May 26, 2011
May 26, 2011
May 26, 2011
“First of all, let me say something that I shouldn’t,” Sen. John McCain began. “I’m not sure they should put Mubarak on trial.”
In a wide ranging-interview with Foreign Policy today, McCain made the case that prosecuting the former Egyptian president for killing unarmed protesters, as the new Egyptian government has promised to do, would encourage the Arab world’s other embattled dictators to cling to power rather than risk the consequences of stepping down. He also weighed in on how the United States should support democratic transitions throughout the Arab world, and blasted cuts to funding for Title VI and other international educational programs as a “short-sighted” move that could weaken American diplomatic capabilities and, over time, create a “hollow diplomatic corps.”
On Syria, McCain urged moral support for protesters, but offered a surprisingly strong warning against leading them to believe that any foreign military intervention might be forthcoming. He called for the United States and Europe to work quickly in support of the democratic transition and economic rebuilding of Egypt — but warned that we shouldn’t call it a “Marshall Plan.” And the former presidential candidate expressed cautious optimism on Libya, calling on the administration to recognize the National Transitional Council.
McCain criticized President Barack Obama for moving too slowly at key moments, saying that the administration has been “a step behind” events in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. But quibbles over timing aside, his thoughts on the region were surprisingly close to those of the Obama administration — a remarkable convergence given the toxic political arguments that usually characterize Washington these days, not to mention the heated rhetoric of the 2008 presidential campaign. Extending this bipartisan comity even further, McCain is co-sponsoring a bill with Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry in support of U.S. intervention in Libya.
McCain gave an impassioned defense of the importance of supporting democracy in the region — even when anti-Israeli or anti-American voices appear as a result. “There’s every likelihood that, in the open political campaigns that take place in Egypt and other countries, the anti-Israel issue will be raised by some candidates,” he said. “I know these politicians, I know some of the people who are going to be running, and they hate Israel.”
But that did not deter him. Asked whether he still believed that Arab democracy was an American interest, he responded forcefully: “[I]f we don’t believe that democracy is in our interest, we are somehow very badly skewed in our priorities and our inherent belief in the rights of everybody.” Acknowledging that this could be a tough sell, especially when it came to finding funds to support these transitions, McCain said with emphasis that “we’ve got to convince people that it’s in our interest to see [the Middle East] make this transition.”
McCain sees job creation as key to a successful democratic transition (I didn’t ask if he felt the same way about the Obama administration’s efforts to do just that for the American economy). He’s gravely concerned about the dismal economic situation in Egypt and Tunisia. “We were at the pyramids [in Cairo] three weeks ago, not a soul there,” he said. “We stayed in a hotel in Tunis, Joe [Lieberman] and I were the only people in the whole hotel. I mean, they have really been decimated. [Tourism] is 10 percent of their GDP.”
He went on: “What we need to do to these young people is say: We’re going to give you an opportunity to get a job. That’s the key to this.” With a raised eyebrow, he also offered up a commentary on a country which did not appear in Obama’s recent Middle East speech: Saudi Arabia. “Look at what the Saudis have done: They’re just buying people off. They’re distributing money…”
It was a brief moment of happiness on a voyage that would end in death for many on board. They held a child up in the air, cheered and hugged each other. They were so delirious that they almost caused the overcrowded boat to capsize.
A helicopter was circling above their heads, say three of the nine survivors of the dramatic voyage, as they sit in Shousha refugee camp on the Tunisia-Libyan border. They say that they were able to make out the word “army” on the fuselage. Two months since their failed attempt to flee Libya, they can still write the word on a piece of paper and make a detailed drawing of a helicopter.
They say that they are certain. “Why should we lie?” asks Elias Kadi, a gaunt 23-year-old Ethiopian who is fluent in Arabic and speaks English relatively well. “What good would it do us now? What happened happened and can no longer be made up for.”
Hope of Being Saved
According to the survivors’ account, the helicopter descended to a low altitude, circled about 10 to 15 meters (33 to 50 feet) above the boat and, using ropes, lowered water bottles with Italian labels and several packages of cookies to the refugees, who fished the items out of the water with their hands.
The refugees had left Libya from a point near Tripoli on a nameless fishing boat two days earlier, headed for Europe. Their destination was the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is about 290 kilometers (180 miles) off the coast of Libya. But then they became lost at sea.
Now, rescue seemed imminent. Their captain, a very tall Ghanaian in his early 30s who had never told them his name, cut the engine. When they looked up at the soldiers in the helicopter, they saw they were carrying weapons and that one of them was taking pictures. Then he waved his hand as if to say: Help is on its way, so stay where you are. At least that was how the refugees interpreted the gesture. Then the helicopter turned and flew away, say the survivors. The refugees watched until the helicopter was only a dot on the horizon.
Some time later, the captain did something that an experienced skipper would never do. Elias, one of the survivors, is standing on shaky legs in the refugee camp as he recalls what happens. He holds onto the ropes of his tent, as if they were part of a boat’s rigging. Then he says: “The captain threw his navigation equipment and his satellite phone overboard.” Apparently he wanted to prevent the rescuers from arresting him and charging him with human trafficking, and to prevent border police from locking him up because he was illegally transporting Africans to Europe.
Elias was surprised, but he didn’t stop the captain. He thought to himself: Technology won’t help us anymore. What we need are people on ships to tow us into a harbor. They’ll be here in one or two hours, Elias thought, coming from Malta or Lampedusa, the island that they saw as the promised land.
But the rescuers would never arrive. The ensuing drama was only one episode in a much bigger drama. The survivors’ story is an account of immense suffering before the gates of Fortress Europe. It is a logbook of death.
Since ordinary people in the Arab world began rebelling against the powerful and fighting for their freedom, about 34,000 refugees have made it to Europe. According to United Nations figures, 14,000 refugees have already traveled from Libya to Italy or Malta. But no one wants them.
Within the space of just a few weeks, the exodus has changed Europe more than anyone would have believed was possible. Because the Italians simply gave the refugees temporary visas for the rest of Europe, the French temporarily closed their border. The Danes want to reintroduce border controls. EU leaders are now arguing over how to limit the freedom to travel, calling into question one of the fundamental tenets of a united Europe.
It isn’t that European governments are so worried about the Arab refugees. What they do fear, however, is that if the refugees make it, hundreds of thousands of people from all over Africa could follow them. As it happens, the people on the nameless boat were from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ghana and Sudan.
They risked the crossing even though they knew that the trip across the Mediterranean in boats that are often unsafe can be deadly. The UN estimates that some 1,200 refugees have been lost at sea since the end of March alone.
‘I Had No Choice’
The three survivors that SPIEGEL spoke to — Elias, Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, and Kabbadi Dadi, 19 — had waited for their chance to leave Africa for years. Elias, the son of a cowherd, arrived in Tripoli four years ago, and the two others came in 2008. Elias says that they are members of the Oromo, a persecuted ethnic group in southern Ethiopia.
One of his eight brothers was killed in fighting against government militias, while another is in prison. Elias left home without a word of farewell. He worked as a car washer in the Sudanese capital Khartoum until he had saved enough money for the trip across the Sahara in overcrowded trucks.
Their chances were better than ever, they thought, in late March, when the West was bombing Tripoli. There were no more patrols on the beaches, as there had been in previous years, when Italy was paying Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi a lot of money to keep poor African migrants away from Europe’s shores. Elias knew what the dangers were but, as he says: “I had no choice. It was either prison and torture in Ethiopia, or freedom in Europe.”
As is so often the case among refugees fleeing from North Africa, someone knew a Sudanese who knew a Libyan, and he called them one night to tell them to come to the beach. It was March 25, at 3 a.m. The moon was clouded over, but they could see the lights of nearby Tripoli and hear the bombing.
Their Libyan contact wanted $800 (€570) from each of them, but no names or other personal information were exchanged. The open boat, a blue plastic fishing boat that was only 10 meters long and 3 meters wide, was bobbing up and down near the shore. There were 50 refugees. They rolled up their trousers and waded through the shallow water out to the boat. It was the first time Elias had ever been in a boat.
The Libyan had blue gasoline canisters brought on board, a water bottle for each passenger, cookies and dates. A few minutes before the boat set out to sea, 22 more Africans climbed on board, bringing the total to 72 people — in a space of 20 square meters (215 square feet). “Anyone who thinks it’s too full should get out now,” said the Libyan, “but no one gets his money back.” The boat, loaded with 50 men and 22 women and children, Christians and Muslims, the oldest 45 and the youngest only a year old, set out to sea. With visibility good and the sea calm, the vessel moved quickly through the water. It’s a relatively short trip to Lampedusa, Europe’s outpost, only 300 kilometers from Tripoli.
The passengers formed a sort of human chain, with each person sitting between the angled legs of the person in front of him. They were wearing several layers of warm clothing and the women had wrapped their heads in scarves. They knew that it would get cold at night. “The mood was good at first,” says Elias. “We took pictures of each other with our mobile phones.”
They should have seen land by the second day, March 26. The Ghanaian had said that they would reach Lampedusa in 18 hours, but now about 30 hours had already passed. They became anxious. When the helicopter approached the boat at about 10 a.m., the passengers waved, held up their empty canisters and shouted: “Help, help!” The helicopter lowered provisions to the boat and then banked and flew away.
They spent the next three hours waiting for a rescue ship, but when it failed to materialize they became increasingly desperate. They asked the captain for his satellite phone.
A man named Petrus, a Christian who prayed constantly, dialed a number in Italy and spoke with a priest he knew at the Vatican. “What should we do?” he shouted into the phone…
May 26, 2011
In his grand and gloomy book Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud identified the tenacious sense of guilt as “the most important problem in the development of civilization.” In fact, he continued, it seems that “the price we pay for our advance in civilization is a loss of happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt.” Such guilt made for an elusive quarry, however. It was hard to identify and hard to understand, and even harder to counteract, since it so frequently dwelled at an unconscious level and could easily be mistaken for something else.
Of course, Freud was notoriously hostile to religion, but, in this one respect, he thought it deserved some grudging credit: The world’s religions “have never overlooked the part played in civilization by a sense of guilt,” which is why they seek “to redeem mankind from this sense of guilt, which they call sin.” The same cannot be said of the modern secular dispensation, which often finds itself entirely baffled and defenseless against guilt’s formidable power. The sense of guilt often manifests itself to us moderns,
Freud argued, not as anything actually resembling guilt but “as a sort ofmalaise [Unbehagen], a dissatisfaction,” for which modern people seek other explanations, whether external or internal. Guilt itself turns out to be exceptionally crafty, a born trickster and chameleon, capable of disguising itself, hiding out, altering its size and appearance, moving its location. And yet it remains notoriously difficult to dislodge, managing to tighten its hold even as it is undergoing protean and unpredictable transformation.
Whatever one finally thinks of Freud—and I count myself among the respectful unbelievers in his fanciful systems—this seems to me a very rich and insightful analysis, and a useful starting place for considering a subject largely neglected by historians: the steadily intensifying (though rarely visible) role played by guilt in determining the deep structure of our lives in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Such an analysis cannot, for obvious reasons, be reduced to quantifiable data; and it admittedly runs the risk of veering onto the circular path of the non-falsifiable, a Freudian spécialité de la maison. Yet it has a ring of truth to it, both as a diagnosis and as a symptom of the condition it diagnoses. It suggests that what W. H. Auden claimed for Freud over seventy years ago remains equally true today: Even if he was “wrong and at times absurd,” he stands for “a whole climate of opinion under whom we conduct our different lives.”
One way of expressing that difference is to say that we live in a therapeutic age; and nothing illustrates that fact more clearly than the striking ways in which the sources of guilt’s power and the nature of its would-be antidotes have changed for us. Freud sought to relieve in his patients the worst mental burdens and pathologies imposed by their oppressive and hyperactive consciences, which he renamed theirsuperegos, while deliberately refraining from rendering any judgment as to whether the guilty feelings ordained by those superegos had any moral justification. In other words, he sought to release the patient from guilt’s crushing hold by disarming and setting aside guilt’s moral significance and redesignating it as just another psychological phenomenon, whose proper functioning could be ascertained by its effects on one’s more general well-being. After all, since the superego was for him nothing more than the introjection of parental and quasi-parental authority, experienced as a form of irrational compulsion, it was not exactly a product of sweet Kantian reasonableness, let alone the deposit of God’s law written on the heart.
Health was the only remaining criterion for success or failure in therapy, and health was a matter of managing a tolerable equilibrium among the competing elements in the psyche—less a state of peaceable harmony, or the optimal flourishing of an organism realizing its telos, than the achievement of an uneasy truce or stalemate between intrinsic antagonists, a condition sufficiently pacified to allow for mature and rational behavior, and perhaps even the occasional faint and fleeting glimpse of something like happiness.
This is not to say that all Freud’s followers understood him thus. We Americans are always very selective in the ways we appropriate our intellectual imports, and the full gloominess of Freud taken neat was unlikely ever to be more than a minority taste here. His arguments for the easing of Victorian sexual mores, on the other hand, were an early vote-getter, particularly among the most advanced libidos of Greenwich Village. And the nonjudgmental therapeutic worldview whose seeds he planted has come into full flower in the mainstream sensibility of modern America, which in turn has profoundly affected the standing and meaning of the most venerable of all our moral transactions, and not merely matters of guilt.
Take for example the various ways in which forgiveness is now understood. Forgiveness is one of the chief antidotes to the forensic stigma of guilt, and as such has long been one of the golden words of our culture, with particularly deep roots in the Christian tradition, in which the capacity for forgiveness is seen as a central attribute of the Deity itself. It glistens with a hundred admirable qualities, and its purity and moral prestige seem beyond challenge. To forgive others is taken to be a sign of a full and munificent and sacrificial heart, and moreover a heart that wisely recognizes the fleeting nature of life and the universal weakness of all human beings, very much including oneself. For Christians the willingness to forgive has an even deeper source: the simple acknowledgment that we should be willing to extend to others, in a spirit of gratitude, the same forgiveness that God has graciously extended to us…
May 26, 2011
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.