Friday, December 31, 2004

Paving the right way into the New Year

We all have many financial commitments & I know how difficult it is to spare one more dollar to yet another cause. But I am urging you to please donate to any organization heading relief efforts for tsunami victims because they are in dire need. Let’s start the New Year on a right footing. As the NY Times editorial Our Planet, and Our Duty states: “The world is used to horror stories, but not on the stupefying scale of the macabre tales coming at us from the vast and disorienting zone of death in tsunami-stricken southern Asia…The death toll now is more than twice the number of American G.I.'s killed in all the years of the Vietnam War. Not just entire families, or extended families, but entire communities were consumed by waters that rose up without warning to destroy scores of thousands of people who were doing nothing but going about their ordinary lives…Perhaps a third of those killed were children. Many were swept away before the eyes of horrified, helpless parents…Any tragedy is awful for the relatives of those who perished. But this is a catastrophe of a different magnitude. "This," as one observer noted, "is like confronting the apocalypse." "What makes it especially frightening is that whole communities have been annihilated," said Dr. John Clizbe, a psychologist in Alexandria, Va., who, until his retirement a couple of years ago, had served as vice president for disaster services at the American Red Cross…The planet is growing smaller and its residents more interdependent by the day. We're fully aware that our planetary neighbors in southern Asia are desperately drawing upon the deepest reservoirs of fortitude and resilience that our troubled species has at its disposal. What this means is that we're the supportive community. All of us. This catastrophe would at least have a silver lining if it moved the people of the United States and other nations toward a wiser, more genuinely cooperative international posture.
William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, said: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."


A really interesting article in The Guardian attempts to seek answers from religion: “Perhaps we have talked so much about our civilisation's potential to destroy the planet that we have forgotten that the planet also has an untamed ability to destroy civilisation too. Whatever else it has achieved, the Indian Ocean tsunami has at least reminded mankind of its enduring vulnerability in the face of nature…this week provides an unsought opportunity to consider the largest of all human implications of any major earthquake: its challenge to religion…Earthquakes and the belief in the judgment of God are, indeed, very hard to reconcile. However, no religion that offers an explanation of the world can avoid making some kind of an attempt to fit the two together. And an immense earthquake like the one that took place off Sumatra on Sunday inevitably poses that challenge afresh in dramatic terms. There is, after all, only one big question to ask about an event of such destructive power as the one that has taken place this week: why did it happen? As with previous earthquakes, any explanation of this latest one poses us a sharp intellectual choice. Either there is an entirely natural explanation for it, or there is some other kind…Earthquakes and the belief in the judgment of God are, indeed, very hard to reconcile. However, no religion that offers an explanation of the world can avoid making some kind of an attempt to fit the two together. And an immense earthquake like the one that took place off Sumatra on Sunday inevitably poses that challenge afresh in dramatic terms. There is, after all, only one big question to ask about an event of such destructive power as the one that has taken place this week: why did it happen? As with previous earthquakes, any explanation of this latest one poses us a sharp intellectual choice. Either there is an entirely natural explanation for it, or there is some other kind…The tsunami took place, say the seismologists, because a massive tectonic rupture on the sea bed generated tremors through the ocean. These unimaginable forces sent their energy coursing across thousands of miles of water, resulting in death and destruction in a vast arc from Somalia to Indonesia. But what do world views that do not allow scientists undisputed authority have to say about such phenomena? Where do the creationists stand, for example?… For most of human history people have tried to explain earthquakes as acts of divine intervention and displeasure.

Even as the churches collapsed around them in 1755, Lisbon's priests insisted on salvaging crucifixes and religious icons with which to ward off the catastrophe that would kill more than 50,000 of their fellow citizens. Others, though, began to draw different conclusions. Voltaire asked what kind of God could permit such a thing to occur. Did Lisbon really have so many more vices than London or Paris, he asked, that it should be punished in such a appalling and indiscriminate manner?.. Certainly the giant waves generated by the quake made no attempt to differentiate between the religions of those whom it made its victims. Hindus were swept away in India, Muslims were carried off in Indonesia, Buddhists in Thailand. Visiting Christians and Jews received no special treatment either…A non-scientific belief system, especially one that is based on any kind of notion of a divine order, has some explaining to do, however. What God sanctions an earthquake? What God protects against it? Why does the quake strike these places and these peoples and not others? What kind of order is it that decrees that a person who went to sleep by the edge of the ocean on Christmas night should wake up the next morning engulfed by the waves, struggling for life? From at least the time of Aristotle, intelligent people have struggled to make some sense of earthquakes. Earthquakes do not merely kill and destroy. They challenge human beings to explain the world order in which such apparently indiscriminate acts can occur. Europe in the 18th century had the intellectual curiosity and independence to ask and answer such questions. But can we say the same of 21st-century Europe? Or are we too cowed now to even ask if the God can exist that can do such things?”

As previously stated, I have always believed in both creationism and intellectual explanations of the world because I do not see them as mutually exclusive issues. The sermon at my mosque last night resonated with my opinion – the earthquake and the tidal waves were the effects of a geographical cause and God should not be blamed. Like the Testaments, the Qur’an too has stories about devastation brought about to punish people; however, the preacher said that after the birth of Prophet Mohammed, He promised not to destroy peoples and nations due to His respect for the Prophet and His Mercy – thus, the latest tragedy should not be seen as a punishment. It looks like the US government didn’t like being called stingy for its aid effort.

From BBC News: “The US plans to increase by 10-fold - to $350m - its contribution to help the survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami. The largest pledge so far was made just before talks between senior US and UN figures on co-ordinating aid efforts. The UN says $1.2bn in aid has been pledged so far, for about five million survivors. But relief work appears disorganised, correspondents say…US Secretary of State Colin Powell - who is to visit stricken areas on Sunday - said the ten-fold increase in Washington's aid contribution was indicative of extraordinary need…Speaking after talks in New York with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mr Powell called on all other countries to make as significant a contribution…Mr Powell said the US was working very closely with the UN…But there is still no sign of a co-ordinated relief operation for the estimated two million people who have been displaced in Aceh, says the BBC's Jonathan Head. Planes have been dropping supplies, unable to land at the nearest airport. But air distribution remains a major problem because of a total collapse of infrastructure…There is still no way of reaching outlying areas where roads have been blocked and the death toll is thought to be highest. In some areas, survivors are starving and eating leaves. In India, authorities are refusing to allow foreign aid agencies to join relief efforts in the devastated islands of Andaman and Nicobar. They say supplies are welcome but local authorities should be in charge of distributing them. In Sri Lanka - the second worst-hit country - poor infrastructure remains a problem for remote mountainous areas. Some aid is getting through to northern areas held by Tamil Tiger rebels, some of which are co-operating with the government in Colombo."

  

Latest developments in Iraq & Palestine

In Iraq from Informed Comment: “Ansar al-Sunna and 2 other guerrilla groups in Iraq have threatened to kill anyone participating in what they termed "the farce" of Iraqi elections.CNN is reporting that all 700 voter registration workers in Mosul have resigned after death threats. The guerrillas are alleging that the secular process of American-sponsored elections will result in un-Islamic laws. I don't see how Mosul can participate in the election under these conditions…That the Revisionist-Zionist extremist Daniel Pipes has fond visions of rounding up Muslim Americans and putting them in concentration camps isn't a big surprise. That a mainstream American newspaper would publish this David-Dukeian evil is. Of course, this is also a man that President Bush appointed to a temporary vacancy at the United States Institute of Peace, after the Senate understandably balked at a regular appointment for him. Pipes's little project requires him to attempt to justify the internment of American citizens (of Japanese ancestry) during World War II, a violation on several grounds of the Bill of Rights…If the American yahoos ever start putting people in concentration camps, I think we may be assured that they won't stop with the Muslims or the Asians, and Mr. Pipes will come to have reason to regret his imprudence and, frankly, his demonic implication…The Iraqi newspaper "al-Adalah" published on Dec. 23 the platform of the United Iraqi Alliance, the mainly Shiite coalition sponsored by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. It was translated by BBC World Monitoring. Since this party very likely will dominate parliament, it is worth looking at the platform.First, the coalition includes the following parties:
1. Supreme Assembly of Islamic Revolution in Iraq SAIRI [Or Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI]

2. Islamic Al-Da'wah Party.
3. Centrist Grouping Party.
4. Badr Organization.
5. Islamic Al-Da'wah Party/Iraq's Organization.
6. Justice and Equality Grouping.
7. Iraqi National Congress INC .
8. Islamic Virtue Party.
9. First Democratic National Party.
10. Islamic Union of Iraqi Turcomans.
11. Turcoman Al-Wafa Party.
12. Islamic [Faili] Grouping in Iraq [Shiite Kurds].
13. Islamic Action Organization.
14. Future Iraq Grouping.
15. Hizbullah Movement in Iraq.
16. Islamic Master of Martyrs Movement.

As to the platform itself, it has two parts, basic principles and vision of Iraq's polity, and then specific areas of endeavor. As for basic principles: First, the Iraq that we want:
1. A united Iraq - land and people - with full national sovereignty.
2. A timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq.
3. A constitutional, pluralistic, democratic and federally united Iraq.
4. Iraq that respects the Islamic identity of the Iraqi people. The state religion is Islam.
5. Iraq that respects human rights, that does not discriminate on the grounds of sects, religions, or ethnicities, and that preserves the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and protects them against persecution and marginalization.
6. Iraq that provides a climate of peaceful coexistence among Iraqis without preferential treatment for any group.
7. Iraq in which the judiciary is independent and in which justice and equality prevail. I'm not sure most Americans realize that the biggest and most important party coalition in Iraq, which will almost certainly form the next government, has explicitly stated in its platform that it wants a specific timetable announced for withdrawal of US troops from the country.

The rest of the statement promises security, fighting terrorism, a depoliticized military; a state guarantee of a job to every Iraqi, social security and workmen's compensation, state support for the building of houses for homeowners; providing health services and medicine and health insurance; supporting women's participation in politics, the economy and social life; support for youth and for families; developing industry and agriculture and the provision of basic services; education; etc.An independent foreign policy is promised, as is membership in the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. [This plank implies non-recognition of Israel until there is a global peace settlement accepted by these two organizations). I think we are looking at the policies of the new Iraq. They aren't what Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Wolfowitz imagined.”

Another interesting article I came across from The Jordan Times talks about the clash of civilizations: “One by-product of the widespread “clash of civilisations” discourse overtaking discussion of US-Islamic/Middle Eastern relations is the idea that world citizens are either positioning themselves in agreement with or in opposition to the notion of a colossal clash of values between two distinct peoples. Peoples, here, are defined by religious faith and predispositions of thought and attitude based on ethnicity and geographical location…Meta-narratives describing a clash between “the Muslims” and “the West” have certainly been useful for pundits and politicians wishing, for various reasons, to frame the very complex state of today's international affairs in 30-second sound bytes which often replace the West with the word “good” and the Muslim world with the word “evil”… Serious observers of the root causes that fuel recruits for Middle East-based terrorism concur that the political problems are rooted largely in: 1) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and 2) dictatorships in the Muslim world, and the support that has been given to them now and in the past by the United States…Unfortunately, in the United States today, these first two points of contention continue to be relegated to a “problems that cannot be named” status in public discourse, the open secret fuelling much of this conflict. The unnamable status of these conflicts has perpetuated massive confusion and misinformation in the United States about the grievances, concerns and worries of our interlocutors in the Middle East. Also underlying the problem is a profound misunderstanding between the so-called Muslim world and the West at the level of culture. Here, there seems to be two basic problems: On the “Western” side, what is needed is a realisation that concepts like freedom, justice, a decent standard of living, safety for children, and a good life are not the exclusive domain or desire of the West. For too long, many in the West have been deluding themselves with absurd notions that “Muslims”, “Arabs”, or those in the “Middle East” are simply not interested in such lofty concepts or do not have such basic human needs. This attitude is only possible through dehumanising the other, a perennial problem that must be addressed as a prerequisite to conducting all other work.”

In Palestine from The Guardian: “Israel was accused yesterday of undermining the election of a Palestinian Authority president by allowing only a few thousand Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem. More than 100,000 will have to leave the city if they want to vote. The government has told the Palestinian Election Commission that it will not allow privacy screens in the voting booths in East Jerusalem post offices, nor will election officials be allowed to mark voters with indelible ink to prevent fraud. The prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has admitted that the arrangements are designed to show that Israel has sole sovereignty in East Jerusalem. Palestinians say it could make the election meaningless and reduce the credibility of the winner. Amar Dweib, the chief electoral officer, said that the commission had been told that 5,367 people could vote at five post offices in East Jerusalem. "We asked the Israelis to increase the number of polling stations, but they refused," he said. "I do not know the precise number of eligible voters in East Jerusalem, because the Israelis would not allow us to register them, but we think it is around 120,000. The rest... will have to undertake long journeys around the separation wall in order to vote." …Qais Abu Leila, leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose candidate, Tayseer Khaled, is third in the opinion polls (on 7%), said the Israeli obstruction would call the result into question.”

  

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."

  

Monday, December 27, 2004

Different perspectives of the tsunami disaster in South Asia

The latest devastation in South Asia caused by tsunamis knows no bounds. The latest from BBC News: “The scale of devastation wrought by sea surges that killed about 23,000 people on Asia's shores is starting to emerge. The death toll is still climbing, thousands are missing and millions have been made homeless by the world's worst earthquake in 40 years. At least 10 countries have been affected, with Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand among the worst hit. International aid efforts have begun amid fears that disease could spread through the disaster zone. Survivors may have little clean water or sanitation after Sunday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake sent huge waves from Malaysia to Africa. The latest I heard from CNN News is that this is the first historical record of such a massive tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean – it is more prevalent in the Pacific Ocean. In addition, because the region already faces other problems and has scarce resources, funds were never devoted to a tsunami warning system. .” Also a report on the importance of having a warning system in place: “Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon has backed calls for a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean after Sunday's undersea earthquake. He was speaking after scientists said many of the 20,000 people killed by the sea surges could have been saved by an international monitoring network…Five of the countries hit by the towering waves that crashed into Asian and African coastlines are members of the Commonwealth…Seismologists in Australia have said the lack of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean could have contributed to the scale of Sunday's disaster…The international warning system in the Pacific constantly monitors for signs that an earthquake has taken place under the ocean. It gives advance notice to coastal areas and low-lying islands that floods could be on the way, so that emergency plans can be activated…However, such systems are expensive and require close co-operation between neighbouring countries. For developing nations struggling to repair their battered infrastructure, those factors could prove a real obstacle to ensuring that such a disaster never takes place again.”

Could the tsunamis be an indication of global warming? From Informed Comment: “This particular tsunami was caused by an earthquake and was unrelated to climate change. But everyone should realize that global warming contributes to extreme weather events, causing more hurricanes and typhoons and stronger ones. Even in the year 2004 extreme weather events caused on the order of $100 billion in damage-- an unprecedentedly high figure and one due to rise. Giant waves are only one potential problem with global warming….As Naomi Oreskes pointed out in the Washington Post on Saturday, the scientific literature for the past decade has expressed no doubts about the reality of global warming or of human responsibility for some large portion of it. Although not all scientists are convinced, the scholarly literature where this matter is debated technically is characterized by broad consensus. The main doubts that are raised are in the mass media, for ulterior motives, by non-scientists. Moving to cleaner energy as soon as possible is the only way to prevent future tsunamis that will hit closer to home for Americans.”

Whenever a natural dissater hits the poorest areas of the world, I remember the Malthus’s Social Theory: “His essay points out that our ability to produce children will always outstrip our ability to provide energy for their survival. Population must be kept in line with what the society can produce in the way of sustenance, and every way available to keep this population in check (including birth control) has negative consequences for society…Malthus’ basic theory can be summarized as follows: Humankind has two basic needs: food and sex—one leading to the production of food and the other to the reproduction of children. But the power of reproduction is “indefinitely greater” than the power of production. If unchecked, Malthus maintained, population levels would double in size about every 25 years…However, food and other resources are not distributed equally in any human society. This means that the “positive checks” in the form of lowered life expectancy, has to be paid by the poor. Central to Malthus is a posited cyclical relationship between production and reproduction. An increase in productivity will lower the costs of food, thus making it cheaper for a family to have children. More children would live (or be allowed to live); fewer efforts would be made to prevent conception. Eventually, the rise in population would increase the demand for food, driving prices up, leading to hard times for the poor and—through the more efficient operation of population checks—a leveling off of population. The high price of provision, plus the lower wages for labor (because of the surplus of workers), would induce farmers to increase productivity by hiring more workers, putting more land under the plow, and using technology to increase productivity. This increase in productivity, of course, would loosen the constraints to reproduction—it would continue the cycle. Malthus recognized that the cycle is not steady-paced. Wars, disease, economic cycles, technological breakthrough, the lag between change in the price of food and money wages, and government action (such as the Poor Laws) can all temporarily disrupt or spur the cycle (Winch, 1987: 22). The “oscillation” between the growth of subsistence and population, and the misery that it causes, has not been noted in the histories of mankind because these are histories of the higher classes. Nonetheless, Malthus maintains, there is a continuing cycle between population and production—a cycle that necessitates the operation of severe checks on population growth.”

Also an interesting perspective from Poynteronline: “Will this story get as much coverage as the Scott Peterson case?

Will U.S. media invest its mighty resources into a story that is far from home, affects mostly people of other nations, and is relentlessly painful to witness?

Will media organizations –- especially those that have cut back foreign bureaus -- redeploy staff to cover and stay with this story for more than its first days?

Will newsrooms that have adopted a "hyper-local" approach to news be willing to blow up that strategy in the face of a story that should transcend our parochial interests?

Will newsroom leaders see in this story the opportunities to bring readers and viewers closer to people, places, and issues they may never have known?

Will they reject the notion that Americans are interested in the story only in proportion to the number of U.S. citizens directly affected?

Will local television affiliates demand that their networks provide continuing and fresh pictures from overseas, so viewers won't see recycled images and assume the story is static, rather than dynamic?

Will networks send their top reporters, even anchors to the scene? What a powerful message that would send about the importance of this tragedy so far from our shores.

Will local journalists find creative ways to localize the story while still connecting it to the major event? Will local meteorologists apply their teaching skills to this story as effectively as they explain hurricanes and snowstorms?

Will journalism organizations carefully vet the charities to which they direct citizen contributions, so donors can be confident their dollars are in the hands of good stewards?

All these questions speak to newsroom leadership, both formal and informal. Who is guiding the decisions about this story in your newsroom right now? Chances are some of your veteran staff may be taking holiday time off. Who, then, is stepping up to offer a vision for remarkable coverage right now? Who is thinking globally, locally, and journalistically?

In Iraq from the Christian Science Monitor: “A proposal floated by the US government and several prominient US senators Sunday to 'adjust' the outcome of next month's election in Iraq to ensure more Sunni representation has been rejected by the Iraq Electoral Commission (IEC). The Daily Star of Lebanon reports that IEC spokesman Farid Ayyar described the US proposal as "unacceptable" interference, saying: "Who wins, wins. That is the way it is. That is the way it will be in the election." Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Iraq's main Sunni party announced Monday it would withdraw from the January 30 election, all but ensuring an assembly overwhelmingly dominated by Shiite representatives…On Sunday, The New York Times reported that US officials in Baghdad had already raised the issue of special seats for top Sunni vote-getters with an aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric. The US is reportedly afraid that if the new assembly doesn't reflect the ethnic and racial mix of Iraq, then sectarian violence will continue, and the current insurgency will grow even stronger. As if to underline this point, CNN reports that a car bomb exploded at the gate of the home of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Mr. Hakim is also the head of Iraq's largest Shiite political bloc of parties, and is expected to be one of the dominant figures in Iraq after the election. Although Hakim was not hurt by the blast, the Associated Press reports that at least 15 others were killed. Last week, the BBC reported that attacks on top Shiite clerics and around many Shiite holy places like Najaf and Karbal are believed to be attampts by Sunni militants to provoke a Shiite reaction that would undermine both the January election and reconstruction efforts. So far Shiite leaders have called for calm and order after these attacks.

On the lighter side, I watched Veer-Zaara, the latest Bollywood flick & I have to say I am really impressed by the different turn some directors & producers are taking with stories. What struck me in this film and the brilliant story in Phir Milenge is the broad-minded approach to controversial issues and the use of legal institutions and not violence to bring about change and justice. Speaking of which, I have decided to work my fellowship at Citizens for Global Solutions whose vision is “a future in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone. This vision requires effective democratic global institutions that will apply the rule of law while respecting the diversity and autonomy of national and local communities.” I will be leaving for DC on January 24th and intend to work at the organization for 9 months, so I’m super excited about my new adventure!

  

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Do they know it's Christmas Time at all?

Do they know it's Christmas Time at all is one of my favorite Christmas songs because it reminds us all that in our times of happiness, we should not forget others.

From the Pope on
BBC News: "The frail pontiff, 84, used his sermon to express "grave apprehension" over the continuing conflict in Iraq. He described violence in all its forms as a "source of untold suffering", and voiced fears about suffering in Sudan and hopes for peace in the Middle East. As thousands sheltered from rain, the Pope spoke of "invincible confidence" about eventual peace in the Holy Land. "I think of Africa, of the tragedy of Darfur in Sudan, of the Ivory Coast and of the Great Lakes Region" he said in his Urbi et Orbi address...In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Palestinian leaders gathered alongside church leaders. Palestinian presidential favourite Mahmoud Abbas travelled to Bethlehem as PLO chairman accompanied by the interim chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Rawhi Fattuh. The pair were the most senior Palestinians allowed to attend Christmas services in Bethlehem for three years. Israel barred former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in November, because of alleged terror links."

In Iraq, Christians are scared to celebrate. From
Informed Comment: "Iraq's approximately 700,000 Christians actually are having to hide their celebrations for fear of violence from radical Muslim extremists. Borzou Daragahi reports that most Iraqi Christians are declining to put out Christmas lights or symbols, and many are attending daytime masses or none at all for fear of car bombs. Many masses have even been cancelled by the churches. Christians had been relatively safe under the Baath regime. Daragahi writes, "It's true that the Americans are Christians and we are Christians. But they should not associate us with them. All the Christians want the Americans to get out and the occupation to end. Nobody is with the Americans," said Father Gabriel Shamami, who leads the St. George's Church in Baghdad. 'There have been some horrific bombings of Christian churches by Muslim radicals in the past year, and some churches were bombed as recently as Monday, Dec. 20, 2004. A wave of kidnappings of Christians has also plagued the community.Thousands of Christians have fled Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Estimates vary widely, from just 10,000 to as many as 200,000. Most have moved to Jordan, Syria or Lebanon, all of them relatively hospitable to Christians. The Baath regime had been generally tolerant of Christians, since it stressed Arab nationalism rather than Islam as the basis of the state.A conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue was held recently in Baathist Syria, where major Christian and Muslim figures spoke about harmony between Christians and Muslims. Most Syrian Christians support the Baath government because it provides tolerance to them, and they know that were it to fall, it would likely be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood. About 10 percent of Syria's 18 million citizens are Christian.Ironically, the Bush administration wants to overthrow the Syrian government, risking the same kind of destabilization there that has so hurt Iraqis--including Iraqi Christians."

From John Kerry's e-mail,
Operation Phone Home: “As a soldier, I remember how much it meant to hear from loved ones - especially at the holidays. So, I thought you and I could work together to make it easier for our soldiers serving in Iraq to phone home and hear a friendly voice. We've found a program that does just that. Operation Phone Home is run by the USO, which has been an extraordinary friend to American soldiers for decades. The USO buys phone cards at cost and provides them to our soldiers free of charge…In January, I will go to Iraq to see the situation firsthand and personally visit with our courageous troops who are serving America so well. Nothing would please me more than telling them that hundreds of thousands of us have expressed our thanks to them in this concrete and personal way.”

From NY Times, America, the Indifferent: “the latest available figures show that the percentage of United States income going to poor countries remains near rock bottom: 0.14 percent. Britain is at 0.34 percent, and France at 0.41 percent. (Norway and Sweden, to no one's surprise, are already exceeding the goal, at 0.92 percent and 0.79 percent.) And we learned this week that in the last two months, the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping hungry nations become self-sufficient, and it has told charities like Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services that it won't honor earlier promises. Instead, administration officials said that most of the country's emergency food aid would go to places where there were immediate crises. Something's not right here. The United States is the world's richest nation. Washington is quick to say that it contributes more money to foreign aid than any other country. But no one is impressed when a billionaire writes a $50 check for a needy family. The test is the percentage of national income we give to the poor, and on that basis this country is the stingiest in the Group of Seven industrialized nations. At the Monterey summit meeting on poverty in 2002, President Bush announced the Millennium Challenge Account, which was supposed to increase the United States' assistance to poor countries that are committed to policies promoting development. Mr. Bush said his government would donate $1.7 billion the first year, $3.3 billion the second and $5 billion the third. That $5 billion amount would have been just 0.04 percent of America's national income, but the administration still failed to match its promise with action. Back in Washington and away from the spotlight of the summit meeting, the administration didn't even ask Congress for the full $1.7 billion the first year; it asked for $1.3 billion, which Congress cut to $1 billion. The next year, the administration asked for $2.5 billion and got $1.5 billion. Worst of all, the account has yet to disperse a single dollar, while every year in Africa, one in 16 pregnant women still die in childbirth, 2.2 million die of AIDS, and 2 million children die from malaria. Jeffrey Sachs, the economist appointed by Kofi Annan to direct the Millennium Project, puts the gap between what America is capable of doing and what it actually does into stark relief. The government spends $450 billion annually on the military, and $15 billion on development help for poor countries, a 30-to-1 ratio that, as Mr. Sachs puts it, shows how the nation has become "all war and no peace in our foreign policy."

  

Friday, December 24, 2004

An Islamic perspective on Jesus

From Sound Vision: “Belief in all of the Prophets and Messengers of God is a fundamental article of faith in Islam. Thus, believing in Prophets Adam, Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon them) is a requirement for anyone who calls him or herself a Muslim…Like Christians, Muslims believe Mary, Maria in Spanish, or Maryam as she is called in Arabic, was a chaste, virgin woman, who miraculously gave birth to Jesus…The Quran says: "She (Mary) said: ‘O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me.' He (God) said: ‘So (it will be) for God creates what He wills. When He has decreed something, He says to it only: ‘Be!'- and it is" (3:47). It should also be noted about his birth that: "Verily, the likeness of Jesus in God's Sight is the likeness of Adam. He (God) created him from dust, then (He) said to him: ‘Be!'-and he was" (Quran 3:59)… "Then she (Mary) pointed to him. They said: ‘How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?' He (Jesus) said: ‘Verily! I am a slave of God, He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet; " (19:29-30)… Muslims, like Christians believe Jesus performed miracles. But these were performed by the will and permission of God, Who has power and control over all things…Muslims believe in the Absolute Oneness of God, Who is a Supreme Being free of human limitations, needs and wants. He has no partners in His Divinity. He is the Creator of everything and is completely separate from His creation. God says in the Quran regarding the Trinity: "People of the Book (Jews and Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, and attribute to God nothing except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God, and His command that He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in God and in His Messengers, and do not say: ‘God is a Trinity.' Give up this assertion; it would be better for you. God is indeed just One God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth. God is sufficient for a guardian" (Quran 4:171)… "Say: "God is Unique! God, the Source [of everything]. He has not fathered anyone nor was He fathered, and there is nothing comparable to Him!" (Quran 112:1-4).

“Paul is considered by a number of Christian scholars to be the father of Christianity due to his additions of the following ideas: that Jesus is the son of God, the concept of Atonement, the renunciation of the Law of the Torah. Paul did these things in hopes of winning over the Gentiles (non-Jewish people). His letters are another of the primary sources of information on Jesus according to the Christian tradition. The original followers of Prophet Jesus opposed these blatant misrepresentations of the message of Jesus. They struggled to reject the notion of the Divinity of Jesus for close to 200 years. One person who was an original follower of Jesus was Barnabas. He was a Jew born in Cyrus and a successful preacher of the teachings of Jesus. Because of his closeness to Jesus, he was an important member of the small group of disciples in Jerusalem who had had gathered together following the disappearance of Jesus. The question of Jesus's nature, origin and relationship with God was not raised amongst Barnabas and the small group of disciples. Jesus was considered a man miraculously endowed by God. Nothing in the words of Jesus or the events in his life led them to modify this view. The Gospel of Barnabas was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the Churches of Alexandria till 325 CE Iranaeus (130-200) wrote in support of pure monotheism and opposed Paul for injecting into Christianity doctrines of the pagan Roman religion and Platonic philosophy. He quoted extensively from the Gospel of Barnabas in support of his views. This indicates that the Gospel of Barnabas was in circulation in the first and second centuries of Christianity.

In 325 (CE), a council of Christian leaders met at Nicaea and made Paul's beliefs officially part of Christian doctrine. It also ordered that all original Gospels in Hebrew script which contradicted Paul's beliefs should be destroyed. An edict was issued that anyone in possession of these Gospels would be put to death. The Gospel of Barnabas has miraculously survived though.
Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified: “The Orthodox-Christian Churches make it a cardinal point of their doctrine that his life was taken on the Cross, that he died and was buried, that on the third day he rose in the body with his wounds intact, and walked about and conversed, and ate with his disciples, and was afterwards taken up bodily to heaven. This is necessary for the theological doctrine of blood sacrifice and vicarious atonement for sins, which is rejected by Islam. But some of the early Christian sects did not believe that Christ was killed on the cross. The Basilidans believed that someone else was substituted for him. The Docetate held that Christ never had a real physical or natural body, but only an apparent or phantom body, and that his crucifixion was only apparent, not real. The Marcionite Gospel (about A.C. 138) denied that Jesus was born, and merely said that he appeared in human form. The Gospel of St. Barnabas supported the theory of substitution on the Cross. The Quranic teaching is that Christ was not crucified nor killed by the Jews, not with standing certain apparent circumstances which produced that illusion in the minds of some of his enemies; that disputations, doubts, and conjectures on such matters are vain; and that he was taken up to Allah Almighty…In 4:156-159 "......Nay Allah raised him up Unto Himself....."

There is a difference of opinion as to the exact interpretation of this verse. The words are: The Jews did not kill Jesus, but Allah raised him up (rafa'ahu...in Arabic) to Himself. Some people hold that Jesus did not die the usual human death, but still lives in the body in heaven, which is the generally accepted Muslim view. Another hold that he did die but not when he was supposed to be crucified, and that is being "raised up" unto Allah means that instead of being disgraced as a malefactor, as the Jews intended, he was on the contrary honoured by Allah Almighty as His Messenger. The same word (rafa'a) is used in association with honour in connection with Al Mustafa (Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him)… Those who hold that Jesus did not die say that Jesus is still living in the body and that he will appear just before the Final Day, when the world will be purified of sin and unbelief. There will be a final death before the final Resurrection, but all will have believed before that final death.”

Other sites to visit:
Please visit: The blessed Jesus in Islam.
From the Jewish point of view: New evidence that proves that Jesus never resurrected.
Jesus was never crucified according to the Gospel of Barnabas.

  

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

25th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

As the 25th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan approaches, here’s a report by BBC by victims, soldiers & others who were part of the war: V Grigoryev Soviet interpreter: "Forgive us but soldiers everywhere know what the military oath means"; Jason Elliot British mujahid: "There would be blissful days of peace, then suddenly people got killed"; Karl Paks Soviet sapper: "We spent half the time laying mines and the other half clearing them" ; Gelalei Habib Afghan teacher: "If all the Afghan women removed their veils maybe I could find my sister?" ; N Akhadova Soviet mother: "Allah gave me a son and Allah took him away. I still grieve for him" ; SomayaAfghan refugee: "If we returned, we would have to go through everything all over again" ; S Tursunova Soviet nurse: "Even the soldiers with the most terrible injuries were happy to be alive" ; Omar Nessar Afghan editor: "I think many first reacted to the invasion positively or neutrally" .

A new FBI investigation reports “abuse” of Iraqi detainees in Guantanamo Bay – one, I don’t call it abuse, it’s torture. Secondly, if Bush says again that this is a case of a “few bad apples,” and not a systemic problem, he’s dumber than I thought. Proponents of torture or harsh tactics on detainees say that the information obtained from them is crucial to thwart other terrorist activities and save lives (“ticking bomb” theory). However, many scholars say that these techniques are counter productive because the detainee will say anything to stop the suffering providing false intelligence.


From NY Times: “B.I. memorandums portray abuse of prisoners by American military personnel in Iraq that included detainees' being beaten and choked and having lit cigarettes placed in their ears, according to newly released government documents. The documents, released Monday in connection with a lawsuit accusing the government of being complicit in torture, also include accounts by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who said they had seen detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, being chained in uncomfortable positions for up to 24 hours and left to urinate and defecate on themselves. An agent wrote that in one case a detainee who was nearly unconscious had pulled out much of his hair during the night…The memorandum did not make clear whether the witness was an agent or an informant, and it said there had also been an effort to cover up the abuses. The writer of the memorandum said Mr. Mueller should be aware of what was occurring because "of potential significant public, media and Congressional interest which may generate calls to the director." The document does not provide further details of the abuse, but suggests that such treatment of prisoners in Iraq was the subject of an investigation conducted by the bureau's Sacramento office. Beyond providing new details about the nature and extent of abuses, if not the exact times or places, the newly disclosed documents are the latest to show that such activities were known to a wide circle of government officials. The documents, mostly memorandums written by agents to superiors in Washington over the past year, also include claims that some military interrogators had posed as F.B.I. officials while using harsh tactics on detainees, both in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay.”

On the issue from the Washington Post: “At the Pentagon, Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers, a military spokesman, said the Defense Department would have no comment about the FBI records or the administration guidelines that were the subject of complaints by agents. Earlier this year, White House documents and legal memos outlined the administration's legal view that enemy combatants were not strictly prisoners of war, and that therefore the Geneva Convention might not always apply in the post-Sept. 11 war against terrorism. Iraqi detainees always have been considered POWs. Nevertheless Jameel Jaffer, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, maintained that "the methods that the Defense Department had adopted were illegal, immoral and counterproductive." He added that the ACLU, which has been obtaining detention records under a lawsuit it filed against the federal government, finds it "astonishing that these methods appear to have been adopted as a matter of policy by the highest levels of government." In many of the records released Monday, FBI officials expressed repulsion upon learning that military interrogators posed as FBI agents in their interviews with prisoners. They said they had learned the "ruse" was approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and that it had an adverse effect on obtaining "cooperation" from prisoners. In one instance, an FBI official told his superiors in a December 2003 e-mail that impersonation "tactics have produced no intelligence." The official added that these techniques actually "have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee." The FBI official added: "If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, [Defense Department] interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [by] the 'FBI' interrogators. The FBI will be left holding the bag before the public."

To add to the chaos, Bush admitted that Iraqis Aren't Yet Able to Quell Rebels: “President Bush acknowledged Monday that the United States had achieved only "mixed" success in training Iraqi troops to secure the country, and said that it was "unacceptable" that some Iraqi units had fled as soon as they faced hostile fire. With the first elections in Iraq six weeks away, Mr. Bush's public criticism of how the Iraqis had performed reflected mounting concern, voiced from the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, that the strategy for training 125,000 Iraqi forces to secure the country is failing…Several other Republicans, and many Democrats, have been highly critical of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for his conduct of the war and how he dealt with questions from soldiers two weeks ago about the absence of effective armor to protect them from improvised explosives. But Mr. Bush used his news conference to express confidence in his secretary of defense. "I know Secretary Rumsfeld's heart," Mr. Bush said. "Beneath that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being who cares deeply about the military and deeply about the grief that war causes." …Taken together, Mr. Bush's comments amounted to his broadest acknowledgement yet that rebuilding Iraq's security forces, a central task in remaking Iraq, had run into severe difficulties - problems he resisted discussing during his re-election campaign. The numbers alone released by the administration tell a story of a training program that has slowed to a halt. The State Department's weekly assessment of Iraqi security forces shows that the number of newly trained troops has stayed level since early November at about 114,000, and that more of those troops are being channeled to the police, to try to restore order to the streets of major cities. Administration officials acknowledged that it was a measure of how bad things had become that an assassin photographed while killing three election workers on Sunday on a street in Baghdad did not even feel the need to cover his face.

Also from the BBC News: “In a statement to the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes, Mr Rumsfeld admitted that in the past he had not personally signed the letters of condolence…Several families of US soldiers killed overseas said that the machine-signed letters reflected a lack of respect for their losses…The row has led to fresh debates among lawmakers over whether Mr Rumsfeld - whose handling of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath have come under close scrutiny - should step down.” I don’t know how I feel about this one; although I’m no fan of Rummy’s, I can understand why he uses the automatic pen, but then again, I haven’t lost a loved one in war...

While the Washington Post is reporting that 56 percent of respondents in a survey say Iraq War was a mistake, with a majority saying that Rumsfeld should resign; it looks like Lynne Cheney (Dick Cheney’s wife, and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute - the author of "When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots’) is trying to counter that sentiment. From a NY Times editorial that she authored: “AS 1776 was drawing to a close, Elkanah Watson, a young man in Massachusetts, expressed what many Americans feared about their war for independence. "We looked upon the contest as near its close," he wrote, "and considered ourselves a vanquished people." …In these desperate circumstances, George Washington made a stunning decision: to go back across the Delaware and launch a surprise attack on the Hessian mercenaries occupying Trenton…Twice in 10 days Washington and his ragtag army had defeated the greatest military power in the world, and their victories lifted the spirits of patriots everywhere. True, the years ahead would be hard - Christmas 1777 would find Washington and his men at Valley Forge. But because of the 10-day campaign that began on Christmas 1776, Americans could now think of winning their war for independence. They could imagine that their great struggle would have a glorious end.”

For all you environmentalists out there, here’s a report from the Christian Science Monitor on the future of Kyoto: “Even before it officially takes effect on Feb. 16, the Kyoto agreement to curb greenhouse gases is leaking air…Last week, most of the world's nations met in Argentina to assess what the treaty might be able to achieve by its expiration in 2012. Many nations are faltering in their commitment to rein in industrial carbon-dioxide pollution since it's possible such steps will limit economic growth…If only the US, as the world's biggest CO2 polluter, had been in the treaty, the other developed nations might feel better about imposing restraints on their industries. That's why the other purpose of last week's meeting was so important. European diplomats bent over backward to find a new consensus for a post-Kyoto effort that would include the US. But not much happened. The meeting ended with a weak proposal for an international "seminar" in May for nations to "exchange information" on their ideas about the unusual weather many are experiencing. With the reelection of President Bush, the US position will probably remain the same for the next four years: It will not make economic sacrifices to limit CO2 emissions, but it's making a big technological push to do so. Many experts doubt if new cleansing technologies will make a dent soon in climate shifts. But they also doubt whether even extending Kyoto would do much.”

  

Monday, December 20, 2004

What would the world be like if Rumsfeld had never been born?

What would the world look like if Donald Rumsfeld had never been born? Check out this hilarious editorial from the NY Times: “Sam Nunn. He's the defense secretary. Sam consults with Congress. Never acts arrogant or misleads them. He didn't banish the generals who challenged him - he promoted 'em. And, of course, he caught Osama back in '01. He threw 100,000 troops into Afghanistan on 9/11 and sealed the borders. Our Special Forces trapped the evildoer and his top lieutenants at Tora Bora. You weren't at that cabinet meeting the day after 9/11, so nobody suggested going after Saddam. No American troops died or were maimed in Iraq. No American soldiers tortured Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. No Iraqi explosives fell into the hands of terrorists. There's no office of disinformation to twist perception abroad. We're not on the cusp of an Iraq run by Muslim clerics tied to Iran…Sam never hired any of those wacko neocons. Wolfowitz is a woolly headed professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a consultant to Ariel Sharon. Richard Perle was never in charge of the Defense Policy Board, so he was unable to enrich himself through government connections, or help Ahmad Chalabi con the administration. Perle stayed an honest man, running a chain of soufflé shops. His soufflés were so fluffy he became known as the Prince of Lightness. Doug Feith never worked here, either, so he never set up the Office of Special Plans to spin tall tales about W.M.D. and Qaeda ties to Saddam. And he never bungled the occupation because there was no occupation…Dick and Lynne run a bait, tackle and baton-twirling shop in Casper, Wyo. You didn't exist, so you never gave him those jobs in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and he never ran for Congress or worked for Bush 41 or anointed himself 43's vice president. W. chose Chuck Hagel as his running mate. So without you and Dick there to dominate him, he was guided by his dad and Brent Scowcroft, who kept Condi in line. Colin Powell was never cut off at the knees and the U.N. and allies were never bullied. There was never any crazy fever about Iraq or unilateralism or "Old Europe."

Violence in Iraqi Shia cities has escalated as election looms near. From
Informed Comment: “Guerrillas detonated a huge bomb near the bus station in Karbala on Sunday, destroying several minibuses and leaving dead and wounded. Then an hour later, guerrillas set off another big explosion, this time in downtown Najaf, at a funeral procession. The bomb exploded just yards away from where the American-appointed governor, Adnan Zurfi, and his police chief, Ghalib al-Jazairi, were standing. In Najaf, 30 persons were killed and about 45 wounded…The geography of the attacks continues to suggest that the guerrillas are attempting to provoke Shiite on Sunni violence as a way of disrupting stability. Likewise, they are attempting to demonstrate that they can effectively torpedo any attempt to hold elections. If they can bomb so brazenly in the holy cities, where locals are watchful and where US troops had fought so recently to clear out the Mahdi Army then they can bomb at will anywhere. The 9000 polling stations planned for January 30 cannot possibly be guarded from such attacks…In contrast to the violence in West Baghdad and in the shrine cities, in Sadr City or the slums of Shiite East Baghdad, relative calm has prevailed for weeks, allowing the US to do some community development work, including clearing trash from the streets. The Sadr movement is strong in East Baghdad, but Sadr has declared neutrality toward the upcoming elections, while many Shiites are hopeful that they will produce a Shiite-dominated government that will pave the way for the end of the US occupation. As a result of these hopes, along with a past campaign of US bombing that made it clear it would not put up with armed militiamen patrolling the streets, the situation has been quiet in the vast slum. I don't want to take anything away from these necessary development projects, but merely collecting the trash is not that big an accomplishment, and shouldn't be seen as a triumph this late in the day.”

When the UN is coming under crticism for scandals regarding the oil-for-food program, I came across this really disturbing article in the
NY Times about abuse by UN peacekeepers: “The United Nations said recently that it had uncovered 150 allegations of sexual abuse committed by United Nations peacekeepers stationed in Congo, many of them here in Bunia where the population has already suffered horrendous atrocities committed by local fighters. The raping of women and girls is an all-too-common tactic in the war raging in Congo's eastern jungles involving numerous militia groups. In Bunia, a program run by Unicef has treated 2,000 victims of sexual violence in recent months. But it is not just the militia members who have been preying on the women. So, too, local women say, have some of the soldiers brought in to keep the peace. The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, said recently that there was "clear evidence that acts of gross misconduct have taken place" in the United Nations mission in Congo, which began in early 2000 and is known by its French acronym, Monuc. Mr. Annan added, "This is a shameful thing for the United Nations to have to say, and I am absolutely outraged by it." The number of cases may be impossible for United Nations investigators to determine precisely…The allegations leveled against United Nations personnel in Congo include sex with underage partners, sex with prostitutes and rape, an internal United Nations investigation has found. Investigators said they found evidence that United Nations peacekeepers and civilian workers paid $1 to $3 for sex or bartered sexual relations for food or promises of employment.”

Regarding airline security from the Washington Post: “Passengers will have a way to appeal if their name turns up on the government's no-fly list, under provisions of the intelligence bill signed into law yesterday. The law requires the Transportation Security Administration to create a system for travelers to correct inaccurate information that has landed them on the no-fly list. It also directs the Department of Homeland Security to create a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to ensure that anti-terrorist government actions do not infringe on people's rights. The provisions, among several airline security improvements in the bill, follow a series of embarrassing incidents in which hundreds of private citizens and some members of Congress were initially denied boarding because their names were flagged by a TSA computer security system that maintains the government's watch lists.” A related article from the NY Times states, “It is a high tribute to the judicial systems of the United States and Britain that they have not followed politicians in using the threat of terror as a reason to erode fundamental democratic values. First, the United States Supreme Court proclaimed last June that war was not a "blank check for the president," and ruled that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay must be allowed to challenge their detention before a neutral decision-maker. Now the highest legal authority in Britain, the Law Lords, has ruled that international law does not permit the indefinite detention of foreign terrorism suspects. And it sternly declared that laws abridging liberties posed a greater threat to a democracy than terrorism itself.”

In other news, more changes in the intelligence community from NY Times: “The Pentagon is drawing up a plan that would give the military a more prominent role in intelligence-collection operations that have traditionally been the province of the Central Intelligence Agency, including missions aimed at terrorist groups and those involved in weapons proliferation, Defense Department officials say. The proposal is being described by some intelligence officials as an effort by the Pentagon to expand its role in intelligence gathering at a time when legislation signed by President Bush on Friday sets in motion sweeping changes in the intelligence community, including the creation of a national intelligence director. The main purpose of that overhaul is to improve coordination among the country's 15 intelligence agencies, including those controlled by the Pentagon. The proposal also calls for a major expansion of human intelligence, which is information gathered by spies rather than by technological means, both within the military services and the Defense Intelligence Agency, including more missions aimed at acquiring specific information sought by policy makers. The proposal is the latest chapter in the fierce and long-running rivalry between the Pentagon and the C.I.A. for dominance over intelligence collection. White House officials are monitoring the Pentagon's planning, as is the C.I.A. The proposal has not yet won White House approval, according to administration officials. It is unclear to what extent American military forces have already been given additional authority to carry out intelligence-gathering missions.”

  

Friday, December 17, 2004

C'mon, lighten up, say some preachers!

I hope you have missed me as much as I have missed blogging this past week! I do have good news: I was accepted for the Scoville Peace Fellowship but still have to decide which organization I want to work for 6 to 9 months in Washington DC – I have narrowed it down to five: Citizens for Global Solutions, The National Security Archive, The National Security News Service, Physicians for Social Responsibility and The Henry L. Stimson Center. If you have any suggestions, bring them on! I will make my decision by next week Inshallah (If God Wills) and will let you all know. I really enjoyed my 2 days in DC – it’s a really exciting city and a very refreshing change from Minnesotan suburbs. I got to see the White House briefly at a distance while going to my hotel and the Pentagon while my plane was taking off. The transportation system is great and it’s funny because none of the people I met were from DC! If you’re a political junkie & want to work in the field like me, DC is the place to be! The only annoying thing was the lack of local coffee shops – there was a Starbucks at every corner!

Before I start pounding you with the latest news, I want to share the site
Coming Out Swinging – my friend’s blog where he shares info from Muslim circles and his own personal woes, which make a very interesting read, so check it out!

For all you Muslims out there wondering what to buy your Christian friends and colleagues, try these:
· Roman Catholics and Shia Muslims - Prayer, Passion & Politics" by James Bill & John Alden Williams, USA 2002
· Catholics and Shia in Dialogue - Studies in Theology and Spirituality" edited by Anthony O'Mahoney, William Peterburs and Mohammed Ali Shomali, UK 2004
· Jesus (Peace be upon him) Through Shi'ite Narrations” translated by Muhamad Legenhousen, Iran 2003

How many of you thing the religious sermons you attend are too boring? It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to. Me too. So I was pleasantly surprised to read this article from
The Christian Science Monitor: “From here to Hollywood, somber services where smiles are frowned upon have in many churches gone the way of sky-high pulpits and knuckle-rapping ushers. In its place is an effort to tap the nation's culture of humor to promote spiritual gain: In Texas and southern California, church outreach ministries now include Christian comedy shows that draw upwards of 300 people. A forthcoming book on "The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching" (Zondervan, 2005) dedicates an entire chapter to humor as a homiletic device. Preachers in congregations large and small are building laughter into their worship plans…observers say what's happened has been a shift to speak the laugh-getting language of a casual culture that values entertainment. Some do voice concerns about a loss of reverence, but many see the lighter side as a vital tactic for touching souls. "It is going to be impossible to preach without using humor," says Joseph Webb, author of "Comedy and Preaching" (Chalice Press, 1998) and dean of the communications program at Palm Beach Atlantic University. "You will not be able to stand up and hold the people if you cannot work the stage."… While the goal is to connect to today's flock, the trend draws on tradition. Seminary students are mining the sermons of yesteryear's preachers who had a flair for making the faithful chuckle. And some pastors regard the Bible itself as seasoned with more than a few funny stories. Others see a theological dimension involving the demand for redemption…Leaders seem to agree on this rule of thumb: Poke fun at yourself or at universal human foibles, but never mock God, holy things or particular people. Prayer and sacraments are no times to laugh.”

From an e-mail I received from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “almost half of respondents polled nationally said they believe the U.S. government should -- in some way -- curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans, according to a new survey released today (Dec. 17) by Cornell University. About 27 percent of respondents said that all Muslim Americans should be required to register their location with the federal government, and 26 percent said they think that mosques should be closely monitored by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Twenty-nine percent agreed that undercover law enforcement agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations, in order to keep tabs on their activities and fund raising. About 22 percent said the federal government should profile citizens as potential threats based on the fact that they are Muslim or have Middle Eastern heritage. In all, about 44 percent said they believe that some curtailment of civil liberties is necessary for Muslim Americans. Conversely, 48 percent of respondents nationally said they do not believe that civil liberties for Muslim Americans should be restricted…Sixty-five percent of self-described highly religious people queried said they view Islam as encouraging violence more than other religions do; in comparison, 42 percent of the respondents who said they were not highly religious saw Islam as encouraging violence. In addition, highly religious respondents also were more likely to describe Islamic countries as violent (64 percent), fanatical (61 percent) and dangerous (64 percent)… The survey also showed a correlation between television news-viewing habits, a respondent's fear level and attitudes toward restrictions on civil liberties for all Americans. Respondents who paid a lot of attention to television news were more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties, such as greater power for the government to monitor the Internet. Respondents who paid less attention to television news were less likely to support such measures. "The more attention paid to television news, the more you fear terrorism, and you are more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties.” This shows the failure of Muslim communities to aggressively reach out to their neighbors and other communities to bridge the gap and dispel misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.

Remember Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner? From Informed Comment: “the Iranian dissident who is the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, “is being prevented from publishing her memoirs in the United States because of regulations that prohibit ‘trading with the enemy’." Her book is an effort to "help correct Western stereotypes of Islam, especially the image of Muslim women as docile, forlorn creatures." … Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for her life-long campaign to protect vulnerable and persecuted groups within Iranian society.” And it quotes the citation from the Norwegian Nobel Committee: “As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran and far beyond.” … The State Department then reminds us that in 2000 Ms. Ebadi “was arrested and accused of distributing a videotape that implicated prominent hard-line leaders of instigating attacks against advocates of reform. She received a suspended sentence and a professional ban. She was then detained after attending a conference in Berlin on the Iranian reform movement.” It says she also provided legal representation for “highly politicized and sensitive cases” such as the students killed during the 1999 Tehran University protests by vigilante groups operating under the influence of hard-line clerics, and two prominent political activists who were stabbed to death in 1998 by “rogue” elements within the Intelligence Ministry…But can she overcome US government bureaucracy? The problem with publishing her book in the US, Ms. Goodman writes, is a 1917 law that “allows the president to bar transactions during times of war or national emergency.” The law has been amended to exempt publishers, but the Treasury Department has ruled it illegal “to enhance the value of anything created in Iran without permission” -- including books. Moreover, as Ms. Goodman points out, if Ms. Ebadi's literary agent were to help prepare the manuscript for an American audience, she too would be subject to punishment -- 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for an individual or $1 million for a publishing house…Publication of the Ebadi book in the US would be perfectly OK with Treasury if the book were already published in Iran. But the Catch-22 here is that the ayatollahs have already foreclosed this option…When Ms. Ebadi received her Nobel Prize, Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, said, “The Nobel Committee has sent a powerful message to the Iranian Government that serious human rights violations must end. We hope they hear that message." We hope the US government hears it first.”

Although I doubt any of my readers are Bush supporters, if you are, do you feel safer with the billions of tax dollars going into defense mechanism? Well, the latest news may disappoint you. From the NY Times: “An important test of the United States' fledgling missile defense system ended in failure early Wednesday as an interceptor rocket failed to launch on cue from the Marshall Islands, the Pentagon said. After a rocket carrying a mock warhead as a target was launched from Kodiak, Alaska, the interceptor, which was intended to go aloft 16 minutes later and home in on the target 100 miles over the earth, automatically shut down because of "an unknown anomaly," according to the Missile Defense Agency of the Defense Department.” An editorial stated that “The failure, at the cost of a mere $85 million, was the latest evidence that the missile shield, a complex grafting of various unproven technologies, remains firmly in the dream stage. Yet the administration is going ahead with hollow defense plans to soon "activate" the first missile silos along the Pacific coast in a ludicrous pretense called "evolutionary acquisition." This means spend and strut now, and worry about whether it will actually work later…Bush vowed to have the shield in place this year. But informed critics, including a group of 49 retired generals and admirals, wisely urged him to shelve the fake startup and divert more money into low-tech antiterror defenses at the nation's vulnerable ports, borders and nuclear weapons depots. With rogue nations like North Korea working on nuclear missiles, a credible shield may someday be needed, but only after its efficacy has been proved.”

Is Turkey going to be accepted as an EU member? Let’s hold our horses because there are several stipulations put forward by the EU for talks to even begin. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “The greatest unresolved issue was the EU's requirement that Turkey sign a customs-union accord with 10 new member states including Cyprus. The EU claims this would not be an official recognition of Cyprus as a state, but admits that it would in effect mean "de facto recognition of Cyprus," something Turkey said it would not do at this time, reports the BBC…At present Turkey, and only Turkey, recognizes the "self-styled state of Turkish northern Cyprus," says the BBC. Turkey has 35,000 troops stationed there. The island has been divided since an attempted coup by a Greek Cypriot officer in 1974…The EU left open the possibility it might set a quota for Turkish workers migrating to Europe, something no other EU member faces. Initially, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stated such a condition would unacceptable because it would relegate Turkey to less than equal status…But a compromise position did mention the possibility of such a temporary measures from the EU treaty "spelling out that this was not the same as permanent restrictions on freedom of movement," says Reuters…Turkey's entry talks - which could take more than 10 year - are now guaranteed like other new members at the first stage. All 25 EU leaders agreed to open accession negotiations with Turkey. Previously, some EU leaders would not agree to guarantee open-ended talks leading to membership. Turkish officials viewed that stipulation as a national insult…Germany is home to the biggest Turkish population in Europe. Some 2.8 million Turks, many of them descendants of immigrant guest-workers who moved to Germany in the 1960s…Yet, "a sizeable portion of the German population as well as the conservative opposition parties has deep-seated reservations about Turkey's membership," reports The Turkish Press…And this is despite the fact that Germany is Turkey's biggest trading partner. But "with 10 percent unemployment, countries such as Germany are apprehensive about young, cheap Turkish workers who will be very keen," to work for any wage…Opponents to Turkey's admittance, reports the Times of London, feel that it is Too big, too populous, too poor, and too culturally different to integrate into the EU, and the EU risks 'enlarging itself to death' by extending its borders to Iran, Iraq and Syria. Those who support Turkey's entrance say bringing the vast, mainly agrarian country bridges Europe and the Middle East, and that it would foster stability and security, says the Times.”

If you want to ctach up on Iraq, there is plenty on Informed Comment, and check out this interesting NY Times editoral, Politics and War Crimes in Iraq.