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As the international community views all Israel settlements as illegal, Israelis moved in to 4 new villages only hours after the 10 month building moratorium was over. The political goal of the settlers is to occupy so much land that a shared state between Israel and Palestine will be impossible. What will happen to the peace talks between Israel and Palestine now is uncertain. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this Saturday that Israel now will have to choose between “peace or settlements”. Abbas now is in a tight spot, as he risks losing support with both the Palestinians and members of his own Fatah party if he continues the peace talks even though the Israelis are restarting their settlements processes. At the same time, Fatah has started a reappeasement process with Hamas, and they have appearantly agreed upon the procedures for new elections. As Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist group, and so does the EU and the U.S., it might be difficult for Abbas to have a normalized relationship with Hamas, and still negotiate peace talks with Israel.

Abbas has said that the peace talks will end if Israel restarts the building of the settlements, but the Palestinian president has called a meeting with the Arab League on October 4th to discuss the situation, and review his options. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that his intentions for peace are genuine. The big issue still remains that as long as the Israelis are building settlements in the middle of the West Bank, the more unlikely will we see a two-state solution to this conflict. And even if the peace talks will be somewhat successful, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will still be in conflict with Israel, as Israel only recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization.

However, the U.S. pressure to keep the peace talks going might be the extra push to the backs of both the Palestinians and the Israelis (at least to get back on track). The U.S., in the long run, is hoping that the parties will go back to negotiate the Arabian Initiative from 2001/02 that said that if Israel will withdraw from the occupied areas, there will be a total peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem. Syria is essential in this, considering that Israel still occupies the Golan Heights. Even though such an agreement may seem long ahead in the future, it is a beginning.

By Amna Amjad
Amna is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Amna below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

I was bored and watching television a while ago and there it was- news that showed that only a few days remain until the ninth anniversary of 9/11 incident. I was only 15 in 2001, but the whole news sequences that ran at that time still run vividly in my mind when I think of it. What happened nine years ago certainly changed the dynamics of the relationship between the US and Muslims.

I know a quite a lot of Muslims in the US and they believe that the incident has etched into the minds of the Americans and quite a lot of them do feel insecure around Muslims. Vicious extremists of 9/11 harmed thousands of people and made it justified for Americans to mistrust or feel uncomfortable around Muslims. But I believe that it is time for a change and the students of the US should come forward and talk about this issue. They can help change the perception of those who lack the proper understanding of Islam and do away with the negative stereotypes of Islam. Islam is a religion that advocates peace and religious tolerance.

I think that the youngsters of this generation in US have an edge over the previous ones because of the use of the internet; so they should use it to their advantage and try to learn more about the Muslims of different countries and interact with them through proper forums to have a better understanding and knowledge about them and their religion and help educate others, because ignorance is not the way out. On the other hand conferences should be held between the students of the US and Muslims countries to talk on various issues and come up with the resolutions to work on this sensitive and precious relationship. It is time for a change, for good.

Amna is from Pakistan and has recently completed her Bachelors degree from Lahore University of Management Sciences with a major in Accounting and Finance and minor in Mathematics. She has been involved in spreading awareness about the local and global issues with Amnesty International Chapter at her university and believes that every individual should play a part to make world a better place to live in. In her spare time she likes to hang out with friends, watch movies, read books and also loves photography.

This past month, authorities in Moldova (a former USSR territory) arrested a group of traffickers who were trying to smuggle two kilograms of highly radioactive uranium, specifically uranium 238 for the price of $11 million US dollars. Although this type of uranium is not what would be needed to be used for the production of nuclear weapons (nor is it even enough), it nevertheless could still produce a so-called “dirty bomb,” spreading radiation in concentrations above what is considered safe for humans to be exposed to. You can find out more about this arrest and arrests similar to it here.

From my perspective, these incidents tell me several things. The first is that the ease of access to nuclear material in the territories of the former Soviet Union is a security issue that needs to be addressed immediately. The second is that the black market for these materials is thriving and shows no sign of stopping, which is certainly aided by how freely available the materials are to gain access to. The third is that nuclear terrorism needs to be recognized as the number one national security threat the US and the world faces. The reason being because the people most likely to purchase this smuggled nuclear material are terrorists themselves who seek to use a “dirty” bomb, or worse, a nuclear bomb, against their enemies. The fourth and final observation I gleamed from these various smuggling incidents is the need to expedite the process towards getting to nuclear zero (a world without nuclear weapons).

The elimination of nuclear weapons will undoubtedly require the halting of the production of new nuclear materials and the safe storage and/or reprocessing of old nuclear material, like that stored all over the territories of the former Soviet Union. Taking these steps will dramatically reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. However, in the current political environment, the successful negotiation of an FMCT (Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty) is still a long way off. However, we do have an immediate step that we can take. We can ratify New START. Ratifying New START will not only reduce the threats posed by nuclear weapons, but it will also be an enormous step in building trust again between the US and Russia, which may go a long way to also helping Russia secure the nuclear materials that smugglers seem to so easily get their hands on. President Obama has already made a commitment to secure all loose nuclear materials across the globe by 2013. An ambitious goal to be sure, and only attainable if a first step is taken to START the process.

We should help in this critical effort, so if you would like to take action on getting New START ratified, follow this link to our action page where you can write and/or call your Senators urging them to ratify New START once they return from Congressional recess in September!

Within the mainstream media, the Taliban in Afghanistan is often portrayed like many other enemies to America…”ruthless killers who are bent on destroying America and providing aide to Al-Qaeda if they are to regain control of Afghanistan.” Granted, this characterization is not completely devoid of some truth. I do think it is entirely fair to claim that they would provide a haven to Al-Qaeda if they came back into power in Afghanistan. However, the characterization of them as “ruthless killers who are bent on destroying America,” undoubtedly leaves me a bit skeptical. After all, waging a war against an enemy has many fronts, including on the front of public opinion, so naturally, I hesitate to believe much of the picture that the mainstream media tries to paint. And my skepticism was justified after I saw this:

Taliban Primp, Sing, Snipe U.S. Troops In Rare Video

The video is an approximately 20 minute documentary film by a Norwegian documentary filmmaker who managed to embed himself with a Taliban troop outfit hiding up in the mountains of Afghanistan, launching repeated attacks on American convoys. The film does not glorify or romanticize the Taliban in my view. It tells the story of the war in Afghanistan from the point of view of the Taliban (albeit a small subsection of it) like it is, which is simultaneously disturbing and fascinating. It portrays “them” as they are and gives particular insight into who they are and why they are fighting. At the very least, the film humanizes them, and while I was watching it, I was frequently reminded of several other war films I have seen of late, the most recent of which being “The Hurt Locker.” I am continually fascinated by the portrayals in this film (and others) of the desensitization of violence that occurs amongst the troops and the  dehumanization of the enemy that takes place so that it’s easier for American troops to kill them in combat without feeling remorse. The reason I was continually reminded of this while I was watching the documentary was because I noticed that the Taliban troops exhibited the same characteristics.

The conclusion I came to after watching this film, of which I think should be the goal that we all aspire to, is to recognize that war is something that needs to be avoided, at all costs, because the result is that it causes us to dehumanize each other when instead we should be recognizing and embracing the commonalities that we all share. After all, if we instead focused more on seeing each other as fellow human beings, we just might have less of an inclination to kill each other.

Ever since my original post on the controversy surrounding the construction of a supposed “mosque” (I will explain the quotations later in this piece), I have had several conversations with friends and relatives, both in favor of and against the project. I want to take advantage of this space to respond to some of the criticisms I have heard as well as reiterate some of the points I made in my original post as I feel they are important to emphasize.

First is my response to the critique I seem to continually come across from people opposed to the “mosque” who say that my opposition to their opposition is somehow infringing upon their right to be against it. My guess is that this is rooted in opponents dissatisfaction with being called either “ignorant,” “racist,” or both. Neither in my original post, nor in my subsequent writings and conversations have I ever advocated the denial of FIrst Amendment rights to anyone opposing the project. Instead, all I have done is exercised my own First Amendment right to call out what I see as blatant ignorance and bigotry.

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Last night I had the opportunity to see the film ‘Sweet Crude’ with a panel discussion afterward.  The film is about the struggle of the people of the Niger Delta to get their government to listen to them about the damage the oil companies in the region are doing to their communities.

A little background before I continue: Oil companies moved into the Niger Delta shortly after Nigeria gained independence in 1960 from the British. Since then, the environmental damage to the area has been extensive — fish are no longer in the rivers, acid rain falls regularly as a result of the gas flares. Since the oil companies’ arrival, the people of the Niger Delta have protested in non-violent ways modeled after the work of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.  The Nigerian government responded with force, killing non-violent leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and many others in the process.  As a result some of the young men from the region have formed MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) which has resorted to using force.

Members of MEND say they only use force to attract attention to their group — that the government has responded to their peaceful protests with force so they are responding in kind.

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So maybe the Avatar craze has come and gone, but I thought this article was worth sharing.  I spent the first part of this year with friends in Costa Rica.  My Costa Rican friends were quick to pick up on the imperialist critique.  Oddly, however, many Americans I discussed the film with, were not.

by Sanho Tree, published on Tuesday, March 2, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

Like Barack Obama, Avatar has become a Rorschach test for the times in which we live. Everyone interprets it their own way. Nominated for nine Oscars, it’s already the highest-grossing film of all time-having pulled in around $2.5 billion globally. More importantly, Avatar could become a game-changer in our evolving cultural consciousness about the impact of modernity on the world.

I recently saw the film in St. Louis with my teenage niece and nephew. To them, it was science fiction. I suggested it was more of a commentary about the Americas. Indeed, it mirrors the history of indigenous peoples in this hemisphere for the past 500 years. The struggle over resource extraction for profit versus the territorial rights of indigenous peoples continues to unfold on a daily basis across the globe.

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The foiled terrorist attack on Christmas Day served as a timely reminder that the U.S. remains vulnerable to plots from Al-Qaeda. As more details emerge about the security lapses that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board his flight to Amsterdam and later to Detroit, President Barack Obama has come under intense criticism from opportunist Republicans over his handling of the so-called War on Terror. Yet instead of dodging the role as a partisan punching bag, Obama appears willing to engage in domestic squabbling, at great cost to his foreign agenda.

Obama’s announcement on January 4 that the U.S. was to introduce tougher airport screening for “security risk” countries underlined the air of desperation and ineptitude that has gripped the White House since December 25. The countries included on the list were Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen. While some of the countries are merely the usual suspects, the inclusion of Cuba seems anomalous. Its appearance is explained by its unfortunate presence on another U.S.-produced list: state sponsors of terrorism. Nevertheless, many experts believe its inclusion is anachronistic, given that there is no current evidence to support the theory that Cuba sponsors terrorists, especially not those linked to Al-Qaeda. Many Cubans hoped that Obama’s election would help restore diplomatic relations between the two nations, and indeed the Obama administration has made tentative steps to this effect. The guileless inclusion of Cuba on a “security risk” list needlessly hinders potential rapprochement.

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Months after the initial furor, the outrage over the early release of the man convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 emerged again this week. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was allowed home to Libya during the summer by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds because the cancer-stricken convict had only three months to live. On November 20, that three-month period passed with Megrahi still alive, leading many of the 270 victims’ relatives, mostly Americans, to question the authenticity of the medical advice the Scots used when releasing the prisoner. Closer inspection of the decision would appear to legitimize the families’ anger.

The medical advice that the Scottish government consulted in order to make their controversial decision was provided by three doctors: two British and one Libyan. All three men were paid by the Libyan government and one of the British doctors has since commented that the three-month period was actually suggested by the Libyan government. Independent doctors had earlier calculated that Megrahi had more than a year to live, leaving him ineligible for release on compassionate grounds. To put their decision into perspective,  prisoner release on compassionate grounds has been used only seven times by the Scottish National Party since taking office in May 2007, with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill responsible for all the decisions. Megrahi has already survived longer since his release than any of the other criminals, only one of whom was a convicted murderer.

Releasing Megrahi provoked anger on both sides of the Atlantic, with President Obama calling the move a “mistake”. While many Scots echoed the president’s sentiments, some saw irony in the U.S.’s pontification over prisoner treatment. MacAskill has long claimed that he was motivated purely by medical advice, yet commentators speculate that the move formed part of a trade deal between Libya and the UK. The reality is probably less complex and conspiratorial.

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America has a long history of involving itself militarily around the world. Our primary justification for military action is always the protection of the citizens of the United States from harm from external forces. We also justify wars by claiming to protect the rights and wellbeing of citizens of other nations who cannot successfully fight for themselves.

By providing ethical motives for our military presence abroad, our government rationalizes most everything we do. Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project, recently spoke at John Hopkins University here in D.C. and argued quite effectively that we may need to question these motives.

Mr. Volman studies the evolution and activities of AFRICOM, the U.S. military command in Africa. He believes that a significant amount of why we are militarily present in Africa has to do with our reliance on African oil supplies. He notes the correlation between our increased military action in Africa in the last decade and our increased need for African oil. (The U.S. intelligence community predicts that the U.S. will be receiving 20% of its foreign oil supplies from Africa by 2015.)

Until about 10 years ago, Africa was quite marginal from the point of view of the Pentagon. As it became clear that we would come to rely on resources from the continent much more heavily than we had in the past, the need to protect those resources, and our access to them, became increasingly vital.

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