Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The Privileges of Being an Uncommon Citizen.

Ah to be a member of the Pakistani elite! Hafizur Rahman describes what its like hilariously in this article, and alas, all too truthfully.


Anti Nuke/Anti War Demo

Here's some nice coverage on the anti-war demo held on Feb 24th. I particularly like this call for International solidarity from a pair of Iranian demonstrators.

So funny. So sad. Sigh...


Tuesday, 27 February 2007

A Return to the Bad Old Days: U.S. restarts funding Al Qaeda

This news is just making me feel physically sick. Its not just that its wrong, or that its evil. Its not the knowledge that the U.S. government and its disgusting cronies in Saudi Arabia are doing their damnedest to ignite sectarian conflict. Or that they intend to use the same salafist thugs to do it that created Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashker-i-Jhangvi, etc. Its the feeling of being stuck in a time warp - of being powerless while the same damn thing is happening all over again.

Its been in the air in the last few months. The rhetoric not just of intolerance, but of hatred. The kind of rhetoric that leads to atrocities and ethnic cleansing. First it was in Iraq where Sunni extremists declared "The Jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans". Of course U.S. policies help to fuel this kind of hatred. Then this rhetoric spread to the rest of the Arab world, with King Abdullah (Mighty Mouse) of Jordan spouting BS about the fears of a 'Shia crescent' in the Middle East. The usual third rate hack writers that make up the American intelligentsia responded with the typical smug platitudes about how they were proved right about how barbaric Muslims are - murdering and killing each other in sectarian conflict. Perhaps the most disgusting thing about the comments from these despicable revisionists of history was how they called this sectarian violence "self-generating".

Its not the fact that we create, arm, train, fund and indoctrinate murderers that generates this sectarian violence, no, of course not: its "self-generating".

When the conglomeration of dunces that is the Saudi government combined its money with the imperial ambitions of the United States government throughout the 80s to CREATE a new Islamic ideology whose ENTIRE aim was to hate and use violence; when they funded an entire network of schools and madressahs throughout the world that indoctrinated people with this ideology in an effort to inoculate them from the dangers of communism (and also inoculated them to ideas of humanity, tolerance, liberalism, equality of women and rationality along the way); when they armed, trained and organised groups who went through this indoctrination and unleashed them upon Afghanistan, and then left them to their own devices so that they went on to try and fuck up India, Pakistan, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Algeria... and yes, eventually New York; when it became blindingly obvious that it is EVIL in the extreme to have created and promoted this ideology; one would have hoped, somewhere, in the recesses of some stupid piggy mind of some political theorist or policy maker somewhere in the halls of power, it would have occurred that this was not something to be done again...

No. Alas. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia and other allies are now seeking to "redirect" Middle East strategy and once again funnel money and provide training for those very groups of extremists that the U.S. is supposedly fighting in the 'war on terror' in the hopes of directing their energies more productively against Shias. Seymour Hersh has an illuminating article in the New Yorker. Here's a sample:

The Saudi royal family has been, by turns, both a sponsor and a target of Sunni extremists, who object to the corruption and decadence among the family’s myriad princes. The princes are gambling that they will not be overthrown as long as they continue to support religious schools and charities linked to the extremists. The Administration’s new strategy is heavily dependent on this bargain.

Nasr compared the current situation to the period in which Al Qaeda first emerged. In the nineteen-eighties and the early nineties, the Saudi government offered to subsidize the covert American C.I.A. proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded Al Qaeda, in 1988.

This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

Just read the stuff about Lebanon. Its so disgusting. When last Saudi Arabia meddled in Lebanon, joining Israel in funding and arming the Phalange and islamic militias against the secular Pan-arab threat of the PLO and the Shiite party Amal, the destabilisation led to the country sliding into war in the the late 70s that lasted for over a decade. And here they are proposing to do it again. And of course the great hypocrites in Washington are eagerly going along with it because the last thing they want is democracy and the right of self-determination for the lowly arab races. No, what they want is 'stability'.

For those who are not in the know: whenever politicians spout shit about wanting 'stability' what they are saying is that they don't want things in a region or country to change. So if there is a corrupt dictatorship (oh, say like the one in Saudi Arabia) which does nothing but grow fat and decadent on billions of dollars in oil profits while large chunks of the country's population do not have access to education, or proper housing or even water or electricity 24 hours a day, and these people want a change in their situation, those same politicians oppose any change. Why? Stability!

The funny thing is that this policy ties up so well with that of arch-terrorist Musab al Zarqawi (formerly head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq). In 2004 he wrote a letter to Osama bin Laden explaining his strategy in Iraq. The U.S. government intercepted the letter and put up a translation on their website. Go ahead, have a read. Get an eyeful of all that hatred for Shias (and Jews, Sufis, Americans and Tartars!) Pay special close attention to the bit about how by attacking Shias, he wants to goad Shias into taking up arms against Sunnis, provoke sectarian warfare and eventually force the Americans into open conflict with the Shias.

"Our fighting against the Shi`a is the way to drag the [Islamic] nation into the battle.... If we are able to strike them with one painful blow after another until they enter the battle, we will be able to [re]shuffle the cards. Then, no value or influence will remain to the Governing Council or even to the Americans, who will enter a second battle with the Shi`a. This is what we want, and, whether they like it or not, many Sunni areas will stand with the mujahidin. Then, the mujahidin will have assured themselves land from which to set forth in striking the Shi`a in their heartland..."

Now the Americans KNOW what Zarqawi was aiming to do. They put his freakin' letter up on their freakin' State Department's website. But... well... blow me down, they are doing exactly what he hoped they would do - following a policy that he has actively worked for: War against Shias. I mean, heck, Zarqawi wanted to exterminate Shias, but even he couldn't have dared hope that the Americans would give his ilk arms, training and cash to do it! Surely its too implausible to suggest that American foreign policy was being directed by Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Surely its also too implausible that Zarqawi was serving American foreign policy in Iraq? Sectarian war. Surely not...

I could go on about this, but I can't right now. Its too dreadful, too appalling to think about. Do I sound melodramatic? A quick glimpse at the string of suicide bombings and sectarian attacks in Pakistan over the last few months is just a reminder of the fallout from the idiocy of this kind of policy. And I personally remember the bad old days when a day wouldn't go by without the murder of some Shia professional or family. The days when, for example, my mother-in-law's uncle was warned by a government security agency that he was on a list of targets for assassination and advised him to leave the country because they could not provide him with protection! The days when one's own family name could implicate you.

Ah yes, the good old days. Thank you USA for all you have given us. Just don't come bombing us when someone decides to repay you for your gifts in kind.


Sunday, 18 February 2007

The Accidental Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

He has given us such gems of wisdom as "I think war is a dangerous place" and "Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me." But there is so, SO much more to the accidental wit and wisdom of George 'Dubya' Bush. Another choice sample:

"If the Iranians were to have a nuclear weapon they could proliferate."—Washington D.C., March 21, 2006


"And I suspect that what you'll see, Toby, is there will be a momentum, momentum will be gathered. Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses." —Speaking with reporters along the Gulf Coast, Gulfport, Miss., Aug. 28, 2006

If you're interested in partaking further of these profound Bushisms, there is a pretty comprehensive list here at slate, many of them with links to video clips. You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll laugh and cry! Anyway, I shall leave you with one of the most perceptive things Bush may have ever said:

"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."—Interview with CBS News, Washington D.C., Sept. 6, 2006

Couldn't have said it better Dubya!


Monday, 12 February 2007

24 redux

I just posted my views on 24 yesterday, but I have come across a few articles that articulate what I felt much better (and are better researched since they have interviews etc.)

There is this article from the New Yorker which is disturbing on two levels. First is the catalogue of numerous torture sessions and methods that are used throughout the series. (The article informs us that 'Several copies of the C.I.A.’s 1963 KUBARK interrogation manual can be found at the “24” offices, but [lead-writer for the series] Gordon said that, “for the most part, our imaginations are the source."') Secondly there is the chronicling of the visit to the offices of 24 of U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan accompanied by "three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country."

The reason they went to see the writers of the show is worth quoting:
Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. “I’d like them to stop,” Finnegan said of the show’s producers. “They should do a show where torture backfires.”
Finnegan told the producers that “24,” by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”
But perhaps this is the real humdinger:

“In Iraq, I never saw pain produce intelligence,” Lagouranis told me. “I worked with someone who used waterboarding”—an interrogation method involving the repeated near-drowning of a suspect. “I used severe hypothermia, dogs, and sleep deprivation. I saw suspects after soldiers had gone into their homes and broken their bones, or made them sit on a Humvee’s hot exhaust pipes until they got third-degree burns. Nothing happened.” Some people, he said, “gave confessions. But they just told us what we already knew. It never opened up a stream of new information.” If anything, he said, “physical pain can strengthen the resolve to clam up.”

Here's someone confessing to the use of torture and witnessing torture that resulted in, among other things, broken bones and third-degree burns - things that are, without a doubt illegal, even under the lax rules governing torture in the United States - but one doubts that anyone is going to be charged with a crime. Needless to say, while this isn't the point of the article, its a given that this kind of thing is the norm in Iraq.

Its worth reading the rest of the article, particularly because you also get an insight in how the use of torture is justified in the right-wing media and by Bush's cronies. But I want to go back to this whole thing about the "angst" that torturing causes Jack Bauer. Many defenders of the show talk about how Jack Bauer is "damned", or a "dark character". Torture is not glorified, rather, it is unsavoury and dreadful task that must be done in order to do good.

In an insightful article, Slavoj Zizek writes the following:
The problem for those in power is how to get people do the dirty work without turning them into monsters. This was Heinrich Himmler's dilemma. When confronted with the task of killing the Jews of Europe, the SS chief adopted the attitude of "somebody has to do the dirty job". In Hannah Arendt's book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, the philosopher describes how Nazi executioners endured the horrible acts they performed. Most were well aware that they were doing things that brought humiliation, suffering and death to their victims. The way out of this predicament was that, instead of saying "What horrible things I did to people!" they would say "What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!" In this way, they were able to turn around the logic of resisting temptation: the temptation to be resisted was pity and sympathy in the presence of human suffering, the temptation not to murder, torture and humiliate.
Therein also resides the lie of 24: that it is not only possible to retain human dignity in performing acts of terror, but that if an honest person performs such an act as a grave duty, it confers on him a tragic-ethical grandeur. The parallel between the agents' and the terrorists' behaviour serves this lie.

So what 24 is doing is helping to inoculate people to the effects of torture on the torturer. It is helping to inculcate an ethic which will allow torturers to glorify themselves and their acts, as being both outside the pale of civilised behaviour, as well as its ultimate guarantor and champion.

And that's why I still don't like 24.


Blogging Iraq

I've been haunting some old Iraq blogs from way back when. This one is by an English electrician who blogged her visit in 2004 to do some work for a TV station. Baghdad Burning is exceptionally well written and has carried on till the end of 2006. This one is by a young Iraqi (film-maker?) blogging in 2004. Here's one excerpt:
I have been tuning to AFN IRAQ much more often than the radio we Iraqis are supposed to be listening to. They played Rage Against the Machine’s testify.
It is a bit scary to have a military radio that plays this song here in baghdad Anyway, it is very interesting radio. It is so very American it gets disorienting. And the little public announcement things in between songs are almost Monty Python-esque if they weren’t meant to be dead serious. Example:
[Sound of vehicle, a humvee I guess, in the background]
Female voice: I am really tired I haven’t slept well last night. Ooh look…can you hold on to my [some weapon or other] while I take a picture of this.

[Sound of snoring]
Female voice: Is sergeant (so-and-so) still sleeping? He had a tough night.

Darth Vader voice: Being on military convoy is a serious situation, always wear your seat belts, maintain speed and distance. And always stay alert.

There are little Arabic lessons thrown in here and there to “learn the local language and be part of the world around you”. Today’s words were Hello, Good morning and Good bye. I would have thought that after a year here we would have moved to a bit more complex vocabulary. And there are also reminders to military personnel to keep the classified information they have to themselves since “We *are* in a war here.” Sweet sounding DJ Courtney made sure we remember to remember by playing Nickelback’s “this is how you remind me”.

Anyone seen 'Good Morning Vietnam'?


Sunday, 11 February 2007

Why I Can't Stand 24

There are many, many reasons to dislike the TV series 24.

First off there are always the evil foreigners who are threatening the land of the free (usually vividly underlined by various blonde women being abducted by said foreigners). I can't think of another TV show that so consistently paints people with strange accents and varied skin tones in such a bad light.

Secondly there is the bizarre depiction of African American family life. Yes, the show was "ground-breaking" in having a black American president, but one look at his highly dysfunctional family would seem to suggest that the writers of the series seem to subscribe to the view that while a brother can get out of the ghetto, you can't get the ghetto out of a brother. His daughters is raped by a friend, his son is a killer and his wife is a cruel, vindictive gold digger. For good measure, his brother is scum too.

But the ultimate reason for my dislike of the series concerns how wonderfully effective and efficient the use of torture always is, in the fight against terrorism. One can't help but feel that it is precisely this attitude that leads to events like these.

Now of course it is always a Momentous Decision when the hero decides to use torture, and there is always a clock ticking away bringing some terrible terrorist catastrophe closer and closer to fruition. But in every single season, time and again, torture proves to be the only way to defeat the bad guys. While they are being tortured (or in later seasons, when their wives or children are being tortured) the villains first hold out with bravado, claiming that they will never talk, however, a few telling blows, electrocutions, bullet holes etc. later and they sing like canaries. The Vital Information is revealed and the day, eventually is saved.

Of course we've all the heard the "ticking bomb" argument in the American media that was used to justify the legalisation of torture. But unfortunately 24 tactics don't always seem to be very effective in real life.


Friday, 9 February 2007

Re: Debating American Islam recently published an illuminating online discussion on Islam in America. Particular emphasis was placed by one of the interlocutors on the idea that America was successful in integrating Muslims because of its culture of tolerance and acceptance, as well as the American tradition of bringing faith into the public realm.

Its an interesting argument and I think Mr. Aslan may be on to something, but I do think he downplays what is probably the most crucial aspect of the relative success or lack of success in the integration of Muslims in the west. To quote from his article:
After all, the majority of European Muslims come from impoverished immigrant families, while the majority of Muslims in the United States are either middle-class converts or educated immigrants. Sixty percent of Muslims in the United States own their own homes. Believe it or not, the median income for a Muslim household in America is greater than it is for a non-Muslim household.

I think there is something vital in understanding integration in these facts. Taking Britain as a case in point, the majority of Muslim immigrants came from Pakistan and Bangladesh during the economic boom years of the 50s and 60s to work in textile mills and other low-paying working class jobs. By the late 70s most of these mills had closed down and by the 80s, the working class as a whole was under relentless attack by Thatcherism and the whittling away of a range of welfare services.

It was under these circumstances that there was both a growing racism against 'Pakis' for taking away scarce jobs, as well as a growing reaction amongst 2nd generation immigrants against the traditionalism and quietism of their parents as well as the perceived threat of a racist British society. The 80s also saw a boom in the funding of fundamentalist Salafist ideology, since it was seen by the U.S. and its Saudi ally as a useful vaccine to secular Socialism and Communism and Iranian revolutionary Shiism. An industry of ideological materials (textbooks, schools, mosques, community centres etc.) developed and by the 90s had firmly lodged themselves in the ghettos of poor immigrants that existed in Europe. This reactionary ideology never reached critical mass in the U.S. due to the lack of Muslim ghettos and the highly mobile nature of the American urban or suburban middle and upper classes (which doesn't mean it doesn't exist, just that it has not been able to entrench itself fully).


Thursday, 8 February 2007

Re: Time to Stand Up to the Extremists

I almost coughed to death while laughing when I read this. For anyone who has been following the British media its a must read... the background, of course, is the ongoing serial mail-bombings of motoring-related companies.


Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Less Fear = Less Loathing in London

Thanks to madgraceflint for the link to this article on some wise comments by the director of public prosecutions. In the words of the article:
Sir Ken warned of the pernicious risk that a "fear-driven and inappropriate" response to the threat could lead Britain to abandon respect for fair trials and the due process of law.

Couldn't have put it better Ken. We don't need proclamations of war, or new legislation. Rather, we need vigilant crime prevention and (again quoting Ken) "a civilising culture of respect for rights amongst and between citizens".


Monday, 5 February 2007

Fear and Loathing in London

Recently the UK has been 'rocked' by news of the arrest of a bunch of Muslims who were allegedly planning to abduct and behead an ex-soldier who had served in Afghanistan. The whole issue of the Muslim threat at the heart of the nation continues to be stirred and stirred and stirred...

Now one would not want to ignore the fact that there are, undoubtedly, some people of Muslim persuasion who wish to do grevious harm to various people. And certainly the Police should, as it does, investigate wherever suspicions arise. Two questions, however, do come to mind.

Firstly, is there a need for special 'Anti-Terror' legislation? And secondly, just how extensive have the plots by Muslim 'terror' suspects been?

The first question has been, and is being, vigorously debated elsewhere. I was curious about the second question though. It seems as if every second week we hear about arrests and the breaking up of terrorist plots. How much substance is there to this?

Under the freedom of information act, Olly Kendall, who writes for the guardian came up with some interesting statistics which I shall attempt to summarize.

In 2005, 277 people were arrested (266 under the Terrorism Acts , 11 under other legislation as part of a Terrorism investigation). 30 were charged under the Terrorism Act and 8 were convicted.

In 2006 (up to October), 159 people were arrested (143 under the Terrorism Acts, 16 under other legislation). 52 were charged under the Terrorism Act and 4 were convicted.

Now of this total of 425, some were convicted on non-Terror related charges, some were deported, some are still awaiting the trials and 271 were released without any kind of charge. But the fact remains that in these two years 82 people were charged and so far only 12 convicted on Terror-related charges. When one also keeps in mind this includes things such as belonging to Kurdish groups that have been outlawed etc. (i.e. not all to do with 'Muslim Terror' plots) that doesn't leave a huge amount of people.

Now before I'm accused of turning a blind eye to terrorism, let me reiterate that I'm not trying to deny the existence radical extremists that wish to use violence. However, I do think these things might be kept in perspective. 12 convictions hardly seems to suggest a widespread Muslim conspiracy to strike at the heartland.



As this blog seems to have become more focused on politics, current events and history, I have decided to create a separate blog on my ramblings on books, movies and so forth. Follow this link to 'More Ramblings From Afar'!


Saturday, 3 February 2007

We Have Proof! Just... Not Real Proof!

After all that chest-thumping by the Bush administration, a much-ballyhooed briefing that was going to reveal the evidence of Iran's role in attacks on U.S. troops is delayed... again. Apparently it was lacking "focus on the facts."

While Iranian involvement in Iraq can't be doubted, in most cases they are backing the same parties that the U.S.A is. So why the sabre-rattling? Well, apart from the fact that the neo-con agenda always included an attack on Iran ("the road to Tehran is through Baghdad" as one neo-con said), it also helps to ease pressure on both the administration and the military for their inability to bring things under control in Iraq. Why are things such a mess? It's Iran's fault!

With American credibility so low on the world stage after the hysteria over phantom WMDs, another war based on false allegations just isn't a good idea. Even some senators have voiced scepticism about the allegations and have urged caution. Might not be a bad idea.


Friday, 2 February 2007

The Immigrants Are Coming! The Immigrants Are Coming!

Now if it were any other community leader ranting about immigrants being "beggars", "handicapped people" and "prostitutes" who were destroying native culture and infecting everyone with AIDS one would expect swift denunciations (or maybe not given how multiculturalism is such a dirty word these days) but obviously some cultures are purer and better than others and some leaders purer and better than others...

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the latest rant by the ultimate good man himself, the Dalai Lama!

Now I'm not saying that economic development is not eroding traditional values in Tibet, but I wonder how many Tibetans are embracing these changes in the hopes of 'getting ahead'. Would they agree Tibet should have remained an unchanged and unchanging feudal theocracy for all time?


Thursday, 1 February 2007

Behold! The American Holy Warriors Have Arrived!

Q. Which U.S. president issued this proclamation (originally in Arabic)?
Praise be unto the only God. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O ye Moslems. O ye beloved sons of the Maghreb. May the blessing of God be upon you.

This is a great day for you and us, for all the sons of Adam who love freedom. Our numbers are as the leaves on the forest trees and as the grains of sand in the sea.

Behold. We the American Holy Warriors have arrived. We have come here to fight the great Jihad of Freedom.

We have come to set you free. We have sailed across the great sea in many ships, on many beaches we are landing, and our fighters swarm across the sands and into the city streets, and into the wide country sides, and along the highways.

Light fires on the hilltops; shout from your housetops, and from the high places, and say the sound of the drum be heard in the land, and the ululation of the women, and the voices even of small children.

Assemble along the highways to welcome your brothers.

We have come to set you free.

Answer: FDR in October 1942 upon the landing of American troops in North Africa. The speech continues in a smiliarly poetic vein. This part also stands out:
Speak with our fighting men and you will find them pleasing to the eye and gladdening to the heart. We are not as some other Christians whom ye have known, and who trample you under foot.

Now quiet apart from the question of just how "pleasing to the eye" the American fighting men were, the promise to be different from other European powers may have been heady wine indeed. Alas, the freedom brought by these worthy Holy Warriors was fleeting. Morocco was parcelled out between the French and Spanish, Algeria and Tunisia went back under French rule and Egypt continued to be ruled by the British. Libya happily achieved early independence due to the virtue of its having been an Italian colony, and Italy being on the losing side of WW2.

Still, at least lets give FDR's speech writers some credit (including Carleton Coon, noted anthropologist, OSS agent and developer of the theory of the parallel evolution of different racial types... of whom he believed the European race was the "most refined") for at least proclaiming war without the use of the word crusade. Dubya certainly didn't learn from history on that front.