Friday, June 29, 2007

Blair out Brown in

The media coverage of Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister provides for a rare opportunity to consider the way power dynamics are portrayed. Almost all of the coverage has been positive. Brown has installed a lot of new, some fresh, faces into his Cabinet. He has been quoted extensively basically saying we need less Blairite (used car salesman) showmanship and more sobre, sensible policy building.

Whether things will actually change all that much remains to be seen. Nevertheless, I think one key lesson from all this is to remember that, fundamentally, power rests in the institutions and the interests they serve rather than one or two individuals. Tony Blair is being made the fall guy for a range of policy errors during his tenure. The most obvious and criminal of those is his support for the war in Iraq. I can't remember the last time one political leader has been expected to take all the blame like this. Perhaps it was Anthony Eden after the botched Suez war? Yet it wasn't just Tony marching into Iraq. It was Blair and a majority of MPs both Labour and Tory.

It's impossible for anyone to know for sure of course, but my prediction is that the Government and media will try to sweep the worst of the Labour Government's ills under the Tony Blair carpet as though those in power no longer bear responsibility for those errors.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A letter from Gaza

An interview with Anees from Gaza on life, occupation and the Hamas take over:

‘I am frightened and confused.’

So begins my most recent conversation with Anees, a young man from Rafah in the Gaza Strip. I spoke to Anees two weeks ago while rival militants from Hamas and Fatah battled on the streets outside his house. The violent clap of bullets could be heard in the background as Anees, curtains drawn in his room, continued to speak.

‘I am scared that if I even look outside my window, I will be shot at … there have been reports that civilians have been shot [in the crossfire].’

You can read the entire piece here if you subscribe to New Matilda. A one year subscription costs AUD88 or AUD44 for concessions, which is pretty good value for a quality progressive magazine.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The easiest target

A lot of people who don't know much about the Israel/Palestine conflict at least realise that the Israeli Occupation is bad. However, I often suspect that a lot of these people think that it's a complicated conflict and Israel is, at the end of the day, but one of two pretty dirty sides. Although I tend not to dwell on it, I sometimes wonder whether some people think my sympathy for the Palestinian cause has more to do with the colour of my skin than any objective assessment of who is morally in the right. Whereas say a Westerner with an interest in Liberia would be viewed as having an impartial interest in the situation there, someone of Muslim/Middle Eastern origin, it is assumed, is always going to be more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the Israelis. More than that, I think a lot of people simply would not place Israel alongside the worst of the worst oppressors. Israel is after all a highly industrialised nation. And they're Jewish, and Jews are the oldest oppressed minority, right?

If any of the things I've said strike a chord with you I'd recommend you watch this documentary. I will just come out and say that it seems that every day Israel starts resembling Nazi Germany more and more. I don't think that's a coincidence, there is a long history of the oppressed modelling themselves on the oppressor leading to tragic consequences (Rwanda immediately comes to mind).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wrong solution for the right people

Australia bans booze, porn to save Aboriginal children.

Thanks to Itinerant and Indigent for the link.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Michel Onfray: The Atheist Manifesto

A public conversation (through an interpreter) with the controversial French philosopher and atheist, Michel Onfray, including questions from the audience.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Being unequal means being more responsible

The other day I was listening to this excellent interview of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by At one point Hirsi Ali lamented the lack of a progressive Muslim leader to counter the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden. As I listened to her say that I started asking myself, why? Why do we need to have a hippy Osama? Why do we ALL have of to prove that we're not terrorists or terrorist sympathisers? Why must we be measured by our worst standard?

Of course, this has nothing to do with avoiding responsibility for violence inspired by Islam. But I had nothing to do with September 11. I'm not particularly violent. The last time I got into a fight was before I hit 17 and it only lasted 30 seconds before me and other bloke shook hands.

Should every citizen whose army is occupying Iraq be expected to join the next protest against it a Trafalgar Square or Washington DC or wherever?

This attitude, which expects every Muslim to be accountable for every vice committed by someone who is somehow inspired by Islam, while at the same time refusing to acknowledge our more positive attributes, is a very dangerous thing. I think there are two main reasons for this. First, because those pointing their fingers at us get diverted from things that they could more effectively contribute towards. In other words, they could and should worry about the dirty linen in their own backyard and leave our backyard literally (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, um and about 20 other countries) and metaphorically alone. Second, it reduces the likelihood that Muslims will think critically about the interaction between their faith and contemporary social issues.

We need robust debate as Muslims. That's right WE, Muslims, amongst ourselves. It reminds me of a moment in the life of Malcolm X. A young white woman once went up to him asking what she could do to help his cause. His answer was simple and to the point: "Nothing."

Out my window

Flying away on the wings of Pegasus.

The freedom of thought, a silent prayer.

Leave behind your misery, flesh and bone.

Even in despair there is a voice.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Coming to a library near you

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Insights from McDonald's (on Singapore, not the burgers!)

I liked something Waspoh wrote recently:

Sitting at AMK McDonald's and just watching the world go by, I witness the compact between Singaporeans and our government. Our government takes care of all our material needs. Everyone has enough to get by and even to live comfortably. But in return, we agree not to challenge their authority. We accept that we can be worse off and we accept this trade off. We do not risk what we already have for an uncertain future. The result is a certain lifeless animation, a well designed, high tech, first world wonder, made for the person too busy with making money, meant to emulate real life and yet is inevitably lifeless. Like an Aibo.

National Lampoon's 72 Virgins

Lingerie king refuses knighthood

I think this says a lot about Salman Rushdie's credentials as a voice for freedom and justice:

The co-founder of lingerie brand Agent Provocateur has rejected his MBE, claiming that he can't accept an honour from a "morally corrupt" Tony Blair.

Joseph Corre was awarded the title for his services to the fashion industry in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

While he said he had initially been "flattered" to have his Agent Provocateur work recognised by the establishment, he changed his mind because of his views on the Government.

"To accept this MBE as an honour would mean to me that I would have to accept the Prime Minister as someone capable of giving an honour, i.e. an honourable man, which I cannot find it in my heart to do ," said Mr Corre, 39, the son of fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood.

He cited the suffering caused by conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and restrictions imposed on civil liberties as the motivations for his decision.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"The Other" and the Western media

The Western media has latched onto the Rushdie Knighthood affair with the same fervour that influenced its coverage of The Satanic Verses over a decade ago. The TV screens have been filled with images of rent-a-crowds in [insert developing, predominantly Muslim country here] burning effigies of varying artistic merit.* A few newspapers have tried as hard as they can to find someone, anyone!, who will put a new fatwa on Rushdie.

Such coverage feeds into the myth of the West as a bastion of free speech (and hence civilisation) against the hot headed hordes of the Muslim periphery. Rushdie, the millionaire Western intellectual of Indian Muslim origin, becomes a symbol of defiance. All very Orwellian.

I for one don't much care about the knighthood, nor why Rushdie accepted it (there's a good op ed in The Guardian on this point). That indifference includes whether the knighthood was a deliberate gesture. I don't know but suspect there's a good chance it was a matter of insensitive ignorance rather than deliberate attempt to inflame. If our faith in who we are as Muslims is weak then we will give our enemies the satisfaction of our offence and anger. Better yet to accept that the knighthood is an empty gesture from a long irrelevant monarchy.

What I do care about is why we are offended by Rushdie's knighthood. Personally, I find it offensive more because of Britain's past criminality as a colonial ruler, and present criminality in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accepting the knighthood sends out the message that you endorse the institution which has caused such havoc around the globe. Given Rushdie is the son of a former colony, and has written about the trauma of British rule in India, makes it all the more disappointing. But am I surprised? Not really. You see Rushdie, like Hirsi Ali, is a member of Western elite society. This elite society is not homogenous or static, but it certainly has very little in common with you or I. Rather than judging Rushdie because of the colour of his skin or his Muslim-sounding name, we have to realise he is just a novelist who gets paid a lot of money to write. He's also a celebrity (read - has an ego the size of a Vikrem Seth novel), so lapping up a knighthood is probably just his sort of thing. And no, I am not resentful because he dates supermodels...

If you are offended by Rushdie because of The Satanic Verses I would politely recommend reading it or, if you have already read it, re-reading it. While I have struggled through it twice with limited success, I have nevertheless concluded that is an important book for those with an honest interest in understanding Islam. And here I really speak of Muslims, not those non-Muslims who think all the world's problems are due to Islam.

* Speaking of these riots, you may have noticed that a lot of these riots are in Pakistan. One reason for this is that it is very easy for any group to literally hire some lads to hold placards and burn things for them. There's a riot, particularly in Karachi, every other week in Pakistan. From the images I've seen the riots over Rushdie have been disappointingly small. In fact, the biggest riots, with the exception of large protests in Karachi a few weeks back, tend to follow shocks losses by the national cricket team. This is not to say there is only limited interest in the Rushdie knighthood among Muslims. It's impossible to say really, and as I've said in a previous post, it's not very useful to paint all Muslims with the same brush. For example, I imagine Muslims in Gaza don't care two ships about the knighthood. So there you go.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Right wing blogs

Now and then I surf onto right wing blogs. I tend to look for blogs that are so absurd they'll make me laugh, but not so crude that they'll make me angry. I won't mention any names because frankly they're all a waste of time. But when I occasionally find what I'm looking for I'm usually dismayed by the fact that you have to register to post comments.

For example, there was this one post I read on a popular Australian right wing blog. It said because it's been raining so much in Sydney recently this whole global warming thing must be a big hoax. I wanted to post a short comment noting that global warming doesn't mean every part of the planet will get warmer or drier. Weather systems are complex and, in fact, some regions of the globe are expected to get cooler not warmer because of changes in ocean temperatures. Imagine my 'surprise' when I noticed that you had to register a whole range of details before you posted your comment.

Gotta love virtual fascism!

Struggle and progress

Is struggle a necessary ingredient in maintaining a society's dynamism and progress? I ask myself this as I read a chapter from Eric Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes:

"The sheer poverty of China is hard for Western readers to imagine. Thus at the time of the communist take-over (1952 data) the average Chinese lived essentially on half a kilogram of rice or grains a day, and consumed rather less thn 0.08 kilos of tea a year. He or she acquired a new pair of footwear once every five years or so (China Statistics, 1989, Tables 3.1, 15.2, 15.5)."

(page 463, 2001 edition)

Why nemsis is at Amercia's door

History tells us that one of the most unstable political combinations is a country - like the United States today - that tries to be a domestic democracy and a foreign imperialist.

Read on.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sir Salman

Salman Rushdie has just been knighted by the Queen for services to literature. Iran has condemned the move as a posture aimed at inflaming Muslim sentiment. I wonder if any of the Iran officials who issued the condemnation have read any of his books? Midnight's Children is fantastic. I can't blame them if they haven't read Satanic Verses though. I've struggled through it a few times but could not make heads or tales on either attempt. Still it's disappointing Rushdie didn't refuse the knighthood or at least make a political statement against colonialsim or something like that. Frankly, he's a white guy with tanned skin these days...

What passed the Iranian radar though (and possibly those Israeli jets hovering on the Turkey/Iran border also) was Desmond Pawson who was made a Member of the British Empire "for services to the rope industry."

That Empire sure ain't what it used to be, ain't what it used to be,...

Understanding ideology

An ideology is an organized collection of ideas. Most every school of thought or mode of understanding therefore exhibits ideological traits. In itself, ideology is neither good nor bad. But, whatever it is, ideology is always anthropocentric, which is to say that it always interprets reality exclusively in terms of human values and experiences. While the capacity for ideological reasoning is innate, a likely byproduct of the evolutionary development of homo sapiens sapiens, an ideology is not organic or natural. It takes conscious effort to give order and structure to the happenings in our world. That order is always predicated on what is relevant or useful to a particular human audience. Take scientific reasoning, perhaps the most dispassionate of ideologies. At its core, the scientific method is about understanding the observable world with limited cognitive tools. Even science acknowledges the influence of anthropocentrism to the pursuit of knowledge through observation.

Given this relatively anodyne definition, why does the concept of ideology strike so much fear and suspicion in our hearts? Part of the explanation is based on our knowledge of the horrors that ideology is capable of spawning. Ideology drove the worst excesses of colonialism, and it has played a powerful role in contemporary geopolitics. But this is only a partial explanation. I believe the root cause of this fear of ideology is doubt. We fear that a rival ideology may have exposed an inadequacy, real or perceived, in our own ideology. This explains the familiar ritual of singling out a particular ideology, or type of ideology (say, religion), as the single greatest threat to society. But for the ideology in question (for example, Wahhabi Islam), humans would be able to reach their full potential without causing mayhem and havoc to others. Of course, implicit in this statement is the assumption that, to some extent, people need to live a life that is consistent with our own ideology in order to reach their full potential.

It is here that we are confronted with an interesting paradox. The paradox is that while we often fear ideology from ‘outside’, and a classical example of this is Islamaphobia in the West, the fear is often actually a response to our own ideology coming into competition or perceived competition with another ideology. So, for example, regardless of whether we live up to the ideal, we have an idealized sense of identity, what it is to be Australian or Muslim or Bantu, or whatever the identity might be. That identity necessarily is premised on distinguishing ourselves from those who are not like us. We may not actually live by this example. But the moment we perceive a potential risk to the fabric of this identity – too much non-Anglo Saxon migration, the corrupting influence of ‘Western culture’, not enough non-Indians in the workforce, and so on – our fear of ideology is pricked.

In this regard it is worthwhile to note that an individual is rarely fearful of their own ideology, assuming they are aware of it. This is because, to the believer, the fundamental truth of their ideology has been revealed, and the grace and wisdom of this fundamental truth out shines any weaknesses. Of course, we are less likely to fall victim to our own ideology, but even if we do we often suffer peacefully. A classic example of this is militarist patriotism. In Australia, we celebrate ANZAC day even though it marked the commencement of a brutal, wasteful conflict that killed several thousand young men.

Unfortunately, not all ideologies are equal. For example, most ideology does not have the same rigorous standard of proof as science. Most ideology, including science as institutionalised ideology, is so entranced with its own correctness that it is impossible to refute with rational arguments. The genius of ideology is its ability to simultaneously selectively sing its own virtues while conveniently neglecting to take responsibility for its vices. This is a key characteristic of most ideology.

Another key attribute of ideology is that it is innate. Humans are always looking for patterns, real or imagined. Take a look at any building, footpath or road. Each is a reflection of our innate interest in establishing order and predictability. No one can argue against such things; there is an inherent benefit in such order. But some times that innate tendency creates orders which at best are superficial and hence unproductive or, at worst, are highly destructive and, ironically, lead not to order but more chaos.

Given this, how does one safely navigate ideology?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Hamas in Gaza

Hamas commander sitting on Abu Mazen's chair.
(Photo courtesy of

Hamas's victory over Fatah in Gaza has been swift and complete. Yet again they impress with their discipline and tenacity. My contacts in Gaza however remain fearful. The most common word I've heard is "confusion". No one knows how to feel or what to think about this sudden shift in the balance of power. Israel and the Western powers have no such uncertainty however. They remain committed to supporting Abu Mazen, the Palestinian President and head of Fatah. This response belies their abject lack of understanding of the Palestinian people, and, dare I say it, not a little bit of racism too. Mazen is a political light weight who has been incapable of providing leadership either politically or administratively (it was under his leadership that Fatah so bungled the last election that in some electorates they fielded multiple candidates!). So why the West's undying faith in Mazen? I'll come back to that later.

First to Hamas. What can we expect from Hamas in Gaza? This is impossible to predict with much certainty, but already some signals have been made. Hamas have said they will not induct the Sharia over Gaza and the Hamas PM has asked for restraint. Whether or not this will actually be followed through is another matter. But if one takes off the racist glasses you can see quite clearly that Hamas, while not a choir group, is fairly disciplined and rational in its actions. Rational here means following a course of action based on a logical framework which is largely predictable (as opposed to rational in the scientific sense).

Remember Hamas played by the rules, they won elections and they even seized all suicide attacks in Israel. Where did it get them? Boycotts, targeted assassinations, the kidnap of their ministers. At the same time Fatah has been corrupt, arrogant, inept and openly and unquestioningly supported by all the major players - Israel, the US and Europe. Fatah gets this support because they understand the rules of the game. Palestine is never to exist. The Palestinians are merely to be the untouchables of greater Israel. Fatah will be the mafia bosses who run the Palestinian slums in what's left of the Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza after the wall and major settlement areas have been completed. If the Palestinians behave themselves, they might be fortunate enough to provide some cheap labour for Israeli industry. But that's only a maybe. In recent years Israel has preferred migrant labour from places like the Philippines.

So Hamas was left with two options, play by the rules and eventually disappear into oblivion, or take matters into their own hands.

Of course crimes have been committed, and there is no excuse for that. Ideally the people who have committed these acts should be punished. But the situation is so horrible that what would normally be common sense is mere fantasy now. Gaza is a harsh, cruel place. People with guns get the power. That's what victimhood does to you.

So yes, frankly, I hate to say this, but Hamas did what from their perspective was the only logical course of action. They took matters into their own hands. They're sending a pretty clear message - we're a force to be reckoned with so speak to us. Stop calling us a terrorist organisation, we're a major political force whether you like it or not.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Required Reading

Unfortunately, the Israeli political system tends to privilege the immediate and ephemeral over the long-term vital interests of the country. There is a broad swathe of Israeli opinion fully aware that time is not on Israel's side. We are not a friend of Israel if we allow Israel to fall into the self-delusion that the Palestinians are the only ones to blame, or that it can continue blithely to ignore its obligations under existing agreements without paying an international diplomatic price in the short-term, and a bitter price regarding its security and identity in the long-term.

Alvaro de Soto, until May 2007 the chief UN diplomat for the Middle East, slams Israel and the United States for their impediments to peace with the Palestinians.

What strikes me the most about the report is just how bleeding obvious and measured its conclusions are. For example, it uses the time honoured weasel phrase "the Palestinians consider" when describing much of the atrocities committed by Israel, instead of just outright condemning them. But for the most part it is a well written report. The central point de Soto makes is that the US and Israel have no interest in achieving peace with the Palestinians and some Palestinian militants have not helped their cause by continuing intermittent violence. That the report has caused such a furore says a lot about the extent of justice and accountability in our civilised West-centric world.

The report was meant to be confidential but was leaked to the media. You can read it in its entirety here. I strongly recommend making the time to do just that, it's around 50 pages long so you can get through it on a casual weekend. The document sheds a great deal of light not just on the Israel/Palestine conflict, but on the dynamics and impotence of the United Nations system. For those of you who have worked with or in the UN (you know who you are!) it should, sadly, not come as a surprise.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Divided and conquered

Nothing much can justify what is currently transpiring in Gaza today. It is far too easy to lay blame on the Israeli occupation for all our woes, even if valid points can be made in defense of this argument. As mentioned previously, the Gazans in particular, have been caged up in this small and grossly overpopulated corner of the world with no room for expansion or economic improvement. This claustrophobic situation can only compound existing problems between the components of one people and exasperate otherwise ordinary issues.

Still, we must bear responsibility for our own misjudgments, and what catastrophic misjudgments there have been. Not only have armed men from both sides killed each other in numbers that exceed even those resulting from Israeli military operations, they have burned homes, fired shells at colleges and kidnapped men from their homes. Both sides are guilty of these crimes, make no mistake. On June 12, Hamas activists stormed the home of PLC member and former foreign minister Nabil Shaath, causing extensive damage. Earlier in the day, mortars were fired at President Abbas’ Gaza headquarters. Apparently, this was in retaliation for a rocket-propelled grenade being fired at Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s home where material damages were incurred but no causalities reported.

This tit-for-tat mentality has continued unabated for the past 48 hours with no end in sight. The “million-dollar question” that remains unanswered however, is what exactly are Fateh, Hamas or anyone else involved in this absurd fighting, hoping to achieve? What are they fighting for? Seats of power? Independence ? Fortune? Our leaders, and hence, those poor and unguided souls that blindly pledge their allegiance to them, have become so embroiled in these power struggles that they have forgotten that those “seats” can easily be pulled from beneath them by the oppressive hand from which we have so far failed to shake ourselves free.

Joharah Baker for MIFTAH.

"I am scared and confused... I don't know what to do."

A friend from Rafah, Gaza Strip speaks to me while Hamas and Fatah shoot at one another outside. No one is on the streets today in Rafah at least for fear of being caught in the cross fire, or even being targeted by one of the factions.

My friend told me he is now more afraid of the Palestinian factions than the Israelis. Words cannot express how disconsolate I am hearing this news. But I am safe and sound in London. What of the people who are captive to this nightmare?

People of Gaza, you are in my thoughts today.

The state of the union

Some excerpts from Cindy Sheehan's open letter on her 'retirement' from the US anti-war movement...

People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don't find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don't see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person's heart.


The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

(Thanks to Justin Podur's blog.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Danger, terrorist mullet on the loose!

In other news, a US Federal Appeals Court has ordered that the Government release a man because he cannot be detained indefinitely without charge. The US Government vowed to appeal the decision.

"We cannot allow a man with such a dangerous looking mullet back into society," a Deputy Assistant Federal Attorney told reporters. "We believe this mullet is the latest in an insidious Al Qaeda plot to undermine the precious bodily fluids of our society."

The Melbourne Shuffle

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Enough Occupation!

Here are some pics from the protest against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine, Saturday 9 June 2007. The organisers said around 20,000 people attended which may have been a slight over estimate, but not by much.There were a number of speeches, including one via video from Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. George Galloway gave his usual, powerful oration. I noticed a number of the police men and women strolled towards the stage to hear him speak. Whatever people might say about him he has incredible presence. My favourite speech was given by Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti. Barghouti was the reason why I went from quiet sympathy to relatively active support for the Palestinian cause. He was visiting Australia in 2001 or 2002 and spoke at Gerard Henderson's right wing Sydney Institute. With courage and professionalism he explained just how bad the occupation was for the Palestinians. I still remember the way a few audience members jumped up and heckled him, only to be met by his quite fearless yet unthreatening face.
On the same day at Trafalgar cyclists from the World Naked Bike Ride took to the streets. Think of a procession of naked cyclists streaming past Trafalgar Square for a good 5 minutes! The cyclists got quite a bit of mainstrem media coverage. Sadly the protest did not. Perhaps next time the two events should be combined?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Israelis at Harvard try to bring down former IDF chief

Israel Today reported last week:

Israelis are among those behind a campaign to bring fellow Harvard University student and former Israeli army chief Dan Halutz to trial for alleged war crimes during last summer's Lebanon war.

The group, which is made up of pro-Palestinian and other anti-Israel activists, began on Tuesday to hang "Wanted" posters around campus that accuse Halutz of ordering the indiscriminate slaughter of Lebanese civilians during the conflict with Hizballah.

The jets and artillery under Halutz's command "bombed houses and hospitals, ambulances and airports, refineries and roads," read the posters. "The atrocities committed under his command were condemned worldwide as war crimes."

What was left out was the fact that Hizballah used built up civilian areas as cover for its massive rocket fire on northern Israel, a practice that was also condemned by United Nations officials. The posters also failed to explain that the war was instigated by Hizballah.

Despite the fact that international law protects Israel's right to retaliate against its aggressors, even if the latter are hiding among civilians, the students insisted that Halutz be brought before the International Criminal Court.

The group went on to criticize Harvard for allowing Halutz to "hide out" and "pad his resume" at the prestigious institution.

Halutz stepped down as head of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in January of this year amid public outrage over Israel's failure to achieve its military goals against the Lebanese terror group.

A desperate dictator

Associated Press of Pakistan reports:

"We work well with President Musharraf, I am not apologizing for that, he has taken the country in this more moderate direction, he has also taken the country towards an election later this year - so we think that is the right direction," Boucher said in an interview to a private Pakistani television channel.

- Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia

Meanwhile, Reporters san frontieres claims that Musharraf is a bigger press freedom predator than ever, and the Pakistan Government makes an 11th hour decision not to instigate an ordinance that would have increased its power to censor the media. The back down followed intense protests from the media and political parties.

Clearly Musharraf's the kind of moderate they like in the US.

On another front, negotiations for a not-so-secret power sharing arrangement between Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have stalled:

[Bhutto] had a change of heart, feeling there was little political mileage to be gained from an understanding with a "weak Musharraf" in the wake of the crisis generated by suspension of the chief justice.

Musharraf may be much weaker than first thought.

An open letter

Open Letter to Education Minister Yael Tamir to Release the Palestinian Minister of Education and all those who have been unlawfully detained

May 28, 2007

From: FFIPP-I, Faculty For Israeli-Palestinian Peace International

To: Prof. Yael Tamir, Minister of Education

Cc: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni

In the recent spate of seizures carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces, Dr. Nassereddine Shaer, (Minister of Education and Higher Education (Palestine) Dean of Faculty of Islamic Law, An-Najah National University (Palestine)) was abducted, along with over 30 others, some of whom are elected Palestinian representatives and government Ministers. This practice of the Israeli authorities is illegal under international law. More so, it goes against any attempt to promote a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

As academics-Israeli, Palestinian, and International-we view this act as one more destructive step in the Israeli policy of obstruction of the right to education and academic freedom in Palestine . It is in line with the ongoing policy of the Israeli military authorities to deny access to Palestinian students and academics to venues of study or research. Abducting the Minister of Education at this time, when final preparations are underway for 80,000 high school students to take the general high-school examination, is a major blow to the educational system in Palestine. It is, in fact, a blatant act of persecution which we vigorously oppose.

As academics we have an obligation to guard and promote critical thinking, personal morality and human solidarity. We are witness now to the intensification of human suffering which has spiraled into a grave crisis. You-an academic, a professor of philosophy and education, and Minister of Education-are a party to actions which are devastating for the Palestinian society, its cultural and educational subsistence, and its very existence. You must speak up and act! Release the Palestinian Minister of Education and all those who have been unlawfully detained.

"Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act." Albert Einstein

We urge all academics and intellectuals of conscience worldwide to sign this letter.

The current list of signatories can be viewed at:

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Virtual History

Last night I was watching an episide of 'Virtual History', the one on the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler in 1944. The show is based on a book with the same title by British historian Niall Ferguson. Ferguson, by the way, is a major empire-phile. Indeed he is one of the few intellectuals that the Neocons in Washington DC actually listen to. He's also a very intelligent man and a good writer, so his work is definitely worth checking out for a number of reasons - it's a good read, he does know his history, and you can bet powerful people listen to what he says.

The documentary on the whole was very good. I liked the way they personalised the decision makers. Basically they showed the daily routines of Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and Hitler. Humanising people like that is important because it helps to demystify them. You begin to realise that they were merely human beings... for the most part.

If there was one complaint I had with the show it was its one-dimensional portrayal of Stalin and the Soviet Union. Every time the narrator spoke about Stalin or the Soviet Union, he could not resist noting that the regime was the most monstrous of the 20th century (presumably, more monstrious than the Nazis!). Some instances of his monstrous decisions were given, like his Army purges and the way he treated Poland after its capture from the Nazis, and they were the type of things no sane person could say were not indeed horrible.

At another point in the show, we saw how Winston Churchill seriously contemplated using poison gas on the Germans, much to the horror of his generals. The narrator explained that this strange request must have had something to do with the pressures of leadership that Churchill bore on his old shoulders. The implication being that Churchill was not the sort to 'normally' make such requests. Whereas Stalin was a monolithic tyrant, Churchill was a human being complete with strengths and weaknesses like any of us.

Yet there was no mention of Churchill's decades long love affair with chemical weapons. For example, Churchill fully supported the use of poison gas in Iraq to put down the rebellion against British occupation. In fact, one of the places where gas was used was Halabja, the predominantly Kurdish city in Iraq where Saddam Hussein was to use poison gas in the 1980s. Interesting how one man has statutes, while the other has been hanged.

Churchill is also the man who sent 1000s of young men to their deaths in Gallipoli on an ill conceived belief that this maneuver could knock Turkey out of the war.

What these episodes indicate is that Churchill was nothing more or less than any other powerful, despotic ruler. Perhaps living conditions were better in the British Isles than the Soviet Union. But that has perhaps more to do with socioeconomics and history than the virtues of the rulers of each country.

That a distinction is maintained between Churchill and Stalin even after all these years is significant, because it shows the enduring power of history. For when we forget inconvenient truths it enables us to repeat the same mistakes time and time again.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Hip Hop, Gaza and the Occupation

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Enough Occupation!