Loud and clear: Bangladeshi youth choose their platform


 Dhaka Tribune, April21, 2013

The next generation has found its voice through the Internet


  • Photo- DhakaTribune

I never knew how active Bangladesh, as an entire country, was virtually until the Shahbag story broke out on social media this year. You can have your opinions about the movement, be dismissive or inspired, but one thing few can argue is that online activists played a critical role in using the Internet to organise and spread the story, and got thousands of young Bangladeshis to work together.

The role technology is playing in current events in Bangladesh is revolutionary. It was Bangladeshi online activists and bloggers who first protested Kader Mollah’s verdict, demanding the death sentence, used social media to spread the word, and staged sit-ins. That set off the series of events which have brought us to the present day. The recent crackdown on bloggers confirms the power online activism enjoys.

The participation of women in this movement is also unique. Many attribute this to the fact that women in Bangladesh have been organising at the grassroots level for decades. Seeing female leadership in Bangladesh is not really something new to us, despite our patriarchal cultural roots. We have managed to have women in major leadership roles across the board. The Arab Spring may have showed the world how to use social media to build one’s political platform, but this generation of Bangladeshis showed the nation, and the world, how to use the Internet to try to finally gain closure from a bloody Liberation War from which the nation is still struggling to fully recover.

The view from abroad as a Bangladeshi was electrifying. Almost immediately my Facebook and Twitter feeds became consumed with the word “Shahbag.” It did not take long to figure out what my fellow Bangladeshis were talking about, or reach across the oceans and find one another.

As the “Western media” grappled with why thousands of youth were pouring into Dhaka’s streets, and holding images of the hang-man’s noose, Bangladeshis from Dhaka to Dallas were tweeting one another, connecting online, and reaching out to Bangladeshi writers around the world to ensure accurate coverage of Shahbag in the mainstream media.

In the first few weeks of the Shahbag story, my posts were a direct result of the information I received from my social media contacts. Those who reached out to me did so to get the word out on a story that was largely being overlooked and misinterpreted. People I had never met were emailing me links, articles, and pictures to tell the world that the youth in Bangladesh would not sit idly by, while politicians paved their future without their participation. Bangladeshis, in Dhaka and across the world, were creating uproar on the streets of Dhaka and in the pathways of the Internet. The energy was palpable, and I felt an instant patriotic connection with my fellow Bangladeshis, a majority of whom were people I had never met.

Although millions of people organise nearly millions of causes every day online, I had never experienced this camaraderie amongst my fellow countrymen. I grew up being told that my generation was passive and uninterested in the future of our country. As our parents recovered from 1971, we grappled with a Bangladesh in many ways at war with herself.

What the Shahbag movement showed me, as a Bangladeshi not living in Bangladesh, is that my generation is informed, politically aware, protective of its history, and is online. It showed me that we are not apathetic about the future of Bangladesh. We may have fallen into a coma spanning four decades since 1971, but the youth of Bangladesh, across the world, are awake. Barriers that separate Bangladeshis across social customs, class and gender all seemingly disappear online. When “Internet trolls” harassed female writers online, myself included, fellow Bangladeshis I had never met came to my defence. Sometimes groups even organised online to stand up for us, and defend our work.

So, while what is being done is nothing new, what is exciting is that Bangladeshi youth are doing it, too: Using the Internet to connect and communicate so as to cultivate a better path for the future of this country.

This generation of Bangladeshis understand the power of online organising and is using it. Call me idealistic and naïve, but it is so electrifying and inspiring that it makes me believe and want to work for the kind of Bangladesh whose dream we keep nestled deep in our hearts.

By positioning themselves at the forefront of these protests, Bangladeshi women and Bangladeshi youth are using their voices, and breaking an age-old myth that this generation is voiceless when it comes to our country’s politics and future. Shahbag changed all that. The voice of the new generation of Bangladeshis is informed, organised, aware, active and online. The question is: Are you listening?
Anushay Hossain is a Bangladeshi born-Washington based policy analyst. She writes the blog, Anushay’s Point (www.AnushaysPoint.com)

 

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.

 

Bahrain: health workers convicted to prison sentences


Thursday, 29 November 2012 21:13

 

On 21 November, 23 health professionals in Bahrain were sentenced to three months in prison on charges of illegally gathering during Arab spring protests in 2011. Five others were acquitted.

Richard Sollom, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights said: “We are disappointed, though not surprised, that the Bahraini regime once again has decided to punish health professionals merely for expressing their right to peaceful assembly. Instead of punishing these dedicated professionals, the Government of Bahrain should focus on prosecuting the people responsible for torturing many of those who were arrested and detained.”

The 23 people convicted today include 12 physicians, as well as nurses and other health professionals. All are expected to appeal their convictions. Four other health professionals whose appeals were denied in October are already serving sentences ranging from one to five years.

Last year, a Commission of Inquiry established by the King of Bahrain to investigate charges of human rights abuses, recommended that the government review and commute the sentences of all persons charged with offenses involving peaceful political expression and to drop any outstanding charges against them. However, the court did not follow this advice.

“None of these health professionals belongs in prison,” said Sollom. “Once again, we call on the regime to reverse the convictions of all health professionals, to expunge those convictions from their records, to restore them to their jobs, and to compensate them for the time they lost in having to challenge these spurious charges.”

Source: Physicians for Human Rights website

 

#America Acts Like It Owns the World- #Noam Chomsky


 

By Noam Chomsky, Democracy Now!

 

28 October 12

 

 

 

English: A portrait of Noam Chomsky that I too...

English: A portrait of Noam Chomsky that I took in Vancouver Canada. Français : Noam Chomsky à Vancouver au Canada en 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

n the week when President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney debated issues of foreign policy and the economy, we turn to world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and MIT professor, Noam Chomsky. In a recent speech, Chomsky examined topics largely ignored or glossed over during the campaign: China, the Arab Spring, global warming, nuclear proliferation, and the military threat posed by Israel and the U.S. versus Iran. He reflects on the Cuban missile crisis, which took place 50 years ago this week and is still referred to as “the most dangerous moment in human history.” He delivered this talk last month at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst at an event sponsored by the Center for Popular Economics. Chomsky’s talk was entitled “Who Owns the World?” [includes rush transcript]

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Portland, Oregon. We are here as part of our 100-city Silenced Majority tour. On this week when President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney debated issues of foreign policy and the economy, we turn to world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. In a recent speech, Professor Chomsky examined topics largely ignored or glossed over during the campaign, from China to the Arab Spring, to global warming and the nuclear threat posed by Israel versus Iran. He spoke last month at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst at any event sponsored by the Center for Popular Economics. His talk was entitled “Who Owns the World?”

 

NOAM CHOMSKY: When I was thinking about these remarks, I had two topics in mind, couldn’t decide between them—actually pretty obvious ones. One topic is, what are the most important issues that we face? The second topic is, what issues are not being treated seriously—or at all—in the quadrennial frenzy now underway called an election? But I realized that there’s no problem; it’s not a hard choice: they’re the same topic. And there are reasons for it, which are very significant in themselves. I’d like to return to that in a moment. But first a few words on the background, beginning with the announced title, “Who Owns the World?”

 

Actually, a good answer to this was given years ago by Adam Smith, someone we’re supposed to worship but not read. He was—a little subversive when you read him sometimes. He was referring to the most powerful country in the world in his day and, of course, the country that interested him, namely, England. And he pointed out that in England the principal architects of policy are those who own the country: the merchants and manufacturers in his day. And he said they make sure to design policy so that their own interests are most peculiarly attended to. Their interests are served by policy, however grievous the impact on others, including the people of England.

 

But he was an old-fashioned conservative with moral principles, so he added the victims of England, the victims of the—what he called the “savage injustice of the Europeans,” particularly in India. Well, he had no illusions about the owners, so, to quote him again, “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” It was true then; it’s true now.

 

Britain kept its position as the dominant world power well into the 20th century despite steady decline. By the end of World War II, dominance had shifted decisively into the hands of the upstart across the sea, the United States, by far the most powerful and wealthy society in world history. Britain could only aspire to be its junior partner as the British foreign office ruefully recognized. At that point, 1945, the United States had literally half the world’s wealth, incredible security, controlled the entire Western Hemisphere, both oceans, the opposite sides of both oceans. There’s nothing—there hasn’t ever been anything like that in history.

 

And planners understood it. Roosevelt’s planners were meeting right through the Second World War, designing the post-war world. They were quite sophisticated about it, and their plans were pretty much implemented. They wanted to make sure that the United States would control what they called a “grand area,” which would include, routinely, the entire Western Hemisphere, the entire Far East, the former British Empire, which the U.S. would be taking over, and as much of Eurasia as possible—crucially, its commercial and industrial centers in Western Europe. And within this region, they said, the United States should hold unquestioned power with military and economic supremacy, while ensuring the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by states that might interfere with these global designs.

 

And those were pretty realistic plans at the time, given the enormous disparity of power. The U.S. had been by far the richest country in the world even before the Second World War, although it wasn’t—was not yet the major global actor. During the Second World War, the United States gained enormously. Industrial production almost quadrupled, got us out of depression. Meanwhile, industrial rivals were devastated or seriously weakened. So that was an unbelievable system of power.

 

Actually, the policies that were outlined then still hold. You can read them in government pronouncements. But the capacity to implement them has significantly declined. Actually there’s a major theme now in foreign policy discussion—you know, journals and so on. The theme is called “American decline.” So, for example, in the most prestigious establishment international relations journal, Foreign Affairs, a couple of months ago, there was an issue which had on the front cover in big bold letters, “Is America Over?” question mark. That’s announcing the theme of the issue. And there is a standard corollary to this: power is shifting to the west, to China and India, the rising world powers, which are going to be the hegemonic states of the future.

 

Actually, I think the decline—the decline is quite real, but some serious qualifications are in order. First of all, the corollary is highly unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future. China and India are very poor countries. Just take a look at, say, the human development index of the United Nations: they’re way down there. China is around 90th. I think India is around 120th or so, last time I looked. And they have tremendous internal problems—demographic problems, extreme poverty, hopeless inequality, ecological problems. China is a great manufacturing center, but it’s actually mostly an assembly plant. So it assembles parts and components, high technology that comes from the surrounding industrial—more advanced industrial centers—Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, the United States, Europe—and it basically assembles them. So, if, say, you buy one of these i-things—you know, an iPad from China—that’s called an export from China, but the parts and components and technology come from outside. And the value added in China is minuscule. It’s been calculated. They’ll move up the technology ladder, but it’s a hard climb, India even harder. Well, so I think one should be skeptical about the corollary.

 

But there’s another qualification that’s more serious. The decline is real, but it’s not new. It’s been going on since 1945. In fact, it happened very quickly. In the late 1940s, there’s an event that’s known here as “the loss of China.” China became independent. That’s a loss of a huge piece of the grand area of Asia. And it became a major issue in American domestic policy. Who’s responsible for the loss of China? A lot of recriminations and so on. Actually, the phrase is kind of interesting. Like, I can’t lose your computer, right? Because I don’t own it. I can lose my computer. Well, the phrase “loss of China” kind of presupposes a deeply held principle of kind of American elite consciousness: we own the world, and if some piece of it becomes independent, we’ve lost it. And that’s a terrible loss; we’ve got to do something about it. It’s never questioned, which is interesting in itself.

 

Well, right about the same time, around 1950, concerns developed about the loss of Southeast Asia. That’s what led the United States into the Indochina wars, the worst atrocities of the post-war period—partly lost, partly not. A very significant event in modern history was in 1965, when in Indonesia, which was the main concern—that’s the country of Southeast Asia with most of the wealth and resources—there was a military coup in Indonesia, Suharto coup. It led to an extraordinary massacre, what the New York Times called a “staggering mass slaughter.” It killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants; destroyed the only mass political party; and opened the country up to Western exploitation. Euphoria in the West was so enormous that it couldn’t be contained. So, in the New York Times, describing the “staggering mass slaughter,” it called it a “gleam of light in Asia.” That was the column written by James Reston, the leading liberal thinker in the Times. And the same elsewhere—Europe, Australia. It was a fantastic event.

 

Years later, McGeorge Bundy, who was the national security adviser for Kennedy and Johnson, in retrospect, he pointed out that it probably would have been a good idea to end the Vietnam War at that point, to pull out. Contrary to a lot of illusions, the Vietnam War was fought primarily to ensure that an independent Vietnam would not develop successfully and become a model for other countries in the region. It would not—to borrow Henry Kissinger’s terminology speaking about Chile, we have to prevent what they called the—what he called the “virus” of independent development from spreading contagion elsewhere. That’s a critical part of American foreign policy since the Second World War—Britain, France, others to a lesser degree. And by 1965, that was over. Vietnam was—South Vietnam was virtually destroyed. Word spread to the rest of Indochina it wasn’t going to be a model for anyone, and the contagion was contained. There were—the Suharto regime made sure that Indonesia wouldn’t be infected. And pretty soon the U.S. had dictatorships in every country of the region—Marcos on the Philippines, a dictatorship in Thailand, Chun in South—Park in South Korea. It was no problem about the infection. So that would have been a good time to end the Vietnam War, he felt. Well, that’s Southeast Asia.

 

But the decline continues. In the last 10 years, there’s been a very important event: the loss of South America. For the first time in 500 years, the South—since the conquistadors, the South American countries have begun to move towards independence and a degree of integration. The typical structure of one of the South American countries was a tiny, very rich, Westernized elite, often white, or mostly white, and a huge mass of horrible poverty, countries separated from one another, oriented to—each oriented towards its—you know, either Europe or, more recently, the United States. Last 10 years, that’s been overcome, significantly—beginning to integrate, the prerequisite for independence, even beginning to face some of their horrendous internal problems. Now that’s the loss of South America. One sign is that the United States has been driven out of every single military base in South America. We’re trying to restore a few, but right now there are none.

 

AMY GOODMAN: MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. Coming up, he discusses global warming, nuclear war and the Arab Spring, in a minute. [break]

 

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Portland, Oregon, part of our 100-city tour. Today, though, we’re spending the hour with world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. As Election Day comes closer, Chomsky examines topics largely ignored or glossed over during the presidential campaign, including the threat posed to U.S. power by the Arab Spring.

 

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, moving on to just last year, the Arab Spring is another such threat. It threatens to take that big region out of the grand area. That’s a lot more significant than Southeast Asia or South America. You go back to the 1940s, the State Department recognized that the energy resources of the Middle East are what they called “one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” a spectacular source of strategic power; if we can control Middle East energy, we can control the world.

 

Take a look at the U.S-British coup in Iran in 1953. Very important event. Its shadows cast over the world until today. Now that was—it was a pretense that it was a part of the Cold War; it had nothing to do with the Cold War. What it had to do with was the usual fear: independent nationalism. And it wasn’t even concerned with access to oil or profits. It was concerned with control, control of the oil resources of Iran and, in fact, of the region. And that’s a theme that runs right through policy decisions. It’s not discussed much, but it’s very important to have control, exactly as State Department pointed out—advisers pointed out in the ’40s. If you can control the oil, you can control most of the world. And that goes on.

 

So far, the threat of the Arab Spring has been pretty well contained. In the oil dictatorships, which are the most important ones for the West, every effort to join the Arab Spring has just been crushed by force. Saudi Arabia was so extreme that when there was an effort to go out into the streets, the security presence was so enormous that people were even afraid to go out. There’s a little discussion of what goes on in Bahrain, where it’s been crushed, but eastern Saudi Arabia was much worse. The emirates totally control. So that’s OK. We managed to ensure that the threat of democracy would be smashed in the most important places.

 

Egypt is an interesting case. It’s an important country, not an oil producer—it is a small one. But in Egypt, the United States followed a standard operating procedure. If any of you are going into the diplomatic service, you might as well learn it. There’s a standard procedure when one of your favorite dictators gets into trouble. First, you support him as long as possible. But if it becomes really impossible—say, the army turns against him—then you send him out to pasture and get the intellectual class to issue ringing declarations about your love of democracy, and then try to restore the old system as much as possible. There’s case after case of that—Somoza in Nicaragua, Duvalier in Haiti, Marcos in the Philippines, Chun in South Korea, Mobutu in the Congo, over and over. I mean, it takes genius not to see it. And it’s exactly what was done in Egypt and what France tried to do, not quite with as much success, in Tunisia.

 

Well, the future is uncertain, but the threat of democracy so far is contained. And it’s a real threat. I’ll return to that. It’s also to—important to recognize that the decline over the past 50 years is, to a significant extent, self-inflicted, particularly since the ’70s. I’ll go back to that, too. But first let me say a couple of things about the issues that are most important today and that are being ignored or not dealt seriously—dealt with seriously in the electoral campaigns, for good reasons. So let me start with the most important issues. Now there are two of these. They’re of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species depends on them. One is environmental disaster, and the other is nuclear war.

 

I’m not going to take much time reviewing the threats of environmental disaster. Actually, they’re on the front pages almost daily. So, for example, last week the New York Times had a front-page story with the headline, “Ending Its Summer Melt, Arctic Sea Ice Sets a New Low That Leads to Warnings.” The melting this summer was far faster than was predicted by the sophisticated computer models and the most recent United Nations report. It’s now predicted that the summer ice might be gone by 2020. It was assumed before that it may be 2050. They quoted scientists who said this is “a prime example of the built-in conservatism of [our] climate forecasts. As dire [the warnings are] about the long-term consequences of heat-trapping emissions … many of [us] fear [that] they may still be underestimating the speed and severity of the impending changes.” Actually, there’s a climate change study program at MIT, where I am. They’ve been warning about this for years, and repeatedly have been proven right.

 

The Times report discusses, briefly, the severe attack—the severe impact of all of this on the global climate, and it adds, “But governments have not responded to the change with any greater urgency about limiting greenhouse emissions. To the contrary, their main response has been to plan for exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the Arctic, including drilling for more oil.” That is, to accelerate the catastrophe. It’s quite interesting. It demonstrates an extraordinary willingness to sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren for short-term gain, or perhaps an equally remarkable willingness to shut our eyes so as not to see impending peril—these things you sometimes find with young infants: something looks dangerous, close my eyes and won’t look at it.

 

Well, there is another possibility. I mean, maybe humans are somehow trying to fulfill a prediction of great American biologist who died recently, Ernst Mayr. He argued years ago that intelligence seems to be a lethal mutation. He—and he had some pretty good evidence. There’s a notion of biological success, which is how many of you are there around. You know, that’s biological success. And he pointed out that if you look at the tens of billions of species in human—in world history, the ones that are very successful are the ones that mutate very quickly, like bacteria, or the ones that have a fixed ecological niche, like beetles. They seem to make out fine. But as you move up the scale of what we call intelligence, success declines steadily. When you get up to mammals, it’s very low. There are very few of them around. I mean, there’s a lot of cows; it’s only because we domesticate them. When you get to humans, it’s the same. ‘Til very recently, much too recent a time to show up in any evolutionary accounting, humans were very scattered. There were plenty of other hominids, but they disappeared, probably because humans exterminated them, but nobody knows for sure. Anyhow, maybe we’re trying to show that humans just fit into the general pattern. We can exterminate ourselves, too, the rest of the world with us, and we’re hell bent on it right now.

 

Well, let’s turn to the elections. Both political parties demand that we make the problem worse. In 2008, both party platforms devoted some space to how the government should address climate change. Today, the—in the Republican platform, the issue has essentially disappeared. But the platform does demand that Congress take quick action to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. So let’s make sure to make it worse. And it also demands that we open the Alaska’s Arctic Refuge to drilling—I’m quoting now—in order to take “advantage of all of our American God-given resources.” You can’t disobey God, after all. On environmental policy, the program says, “We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research.” All that’s a code word for climate science: stop funding climate science. Romney himself says there’s no scientific consensus, so we should support more debate and investigation within the scientific community, but no action, except to act to make the problems worse.

 

Well, what about the Democrats? They concede that there’s a problem and advocate that we should work toward an agreement to set emissions limits in unison with other emerging powers. But that’s it. No action. And, in fact, as Obama has emphasized, we have to work hard to gain what he calls a hundred years of energy independence by exploiting domestic or Canadian resources by fracking or other elaborate technologies. Doesn’t ask what the world would look like in a hundred years. So, there are differences. The differences are basically about how enthusiastically the lemmings should march towards the cliff.

 

Let’s turn to the second major issue: nuclear war. That’s also on the front pages daily, but in a way that would seem outlandish to some independent observer viewing what’s going on on earth, and in fact does seem outlandish to a considerable majority of the countries of the world. Now, the current threat, not for the first time, is in the Middle East, focusing on Iran. The general picture in the West is very clear: it’s far too dangerous to allow Iran to reach what’s called “nuclear capability.” That is, the capability enjoyed by many powers, dozens of them, to produce nuclear weapons if they decide to do so. As to whether they’ve decided, U.S. intelligence says it doesn’t know. The International Atomic Energy Agency just produced its most recent report a couple weeks ago, and it concludes—I’ll quote it: it cannot demonstrate “the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.” Now, that is, it can’t demonstrate something which cannot—a condition that can’t be satisfied. There’s no way to demonstrate the absence of the work—that’s convenient—therefore Iran must be denied the right to enrich uranium, that’s guaranteed to every power that signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

 

Well, that’s the picture in the West. That’s not the picture in the rest of the world. As you know, I’m sure, there was just a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement—that’s large majority of the countries in the world and representing most of the world’s population—a meeting in Tehran. And once again, not for the first time, they issued a ringing declaration of support for Iran’s right to enrich uranium, right that every country has that signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pretty much the same is true in the Arab world. It’s interesting. I’ll return to that in a moment.

 

There is a basic reason for the concern. It was expressed succinctly by General Lee Butler. He’s the former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, which controls nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy. He wrote that “It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East,” one nation should arm itself with nuclear weapons, which may inspire other nations to do so. General Butler, however, was not referring to Iran; he was referring to Israel, the country that ranks highest in European polls as the most dangerous country in the world—right above Iran—and, not incidentally, in the Arab world, where the public regard the United States as the second most dangerous country, right after Israel. In the Arab world, Iran, though disliked, ranks far lower as a threat—among the populations, that is, not the dictatorships.

 

With regard to Iranian nuclear weapons, nobody wants them to have them, but in many polls, majorities, sometimes considerable majorities, have said that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons, to balance those of their major threats. Now, there’s a lot of commentary in the Western media, in journals, about Arab attitudes towards Iran. And what you read, commonly, is that the Arabs want decisive action against Iran, which is true of the dictators. It’s not true of the populations. But who cares about the populations, what are called, disparagingly, the Arab street? We don’t care about them. Now that’s a reflection of the extremely deep contempt for democracy among Western elites—I mean, so deep that it can’t be perceived. You know, it’s just kind of like reflexive. The study of popular attitudes in the Arab world—and there is very extensive study by Western polling agencies—it reveals very quickly why the U.S. and its allies are so concerned about the threat of democracy and are doing what they can to prevent it. Just take—they certainly don’t want attitudes like those I just indicated to become policy, while of course issuing rousing statements about our passionate dedication to democracy. Those are relayed obediently by reporters and commentators.

 

Well, unlike Iran, Israel refuses to allow inspections at all, refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has hundreds of nuclear weapons, has advanced delivery systems. Also, it has a long record of violence and repression. It has annexed and settled conquered territories illegally, in violation of Security Council orders, and many acts of aggression—five times against Lebanon alone, no credible pretext. In the New York Times yesterday, you can read that the Golan Heights are disputed territory, the Syrian Golan Heights. There is a U.N. Security Council resolution, 497, which is unanimous, declaring Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights illegal and demanding that it be rescinded. And in fact, it’s disputed only in Israel and in the New York Times, which in fact is reflecting actual U.S. policy, not formal U.S. policy.

 

Iran has a record of aggression. too. In the last several hundred years, it has invaded and conquered a couple of Arab islands. Now that was under the Shah, U.S.-imposed dictator with U.S. support. That’s actually the only case in several hundred years.

 

Meanwhile, the severe threats of attack continue—you’ve just been hearing them at the U.N.—from the United States, but particularly Israel. Now there is a reaction to this at the highest level in the United States. Leon Panetta, secretary of defense, he said that we don’t want to attack Iran, we hope that Israel won’t attack Iran, but Israel is a sovereign country, and they have to make their own decisions about what they’ll do. You might ask what the reaction would be if you reverse the cast of characters. And those of you who have antiquarian interests might remember that there’s a document called the United Nations Charter, the foundation of modern international law, which bars the threat or use of force in international affairs. Now, there are two rogue states—United States and Israel—for whom—which regard the Charter and international law as just a boring irrelevance, so, do what they like. And that’s accepted.

 

Well, these are not just words; there is an ongoing war, includes terrorism, assassination of nuclear scientists, includes economic war. U.S. threats—not international ones—U.S. threats have cut Iran out of the international financial system. Western military analysts identify what they call “weapons of finance” as acts of war that justify violent response—when they’re directed against us, that is. Cutting Iran out of global financial markets is different.

 

The United States is openly carrying out extensive cyber war against Iran. That’s praised. The Pentagon regards cyber war as an equivalent to an armed attack, which justifies military response, but that’s of course when it’s directed against us. The leading liberal figure in the State Department, Harold Koh—he’s the top State Department legal adviser—he says that cyber war is an act of war if it results in significant destruction—like the attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities. And such acts, he says, justify force in self-defense. But, of course, he means only attacks against the United States or its clients.

 

Well, Israel’s lethal armory, which is enormous, includes advanced submarines, recently provided by Germany. These are capable of carrying Israel’s nuclear-tipped missiles, and these are sure to be deployed in the Persian Gulf or nearby if Israel proceeds with its plans to bomb Iran or, more likely, I suspect, to try to set up conditions in which the United States will do so. And the United States, of course, has a vast array of nuclear weapons all over the world, but surrounding the region, from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, including enough firepower in the Persian Gulf to destroy most of the world.

 

Another story that’s in the news right now is the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor in Osirak, which is suggested as a model for Israeli bombing of Iran. It’s rarely mentioned, however, that the bombing of the Osirak reactor didn’t end Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program. It initiated it. There was no program before it. And the Osirak reactor was not capable of producing uranium for nuclear weapons. But, of course, after the bombings, Saddam immediately turned to developing a nuclear weapons program. And if Iran is bombed, it’s almost certain to proceed just as Saddam Hussein did after the Osirak bombing.

 

AMY GOODMAN: MIT professor and author, Noam Chomsky, continues in a moment. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. Professor Chomsky will next look at nuclear weapons race, as this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, often referred to as “the most dangerous moment in human history.” Back in a moment. [break]

 

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re on a 100-city tour, today in Portland, Oregon. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our hour today with world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, and professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Noam Chomsky. His recent talk entitled “Who Owns the World?”

 

NOAM CHOMSKY: In a few weeks, we’ll be commemorating the 50th anniversary of “the most dangerous moment in human history.” Now, those are the words of historian, Kennedy adviser, Arthur Schlesinger. He was referring, of course, to the October 1962 missile crisis, “the most dangerous moment in human history.” Others agree. Now, at that time, Kennedy raised the nuclear alert to the second-highest level, just short of launching weapons. He authorized NATO aircraft, with Turkish or other pilots, to take off, fly to Moscow and drop bombs, setting off a likely nuclear conflagration.

 

At the peak of the missile crisis, Kennedy estimated the probability of nuclear war at perhaps 50 percent. It’s a war that would destroy the Northern Hemisphere, President Eisenhower had warned. And facing that risk, Kennedy refused to agree publicly to an offer by Kruschev to end the crisis by simultaneous withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey. These were obsolete missiles. They were already being replaced by invulnerable Polaris submarines. But it was felt necessary to firmly establish the principle that Russia has no right to have any offensive weapons anywhere beyond the borders of the U.S.S.R., even to defend an ally against U.S. attack. That’s now recognized to be the prime reason for deploying missiles there, and actually a plausible one. Meanwhile, the United States must retain the right to have them all over the world, targeting Russia or China or any other enemy. In fact, in 1962, the United—we just recently learned, the United States had just secretly deployed nuclear missiles to Okinawa aimed at China. That was a moment of elevated regional tensions. All of that is very consistent with grand area conceptions, the ones I mentioned that were developed by Roosevelt’s planners.

 

Well, fortunately, in 1962, Kruschev backed down. But the world can’t be assured of such sanity forever. And particularly threatening, in my view, is that intellectual opinion, and even scholarship, hail Kennedy’s behavior as his finest hour. My own view is it’s one of the worst moments in history. Inability to face the truth about ourselves is all too common a feature of the intellectual culture, also personal life, has ominous implications.

 

Well, 10 years later, in 1973, during the Israel-Arab War, Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert. The purpose was to warn the Russians to keep hands off while he was—so we’ve recently learned—he was secretly informing Israel that they were authorized to violate the ceasefire that had been imposed jointly by the U.S. and Russia. When Reagan came into office a couple of years later, the United States launched operations probing Russian defenses, flying in to Russia to probe defenses, and simulating air and naval attacks, meanwhile placing Pershing missiles in Germany that had a five-minute flight time to Russian targets. They were providing what the CIA called a “super-sudden first strike” capability. The Russians, not surprisingly, were deeply concerned. Actually, that led to a major war scare in 1983. There have been hundreds of cases when human intervention aborted a first-strike launch just minutes before launch. Now, that’s after automated systems gave false alarms. We don’t have Russian records, but there’s no doubt that their systems are far more accident-prone. Actually, it’s a near miracle that nuclear war has been avoided so far.

 

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have come close to nuclear war several times, and the crises that led to that, especially Kashmir, remain. Both India and Pakistan have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, along with Israel, and both of them have received U.S. support for development of their nuclear weapons programs, actually, until today, in the case of India, which is now a U.S. ally.

 

War threats in the Middle East, which could become reality very soon, once again escalate the dangers. Well, fortunately, there’s a way out of this, a simple way. There’s a way to mitigate, maybe end, whatever threat Iran is alleged to pose. Very simple: move towards establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Now, the opportunity is coming again this December. There’s an international conference scheduled to deal with this proposal. It has overwhelming international support, including, incidentally, a majority of the population in Israel. That’s fortunately. Unfortunately, it’s blocked by the United States and Israel. A couple of days ago, Israel announced that it’s not going to participate, and it won’t consider the matter until there’s a general regional peace. Obama takes the same stand. He also insists that any agreement must exclude Israel and even must exclude calls for other nations—meaning the U.S.—to provide information about Israeli nuclear activities.

 

The United States and Israel can delay regional peace indefinitely. They’ve been doing that for 35 years on Israel-Palestine, virtual international isolation. It’s a long, important story that I don’t have time to go into here. So, therefore, there’s no hope for an easy way to end what the West regards as the most severe current crisis—no way unless there’s large-scale public pressure. But there can’t be large-scale public pressure unless people at least know about it. And the media have done a stellar job in averting that danger: nothing reported about the conference or about any of the background, no discussion, apart from specialist arms control journals where you can read about it. So, that blocks the easy way to end the worst existing crisis, unless people somehow find a way to break through this.

 

AMY GOODMAN: MIT Professor Noam Chomsky spoke on September 27th of this year at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His talk was entitled “Who Owns the World?” If you’d like to get a copy of today’s broadcast, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. And I’ll be speaking along with Professor Chomsky and Juan Cole of the University of Michigan in Princeton, New Jersey, on November 11th at 1:30. You can go to our website at democracynow.org for details.

 

 

Saudi Arabia’s Rosa Parks helps women speak up #womenrights


The rights movement may not have achieved much in terms of legislative reform, but it has given women a platform to voice their views
    • By Mona Kareem | Special to Gulf News
    • Published: 20:00 August 3, 2012

Since the 1990s, Saudi women have been demanding the right to drive cars, travel alone, and abolish the male guardianship system. The struggle was limited to certain women from less conservative communities. After the Arab Spring, with the driving campaign, Saudi women were able to make their demands heard through a larger number of people involved and with the help of media exposure; western and Arab. It was believed that they were leading what can be called a ‘Saudi spring’.

Right after the Egyptian uprising, Saudi women worked online under the name ‘Saudi Women Revolution’ and although they started with bigger demands that sought radical changes to their status, gradually, the mild voices among them were able to dominate because they were less controversial and ‘more reasonable’, as some claim. Women were arrested and this was the easiest way to create leaders that exclusively were able to define the movement and its direction. A good example of that is Manal Al Sharif.

What has the movement achieved so far? Nothing when it comes to legislation, but a lot when it comes to having more women getting involved and speaking up. King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz promised that in the coming municipal elections (that have no set date) women would be able to contest and vote. The decision did not state whether those who wished to run for election needed permission from their male guardians.

Once again, women fall under the power of men and stay second class citizens. Eventually, this results in having a women’s rights movement that is limited to families who are less conservative and more educated; a movement that unintentionally excludes many women of low-class, and of conservative families.

The Saudi women’s movement has generated criticism. Several young voices have realised that the movement cannot contribute much if it stays limited to basic demands led by working women from the middle class. Some called on women to join male activists who are calling for reform in the kingdom, believing that the process of a true democracy is expected to grant women their rights and cannot be limited to changes within the political system.

Last year, people were drawing comparisons between historical movements and the movement by the Saudi women. A good example is the comparison with the civil rights movement in the US and how Al Sharif could be the Rosa Parks of Saudi Arabia. What such examples neglected, however, is how African-American women were fighting not only for their rights as women, but first, as people of colour experiencing racism.

Right now, many African-American women have been active, highlighting different issues related to violations of their rights as women and as women of colour. However, at that time, there was no possible way, no open space, for them to fight separately and work in a feminist movement not concerned with the rights of black people.

Lessons to learn

Global historical examples, especially western, might not be the closest to the Saudi example considering the cultural, social, political, and time differences. I recall how many Saudi women used to say that they were not aiming ‘too high’ for the time-being, but were asking to have the same rights that their Gulf counterparts had achieved, and specifically what Kuwaiti women had achieved.

The latter have always been socially involved, enjoying a greater level of freedom. They were able to get their political rights in 2005 and won four seats in the parliament three years ago.

In the Kuwaiti example, if there is a lesson to learn, it is that female activists were fighting for their rights without neglecting the calls for political reform. For decades, during elections, women were somehow involved in campaigns of candidates in an attempt to have those representatives support their demands. During the Iraqi invasion, women were part of the resistance and several of them were killed. Within academia, business, arts, media, and governmental work, Kuwaiti women were also present. It was a matter of time before Kuwaiti women attained their political rights after being able to co-exist in society and in the political struggle for a better democracy.

Having Saudi women drive cars was a good way to get attention and make a point. There was a line and it was crossed but there are other lines that need to be crossed in order to keep the women’s movement alive. If this movement decides not to get politically involved and surrenders to its icons to control it, then we will eventually witness the death of another Saudi women’s movement that was not able to comprehend the situation and work within the current political context.

 

Mona Kareem is a Kuwait-born blogger, writer and poet based in New York.

Dear Twitter: Corporate censorship is still #censorship


 

Andrew Couts July 31, 2012 By

Twitter corporate censorship

Opinion: Twitter’s apparent willingness to censor a user to protect its corporate friends damages the company’s image as a champion for free speech.

UPDATE: Guy Adams’s Twitter account has been restored, as of about 1:35pm ET.

By now, you’ve likely heard about the debacle surrounding British journalist Guy Adams’s Twitter account, which was suspended by Twitter after Adams topped off a tirade against NBC’s time delayed London Olympics coverage by publishing the work email address of Gary Zenkel, NBC’s executive in charge of its Olympics broadcast.

If not, here’s a quick primer: Adams, as Twitter explained to him in an email, had violated the microblogging service’s privacy policy by publishing Zenkel’s email address. Twitter forbids the posting of “another person’s private and confidential information.” As the media has been quick to point out, however, it is not entirely clear that Adams actually violated anything.

For a moment, let’s ignore the fact that Adams posted Zenkel’s work email address — not his personal address, nor his phone number or home address — which some might consider “public” by nature. Twitter’s rules go on to explain that, “If information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter, it is not a violation of this policy.” While it is now quite difficult to find any links through a Google search that were not published after Adams’s Twitter suspension, Chris Taylor of Mashable was able to find Zenkel’s email posted online prior to the current hoopla. And now, of course, Zenkel’s email address has been re-posted all over the Web.

But it’s clear at this point that Twitter — NBC’s “official narrator” for the 2012 Olympics — simply used its privacy policy as an excuse to shut up Adams. As the Telegraph reports, it was Twitter, not NBC, that first noticed Adams’s harsh criticism of the network. Twitter brought Adams to NBC’s attention, and NBC subsequently filed the complaint form that led to Adams’s inevitable account suspension.

As far as censorship on Twitter goes, this is deeply disturbing on several levels. First, it shows that Twitter is willing to bend its rules for users to meet its own ends. (If Twitter is NOT bending its rules, I’d love to hear from Twitter how that is possible. Sadly, the company is staying mum on the matter.) Second, it shows that Twitter’s commitment to transparency and free speech on its network has as much value as Monopoly money.

Back in January, Twitter announced that it had changed its censorship policy so that censored tweets would only appear censored in the country whose government issued the takedown order. Twitter would also post any instance of censorship on the independent watchdog site ChillingEffects.org. The move sparked outrage amongst users who saw the policy change as Twitter bending to totalitarian governments that seek to silence their citizens.

At the time, I defended Twitter’s new policy: Rather than increase censorship on Twitter — a platform that served a vital role in Iran’s Green Revolution, the Arab Spring uprisings, and the Occupy Wall Street movement — the new policy would actually decrease censorship, since removed tweets would only appear invisible to residents of a single country, not the whole world, as was previously the case. It was not Twitter we should be boycotting, I said, it was the totalitarian governments that seek to imprison the ideas of their people.

While I stand by that logic, this NBC disaster proves that oppressive regimes are not the only enemy Twitter users need to worry about: Twitter’s very existence as a company is a problem.

Twitter may be willing to stand up to governments who push around its users, but it is apparently not beyond doing some shoving itself. Since Twitter has so far refused to further explain its suspension of Adams’s account, we can only assume that the fateful move was born of greed — a need to build a relationship with a corporate behemoth like NBCUniveral. What’s to prevent Twitter from roughhousing its users again for similar reasons? Nothing, obviously.

Of course, all of this should be expected. Twitter is, after all, a company, not a publicly owned service like 911. And companies ultimately exist to make money. Rather than join the media pile-on that is currently underway, I wanted to believe that there was some socially justifiable reason for Adams’s account suspension. But as someone who once defended Twitter against those who thought it held the ideals of free speech above its bottom line, however, I must admit that this whole sad saga with NBC and Adams was, disappointingly, inevitable. So the next time you try to pose as a champion of your users and for free speech in general, Twitter, forgive me for taking a more skeptical stance. You are, it seems, just the same as the rest.

Read more: http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/nbc-vs-guy-adams-twitters-disappointing-foray-into-corporate-censorship/#ixzz22Gs8Q4BH

 

Sudan using protests ‘to silence dissenters’, same as India


Rights group report urges Sudan to end the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters and journalists.

Last Modified: 27 Jun 2012 10:09

 

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, has said the protests against high prices is the work of “a few agitators” [AFP]

Security forces have arrested scores of protesters, opposition members, and journalists, beat people in detention, and used rubber bullets and live ammunition to break up protests that began on June 16, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.

Sudan should end the crackdown on peaceful protesters, release people who have been detained, and allow journalists to report freely on the events, the report added.

“Sudan is using these protests as an excuse to use violence and intimidation to silence dissenters,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Authorities should call off their security forces and vigilantes, end the violence immediately, and respect the right of the people to protest peacefully.”

“Arresting all suspected opponents to stifle dissent is abusive and illegal,” Bekele said.

“Authorities need to charge or release these detainees immediately, allow people to voice their opinions peacefully, and let the media work freely.”

The protests began on June 16 at Khartoum University in response to government austerity measures and price increases, and they had spread to dozens of other locations in Khartoum, and other towns across Sudan, with protesters calling for the end of the current government.

US condemnations

Meanwhile, the US have condemned the crackdown on Sudan protests,”Sudan’s economic crisis cannot be solved by arresting and mistreating protesters,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“There have been reports of protestors being beaten, imprisoned and severely mistreated while in government custody.

We call for the immediate release of those detained for peaceful protest,” she added in a statement.

The National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) on Tuesday deported Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian female correspondent of Bloomberg News in Khartoum, and briefly detained prominent Sudanese blogger Maha El Sanousi.

“They ordered me to leave,”  Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian, told AFP by telephone as she awaited a flight from the Khartoum airport.

Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence last July, taking with it about 75 per cent of Sudanese crude production. The north has been left struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation, and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.

The landlocked South depended on the north’s pipeline and port to export its crude, but Khartoum and Juba could not agree on how much South Sudan should pay to use the infrastructure.

Sudan’s already depleted oil revenues shrank by a further 20 per cent after its main Heglig oil field was damaged and shut down in fighting with invading South Sudanese troops in April, international economists have estimated.

Even before the easing of fuel subsidies, the cost of basic consumer goods had doubled over the past year.

Bashir, an army officer who seized power in 1989, called the protests small and not comparable to the “Arab Spring” uprisings against regional strongmen over the past year.

He blamed anti-government protests on the work of “a few agitators” in a speech late Sunday.

But a demonstrator told AFP the current unrest is unprecedented. “Right now, this is first time since 1989 we have these protests in most cities,” he said, asking not to be identified by name.

There have been calls on social networks for a mass nationwide protest on June 29.

 

Bahrain rights leader arrested for ‘offensive’ tweets: BCHR #Censorship


Published Monday, May 7, 2012

Human rights leader Nabeel Rajab is being held in a Bahraini jail because of comments he made on Twitter, his daughter said on Monday.

Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center of Human Rights (BCHR), was arrested on Saturday evening after flying into the country, and was charged with a string of offenses on Sunday afternoon.

Maryam al-Khawaja, who has taken over as acting head of the BCHR while Rajab remains incarcerated, said the charges against him were based on comments he had made on the social networking site.

“He is going to have several charges against him, mostly about what he writes on Twitter. They said he offended an official in the government and because of his Twitter there were violent attacks on police and calling for illegal protests,” she told Al-Akhbar.

“We knew they had been building up a case against him using Twitter because the last two times he has been arrested what they would do is bring out a file of hundreds of pages of copies of his tweets. That’s their evidence,” she added.

Maryam said that Rajab had refused to respond to any of the charges put against him as he did not recognize the legitimacy of the court.

A statement from the Interior Ministry confirmed that the evidence against Rajab was predominantly from publicly available social networks, but did not specifically mention Twitter.

“The Public Prosecution filed a case against the defendant after compiling compelling evidence of his involvement in inciting illegal rallies and marches online on social networking websites,” it said.

Following an interview with the BBC’s Hard Talk show two weeks ago, Rajab was threatened on Twitter by Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid Al-Khalifa, saying “you are not going to get away with this every time.”

Maryam also said her sister, prominent rights campaigner Zainab famous for her Twitter handle @angryarabiya, was being unfairly treated in jail.

Zainab has been detained for three weeks and is due to face a number of charges on Wednesday, including insulting a police officer.

“They have been harassing her inside prison,” Maryam said. “One of the things she has been doing is making paper toys for her two-year-old daughter. They came in and took away the toys.”

Their father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and co-founder of the BCHR, has been on a prolonged hunger strike to protest his detention.

Abdulhadi, along with a number of key activists, remain imprisoned for leading pro-democracy rallies last year, despite a government-backed commission in November calling on all political prisoners to be released.

Bahrain was the scene of a number of large Arab Spring inspired protests last February, following the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Bahraini and Saudi troops violently suppressed the protests in March, but demonstrations have continued.

(Al-Akhbar)

 

https://twitter.com/#!/NABEELRAJAB

Why Does Middle- East Hate Women ? Mona Eltahway and Leila Ahmed


The real war on women is in the Middle East.

BY MONA ELTAHAWY | MAY/JUNE 2012,  Foreign Policy

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer”  — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

SO WHY DO THEY HATE US? Sex, or more precisely hymens, explains much.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.

SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests“; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.

Leila Ahmed: Responds

Alifa Rifaat, whose writing frames Mona Eltahawy’s essay, was a wonderful and deeply subtle writer — one of Egypt’s finest writers of the last century.  Her stories are typically brief, powerful meditations on themes of human desires and failures, and people’s anguished loneliness in the midst, supposedly, of intimacy — between husband and wife, mother and daughter, even mistress and maid. Publishing her work mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, Rifaat was probably the first Egyptian woman author to write fairly directly about women’s sexuality. She penned, among other things, a story in which a woman whose husband figures only marginally in the story experiences ecstatic sexual fulfillment with a jinn who comes to her in the form of a woman.

Rifaat was herself forbidden to write by her husband, a policeman, for a good many years. She was thus intimately familiar with male chauvinism, as her stories, written mostly from the perspective of a female character, make clear. But she was also capable of writing very empathetically of men’s travails, loneliness, and failed hopes.

Disconcertingly, Eltahawy strangely misreads (in my view) the Rifaat story with which she begins her essay. After enduring “unmoved,” as Eltahawy correctly says, her husband’s sexual exertions, the story’s central character then eagerly rises to wash herself and perform ritual prayers. Eltahawy reads these actions as indicating Rifaat’s “brilliant” portrayal of “sublimation through religion.”

Rifaat, when I met her in Cairo in the early 1990s, wore the hijab, the Muslim head scarf. And she explicitly spoke to me –in the course of a long, rambling conversation in which she also talked of the tremendous importance to her of sexuality — of how much joy she found in prayer, and of how she (like the character in her story) almost lived for those moments of prayer.

Given this memory, and in light too of the sheer imaginative depth of Rifaat’s fictional explorations of human consciousness, I find it entirely unimaginable that Rifaat in fact shared, as Eltahawy assumes she does, Eltahawy’s own sweepingly dismissive views of prayer and religion.

These were just some of the concerns I had as I read just Eltahawy’s opening lines. And I found almost every paragraph of Eltahawy’s essay similarly troubling as, again and again, broad brushstrokes and sweeping generalizations erased subtle nuances and garbled and swept aside important differences.

It is certainly Eltahawy’s right and indeed even her obligation, as a feminist and a noted journalist with rare and impressive access to American media, to grapple with understanding and narrating the story of women in the Middle East and what she perceives to be the “war” on women in the ways that make most sense to her. And certainly I have no quarrel whatsoever with the will and desire she gives voice to — of wanting to improve the condition of women in the Middle East and bring to an end the wars and other injustices to which they are subjected.

There are, of course, many ways of pursuing feminist goals. Just the other day, I heard a talk given at the Radcliffe Institute by Nadje al-Ali, a professor at the University of London, on the devastating costs for women and children — in terms of the sheer numbers of lives lost, and the destruction, mutilation, dismemberment, and displacements suffered — of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For Eltahawy, who makes no mention in her essay of those wars (or of the deadly struggles in Bahrain, Libya, Syria, or Yemen), the “real” war on women in the Middle East, as she declares in her title, and the one that she most urgently wishes to bring to our attention, is the war being conducted by Islamic patriarchy and misogyny. Ali, on the other hand, who, like Eltahawy, is a staunchly secular feminist, is passionately concerned above all about placing the social costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the very forefront of our consciousness here in the United States.

Feminists of whatever religion or religious background have always fiercely debated the key sources of women’s oppression. Is it patriarchy, religion, racism, imperialism, or class oppression, or some very lethal and toxic mix of all of these? Feminists have also thus differed on the solutions, as well as exactly whom we must fight first to liberate women. Eltahawy is evidently fiercely committed to the belief that it is religion above all — and actually specifically and apparently exclusively Islam — that constitutes the dangerously deadly heart of women’s oppression in the Middle East. And it is of course absolutely her right to believe this.

But again, feminism can take many and even quite unexpected forms. As the early days of the Arab uprisings unfolded on our television screens, many of us saw for ourselves the tens of thousands of women who were out in the streets in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, taking a stand alongside men for human rights and human dignity. A fair proportion of these women wore hijab — a sign, usually, of a religious commitment to Islam. Presumably, these women would not share Eltahawy’s fiercely contemptuous understanding of Islam as the source of all their troubles and problems. Some of these women in hijab proved to be important actors in the Arab uprisings. The young Egyptian activist Asma Mahfouz, for example, posted a video of herself on Facebook delivering an eloquent, impassioned speech calling on people to join her in Tahrir Square to take their stand alongside her for human rights and dignity. Her video went viral and is credited with having played a key role in initiating the movement to occupy Tahrir Square. Similarly Tawakkol Karman, the Yemeni woman who won the Nobel Prize for her committed activism in the uprising, is a tremendously courageous, articulate, and outspoken woman. It would be wonderful to hear what such women think of what is happening in their countries and what they think and hope for in relation to women’s rights.

And so let me close by, first of all, thanking Foreign Policy for inviting me to participate in this roundtable response to Eltahawy, and secondly by urging them to also reach out to women such as Mahfouz and Karman to invite them to share their views with us.

Leila Ahmed is Victor S. Thomas Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. She is the author of A Quiet Revolution: the Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America, an adapted excerpt of which ran in Foreign Policy.

Here is a debate between her and leila ahmed about the nature of patriarchy in the muslim world.

End Death Calls for Saudi Poet and Blogger


 By- Paul  Mutter -The National reports that the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has “issued a fatwa against Twitter, demanding that ‘real Muslims’ avoid it, calling it a ‘platform for trading accusations and for promoting lies’.”

The pretext for this condemnation of social media is the case of the Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari, who was extradited from Malaysia to the Kingdom after tweeting about the Prophet Muhammad in a manner that the religious authorities deemed blasphemous. If the Saudis wish to make an example, he will be facing blasphemy charges, and possibly death, rather than a lesser (though still absurd) sentencing that would end in him paying a fine. There’s also talk of taking action against anyone who retweeted his messages.

But considering that thousands of Twitter users called attention to Kashgari’s tweets, literally demanding his head, it’s ironic that the Grand Mufti says Muslims should stay off Twitter, since clearly, many salafis are using, and policing it.

And, as The National notes, it’s even more ironic that the Grand Mufti’s issuing a ban since Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the King’s nephew and reputedly the richest man in Saudi Arabia, purchased 3.6% of Twitter’s stock for US$300 million this past December.

The fact that the Grand Mufti wants Twitter gone while a prince wants to buy its shares up nicely illustrates the uneasy dual monarchy that has defined clerical-royal relationship since the 18th century. The monarchy set up in 1923 is actually a dual monarchy because the royal family must maintain the approval of the Wahhabi ulema to rule, and there are those who question this “right” – one of the first crises of the Saudi state occured when the monarchy and ulema, fearing the Ikhwan tribal militias who had won control of the Hejaz for them, turned on the militiamen. The House of Saud procured the British machine guns, the clergy produced a justificatory edict for the crackdown.

As Toby C. Jones notes, “the ulema’s support for the regime is not unconditional. They remain controversial, provocative and confrontational.” Oil wealth and investment portfolios allow Saudi princes to study at Sandhurst and hobnob with French socialites, but they also subsidize the religious-dominated educational system and the social welfare net, which the Saudis have been working to expand in the wake of the Arab Spring, that help hold society together on the al-Sauds’ behalf. “The rebel in you” Kashgari refers to with respect to the Prophet Muhammad is precisely the sort of Islamic value that the Saudi status quo cannot handle — hence the sharp responses from the government against anyone urging reform, including Salafis and secularists. The Sahwas — former Islamist radicals who have become “partners” of the establishment — are the closest thing to a political opposition Saudi Arabia has, their presence is limited by the government and they must be careful not to push too far in the Islamist direction that Osama bin Laden fell in with. One promiment Sahwa spiritual leader has argued in the past that “sovereignty belongs to God alone,” which is indeed “a challenge both to the idea that Saudi citizens should enjoy more participation in governance as well as to the royal family itself.”

Hamza Kashgari’s case is one of free speech. The religious establishment, wanting to remain the arbiter of social norms in the Kingdom and hold onto the power it has accrued, is hoping to denigrate a medium that they fear because of its prominent — though exaggerated — role in the “Arab Spring.” They can’t reconcile themselves to globe-spanning electronic mediums that might lead their congregations to start thinking thought crimes. A chilling message has been sent already through the extradition from Malaysia; it will depend on the royal family if the intended message stops with a fine, or with Kashgari’s execution.

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