In the Shadow of Fiction: How Television Is Making (Up) Muslim History

In the Shadow of Fiction: How Television Is Making (Up) Muslim History

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In Channel 4′s Islam: the Untold Story, aired 28 August, British writer Tom Holland – garbed Indiana Jones-style in billowing shirt and trusty hat – treks across the Arabian desert, talking to local Bedouins, and inspecting historical artefacts to investigate the origins of Islam. Muhammed, he concludes, probably never came from Mecca, but from Transjordania; the Qur’an and its teachings are largely borrowed from local religious traditions, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism; and it is questionable whether ‘Islam’ ever really existed as a distinctive, coherent faith during Muhammed’s reign. Rather, the religion of Islam was an innovation of the Arab empires, cynically manufactured to legitamise its expansion by conquest over much of what we now know as the Middle East.

To vindicate this thesis – based largely on his new book, In the Shadow of the Sword – Holland interviews a handful of sceptical Western scholars of Islam. But his narrative is replete with elementary, often laughable, errors. Perhaps the most glaring is his insistence that Mecca is only mentioned once, ambiguously, in the Qur’an – evidence for Holland that the Prophet never came from Mecca. But this is a strange inaccuracy, for the Qur’an mentions Mecca clearly: “And He it is Who held back their hands from you and your hands from them in the valley of Mecca after He had given you victory over them.” (48:24) He then makes much of the Qur’an’s references to “Becca”, as if this must be a completely different place, oblivious to the fact that in South Arabic, the language used in the south of the Arabian peninsula during the time of Muhammed, the sounds b and m were interchangeable – as documented in 1973 by Princeton University Arabist, professor Philip Hitti.

Holland also argues that the Qur’an’s frequent references to vines and olives points to the existence of an agricultural society. Mecca was barren and lacked agriculture; therefore, hey presto!, Muhammed’s message originated elsewhere. The inference is truly bizarre: neighbouring Medina, where Muhammed emigrated fleeing persecution in Mecca – and where he continued to receive a large bulk of the revelations of the Qur’an – was a thriving “agricultural settlement, with widely scattered palm groves and armed farmsteads.”

Holland’s other pillar of evidence is equally meaningless. Holland visits the site of Sodom, and highlights the Qur’an’s statement that its readers “pass by them in the morning and at night” (47:133-8) Flabbergasted, Holland asks: “What is it doing here – a thousand kilometres from Mecca?” That the Meccans were frequent travelling traders who would have routinely passed through this area – as widely documented by scholars such as William Montgomery Watt in the Encyclopedia of Islam (2008) and Ira Lapidus in his Cambridge University study (1988) – appears to be lost on Holland.

Holland’s lack of familiarity with the wider literature in Western scholarship on Islam is thus painfully obvious to serious historians. Early on, Holland speaks of the study of history in Western universities as based on “scepticism and doubt” – in contrast, presumably, to Muslim historians, who simply shape ‘facts’ to fit their faith. The problem is that even though Holland looks dapper in his Indiana outfit, he is not really a historian – and in his latest work, it shows.

Although for the last nine years Holland has written popular history, the bulk of his writing is fiction – including titles such as The Vampyre (1995), Supping with Panthers (1996), The Sleeper in the Sands (1998), and The Bone Hunter (2001). Yet he has no qualifications in history, and cannot even speak Arabic – which is why he employed a Syriac and Arabic-speaking researcher.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, to find him – in true Indy-style – adopting a 1930s colonial mindset early on, informing viewers that: “To the ancients, the Arabs were regarded as notorious savages.” As if to hit this point home, the only people he finds to endorse orthodox accounts of Islam’s origins are Bedouin Arabs living in the desert. At one symbolic point, Holland prays amongst them, then suddenly – for no apparent reason – extracts himself from the congregation in the middle of the prayer only to peer, wonderingly, around him, as if to underscore the questionable origins of one of Islam’s most sacred rituals.

Strangely, the only other Muslim who makes an appearance to represent the ‘canonical’ view of Islam’s origins is Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. Troubled by what he conceives as gaps in the historical record, and inconsistencies between the scriptural account and hard evidence on the ground, Holland is confidently informed by Nasr that such an absence of evidence is irrelevant for Muslims who recognise the limits of reason in the face of transcendental realities.

But Channel 4′s sole selection of Nasr as representative of the orthodox historical account is disingenuous. Although he is a renowned philosopher specialising in comparative religion, Islamic esoterism, philosophy of science, and metaphysics, Nasr has contributed little on the minutiae of Islamic history. Through such selective production values and imagery, the film strikes a stark contrast between Western logic and Muslim belief. Muslims are portrayed as steeped in a strange, backward irrationality – out of touch with the modern world with its newfangled, super-scientific methods of historical analysis, and immune to the impact of reason when it comes to longstanding beliefs.

What Channel 4 viewers aren’t told is that the theories Holland regurgitates are not only heavily contested in the wider Western scholarly community, they were almost completely discarded some decades ago. One of their core proponents, Patricia Crone, makes a regular talking-head appearance in the film (as well as being heavily referenced in Holland’s book among others). Holland essentially resurrects their ideas – published back in the 1970s – with unnerving gullibility, accentuating the “black hole” of evidence on early Islam where one should expect abundance.

But, unbeknownst to Channel 4 researchers, he is simply wrong. Petra Sijpestein, Professor of Arabic at Leiden University, remarks: “In the writings of 12 years after the death of Muhammad, Muslims are referred to as a separate religious group, first using the term muhajiroun, migrants who had left hearth and home with a purpose, or Saracens, descendents of Sarah and Abraham. And from around 730AD, terms like Islam, Muslims and specific religious customs such as zakat (charity) were already being practiced and described.”

Yet Holland is a man on a mission. Uncritically parroting the Crone thesis that “there is no hard evidence for the existence of the Koran in any form before the last decade of the seventh century” – he infers that the Arab empires self-servingly concocted Islam as a radically distinct faith. For one thing, there are numerous Qur’anic manuscripts from the first century of hijra, which possess no significant textual deviations. But worse, apart from the fact that Islam has never presented itself as an entirely new religion (rather as a continuation and confirmation of the Jewish and Christian traditions), this theory has almost no currency at all in the very Western universities that Holland claims to admire.

As noted by the late Robert Seargeant, Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University, Crone’s argument “is not only bitterly anti-Islamic in tone, but anti-Arabian. Its superficial fancies are so ridiculous that at first one wonders if it is just a ‘leg pull’, pure ‘spoof’.” No wonder that the theory of a “reconstructable past” which “relies only on sources outside of Islam”, has “been almost universally rejected” according to Gordon Newsby, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Emory University. This is because, says David Waines, an Islamic Studies professor at Lancaster University, it is “far too tentative and conjectural (and possibly contradictory).”

Serious debate on Islamic historiography is welcome – including re-evaluation of hadith (oral traditions of the Prophet), and re-assessing regressive elements of ‘Shari’ah Law‘ belonging to the cultural conventions of Arab dynasties. Channel 4‘s film distracts from this urgent task by popularising outmoded anti-Arab theories, long ago dismissed by most serious Western academic institutions as Eurocentric Orientalist fictions.

by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

Israel to create Nazi style concentration camps for thousands of Bedouins

Civil Administration plans to expel thousands of Bedouins from homes, concentrate them in inadequate settlement


 17 Sep 2014

Resident of ‘Ein Karzaliyah in the Jordan Valley. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 8 Jan. 2014
Resident of ‘Ein Karzaliyah in the Jordan Valley. Photo: ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B’Tselem, 8 Jan. 2014 

The Civil Administration has filed for objections plans for establishing a new settlement in the Jordan Valley, where thousands of Bedouins will be forced to relocate. The Civil Administration is advancing several such plans.

The current plan was drawn up without consulting the residents themselves, ignoring their needs. It is part of the Civil Administration’s repeated attempts to concentrate the Bedouins living in the West Bank’s Area C in “permanent sites”, with a view to annexing most of this area to Israel and leaving it free for Israeli use, including settlement expansion.

The new settlement, to be named Ramat Nu’eimeh, will be built in Area C near Jericho, in the Jordan Valley, and is slated to house about 12,500 people from Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley and the Ma’ale Adumim area.

The first three plans for the settlement were filed for objections on 25 August 2014. They included a settlement intended for the Rashaydah tribe, which currently lives in the area, and a road running between the two settlement clusters. On 9 September 2014, three more plans were filed – two for building residences and one for constructing a road. Local residents and Israeli human rights organization Bimkom plan to submit several objections to these plans.

Map of the planned settlement "Ramat Nu’eimeh", courtesy of "Bimkom". Click on map to enlarge
Map of the planned settlement “Ramat Nu’eimeh”, courtesy of “Bimkom”. Click on map to enlarge

The plans were made without consulting the residents, who were not notified of the scope of the plans, and were therefore unable to present their position and make their needs known. The plans ignore the residents’ agrarian way of life and will not allow them to continue shepherding as before. The new settlement will be surrounded from all sides, in part by firing zones, settlements and a military checkpoint, leaving the residents without grazing pastures for their livestock. In addition, the plans force different tribes and communities to live together, contrary to traditional practices.

Most Bedouins living in the West Bank arrived there after they left their homes in the Negev desert, in southern Israel, or were expelled from them, in 1948. Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, they have been forced to relocate several times to allow for Israeli settlements, firing zones, new nature reserves declared, and more. Hundreds of demolition orders have been issued against their homes and entire communities have been repeatedly expelled.

Israeli authorities, and particularly the Civil Administration, which oversees these matters, have refrained from making master plans that meet these residents’ needs and allow them to continue living according to traditional practice. The authorities have never recognized any rights the residents may have to the land. As a result, Bedouin residents suffer from a very low standard of living: they are not connected to the power grid, only some are connected to the water grid, and their access to basic services such as health and education is extremely limited. Their main source of income is shepherding, but the Israeli authorities limit their access to grazing pastures and markets.

According to the Civil Administration, the plan’s objective is to improve the standard of living in these communities and to provide proper housing conditions. The spokesperson of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said, in response to an article published in Israeli daily Ha’aretz on the matter, that the purpose of the new settlement is to “allow the community to settle in an organized area with proper, suitable infrastructure”.

However, if the Civil Administration had the best interests of these communities in mind, it would have consulted with them in the planning stages and prepared plans that meet their needs and allow them to continue their way of life. Instead, the Administration is forcing upon them a plan that dictates an extreme change to their lifestyle, denies their sources of livelihood, and may destroy their communities.

The Civil Administration has previously forced Bedouin communities into permanent housing: during the 1990s, the Civil Administration built a settlement near the Abu Dis landfill and expelled members of the al-Jahalin tribe from their homes to live at the site in order to make way for the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement. That site was also planned without consulting the residents. In addition to the harsh impacts of living near a landfill, relocation to the new site destroyed the Bedouin way of life, harming the residents and community life. The land allocated to each family was not large enough to house livestock and the army restricted access to grazing pastures that had been promised. As a result, only 30% of the residents have continued to earn a living as shepherds.

School in Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community slated for demolition near which the Ma’ale Adumim settlement was built. Photo: Anne Paq,, 4 September 2011
School in Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community slated for demolition near which the Ma’ale Adumim settlement was built. Photo: Anne Paq,, 4 September 2011

The current plan is part of concerted efforts made by various Israeli authorities, over decades, to expel thousands of Palestinians living in dozens of communities scattered throughout Area C from their homes. Israeli officials have repeatedly declared their intent to take over Area C in order to create circumstances that would facilitate its annexation to Israel in a permanent agreement, and to annex it de-facto until then.

The Civil Administration’s plan runs counter to the provisions of international humanitarian law, which prohibit the forcible transfer of protected persons, unless it is carried out for their own protection or for an imperative military need. Even when the transfer meets these criteria, it must be temporary. The current case clearly fails to fulfil these conditions. Moreover, as representatives of the occupying power, Israeli authorities have an obligation to work for the benefit and welfare of the residents of the occupied territory. The plan to expel these residents from their homes, as well as impose living conditions on some that would undermine their source of livelihood, is a breach of this duty. It is clearly meant to advance political objectives entirely unrelated to the obligations of an occupying power.

The Civil Administration must withdraw the plans for establishing Ramat Nu’eimeh immediately. It must allow Bedouin communities to pursue their way of life, plan their communities and build their homes lawfully. It must connect them to infrastructure and provide them with basic health and education services.

Contradicting its own ruling, Israel’s Supreme Court legalizes segregated communities

Contradicting its own ruling, Israel’s Supreme Court legalizes segregated communities

The Israeli Supreme Court Wednesday dismissed various petitions against the Admissions Committees Law, which allows admissions committees in hundreds of communities in Israel to reject housing applicants based on their “social suitability.”

By Amjad Iraqi

March 8, 2000 marked a unique moment in Israeli history. In a major decision, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the town of Katzir, which was established on state land by the Jewish Agency, could not deny the right of the Arab Ka’adan family to live in the town simply on the basis that they were not Jewish. This was the first time that Palestinian citizens of Israel successfully challenged the legality of “Jewish-only” communities in the state, generating cautious optimism that it could set an important precedent for Palestinian rights in land and housing.

Fifteen years later, on September 17, 2014, these hopes came to an abrupt end. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed various petitions filed by human rights groups against the Admissions Committees Law, enacted by the Knesset in 2011. The law allows admissions committees in 434 communities in the Negev and the Galilee (about 43 percent of all towns in Israel) to reject housing applicants based on their “social suitability” and the communities’ “social and cultural fabric.” In effect, these committees are now legally permitted to refuse residency based on any “undesired” identity, including Palestinian, Sephardic, African, gay, religious, secular and others.

The Admissions Committees Law is the Israeli right wing’s response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Ka’adan case. Realizing that marginalized groups were increasingly challenging the state’s discriminatory practices, the Knesset under the 2009-12 Netanyahu government sought to turn Israel’s historical policies against these groups into law. Many Knesset members openly declared that the purpose of these laws was to subdue the “threats” posed by Palestinian citizens to the Jewish character of the state. The authors of the Admissions Committees Law even stated that, though deliberately written in neutral language, its main aim was to prevent Arab citizens from living with Jews.

This objective of segregation is not a new phenomenon in Israel, and has in fact been a central, ongoing practice since the state’s establishment in 1948. Legislation ranging from the Absentees Property Law (1950) to the Negev Individual Settlements Law (2011), along with the policies of the Jewish National Fund, Israel Land Authority and the government itself, operate with the explicit goal of securing maximum and privileged control of land for Israel’s Jewish citizens – a process known as “Judaization.” This runs jointly with the state’s goal of minimizing and concentrating non-Jewish communities in Israel, resulting in the mass confiscation of Palestinian land and the containment of Palestinian towns through discriminatory planning, home demolitions and unequal resource allocation.

Protesters outside the village of Hura in the Negev, protesting against the Prawer Plan, November 30, 2013. The Prawer Plan, if implemented, will displace tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel. (Photo:

Protesters outside the village of Hura in the Negev, protesting against the Prawer Plan, November 30, 2013. The Prawer Plan, if implemented, will displace tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel. (Photo:

However, what makes the admissions committees case significant is that the Supreme Court – the supposed bastion of Israeli democracy – has upheld this clearly discriminatory law, claiming that it could not determine yet if the law violated constitutional rights. Numerous petitions condemned the law from multiple angles, including nationality, race, religion and sexual orientation, but the court swept them aside. More importantly, the court directly undermined its own landmark ruling in the Ka’adan case, overriding one of the few legal decisions that set a precedent for minority rights in Israel and the struggle against state-sanctioned discrimination.

The latest ruling instead illustrates the deteriorating status of Palestinian citizens of Israel at the hands of an increasingly right-wing government and high court. Rather than introducing laws that guarantee equal rights for all of Israel’s citizens, the Knesset has worked to deepen racial inequality and consolidate its discriminatory vision for the state. Meanwhile, the judiciary has allowed the government to carry out this program, choosing not to set precedents on critical cases affecting Palestinian rights. With more discriminatory laws being introduced – including the Prawer Plan Bill, the Contributors to the State Bill, and the Jewish Nation-State Bill – Palestinian citizens and others are left fearing that, despite their best efforts to overturn it, race will continue to be the prime determinant of their rights.

It is therefore up to the public, non-governmental actors and the international community to take a principled stance against this unjust law. Racial separation, especially when engineered by a state, must elicit the same condemnation as other cases have before. Under the segregation laws of the Jim Crow South, gentrification and ghettoization were deliberately used against black Americans in order to keep white neighborhoods economically superior and racially homogenous, the effects of which remain damaging to this day. A more infamous comparison is apartheid South Africa’s Group Areas Act, which legalized the state’s policy of designating land for separate races. Like some of the Israeli law’s proponents today, South Africa’s leaders attempted to sugar-coat their intentions by describing racial separation as a policy of “good neighborliness.” However, such claims cannot conceal the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court’s approval of the Admissions Committees Law has granted legal cover for the principle of segregation and, at worst, has permitted a housing system that disturbingly resembles apartheid.

Amjad Iraqi is a projects and advocacy coordinator at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.


Test Will ‘Mine’ Hydrates for Natural Gas in Alaska

Test Will ‘Mine’ Hydrates for Natural Gas in Alaska

US team will pump waste carbon dioxide into natural-gas well to extract methane.

By Nicola Jones of Nature magazine


This month, scientists will test a new way to extract methane from beneath the frozen soil of Alaska: they will use waste carbon dioxide from conventional wells to force out the desired natural gas.


The pilot experiment will explore the possibility of `mining’ from gas hydrates: cages of water ice that hold molecules of methane. Such hydrates exist under the sea floor and in sandstone deep beneath the Arctic tundra, holding potentially vast reserves of natural gas. But getting the gas out is tricky and expensive.


The test is to be run by the US Department of Energy (DOE), in conjunction with ConocoPhillips, an oil company based in Houston, Texas, and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation. The researchers will pump CO2 down a well in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, into a hydrate deposit. If all goes as planned, the CO2molecules will exchange with the methane in the hydrates, leaving the water crystals intact and freeing the methane to flow up the well.


Conventional wells in the Prudhoe Bay gas fields contain a very high concentration of carbon dioxide–about 12 percent of the gas. “You have to find something to do with it,” says Ray Boswell, technology manager for methane hydrates at the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown, West Virginia. One way to dispose of it is to bury the gas underground. Excess carbon dioxide is already pumped down some conventional wells to encourage extraction of the last bits of natural gas; using it to extract methane from hydrates might be a good idea too.


Fuel test

The test will use the Ignik Sikumi well, which was drilled on an ice platform in Prudhoe Bay last winter. Specialized equipment has been installed, including fibre-optic cables to measure the temperature down the well, and injection pipes for the CO2. “None of this is standard equipment; it had to be built to design,” says Boswell.


ConocoPhillips helped the team to get access to the site. “That’s one of the biggest hurdles–getting industry to let you do an experiment in their field,” says Boswell, who has been working to arrange such tests in Alaska since 2001. “There’s a lot of inertia to overcome. Prudhoe is where they make their money,” he adds.


During the test, the researchers will inject nitrogen gas into the hydrate deposit to try to push away any free water in the system, which would otherwise freeze into hydrates on exposure to CO2 and block up the well. The next phase is to pump in isotopically labeled CO2, and let it `soak’ for a week before seeing what comes back up. This will help to test whether the injected carbon is really swapping places with the carbon in the hydrates. Finally, the team will depressurize the well and attempt to suck up all the methane and carbon dioxide. This will also give them a chance to test extraction using depressurization–sucking liquids out of the hydrate deposits to reduce pressure in the well and coax the methane out of the water crystals. “We’ll continue to depressurize until we run out of time or money, and see how much methane we can get out that way,” says Boswell.


Field of dreams

This is not the first attempt to extract methane from hydrates. In 2002, experiments at the Mallik Field site in northern Canada pumped hot water underground to “melt” hydrates and release the methane. In 2008, further tests at the same site tried depressurization. That scheme seems most likely to be commercially viable, says Boswell. “The tests were very short and the modeling has so many moving parts, no one knows exactly what the production rate will be,” he says. “But the test well produced more than the models said it would.”


The CO2-methane exchange method to be tested at Prudhoe Bay removes the need to either add water or dispose of extracted fluids, and doesn’t risk destabilizing the ground by melting the hydrate. It also has the added bonus of getting rid of unwanted gas, which would offset the price of commercial operations. “It doesn’t have to produce methane at a great rate, because you’re also disposing of CO2,” says Boswell.


“The concept is very alluring,” says Scott Dallimore, a hydrate expert with the Geological Survey of Canada in Sidney, British Columbia. “Gas fields in this area have a relatively high CO2 concentration. If this CO2 can be re-injected while at the same time producing methane, it will be a terrific option.”


Commercialization is still a long way off. The U.S. has no urgent need to mine methane hydrates, says Boswell, because it will continue to have access to much cheaper natural-gas resources for some time to come. Japan is much closer to commercialization: the country plans to open a short-term production well in the offshore Nankai Trough in 2013, with the aim of running a longer production test in 2015. The country is “quite eager” to explore the potential of hydrates, says Boswell, because it has few other fossil-fuel resources.


“There’s a perception out there that this is a wild fantasy. That’s not true. I am convinced that the research community has already demonstrated the technical viability of gas-hydrate production,” says Dallimore. “When it comes to the question of commercial viability, things become more complex.”


This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article wasfirst published on January 13, 2012.

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working


Edel Rodriguez

In Brief

  • Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.
  • It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, nonroutine problems. It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way—yet the science shows that it does.
  • This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

The first thing to acknowledge about diversity is that it can be difficult. In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word “diversity” can lead to anxiety and conflict. Supreme Court justices disagree on the virtues of diversity and the means for achieving it. Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male.

It is reasonable to ask what good diversity does us. Diversity of expertise confers benefits that are obvious—you would not think of building a new car without engineers, designers and quality-control experts—but what about social diversity? What good comes from diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation? Research has shown that social diversity in a group can cause discomfort, rougher interactions, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems. So what is the upside?

The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers.

Information and Innovation
The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity is the concept of informational diversity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives. This makes obvious sense when we talk about diversity of disciplinary backgrounds—think again of the interdisciplinary team building a car. The same logic applies to social diversity. People who are different from one another in race, gender and other dimensions bring unique information and experiences to bear on the task at hand. A male and a female engineer might have perspectives as different from one another as an engineer and a physicist—and that is a good thing.

Research on large, innovative organizations has shown repeatedly that this is the case. For example, business professors Cristian Deszö of the University of Maryland and David Ross of Columbia University studied the effect of gender diversity on the top firms in Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 list, a group designed to reflect the overall U.S. equity market. First, they examined the size and gender composition of firms’ top management teams from 1992 through 2006. Then they looked at the financial performance of the firms. In their words, they found that, on average, “female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value.” They also measured the firms’ “innovation intensity” through the ratio of research and development expenses to assets. They found that companies that prioritized innovation saw greater financial gains when women were part of the top leadership ranks.

Racial diversity can deliver the same kinds of benefits. In a study conducted in 2003, Orlando Richard, a professor of management at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues surveyed executives at 177 national banks in the U.S., then put together a database comparing financial performance, racial diversity and the emphasis the bank presidents put on innovation. For innovation-focused banks, increases in racial diversity were clearly related to enhanced financial performance.

Evidence for the benefits of diversity can be found well beyond the U.S. In August 2012 a team of researchers at the Credit Suisse Research Institute issued a report in which they examined 2,360 companies globally from 2005 to 2011, looking for a relationship between gender diversity on corporate management boards and financial performance. Sure enough, the researchers found that companies with one or more women on the board delivered higher average returns on equity, lower gearing (that is, net debt to equity) and better average growth.

How Diversity Provokes Thought
Large data-set studies have an obvious limitation: they only show that diversity is correlated with better performance, not that it causes better performance. Research on racial diversity in small groups, however, makes it possible to draw some causal conclusions. Again, the findings are clear: for groups that value innovation and new ideas, diversity helps.

In 2006 Margaret Neale of Stanford University, Gregory Northcraft of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and I set out to examine the impact of racial diversity on small decision-making groups in an experiment where sharing information was a requirement for success. Our subjects were undergraduate students taking business courses at the University of Illinois. We put together three-person groups—some consisting of all white members, others with two whites and one nonwhite member—and had them perform a murder mystery exercise. We made sure that all group members shared a common set of information, but we also gave each member important clues that only he or she knew. To find out who committed the murder, the group members would have to share all the information they collectively possessed during discussion. The groups with racial diversity significantly outperformed the groups with no racial diversity. Being with similar others leads us to think we all hold the same information and share the same perspective. This perspective, which stopped the all-white groups from effectively processing the information, is what hinders creativity and innovation.

Other researchers have found similar results. In 2004 Anthony Lising Antonio, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, collaborated with five colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, and other institutions to examine the influence of racial and opinion composition in small group discussions. More than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.

This effect is not limited to race. For example, last year professors of management Denise Lewin Loyd of the University of Illinois, Cynthia Wang of Oklahoma State University, Robert B. Lount, Jr., of Ohio State University and I asked 186 people whether they identified as a Democrat or a Republican, then had them read a murder mystery and decide who they thought committed the crime. Next, we asked the subjects to prepare for a meeting with another group member by writing an essay communicating their perspective. More important, in all cases, we told the participants that their partner disagreed with their opinion but that they would need to come to an agreement with the other person. Everyone was told to prepare to convince their meeting partner to come around to their side; half of the subjects, however, were told to prepare to make their case to a member of the opposing political party, and half were told to make their case to a member of their own party.

The result: Democrats who were told that a fellow Democrat disagreed with them prepared less well for the discussion than Democrats who were told that a Republican disagreed with them. Republicans showed the same pattern. When disagreement comes from a socially different person, we are prompted to work harder. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.

For this reason, diversity appears to lead to higher-quality scientific research. This year Richard Freeman, an economics professor at Harvard University and director of the Science and Engineering Workforce Project at the National Bureau of Economic Research, along with Wei Huang, a Harvard economics Ph.D. candidate, examined the ethnic identity of the authors of 1.5 million scientific papers written between 1985 and 2008 using Thomson Reuters’s Web of Science, a comprehensive database of published research. They found that papers written by diverse groups receive more citations and have higher impact factors than papers written by people from the same ethnic group. Moreover, they found that stronger papers were associated with a greater number of author addresses; geographical diversity, and a larger number of references, is a reflection of more intellectual diversity.

The Power of Anticipation
Diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. Simply adding social diversity to a group makes people believe that differences of perspective might exist among them and that belief makes people change their behavior.

Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.

In a 2006 study of jury decision making, social psychologist Samuel Sommers of Tufts University found that racially diverse groups exchanged a wider range of information during deliberation about a sexual assault case than all-white groups did. In collaboration with judges and jury administrators in a Michigan courtroom, Sommers conducted mock jury trials with a group of real selected jurors. Although the participants knew the mock jury was a court-sponsored experiment, they did not know that the true purpose of the research was to study the impact of racial diversity on jury decision making.

Sommers composed the six-person juries with either all white jurors or four white and two black jurors. As you might expect, the diverse juries were better at considering case facts, made fewer errors recalling relevant information and displayed a greater openness to discussing the role of race in the case. These improvements did not necessarily happen because the black jurors brought new information to the group—they happened because white jurors changed their behavior in the presence of the black jurors. In the presence of diversity, they were more diligent and open-minded.

Group Exercise
Consider the following scenario: You are writing up a section of a paper for presentation at an upcoming conference. You are anticipating some disagreement and potential difficulty communicating because your collaborator is American and you are Chinese. Because of one social distinction, you may focus on other differences between yourself and that person, such as her or his culture, upbringing and experiences—differences that you would not expect from another Chinese collaborator. How do you prepare for the meeting? In all likelihood, you will work harder on explaining your rationale and anticipating alternatives than you would have otherwise.

This is how diversity works: by promoting hard work and creativity; by encouraging the consideration of alternatives even before any interpersonal interaction takes place. The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise. You have to push yourself to grow your muscles. The pain, as the old saw goes, produces the gain. In just the same way, we need diversity—in teams, organizations and society as a whole—if we are to change, grow and innovate.

This article was originally published with the title “How Diversity Works.”

99 Per Cent Of Sweden’s Garbage Is Now Recycled

99 Per Cent Of Sweden’s Garbage Is Now Recycled


There’s a “recycling revolution” happening in Sweden – one that has pushed the country closer to zero waste than ever before. In fact, less than one per cent of Sweden’s household garbage ends up in landfills today.

The Scandinavian country has become so good at managing waste, they have to import garbage from the UK, Italy, Norway and Ireland to feed the country’s 32 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, a practice that has been in place for years.

“Waste today is a commodity in a different way than it has been. It’s not only waste, it’s a business,” explained Swedish Waste Management communications director Anna-Carin Gripwell in a statement.

Every year, the average Swede produces 461 kilograms of waste, a figure that’s slightly below the half-ton European average. But what makes Sweden different is its use of a somewhat controversial program incinerating over two million tons of trash per year.

It’s also a process responsible for converting half the country’s garbage into energy.

“When waste sits in landfills, leaking methane gas and other greenhouse gasses, it is obviously not good for the environment,” Gripwell said of traditional dump sites. So Sweden focused on developing alternatives to reduce the amount of toxins seeping into the ground.

Importing garbage for energy is good business for Sweden from Sweden on Vimeo.


At the core of Sweden’s program is its waste-management hierarchy designed to curb environmental harm: prevention (reduce), reuse, recycling, recycling alternatives (energy recovery via WTE plants), and lastly, disposal (landfill).

Before garbage can be trucked away to incinerator plants, trash is filtered by home and business owners; organic waste is separated, paper picked from recycling bins, and any objects that can be salvaged and reused pulled aside.

By Swedish law, producers are responsible for handling all costs related to collection and recycling or disposal of their products. If a beverage company sells bottles of pop at stores, the financial onus is on them to pay for bottle collection as well as related recycling or disposal costs.

Rules introduced in the 1990s incentivized companies to take a more proactive, eco-conscious role about what products they take to market. It was also a clever way to alleviate taxpayers of full waste management costs.

According to data collected from Swedish recycling company Returpack, Swedes collectively return 1.5 billion bottles and cans annually. What can’t be reused or recycled usually heads to WTE incineration plants.

Sweden’s waste management hierarchy: reduce, reuse, recycle, energy recovery, then landfill. (Flickr)

WTE plants work by loading furnaces with garbage, burning it to generate steam which is used to spin generator turbines used to produce electricity. That electricity is then transferred to transmission lines and a grid distributes it across the country.

In Helsingborg (population: 132,989), one plant produces enough power to satisfy 40 per cent of the city’s heating needs. Across Sweden, power produced via WTE provides approximately 950,000 homes with heating and 260,000 with electricity.

Recycling and incineration have evolved into efficient garbage-management processes to help the Scandinavian country dramatically cut down the amount of household waste that ends up in landfills. Their efforts are also helping to lower its dependency on fossil fuels.

Sweden’s Östergötland County produced this animation to explain the basics of the EU’s waste-to-energy programs.

“A good number to remember is that three tons of waste contains as much energy as one ton of fuel oil … so there is a lot of energy in waste,” said Göran Skoglund, spokesperson for Öresundskraft, one of the country’s leading energy companies.

So if Sweden burns approximately two million tons of waste annually, that produces roughly 670,000 tons worth of fuel oil energy. And the country needs that fuel to operate its well-developed district heating networks which heat homes in Sweden’s cold winters.

This is why the country has taken advantage of the fact a number of European nations don’t have the capacity to incinerate garbage themselves due to various taxes and bans across the EU that prevent landfill waste. There’s where Sweden comes in to buy garbage other countries can’t dispose of themselves at a reasonable cost.

Packaged garbage waiting for incineration at the Filborna WTE plant.

But trash burning isn’t without controversy. Some critics claim the process as anything but green because it sends more pollution and toxins into the air.

According to a study in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology, more than 40 per cent of the world’s trash is burned, mostly in open air. It’s a process markedly different from the regulated, low-emission processes Sweden has adopted.

Start-up costs for new incineration plants can get pricey and out of reach for some municipalities depending on the integration of processes used to filter ash and flue gas byproducts. Both contain dioxins, an environmental pollutant.

The incineration process isn’t perfect, but technological advancements and introduction of flue-gas cleaning have reduced airborne dioxins to “very small amounts,” according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

Unless manufacturers stop making products with materials that can’t be reused or tossed into incinerators, a 100 per cent recycling rate is unlikely to be achieved in our lifetime. Goods that are or contain tile, porcelain, insulation, asbestos, and miscellaneous construction and demolition debris can’t be burned safely; they have to be dumped in landfills.

“The world needs to produce less waste,” explained Skoglund.

Sweden’s success handling garbage didn’t come overnight — the latest results are the fruits of a cultural shift decades in the making.

“Starting in the ‘70s, Sweden adopted fairly strict rules and regulations when it comes to handling our waste, both for households and more municipalities and companies,” Gripwell told HuffPost Canada, referring to the country’s “waste hierarchy” now ingrained in Swedish society.

“People rarely question the ‘work’ they have to do,” she said.


Mind-Blowing Recycled Buildings
1 of 7 


Abbey Road Farm

Moeen abuse shows cricket’s dark side

Moeen abuse shows cricket’s dark side

The booing of Moeen Ali at Edgbaston revealed the ugly side of sporting rivalry and suggested intolerance remains in the UK. It should not be ignored

George Dobell at Edgbaston

September 7, 2014

Text size: A | A
Dobell: Moeen boos detract from spectacle

It should have been the perfect end to an absorbing summer of international cricket. We had beautiful weather. We had a sell-out crowd. We had a run-soaked T20 that contained outrageous skills and an exciting finish.

We should have gone home talking about MS Dhoni’s decision to turn down singles in the final over. His self-confidence and his preparedness to take responsibility for the team. Or, perhaps, his lack of confidence in his team-mates.

We should have gone home talking about Virat Kohli’s only half-century of the tour in international cricket – the same number as James Anderson – or Eoin Morgan’s brilliant innings. The England captain, so short of runs in international cricket this summer, helped England thrash 81 from the final five overs of their innings and scored 56 in the 15 balls before his dismissal. We might even have witnessed the birth of a new-look England side for both forms of the limited-overs game.

Either way, this should have been a brilliant advert for cricket. But instead there was a sour end to the summer. An unsettling end. An end that suggested, for all the progress we think we have made in creating a multicultural society in the UK, we have a long way to go.


  Moeen Ali picked up a wicket in his opening over, England v India, only T20, Edgbaston, September 7, 2014

Moeen Ali’s contributions were not universally appreciated at Edgbaston, the ground where he began his career © AFP 



Because, in the middle of Birmingham on a bright afternoon in 2014, we saw at least one player subjected to abuse from a far from insubstantial section of the crowd on the basis of either his religion or his national or ethnic origin.

Moeen Ali was booed when he came out to bat. He was booed when he came on to bowl. He was booed most times he touched the ball. And he was booed either because he is a player of Asian origin playing for England – Ravi Bopara also attracted some boos, though far fewer – because he is Muslim or, perhaps most pertinently, because he is of Pakistani origin and the vast majority of the crowd were India supporters.

On the back of every ticket and inside every match programme it states: “Spectators shall not engage in any conduct, act towards or speak to any player, umpire, referee or other official or other spectators in a manner which offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, threatens, disparages or vilifies that other person on the basis of that other person’s race, religion, colour, national or ethnic origin.”

By such a definition, it is impossible to justify these boos. It is inappropriate to dismiss them as “banter” – an invidious description used to excuse sexism, homophobia, bullying and racism in many walks of life – and it is inappropriate to dismiss them as a symptom of any rivalry that exists between Pakistan and India.

Nor should we link this with the booing experienced by Stuart Broad in Australia and James Anderson and Ravi Jadeja this summer. Those jeers, unappealing though they were, do not stem from a dislike of origin or religion. They reflected specific issues.

Nor should we fool ourselves that these are pantomime boos. Just as the monkey chants that used to shame football grounds in the UK were unacceptable, so it must be unacceptable to hear a player derided for their religion or origin. It is not funny.

And let us not mistake this issue with any pretence that this is simply a manifestation of support for India. Spectators are free to support whichever side they like and the passion for cricket from spectators of Asian origin in the UK is of huge benefit to the game. But there is a chasm between supporting one side and denigrating the players of the opposition. It would be irresponsible to link the two.

What, it might be asked, would be the reaction if an all-white crowd booed a player of Asian origin? What would be the implications if a black player was booed each time he touched the ball? If such behaviours are deemed unacceptable – and, thankfully, in this day and age, they are – why should the booing of a man on the basis of his religion or origin be any different?

Moeen was born in Birmingham and he graduated through Warwickshire’s youth system. He has a mixed-heritage family with a white grandmother from the Birmingham area. His religion or ethnicity should not be issues and he has previously said that such behaviour does not affect him.

But there is an irony that Moeen has spoken of being a role model. He has spoken of showing that it is possible to be British, Muslim and proud of both. He has spoken of encouraging other Asian cricketers into mainstream league and club cricket in the UK. He has, despite his relative youth and inexperience, spoken only of inclusivity and unity. He makes an unlikely villain.

The episode proved difficult for the ground authorities to handle. Had the stewards started to eject those involved, the situation could have deteriorated. Had Morgan, who denied any knowledge of the booing, led his team from the pitch, the situation could have deteriorated.

But just because a situation is difficult, it does not mean it should be avoided. This sort of episode should not happen. It must not happen. And if we find it unacceptable – and we really should – we must not ignore it. Whatever the many mistakes of the past, 21st century Britain cannot be accepting of intolerance based around race, religion, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or any other such issue.

Cricket can unite. In Afghanistan and the Caribbean and LA and Ireland, it has been shown to bring people from differing backgrounds together. It does it in league teams around the country every week. Here it provided a peek behind the façade of multicultural Britain. It was an ugly, depressing sight. And it should not be ignored.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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Europe Needs to Embrace Islam

Europe Needs to Embrace Islam

Jocelyne Cesari

Jocelyne Cesari is senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, and director of the Islam in the West Program at Harvard University. She is the author of “Why the West Fears Islam: An Exploration of Muslims in Liberal Democracies” and “The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State.”

UPDATED AUGUST 29, 2014, 2:08 PM

Counter to the common interpretation, the appeal of radical anti-Western groups like ISIS among European Muslims is not driven primarily by socioeconomic deprivation. In fact, three interrelated factors play a more significant role.

Political efforts are needed to put an end to the ‘ghettoization’ of Islam, which is often depicted as alien and incompatible with Western core liberal values.

The first is the powerful presence of the Salafi version of Islam in the religious market of ideas. This is problematic because even as most Muslims in the West are not Salafis and the majority of Salafis are not jihadists, it happens that groups like Al Qaiada and ISIS have a Salafi background. It means that their theological view comes from a particular interpretation of Islam rooted in Wahhabism, an eighteenth century doctrine adopted by the Saudi kingdom. In the West, Salafis incite people to withdraw from mainstream society, depicted as impure, in order to live by strict rules. These reactionary interpretations do contain similarities with jihadist discourse.

The second factor in the radicalization of Muslim youth is the increase of discriminatory policies vis-à-vis Islamic practices in Europe, including the use of the hijab and regulation of mosque minarets, circumcision and halal food. All contribute to a growing sense among Muslims that they are not accepted as full members of European society. Anti-immigration and anti-Islamic discourse translates into discriminatory practices in employment, housing and political activities. It can be a factor in strengthening a defensive identification within Islam and therefore gives more leverage to any ideology that pits the West against Muslims.

Third, the collapse of all major ideologies in Europe — nationalism, Communism, and liberalism — has left room for new radical options. For some young Europeans, adherence to radical Islam provides a viable alternative ideology, comparable to that of radical leftist groups in the 1970s.

These factors reveal a lack of true integration of Muslims as European policies have prioritized socioeconomic measures. In other words, political efforts are needed to put an end to the ‘ghettoization’ of Islam, which is often depicted as alien and incompatible with Western core liberal values. It means that geopolitical issues like the “war on terror” should be disconnected as much as possible from Islam and its adherents and their practices. Europe, and to a certain extent the U.S., face a major political challenge, which is the inclusion of Islam within their respective national narratives. It is a huge symbolic task, equivalent to the undertaking that led to the integration of the African-American past and legacy into the dominant American narrative.


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Topics: ISISIslamTerrorismsecurity

With Gaza war, movement to boycott Israel gains momentum in Europe

With Gaza war, movement to boycott Israel gains momentum in Europe

LONDON: A branch of Sainsbury’s grocery store removed kosher products from its shelves, it said, to prevent anti-Israel demonstrations. The Tricycle Theater in north London, after hosting a Jewish film festival for eight years, demanded to vet the content of any film made with arts funding from the Israeli government. George Galloway, a member of Parliament known for his vehement criticism of Israel, declared Bradford, England, an “Israel-free zone.” 

Galloway, in comments being investigated by the police, said, “We don’t want any Israeli goods; we don’t want any Israeli services; we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college; we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford.” 

The war in Gaza and its aftermath have inflamed opinion in Europe and, experts and analysts say, are likely to increase support for the movement to boycott, disinvest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS.

READ ALSO: Gaza truce open-ended, but puts off tough issues 

“We entered this war in Gaza with the perception that the Israeli government is not interested in reaching peace with the Palestinians,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university. “Now, after the casualties and the destruction, I’m very worried about the impact this could have on Israel. It could make it very easy for the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and call for more boycotts.” 

Gilead Sher and Einav Yogev, in a paper for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, warn that Gaza means Israel pays “a much heavier price in public opinion and in erosion of support for its positions in negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Protesters hold a banner reading ‘Solidarity with Palestinian people: Boycott Israel’ during a demonstration against Israeli offensive on Gaza, in Madrid. (AFP photo) Along with reports of “familiar anti-Semitic attacks on Jews,” they said, “the movement to boycott Israel is expanding politically and among the public.” 

Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations points to the debate over halting arms exports to Israel, which has been given new momentum in Britain and Spain by the asymmetry of the Gaza war. 

“You’re beginning to see the translation of public sympathy into something politically meaningful,” he said. He noted two tracks — the governmental one, which distinguishes between Israel and the occupied territories, and the social one of academic, commercial and artistic boycotts. 

But for all the new attention around the BDS movement, the economic impact has been small, experts say. The European Union, which has been looked to for leadership on the issue, does not support the idea.

READ ALSO: Hamas claims ‘victory’ as Gaza truce agreed with Israel 

Instead, the Europeans are drawing a legal distinction between Israel within its 1967 boundaries and Israeli towns and settlements that are beyond them in occupied land. Brussels regards all Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines, including those in East Jerusalem, as settlers living in illegal communities whose status can be regulated only through a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians. 

In matters such as scientific cooperation, funding for research, import duties and labeling requirements, Brussels has sought a strong relationship with pre-1967 Israel, while demanding a different status for institutions and products from beyond the Green Line, the armistice lines that ended the 1967 fighting but did not fix borders or create a Palestinian state. 

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said before the Gaza conflict that “there is no boycott” of Israel by the European Union, citing trade and scientific cooperation. “The European Union defends the right of existence of Israel with all its means,” he said. “The view that the Europeans are against Israel, I repeat it, is wrong.” 

Some members of the 28-nation European Union are closer to Israel than others, but the bloc is united on Israel within its 1967 boundaries. 

“Our relationship with Israel is close and one of the best we have in the region, but only with Israel in its 1967 lines unless there is a peace agreement,” said a senior European Union official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol. “We are clear, however, that what came under Israeli control in 1967 is not a part of Israel, so the settlements are illegal under international law and not helpful in the peace process.” 

To that end, the European Union has demanded that all products produced by Israelis beyond the 1967 lines be labeled differently, and they are excluded from the duty-free trade agreement the bloc has with Israel proper. Goods from settlements are imported, but under different labels and tariffs. “There is no question of a boycott,” the European official said. 

In an agreement last December on scientific exchanges and funding, known as Horizon 2020, Brussels insisted, despite fierce opposition from the Israeli government, on keeping Israeli institutions in the West Bank, like Ariel University, out of the deal. Since European funding is so important to Israeli academic institutions, the Israeli government gave in, attaching a legally meaningless appendix opposing the distinctions. 

While some Israeli companies label goods produced in the West Bank as Israeli, the Europeans have tried to crack down, insisting that permits have a physical address attached and not simply an Israeli post office box. Goods can be labeled “West Bank” or as coming from a particular place, but cannot say “Made in Israel.” 

The European Union has gone considerably further than the United States, declaring that Israeli settlements over the Green Line are “illegal” under international law; the United States simply calls them “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace.” 

Israel says its settlement activity is consistent with international law, although it accepts that some settlements are built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land and says that all will be resolved as part of a final deal with the Palestinians. 

The United States also has no regulations requiring separate labeling of products from Israeli-occupied land. 

The recent fuss over SodaStream and one of its spokeswomen, the actress Scarlett Johansson, was indicative of the passions raised. Oxfam insisted she quit SodaStream, which has a factory in the large West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, or quit her work with Oxfam; Ms. Johansson chose to quit Oxfam. SodaStream defended itself by citing the number of jobs it was providing for Palestinians, who were being paid the same wages as Israeli workers. 

The debate was indicative of shifting attitudes. During the period around the Oslo Accords, in the early 1990s, when peace seemed close and economic cooperation between Israel and the new, interim Palestinian Authority was considered an important part of a future relationship built on mutual dependency and confidence, factories in occupied territory were praised. 

With the failure of Oslo to produce a Palestinian state, the tone has changed, and companies once seen by many as in the forefront of economic cooperation are now being seen by some as colonial occupiers undermining a future Palestinian state. 

But the interconnection of Israel with the settlements is difficult to untie — every major Israeli bank has a branch in the settlements. 

Some countries, like Britain, have gone further. Britain issued voluntary labeling guidelines in December 2009 “to enable consumers to make a more fully informed decision concerning the products they buy,” according to the UK Trade and Investment agency, because “we understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” 

More troubling to Israel, in December the agency warned companies and citizens to be “aware of the potential reputational implications” of investments in settlement areas. “We do not encourage or offer support to such activities,” it said. 

But even these concerns should be distinguished from the organized BDS campaign against the state of Israel itself. Begun in 2005, the campaign is supposed to last, the Palestinian BDS National Committee says, until Israel “complies with international law and Palestinian rights.” 

Its three goals are “the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of Arab land and dismantling the Wall,” “full equality” for “Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Israelis see the first two as compatible with two states, but the third as the end of the Jewish state. 

Then there is the associated effort at an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which has attracted well-known figures like Stephen Hawking and Sinead O’Connor. Others defend artistic freedom or the unifying nature of culture, or believe, as the writer Ian McEwan said, “If I only went to countries I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed.”

READ ALSO: Israel targets Gaza highrises as sides weigh truce deal 

Fascism Grips Israel

Fascism Grips Israel


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Zeev Sternhell is an Israeli historian, political scientist and outspoken critic of emerging Israeli fascism.

Signs reached a peak during Operation Protective Edge, he says. Democracy granting equality to everyone is nonexistent.

Sternhell deplores Israel’s settlement project. He supports Palestinian self-determination. He believes establishing a Palestinian state is essential.

What passes for Israeli democracy “reached a new nadir in the current war,” he stresses. Fascist “indicators…definitely exist here.”

He’s greatly concerned about “absolute conformism” among Israeli intellectuals. “They just followed the herd,” he says.

“By intellectuals I mean professors and journalists. The intellectual bankruptcy of the mass media in this war is total.”

“It’s not easy to go against the herd. You can easily be trampled. But the role of the intellectual and the journalist is not to applaud the government.”

“Democracy crumbles when the intellectuals, the educated classes, toe the line of the thugs or look at them with a smile.”

“People here say, ‘(i)t’s not so terrible. It’s nothing like fascism. We have free elections and parties and a parliament.’ ”

“Yet, we reached a crisis in this war, in which, without anyone asking them to do so, all kinds of university bodies are suddenly demanding that the entire academic community roll back its criticism.”

Bar-Ilan University’s law school dean threatened sanctions against a colleague. He did so for expressing sorrow over lost lives on both sides.

He called grieving for enemy losses a treasonous subversive act. According to Sternhell:

“We are arriving at a situation of purely formal democracy, which keeps sinking to ever lower levels.”

In Israel, “one sees the gradual erosion of enlightenment values.”

Consider Netanyahu’s “demand that (Palestinians) recognize Israel as the Jewish state.”

Doing so forces them “to acknowledge that they are historically inferior…The Arabs are citizens, but it’s not their country.”

“(A) distinction is made between nationhood and citizenship. Anyone can be a citizen, but we are the masters.”

The potential for annulling citizenship always exists. Arabs have no power to demand rights everyone deserves.

Democracy isn’t about voting every few years, says Sternhell. It’s tested daily “in terms of human rights.”

Everything else is secondary because “dictatorial regimes” can be established through the ballot box.

Democracy in occupied Palestine never existed. “Palestinians have no human rights.”

“You rule them by force, and after three (Jewish) boys are murdered, you can” collectively punish an entire population.

It’s always been this way, “and it corrupts,” says Sternhell. “Democracies don’t collapse suddenly. They encounter a serious crisis.”

“We could find ourselves in (one) in which the whole shebang (goes) up in smoke.”

A Knesset majority can legislate “segregation between Jews and non-Jews, impos(e) censorship, intimidat(e) dissidents, (as well as) the media and universities…”

“(I)t’s happening now, but it could reach a boiling point. The water is already very hot…It’s on the brink of boiling over.”

Sternhall calls Operation Protective Edge “a war of complete choice…” There’s no justification for blaming an entire population for killing three Jews.

Israel must change its relationship with Palestinians and with Arabs “as a whole.”

“The first thing is to stop deepening the Jewish presence in the territories.” Then support a two-state solution, lift Gaza’s siege, “let the population breathe,” and treat Palestinians “as human beings on an equal footing with us.”

Sternhall calls settlements “a cancer. If Israel can’t muster sufficient strength, political power and mental fortitude to remove some of the settlements, that will signal that the Israeli story is finished…”

Israel is the last remaining colonial country. It can’t continue this way much longer.

If not for the myth of unique Jewish suffering and fear of being called anti-Semitic, “Europe would have long (ago) boycotted the settlements.”

European business and industry are already beginning to do it.

Sternhall calls Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel, Avigdor Lieberman and other Israeli right-wing extremists “truly dangerous people.”

They deplore democracy and human rights. They deeply hate Arabs. They don’t tolerate coexistence.

Asked if he’s afraid to criticize Israel in today’s charged atmosphere, Sternhell replied:

“If I need to be afraid to (speak freely), and to say it publicly to people’s faces, then our story here is over.”

Israel was never a democracy. For sure it’s not one now.

Its “story” reflects decades of institutionalized racism, apartheid worse than South Africa’s, militarized occupation, control over virtually all aspects of Palestinian lives, ruthless repression, contempt for rule of law principles, and belligerence in lieu of peace and stability.

Operation Protective Edge is the latest example. Netanyahu vows to continue mass slaughter and destruction until his goals are reached.

Perhaps he means exterminating an entire population one war at a time and by other means.

Operation Protective Edge has been ongoing for 49 days. The death and injury toll is horrific.

Palestinian casualties mount daily. The vast majority are non-combatant men, women and children.

Israel willfully targets them. Its aggression has nothing to do with Hamas rockets.

It has everything to do with preventing Palestinian self-determination, continuing its settlement project, stealing Palestinian land and resources, scuttling Fatah/Hamas unity, maintaining occupation harshness, and prioritizing belligerence over peace and security.

It’s unclear what happens next. Ceasefires come and go. They don’t hold. Israel obstructed Cairo talks.

It did so by making outrageous demands. It offered little or nothing in return.

Its agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Violations occur straightaway. Peace is fantasy. Conflict persists.

Here we go again. On August 25, Israeli and Palestinian news organizations said Egyptian mediators proposed a new ceasefire.

It includes opening border crossings, letting in construction materials and other aid, extending Gazan fishing from three to six miles and later 12. Tough issues will be discussed a month from now.

Both sides were contacted. According to the Israeli news web portal Wallal!, Israel is ready to accept an open-ended ceasefire. A PA official responded positively.

Hamas wants any agreement to end Israel’s eight year blockade unconditionally. Israel wants Gaza demilitarized.

It wants Gazans left defenseless. It wants the right to wage future aggressive wars for any reason or none at all unchallenged.

Another ceasefire is no more likely to succeed than previous ones. Israel doesn’t negotiate in good faith.

Gazans are tired of being treated like subhumans. They know Israel can’t be trusted. It doesn’t negotiate in good faith.

It takes a giant leap of faith to believe this time may be different. It never was before. It won’t be now.

Business as usual continues. It’s official Israeli policy. Nothing suggests positive change.

Not when Netanyahu lies saying “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas.”

“They simply work in the same way. They are branches of the same poisonous tree.”

Not when other Israeli hardliners want Hamas entirely destroyed. Not when former Israeli US ambassador Moshe Arens wants the same thing.

“You have to defeat (Hamas) and disarm” it, he says. A ceasefire won’t work.

Not when Israel bears full responsibility for breaking them. Not when it prioritizes conflict over peace and stability.

Not when it spurns rule of law principles. Not when it maintains militarized occupation.

Not when it holds 1.7 million Gazans hostage under suffocating siege. Not when it attacks them for any reason or none at all.

Not when it terrorizes Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem communities multiple times daily.

Not when it denies all Palestinians fundamental rights everyone deserves. Not when it spurns positive change.

Not when Washington backs and encourages its killing machine. Not when Western leaders support its genocide.

Not while Palestinians are isolated on their own. Not while their liberating struggle remains unfulfilled.

Not when on Monday, Israel murdered seven more Palestinians, wounded 92 others, and destroyed 15 residential houses, a shopping center and a mosque.

Not when creeping fascism threatens Jews and non-Jews alike. So does the scourge of Zionism.

It made Israel a killing machine. Palestinians bear the brunt of its barbarism.

Nothing suggests positive change. It bears repeating. Business as usual continues.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

Visit his blog site at 

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