Cutting through the bullshit.

Thursday 31 May 2007

Paths to peace

As reported on Jew sans frontières, lenin’s tomb, Ha’aretz, and everywhere, Britain’s University and College Union (UCU) voted by a large margin yesterday to submit ‘the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches for information and discussion'. That would be the call for the academic boycott of Israeli universities by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

While this is of course a very welcome step towards the isolation of Israel, as I wrote in December, although I have reservations about sanctions, and an academic boycott in particular, as a tactic, the call by Palestinian unions and academics for it trumps my reservations.

One of the strongest arguments I’ve encountered in support of the boycott is the self serving hypocrisy of those who bleat about infringing academic freedom for Israelis while issuing not so much as a peep against the almost total eradication of academic activity of any kind in Palestine, both for Palestinian academics and students and for anyone wanting to do research in the Occupied Territories.

In this connection, Dr Rima Merriman of Arab American University in Jenin writes of a student who had applied for

a Paths to Peace scholarship to attend NYU for a year. There were six scholarships offered, three for Israeli students and three for Gaza and WB students. Over fifty applications were submitted and our student was shortlisted and invited to an Jerusalem…But how to get to Jerusalem? [Palestinians require permits to enter Israel, not readily obtainable] He called the coordinator of the scholarship, a Professor Zweig, and said he needed a letter to submit to the Israeli military post at Salem here in Jenin in order to get a permit. He submitted his request and was told he would get a permit, but when the Israeli official called him in for an interview, he was bluntly told that the price of the permit was to "cooperate" - i.e., inform on the people around him in his village or on campus, etc. He ended up not getting a permit…Not only that, any hope of his ever getting to the US is probably non-existent now, because the visa computers of the US consulate are apparently on the same network as Israeli so-called "intelligence" networks - no questions asked. In fact, one of the rationales used by Professor Zweig for NOT conducting the interviews in Ramallah is that a. Israeli students wouldn't have been able to get to them, and b. if our student couldn't get to Jerusalem, he wouldn't be able to get a visa to the US and that would be that. Apologetically, he explained that this brick road to peace he is coordinating has nothing to do with politics!...

I hasten to recall that a much more extensive and broadly supported boycott of apartheid South Africa was first called in 1959. Even though the Black population comprised an 80% majority in South Africa, while the populations of Palestinians and Jews within historic Palestine is currently about even; even though the South African economy depended crucially on Black labour while the Israeli economy was founded on ‘Hebrew labour’ and has been conscientiously reducing Palestinian labour in Israel and the settlements since 1999; even though Black South Africans had a strong union movement and an armed insurgency and didn’t have to contend with anything resembling Holocaust guilt, it still took 35 years before those sanctions achieved the end of apartheid. So don’t hold your breath.

[Thanks to Tony Greenstein for the Paths to Peace story.]

Tuesday 29 May 2007

An acceptable lifestyle

A Gallup telephone poll of 1003 American adults conducted 10-13 May, Lydia Saad reports, reveals a population with a very peculiar set of moral judgements. As if to underscore the confusion, she (or her editor) titles her article ‘Tolerance for Gay Rights at High Ebb’.

The respondents were fairly evenly divided on whether ‘homosexual relations’ were morally acceptable with a small plurality of 49% saying they were not. Curiously, however, while 47%, the highest proportion recorded since 2001, reckoned they were morally acceptable, 57%, also a peak, agreed that ‘Homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle’ and 59% that ‘homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal’. Like most of these Gallup polls, claims a maximum ‘margin of error’ of ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level and 3% had no opinion. So the discrepancy of two percentage points could arise from either of those factors, but it is kind of nice to think that there are Americans so tolerant that they believe practices they consider unacceptable should be legal. Beyond that, a huge majority of 89% said, ‘Homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities’, but only 46% thought ‘Same-sex marriages should be legally valid’.

Two findings of the survey really took me by surprise.

For one thing, out of a list of 16 practices, the highest proportion, 66%, found the death penalty ‘morally acceptable’, while only 27% found it ‘morally wrong’, second lowest after divorce (26%). As I already mentioned, nearly twice as many, 49%, said homosexual relations were morally wrong. In comparison, 37% and 38% respectively objected to medical testing on animals and wearing animal fur.

Although they don’t appear to have inquired about polyandry for some reason, an astonishing 90% actually think it’s wrong for a man to have more than one wife, second only to extramarital affairs, 91%. If you want to have sex with a woman who’s not your wife, most Americans must think you should marry her as well.

A large majority of 78% said suicide was immoral, but it drops to 44% if it is ‘doctor assisted’. As they don’t seem to have made the question wording for this one available, it’s not altogether clear whether the 44% think it’s immoral to commit suicide with assistance from a physician, or for the physician to assist. Either way, it’s pretty weird.

The other thing was that an increasing proportion believe that ‘homosexuality’ is ‘something a person is born with’, as opposed to ‘due to factors such as upbringing and environment’. They have been asking this question since 1977, when only 13% thought homosexuality was hereditary, and there are now more biological determinists, standing at 42%, than the 35% who attribute it to environmental factors.

It turns out that there’s a strong correlation between the ‘nature’ theory and considering ‘homosexuality’ an acceptable lifestyle. Specifically, 78% of the biological determinists thought it was ok, in comparison to only 30% among the ‘nurture’ camp. But what could it possibly mean to be born with a ‘lifestyle’?

Now, I’m not real comfortable with discussing ‘homosexuality’ as if it were some kind of medical condition. It makes about as much sense to construct people’s choice of sexual partners as a condition, or perhaps worse, as an identity, as it does to ascribe some moral value to that kind of choice.

Anyway, I suppose it should come as no surprise that people who think gays are born that way and there’s nothing the poor dears can do about it would find their lifestyle ‘acceptable’, while those who reckon they just decide to be queer out of damn cussedness think it’s not.

On the other hand, tolerance and acceptance are not traits I usually associate with biological determinists. Once you assert that ‘homosexuals’ are inherently different from ‘normal’ people – after all ‘they’ have ‘homosexuality’, where does that lead? If ‘they’ are biologically different from ‘us normal people’, doesn’t that inevitably mean there’s something wrong with ‘them’? If ‘homosexuality’ is a lifestyle that you are born with and it’s ok to pass judgements on whether it’s acceptable or not, what about women? Although Gallup didn’t ask about it, I’m sure lots of people believe women are born female. I believe it myself. I wonder if Gallup will ask whether people believe ‘femininity’, or ‘blackness’, is ‘an acceptable lifestyle’?

How the other 0.001% live

‘For many U.S. buyers, stricter lending standards resulting from record defaults among subprime borrowers have made it tougher to purchase real estate’, reports Kathleen M. Howley of Bloomberg News. But

For most Hamptons buyers, it has had no effect, said Judi Desiderio, president of Town & Country Real Estate in East Hampton.

That is because three-quarters of Hamptons buyers do not use mortgages, said Desiderio. "If you're buying a house over $5 million in the Hamptons, you don't even know what the 'M' word means... They're strictly all-cash deals."

… The market in the Hamptons - former potato farms where seagull cries now mix with the sounds of well-tuned Ferraris - is fueled by salaries on Wall Street, 40 minutes away by helicopter, said Diane Saatchi, a broker at Corcoran Group in East Hampton. “… spending millions on a summer home to be near their friends isn't a big deal."

George Simpson, president of Suffolk Research Service, pointed out

"The housing market all over the United States is down, but not here because this is where all the rich people want to be seen in the summertime," Simpson said.

Meanwhile, the US has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the ‘developed’ world, with a Gini Coefficient of 0.45, worse than Pakistan and many other countries. The Land of the Free also boasts the highest poverty rate among industrialised countries, with fully 12% of the population living below the US’s own poverty line.

A is for Alienation

This morning, Ratbert made this profound observation.

Which reminded me of Alex Glasgow’s classic song. It’s actually on Rick Kuhn’s Marxism page, but Google took me to this other page first.

The Socialist ABC
(by Alex Glasgow) (PRS)

When that I was and a little, tiny boy,
Me daddy said to me,
'The time has come, me bonny, bonny bairn,
To learn your ABC.'

Now Daddy was a lodge chairman
In the coalfields of the Tyne
And his ABC was different
From the Enid Blyton kind.

He sang, 'A is for Alienation
That made me the man that I am, and

B's for the Boss who's a Bastard,
A Bourgeois who don't give a damn.

C is for Capitalism,
The bosses' reactionary creed, and

D's for Dictatorship, laddie,
But the best proletarian breed.

E is for Exploitation
That workers have suffered so long, and

F is for old Ludwig Feuerbach,
The first one to say it was wrong.

G is all Gerrymanderers,
Like Lord Muck and Sir Whatsisname, and

H is the Hell that they'll go to
When the workers have kindled the flame.

I's for Imperialism,
And America's kind is the worst, and

J is for sweet Jingoism,
That the Tories all think of the first.

K is for good old Kier Hardy,
Who fought out the working class fight, and

L is for Vladimir Lenin,
Who showed him the left was all right.

M is of course for Karl Marx,
The daddy and the mommy of them all, and

N is for Nationalisation -
Without it we'd tumble and fall.

O is for Overproduction,
That capitalist economy brings, and

P is for all Private Property,
The greatest of all of the sins.

Q's for the Quid pro quo,
That we'll deal out so well and so soon, when

R for Revolution is shouted and
The Red Flag becomes the top tune.

S is for Sad Stalinism
That gave us all such a bad name, and

T is for Trotsky, the hero,
Who had to take all of the blame.

U's for the Union of Workers -
The Union will stand to the end, and

V is for Vodka, yes, Vodka,
The vun drink that vont bring the bends.

W's for all Willing Workers,
And that's where the memory fades,

For X, Y, and Zed,' my dear daddy said,
'Will be written on the street barricades.'

Now that I'm not a little tiny boy,
Me daddy says to me,
'Please try to forget those thing that I said,
Especially the ABC.'

For daddy is no longer a union man,
And he's had to change his plea.
His alphabet is different now,
Since they made him a Labour MP.

And that inevitably reminded me that:

I hate the capitalist system,
And I’ll tell you the reason why:
It has caused me so much suffering,
And my dearest friends to die.

Well, I know you all are wondering
What it has done to me.
Well I am going to tell you
That my husband has TB.

Brought on by hard work and low wages,
And never enough to eat,
From going cold and hungry,
With no shoes upon his feet.

My husband was a coal miner
Who worked hard and risked his life,
Just trying to support three children,
Himself, his mother and wife.

Well I had a blue-eyed baby
Was the darling of my heart.
But from my little darling
Her mother had to part.

While the rich and mighty capitalist
Goes dressed goes dressed in jewels and silk,
My darling blue-eyed baby
Has died for the want of milk.

Well they call this the land of plenty,
And for them I guess it’s true,
For the rich and mighty capitalist,
Not for workers like me and you.

Well what can we do about it
To these men of power and light?
Well I tell you, Mr Capitalist,
We are going to fight, fight, fight!

(Words and music by © 1965 Sara Ogan Gunning)

Those are the lyrics I transcribed from the liner notes of Barbara Dane’s eponymous 1965 album. Sarah Ogan Gunning’s original lyrics for a version she recorded entitled, ‘I hate the company bosses’, are also online.

Eli Stephens has been posting some ancient classic songs from his amazing collection of vinyl over at Left I on the news. If you’ve never heard these songs, watch his blog. Maybe he’ll put the audio up some time.

Sunday 27 May 2007

Helping the enemy

Writing in AlterNet of the Final report of the US Military’s Mental Health Advisory Team released this month by the US Army Surgeon-General, but dated 17 November 2006, Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, points out that the MHAT survey of battlefield ethics found:

  • "Only 47 percent of soldiers and only 38 percent of Marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect."
  • "Well over a third of soldiers and Marines reported torture should be allowed, whether to save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine … or to obtain important information about insurgents…."
  • 28 percent of soldiers and 30 percent of Marines reported they had cursed and/or insulted Iraqi noncombatants in their presence.
  • 9 percent and 12 percent, respectively, reported damaging or destroying Iraqi property "when it was not necessary."
  • 4 percent and 7 percent, respectively, reported hitting or kicking a noncombatant "when it was not necessary.

It’s interesting that Wheeler encloses ‘when it was not necessary’ in quotes. Apparently the survey didn’t attempt to determine under what kind of conditions ‘damaging or destroying Iraqi property’ or ‘hitting or kicking a non-combatant’ would actually be necessary. Wheeler does not mention that the report also finds that 17% of both soldiers and Marines agree that ‘All non-combatants should be treated as insurgents’. He goes on to explain how he interprets the estimates.

It is notable that these are the responses the survey team received; there are probably more soldiers and Marines who may have been reluctant to respond completely and accurately to an Army questionnaire on such sensitive topics. Therefore, the data recorded should be regarded as a floor, not a ceiling.

What strikes me as bizarre is the conclusions Wheeler draws from the report.

Regardless of just how frequent the abuse may be beyond the survey results, these are descriptions of behaviors that can only alienate the Iraqi population against the U.S. military presence there, and against any among that population, including its politicians, who welcome or even tolerate our presence. It is not just that we are not winning; we are helping the enemy. When the historians explain why America lost the war in Iraq, this study should be prominent evidence.

The concern is not with the actual impact on Iraqi civilians of the way occupation forces treat them and those they are close to. Nor even with the impact on the mental health of those abusing the occupied population, but with the impact on perception of the occupation forces, as if the occupied could ever love them, and on the outcome of the war for the US. The problem is that ‘we are helping the enemy’ and that, after all, is the worst thing.

Meet the Flintstones

Further to the Gallup poll I reported the other day, Jane Lampman, of the Christian Science Monitor, writes on Alternet that Northern Kentucky will see the opening of a new museum of natural history in just two days’ time. The Creation Museum, which sports the slogan ‘Prepare to believe’, is a project of Answers in Genesis, whose website proclaims that it is ‘Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse’.

"Dinosaurs are one of the icons of evolution, but we believe they lived at the same time as people," says Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis (AiG), the fundamentalist Christian ministry that built the facility. "The Bible talks about dragons. We believe dragon legends had a basis in truth."

The $27 million museum set on 50 acres opens on Memorial Day, and AiG hopes for 250,000 visitors a year. Mr. Ham, a former science teacher in Australia, is direct about the museum's purpose: to restore the Bible to its "rightful authority" in society.

I took the virtual tour of the museum, where I learned,

The Bible is true. No doubt about it! …everyone who rejects His history-including six-day creation and Noah's Flood-is ‘willfully’ ignorant…The imprint of the Creator is all around us. And the Bible’s clear—heaven and earth in six 24-hour days, earth before sun, birds before lizards…Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all!...T. rex—the real king of the beasts. That’s the terror that Adam’s sin unleashed! You’ll run into this monster lurking near Adam and Eve…Witness the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel and the subsequent dispersion of peoples. Unravel the mystery of the origin of the so-called ‘races.’ Discover how the science of anthropology actually confirms the Bible’s history!

Lampman reports

Some 700 scientists at educational institutions in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana have signed a statement deploring the "scientifically inaccurate" exhibits and warning that students who accept them are "unlikely to succeed in science courses."

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, says, "…the public is going to be exposed to erroneous science presented with great flash and dash ... in an authoritative way. This is going to be detrimental to science literacy…”

…the American Association for the Advancement of Science…discusses those who see science and religion as compatible but dealing with different spheres, and others working out a theology that takes evolution into account.

The museum scorns such an approach. One exhibit shows a pastor preaching it's OK not to believe in a literal Genesis. Then it depicts "the consequences" in one family: A young boy looks at porn on the Internet while his sister calls Planned Parenthood.

And to make sure that visitors never have to expose themselves to real science,

All job applicants need to supply a written statement of their [Salvation] testimony, a statement of what they believe regarding creation and a statement that they have read and can support the AiG statement of faith.

The Statement summary (‘For a slightly more detailed copy of the Statement of Faith, please make your request in writing.’) is so mind blowing that I’m tempted to quote it in full, but here’s a few extracts:

The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches.

The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself.

The account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events and therefore provides a reliable framework for scientific research into the question of the origin and history of life, mankind, the Earth and the universe.

The various original life forms (kinds), including mankind, were made by direct creative acts of God…

Those who do not believe in Christ are subject to everlasting conscious punishment, but believers enjoy eternal life with God.

The only legitimate marriage is the joining of one man and one woman. God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of marriage.

…The days in Genesis do not correspond to geologic ages, but are six [6] consecutive twenty-four [24] hour days of Creation.

…No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.

I can’t honestly say that requiring candidates to make such embarrassing admissions strictly complies with what commonly passes for equal employment opportunity. Indeed, it looks very much like AiG and the Creation Museum are explicitly discriminating on the basis of religious and I daresay political beliefs. I suppose that’s ok in Kentucky, where apparently employers can discriminate as long as it’s not on the basis of disability or HIV? Indeed, that may be why AiG decided to site their ‘museum’ there, rather than in nearby Ohio (only 7 miles from Cincinatti airport), where Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it ‘an unlawful employment practice for an employer - (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual…because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin’ [my emphasis]. But even there, there’s a loophole big enough for a man riding a Tyrannosaurus rex to gallop through:

unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee's or prospective employee's religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business.

Answers in Genesis markets a wide range of books, magazines, and electronic media for children, parents, teachers, and everyone refuting every aspect of evolution. Among their offerings is Archbishop James Ussher’s infamous 1654 Annals of the World, in which he calculated the date of creation to be nightfall preceding 23 October 4004 BC. Also, Dismantling the Big Bang, the two volume Design and Origins in Astronomy, The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods, Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome, Ice Cores and the Age of the Earth, two volumes of Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, and many more.

These developments wrack me with ambivalence. I’d like to think that as Americans become more and more ignorant through the widespread introduction of ‘intelligent design’ into school curricula and so forth, they will soon become so dumb that they will no longer have the capacity to control a global empire. But in reality, a cousin of mine currently attending high school there confirmed in a recent correspondence that the educational system there is already so pathetic that it mightn’t make much difference. And there’s always the fear that really profound and self righteous ignorance of the kind espoused by Answers in Genesis and Dubya could just destroy the planet before we have a chance to overthrow the capitalist system once and for all and save it. We’d better get organised fast because I’m pretty sure prayer won’t avert such a catastrophe.

Saturday 26 May 2007

The next rocket

The other day, I got an email from my old mate, David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee. You know, last (Northern Hemisphere) summer, the AJC established the Israel Emergency Assistance Fund ‘to marshal resources to help residents of Israel's north besieged by Hezbollah's rocket war’. Now, the AJC is collecting money ‘to respond with solidarity and assistance for Israelis of all ages who are living under extremely difficult conditions, uncertain when and where the next rocket will land.’ Because of the severe stress imposed on the innocent civilians of Sderot by the terrorists who don’t appreciate the freedom they gained when Israeli troops ’withdrew’ almost two years ago, the AJC ‘pledged assistance to the construction of a psychological services center for the city's residents.’

Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal… reminded us that Hamas has stockpiled more than 12,000 rockets in Gaza, and these have only one intended purpose. We hope that the international community will prevail upon the Palestinian Authority to restore order in Gaza, and, first and foremost, to end once and for all the unprovoked rocket attacks on Israelis.

Needless to say, Israel has never stockpiled any weapons whatsoever and has only ever treated the Palestinians with the utmost gentleness. So if rockets and shells should happen to inadvertently land on residential buildings somehow, the survivors, if any, have no need for any psychological resilience centres.

Friday 25 May 2007

It ain't necessarily so

Based on the average of three surveys of 1000 American adults each over the past three Mays, Gallup’s Frank Newport reports that less than one fifth of Americans think the Bible ‘is an ancient book of "fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."’ Nearly a third believe it is literally the word of god and a plurality of nearly half think it is somehow divinely inspired.

The good news is that the average of 31% who believe in the most literal interpretation over nine surveys since 1991 is somewhat lower than the average of 38% over the seven surveys between 1976 and 1984, twice reaching 40%.

There is a clear negative correlation between education and superstition. Among those who never started university, 83% believe the Bible has some kind of supernatural origin, while only 13% understand its human origins. Among those who started but didn’t complete university, 81% think it’s divinely inspired, and 19% don’t. Ominously, 73% of college graduates and 68% of those with postgraduate education adopt the superstitious explanation, while only 25% and 30% of these populations respectively accept human authorship.

Perhaps the scariest revelation of all is that 36% of those with ‘no religious identification’ still believe in some kind of non human origin and 10% that the Bible is literally the word of god.

In related polling from the Pew Research Center, in the latest values survey, conducted Dec. 12, 2006-Jan. 9, 2007, the proportion saying ‘Prayer is an important part of my daily life’ has declined since 1999 by a full ten percentage points, from 55% to 45%, still a frightening level, and still above the low in 1987 of 41%. The proportion claiming, ‘I never doubt the existence of god’ has also declined considerably since 1999, from 69% to 61%, and even more dramatically since 1994, when it peaked at 72%!

Furthermore, on Pew’s generational basis, younger generations are becoming more ‘secular’, which Pew defines as calling oneself, atheist, agnostic, or no religion. Only 5% of ‘Pre-boomers’, born before 1946, are secular, as defined. Of the ‘Boomer generation, born 1946-1964, it’s 11%. ‘Generation X’ (1965-76) boasts a secularity rate of 14%, while of the post 1976 ‘Generation Y’, 19% claim to reject religion. Still, that means over four fifths of the most secular generation are still steeped in superstition.

A more encouraging trend, presumably unrelated to the hocus pocus factor, is that the proportion agreeing that ‘the best way to endure peace is through military strength’ has declined to it’s lowest point since 1987, at 49% after a steep decline from the 2002 peak of 62%, while those disagreeing have reached a 20 year high of 47%, up from the 2002 nadir of 34%.

There also appears to be some erosion of ‘conservative’ social attitudes. Sixty-nine percent now say the ‘Government should care for those who can’t care for themselves’, up from a low of 57% in 1994, but still short of the 1987 peak of 71%. A 20 year high, 54%, say the government should help the needy even if means greater debt’, the highest since 1987 after bottoming out at 47% in 1994. The proportion who think ‘school boards should have the right to fire homosexual teachers’ has plummeted by nearly half, 23 percentage points, from a high of 51% in 1987.

While the trajectories on these four indicators may be cause for optimism, it’s important to realise that even in this day and age, over 30% don’t want any government provision ‘for those who can’t care for themselves’, presumably the disabled. Nearly half begrudge ‘the needy’, and a plurality still think that military power is the key to peace.

Tuesday 22 May 2007

An independent UN?

Way back in September 2002, the leader of the free world made these remarks

The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?
I thought, well, if anyone is still entertaining any illusions that the UN is anything other than an instrument of US ‘foreign policy’, Dubya has well and truly put paid to that. It wasn’t the first time I’d made the mistake of overestimating the ability to arrive at obvious conclusions from the evidence presented.

Or the last. When Israeli bombers took out a UNIFIL ‘peacekeeper’ and his wife in Tyre on 17 July and the UN uttered not a peep, I was again surprised that people still harboured expectations of the by now thoroughly discredited ‘world body’. When they shelled the UNIFIL post at Khiyam for six hours on 25 July despite repeated requests to cease and Kofi Annan said he was ‘…shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defence Forces’, I thought perhaps the UN was finally going to grow a spine. But no, within a couple of days, he had recanted.

And yet, after its utter failure even to protest the slaughter of its own personnel at Israel’s hands, much less protect them, everybody still thought the UN was the agency to enforce a ceasefire. And what a ceasefire! Where Israeli Foreign Minister openly boasted of the Israeli government’s intimate involvement in setting its terms, and in the same breath expressed reservations about whether Israel would see fit to comply. Not to mention the cluster bomblets scattered all over southern Lebanon as a little parting gift just before the ceasefire took effect that are still killing and maiming UN disposal experts.

A series of surveys conducted by and its research partners between July 2006 and March 2007, found overwhelming support for enhanced powers for the UN. In particular, across the fourteen countries where the question was asked, the average of 64% supported ‘Having a standing UN peacekeeping force selected, trained and commanded by the United Nations’. Majorities of up to 77% (Peru) favoured the measure, and even in Argentina and the Philippines, pluralities of 48% and 46%, respectively, were in favour. A surprising 72% in the US and 64% in Israel also supported it.

Clearly respondents have not thought too deeply about how such a force would achieve the kind of independence of individual countries that they seem to desire. Only 46% overall from the same fourteen countries supported ‘Giving the UN the power to fund its activities by imposing a small tax on such things as the international sale of arms or oil’. Only in France did a big majority (70%) agree with such an initiative. So did small majorities in China, Israel, and South Korea, and pluralities in six other countries. In the US, a plurality of 50% opposed the measure, as did 55% and 56% majorities in Peru and the Philippines.

Furthermore, it doesn’t go without saying that troops and officers, all of whom come from and owe allegiance to particular states, indeed, who are members of the armed forces of particular states, will actually be able to act independently of their home countries’ expressed interests in any given situation.

What emerges from this is a picture of a widespread illusion that the UN can and should have the power to act independently of the states that comprise it. There would seem to be little understanding of the role of the Security Council and the way the structure of the UN ensures that it can only act when the US, the world’s principal transgressor of ‘international law, agrees, and that when carrots and sticks fail to procure the votes it requires, the US will act without reference to the UN. The independent peacekeeping force, presumably also hamstrung by Security Council control, is obviously not going to be strong enough to challenge outright aggression by a strong state like the US or Israel in any case. Indeed, the history of UNIFIL and other UN peacekeeping operations are not such as to instil confidence that they can protect the innocent in zones of conflict, or keep the peace between determined antagonists, much less make peace.

So I think we have to interpret the results in the context of an understanding of a myth of UN neutrality and commitment to peace. What respondents seem to be trying to express through these surveys is that they prefer states acted responsibly and that there be some agency to constrain them.

In this context, overall 64% in those fourteen countries favoured ‘Giving the UN the authority to go into countries in order to investigate violations of human rights’. In a sample of twelve countries, 73% agreed that the Security Council should have the power to intervene in a country ‘To prevent severe human rights violations such as genocide’ and 74% ‘To defend a country that has been attacked’.

On the other hand, when asked ‘When dealing with international problems, [survey country] should be more willing to make decisions within the United Nations even if this means that [survey country] will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice?’, overall only 45% of respondents in sixteen countries agreed to limiting the independence of ‘their own’ states to that extent. According to the report,
Not surprisingly the three countries most ready to accept UN decisions are also permanent members of the UN Security Council: China (78%), France (68%), and the United States (60%). The public in Russia, also a member, tend to be opposed to abiding by such decisions by 44 percent to 33 percent, however.
Israel, surprisingly, is another county where there is strong support for making decisions within the United Nations. Fifty-four percent of Israelis agree that their leaders should abide by such decisions even if they disagree. This is striking given the extent to which opponents of Israel have used the United Nations as a platform for criticism of the Jewish state.
In sharp contrast, the Palestinians are the only public polled with a majority opposed to accepting such collective decisions. A large 81 percent majority of Palestinians say their government should not go along with policies they oppose. This is also striking given that Palestinian leaders have used UN resolutions as a basis for legitimating their demands for statehood.
Actually, this is probably not as striking as the authors think. Their reasoning is that is unsurprising that those countries with the most influence over the decisions they are to be bound by should support them. So surely by the same reasoning those whose ‘governments’ have no say whatsoever in the decisions that are to bind them are unlikely to support abiding by such decisions willy nilly.

A recent post on lenin’s tomb suggested that public opinion polls evidence a shift to the left in the US. Some of these results appear to support such a conclusion, provided we stipulate that the shift is a shift in opinion only. More direct and reliable indicators of an actual substantive shift, like number involved, length, militancy, and success of strikes, and attendance at demonstrations, would seem to suggest otherwise. The demonstrations commemorating the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq a few weeks ago were not inspiring, even taking into account any impact UfPJ’s refusal to participate might have had. I certainly hope to see impressive turnouts at next month’s actions commemorating 40 years of military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Monday 21 May 2007

Map reading again

As if to confirm what I was saying the other day about how a lie can stick no matter how conclusively refuted, Ha’aretz reported yesterday,

Ahmadinejad caused an international storm in 2005 when he said that Israel should be wiped off the map.
And now, if reported correctly, Iran’s own Forein Minister wants to get in on the act.

"Every primary school student knows that it is not possible to remove a country from the map and that is very clear," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a conference in Jordan when asked about Ahmadinejad's controversial remarks.
This may be something primary school students know, because they don’t learn anything about history. But I’m dubious that even Mottaki can find, say, Yugoslavia, on a current world map.

As I wrote back in January, a map without a country called ‘Israel’ would certainly be a step forward for peace in the Middle East, but let the atrocity of Zionism remain on ‘the page of time’.

Sunday 20 May 2007

A dangerous man

According to an AAP report in this morning’s Canberra Times,

CONFESSED terrorism supporter David Hicks is expected to arrive in Adelaide about nine o'clock (Adelaide time) this morning as the US military and the Australian Government maintain a veil of secrecy over his release from Guantanamo Bay.

Hicks is apparently so dangerous that he had to be flown to Adelaide in a privately chartered jet, at a cost to the Australian taxpayer of half a million dollars, according to Greens leader Bob Brown. He is so dangerous that that jet was not permitted into US airspace and had to fly over Mexico, refuelling in the French colony of Tahiti. As the French love terrorism anyway, there was no problem about that. Doubtless all these precautions are well justified. There’s no telling what damage a guy like Hicks could do to the innocent and unsuspecting US, bound and hooded from 38,000 feet after five years under constant scrutiny. He might have managed to secrete some toothpaste and sports drink about his person, and you know what that means. These confessed terrorism supporters are a wily mob.

The ABC, with its more measured ‘Convicted terrorism supporter’ line, reports

He will serve the remainder of his nine-month sentence for providing material support for terrorism alongside some of Australia's most notorious criminals including the infamous bodies in the barrel killers John Bunting and Robert Wagner.

An who could provide more appropriate company for a guy who has never harmed anybody?

Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock says he does not know if Hicks is dangerous or just deluded.

But there’s no doubt whatsoever about the abominable Ruddock. Thousands of refugees can attest that he is a truly dangerous man. And some have not lived to be able to testify that he wantonly returned them to countries where their fear of persecution was not only well founded, but in the end borne out by their disappearance at the hands of a stable and peaceful state.

Hicks may have confessed under duress, but Howard and Ruddock and Bush and Blair and their ilk freely – proudly – admit their crimes against humanity and fly through any airspace they like.

Friday 18 May 2007

Kosher meat

Last Saturday, Mark Elf over at Jews sans Frontières reported an allegation in Britain’s Jewish Chronicle that the new Mattancherry kosher Indian restaurant in Golders Green, North-West London ‘was told by kashrut authority Kedassia to stop supporting Israel by displaying a poster for a Yom Yerushalayim concert - or it would lose its licence’.

Over on the other side of the pond, in today’s Forward Nathaniel Popper reports something that’s really not kosher. AgriProcessors, a chain of kosher slaughterhouses owned by an ultra-Orthodox family based in Brooklyn’s Chabad-Lubavitch community, employs some of those undocumented workers that Senator Kennedy wants to see the sunshine. Last Monday, up to 300 workers walked off the job

to protest a May 4 letter sent by the company’s management to employees…A copy of the letter acquired by the Forward informed workers that in order to keep their jobs at the plant they would need to reconcile their Social Security numbers with federal records. Workers say it is their understanding that after the records are reconciled, they will have to again work their way up the plant’s pay scale, which starts at $6.25 an hour.

Popper doesn’t mention how generous their leave entitlements are. Maybe they get Yom Kippur off without pay.

Among the original complaints reported by the Forward were those about the lack of pay for work performed at the beginning and end of the day. A Supreme Court decision in 2005, known as IBP v. Alvarez, affirmed past decisions that found companies to be responsible for paying workers to put on and take off protective gear — known in the business as “donning and doffing.”

The lead counsel on the lawsuit in Iowa, Brian McCafferty, said that workers at AgriProcessors are not being paid for anything other than the time that the production lines are moving. At lunch, the workers have a 30-minute unpaid break, but McCafferty said that, in practice, they get little of the break because they have to clean up before eating and then prepare again before working.

“At the end of the day, you’re covered in blood and guts and you have to wash all of that off, and you have to wash all the equipment” he said. “According to our interviews, they’re not getting paid for any of that.”

McCafferty, who has led past successful lawsuits on the donning and doffing issue, said he believes that AgriProcessors may have to pay upward of $1 million in back pay.

Last year, the company did not recognize a union vote at its Brooklyn facilities, arguing that the vote was invalid because management had discovered that many of the workers who participated were illegal immigrants.

A National Labor Relations Board judge decided against the company and ordered it to recognize the vote.

The Rubashkin family are the ultra-Orthodox ones, so I guess they’d know all about Jewish ethics. Who am I to criticise?

Into the sunshine

US Senator Edward Kennedy has successfully negotiated a deal with President Bush on immigration reforms that the BBC reports ‘could give legal status to many of the 12m illegal immigrants in the US’.

After first paying visa fees and a $5,000 (£2,530) fine - and returning to their home country - illegal immigrants in the US would be eligible for the planned "Z visa".

Holders of this proposed visa would have to wait between eight and 13 years for a decision on their permanent residency application.

Another key component of the deal was the establishment of a "points system" that would emphasise new immigrants' education, language and job skills over family connections in awarding green cards.

After decades of hiding from the INS and contributing to the US economy, making life comfortable cleaning up after some rich Anglo, what could be fairer than paying $5000 for the privilege of returning home, probably sacrificing your job, waiting the BBC doesn’t say how long to receive the coveted ‘Z visa’, and then waiting another 13 years to find out whether the beneficent US government deems you worthy to stay?

The bill also establishes a two-year temporary guest worker visa.

Holders of this visa would be allowed to renew their papers twice, but would have to return home for a year between each stint, and would have virtually no chance of gaining permanent residency or citizenship under this program.

Another terrific deal. Do the work no US citizen will do for pay nobody could survive on and we’ll let you stay for six years, no more. But first things first.

But these measures would not come into force until the number of border guards had been doubled, the fence with Mexico reinforced and high-tech enforcement measures put in place.

"The agreement we just reached is the best possible chance we will have in years to secure our borders and bring millions of people out of the shadows and into the sunshine of America," Mr Kennedy said as he announced the deal.

And don’t forget your sunscreen.

Land of the free

A new report by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research finds that the US is the only OECD country that does not provide all workers with any statutory paid annual leave or public holidays with pay. No-vacation nation reports that even Japanese workers get 10 days’ leave per year. Danish, Finish, and French workers get 30 working days’ paid leave per year, and the Danes and Finns also have nine paid public holidays.

To add insult to injury, those who are least likely to be able to afford to take time off without pay are also least likely to have paid leave. Overall, 77% of all workers get an average of 12 days’ paid leave and 76% get six public holidays off with pay. But of those workers earning less than $15 per hour, only 69% get annual leave, and they get an average of ten days per year. Sixty-seven percent get seven paid public holidays off. Only 36% of part time workers get annual leave to the tune of an average of nine days per year, and 37% get an average of six paid holidays.

But that’s not all. Bob Herbert writes in yesterday’s NY Times that

Nearly half of all full-time private sector workers in the U.S. get no paid sick days. None. If one of those workers woke up with excruciating pains in his or her chest and had to be rushed to a hospital — well, no pay for that day. For many of these workers, the cost of an illness could be the loss of their job.

The situation is ridiculous for those in the lowest quarter of U.S. wage earners. Nearly 80 percent of those workers — the very ones who can least afford to lose a day’s pay — get no paid sick days at all.

The US government and US employers may not have any sympathy for their employees when they’re sick. Since they have to work sick anyway, obviously, it doesn’t matter to them that sick workers are likely to infect their well workmates. But surely, they want to keep the customers healthy? Surely they have some commitment to public health measures.

Food service workers are among those least likely to get paid sick days. Eighty-six percent get no sick days at all. They show up in the restaurants coughing and sneezing and feverish, and they start preparing and serving meals. You won’t see many of them wearing masks.

Not to worry, though. Help is on the way.

There’s an effort under way to change this picture…legislation, sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Rosa DeLauro, would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide the sick days.

Never keen to shock observers of industrial relations in the US, the employers ‘are ice-cold to the idea’. A spokeswoman for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store told Bob Herbert,

“If employees need to miss a shift due to illness, there are generally many opportunities to make up that lost shift later in the week, or the next week.”

Or else.

[Thanks to the Center for American Progress Action Fund for the tipoff.]

Not Jewish anymore

In an ironic twist, the Jewish state, one of whose principal objectives from the origins of the Zionist movement has been to increase the Jewish population of Palestine, appears to be taking some small steps in the opposite direction. According to yesterday’s YNet,

A rabbinical judge ruled recently that a woman who converted to Judaism 15 years ago was no longer Jewish, and that her children, who were born after she had already converted, were also not Jewish.

Moreover, the judge stated that the woman's marriage was invalid, and that there was therefore no need to grant her a divorce.

The judge ordered that the woman, her children and even her husband, a Jew by birth, be added to the list of those not allowed to marry by an Orthodox rabbi.

It’s not just that the ruling is utterly unfair to those directly affected.

…The judge in fact ruled that all conversions signed by the special conversion court were invalid, because the court was headed by "heretics" and "criminals". This ruling implies that the thousands of conversions conducted by such courts were unacceptable.

I don’t suppose that this will impact all that much on the coveted Jewish majority that has provided the motivation and justification for the Nakba of 1948. One can only hope that this not a sign that the Zionists are so cocky that they will get away with the current round of ethnic cleansing that they can afford to dispense with a few thousand converts.

Thanks for the MEMRI

By now, everybody knows that Ahmadinejad never said anything about ‘wiping Israel off the map’, yet it persists as a staple of the anti Iran propaganda. So it’s kind of scary that a similar thing has now cropped up again.

In the Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ on Tuesday, Brian Whittaker revealed that the recent allegations about Hamas’s Mickey Mouse lookalike were also the result of mistranslation. In this case, apparently quite deliberate.

Though Memri claims to be "independent" and maintains that it does not "advocate causes or take sides", it is run by Yigal Carmon, a former colonel in Israeli military intelligence. Carmon's partner in setting up Memri was Meyrav Wurmser who in 1996 was one of the authors of the now-infamous "Clean Break" document which proposed reshaping Israel's "strategic environment" in the Middle East, starting with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

In the Hamas video clip issued by Memri, a Mickey Mouse lookalike asks a young girl what she will do "for the sake of al-Aqsa". Apparently trying to prompt an answer, the mouse makes a rifle-firing gesture and says "I'll shoot".

The child says: "I'm going to draw a picture."

Memri's translation ignores this remark and instead quotes the child (wrongly) as saying: "I'll shoot."

MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, claims to be ‘Bridging the language gap between the east and the west’.

According to Whittaker’s article, CNN’s Glenn Beck ‘invited Carmon on to the programme and gave him a platform to denounce CNN's Arabic department, and in particular to accuse one of its staff, Octavia Nasr, of being ignorant about the language.’

Carmon related a phone conversation he had had with Ms Nasr:

She said the sentence where it says [in Memri's translation] "We are going to ... we will annihilate the Jews", she said: "Well, our translators hear something else. They hear 'The Jews are shooting at us'."

I said to her: "You know, Octavia, the order of the words as you put it is upside down. You can't even get the order of the words right. Even someone who doesn't know Arabic would listen to the tape and would hear the word 'Jews' is at the end, and also it means it is something to be done to the Jews, not by the Jews."

Whittaker transcribes the sentence as, "Bitokhoona al-yahood", not strictly in accord with International Phonetic Association principles. Now anyone who knows anything whatsoever about language would know that not every language has the same basic word order. Indeed, they might even be aware that many languages are not as strict about word order as English, and that it is often possible to retrieve the grammatical relations (Subject, Object, etc.) from other mechanisms than word order, such as case marking and very agreement. As a matter of fact, Carmon must be singularly oblivious to linguistic niceties, because right there in his own utterance, sticking out like dogs’ balls is an example of how English itself can place the agent at the end of the sentence: ‘We are being shot at by the Jews’.

But Carmon isn’t just any buffoon ignorant of language. He directs an institute that specialises in translating Arabic media in particular. How does it come to pass that he is prepared to reveal in public that he is not even aware that Arabic has basic verb initial word order! Without knowing very much at all about Arabic myself, I’d be prepared to speculate that the verb, bitokhoona, incorporates something indicating that the object is first person plural, as well. Hebrew has stuff like that.

Way back in the Eighties, Reagan once alleged that the Sandinista government of Nicaragua was exporting arms to the FMLN guerrillas ‘across the border’ in El Salvador. When someone pointed out that Nicaragua doesn’t have a land border with El Salvador, he claimed that they were smuggling weapons across the Gulf of Fonseca. When observation of satellite photography over a long period failed to reveal evidence of this, he claimed that they were being transporeted by canoes too small for the primitive 1980s satellite photos to detect. Chomsky once said something like, ‘When the President of the United States lies, the lie is reported as fact on the front page of the New York Times and passes into the historical record. When the lie is refuted months or years later and reported, if at all, in an obscure academic journal, it makes no difference.’

So now we have Mickey Mouse directing Palestinian children to ‘annihilate the Jews’ and ‘commit martyrdom’ on the basis of a cynical, deliberate mistranslation, and even with Whittaker’s timely correction, I guess we’re stuck with it.

Thanks to Richard Silberstein’s Tikun Olam for drawing this to my attention.

Thursday 17 May 2007

'Extremely disappointed'

Wouldn’t want to spill any of that precious blue sang réal. The Washington Post reports,

Gen. Richard Dannatt, the head of the British army, said Wednesday that Iraq duty would be too risky for the 22-year-old soldier prince, the younger son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and third in line to the British throne. Dannatt said he reached his decision after a visit to Iraq last week and learning of specific threats being made by insurgents against Harry and the soldiers in his unit.

"These threats expose not only him but also those around him to a degree of risk that I now deem unacceptable," said Dannatt, reversing his public declaration two weeks ago that Harry would be deployed as a troop commander with British forces in Basra in southern Iraq. "As a professional soldier, Prince Harry will be extremely disappointed."

I daresay the Troop Commander Wales was crushed that he won’t be getting to ‘see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies.’ As the poet said.

Amazing poll results

A Gallup poll conducted 2-5 April among 1008 American adults reveals that many entertain financial concerns. The respondents were asked whether they were ‘Very worried’, ‘Moderately worried’, ‘Not too worried’, or ‘Not worried at all’ with respect to eight potential financial problems:

  • Not having enough money for retirement
  • Not being able to pay medical costs of a serious illness/accident
  • Not being able to maintain the standard of living you enjoy
  • Not being able to pay medical costs for normal healthcare
  • Not having enough money to pay for your children's college
  • Not having enough to pay your normal monthly bills
  • Not being able to pay your rent, mortgage or other housing costs
  • Not being able to make the minimum payments on your credit cards

The most interesting results were correlated with a variable entitled ‘Income’. As there was a previous table by ‘Household income’ with corresponding ranges, my suspicion is that the one that interests me was also by ‘Household income’. But this begs a great many questions. For example, I would want to know whether it is gross household income, net household income, household disposable income, or one of the other possible measures. I’d like to know whether it incorporates in kind receipts, or just cash. If the former, how are cash values imputed to the in kind receipts? Always a concern is the basis for collecting income from unincorporated household enterprises, which are in principle collected net of expenses, with all that that entails in terms of padding and so forth. More importantly, is it ‘Total household income’ or ‘Equivalised household income’? After all, an income of $50,000 has quite a different meaning for a household of ten persons than it does for a lone person household. And if it is equivalised, what were the equivalising factors and on what basis were they arrived at?

Not that equivalisation captures everything we’d want to if we were going to use income as a measure of ‘economic wellbeing’ or something, to correlate with other factors. For example, even quite a high household income can correlate with a low standard of living if the household has responsibilities like care of a disabled child or a crippling divorce settlement.

In all probability, however, nobody ever even thought about asking any of these questions. Some kid just rang up and asked, ‘What’s your household income?’ And the respondent provided a more or less honest and more or less accurate answer depending on their mood and attitude to telephone surveys and other factors that are hard to control.

Even so, additional questions arise. The population in scope of the survey was persons aged 18 and over. Is it really plausible that most 18 year olds can accurately assess the total income of their parents? Would they have any knowledge of receipts from rental properties, shares, and other forms of investment, even if they knew their parents’ actual salaries? Would they even know their own income on an annual basis, considering that they are probably working more than one job, each with variable hours from one week to the next?

Bearing these reservations in mind, Gallup divided the population into three on the basis of ‘Income’: Less than $30,000’, ‘$30,000-74,999’, and ‘$75 or More’. The big surprise is that a proportion of the population with the highest income was ‘”Very/Moderately” worried’. Only 6% were concerned about making their minimum monthly credit card payments and 9% with meeting housing costs, but nearly half – 48% - worried about their retirement.

Somewhat less surprisingly, there was a clear and consistent correlation between ‘Income’ and financial worry. Lydia Saad, the author of the report, even remarks

Adults living in low-income households are also about twice as likely as those living in high income households to worry about maintaining their standard of living (59% vs. 28%) and paying normal healthcare costs (50% vs. 21%).

For every category of worry, fewer of the highest income group were worried than of the middle income group. And for every issue save ‘children’s college’, more of the lowest income group were worried than of the middle group. I surmise that the lowest income group may include a larger proportion of retirees whose children are past university age. Furthermore, households in this income bracket are almost certainly less likely to consider tertiary education a realistic possibility for their children.

One of the things that’s always preyed on my mind was this feeling that there must be a correlation between financial worries and financial resources. And now I have the Gallup mob to thank for finally setting my mind at rest.

Just say 'No!'

I’m not sure what it is with Amy Goodman and birthdays. First it was Harry Bellafonte, now Studs Terkel. A few extracts:

Studs Terkel, the great journalist, raconteur and listener, turns 95 this week. He was born in New York City on May 16, 1912…

His life’s work has been to tell the stories of the working class, the down and out, the forgotten and ignored… “Ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things, and that’s what it’s all about. They must count!”

His support for the refugees from the Spanish Civil War, with the Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, earned the attention of Joe McCarthy. He lost his first TV show due to his views. Then Mahalia Jackson, the famed African-American singer, insisted that Studs be hired as the host of her show on CBS. When he refused to sign the U.S. loyalty oath demanded by CBS, Studs says Jackson told them, “Look, if you fire Studs, find another Mahalia Jackson.” CBS backed off. The lesson, says Terkel: “The answer is to say ‘No!’ to authority when authority is wrong.”

And we all know when that is!

A depressing evening

My colleague Khadim has asked me to circulate his reminiscences of the night of the Musharraf coup in 1999.


A depressing evening

The night Musharraf took power


Khadim Hussain

Darkness had already enveloped the small provincial town of Mingora.

I was alone in my room reading something, probably Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The bachelor hostel was the only accommodation for single lecturers at Mingora’s only postgraduate college, where I was teaching English literature at that time. The TV was on but I was not watching. They had not yet introduced the cable networks in that particular corner of the country, so all one had to watch was the drab PTV.

All of a sudden, the TV lost the signal and all I could see on the screen was a black spotted line. The place was unusually silent. This was depressing me. I left my room to look for my colleagues who lived in the same hostel. Not one of them was to be found. Probably they had gone out for a pleasant walk on the banks of River Swat.

Suddenly there was blackout—power shutdown? Regular load shedding? I left the hostel, leaving the lights and TV in my room switched on. I searched for somebody to talk to, but to no avail. I just wandered the streets aimlessly. Depressed and disappointed, I started back to my hostel. The whole town was deeply soaked with darkness.

When I approached the hostel, the power returned and I could hear an unusual sound coming from my room. I entered the room and saw a general on the TV screen speaking to the hapless masses of Pakistan. Martial Law again? Yes, it was Pervez Musharraf justifying his takeover and announcing a six point liberal agenda for his newly installed government. I could hear the crack of Kalashnikovs firing in the air. I could also hear cheering and sloganeering on the street outside my hostel.

I wanted to stop them. I wanted to rebuke them. I knew I should tell them the coup was a cause for shame, not celebration. But I could only look at the thin crowd through a half open window.

Fear, shock, pain—I felt them all but I couldn’t tell which dominated. My mind blanked. I started looking for something to distract me for a while until I came to my senses. Turning the pages of a diverse collection ranging from the history of workers’ revolutions to classical English novels, I felt alienated - extremely lonely, helpless, and unusually tense.

The next morning, I got up a little late and had no desire to attend my classes. Everything seemed so futile. Instead of going to the college, I went straight to the bar near my hostel. I found an old progressive buddy who had been a kind of political mentor throughout our student years together. He went on to become a senior lawyer practicing in Swat.

Assuming that he might be feeling the way I was, I started talking about how to agitate against the new monster. He surprised me by replying, “My dear fellow! You probably want to become another Hasan Nasir (a member of the Communist Party of Pakistan, martyred by General Ayub’s regime) but nobody else wants to”. I was shocked—pain, fear, and doubt surrounded me again.

Disappointed, I went to the offices of a few local newspapers. But most of the journalists were busy talking about the golden era just set in. I tried to analyze the situation for them, but they said everybody had supported the coup d’etat. I turned the pages of almost all the national dailies and found everybody of note supporting Martial Law, or probably salivating over the prospect of a share of the pie. Only Afsiab Khatak (the then chairman Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and now the provincial president of a secular political party, the Awami National Party) had issued a statement condemning the coup.

It was afternoon by then. I went to see one of my friends—Ziuddin Yousafzai (a poet and owner of a private school in Mingora), to discuss this new challenge to our cherished ideals. We agreed at least to protest the imposition of Martial Law. We wrote some handouts condemning Martial Law and wrote our names on them and pasted them on the walls of some crowded shops and mosques. For some days, we were completely ostracized.

A few months later, we started to hear some voices coming out to distance themselves from the military rulers. But they were still only a few.

It has taken eight long years for multitudes to come out against the military rulers. Will the professional middles class (lawyers, teachers, doctors, etc.), take up the real issues of the masses? Will the people of Pakistan be able to take matters into their (our?) own hands? Is there a revolution in the offing? Will the people be able to decide about the real owners of this ‘Land of the Pure’? Will the masses be able to head towards a new social contract?

Wednesday 16 May 2007

Crossword politics

Palestinian journalist for the Melbourne Age, Maher Mughrabi, wrote today that

On May 20, [Australian] Prime Minister John Howard will receive the Jerusalem Prize from the State Zionist Council of Victoria, the Zionist Federation of Australia and Israel's World Zionist Organisation "for his support of the Jewish community and Israel".

In his piece, he makes some interesting points.

To say, then, that Israel is "a democracy in good standing" is a bit like saying Philip Ruddock is a member of Amnesty International - as a statement of fact, it leaves too much out.

What’s left out of the claim about Ruddock is that, as Australia’s Minister for Immigration from 1996 to 2003, he presided over the policy of incarcerating all asylum seekers arriving without required documentation (mandatory detention) in remote concentration camps and the refoulement (return) of many Afghan and other refugees to their countries of origin against their will, against sound advice, and in some cases, as it transpires, to their doom. These policies are in direct conflict with Amnesty International positions. In fact, Amnesty asked that he remove his AI lapel badge when speaking about immigration issues.

In an interview with the Australian ABC’s Radio National’s Lateline in 2002, AI Secretary General Irene Khan said, ‘…the policies that he is carrying out in this Government are clearly policies which have been criticised by Amnesty…He is a member of Amnesty, but he does not represent Amnesty’.

As for what’s left out of the claim about Israeli democracy, Mughrabi explains

If you want to know how much, read The Age's Saturday crossword. On March 31, it contained this clue: "What is the nationality of someone from Haifa? (7)"

The answer is "Israeli". It is also incorrect. You see, there is no such thing as Israeli nationality. In 1970, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that there was such a thing as Jewish nationality, and such a thing as Arab nationality, but not Israeli nationality. And while Israel's Arab citizens have the vote, the state - defined by law as Jewish - discriminates against them when it comes to immigration, state resources, where they can live and even who they can marry.

It is strangely appropriate, therefore, that Howard will receive his award at a function of the Jewish National Fund, which identifies itself as "the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners - Jewish people everywhere". Try imagining an Australian version of this: "The Aussie National Fund is the caretaker of the land of Australia, on behalf of its owners - Anglo-Celtic people everywhere."

See the problem? This formula makes Israel the land of many people who are not its citizens, and denies the land to many who are its citizens. Democracy? Not as Australians know it…

Of course it’s not democracy as Australians know it. Israel is Jewish and democratic. It’s a Jewish democracy, where Jews have democratic rights. And everyone in the Jewish democracy must genuflect to the oxymoron of the Jewish and democratic state, or, like Azmi Bishara, stand accused of treason. It’s one of those mysteries that otherwise apparently intelligent, rational, thoughtful people who understand things like that you can’t fight terrorism by invading Iraq or Lebanon somehow believe that such a thing is possible.