Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Living Our Times 

"My dream is that there be a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Iraq."
— George Bush, during a press conference with the PM of Iraq.

And here's a story from Marina Hyde, in today's Guardian Diary:
As students of McCarthyism will agree, there is nothing quite so impressive as a government that devotes proper time to fussing about the activities of those in the entertainment industry, so it's encouraging to see the approach being aped down the years. Former Channel 4 commissioning editor Farrukh Dhondy has made a feature film called Red Mercury, about three Islamic boys who try to build an atomic bomb, and screened it for prospective buyers in Cannes. Two weeks ago, however, Farrukh was visited by Special Branch's anti-terrorism unit, who quizzed him about the script and demanded how he knew about red mercury. Did he read the News of the World? Certainly not, he replied, but he did have a physics degree from Cambridge and access to the internet. (They always appreciate a clever one.) Did he know there were two cases pending concerning people trying to build atomic bombs? They're nothing to do with me, an aghast Farrukh answered. We want to make sure of that, came the menacing reply. Well, it's this sort of police work that makes one sleep easier, and we trust plod won't rest till every film-maker has been hunted down.


Living Our Times

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Laugh, I Nearly Died... 

There's a move afoot to make the incitement of religious hatred an offence against the law, and who's standing in its way? A bunch of jokers.

Everyone knows who this law is aimed to protect, and in the present climate for them life's becoming very difficult, because hatred of people on the grounds of their religion sucks, desecration of Jewish cemeteries is an evil, pulling Sikhs by their turbans is unspeakable. Yet Jews and Sikhs are protected by the law from acts of hatred against them but as against Muslims, it's still an open day.

Yes, the law is meant to protect Muslims primarily, that much has been conceded; Muslims are the present day pariahs, from the shores of Singapore to the barbed wires of Guantanamo Bay. Look at those debates following the film Kingdom of Heaven, especially those in the vein of: "What, these people civilised? How could they be? They're terrorists to the core!" But that's just words; ask your friends how difficult it is these days to seek work if your name's Muhammad, ask those who stay back to clear the rubble after a mosque's been fire-bombed, and find out how many hejabed women have been spat at in the streets today, har, har har!

Well, that's what the resistance to this proposed extension of the public order has been today on the telly. The arch-thinker Rowan Atkinson — yes, your Mr Bean — looking all serious and saying that this law will only appease the fundamentalists. Fundamentalists of all religions he added, for good measure. Then he said, looking very serious and hurt, the law will only stop comedians like him from making gags about religion and Muslims in particular. So let's hear it for him now, har, har, har!

But how about the protection given already to Jews and Sikhs, how does that tally? No, Atkinson wasn't making it clear if he'd like to have those lifted to make it fair for all, but he merely didn't want this new extension to Muslims and alright, other religions too, to go any further. But for some reasons, Muslims feel that they have been specially chosen this time to make discriminatory, hateful acts against them less hurtful than if they were to be hurled at Mr Cohen or Mr Singh Ahluwalia.

It's important that comedians can continue being funny even as other people are suffering the pain of being what they are. Is the right of a comedian more important when measured against that, or should there be limits in a tolerant society to the extent of your ridicule? Looking around us now, it's clear that Muslims aren't asking for more than what's already been afforded to other religious or racial communities. But voices were raised during the last elections here in Blighty that the Labour government was only fishing for votes among the increasingly vocal Muslim community. What then was the crime here, to ask for protection from abuse and hurt, or being vocal about your legitimate interests in a free society?

Another in the Atkinson camp said that surely the surest protection for religion is a secular governance. Well, yes, like in France today.

And is Jewishness a race? If so, what race was Sammy Davis Jr? Is Sikhism a race? Well, I know a few non Punjabis who've converted to Sikhism, so what race are they now? If these are nice questions, then is it not time to resolve this Muslim anomaly?

And to make his point, Rowan Bean-Atkinson said that suppose someone — a bigot, not a tolerant person like him — hates Muslims because of a harmless joke that he's made about Islam. Well, Mr Atkinson, is the law really that naive and simple?

Perhaps it is to a comedian; but to those out there who're suffering discrimination and hurt because they've been spat on or suffered verbal abuse or been turned down for a job they're qualified to hold, or have shards of broken showered upon their prayer mats because someone's had this bright idea that it's okay to boil them in oil...


Laugh, I Nearly Died...

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Just Mahathir 

Sometimes news tickles your sense of the absurd and makes you want to smile. Mine has been this:

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to help Saddam Hussain get a fair trial.

Saddam caught unawaresNow, that's rich, I'll have it in small doses, and slowly. Mahathir is to join the Emergency Committee for Iraq to help ensure that a fair and lawful trial is accorded to Saddam Hussain, now languishing somewhere, perhaps as himself, perhaps as another. (Saddam had many doppelgangers at the ready in case he woke up to find himself looking at his own reality.) I remember the last time we saw Saddam he was caught with his pants down.

Now Mahathir, who was himself caught with his undeprants in a twist over the trial of his former Deputy Anwar Ibrahim, is to be one of many honest brokers. What Mahathir was reported to have said is worth repeating here:
"In the case of Saddam Hussein, my concern is mainly to see whether what they have done will fall into law, was a properly constituted court."
You may want to cut that out and place it among your record of Anwar's trial in Kuala Lumpur when Mahathir was Prime Minister.

Anwar was sentenced to a long period in jail (built, ironically, by him when he was Home Minister under Dr M) for two separate offences, to run consecutively. He appealed and got one sentence quashed, but served the full course of the other when Dr M stepped down. Now he's a freeman, he's barred from politics until perhaps 2010 unless he receives a Royal Pardon from the King of Malaysia, advised by a panel which has, among others, the attorney general who fought so gallantly to have him put inside for enough years to write his prison diaries.

Now, if you've forgotten, Anwar was charged with various offences that would've made the Gay Times want to make him their centrefold. Then he was charged for abuse of his power for trying to stop enquiries into his alleged acts that caused so much calumny. The trial was like Alice in Wonderland, with Alice played from a distance by Mahathir. And the judge was — many thought — mad as a hatter.

Who will forget the picture of Malaysian Sikh policemen carrying a mattress into Court, the semen samples that were analysed by the Chemistry Department, but the samples themselves destroyed, the flat where one of the offences allegedly happened (in a building that wasn't there at the time stated), and the judge who kept giving absurd rulings on clear evidential matters?

Now, there's another thing that Mahathir was famed for, and that was the removal of the Lord President Tun Salleh Abbas in 1988, a Malaysian top judge who was straight as a stick, for refusing to bend to government's will in his judgments. He was subsequently removed by the king for "misconduct" Commenting on this sacking, Tun Mohammad Suffian, Salleh's former colleague on the bench and a former Lord President himself, said:
"Judges who joined in downing their boss have been rewarded by promotion. Judges who did not, have been cowed into silence. Judges are at sixes and sevens. Some daren't speak to each other.
"While there are judges whose integrity and impartiality have never wavered, the public perception is that the judiciary as a whole can no longer be trusted to honour their oath of office. When I am asked what I thought, my usual reply is that I wouldn't like to be tried by today's judges, especially if I am innocent."
So disgusted was everyone by this that one Datuk Rais Yatim said it was "political manipulation". Rais of course went on to become Malaysia Law Minister under the last years of Mahathir, and is now still serving as a lesser minister under Abdullah Badawi. During these times he said no more of that, though when pushed he managed to say that that was just part of his doctoral thesis.
Now, while Anwar is roaming the world doing odd jobs, and is also rumoured to have won the backing of the United States to be successor to Kofi Annan, Mahathir is till riding high (to his office in the high rise Petronas Twin Towers, where he is Chairman of the petroleum corporation) while giving, perhaps, a sardonic smile as he surveys the Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia under the Prime Minister in the shadows of his own choosing.

Saddam the former dictator must be proud to have, on side, a man who deconstructed the Malaysian judiciary. In the meantime, it'll be instructive to remember what the late lamented Tun Suffian said of what Mahathir did:
"What happened to Tun Salleh and our Supreme Court Judges has shown that what took generations to build up can be destroyed in one day and will take many years to build."
Then, he said it again some years later:"Now that more than 12 years have elapsed, I doubt if the judiciary would recover in a generation from today".

Stand up then Tun Mahathir Mohamad, a man with just the right credentials.

Picture: Saddam showing parts where the sun never shines.


Just Mahathir

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Europe On the Bend 

The Euro is funny business; it's an aspiration and a threat. And yet, what makes greater sense than having the same set of coins in your pocket as you travel across many lands? So where will the Euro go now that both the French and the Dutch have shown the red card to the European Constitution?

It's a God-send to the US of course. The Euro has been hanging over their heads like the sword of moneylenders. It has been said the main reason for their attack on Iraq was Saddam's threat to sell his oil in Euros. Now, much the same is also being said about Iran, which, rumour has it, is setting up an internal oil bazaar, selling barrels in Euros. Now, what will that do to the dollar?

This whole money business is funny business. The US is nearly bankrupt, and yet the dollar is still afloat, the proliferation of dud notes notwithstanding. The hazy future of the Euro is, ironically, helping to boost it a little, and now that there's the guillotine waiting to fall over its name, what hope is there left for the Euro? Who will buy its gleaming coins and crisp notes if its future is in question?

The wobbly nature of the European marriage of states now seems to be helping the US. The United States of Europe has gone beyond itself. Now there are twenty-five nations of varying miens and wealth grouped together in a centre that is pulling in two directions. The Old Europe, as Bush put it so gleefully, promised to be the counterpoint to the alarming stridency of the US, but, quietly, the US has been tugging at New Europe, pulling asunder Chirac's and Schroeder's common dreams. And from the ashes of the Old, who will emerge as the Trans-Atlantic nodding dog in the rear window of this European vehicle? Stand up, if you can still, Tony Blair. But Blair is nowadays looking more lame duck than nodding dog.

Ottoman soldiers massing outside TiblisiBut with the slide of the Euro and the emasculation of Schroeder and Chirac, Europe is changing very fast. A muffled sound from the Northern Alliance partner in the Italian government has called for the scrapping of the Euro, the Eastern Europeanisation of Britain is moving apace, and Turkey, poor Turkey, will always be on the sideline. Even the new Pope, bless his cotton socks, thinks having Turkey in rather than out with their phantom janissaries is an idea not to be encouraged.

Blair has of course been selling the idea of the new European Constitution which, he told his British sons and daughters, will only consolidate what's already been decided. What he didn't say of course is that it will also remove some veto powers. Professor Steve Peers of the University of Essex pointed this out in his summary of the Constitution last year:
The issue of the extent to which EU Member States would lose their veto on certain matters under the draft EU Constitution is one of the most controversial issues in the debate over the Constitution. As background for this debate, this summary contains a complete list of cases where the veto would be abolished by the draft Constitution, along with other relevant information."
Blair was of course putting in practise what Montaigne had been saying all those years ago, that truth is sometimes is not the actual, but what you can lead the public to believe.

Perhaps Europe as a check on the US is an idea dead as a dodo. Europe is splitting up for different reasons. Blair may have been thinking of an aggrandisement that will boost his position as leader of the New Europe emerging from the east; Germany and France probably thought it would bolster their positions. But the people have spoken, and many will have seen what an unwieldy thing this Europe has become, an idea breaking apart by centrifugal force.

To remain in that role, Europe will have to regroup, with Germany and France at its centre, and the US hangers on (which is now most of Eatern Europe) left out to form their own alliance. But what's most alarming about Europe as it is now being reformulated is the end of its embodiment of all that's decent in human life, the common good rather than the money-grabbing spirit of globalisation that is sweeping the world, encouraged by the multi-national cartels that have everything to gain; a concern that's been expressed by the Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance:
"The new EU Constitution must be viewed in the context of the evolution of the social and economic policies of the Union. As it stands, the new Constitution signals the abandonment of the 'social' or 'Welfare State' model of the EU — in which state provision of high quality public services, protection against unemployment, citizens and workers rights, environmental protection, etc. were the priority. A framework for the further advance of neo-liberal globalization, which clearly points to this abandonment, is embedded in the new Constitution. Key to this framework are the changes which will allow the European Commission to negotiate trade agreements involving the commercialization of public services at the World Trade Organisation through the mechanism of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)."
So where will that leave Turkey?

If only it would abandon its Kemalist Salonikan past and look instead to its own backyard, where Turkic speaking people stretch all the way to the back of beyond, then perhaps it'll undertsand its true role as a leader nation. But perhaps the US have been there already, laying down pipelines in the former playground of the Great Khan.

The Ottoman army parading before the walls of Tiflis (Tblisi) in August 1578 after the city had been evacuated by Da'ud Han. Lala Mustafa Pasha is shown on horseback on the right hand side. A double-page miniature painting from a sixteenth century manuscript of the Nusretname, an account of the Turkish conquest of Georgia by Lala Mustafa Pasha in 1578. — British Library Collection.


Europe On the Bend

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Playing Ball With the Occupier 

Twelve-year old Kamad al-Nairab is a great football fan. Recently, hearing that the great footballer Ronaldo was to visit Palestine as goodwill ambassador for the UN, he wrote him the following letter. He did not meet Ronaldo because of Israeli-imposed travel restrictions.
"Dear Ronaldo,

My name is Hamad al-Nairab, I am 12-year-old, live in the Refugee Camp of al-Shabboura in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. I like football very much, and love you very much. I am one of the supporters of the Brazilian football team. Everyday, I watch football matches on TV to see you while playing football.

I used to play football in our quarter. I used to wear the yellow shirt with number 9. I hoped to visit Brazil to see you there, play with you and to take picture with you.

I had a dream to be older and older and to become a famous professional footballer like you, I had a dream to be the Ronaldo of Palestine. Dear Ronaldo, I cannot play football because I lost my left leg. On May 19, 2004, me and my friends participated in a peaceful march in Rafah. The Israeli helicopters hit us with missiles. A lot of friends were killed and others wounded. On that day, I lost my leg and my dreams dead. No more playing football.

I was so pleased and surprised when I heard that you are visiting our homeland Palestine. But, unfortunately, I will be not able to see you because of the Israeli checkpoints and my health condition. All of my friends love you so much, and love football, they hope just to see you even for seconds. Seeing you is one of their big dreams.

I invite you to visit Rafah and beg you to agree, to award me the opportunity to shake hand with you and to take pictures with you. And to see how much the people here love you. All of them talk about you and about your visit. I hope you will not disappoint the children of Rafah and all the people here who love you.

We are waiting for you,

Hamad al-Nairab."
But Israeli soldiers love football too.
"Palestinian teenager Anan al-Zrayer said he was walking down the street when soldiers asked him if his family had a television set and a satellite dish.

"I said 'yes,' and told them we don't have Israeli channels. (After they entered the house,) I gave them the remote control and they carried out a search. We were kicked into another room," he said. — Haaretz.
When the game was over and Liverpool had defeated AC Milan, the Israelis left but not before doing many penalty shootouts in the al-Zrayer household. Israeli Channel 10 TV showed broken furniture in the house and shattered windows. Just a typical Israeli way of saying thank you after taking over your possessions.

They didn't do anything the soldiers said later, the house was just a property without a people.


Playing Ball With the Occupier

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