even low levels of casualties."

"In addition, both America and Western Europe have been finding it difficult to cope with the cultural consequences of social hedonism and the dramatic decline in the centrality of religious-based values in society. (The parallels with the decline of the imperial systems summarized in chapter 1 [Rome for example] are striking in that respect.) The resulting cultural crisis has been compounded by the spread of drugs and, especially in America, by its linkage to the racial issue. Lastly, the rate of economic growth is no longer able to keep up with growing material expectations, with the latter stimulated by a culture that places a premium on consumption."

Proper Motivation

Brzezinski’s geostrategic imperatives will require a final surge for the dying American empire. To accomplish this, he recognizes the need for the sudden emergence of a "direct external threat".

"Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multicultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstances of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat. Such a consensus generally existed throughout World War II and even during the Cold War."

"It is also a fact that America is too democratic at home to be autocratic abroad. This limits the use of America's power, especially its capacity for military intimidation. Never before has a populist democracy attained international supremacy. But the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public's sense of domestic well-being. The economic self-denial (that is, defense spending) and the human sacrifice (casualties even among professional soldiers) required in the effort are uncongenial to democratic instincts. Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilization."

This was provided four years later by the attacks of 9/11.

Terrorist threat

Brzezinski does however highlight nicely the inherent feebleness of today's direct external threat - Islamic fundamentalism.

"A possible challenge to American primacy from Islamic fundamentalism could be part of the problem in this unstable region. By exploiting religious hostility to the American way of life and taking advantage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Islamic fundamentalism could undermine several pro-Western Middle Eastern governments and eventually jeopardize American regional interests, especially in the Persian Gulf. However, without political cohesion and in the absence of a single genuinely powerful Islamic state, a challenge from Islamic fundamentalism would lack a geopolitical core and would thus be more likely to express itself through diffuse violence."

But, he does also underscore the usefulness of terrorism, or the threat of terrorism to push his ideas.

"It is also noteworthy that international conflicts and acts of terrorism have so far been remarkably devoid of any use of the weapons of mass destruction. How long that self-restraint may hold is inherently unpredictable, but the increasing availability, not only to states but also to organized groups, of the means to inflict massive casualties-- by the use of nuclear or bacteriological weapons-- also inevitably increases the probability of their employment."

Creating the New Global System With Culture

The planned decay, or collapse, of the American empire must coincide with the emergence of the United Nations. Brzezinski mentions the tool to be used to generate a more international culture required for the acceptance of and obedience to global government.

"These efforts will have the added historical advantage of benefiting from the new web of global linkages that is growing exponentially outside the more traditional nation-state system. That web-- woven by multinational corporations, NGOs (nongovernmental organizations, with many of them transnational in character) and scientific communities and reinforced by the Internet-- already creates an informal global system that is inherently congenial to more institutionalized and inclusive global cooperation."

The use of multinational corporations should need no explanation with the almost daily international corporate mergers, interdependence derived from the separation of production and consumption, and the uniformity of products across the entire globe. NGOs and the scientific communities are hard at work pushing for international institutions in their rabid campaign against global warming. The internet too, is a powerful tool in promoting a global digital culture.

An important step in establishing a world government run by the United Nations is the development of smaller multinational trade and political unions. This step allows for a gradual weakening of nationalistic emotions in the respective countries as borders are slowly erased. It also develops a sense of normalcy with having multinational bureaucracies replacing the roles that national governments formerly played.

This process is strongly supported by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997). Brzezinski makes it plainly clear that the role of the American empire is to pave the way for the emergence of the United Nations as a world government.

European Union

From The Grand Chessboard:

"By pioneering in the integration of nation-states into a shared supranational economic and eventually political union, Europe is also pointing the way toward larger forms of postnational organization, beyond the narrow visions and the destructive passions of the age of nationalism." [emphasis mine]

Brzezinski makes clear the need for the expansion of the European Union into central Europe and especially the absorption of a newly independent Ukraine. The expansion of the European Union eastward was to be preceded by the expansion of NATO. All of these objectives are slowly being implemented as can be seen by events like the “Orange Revolution” in the Ukraine.

"In the current circumstances, the expansion of NATO to include Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary -- probably by 1999 -- appears to be likely. After this initial but significant step, it is likely that any subsequent expansion of the alliance will either be coincidental with or will follow the expansion of the EU. The latter involves a much more complicated process, both in the number of qualifying stages and in the meeting of membership requirements (see chart on page 83). Thus, even the first admissions into the EU from Central Europe are not likely before the year 2002 or perhaps somewhat later. Nonetheless, after the first three new NATO members have also joined the EU, both the EU and NATO will have to address the question of extending membership to the Baltic republics, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia, and perhaps also, eventually, to Ukraine."

"It follows, therefore, that states that are in a position to begin and are invited to undertake accession talks with the EU should automatically also be viewed henceforth as subject in effect to NATO's presumptive protection."

"Given the growing consensus regarding the desirability of admitting the nations of Central Europe into both the EU and NATO, the practical meaning of this question focuses attention on the future status of the Baltic republics and perhaps also that of Ukraine."

Asian Union

"A geostrategic issue of crucial importance is posed by China's emergence as a major power. The most appealing outcome would be to co-opt a democratizing and free-marketing China into a larger Asian regional framework of cooperation."

American Union

Brzezinski's roles as the first director of the Trilateral Commission and a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations directly involves him in the current process of creating the North American Union. This plan includes the creation of a single currency tentatively called the Amero, which was recently stated publicly as a 'possibility' by the governor of the Bank of Canada, David Dodge.

It should also be stressed that the formation of the North American Union is a stepping stone to a wider American Union encompassing the whole of South America. Much the same way the European Union initially began as a Western European Union.

Inter-Union Integration

The establishment of the three main economic and political blocks will gradually be united into a single global form. This process recommended by Brzezinski is the exact same process used to initiate the three separate unions; free trade agreements.

"...the United States would do well to consider the adoption of an American-Japanese free trade agreement, thereby creating a common American-Japanese economic space. Such a step, formalizing the growing linkage between the two economies, would provide the geopolitical underpinning both for America's continued presence in the Far East and for Japan's constructive global engagement."

"Tokyo can carve out a globally influential role by cooperating closely with the United States regarding what might be called the new agenda of global concerns, while avoiding any futile and potentially counterproductive effort to become a regional power itself. The task of American statesmanship should hence be to steer Japan in that direction. An American-Japanese free trade agreement, creating a common economic space, would fortify the connection and promote the goal, and hence its utility should be jointly examined."

"A Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, already advocated by a number of prominent Atlantic leaders, could also mitigate the risk of growing economic rivalry between a more united EU and the United States. In any case, the EU's eventual success in burying the centuries-old European nationalist antagonisms, with their globally disruptive effects, would be well worth some gradual diminution in America's decisive role as Eurasia's current arbitrator."
Once this process fully takes hold and American primacy fades the United Nations will emerge as a global government.

War, a Luxury of the Poor

War is an extraordinary tool for changing the culture of nations into the designs of the elite. The side being attacked and the side doing the attacking are both drastically altered by the process. With this in mind, the statement by Brzezinski, highlighted below, is referring to the usefulness of war to the elite of those countries and is coldly serious.

From The Grand Chessboard:

"That lack of confidence has been intensified by widespread disappointment with the consequences of the end of the Cold War. Instead of a "new world order" based on consensus and harmony, "things which seemed to belong to the past" have all of a sudden become the future. Although ethnic-national conflicts may no longer pose the risk of a central war, they do threaten the peace in significant parts of the globe. Thus, war is not likely to become obsolete for some time to come. With the more-endowed nations constrained by their own higher technological capacity for self-destruction as well as by self-interest, war may have become a luxury that only the poor peoples of this world can afford. In the foreseeable future, the impoverished two-thirds of humanity may not be motivated by the restraint of the privileged." [emphasis mine]

Welfare State

"By the mid-nineties, however, these impulses had faded. Economic recovery by and large has been achieved; if anything, the problem Europe increasingly faces is that of an excessively burdensome welfare system that is sapping its economic vitality..."

I highlighted the above quote by Brzezinski because he is currently a top foreign policy advisor to the Barack Obama’s campaign to be the Democratic party’s presidential candidate. Would those words not flow nicely out of an angry right-wing TV commentator? Just one more reason not to believe in the false left-right paradigm.

Global Interdependence

One of the favourite buzzwords, never too far from the lips of the globalists, is interdependence. Brzezinski demonstrates that the real purpose is to create dependence, and therefore servitude to the organizing body. He discusses this in the context of the break up of the Soviet Union.

"In its narrowest form, the "near abroad" priority involved the perfectly reasonable proposition that Russia must first concentrate on relations with the newly independent states, especially as all of them remained tied to Russia by the realities of the deliberately fostered Soviet policy of promoting economic interdependence among them. That made both economic and geopolitical sense. The "common economic space," of which the new Russian leaders spoke often, was a reality that could not be ignored by the leaders of the newly independent states. Cooperation, and even some integration, was an economic necessity. Thus, it was not only normal but desirable to promote joint CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] institutions in order to reverse the economic disruptions and fragmentation produced by the political breakup of the Soviet Union."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Turkey complicit in another war against another neighbour?

Despite the latest positive report of the IAEA on Iran' nuclear programme, efforts to launch a war against Iran are gathering pace.

Given the unpopularity of such a war, the big powers are keeping very quiet about it whilst using highly sophisticated methods to psychologically prepare their citizens.

At the same time, all we hear about Turkey in the Western European and North American mainstream media is the accession talks with the European Union, the conflict between the religious AKP government and the country’s secular establishment (including the military) and the cross-border operations into Northern Iraq.

Is there no connection between Turkey and this new threat of war? How does psychological preparation work in the case of Turkey?

What pressure are the leading NATO countries putting on the Turkish Government? How is the extra-parliamentary opposition reacting to the prospective next stage of the ‘Global War on Terror’?

THE ‘TRIPLE ALLIANCE’
In 2006, researcher Michel Chossudovsky commented on an alliance that was described earlier by the Middle East Report as ‘probably the greatest strategic move in the Clinton post-Cold War years’:

“Already during the Clinton Administration, a triangular military alliance between the US, Israel and Turkey had unfolded. This ‘triple alliance’ is … coupled with a strong bilateral military relationship between Tel Aviv and Ankara. Amply documented, Israel and Turkey are partners in the planned US aerial attacks on Iran, which have been in an advanced state of readiness since mid-2005.”
The recent state visits by the Israeli President Shimon Peres and the Israeli

Defence Minister Ehud Barak to Turkey were the clearest indication yet of this alliance against Iran.

STATE VISITS BY ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER BARAK AND PRESIDENT PERES
On board his plane on the way to Ankara on February 11, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said that he would present Turkey's top leadership with

Israeli intelligence reports on Iran’s nuclear plans:
“It is important to … try to convince [Turkey] of the facts.”

In the wake of this visit, the Israeli defence officials have given the following statements:
“Turkey was interested in acquiring a missile defense system in the face of Iran's continued race toward nuclear power.”

“All of the countries in the region understand that the Iranian threat is not just against Israel. Iran's long-range missiles can reach well beyond Israel.”

However, Barak had a different attitude towards Syria:
“Turkey has a natural role in certain mediation and has found a proper way to dialogue with Syria. There is respect for Turkey in both Syria and Lebanon. This respect should be used for blocking the flow of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah through Syria. We respect Syria but we also expect Syria to have respect for Israel's identity as well. You cannot impose peace. … It takes two willing parties.”

This statement should be seen as part of the divide-and-rule strategy of isolating Iran. As the leading NATO allies will not be able to attack Iran and Syria simultaneously, they need to break the strategic alliance between these two countries and go one step at a time.

Barak’s statements echoed those by the Israeli President Shimon Peres during his visit to Ankara in November last year.

Writer Kemal Camurcu analyses Peres’ speech at the Turkish Parliament to a committee with majority from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentarians:
“Peres was applauded by the AKP parliamentarians for saying ‘You don't realize and you don't understand, your real enemy is your next-door neighbour Iran!’. The purpose of his visit was to declare to the whole region that ‘There are the two trends in the region: Iran as a sponsor of terrorism and pro-peace Turkey’.

He declared it and received applause! Given his interviews, his speech in the Turkish Parliament and the news items on ‘intelligence-sharing’, it is plausible to argue that the sole purpose of Peres' visit was to explain to Ankara the ‘Iranian threat’.”

These statements were all the more significant considering that they were made at a time when the US, Israel and their European allies were desperate to get support for the Annapolis Conference in the face of widespread opposition to this initiative across the Arab World. However, this went largely unreported in the mainstream Turkish media. The Deputy Head of the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi) Mr Sevket Kazan explains the real agenda behind this conference:
“This war against Iran will be launched by the US and Israel with the support of Turkey. Once the power of these two has proved insufficient, the UK, France and finally NATO forces –including Turkey- will also get involved.”

US AND ISRAELI SUPPORT AGAINST THE KURDISH SEPARATIST PKK
At a joint press conference with his visiting Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak,

Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul said:
“We thank Israel for its support to Turkey in the defense industry. We thank Mr. Barak for sending equipment and devices that Turkey uses in the south-east and in cross border operations [against the PKK].”

In the run-up to this visit, alternative website Fikritakip made the following remark:
“For some time it has been striking that every evening Show TV has introduced at great length the ‘high-tech’ arms and defence systems provided by Israel to Turkey in the latter’s struggle with the PKK... This shows that the nationalist circles, which are thought to be anti-Israel, are in reality grateful to this country for its support against the PKK.”

The Turkish media reporting on the US support against the PKK was along the same lines and proved to be instrumental in dissipating the anti-American feelings across the Turkish population. In fact, until the US support began late last year, they were being accused by the Turkish mainstream media and politicians of not only turning a blind eye to the PKK’s use of violence, but also of providing covert support to it.

In a newspaper article, former parliamentarian Mehmet Bekaroglu asks the following question:
“Isn’t it strange that the US declares the PKK ‘a common enemy of Turkey, the United States and Iraq’, while also encouraging, or even arming, training and providing intelligence support to the same PKK under the name of PJAK, against another country in the region, namely Iran?”

Actually, this is not all that strange considering the divide-and-rule strategy of the US, the EU and Israel across the Muslim world based on the exploitation of all the existing hostilities and divisions. Until recently, they were simultaneously supporting the Turkish Armed Forces, the PKK and its sister organisation PJAK as well as the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. According to the Firat News Agency, the reason behind the US support is:
“An agreement made between the US, Turkey and the Federal Administration of South Kurdistan for the construction in South and North Kurdistan [i.e. Northern Iraq and South-eastern Turkey respectively] of two strategic US military bases targeting Iran.”

The base in Turkey is reportedly located in the Yuksekova district at the Iranian border. Needless to say, in the event of a war on Iran, the US and its leading NATO allies will be using all the bases on the Turkish territory at their disposal, including the secrets ones. It is important to bear in mind that the notorious US military base in Incirlik (Southern Turkey), which has played a crucial role in all the Anglo-American invasions in the Middle East in the post-cold war period, contains 90 nuclear warheads.

In retrospect, the rejection of the March 2003 parliamentary motion to allow US troops to use Turkish soil as a staging ground for an invasion of Iraq didn’t seem to have much of an impact as the US army clandestinely went ahead with its plans anyway.

THE MISSILE DEFENCE SYSTEM
“Turkey is playing a regional leadership role in the Middle East. Turkey's common borders with Iraq, Iran, and Syria provide an opportunity to advance peace and stability, fight proliferation of nuclear weapons, and defeat terrorists in a region that is now the epicenter of U.S. foreign policy.”
(US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Richard Burns, in the wake of his visit to Turkey in September 2007)

The Head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency General Henry Obering recently said:
“The United States hopes to put a third major antimissile component in Europe along with those under negotiation with Poland and the Czech Republic to counter Iran… The previously unannounced third leg in Europe … would be placed closer to Iran, which is speeding efforts to build ballistic missiles capable of delivering deadly weapons beyond the Middle East… The powerful, ‘forward based’ radar system would go in south-eastern Europe, possibly in Turkey, the Caucasus or the Caspian Sea region.”

Actually, ‘the previously unannounced third leg in Europe’ was announced back in March 2007 by the US Ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland:
“The defence system against long-range missiles of Iran and other countries … will cover most of the territories of the NATO members and there will be no need for a second system within NATO. But the threat of Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles is still present for countries like Turkey. In order to counter that, as USA and Turkey, we are working bilaterally as well as within the NATO framework.”

PRESSURE TO CUT ECONOMIC TIES WITH IRAN
Like Iran’s main trading partners in the EU, Turkey has been under heavy and ongoing US pressure to cut its economic ties with Iran:
“Turkey's recent conclusion of a memorandum on energy co-operation with Iran is troubling. Now is not the time for business as usual with Iran. We urge all of our friends and allies, including Turkey, to not reward Iran by investing in its oil and gas sector, while Iran continues to defy the United Nations Security Council by continuing its nuclear research for a weapons capability.”

In January this year, Stuart Levey, US Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, urged Turkey to be vigilant in its financial dealings with Iran:
“It is essential to share information to discuss risks ... and vigilance that is required in order to make sure that Turkey's financial institutions are not abused by Iranian financial institutions and Iranian state-owned banks.”

THE EUROPEAN UNION’S ‘SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP’ WITH TURKEY
The former German Foreign Affairs Minister Joschka Fischer made the following statement in October 2006:
“Turkey should be a security pillar for the European community, and the efforts to derail that relationship are impossibly short-sighted.”

Researcher Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya argues that:
”[The German] Chancellor Angela Merkel intensified her calls for the inclusion of Turkey within the framework of the E.U. through a ‘special relationship,’ but not as part of the actual European bloc. This also foreshadowed what Nicolas Sarkozy would later propose to the Turks.”

Columnist Umur Talu explains what this ‘special relationship’ entails:
“French Prime Minister Sarkozy, who ‘doesn't want Turkey in the EU’, but clings to the USA and Israel and ‘wants an attack on Iran’ will adopt a ‘carrots and sticks policy’ towards Turkey. In other words, he will use the EU as bait for our territory, airspace and bases.”

In fact, that Turkey became a NATO member in 1952, yet has been denied E.U. membership since the creation of the European Union is quite telling. The US and the leading EU countries have a common policy towards Turkey: They are using the PKK, accession to the EU, resolutions on the 1915 Armenian Genocide as trump cards to bring Turkish public opinion into line with the US and EU foreign policy goals.

The following statement by US Democrat Brad Sherman is rather odd given the joint US-Turkish complicity in the ongoing Afghan and Iraq genocides as well as the prospect of another genocide in Iran:
“For if we hope to stop future genocides we need to admit to those horrific acts of the past.”

After all, the world’s leading powers are quite adept at using past genocides/mass murders as an excuse to carry out their own genocides.

‘TURKISH GLADIO’ STILL AT WORK
Daniele Ganser, the author of ‘NATO's Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe’ (I), explains an ongoing pattern across the NATO member countries:
“During the last 50 years the United States have organized bombings in Western Europe, [Greece and Turkey] that they have falsely been attributed to the left and the extreme left with the purpose of discrediting them in the eyes of their voters. This strategy is still present today, inspiring fear of Islam and justifying wars over oil.”

Since the beginning of 2007, bombings, assassinations, murders, foiled plots, ultimatums to the government by the armed forces, constant speculation of an imminent coup, inland and cross-border warfare with the PKK, ‘colour revolutions’ (II) style staged democracy demonstrations, high-profile police operations, new anti-terror legislation have dominated Turkish public opinion.
“The detention in Istanbul [in late January] of alleged members of a shadowy Turkish ultranationalist group has revived charges that elements within the Turkish security apparatus have long tried to destabilize the country through a campaign of bombings and assassinations. These allegedly include false flag operations [III] that have been attributed to Kurdish separatists and violent Islamists [sic] .”

The assassination of the leftist investigative journalist and columnist Ugur Mumcu in 1993 was seen by Turkey's secular establishment, media and armed forces as an opportunity to galvanize anti-Islamic feelings in general and anti-Iranian feelings in particular. The assassination was blamed on Iran, who allegedly used the (Turkish) Hezbollah as a pawn.

In reality, the (Turkish) Sunni Hezbollah has very little in common with its namesake in Lebanon and it is an established fact that this group was created and used by Turkey's paramilitary establishment against the PKK during the 1990s. In fact, on the 15th anniversary of the assassination last month, Mumcu’s solicitor brother Ceyhan Mumcu made the following call to the public:
“Let's be careful from now on and do not claim that Ugur Mumcu was murdered by Iran. Although I've been reiterating this point frequently, unfortunately some people are still giving statements to the contrary to the press. According to my research, US took the decision to murder him in May 1992.”
Recently, news items on (Turkish) Hezbollah have once again started appearing in the Turkish media. There are grounds to interpret this as part of a subtle psychological operation to set Turkish public opinion against Iran.

AL QAEDA-MONGERING
In the last two months there has also been an increase in Al Qaeda related news reports:
“The security establishment has received specific intelligence information according to which al-Qaeda cells that have infiltrated Turkey and are planning to carry out terror attacks on Israeli targets and sites affiliated with the United States… Fresh security guidelines have been relayed to Israeli government agencies and businesses operating throughout Turkey in light of the threat.”
These were followed by anti-terror operations throughout the country. The threat was echoed by US Attorney General Michael Mukasey in the wake of his visit to Ankara this month:
“We are watching Al Qaeda closely. And we have seen in the recent period that they have increased their activities in Turkey… It appeared as though Al Qaeda may have chosen Turkey as a base.”

Back in November 2003, researcher Michel Chossudovsky wrote that the bomb attacks on the British consulate and the HSBC bank headquarters in Istanbul coincided with President George Bush’s visit to London, which took place the day following the completion of the annual Turkish-US Joint Defense Group meeting in Williamsburg, US :
”The attacks have created conditions for a more active role of Turkey in the Iraqi war theatre… The Istanbul bombings also serve to uphold the shaky legitimacy of Prime Minister Tony Blair in the face of mounting political opposition to Britain's' participation in the US led war.”

It looks like a similar strategy is at work in the face of another threat of war. As in the case of (Turkish) Hezbollah, it doesn’t really matter whether Al Qaeda has any connection whatsoever with Iran. This is all conflated Islamophobia and racism stoking the fire for war.

IRANOPHOBIA OF THE TURKISH MEDIA
Titled PKK’s tank or Iran’s atomic bomb?’, Kadri Gursel’s article gives a perfect example of the anti-Iranian propaganda of the Turkish media:
“Iran provided the PKK with shelter and logistical support in the 1990's, which was a period when Turkey had a close regional cooperation with the US; it fomented terrorism by using a wing of Hezbollah and openly supported Islamic movements through its diplomatic representatives. Murderers trained by Iran killed our intellectuals. Iran did all that to destabilize Turkey, whom it sees as a natural opponent.

Once Iran conducts its first nuclear test, it will become a super-power on the scale of the range of its missiles. Then it is expected to behave even more recklessly as it will have the ability to back its aggressive foreign policy with a shield of nuclear deterrence.”

It is worth bearing in mind that there has been no war between the two countries since the signing of the Qasr-e-Shirin Peace Treaty in 1639.
In a recent newspaper interview, former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel mentions another typical argument against Iran:
“They keep asking me: What is happening to us? Are we becoming like Iran? Where are we heading towards? Will these individual changes eventually turn us into an Iran? That’s the concern. The nation is anxious and frightened of the prospect of a counter-revolution.”

In her open letter published in the Turkish daily Milliyet, Handan Haktanir, wife of Turkey’s ambassador to Tehran in 1991-94, gives a dire warning to Turkish women:
“against certain regulations adopted in the name of freedom in an extremely innocent manner, but then pave the way for a much more repressive regime. According to my Iranian female friends, starting with the introduction of a compulsory wearing of hijab in schools, it took three years for this insidious and gradual process to be completed and then it was too late.”

The ad-nauseam debate on the wearing of head-scarves in public and the secular nature of the Turkish state seem to have an underlying motive of stoking hostility against Iran. In fact, barring some exceptions, even the religious extra-parliamentary opposition and media are at best ignoring the threat against Iran and at worst raising concern about Iran’s increasing sphere of influence in Iraq/the Middle East and its threat against Turkey’s national interests. Sunni prejudices against the predominantly Shia Iran certainly play a role too. As for the various shades of the left-wing extra-parliamentary opposition and media, exceptions apart, they don’t do much other than paying lip service to Iraq, Palestine and Guantanamo Bay.

So, what is the impact of all these manipulations of Turkish citizens? The whole society is extremely polarised along ethnic, sectarian and class identities, showing excessive intolerance and mistrust to each other, in a state of fear and confusion, largely desensitised to the ongoing wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan (let alone anywhere else) and oblivious to the approaching threat against its two other neighbours, namely Iran and Syria. In short, Operation Gladio’s age-old ‘strategy of tension’ (IV) has proved to be quite effective.

NEXT BIG STEP TOWARDS THE WAR: CHENEY’S VISIT IN MARCH
The Turkish daily Hurriyet reported Dick Cheney’s forthcoming visit with the title ‘Cheney will come for the Mullahs’:
“Iran’s ‘nuclear’ threat is the reason behind the US Vice President Dick Cheney’s plans to visit Turkey … During his visit in March, Dick Cheney will be giving ‘serious’ messages on Iran… He will say: ‘Iran is a very serious threat. Help us and support us’.”

The Turkish daily Aksam’s columnist Nagehan Alci expresses concern about this visit:
“Cheney’s last visit was in 2002 in the run up to the Iraq war to ask support from Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit for the war. He was on a big tour in the Middle East to test the mood about the war… If this visit materialises, then Cheney will be discussing the support provided by Turkish troops in Afghanistan and the situation in Iraq.

But the main issue will be Iran. Cheney might give the signal that the option of a military intervention in Iran is on the table, but will not be talking openly about these plans. Instead, he will mention the sanctions that they want to pass at the UN Security Council. He will emphasize the need to isolate Iran and warn that Iran’s nuclear power threatens Turkey as well. (He gave a similar warning [against Iraq] in 2002).”

In the run up to the Iraq war, there was overwhelming unity in Turkey against the war, estimated to encompass 90-95 % of Turkish citizens. A war against Iran will probably be very unpopular as well, but this time it appears that the Turkish citizens appear to be too distracted and divided to take the threat seriously until the last minute, while the parliament indulges in a conspiracy of silence. Hence this paper is an attempt to redress the information deficit and highlight especially the psychological operations being directed at Turkey to pave the way for conflict with Iran, so that the Turkish and world public perceive the danger and act in time to avert it. Circulation to all interested and concerned parties is encouraged.

GLOSSARY
(I) Operation Gladio: Originally set up as a network of clandestine cells to be activated behind the lines in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, Gladio quickly expanded into a tool for political repression and manipulation, directed by NATO and Washington. Using right-wing militias, underworld figures, government provocateurs and secret military units, Gladio not only carried out widespread terrorism, assassinations and electoral subversion in democratic states such as Italy, France and West Germany, but also bolstered fascist tyrannies in Spain and Portugal, abetted the military coup in Greece and aided Turkey's repression of the Kurds.

(II) colour revolutions: Burma’s “Saffron Revolution,” like the Ukraine “Orange Revolution” or the Georgia “Rose Revolution” and the various colour revolutions instigated in recent years against strategic states surrounding Russia, is a well-orchestrated exercise in Washington-run regime change, down to the details of “hit-and-run” protests with “swarming” mobs of Buddhists in saffron, internet blogs, mobile SMS links between protest groups, well-organized protest cells which disperse and reform.

(III) false flag operations: Covert opeartions conducted by governments, corporations, or other organizations, which are designed to appear as if they are being carried out by other entities. The name is derived from the military concept of flying false colours; that is, flying the flag of a country other than one's own. False flag operations are not limited to war and counter-insurgency operations, and have been used in peace-time; for example, during Italy’s strategy of tension.

(IV) strategy of tension: A way to control and manipulate public opinion by using fear, propaganda, disinformation, psychological warfare, agents provocateurs, as well as false flag terrorist actions. According to historian Daniele Ganser, “It is a tactic which consists in committing bombings and attributing them to others. By the term 'tension' one refers to emotional tension, to what creates a sentiment of fear. By the term 'strategy' one refers to what feeds the fear of the people towards one particular group"

by Cem Ertür
http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/4153

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tibet: "Not You! You!!!"

"Hey! Take your hands off me! Not you! You!!!" - the voice of a young woman in the darkened cinema, an old joke.

"Hey! Take your hands off Tibet!" the international chorus is crying out, "But not from Chechnya! Not from the Basque homeland! And certainly not from Palestine!" And that is not a joke.

LIKE EVERYBODY else, I support the right of the Tibetan people to independence, or at least autonomy. Like everybody else, I condemn the actions of the Chinese government there. But unlike everybody else, I am not ready to join in the demonstrations.

Why? Because I have an uneasy feeling that somebody is washing my brain, that what is going on is an exercise in hypocrisy.

I don't mind a bit of manipulation. After all, it is not by accident that the riots started in Tibet on the eve of the Olympic Games in Beijing. That's alright. A people fighting for their freedom have the right to use any opportunity that presents itself to further their struggle.

I support the Tibetans in spite of it being obvious that the Americans are exploiting the struggle for their own purposes. Clearly, the CIA has planned and organized the riots, and the American media are leading the world-wide campaign. It is a part of the hidden struggle between the US, the reigning super-power, and China, the rising super-power - a new version of the "Great Game" that was played in central Asia in the 19th century by the British Empire and Russia. Tibet is a token in this game.

I am even ready to ignore the fact that the gentle Tibetans have carried out a murderous pogrom against innocent Chinese, killing women and men and burning homes and shops. Such detestable excesses do happen during a liberation struggle.

No, what is really bugging me is the hypocrisy of the world media. They storm and thunder about Tibet. In thousands of editorials and talk-shows they heap curses and invective on the evil China. It seems as if the Tibetans are the only people on earth whose right to independence is being denied by brutal force, that if only Beijing would take its dirty hands off the saffron-robed monks, everything would be alright in this, the best of all possible worlds.

THERE IS no doubt that the Tibetan people are entitled to rule their own country, to nurture their unique culture, to promote their religious institutions and to prevent foreign settlers from submerging them.

But are not the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria entitled to the same? The inhabitants of Western Sahara, whose territory is occupied by Morocco? The Basques in Spain? The Corsicans off the coast of France? And the list is long.

Why do the world's media adopt one independence struggle, but often cynically ignore another independence struggle? What makes the blood of one Tibetan redder than the blood of a thousand Africans in East Congo?

Again and again I try to find a satisfactory answer to this enigma. In vain.

Immanuel Kant demanded of us: "Act as if the principle by which you act were about to be turned into a universal law of nature." (Being a German philosopher, he expressed it in much more convoluted language.) Does the attitude towards the Tibetan problem conform to this rule? Does it reflect our attitude towards the struggle for independence of all other oppressed peoples?

Not at all.

WHAT, THEN, causes the international media to discriminate between the various liberation struggles that are going on throughout the world?

Here are some of the relevant considerations:

*
Do the people seeking independence have an especially exotic culture?
*
Are they an attractive people, i.e. "sexy" in the view of the media?
*
Is the struggle headed by a charismatic personality who is liked by the media?
*
It the oppressing government disliked by the media?
*
Does the oppressing government belong to the pro-American camp? This is an important factor, since the United States dominates a large part of the international media, and its news agencies and TV networks largely define the agenda and the terminology of the news coverage.
*
Are economic interests involved in the conflict?
*
Does the oppressed people have gifted spokespersons, who are able to attract attention and manipulate the media?

FROM THESE points of view, there is nobody like the Tibetans. They enjoy ideal conditions.

Fringed by the Himalayas, they are located in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. For centuries, just to get there was an adventure. Their unique religion arouses curiosity and sympathy. Its non-violence is very attractive and elastic enough to cover even the ugliest atrocities, like the recent pogrom. The exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, is a romantic figure, a media rock-star. The Chinese regime is hated by many - by capitalists because it is a Communist dictatorship, by Communists because it has become capitalist. It promotes a crass and ugly materialism, the very opposite of the spiritual Buddhist monks, who spend their time in prayer and meditation.

When China builds a railway to the Tibetan capital over a thousand inhospitable kilometers, the West does not admire the engineering feat, but sees (quite rightly) an iron monster that brings hundreds of thousands of Han-Chinese settlers to the occupied territory.

And of course, China is a rising power, whose economic success threatens America's hegemony in the world. A large part of the ailing American economy already belongs directly or indirectly to China. The huge American Empire is sinking hopelessly into debt, and China may soon be the biggest lender. American manufacturing industry is moving to China, taking millions of jobs with it.

Compared to these factors, what have the Basques, for example, to offer? Like the Tibetans, they inhabit a contiguous territory, most of it in Spain, some of it in France. They, too, are an ancient people with their own language and culture. But these are not exotic and do not attract special notice. No prayer wheels. No robed monks.

The Basques do not have a romantic leader, like Nelson Mandela or the Dalai Lama. The Spanish state, which arose from the ruins of Franco's detested dictatorship, enjoys great popularity around the world. Spain belongs to the European Union, which is more or less in the American camp, sometimes more, sometimes less.

The armed struggle of the Basque underground is abhorred by many and is considered "terrorism", especially after Spain has accorded the Basques a far-reaching autonomy. In these circumstances, the Basques have no chance at all of gaining world support for independence.

The Chechnyans should have been in a better position. They, too, are a separate people, who have for a long time been oppressed by the Czars of the Russian Empire, including Stalin and Putin. But alas, they are Muslims - and in the Western world, Islamophobia now occupies the place that had for centuries been reserved for anti-Semitism. Islam has turned into a synonym for terrorism, it is seen as a religion of blood and murder. Soon it will be revealed that Muslims slaughter Christian children and use their blood for baking Pitta. (In reality it is, of course, the religion of dozens of vastly different peoples, from Indonesia to Morocco and from Kosova to Zanzibar.

The US does not fear Moscow as it fears Beijing. Unlike China, Russia does not look like a country that could dominate the 21st century. The West has no interest in renewing the Cold War, as it has in renewing the Crusades against Islam. The poor Chechnyans, who have no charismatic leader or outstanding spokespersons, have been banished from the headlines. For all the world cares, Putin can hit them as much as he wants, kill thousands and obliterate whole towns.

That does not prevent Putin from supporting the demands of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for separation from Georgia, a country which infuriates Russia.

IF IMMANUEL KANT knew what's going on in Kosova, he would be scratching his head.

The province demanded its independence from Serbia, and I, for one, supported that with all my heart. This is a separate people, with a different culture (Albanian) and its own religion (Islam). After the popular Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, tried to drive them out of their country, the world rose and provided moral and material support for their struggle for independence.

The Albanian Kosovars make up 90% of the citizens of the new state, which has a population of two million. The other 10% are Serbs, who want no part of the new Kosova. They want the areas they live in to be annexed to Serbia. According to Kant's maxim, are they entitled to this?

I would propose a pragmatic moral principle: Every population that inhabits a defined territory and has a clear national character is entitled to independence. A state that wants to keep such a population must see to it that they feel comfortable, that they receive their full rights, enjoy equality and have an autonomy that satisfies their aspirations. In short: that they have no reason to desire separation.

That applies to the French in Canada, the Scots in Britain, the Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere, the various ethnic groups in Africa, the indigenous peoples in Latin America, the Tamils in Sri Lanka and many others. Each has a right to choose between full equality, autonomy and independence.

THIS LEADS us, of course, to the Palestinian issue.

In the competition for the sympathy of the world media, the Palestinians are unlucky. According to all the objective standards, they have a right to full independence, exactly like the Tibetans. They inhabit a defined territory, they are a specific nation, a clear border exists between them and Israel. One must really have a crooked mind to deny these facts.

But the Palestinians are suffering from several cruel strokes of fate: The people that oppress them claim for themselves the crown of ultimate victimhood. The whole world sympathizes with the Israelis because the Jews were the victims of the most horrific crime of the Western world. That creates a strange situation: the oppressor is more popular than the victim. Anyone who supports the Palestinians is automatically suspected of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Also, the great majority of the Palestinians are Muslims (nobody pays attention to the Palestinian Christians). Since Islam arouses fear and abhorrence in the West, the Palestinian struggle has automatically become a part of that shapeless, sinister threat, "international terrorism". And since the murders of Yasser Arafat and Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Palestinians have no particularly impressive leader - neither in Fatah nor in Hamas.

The world media are shedding tears for the Tibetan people, whose land is taken from them by Chinese settlers. Who cares about the Palestinians, whose land is taken from them by our settlers?

In the world-wide tumult about Tibet, the Israeli spokespersons compare themselves - strange as it sounds - to the poor Tibetans, not to the evil Chinese. Many think this quite logical.

If Kant were dug up tomorrow and asked about the Palestinians, he would probably answer: "Give them what you think should be given to everybody, and don't wake me up again to ask silly questions."

By Uri Avnery

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Lack of muslim women's rights, not Islamic.

It is bewildering why the religion that had revolutionized the status of women is being singled out and denigrated as so repressive of women. This perception about Islam is one of the most widespread myths in our world today. This myth is being perpetuated by a ceaseless barrage of sensational books, articles, media images, and Hollywood movies. The inevitable outcome of these incessant misleading images has been total misunderstanding and fear of anything related to Islam. This negative portrayal of Islam in the world media has to end if we are to live in a world free from all traces of discrimination, prejudice, and misunderstanding. Non-Muslims ought to realize the existence of a wide gap between Muslims' beliefs and practices and the simple fact that the actions of Muslims do not necessarily represent Islam. To label the status of women in the Muslim world today as "Islamic" is as far from the truth as labeling the position of women in the West today as "Judaeo-Christian". With this understanding in mind, Islam should be viewed as a religion that had immensely improved the status of women and had granted them many rights that the modern world has recognized only this century. Islam still has so much to offer today's woman: dignity, respect, and protection in all aspects and all stages of her life from birth until death in addition to the recognition, the balance, and means for the fulfillment of all her spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional needs. No wonder most of those who choose to become Muslims in a country like Britain are women. In the U.S. women converts to Islam outnumber male converts 4 to 1.

The Toronto Star issue of July 3, 1990 had an article titled "Islam is not alone in patriarchal doctrines", by Gwynne Dyer. The article described the furious reactions of the participants of a conference on women and power held in Montreal to the comments of the famous Egyptian feminist Dr. Nawal Saadawi. Her "politically incorrect" statements included: "the most restrictive elements towards women can be found first in Judaism in the Old Testament then in Christianity and then in the Quran"; "all religions are patriarchal because they stem from patriarchal societies"; and "veiling of women is not a specifically Islamic practice but an ancient cultural heritage with analogies in sister religions". The participants could not bear sitting around while their faiths were being equated with Islam. Thus, Dr. Saadawi received a barrage of criticism. "Dr. Saadawi's comments are unacceptable. Her answers reveal a lack of understanding about other people's faiths," declared Bernice Dubois of the World Movement of Mothers. "I must protest" said panelist Alice Shalvi of Israel women's network, "there is no conception of the veil in Judaism." The article attributed these furious protests to the strong tendency in the West to scapegoat Islam for practices that are just as much a part of the West's own cultural heritage. "Christian and Jewish feminists were not going to sit around being discussed in the same category as those wicked Muslims," wrote Gwynne Dyer.

Were the statements made by Saadawi, or any of her critics, factual? In other words, do Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have the same conception of women? Are they different in their conceptions? Do Judaism and Christianity, truly, offer women a better treatment than Islam does? What is the Truth?

I would like to emphasize in this introduction that my purpose for this study is not to denigrate Judaism or Christianity. As Muslims, we believe in the divine origins of both. No one can be a Muslim without believing in Moses and Jesus as great prophets of God. My goal is only to vindicate Islam and pay a tribute, long overdue in the West, to the final truthful Message from God to the human race. I would also like to emphasize that I concerned myself only with Doctrine. That is, my concern is, mainly, the position of women in the three religions as it appears in their original sources not as practiced by their millions of followers in the world today. Therefore, most of the evidence cited comes from the Quran, the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, the Bible, the Talmud, and the sayings of some of the most influential Church Fathers whose views have contributed immeasurably to defining and shaping Christianity. This interest in the sources relates to the fact that understanding a certain religion from the attitudes and the behaviour of some of its nominal followers is misleading. Many people confuse culture with religion, many others do not know what their religious books are saying, and many others do not even care.

Eve's Fault
The three religions agree on one basic fact: Both women and men are created by God, The Creator of the whole universe. However, disagreement starts soon after the creation of the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve. The Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam and Eve is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, he put all the blame on Eve, "The woman you put here with me --she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it." Consequently, God said to Eve:

"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you."

To Adam He said:

"Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree .... Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life..."

The Islamic conception of the first creation is found in several places in the Quran, for example:

"O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: 'Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.' And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: 'Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?' They said: 'Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost' " (7:19:23).

A careful look into the two accounts of the story of the Creation reveals some essential differences. The Quran, contrary to the Bible, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistake. Nowhere in the Quran can one find even the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Eve in the Quran is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not to be blamed for the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Quran, punishes no one for another's faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.

Eve's Legacy
The image of Eve as temptress in the Bible has resulted in an extremely negative impact on women throughout the Judaeo-Christian tradition. All women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile. Consequently, they were all untrustworthy, morally inferior, and wicked. Menstruation, pregnancy, and childbearing were considered the just punishment for the eternal guilt of the cursed female sex. In order to appreciate how negative the impact of the Biblical Eve was on all her female descendants we have to look at the writings of some of the most important Jews and Christians of all time. Let us start with the Old Testament and look at excerpts from what is called the Wisdom Literature in which we find:

"I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare....while I was still searching but not finding, I found one upright man among a thousand but not one upright woman among them all" (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28).

In another part of the Hebrew literature which is found in the Catholic Bible we read:

"No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman.....Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die" (Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24).

Jewish Rabbis listed nine curses inflicted on women as a result of the Fall:

"To the woman He gave nine curses and death: the burden of the blood of menstruation and the blood of virginity; the burden of pregnancy; the burden of childbirth; the burden of bringing up the children; her head is covered as one in mourning; she pierces her ear like a permanent slave or slave girl who serves her master; she is not to be believed as a witness; and after everything--death."

To the present day, orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer recite "Blessed be God King of the universe that Thou has not made me a woman." The women, on the other hand, thank God every morning for "making me according to Thy will." Another prayer found in many Jewish prayer books: "Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile. Praised be God that he has not created me a woman. Praised be God that he has not created me an ignoramus."

The Biblical Eve has played a far bigger role in Christianity than in Judaism. Her sin has been pivotal to the whole Christian faith because the Christian conception of the reason for the mission of Jesus Christ on Earth stems from Eve's disobedience to God. She had sinned and then seduced Adam to follow her suit. Consequently, God expelled both of them from Heaven to Earth, which had been cursed because of them. They bequeathed their sin, which had not been forgiven by God, to all their descendants and, thus, all humans are born in sin. In order to purify human beings from their 'original sin', God had to sacrifice Jesus, who is considered to be the Son of God, on the cross. Therefore, Eve is responsible for her own mistake, her husband's sin, the original sin of all humanity, and the death of the Son of God. In other words, one woman acting on her own caused the fall of humanity. What about her daughters? They are sinners like her and have to be treated as such. Listen to the severe tone of St. Paul in the New Testament:

"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don't permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" (I Timothy 2:11-14).

St. Tertullian was even blunter than St. Paul, while he was talking to his 'best beloved sisters' in the faith, he said:

"Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die."

St. Augustine was faithful to the legacy of his predecessors, he wrote to a friend:

"What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman......I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children."

Centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas still considered women as defective:

"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence."

Finally, the renowned reformer Martin Luther could not see any benefit from a woman but bringing into the world as many children as possible regardless of any side effects:

"If they become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are there"

Again and again all women are denigrated because of the image of Eve the temptress, thanks to the Genesis account. To sum up, the Judaeo-Christian conception of women has been poisoned by the belief in the sinful nature of Eve and her female offspring.

If we now turn our attention to what the Quran has to say about women, we will soon realize that the Islamic conception of women is radically different from the Judaeo-Christian one. Let the Quran speak for itself:

"For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise-- For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward" (33:35).

"The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise" (9:71).

"And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another" (3:195).

"Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss" (40:40).

"Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions" (16:97).

It is clear that the Quranic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are God's creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly. The Quran never mentions that the woman is the devil's gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. The Quran, also, never mentions that man is God's image; all men and all women are his creatures, that is all. According to the Quran, a woman's role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Quran never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Quran has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharaoh’s wife:

"And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: 'O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.' And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout" (66:11-13).

Shameful Daughters
In fact, the difference between the Biblical and the Quranic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother's ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that:

"The birth of a daughter is a loss" (Ecclesiasticus 22:3).

In contrast to this shocking statement, boys receive special praise:

"A man who educates his son will be the envy of his enemy." (Ecclesiasticus 30:3)

Jewish Rabbis made it an obligation on Jewish men to produce offspring in order to propagate the race. At the same time, they did not hide their clear preference for male children: "It is well for those whose children are male but ill for those whose are female", "At the birth of a boy, all are joyful...at the birth of a girl all are sorrowful", and "When a boy comes into the world, peace comes into the world... When a girl comes, nothing comes."

A daughter is considered a painful burden, a potential source of shame to her father:

"Your daughter is headstrong? Keep a sharp look-out that she does not make you the laughing stock of your enemies, the talk of the town, the object of common gossip, and put you to public shame" (Ecclesiasticus 42:11).

"Keep a headstrong daughter under firm control, or she will abuse any indulgence she receives. Keep a strict watch on her shameless eye, do not be surprised if she disgraces you" (Ecclesiasticus 26:10-11).

It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Quran severely condemned this heinous practice:

"When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?" (16:59).

It has to be mentioned that this sinister crime would have never stopped in Arabia were it not for the power of the scathing terms the Quran used to condemn this practice (16:59, 43:17, 81:8-9). The Quran, moreover, makes no distinction between boys and girls. In contrast to the Bible, the Quran considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Quran even mentions the gift of the female birth first:

" To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills" (42:49).

In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly:

"He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire" (Bukhari and Muslim).

"Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers" (Muslim).

Female Education
The difference between the Biblical and the Quranic conceptions of women is not limited to the newly born female, it extends far beyond that. Let us compare their attitudes towards a female trying to learn her religion. The heart of Judaism is the Torah, the law. However, according to the Talmud, "women are exempt from the study of the Torah." Some Jewish Rabbis firmly declared "Let the words of Torah rather be destroyed by fire than imparted to women", and "Whoever teaches his daughter Torah is as though he taught her obscenity"

The attitude of St. Paul in the New Testament is not brighter:

"As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (I Corinthians 14:34-35)

How can a woman learn if she is not allowed to speak? How can a woman grow intellectually if she is obliged to be in a state of full submission? How can she broaden her horizons if her one and only source of information is her husband at home?

Now, to be fair, we should ask: is the Quranic position any different? One short story narrated in the Quran sums its position up concisely. Khawlah was a Muslim woman whose husband Aws pronounced this statement at a moment of anger: "You are to me as the back of my mother." This was held by pagan Arabs to be a statement of divorce which freed the husband from any conjugal responsibility but did not leave the wife free to leave the husband's home or to marry another man. Having heard these words from her husband, Khawlah was in a miserable situation. She went straight to the Prophet of Islam to plead her case. The Prophet was of the opinion that she should be patient since there seemed to be no way out. Khawla kept arguing with the Prophet in an attempt to save her suspended marriage. Shortly, the Quran intervened; Khawla's plea was accepted. The divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom. One full chapter (Chapter 58) of the Quran whose title is "Almujadilah" or "The woman who is arguing" was named after this incident:

"Allah has heard and accepted the statement of the woman who pleads with you (the Prophet) concerning her husband and carries her complaint to Allah, and Allah hears the arguments between both of you for Allah hears and sees all things...." (58:1).

A woman in the Quranic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.

Unclean Impure Women
Jewish laws and regulations concerning menstruating women are extremely restrictive. The Old Testament considers any menstruating woman as unclean and impure. Moreover, her impurity "infects" others as well. Anyone or anything she touches becomes unclean for a day:

"When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches her bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever touches anything she sits on must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, he will be unclean till evening" (Lev. 15:19-23).

Due to her "contaminating" nature, a menstruating woman was sometimes "banished" in order to avoid any possibility of any contact with her. She was sent to a special house called "the house of uncleanness" for the whole period of her impurity. he Talmud considers a menstruating woman "fatal" even without any physical contact:

"Our Rabbis taught:....if a menstruant woman passes between two (men), if it is at the beginning of her menses she will slay one of them, and if it is at the end of her menses she will cause strife between them" (bPes. 111a.)

Furthermore, the husband of a menstruous woman was forbidden to enter the synagogue if he had been made unclean by her even by the dust under her feet. A priest whose wife, daughter, or mother was menstruating could not recite priestly blessing in the synagogue. No wonder many Jewish women still refer to menstruation as "the curse."

Islam does not consider a menstruating woman to possess any kind of "contagious uncleanness". She is neither "untouchable" nor "cursed." She practices her normal life with only one restriction: A married couple is not allowed to have sexual intercourse during the period of menstruation. Any other physical contact between them is permissible. A menstruating woman is exempted from some rituals such as daily prayers and fasting during her period.

Bearing Witness
Another issue in which the Quran and the Bible disagree is the issue of women bearing witness. It is true that the Quran has instructed the believers dealing in financial transactions to get two male witnesses or one male and two females (2:282). However, it is also true that the Quran in other situations accepts the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man. In fact the woman's testimony can even invalidate the man's. If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, he is required by the Quran to solemnly swear five times as evidence of the wife's guilt. If the wife denies and swears similarly five times, she is not considered guilty and in either case the marriage is dissolved (24:6-11).

On the other hand, women were not allowed to bear witness in early Jewish society. The Rabbis counted women's not being able to bear witness among the nine curses inflicted upon all women because of the Fall Women in today's Israel are not allowed to give evidence in Rabbinical courts. The Rabbis justify why women cannot bear witness by citing Genesis 18:9-16, where it is stated that Sara, Abraham's wife had lied. The Rabbis use this incident as evidence that women are unqualified to bear witness. It should be noted here that this story narrated in Genesis 18:9-16 has been mentioned more than once in the Quran without any hint of any lies by Sara (11:69-74, 51:24-30). In the Christian West, both ecclesiastical and civil law debarred women from giving testimony until late last century.

If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, her testimony will not be considered at all according to the Bible. The accused wife has to be subjected to a trial by ordeal. In this trial, the wife faces a complex and humiliating ritual which was supposed to prove her guilt or innocence (Num. 5:11-31). If she is found guilty after this ordeal, she will be sentenced to death. If she is found not guilty, her husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing.

Besides, if a man takes a woman as a wife and then accuses her of not being a virgin, her own testimony will not count. Her parents had to bring evidence of her virginity before the elders of the town. If the parents could not prove the innocence of their daughter, she would be stoned to death on her father's doorsteps. If the parents were able to prove her innocence, the husband would only be fined one hundred shekels of silver and he could not divorce his wife as long as he lived:

"If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, 'I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,' then the girl's father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. The girl's father will say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said I did not find your daughter to be a virgin. But here is the proof of my daughter's virginity.' Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl's father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of the town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you." (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

Adultery
Adultery is considered a sin in all religions. The Bible decrees the death sentence for both the adulterer and the adulteress (Lev. 20:10). Islam also equally punishes both the adulterer and the adulteress (24:2). However, the Quranic definition of adultery is very different from the Biblical definition. Adultery, according to the Quran, is the involvement of a married man or a married woman in an extramarital affair. The Bible only considers the extramarital affair of a married woman as adultery (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22, Proverbs 6:20-7:27).

"If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel" (Deut. 22:22).

"If a man commits adultery with another man's wife both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death" (Lev. 20:10).

According to the Biblical definition, if a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, this is not considered a crime at all. The married man who has extramarital affairs with unmarried women is not an adulterer and the unmarried women involved with him are not adulteresses. The crime of adultery is committed only when a man, whether married or single, sleeps with a married woman. In this case the man is considered adulterer, even if he is not married, and the woman is considered adulteress. In short, adultery is any illicit sexual intercourse involving a married woman. The extramarital affair of a married man is not per se a crime in the Bible. Why is the dual moral standard? According to Encyclopaedia Judaica, the wife was considered to be the husband's possession and adultery constituted a violation of the husband's exclusive right to her; the wife as the husband's possession had no such right to him. That is, if a man had sexual intercourse with a married woman, he would be violating the property of another man and, thus, he should be punished.

To the present day in Israel, if a married man indulges in an extramarital affair with an unmarried woman, his children by that woman are considered legitimate. But, if a married woman has an affair with another man, whether married or not married, her children by that man are not only illegitimate but they are considered bastards and are forbidden to marry any other Jews except converts and other bastards. This ban is handed down to the children's descendants for 10 generations until the taint of adultery is presumably weakened.

The Quran, on the other hand, never considers any woman to be the possession of any man. The Quran eloquently describes the relationship between the spouses by saying:

"And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: verily in that are signs for those who reflect" (30:21).

This is the Quranic conception of marriage: love, mercy, and tranquility, not possession and double standards.

Vows
According to the Bible, a man must fulfill any vows he might make to God. He must not break his word. On the other hand, a woman's vow is not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a father/husband does not endorse his daughter's/wife's vows, all pledges made by her become null and void:

"But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand ....Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself" (Num. 30:2-15)

Why is it that a woman's word is not binding per se ? The answer is simple: because she is owned by her father, before marriage, or by her husband after marriage. The father's control over his daughter was absolute to the extent that, should he wish, he could sell her! It is indicated in the writings of the Rabbis that: "The man may sell his daughter, but the woman may not sell her daughter; the man may betroth his daughter, but the woman may not betroth her daughter." The Rabbinic literature also indicates that marriage represents the transfer of control from the father to the husband: "betrothal, making a woman the sacrosanct possession--the inviolable property-- of the husband..." Obviously, if the woman is considered to be the property of someone else, she cannot make any pledges that her owner does not approve of.

It is of interest to note that this Biblical instruction concerning women's vows has had negative repercussions on Judaeo-Christian women till early in this century. A married woman in the Western world had no legal status. No act of hers was of any legal value. Her husband could repudiate any contract, bargain, or deal she had made. Women in the West (the largest heir of the Judaeo-Christian legacy) were held unable to make a binding contract because they were practically owned by someone else. Western women had suffered for almost two thousand years because of the Biblical attitude towards women's position vis-à-vis their fathers and husbands.

In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else. Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be expiated as indicated in the Quran:

"He [God] will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep your oaths" (5:89).

Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, men and women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally. Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths:

"O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful" (60:12).

A man could not swear the oath on behalf of his daughter or his wife. Nor could a man repudiate the oath made by any of his female relatives.

Wife’s Property

The three religions share an unshakeable belief in the importance of marriage and family life. They also agree on the leadership of the husband over the family. Nevertheless, blatant differences do exist among the three religions with respect to the limits of this leadership.
The Judaeo-Christian tradition, unlike Islam, virtually extends the leadership of the husband into ownership of his wife.
The Jewish tradition regarding the husband's role towards his wife stems from the conception that he owns her as he owns his slave. This conception has been the reason behind the double standard in the laws of adultery and behind the husband's ability to annul his wife's vows. This conception has also been responsible for denying the wife any control over her property or her earnings. As soon as a Jewish woman got married, she completely lost any control over her property and earnings to her husband. Jewish Rabbis asserted the husband's right to his wife's property as a corollary of his possession of her:

"Since one has come into the possession of the woman does it not follow that he should come into the possession of her property too?", and "Since he has acquired the woman should he not acquire also her property?"

Thus, marriage caused the richest woman to become practically penniless. The Talmud describes the financial situation of a wife as follows:

"How can a woman have anything; whatever is hers belongs to her husband? What is his is his and what is hers is also his...... Her earnings and what she may find in the streets are also his. The household articles, even the crumbs of bread on the table, are his. Should she invite a guest to her house and feed him, she would be stealing from her husband..." (San. 71a, Git. 62a)

The fact of the matter is that the property of a Jewish female was meant to attract suitors. A Jewish family would assign their daughter a share of her father's estate to be used as a dowry in case of marriage. It was this dowry that made Jewish daughters an unwelcome burden to their fathers. The father had to raise his daughter for years and then prepare for her marriage by providing a large dowry. Thus, a girl in a Jewish family was a liability and no asset. This liability explains why the birth of a daughter was not celebrated with joy in the old Jewish society. The dowry was the wedding gift presented to the groom under terms of tenancy. The husband would act as the practical owner of the dowry but he could not sell it. The bride would lose any control over the dowry at the moment of marriage. Moreover, she was expected to work after marriage and all her earnings had to go to her husband in return for her maintenance which was his obligation. She could regain her property only in two cases: divorce or her husband's death. Should she die first, he would inherit her property. In the case of the husband's death, the wife could regain her pre-marital property but she was not entitled to inherit any share in her deceased husband's own property. It has to be added that the groom also had to present a marriage gift to his bride, yet again he was the practical owner of this gift as long as they were married.

Christianity, until recently, has followed the same Jewish tradition. Both religious and civil authorities in the Christian Roman Empire (after Constantine) required a property agreement as a condition for recognizing the marriage. Families offered their daughters increasing dowries and, as a result, men tended to marry earlier while families postponed their daughters' marriages until later than had been customary. Under Canon law, a wife was entitled to restitution of her dowry if the marriage was annulled unless she was guilty of adultery. In this case, she forfeited her right to the dowry which remained in her husband's hands. Under Canon and civil law a married woman in Christian Europe and America had lost her property rights until late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, women's rights under English law were compiled and published in 1632. These 'rights' included: "That which the husband hath is his own. That which the wife hath is the husband's." The wife not only lost her property upon marriage, she lost her personality as well. No act of her was of legal value. Her husband could repudiate any sale or gift made by her as being of no binding legal value. The person with whom she had any contract was held as a criminal for participating in a fraud. Moreover, she could not sue or be sued in her own name, nor could she sue her own husband. A married woman was practically treated as an infant in the eyes of the law. The wife simply belonged to her husband and therefore she lost her property, her legal personality, and her family name.

Islam, since the seventh century C.E., has granted married women the independent personality which the Judaeo-Christian West had deprived them until very recently. In Islam, the bride and her family are under no obligation whatsoever to present a gift to the groom. The girl in a Muslim family is no liability. A woman is so dignified by Islam that she does not need to present gifts in order to attract potential husbands. It is the groom who must present the bride with a marriage gift. This gift is considered her property and neither the groom nor the bride's family have any share in or control over it. In some Muslim societies today, a marriage gift of a hundred thousand dollars in diamonds is not unusual. The bride retains her marriage gifts even if she is later divorced. The husband is not allowed any share in his wife's property except what she offers him with her free consent. The Quran has stated its position on this issue quite clearly:

"And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, Of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it with right good cheer" (4:4)

The wife's property and earnings are under her full control and for her use alone since her, and the children's, maintenance is her husband's responsibility. No matter how rich the wife might be, she is not obliged to act as a co-provider for the family unless she herself voluntarily chooses to do so. Spouses do inherit from one another. Moreover, a married woman in Islam retains her independent legal personality and her family name. An American judge once commented on the rights of Muslim women saying: " A Muslim girl may marry ten times, but her individuality is not absorbed by that of her various husbands. She is a solar planet with a name and legal personality of her own."

Divorce
The three religions have remarkable differences in their attitudes towards divorce. Christianity abhors divorce altogether. The New Testament unequivocally advocates the indissolubility of marriage. It is attributed to Jesus to have said,

"But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthew 5:32).

This uncompromising ideal is, without a doubt, unrealistic. It assumes a state of moral perfection that human societies have never achieved. When a couple realizes that their married life is beyond repair, a ban on divorce will not do them any good. Forcing ill-mated couples to remain together against their wills is neither effective nor reasonable. No wonder the whole Christian world has been obliged to sanction divorce.

Judaism, on the other hand, allows divorce even without any cause. The Old Testament gives the husband the right to divorce his wife even if he just dislikes her:

"If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled" (Deut. 24:1-4).

The above verses have caused some considerable debate among Jewish scholars because of their disagreement over the interpretation of the words "displeasing", "indecency", and "dislikes" mentioned in the verses. The Talmud records their different opinions:

"The school of Shammai held that a man should not divorce his wife unless he has found her guilty of some sexual misconduct, while the school of Hillel say he may divorce her even if she has merely spoiled a dish for him. Rabbi Akiba says he may divorce her even if he simply finds another woman more beautiful than she" (Gittin 90a-b).

The New Testament follows the Shammaites opinion while Jewish law has followed the opinion of the Hillelites and R. Akiba. Since the Hillelites view prevailed, it became the unbroken tradition of Jewish law to give the husband freedom to divorce his wife without any cause at all. The Old Testament not only gives the husband the right to divorce his "displeasing" wife, it considers divorcing a "bad wife" an obligation:

"A bad wife brings humiliation, downcast looks, and a wounded heart. Slack of hand and weak of knee is the man whose wife fails to make him happy. Woman is the origin of sin, and it is through her that we all die. Do not leave a leaky cistern to drip or allow a bad wife to say what she likes. If she does not accept your control, divorce her and send her away" (Ecclesiasticus 25:25).

The Talmud has recorded several specific actions by wives which obliged their husbands to divorce them:

"If she ate in the street, if she drank greedily in the street, if she suckled in the street, in every case Rabbi Meir says that she must leave her husband" (Git. 89a).

The Talmud has also made it mandatory to divorce a barren wife (who bore no children in a period of ten years):

"Our Rabbis taught: If a man took a wife and lived with her for ten years and she bore no child, he shall divorce her" (Yeb. 64a).

Wives, on the other hand, cannot initiate divorce under Jewish law. A Jewish wife, however, could claim the right to a divorce before a Jewish court provided that a strong reason exists. Very few grounds are provided for the wife to make a claim for a divorce. These grounds include: A husband with physical defects or skin disease, a husband not fulfilling his conjugal responsibilities,etc. The Court might support the wife's claim to a divorce but it cannot dissolve the marriage. Only the husband can dissolve the marriage by giving his wife a bill of divorce. The Court could scourge, fine, imprison, and excommunicate him to force him to deliver the necessary bill of divorce to his wife. However, if the husband is stubborn enough, he can refuse to grant his wife a divorce and keep her tied to him indefinitely. Worse still, he can desert her without granting her a divorce and leave her unmarried and undivorced. He can marry another woman or even live with any single woman out of wedlock and have children from her (these children are considered legitimate under Jewish law). The deserted wife, on the other hand, cannot marry any other man since she is still legally married and she cannot live with any other man because she will be considered an adulteress and her children from this union will be illegitimate for ten generations. A woman in such a position is called an agunah (chained woman). In the United States today there are approximately 1000 to 1500 Jewish women who are agunot (plural for agunah), while in Israel their number might be as high as 16000. Husbands may extort thousands of dollars from their trapped wives in exchange for a Jewish divorce.

Islam occupies the middle ground between Christianity and Judaism with respect to divorce. Marriage in Islam is a sanctified bond that should not be broken except for compelling reasons. Couples are instructed to pursue all possible remedies whenever their marriages are in danger. Divorce is not to be resorted to except when there is no other way out. In a nutshell, Islam recognizes divorce, yet it discourages it by all means. Let us focus on the recognition side first. Islam does recognize the right of both partners to end their matrimonial relationship. Islam gives the husband the right for Talaq (divorce). Moreover, Islam, unlike Judaism, grants the wife the right to dissolve the marriage through what is known as Khula'. If the husband dissolves the marriage by divorcing his wife, he cannot retrieve any of the marriage gifts he has given her. The Quran explicitly prohibits the divorcing husbands from taking back their marriage gifts no matter how expensive or valuable these gifts might be:

"But if you decide to take one wife in place of another, even if you had given the latter a whole treasure for dower, take not the least bit of it back; Would you take it by slander and a manifest wrong?" (4:20).

In the case of the wife choosing to end the marriage, she may return the marriage gifts to her husband. Returning the marriage gifts in this case is a fair compensation for the husband who is keen to keep his wife while she chooses to leave him. The Quran has instructed Muslim men not to take back any of the gifts they have given to their wives except in the case of the wife choosing to dissolve the marriage:

"It is not lawful for you (Men) to take back any of your gifts except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah. There is no blame on either of them if she give something for her freedom. These are the limits ordained by Allah so do not transgress them" (2:229).

Also, a woman came to the Prophet Muhammad seeking the dissolution of her marriage, she told the Prophet that she did not have any complaints against her husband's character or manners. Her only problem was that she honestly did not like him to the extent of not being able to live with him any longer. The Prophet asked her:

"Would you give him his garden (the marriage gift he had given her) back?" she said: "Yes". The Prophet then instructed the man to take back his garden and accept the dissolution of the marriage (Bukhari).

In some cases, A Muslim wife might be willing to keep her marriage but find herself obliged to claim for a divorce because of some compelling reasons such as: Cruelty of the husband, desertion without a reason, a husband not fulfilling his conjugal responsibilities,etc. In these cases the Muslim court dissolves the marriage.

In short, Islam has offered the Muslim woman some unequalled rights: she can end the marriage through Khula' and she can sue for a divorce. A Muslim wife can never become chained by a recalcitrant husband. It was these rights that enticed Jewish women who lived in the early Islamic societies of the seventh century C.E. to seek to obtain bills of divorce from their Jewish husbands in Muslim courts. The Rabbis declared these bills null and void. In order to end this practice, the Rabbis gave new rights and privileges to Jewish women in an attempt to weaken the appeal of the Muslim courts. Jewish women living in Christian countries were not offered any similar privileges since the Roman law of divorce practiced there was no more attractive than the Jewish law.

Let us now focus our attention on how Islam discourages divorce. The Prophet of Islam told the believers that:

"among all the permitted acts, divorce is the most hateful to God" (Abu Dawood).

A Muslim man should not divorce his wife just because he dislikes her. The Quran instructs Muslim men to be kind to their wives even in cases of lukewarm emotions or feelings of dislike:

"Live with them (your wives) on a footing of kindness and equity. If you dislike them it may be that you dislike something in which Allah has placed a great deal of good" (4:19).

Prophet Muhammad gave a similar instruction:

" A believing man must not hate a believing woman. If he dislikes one of her traits he will be pleased with another" (Muslim).

The Prophet has also emphasized that the best Muslims are those who are best to their wives:

"The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives" (Tirmidthi).

However, Islam is a practical religion and it does recognize that there are circumstances in which a marriage becomes on the verge of collapsing. In such cases, a mere advice of kindness or self restraint is no viable solution. So, what to do in order to save a marriage in these cases? The Quran offers some practical advice for the spouse (husband or wife) whose partner (wife or husband) is the wrongdoer. For the husband whose wife's ill-conduct is threatening the marriage, the Quran gives four types of advice as detailed in the following verses:

"As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, (1) Admonish them, (2) refuse to share their beds, (3) beat them; but if they return to obedience seek not against them means of annoyance: For Allah is Most High, Great. (4) If you fear a break between them, appoint two arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; If they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation" (4:34-35).

The first three are to be tried first. If they fail, then the help of the families concerned should be sought. It has to be noted, in the light of the above verses, that beating the rebellious wife is a temporary measure that is resorted to as third in line in cases of extreme necessity in hopes that it might remedy the wrongdoing of the wife. If it does, the husband is not allowed by any means to continue any annoyance to the wife as explicitly mentioned in the verse. If it does not, the husband is still not allowed to use this measure any longer and the final avenue of the family-assisted reconciliation has to be explored.

Prophet Muhammad has instructed Muslim husbands that they should not have recourse to these measures except in extreme cases such as open lewdness committed by the wife. Even in these cases the punishment should be slight and if the wife desists, the husband is not permitted to irritate her:

"In case they are guilty of open lewdness you may leave them alone in their beds and inflict slight punishment. If they are obedient to you, do not seek against them any means of annoyance" (Tirmidthi)

Furthermore, the Prophet of Islam has condemned any unjustifiable beating. Some Muslim wives complained to him that their husbands had beaten them. Hearing that, the Prophet categorically stated that:

"Those who do so (beat their wives) are not the best among you" (Abu Dawood).

It has to be remembered at this point that the Prophet has also said:

"The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family" (Tirmidthi).

The Prophet advised one Muslim woman, whose name was Fatimah bint Qais, not to marry a man because the man was known for beating women:

"I went to the Prophet and said: Abul Jahm and Mu'awiah have proposed to marry me. The Prophet (by way of advice) said: As to Mu'awiah he is very poor and Abul Jahm is accustomed to beating women" (Muslim).

It has to be noted that the Talmud sanctions wife beating as chastisement for the purpose of discipline. The husband is not restricted to the extreme cases such as those of open lewdness. He is allowed to beat his wife even if she just refuses to do her house work. Moreover, he is not limited only to the use of light punishment. He is permitted to break his wife's stubbornness by the lash or by starving her.

For the wife whose husband's ill-conduct is the cause for the marriage's near collapse, the Quran offers the following advice:

"If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best" (4:128).

In this case, the wife is advised to seek reconciliation with her husband (with or without family assistance). It is notable that the Quran is not advising the wife to resort to the two measures of abstention from sex and beating. The reason for this disparity might be to protect the wife from a violent physical reaction by her already misbehaving husband. Such a violent physical reaction will do both the wife and the marriage more harm than good. Some Muslim scholars have suggested that the court can apply these measures against the husband on the wife's behalf. That is, the court first admonishes the rebellious husband, then forbids him his wife's bed, and finally executes a symbolic beating.

To sum up, Islam offers Muslim married couples much viable advice to save their marriages in cases of trouble and tension. If one of the partners is jeopardizing the matrimonial relationship, the other partner is advised by the Quran to do whatever possible and effective in order to save this sacred bond. If all the measures fail, Islam allows the partners to separate peacefully and amicably.

Mothers
The Old Testament in several places commands kind and considerate treatment of the parents and condemns those who dishonor them. For example:

"If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death" (Lev. 20:9) and "A wise man brings joy to his father but a foolish man despises his mother" (Proverbs 15:20).

Although honoring the father alone is mentioned in some places, e.g. "A wise man heeds his father's instruction" (Proverbs 13:1), the mother alone is never mentioned. Moreover, there is no special emphasis on treating the mother kindly as a sign of appreciation of her great suffering in childbearing and suckling. Besides, mothers do not inherit at all from their children while fathers do.

It is difficult to speak of the New Testament as a scripture that calls for honoring the mother. To the contrary, one gets the impression that the New Testament considers kind treatment of mothers as an impediment on the way to God. According to the New Testament, one cannot become a good Christian worthy of becoming a disciple of Christ unless he hates his mother. It is attributed to Jesus to have said:

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he can not be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).

Furthermore, the New Testament depicts a picture of Jesus as indifferent to, or even disrespectful of, his own mother. For example, when she had come looking for him while he was preaching to a crowd, he did not care to go out to see her:

"Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone to call him. A crowd was sitting around him and they told him, 'Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.' 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,' Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.' " (Mark 3:31-35)

One might argue that Jesus was trying to teach his audience an important lesson that religious ties are no less important than family ties. However, he could have taught his listeners the same lesson without showing such absolute indifference to his mother. The same disrespectful attitude is depicted when he refused to endorse a statement made by a member of his audience blessing his mother's role in giving birth to him and nursing him:

"As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, 'Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.' He replied, 'Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.' " (Luke 11:27-28)

If a mother with the stature of the Virgin Mary had been treated with such discourtesy, as depicted in the New Testament, by a son of the stature of Jesus Christ, then how should an average Christian mother be treated by her average Christian sons?

In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood are unparalleled. The Quran places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty:

"Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: 'My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood' " (17:23-24).

The Quran in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother's great role in giving birth and nursing:

"And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents" (31:14).

The very special place of mothers in Islam has been eloquently described by Prophet Muhammad:

"A man asked the Prophet: 'Whom should I honor most?' The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother!'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your father'" (Bukhari and Muslim).

Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The honor that Muslim mothers receive from their sons and daughters is exemplary. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amaze Westerners.

Female Inheritance
One of the most important differences between the Quran and the Bible is their attitude towards female inheritance of the property of a deceased relative. The Biblical attitude has been succinctly described by Rabbi Epstein: "The continuous and unbroken tradition since the Biblical days gives the female members of the household, wife and daughters, no right of succession to the family estate. In the more primitive scheme of succession, the female members of the family were considered part of the estate and as remote from the legal personality of an heir as the slave. Whereas by Mosaic enactment the daughters were admitted to succession in the event of no male issue remained, the wife was not recognized as heir even in such conditions." Why were the female members of the family considered part of the family estate? Rabbi Epstein has the answer: "They are owned --before marriage, by the father; after marriage, by the husband."

The Biblical rules of inheritance are outlined in Numbers 27:1-11. A wife is given no share in her husband's estate, while he is her first heir, even before her sons. A daughter can inherit only if no male heirs exist. A mother is not an heir at all while the father is. Widows and daughters, in case male children remained, were at the mercy of the male heirs for provision. That is why widows and orphan girls were among the most destitute members of the Jewish society.

Christianity has followed suit for long time. Both the ecclesiastical and civil laws of Christendom barred daughters from sharing with their brothers in the father's patrimony. Besides, wives were deprived of any inheritance rights. These iniquitous laws survived till late in the last century.

Among the pagan Arabs before Islam, inheritance rights were confined exclusively to the male relatives. The Quran abolished all these unjust customs and gave all the female relatives inheritance shares:

"From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large --a determinate share" (4:7).

Muslim mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters had received inheritance rights thirteen hundred years before Europe recognized that these rights even existed. The division of inheritance is a vast subject with an enormous amount of details (4:7,11,12,176). The general rule is that the female share is half the male's except the cases in which the mother receives equal share to that of the father. This general rule if taken in isolation from other legislations concerning men and women may seem unfair. In order to understand the rationale behind this rule, one must take into account the fact that the financial obligations of men in Islam far exceed those of women. A bridegroom must provide his bride with a marriage gift. This gift becomes her exclusive property and remains so even if she is later divorced. The bride is under no obligation to present any gifts to her groom. Moreover, the Muslim husband is charged with the maintenance of his wife and children. The wife, on the other hand, is not obliged to help him in this regard. Her property and earnings are for her use alone except what she may voluntarily offer her husband. Besides, one has to realize that Islam vehemently advocates family life. It strongly encourages youth to get married, discourages divorce, and does not regard celibacy as a virtue. Therefore, in a truly Islamic society, family life is the norm and single life is the rare exception. That is, almost all marriage-aged women and men are married in an Islamic society. In light of these facts, one would appreciate that Muslim men, in general, have greater financial burdens than Muslim women and thus inheritance rules are meant to offset this imbalance so that the society lives free of all gender or class wars. After a simple comparison between the financial rights and duties of Muslim women, one British Muslim woman has concluded that Islam has treated women not only fairly but generously.

Plight of Women
Because of the fact that the Old Testament recognized no inheritance rights to them, widows were among the most vulnerable of the Jewish population. The male relatives who inherited all of a woman's deceased husband's estate were to provide for her from that estate. However, widows had no way to ensure this provision was carried out, and lived on the mercy of others. Therefore, widows were among the lowest classes in ancient Israel and widowhood was considered a symbol of great degradation (Isaiah 54:4). But the plight of a widow in the Biblical tradition extended even beyond her exclusion from her husband's property. According to Genesis 38, a childless widow must marry her husband's brother, even if he is already married, so that he can produce offspring for his dead brother, thus ensuring his brother's name will not die out.

"Then Judah said to Onan, 'Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother' " (Genesis 38:8).

The widow's consent to this marriage is not required. The widow is treated as part of her deceased husband's property whose main function is to ensure her husband's posterity. This Biblical law is still practiced in today's Israel. 48 A childless widow in Israel is bequeathed to her husband's brother. If the brother is too young to marry, she has to wait until he comes of age. Should the deceased husband's brother refuse to marry her, she is set free and can then marry any man of her choice. It is not an uncommon phenomenon in Israel that widows are subjected to blackmail by their brothers-in-law in order to gain their freedom.

The pagan Arabs before Islam had similar practices. A widow was considered a part of her husband's property to be inherited by his male heirs and she was, usually, given in marriage to the deceased man's eldest son from another wife. The Quran scathingly attacked and abolished this degrading custom:

"And marry not women whom your fathers married--Except what is past-- it was shameful, odious, and abominable custom indeed" (4:22).

Widows and divorced women were so looked down upon in the Biblical tradition that the high priest could not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a prostitute:

"The woman he (the high priest) marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people, so he will not defile his offspring among his people" (Lev. 21:13-15)

In Israel today, a descendant of the Cohen caste (the high priests of the days of the Temple) cannot marry a divorcee, a widow, or a prostitute. In the Jewish legislation, a woman who has been widowed three times with all the three husbands dying of natural causes is considered 'fatal' and forbidden to marry again. The Quran, on the other hand, recognizes neither castes nor fatal persons. Widows and divorcees have the freedom to marry whomever they choose. There is no stigma attached to divorce or widowhood in the Quran:

"When you divorce women and they fulfil their terms [three menstruation periods] either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; But do not take them back to injure them or to take undue advantage, If anyone does that, he wrongs his own soul. Do not treat Allah's signs as a jest" (2:231).

"If any of you die and leave widows behind, they shall wait four months and ten days. When they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you if they dispose of themselves in a just manner" (2:234).

"Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year's maintenance and residence. But if they [the widows] leave (the residence) there is no blame on you for what they justly do with themselves" (2:240).

The Veil
Finally, let us shed some light on what is considered in the West as the greatest symbol of women's oppression and servitude, the veil or the head cover. Is it true that there is no such thing as the veil in the Judaeo-Christian tradition? Let us set the record straight. According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer (Professor of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University) in his book, The Jewish woman in Rabbinic literature, it was the custom of Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering which, sometimes, even covered the whole face leaving one eye free. He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis saying,

"It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered" and "Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen....a woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty."

Rabbinic law forbids the recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman's hair is considered "nudity".Dr. Brayer also mentions that "During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman's failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred zuzim for this offense." Dr. Brayer also explains that veil of the Jewish woman was not always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman's inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband.

The veil signified a woman's self-respect and social status. Women of lower classes would often wear the veil to give the impression of a higher standing. The fact that the veil was the sign of nobility was the reason why prostitutes were not permitted to cover their hair in the old Jewish society. However, prostitutes often wore a special headscarf in order to look respectable. Jewish women in Europe continued to wear veils until the nineteenth century when their lives became more intermingled with the surrounding secular culture. The external pressures of the European life in the nineteenth century forced many of them to go out bare-headed. Some Jewish women found it more convenient to replace their traditional veil with a wig as another form of hair covering. Today, most pious Jewish women do not cover their hair except in the synagogue. Some of them, such as the Hasidic sects, still use the wig.

What about the Christian tradition? It is well known that Catholic Nuns have been covering their heads for hundreds of years, but that is not all. St. Paul in the New Testament made some very interesting statements about the veil:

"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head - it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head" (I Corinthians 11:3-10).

St. Paul's rationale for veiling women is that the veil represents a sign of the authority of the man, who is the image and glory of God, over the woman who was created from and for man. St. Tertullian in his famous treatise 'On The Veiling Of Virgins' wrote, "Young women, you wear your veils out on the streets, so you should wear them in the church, you wear them when you are among strangers, then wear them among your brothers..." Among the Canon laws of the Catholic church today, there is a law that requires women to cover their heads in church. Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled to the present day. The reason for the veil, as offered by their Church leaders, is that "The head covering is a symbol of woman's subjection to the man and to God", which is the same logic introduced by St. Paul in the New Testament.

From all the above evidence, it is obvious that Islam did not invent the head cover. However, Islam did endorse it. The Quran urges the believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty and then urges the believing women to extend their head covers to cover the neck and the bosom:

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty......And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms...." (24:30,31).

The Quran is quite clear that the veil is essential for modesty, but why is modesty important? The Quran is still clear:

"O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested" (33:59).

This is the whole point, modesty is prescribed to protect women from molestation or simply, modesty is protection. Thus, the only purpose of the veil in Islam is protection. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil of the Christian tradition, is not a sign of man's authority over woman nor is it a sign of woman's subjection to man. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil in the Jewish tradition, is not a sign of luxury and distinction of some noble married women. The Islamic veil is only a sign of modesty with the purpose of protecting women, all women. The Islamic philosophy is that it is always better to be safe than sorry. In fact, the Quran is so concerned with protecting women's bodies and women's reputation that a man who dares to falsely accuse a woman of unchastity will be severely punished:

"And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations)- Flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors" (24:4)

Compare this strict Quranic attitude with the extremely lax punishment for rape in the Bible:

"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives" (Deut. 22:28-30)

One must ask a simple question here, who is really punished? The man who only paid a fine for rape, or the girl who is forced to marry the man who raped her and live with him until he dies? Another question that also should be asked is this: which is more protective of women, the Quranic strict attitude or the Biblical lax attitude?

Some people, especially in the West, would tend to ridicule the whole argument of modesty for protection. Their argument is that the best protection is the spread of education, civilized behaviour, and self restraint. We would say: fine but not enough. If 'civilization' is enough protection, then why is it that women in North America dare not walk alone in a dark street - or even across an empty parking lot? If Education is the solution, then why is it that respected universities have a 'walk home service' mainly for female students on campus? If self restraint is the answer, then why are cases of sexual harassment in the workplace reported on the news media every day? A sample of those accused of sexual harassment, in the last few years, includes: Navy officers, Managers, University professors, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, and the President of the United States! I could not believe my eyes when I read the following statistics, written in a pamphlet issued by the Dean of Women's office at Queen's University:

In Canada, a woman is sexually assaulted every 6 minutes,
1 in 3 women in Canada will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives,
1 in 4 women are at the risk of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime,
1 in 8 women will be sexually assaulted while attending college or university, and
A study found 60% of Canadian university-aged males said they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they wouldn't get caught.
Something is fundamentally wrong in the society we live in. A radical change in the society's life style and culture is absolutely necessary. A culture of modesty is badly needed, modesty in dress, in speech, and in manners of both men and women. Otherwise, the grim statistics will grow even worse day after day and, unfortunately, women alone will be paying the price. Actually, we all suffer but as K. Gibran has said, "...for the person who receives the blows is not like the one who counts them." Therefore, a society like France which expels young women from schools because of their modest dress is, in the end, simply harming itself.

It is one of the great ironies of our world today that the very same headscarf revered as a sign of 'holiness' when worn for the purpose of showing the authority of man by Catholic Nuns, is reviled as a sign of 'oppression' when worn for the purpose of protection by Muslim women.

Epilogue
Do Muslim women in the Muslim world today receive this noble treatment described here? The answer, unfortunately, is: NO!! Since this question is inevitable in any discussion concerning the status of women in Islam, we have to elaborate on the answer in order to provide the reader with the complete picture.

It has to be made clear first that the vast differences among Muslim societies make most generalizations too simplistic. There is a wide spectrum of attitudes towards women in the Muslim world today. These attitudes differ from one society to another and within each individual society. Nevertheless, certain general trends are discernible. Almost all Muslim societies have, to one degree or another, deviated from the ideals of Islam with respect to the status of women. These deviations have, for the most part, been in one of two opposite directions. The first direction is more conservative, restrictive, and traditions-oriented, while the second is more liberal and Western-oriented.

The societies that have digressed in the first direction treat women according to the customs and traditions inherited from their forebears. These traditions usually deprive women of many rights granted to them by Islam. Besides, women are treated according to standards far different from those applied to men. This discrimination pervades the life of any female: she is received with less joy at birth than a boy; she is less likely to go to school; she might be deprived any share of her family's inheritance; she is under continuous surveillance in order not to behave immodestly while her brother's immodest acts are tolerated; she might even be killed for committing what her male family members usually boast of doing; she has very little say in family affairs or community interests; she might not have full control over her property and her marriage gifts; and finally as a mother she herself would prefer to produce boys so that she can attain a higher status in her community.

On the other hand, there are Muslim societies (or certain classes within some societies) that have been swept over by the Western culture and way of life. These societies often imitate unthinkingly whatever they receive from the West and usually end up adopting the worst fruits of Western civilization. In these societies, a typical "modern" woman's top priority in life is to enhance her physical beauty. Therefore, she is often obsessed with her body's shape, size, and weight. She tends to care more about her body than her mind and more about her charms than her intellect. Her ability to charm, attract, and excite is more valued in the society than her educational achievements, intellectual pursuits, and social work. One is not expected to find a copy of the Quran in her purse since it is full of cosmetics that accompany her wherever she goes. Her spirituality has no room in a society preoccupied with her attractiveness. Therefore, she would spend her life striving more to realize her femininity than to fulfill her humanity.

Why did Muslim societies deviate from the ideals of Islam? There is no easy answer. A penetrating explanation of the reasons why Muslims have not adhered to the Quranic guidance with respect to women would be beyond the scope of this study. It has to be made clear, however, that Muslim societies have deviated from the Islamic precepts concerning so many aspects of their lives for so long. There is a wide gap between what Muslims are supposed to believe in and what they actually practice. This gap is not a recent phenomenon. It has been there for centuries and has been widening day after day. This ever widening gap has had disastrous consequences on the Muslim world manifested in almost all aspects of life: political tyranny and fragmentation, economic backwardness, social injustice, scientific bankruptcy, intellectual stagnation, etc. The non-Islamic status of women in the Muslim world today is merely a symptom of a deeper malady. Any reform in the current status of Muslim women is not expected to be fruitful if not accompanied with more comprehensive reforms of the Muslim societies' whole way of life. The Muslim world is in need for a renaissance that will bring it closer to the ideals of Islam and not further from them. To sum up, the notion that the poor status of Muslim women today is because of Islam is an utter misconception. The problems of Muslims in general are not due to too much attachment to Islam, they are the culmination of a long and deep detachment from it.

It has, also, to be re-emphasized that the purpose behind this comparative study is not, by any means, to defame Judaism or Christianity. The position of women in the Judaeo-Christian tradition might seem frightening by our late twentieth century standards. Nevertheless, it has to be viewed within the proper historical context. In other words, any objective assessment of the position of women in the Judaeo-Christian tradition has to take into account the historical circumstances in which this tradition developed. There can be no doubt that the views of the Rabbis and the Church Fathers regarding women were influenced by the prevalent attitudes towards women in their societies. The Bible itself was written by different authors at different times. These authors could not have been impervious to the values and the way of life of the people around them. For example, the adultery laws of the Old Testament are so biased against women that they defy rational explanation by our mentality. However, if we consider the fact that the early Jewish tribes were obsessed with their genetic homogeneity and extremely eager to define themselves apart from the surrounding tribes and that only sexual misconduct by the married females of the tribes could threaten these cherished aspirations, we should then be able to understand, but not necessarily sympathize with, the reasons for this bias. Also, the diatribes of the Church Fathers against women should not be detached from the context of the misogynist Greco-Roman culture in which they lived. It would be unfair to evaluate the Judaeo-Christian legacy without giving any consideration to the relevant historical context.

In fact, a proper understanding of the Judaeo-Christian historical context is also crucial for understanding the significance of the contributions of Islam to world history and human civilization. The Judaeo-Christian tradition had been influenced and shaped by the environments, conditions, and cultures in which it had existed. By the seventh century C.E., this influence had distorted the original divine message revealed to Moses and Jesus beyond recognition. The poor status of women in the Judaeo-Christian world by the seventh century is just one case in point. Therefore, there was a great need for a new divine message that would guide humanity back to the straight path. The Quran described the mission of the new Messenger as a release for Jews and Christians from the heavy burdens that had been upon them:

"Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own Scriptures--In the Law and the Gospel-- For he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good and prohibits them from what is bad; He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them" (7:157).

Therefore, Islam should not be viewed as a rival tradition to Judaism or Christianity. It has to be regarded as the consummation, completion, and perfection of the divine messages that had been revealed before it.

At the end of this study, I would like to offer the following advice to the global Muslim community. So many Muslim women have been denied their basic Islamic rights for so long. The mistakes of the past have to be corrected. To do that is not a favor, it is a duty incumbent upon all Muslims. The worldwide Muslim community have to issue a charter of Muslim women's rights based on the instructions of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet of Islam. This charter must give Muslim women all the rights endowed to them by their Creator. Then, all the necessary means have to be developed in order to ensure the proper implementation of the charter. This charter is long overdue, but it is better late than never. If Muslims worldwide will not guarantee the full Islamic rights of their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, who else will ?

Furthermore, we must have the courage to confront our past and reject outright the traditions and customs of our forefathers whenever they contravene the precepts of Islam. Did the Quran not severely criticize the pagan Arabs for blindly following the traditions of their ancestors? On the other hand, we have to develop a critical attitude towards whatever we receive from the West or from any other culture. Interaction with and learning from other cultures is an invaluable experience. The Quran has succinctly considered this interaction as one of the purposes of creation: " O mankind We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other" (49:13). It goes without saying, however, that blind imitation of others is a sure sign of an utter lack of self-esteem.