International Papers

Bomb Squads

Suicide bombers targeted Israeli civilians twice within three days, putting the world press in a somber mood. On Thursday, 16 people died and more than 120 were injured when a man detonated a nail-packed device in a crowded Jerusalem pizzeria; on Sunday, 20 people were injured when a Palestinian man blew himself up in a suburban Haifa coffee shop. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon retaliated Friday by seizing Orient House, the PLO’s unofficial headquarters in East Jerusalem, and occupying several Palestinian Authority offices in the Jerusalem area. The Israeli seizure of Orient House was variously interpreted as a demonstration that Palestinians would pay a political price for supporting terrorism, a humiliation for Yasser Arafat, and as a sign that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been centered in the West Bank and Gaza, could now spread to Jerusalem. Lebanon’s Daily Star described the takeover as “a bold and bloodless, but intensely provocative, retaliation.” The Jerusalem Post supported the move, which it called a demonstration of “brains instead of brawn.” It said, “[I]n the wake of the latest Palestinian terrorist outrage in the heart of Jerusalem, even Israel’s harshest critics find it somewhat difficult to condemn the bloodless reaffirmation of Israel jurisdiction in east Jerusalem.”

Several papers examined the suicide bombers’ motives. Palestinian sources said that the Israeli government’s assassinations of eight Hamas leaders the previous week provoked the attacks, but Ha’aretz dismissed such logic: “No country remains indifferent to a wave of lethal attacks that are aimed against its population and seek to disrupt its life. Israel implemented a series of retaliatory actions—measured ones, for the most part—in its fight against Palestinian terrorism.” Britain’s Sunday Telegraph also rejected the notion of “a moral equivalence between the Israeli security forces and the fanatical members of groups such as Hamas.” In contrast, the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk explained the desire for martyrdom as “the logical product of a people who have been crushed, dispossessed, tortured and killed in terrible numbers.”

Many commentators were frustrated with the United States’ failure to intervene. Canada’s Globe and Mail declared that the Bush administration “seems to care little about the rest of the planet.” The editorial said both sides in the Middle East crisis would stay away from the negotiating table until “decisive pressure” dragged them back. It concluded, “Only Washington can exert that pressure, because only Washington has the necessary diplomatic muscle and credibility. It had better act soon, lest the fire spread.”

Is karaoke un-Islamic? An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald welcomed the Malaysian federal court’s budding assertion of independence after it announced it was considering curbs on the country’s Internal Security Act, a holdover from British colonial days that permits detention without trial for up to two years. The Herald said the ISA was the government’s “most powerful political cudgel” against challenges to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his ruling UMNO party. Last week, 10 people associated with the opposition PAS party were arrested under the terms of the ISA; six other opposition politicians connected with the now-jailed former Mahathir deputy Anwar Ibrahim were detained in April (for more on Anwar’s tainted trial, see this August 2000 “International Papers”). The 75-year-old Mahathir is Asia’s longest-serving leader, but the paper said his popularity is waning ahead of the 2004 election. Singapore’s Straits Times reported that, when asked to outline its plans for ruling Malaysia, PAS, a conservative Islamic party, points to the states it controls. The Straits Times reporter who visited the areas noted that in the 10 years PAS has ruled Kelantan, nightclubs, bars, karaoke lounges, gambling centers, and “girlie hair salons” have been driven underground, and for the minority (mostly ethnic Chinese and Indian) communities, “It is a three-way balancing act that involves complying with rules that they cannot defy openly, circumventing those that have loopholes, and ignoring the unenforceable ones.” Among the laws usually disregarded is the requirement that there should be separate checkout lines for men and women in supermarkets and department stores. Many minority residents are leaving the states for economic reasons; a PAS official responded by noting that his party’s goal was “to teach Islamic principles and install an administration based on religious ideals, not to create an economic miracle.”

Serfs up: Last week the Moscow Times revealed that up to 10,000 North Koreans are working in Russia “under the supervision of their country’s security forces and without legal protection, making them essentially serfs.” The North Koreans work in labor camps—most of the work is farming, construction, logging, or mining—for little or no salary to pay off their nation’s debt to Russia. According to the Moscow Times, “The Economic Development and Trade Ministry officially classifies such workers as ‘exports,’ and calculates that they account for 90 percent of all ‘goods’ imported from North Korea every year.” The paper speculated that the camps may put Russia in violation of the 1927 International Slavery Convention. An editorial asked:

Is Moscow so desperate to get some payback for the weapons it sent to the hermit kingdom over the last half century that it is willing to tolerate an Asian gulag archipelago within its borders? … Earlier this year, Russia canceled a similar size Soviet-era debt to Ethiopia, another country that has had more than its share of poverty and famine. If Putin really wants to help ease Pyongyang out of its isolation, he would forget the Soviet-era debt or at least stop the Soviet-era method being used to pay it off.

WWF smacked down: The Times of London relished a courtroom victory for the forces of old fogeydom when the World Wide Fund for Nature—which has kept the acronym from its original name, the World Wildlife Fund—successfully asserted its rights to the initials WWF over U.S. upstarts the World Wrestling Federation. A London judge found that the wrestlers had breached a 1994 agreement restricting its use of WWF and granted an injunction forcing them to stop using the initials outside the United States, leaving “the federation facing a £35 million rebranding operation on top of costs and damages that could run into further millions.” The World Wrestling Federation has said it will appeal the decision.