IPS Blog

Readers’ Challenge: Why Ahmadis Now?

Yesterday was almost equally violent for both India, where suspected sabotage of train by Maoists left at least 74 dead in West Bengal, and Pakistan. In Lahore, an equivalent number were killed in the attacks on the two Ahmadi mosques. According to the New York Times: “Geo TV, a leading news channel in Pakistan, reported that members of the Punjab branch of the Pakistani Taliban were claiming responsibility for the attacks.”

The Los Angeles Times reports:

An Ahmadi elder from the Model Town mosque said the mosque had been getting threatening phone calls for some time, and had reported the threats to Lahore police. “We asked the government and police several times to enhance our security, but we didn’t get anything,” … After the [first] attack, Ahmadi worshippers . . . were angered by what they said was a delayed response from police once the attack began. Though a police station is near the mosque, the Ahmadi elder said police arrived about 50 minutes after worshippers called for help.

Elsewhere, another survivor said: “We are peaceful, law-abiding citizens and we get no protection.”

Persecution of the tiny Ahmadi sect has in fact been legislated. As ReligiousIntolerance.org reports:

In 1974, the National Assembly of Pakistan approved the Second Amendment to the Constitution literally excommunicating Ahmadi Muslims and banishing them from the fold of Islam. … In 1984, General Zia-ul Haq, promulgated [an ordinance] branding Ahmadis as criminals liable to fine and imprisonment if they practiced their belief in Islam.

In 1993 the Supreme Court of Pakistan heard a case by a number of Ahmadis who asserted that they were being deprived of their religious rights and freedoms. … The majority opinion of the court stated that many Islamic phrases were, in effect, copyrighted trademarks of the Islamic faith. Thus the use of these phrases by Ahmadis was a form of copyright infringement [violating] the Trademark Act of 1940.

Hmm, Islam as a brand. But what do Focal Points readers think inspired the Taliban to divert manpower and resources to attacking the Ahmadi, who arguably outdo the Taliban as cultural outlanders (since the latter enjoy some support in the Army and ISI), now. Why not keep their sites set on attacking the Pakistani government, which has caused it such grief in the frontier provinces?

From the Frontlines: May 28th, 2010

People will be marching against hate in Arizona this weekend, joining the AFL-CIO, SEIU, PDA, and the National Day Laborers’ Union.

Sudan inaugurated incumbent President Omar Al-Bashir with pomp and circumstance yesterday in Khartoum. While well attended by neighboring Arab leaders and Sudanese representatives, western and sub-Saharan leaders notably boycotted the ceremony, hoping to delegitimize the controversial elections last month.

Obama affirms moratorium on deepwater drilling and defended his administration’s response to the Gulf oil leak. In conjunction with the president’s press conference, the head of the Minerals Management Service in charge of the Gulf’s drilling operations announced his resignation.

A liability cap is just another term for “bailout.” And it looks like, thanks to Mitch McConnell and others in the Senate, BP (yes, that BP) is poised to get one heck of a bailout for polluting our Gulf.

And on the other side of the Capitol, the House rebuffs a veto threat on the fighter jet engine program.

A landslide election in Ethiopia Monday reinstated four-time incumbent Zenawi Meles and his EPRDF party, despite a trend towards more open, democratic elections in the previous 2005 election cycle.

“If the mine would leave, it would leave us in peace and we would live as before, happily. No more women would be persecuted and criminalized.” Women stand their ground against a Canadian gold mine in Guatemala.

Indonesia announces a two-year moratorium on logging in an unprecedented climate change effort, acknowledging scientists’ estimates that deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all CO2 emissions.

House Rebuffs Veto Threat on Fighter Jet Engine Program

Saving taxpayers half a billion dollars isn’t that simple. Defying the threat of a presidential veto, the House of Representatives voted Thursday to authorize a alternative engine program for the F-35 fighter jet. The backup plan is projected to cost $485 million next year. The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, gave this program a thumbs down on the same day. That means it won’t be included in the Senate’s version of the defense spending bill. Read Chris Hellman’s recent op-ed, which notes that increases in military spending affect the rest of the federal budget. “While domestic spending increased by approximately 24 percent from FY 2001 to FY 2010, military spending (including war costs) surged 71 percent,” he said.

Obama at the BP Press Conference

Obama at the 5/27 press conference. Credit: US White HouseCompetence. Obama oozes it. He always seems at ease during these press conferences, calmly slapping away questions like so many flies (yes, I’ll admit it, the only reason I’m employing this simile is so I can link to this really cool video of the President killing a fly just as it lands on his hand. You’ve seen it before but watch it again! It’s cool! He’s cool!).

And there was much substance too; just about everyone knew going in that this press conference would be all about BP and the oil spill in the Gulf, and the president was prepared. He defended his administration’s response to the spill, he accepted the blame when necessary, and at the end, he even deployed what has become a trademark Obama tactic: He utilized a seemingly innocent question from one of his girls — this one from Malia — as an opportunity to reinforce how deeply he feels about a particular issue and to place everything into warm and fuzzy context.

Somehow, Malia’s innocent Daddy, have you plugged the hole provided a segue way to a brief monologue about his love for the environment, his concern for the future, and his feelings about Simon Cowell’s departure from American ldol (ok, everything except for the American Idol bit, but one can never be sure), which caused me to wonder, for a brief moment, if Malia had actually uttered those words. No matter. It was great television.

There were a few awkward moments however, and all came towards the end. The first came when Chip Reid of CBS News asked the president whether Elizabeth Birnbaum, former director of the U.S. Minerals Management Service — the agency within the Interior Department responsible for regulating offshore drilling — had been fired or if she had resigned. The president said he didn’t know, and when Jackie Calmes of the New York Times followed up with the same question, the president eventually replied: “Come on Jackie, I don’t know.”

To the untrained ear (my ear, I suppose), this response almost sounded like an admission from the president that he wasn’t completely in control of the situation. After all, the employment status of the top official in his administration responsible for regulating offshore drilling seems to be precisely the type of personnel decision the president would ‘know’ something about unless, of course, he was attempting to signal that, yes, he didn’t fire her because she had resigned, in which case why not just say it? And if he did fire her, why not just say that? So confusing.

The second awkward moment came when the inimitable Helen Thomas, doyenne of the White House corps, asked President Obama the following:

When are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse and don’t give us this Bushism “if we don’t go there they’ll all come here.”

Her question was incredibly important for two reasons. First for President Obama’s seemingly exasperated response. The President outlined the Bush administration’s reasoning for entering the war in the first place as if he was explaining the utility of Facebook to his dotty grandmother. Second, because his reasoning was accepted wholesale by the press. Most of the press conference related news coverage on Thursday evening focused on President Obama’s oil spill responses.

This is especially troubling because it seems to be an indication that, for now, the press has moved on from Afghanistan. The BP spill is quite important, and could have long-lasting implications for the gulf and the rest of the country, but more members of the press should be asking about Afghanistan, if only because the 1,000th US soldier has just died there. And, oh yes, the Senate has just approved a $58.8 billion war spending bill that is likely to be approved by the House.

So, Ms. Thomas, for your continuing courage: Bravo!

The Times, Lula and Lily Tomlin

Reading the New York Times (5/25) on Brazilian reaction to President Luiz “Lula” da Silva’s deal with Iran over uranium enrichment brings to mind comedian Lily Tomlin’s observation: “No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.”

Iran inked a nuclear fuel swap deal in Tehran

Iran Deal Seen as Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy,” reads the headline by Times correspondent Alexei Barrionnuevo, who tells the readers that Lula “has returned home to a cloud of criticism by opinion-makers and lawmakers” for his role in helping to engineer the deal.

The Times’s sources? For starters, none of them were “lawmakers,” and whether any of the three men cited are “opinion-makers” is certainly up for debate.

First out of the blocks was “political analyst” Amaury de Souza, a PhD from MIT in political science, and a consistent critic of “Lula” and his Workers Party. Besides being a “political analyst” he is a business consultant, a strong supporter of privatization, and a backer of the previous conservative government of Fernando Cardoso.

Next cited was Luis Felipe Lampreia, “former foreign minister,” who writes in the newspaper O Globo—the flagship of Brazil’s largest media conglomerate—that da Silva’s diplomacy could “cause incalculable material and political losses,” a statement he never explains or the Times bothers to examine. Lampreia is not only a Cardoso man, he recently criticized the Lula government for giving refuge to Manuel Zelaya, the president of Honduras ousted in a rightwing coup this past summer.

Lastly, Barrionnuevo cites columnist Clovis Rossi, who has been a consistent critic of Brazil’s efforts to construct a Latin America free of U.S. interference.

In short, the “cloud” is two opposition politicians and a columnist.

What the Times did not bother to mention until several days later was that according to Robert Naiman, policy director of Just Foreign Policy, Brazilian newspapers and Reuters reported that the Obama administration green-lighted the enrichment deal and then reversed itself because of homegrown congressional criticism.

Buried in Barrionuevo’s second to last paragraph is an almost impenetrable piece of prose on a recent poll suggesting that 48 percent of Brazilians “seemed proud to see Mr. da Silva mixing with world leaders.”

What the poll actually found was that 76 percent of Brazilians rated Lula and his government “excellent or good,” a three point jump over this past April.

In fact, most “opinion-makers and lawmakers” in Brazil have supported the Iran initiative and reacted sharply to U.S. criticism of the diplomatic breakthrough by U.S. The newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo headlined its editorial “Lula’s Feat,” and said the President’s “tenacity has triumphed.”

One would never know all this by reading the New York Times. Black Commentator and Portside columnist Carl Bloice suggests the reason is that the Times must have a banner over its Latin American desk reading, “The Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.”

Art & Culture Helps DC Get to Detroit

There was a show last Saturday, May 22nd tailor made for progressives; a classic intermingling of art and social justice. The DC Labor Chorus held its annual concert and this year the proceeds are going toward helping The Greater DC Social Forum Committee get area residents to the US Social Forum in Detroit.

The approximately 100 people in attendance seemed very pleased with the evening, so we laced together some audio clips in a way that will give an entertaining sense of it, in case you missed it. Hope you enjoy!

Pollan Digests the Latest Food Politics Books

Are you too busy cooking fabulous meals to read a book about how costly cheap food is for America? No problem. In his essay in the June 10 edition of the New York Review of Books, Michael Pollan discusses five new books on food politics, a diverse movement that’s about more than how broccoli sprouts taste so much better than wedges of pesticide-imbued iceberg lettuce. “Perhaps the food movement’s strongest claim on public attention today is the fact that the American diet of highly processed food laced with added fats and sugars is responsible for the epidemic of chronic diseases that threatens to bankrupt the health care system,” Pollan explains. And despite its proponents’ many perspectives, he says that they all generally believe “that today’s food and farming economy is ‘unsustainable’–that it can’t go on in its current form much longer without courting a breakdown of some kind, whether environmental, economic, or both.” OtherWords will run a related op-ed in our next editorial package by Kristi Ceccarrosi.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Remica L. Bingham

Remica BinghamA weekly featured poem of provocation and witness. You can find more poetry and arts news from Blog This Rock.

Final Exam Administration

I enter to find all the students in uniform
occupying a small room.

I hand out pencils and registration forms.
Some begin without orders.

I remind them to remain anonymous
no names, just ID numbers should appear

on the waiting pages, white and clean
as unwritten letters or discharges.

Just a number the private
in BCGs and fatigues mumbles

from the back that’s all
we are. A number

and a gun. His comrades laugh,
erasing what might have been.

Do your best I say,
and they settle, salute.

-Remica L. Bingham
Used by permission.

Readers’ Challenge: Was Gaza Flotilla Right to Refuse Gilad Schalit’s Father?

Haaretz reports:

A group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators sailing toward Gaza with humanitarian supplies on Thursday have refused a request by the father of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to deliver a package and letter to his son.

Activists rejected Noam Shalit’s offer to mediate on their behalf with the government, which has vowed to block the flotilla’s entry to Gaza, if they agreed to his request.

A forum of seven senior ministers decided on Wednesday that Israel would attempt to turn back the ‘Freedom Flotilla’, on course to enter a 20-mile Israeli-imposed exclusion zone off Gaza this weekend.

The government said it would allow the United Nations to transfer the flotilla’s humanitarian cargo to Gaza after security inspections at the Israeli port.

Do Focal Points readers think Noam Schalit, however quid-pro-quo, was trying to be genuinely helpful? Or was he being disingenuous and trying to make the demonstrators look self-serving? Should the demonstrators have refused him or not?

Readers’ Challenge: Have IR Deadlines Outlived Their Usefulness?

Day of the Deadlines, as well as timelines, in the world of international relations (at least in so far as they were brought to my attention) . First this: at IPS News, Gareth Porter writes about General McChrystal:

McChrystal’s shift in emphasis toward the targeted raids against the Taliban was undoubtedly accelerated by the message from the Barack Obama administration in March that he had to demonstrate progress in his counterinsurgency strategy by the end of December 2010 rather than the mid-2011 deadline for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

That earlier deadline, first reported by the Washington Post Mar. 31, was confirmed this month by U.S. Gen. Frederick Hodge, the director of operations for all of southern Afghanistan. “Our mission is to show irreversible momentum by the end of 2010 — that’s the clock I’m using,” Hodge told The Times of London.

Second, at Foreign Policy, Barbara Slavin writes about the Israel-Palestine peace process:

George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Middle East peace, plans to set a deadline for an Israel-Palestinian agreement, applying lessons learned from his successful mediation in a previous conflict. [Asked] whether he intended to set a similar deadline for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Mitchell said that he would do so after indirect talks between the two sides progress to direct negotiations. … In his public remarks, the former Senate majority leader acknowledged widespread skepticism both in the region and in Washington that he can broker a deal between the center-right government of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.

So far, the skeptics would seem to have the better of the argument. . . . But Mitchell . . . noted that the Netanyahu government has endorsed the concept of an independent Palestinian state and agreed to freeze new housing construction on the West Bank for 10 months. The Palestinians, the envoy said, are working to stop attacks on Israel. . . . Mitchell omitted mention of the toughest issues impeding Israeli-Palestinian peace: the fate of Jerusalem and of Palestinian refugees.

Third, at Global Security Newswire (of which Focal Points is an unabashed fan), Elaine Grossman writes of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty review conference yesterday:

“It is almost an impossible task,” said Zimbabwean Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku, who chaired the conference’s committee on disarmament, describing his unsuccessful effort to obtain support from all of the accord’s 189 member nations for a draft joint statement about efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. . . . One central point of contention in Chidyausiku’s draft text pertains to whether the five nuclear powers recognized under the treaty — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — should be pressed to establish a set schedule for eliminating their atomic arms.

“The conference affirms that the final phase of the nuclear disarmament process and other related measures should be pursued within a legal framework with specified time lines,” reads a particularly controversial passage of the disarmament committee’s in-progress report. The reference to adhering to disarmament “time lines” has raised the ire of Washington and others. Representatives of a number of nations — including the United States, France and Russia — called yesterday for any timing imperative to be removed from the resolution.

“We remain resolute” in backing the draft’s “very mild language” regarding an initiative to draft time lines for disarmament, South Africa’s delegate to the disarmament committee said.

Then, with some poignancy, the delegate added: “Allow us to take something home.”

Some quick impressions . . . In the first instance, a timeline seems to have driven Gen. McChrystal to increased brutality. (Not that I’m advocating a longer timeline!) In the second, one can’t help but wonder if Mitchell is just reliving past glories (his success in Northern Ireland). In the third, as during the Bush administration, the United States seems to reflexively balk at measures initiated by other nations.

Getting down to basics, most humans resist pressure. Do Focal Points readers see an alternative to deadlines and timelines? After all, recent discoveries about the “emergent phenomena” of complexity science makes a mocker of them. (Kind of an abstract question, I know.) Or do you think they’re valid in one or all of the above instances?

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