Satanic Comics A Tunisian writer’s attempt to spread the message of the Qur’an in comic book form has incurred greater wrath than he could have anticipated. Youssef Seddik, a Tunisian academic living in Paris, has been branded “a new Salman Rushdie” by the head of Islamic jurisprudence at Kuwait University, AP reported. Seddik created the comic, “If the Qur’an Were Told to Me,” narrated with exact quotes from the holy book, in an attempt to popularize Islam among young people. The old guard was not amused: “impious,” “profane,” “sacrilegious” and “heresy” were among the barbs directed at Seddik’s work by Tunisian religious authorities and Islamist groups, who demanded that it be banned.
See You In Court In the good old days of military rule, the generals who ran Turkey could make use of an extensive set of draconian laws and decrees to prosecute and imprison their adversaries. After the restoration of civilian rule, Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal (who recently elevated himself to the presidency) had to find other means of silencing his many critics. He seems to have adopted the American way in politics as in economics — with a vengeance. As of September 1989, Özal had brought suit for libel and slander against 50 people, most of them journalists but also including several members of Parliament. So far the none-too-independent courts have generally found in Özal’s favor, and 12 people have been sentenced to jail terms and/or heavy indemnities for saying not-nice things about the man, or for depicting him in unflattering photo montages.
Class Solidarity To judge from the rhetoric emanating from the AFL-CIO’s annual convention, held last October in Washington, DC, efforts by progressive trade union activists to educate the US labor movement about Middle East issues — the work of the San Francisco-based Middle East Labor Committee deserves special mention — still have a long way to go. The labor federation unanimously adopted a strongly worded resolution in support of Israel. While expressing “understanding” for the “frustrations” of Palestinians under Israeli rule, the resolution blamed their plight on “factionalism within their own ranks and an utter lack of concern…on the part of the Arab world.” It went on to praise Israel, “a nation built by the trade union movement,” as “a thriving democracy in which the basic freedoms of association, speech, press and religion are respected.” While lauding the Histadrut for “its determined efforts to defend the basic rights of all who toil in Israel,” the AFL-CIO also went out of its way to attack Palestinian unions in language that could have been (and who knows, maybe was) written by Israeli Embassy officials:
We note with dismay the appearance of a number of self-styled trade union groups purporting to represent Palestinian workers. Some of them have served as front organizations for terrorist PLO operations and for the purpose of intimidation. Legitimate trade unions have nothing in common with random political terrorism. The AFL-CIO denounces such fundamentally anti-worker entities.
In Israel, meanwhile, officials of the Histadrut trade union federation warn that cheap goods produced in the Occupied Territories were “flooding” the Israeli market and constituted a “tangible threat” to the jobs of Israeli workers. Histadrut secretary-general Yisrael Kessar, who has yet to utter a word in defense of imprisoned Palestinian trade unionists, urged that the Israeli government take action to bar the entry of Palestinian goods that did not meet Israeli “quality standards.”
Since the intifada began, the production of consumer goods has expanded in the Occupied Territories as Palestinians have boycotted Israeli products and sought locally made substitutes. The Israeli food industry alone has reportedly lost $100 million in sales, the equivalent of some 1,000 jobs. Several measures have been proposed to stifle this competition. The director of the Israeli Manufacturers Association’s food division has asked that all Palestinian products be required to carry labels in Arabic, so that Israeli consumers can more easily identify their source. The Association has also filed a complaint with the police alleging that a Bayt Sahour pasta manufacturer is violating the law by decorating its packages of macaroni with black, red, white and green stripes — the Palestinian national colors. The labeling on the package is entirely in Hebrew, and the product is certified as kosher by rabbis from Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.
Mental Health Yehuda Hiss, the director of the Israeli government’s autopsy institute in Tel Aviv, warned recently that the intifada has had a damaging emotional effect on soldiers who serve in the West Bank and Gaza. “A person who lives in an atmosphere of such violence several months a year changes his behavior and acts in a way in which he previously would not have dreamed of acting,” Hiss told the Israeli press. He said that he could trace the escalation of violent behavior by Israeli security forces from the condition of the Palestinian corpses on which he performed autopsies. Not everyone in Israel seems particularly worried by all this. According to a recent study by an Israeli psychologist, only 3 percent of Jewish Israeli respondents mentioned the intifada when asked to list the sources of the pressures they experienced in daily life. By contrast, 90 percent of respondents who were Palestinian citizens of Israel cited the intifada.