Sunday, August 28, 2011

Syria's sign language: Imprinted on the hands of cartoonist Ali Ferzat

Only human beings kill and maim each other over scratches on a page. Most people in the west think it is bizarre that some radical Muslims want to kill anyone who has tried to draw Muhammad in a cartoon. Now we hear that the Syrian government has maimed a man who has lately been publishing his cartoons on his own website. Such is the terror of a government over images. The incident reveals how powerful and how dependent we are on the imagination. It takes imagination to "read" into scratches on the page a conception of something abstract, especially to see in the drawings of Ali Ferzat images of the Syrian dictatorship. He has drawn a picture of President Assad of Syria trying to hitch a ride with Muammar Ghaddafi as he frantically flees his own rebellious citizens; and of Assad offering tea to a man who is meanwhile being beaten in his feet. It take imagination to grasp the irony of these images but once we know the context we all get it immediately. This is how human society is enabled, through representations -- images, sounds in speech, gestures -- to which we impute connection with things of another order. I know of a situation in which a simple note on a door led to a fist fight between famous scholars.

All this seems perhaps unduly academic. However it works, this is the stuff of the human imagination. And how it works in the intersubjective world of human interaction is one of the most interesting and challenging intellectual pursuits. Unfortunately, contrary to what some people suppose, it leads us to inquire into the conflicts that so broadly characterize the human condition. It leads us to take note of how materially and painfully real are the wounds of Ali Ferzat even if they are powerfully symbolic. Those broken hands "say" to the rest of the people of Syria "Don't mess with this government", "Don't represent this government as disingenuous," "Don't suggest that this government is repressive" [even if everyone in the country knows otherwise]. What must be fully understood -- that this is a repressive regime -- must not be expressed in word or image. Ferzat had his canvas; the government has another: the bodies of citizens. And both tell a story.

The power of the moral imagination.

[Here is a link to the original article in Al Jazeera on Ferzat, with a video]

US condemns Syria political cartoonist attack - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

Portrait of a hedonist; the fruit of Ghaddafi's profligacy

Nick Meo’s portrait of Mutassim Gaddafi [in today's Telegraph], the son of the dictator in Libya, is sobering. Here is a personality whose life of privilege has deprived him of the ability to appreciate the how much he has enjoyed all his life, to the point where he has scarce respect for the humanity around him, especially for those who serve him. The sense of a person who lives in a bubble of privilege pervades this whole article. As he entertained his guest he displayed a pathetic ignorance of what was actually happening in the world barely outside his door, a popular movement of rebels who hated him and his father and were bent on overwhelming the regime. The article for some of us is a revelation: Could this be the way the upper 1% is able to live these days?: glamorous guests, dinner parties with eminent social figures (Princesses), annual excursions to the Caribbean via a private Boeing jet, hundreds of guests completely provided for in the most expensive hotels, the finest Italian hairdressers flown in for an affair, etc. And in order to remove him, to bring him into the real world, to experience what life is like for the people whom he seems to despise, how many will have to die?

Mutassim Gaddafi's girlfriend tells of the final days of Libyan regime: Mutassim Gaddafi's former girlfriend, Dutch glamour model Talitha van Zon, talks to Nick Meo about the dying days of the Gaddafi regime.

By Nick Meo, Tripoli6:00AM BST 28 Aug 2011
Filipino servants wearing spotless white jackets mixed his favourite Jack Daniels whisky and coke, and then Mutassim Gaddafi raised his glass and toasted the victory that he was sure was close.
Relaxing in one of his Tripoli homes just over a week ago, during a break from commanding at the front, the fifth son of Libya's ruler was in a defiant mood. Soon, he boasted to the blonde foreigner sitting with him, he would lead his father's regime to a victory over the "rats".
The woman at his side was Mutassim's ex-girlfriend Talitha van Zon, a Dutch glamour model who still regularly visited him in the Libyan capital.
Her most recent trip, however, proved to be a far cry from the luxury break she was used to - as the Libyan regime crumbled last week and her male companion took flight, she endured several days of utter terror as battles raged around her five star hotel.
On Wednesday, The Sunday Telegraph found her alone and frightened in a Tripoli hospital ward, where she was being treated for injuries after leaping from a hotel balcony - apparently fearful that a group of rebels were about to burn her alive.

Before she was evacuated from the city by a humanitarian ship to Malta on Friday, though, she gave an extraordinary account of the final days of the Gaddafi regime - an insight into a family who will fight to the death and destroy their country before they give up power.

"I was shocked when I met Mutassim. He had changed," said Miss van Zon. "It was the first time I had seen him since just before the February uprising. He had a beard, he was sitting on a couch strewn with automatic weapons, and he was guarded by unsmiling 16-year-old boys with sub-machine guns." On the wall behind was a huge portrait of his father, Muammar Gaddafi.

... A former Playboy centrefold, Miss van Zon met Mutassim in an Italian nightclub in 2004, kindling a three-month relationship that ended when she learned that she "was not the only woman in his life". ... she was drawn into a fabulous private world of luxury, showered with gifts and invited to some of the world's most exclusive destinations. In Monaco she was taken to the Grand Prix and a dinner party attended by Princess Caroline. At Christmas, there was Mutassim's annual excursion to the Caribbean island of Saint Barts, with his entourage flown there in his private Boeing. When Mutassim was in Paris or London he would book several floors of the most expensive hotels, filling them with his friends, and the finest Italian hairdressers would be flown in from Italy, at a cost of 5,000 euros per time. "I asked him once how much he spent, and he took a minute to add it up in his head," Miss van Zon recalled. "He said 'about $2 million'. I said 'you mean a year?' He said 'no – a month'."

... "Of course I knew that it was not right to spend so much money like that," she said. "I asked him many times about the welfare of the Libyan people, and he said the schools and hospitals were free, that rice and flour were cheap. It was hard for me to judge life in Libya for ordinary people – I was always staying in a gilded cage when I visited. They looked happy enough."

She did, though, see occasional flashes of temper, in particular on one occasion where a servant had brought in a meal that was cold.

"He shouted at the guy and threw plates on the floor. He put that guy like a dog in a corner and then he demanded that he eat the whole lot, there in front of us. It was humiliating. I never saw the servant again, and I don't know what happened to him.

The hedonist son also had ambitions for power, inspired by his father's example. "He worshipped his father," Miss Van Zon said. "He talked a lot about Hitler, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez. He liked leaders who had a lot of power. He always said 'I want to do better than my father'."

[Click on the title above for a link to the original article.]

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A prognosis for the future, from Australia

Greg Sheridan has an interesting, though risky article, in The Australian [August 20, 2011] --risky because he presumes to predict the future, which of course is why the effort is interesting. He opens with the maxim "You rarely go wrong predicting trouble ahead (and if you do, few remember it anyway)". And indeed he sees things going wrong in the future -- that much is easy. You want to look at the whole thing [click on the title for a direct link to the original], but you should note some of his guesses:

> 2012 will be a particularly dangerous and conflict-prone year [because of] the forthcoming US presidential election, because the US budget is broke and because US leadership looks weak and "uncertain." The problem with the US budget, he says, is not foreign commitments but "the massive bailouts it undertook in response to the global financial crisis; the huge stimulus spending it has undertaken since; the prolonged slowdown in economic growth; and the inexorable rise of social entitlements spending." [Does anyone else think it is strange that he omits the unnecessary Iraq war and the huge giveaway to the super-rich in what Bush W called a "tax break for the middle class"?]

> The US will be unwilling to spend substantial amounts of money on any new commitments. And there will be a move to bring troops home [again, no surprise].

> North Korea will be a major pain because they will test another nuclear weapon in 2012. "The North Koreans want to be a fully capable nuclear weapons state, a status they will never give up once they acquire it. But they still think they might do a profitable deal with the Americans. This would involve the US paying the North Koreans not to export nuclear technology. They are likely to make some kind of deal but as before break it.

> Iran is trying to project its interests in the maelstrom in the Arab Middle East. Iran will not want the Americans to have an elegant or successful departure from Iraq and will work to ensure that either the US leaves Iraq in ignominy or stays in agony. This means increased attacks on Americans in Iraq, many sponsored by Iran.

> Afghanistan is supposed to be vacated by the US by 2014, but there is no chance of the US-led coalition force achieving its intended goals of establishing democracy there, or the rule of law "broadly secular". He asks whether the US will continue to pay for the Afghan army and whether it will keep 10,000 or so troops, perhaps special forces, in Afghanistan to ensure the survival of the government in Kabul and undertake some specific missions. [I'm not sure why he asks; there is no doubt the US will stay in many unspecified ways, including those he mentions.]

> He is correct that the Pushtuns of FATA will continue to resist the American presence in their area.

> In Afghanistan / Pakistan he predicts increased Taliban attacks; increased challenges to the Pakistan state by Pakistani radicals; and a continued effort by Pakistan to keep the pot simmering in order to keep the flow of US aid.

> China is the other factor. Sheridan specifically mentions the Chinese navy which is involved in "a continual series of maritime provocations in the South China Sea and the waters to its north." Strangely, he makes no mention of China's rising presence in the Indian Ocean. IN any case he expects a serious incident at sea.

> And of course there will be an election in 2012 -- that will produce enough fire and brimstone to keep the year interesting.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

NB: The trends in Pakistan: population, resources, and public opinion

I have just finished reading Bruce Riedel's Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad [D.C.: Brookings] and as usual the more detail I get on Pakistan the more I wonder about the future for that country. I keep hoping for signs that the plethora of dilemmas there are being resolved before they spin completely out of control. But I find it hard not to despair the more I think I know about it.

Here are some statistics that Riedel provides on the country. Consider the trends these numbers represent: are they not reason for alarm? [from Riedel 2011: 120+]

On population
> 53.8% of Pakistanis are under the age of 19.
> 37.7 % of Pakistanis are between the ages of 20 and 39
> At the current rate of fertility in Pakistan the population will reach 460 million by 2025.
> By 2050 Pakistan will be more populous than Indonesia.

On resources
> Probably for reasons of the population growth, per capita water availability between 1951 and 2007 declined from 5,000 to 1100; by 2025 the number will drop to 700.
> This decline could become worse if the warming of the earth cuts the amount of flow from the Himalaya glaciers. I am told that the decline is already measurable.

So, some problems:

What are the prospects for employment of this young population in Pakistan these days? Or in the next ten years? [So far, one of the main paying jobs for young men is jihad.]

And, if the current situation remains so conflicted, what are the prospects for resolving them when the population has doubled? Or tripled?

And then there are the conditions of popular opinion, which has been profoundly influenced by the Pakistani military.

> More than two-thirds of Pakistanis have a negative view of the United States.
> 90% of Pakistanis believe the U. S. wants to weaken the world-wide Muslim community.
> Half of the Pakistanis believe the US is Pakistan’s greatest danger [greater than India].
> Only 11% regard the Taliban and Al Qaeda as its greatest danger.
> 79% of Pakistanis have a favorable view of China.

Note the reaction to the Kerry-Lugar legislation of 2009 that tripled aid to Pakistan: “Pakistanis almost universally denounced it.” [p123] Most of the editorials were against it -- and most of them “were orchestrated by [Gen] Kayani, Chief of the army, and the ISI… " Such are America's colleagues in the attempt to stabilize Afghanistan and crush Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

So it is crucial that our leadership take further steps to reach the Pakistanis people and help them work through the substantial challenges that lay ahead.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gangs fighting in Karachi over drugs and patronage?

Bombs going off in Kabul today, and in Khybar agency. And signs of a major turf war in Pakistan. There are many law-abiding people in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it is hard to envision the many internal issues getting resolved very soon. Below are some excepts from today's Al Jazeera on the fighting in Karachi. Note that drugs are involved and political patronage. Does this imply that the drug industry in Pakistan and the political patronage system are connected?

Maybe we should be surprised, but we are not. Most of us cannot remember that there was a similar article last Aug 2, in which there was the statement:
> Over the years, criminal gangs have been used by political parties in a city-wide war for influence in Karachi, which contributes about two-third of Pakistan's tax revenue.
Below are selected statements from the article in Al Jazeera. [click on the title for a link to the source article.] RLC

Karachi violence claims more lives: Escalating gang violence in Pakistani port city claims lives of at least 37 people in past 24 hours.

At least 37 people have been killed in Karachi in the past 24 hours in another outbreak of gang-related violence that has claimed hundreds of lives in Pakistan's commercial capital and main port city.

… spats between rival gangs have intensified in recent weeks.

… a senior leader of Pakistan's ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was among those killed on Wednesday, ….

...The attacks happened as Karachi's main party, the MQM, said it was rejoining the national PPP-led coalition government.

"Most of the killings have resulted from clashes between criminal gangs …,".
"It's not the kind of fighting that we saw last month; this is more of a gang war."
But police said turf wars between gangs dealing in drugs and extortion rackets were by no means a new development in Lyari.

"These gangs regularly clash and kill members and supporters of rival groups," ….
…. the killings were directly related to gang warfare conducted with the patronage of the country's political elite. ...

Security officials say this is because the killers are being protected by senior politicians.

They say the violence is being used to stoke recently ignited ethnic passions both for political gains and as a means by criminal gangs to fight turf wars behind the facade of political activism.
"Everything boils down to politics," said Hyder.

A city of more than 18 million, Karachi has a long history of violence, and ethnic, religious and sectarian disputes and political rows can often explode into battles engulfing entire neighbourhoods.

About 300 people were killed in July, making it one of the most deadliest months in almost two decades. Human rights groups say 800 have been killed since the start of the year.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A tribute to Ehsan Yarshater

A great tribute to Ehsan Yarshater has appeared in the New York Times today. It is refreshing to see that a popular news source would celebrate the life-absorbing project of a serious and dedicated scholar. Patricia Cohen, the author, has recognized not only the significance of Yarshater’s project – to produce a comprehensive Encyclopedia of Iran – but also the example that he provides of what a life of scholarly commitment consists of. I have never met Yarshater but I have been aware of his work, and have already been mining the Encyclopedia for nuggets available nowhere else. It is worth remembering that for Yarshater “Iran” can include a wide swath of territory, depending on the time, as Persians have had an influence on affairs in virtually all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Ganges and from the Aral Sea to the Indian Ocean. This is truly a grand project.
In some university settings professors are obliged to think primarily about getting published early and often in order to gain tenure, a practice that tends to force the grand projects into a distant future. Yarshater has demonstrated that a major enterprise like his, spanning many years, can bring forth a distinctive scholarly resource that will be appreciated for decades. Thanks to the work of Ms. Cohen we are reminded that a few great visionaries in the scholarly world still exist. RLC

New York Times August 12, 2011
A Lifetime Quest to Finish a Monumental Encyclopedia of Iran
Ralph Ellison wrote for 40 years without finishing his novel “Juneteenth.” Antoni Gaudí labored 43 years on the Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona, but construction continues today. And in the annals of grand quixotica, Ehsan Yarshater also deserves a prominent chapter.
At 53, he embarked on his magnum opus, a definitive encyclopedia of Iranian history and culture. At 75, he started looking for a successor. He didn’t find one so he kept going himself. Now he’s 91. He’s up to “K.”
“My mission is to finish the encyclopedia,” he said recently from his office at Columbia University’s Center for Iranian Studies. He knows he won’t be able to do it personally, especially since the task keeps expanding as progress is made. There are topics to be added and entries to be updated. So Mr. Yarshater has tried to make sure the work will continue by establishing a private foundation with a $12 million endowment and finally choosing three scholars to replace him as general editor.
The sheer ambition of Mr. Yarshater’s vision is daunting. With money from the National Endowment for the Humanities, he has worked to create the most comprehensive account of several millenniums of Iranian history, language and culture in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia.
“There is nothing like it” in scope or quality, said Ali Banuazizi, a professor at Boston College and a former president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America.
Unlike a conventional encyclopedia, which briefly summarizes existing knowledge, Mr. Yarshater’s work, Encyclopedia Iranica, is producing original scholarship. “Most of the articles require research,” said Mr. Banuazizi, because they are topics no one has studied in much depth.
Mr. Yarshater has raised the bar further. “Our aim is that for each subject,” he said, “we should find the best person in the entire world.” With that in mind, he has been searching two and a half years for an expert to write about Sirjan and Rafsanjan, townships in the south of Iran.
Mr. Yarshater has not been back to Iran in 32 years, ever since the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah of Iran and established an Islamic republic in 1979. “The encyclopedia’s impartiality does not please the current Persian government,” Mr. Yarshater said in a low, breathy voice. A troublesome tremor that started in his hand several years ago has moved to his knees and vocal cords, slowing him down and compelling him to use an assistant. But otherwise he feels healthy. “My immune system is excellent,” he boasted.
For years Mr. Yarshater’s routine was to work late into the night, coming home only when his wife walked down the hallway from their apartment to the Iranian center to fetch him. “I don’t know many wives who would tolerate that,” he said appreciatively. (She died in 1999; the couple had no children.)
“I’ve seen him work 12 hours without a break,” said Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak,director of the Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland, who has known Mr. Yarshater for more than 40 years. He remembers a visit when Mr. Yarshater stayed up until 3 a.m. editing. Three hours later, he was in the shower, getting ready to return to work.
Mr. Yarshater expects others to have equal enthusiasm for the task. It took him 17 years to choose his replacements, rejecting one potential successor when he concluded that the man was “too concerned about the number of holidays he could take and the number of hours he would work.”
Now Mr. Yarshater works only until 9 p.m., staying long after his colleagues have turned off their lights. When he returns home, he indulges in his latest hobby: learning Russian.
The 1,480 contributors from around the world who, so far, have composed 6,500 entries are familiar with Mr. Yarshater’s relentlessness. “By hook or by crook, he gets you to do what he wants you to do,” Mr. Karimi-Hakkak said. (Eight hundred entries out of alphabetical order are posted in an online version.)
. . .
[For a link to the source article click on the title above.]

The moral imagination on display in riots and demonstrations: from London to Daraa

One of the qualities that makes human behavior so complex, so difficult to analyze, is the richness of meanings embedded in it. The riots in London are a good example. Ysmine Ryan has written an article comparing the many nuances in the intentions of the Britain rioters with those of the rioters and demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt.

Fredrik Barth [in book carefully snubbed by southeast Asiaianists, Balinese Worlds] has pointed out that folks act with intentions that are informed by their own fund of cultural resources whereas the observers of their behavior must “read” their intentions on the basis of their own cultural resources, which means that the possibilities for misreading of each other can be large, and especially so when the actor’s intentions are nuanced with deeply felt personal sentiments. Actors in fact can seek to convey a whole range of meanings in what they do – rage, fear, frustration, a desire for attention, despair, revenge, greed. Sometimes folks do what they do because to them it feels like the most effective way to express their complex feelings – feelings too complex and deeply felt for words. We’ve all been there: In times of exhaustion and frustration we have all been tempted to lash out.

But from the vantage-point of the observer unpacking the meanings embedded in the behavior of others turns out to be a huge challenge. Critical for the observer is the need to appreciate the meanings embedded in the context. The attempt to understand social explosions like those in London or Tunis or Cairo or Yemen or Daraa demands care and empathy – for all the actors on all sides – if one is ever to appreciate what animates the behavior of collectivities in such social movements. We must be ready to appreciate the contradictory and even self-destructive intentions – some of them base, some of them noble -- that animate the behavior of folks in times of stress. If ever there was a complex object of study it is the human imagination.

This article [from Al Jazeera] is rich with the complexities of meaning that inform human behavior. Note, for instance, the statue erected to commemorate one thing, destroyed to commemorate something quite different, and then used by a contemporary artist to convey yet another message, which was, again, destroyed, apparently for reasons considered significant to the state. Meanings upon meanings upon meanings -- an illustration of the the multiple and confused meanings that must be read empatheticly if they are to be understood. Anthropology seeks empathy even when we cannot agree.

From the Arab Spring to Liverpool? : The UK riots have unique roots, but British youths' alienation is similar to the disenfranchisement behind Arab revolts.
Yasmine Ryan: 11 Aug 2011 14:47

In the heart of Toxteth, Liverpool, a mysterious statue appeared in the early hours of July 30.

It was a monument to Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian man who, after being humiliated by police, had set himself alight in an act of protest that was to inflame the simmering rage of hundreds of thousands of people.

Last Thursday, in the London borough of Tottenham, the British police shot and killed a 29-year-old black man named Mark Duggan. The following day, the monument in Toxteth - a district that had been the site of racially-fuelled social unrest in the 1980s - disappeared, the monument's artist told Al Jazeera.

The Liverpool city council was unable to comment on whether it was responsible for having the monument removed, as they were swamped trying to deal with the riots, which spread to Liverpool over the weekend.

Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation, and the uprising that followed, happened in a very different context to the British riots.

When Tunisia's peaceful protesters in the underprivileged centre of the country were slain by the police's use of lethal force, the country’s middle class poured into the streets to show their outrage, and solidarity.

In Britain, by contrast, people across socio-economic groups are calling on the police to protect them from the seemingly uncontrollable mobs of youths, who, according to the dominate media narrative, seem intent on wreaking havoc for the simple reason that they can.

Yet the artist who created the monument to the young Tunisian street vendor, who wishes to remain anonymous in the commodity-free spirit of his work, told Al Jazeera that his work celebrated universal aspirations of emancipation and social justice.

His unsanctioned "people's monument" referenced other recent uprisings in the Arab world, including Egypt and Libya.

Commonalities with Arab Spring?

Closer to home, it also referred to the Toxteth riots of 1981. The statue was mounted on a plinth where a statue of William Huskisson had stood until it was mistaken for a tribute to a slave-trader and torn down in the protests against racism and police brutality of 1981 (the unfortunate Huskisson had, in fact, been the world’s first railway victim in 1830).

The myth that has arisen around Bouazizi is relevant to the UK, the artist explained, where the conservative government's cutbacks have taken their toll on people's daily life.

"[Bouazizi] represented everyday struggle, his gesture was not politically motivated but about the right to exist, to provide for one's family," he said. "I like that fruit and vegetables were the cornerstone of the revolution – not political ideology or other beliefs."

In any event, such overt political messages or symbols have been largely absent during the riots in the UK, which have been left many commentators stunned by the apparent lack of any political agenda.

Will Davies, a spokesperson for Avaaz, an international organisation that works for social justice and has rallied in support of the Arab Spring, told Al Jazeera that those rioting in the UK were, in stark contrast, not politically minded and were causing "anarchy for anarchy's sake".

"Juxtapose that with the situation in Syria, where they've finally got the courage to stand up to a brutal regime and they've done that entirely peacefully."

"They should take a long hard look at what is going on in places like Yemen and Syria," Davies said, noting the state violence and forced disappearances endured by protesters elsewhere in the world simply for exercising the right to peaceful protest or for speaking to the media.

There have, nonetheless, been some attempts to link the UK riots with the string of uprisings in North Africa and Middle East.

For some, emphasising such a link is a way of eliminating any need to discuss the local and national roots to the violence.

The neighbourhood of Toxteth in Liverpool saw some of worst riots over police brutality in 1980s [REUTERS]
Stuart Bell, a British Labour Party MP, told Europe 1, a television station, that "these riots have nothing to do with unemployment, or with government cutbacks. It has its origins in Tunisia".

Others, meanwhile, have taken a more nuanced approached.

Expressing his frustration with the way the media were covering the unrest, Darcus Howe, a 68-year-old West Indian writer, broadcaster and resident of South London, told the BBC that turmoil was very much a consequence of the British police's shooting of Mark Duggan, and of routine police bullying.

Parallel to this very local root cause, the writer argued that the social dissent should also be viewed as part of a global movement.

"I don't call it rioting - I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it's happening in Liverpool, it's happening in Port-au-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment," he told the BBC host.

'Only then do the media listen to you'

While most other commentators agree it would be a stretch to argue that the Arab Spring in helped to ferment social unrest in the UK, North African activists who had participated in protests against their own governments told Al Jazeera that they felt solidarity with the British youths who have taken to the streets.

. . . [much is excised here]

[For more, click on the title above for a link to the source]
. . .

As a consequence of issues highlighted by those riots, there was social change which benefited the Liverpool community as a whole, he said.

"The dynamic of this riot is very difficult. This riot is not being led by black people, it is being led by youth," he said. "There's no colour bar, no gender bar."

While the rioters have no clear agenda and their behaviour should not be excused, the poet said, the existence of so many restless young people was directly linked to David Cameron’s conservative government cutbacks to community and social services.

"It should be said that the last civil unrest we've had in this country was under [former prime minister] Margaret Thatcher, during a similar time of austerity," he said.

There had been "disproportionate investment" in the upper and middle classes, notably in the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the bank bailouts, while millions of children have received little from their government.

"These are children who now appear to have no purpose. Society does not seem to see them as a significant enough group to invest in."

The story of Bouazizi captured so much attention because of the sheer desperation embodied by the act of self-immolation. Britain’s youth may be speaking a different language and their violence turned outwards, rather than inwards, but they have no less legitimacy than their counterparts in the Arab world.

Follow Yasmine Ryan on twitter: @YasmineRyan

Source: Al Jazeera

Friday, August 12, 2011

Peck's comparative insights on why economic depressions become so severe

Don Peck’s new book, Pinched, How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It makes several sobering points about how public sentiment during an economic downturn can make a bad situation worse. Several assertions of that book are worth giving serious thought to.

> Severe recessions often turn out to be more severe and longer-lasting than is expected.

> In periods of economic stress, governments tend to retreat, reducing their commitments, and thus make the economic downturn worse. This seems to be a pattern in other societies than our own.

> Governments commonly underestimate the true cost of economic retreat and conservative spending. At the same time they overestimate the risks of taking aggressive steps to resolve an economic crisis. This has taken place over and over again in American history. Administrations commonly have done too little whereas more expansive commitments actually have helped the economy recover more quickly.

> True recovery requires adjusting to the wider patterns of change in the world at large.

> The primary agenda should be to help the middle class recover.

> A economic depression worsens class distinctions, so that the interests and perspectives of socioeconomic classes become all the more distinct. He refers to it as a “cultural separation” that tends to sort the populations into winners and losers. As a result, the ways of life of the nonprofessional middle class become more like those of the poor while the well-to-do develop ways of life that are quite different financially and emotionally.
If Peck is right, then our country is on track to follow the pattern, which means we are in for a long difficult decline in our economy. What prospect is there that this country will recover?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Attacks against the Shia in Pakistan: From The Friday Times

The following is an article from The Friday Times [Lahore, Pakistan] that reveals some of the ugly features of Pakistan's internal politics. This source used to be only available for a small fee but it is now free. Take advantage of it.
Consider what it means to live as a minority person in a place like this. But also consider what is entailed in being a journalist in this place. It takes courage to put your name on an article that calls a spade a spade in a place where there is little assurance that a journalist will be protected. Altogether 39 Pakistani journalists have been killed since the 1990s, the most recent being Salim Shahzad, who reported on the hypocrisy of the Pakistani government. RLC

Balochistan crisis: Sectarian groups continue to target the Persian-speaking Shia community, which is not sure if the state wants to protect it
By Zia Ur Rehman

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi behind Hazara killings in Quetta

Eleven people, including a woman, were killed on July 30 when gunmen opened fire on a passenger vehicle near Pishin bus stop in Quetta. All the victims were Hazaras. The incident sparked violent protests and Quetta was completely shut down on July 31.

Over 200 Shia Hazaras have been killed in Balochistan in the last three years; they include businessmen, political leaders, government employees, clerics, police cadets, vegetable vendors, and daily-wage workers.

This is not the first such attack on members of the Shia Persian-speaking Hazara community. On July 10, two Hazara policemen were shot and killed on Qambrani Road. On June 22, two people were killed and 11 others injured in Hazar Ganji area when armed men ambushed a bus carrying pilgrims to Iran.

Syed Abrar Hussain Shah, a former Olympian, deputy director of Pakistan Sports Board, and recipient of the prestigious presidential Pride of Performance and Sitara-e-Imtiaz medals, was gunned down on June 16 near Nawab Nauroz Khan Stadium in Quetta. Shah, who belonged to the Hazara community, has represented Pakistan in the Olympics thrice and won a gold medal at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing.

In another sectarian attack near Mirgahi Khan Chowk on May 18, unidentified men shot dead seven members of the Hazara community, including a baby, and injured five others. Most of the killed were vegetable vendors.

Seven Hazara men were killed and several injured in a rocket and gun attack in Hazara Town on May 6. There were Frontier Constabulary and Police checkposts nearby, but the attackers fled.

Over 200 Shia Hazaras have been killed in Balochistan in the last three years, according to elders of Hazara tribe and media sources. They include businessmen, political leaders, government employees, clerics, police cadets, vegetable vendors, and daily-wage workers. Hazaras are identifiable because of their Mongoloid features.

A large number of Hazaras have also been killed in attacks on religious processions. Last year, over 80 Shias, most of them Hazaras, were killed in a bombing on a Shia procession on September 3.

"Members of our community have been targeted persistently for the last 10 years by sectarian outfits, especially the banned militant organisations Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP)," said Abdul Khaliq, chairman of Hazara Democratic Party.

LeJ has accepted responsibility of most of these attacks. A spokesman for the LeJ in Balochistan, who ironically identifies himself as Ali Sher Haidri, said his group would avenge the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by targeting not only government officials and security forces, but also Hazara Shias.

Handbills distributed in Quetta recently have warned the Hazaras of a "jihad" similar to the one carried out against the Hazaras of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Handbills distributed in Quetta recently have warned the Hazaras of a "jihad" similar to the one carried out against the Hazaras of Afghanistan by the Taliban; the Taliban regime had killed 12,000 Hazaras in central Afghanistan.

The 3.5 million Hazaras in Balochistan are said to have migrated to Quetta from Afghanistan a century ago. In the 1990s, the Taliban massacred the community - the third largest in the country - killing thousands in Bamyan, Ghazni and parts of Uruzgan that later became the Daykundi province. They had accused the Hazaras of collaborating with the Afghan Northern Alliance (ANA) fighting the Taliban regime in Kabul. According to an Amnesty International report, about 12,000 Hazaras were killed in central Afghanistan by the Taliban.

"Hundreds of Pakistani young men from militant organisations including the SSP, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jundullah and Harkatul Mujahideen fought with the Taliban against the ANA," said an expert on militancy who teaches at Balochistan University. "The same men are now killing the Hazaras in Balochistan." He said the Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked groups accuse the community of colluding with the Americans and causing the downfall of the Taliban. Quetta is reportedly the new hub of the defeated Taliban factions, and has become a major site of expression of the hatred
towards the Hazaras.

The LeJ network in Quetta is being run by Usman Saifullah Kurd, Dawood Badini and Shafiqur Rind, a senior police official said. Kurd, who heads the LeJ in Balochistan, has trained a new group of killers who are carrying out attacks on the Hazaras, he said. Rind was arrested in 2003 from Mastung area of Balochistan while Kurd was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Unit in Karachi on June 22, 2006. Both fled from the Anti-Terrorist Force jail in Quetta on January 18, 2008. Rind was rearrested, but Kurd is still at large.

A source in the SSP said Kurd had recently met Malik Ishaq, a founding member of the LeJ, in Rahim Yar Khan and invited him to visit Quetta to address the banned SSP's public meetings.

Ishaq, accused of having masterminded the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 from behind the bars, was recently released by the Supreme Court after 14 years in prison.

The Hazara community had expressed concerns over his release. "The courts are releasing top leaders of banned organisations, and that shows these groups are getting stronger once again," said a Hazara religious scholar.

According to the Hazara Democratic Party chairman, Kurd's escape from jail was proof that these groups have inside support. He said the government claims to have arrested the attackers in all the cases, but they are never brought before the court or the public.

"The government has failed to tackle sectarian violence and protect the Hazara community," Khailq said, whose predecessor Hussain Ali Yousafi was also killed for being a Hazara in 2009.

Hazara elders believe intelligence agencies know about the activities of banned outfits and the whereabouts of their leaders, who simply operate under new names. They believe the state is either indifferent or supporting them.

The writer is a journalist and a researcher who works on militancy and human rights.
He can be contacted at

Monday, August 08, 2011

When China wises up, what then?

The issues of our time are becoming more acute. Of course we watch with alarm the affairs in Libya, Syria, and now Britain. But also, over the long term there is the changing attitude of the Chinese toward the United States, whose wealth, along with that of the Japanese, has been holding up the profligacy of the Americans. An article on this by Stephen S. Roach puts it together for us. Below are some quotes from his article. [Click on the title for a link to the whole article.] RLC

Read China's lips: China may soon be fed up with US fiscal intransigence and show it by halting the purchase of the dollar.
Stephen S Roach: 07 Aug 2011 07:53

The Chinese have long admired the economic dynamism of the US. But they have lost confidence in America's government and its dysfunctional economic stewardship.

… ….Senior Chinese officials are appalled at how the United States allows politics to trump financial stability. One high-ranking policymaker noted in mid-July: "This is truly shocking … we understand politics, but your government's continued recklessness is astonishing."

….China recognises that it no longer makes sense to stay with its current growth strategy - one that relies heavily on a combination of exports and a massive buffer of dollar-denominated foreign-exchange reserves. Three key developments led the Chinese leadership to this conclusion:

First, the crisis and Great Recession of 2008-2009 were a wake-up call. ….Second, the costs of the insurance premium - the outsize, largely dollar-denominated reservoir of China's foreign-exchange reserves - have been magnified by political risk. …. Finally, China's leadership is mindful of the risks implied by its own macroeconomic imbalances - and of the role that its export-led growth and dollar-based foreign-exchange accumulation plays in perpetuating those imbalances. Moreover, the Chinese understand the political pressure that a growth-starved developed world is putting on its tight management of the renminbi's exchange rate relative to the dollar - pressure that is strikingly reminiscent of a similar campaign directed at Japan in the mid-1980s.

…With these considerations in mind, China has adopted a very transparent response. Its new, 12th, Five-Year Plan says it all - a pro-consumption shift in China's economic structure that addresses head-on China's unsustainable imbalances. By focusing on job creation in services, massive urbanisation, and the broadening of its social safety net, there will be a large boost to labour income and consumer purchasing power.

…. It moves economic growth away from a dangerous over reliance on external demand, while shifting support to untapped internal demand. In addition, it takes the heat off an undervalued currency as a prop to export growth, giving China considerable leeway to step up the pace of currency reforms.

But, by raising the consumption share of its GDP, China will also absorb much of its surplus saving.

… So China, the largest foreign buyer of US government paper, will soon say, "enough". Yet another vacuous budget deal, in conjunction with weaker-than-expected growth for the US economy for years to come, spells a protracted period of outsize government deficits. That raises the biggest question of all: lacking in Chinese demand for Treasuries, how will a savings-strapped US economy fund itself without suffering a sharp decline in the dollar and/or a major increase in real long-term interest rates?

The cavalier response heard from Washington insiders is that the Chinese wouldn't dare spark such an endgame. After all, where else would they place their asset bets? Why would they risk losses in their massive portfolio of dollar-based assets?

China's answers to those questions are clear: it is no longer willing to risk financial and economic stability on the basis of Washington's hollow promises and tarnished economic stewardship. The Chinese are finally saying no. Read their lips.

Stephen S. Roach, a member of the faculty at Yale University, is Non-Executive Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and the author of The Next Asia.

A version of this article first appeared on Project Syndicate.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Sobering news from Pakistan. A low-grade war in Karachi – or in all of Pakistan?

The news from Pakistan is worrisome. We have already noted how badly things have been moving there for many years, with signs of the price the Pakistan people are paying for a double-minded administration. The latest evidence is the fighting in Karachi. Here are some quotes from the Al Jazeera article [8/2/11].

Karachi violence leaves 34 dead in single day: Interior minister vows to restore peace after at least 34 people are killed and 90 vehicles burnt over 24-hour period.
02 Aug 2011 16:14

Dozens of people were killed and scores of vehicles burned in Karachi in the latest violence on Tuesday [EPA]

> 34 people have been killed in the past 24 hours.

> at least 18 of the killings targeted political activists,

. . .

> The latest round of violence has been attributed to a fight for political influence in the city between Karachi's main parties, Tyab said.

> police say about 200 people were killed in last month alone,

> Local media put the toll even higher, with the Dawn newspaper reporting that 318 people were killed during the month.

> in Orangi, Karachi's largest and one of its poorest slums... More than 100 people were killed during three days of violence in the slum [recently].

> violence has since spread to other parts of the city of more than 18 million.

> On Monday, at least 90 vehicles were set ablaze in different parts of the city.

> In one incident, at least 80 motorcycles were burnt when dozens of people stormed a textile factory late on Monday and set fire to the vehicles parked outside the industrial unit.

> Over the years, criminal gangs have been used by political parties in a city-wide war for influence in Karachi, which contributes about two-third of Pakistan's tax revenue.

> criminal elements were "exploit[ing] the breakdown of law and order".

> "While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order, they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups and it is they who hold the key to peace".

> the political parties in Pakistan have been exploiting the divisions that exist in this city ... and often they will turn to the underworld, the criminals, to carry out their dirty work," he said.

> The HRCP had previously said that 1,138 people were killed in Karachi in the first six months of 2011, of whom 490 were victims of political, ethnic and sectarian violence.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies