The Secret to Balancing Islam and Human Rights in the Mideast

In Egypt, Islam flourishes among the impoverished. In Qatar, veiled women drive sports cars.

DOHA, Qatar - A few months ago, Israel severed relations with Qatar, the richest state in the world. Consequently, a few Qatari plans to finance projects in Israel and the territories were derailed.

The reasons for the decision were as follows: First, Qatar has close ties with Hamas, which, as everyone knows, refuses to recognize the State of Israel. Second, the emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who heads the Arab League monitoring committee on the Palestinian issue, supported the Palestinian Authority's bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state that would live peacefully alongside Israel in the 1967 borders, find an agreed solution to the refugee issue and end the conflict.

Women and Islam illustration - Amos Biderman
Amos Biderman

How is it possible to simultaneously support Hamas and encourage Fatah? How can one explain the allocation of funds to both the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafist rival in Egypt? What interest does a theocracy have in cultivating democratic values in this region, thereby running the risk of these values infiltrating its own peninsula? Who would think of meeting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at an Alliance of Civilizations conference in the afternoon and then a wanted war criminal, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, at Doha's market in the evening?

To start sorting out these paradoxes, one needs to stroll through the post-modern, almost surreal, skyscrapers that abound in Doha, a city with lush grass at one edge and desert sands at the other. One needs to glance carefully at the woman driver of a sports car whose carefully made-up eyes are all that can be seen peering out of a black robe (of the high-fashion sort sold in expensive stores for $5,000 or more ). Then you need to stop the cab and listen to the driver, from Eritrea, describe how he works from morning to night for a little over $300 a month, without any social benefits. His passport is held by the owner of the cab company - which, like the airline, the rental car company and several hotels, belongs to the emir and his relatives.

So long as oil flows from the depths and the emir continues to fund the long summer vacations of Qatar's 250,000 residents at ski lodges in Europe, the peninsula can continue to function as an oasis of coexistence between traditional Islam and hyper-modernity. So long as 1.5 million foreign workers submissively accept the dictates of the local authorities, enlightened statesmen making their way from the airport can only smile in embarrassment when they see a flashy sign atop a handsome building advertising the presence of a Qatari center for human rights.

If the truth be told, even in America, money can purchase a seat in Congress, and without it, there's no way to reach the White House. The problem is that in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Tunisia, Islam flourishes in a swamp of poverty and filth.

Democracy for beginners

Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur for the right to freedom of opinion and expression, was treated to a series of lessons about Israeli democracy last week. The most enlightening lesson was provided by Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al ). Here is a precis of the lesson:

"Israel, in the best case, is a Judeocracy, a democracy for 80 percent of its population. The remainder of its citizens live under a regime of racist discrimination. Israel's Arabs constitute 20 percent of the population but no more than 7 percent of public-sector employees. For example, of the 70 officials in the Finance Ministry's budget division - the most important government department in the country - not a single one is Arab."

The veteran Arab MK spoke of how he was deprived of the right to have the Knesset vote on his bill to impose sanctions on those who deny the Nakba (literally, "catastrophe," the Palestinian term for Israel's creation and its aftermath). Tibi talked at length about a bill proposed by MK Danny Danon (Likud) that would condition the receipt of identity cards and driver's licenses on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. "I wouldn't be surprised if these people proposed that anyone who enters a restaurant or rides a train in this country should be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state," he added.

La Rue told Tibi that during a conversation with MK Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu), he quoted Voltaire's dictum: "I may despise what you have to say, but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it." Tibi replied that "these Knesset members prefer McCarthy to Voltaire."

Freedom of incitement - for Jews

How long would it take the Shin Bet security service to detain Palestinians who disseminated flyers calling on people "to defend their dignity and property, even if it means a confrontation with the security services ... to frustrate the forces of expulsion and destruction by being on guard and mobilizing forces and resources"? How many hours would it take the attorney general to order the police to question a Druze cleric who instructed Druze soldiers and police to disobey orders to evacuate a community built on stolen land and urged them "to join our struggle and not heed the criminal orders given by the government"?

These quotations are taken from a circular distributed by an organization called Neemanei Eretz Yisroel ("Land of Israel Loyalists"), which is based in the West Bank settlement of Elkana. As a service to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, here is a list of some of the organization's members, as they appear on its website: Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe (chairman), Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, Rabbi Yeshayahu Hollander, Rabbi Dov Stein, Rabbi Mordechai Rabinowitz, Prof. Hillel Weiss, Yitzhak Shadmi, Shmuel Medad Zingi, Baruch Marzel, Yonatan Hahn, Emmanuel Gertler, Gedaliyah Glazer, Ruti Itzkawitz, Kati Cohen, Anat Livni, Yoel Lerner, attorney Boaz Schapira, Michael Ben-Horin and Moshe Zer.