/ 10 September 2010

Zero ground on tolerance

Nine years after the Twin Towers fell in New York, many Americans have still not digested the lessons of that stony-hearted atrocity.

That much has been made plain by the ignorant campaign against the “Ground Zero mosque” — which is neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero — and by the stunningly stupid threat by a Florida pastor to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11 by burning 200 copies of the “satanic” Qu’ran on the front lawn of his church.

Al-Qaeda hatched the 9/11 plot with the immediate aim of making Americans feel threatened in their own backyard and as a high-profile, symbolic challenge to American power, particularly the way that power is exercised in the Middle East. But its longer-term goal was almost certainly to heighten global conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims and radicalise the Islamic world by drawing the United States into a descending spiral of human rights abuses and costly and unwinnable wars.

In this it has succeeded brilliantly, with US assistance at every step. In threatening to desecrate the central religious text of Islam, for example, Pentacostal preacher Terry Jones could be reading straight from an al-Qaeda script. An Iranian government spokesperson warned of an “uncontrolled” response, and a Syrian cleric urged Muslims to unite in the face of the enemy. “Provocations of this kind will only increase the power of Islam,” warned a Moroccan blogger on the website of al-Manar TV, run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The growing religious polarisation of the US, mirroring similar intolerance in parts of the Islamic world, has been starkly highlighted by reports that two-thirds of Americans oppose the construction of an Islamic cultural centre, dedicated to promoting religious harmony, more than two city blocks away from the former site of the Twin Towers, and that more than 30-million American citizens think their president is a follower of Islam.

As proof of the effectiveness of the “war against terror”, Americans will doubtless point out that there have been no further terrorist outrages on US soil since 9/11, at least not of a comparable magnitude. They should look at the bigger picture, in which the ill-considered exercise of US military power has merely stoked the fires of extremism. Far from being in retreat, the odious Taliban looks ever more invincible in Afghanistan. In Iraq the American fantasy of a stable free-market democracy sympathetic to Western interests remains as remote as ever. Since 9/11, the legitimacy of the Israeli state has come under growing attack, and Yasser Arafat’s moderate Fatah movement has suffered successive setbacks at the hands of an intransigent Israel and the ideological hardliners of Hamas.

In past years the commemoration of 9/11 in the US was a sombre affair, mercifully free of such religious chauvinism. The fear must be that such fervour will sweep away the voices of reason, tolerance and reconciliation personified by President Barack Obama, and that the frenzied American right will ensure that he serves a single term. That would be a tragedy, as the only hope of a terror-free future lies in such measures as the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and a lasting solution to the Middle Eastern crisis. It is only by recognising the necessity of coexistence, by removing cultural and religious provocation and by building mutual respect, that future 9/11s can be averted.

Time to be a good sport
Can Parliament sports committee chairperson Butana Komphela be impartial in a case involving Leonard Chuene? His continued defence of the former Athletics South Africa boss is embarrassing and out of kilter with all the facts and investigations that have come to light since the World Championships in Berlin last year.

Hard-hitting Mail & Guardian stories late last year exposed Chuene’s trail of lies that almost destroyed the life of a young woman. Caster Semenya, then just 18 years old, had her privacy invaded and her human rights violated, leaving the teenager humiliated both within and outside the country. Shockingly, months after Chuene was forced to admit his part in the affair, Komphela still appears to support the disgraced ASA boss.

The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) is under pressure from Komphela to absolve Chuene of any wrongdoing simply because Semenya has been allowed to run again. It would be a serious miscarriage of justice if the perpetrators of the psychological trauma this young athlete has suffered get away scot-free.

Komphela needs to be told that the country deserves to know why the Semenya debacle was allowed to happen and on whose orders. Chuene was again fingered for “gross misconduct” in the Semenya furore in a report presented by Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile to Parliament this week. Brushing that aside, Komphela wielded his power to take aim at the messengers of justice rather than the culprits.

Threatening Sascoc with the wrath of Parliament days before a disciplinary hearing against Chuene that could at last put an end to the traumatic months Semenya has suffered means that Komphela cannot be an honest broker in the Semenya matter if Chuene is one of the accused. Unfortunately, threats rather than reason appear to be the controversial MP’s modus operandi.

The only thing that is clear is that he must be forced to recuse himself if a successful closure to this saga is to be reached.