united states

Today, around a 100 countries, including Lebanon, became signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. What came to be known as “the Oslo Process” was pushed to this conclusion by the Red-Green Norwegian government despite US lobbying to undermine the treaty. US officials have even accused Norway of buying nations off to join the process, according to Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch (Source: Klasvåpen – det umuliges kunst, documentary in Norwegian). In the same documentary, Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, explains that the watershed in the process came after the summer war of 2006 — when Israel dropped more than a million cluster bombs over south Lebanon in the final days of the war. Israel, however, is not a signatory to the treaty. Neither are the three major arms producers China, Russia, and the United States.

That is not the only flaw in the treaty. By pursuing independent organizational channels, the Norwegian brokers evaded the situation where a veto in the UN or the dominant member in NATO could bring down the treaty. However, the compromise reached in Dublin earlier this year included an article allowing treaty signatories “to engage in military cooperation and operations with States not parties to this Convention that might engage in activities prohibited to a State party.” (Source: HRW)

Still, it is a step in what can only be a long and difficult process. Optimists are hoping that by ostracizing certain countries, the treaty will put pressure on them to eventually join. The United States obviously takes it seriously, least of all because it would need to remove its cluster munitions at several bases around the world. On another level — and I think of this particularly when I remember some of the chilling discussions on the “legality” of Israel’s cluster bomb dumping during the Lebanon war — at least now there is a minimum ethical line in writing.


The Iraqi poet Ahmad Matar’s most recent poem has been making the email rounds. It is written in Obama’s voice addressing the Arabs (bio note: Matar was a good friend of Naji al-Ali’s and has been living in London since the late 80’s).

To summarize the poem, the Arabs look to Obama to adopt them, asking him for the impossible (“find us a bowl for the bath” and “tailor pajamas for the ant”). His reply is: I am not of you nor are you of me (“I have not chosen Islam” and “I have not chosen to herd sheep”), I have been chosen by a people who refuse to be ruled by force and by a system that respects its people. So, get off, I don’t have the time (“I have more work than your majesty has time to rule”) and go find someone else to adopt you. And if you should ever hear my tune, it will be in the form of explosions.

Maybe it is a response to the Obama t-shirts selling in Damascus. Anyway, enjoy:

Addendum: Given this post’s popularity and the poem’s wide circulation over the Internet, I am providing a quick English translation.

From Obama by Ahmad Matar

From Obama…
To all Arab peoples and rulers:
Your pot banging at my door
Has exhausted me and driven me mad…
“Do this, o Obama…
Leave this, o Obama
Rain upon us cold and peace
O Obama.
Save a belt for the naked!
O Obama.
Find a bowl for the bath!
O Obama.
Tailor pajamas for the ant!
O Obama…”
A clanging that chews on dreams
And its echo vomits illusions
No sooner does the voracity of the noise
Begin to subside than it begins to grow again.
And I am a man with lots to do
More than the time you have for idleness
Longer than the reign of your majesty
So, let me begin by warning you
In order to have my excuse at the end:
I do not serve her who gave birth to you
To be whipped back and forth.
I am not your brother to be defamed
If I do not bring siblings together.
I am not your father to be implored
To be a guardian for you.
Your Arabism has not chosen me
Neither have I chosen Islam!
So, let someone else adopt you
Or remain forever orphans!
I am the proverb of a people
Who refuses to be ruled by force…
Of a system that respects the people.
And it is to them and to no one else
That my heart will flow in sweet melody
Even should my songs descend
Upon your ears… in explosions!
So take heed… As regimes and peoples
And take my example as inspiration.
But if you wish to remain
Like cattle in this world
Begging for security and food
Let me be honest with you… I am a man
Who through all the stages of his life
Not once has counted on
One day herding sheep!

أحمد مطر: من أوباما

مِن أوباما..
لِجَميعِ الأعرابِ شُعوباً أو حُكّاما:
قَرْعُ طَناجِرِكُمْ في بابي
أرهَقَني وَأطارَ صَوابي..
(افعَل هذا يا أوباما..
اترُك هذا يا أوباما
أمطِرْنا بَرْداً وسَلاما
يا أوباما.
وَفِّرْ للِعُريانِ حِزاما!
يا أوباما.
خَصِّصْ للِطّاسَةِ حَمّاما!
يا أوباما.
فَصِّلْ للِنَملَةِ بيجاما !
يا أوباما..)
قَرقَعَة تَعلِكُ أحلاماً
وَتَقيء صَداها أوهَامَا
وَسُعارُ الضَّجّةِ مِن حَوْلي
لا يَخبو حتّى يتنامى.
وَأنا رَجْلُ عِندي شُغْلٌ
أكثَرُ مِن وَقتِ بَطالَتكُمْ
أطوَلُ مِن حُكْمِ جَلالَتِكُمْ
فَدَعوني أُنذركُمْ بَدءاً
كَي أحظى بالعُذْر ختاما:
لَستُ بِخادمِ مَن خَلَّفَكُمْ
لأُسِاطَ قُعوداً وَقياما.
لَستُ أخاكُمْ حَتّى أُهْجى
إن أنَا لَمْ أصِلِ الأرحاما.
لَستُ أباكُمْ حَتّى أُرجى
لأكِونَ عَلَيْكُمْ قَوّاما.
وَعُروبَتُكُمْ لَمْ تَختَرْني
وَأنا ما اختَرتُ الإسلاما!
فَدَعوا غَيري يَتَبَنّاكُمْ
أو ظَلُّوا أبَداً أيتاما!
أنَا أُمثولَةُ شَعْبٍ يأبى
أن يَحكُمَهُ أحَدّ غَصبْا..
و نِظامٍ يَحتَرِمُ الشَّعبا.
وَأنا لَهُما لا غَيرِهِما
سأُقَطِّرُ قَلبي أنغاما
حَتّى لَو نَزَلَتْ أنغامي
فَوقَ مَسامِعِكُمْ.. ألغاما!
امتَثِلوا.. نُظُماً وَشُعوباً
وَاتَّخِذوا مَثَلي إلهاما.
أمّا إن شِئتُمْ أن تَبقوا
في هذي الدُّنيا أنعاما
تَتَسوَّلُ أمْنَاً وَطَعاما
فَأُصارِحُكُمْ.. أنّي رَجُلُ
في كُلِّ مَحَطّاتِ حَياتي
لَمْ أُدخِلْ ضِمْنَ حِساباتي
أن أرعى، يوماً، أغناما!

There is a good post over at The Magnes Zionist on the possible makeup of Obama’s Middle East team — based on the author’s opinion as well as his conversations with people in the president-elect’s inner circle. The post raises an interesting question towards the end: while it is perfectly acceptable for people empathizing with the Israeli point of view to be part of Obama’s team, why is it inconceivable for someone empathizing with the Palestinian point of view?

What I find most interesting is that with Barack Obama, his history, and his ties to people like Rashid al-Khalidi*, these kinds of questions become more plausible.

* They know each other from the time they were both teaching at the University of Chicago.

Armand al-Nahar

"World waiting for new American president" (Arman Humsi, al-Nahar)

When I first moved to Hyde Park many years ago I was perplexed by an unusual and exotic word sticking out of the front yards and porches of this otherwise quaint neighborhood: OBAMA. At the time the now elect-president was still a state politician, but the word did not remain obscure for long as the man behind it won a seat in the senate and then decided to run for president.

Against many odds, Obama won the presidential race in an election that shattered many myths the world had of America and, more so, Americans had of themselves. Although Obama is far from an ideal candidate, after eight years of the mishaps of Republican rule, one cannot but breathe a sigh of relief.

As far as the Middle East is concerned, that the seat will dictate politics to the man rather than the other way around already began to manifest itself with Obama’s rise to national politics. Known in his Chicago days as a harsh critic of Israel, Obama very consciously remodeled his utterances over the past eight or so years to rise to the occasion. (This article has a delicious photograph of Obama listening attentively to Edward Said at the dinner table). In another of these twists and turns, Obama, who opposed the war on Iraq, is making a relocation of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan sound like a change of policy.

Everything, from the character of the man to his choice of pastor, indicates that he would make an excellent neighbor just as he was an excellent local politician. Some Palestinians still entertain the hope that being of African origin and part of a persecuted minority he might exhibit some understanding and sympathy for their plight. As endearing as this is, realistically speaking, the most the Middle East can hope for is that follies and misadventures will no longer be declared policy. The other side of the coin is, of course, that in his golden mouth, follies and misadventures could regain legitimacy in the eyes of many.