Bosnia, Serbia Pledge to Mend Ties, Lure Investors

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Maja Zuvela

2010-04-24T172727Z_1899635507_GM1E64P023V01_RTRMADP_3_BOSNIA

A Bosnian Muslim woman stands next to graves during a funeral in Vlasenica, in the Serb part of Bosnia, April 24, 2010. The remains of 34 Bosnian Muslims, killed by Serb forces during the country’s 1992-95 war, were exhumed from the Ogradice i Pelemis mass graves near Vlasenica and buried.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia and Serbia have agreed to make a fresh start in their relationship, soured over the past few years, and reassure investors concerned about regional stability, the Bosnian presidency chairman said on Sunday.

“We have to change the image of the Western Balkan region,” Haris Silajdzic said on his return from an Istanbul summit between the presidents of the two former Yugoslav republics and their host, Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Saturday.

Relations between Bosnia and Serbia have worsened since 2006, mainly because of Serbia’s arrest and trial of a Bosnian official for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 war, and other similar arrest warrants.

As part of its policy to heal relations between countries in the region, Turkey has intensified efforts to improve ties between the two Balkan neighbors.

While the three foreign ministers have met several times over the past six months, the Istanbul summit brought together their presidents for the first time.

“We have had different opinions about some issues but the meeting with Serbia’s President Boris Tadic was constructive… I believe it will yield good results,” said Silajdzic.

“Badly needed investments will come only if there is security and stability.”

Bosnia and Serbia signed a declaration pledging to settle the dispute over unresolved borders, property and debt, and discuss a joint approach toward international markets at a planned meeting in Belgrade.

Until now, Silajdzic, a Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite rotating presidency, has ignored invitations to visit Belgrade.

He said the Serbian parliament’s March resolution, apologizing for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which Bosnian Serb forces killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys, has paved the way for such a visit.

“I am ready to go there now,” Silajdzic said, adding that the Serbian pro-Western president has also promised to attend the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, seen as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

Tadic had said pre-occupation with war topics was counter-productive for the two countries which both aspired to join the European Union.

Bosnia’s presidency Serb member Nebojsa Radmanovic reacted angrily to Silajdzic’s meeting with Tadic, saying he did not have the consent of the other two presidency members to sign the Istanbul declaration and that he may dispute it.

“That is not in line with the constitution,” Radmanovic told reporters in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb Republic which, with the Muslim-Croat federation, makes up Bosnia. Silajdzic said he had informed the presidency about his plans.

Endless ethnic and political quarrels in the past three years have led Bosnia to a state of permanent political crisis, stalling any hope of joining the EU and NATO.

(Additional reporting by Olja Stanic in Banja Luka; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Louise Ireland)

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Joe Sacco’s New Book

January 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Graphic novel on IDF ‘massacres’ in Gaza set to hit bookstores

By The Associated Press

selfportrait_sacco Fans say graphic novelist Joe Sacco has set new standards for the use of the comic book as a documentary medium. Detractors say his portrayals of the Palestinian conflict are filled with distortion, bias and hyperbole.

One thing is certain – the award-winning author of “Palestine” leaves few readers indifferent.

Sacco’s work has more in common with gonzo journalism than your Sunday comic strip: He travels to the world’s hot spots from Iraq to Gaza to Sarajevo, immerses himself in the lives of ordinary people, and sets out to depict their harsh realities – in unflinching ink and paper.

One of his biggest supporters is award-winning Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, who directed the 2008 Golden Globe winning cartoon ocumentary “Waltz for Bashir.”

“Whenever I’m asked about animation that influences me, I would say it’s more graphic novels. A tremendous influence on me has been Sacco’s ‘Palestine,’ his work on Bosnia and then Art peigelman’s ‘Maus,’” he said in a telephone interview.

“His work quite simply reflects reality.”

The American-Maltese artist’s latest book, “Footnotes in Gaza,” chronicles two episodes in 1956 in which a U.N. report filed Dec. 15, 1956 says a total of 386 civilians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers – events Sacco said have been “virtually airbrushed from history because they have been ignored by the mainstream media.”

Israeli historians dispute these figures.

“It’s a big exaggeration,” said Meir Pail, a leading Israeli military historian and leftist politician. “There was never a killing of such a degree. Nobody was murdered. I was there. I don’t know of any massacre.”

Sacco’s passion for the Palestinian cause has opened him up to accusations of bias.

Jose Alaniz, from the University of Washington’s Department of Comparative Literature, said Sacco uses “all sorts of subtle ways” to manipulate the reader.

“Very often he will pick angles in his art work that favor the perspective of the victim: He’ll draw Israeli soldiers or settlers from a low perspective to make them more menacing and towering.”

Alaniz also said Sacco draws children “in such a way to make them seem more victimized.”

Sacco himself admits he takes sides.

“I don’t believe in objectivity as it’s practiced in American journalism. I’m not anti-Israeli … It’s just I very much believe in getting across the Palestinian point of view,” he said.

In “Palestine,” which won the 1996 National Book Award, Sacco reported on the lives of West Bank and Gaza inhabitants in the early 1990s. “Safe Area Gorazde,” which won the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel, describes his experiences in Bosnia in 1995-96.

Sacco has been lauded by Edward Said, the renowned literary scholar and Palestinian rights spokesman, who said in his foreword to “Palestine”: “With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco.”

“Footnotes” – to be released in the United States on Tuesday – sees Sacco’s cartoon self, with the now trademark nondescript owlishly bespectacled eyes, plunge into the squalid trash-strewn, raw concrete alleys of Rafah, and its neighboring town of Khan Younis.

Sacco draws crowded narrow streets, full of prying schoolchildren and unemployed men. His desperate characters – fugitives, widows and sheiks – mix long past fact with fiction.

“What I show in the book is that this massacre is just one element of Palestinian history … and that people are confused about which event, what year they are talking about,” he said.

“Palestinians never seem to have had the luxury of digesting one tragedy before the next is upon them.”

Sacco said in doing so he is trying to create a balance to what he calls the United States’ pro-Israeli bias.

A scene in “Palestine” shows an Israeli woman asking: “Shouldn’t you be seeing our side of the story?” Sacco’s cartoon self replies: “I’ve heard nothing but the Israeli side most of my life.”

Sacco says he puts himself into his comics because he wants his readers to see and feel what he does.

“I’m not pretending to be the all powerful, all knowing journalist god … I’m an individual who reacts to people who are sometimes afraid … On a human level, of course that colors the stories I’m telling.”

Folman, who both wrote and directed the 2008 animated documentary film about a 19-year-old Israeli soldier still troubled by nightmares about the Lebanon War, says Sacco has brought something rare to the cartoon genre.

“The way he illustrates says everything about the writing – it’s so unique, there is nothing quite like him,” he explained.

“I really admire the guy … And I feel from his work that we share exactly the same opinions about what’s happening in the Middle East … The day will come when I will meet him and hopefully work with him.”

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France Welcomes Second Former Guantanamo Inmate

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Paris – A 39-year-old Algerian who was imprisoned for seven years in the US detention centre at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism arrived Tuesday in France, the French foreign ministry said.

`In deciding to accept a second ex-inmate on our soil, France is contributing … to implement the decision by US President (Barack) Obama to shut the Guantanamo detention centre,’ the ministry said in a statement.

Saber Lahmar was cleared by courts in several countries, including the United States, of all charges regarding his alleged participation in acts of terrorism.

In the autumn of 2001, Lahmar was arrested in Bosnia with five other Algerians on suspicion of planning an attack on the US embassy in Sarajevo. He was among the first terror suspects to be incarcerated in the controversial prison in Cuba.

Four of the other suspects in the case were released earlier this year. One of them was also sent to France.

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Swiss Vote Betrays Enlightenment Ideals

December 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Juan Cole

swiss miss This campaign poster was banned for being racist, but apparently the goal of the poster, now that is all right.

Swissinfo surveys the headlines in Switzerland Monday morning and finds that the press there universally condemned and expressed dismay at Sunday’s vote. Editors expressed consternation at the inevitable tarnishing of Switzerland’s image and worried about the consequences. Will there be boycotts? Sanctions? Appeals to the European Court of Human Rights?

I can anticipate right now arguments to excuse this outbreak of bigotry in the Alps that will be advanced by our own fringe Right, of Neoconservatives and those who think, without daring saying it, that “white culture” is superior to all other world civilizations and deserves to dominate or wipe the others out.

The first is that it is only natural that white, Christian Europeans should be afraid of being swamped by people adhering to an alien, non-European religion.

Switzerland is said to be 5 percent Muslim, and of course this proportion is a recent phenomenon there and so unsettling to some. But Islam is not new to Europe. Parts of what is now Spain were Muslim for 700 years, and much of the eastern stretches of what is now the European Union were ruled by Muslims for centuries and had significant Muslim populations. Cordoba and Sarajevo are not in Asia or Latin America. They are in Europe. And they are cities formed in the bosom of Muslim civilization.

The European city of Cordoba in the medieval period has been described thusly:

‘ For centuries, Cordoba used to be the jewel of Europe, which dazzled visitors from the North. Visitors marveled at what seemed to them an extraordinary general prosperity; one could travel for ten miles by the light of street lamps, and along an uninterrupted series of buildings. The city is said to have had then 200,000 houses, 600 mosques, and 900 public baths. Over the quiet Guadalquivir Arab engineers threw a great stone bridge of seventeen arches, each fifty spans in width. One of the earliest undertakings of Abd al-Rahman I was an aqueduct that brought to Cordova an abundance of fresh water for homes, gardens, fountains, and baths.’

So if the Swiss think that Islam is alien to Europe, then they are thinking of a rather small Europe, not the Europe that now actually exists. Minarets dotted Cordoba. The Arnaudia mosque in Banja Luca dates back to the 1400s; it was destroyed along with dozens of others by fanatics in the civil war that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

As for the likely comeback,that Muslims came to Europe from the 700s of the Common Era as conquerors, unlike Christianity, actually both were conquering state religions. It was the conversion of an emperor that gave a favored position to Christianity in Europe, which was a small minority on the continent at the time. And Charlemagne forcibly imposed Christianity on the German tribes up to the Elbe. In the cases both of European Christianity and European Islam, there were many willing converts among the ordinary folk, who thrilled to itinerant preachers or beautiful chanting.

Others will allege that Muslims do not grant freedom of religion to Christians in their midst. First of all, this allegation is not true if we look at the full range of the countries where the 1.5 billion Muslims live. Among the nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches. Does Switzerland really want to be like Saudi Arabia?

Here is a Western Christian description of the situation of Christians in Syria:

‘In Syria, as in all other Arab countries of the Middle East except Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion is guaranteed in law . . . We should like to point out too that in Syria and in several other countries of the region, Christian churches benefit from free water and electricity supplies, are exempt from several types of tax and can seek building permission for new churches (in Syria, land for these buildings are granted by the State) or repair existing ones.

It should be noted too that there are Christian members of Parliament and of government in Syria and other countries, sometimes in a fixed number (as in Lebanon and Jordan.)

Finally, we note that a new personal statute was promulgated on 18 June 2006 for the various Christian Churches found in Syria, which purposely and verbatim repeats most of the rules of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated by Pope John Paul II.

That is, in Muslim-majority Syria, the government actually grants land to Christians for the building of churches, along with free water and electricity. Christians have their own personal status legal code, straight from the Vatican. (It is because Christians have their own law in the Middle East, backed by the state, that Muslims in the West are puzzled as to why they cannot practice their personal status code.) Christians have freedom of religion, though there are sensitivities about attempts to convert others (as there are everywhere in the Middle East, including Israel). And Christians are represented in the legislature. With Switzerland’s 5 percent Muslim population, how many Muslim members of parliament does it have?

It will also be alleged that in Egypt some clergymen gave fatwas or legal opinions that building churches is a sin, and it will be argued that Christians have been attacked by Muslims in Upper Egypt.

These arguments are fallacies. You cannot compare the behavior of some Muslim fanatics in rural Egypt to the laws and ideals of the Swiss Republic. We have to look at Egyptian law and policy.

The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Seminary, the foremost center of Sunni Muslim learning, ‘added in statements carried by Egyptian newspaper Youm al-Saba’a that Muslims can make voluntary contributions to build churches, pointing out that the church is a house for “worshipping and tolerance.” ‘ He condemned the fundamentalist Muslims for saying church-building is sinful. And Egypt has lots of churches, including new Presbyterian ones, following John Calvin who I believe lived in . . . Geneva. Aout 6 percent of the population is Christian.

The other problem with excusing Switzerland with reference to Muslims’ own imperfect adherence to human rights ideals is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The bigotted Right doesn’t even have the moral insight of kindergartners if that is the sort of argument they advance. The International Declaration of Human Rights was crafted with the participation of Pakistan, a Muslim country; the global contemporary rights regime is imperfectly adhered to by all countries– it is a claim on the world’s behavior, something we must all strive for. If the Swiss stepped back from it, they stepped back in absolute terms. It doesn’t help us get to global human rights to say that is o.k. because others are also failing to live up to the Declaration.

The other Wahhabi state besides Saudi Arabia, Qatar, has allowed churches. But they are not allowed to have steeples or bells. This policy is a mirror image to that of the Swiss.

So Switzerland, after centuries of striving for civilization and enlightenment, has just about reached the same level of tolerance as that exhibited by a small Gulf Wahhabi country, the people of which were mostly Bedouins only a hundred years ago.

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