Tuesday, July 31, 2007

US military aid to favoured Middle East nations

...this'll be a package that ultimately will be in the billions of dollars, but there are two other factors involved here. One is, while we got a preliminary idea and a preliminary list of equipment and supplies and other kinds of systems that the countries would want to buy, part of it is determining the quantities involved. Part of it also, as Nick said, is that once we actually begin these formal consultations, there may be other -- they may decide -- some of the countries involved may decide that their needs actually are in a somewhat different direction. So it's pretty hard to really even offer you an estimate of that.

US Department of State press secretary Tom Casey, 30 July 2007, commenting, unwittingly, on the banality of weapons of mass destruction.

The relative lack of critical analysis of the United States’ military aid package to favoured Middle East nations reveals a great deal about contemporary measures of peace and security. How exactly does a $20 billion military aid package foment peace in the Middle East? This is Orwellian stuff. The US offers yet another golden handshake to regimes, Jewish and Arab alike, with questionable human rights records and we are meant to understand that this is in the interests of peace. But how will sophisticated jets stop suicide attacks? How will tanks encourage democracy along pluralist lines? And should we not be surprised if Iran and Syria, key targets of the military build up, themselves decide to increase their military output however pathetic this output may be in comparison to the greatest military power in the history of human civilisation?

What is clear is that the military aid continues the long tradition of United States funded militarism in the Middle East, a militarism expressly forbidden under international law, including under several United Nations Security Council resolutions which have called for the demilitarization of the Middle East. It is high time we were honest; the United States is not interested in peace in the Middle East. For not only does the threat posed by the United States come from its own armies of which there is already a great deal in the region. It also comes from the favourable regimes which seek not to develop peace and security but to suppress internal dissent.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Dalai Lama on homosexuality

Question: With homosexuality... Is that, is that, how is that treated by Tibetan Buddhism?

Dalai Lama: ...if the practitioner is sexual, it is not prohibited. But sexual includes homosexual also, and...

Interpreter: ... oral sex...

Dalai Lama: ... and the other hole. These, you see, even with one's own wife, of both sex is considered sexual misconduct. Then another category, no believer, no believer. I think, basically, the purpose of sex is reproduction. So in order to fulfill that purpose, man to man, women to women cannot fulfill-- so a little bit...

Interpreter: ... could be considered unnatural.

Dalai Lama: But at the same time, there are people, among men, among women, see. Again, I think we discussed before, the sexual desire is generally related to the body, the physical body. So then, under those circumstances if you stop, or try to stop, it may create more violent consequences. Then at least sexual misconduct...

Question: So even as a Tibetan Buddhist lay person, not a monk, it's better to avoid these things?

Dalai Lama: Better. [speaks to interpreter]

Interpreter: He says that amongst the Tibetans perhaps it is unheard of that sex.

Source: http://www.tibet.ca/en/wtnarchive/1997/8/27-2_5.html

The Haneef scandal

Perhaps the biggest lesson from the Dr Haneef scandal is just what a joke the notion of 'national security' is. It is now becoming ever clear that Haneef had no material link to the attempted bombings in the United Kingdom other than being Muslim and giving a SIM card to a second cousin allegedly involved in the bomb plot. If the Government and powerful interests (of which the corporate media is the mouth piece) were serious about national security, they would seek to seriously investigate the Australian Federal Police for its misconduct. The impetus for such an investigation would not be sympathy for Muslim Australians or even Australia's tarnished reputation overseas. No, it would simply be a matter of making sure our federal police is capable of tackling a real terrorist threat. Clearly it can't, and clearly if Australia's national security was really under threat it would.

Now it is true Governments rarely, if ever, admit to making mistakes. That isn't peculiar to the Howard Government. But usually responsible Governments try to learn from their mistakes, even if there has to be a fall guy to protect the Government itself. Nevertheless you've got to wonder how many in the Australian community support the Government. Viz, that they are racist and fear Muslims and think 'suspicion' is enough to warrant kicking Haneef out lest he really is a terrorist (of which there seems to be not a sliver of evidence).

Quite disgraceful really.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Identity and resistance

For the foreseeable future (which is far from forever), my core intellectual interest will be ideology, identity and resistance. What are the features of identity that persuade people to resist those that are 'different' to them? What role does ideology play? These questions might seem quite abstract, but in fact they are very concrete.

Read on.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Chaudhry restored to the Chief Justiceship

Is this the end of the Musharraf regime? Unlikely, but it's a very positive development; something to feel very warm and fuzzy about inside. It proves that even in a third world dictatorship people power makes a difference. It also means that people are likely to respect the law a whole lot more.

The next interesting step will be to see what effect Chaudhry's reinstatement as Chief Justice will have on Musharraf's attempt to remain President and Chief of the Army, positions which cannot be held at the same time under the Pakistan constitution. One of the key reasons believed to have been behind the attempt to remove Chaudhry in the first place was the fear he would challenge Musharraf's attempt to hold positions contemporaneously following elections expected later this year.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Boys in the boardroom

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Interview with chief State Department lawyer

An interview with legal adviser to the Secretary of State, John Bellinger III. Some interesting insights into the tension between US public service and the Bush administration.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Girl in refugee camp, Peshawar Pakistan January 2004

One of the favourite photos I've ever taken. Took me months to notice her little brother heh!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

More on Akbar Ahmed

I recently blogged about a lecture I attended by the noted Pakistani Muslim intellectual Akbar S Ahmed. Here's a good op ed on him from a veteran Pakistani columnist. It isn't new but I just noticed it. Probably the best summary of the man, from someone who has known him personally for some time (although not necessarily on totally friendly terms!). So yes the basic conclusion on Ahmed is it's good that Muslims have him around, people in the West listen to him. But he's also a tireless self promoter, and his message lacks something of a critical edge. Ahmed may have pulled some punches to promote interfaith dialogue. I suppose someone has to do it.

UPDATE: I'm sure I'll sound like a cyber stalker now. But I've been checking out other blog reactions to Akbar Ahmed. And there seems to be a lot of respect and sympathy for his views on both sides of the political spectrum. Those on the right tend to view his latest book as a message that he is trying his best to champion the cause of the moderate Muslims. But it's an uphill battle because most Muslims are pretty backward these days. Which is something of an insight, perhaps. In other words, might the price of trying to remain 'neutral' and not offend anyone be actually to support the status quo? While it's too early to be entirely definitive, I'm beginning to think the answer is yes, and the biggest hint of this is the fact that Akbar's discourse operates within the framework of "Islam and the West". Not only does this play into the idea of two separate civilisations with alarming parallels to the Cold War. It also marginalises the rest of the humanity who don't happen to be in 'the West' or the 'Muslim world'. The cynic in me thinks, well, at least Ahmed has got a good paying job in the US with an impressive title. Of course I say that reluctantly because Akbar is a fellow Pakistani and one of the few eloquent voices we've got internationally.

Anyway this situation sort of reminds me of the entire humanitarian industry which is lined with a lot of well intentioned people who end up not really fundamentally changing the lot of the world's poor while, at the same time, managing to get a healthy income. Certainly that was my experience working in native title for four years in Australia.

On a slightly more broader note, reading about the Akbars and the Malloch Browns, the supposed saviours from within the establishment, does get me feeling a little down. It makes me think that to get into a position of influence, to change things, one has to be something of a self promoter. To put it another, more eloquent way; does a person have to be a wanker to get a bit of attention?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mark Malloch Brown

The former second in charge to Kofi Annan at the UN has just joined the Brown administration as Minister for Africa, Asia, and the UN. Will his appointment reflect a genuine shift towards multilateralism, respect for international law and a more compassionate British foreign policy? Obviously, impossible to tell at this early stage. But already some significant indicators. The man some (in the media) have branded Saint Mark has an ego the size of the UN building in New York. For example in this interview he spends considerable time praising himself, at one point going as far as to say that he will be "the wise eminence" behind the young new Foreign Secretary. Some more factoids:

Britain should be less attached to the US and take a more multilateralist approach.

He opposes the term "War on Terror" and the characterisation of terrorism as Muslim.

Even though he did not support the invasion, Malloch Brown supports a continued US and UK presence in Iraq.

He believes Hamas is "threatening the annihilation of its neighbour." A clear tick to the US/Israel status quo then.

History teaches us to be skeptical of people like Malloch Brown. At the very least, in electing him, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is trying to distance himself from the Iraq war and the subservience of the UK to the US under Blair. But whether there is more to this than just PR remains to be seen.

An Israeli apologist at the UN

This is a great little example of the arrogance that fuels the Zionist belief that it is morally exceptional. Poor little Israel is always the victim, and this victimhood is such an outrageous sin that its perceived detractors, in this case an otherwise quite spineless UN, are shown total contempt and disrespect. And Israel wonders why it is so unpopular.

PS: the clip comes from a blog sanctioned by the Israeli Government - http://www.israelpolitik.org/. A bit like reading about the dangers of smoking from the Marlboro website.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Message from the Getup! Ad campaign

Dear friends,

Last week, David took on Goliath.

London bombing survivor Louise Barry created an ad with GetUp, calling on the Prime Minister to rethink his disastrous policy in Iraq - and it sent shockwaves through the media with over 130 news stories. Momentum around the world is building towards exiting Iraq; now a matter of when not if. We've seen the power of political advertising, where a single voice can strike a chord with the nation.

That's why GetUp created the 'Oz in 30 Seconds' project - to showcase political ads created by the people. And if you think we've already made a splash, get ready for a tidal wave. You have just one week to view the people's election ads, and vote for the ones you want to see on TV. Click on the link below - some of the 30 second clips are nothing less than incredible.


Red Mosque fiasco

Another great report from The Fanonite, this time on the Red Mosque siege in Pakistan:

The raid on the mosque was avoidable. Negotiations would have ended it. But Musharraf was perhaps keen to establish his strongman credentials. It was only two years back that he had paid Ariel Sharon a tribute, calling the butcher of Sabra and Chatilla “a bold man, a great soldier, a courageous leader”. It is no surprise then that the admirer of Sharon should employ the tactics — and rhetoric — perfected in the killing fields of the West Bank and Gaza. There were all the familiar props — ‘terrorists’, ‘human shields’, ‘weapons caches’ and ‘foreign fighters’. Globalized semantics of the ‘war on terror’.

Meanwhile the US State Department conveys its total support to the dicator that can do no wrong:

The Pakistani security forces have gone in there after exercising a great deal of patience and restraint in offering every possible opportunity for innocents that may still be in the mosque to leave, as well as offering those who have threatened to use violence and, in fact, have used violence in an opportunity to resolve the situation peacefully. And I understand that there have been 40 to 50 deaths of violent extremism -- violent extremists who were in the mosque, as well as about eight Pakistani soldiers and certainly, we mourn the loss of innocent life and those brave people who are trying to bring law and order -- maintain law and order in Pakistan.

Of course, everybody wants to see these kinds of situations resolved peacefully. It's everybody's optimal solution. But it is fundamentally a matter of the -- for the government to decide when negotiations end and when action needs to take place to bring some sort of resolution to the situation. My understanding, it was a situation where they had exercised any number of opportunities for these individuals to resolve peacefully, yet they persisted and they persisted to the point of using children as human shields. So in terms of any update on the situation, as it stands -- operational update -- I think the Pakistan authorities can offer that to you. And if there's anything finally to say about it, any sort of lessons learned, if any, then certainly, we'll offer those if we think it's appropriate.

The mythical narrative persists - it's a volatile situation, you can't negotiate with these terrorist types, and Musharraf is doing the best he can.


I've noticed that there's a bit of a silent convention regarding Facebook friendships. It's ok to become friends with people you never speak to. Even just to say hello, how are you? Last time I spoke to you was in kindergarten, what have you been doing since 1983? And so on... Something of a statement there perhaps on modern society.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

High criminality in Iraq

"It's not individual atrocity," Specialist Garett Reppenhagen, a sniper from the 263rd Armour Battalion, said. "It's the fact that the entire war is an atrocity."

The Independent reports on a new survey of US war veterans of the Iraq war.

UPDATE: you can read the entire report here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Living it up in Australia

Cartoon courtesy Itinerant and Indigent.

Akbar Ahmed - Islam in the 21st Century

Last night I heard Akbar S Ahmed speak about Islam in the 21st century at LSE. He was launching his latest book "Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization". It describes a journey he took with some of his students from a range of different backgrounds (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, possibly others too) around the 'Muslim world'. He made some interesting statements which I'd like to share with you.

There are three broad models of Islam, each transcending the Shia/Sunni and other divisions: Sufi or mystic Islam, the 'Alighar' model of modernist Islam, and orthodox or Deobandi Islam. His survey of Muslims throughout the world found that most Muslims follow the Deobandi tradition. Most Muslims interviewed felt that Islam is under attack and that the biggest problems in the world are Palestine and Iraq. There were high levels of Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism. The most popular historical role model for Muslims is the Prophet. Osama bin-Laden is an extremely popular figure in Indonesia.

His advice to Muslim leaders is to rediscover "the essential features of Islam." Ahmed called on Western countries to resolve the conflicts involving Muslims in places like Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya. Assistance to Muslim countries needs to shift from military aid to humanitarian. The West needs to express an actual interest in human rights issues in Muslim countries.

Overall I was underwhelmed by the presentation. I respect Ahmed a great deal and I am glad that Muslims can count his eloquent voice amongst our numbers. His message of dialogue among people of different faiths and viewpoints is an important one. But there were no real revelations in his statements. I also could not help thinking that Ahmed fell into the very trap Islam's detractors have. Namely, of typecasting everything within the language of religion, civilisation, and, ultimately, the division of humanity along sectarian lines. The presumption underlying his study was that Islam is a defining feature for people. But what if it isn't? What if a person's faith is personal, and local and they do not link themselves to broader movements or universalist projects? Does a Nigerian Muslim identify more with an Indonesia Muslim than a fellow, Christian, Nigerian? Of course not. Do Nigerians identify with fellow Nigerians or people from their own tribe or locality? Do most people really think about these divisions unless they feel threatened by 'the other'? I think there are obvious answers to these questions.

Further, I felt there was something patronising about his solutions, particularly those that Muslims need to implement. For example, he proscriptions assumed that a Muslim can only be 'reached' through the language of Islam as though our ears cannot countenance the plain old facts. That a Muslim will not act to change his lot unless he or she is persuaded by an argument premised on Islam. But is that true? Do people vote for Hamas or wear the Hijab because they want more Islam in their sociopolitical diet? Or does it say more about their sense of security, or lack of it? And what about economic ideology? Are people fundamentally more concerned with religion than with a secure source of food, shelter and livelihood?

For years now I have sought comfort in the knowledge that most everyone I know is quite different to me. If I were stuck alone with most people I know for long enough I'd discover something about them which was most disagreeable (and I suspect the feeling would be mutual). Yet over and above the dissimilarity is a common, shared, HUMAN experience; love, pain, grief, anxiety, fear, lust, even class associations - everything that goes to being human.

Religion is not going anywhere. Whatever it's shape or practice it is the sleeping giant of humanity. Let it sleep. Now is the time not to translate everything into what we have already known Islam or modernity or whatever to be. Now is the time to create our own identities, as we see them to be, free from the baggage and expectations of past dreams and failures.

PROLOGUE: There's a revealing review of Akbar's book here. Revealing because it suggests it fits within the dominant, Western discourse on Islam. Namely, the discourse which treats Islam like a diseased bit of tissue that needs to be quarantined and treated.

Insights from a sweeper

All Things Pakistan has a great piece from the backbone of Pakistan society:

“Every body is fixated only on keeping their house clean, oblivious of any thing beyond their four walls. It take four hours to clean that big bungalow whereas they pay me only for two hours. I work in six houses and they all want to get their house to be cleaned first. They have so many guests every day. They do not buy brooms and wipers in time. They litter the house thoughtlessly. Most of the educated women of wealthy families have neither time nor desire to keep their houses clean. Most surprising is that no body pay in time.”

“There is no love in that house,” he once told me about one of his employers, “no body talks to each other. Even the kids do not talk or laugh. Every one in the house is locked into a shell. It seems as people from different families are staying in a hostel. It is suffocating to work what to talk of living in their house.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Is this a sick joke?

The Fanonite talks about a BBC report on those heroic Israeli soldiers rescuing a pair of "rare golden eagles" from Hebron:

The bird of prey has been threatened with extinction in recent years by poisoning, illegal hunting, the destruction of its habitat and a dwindling food supply.

Thankfully with the Palestinian birth rate what it is they should not have such problems just yet... For those unfamiliar with the city of Hebron, it is one of the most volatile regions of the Occupied Territories, owing mainly to the particularly rabid Jewish settlers who live there. I wrote a post on Hebron when I was there in 2005. It was undoubtedly the second most oppressive place I've ever visited (the first being Gaza). Jewish settlers live literally on top of the Palestinians over whom they throw their garbage (pictures available in my previous post). They are allowed to carry arms and are generally armed to the teeth and are basically a law unto themselves.

There is something sick about a news agency which reports the Israeli Defence Force as saviours because of two birds while generally ignoring the daily harassment of Palestinians in Hebron and in the Occupied Territories per se. A great little monument to Western, middle class morality.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Def Poetry - Black Ice

Language warning on this one for those in public places.

Le Tour in London

Here's an image of the last cyclist in the race I managed to pull off while using my mobile and holding my groceries!

Get a life!

I watched Live Earth last night at a friend’s place. Now I didn’t watch it all day but as we sat there for a good 4-5 hrs the most we could work out on the global warming front was that people need to think about what light bulbs to use. Basically the whole thing was heavy on one hit wonder bands and starlets with toned posteriors, and light on meaningful education on how we can roll back the greatest threat to the human habitat. They had ‘celebrities’ chatting about ways to reduce CO2 omissions but it was obvious they had no idea. Most made very abstract rhetorical statements for example “stop and think about how you live your life.” Um, ok, and then what? One comedian even questioned whether global warming was due to human activities. Surely the planet was 'warm' before global warming? Not to mention how much C02 was produced from the energy bill for all those concert halls, jet setting celebrities, etc.

Of course there's (slightly) more to Live Earth than just the actual concerts. For example, the Live Earth website does have some useful tips on reducing your C02 emissions. But overall the whole campaign treats the average individual as a mere spectator. Why do I say that? Well, because the focus of the campaigns are the pop stars who vicariously bring attention to the global warming plight. You'd think that with so much international coverage and with so many hours of live music even a ten, 20, or 30 minute time slot could've been given to lecture on the science of global warming, and the role of big business and individuals in contributing to global warming. Ah, no... You know I think such events work on the presumption that people don't want to be 'bored' with details. The only way to get them interested in important issues is to get celebrities involved. Otherwise people will turn off. What contempt for humanity!

So yes I think the whole Live Earth coverage was a nice, unintentional reflection of our superficial little bubble. Everything, even impending global catastrophes, are a commodity; a vehicle for shallow celebrity and empty internationalism.

UPDATE: I just read that the energy for the Sydney concert at least was meant to be Carbon neutral. So at least that's one good thing about the concert...

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Check out http://fanonite.org/, quality blog.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A democratic constitution for Israel?

Adalah, the excellent Israeli human rights organisation for the protection of minority Arab rights has released a draft Israeli constitution (available here). The aim of the constitution is to reflect real democratic equality for Arab and Jewish Israeli citizens. If you have even a passing interest in the conflict, take a moment to check it out. It's a fairly uncontroversial sort of document, which says a lot about Israeli democracy really.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I’ve been tagged - Four Things

Four things

I’ve been tagged by Melody

Four jobs I’ve had:
* Lawyer
* Public servant
* Journalist
* KFC employee

Four movies I can watch over and over:
* Malcolm X
* Aliens
* Star Trek First Contact
* Gattaca

Four places I have lived:
* Sydney, Australia
* South Hedland, Western Australia
* London, UK
* Canberra, Australia

Four television shows I love to watch:
* Battlestar Galactica
* Star Trek (all of them)
* Dateline
* The Chaser

Four places I have been on vacation:
* Netherlands
* Pakistan
* France
* The land of phat beats and lasers

Four of my favorite dishes:
* My own recipe meatball curry
* Ammi's haleem
* A good roast
* A good pizza

Four websites I visit daily:
* Google News
* Institute for Advanced Legal Studies, London Uni
* Facebook (hangs his head in shame)
* Cricinfo.com

Four places I would rather be right now:
* Playboy Mansion
* Congo
* Gaza (believe it or not)
* The Caribbean or somewhere in the Mediterranean

Four bloggers I am tagging:
* Jeanie
* Jason
* Chungking Express
* Adrian

Johnston freed!

And we have the Hamas take over of Gaza to thank for it. But will the media ever state that? Possibly:

Alan's captivity provided an opportunity for Hamas to demonstrate that they could impose order on Gaza where Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and his Gazan allies such as Mohammed Dahlan had failed.

Hamas received early rewards. Richard Makepeace, the British consul general in Jerusalem, became the first Western diplomat to meet Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister. British officials insisted the only reason for the meeting was to discuss the fate of Alan, but the precedent was set and the recognition was granted.

Wow so you can actually negotiate with 'terrorists'? Unless, I suppose, they're powerful enough to fly F-16s...

UPDATE: some of my Palestinian contacts have told me there are murmurs Hamas was behind the kidnapping in the first place. The release of Johnston was therefore timed to maximise its political mileage for Hamas. This scenario is far from implausible but is pure hearsay at this stage. Watch this space...

UPDATE PART II: as far as I can tell the group to which the kidnap has been attributed to used to or are affiliated with Hamas. There was a fall out between them and Hamas over the Johnston kidnap. So it appears Hamas was not behind the kidnap. But it is quite possible they knew where he was being held and the decision to negotiate his release around now was based on political expediency. They were recently kicked out of government by President Abbas (under intense pressure and support from the US, Israel, and Europe). Of course it is equally likely that Hamas was only able to negotiate Johnston's release once they were in total control of Gaza. So, overall, Hamas has to be credited with acting professionally and exhibiting not a little bit of political finesse.

The Wretched of the Earth

And when you have read Fanon's last chapter, you will be convinced that it would be better for you to be a native at the uttermost depths of his misery than to be a former settler. It is not right for a police official to be obliged to torture for ten hours a day; at that rate, his nerves will fall to bits, unless the torturers are forbidden in their own interests to work overtime. When it is desirable that the morality of the nation and the army should be protected by the rigors of the law, it is not right that the former should systematically demoralize the latter, nor that a country with a Republican tradition should confide hundreds and thousands of its young folk to the care of putschist officers. It is not right, my fellow-countrymen, you who know very well all the crimes committed in our name, it's not all right that you do not breathe a word about them to anyone, not even to your own soul, for fear of having to stand in judgment of yourself. I am willing to believe that at the beginning you did not realize what was happening; later, you doubted whether such things could be true; but now you know, and still you hold your tongues. Eight years of silence, what degradation!

(Jean Paul Sartre, Preface to "The Wretched of the Earth" by Franz Fanon)

Thanks to KF.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

First person in history to dance