Posted on December 11, 2013 in Countdown

Mandela’s Solidarity with Palestinians

“All of us need to do more in supporting the struggle of the people of Palestine for self-determination; in supporting the quest for peace, security and friendship in this region” – Nelson Mandela

As the world mourns the great Nelson Mandela, who passed away last week at the age of 95, we too are reflecting on his extraordinary legacy. Having suffered under the wrath of oppression as a political prisoner for 27 years, he emerged with unwavering conviction and extraordinarily, with a genuine desire for reconciliation. In his historic speech as President of South Africa at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in 1997, he reminded us that “the temptation in our situation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine to a state of their own…yet we would be less than human if we did so.” Having defeated the abhorrent system of apartheid in South Africa, he chose to lead his country, but also continue the struggle for human rights worldwide. Like the rest of the world, we mourn the loss of this great man. 

A picture of Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat hangs in AAI’s office and is signed by both men. Quoting Mandela from 1990, the poster says, "There are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO. We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel..." Read Mandela’s full address from 1997 at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People here.

Why you are probably a Liar

According to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), if you’re Middle Eastern, you can’t help but lie. It’s not your fault, though; it’s just part of your culture. In one of the more bigoted and downright stupid things we’ve heard out of Washington in a while (and that’s saying something), Rep. Hunter told C-SPAN that we can’t trust Iran to live up to its end of the nuclear deal brokered by the P 5+1 because “In the Middle Eastern culture it is looked upon with very high regard to get the best deal possible, no matter what it takes, and that includes lying." When given the opportunity to walk back such a ridiculous statement, Rep. Hunter dug deeper, offering this fascinating clarification: "Yeah, that's part of Middle Eastern culture. They like to barter there." We’re blown away by Rep. Hunter’s cultural competency. How else would he know that in your typical Middle Eastern bazaar, just like those who sell dates, the uranium vendors drive a hard bargain? We bet he even knows how our flying carpets work. Very impressive. We’re so glad that Rep. Hunter is a member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities. Jokes aside, this level of bigotry is unacceptable, much less from a member of Congress. If Rep. Hunter had attacked any other community with his words, he would be lambasted throughout Washington. For our part, we’re inviting Rep. Hunter to our offices in the hopes that he may learn a thing or two about Middle Eastern culture. For all our sakes, we hope he accepts our invitation.  

What Iranians Think

We’ve heard plenty on what the American Congress and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu think about Iran and its nuclear program, but last week, Zogby Research Services (ZRS) released a poll that gives insight into how the Iranian public feels. Conducted in September among 1,205 Iranian adults, the poll looked at Iranian political priorities and expectations and attitudes toward their country’s nuclear program and its regional foreign policy. Key findings include: while 36% of all Iranians say they are better off now than they were five years ago, 43% now expect that they will be better off during the next four years under President Hassan Rouhani. When asked to rank their top political priorities, the issue of employment tops the list (29%), and their country’s nuclear program is one of their lowest priority concerns. 36% of Iranians say that sanctions have had an impact on their lives, and this, or national pride, may be the reason why the vast majority of Iranians (96%) agree with the statement that “maintaining the right to advance a nuclear program is worth the price being paid in economic sanctions and international isolation.” You can download the poll and watch the poll release’s webcast here, featuring Dr. James Zogby, Arab American Institute president and director of ZRS, and Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, and author of Treacherous Alliance and A Single Roll of the Dice.

Things we Wish we Made up

It's not always easy to write Countdown. The world is often too serious – and just too downright depressing – for us to make fun or write cleverly without sounding like we enjoy trafficking in misery. That's why we get so excited when we see a story that almost makes us think people had us in mind – like this one. Apparently no facet of American life is too frivolous to be infiltrated by the Federal Government – including online fantasy worlds. This week we learned the NSA is spying on fictional characters in games like World of Warcraft and Second Life. Apparently the Government is concerned that criminals or terrorists could use the games to communicate or plot (how is not clear), and thus the NSA has made it its business to infiltrate the realms of Pandaria and Azeroth by creating fictional avatars and ingratiating themselves into the dark world of online gaming. We’re less concerned with the privacy implications (it doesn’t seem likely that night-elves outside the United States are entitled to the protections of the Constitution) than the concern that just maybe the NSA’s resources should be concentrated elsewhere. For while this super-awesome technique has yet to disrupt any plots, we can assume it’s contributed to some quality gaming time for NSA’s employees. We’re grateful to the Government for providing us a story that’s basically tailor-made for Countdown.

Stop-and-frisk: Stopped or Tweaked?

Last week, New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio announced that Bill Bratton will head the New York Police Department (NYPD). Bratton has a long and distinguished pedigree as a police chief, having served in Los Angeles, Boston, and a previous go-around in the Big Apple. He also satisfies one of our most important criteria for running NYPD: he’s not Ray Kelly. But we have some questions about whether Bratton is the best choice to reform Kelly and outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s discredited and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program. Bratton oversaw such a program in L.A. from 2002-08, and it seems likely it will continue in New York. But the ability to stop and briefly question people in public where there’s reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is a crucial tool of police work, when it’s used correctly. L.A.’s stops were much more effective than New York’s; they were significantly more likely to lead to arrests. And Bratton, unlike Kelly, seems to understand that policing can’t work without trust between police and minority communities: he built up an impressive record working with L.A.’s black and Latino communities, and de Blasio has said he expects the same in New York. “[Bratton] managed in L.A. to deepen the respect and relationship between the police and a number of communities, including the Muslim community.” We hope so too: NYPD’s overreaches under Bloomberg went far beyond stop-and-frisk to straight-up spying.


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