Thursday, December 30, 2004

Help the tsunami victims

For those of you wishing to donate to the victims of the Asian tsunami, here is a list of places: Islamic Relief Southeast Asia Earthquake Emergency, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) 1-888-392-0392, The American Red Cross 1-800-HELP NOW, United Nations Children's Fund, Save The Children Asia Earthquake/Tidal Wave Relief Fund 1-800-728-3843, International Medical Corps 1-800-481-4462. The New York Times has a listing of places you can donate to as well.

My mother was browsing through our Dish Network channels & came across replays of the ICC Trophy Championship (cricket tournament) in September & we were overjoyed! See, I used to watch a lot of cricket when I was in Dubai & miss it tremendously. I have never had the knack for American games like football, basketball or hockey, so I was truly delighted to see some of my favorite players. The first match I ever saw was England vs. Pakistan in the World Cup final when I was 10 in 1992 & I don’t know why but I supported England although almost everyone I knew was favoring the latter & have never liked the Pakistani team since then. In later years, for no particular reason, I became a huge fan of the New Zealand team also known as the Kiwis or Black Caps although they were not very good at the time – I think my nature has always favored the underdogs! In due time, I also developed a huge crush (which has now worn off!) on one of their players, Stephen Fleming, who has been captain of the team since 1997. They have been playing vs. Sri Lanka in NZ & even won their last game but the tournament has been called off because the Sri Lankan players want to return to their home & be with their family after the tsunami tragedy hit their country: “Sri Lanka Cricket has informed New Zealand Cricket of its decision to cancel its cricket team’s current tour of New Zealand and to arrange for the team’s return home as soon as possible. NZC chief executive Martin Snedden said that the NZC board had accepted that decision. “We will now give the Sri Lankan cricket team every assistance to return home as soon as possible,” he said. “As the magnitude of the recent events in Sri Lanka have unfolded it has become more difficult for the Sri Lankan team to remain in New Zealand and we can understand their decision as the players are expected to play a meaningful role back home with the rest of the people in Sri Lanka.” NZC will now work with Sri Lanka Cricket to reschedule the tour at some appropriate time in the future.” More on the US response towards the tsunami tragedy from Informed Comment: “As John F. Harris and Robin Wright of the Washington Post cannily note, US President George W. Bush has missed an important opportunity to reach out to the Muslims of Indonesia. The Bush administration at first pledged a paltry $15 million, a mysteriously chintzy response to what was obviously an enormous calamity. Bush himself remained on vacation, and now has reluctantly agreed to a meeting of the National Security Council by video conference. If Bush were a statesman, he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia (which has suffered at least 40,000 dead and rising). Indeed, the worst-hit area of Indonesia is Aceh, the center of a Muslim separatist movement, and a gesture to Aceh from the US at this moment might have meant a lot in US-Muslim public relations. Bin Laden and Zawahiri sniffed around Aceh in hopes of recruiting operatives there, being experts in fishing in troubled waters. Doesn't the US want to outflank al-Qaeda? As it is, the president of the United States is invisible and on vacation (unlike several European heads of state), and could think of nothing better to do than announce a paltry pledge. As Harris and Wright rightly say, the rest of the world treated the US much better than this after September 11. The Indonesian government itself has an opportunity to gain some good will in troubled Aceh, and appears to have taken a good first step by allowing international aid agencies into the area…Tamil Nadu, another affected area, is important to the Congress government of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with five cabinet ministers in his government. How he handles the crisis could be important, since Congress came back to power precisely because it was supported by villagers. As of Wednesday, the Indian government was denying that the tsunami would affect over-all economic growth, which was only about 6.6 percent this year, less than the 8 percent PM Singh has said is necessary for the country to develop properly.” On Iraq from Juan Cole: “Early Wednesday morning, a huge explosion rocked West Baghdad, flattening several houses and killing 28, including 7 policemen. Iraqi police were raiding the building, a suspected safe house for guerrilla forces, when it went up in flames (presumably because munitions stored there caught fire)… In recent days, several members of the Sadr Movement [Arabic] have been arrested, including one sweep of 15 in Hilla on Sunday. A spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr warned that the arrests threaten to provoke unrest in Shiite areas on the even of the forthcoming elections. Syria is denying giving aid to the Iraqi guerrillas. Personally, I don't think it is plausible that Damascus is helping the Salafi Muslim fundamentalists, whom the Allawis (folk Shiites) in charge of the Syrian Baath fear and despise. Some Baath officials or officers might be helping some Iraqi Baath guerrillas. The Syrian Baath is no longer a coherent party, but rather has multiple cliques. But note that the Iraqi Baath and the Syrian Baath seldom got along, and Syria allied against Iraq in the Gulf War.” An outrageous incident was reported regarding Muslims attending a conference being detained & forced to be finger printed at the Canadian border: “A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group today called for a formal investigation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) into an incident at the Canadian border in which American Muslim citizens were apparently singled out for special security checks based on their attendance at an Islamic conference and then held until they agreed to be fingerprinted…A number of the up to 40 Muslims who were singled out for questioning and fingerprinting told CAIR that they were returning from a weekend Islamic conference of more than 10,000 in Toronto when they were stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the Lewiston Bridge crossing near Niagara Falls, N.Y. (CBP is part of the Department of Homeland Security…Several of the Muslim citizens held at the border for up to six hours on Sunday night and Monday morning told CAIR they objected strenuously to being fingerprinted, but were informed by CBP representatives that "you have no rights" and that they would be held until they agreed to the fingerprinting procedure. One person was allegedly threatened with arrest if she attempted to leave the detention area without being fingerprinted…"The image of a room full of American Muslim citizens apparently being held solely because of their faith and the fact that they attended an Islamic conference is one that should be disturbing to all Americans who value religious freedom," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. "This incident must be investigated to determine what the policy on fingerprinting Muslim citizens is and who is behind it." An interesting article I came across on BBC News regarding detainees: “Peggy Gish, 62, is an American woman who has spent 13 months over the past two years logging the cases of Iraqi detainees with the ecumenical humanitarian group Christian Peacemaker Teams…We were not allowed to go into prisons, so our contact was with the families of detainees and freed detainees. We got very careful testimonies. We were hearing some of the same stories from people all over Iraq, so we were fairly certain what we were hearing was accurate. We heard about very violent house raids in the middle of the night, in which US soldiers would storm in, and if the men did not get down immediately, they would knock them down and beat them. Then their house would be ransacked, often with property damage. Many would report that at the end of that time jewellery and money would be missing. Then the men of the household would be taken away…We talked to the US military about those house raids, and though they denied the soldiers would take money or gold, they did not deny that they would go in with 25 seconds of absolute fury and try to bring the people into submission very quickly. Then we began to hear stories of a very violent interrogation process. Men would report being kept in very painful positions for hours at a time, being deprived of sleep and water and food, some kept out in the hot summer sun for hours…Many men are held because they happened to be on the street, even blocks away, from an explosion. The US military would round up hundreds of men in the area to try to find the few that caused the blast. In fact, we came to the conclusion that 80% to 90% of the prisoners had never been involved in any violent action. This is an estimate that tallies with the estimates of other groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch…A common reason for men to be detained is because an informant in the neighbourhood has given their name to US military and claimed that they are part of the resistance. Informants get money for each name they give, and many people have told us that informants use the system to revenge personal grudges…They say it is rather like life under Saddam Hussein. Many Iraqis use an Arabic expression, "Same donkey, different saddle". As for elections in Palestine, I really liked this article from Electronic Intifada: “During the 1970's, the apartheid government of South Africa sought to bolster its claims to legitimacy by allowing elections in the Bantustans - the equivalent to today's walled in Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The thought was that if people elected local officials, even to hold largely ceremonial offices, then the rest of the world would stop whining about how undemocratic and illegal apartheid was. There were two problems with this strategy. First, the world understood that ceremonial elections do not make a democracy. Second, the major candidate in any election that would be endorsed by black South Africans-Nelson Mandela-was being held in a South African prison. Instead, black South Africans were being offered collaborator candidates that were chosen by the white South African government. Through its policy of "constructive engagement," however, the Reagan administration tacitly endorsed this strategy, even when Congress resisted by passing the Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986. How little has changed. Except for the lack of Congressional resistance, the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories mirrors that of apartheid South Africa. Palestinians are being forced, either by choice or fate, to agree to "acceptable" candidates for elections to offices that will have only as much power as the Israeli government, underwritten by the Bush administration, grants. Consider the ceremonial character of the offices for which any Palestinian would be running. The Palestinian infrastructure has been decimated by thirty-seven years of military occupation and, more recently, the Israeli invasion of 2002 and subsequent military incursions. Palestinians do not control the resources that lie on their land. Their streets are patrolled by a foreign army and their movements limited by humiliating checkpoints. There are not even recognized borders for this land over which the legislators will have no legislative control. In short, for those who would receive the honor of being elected to a Palestinian democratic institution, there will be nothing to legislate, nothing to be legislated over, and no resources with which to legislate."