Saturday, September 26, 2009

The 64th UN General Assembly Session

With the opening of the 64th session of the UN General Assembly last Wednesday, September 23, the UN building and the entire New York City seemed to be busier than ever before. Leaders came from all around the world – from Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Brazil’s Lula, Bolivia’s Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to Israel’s Netanyahu, France’s Sarkozy, UK’s Gordon Brown and Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, just to name a few – to attend the session. There was also a trilateral meeting hosted by President Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and acting Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday that tried to resume the stalled peace talks.
As expected, the Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi also attended the session, his first appearance in the UN. With his nearly 90-minute long speech, he surely stole the show on the first day. Because of opposition from the local community, Libyan officials agreed not to pitch Col Gaddafi's tent in the grounds of a Libyan-owned property in the New Jersey town of Englewood. An alternate site in Bedford, 30 miles north of New York, was rented from the real estate mogul Donald Trump. Even there the town attorney Joel Sachs, acting like an arrogant cowboy, would not allow the erection of the tent citing that it "violated several codes and laws of the town of Bedford”.
This rude welcome, which violates the UN’s host-nation obligation, did not however deter the Libyan leader to speak his mind before the United Nations. Dressed in a traditional Libyan cap and robe, he slammed both the U.N. Security Council and the United States, and called for moving the U.N. headquarters out of the USA. He urged investigations of U.S. military activities. He took aim at UN and elaborated on the unfairness of the structure of the U.N. Security Council, which has five permanent members: the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, each with veto power. He said, "No one is objecting to the preamble [of the U.N. charter], but everything that came after that is contradiction of the preamble. The preamble says the nations are equal whether they are small or big. Are we equal in permanent seats? No, we're not equals." He chided the Security Council for failing to provide security but "terror and sanctions." He said no one should accept the resolutions of the Security Council, which he said should be called the "terror council." He suggested abolishing the Security Council in favor of the General Assembly, which would become a "world parliament." If that is not possible, he called for a permanent African presence on the Security Council.
While those words may not jive well with veto-wielding members of the UNSC, they surely reflect the views of almost everyone else. If the UN is serious about promoting democracy in our world, it better show the path first by democratizing its own institute.
Gaddafi called the invasion of Iraq "the mother of all evils," criticizing the hanging of deposed leader Saddam Hussein and the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He also called for investigations into many incidents, such as the Afghan war, the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war, Israel's Gaza offensive and the killings in the 1960s of former President Kennedy and civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King. As a solution to the current Israeli-Palestinian problem, he called for a one-state solution in the region. The way things are, many keen observers of the six decade-long conflict now believe that the two-state solution may not be practical any more.
In his maiden address before the UN General Assembly, President Barack Obama said that his Administration would work with all Members States to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaida and its extremist allies. He pledged to keep his promise to remove all troops by the end of 2011. He said that Iran could play a significant role in shaping the future of the world and its security, should it abandon "the pursuit of nuclear weapons."
On the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, Obama suggested that the US was eager to take a step toward a world without nuclear weapons. He said that his government was ready to work with Russia on arms reduction as well as joining in discussions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the US has refused to sign. He, however, warned the leaders of Iran and North Korea that their nuclear programs would take the world down a "dangerous slope" with the prospects of arms race rising in East Asia and the Middle East. This, in spite of the fact that Iran has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and maintains that its nuclear program is a civilian one and has called for the removal of all weapons of mass destruction around the globe.

Obama mentioned that the United States would continue to seek a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, and the Arab world, and reiterated that America did not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This latter statement sounded hypocritical given the fact that on Tuesday, just a day before Obama’s speech on Wednesday at the UN, in a trilateral meeting the US Middle East envoy George Mitchell asserted that a full Israeli freeze on settlement construction on the occupied Palestinian land is not essential for the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It is worth noting that the Palestinian officials have repeatedly said that they will agree with the resumption of the long-stalled 'peace talks' only after Tel Aviv halts its Jewish settlement expansions in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, a position that was also echoed earlier by the Obama administration. However when push comes to shove the U.S. has always caved into the Jewish pressure. This time it was no different either. Netanyahu came out as a winner and Abbas a loser, with the Obama administration in the middle losing its credibility in the Middle East. Mahmoud Abbas, who could not say no to Obama’s request to attend, returned home empty-handed and politically weakened after the summit. Overall, the New York summit yielded no signs of a breakthrough on freezing construction of Jewish settlements or restarting the long-stalled Palestinian-Israeli talks. The development indicates yet another round of hypocritical efforts by successive US administrations to supposedly bring 'peace' in the Middle East that, in effect only strengthens the apartheid Israeli state at the cost of making a mockery out of Palestinian rights, statehood and dignity.

It is not difficult to surmise that Obama administration’s foreign policy priorities have shifted. Finding peace in the Middle East and withdrawing forces from the region have taken now a back seat to the tough talks of sanctions and looming war against Iran. With the latest disclosure of a newly constructed nuclear facility near Quom, the West, spear-headed by Israel, seems bent on punishing Tehran, which it accuses of pursuing nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian program. The Iranian regime has repeatedly denied such accusations.

In a meeting held outside the Assembly Hall, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday, “Our level of enrichment is currently at 3.5 percent - within a range of 3 to 5 percent. The materials go to nuclear power plants. They are useless for a bomb. A bomb needs enriched uranium to the grade of 99.7 percent. We believe that the possession of nuclear bombs is immoral.”

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva following his meeting with Ahmadinejad said that Iran was entitled to the same rights as any other country in its use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. “I defend for Iran the same rights with respect to nuclear energy that I do for Brazil,” Lula told reporters outside the United Nations General Assembly. “If anyone is ashamed of having relations with Iran, it's not Brazil,” he added.

President Ahmadinejad, in his address to the 64th session of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday said that the reform in the structure of the UN should turn the body into a "fully democratic organization, capable of playing an impartial" role in international relations. He also called for reforming the structure of the Security Council, especially by abolishing "the discriminatory privileges of the veto right". He said that the Israeli regime is committing "genocide" against the Palestinian people. "How can one imagine that the inhumane policies in Palestine may continue to force the entire population of a country out of their homeland for more than 60 years by resorting to force and coercion; to attack them with all types of arms and even prohibited weapons," Ahmadinejad said. To the chagrin of the international community, the occupiers are called "peace-lovers", he said, hinting at Israel. He continued, "How can the crimes of the occupiers against defenseless women and children and destruction of their homes, farms, hospitals and schools be supported unconditionally by certain governments, and at the same time, the oppressed men and women be subject to genocide and heaviest economic blockade being denied of their basic needs, food, water and medicine?" "They (Palestinians) are not even allowed to rebuild their homes which were destroyed during the 22-day barbaric attacks by the Zionist regime while the winter is approaching, whereas the aggressors and their supporters deceitfully continue their rhetoric in defense of human rights in order to put others under pressure." He stated that the "unfair capitalism" system has reached the end of the road and the world needs fundamental changes. "It is no longer possible to inject thousands of billions of dollars of unreal wealth to the world economy simply by printing worthless paper assets, or transfer inflation as well as social and economic problems to others through creating severe budget deficits," Ahmadinejad said. "The era of capitalist thinking and imposition of one's thoughts on the international community, intended to predominate the world in the name of globalization and the age of setting up empires is over," Ahmadinejad concluded.

France was the first to walk out of the room on Wednesday as President Ahmadinejad once again accused Israel of committing Palestinian 'genocide'. Other than the US and France, delegations from Argentina, Australia, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy and New Zealand left the room. Such walkouts don’t surprise us any more knowing quite well that all these countries have had blood in their hands, and are now making a mockery of human rights by behaving like the cheerleaders for the apartheid state that is responsible for the Palestinian Holocaust. Obviously, the word “shame” is not in their dictionary.
In his speech on Thursday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told the General Assembly, "It doesn't smell of sulfur here anymore. It smells of hope." This was a marked departure from his last year’s speech in which he depicted the former U.S. president as a racist, imperialist devil who smelled of sulfur. He said he was moved by President Obama's assertion that no country should dominate another, but he expressed frustration that the new U.S. leader has not acted on that view more firmly. He called upon Obama to lift “murderous embargo” embargo on Cuba. He said, "Are there two Obamas? I would like to believe the Obama I listened to yesterday." Who won’t?
But let’s face it: hypocrisy still remains the modus operandi of the U.S. foreign policy. It can be all vocal about Iran’s nuclear program but has no problem closing its eyes to Israel’s nuclear program despite a landmark resolution adopted recently by the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) urging Israel to open its entire nuclear program to IAEA inspection and join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Since 1958, when it began building its Dimona plutonium and uranium processing facility, Israel has reportedly manufactured scores of nuclear warheads earning reputation as the sole possessor of such hardware in the Middle East. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, aerial footage and decades of recurrent reporting have attested to the existence of the armament. But not a single western leader, and surely not the clowns like Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, chastised the only nuclear power in the Middle East. President Obama can hypnotize the world audience with his sweet, smooth talk but when it comes to walking the talk there is a gigantic gap, which is so frustrating to all those who aspired for change and tried to believe in him as the change agent!
The general assembly session will continue until the end of this month.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Comments on WSJ op/ed on Japanese PM's visit to Burma

Ref: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204488304574427782507934914.html

I agree with the authors that Japan has an important role, esp. under the current PM Hatoyama to right its past wrongs. Hatoyama can't hide behind the curtain any more in doing what is right about Burma. Hopefully, things will change for better.

Although, as one who has seen dismal failures with so many of problematic global issues, I don't expect much happening with Burma also unless it changes from within. Her people sadly remain divided, xenophobic of one another and utterly racist - none of which is a good recipe for nation-building. Only when such animosities will die down within the very rank and file of the democracy movement and general people, can we truly hope for a positive change. People will be united for a common cause, and speak with one voice. It is then the international community will take the opposition seriously. Otherwise, even if the SPDC were to walk out today, the Burmese would be the greatest menace to Christian Karens, and Rakhine Buddhists to Muslim Rohingyas, and so on and so forth. It's a sad story there today with many such organizations that are nothing but closet racist entities. That attitude has to change first. Is the leadership of the so-called democracy movement listening?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Open letter to the US government (President Obama, vice president Biden, senators and Congressmen/women)

Don’t allow Afghanistan/Pakistan to become the next Vietnam. Every bomb that drops creates more terrorists than it kills because innocent civilians are being hurt and killed, too. There is no military solution in Afghanistan.

I was shocked to learn that for every dollar spent there less than a dime goes to non-military aid. This is a sure recipe for disaster and we can't afford it. Please work towards a political solution by increasing humanitarian aid, decreasing military aid and bringing our troops home from Afghanistan/Pakistan. We cannot afford the blood, the treasure, or the animus U.S. escalation is sure to incur. Nor can we afford the collateral damage from drone attacks that kill suspected Taliban and terrorist leaders along with innocent civilians.

There is far too much at stake to become entangled in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Our troops have served us well--but to no avail--please bring them home to their families.

Open letter to Ambassador Susan Rice

Ambassador Susan Rice
Permanent U.S. Representative to United Nations
United States Mission to the United Nations
140 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

Dear Ambassador Rice,

The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of West Bank and Gaza must end. The Goldstone report fairly and accurately documented violations of human rights and international law, war crimes, and possible crimes against humanity committed before, during, and after Israel's December 2008-January 2009 assault on the occupied Gaza Strip. This report is obviously an eyesore to the Israeli-firsters within the USA government and the Congress, including the AIPAC, who are trying to bury the fact-finding report at the UNHRC level where it will be discussed on September 29 so that it is not referred to international bodies with enforcement powers such as UN Security Council, General Assembly, or International Criminal Court, as the report recommended.

From your statement condemning the unbiased report, it is obvious that you have caved into such pressures. I strongly deplore your statement. It's a shame that the United States government appears to be shielding Israel once again from any accountability for its heinous war crimes in international forums. It's also painful to notice that when the United States, for the first time, assumed a seat on the UN Human Rights Council that it has chosen to make a mockery of its declared views that it will not look the other way in the face of serious human rights abuses.

Dear Ambassador, the truth must be told, the facts brought to light and the consequences faced. When we compromise on such basic principles, we do a terrible disservice to our humanity - we essentially become a party to the crime and lose credibility around the world.

On September 29, it is time for the United States to correct its past mistakes and make sure that the consequences are faced by the rogue Israeli state for her gross violations of human rights. We simply can't endorse Israeli crimes any more.

I strongly urge the United States to vote in favor of the recommendations in the Goldstone Report.

Thanking you in anticipation,
Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Letter to Ambassador Susan Rice on Goldstone Report

Ambassador Susan Rice
Permanent U.S. Representative to United Nations
United States Mission to the United Nations
140 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

September 25, 2009

Dear Ambassador Rice,

The following organizations are writing to you to express their strong support for the recommendations of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict contained in the Goldstone Report and strongly urge the United States to endorse these recommendations when they are voted on in the UN Human Rights Council on September 29.

Earlier this month, the United States assumed a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the first time. Upon assuming this seat, Dr. Esther Brinner, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of International Organization Affairs, stated that “We can not pick and choose which of these [human] rights we embrace nor select who among us are entitled to them. We are all endowed at birth with the right to live in dignity, to follow our consciences and speak our minds without fear, to choose those who govern us, to hold our leaders accountable, and to enjoy equal justice under the law. These rights extend to all, and the United States can not accept that any among us would be condemned to live without them.”

We strongly agree with this statement and believe that the United States should put these words into action by voting to endorse the recommendations of the Goldstone Report.

The UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict did an exemplary job under adverse circumstances of investigating human rights abuses, violations of international law, war crimes, and possible crimes against humanity by all parties before, during, and after Israel’s assault on the occupied Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009.

The mission was scrupulously even-handed in investigating these violations. As it stated in its methodology, “To implement its mandate, the Mission determined that it was required to consider any actions by all parties that might have constituted violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law. The mandate also required it to review related actions in the entire Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.”

Now that this mission has delivered its report and documented human rights violations by Israel, Palestinian armed groups, and the Palestinian Authority, it is imperative for the United States to support its recommendations. To do otherwise would undermine our country’s commitment to the universality of human rights and contradict Dr. Brinner’s promise to the UN Human Rights Council: “Make no mistake; the United States will not look the other way in the face of serious human rights abuses. The truth must be told, the facts brought to light and the consequences faced.”

The UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict has told the truth and brought the facts to light. On September 29, it is time for the United States to make sure that the consequences are faced for these violations of human rights. We strongly urge the United States to vote in favor of the recommendations in the Goldstone Report.

Signed by,
1. US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
2. Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights
3. Code Pink: Women for Peace
4. International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza
5. Jewish Voice for Peace
(The letter is provided as courtesy of: US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation; for endorsing the letter visit: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/modinput4.php?modin=173)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dick Cheney: the Torture Architect

There is little doubt that the former US vice president Dick Cheney is a sick man – physically and mentally. He has long histories of cardiovascular disease and periodic need for emergency health care. Last Thursday, he had back surgery at George Washington University Hospital. The surgery was to deal with lumbar spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal -- the passage for the spinal cord -- which in turn puts pressure on nerves, causing pain. On January 19 of this year, he claimed to have strained his back “while moving boxes” from his vice presidential residence “into his new house”. As a consequence, he was seen in a wheelchair during the 2009 United States presidential inauguration for Obama. Apparently, his recent surgery was successful.

As can be diagnosed from his remarks about the global war on terror, Cheney’s mental health is also wanting. In a recent Fox News interview he was asked about illegal harsh interrogation techniques. Chris Wallace asked, “So even in those cases where they [CIA interrogators] went beyond the specific legal authorization, you’re OK with it?” Cheney answered, “I am.” There was no hesitation, no pause in his answer; he was so brazen, spontaneous and okay with the answer! Can you believe such an answer emanating from the former No. 2 man in the US government – a government that likes to present itself as the greatest advocate of human rights and democracy in our time? Even the US laws ban torture! But not according to Dick Cheney. He sounded so ancient, so out of our time and place, and more like a self-delusional, tin-pot dictator or tyrant from an antidemocratic and authoritarian state!

It is obvious that Cheney wants to redefine the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. That spontaneous and unapologetic answer – “I am” -- was simply petrifying. Through his shameless answer, Cheney made it clear that he feels no remorse for the abuses that he himself authorized and that ends justify criminal means. This is deeply disturbing given the fact that even the intelligence experts maintain that harsh interrogation techniques simply do not and did never work to provide valuable information. Victims of torture are known to provide false information to escape pain. It is doubtful that Khalid Sheikh Mohamed (KSM), the so-called mastermind of 9/11, provided any useful information after he was water-boarded. For instance, the recently declassified Justice Department memos include a 2004 report from the CIA inspector general that found no conclusive proof that any specific “imminent” threats had been thwarted by information gathered from water-boarding and other forms of torture. Cheney's claim that torture was “absolutely essential” in saving thousands of American lives remains simply unproven. It’s true that we did not see another 9/11 since KSM was arrested. But where is the proof that another attack, hatched by KSM, was imminent or in the planning stage? There is none.

We have seen and known how terrible and terrifying dictators are. They are ruthless murderers who give a damn about public sentiment on human rights. They behave like demigods in the states that they rule, acting like the Pharaohs and Nimrod of olden times. But you won’t find a single dictator ever justifying torture publicly -- not the late Botha of Apartheid South Africa, Pinochet of Chile, Ne Win of Burma, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Omar Bongo of Gabon, Suharto of Indonesia, Hafez al-Asad of Syria, Mobutu of Congo, Milosovic of Serbia, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. None of the living despots either from Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to the SPDC regime of Myanmar will justify torture. They simply deny ever practicing torture. They know that it’s a crime of the highest order. [And the main reason that they still practice it is that they perceive torture as a “survival” or “existential” technique to prolong their illegal power. Notwithstanding, they are ashamed of confessing that they practice it.]

With Cheney’s approving “I am” answer, all these living/future dictators now/will have a justification – and not just any but a moral one - to cite for torture. They could always cite that torture was moral and that it was practiced to extract information to stop any future anti-state crime, or better yet, terrorism.

And that is why it is of paramount interest that the guys like Cheney who authorized torture be prosecuted. President Obama, ill-advised by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, has repeatedly expressed reluctance to having a probe into alleged Bush-era abuses and resisted an effort by congressional Democrats to establish a "truth commission," saying the nation should be "looking forward and not backwards." But, as has been pointed out by legal experts, the decision whether or not to open torture investigation rests with Eric Holder’s Department of Justice and not the White House.
Attorney General Eric Holder has the public opinion in his favor if he wants to pursue the matter full course. His assigned prosecutor must investigate torture and that investigation should start not with low level interrogators who exceeded the limits of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," including water-boarding that were authorized by Bush officials via the now-infamous torture memo authored by John Yoo and Jay Bybee, but at the top with torture architects like Cheney and Addington.
It is not surprising that Cheney is against federal investigation on torture. He said he might not cooperate with government investigator. “I’m very proud of what we did in terms of defending the nation for the past eight years, successfully,” Cheney said in a recorded interview. “And it won’t take a prosecutor to find out what I think. I’ve already expressed those views.” Cheney has accused Mr. Holder of making the investigation a “political act.” On September 18, CIA’s seven former directors (which included neocons like Woolsey) wrote a letter to the President requesting to close the investigation. Their reasons are understandable but not justifiable: they don’t want any investigation of their bad guys. Senator Liberman, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, a cheerleader of Bush’s war, is also against investigation. But such dissenting voices represent a very small minority in today’s America, and come from the neo-conservative hawks that had promoted war and sanctioned torture and abuse at places like the Abu Ghraib.

America has come a long way from its nasty past and under President Obama is quickly trying to rebuild its credibility around the world. Any waiver of the torture investigation would resurrect America’s hypocritical stand with a message to the world that reads, "Torture is bad, except when we are doing it." That message -- America simply can’t afford to hang on its wall.
The Department of Justice and Attorney General Holder must give the prosecutor the ability to hold the torture architects responsible. Narrowly confining a torture probe to low level foot soldiers would fall short of the accountability moment required to protect our constitution from further abuse.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

More on Obama's health plan

Last Wednesday night, President Obama appeared in a joint session of the Congress in the Capitol Hill pleading his case for humanitarian purposes to cover the uninsured and underinsured with adequate health insurance coverage. The heart of his plan is very simple: bring stability and security to Americans who already have health insurance, guarantee affordable coverage for those who don't, and rein in the cost of health care. He was very pragmatic in outlining a legislative proposal which will restrain costs so that those who are now insured can continue to afford insurance. He insisted that there won’t be any addition to the deficit or to the national debt, and he also outlined a number of ideas where savings can be obtained.

However, something totally unexpected happened during Obama’s speech; Joe Wilson, a Republican congressman from South Carolina, protested with an outburst “you lie”. Such an outburst against the President of the USA is an inappropriate conduct violating the rules of the House and is subject to reprimand. In the USA the president is the commander in chief, the leader of the country, and is treated more like a king. Wilson later apologized to the President for his lack of civility, and the President accepted his apology. Most of his colleagues in the Congress on both sides are still upset with his outburst. They find the apology as insufficient. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, for instance, stated, “I believe that there has to be consideration by the House of Representatives as to disciplinary action; that is within their purview. But being in the Chamber and seeing the outburst, it was unseemly and that kind of conduct ought not to be tolerated.”

As I mentioned earlier, the heath care issue remains one of the most daunting tasks for the Obama administration. There are many, especially the health insurance companies, which profit from the status quo, and then there are those who put partisan advantage above all else. Although for the first time in the last 60 years, America seems to be close to real health reform, no one within the Obama administration is taking the fight easy yet, knowing that the vested interests and their advocates will fight the president’s proposal every inch of the way. Americans remain divided on the issue. Not surprisingly that Congressman Wilson was able to raise more than $200,000 as campaign money for his re-election bid in the wake of the now-infamous moment!

President Obama is determined to fight for the heath reform. He knows that the stakes are too high to let scare tactics cloud the debate, or to allow partisan bickering to block the path. In a letter to many concerned Americans he wrote, “Ours is not the first generation to understand the dire need for health reform. And I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.” Let’s hope that he succeeds.

Candid Thoughts on This Year’s 9/11

Last Friday, Americans observed the 8th anniversary of 9/11, the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil. Nearly 3000 people died when the four planes crashed in New York, at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field. The day was not a government holiday. At a ceremony, held in the Pentagon, President Obama paid tribute to the victims and vowed to "never falter" in defending the US. In New York, thousands gathered for ceremonies in a square near Ground Zero. Vice-President Joe Biden attended the New York ceremony, where planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, causing them to collapse. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell attended the ceremony at the site of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Subsequent to 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq were attacked by the USA, its European allies and Australia, which saw the overthrow of the Taliban and the Baathist regimes, and wanton killings of nearly a million people, mostly unarmed civilians. Obviously, no ceremonies were held for those victims of western barbarism and brutality. American and foreign troops are still in those two invaded countries. Normalcy is a far cry in either of those two countries.
Troop deaths have mounted in Afghanistan this year as American and other international forces have stepped up their fight against the Taliban. August was the deadliest month for the U.S. military in the nearly eight-year-old war, with 52 fatalities. As I write, so far this month, 25 coalition troops have been killed, including 14 U.S. troops, according to CNN figures compiled from coalition reports.
Western experts fear that if the NATO forces were to abandon Afghanistan today, the country may again fall into the hands of the Taliban. The Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to approve sending thousands of additional forces to Afghanistan to deal with the growing threat from roadside bombs.
According to Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan was reaching levels similar to the Soviet invasion. "Eight years later, we are beginning to move to a level of military force which is beginning to approximate the Soviet engagement and already our top generals are saying we are not winning militarily," he recently said at a global strategy conference in Geneva. Yet, other alternatives, the non-war options, remain unexplored to find peace and stability in that part of the world!
On the domestic front, racial and religious profiling of Muslims, especially in the airports, in the United States still goes unabated. As noted elsewhere by Abdus Sattar Ghazali the August 14, 2009 detention of Indian Muslim (Bollywood) superstar Shah Rukh Khan at Newark Airport in New Jersey is only one such glaring example. FBI continues to infiltrate spies in Islamic centers and mosques with the goal of entrapping vulnerable Muslims. What is more disturbing is the revelation that some of these agents are luring mentally challenged individuals to plotting terrorism. Most Muslim charity organizations remain closed with some leaders put behind the bar (some for 65 years) for providing relief to the dispossessed Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Thus, in the absence of any clear “safe” list of “acceptable” organizations and guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department, most American Muslims are hesitant to fulfill their religious obligations of Zakat (mostly paid during the blessed month of Ramadan) by donating to Muslim charities.
Islamophobia is on the rise. Many pen-pushing pundits with no knowledge of the indigenous languages of the 1.6 billion Muslims are mushrooming, selling their new “discoveries” about Islam that only speak of their utter hostility to Islam and paranoid xenophobia. The Hollywood film and TV industry is not behind to cash in on the new “villains.” In many of the crime episodes (e.g., NCIS is a good example to cite) most American TV channels now show Muslims as the bad guys. Many Republicans remain at the forefront of that savage assault against Islam. For instance, in February 2009, Republican Senator Jon Kyl hosted screening of a hateful film ‘Fitna’ at the Capitol building. Not unexpectedly, many Christian fundamentalists and evangelists are some of the worst bigots today in their anti-Muslim campaign. And then there are conservative talk show hosts who behave as if they are out to set new records in racism and bigotry against Muslims and Islam. Through their hateful comments they are behaving like agent provocateurs for violence. So poisonous is the environment today that even an honest positive observation about Islam may be lampooned and the person made a liability for a political office.
It is no-brainer that hate crimes against Muslims are not seeing much improvement even after eight years of 9/11. It has become a global phenomenon. Just the last week, ten people were arrested outside the Harrow Central Mosque in the UK as scuffles broke out following a demonstration from anti-Islamic activists of the “Stop Islamification of Europe” (a British fascist group). John Denham, the Communities secretary, drew comparisons of the demonstration with the anti-Semitic marches of the 1930s, led by Oswald Mosley's 'blackshirts' and the British Union of Fascists. He said, “It looks pretty clear that it’s a tactic designed to provoke and to get a response and hopefully create violence.” Last month, a New York man threatened to kill a Muslim hijab-clad woman (49) and her 20-year-old daughter as he tried to run them down with his car at a gas station simply because they looked Muslim to him. Not too long ago another Muslim woman and her child were attacked by a white supremacist in Seattle. And there are plenty of such hate crimes happening these days against Muslims across the globe. Unless such hate crimes and provocative demonstrations, though small in magnitude now, are clamped down hard, they can cause wider violence and mayhem in the future.
America must know that when one’s fist touches someone else’s nose, it is no longer freedom but abuse and violence. So while America cherishes freedom of expression she cannot allow hateful speeches, writings, messages and films to incite violence against minorities – neither here in the USA nor elsewhere. In its mourning of the victims of 9/11, America should not also forget that her vindictive actions, resulting in deaths of nearly a million unarmed civilians in the Muslim world, are sure recipes of disaster, dividing our world into hateful camps. Such wanton killings and destruction of Muslim land only strengthen the very forces she wants defeated. It is time to reflect and work for a better world by routing out causes of our animosity.

President Obama has called for change for an inclusive world, away from violence and hatred that became the hallmark of the previous Bush administration. I can only hope that during his tenure in office we shall see that real change in attitude towards Muslims and other minorities that call America their home.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Judicial System in Bangladesh is Discouraging to law-abiding citizens seeking justice

The judicial system in Bangladesh is really bad where criminals can get away with so much ease. A personal experience may shed some light. Since April of 2005 when a very powerful criminal gang (with ties to a BNP political leader) intruded our family properties in Khulshi, Chittagong, my family has been keen on seeking justice for the crime of the land-grabbing syndicate. At the time they evicted 16 tenant families and demolished nine homes, and yet they only served a month of their 6.5 year prison term, later all released on bail.

On January 30, 2008, the same syndicate again tried to break into our properties by beating our guards and breaking a wall on the roadside. This matter was widely reported in many Bangla newspapers in Feb. 1-5. We tried to incriminate the gang for that intrusion attempt also. However, today I learned from my father that the Chittagong court has nullified our case for lack of sufficient evidence. Whether the judge was managed or not by the criminal syndicate, this kind of crime, even when it is covered in the media correctly, seems to go unpunished. It is so painful to observe such rulings.

When the system conspires against its law-abiding citizens, I guess very little people could do to stop criminals.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Obama, Religion and Ramadan

While George W. Bush started cabinet meetings with prayer and encouraged the formation of Bible study groups inside the White House, since taking the office, President Barack Obama has expanded the White House’s faith-based activities in a more visible way than any other president in recent memory. In addition to helping social service groups get federal aid—the office’s sole purpose under Bush—Obama has tasked it with reducing demand for abortion, promoting responsible fatherhood, and facilitating global interfaith dialogue.

There is no denying that Obama is a deeply religious man. He is also very liberal on social issues. He caused uproar among homosexuals and liberals when he invited evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren—an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and abortion rights—to give the opening prayer at his inauguration. And yet, he had the clarity of purpose when he reversed President Bush’s limits on federal funds for embryonic stem cell research, a move which has the support of most Americans. Scientists say the research may yield treatments or cures for debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Obviously, pro-abortion groups, esp. within the conservative Catholic community, were not happy with Obama’s move. They voiced objections to his appearance on May 17 to give commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic university that is directly affiliated with the Vatican.

Obama’s vice president Joe Biden is a Catholic, only the second person of Catholic faith to occupy one of the nation’s top two posts (the other being John F. Kennedy). Last February Biden’s public appearances with an Ash Wednesday smudge on his forehead showed how comfortable Catholic politicians have become in expressing their faith in this Protestant-majority country.

Last April when Obama visited Turkey, he reached out to the broader Islamic world. "Let me say this as clearly as I can," he said in an address to the Turkish parliament, "the United States is not at war with Islam." That was before he gave his famous speech in Cairo where he tried to mend the troubling relationship with the world of Islam.

Ramadan is the Muslim month of fasting when able bodied adults (who are not sick or on journey) are required to fast from dawn to dusk. This is a month of devotion, reflection, spiritual recharge, charity, and giving and community service. As part of White House’s commitment to promoting inter-faith dialogue and easing tensions along the religious fault-lines, especially, with the Muslim world, President Obama sent a message of Ramadan Kareem to the Muslim world. In that speech, he said, “On behalf of the American people – including Muslim communities in all fifty states – I want to extend best wishes to Muslims in America and around the world. Ramadan Kareem. Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, beginning with a simple word – iqra. It is therefore a time when Muslims reflect upon the wisdom and guidance that comes with faith and the responsibility that human beings have to one another, and to God.
“Like many people of different faiths who have known Ramadan through our communities and families, I know this to be a festive time – a time when families gather, friends host iftars, and meals are shared. But I also know that Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection – a time when Muslims fast during the day and perform tarawih prayers at night, reciting and listening to the entire Koran over the course of the month.

“These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings. … And the support that Muslims provide to others recalls our responsibility to advance opportunity and prosperity for people everywhere. For all of us must remember that the world we want to build – and the changes that we want to make – must begin in our own hearts, and our own communities.

“This summer, people across America have served in their communities – educating children, caring for the sick, and extending a hand to those who have fallen on hard times. Faith-based organizations, including many Islamic organizations, have been at the forefront in participating in this summer of service. And in these challenging times, this is a spirit of responsibility that we must sustain in the months and years to come.

“Beyond America’s borders, we are also committed to keeping our responsibility to build a world that is more peaceful and secure. That is why we are responsibly ending the war in Iraq. That is why we are isolating violent extremists while empowering the people in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we are unyielding in our support for a two-state solution that recognizes the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security. And that is why America will always stand for the universal rights of all people to speak their mind, practice their religion, contribute fully to society and have confidence in the rule of law.

“All of these efforts are a part of America’s commitment to engage Muslims and Muslim-majority nations on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect. And at this time of renewal, I want to reiterate my commitment to a new beginning between America and Muslims around the world.

“As I said in Cairo, this new beginning must be borne out in a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, and to seek common ground. I believe an important part of this is listening, and in the last two months, American embassies around the world have reached out not just to governments, but directly to people in Muslim-majority countries. From around the world, we have received an outpouring of feedback about how America can be a partner on behalf of peoples’ aspirations.

“We have listened. We have heard you. And like you, we are focused on pursuing concrete actions that will make a difference over time – both in terms of the political and security issues that I have discussed, and in the areas that you have told us will make the most difference in peoples’ lives.

“These consultations are helping us implement the partnerships that I called for in Cairo – to expand education exchange programs; to foster entrepreneurship and create jobs; and to increase collaboration on science and technology, while supporting literacy and vocational learning. We are also moving forward in partnering with the OIC and OIC member states to eradicate polio, while working closely with the international community to confront common health challenges like H1N1 – which I know is of particular concern to many Muslims preparing for the upcoming hajj.

“All of these efforts are aimed at advancing our common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. It will take time and patient effort. We cannot change things over night, but we can honestly resolve to do what must be done, while setting off in a new direction – toward the destination that we seek for ourselves, and for our children. That is the journey that we must travel together.

“I look forward to continuing this critically important dialogue and turning it into action. And today, I want to join with the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world – and your families and friends – in welcoming the beginning of Ramadan, and wishing you a blessed month. May God’s peace be upon you.” [The full speech can be read at http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rm/2009/128227.htm]

This past week, on Sept. 2, President Obama hosted an Iftar party in the White House. He spoke of a Muslim American soldier (Kareem Khan) killed in Iraq whose grave at Arlington National Cemetery bears a crescent, an Islamic symbol. He applauded the courage of a Muslim female student (Nashala Hearn) in Oklahoma who fought for her constitutional right to wear a hijab, a traditional Muslim head scarf, to school—and won. And he told of a Muslim high school girl (Bilqis) from Massachusetts who broke her state’s record for the most career points scored by a high school basketball player. She is barely 5 feet 5 inch tall.

As noted by Dan Gilgoff of the U.S. News & World Report, through such speeches, President Obama is trying to appeal to two very different audiences: Muslims abroad and non-Muslims at home. For the international Muslim audience—much of which has come to see the United States as an anti-Muslim Crusading state because of its ruthless murderous actions in its global war on terrorism—the stories spotlighted Muslim Americans whose struggles, accomplishments, and contributions have been acknowledged and rewarded by their country – the USA. For the domestic audience, mostly non-Muslims, those same stories served to normalize a community that is often perceived as the "other" people.

As I have noted earlier, President Obama seems genuinely engaged in improving bilateral relationship with the Muslim world, greatly tarnished since 9/11. It is not an easy task mending that relationship -- after all, while America lost thousands, the loss in the Muslim side has been at least hundred times. During the Bush-era, America and its Christian allies (from Europe and Australia) killed more than a million Muslims (mostly civilians) in Iraq and Afghanistan and destroyed scores of cities and towns, and have also overlooked Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people. With the expanding wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the tension is still high on both sides. There are many unanswered difficult questions. Will Obama end up following President Johnson? Will he be able to bring all the American troops back home? Will he learn the wisdom of disengaging from Afghanistan and leave the matter to the Afghans to sort it out for themselves? Will America’s option to disengage troops then further destabilize the region? Will he be able to solve the Palestine problem by reining on the “Amen Corner” inside the Capitol Hill and the war criminals ruling Israel that had hitherto piggybacked on the USA to extend their illegal occupation almost indefinitely and unopposed? Will he be able to bring peace on earth? And so on and so forth.
While we may not have definitive answers to many such questions now, there is little doubt that President Obama is trying hard and seems genuine in his efforts to see a better world. That in itself is a big plus from the days of Bush. Brilliant as he is, Obama knows that relationship cannot be based on political and security concerns alone. True partnerships also require cooperation in all areas – particularly those that can make a positive difference in peoples’ daily lives, including education, science and technology, health, and entrepreneurship - fields in which Muslim communities have helped play a pioneering role throughout history.
Through his Ramadan speech, President Obama has shown that he understands what it will take to improve the relationship with the world of Islam. Thus far, he enjoys a very high approval rating amongst Muslims – domestic and international. Let’s hope that he is able to translate his words into actions, thus dawning a new era in improved bilateral relationship between the USA and the Muslim world.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Comments on Hagee and Wiesel

John Hagee Interviews Elie Wiesel

Ref: http://www.usnews.com/blogs/god-and-country/2009/09/03/john-hagee-interviews-elie-wiesel.html

Well, while this interview and kowtowing between Hagee (CUFI) and Wiesel may come as a surprise to some, who have not been following them in recent years, I am not at all surprised. For quite some time, both have been showing their true colors. As we found out during the Bosnian crisis Wiesel is a disguised hypocrite, who, sadly, behaves more like a weasel than an honest advocate of peace or human rights. His tears are only shed for the Jewish suffering and not for other victims of modern-day Holocausts -- not those who were slaughtered in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s by Christian extremists, and surely not the Palestinians who are routinely killed by his own co-religionists - the Zionist Jews in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. He has never condemned the rogue state of Israel for its gruesome murder of Palestinian civilians and destruction of their homes, schools, hospitals, etc.
As to Hagee, the least said is better. There is nothing to hide his despicable bigotry and toxic Christian evangelical zeal. They surely need each other for Israel and the coming world they want to craft for their kinds.
One wants to make sure that Israel's illegal occupation has the backers like evangelical Christians that comprise a powerful block within the USA. And the other wants to hide his true agenda of gathering the "rejecters" of Jesus like the lambs for the ultimate slaughter in the God's promised land that will take place with his second coming, and as such, like the sly devil (with a hidden knife under the scarf), is now showing his benefactor self! Interestingly, both know each other's ploy and yet have no moral qualms in cooperating. They are essentially two sides of the same coin that need each other to bring about the Armageddon on earth. Shame on their hypocrisy and bigotry!