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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Mordechai Kedar: Radical Islam in Africa

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Before Islam appeared on the scene, the Arab tribes would contend with each other in endless wars that continued for hundreds of years and cost many lives. When Islam appeared in the first quarter of the seventh century CE, it was meant to be a new, religious basis for the definition of the individual and the group; a unifying focus of ideological identification that would substitute for the divisive tribal identification from which the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula suffered. The tragedy of Islam is that it failed in this important task, so the Islamic peoples and the tribes remained divided and fragmented, bickering with each other and quarreling with each other as if they had forgotten the explicit saying in the Qur’an, (Chapter 3, verse 103): “Cleave, all of you, to the religion of Allah and do not part from each other”. The worst thing is that throughout history, Islam has been used as fuel for the fires of internal conflicts, and many times in the course of the history of Islam, both sides of an internal conflict justified the conflict in terms of Islam, and each declared jihad against the other.

European colonialism left behind it in Africa heterogeneous states, each of which is an aggregation of tribes that differ from each other. Therefore, for many years, most of the African states have been afflicted with violent conflicts that leave in their wake many thousands of dead and wounded. Cases of genocide, in Biafra in the late sixties and in Rwanda in 1994, are the direct result of the conflicts between tribes within African states. In cases where one side of a conflict is Muslim and the other side is Christian or Animist (pagan), the religious element becomes part of the reason for the war, fueling the conflict and turning it into a holy jihad, thus justifying acts of mass slaughter.

When conflicts between the tribes are colored with a religious hue, situations are created in which Muslim dictators behave with total brutality: Idi Amin, the dictator of Uganda between 1971 and 1979 eliminated about a half million Ugandans in cold blood. Some of them he threw into Lake Victoria, teeming with crocodiles, to be food for the predators. These days a film is circulating on the nternet of a different case: a mass murderer in Uganda, Joseph Kony, who forcefully enlisted children, armed them, and turned them into mass murderers totally lacking in compassion or conscience.

For about fifty years, in the second half of the twentieth century, a terrible and destructive war was carried out in Sudan, between the Arab-Muslim North and the Christian-Animist South. Over the years, this war has caused about two million fatalities, and it ended in an agreement in July 2011 that brought about  the division of Sudan into two states, a northern state which is Arab and Muslim, and a southern state with a Christian and Animist population.

In the Darfur region of Sudan, genocide has been taking place since 2003, in which Arab Muslim militias, aligned with the Sudanese government, have been methodically eliminating African Muslim tribes, burning their villages, slaughtering the men and making abused slaves of their wives. As of today, about half a million people have been killed as a result of the battles, arson, and starvation that have afflicted the population of Darfur, and millions of its people were forced to flee to Libya, Chad or Nigeria. At the crux of this conflict is the popular belief that prevails among Arab Muslims, that Muslims who are not Arab are not true Muslims, but rather second class Muslims only pretending to be Muslims, and therefore it is permissible to shed their blood.

It is important to note that in Arabic, a person with black skin is called “abd”, “slave”, and Arabs were the biggest slave merchants, selling Africans to work in America. This view of the people of Africa turns them into easy and legitimate prey. In the countries south of the Sahara – Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania – there is a Muslim majority, because most of their inhabitants converted to Islam during the course of history in order not to be considered as slaves. Therefore Arab Muslims consider them not to be true Muslims.

In the battles over Darfur there are organizations with an Islamic character such as “Jamaat Ansar al-Sunnah” or “Group of the Followers of Sunnah”; “Jamayat al-Kitab wal-Sunnah Alh’irih” – “Charity Association of Koran and the Tradition”; and the “Salafion” – “The Glorious Past”. And the texts that these organizations distribute are reminiscent of the texts of Usama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, past and present leader of Al-Qaeda respectively. It is important to note that during the 1990s, Al Qaeda had bases in Sudan. In 1988 the terrorists who struck the American embassy in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and Dar-es-Salam, the capital of Tanzania emanated from these bases; those attacks resulted in more than two hundred fatalities.

Israel, UN, Worried about Growing Hizbollah Base in West Africa

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor warned the UN Security Council Tuesday that Hizbollah was increasing its power base in western Africa. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his own concern about dangerous ties between the Lebanese terror group and African crime organizations.

Ambassador Prosor added: “Israel is particularly concerned over Hezbollah’s use of the area as a base of terror operations. Criminal initiatives bolster Hizbollah’s efforts to create sleeper-cells in the area. The world can’t stand idly by – this endangers more than just Africa but innocent lives the world over, as we have seen in New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok.”

Israel Moves to Stop Flood of Illegal Immigrants

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

The Knesset on Tuesday passed a law allowing foreigners caught illegally entering the country to be held in detention facilities for up to three years, without trial. The law also sets penalties of up to 15 years in prison for Israelis who assist in such infiltrations.

The new regulations, which update a 1954 law passed in response to Palestinian terrorist raids, are meant to stop the flow across the Egyptian border into Israel of tens of thousands of Africans seeking work or asylum. Current regulations allow authorities a much shorter period of detention, in many cases forcing the government to release illegal immigrants.

Opponents of the law said it infringed on human rights, and called its provisions for holding immigrants without trial unconstitutional. The law’s sponsors said that those who provide humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants already in the country would not be subject to penalty.

Illegal immigration from Africa has become a major concern for Israel. The first wave began in 2005, when a few hundred people fleeing fighting in Sudan travelled through Egypt to seek protection in the country. Tens of thousands of Sudanese, Eritreans and other African nationals soon followed, seeking better living conditions in Israel.

Knesset Passes New Bill to Prevent Infiltration

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

New legislation targeting illegal immigration passed its second and third readings in the Knesset on Tuesday. Among the measures included in the bill are the power to detain illegal migrants for up to three years without charge, prison terms of up to 15 years for anyone convicted of aiding migrants involved in smuggling humans, weapons or drugs into Israel, faster construction of the border fence with Egypt, and a new detention facility.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahi, who had called the issue “a national calamity” and made the legislation a cornerstone of his plan to tackle illegal immigration, cast a vote in favor of the legislation.

Detractors claim the bill is undemocratic and runs counter to Israel’s obligations to human rights. But Likud MK Zeev Elkin stressed that there were similar laws on the books in many other countries, and that the legislation was required to stem the growth of illegal immigration. According to figures, there were 52,487 illegal immigrants in Israel at the end of last year, most of whom arrived from Africa.

Israel Prepares Africa For Mass Circumcision

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

A delegation of Israeli mohels (ritual circumcisors) returned from a two week trip to Africa last week, where they prepared a UN medical team for a mass African circumcision.

 

Over the next five years, an estimated 20 million African men will be circumcised by UNAIDS, the UN organization dedicated to reducing the spread of the AIDS virus, which is contagious through sexual and blood-to-blood contact.

 

Since 2007, Israeli volunteer physicians and nurses have been performing circumcisions in Swaziland and South Africa, as part of Operation Abraham. Operation Abraham is a program of the Jerusalem AIDS Project, operating in coordination with the Hadassah Medical Organization, which promotes conducting circumcisions in Africa as a way of curtailing the spread of disease.

 

On Monday night, the UN and the Obama administration announced the program, with the support of Operation Abraham.

 

A team of 40 Israeli surgeons and nurses is providing professional guidance on setting up clinics and performing adult and teenage circumcisions safely and effectively.

 

The program about to get underway in Africa is expected to prevent 3.4 million people from being infected by HIV, and save $16.5 billion in related funds.  Studies from 2006 proved that circumcision reduces the risk of male infection by HIV by 60 percent.

 

The State of Israel has experience with mass circumcision, having performed large numbers of youth and adult ritual circumcisions for waves of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.  Jewish ritual circumcision typically takes place on the eight day after the birth of a boy, but was either prevented or not practiced by many Jews from those countries.  Men of all backgrounds who convert to Judaism must also undergo circumcision.

Human, All Too Human: To Survive, We Need To Look Behind The News

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

We Jews are already accustomed to irony, but – only rarely – does the subject in question rise to the daunting level of human survival. Here, however, is one of those rare subjects. Considering it carefully, we can begin to appreciate the obligation to look at our world with genuinely larger questions in mind. In other words, we should quickly begin to recognize a distinct imperative to look behind the news.

The “story” I have presently in mind begins at the airport (any airport). There, each time I get on a plane, I am promptly struck by the profoundly ironic contradictions. As a species, it seems, we can take tons of heavy metal and shape them into vehicles of air travel. Yet, we must also take off our shoes and segregate our “liquids and gels” before being allowed to board. After all, we understand, some on board may always be trying to murder their fellow passengers.

What is wrong with us? Surely, the gap between technical intelligence and empathy is now more glaring than ever. Where precisely, have we humans gone wrong? This is not an academic question. It is the single most practical question that we must answer. Until we do, all proposed solutions to war, terror and genocide will be irremediably partial, limited and temporary.

Like it or not, we Americans are part of a much wider human family. This imperiled global community continues to reveal, without humiliation or embarrassment, the plainly delicate veneer of social coexistence. Recalling William Golding’s shipwrecked boys in Lord of the Flies, we must also admit that behind this veneer lurks a dreadful barbarism. Reading the latest world news, we must unhesitatingly acknowledge that an entire world could once again become “bloodless,” a global “skeleton.” We inhabit a badly-despoiled planet; we now face genuinely existential crises with nary a serious remedy in mind.

Why? How has an entire species, scarred and miscarried from the start, managed to scandalize even its own creation? Are we all the potential murderers of those who live beside us? Looking at history, we know that this is not a silly question.

Today, in all-too-many places, the human corpse remains a grotesque object of supremely high fashion. Soon, especially with spreading weapons of mass destruction, whole nations of corpses could become the rage. Following even a small nuclear war, cemeteries the size of entire cities would be needed to bury the dead. Before anything decent could be born into this post-apocalypse world, only a snarling gravedigger could wield the forceps.

Unremarkably, the silence of “good people” is vital to all that would madden and torment. Yet these good people, here and in other countries, normally remain quiet. To be sure, there will always be deeply impassioned reactions to the latest exterminations in Africa or Asia or Europe, but here, in America, amidst our indisputably “advanced civilization,” the audible sighs are never so bothersome as to interfere with lunch.

How much treasure, how much science, how much labor and planning, how many centuries have we humans ransacked to allow a seemingly unstoppable carnival of chemical, biological and nuclear harms? Frightened by the always irrepressible specter of personal death, and also by the sometimes desperate need to belong – to be an acceptable member of a state, a faith, a race, a tribe, often for the wrong reasons, at literally all costs (even at the cost of killing outsiders), how much longer can so many be permitted to project their own private terrors on to public world politics?

I don’t know the answer. I do know, however, that we cannot remain unmindful that these are the critically important questions before us. Finding answers to them will thus be indispensable to solving our more particular and insistent survival, security and economic problems.

French philosophers of the eighteenth-century Age of Reason wrote of a siècle des lumieres, a century of light, but the early twenty-first century is still mired in a bruising darkness. This can be changed, but only if we first learn the core difference in human affairs between cause and effect. To succeed, we must learn to base our national and international remedies on conquering the real “disease,” not just on mitigating symptoms.

It is nice to believe in progress, but usually history reveals only intermittently catastrophic patterns of decline.

In the end, all of the visible Earth is made of ashes, but even ashes can have very tangible meaning. Through the obscure depths of history, we should now struggle heroically to make out the phantoms of sunken ships of state and to learn more about the then-foreseeable disasters that had sent them down.

All too often, the barbarians are not found “outside the gates.” The destructive human inclination to reject compassion, to tolerate evil and to turn away from serious learning still lies latent within many, relentless; recalcitrant; heavy, and (above all) dangerous.

We humans build impressively complex machines to fly us through the air, but we must continuously fear that some among us will transform these marvelous vehicles into instruments of annihilation.

The ironic contradictions of the present age remain stark, and dense with implication. It is high time to look behind the news and figure them out.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and publishes widely on international relations and international law. The author of ten major books on world affairs, he was born in Zurich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Thanksgiving In Zimbabwe

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Seldom do I use the term “life transforming” because very few things in life are. Change is something that requires diligence, effort and even monotonous repetition. It doesn’t come cheaply.
 
But what I did this past Thanksgiving forever changed my perception of the world. As a volunteer with my good friend Glen Megill’s organization, Rock of Africa, a Christian relief effort, I traveled to Zimbabwe, one of the poorest countries on earth to one of its poorest villages.
 
Joining me was my daughter Chana; my friend, the writer and radio host Dennis Prager; Dennis’s son Aaron; Glen Megill; and several Christian volunteers. We staged an outreach program preparing a Thanksgiving feast for 500 villagers. Most important, we gave them seed that can produce shima, the corn-flower mixture that is the staple diet for most of Africa and which, for $25 a year, can literally keep a family alive. The feast consisted of ten slaughtered goats and giant pots of cooked cabbage and shima.
 
It would be difficult to convey the appreciation of the villagers for one good, hot, meaty meal. The people we met were gentle, beautiful – and utterly poor. The village consisted of nothing but mud huts, the chief’s homestead included. These people have next virtually nothing. They live in tiny pen-sized huts; one we visited housed a hospitable but infirm man in his late eighties who lives with and takes care of his twelve-year-old-grandson whose parents died of AIDS.
 
Of the hundreds who came to our feast only a few were young mothers and fathers. We saw scores of young children strapped to their grandmothers’ backs in the African way. So many on this continent have already been lost to AIDS – an entire generation wiped out by a killer disease.
 
Despite these serious challenges, the people smile and exhibit unbelievable warmth. Are they happier than we in the West? I cannot say. I have never believed in the ennobling quality of poverty and I will not glamorize a life with so little. But what is undeniable is that they seemed far more satisfied, more grateful, and more content.
 
We in the West who are fortunate to be able to translate so much of our potential into something professionally and personally fulfilling are frequently plagued by an insatiable material hunger, making it challenging for us to ever find the inner peace these villagers seemed to possess.
 
As we Rock of Africa volunteers cooked and served the food, I noticed that among the villagers there was not a single finicky eater. They ate every part of the goat served them – the stomach, the intestines, the vertebrae. Food was not a luxury. It was survival itself.
 
The men and women sat apart. When the women, my daughter included, served them, they curtsied, as women do by tradition before men. If a woman does not curtsy, the man will not accept the food.
 
Most memorable were the children, who were wondrous in every way. Gorgeous, extremely polite, and exceptionally well behaved. They exhibited none of wildness common among Western kids. Hundreds of them sat in perfect rows on the floor, grateful to have a warm, hot meal. They too sang and danced for us and we danced with them.
 
The most moving part of the day was when we distributed the corn seed for the families. The chief called out the names and as they came forward for the seed they were glowing. Many of them kissed the bags as they collected them.
 
It should be mandatory to take Western kids to Africa for at least one humanitarian mission. It would help wean them from the corrosive materialism that has overtaken us and it would lead them to appreciate their blessings and share more of it with others.
 
All this was made possible because of two angels. The first is Glen Megill, the American businessman who created Rock of Africa and is one of the most righteous men I know.
 
The second is a young woman whose courage and heroism left me incredulous. Her name is Regina Jones. She’s thirty years old and from Detroit. She moved to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, four years ago after a teen life where she owned more than two hundred pairs of shoes.
 
She now lives on her own and runs the organization. She saves orphaned street children from dying of AIDS. She teaches villagers how to become self-sustaining. For our feast she went at midnight to a neighboring village, negotiated the price of the goats, rented a trailer in the morning and picked them up so the villagers could eat meat. I personally watched her lovingly lecture a man with a white beard to help out his wife more with their tiny farm.
 

No, she is not a household name and she will never be as famous as Britney Spears. But to me she was a small reminder that the suffocating selfishness of Western material culture can indeed be transcended.

 

 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network and the author most recently of “The Blessing of Enough.” Donations to Rock of Africa can be made via the organization’s website, www.rockofafrica.org.

A Word Is Worth 100 Pictures: Richard McBee Empowers The Biblical Sarah

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Paintings by Richard McBeeJanuary 18 – February 22, 2009The Chassidic Art Institute (CHAI)375 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y.718-774-9149, hours: 12-7 p.m.

Writing a biography of the biblical Sarah, whether in text or images, is about as easy as hunting tigers in Africa or helping Pooh chase Heffalumps and Woozles. Born Sarai, Sarah lived in her husband Abraham’s shadow. She was very attractive (as per Genesis 12:11) though barren, and seemed to have had a rebellious personality. She laughed when she was supposed to trust G-d, and even Abraham doubted the justice of her verdict to expel Hagar and Ishmael. But she silently watched Abraham identify her twice as his sister in hostile countries, about 120 miles apart, and each time she was nearly defiled by the monarch. And when Abraham set out to sacrifice her only son on a stone altar with a knife and a fire – she keeled over and never spoke (or breathed) again.

It is no wonder that painters throughout history have not even bothered with Sarah. The handful that did approach the topic only portrayed Abraham burying Sarah or the happy couple in Egypt, with Sarah standing off to the side as a supporting actress. It comes as a bit of a surprise then that Richard McBee has been obsessed with the Sarah stories for years. Not one to shy away from challenges, McBee not only tackles the Sarah stories, but he does so from Sarah’s perspective. Simply put, this is unprecedented.

Even if you are good at puzzles, you probably won’t guess that Sarah was the subject of “Sister Act.” The setting evokes the Emerald City from the Land of Oz. A man in a tuxedo at a balcony surveys a group of soldiers with bayonets and a Chassidic man hunched awkwardly to the side, perhaps swaying in prayer. A muscular man matter-of-factly places his hands on his hips as he glares at a human Jack-in-the-Box in the foreground, or more accurately, a Jill-in-the-Box.

 

 

Richard McBee. “Sister Act.” All images courtesy of the artist.

 

According to the Midrash, as told on Chabad’s website, Abraham, fleeing the famine back home in Canaan, finds his way to Egypt and hides his wife in a box so the border patrol does not abduct her. When the officials demanded taxes on the contents of the unopened box, Abraham agrees to pay the highest tax bracket (spices), which of course leads the suspicious Egyptian police to open the box and whisk Sarah (then Sarai) away to Pharaoh. McBee adapts the story in several important ways. Where Chabad claims the box was “large,” McBee’s small box adds insult to injury by requiring Sarai to uncomfortably fold herself in two, Pharaoh wears not Egyptian regal garments but cocktail attire, and Abraham wears a shtreimel instead of a turban.

The painting, which is on exhibit at the Chassidic Art Institute, is part of McBee’s newest series of paintings, which captures the story of Sarah. A second piece in the show is “Whip Angel.” Unlike the vulnerable Sarah of “Sister Act,” McBee’s “Whip Angel” finds the one tale where Sarah is empowered. Pharaoh, still clad in a tux with a bowtie, stands to the left in his penthouse apartment, as Sarah, reclining on a sofa on the high ground, directs an angel to whip the king. This follows another Midrash in which the angel, upon Sarah’s command, keeps Pharaoh from approaching Sarah. McBee’s Sarah seems only semi-comfortable with her newfound power. She holds her hand up to her heart simultaneously shocked and intrigued.

 

 

Richard McBee. “Whip Angel.”

 

Both “Sister Act” and “Whip Angel” are very complicated pieces. They clothe biblical characters in modern dress, plant them in contemporary scenes, and one includes the fantastical angel wielding a dangerous whip. It is easy to see how this sort of collage could look ridiculous, but McBee manages the unlikely combinations using the same sort of approach Chagall used to convincingly suspend bodies in the air without compromising their weight – keeping the interior spaces simple and carefully balanced. McBee’s biblical interpretations are theological and perhaps feminist triumphs, but those ideas succeed because the paintings work pictorially, first, and only then as texts.

The other works on exhibit at CHAI – which include several Sacrifices of Isaac (including “After the Akeida” which was the first of the series), Isaac blessing Jacob, several Exodus paintings, and Jacob’s dream – are a bit more straightforward than the Sarah series. One work, “God Passes By,” stands out.

 

 

Richard McBee. “After the Akeida.” 1991. 24 x 24.

 

The story derives from Exodus 33: 17-23 in which Moses asks to see G-d’s face. This is of course impossible for a living person to do, so G-d offers an alternative. Moses will stand in a rock crevice, and G-d will cover him with his palm and let Moses see his “back” as he passes by. I know of only one work that addresses this theme, a miniature by the Master of Alexander, c. 1430 in the collection of The Hague. The Alexander Master’s piece is dramatic, with Moses kneeling in front of a whirlwind.

 

 

Richard McBee. “God Passes By.” 2006. 18 x 24.

 

McBee’s painting, by comparison, is far less grand. It takes a while to even notice Moses, who is camouflaged with the rocks. G-d, of course, is nowhere to be seen, and he might have already left the scene, judging from Moses’ pensive mood. Since Moses looks out at the viewer, McBee has perhaps offered a G-d’s-eye view of the scene – another unique and controversial approach. And as in his Sarah paintings, McBee seeks psychological elements in the biblical tale rather than just telling the superficial story.

Searching for a voice for the disenfranchised requires a lot of guesswork and projection, of course. At its best, McBee’s series offers the artist’s attempts to “become” Sarah’s character – almost like the kind of conjecture an actor might undergo to perform the Sacrifice of Isaac. Even though he considers himself a feminist, McBee’s approach can hardly be anything but a masculine one, and yet he has clearly approached the subject, not only as a painter, but also as a scholar. Just as the rabbis of old sought to uncover the truths of the texts, even when that meant trying to understand biblical women, McBee’s series – with the benefit of modern, progressive eyes – is an effort in transcendence and open-mindedness. Presented with a single word from the text, McBee has created a hundred pictures.

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, and resides in Washington, D.C.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts//2009/01/21/

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