Friday, November 25, 2005

Don't Bomb Us - A blog by Al Jazeera Staffers

/ damage / collateral / press /
The staff of Al Jazeera have started a blog in reaction to recent leaks regarding the shrub's desire to bomb Al Jazeera offices in Qatar. That this was not simply an exaggerated version of events, the british government sought to swiftly confirm by a gag order prohibiting the british media from publishing any further details from the top secret memo - according to some sources, as a result of White House pressure.

What I'm impressed by is the fact that the memo has not leaked to non-British publications yet. Wasn't the Mirror supposed to have it (its contents anyway) in the first place? So, what are they waiting for? Send it to Al Jazeera, Xinhua, AFP, Counter Punch, Infoshop -heck send it to me, I'll publish it, make photocopies, fly to London and pass them around. I mean what's holding them? A proprietary attitude toward their sources? The British government is holding the Mirror staff's children hostage? Has the material been confiscated? What exactly did the Blair government want to conceal?

Kosovo: Guantanamo II - Other developments

/ internationalizing / guantanamo /

A. Camp Bondsteel, a new Guantanamo?
The US military ran a Guantanamo Bay-type detention centre in Kosovo, a top Council of Europe official said.

The Council of Europe's Human rights commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles said he had been 'shocked' by conditions at the barbed wire-rimmed centre inside a US military base, which he witnessed in 2002.

The same report in this Reuters report, in case the Forbes link expires. The story originated in Le Monde [no link (?)]. Zaman adds that:
The Council of Europe official added that Marcel Valentin, Commander of the multinational forces for Kosovo (KFOR) and Lieutenant-General, was also with him, and he was as equally shocked by the treatment prisoners were exposed to.

The story was hinted at, by a Spiegel article on US clandestine prisons in Eastern Europe

The Americans are also active in other parts of the Balkans. Not far from Macedonia, in the heart of Kosovo, the US government even operates a Gitmo-style camp with its own prison and landing strip around 30 kilometers east of Pristina. Originally used to house members of the Albanian independence group the UCK, Camp Bondsteel -- like Guantanamo -- is an overseas US enclave existing in legal limbo.

Also tied to this is Mark Almond's (no, not formerly of Soft Cell - the Oxford historian), report of a raid in Djakova, Kosovo, back in 2002, published in the New Statesman, but in another form in the BHHRG site (an organization with which Almond is affiliated, and which I'm not terribly impressed by in general).

B. The future of Kosovo: Tadic officially proposed splitting the province, yesterday:
Serb President Boris Tadic offered his proposal to the Serb government Thursday, saying Kosovo should be divided along ethnic lines to give Albanians virtual independence while keeping the province within Serbia's borders.

Government officials said Thursday the proposal will be a part of Serbia's negotiating package.

The proposal, which was first unveiled by Tadic during his recent visit to Russia, has been rejected by ethnic Albanian leaders who are seeking nothing but full independence for the whole province.

It also drew angry reactions from Serb ultranationalists who demanded that Tadic be impeached by the parliament for ceding part of "sovereign Serbian territory" to the Kosovo Albanians.

The division of Kosovo, or its return to the direct Belgrade administration, has been rejected by the United States - which wields veto power as a permanent Security Council member - and the European Union. But Russia and China -— who also have veto power in the council -— oppose Kosovo's independence.

This, apparently is contrary to the UN's plans. Yet Kosovo's Roma are all against independence, claiming that they have been the victims of large scale ethnic cleansing by the UCK and suggesting that such a development would be rewarding the perpetrators of these crimes:

"...Europe and the international community have been informed that at first the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and then UCCK besides crimes over the Roma, committed several radical "ethnic cleansings"” of members of that national minority. Of the some 260,000 Roma living there before 1999, only 29,656 remain. Out of 193 Roma settlements, there are now only 26...
...An independent Kosovo, in whatever form, would mean a recognition and reward to those who committed crimes against the Roma, crimes unrecorded up to now in the annals of European history after Auschwitz, a symbol of the Holocaust of Jews and the Roma. On the other hand, in the year that the UN has declared as the year for marking the 60th anniversary of the victory over fascism, neglecting the Roma victims of Kosovo and depriving children's right to a future would signify the international communityÂ’s silent agreement with a regime that has committed misdeeds against those people and ruthlessly trampled their national, civil and human rights. Rights which are guaranteed by the UN, its bodies and other major European institutions"

I'm not sure about the 260.000 number - I remember seeing statistics claiming half of that number for the Roma population in Kosovo. Perhaps a large number were unregistered? And another question, to any of my readers might know the answer: who is the recipient of money from exploration licenses in Kosovo? Am I paranoid in thinking that this deal will be lining somebody's pockets?

Finally on the utter mess of the situation in Kosovo, I still think that my Berlin v 2.0 idea is the only one that might minimize the possibility of serious (short or long-term) trouble.

The Greek government is to play an "important role" I hear, but, interestingly, Foreign Minister Molyviatis has recently suggested (albeit implicitly) that Greece might not prepared to back simply full independence:

On the issue of Kosovo, Mr. Molyviatis stated that Greece's position is that the price for stability in Kosovo cannot be the destabilization of the wider region.

He said that the solution should be European, should respect international law and be compatible with the EU principles and values, while the EU should have a meaningful role in forming the final status.

The solution, he stressed, must be the result of meaningful negotiations without pressing timetables and should not be an imposed one.

Foreign Minister Molyviatis stated that the goal is a safe, multiethnic and multicultural Kosovo and a special attention is given to the security conditions for the return of the non Albanian refugees and the protection of the Orthodox monuments.

Molyviatis has written article about Kosovo, published in the Washington Times, which is appropriately open to diverging interpretations.

I'm not seeing any light at the end of this tunnel, to tell you the truth - and I'm scared of a "settlement" that won't settle much.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Politically rationalist

/ enlightened / ideals /
India's rationalists are very active among people of all classes and castes, busy in their efforts to stamp out superstition. While the effort might seem quixotic there is a lot to be learned, I suggest, from the political and social aspects of defending rationality, in a country that is plagued by all sorts of mythical nationalist, religious and sectarian nonsense. This is especially interesting over here in the West, where mythologized Indian esotericism is one of the defining components of new-age and post-new age quackery. It is illuminating indeed to discover the original ideological uses of crass superstition, wherever it might originate from.

"Despite a tenacious western orientalism which overemphasises and overvalues Indian religiosity, reinforced by the homegrown ‘Hindutva’ movement propagated by the BJP (anatomised by Meera Nanda in New Humanist Jan/Feb 2005), India has a long and distinguished rationalist tradition which is considerably older than that of the west. According to Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, the seeds of rationalism were planted many thousands of years before the Enlightenment, and centuries before Jesus Christ. Buddha himself, or at least Siddharta (who may or may not have been the first Buddha), could lay claim to being the first rationalist, and even the Hindu sacred text the Ramayana contains the character of Javali who advises the god-king Ram that “there is no after-world, nor any religious practice for attaining that…[religious] injunction have been laid down in the [scriptures] by clever people just to rule over [other] people.” This tradition also includes practical political rationalism such as that of Buddhist Emporer Ashoka (273 – 232 BC) who declared religious tolerance and equal human rights with the aim of unifying all India..."

[But see here for a critical appraisal of Sen's views]

... While the political aspects of the rationalists' campaigns are obvious:

Each case [of debunking miracles] reveals the deep connection between India’s structural inequality – the caste system, gender subordination – and the lure of supernaturalism, the desire to be heard, to escape or to grasp some approximation of meaning apparently offered by the holy-rollers. The crucial skill of the Indian rationalist tacticians is to be able to combine a sense of theatre comparable to that of the most extravagant sadhu, with a recognition of the link between India’s social inequalities and superstition. Desire for social transformation, in the west more associated with radical progressive politics, goes hand in hand with the desire to expose fraud. Tactically astute, organisations like the SSS know that miracle exposures, successful as they are, will not of themselves transform Indian social inequality, but they form the conspicuous surface of an underlying strategy: “We are wedded to social change, but to create acceptability we need to make inroads in the thinking of the people. Exposures achieve this, as does our voluntary work of all kinds. We have exposed over 50 frauds, and many mid-level gurus have left the state, but our focus is on the people. First and last we want people to think rationally. Once that happens the gurus will not remain anywhere."

Living in a country where nationalism, mystical or not, a return to a most benighted version of Greek Orthodoxy, "traditional values" (of the reactionary variety) and racism - along with metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and other manifestations of the "sleep of reason" - enjoy a poisonous upsurge in popularity, I only wish we had a group as well organized, popular and effective as the Indian Rationalists.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Kashmir: The End of the World, Part III

/ catastrophes / biblical /
Matt Taibbi reports from Muzzafarabad in Pakistani Kashmir (BBC images from the ravaged city), on the harsh realities of a catastrophe that makes the Tsunami disaster look manageable by comparison. Excerpt:

"...The age of the International War on Terror seems to have turned itself into an unusually grim time in world history, an era of awesome and unforeseeable catastrophes, giant steps backward in the journey of civilization, ruinous and far-reaching political blunders and violently disillusioning confrontations with man's limitations. Even the most godless among us has to tremble before the biblical scale of the past twelve months' headlines: the tsunami that swallowed south Asia, the deadly lady named Katrina (also known as America Not Immune) and now this. We do not seem to be going forward very much, but every few months we lose, somewhere, a big piece of the world map, a mysterious and enervating process that is becoming like an ominously steady drip that can be heard all over the planet.

And this, the massive earthquake that rocked Kashmir on October 8th, is the worst by far of the troika. It is a calamity the dimensions of which the world so far has completely failed to appreciate or understand. Coupled with the geopolitical nature of the misfortune -- testing the nerve of two antsy nuclear antagonists and the political health of a somewhat notorious but also critically important American ally regime -- the continuing disaster known as the Kashmiri earthquake threatens to be a world-shaping event as important as the Iraq War itself...

...the quake left behind 3 million utterly impoverished people to live in tents -- in tents if they're lucky, under the stars if they're not -- in a region where heavy snowfall and severe winters are the norm. Aid organizations that exist to deal with these sorts of situations recognized the danger immediately and began a desperate drive to at least get tents to as many people as possible before winter made aid operations impossible.

They called it the "window of opportunity," this month or so between the quake and the expected onset of winter, and for the international aid community it would be their Normandy, the toughest single emergency rescue operation in history. Like Normandy, the success or failure of Operation Window of Opportunity would hang on the first crucial weeks. Unlike Normandy, most insiders agreed that anything like success was unlikely at best."

For more background and excellent reporting see Steve Call's "Letter from Kashmir" in the New Yorker. It contains this precious detail, highly indicative of the Pakistani government's priorities:

...The United Nations warned that thousands of earthquake survivors could die from exposure if relief did not reach them before winter, yet, ten days after the earthquake struck, Musharraf'’s government signed a billion-dollar contract for Swedish military surveillance aircraft, a bewildering priority. The Friday Times, one of Pakistan's leading newspapers, suggested in a front-page editorial that Musharraf's insistence on heavy defense spending might explain the slow pace of donations to the U.N. for earthquake relief: "“If you were a Westerner asked to provide humanitarian financial assistance to a country led by a military government obsessed with the regional '‘military balance,'’ what would you think?"” A week later, Musharraf announced that he would postpone buying American-made F-16 fighter jets, at least until the financial pressures of earthquake relief had eased...

You will not find the mandatory "optimism" and "resilient" angle in Taibbi's piece, unlike the more mainstream reports. As far as results go, I feel that only when faced with the utter magnitude and helplessness of the situation can the richer nations be expected to chip-in in an underfunded effort, despite reaching the "targeted" amount (some of it in low interest loans). It's a rather obvious observation, but the catastrophe in India, Pakistan and Kashmir, by not affecting Western tourists or providing the opportunity for impressive disaster videos and images (like the Tsunami disaster) or by not having some good circumstantial political usefulness (like Darfur), is bound to remain, if not invisible, then an "unimportant" catastrophe. If the extent of the relief contributions are mostly determined by the magnitude of the media coverage and the political uses of natural and man-made catastrophes, then the slow and unspectacular death of potentially tens (or hundreds) of thousands of human beings is the inescapable consequence of such media-driven philanthropy. This should serve as a reminder that, albeit very useful, private donations rarely match the funds that are (much less should be) contributed by governments, nor are they always directed to the aeas of most urgent need. Which in turn should be stressed in the current climate of diminishing first world budgets for all kinds of aid.

Finally, this sad piece of news seems symbolic of the disaster and its aftermath, while if you want to see how extremely conservative patriarchal traditions are threatening to cost lives - possibly under the encouragement of local landlords...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Greece: Statistical improbabilities and corruption

/ lottery / laundering /
Chris Deliso, over at Balkanalysis has a great article regarding corruption in the Greek football pools, and the imaginative ways people use around here, to launder money...
It is worth adding that most Greek newspapers and certainly TV stations are pretty much ignoring or downplaying the issue. Which is amazing, since they are currently preoccupied with vastly more minor scandals concerning the government. Right now Kokkalis is in a truce with most of the other Greek media barons - with the exception of Alafouzos, owner of Kathimerini and Skai radio.

As the article mentions, there is, statistically, no doubt of very vile foul play in OPAP (the Greek lottery and betting company - a monopoly), and the fact that the wife of a close business collaborator of controversial Intralot owner Sokratis Kokkalis being the recipient of such good luck, suggests that it reaches pretty high. Most of the local media ignores it though. This should be contrasted with the fuss they made when Kokkalis shut down "Flash Radio", his radio station, for no apparent reason other than a deal he has allegedly made with the conservative government promising to shut down critical voices he owns against it, in return for keeping his rather large share of public works and supplies - or something similar.

This is a wonderful case study in Greek corruption - and media control. It is impossible to read or hear about a scandal without wondering who benefits from its exposure. The fact that a majority of media moguls run their media businesses at a deficit - in order to prop up their far more lucrative activities as suppliers and contractors to the Greek government is indicative of a rather serious societal and economic malaise. To the detriment of the Greek taxpayer of course - not to mention a majority of underpaid media workers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

True Colours

/ unrevolutions /
Ukraine, Georgia... Azerbaijan? No, I'm afraid not, as yesterday's "revolutionaries" of colour support the Aliyev regime:
the protagonists of the Rose and Orange Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine -- and the American and European supporters of those color revolutions -- are clearly signaling that they support President Ilham Aliyev's policies, which guarantee Azerbaijan's stability and Western orientation.

Thus, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has declared: "We are pleased to see that things are going well in Azerbaijan, that the country is developing as Georgia would wish it to, that it is becoming prosperous. I am glad that Azerbaijan has a leader who is a great hope for his people -- the results of his modernization efforts are obvious -- and who is very close to us, my personal friend, President Ilham Aliev. I refer to the policies he is carrying out to make Azerbaijan a truly successful country. This is absolutely crucial for us Georgians, because we will have an economically successful and strong neighbor, a strategic ally for dealing with all political and economic issues" (Imedi Television, October 12)...

With the results in, the OSCE which went out of its way to find nice things to say about the election process, came out and condemned the election process - something that Aliyev possibly didn't comprehend, as his spokesperson commented that "All the international reports of the international monitoring missions were fine... It doesn't say in them that the elections did not meet international standards," despite, you know, saying exactly that. The Azeri regime might have in mind Russian and Turkish observers who were quite cool with the legality of the process, while the US, while more critical, used the sort of language, noting "some improvements", that most obviously it did not during possibly less egregious election fraud in Ukraine. Anyway the World Bank is OK with all of this as it immediately offered Aliyev a loan.

Aliyev is not only comparable (including a shared inclination to murder opposing journalists) but worse than Kuchma in many ways (such as depending on his daddy's Stalinesque cult of personality). What seems to be happenning is that both the US and Russia are quite happy with the deals they made with Aliyev Jr and thus there's little concern over the not really exemplary human rights conditions in Azerbaijan, from any side. As some in the Russian Press point out:

The Azerbaijani government is receiving the support of Moscow and the West in return for its partial fulfillment of various demands, and Azeri President Ilham Aliev has obvious defeated the opposition for now in this oil-rich country.

Note some well crafted Azeri government apologetics, prior to the elections themselves.

The whole area is an arena of Great Game geopolitics, and this article might provide some background for the byzantine twists and turns of Azeri politics.

France: No to the state of exception

/ siege / state /
The following statement is from various trade unions, left political parties and civil liberties groups in France.

Joint Communiqué, Paris, November 8th, 2005. Confronted by a revolt born from the accumulation of inequalities and discrimination in the “banlieues” (suburbs of Paris) and the poor areas, the French government has just passed a new and extremely serious threshold in the escalation of security measures. Even in May 1968, when the situation was a lot more dramatic, the public authorities did not use the extreme measure of declaring a state of emergency. The proclamation of the state of emergency is the answer to a revolt whose causes are profound and well known even at the level of state repression...

Regarding the rather gross hyperbole in a great part of the media coverage, today's NYT has an article that's a bit more rational and closer to reality by Olivier Roy. Excerpt:

France has a huge Muslim population living outside these neighborhoods - many of them, people who left them as soon as they could afford it - and they don't identify with the rioters at all. Even within the violent areas, one's local identity (sense of belonging to a particular neighborhood) prevails over larger ethnic and religious affiliation. Most of the rioters are from the second generation of immigrants, they have French citizenship, and they see themselves more as part of a modern Western urban subculture than of any Arab or African heritage.

Colman at the European Tribune is more sarcastic: Paris now nothing but cinders and ashes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Blogging the events in France

/ riots / france /
A few resources as rioting in France continues:
Sketchy thoughts (linked above) is providing news and translations regarding the riots in France. You'll learn more from it than from all the aglophone papers combined...

Note also: Paris is Burning by Naima Bouteldja.

Jerome from the European Tribune on the events...

More as the dust settles...

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

An Islamic Republic Resurgent

/ iran / analysis /
Iason Athanasiadis, a British-Greek filmmaker, photographer, and writer currently based in Tehran, who has worked for a range of broadcasters, including the BBC, al-Jazeera, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, sends this report / analysis from Iran touching issues not usually discussed in more simplistic accounts. Excerpt:

"...The victory of the ultra-conservatives temporarily ends the eight-year success enjoyed by the reformist movement under twice-elected former president Khatami. Despite enjoying unprecedented popular support, and winning back-to-back electoral landslides, the reformist movement lost the battle against Iran’s parallel power system, which consistently blocked reform. What Ahmadinejad has going for him, therefore—uniting all government institutions under a conservative banner—may also lead to his downfall. Obliged to push through reforms, and with supreme leader Ali Khamenei unlikely to block him, Ahmadinejad will live or die by his policies. Many anti-regime Iranians even cheered the election upset, arguing that the new government was sure to fail its voters and discredit the Islamic republic in the process. It is widely assumed that the 2009 elections will become a general referendum on the republic, with even more massive changes following in its wake...

And here's a bit more from the Asia Times on the Hojjatieh society, mentioned in the article, and their possible re-emergence as a political power. They are described as "Shi'ite supremacists". The AT article is yet another informative analysis of current Iranian events - and beyond actually:

"There is no doubt that Mesbah and the new crew, whether formally Hojjatieh or not, are more attached to core Shi'ite identity and values," said Vali Nast, a professor of Middle East politics at the Department of National Security Affairs. "But an equally important faction, especially in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Council, is simply anti-Ba'athist. These are people who fought in the Iran-Iraq war and that may also be important in deciding attitudes towards Saudi Arabia and Iraq."

At a time of rising Sunni-Shi'ite tensions in the region, and as Iraq increasingly turns into a proxy battleground for its neighbors, it is not surprising that a Shi'ite supremacist government in Tehran, whether related to the Hojjatieh or not, should reemerge.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are battling it out in Iraq as both seek to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis, the majority of whom are Shi'ites. While Iran is believed to have a better intelligence presence in the country and a more organized military capability, Saudis account for a large percentage of the suicide bombers active there.