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31 January, 2009

Human Rights in the age of terrorism

President Barack Obama, in his inaugural address, rejected as false any suggestion that the country has to choose between its security and its ideals. This statement is as true to India and the rest of the world as it is to the United States.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who said recently that human rights might have to be overlooked while dealing with terrorists, and Supreme Court judge Arijit Pasayat (see picture), who said terrorists are not human beings, are standing on the wrong side of humanity. They must re-read the provisions of the Constitution, by which they swore when they took office, as also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which this country subscribes. The powers that the Constitution vests in the judiciary do not include the right to bestow or deny the status of human beings to those whom the judges do not approve of.

Justice Pasayat’s words echo the ancient Vedic community’s judgment that refused to acknowledge all human beings as human beings.

Reproduced below are two articles with a bearing on the human rights situation, distributed by Countercurrents.org

Manichean echoes: terrorists as sub-human -- Binu Karunakaran
Eradicating terrorism: groping in the dark – Ram Puniyani

Manichean echoes: terrorists as sub-human

BINU KARUNAKARAN
Countercurrents.org

Lex non distinguitur nos non distinguere debemus (The law does not distinguish and so we ought not distinguish)

Maintaining propriety in public speech is one of the key canons of judicial ethics. Propriety demands that judges desist from airing their views on issues that are sub judice, controversial or that are likely to be adjudicated by themselves or other courts.

While the honourable judges cannot be denied the right to privately hold views, secretly wear ideological and political biases and feel frustrations like that of an ordinary citizen, decorum demands they resist the temptation to air them in public forums.

Lordships should remember that words coming out of their mouth, both inside the sanctum sanctorum of justice and outside carry more weight than that of an ordinary official. They just cannot afford to be frivolous in the use of words. More so at a time when Indian democracy is facing threats from perpetrators of terrorism and the questionable means the state wants to employ in its fight against the menace through enactment of draconian laws and encounter style executions.

The opinion expressed recently by one of the senior judges in the Supreme Court, shows that the judiciary too has started to feel the pressure imposed by politicians who feed the rhetoric on terror as a means to garner votes and a society that feels terrorised in the absence of security. Such thoughts render the concept of fair trial invalid. The fact that such a statement came from top echelons of our judiciary means that list of worries of India's civil society is a growing list.

According to the learned Judge, who sits in the Constitution bench and has co-authored books that analyse threadbare the Article 21 (Right to life and liberty under the Constitution: a critical analysis of Article 21; Publisher: Bombay : N.M. Tripathi, 1993) a terrorist is not fit to be called a human. "He's an animal and what is required is animal rights," quipped Justice Arijit Pasayat, No 3 in the court by seniority, while speaking at a seminar on 'Investigation and Prosecution of Offences relating to Terrorism', organised by Indian Law Institute in New Delhi.

According to a Times of India report he also poured out 'anguish and pain at the current trend of crucification of police officials by so-called human rights groups for every perceived fault in any police operation against terrorists. "Today we are concerned with the rights of the terrorists but we are unmindful of the plight of the victims of terrorism. How many protest marches have been organised seeking to highlight the plight of poor daily wager bystanders, with whose death his family leads a life of extreme penury?" Pasayat said continuing his broadside against rights activists. The Judge also made allusions to the Batla House encounter and the case of Mohammed Afzal whose mercy petition is still pending before the President of India.

Joining him in the tirade was Solicitor General G.E. Vahanvati who said lot of "noise" being made for the nabbed Mumbai terrorist Ajmal Kasab's right to defence.

Now contrast this with what Supreme Court Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan had to say on December 13, 2008 while addressing the inaugural session of the international conference of jurists on 'Terrorism, Rule of Law & Human Rights' in New Delhi:
Adherence to the constitutional principle of 'substantive due process' is an essential part of our collective response to terrorism. As part of the legal community, we must uphold the right to fair trial for all individuals, irrespective of how heinous their crimes may be. If we accept a dilution of this right, it will count as a moral loss against those who preach hatred and violence. We must not confuse between what distinguishes the deliberations of a mature democratic society from the misguided actions of a few.

No one expects the entire colloquium of judges to speak in one voice. It's perfectly acceptable that Judges differ in opinion, but when the brightest legal minds of the country begin to deviate from the spirit of the Constitution and the accepted and revered statutes of International Human Rights covenants one feels jittery.

Justice Pasayat exhibited a perverse sense of justice, and a pathetic sense of humour when he dubbed terrorists as animals and said shockingly tongue-in-cheek that they require animal rights. The words must have been uttered in a moment of emotional outburst, but it certainly exposed the ideals that guide his current judicial philosophy.

What message would it be sending to Judges of lower level courts waiting anxiously for guidance in hundreds of human rights/terrorism related cases and police officials looking for the slightest excuse to disentangle their actions from the scrutiny of fundamental rights.

Lordships should know that in the fight against terrorism, an error made by a judge who circumvents the due process of law is greater than omissions and commissions committed by other branches of democracy. Only the judiciary holds the power to scrutinise the action of the executive and the legislature and order a correction of course if they have erred.

The role of a Supreme Court Judge in a democracy is two-fold, writes Aharon Barak in 'The Judge in a Democracy' - to bridge the gap between law and society, and to protect democracy and its constitution.

There are no shortcuts here. No 'state of exception' that allows skipping the due process of law because the times are different. Once the threat of terrorism passes and peace returns judges will not be able to wish away the terrible consequence of their actions.

Eradicating terrorism: groping in the dark

RAM PUNIYANI
Countercurrents.org

The November 26 terror attack on Mumbai shook the whole nation like never before. The society and state have been putting in their best to see that measures are taken where by the terror acts don’t repeat. So traumatized has been the nation that every conceivable measure is being given a serious thought for the safety and security of society.

To begin with the condolence for the dead was expressed through number of events, candle light march, human chains, all religion prayer meetings and area networking has come up in a very visible fashion. In many of these protests the anger against politicians had a free for all expression, at places sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly the fear of Pakistan and ‘Jehadi’ terrorists has been the running thread of the protests. The misplaced call for war against Pakistan is the part of this phenomenon only. The state, the central Government in order to show that something is being done, passed a law, empowering the state as if that will deter the terrorists, who generally come with the full readiness to die. The state is blowing hot and cold, sometimes threatening war and at others talking tough and less often also saying that war is no option.

State is also reviewing the quality of bullet proof jackets, increasing airport security and the security of coast line. Civic society groups have been undertaking workshops for disaster management, a university went on to declare a two year course against terrorism. The best amongst these have been the mohalla committee initiative to cement peace between different communities.

One recalls that after most of the severe phenomenon of violence the civic society has responded with great concern earlier also. Be it the post Babri demolition Mumbai riots or the Gujarat carnage 2003, for a good bit of time socially oriented and concerned individuals and groups sprang into the relief, rehabilitation and intercommunity amity work. This time there is a lot of ferment and a part of it does hold Pakistan as the culprit of the attacks of terror. The measures taken by state though some of them welcome, the measures of civic society groups, related to intercommunity amity are very valuable. But how far will they go?

It seems that the knee jerk reaction after the phenomenon is more focused on the symptoms of the phenomenon. Tighten security, have better bullet jackets and have stringent laws. There is not much attempt to go beyond the obvious to unravel the truth of sectarian and terrorist violence. Surely sectarian violence is due to some political groups baking their bread in the divisive politics, the ground for which is prepared by the hate ideology, spread of misconceptions and distorted view of the minorities, their history, their present. So, as lot of groups and individuals correctly talk about peace, about need for amity, their attempts do not reach to the core issue of fighting against divisive politics, the attempt to unravel the truth about minorities, their present, their’ past.

The communal violence and emotive issues give more strength to the communal parties, who in turn give bigger space to their affiliates who work at cultural and religious level to increase the communal divides and weaken national integration, further paving way to still worse violence in times to come. Not only that, their intensity has been worsening every next time they are staged. Gujarat was worse than Mumbai and Orissa has been more horrific than Dangs. The trajectory of communal violence has clearly shown that all the efforts by state to curb it have been misdirected; the social initiatives have been serious but probably not hitting the target in the effective way. One means the communal congruence of right wing ideology during last three decades.

As far as terrorist attacks are concerned, the formulation that All Terrorists are Muslims has been the understanding on which policies are made and implemented. With the result that the real causes of terror are not taken up for treatment of the disease of terrorism. From 1993 onwards terror attacks have been occurring, stringent laws or other wise. The deeper injustice has been giving raison de tre' to the repetition of these attacks. Here also the attacks have been worsening, the Mumbai one being worst so far.

If we see a bit more seriously, the real causes of terrorism have not taken up for fighting against. The popular perceptions stops at Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba being the real cause obviates the need to see beyond Al Qaeda etc. It prevents us from seeing the role of US imperialism in bring them up and using these groups for US’ political-economic gains. So all anger, protest against Pakistan and accompanying factors gets major importance. One misses the point that terrorism of AL Qaeda variety has roots in US policies of control over oil resources. It is due to those policies that these groups were propped up to fight Russian armies occupying Afghanistan. One has to see beyond the obvious to realize that this type terrorism has its genesis from the deeper political designs. The indoctrination of the radical groups which began due to this policy of US can not be fought against merely by strengthening some more laws and by new set of weapons.

Pakistani society is as much a victim of this dastardly phenomenon as India is. Terrorists always are looking for the holes in security through which they operate and their biggest advantage is that they are indoctrinated to the extent that they are willing to stake their all, including their lives to do what they have been doing. On similar wave length operates the terror attacks by Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and other of her group. These Hindutva warriors have also been indoctrinated into hating others for the sake of their avowed goal of Hindu Rashtra. So where do we go, what direction we give to our concerns to ensure that terror attacks do not occur.

First and foremost, all places where injustice prevails, where democracy is stifled in a shortsighted way, those places become a rich fertile ground for breeding of terrorism. The one planted by US, Al Qaeda type, needs to be fought at global level. US is to be made accountable for much of this cancer which has spread in the area. While firmly dealing with the present terror set ups, democracy also needs to be made strong in Pakistan itself. One sees the subtle difference in the utterances of democratic elements in Pakistan and the Army-ISI-Mullah combine. The global peace movement has to ensure that the United Nations comes to the fore and stops the hegemony, the imperial behavior of US in particular. No measure short of restoring UN, making US follow the wishes of global community, a more democratized United Nations will suffice. This rejuvenated UN has to take up the global issue of terrorism, and put a brake on one sided, arbitrary US policies. US war on terror, and those who go by that, need to be put on the margins and entire charge of global interventions taken up by UN.

While draconian laws are no solution to the problem, it is likely they create and intensify the problem. The mantra of ‘tighten the security’ has not yielded any success in preventing it. The core point is to see that the concerned civic society makes its stand clear, that terrorism’s roots lie in injustice on one hand and US policies on the other. We need to raise our voices against injustice and US hegemony both to see that over a period of time the terror menace is eliminated by and by.

Obama’s ‘friends’ strategy should include New Americans

EDWIN OKONG'O
Commentary
New America Media

Editor’s note: The ability of foreign-born U.S. citizens to speak multiple languages, combined with their understanding of both American and foreign cultures, can be an unmatched tool in enhancing America’s relationships. Edwin Okong’o is NAM’s communications director.

One of the multiple ways President Barack Obama’s journey to the White House made history was its ability to awaken a new breed of the American voter: foreign-born U.S. citizens. Before Obama’s candidacy, most of these new Americans – an estimated 15 million strong – shied away from U.S. politics although, like their fellow citizens, they held jobs, ran businesses and contributed to the building of America.

A 2008 U.S. Census report analyzing data from 1996 to 2006 shows that in every election year, more native citizens than naturalized Americans registered and went out to vote. For instance, in the 2006 election, 54 percent of naturalized citizens registered to vote, compared to 69 percent of American-born citizens. In the same year, 49 percent of native citizens reported voting, as opposed to 37 percent of foreign-born citizens, according to the report.

As an immigrant from Kenya, I can testify that before Obama, most new Americans from my home continent saw themselves as having neither the need, nor the ability to change anything in the United States. They were more involved in the politics of Africa, mainly because they still had families there.

What Obama’s candidacy did was remind naturalized citizens that what happens in the United States affects them and their homelands directly. A declining economy, for instance, means that the new Americans, too, risk losing jobs, hence fewer remittances to the families they left behind. Obama’s message – coupled with becoming the first son of an immigrant to be elected to the White House – resonated across the nation, and sent droves of foreign-born citizens who had never before voted to the polls.

President Obama now has an opportunity to make sure that these new Americans do not sink back into obscurity, that they continue to participate in the remaking of America. On Jan. 21, the president’s first full day in office, he directed members of his administration to “find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans – scientists and civic leaders, educators and entrepreneurs – because the way to solve the problems of our time, as one nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.” That effort should include tapping the talent and expertise of foreign-born American citizens, many of whom, according to census data, are highly educated and qualified.

One specific area where foreign-born citizens can help effectively is in America’s renewed quest to once again become “a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity,” as the president promised during his inauguration speech.

Some of the mistakes America has made in the last half century are a consequence of appointing envoys and other diplomatic representatives who know very little about the cultures of the countries where they are deployed. Such diplomats often rely on stereotypes and go in with the sole intention of dictating and advancing what they claim to be American interests – rather than building relationships based on mutual respect. What follows are unnecessary conflicts, leading to the many coups the United States has orchestrated abroad through the Central Intelligence Agency.

In many cases, ill-informed U.S. representatives abroad have earned America enemies by helping to depose democratically elected leaders and replace them with dictators. For example, in 1953, the CIA led the ousting of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran and replaced him with the Shah, who, for 25 years, ruled that country with an iron fist. That coup was the root of the current U.S. conflict with Iran.

Even in coups that managed to depose autocratic leaders like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the United States has become an enemy of the people it “liberated” because of its failure to distinguish between dictators and the people they oppressed.

Having President Obama at the helm now presents America with a chance to redeem itself. America needs to move away from the aggressive policies of the last half-century, which were based on the false belief that America could single-handedly solve the world’s problems. Here, at last, is an opportunity for America to learn that people of other countries are capable of governing themselves and that among them are extremely intelligent people – “scientists and civic leaders, educators and entrepreneurs” – who can partner to create a more peaceful world. There is no shortage of such intellectuals among new Americans, and having them in all levels of U.S. diplomatic corps will be a signal that indeed America is serious about making every nation a friend.

Foreign-born citizens often spend decades both in their countries of birth and in America. Their ability to speak multiple languages, combined with their understanding of the cultures of both countries, can be an unmatched tool in enhancing America’s relationships. They can use these exceptional skills to persuade Americans and people of other nations to dispel myths about each other, which, in my view, are the source of many of the conflicts.

The new Americans can help move the country away from the flawed notion that people from other countries want Americans to “apologize for our way of life,” as the president stated in his inaugural speech. They can assure America that, in truth, millions of people abroad envy the American way of life – that, like Americans, they want to dwell in peaceful neighborhoods and be able to feed, clothe and educate their children. And, like Americans, they want to live with dignity, free from oppression – foreign or domestic. From the new Americans, American-born citizens can also learn that what people of other nations hate are the exploitive government policies that collectively condemn people, wage unprovoked wars, and nurture corporate greed.

As much as people abroad complain about Americans stereotyping them, they too have misconceptions about America. People in many parts of the world still think that every American is extremely wealthy and that all Americans support the exploitation of people abroad to maintain that status. Naturalized citizens can correct this myth too by informing their relatives abroad that most Americans are good people whose hospitality has made it possible for the new Americans to pick up where the corrupt governments of their birthplaces have failed. From foreign-born citizens, the world can also learn that millions of Americans, too, often become victims of the same vices that have wreaked havoc across the world.

Through President Obama, America now has a chance to lead the world toward restoring security, equality and respect for human rights. If the president fails to include new Americans in the process, it is highly likely that his efforts will be in vain, and that this rare opportunity will never arise again.

30 January, 2009

Barkha Dutt must walk the talk

BINU KARUNAKARAN
Countercurrents.org

Writing her Independence Day-eve Khaleej Times column in 2007, on the government plans to muzzle electronic media through creation of a content code, journalist Barkha Dutt rued that the irony is entirely befitting. She was talking about the move to strangle her fraternity into silence, just as India marked 60 years as an independent, secular democracy.

Arguing the case for a responsible media that will adopt standards of self-regulation as against the to-be-imposed ‘content code’, an ill conceived, insidious and dangerous piece of legislation, she said: We need to raise our standards to that level of accountability before we can get completely self-righteous. We need to tell the government to get out of our space. But we also need to be open to the same scrutiny we subject everyone else to.

Public memory is short and pardonable. But when activist-crusaders who profess ethical standards for others and prides themselves to be at the vanguard of media freedom suffer from selective amnesia, uncomfortable questions need to be asked. Especially at a time when the media in India is engaged in a tooth and nail battle against the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry's move to enforce censorship through the backdoor.

Not more than two weeks ago the editors of India's top television channels got together to tell the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the draconian provisions in the proposed Cable Television Network Regulations (CNR) Act is a throwback to the era of emergency. Something that is purely unacceptable because it is aimed solely at subjugating the media to total government control. Madam Barkha Dutt as the Managing Editor of the fearless NDTV was one of the signatories of the letter.

And now we hear the news that this widely respected and equally ridiculed member of the journalistic community, who is supposed to protect the freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in the constitution has abused her position as the group editor of a media conglomerate to legally intimidate a hapless blogger and make him withdraw a post critical of her coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai attack.

What a shame!

And as Barkha wrote in her Independence Day-eve column, the irony couldn't be any less befitting.

The Netherlands based Indian blogger Chyetanya Kunte had to retract comments made on his blog in the post titled 'Shoddy journalism' against the NDTV Ltd and Barkha Dutt and tender an unconditional apology, presumably because of a threatening legal memo.

While Kunte himself has not made any mention that he was threatened with legal action by NDTV, the tone and legalese in the retraction statement posted in his website clearly point to the fact that it was done to save his skin and money.

Reading the google cache record of the now deleted post which touched Barkha's celebrity nerve, one is at pains to understand how a journalist schooled in Columbia and has won accolades for taking on rabid right-wingers, can display such arrogance, when faced with criticism. Kunte's opinion was not in any sense more vitriolic than that made by thousands of viewers who were hurt by the insensitive and lopsided coverage of the Mumbai carnage by various TV channels. Only two words - the use of 'idiot' as an adjective before the word journalist and 'shut-the-f***-up', a vulgar idiom for shut up - seems to be off the mark. Angry words that he wrote as he watched the ghastly events of Mumbai unfold in the television screen on November 27.

The criticism he levelled against Barkha – on the possible risk of loss of life of hotel guests and allegations of soldier deaths in 1999 Kargil operation - was backed by links to a Wikipedia entry and other media reports. It is perplexing why NDTV chose to go against a blogger who only acted well within the rights. The only possible explanation is that they wanted to make an example of him. You are not supposed to touch a 24/7 holy cow .

It's also a sad day for the media fraternity because Kunte was being threatened of libel for making legitimate criticism about an issue of public concern. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and the law of libel shouldn't be used to stifle expression of an opinion that could have taken the debate forward. Of all pillars of democracy the media should be the first to recognises this right. The one to raise the pitch to the shrillest level when someone’s right to free speech feels threatened.

The criticism and scrutiny that NDTV and Barkha is now being subjected to in the blogosphere for its alleged highhandedness is also a pointer to the fact that the mainstream media is clueless about the power and opportunity of social media. They need to understand that journalism as defined by large media houses has entered a period of declining sovereignty. While it's true that mainstream media has attempted to interact with and adopt certain features of the social media they seem to be generally wary of bloggers and their growing influence in the media ecology.

I would like to quote more of Barkha to prove the point that NDTV’s action is a misadventure that need to be corrected. Or else the entire media in India stands the risk of playing into the hands of those who aspire to stifle it.

Responding to the criticism levelled against the NDTV coverage of the Mumbai attacks Barkha wrote: I believe that criticism is what helps us evolve and reinvent ourselves.
Let us believe in Barkha. Let us hope she walks the talk.

Binu Karunakaran is a Kochi-based blogger

29 January, 2009

Obama charms Arabs on TV

by JALAL GHAZI
News analysis
New America Media

Editor’s Note: President Obama’s first interview after his inauguration was with the Arab channel Al Arabiya. Arab media monitor Jalal Ghazi says he charmed the crew and the audience.

While sipping from a small plastic bottle of water and with a slight smile, Obama looks at the thrilled Al Arabiya crew who just scored the interview of a lifetime and says, “If I’m not mistaken, this is the first interview with a foreign correspondent. Is this not?” This short clip, which was not part of Obama’s formal interview, was played many times on Al Arabiya.

Of course, this reflects Al Arabiya’s pride. Obama chose the Arab television channel for his first interview since his inauguration. However, this is not the only surprise - equally important is the president’s sensitivity and humility. That impressed not only the Al Arabiya crew, who humorously and joyfully talked again and again about their interactions with Obama before and after the interview, but also Arabs and Muslims in general.

The biggest revelation was Obama’s interaction with Muna Al Shaqiqi, one of the Al Arabiya reporters who was helping with the cameras. She told Al Arabiya, “Usually when we interview American officials, we ask for the American flag. This time, however, they told us, 'We do not want to use flag.' They said they want this interview to be casual; they did not want it to be official.” Al Shaqiqi added, “They wanted Obama to speak directly to the Arab world. They did not want him to look stiff.”

Al Shaqiqi also told Al Arabiya that she had to do Obama’s make-up since there was no one else to do it. She said, “Five minutes after we were told to come to do the interview, we received another call from the White House and we were told to bring a make-up artist, but since we did not have any, we decided that I should do it.”

She continued, “As I was putting the make-up on Obama’s face, I told him that I'd come to operate one of the cameras and that I don’t usually do make-up.” Obama jokingly told Al Shaqiqi that if he looked funny, he would blame her.”

Al Shaqiqi explained that these interactions helped her understand why people like Obama. “Obama did not speak with Arab televisions during the election campaign," she said. "We have followed him to a number of states and we have tried many ways to talk to him, but he would not talk to us. Now we realize that he was just waiting for the right time.”

She was not the only person who was moved by Obama’s personality.

Hisham Melhem, the Al Arabiya bureau chief who conducted the interview, told Al Arabiya that Obama made “a very beautiful gesture” to his daughter. Melhem said, “Once I told Obama that my daughter had volunteered in his campaign, he asked his aide for a White House card and he wrote on it, ‘Thank you Nadia for your support. Always have big dreams.’”

Obama’s humanity, which the Al Arabiya crew experienced first hand, also came across in his carefully chosen words.

Sad al-Deen al-Yaieb, the spokesman for the Conference of the Islamic Organization, which represents 58 Muslims countries, said that his organization had sent Obama an open letter that was published in the New York Times on the day of his inauguration. The letter, which took up half a page, called on Obama to open “a new page of partnership with the Muslim world.”

Al Taieb told Al Arabiya, “Obama’s interview shows that the letter, which was on behalf of the Muslim world, had a positive effect on him.” He continued, “Obama said that he wants to establish a new partnership with the Muslim world, which were the exact same words used in the letter.”

Al Taieb added, “The interview was a sufficient response to the open letter. It shows he cares a great deal about this subject matter.”

Dr. Omar Hamzawi from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace believes Obama’s decision to do his first interview with an Arab television channel is a very effective way to address the Muslim and Arab worlds -- especially when it is accompanied by real steps to change U.S. foreign policy. He said, “Obama emphasized that the U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraq, and reiterated that Guantanamo Bay will be closed.”

Al Hamzawi also praised Obama’s emphasis on opening a dialogue. He said that the Bush administration failed to listen to both allies and so-called enemy states. Obama however, sent his newly-appointed envoy the Middle East, George Mitchell, to listen to conflicting parties in the region.

He also praised Obama for being sensitive in his choice of words. Obama, for example, does not use terms like "Islamic fundamentalism" or "Muslim extremists."

Probably the most important aspect of Obama for Muslims and Arabs was his admission that some of his family members were Muslim.

During his campaign, Obama’s Muslim connections were closely scrutinized, with some implying that he was a secret Muslim. Obama used to deny these false accusations by stressing that he was not a Muslim. But he usually left it at that. Now, he says, his job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world and that the language we use has to be a language of respect. “I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries,” he added.

Ironically, the fact that Obama has succeeded despite the persistent attacks on his Muslim links will ultimately help him build bridges of understanding with the Muslim world. He is the first man in the White House to know first-hand what it is like to be discriminated against for being African American, and for having a Muslim father and an Arabic name. Of course, the fact that he is in the White House speaks volumes about the new America.

Is an 'Asian NATO' on the US agenda?


Reproduced below is an article by Jose Miguel Alonso Trabanco, an independent writer based in Mexico specializing in geopoltiucal and military affairs.

by JOSE MIGUEL ALONSO TRABANCO
Global Research

There has been some talk concerning American intentions to forge an Asian NATO, i.e. a US led military alliance meant to advance its members' geopolitical interests in the region. During the Cold War, the US created the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) which also encompassed France and the UK as well as regional pro-Western States such as Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Pakistan and the Philippines. However, such organization was dissolved in 1977.

Moreover, we also need to take into account the existence of the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty, better known to all as ANZUS. Both American allies fought together during the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and Operation Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan). Canberra also supported and participated in the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, Australia is an important contributor to the National Missile Defense System. Therefore, one can practically take for granted that any potential Asian or Pacific version of NATO will include these two staunch American allies. Japan has become even closer to the US and an increased level of NATO-Japan dialogue indicates that both parties have agreed to strengthen its political and military links.

In order to assess if Washington is indeed attempting to establish an alliance in the Asia-Pacific region (more or less analogous to its Atlantic counterpart) one must examine what the American motivation could be. Some top American politicians have been promoting such plans. For example, Rudolph Giuliani proposed that NATO should accept Australia, Israel, India, Japan and Singapore. Perhaps it is also what Senator John McCain had in mind when he recommended the establishment of an American-led League of Democracies, an euphemism which means that non European US allies had to be included in a global military coalition (against whom? One could add).

As we will see, there are plenty of reasons the United States will be interested in creating any such organization. American senior geostrategists must have paid great of attention to:

• North Korea's nuclear program.

• The meteoric rise of China as an economic powerhouse. Or, as the US National Intelligence Council terms it, "the unprecedented transfer of wealth from West to East". China has already overtaken Germany as the world's third largest GDP. Beijing possesses the largest foreign currency reserves and the fact that most of them denominated in US dollars gives the People's Republic of China considerable leverage.

• Other regional economies have grown impressively, namely South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. This means that Asia has been and will continue playing an increasingly important role in international politics.

• The emergence of China has also expanded the Middle Kingdom's military, geopolitical, diplomatic and technological power. China is arguably the greatest power in East Asia. Beijing is improving and modernizing its military hardware and it seeks to develop competitive sea power projection capabilities in the long run.
• China and Russia have become closer cooperative partners through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Both powers have agreed to share their influence in Central Asia and prevent American influence from reaching further into the Great Turkestan. Moreover, both have carried out joint military exercises.

• Beijing has courted several regimes openly hostile to American power. In fact China is the primary destination of Iranian oil exports and the idea of building an oil pipeline connecting both has been explored. Furthermore, Myanmar has become one of closest Chinese allies. The 'Middle Kingdom' is large importer of Myanmarese resources (fossil fuels, gems, timber and so on) and Myanmar's ruling junta has allowed the Chinese to open and operate intelligence facilities there. The PRC, in order to ensure supplies of raw materials has become a key trading partner of many African countries as well.

• The resurgence of Russia as a great power is important. The Kremlin has shown some interest in projects concerning the development of energy resources. For instance, in order to diversify its trading partners, Russia has seriously thought about providing fossil fuels to East Asia's largest economies (China, Japan and South Korea). Additionally, the Russian Federation plans to increase its share in East and Southeast Asia's arms markets.

• Even though South Korea still hosts a large number of US military personnel, Seoul (unlike Tokyo) has implemented a foreign policy which has been careful enough not to annoy Beijing.

• Although some American masterminded Color Revolutions were first successful in inciting regime change, it seems both the Chinese and the Russians have meticulously studied this Modus Operandi and Beijing was able to counter such methodology in Myanmar's Saffron Revolution and during the 2008 Tibet riots.
US top planners therefore have decided that America has to augment its presence in Asia if Washington is indeed committed to achieve American hegemony (a.k.a. 'The New American Century'). Washington has stationed troops in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Diego Garcia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Guam and Australia. Such military deployments, US policymakers seem to think, must be amplified through an Asian version of NATO.

The ultimate goal of an Asian NATO would be to prevent China from becoming a formidable challenging power. As a result, US strategists have concluded that America needs to preserve its position as the world's top sea power so that it retains the ability to control strategic sea lanes (like the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea) and to enforce a naval blockade in case war breaks out. The aforementioned means that Asian economies would have to make meaningful concessions to the US if they want to keep their flows of seaborne foreign trade uninterrupted.

As a result of the Iraqi and Afghan quagmires, it is argued that the US has understood that even if America is the world's leading power, it is still unable to unilaterally make its interests prevail. Thus, Washington has realized that it will need several allies to maintain its position unrivaled. So the Americans have been busy trying to deepen their strategic cooperation with traditional allies (Japan, Australia, New Zealand and so on). Moreover, the US has been attempting to seduce India and embed it into an Asian NATO, something that would dramatically alter the whole balance of power in Eurasia.

For the British Empire, India was its most prized possession because it was hugely profitable and, more importantly, its geographic position was strategically significant. According to the CIA World Factbook, India became the world's twelfth largest economy in 2008 thanks to its GDP growth. Moreover, India is strategically located in the southernmost part of the Eurasian landmass and its territory is considerably large. Furthermore Indian population is an important asset because the country has an internationally competitive professional class. Last but not least, it must not be forgotten that India has a stockpile of nuclear weapons.

It seems India has abandoned its Cold War foreign policy of nonalignment. Indeed, it looks like Delhi has been slowly moving towards the Anglo-American orbit and its allies. Some members of Indian political establishment are openly hostile towards China. For example, then Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes claimed China was "India's enemy No. 1". Such a statement confirms that at least some senior politicians in Delhi truly believe the People's Republic of China is some sort of strategic rival even though most of them do not openly express that viewpoint because of diplomatic repercussions.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is an Indian political force which, among other things, advocates a more aggressive foreign policy and it also supports a strongly nationalist agenda. If the 2008 Mumbai attacks were indeed a covert operation run by the CIA franchise called ISI (which has been resorted to in Chechnya, Afghanistan, the Balkans or wherever plausible denial is needed) one of its objectives would be the political empowerment of Indian forces (like the BJP) much more willing to accept an Indo-American alliance than the current Congress-led administration.

It is revealing that the Dalai Lama (who is still probably a CIA asset) keeps operating unimpeded from Dharamsala (nicknamed 'little Lhasa'), India, which demonstrates that Delhi is politically eager to check China's rising power. Moreover, India is also interested in gaining access to Tibet's abundant deposits of natural resources, particularly fresh water and uranium.

A few years ago, India was willing to engage Iran in negotiations in order to enhance its own energy security. It seems Washington was successful in undermining those talks. One can only wonder what Delhi was promised or given in return. It is also remarkable that the US plans a transfer of nuclear technology to India.

Furthermore, India has also sought closer ties with other American allies. For instance, Delhi has become a large buyer of Israeli-made arms and defence systems.
On the other hand, India is an observer State in the SCO. Yet, Delhi has not requested full membership, allegedly as a result of American diplomatic pressure. India is an important purchaser of Russian-manufactured military hardware, including aircraft and tanks. Besides, Russia and India are collaborating in the development of a fifth-generation stealth fighter.

Russia and India had a close relation during the Cold War. The Kremlin knows that both powers do not have mutually exclusive national interests, which is not something that can be said when one examines Sino-Indian relations. Moscow and Delhi share a desire to counter Islamic unrest in Central Asia. President Medvedev recently announced that the Russian Government will consider sharing nuclear technology with India to boost bilateral ties, an effort clearly meant to outbid the Americans.

In short, the Americans are very much interested in creating an 'Asian NATO'; nevertheless, such organization would be meaningless unless India could be included. That explains why the US has demonstrated a certain willingness to make several concessions to India in order to gain the latter's geopolitical and strategic loyalty. It is unknown at this point if Delhi will join such an alliance. Perhaps India's political elites are still deciding whether they will align with the Atlanticists (the Americans and the Europeans), with the Eurasians (the Russians plus the Chinese) or with neither. After all, Delhi can just play them off against one another in order to extract as many concessions as possible from both without having to take sides. However, if India opts to side with any of those bands, that will send strong geopolitical shockwaves throughout Eurasia. (Distributed by Countercyrrents.org)

José Miguel Alonso Trabanco has a degree in International Relations from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Studies, Mexico City. His focus is on contemporary and historic geopolitics, the world's balance of power, the international system's architecture and the emergence of new powers.

28 January, 2009

India and China: the new Odd Couple

A still from Chandni Chowk to China

SANDIP ROY
News Analysis
New America Media

Editor's Note: What if India and China are no longer hostile parties but cooperative players in the geopolitical arena? The union of the two economic powers in Chindia is playfully suggested in a new Bollywood film, but there's more than fantasy behind the idea, NAM associate editor Sandip Roy opines.


When Bollywood's biggest action hero flexes his abs on the Great Wall of China you realize that the pundits might have got it wrong. They've been wondering whether to back India or China in the great horse race of the 21st Century. But what if the answer is both? "India and China can do it better," says the hero of “Chandni Chowk to China,” (CC2C) Bollywood's first kung fu caper. He might just have a point, a geo-political one. South Korea and Japan are already wooing both India and China as markets. It’s not China or India, the new buzzword is Chindia.

“CC2C” doesn't use the word but it does play with the concept – it's like naan meets chopsuey says its hero, or Fung Shastra (Chinese Feng Shui meets Indian Vaastu Shastra). But Chindia is a real enough word. Dr. Jagdish Sheth has written a book about it, “Chindia Rising – How India and China Will Benefit Your Business.”

He points out that Chindia isn't just some klunky word cobbled together by academics. It was actually coined by Jairam Ramesh, India's current Minister of State for Commerce. "That's a big shift for India," says Sheth. "You have to remember the previous defense minister went on record saying that India needed defense primarily from China. Now Ramesh is saying it's actually more advantageous for India and China to get together."

Ever since a bruising 1962 war in which China trounced India, the two Asian giants have been tense neighbors with huge unresolved territorial disputes. When the United States cozied up to India with a sweetheart nuclear civilian deal it was trying to draw India into its camp, courting it as a counterweight to a rising China. "If George W. Bush had a Nixon-goes-to-China moment, that was it," says Bill Emmott, author of “Rivals, How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade.” "India had been a Soviet ally. It was estranged from the U.S. since its nuclear tests. But Bush decided to really open a new chapter."

India appreciates that but it's not committing to a monogamous relationship with Washington. "India doesn't want to be like South Korea which got the flu when America sneezed. It wants a more diversified relationship," says Dr. Sheth, who is also the founder of the India, China and America Institute.

That “diversified relationship” is paying off not just for the makers of CC2C who got to film for ten days on the Great Wall but for the two countries in general.

India-China Friendship Year was 2006 during which the Chinese went out of their way to tell the Indians that the so-called "China threat" was really the West up to its old tricks of divide and conquer.

After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, India shared intelligence about alleged Pakistani involvement with Beijing. China sent its Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei to Islamabad and New Delhi to [try and] defuse the tension.

The armies have done joint exercises, and there's a hotline between the foreign ministries.

Until March 2002, the two countries had no direct air connection. It took more than 12 hours to fly from one country to the other. Trade between the two stood at about $5 billion.

"Now China has surpassed America as India's largest trading partner," says [Jagdish] Sheth. Sure, India and China have fought a war. "But that was yesterday's reality," says Sheth. "The only ideology in Asia today is money."

Warner Bros. certainly hopes so. The studio, which produced “CC2C,” is hoping its Indo-Chinese song-and-dance on the Great Wall with thigh-flashing cheongsams will prove to be a global hit. “CC2C” already has had the biggest release of any Bollywood film in the U.S. market. Pairing Bollywood star Akshay Kumar against kung fu legend Gordon Liu it hopes to be the Great Crossover film, complete with half-Indian half-Chinese twins separated as babies on--where else—[but] the Great Wall? (It probably could have left out the deadly made-in-China lipstick its femme fatale uses on unsuspecting victims. (The tainted toys and pet food scandals are still a little fresh!)

It's not surprising that a mega studio like Warner Bros is behind this odd coupling. "Multinationals have long been taking advantage of the synergy between India and China, sometimes more than the Indians and Chinese," says Robyn Meredith, author of “The Elephant and the Dragon - The Rise of India and China And What it Means for All of Us.” The Ipod, she says is a classic example: "A company in Hyderabad developed the brains of the Ipod. But it's actually made in China by Taiwanese sub-suppliers."

But with two of the world's fastest growing economies and a third of the world's population, the two countries are putting pragmatism ahead of historic suspicions. "India and China have embraced both globalism and capitalism at the same time," says Meredith. "It's lifted 200 million people out of poverty. That's an enormous achievement."

Cooperation is the key because both countries are hungry for resources. "There have been a few instances where India has attempted to acquire oil assets, like in Angola, and the Chinese maneuvered their way and beat the Indians out," says Michael Klare, author of "Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet." "Now they have signed an agreement to notify each other ahead of time."

The world gets nervous at this vision of India and China coming together to gobble up resources. But [Bill] Emmott says India and China can actually be part of the solution to the quest for new resources. "We need more investments in exploration of oil, water supply and food. India and China have the capital to expand and invest in Africa and Latin America."

But real tensions remain between the two powers. Nepal's new Maoist government is cozying up to China much to India's consternation. India still hosts the Dalai Lama. "The economies are going gangbusters but they are fragile," says [Bill] Emmott. "If there are economic difficulties, countries start to score domestic points by confronting neighbors."

He points to one obvious fault line. If a U.S. administration, frustrated with Pakistani inaction on Islamic militants, decides to launch attacks on Pakistan, India would be tempted to invade from the south while America attacks from the Afghan border. "What would be China's reaction?" wonders Emmott. "There's a chance it would cooperate – it's worried about its Xinjian separatists, who have relationships with terrorists in Pakistan. But it would be equally worried about such an invasion."

More optimistically, Emmott says the 21st Century may well be "an Asian century" but one in which "a shallow version of the EU" evolves in Asia. "And America will have to co-opt into that Asia," says Jagdish Sheth.

Indeed, the short order cook-turned kung-fu champ in "CC2C" doesn't dream of America as he lugs bags of potatoes through Delhi's alleyways. "My destiny is in China," he says.

Al Arabiya’s Obama interview

Regardless of faith, all people have certain common hopes and common dreams, President Barack Hussein Obama said in a TV interview recently.

News reports based on this interview, given to Hisham Melhem, correspondent of the Al Arabiya TV network, have already appeared in the media.

This is an interview which helps us to understand the working of Obama’s mind. I would, therefore, like to request all friends to read the full text of the interview, which is available at the Huffington Post website.

25 January, 2009

A CPI (M) 'plant' in The Hindu?

Many long-time readers of The Hindu have accused the daily of tilting towards the Communist Party of India (Marxist) since N. Ram became the Editor-in-Chief. A report appearing in today’s edition shows the party has the ability to plant a story in this venerable newspaper.

The report, headlined “Krishna Iyer for debate on Central, State police process”, is based on an interview with former Supreme Court judge V.R. Krishna Iyer. The report has no dateline. Nor does it have a creditline. The absence of attribution suggests that the report was not received from any correspondent of the paper or from any news agency to which it subscribes.

The report identifies the interviewer as P. Rajeev, a leftist journalist.

P. Rajeev is a young CPI (M) leader and Resident Editor of the Malayalam daily, Deshabhimani, which is an official organ of the party.

Rajeev’s report of the interview appeared in Deshabhimani only today. Evidently it was made available to The Hindu before its publication in Deshabhimani.

The interview report quoted Krishna Iyer as saying, “I feel that the time has come for a national debate on the creation, operation and control of the Central and State police process. I express this view because I find so much of hot controversy over the Lavlin issue where Sri. Pinarayi Vijayan’s name is being made the subject of political imputations.” (Italics added)

Rajeev interviewed Krishna Iyer after the party launched a campaign accusing the Central Bureau of Investigation of implicating Pinarayi Vijayan, who is a member of the CPI (M) Politburo and Secretary of its State Committee, in the SNC Lavalin case as reprisal for withdrawal of the party’s support to the United Progressive Alliance.

Deshabhimani featured it as the lead story.

According to Malayalam news channels, Krishna Iyer said in a statement today that his remarks were capable of misinterpretation to suit the needs of some political leaders.

While reiterating his stand that investigations must be truthful, he said he believed an offender, howsoever high, must not escape punishment and an innocent person must not be penalized.

For more on the Lavalin case, please see my commentary "Lavalin developing into CPI-M's Bofors", distributed by Indo Asian News Service.

POSTSCRIPT:
Justice Krishna Iyer's revised statement, referred to above, appears in The Hindu's edition dated January 26 under the heading "Investigating agencies must enjoy immunity and independence, says Krishna Iyer". It carries a Kochi dateline and is credited to the paper's Special Correspondent.

22 January, 2009

Young prisoners echo Obama’s call for change

New America Media

Editor's note: On the day of the inauguration of President Barack Obama, young people incarcerated in San Francisco Bay Area Juvenile halls embrace the idea of change and recognize that they must be the architects of change in their own lives. These authors write for The Beat Within, a weekly journal of art and writing from inside juvenile halls and prisons.


We Can ALL Change

I'm glad that Obama won,
to be elected to be our president
because I know there could be changes.
Well, first of all I really want to change my life.
I'm in juvenile hall and I'm tired of being here.
What matters to me more
Is that I'd rather be free and be with my family
Instead of just being in here
I'd rather have school yearbooks with me
instead of a book with my criminal record - of jail.
In here, every day I pray for my family
'cause I be worried not knowing how they are
For 2009, when I come out, I'm going bring a new Juan
Not the same Juan
That wouldn't listen and will always be messing up.
I'm really tired of my past
I look at my future and want to change it and make it better
For my own good and for my family, also others who look up to me. Good job, Beat, keep this goin' and things will change.
-Juan


Change All Around

Change is possible. I know because we have a black President.
I know change is possible because most of the people that got out of prison changed their life around, a lot of my uncles have been in and out of prison and most of them have changed their ways, but a couple are still at it! That's how I know change is possible.
-Big Body

When I Get Out, I'm Gonna Change

I am 13 years old and now I understand,
I need to grow up from a kid to young man,
Putting my mom through stress,
Making her grow grey hairs,
When she's telling me to do right because she cares,
Now I'm up in juvie missing the ones I love,
Waiting to get out, praying to the one above,
Juvie is so boring, it is not the place to be,
I'd rather be home on a couch watching TV,
I am glad that we have a president that's black,
Not because I'm racist but George Bush was on crack,
When I get out I'm going to respect my mom,
And get on MySpace and delete Tom,
When I get out I'm gonna do better in school,
And I'm gonna eat at my house until I get full.
-Lil' C

Yes, We Can
Yes, I do believe that Barack Obama can make a change. Yes, I can make the promise of change come true in my life because I'm willing to change just like Obama is willing to help make change.

What I hope changes: no more war, no more racism, and to make the work economy better because of everybody's struggles. Well, I really can't do anything to change the stuff that I hope will be changed, but the way I could help is to get a job and make my life better. Another way I could help is pray that everything will turn out for the best.
-Sadie

If We Have The Will
We can change. If we have the will, we can change. If we make a deal with ourselves, that Obama is here to help, we can change. If we have determination, yes, we can heal this nation. Anything is possible, 'cause Obama is unstoppable. We can make a change, a black president is a great start, but we have to want change within our heart. Yes, we can change this genocide, killing and stealing trying to provide, it doesn't feed the hunger of getting money, so we commit crimes. Yes, we can change our life with driven determination. We will win this fight, yes, we can, yes, we can, yes, we can.
-Tayana


A Great Change
Yes, I do believe in the promise of change. I think electing Barack Obama for president was a great change, not just for black Americans but for all races, and for our country.

Barack Obama can make a change because for hundreds of years people put down our race of African Americans and said we will be nothing, but look at us now. We went from slaves to being in the White House.

The fact that we elected a black president told me that I shouldn't give up on my dreams. Shhh, if he can make it, I definitely can. I believe I can change my life. Being locked up has really made me think: Do I really want to live my life like this?

I think being in here [in juvenile hall] has changed me a lot. I got closer to God, my family and my education. I accomplish things I thought I could never do, like read whole chapter books. I read almost five whole books in here, and this has changed my whole person.

I think God had me locked up for a reason. This little experience was a big wake up call.
-Dionte

21 January, 2009

Amnesty International says Israel used white phosphorus in Gaza

The following is a press release issued by Amnesty
International - India:


The Israeli army used white phosphorus, a weapon with a highly incendiary effect, in densely populated civilian residential areas of Gaza City, according to indisputable evidence found an Amnesty International fact-finding team which reached the area last Saturday.

When white phosphorus lands on skin it burns deeply through muscle and into the bone, continuing to burn until deprived of oxygen.

Amnesty International's delegates found still-burning white phosphorus wedges all around residential buildings on Sunday. These wedges were further endangering the residents and their property; streets and alleys are full of children playing, drawn to the detritus of war and often unaware of the danger.

The carrier shells which delivered the wedges were also still lying in and around houses and buildings. Some of these heavy steel 155mm shells have caused extensive damage to residential properties.

"Yesterday, we saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army," said Christopher Cobb-Smith, a weapons expert who is in Gaza as part of the four-person Amnesty International team.

"White phosphorus is a weapon intended to provide a smokescreen for troop movements on the battlefield," said Cobb-Smith. "It is highly incendiary, air burst and its spread effect is such that it that should never be used on civilian areas."

Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories said that such extensive use of this weapon in Gaza's densely populated residential neighbourhoods is inherently indiscriminate. "Its repeated use in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime," she said

When each 155mm artillery shell bursts, it deploys 116 wedges impregnated with white phosphorus which ignite on contact with oxygen and can scatter, depending on the height at which it is burst (and wind conditions), over an area at least the size of a football pitch. In addition to the indiscriminate effect of air-bursting such a weapon, firing such shells as artillery exacerbates the likelihood that civilians will be affected.

"Artillery is an area weapon; not good for pinpoint targeting. The fact that these munitions, which are usually used as ground burst, were fired as air bursts increases the likely size of the danger area," said Chris Cobb-Smith.

Among the places worst affected by the use of white phosphorus was the UNRWA compound in Gaza City, at which Israeli forces fired three white phosphorus shells on 15 January. The white phosphorus landed next tosome fuel trucks and caused a large fire which destroyed tons of humanitarian aid.

Prior to this strike, the compound had already been hit an hour earlier and the Israeli authorities had been informed by UNRWA officials and had given assurance that no further strikes would be launched on the compound.

In another incident on the same day a white phosphorus shell landed in the al-Quds hospital in Gaza City also causing a fire that forced hospital staff to evacuate the patients.

Change has come to America

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA TAKES THE OATH OF OFFICE

The following is a report circulated by the Associated Press (AP) of America:

At precisely 12:01 p.m. EST, the White House Website, the online bastion of the Bush administration for the past eight years, was updated to reflect President Barack Obama's assumption of office.

Visit the official Website of President Barack Obama.

"The White House. President Barack Obama," reads the top of the new home page, which went live even before Obama finished delivering his first speech. "Welcome to the new WhiteHouse.gov. Change has come to America."

Apart from the formal portrait of Obama, other features of the site have been redesigned, although it contains many of the same features and similar historical information as its predecessor.

The new site says it "will be a central part of President Obama's pledge to make his the most transparent and accountable administration in American history."

The first blog post to the site, written by Macon Phillips, director of new media for the White House, promises video and slide shows of inauguration events, the Obamas' move into the presidential residence and the new president's first days in office.

Almost as quickly, the State Department's Web site got a makeover on Tuesday, with a photo of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton at her Senate confirmation hearing, along with a transcript of her remarks there, replacing Condoleezza Rice's picture.

Clinton has not yet been confirmed, but the revamped homepage includes her new motto for the agency: "Diplomacy in Action."

Text of Obama's inaugural address at The Hindu website

19 January, 2009

A Citizens' Oath of Office for Inauguration Day 2009

As Barack Obama prepares to assume the office of President of the United States, Robert Jensen, journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, discusses the citizens' duties.

by ROBERT JENSEN
Countercurrents.org

Eight long years ago at a counter-inaugural event in Austin, Texas, I administered a “Citizen’s Oath of Office” to the people who had come together on the steps of the state Capitol to challenge the legitimacy of the incoming Bush administration and its right-wing agenda. In 2005 I offered a revised version that expanded on our duties during even more trying times.

In 2009, we welcome a far saner administration but also face far deeper problems, and hence such a citizen’s oath is as necessary as ever. The Obama administration will no doubt step back from the reckless and reactionary policies of the past eight years, but the core problems of empire and economics -- US domination around the world and corporate domination at home and abroad -- remain as threatening as ever. The robotic talk among Democrats of pressing on in “the right war” in Afghanistan (allegedly to fight terrorism) and a continued faith in the predatory capitalist system (albeit softened slightly in the face of potential collapse) offer little hope for meaningful change at the deep level so desperately needed.

As we celebrate the end of an eight-year disaster, we should recommit to the ongoing work required to create a truly just and sustainable world. With that work in mind, here’s my suggestion for a 2009 Citizen’s Oath of Office, with new language added in brackets:

“I do solemnly pledge that I will faithfully execute the office of citizen of the United States, and that I will, to the best of my ability, help create a truly democratic world by (1) going beyond mainstream corporate news media to seek out information about important political, economic, and social issues; (2) engaging fellow citizens, including those who disagree with me, in serious discussion and debate about those issues; (3) committing as much time, energy, and money as possible to help build [authentic] grassroots political organizations that can pressure politicians to put the interests of people over profit and power; and (4) connecting these efforts to global political and social movements fighting the U.S. empire abroad, where it does the most intense damage. I will continue to resist corporate control of the world, resist militarism, resist any roll-back of civil rights, and resist illegitimate authority in all its forms. [And I will commit to collective efforts in my local community to help build joyful alternatives to an unsustainable consumer society.]”

I think these bracketed additions are crucial. First, adding “authentic” as a modifier of “grassroots political organizations” reminds us that the campaign to elect Obama was not a movement, no matter how many times he uses that term. It was a campaign to elect a candidate from one of the country’s two major parties, both of which are committed to imperial domination and predatory capitalism. That isn’t to argue there is no difference between candidates, but to remind us that a slogan-driven electoral campaign for such a party is not a people’s movement. Authentic movements for justice do not arise out of the Republican or Democratic parties but from people coming together to challenge illegitimate authority rather than accommodate it. Strategic decisions about voting do not replace organizing.

Second, in addition to traditional movement building, it’s clearer than ever that we must focus some of our resources on strengthening on-the-ground alternatives to an extractive industrial economy that is undermining the ability of the ecosystem to sustain life. Those local experiments, such as worker-owned cooperatives and community-supported agriculture, will be increasingly important as the dominant culture proves itself unable to cope with economic and ecological collapse that is no longer a matter for speculation regarding the distant future but a reality we must face now.

We can’t predict the exact texture and timing of that collapse, but we can know it is coming and confront the need for real change. Imagine we are riding on a train hurtling 100 miles per hour on tracks that end at the edge of a cliff. The engineer is replaced by someone who wants to slow the train down to 50 miles per hour but is committed to staying on the same tracks. Slowing down may buy us some time, but the cliff remains.
So, like many others on Tuesday I will breathe a sigh of relief when Obama is sworn in, but I won’t breathe easy.

Robert Jensen is the author of "Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity" (South End Press, 2007); "The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege" (City Lights, 2005); "Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity" (City Lights, 2004); and "Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream" (Peter Lang, 2002). His latest book, "All My Bones Shake", will be published by Soft Skull Press this year. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/index.html

18 January, 2009

Gaza: a new language with new terminology and new culture is rising

by RAMZY BAROUD
Countercurrents.org

As Israel unleashed its military fury against Lebanon for several weeks in July-August 2006, it had one major objective: to permanently ‘extract’ Hezbollah from the South as a fighting force, and to undermine it as a rising political movement, capable of disrupting, if not overshadowing the ‘friendly’ and ‘moderate’ political regime in Beirut.

As Israeli bombs fell, and with them hundreds of Lebanese civilians, and much of the country’s infrastructure, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sprung into action. She too had one major objective: to delay a ceasefire, which the rest of the international community, save the US and Britain, desperately demanded. Rice, who is merely, but faithfully reiterating the Bush Administration’s policy, hoped that the Israeli bombs would succeed in achieving what her government’s grand policies failed to achieve, namely a New Middle East.

In a friendly meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem, on July 25, 2006, Rice eagerly, although rashly wished to interpret to equally eager journalists the political promise that lies within the Israeli onslaught. "As we deal with the current circumstances, we need always to be cognizant of and looking to what kind of Middle East we are trying to build. It is time for a new Middle East," she said. Olmert nodded.

Neither Rice, nor Bush, nor Olmert were indeed interested in shifting the status quo in the Middle East in anyway that might jeopardize Israel’s regional standing, as a powerful ally with astounding military outreach. Indeed, there was hardly anything new in the New Middle East. Like the old one, the New Middle East was also meant to be achieved from behind the barrel of a gun. But why the element of ‘newness’?

It was very clear to both Israel and the United States that their Middle East policies were failing, and miserably so; but both governments were still insistent that the problem is not in the use of force, but rather, not using enough of it. It’s, perhaps, the kind of arrogance that accompanies power. But arrogance can also be the powerful downfall.

As world patience began running out, especially following the second Qana Massacre of July 2006, Rice still insisted on beautifying the horror in Lebanon. The Israeli war against Lebanon, despite the tremendous hurt it caused was, according to Rice, the "birth pangs of a new Middle East".

And a New Middle East it was, although not the one that Rice and Olmert reflectively envisioned in Jerusalem; a different one, which changed the political landscape in Lebanon in favor of Hezbollah, and denied Israel any sense of victory.
In fact, the new ‘New Middle East’ did more than that. It once more renewed a long abandoned idea in the minds of many Arabs, especially Palestinians, that resistance was not futile after all.

Hezbollah’s triumph, and its ability to thwart various attempts at igniting a civil war in Lebanon, accompanied by the group’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah’s fiery speeches began penetrating the Arab psyche, defeated and accustomed to defeat. Nasrallah became the new Jamal Abdul Nasser, and like Abdul Nasser of Egypt, he too polarized Arabs: peoples vs. regimes.

New terminology also sprung. Words that were not uttered, at least not in any realistic context, in decades, began encroaching into Arab vocabulary: ‘victory’, ‘resistance’, ‘Arab nation’ with ‘one fate’, ‘one future’, and so on. The language and the culture it espoused proved immensely threatening to the US camp, which too enjoyed its own language and designations: ‘friendly’, ‘moderate’, etc.

Rice’s New Middle East has failed. It has failed because the representatives of the old Middle East prevailed: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, but most importantly the people through the region, which began once again, constructing a sense of collective identity. The new ‘axis of evil’, somehow managed to withstand immense pressures, and in the case of Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza, numerous bombs. Israel’s pressure on the US to go after Iran failed for various reasons. Israel’s own Middle East project remains on hold, jeopardized by Iran’s rising influence in the region, Hezbollah’s proven formidability in the north, and Hamas’ irritating ability to hold onto power, and its insistence to govern by its democratic mandate, even if in besieged Gaza.

As both Olmert and Bush were readying to hand over the torch to their successors, and as folders of the New Middle East project were about to be tossed into the recycle bin, Israel opted for one last chance at proving the viability of its military prowess, for force is the only language that Israel is capable of thoroughly communicating, and is under the odd impression that it’s also the only language that its enemies understand. Olmert, once again unleashed his country’s military fury, this time against Gaza. The Strip was supposedly an easy target, for the tiny stretch of land, blocked from all directions, lacks everything. It is home to a largely young population, the majority of whom are malnourished as a result of the Israeli siege.

Israel hoped that Gaza would grant it a victory, any victory, even if a small token of triumph. Starting December 27 and for many days, Israel pulverized entire neighborhoods, killed and wounded thousands, mostly civilians, mostly children and women. Another New Middle East was in the making with its own “birth pangs.” Entire families perished; children died in droves, in their homes, in schools; a panicking population ran in circles, hopelessly trying to flee the death machines that hovered everywhere, but there was no escape. Borders remained sealed as the region’s ‘moderates’ watched the demise of the ‘extremists.’ Rice, again, grinned, brazenly justifying Israel’s new war. The world watched in horror as the drama unfolded. But Gaza fought back, withstood, resisted, and the language once again was altered. Arabs are now speaking of ‘victory’, hailing the ‘resistance’, singing the praise of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Gaza’s resistance is nothing short of a ‘miracle’, said Aljazeera’s military expert. Millions of Arabs around the world agree. The New Middle East defined in Lebanon in July-August 2006, was confirmed in Palestine in December-January 2008-2009. A new language with new terminology and a new culture is springing up from the ashes and the rubble of Gaza. Arabs are eager to define themselves and shed years of defeat and defeatism. A New Middle East, indeed.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is, "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle" (Pluto Press, London).

Call for Cellular Silence on Gandhiji's death anniversary

Immensely disturbed by the endorsement of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a future Prime Minister by leading industrialists Ratan Tata, Sunil Mittal and Anil Ambani, Ranjan Kamath (ranjan.kamath@gmail.com) has called for observance of Mahatma Gandhi’s 61st death anniversary as Cellular Silence Day, hoping it will arouse the conscience of corporate India.

Kamath has opened a Petition on Line to make it known to the corporate bosses that the Indian citizen is not to be trifled with. Just as we can vote for or against the politician, we can pinch the corporate bottom-line in order to engage their attention to mend their ways, he says.

It is not an easy task for us to keep our cell phones and Blackberries switched off for an entire day on January 30th. However, he believes, it ought to be sufficient to get the message across to corporate India that we will not tolerate the endorsement of fascists as future Prime Ministers.

He requests you to visit the link below to sign and thereafter circulate the petition below, if you feel as strongly about this matter

The petition title is: Cellular Silence Day_30th January 2009.
The petition URL is:
http://www.PetitionOnline.com/30JAN09/petition.html
The petition is directed to: India Inc.
The start date is: January 15, 2009
The end date is: January 30, 2009

The petition says:

Dear Messrs, Ratan Tata, Sunil Mittal and Anil Ambani,

I am one of a billion Indian citizens.

I am somewhere in the middle of that pyramid that you wish to give voice - from bottom to top - through wealth creation.

I am proud of the brands you represent that have made India proud.

I am one of the burgeoning Indian middle-class that shares your aspirations of mutating India from indolent elephant to thundering tiger.

It ends there...

I have hitherto been accused of being indifferent and apathetic, simply because I am overawed and felt overwhelmed in a system replete with Goliaths.

But when I saw you embrace the fascist mastermind of state-sponsored genocide as a future Prime Minister and endorse the Modi-fication of India, it was disappointingly apparent that the brands that aspire to make India rich shall continue to languish in ethical poverty.

While I am filled with revulsion at your endorsement of Narendra Modi, I must respect your right to do so as a fellow citizen.

In writing this petition I am a mere David amongst the mightiest corporate Goliaths but I feel empowered to address your collective amnesia - through recollection of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 - by the true Goliath among Gujaratis in particular and Indians in general -- Mohandas Gandhi.

All those who sign this petition will switch off their Tata Indicom, Airtel and Reliance cellular phone and broadband connections from midnight on January 30th 2009.

It is eminently possible that I might be the one voice in a billion who will observe the 61st death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on as Cellular Silence Day.

Then again, there might be close to a billion who could join me on January 30th, 2009 expressing their solidarity and silently insisting that the captains of India Inc adopt an ethical, compassionate path to wealth creation rather than the single-minded pursuit of the bottom-line.

We shall know that by the end of 30th January, 2009.

Ranjan Kamath’s message has been circulated by Ram Puniyani ram.puniyani@gmail.com

16 January, 2009

Lasantha Wickrematunga’s last words

In the January 12 post titled “Sunday Leader’s tribute to its slain editor”, referring to the editorial in the journal’s latest issue, I wrote: “The editorial, titled ‘And then they came for me’, marked by liberal use of the first person, is what Lasantha Wickrematunga could have written.”

I also reproduced the last paragraph of the editorial.

From a press release of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, I understand that the editorial in the January 11 issue was indeed written by Lasantha Wickrematunga himself-- shortly before his assassination on January 8.

Says AHRC: “He had been subjected to harassments and attacks before and he was fully aware that he was the target of an assassination scheme. This article entitled, ‘And they came for me’, was intended to be read posthumously in the event of his predicted assassination.”

Immediately after its appearance in the Sunday Leader on January 11, it was picked up by the media throughout the world. Already, it has been reprinted in internationally reputed publications and also picked up locally in many countries by numerous channels. It has been reproduced both in print and the electronic media. It has also been quoted in television commentaries.

The article, which has become the best known piece by a Sri Lankan author, is available in three parts on Youtube.
Part 1: http://hk.youtube.com/watch?v=K86K94F5ywQ
Part 2: http://hk.youtube.com/watch?v=QRE5Og5_LiY
Part 3: http://hk.youtube.com/watch?v=bMyXZM-f1ww

Binayak Sen’s message: Choose your politics before your politics chooses you


The following is a New Year message, handwritten in jail by Dr Binayak Sen for the Medico Friends Circle (MFC) and Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS) and distributed by Ilina Sen:

My warmest greetings to all friends in the MFC, and best wishes for 2009.

As an Indian child of parents from the territory that is now Bangladesh, displacement was a lived reality for me from my childhood, as it was for millions of other children of my generation.

But then, in so many ways, the history of the last 500 years (1492 is a useful reference date), is the history of successive waves of displacement- either as displacement from as in the case of the native Americans, or displacement to, as in the case of slave labour from Africa or India. A particularly gruesome episode is being played out before our eyes in Palestine. The NBA (Narmada Bachao Andolan) brought the issue of displacement into the mainstream of Indian public discourse. In Chhattisgarh, seasonal migration provides an example of large-scale displacement, and a particularly iconic experience was watching a young migrant mother lying on the floor of a train while her baby slowly dehydrated from gastroenteritis. The Salwa Judum in Bastar has displaced huge numbers of people at gunpoint, and over 100,000 people have been pushed over the border into Andhra Pradesh.

In China today, 100 million people are in the process of being displaced by the Three gorges dam and other projects. As usual, in India, we go one better. The redoubtable Prof (MS) Swaminathan has chaired a committee that has concluded that Indian agriculture can accommodate at most a third of its population in agriculture, as opposed to half as at present.. The difference is a small matter of 200 million people.

Displacement is about the sequestration of privileged access to resources and need not always involve a geographical reference. Thus, the chronic nutritional deprivation from which half our children and a third of our adults suffer can be regarded as a special form of displacement. What displacement invariably does entail is the ruthless cutting short of the micro evolutionary process involved in any instance of eco adaptation, involving chemical or physical factors as in Bhopal, or the social environment as in south Bastar.

That's enough. Too bad I can't take part. All the best for your deliberations.. Choose your politics before your politics chooses you.

For an article on Dr Binayak Sen's work, see earlier post.

Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS) is a voluntary, non-profit, registered society founded by a group of health professionals committed to developing a low-cost and effective health program that provides both preventive and curative services in the tribal and rural areas of Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh state in central India.
E-mail: jss_ganiyari@rediffmail.com

Medico Friends Circle’s Convener N. B. Sarojini can be contacted at saromfc@vsnl.net

Human Rights Film Festival in India

A scene from the film Play the Devil back to Hell, which tells how thousands of Christian and Muslim Liberian women peacefully ended the civil war that had claimed more than 250,000 lives.

India’s premiere Human Rights Film Festival opened in New Delhi yesterday (January 15). It was inaugurated by critically acclaimed actor and social activist Nandita Das.

The festival programme envisages screening of documentary films at the India Habitat Centre and the AllianceFrancaise de Delhi till January 18. The festival will then travel to Mumbai, Banglooru and Kolkata.

The festival features 28 films from more than 20 countries and includes 11 Asia premieres, eight India premieres and one world premiere.

The festival opened with the Asia premiere of Tribeca Film Festival award-winner, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, directed by Gini Reticker, an extraordinary story of a small group of Liberian women who win peace for their shattered country. The film shares this year’s Tri-Continental Jury Award for Best Film with The Sari Soldiers by Julie Bridgham, which showcases the leadership of six women through the Maoist struggle in Nepal.

Other Asia premieres include the riveting film, The Choir, directed by Zimbabwean Michael Davie, about the powerful role of music in surviving South Africa’s largest prison. La Americana documents the human stories behind the current US immigration debate while Up the Yangtze chronicles the contradictions that accompany modernization in contemporary China

The films were selected from more than 150 submissions by a five-member jury comprising Aruna Vasudev (India), Nick Deocampo (The Philippines),Madhusree Dutta (India), Amir Muhammad (Malaysia) and Anurag Kashyap (India).Last year’s Jury Award went to A Jihad for Love by Parvez Sharma.

The Tri Continental Film Festival began in Latin America in 2002, in Africa in2003, and was introduced in India by Breakthrough in 2004. It has become the primary platform for human rights cinema across all three continents, showcasing internationally acclaimed, and award-winning films about social justice issues impacting the global south.

Breakthrough is an innovative, high-impact transnational human rights organization that uses media, popular culture, grassroots training and education to transform attitudes and advance equality, justice, and dignity.
Breakthrough currently works in India and the United States, the world's two largest democracies, on several issues including violence against women, sexuality and HIV/AIDS, racial justice, and immigrant rights.
For more on Breakthrough, visit www.breakthrough.tv. For more on the Festival, go towww.triconfilm.com

This report is based on a message from Mallika Dutt , forwarded by Sree Sreenivasan through SAJA FORUM

14 January, 2009

A Gazan’s message to the world

by Mohammed Fares Al Majdalawi
Common dreams

I want to write about the suffering of my people and my family in these days of siege against the people of Gaza. 888 people have been killed and more than 3700 injured. The Red Cross has accused the Israeli military of repeatedly refusing to allow ambulances to go to Zeitoun area, so those who are injured become those who die; a premeditated and purposeful violation of human rights.

In my house we can't get basic needs. No food. No bread. No fuel. No future. Yesterday, my father went to the bakery at 5 AM. He waited 5 hours to get one loaf of bread, which is not enough for my family because there are 11 of us. So today it was my turn. I went to all the bakeries -- all were closed.

There is no safe place we can go. We cannot communicate with our relatives and friends -- networks are down as missiles rain on our homes, mosques and even hospitals.
Our life is centered around the burials of those who have died, our martyrs, At night our camp, Jabalya Refugee Camp, is a ghost town, with no sounds other than those of Israeli military aircraft.

There is a horror in every minute and it is clear especially in the lives of children. For example, there were five sisters in one family killed from the Israeli occupation while they stayed in their home. But there are 800,000 other children in Gaza, all afraid, all waiting for someone or something to help them. They are caught in a prison that is becoming a concentration camp. Every day we sleep and open our eyes to the Israeli crimes of killing children and women and destroying civilians' homes. My words are unable to convey my feelings about this life in Gaza.

I have two messages to the world, to those who claim they love peace and seek freedom.
Imagine your life consisting of no electricity, destroyed homes, the sounds and strikes of missiles, day and night, and the only hunger as great as that for food is the hunger for an end to this occupation and siege. Imagine it is not just you but your children and your family who tell you through their eyes and cries: "We are afraid of the missiles." "We cannot sleep." "We may never sleep again." Imagine you are the dam and the river of blood has turned into a flash flood. How long could you stand it?

We wouldn't have to stand it any longer if the world stood with us. If they demanded an end to the siege and the killings and demolition of houses for our children. If they demanded assistance reach the people through rallies and sit-ins.

Finally, I invite you to come to Gaza and see the Holocaust. Because despite the siege, the barriers, the killing of my people and homes, and the total destruction of our lives by the Israeli occupation, they can not and will not kill the will of our people for equality and justice.

Mohammed Al Majdawali is a university student, member of Al-Assria Children's Library, and volunteer with Middle East Children's Alliance. He lives in Jabalya Refugee Camp with his family and aspires to be a professional filmmaker.
To help MECA send more medical aid to Gaza for thousands of sick and injured people living under siege, www.mecaforpeace.org
Courtesy: Countercurrents.org