Beliefnet
City of Brass

My friend Razib has started an interesting debate on the meaning and value of the concept, “Judeo-Christian” – his initial post attracted a vigorous discussion, a response from Ross Douthat at The Atlantic, and lively discussion at Talk Islam. Frankly I think that the phrase “Judeo-Islamic” is a more defensible construct (agreeing with Razib’s general point).

You can follow the entire debate via this link at Talk Islam.

The following is a statement of principles written by Richard Silverstein of the blog Tikkun Olam and other American Jewish writers (many of whom contributed to the landmark collection of essays, A Time to Speak Out) regarding the ongoing Israeli operation in Gaza.

As human beings, we are shocked and appalled at the mass destruction unleashed by the State of Israel against the people of Gaza in its current military operation, following years of Israeli occupation, siege, and deprivation.

 As Americans, we protest the carte blanche given Israel by the US government to pursue a war of “national honor,” “restoring deterrence,” “destroying Hamas,” and “searing Israel’s military might into the consciousness of the Gazans.”

As progressives, we reject the same justifications for the carnage that we heard ad nauseum from the supporters of the Second Iraq War: the so-called “war on terror,” the “clash of civilizations,” the “need to re-establish deterrence” – all of which served to justify a misguided and unnecessary war, with disastrous consequences for America and Iraq.

But as Jews of different religious persuasions, from Orthodox to secular atheist, we are especially horrified that a state that purports to speak in our name wages a military campaign that has killed over 1,000 people, a large percentage of them civilians, children, and non-combatants, with little or no consideration for human rights or the laws of war.

While the moral and legal issue concerning Israel’s right to respond militarily in these circumstance can be debated, there is near-universal agreement that its conduct of the military operation has been unjust and even criminal – with only the usual apologists for the Jewish state disagreeing.

As Jews, we stand united with another Israel, the patriarch Jacob, who cursed his sons Simeon and Levi for massacring the people of Shechem in revenge for the rape of their sister Dinah. Like Jacob, “we shall not be a party to the counsel of zealots. We shall not be counted in their assembly. (See Genesis 34. 49: 5-7).

As Jews, we stand united with the Jewish sages who rejected the zealotry of the Jewish “terrorists” at Masada,  those who masked ethnic tribalism in the cloak of “self-defense” and “national honor.”

As Jews, we listen not only when the sage Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” but also when he says, “If I am only for myself, what am I?”  Hillel’s closing words also ring true in this hour of decision when a ceasefire is demanded of both sides: “If not now, when?”

Finally, as American Jewish progressives, and as human beings, we condemn Hamas and Israel for violating the human rights of civilians on both sides, although we do not necessarily declare these violations to be morally or legally equivalent.  We affirm the rights of both Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination and self-defense, as we affirm the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

This statement is reprinted from Tikkun Olam. To sign your name to this statement, please send your full name, title (if you wish), & affiliation (if you wish) to statement.signatories@gmail.com.

As Israel’s war against Gaza rages on, the foreign media must watch from the sidelines. Israel has barred access to the Gaza strip for journalists and human rights monitors, as part of an attempt to impose political control on the reporting. The closest that the foreign media can get to the action in Gaza is Hack Hill, where Gaza burns “splendidly on the horizon” and clowns mock the correspondents. Real clowns, not just Joe the Plumber, mind you.

However, there is one media organization that is already on the scene in Gaza – Al Jazeera. For AlJ, the problem isn’t getting into Gaza, but rather getting their news out. Their solution? Embracing the new media of the Internet:

While getting to the story has not been an insurmountable problem
for Al Jazeera English’s journalists — they are, in effect, surrounded
by it — getting their reports to the English-speaking public has been a
bit trickier. The network is largely unavailable in the United States,
carried only by cable providers in Burlington, Vt.; Toledo, Ohio; and
Washington, D.C. (In Burlington, the local government last summer
rejected public calls for the city-owned cable provider, Burlington
Telecom, to drop the channel.)

By contrast, Al Jazeera’s
English-language service can be seen in over 100 countries via cable
and satellite, according to Molly Conroy, a spokeswoman for the network
in Washington.

Recognizing that its material from Gaza will have
influence in the United States only if it is highly accessible online,
Al Jazeera has aggressively experimented with using the Internet to
distribute the information it has gathered.

For example, Mohamed
Nanabhay, the 29-year-old executive who established Al Jazeera’s
new-media group, beginning in late 2006, said that Al Jazeera planned
to announce this week that all its video material of the war in Gaza
would become available under the most lenient Creative Commons license,
which basically means it can be used by anyone — rival broadcaster,
documentary maker or individual blogger, for example — as long as Al
Jazeera is credited.

Also, it currently streams its broadcasts in a variety of formats and has a dedicated channel on YouTube with more than 6,800 videos.

This isn’t just lip-service, mind you. Mohamed Nanabhay, the executive mentioned above, is on twitter (@mohamed) and also runs a dedicated Gaza twitter account (@AJGaza) for breaking news in addition to the regular Al Jazeera account (@AJEnglish). The AJ YouTube channel is among the most-viewed News and Politics channels, but what is even more exciting is the AJ Creative Commons Repository where daily video reports from Gaza are currently being filed. These videos are being released under the most liberal license, requiring only attribution to Al Jazeera for private, commercial and non-commercial use (including  remixing). For example, here is high-res MPG footage of Day 19, available directly for download to your personal computer, or embed directly into your blog posts:

Already, Wikipedia is using this footage for it’s own articles on the Gaza conflict.  All this is of course in addition to the regular english-language website (with RSS feed) and mobile-phone version.

It’s worth noting that Al Jazeera’s reputation as “Jihad TV” is wholly undeserved and unjust. Far from being a biased, pro-Islamist propaganda outlet, Al Jazeera is one of the most professional journalism outlets in the world, and a beacon of genuine reporting and commentary in the autocratic landscape of the Middle East. I’ve called Al Jazeera the NPR of the Middle East and Marc Lynch (aka Abu Aardvark) has been defending the channel for years. It’s telling that Al Qaeda routinely lumps Al Jazeera in with the BBC and CNN as media oppressors of the Islamic world! The innovative embrace of new media will help to earn Al Jazeera some much-deserved credibility in the eyes of the general news consumer, inshallah.

Having just returned from an overseas trip, I am particularly sensitive to the issue of racial profiling of muslims by airlines. Or more colloquially, “flying while brown”. There are any number of innocent things you can do on a plane that only seem suspicious when done by a brown; be they muslim or Sikh or even Jewish. The ultimate example of this was the case of Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar, whose innocent shirt with Arabic lettering got him into trouble on a Jet Blue flight. That incident was enough for me to personally vow never to fly Jet Blue again; I am quite gratified to read that just last week, Raed was awarded $240,000 in damages from Jet Blue and the TSA for that violation of his civil liberties. It’s important to take two things away from this affair; one, that security profiling is not inherently bad, but when applied unjustly and hysterically does more harm than good to airline security, and two, that when the security procedures over-step their bounds, the justice system is there to redress the wrong. Those of us who are brown and fly often should take heart in this outcome and not wear victimization on our sleeves.

Related – post on this from the Upgrade: Travel Better blog and another by Amy Sullivan at TIME: Swampland. Also, my classic post, “suspicious things I’ve done on an airplane