#Censorship kills cinema, says filmmaker Makhmalbaf


M. P. Praveen, The Hindu

Kochi, Dec16.2012

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the acclaimed Iranian director who has left an indelible stamp in global cinema, has a very simple philosophy towards filmmaking – change the world.

Never known to mince words or being diplomatic either in films or in real life, Makhmalbaf, clad in his trademark black shirt and black trousers and accompanied by his wife Marziyeh Meshkini, a filmmaker of repute in her own right, spoke about his films, the Iranian society, democracy and the need for a change in civilization. He was in the city on Saturday as part of the Kochi International Film Festival set to get underway here on Sunday.

“When I see so much poverty around me how can I make films about poetry,” Mr. Makhmalbaf quipped with innate honesty when asked about the extreme realism in his movie sometimes at the cost of the aesthetics of the medium of cinema. That is why he felt compelled to make his much celebrated film ‘Kandahar’ that told the horrors of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Calling himself a “little entertainer”, he said that the emphasis is on giving a valid message for the audience to ponder over when they come out of the movie house.

Thrown behind the bars at the age of 17 for opposing the repressive regime of the Shah, he said that the courage to stand up to dictatorship and injustice evolved during the five years he spent in prison during which he read about 2,000 books of all hues.

Mr. Makhmalbaf, however, was quick to add that he is not a one dimensional filmmaker. “I draw my concept from reality. Besides, the situations and the people I encounter, the places I see and my own mood dictate my decision on the next film,” he said. His next project is based on European refugees. He had strong words against Hollywood castigating it as responsible for the death of regional films in many countries. Mr. Makhmalbaf said that the censorship prevailing in Iran should not be mistaken as contributing to the wider global acceptance of Iranian movies. Rather, he attributed it to simplicity, social concepts based on which they are being made, realistic treatment, its root in poetry, the constant search to find something new. One could find the same reasons in the Indian movie ‘Pather Panchali,’ he felt. “Censorship kills cinema. Sometimes a little pressure gives filmmakers more energy to fight it. But strangulate them and they will die. That’s why many Iranian filmmakers are not able to make films there now,” he said. Mr. Makhmalbaf was not much euphoric about the popular uprisings in West Asian countries like Egypt. Egypt’s case is similar to Iran in the years after Islamic Revolution. “At that time, we thought that all our problems will be solved if the king goes. But he was replaced by a religious dictator. In our quest for democracy, we lost everything including liberalism and secularism,” he said.

He feels that democracy without morality is futile. Democracy is about vote of the majority but without morality the minority will be alienated.

 

Swedish missionary dies after Pakistan shooting


Swedish missionary dies after Pakistan shooting

Published: 13 Dec 12

The Swedish charity worker who was shot in the chest in Pakistan last week died in a Stockholm hospital on Wednesday night.

Sveriges Television (SVT) reported that 71-year-old Birgitta Almeby died at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm late on Wednesday.

She was receiving treatment after having been flown home to Sweden for specialist medical care for her injuries.

Niclas Lindgren, director of the missionary wing of the Pentecostal church in Sweden, said it was hard to come to grips with Almeby’s killing.

“Birgitta worked with social issues like education and health care. If she’d worked with political issues, it may have been understandable why she got murdered,” he told The Local.

“There was no indication that there was a threat to her life. It was very unexpected. As it is now, we don’t know what the motive was or why she was killed.”

Lindgren added that it was “too early to say” whether the murder will affect the missionary’s work in Pakistan.

Speaking with Christian newspaper Dagen, a representative from the Pentecostal church in Köping said Almeby’s injuries had resulted in serious brain damage, leaving little hope that she would ever fully recover.

Almeby was attacked in Lahore, Pakistan‘s second largest city, on the eastern border with India last Monday.

“She was returning from her office and was attacked when she arrived in front of her home in the Model Town neighbourhood,” Awais Malik, a senior police official told AFP.

She was working in Lahore for the US-founded Full Gospel Assemblies, which describes itself as a “church fellowship” with congregations all over the world.

The woman had lived in Pakistan for almost forty years.

Malik said on Monday that the culprits had not yet been identified.

The missionary wing of the Pentecostal church in Sweden still has one family in Pakistan, according to press officer Noomi Lind:

“But they are safe at the moment, as far as we can see. So they are going to stay for the time being,” she told The Local.

Lahore, a city of eight million, suffered a string of high-profile bombings blamed on Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants in 2010.

In August 2011, US development worker Warren Weinstein was kidnapped after gunmen tricked their way into his Lahore home. Pakistani officials believe he is being held by al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists in Pakistan’s lawless
northwest.

In April, a British Muslim Red Cross worker was beheaded nearly four months after being kidnapped in the southwestern city of Quetta.

The Local/AFP/ej/og

Don’t Be Afraid, Mr. President — You Can Take on the Gun Lobby


  NEWS & POLITICS
Salon / By Steve Kornacki, Altnet
Barack Obama and his party have been too terrified of angering gun owners to realize they can win without them.
December 15, 2012  |

A grieving President Barack Obama wiped away tears and struggled to compose himself Friday as he mourned the dead in the Connecticut school shooting.
Photo Credit: AFP

There’s no disputing that the Democratic Party has regressed dramatically on the issue of gun violence over the past two decades. When a shooting rampage on the Long Island Railroad killed six people and injured 19 others in December 1993, Bill Clinton responded immediately by calling for specific legislative action to prevent future tragedies. Contrast that with the response of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday to a question about whether the carnage in Connecticut might prompt President Obama to pursue gun control measures. “I’m sure there will be another day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates,” Carney said, “but I don’t think today is that day.”

It can be hard to remember now, but well into the 1990s, national Democrats proudly associated themselves with gun control, championing laws that restricted access to deadly weapons. Under Clinton, the Brady Bill, which mandated a five-day waiting period for the purchase of handgun, was passed, and so was a ban on assault weapons. The 1996 Democratic Convention that nominated Clinton for a second term featured Jim and Sarah Brady as primetime speakers.

The years since then, however, have been marked by a steady and thus far enduring Democratic retreat on the issue, with the Second Amendment crowd now largely dictating the terms of public discussion and Democrats mainly trying to avoid their wrath. Consider Obama’s record on guns, which includes one achievement: a law making it easier to carry concealed weapons in national parks.

While the violent crime rate that fed the gun control zeal of the ’90s is much lower today, horrifying mass shootings seem to be on the rise. Six of the 12 deadliest sprees in American history have taken place just since 2007. In his own remarks Friday, delivered a few hours after Carney’s, Obama seemed to hint that the latest deadly outburst might actually shake him and his party from their defensive crouch on guns. “[W]e’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics,” the president said.

What that means is anyone’s guess right now. It appears that the Connecticut killer used several weapons, at least one of which would be illegal if the assault weapons ban – which the Republican Congress refused to reauthorize in 2004 – were still in effect. Obama is on the record supporting the ban’s reinstatement; might he now demand action? Or will he pursue other policy changes? Or maybe he’ll just end up doing what leaders of his party have done for more than a decade now: nothing.

The Democrats’ cowardice on guns traces back to the fateful election of 2000. Clinton, despite his aggressive pursuit of gun control measures, fared relatively well with rural gun-owning populations in his 1996 reelection campaign. But those same voters turned hard on Al Gore in ’00, shifting Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee to the Republican column. A victory in any one of those states – all of which Clinton carried twice – would have made Gore president. Democrats concluded that they’d scared off rural, lower-income white voters who had traditionally supported them – and that guns were the big reason why. A new consensus emerged: Gun control could no longer be a central component of Democratic messaging. So it was that John Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and 2012 did their best to ignore the issue. Kerry went so far as to embark on a goose hunt in rural Ohio just before Election Day.

In terms of political strategy, there’s been one obvious shortcoming to this approach: It hasn’t worked. Kerry did no better than Gore in West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas, and Obama has failed to win any of those states in two elections now. What’s more, there’s been no improvement in Democratic support among gun owners in any election since 2000. As Nate Cohn pointed out Friday, the lesson Democrats should be drawing from Obama’s two victories is that they can win nationally without the pro-gun vote. The Democratic coalition continues to evolve and grow, and the rural white voters who were key to its success generations ago have become a reliably Republican constituency.

What’s more, Democrats continue to be painted as the party of gun confiscators by the NRA and its allies. Even though there was nothing in Obama’s first term record for them to object to, the NRA bitterly fought his reelection this year, treating him as if he were Michael Douglas’ character in “The American President.” In other words, Democrats are already paying the political price that comes with being the gun control party. So if they believe in it, why not just say it – and act on it?

The answer typically provided to this question is that there are a number of Democrats in Congress from states with large gun-owning populations – think Joe Manchin and Jon Tester – and that the party’s current posture makes it possible for them to win. But a better way of understanding the success of these Democrats is that it’s come in spite of the national party’s reputation. Democrats like Manchin and Tester are already winning over voters who believe national Democrats want to take their guns away; this challenge will be exactly the same if national Democrats actually do start pursuing gun control again.

There were a few notable Democratc voices on Friday demanding that the party recommit itself to tackling gun violence. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a Long Island Democrat who entered politics in response to her husband’s death in the ’93 LIRR tragedy, said Friday that she will be pushing “full force” for new gun laws in Obama’s second term – and that she’s willing to “embarrass” the president if necessary.

McCarthy, it should be noted, was showcased by her national party when she first ran for Congress in 1996. Her story of turning her loss into a crusade for gun control was one with which Democrats very much wanted to be associated. As her congressional career progressed, McCarthy became lonely voice, on Capitol Hill and within the Democratic Party. But the spike in mass shootings has given her a new audience and an opportunity win new allies (and to win back old ones) – and to exert real pressure on Obama to get serious. We’ll know soon enough if Obama is really feeling the heat.

 

 

Salaam Bombay # poetry #humor #sundayreading


 

A City where everything is possible, especially the impossible .

Where telephone bills make a person ill,
Where a person cannot sleep without a pill.

Where carbon-dioxide is more than oxygen,
Where the road is considered to be a dustbin,

Where college canteens are full and cl-asses empty,
Where Adam teasing is also making an entry,

Where a cycle reaches faster than a car,
Where everyone thinks himself to be a star,

Where sky scrapers overlook the slum,
Where houses collapse as the monsoon comes,

Where people first act and then think,
Where there is more water in the pen than ink,

Where the roads see-saw in monsoon,
Where the beggars become rich soon,

Where the roads are leveled when the minister arrives,

Where college admission means hard cash,
Where cement is frequently mixed with ash.

This is Mumbai my dear, But don’t fear, just cheer, come to Mumbai every
year!

THINGS TO PROVE YOU’RE A BOMBAYITE

1. You say ‘town ‘ and expect everyone to know that this means south
of Churchgate.

2 You speak in a dialect of Hindi called ‘Bambaiya Hindi‘,
which only Bombayites can understand.

3. Your door has more than three locks.

4. Rs 500 worth of groceries fit in one paper bag.

5. Train timings ( 9.27 , 10.49 etc) are really important events of life.

6. You spend more time each month traveling than you spend at home.

7. You call an 8′ x 10′ clustered room a Hall.

8.. You’re paying Rs 10,000 for a 1 room flat, the size
of walk-in closet and you think it’s a ‘steal.’

9. You have the following sets of friend: school friends, college
friends, neighborhood friends, office friends and yes, train friends,
a species unique only in Bombay. (REALLY TRUE)

10. Cabbies and bus conductors think you are from Mars
if you call the roads by their Indian name,
they are more familiar with Warden Road, Peddar Road, Altamount Road

11. Stock market quotes are the only other thing* besides cricket
which you follow passionately.

12. The first thing that you read in the Times of India is the
‘ Bombay Times’ supplement.

13. You take fashion seriously.
You’re suspicious of strangers who are actually nice to you.

14.. Hookers, beggars and the homeless are invisible.

15. You compare Bombay to New York ‘s Manhattan instead of any other
cities of India.

16. The most frequently used part of your car is the horn.

17. You insist on calling CST as VT, and Sahar and
Santacruz airports instead of Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

18. You consider eye contact an act of overt aggression.

19. Your idea of personal space is no one actually standing on your toes.

20. Being truly alone makes you nervous.

21. You love wading through knee deep mucky water in the monsoons, and
actually call it ”romantic’.

22. Only in Bombay, you would get Chinese Dosa and
Jain Chicken Masala

Salaam Bombay…

 

Will.i.am: ‘I want to write code!’ #sundayreading #music


Will.i.am: ‘I want to write code!’

Will.i.am is no ordinary rapper. He is a founding member of Black Eyed Peas, a TV star and a philanthropist – but what really excites him is technology, and how it can advance social change. Plus he’s invented his own gadget

Will.i.am with the i.am foto.sosho, which transforms an iPhone 4 and 4S into a serious digital camera. Photograph: Richard Saker

How smart is Will.i.am? Pretty damned smart, I’d say. Which is not to say that, at times, he doesn’t come across like an overactive toddler who’s been on the orange squash. Especially when he’s talking about his vision of the future, when we’ll be listening to music through our clothes: “We won’t have headphones! There’ll be smart fabrics which affect your nerve endings!” Or more or less anything to do with technology. It’s his favourite subject and it gets him hopping up and down in his seat and gesticulating and asking rhetorical questions and putting on a range of different voices (he’s a truly excellent mimic, doing Michael Jackson as a sort of ghetto Barbara Cartland, though at one point he does me and I’m a ghetto Princess Margaret).

But then if you thought that Will.i.am was some rapper who was a judge on a talent show (BBC1′s The Voice) with a rich and evocative line in contemporary slang (“I like her, she’s dope!” “That’s fresh!” etc), you’d be right but slightly missing the point.

He might have the trappings of a rap star, an entourage that includes a film crew which is following his every move, and a slightly scary way of facing you down if he doesn’t like the question, but that’s only a small part of it. He’s also one of the most sought-after producers in the music industry and one of its shrewdest business brains. And even though this week his latest collaboration, Scream & Shout, with Britney Spears, went straight to number one on iTunes in both the US and in the UK, the music industry is actually the least of his concerns.

“Music is cool. But I’m just so much more excited about technology. It’s like I’m 13, 14 all over again. When I was 12, 13, 14 all I wanted to do was music. Now I’m a little older, all I think about is technology and consumer electronic products. I still make music, don’t get me wrong. But it’s just like breathing now.”

Music has been the launch pad for Will.i.am’s success, but it’s now just one strand of his burgeoning empire. He’s become a technology evangelist, a speaker at the most prestigious gatherings of the world’s elite – the Clinton Global Initiative, Google events – he’s developed and launched his own range of iPhone accessories, he has his own charitable foundations paying for kids to go through college and bailing out people’s mortgages, and this August he became the first musician to broadcast a piece of music on Mars: Nasa’s Curiosity rover beamed a song that he’d written especially for the occasion, Reach for the Stars, back to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. (He said he’d used an orchestra because he didn’t feel “sending a computer beat to Mars” was “the right thing to do”.)

And that’s just this year. On top of which, he played the Queen’s jubilee, and carried the Olympic torch (tweeting as he went). And donated £500,000 of his own money to the Prince’s Trust to help develop young people’s skills in Brixton and east London, with the focus on technology. (He likes Britain, he says, and has slightly adopted us, it seems. But then we’ve returned the favour: the Black Eyed Peas were successful here before anywhere else, and Scream & Shout took a week to go to the top of the US singles charts, and just 24 hours here.) He went on the Graham Norton Show shortly after the Prince’s Trust donation was announced and found himself next to the actress, Miriam Margolyes, who looked astonished. “It’s just so unusual for a rapper!” she said.

But then, Will.i.am is not just unusual for a rapper. He’s unusual by pretty much anyone’s standards. Born William James Adams to a single mother in a poor community in east Los Angeles, he began his music career at high school and later formed the Black Eyed Peas. Right from the start, they had a clear strategy, ignoring the gangsta rap ghetto, and concentrating on college campuses “until every single college kid” knew them, and then they got a record deal.

There has always been a strategy. When file-sharing torpedoed album sales, and the music industry started panicking, Will.i.am was exploring other sources of revenue and taking a relentlessly commercial and ultimately highly successful approach to the music business. He started to look at the Black Eyed Peas “as a brand not a band” and began approaching companies with ideas about how they could work together.

On the surface, it’s about a million miles away from rock’s countercultural roots and its antipathy to The Man. But, they’ve been so smart about it, retaining their artistic freedom, and forging their own path, and Will.i.am’s now applying the same strategy to technology.

The i.am camera device for the iPhone that he launched last month (and for which the Britney Spears video looks like a promotional vehicle, which of course it is) is not some celebrity branding exercise. It was devised and developed by Will.i.am and that was part of the point: he wants kids to become technology entrepreneurs (he’s currently in talks with Simon Cowell for an X Factor-style show he hopes will uncover the next Mark Zuckerberg, rather than the next Leona Lewis). And showing that it’s possible to do things, rather than just talk about them, is part of what seems to be his grand plan.

“First you have to build capital, and you do that by building a brand, a brand around substance, and things that are valued, and then you start doing things around philanthropy and teaching.”

And that’s the endgame? “The endgame? There’s no endgame! The point is to keep moving. That’s an endgame right there, the language that you use. That’s the endgame. There is no endgame, it’s called momentum.”

That’s me told. But then I’ve witnessed him telling a roomful of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs where they’ve gone wrong too, so I don’t take it personally. Earlier this year, I attended a weekend organised by the Singularity University, a sort of Silicon Valley thinktank co-founded by the futurist Ray Kurzweil and the founder of the X prize, Pete Diamandis, and after presentations by Craig Venter, who sequenced the human genome, and Vint Cerf, the “father of the internet”, a voice down the front asked a question.

“I’ve been sitting here listening to how in 20 years’ time my niece is going to be dumber than my cellphone. But how are you going to take this into the ghetto?” It was Will.i.am. “That’s what I want to know.”

Knowledge is useless if it’s exclusive, he says, when I ask him about this. “If you really want change, you really want it to be inclusive, where everyone’s included, otherwise you’re just going to have more of the same in the future.”

There’s a certain degree of contradiction to some of his statements. He treats me to a 10-minute critique of global capitalism and inbuilt obsolescence and the iniquity of global labour markets.

But it’s difficult, isn’t it, I say. “It’s not difficult at all.” But you’re a manufacturer these days, how do you build equality into the supply chain? And he looks troubled for a moment and says: “We would need capital to build our own factories in America.” And as shiny and modern as his i.am camera is (price £199), it has inbuilt obsolescence written all over it. “Hell, yes, this is obsolete the moment they don’t make the iPhone 4 no more.”

But it’s part of his “momentum”. And I’m quibbling for the sake of it really, because, what is most exceptional about Will.i.am is that there’s no doubting his commitment to social change, and he really does put his money where his mouth is. Most celebrities raise money for celebrity causes: they ask people poorer than them to give their money to them.

“I will not start an initiative until I’ve spent my own money. Because if I spend my own money, people who want to get on board afterwards know that I am serious about it. There’s lots of people who have money but no reach, and their money comes from God knows where and they need to write it off, so they get a celebrity on board to validate it. Unfortunately that is Hollywood. And I don’t want to be like that. That just turns my stomach. When I see folks that show up for the night and say ‘Oh my God, I really care about blah, blah!’”

And he is passionate about improving access to education, about the need for young people to engage with science and technology, and about how damaging it will be for us all if they do not. He has always attributed his own success to the strong values that his mother instilled in him, and the emphasis that she placed on education. Growing up in Boyle Heights, a rough neighbourhood in east Los Angeles, his mother got him into something called the “magnet” programme, a scheme originally devised to encourage racial integration, which enabled him to go to school in the wealthy suburb of Brentwood. “And that’s where I learned to love science,” he says. “We had a computer lab, we had oceanography, we had anatomy, we had physics, that’s where it started.”

Music introduced him to new technology, and then, a couple of years back, he bought a Segway, and decided he wanted to hack it. “So I called Dean Kamen [who invented the Segway]. I rang him and said, ‘I want to take the governor off and make it go faster.’

“And he said, ‘I’ll help you out with that, if you help me out with US First. And I said, ‘What’s US First?’ [It's a not-for-profit group teaching young people about science and technology.] And he said, ‘Well, you see that’s why I need your help.” He ended up making a TV show with Kamen “with the help of my friends: Bono, [Justin] Bieber, [Jason] Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, the Peas, Jack Black, President Barack Obama, and we all did a testimony on why Stem [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] is important.”

Stem education has become one of his great passions, to such an extent that he’s said that he wants to do a college course himself next year. He wants to learn how to write code. “We all rely on technology to communicate, to survive, to do our banking, to shop, to get informed, but none of us knows how to read and write the code.” It’s like the middle ages, he says, when only the clergy could read and write.

So, you’re going to do a course? “Yeah! I want to learn to read and write code! I want to be one of the clergy. I want to be one of the folks who contribute. Everyone should want to be.” I did an introductory course on coding, I tell him. And it made my brain ache. “I want brain ache!”

He used to go to nightclubs, but now he goes to conferences “which are better than clubs because they still have music and after-parties but you get knowledged-up before the party”.

It’s all about getting knowledged-up. “I remember going to Brazil in 2005 and Brazil is totally different now. And I can’t say the same for Brixton. Brixton is probably the same as when I came in 2006. That’s something we should all be concerned about.”

And he’s particularly concerned about girls. “When you think about the guys who started Twitter, and the Google guys, and the Facebook guys and the Napster guys, and the Microsoft guys, and the Dell guys and the Instagram guys, it’s all guys. The girls they’re being left behind.”

Though he likes what Angela Ahrendts has done at Burberry. “I like her. She’s dope. She’s fresh.”

But then Will.i.am is pretty dope too. Pretty fresh. I tell him about a technology event we want to hold next year, and he grabs my iPhone from me and starts punching in his email address. “I want to be part of that. Can I be part of that?”

The future, he thinks, is not going to be made in Silicon Valley. It’s going to be down to “some kid” in Ghana, or the Philippines or Cambodia. “When the iPhone 8 comes out and you chuck your iPhone 7, when the iPhone 6 is pretty fucking dope, some kid is going to take the iPhone 5 and do something totally different with it. Is going to steam punk the new big thing. That’s the future right there.”

i.am foto.sosho cameras are available exclusively through Selfridges. Will.i.am’s single Scream and Shout, featuring Britney Spears, is out now and is taken from his solo album #willpower, out early next year

Starving for Recognition: The Plight of Palestinian Political Prisoners


Saturday, 15 December 2012 00:00 By Pam Bailey, Truthout | Op-Ed

In support of hunger strike prisoners.Palestinian and israeli protesters demonstrate in support of hunger striking prisoners. (Photo: Rina Castelnuovo / The New York Times)

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Earlier in the year, the US media extensively covered the 66-day hunger strike of a Palestinian named Khader Adnan, who risked his life to protest his detention without charge or trial. Today, there are five more prisoners protesting with their empty stomachs. Yet virtually no one is covering their cases. Why?

Early this year, the long-ignored population of Palestinians warehoused behind Israeli bars broke onto the global stage with the courageous hunger strike of Khader Adnan, who went without food for 66 days to protest his “administrative detention” – a limbo in which he had been held without charge or trial. His protest captured the attention of media around the world and inspired a rash of other strikes, culminating in a mass action by an estimated 2,000 other Palestinian political prisoners.

The dramatic tactics appeared to work: Adnan and the others were released, and the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association reported that the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) agreed “there would be no new administrative detention orders or renewals” (albeit with several caveats).

However, today, more than four months later, the IPS is quietly breaking its promises, and at least five prisoners are once again on hunger strike. Two of them – Ayman Sharawna and Samer al-Issawi – had been released in October 2011 as part of the agreement Israel signed in exchange for the freedom of its captured soldier, Gilad Shalit. They were re-arrested several months later, without any new charges or evidence, and have been on at least a partial strike since July and August, respectively. As this article went to press, their health was seriously deteriorating, with frequent loss of consciousness and muscle control, and calls by Physicians for Human Rights in Israel to allow visits by independent doctors have been ignored.

Another of the hunger strikers, Oday Keilani, has gone without food for more than 40 days, after his own administrative detention – under which he has been held since April 2011 – was extended for another four months, despite the IPS’ promises.

Even those who have merely rallied in support of the prisoners are now being targeted. In October, Ayman Nasser, a researcher with Addameer, was arrested in part for his active participation in solidarity demonstrations. To date, Nasser remains in Israeli detention. At 3 a.m. on Dec. 12, the offices of Addameer and several other Palestinian NGOs were ransacked, and their computers, files and video equipment stolen. Posters of prisoners and hunger strikers were ripped from the walls and strewn around the office.

You wouldn’t know any of this was going on, however, from the “mainstream” Western media. Despite the earlier rush of coverage, the hunger strikers today are starving in virtual silence.

Khaled Waleed, operations coordinator for the UFree Network, which advocates in the European Union for Palestinian political prisoners, believes media coverage isn’t typically what forces Israel to act. However, he is quick to add that it is an important influence on governments that can apply pressure. And Mahmoud Sarsak, the popular Palestinian soccer player who went on hunger strike for 96 days before he was finally released, is convinced that grassroots pressure was critical to his eventual freedom.

“People seem to have lost interest in the hunger strikes now,” laments Waleed, who adds that his organization focuses more on broad issues, like Israel’s growing pattern of “re-arrests.”

“We need a vision that unites everyone, and right now, it’s not clear where that will come from,” he said.

Experts, as well as former and current political prisoners, identify a variety of forces working against the sustained attention needed to bring about real and lasting change in the plight of Palestinian political prisoners: marginalization by the “Arab Spring,” global economic collapse, the Iranian “threat” and elections in several key countries.

Competing With World Events

As Salam Fayyad, prime minister for the Palestinian Authority (PA), told The New York Times earlier this year, “The biggest challenge we face – apart from occupation – is marginalization. This is a direct consequence of the Arab Spring where people are preoccupied with their own domestic affairs. The United States is in an election year and has economic problems, Europe has its worries. We’re in a corner.”

Although the PA managed to gain enough support to win observer status in the United Nations last month, the international “bandwidth” is just not sufficient to accommodate a host of other issues – especially those that require sustained attention – without a very focused, sustained campaign.

Even in the Palestinian Territories, where “solidarity tents” in support of the hunger strikers were constant and vocal for Khader Adnan and the others, there is only intermittent activity this time around. “I think people are just exhausted with the whole situation,” admits Malaka Mohammed, a young activist in Gaza who has been at the forefront of the protest movement there, and helped organize a solidarity rally on Dec. 13. “It’s hard to stay active on everything, especially after Israel’s latest attack on Gaza.”

Salem Hassan Khalil Abu Shab was imprisoned by Israel three times – the last for more than 18 years – and now is back home in Gaza, struggling to fit back into a family that had become independent without him. Twice, he participated in hunger strikes, which he recalls as “the worst thing to have to do, but the only thing we can do to fight back and keep our dignity.” Shab adds, however, that to be successful, strikes need “people on the outside keeping up the pressure.” When other, competing events occur, he acknowledged – like the UN bid and the Israeli attack – the strikes lose their impact. Israel, he believes, is aware of that.

Israel’s Control of the Message

Anat Matar, senior lecturer in philosophy at Tel Aviv University, observed in a report from the International Middle East Media Center that Western reporting is largely based on Israel’s perspective, in which Palestinians are portrayed as security risks rather than political prisoners, and as “militants” and “terrorists,” rather than resistance fighters. Because spokespeople for the Israeli government are easy to access, are relied upon by the likes of President Obama and Secretary Clinton and have 30-second sound-bites at the ready, this same language is repeated in Western media, which regularly describe Palestinian prisoners and fighters as “militants” (or worse yet, “Islamist militants”), rather than “the opposition,” as in Syria.

Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, writes in his blog: “Israeli hasbara has worked hard over many years to stereotype the Palestinians as ‘terrorists,’ and by doing so to withdraw any sympathy from their victimization, which is portrayed as somehow deserved.”

Predictability

Khader Adnan’s hunger strike attracted attention in large part because he used Gandhian techniques to challenge the “system,” and no one knew how the story would end: Would Israel let him die? Would he wrest significant concessions from Israel?

However, Adnan didn’t die. He reached a settlement with Israel, dropping his protest in return for early release. Hana Shalabi followed, ending her own strike in exchange for release to Gaza, far from her home in the West Bank. Each of the rest of the hunger strikers followed suit, eventually ending their strike in return for a few weeks or months cut off their detention. The outcome became predictable, and the concessions given in return had plenty of loopholes built in. As Falk writes, “It needs to be understood that Israel retains all the prerogatives to rely on administrative detention in the future and continues to have unmonitored, exclusive control over prison life.”

After the novelty of Adnan, media coverage gradually tapered off as boredom set in. Shalabi, Bilal Diab, Thaer Halahla and the estimated 2,000 other prisoners who joined the hunger strike, mostly for a shorter length of time, continued to generate some attention. But by the time Sarsak upped the ante, it had started to lag. Google Akram Rikhawi, who lasted an amazing 102 consecutive days, and the current strikers Ayman Sharawna and Samer al-Issawi, and few mentions at all are found in “mainstream” American media. In part as a result, the Israeli military appears to have adopted a pattern of doing what it has to do to cut a deal to avoid revival of international attention, then reneging on virtually everything.

No Clear, Compelling “Public Face”

No centrally coordinated, highly visible vehicle exists for tracking who begins hunger striking, when and why, monitoring what Israel has promised and when those commitments are broken and then widely publicizing this information. Reporters interested in the issue must work hard – too hard – to find all the details. As a result, they don’t. Compare that situation to the sophisticated, “one-stop-shop” blog and companion Facebook page run by the Israeli military: www.idfblog.com. Whatever “fact” you could want, it’s there, along with snazzy graphics.

Lack of Leadership

As powerless as Palestinians often feel, it’s a fact that international media attention often follows local coverage. Yet columnist Hussam Kanafani, from the newspaper Al Khaleej, wrote that after Adnan, even Palestinian coverage of the strikers began to decline.

The case of Sarsak is instructive. He was first imprisoned without charge in 2009 and began his hunger strike in March of this year, after his administrative detention was renewed for the sixth time. But the Palestinian football association didn’t raise its voice until June, when it became public knowledge that the once-star player, the youngest to have made it onto the Palestinian national team, had lost 33 percent of his body mass and was said to be suffering from spells of unconsciousness and severe muscle atrophy. Ayat Saafeen, head of the Palestinian Women’s Football Association, admitted that “support was slow on the uptake,” with the organization waiting for a build-up of international solidarity before acting.

Local media coverage lagged as well. Linah Alsaafin explained in Ceasefire magazine that an independent news outlet is still a rarity in Palestine – with most publications owned by political parties or wealthy individuals with political affiliations. The fact that footballer Sarsak did not belong to a political faction (not to Islamic Jihad, as Israeli authorities claimed), was the underlying reason, she wrote, for the half-hearted coverage of his hunger strike by Palestinian media.

“Prisoners have separated according to political party and religion,” Sarsak agreed at a conference on political prisoners in Tunisia, where he is now making his home. “This is very bad for the cause. We need to be acting as one.”

Unity of leadership is one of the key lessons learned by perhaps the most famous hunger-striking prisoners: Irish Republicans who fought the British state in the 1980s. Former hunger striker Pat Sheehan, who was slated to be the 11th political prisoner to die in the chain begun by Bobby Sands in 1981, visited Gaza recently with a delegation of European parliamentarians. He and his fellow former political prisoner Gerry MacLochlainn are very careful to avoid even the appearance of telling Palestinians what to do, or of drawing too close a parallel. Still, history has undeniably shown that some lessons are universal.

“Three factors were critical to our ultimate success,” recalled MacLochlainn. “Unity of leadership; realistic, concrete demands that we all bought into and insisted on as a group; and a willingness to ‘go the distance.’ When you start a hunger strike, participants must be totally committed to taking it to the final end. Otherwise, you won’t be taken seriously.”

To date, unity of leadership has been a challenge for Palestinians, as Sarsak noted. In fact, Addameer’s staff in the West Bank was reportedly told by the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority to stay home rather than attend the conference in Tunisia, due to the dominant role played by Islamist factions in organizing the event. There is cautious optimism, however, that the new sense of unity evident following the latest Israeli attack on Gaza, and the UN vote on observer status for Palestine, will be more than a “flash-in-the-pan.” It will, however, take time, cautions Waleed.

The other question Palestinians must answer is whether striking for individual release is their best strategy, versus negotiating for the collective good. According to Ashraf Hussain, director of international relations for the Ministry of Detainee Affairs in Gaza, the mass hunger strike that attracted more than 2,000 participants in the spring was called by a committee of prisoner leaders inside the system. However, the ongoing strikes by specific prisoners to protest their continuing detentions despite promises of release are actions taken individually.

“It is definitely more effective to act as a group, but how can we not support individuals fighting their own situations as well?” Hussain asked.

The danger, however, is that by doing so, the Palestinians play into the secret agenda of their captors. In the 2011 book, Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel, Walid Daka – currently serving a life sentence – observes, “Most of the problems presented and the solutions reached pertain to individual prisoners…. Meetings, study circles and ideological discussions about national problems are much less frequent. Indeed, there [are] an increasing number of prisoners who take up academic studies, but their motivation is self-development and preparation for their own future after their release, rather than collective values and national concerns.”

According to Addameer, more then 4,600 Palestinians remained in Israeli prisons as of Oct. 12 – including 210 who are under the age of 18, 250 who have never been formally charged or tried, and 23 who were democratically elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council. Israel is arresting 11 to 20 more Palestinians every day – up to 7,000 a year.

When the Israeli effort to focus prisoners on narrow personal needs is coupled with the increasing use of technology to separate them from each other and from their “keepers” (a trend chillingly documented in Threat), it’s clear that Palestinians are facing an existential challenge to their very identity as a people and a culture.

Pam Bailey is a journalist and social entrepreneur who reports on Palestine and other “targets” of misbegotten US foreign policy. She teaches journalism/social media & consults on communication strategies in the fight for peace & justice. She is based in Alexandria, VA, and blogs atpaminprogress.tumblr.com.

 

#India Tribal undertrials cry injustice, go on hunger strike #protest


DNA, Mumbai- Yogesh Pawar- Dec 16, 2012

Around 50 adivasis of Gadchiroli district incarcerated at the Nagpur central prison as political prisoners have commenced a hunger strike from December 10, which is International Human Rights Day.

For the past two years, these undertrials have been protesting the failure of the judicial process and the high-handedness of the local district police. These tribals have not even been presented in court for as many as 23 months. Many have expressed shock and surprise that this is happening to people from a district which has home minister RR Patil himself as guardian minister.

Several of these adivasis have been repeatedly re-arrested after courts threw out earlier cases against them. “We have not even been able to come out of prison and even go home before the police arrest us again. Some of us have been in prison for nearly six years now,” says a handwritten letter written by one of the inmates, circulated by their lawyer Surendra Gadling. He told DNA: “When they find that many of the cases are being thrown out by courts, they simply stop presenting them.”

As expected, RR Patil says that these are “exaggerated” and “isolated cases”. “Our government is committed to justice.” Incidentally Patil’s assurances must leave many with a feeling of deja vu. In April 2011, replying to a question raised by MLC Shoba Fadnavis, Patil had promised the Legislative Council that he would review all cases of tribals arrested under Naxalism charges in Gadchiroli. “Its been 21 months since,” Fadnavis says. “If the government was serious about this, there would be at least some movement. In stead, more and more injustices are being heaped on the hapless tribals. This is a recipe for disaster as the state governement is going on alienating its own people.”

Fadnavis’ words ring true when one looks at the case of one and half-year-old Azad Kalmati, who was born in Amravati prison after his mother was arrested when she has been pregnant for five months. He has lived in prison with his mother while his father Rajesh Kalmati, despite numerous pleas to the authorities, has been kept in Nagpur prison. Incidentally, the local court threw out the case made out against the couple on September 23, 2012.

“Just when we were hoping that we will be reunited as a family, the police have filed a new case under the Arms Act against us,” complains Rajesh in another letter written from prison. Gadling says he is shocked at the callousness with which the police are disregarding even Supreme Court guidelines on not handcuffing under-trials.
The new prison, constructed over 17.5 hectares at a cost of Rs14 crore two years ago, is in shambles, with most of the doors windows and fixtures including electrical and sanitary parts worth over Rs20 lakh stolen.

 

 

AP: 850 #Aadhaar cards trashed #UID :-)


200 px

200 px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

DC | 16th Dec 2012

 

 

 

 

Hyderabad: A bundle of 850 Aadhaar cards were found in a garbage bin near Barkas area late on Saturday evening.

 

 

After locals informed them, the police took possession of the cards and began an inquiry into how the identification cards ended up in the bin.

 

 

“We informed the concerned departments about the cards. The UID (Unique Identification Department) Madhapur will look into this. We have informed the revenue department and postal department too. Once we get a reply we can take action,” said Mohammed Taher Ali, Falaknuma ACP.

 

 

“Earlier, we got complaints against a postman in Nalgonda district for throwing away Aadhaar cards. He was later  sacked. The Falaknuma incident is the second such case coming to our notice. We will initiate stringent action against those responsible,” said M.V.S. Rami Reddy, deputy director-general of UIDAI, AP.

 

 

Dumped cards of  those who registered first

 

 

It has been found that the Aadhaar cards found in a dustbin near Barkas belonged to people of the area. The cards belong to those who enrolled during first round of registration four months ago.

 

 

While people are being driven from pillar-to-post over months and years to secure their Aadhaar cards, lakhs of cards have been lying undelivered for years together in post offices across the state.

 

 

The postal department has failed to deliver the cards, their reasons being “staff crunch” and “untraced addresses”. The department has returned nearly 50,000 untraced cards in May this year after holding on to them for over a year.

 

 

The postal staff is under tremendous pressure from the UIDAI authorities to clear the Aadhaar cards. Senior officials in the Postal Department are warning postmen to clear the cards at the earliest or face “disciplinary action”.

 

 

In Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy districts, 76 lakh people enrolled for Aadhaar cards, delivery was made to less than 65 lakh people.

 

 

“With the distribution of Aadhaar cards, our work burden has increased by five times over the normal duties. While each post office can deliver cards in hundreds a day, we are receiving cards in thousands from UIDAI. We need more staff to clear the cards,” said an official of the Postal Department.

 

 

For instance, in Musheerabad post office, there are eight postmen who can deliver 3,000 cards a day, but it is receiving 6,000 cards. Similar is the situation in all post offices across the state.

 

 

The police department is also putting the blame on Aadhaar enrolment centres for feeding in wrong addresses without verifying them properly, thus compounding the problems in making delivery.

 

#India -Reject Amendments to Counter terrorism Law


The Terror of Law
December 14, 2012, HumanRights Watch

While India has a responsibility to protect citizens from terror attacks, the counterterrorism law has long been abused to detain suspects for excessive periods, file charges on fabricated evidence, and ban organizations without due process of law. These amendments will make the law an even more dangerous tool in the hands of officials who seek to oppress peaceful critics and minority communities.

(New York) – The Indian parliament should reject proposed amendments to India’s counterterrorism act that could lead to further misuse of the draconian law, Human Rights Watch said today. Parliament should call on the government to withdraw the amendments to the, which is scheduled for a vote in India’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha, on December 17, 2012.

On November 30, the lower house of the Indian parliament passed the amendments to the UAPA, India’s principal federal counterterrorism law, without significant input or scrutiny from the general public or civil society organizations. The amendments would allow the government broad leeway to increase bans on proscribed organizations to five years and widen the definition of a person to any association of individuals.

“While India has a responsibility to protect citizens from terror attacks, the counterterrorism law has long been abused to detain suspects for excessive periods, file charges on fabricated evidence, and ban organizations without due process of law,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These amendments will make the law an even more dangerous tool in the hands of officials who seek to oppress peaceful critics and minority communities.”

The UAPA and counterterrorism laws preceding it have been widely misused to target political opponents, tribal groups, religious and ethnic minorities, and Dalits, Human Rights Watch said. For instance, state police have used the UAPA bans on groups to round up the same suspects after every terrorist attack simply because they had been previously charged – but not convicted – of membership in an unlawful organization.

The proposed amendments expand the definition of the “person” who can be charged under the law to include “an association of persons or a body of individuals, whether incorporated or not.” Human Rights Watch expressed concern that this would allow the police to charge an individual merely on the grounds of contact with a suspect.

The amendment increasing the period for which an association can be declared as unlawful from two years to five years will allow the authorities to ban for a longer period an organization it opposes, even though the organization has not been found unlawful by a court.

“Extending the ban on groups from two to five years without a court determination is a recipe for abuse,” Ganguly said. “The police and investigating agencies could arrest people for being part of a banned organization even though a court never found it to be involved in terrorism.”

The amendments also expand the definition of “terrorist act” to include acts that threaten the economic security of India and damage its monetary stability by production, smuggling, or circulation of “high quality” counterfeit currency. These crimes are not recognized terrorism offenses and are already covered by the Indian Penal Code. Including them under a more stringent counterterrorism law seems intended to make obtaining bail more difficult and to allow for a longer pre-charge detention period, Human Rights Watch said.

The bill would also enlarge the scope of punishment for raising funds to commit a terrorist act or for the benefit of terrorists irrespective of whether they have actually been used to commit a terrorist act. As long as one had knowledge that “such funds are likely to be used, in full or in part by such person or persons or by a terrorist organisation or by a terrorist gang or by an individual terrorist to commit a terrorist act,” that person is culpable.
When opposition members called for a more thorough discussion of the amendments, India’s home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, told parliament that the government would never allow the misuse of the law and that the amendments would bring clarity to the exiting framework and remove deficiencies.
“The government’s claim that the law won’t be misused disregards the recent history of abuse of counterterror laws that have left suspects languishing in jail for years before being acquitted for lack of evidence,” Ganguly said. “Bad laws not only violate international human rights standards, but are counterproductive because abuses are used as a recruiting tool by extremist groups.”

In 2008, following an attack in Mumbai, the government amended the UAPA by borrowing from earlier counterterrorism legislation that had been allowed to lapse or been repealed because they had led to serious rights violations. These laws ­– the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act 1985 (TADA) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002 (POTA) – had enabled serious human rights violations by government forces during counterterrorism operations.

The 2008 UAPA amendments also increased the risk of arbitrary detention, custodial abuse, and violation of basic due process rights by allowing courts to double the maximum period of

detention without charge for terrorism suspects. A judge can now extend pre-charge detention from the 90 days allowed under the Indian criminal code to 180 days upon a vaguely defined special request from a prosecutor. The law also doubles the maximum period of police custody from the 15 days allowed under the Indian criminal code to 30 days.

Following the passage of amendments in 2008, Human Rights Watch wrote a detailed report discussing the problematic provisions and offering recommendations to the Indian government to prevent abuses. Human Rights Watch called on the Indian government to revise the definition of terrorism and ensure that restrictions on organizations respect the right to freedom of association under international law. Human Rights Watch also urged the repeal of provisions such as those authorizing pre-charge detention for up to 180 days, limitations on bail, presumption of guilt in certain circumstances, and overly broad search, seizure, and arrest.

“It is sad that efforts by civil society groups to repeal or amend abusive laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act get ignored by the government,” said Ganguly. “Yet, when it comes to enacting new laws likely to cause further abuse, the government forces them through without any serious public discussion, at the expense of due process, justice, and India’s global image.”

#India- Expanding space for dissent #FOE


Anil Gupta | Agency: DNA | Sunday, December 16, 2012

Paradoxically, many of the social forces which derive strength from the grassroots are becoming intolerant of dissent and diversity of opinion at grassroots in different parts of the country.

On one hand, social media is criticised – and not for completely wrong reasons – for keeping millions of people busy with trivia. On the other, it is also providing space for people to express their opinion freely. Public memory being very short, such issues fade away rather fast. The youth of today has not been told much about the situation that existed during emergency in 1975-77. Most of them take freedom for granted.

Those of us who experienced the situation firsthand have not necessarily become champions of freedom. The result is that a lot of discussion takes place underground and through whispers which is more dangerous than explicit diversity of opinion. Whenever information is not exchanged across the counters, the corridors become alive. Every institution builder or system manager has to remember that by chocking the feedback channels, we put too much pressure on the safety valves.

There are five kinds of fears that prevent people from sharing their or inhibit them to support those who do speak out. First is the fear of being isolated and thus labelled or targeted through shame or ridicule. In a culture where congruence and compliance are put at such a high premium, it is not surprising that so many should remain quite when they should actually speak out.

The second fear is that of losing friends and supporters who may have a contrary viewpoint. In our society, dissent is often confused with disrespect, not realising that it is the diversity and dissent which fertilise our imagination. Indian bureaucracy can become much more buoyant if only it puts premium in expressing honest opinion.

The third fear is of retribution. The state can use coercive power as it did in West Bengal and Maharashtra and several other states by arresting a dissenter. Despite more than six decades of debate on the subject, bureaucracy still uses disadvantaged regions as the site of punishment of posting. The fourth fear is the worry that once labelled or censored, future opportunities may be denied. And the fifth fear is the perceived loss of certain privileges or entitlements.

Many of these fears can be easily overcome and that is why fortitudinous capacity, whether in the form of whistle blower or an explicit dissent, is appreciated even when it is evident quite infrequently. Recent cases demonstrate that social respect and support for dissenters is slowly increasing. A large number of people are aware of the timidity and are not hesitant in making compromises but they have a respect for those who stand up for what they believe in.

The challenge before us is how to create an environment where dissenters don’t feel inhibited in expressing their view so that social discourse becomes more inclusive and pluralistic. It also means that the authoritarian structure of the family itself needs to change. Children must learn as early as possible that it pays to express their view even if it is extremely unpopular and a minority view. They should not be asked to keep quiet when elders talk, as is customary.

At the end of the day, there is a trade-off between not having a view and thus not involving oneself in the debate versus having a view and expressing it or choosing to have a view with or without expression.

The intolerance for dissent, exclusion of the minority and lack of consideration for the disadvantaged cannot be sustained in a democratic society in the long term. But, these attitudes can generate support in the short term. Rise of authoritarianism hurts the authoritarian leader the most.

Vibrant societies are characterised by pluralistic environment permitting a hundred of flowers to bloom. I hope that the youth will stand up more and more often for the views and positions that are inclusive and at the same time, imaginative to make India a compassionate and collaborative society.

The author is a professor at IIMA