Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A WAR ON ERROR

On a day in which Palestinians take to the polls, University College London's Islamic Society and Friends of Palestine Society decided to host an afternoon seminar entitled "The War on Error". Featuring Daud Abdullah and Asim Qureshi. The former is a lecturer of Islamic Studies at Birkbeck College and member of the MCB, the latter (as far as I can tell) a lawyer who writes quite a bit for "Stop Political Terror!", a website whose most famous patron is Yvonne Ridley.

The flyer for the event featured a cartoon media anchor stating:

  • Palestinian gunman kills three Israeli soldiers - "TERROR!"

  • Israeli tank kills six Palestinian civilians - "ERROR!"

Despite the base moral equivalence of the flyer, I figured it might be interesting to pop along. After all, last term UCLIS managed to get a speaker in from Hizb ut Tahrir, despite an NUS ban (info here: look for comments by Bevan Kieran).

As usual, the UCLIS yellow-shirts were in attendance, marshalling men into the right of the auditorium via the sign that said "Brothers" and women, sorry, "Sisters" to the left. Upon entering I wondered what mayhem would ensue were I to sit with the women, but fortunately there were seats in the middle labelled "Mixed" for the sexually confused. Don't laugh - an aside from the Times today:
[Birmingham] Christian Union has been suspended and had its bank account frozen after refusing to open its membership to people of all religions.

The Christian Union, an evangelical student organisation, has instructed lawyers and is threatening court proceedings against the Birmingham Guild of Students.

...

Members claim the actions have been taken against them after they refused on religious grounds to make “politically correct” changes to their charitable constitution, including explicitly mentioning people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.

The Christian Union was advised that the use of the words “men” and “women” in the constitution were causing concern because they could be seen as excluding transsexual and transgendered people.
Good grief.

And now back to our scheduled broadcast...

The event hardly merited the large lecture theatre that had been booked - by my reckoning there were 25 Brothers, 18 Sisters and 10 Mixed present, the latter (perhaps unsurprisingly) including the only "Palestinian chic" on display in the building.

One of these women, it could have been "Lydia" but the microphones weren't working, was invited on stage to pass on a message from the UCL Friends of Palestine. Good wishes for today's election? Not quite. Rather nervously she told us that she was everso sorry that at a previous FOP presentation on Palestine in UCL's South Cloisters, one of the charities present (Al Aqsa) had been distributing some leaflets. Without going into any detail she apologised for the content and said such material would never be handed out under her name again. Fair enough, but you'd think as the event's organiser she'd have bothered to look at the propaganda she was helping to distribute, but there we are.

After she'd finished grovelling, it was the turn of Daud Abdullah to take the stand. Now I'm really not sure how his extended talk on the history of the creation of Israel came under the heading of a "War on Error" as most of it was factually correct and I'd wager accepted by the majority of historians today, regardless of their political affiliation. Well, up until 1948 that is.

After that there were quite a few bloopers, including a rather strange argument that involved criticising Israel for accepting a million "Russian" refugees between 1993 and 2000 of which a third weren't Jewish. Apparently Israel should have "given them [the million Palestinians in Gaza] a bus ride and driven them home if they wanted to solve the problem." By his estimation, 78% of "Jews" (I assume he meant Israelis) live on 16% of the land - they are "urban people" - that's why the kibbutz failed. Call me stupid but isn't Gaza a tad urban?

Well clearly I'm not as stupid as Abdullah who then told us why Israel hadn't given the Palestinians a "bus ride" back home - it's all because Israel wants to be an exclusively Jewish state.

In the course of four sentences he managed to undo his whole argument. If Israel was supposed to be "exclusively Jewish", how do 300,000 non-Jewish Russians he'd just got so upset about fit into the picture?

Being a fair and balanced debate and a "War on Error", it was a little disappointing to hear him describe Israel's "greed" being responsible for a failure in the Oslo Accords, without once mentioning the reasons for the failure of the later Camp David agreement. He didn't dwell on this for too long as he had far more important things to talk about.

Firstly, how the UN bullied Assad out of Lebanon but doesn't bully Israel to the same extent. You'd think in a hall full of students, someone trying to equate the leaderships of these two countries would be laughed out of town. Of course not.

He ended with reference to the "Jenin massacre". Bar Robert Fisk, is there anyone who refers to the goings on in Jenin in April of 2002 as a massacre any more? I've included the Wikipedia link because it links to a number of important documents and you can make up your own mind. Have a look at what Human Rights Watch, no close friend of Israel's, said.

You'd expect more perhaps of a man representing the "moderate" MCB. But you'd certainly expect a lot more of a lecturer at one of London's finest colleges.

At the end of his talk the first question came from one of the Mixed crowd. He wondered what Abdullah had meant when he'd said "massacre" - could Abdullah tell us how many dead? He couldn't. He dodged and dodged and then said nobody knows because Israel wouldn't let the UN in, despite the questioner (almost) giving him the correct figures. Another one of the Mixed crowd said "To bring some balance, the film "Jenin, Jenin" states"... and I gave up listening.

"Jenin, Jenin" was a propaganda film funded by the PA - there's an interesting take on it here by an Israeli doctor who was actually there. The somewhat unreliable WorldNetDaily also has a story on it, but as usual, take with several pinches of salt.

There was then a question about whether Hamas's use of violence should rule them out of the democratic process. Abdullah immediately went into a froth about the French Resistance and when it was pointed out they didn't target German cafes he resorted to quoting UN Resolution 2955 claiming that Hamas had the right to resist "by any means necessary". Nice. He backed off a little claiming that it wasn't for us to judge - "Let the Palestinians decide if Hamas are a terrorist group." But I think he knew he didn't really have a leg to stand on and was stalling to use up the allotted 15 minutes of question time.

One of the Brothers stated that Israel had started it all by bombing the King David Hotel so none of her politicians had any right to lead the country as they were all terrorists. He also claimed that the first suicide bomber was a Jew. I worried just how perverted his knowledge of history must be to make a statement quite like that.

Abdullah's side-kick Qureshi also jumped in stating that terrorist acts were fair enough as he believed Israel was a racist state. Unfortunately by this point my lunch-break was turning into a full afternoon bunk off work so I had to leave.

As I walked out I wondered if Qureshi's lecture would actually be about the media or as dull a history lesson as the previous talk. Shame I missed it - I had all my talking points prepared - but there's always next time...

One major issue I have with the event is that a lecturer of Islamic studies could be so ignorant about such a major talking point as Jenin, and prepared to stand up and describe it as a "massacre" without having any figures to back it up. That wouldn't have got me a GCSE in history, let alone a lectureship at the University of London.

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