The Predicate

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Wednesday, 27.07.05

Defining Terrorism

A common argument by people against the US foreign policy goes like this: Why is the US acting alone? Why isn't the world (read UN) acting against terrorism together? Why should US go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan by itself? (despite repeated claims by the Bush/Cheney camp during their re-election campaign that US is leading an international coalition.) Why is the US acting like an international policeman? Ideally, an umbrella organization like the UN should act against terrorists with combined forces (peacekeeping forces, say) and combined intelligence.

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balaji - pencil 23:16:17 - General - pencil permalink - [05.08.05 07:31]

Big business in your neighborhood

In the latest episode in the struggle between big business and local community and economy, Home Depot is trying to enter into the Bernal Heights area in San Francisco. A vote is coming up on Thursday to resolve the issue. More on this topic in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle.

[read more]

balaji - pencil 11:30:00 - General - pencil permalink -

Monday, 25.07.05

Al-Qaeda 'destroyed in Pakistan'

From this BBC report:

Pakistan has destroyed al-Qaeda's ability to operate on its soil, President Pervez Musharraf has said.

He said the network could not have orchestrated deadly bombings in London, Egypt or elsewhere from his country.

"Al-Qaeda does not exist in Pakistan any more," he told reporters in Lahore, after unconfirmed reports Pakistanis were being sought over bombs in Egypt

President Musharraf said al-Qaeda "sanctuaries" in Pakistan had been over-run, and that Pakistani security forces had arrested 700 of the movement's fighters.

I feel so safe and relieved, now that Pakistan has totally destroyed Al-Qaeda. Why should the West worry when there is such a powerful ally on the "war on terror", Pakistan?

- Balaji.

balaji - pencil 23:28:35 - General - pencil permalink - [28.07.05 10:03]

Thursday, 21.07.05

A nation on the rise

"High-speed data links are beginning to span the country..

The plan is to link up all the five main population centres by the end of this year, reaching more than half the population.

Base stations along the way will allow wireless connections to the cable from several kilometres away.

Anyone who is patched in will benefit from data transfer speeds of up to 2Mbps, offering phone, internet, and television services.

The government, schools and businesses are coming online first, but at $125 a month the network is far too expensive for most individuals.

At the moment there are more jobs in IT than skilled labour, fuelling an enthusiasm here to learn.

"We want to move faster, we want to move beyond where we are. The only constraint is limited resources, but I think resources are coming and we have to move fast in terms of training our people. I think the progress is quite good."

[read more]

balaji - pencil 03:26:52 - General - pencil permalink -

Tuesday, 19.07.05

25,000 civilians killed in Iraq War

According to a survey done by The Iraq Body Count - a UK based group that includes academics and peace activists, nearly 25,000 people were killed in the Iraq War. Other salient points in the survey are:

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balaji - pencil 21:59:19 - General - pencil permalink - [20.07.05 16:57]

Monday, 18.07.05

Insane!

This article by Associated Press is about a florida teacher who claims insanity in a case of sex with a 14 year old.

A teacher will claim she was insane due to emotional stress and did not know right from wrong when she had sex numerous times with a 14-year-old student, her attorney said Monday.

"What teacher in her right mind would do something like this?" attorney John Fitzgibbons said after a brief hearing for his client, Debra Lafave, a middle-school reading teacher.

Prosecutors have said a state psychologist already determined Lafave was not insane, while one hired by the defense concluded that she was mentally ill.

The boy told investigators he and the teacher had sex in a classroom, her house and once in a vehicle while his 15-year-old cousin drove. He said Lafave told him her marriage was in trouble and that she was aroused by the fact that having sex with him was not allowed.

Apparently, she faces 30 years in prison. Isn't pleading insanity a wonderful defense!

Statistically though, pleading not guilty through insanity is not a strategy one would bet on. I read somewhere that only about one in four cases are argued successfully through this defense, and that too, in 80% of those cases, both sides agreed to the appropriateness of the plea before trial. The Insanity defense became famous due to the John Hinckley case. John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Reagan so that he can impress actress Jodie Foster. The US Congress rewrote the law with regards to insanity pleas after Hinckley successfully pleaded not guilty on the basis of insanity. Recently, we saw the insanity defense being used in the case of Lee Malvo, one of the DC snipers. A few states like Montana and Utah have banned the use of the insanity defense.

That said, does having sex with a 14 year old call for 30 years in prison? From the news reports, I am not sure whether this is for the sexual act itself or for the abuse of power as a teacher. The 14 year old is not complaining, I guess!

- Balaji.

balaji - pencil 13:04:41 - General - pencil permalink - [20.07.05 11:50]

Friday, 15.07.05

Assumed Complicity

The recent editorial in The Predicate, "London Blasts and the Aftermath" and the first comment wondering about the validity and links about Muslims actually condemning the act triggered something in me. When I read the links and the various quotes excerpted in the comments section, I was struck by this blossoming phenomenon—the assumed complicity of the larger group when a member of that group is guilty.

The sin of tragedies is that they taint everyone who witnessed or survived them. The victims were the only ones who got a clear resolution; no ifs, buts or suppositions for them. The rest of us struggle to justify, reason, or assign blame to pacify the disquiet we feel.

In our haste to conjure up solutions we succumb to simplistic resolve to stroke our passions, ease our anguish, and vent our frustration. We cannot undo the train blasts, but we sure can demand that the parties responsible show some remorse. Not only that, let's have the group the guilty belonged to also apologize and condemn the act. This must feed a mysterious need in us to have the larger group hang its head in shame that one of their own stepped out of line or failed miserably. We do this to fans of sports teams when their beloved chokes a championship basket, or misses a crucial ground ball. But at least that teasing game is harmless.

Shahid Malik, the newly elected Labour MP for Dewsbury (where one of the bombers lived) is quoted as having said, "Condemnation is not enough. British Muslims must, and I believe are prepared to, confront the voices of evil head on." How exactly will they do that? Is it wise of them to do that? Is it warranted? Should a law-abiding, religious Muslim baker in Dewsbury now suddenly be obliged to issue public condemnation of violence in his religion? And maybe take up vigil around his neighborhood at nights, or on his days off, to beat the crap out of any teenage Muslims who "appear" suspicious? Fair is fair, right? After all his religion has many recorded terrorists, so what's a little overly-protective whacking of a suspicious looking teenage Muslim boy in his neighborhood.

Didn't they do the same thing in Jeffrey Dahmer's neighborhood? What do you mean they didn't? After producing that violent, despicable, evil man in their neighborhood, in their churches and schools, and backyard picnics that whole neighborhood should've been quarantined by FBI, and intensive psychological study must've been done to prevent cannibalistic serial killers from ever being produced in that neighborhood, in that community, in Dahmer's Christian denomination. In fact, they should've locked up every white male of Dahmer's profile just to be sure. Hell, at least everyone of Dahmer's classmates should've come out in public and condemned him and apologised.

We don't hold Militia in America accountable for vigilante murders or gun crime? I have met a few white Oklahomans of Timothy McVeigh's religion, age, and politics; no apology was forthcoming from them for the acts of one of their own.

We don't expect NRA to go on air and condemn every school shooting. Why not? Because "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" we're told. But somehow when it comes to terrorism and Islam, it's not a demented faction or a misguided person who committed the act, but a Muslim Fundamentalist who did.

To assume a larger group as complicit in every heinous act committed by a select few people within it is intellectual and moral laziness.

In our information highway’s rush-hour traffic, tidily wrapped easy conclusions are like the carpool lane. They expedite our digestion of news. They spell out the good and bad in black and white so that we can go to sleep in the comfort that the demonized unknowable they are the evil. It’s us against them, end of story. Unfortunately, the truth is a bit more reluctant to surface at our impatience. Truth demands a bit of effort on our part to ferret out the reasons. The delineation of cause, motive, and origin of tragedies is exhausting. Separating the offenders from their immediate demographics seems too much indulgence on our part when all we want to do is circle the culprits and imagine our life without them entirely. That’s a clean break from our anxiety. That delivers us to peace. Illusion is a form of peace.

- Udhaya.

Udhaya - pencil 14:49:11 - General - pencil permalink - [19.07.05 15:24]

Wednesday, 13.07.05

London Blasts and the Aftermath

This is the fourth time I am sitting down to write something on the London blasts. Every time, I can't seem to go past a paragraph because the whole thing brings out a sense of weariness. I shake my head and move on to other things. Every little aspect of this issue is playing out like a clichéd scene from a movie inspired from several other movies, bereft of any new surprises and overall, an unimpressive screenplay. I feel weary.

The blasts at the stations probably surprised no one. Once people got out of the shock of the incidents, the overwhelming sentiment was that they had to happen sometime and there is really no way to prevent such attacks. People are resigned to the fact that such an attack at the heart of the city, coordinated and well executed can happen. I didn't bat an eyelid. 9/11 has raised the bar so high that it probably requires an attack of a totally different kind to surprise and shock people anymore.  

My initial reaction when I heard the news was that something didn't seem right. Why was there a time gap between the different bombings? Surely a group capable of effecting such a strike would be capable of coordinating it as well. Sure enough, it turned out that the initial reports were wrong and the bombings indeed occurred within seconds of one another.

It was downhill from then on. Prime Minister Tony Blair immediately hinted that the attack was done by "Islamic terrorists" (McVeighs and Kaczynskis be damned). President Bush found the perfect time to pump up his rhetoric. He said it was an attack on the way of our lives, and that we wouldn't give in and they wouldn't win and he will prevail and that's why we must keep fighting in Iraq and so on. The media, I think was disappointed that the destruction was actually not that high as it originally seemed. Otherwise, they were ready to put in 24x7 coverage on every little bit of the tragedy. It turned out that we ended up only seeing photos of dark tunnels taken through mobile phones.

The Muslim organizations in Britain have probably prepared for this for the last few years, so they came out in full force, denouncing the attacks, proclaiming that the ones who did it were not really Muslims and that Islam is a peaceful religion etc. Rogues who didn't like Muslims in Britain saw an opportunity to hit out against them and start off race related attacks all over. Sikhs probably groaned, realizing that they would be mistaken for Muslims as well and would be hit.

After the Tsunami, every other day saw a Tsunami warning and panic and people fleeing from the shores seeing a big wave. The media covered probably every high tide as a potential catastrophe. Similarly, there were bomb scares in Birmingham and in other places. There were more cops on the subway trains in the U.S for a couple of days. It was as though the media and the public were in pursuit of a repeat scenario.

Then there was the blame game. CNN proudly showed off its investigative journalistic skills by pointing to a weird looking website where someone had scribbled that Al-Qaeda is taking responsibility for the blasts. Several "organizations" came out of the woodwork and got their fifteen minutes of illfame by claiming responsibility for the attack. I was actually surprised that I couldn't find even a single article suggesting that the attack was the work of the IRA.

The left wing Anti-US Anti-UK people swung into action. They reiterated that only UK is to be blamed for this because of its position on Iraq. When so many people died in Iraq every day, why shouldn't lay men die in London, they asked. UK deserves this and probably a lot more, apparently. One guy even suggested that every victim who died in this attack deserved it because he/she voted Blair back into power and thus indirectly supported UK's attack on Iraq. No one stopped to think whether such an attack would not have happened had UK stayed away from Iraq. Will all our Muslim terrorist brethren drop their arms and rush out to hug the Westerners? Would the world be a peaceful place if just the Iraq incident didn't happen?  People conveniently assumed that Iraq was the last straw and refused to look at all the straws piled up over centuries of hostility and hatred.

Now, it has come to light that the bombers were home brewed Britain born Muslim kids of Pakistani origin. The British intelligence agencies are probably not the least bit surprised. After all, it was a British born militant (Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh) kidnapped and brutally murdered Daniel Pearl a couple of years back.

Sigh. The film will continue. There would be news reports about how the neighborhood really liked the boys and they didn't have a single clue that the boys were cooking this up. There would be widespread retaliation and racial attacks on poor Muslims (and Sikhs).  
One of the bombers went to Pakistan recently, so President Musharraf will probably state that his government has arrested three people who interacted with the bomber when he was in Pakistan. (Of course, no one would follow up on what would actually happen to those three people. Bush would reaffirm faith in Musharraf and that will be all).
People will continue to ask Britain to withdraw from Iraq, as if that will solve everything. Bush would repeat that our way of life is being threatened and would try to sneak in National ID card and other such schemes. Bush Government will warn that there are sleeper cells active in the US and that there is a possibility of a terror attack on a bridge or building or on water or on air.
The Pat Buchanans of UK would try to blame the entire Muslim community and ask it to "cleanse itself". Some may even clamor for the "foreigners" to "go back".
India will make some noise about how Pakistan continues to play a role in aiding terrorism, but India's statements will fall on deaf ears.

Then, there will be yet another attack. Rewind to reel one.

- Balaji.

balaji - pencil 19:09:21 - General - pencil permalink - [24.07.05 22:03]

Sunday, 10.07.05

Aid to Africa

While Tony Blair’s torch blared the light on Africa’s ailment and the urgent need for the continent’s aid during the G-8 summit, much of the media’s focus has been on whether W will acquiesce to Blair’s strong-arm or the relevancy or impact of the Live 8 concerts (a string of live concerts held worldwide with blue chip artists stoking the fire of public awareness and action).

Any way you see it, benevolence is in again and with mighty ambitions at that; “End Poverty” is the battle cry for this non-fictional War of the Worlds. I don’t intend to get worked up over the dubious timing of Blair’s interest in Africa. Perhaps he just wanted to upstage Bono in this cause for all I know. Never mind the motive, what really troubles me is the lack of a believable outreach program to actually benefit the suffering.

Aid to Africa is nothing new. According to William Easterly, a former Bank Economist now at New York University, “The West has spent $450 billion on foreign aid to Africa over the past 40 years.” This is a staggering sum to not have resuscitated the affected countries in a measurable way. Where is the problem? Is it bureaucracy? Are the channels of aid distribution improper? Are the donor countries just wiping their conscience with the aid and washing their hands of it like absentee landlords? Is there a severe lack of accountability by the agencies delivering the aid? Are there no efficient forces to monitor the aid programs? The answer is a resounding yes to the aforementioned questions.

Like the saying goes, the fish usually stinks from the head. Many of the African countries are repressed by fascist regimes (anointed or embraced by developing countries fostering major corporate interests to the detriment of the local economy) and mired in civil wars. Consequently, these countries suffer rampant corruption, dismal healthcare, disease epidemics, and mass graves.

Let’s look at a sample of eight African countries and their prevailing conditions:

-Algeria—The country was marked by violence between its military and the Islamic militants in the 1990s leading to a slaughter of 150,000 people. As of 2001 a negotiated peace was achieved.

-Angola—After a16-year war between the Marxist MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and the U.S.-backed Unita party had killed 300,000 people, a peace was sought and finally achieved in 2002. A supplier of crude oil to U.S. and China, the country is facing allegations of mismanagement and missing oil money and is under IMF’s investigation.

-Benin—After decades of unrest from military and Communist rule after independence from France, the country found some liberation in the 1980s. A major trader of cotton to neighboring Nigeria, Benin is still one of the poorest countries in the world.

-Botswana—Though one of the most stable and least corrupt nations in Africa, the AIDS epidemic has wreaked havoc here. One in 3 Botswanians is reportedly infected with HIV or developed AIDS.

-Republic of CongoCivil wars and militia conflicts have devastated the country’s recent past. The country struggles to maintain a peace accord that was signed with southern rebels in 2003.

-Cameroon—Though one of the most literate of the African countries, over 20 years of repressive rule since its inception and prevailing corruption have marred the country’s growth.

-Ethiopia—Almost two-thirds illiterate, the country has suffered repeatedly from famine since a majority of its people relies on agriculture, which in turn relies on rainfall. Many depend on food aid from abroad.

-Ivory Coast—Political rebellion in 2002 split the nation in two. Peace has so far been evasive to this bitter ethnic rivalry.

Explore the current affairs of the rest of the African countries and you will see a variation on the themes seen in the eight countries above. The names of the warring factions and the countries differ but for the most part their fate seems eerily similar.

Resurrecting each country is still not out of the question. Jeffrey Sachs shows in his book, “End of Poverty,” how his Columbia University project of adopting some villages of Sauri, Kenya will bring about progress. They planted leguminous trees alongside crops to fix Nitrogen in the soil and raise cereal yield. They plan to reopen a village clinic, which had been bolted shut from lack of supplies. One full meal will be served to students at a local school to ease their hunger and hold their concentration on education. Adults will be taught to bore wells and harvest water. A village truck has been arranged to carry goods to market and the sick to the hospital. Sachs feels such efforts carried on in these Kenyan villages should be done on a continental scale to truly end poverty.

Unless each ailing country is nursed back by objective international forces that can impose term limits on repressive governments, spread education and healthcare through proper accountable channels, and barter a creative peace between warring factions within these countries, no amount of monetary aid will solve the continent’s problems.

Sources

1) “Special Report to Africa: The $25 billion question.” The Economist. July 2nd-8th, 2005.

2) BBC News | Country Profiles.

[read more]

Udhaya - pencil 09:35:25 - General - pencil permalink -
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