Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Evening at Tate Modern

Monday, October 22, 2007

Always buy a ticket

Just now I felt like a criminal for absolutely no good reason. To be sure it was no major thing, but it’s something worth sharing with you nevertheless. I was on a bus journeying home from another tasty meal with Urban Nomad and Chungking Express when three men in dark clothes entered at one of the stops. Like federal police they flashed out some kind of badges and proceeded to ask everyone for their ticket. As they went down the long bus checking every card it became quickly apparent that a number of passengers – young and old, black, brown and white – did not have a ticket. What all of these people had in common though, apart from their lack of a ticket, was poverty. I live in a poorer neighbourhood of London. My line is always filled with people leaving their minimum wage jobs in the West end for home and occasionally others suffering from substance abuse. Many people who can afford a bus ticket do not pay for one. But many others simply cannot afford a ticket. One woman tonight, for example, was explaining to the inspectors that she simply did not have enough money for both a bus ticket and to buy groceries, the latter being something she had just hopped onto the bus to do. Yet the tenacity and enthusiasm of the ticket inspectors tonight would give you the impression that everyone who does not have a bus ticket, regardless of their reasons, is a criminal akin to a drug peddler or petty crook.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The prodigal daughter

The attempted assassination of Benazir Bhutto is the most audacious act of terrorism since the US invasion of Iraq. Not only did those who planned it know that the attack would lead to hundreds of deaths; Bhutto was expected to be greeted by thousands. The international media was expected to provide significant coverage of her return even if there had not been an attack. In other words, had Bhutto been killed, those who planned the attack must have known her death would have been given wide coverage and, therefore, wide condemnation of the Musharraf regime.

A few things are important to mention about the attack. First, we must note just what a wicked, if far from senseless, attack it was. It left hundreds of nameless, mostly poor people dead and many more injured physically and mentally. Second, although it is impossible to predict, Bhutto's survival may have dealt her the greatest political leverage of any civilian political leader in Pakistan since her father prior to his imprisonment and execution by General Zia over two decades ago.

Bhutto will now come across as an appealling freedom fighter, particularly in Western countries. That she is articulate and relatively shrewd and a woman will also help to no end. That is not to underestimate her courage in returning to Pakistan, particularly given her claimed knowledge that someone was preparing to kill her during the rally in Karachi. She claims that Zia-era generals were behind the attack. Such a claim is impossible to verify without concrete evidence but it is far from implausible.

But the big question is whether, if and when she returns to power, Bhutto is capable of creating a better Pakistan than the one she left last time she was removed from office. Bhutto's previous leadership was mired in corruption, albeit as has every leader before and since.