Saturday, May 29, 2010

Energy Sector's Unnatural Disasters

It has been more than a month since the April 20 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people. At the time of this write-up, British Petroleum made little headway with its much touted ‘top kill’ method to ‘kill’ or plug the leaking well from gushing oil. The method began on May 26 (only to be suspended for nearly a 16-hour period after the first ten hour of operation) with remote control submersibles pumping ‘drilling mud’ – a mixture of synthetic petroleum and clays – into the renegade well. BP engineers temporarily shutdown the ‘top kill’ operation when they saw that too much of the drilling fluid was escaping along with the oil.
To overcome the high pressure of the gushing oil and gas from the well, the mud will have to be pumped countercurrent not only at a higher pressure but also at a higher flow rate. Under 30,000 horsepower of hydraulic pressure, the mud is expected to push into the leaking drill hole, stopping it up. Once the leaking stops with the mud, BP can follow up with cement to plug the broken pipe permanently. BP restarted the ‘top kill’ maneuver on May 27 saying that some of the drilling mud had successfully forced down the well bore where most of the oil was gushing. However, undersea pictures confirm that a lot of oil continued to leak through leaking pipes connected to the well. BP engineers are trying to plug the hole using different weights of mud and sizes of debris like golf balls and tires, and then watching and waiting hoping for miracles. The efficacy of such measures is unknown to this author. BP plans to continue with the process into Sunday, May 30, before giving up and considering other options, including another containment dome to try to capture the oil.
The Gulf oil spill accident was originally claimed by BP to have been sending 210,000 gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico each day. No one believes those numbers any more. Recently, the U.S. Geological Survey said that between 504,000 to 798,000 gallons a day had been billowing out of the broken pipe. That means 20 million to 32 million gallons have spilled in the first 40 days of the disaster. This disaster is America’s worst man-made disaster dwarfing the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which resulted in 11-million-gallon spill in Prince William Sound blackening 1,500 miles of Alaska's coastline. According to SkyTruth, an environment advocacy group, the oil-slick has grown to about 29,000 square miles, roughly half the size of Bangladesh. More than 70 miles of Louisiana coastline are affected by the spill and nearly 54,000 square miles of sea area are closed to fishing by the Federal government, thereby disrupting the fishing industry there, let alone denying hundreds of thousands of beach-goers from spending their summer days on the Louisiana shoreline.
BP’s failure to promptly stop the leakage some 5,000 feet underwater shows that it has been avoiding to consider prudent methods and technologies that other industries have been using in recent years to eliminate such accidents from happening, e.g., six sigma tools like the FMEA (failure mode and effects analysis). Over the years, with tens of billions of dollars of quarterly earnings and the “cozy and sometimes corrupt” relationship it enjoyed with the regulators at the Minerals Management Service, the oil industry has become so insular and arrogant that it started believing that it is untouchable by any agency and need not adapt itself with modern technological advances in science and engineering. It has failed to invest adequately on R&D and hire smart engineers to help it get out of the pre-1989 engineering doldrums.
More unforgiving is BP’s outmoded clean-up efforts for oil spills; its technology has remained largely the same since the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989.
Shortly after the leak was discovered, BP tried using remote-controlled submarine devices to stop it. That didn't work. Then it tried two other techniques. The first was a huge containment dome weighing 98 tons that would have captured the oil so it could be siphoned off to a waiting tanker. But ice crystals formed when escaping gas mixed with water, thwarting that effort. BP was also pumping 120-degree water and methanol into the long pipe to prevent the formation of crystals of gas hydrates. (Those hydrates -- combinations of natural gas and sea water at high pressures and low temperatures -- form slush-like crystals that can block pipelines or even lift heavy objects off the seafloor.) Then, BP announced it was employing a similar, but smaller device called a "Top Hat." The crews tried to position a 5-foot structure weighing nearly 2 tons over the leak. It didn’t work. BP said it had yet another plan -- sending a "junk shot" -- loads of shredded rubber tires and golf balls, to clog the leak at the source. The junk shot technique was used successfully in the Kuwaiti oilfields in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But those wells were on land and, even in harsh desert conditions, could be repaired by people, not by robots working in extremely cold water 5,000 feet under sea at a pressure of 2,300 pounds per square inch (psi).
All these failed attempts show that it had no clue as to how to adapt fundamentals of fluid mechanics, reservoir engineering and instability phenomena like the countercurrent flow limitations to design fail-proof systems in such accidents with the drill pipe and had virtually left it to nature to dictate such disaster scenarios.
After all those initial fiascos, BP engineers inserted a four-inch-wide pipe into the broken section known as the riser, from which the majority of the oil has been leaking, and began siphoning some of the oil to a drilling rig at the surface. The deep-sea plumbing did not do anything to close the well, and a substantial amount of oil continued to leak at the bottom of the gulf.
From the latest testimonies of the rig operators it seems that there were problems with the blowout preventer before the accident. One of the control pods wasn't functioning as it should have weeks earlier. BP said in congressional testimony that it found one of the pods had a dead battery. The crew was also supposed to pump enough seawater into the well to move the fluid away from smaller pipes on the seafloor. However, records showed that they pumped only half as much as was required, leaving the more viscous fluid where it could block pipes and distort pressures. That could explain why some of the pressure readings showed that the cement had capped the well, thus providing erroneous information to the crew on the rig. Transocean, which owns the rig, said that BP did not plan to conduct a pressure test before sealing the well closed.

Unnatural or man-made disasters in the energy sector are not uncommon or unexpected. On May 27, Turkish rescue teams found 28 dead in a coal mine in the northern Black Sea province of Zonguldak, three days after an underground explosion caused the mine to collapse. Some 40 miners were reported to have been working in two separate areas of the pit at a depth of about 540 meters when the explosion occurred on May 24. Turkey has lost 60 miners in recent months. An explosion at a mine in Anshun in southwest China's Guizhou province killed 21 workers on May 13. When the Wangjialing mine flooded this past March, 153 workers were trapped underground in a much-publicized event. One hundred fifteen of the workers were eventually rescued. But accidents will happen in a country that gets about 70 percent of its enormous energy supply from coal mining. China's vast coal mining industry is notoriously accident-prone, with about 2,600 people killed last year due mainly to lax regulation, corruption and inefficiency. In April Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia killed 29 miners. This was the highest death toll in an American mine since a 1970 explosion killed 38 at Finley Coal Company in Hyden, Kentucky.

Most accidents in the offshore rigs happen because of the poor design of the drilling pipes and equipment and shortchanging safety requirements. Most accidents in coalmines happen because of the presence of methane, often in explosive concentrations. The only question is how diligently miners and mining companies will work to avoid explosions by proper ventilation to remove methane. Two other major problems with the regulatory agencies are that often times their laws don’t go far enough and that they are not enforced strongly. Only a small fine is levied on repeat offenders.

These disasters have shown that most powerful energy companies do not have the best interests of the people in mind when they are closing in on the kinds of profits that ancient kingdoms could only dream about. Even if the Deepwater leak is stopped in a week or so, America will need a long-term recovery and restoration effort costing billions of dollars. The Gulf of Mexico and West Virginia tragedies have also highlighted the need for much stronger oversight and accountability of energy companies working either offshore or onshore. The idea of relying on the assurances of these corporate predators that they are looking out for the safety of their workers and the health of surrounding communities and the environment is oxymoron. They need to be tamed, closely monitored and regulated, and constrained in ways that no longer allow them to trample the best interests of our people.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Senator Arlen Specter

Last Tuesday, the Democrats in the Pennsylvania buried Senator Arlen Specter's hopes to compete as a Democratic Senator for his reelection bid in November, 2010. By many counts the 80 year-old senator was a Houdini of Pennsylvania politics. He was twice a survivor of cancer and twice a survivor of such close political calls. His senatorial career began in the flush of the Reagan Revolution in 1980 and will come to a close after three decades in the Tea Party era. He has been a relentless interrogator of prospective judges and justices, a force for medical research, and a champion earmarker for his state. He promoted plurality and is considered responsible for an influx of women into the upper chamber.

In his long senatorial career (before switching to the Democratic Party in 2009 in the Obama era), a glorious one, which I must add, he came at odds with his conservative Republican party. He was more conservative than an average Democrat but more liberal and moderate than most Republicans. Thus, when it came to voting, he was unpredictable; he was not an ideological demagogue voting on the party line. His prosecutorial grilling of Robert Bork, whom Ronald Reagan nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987, was key to Bork's defeat. Four years later, Specter defended Clarence Thomas -- nominated by another Republican president, George H.W. Bush -- as fiercely as he had fought Bork. He shifted his alignments depending on the issue and his analysis of it. His neutral stance, away from nasty party-line politics, was able to gravitate many Democrats and independents who had always considered him liberal and independent enough to vote for and send to the Capitol House. In the post-9/11 era, Specter examined Bush's warrantless wiretapping program in hearings and championed limits on executive power.

Many voters may not know that Specter started as a registered Democrat who ran for Philadelphia district attorney as a Republican in 1964, and came full circle back to the Democratic Party in 2009. In 2009, when he reinforced his new Democratic credentials, he voted 96 percent of the time with President Barack Obama. However, between 2001 and 2005, as a Republican senator he was very loyal to George W. Bush, voting with him 85 percent to 89 percent of the time.

Specter was a brilliant lawyer who graduated from the Ivy League school U Penn in 1951, majoring in International Relations. During the Korean War, he served as an Air Force officer. In 1956, he graduated from the Yale Law School and joined the Pennsylvania Bar. Later he became an aide to the Warren Commission in the 1960s, investing JFK's assassination. He came up with the single-bullet theory -- that a lone gunman had killed President John F. Kennedy. In 1976, Specter ran in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania and was defeated by John Heinz. In 1978, he was defeated in the primary for Governor of Pennsylvania by Dick Thornburgh. In 1980, he ran for the Senatorial election, and won, representing the state of Pennsylvania, a privilege and honor that he proudly and dutifully held for the next 30 years by winning four more times (1986, 1992, 1998 and 2004).

Senator Specter served longer than any U.S. senator in Pennsylvania history, probably delivering more money to more organizations in 30 years than any human being from this state. He was a senior ranking member in the Senate. No matter who wins the November senator race between Congressman Joe Sestak (Democrat) and Pat Toomey (Republican), the winner would be a junior Senator on the Senate floor. Thus, Senator Specter's loss in the Democratic senate primary is a loss to the state of Pennsylvania. For a foreseeable future, no Senator from the state of Pennsylvania would be able to do what Senator Specter had done for the state. He will be sorely missed by most Pennsylvanians. As he retires from the Senate at the end of this year, I wish him all the best.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Review: Inside the Revolution

Book Review: Inside the revolution: how the followers of Jihad, Jefferson & Jesus are battling to dominate the Middle East and transform the world by Joel C. Rosenberg, Tyndale (2009)

Joel Rosenberg, son of a Jewish father and a gentile mother, is an evangelical Christian who studied at Tel Aviv University in Israel. He is popular amongst the Christian extremist talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. As expected, his book – Inside the Revolution – is swamped with evangelical and Christian Zionist overtones. People interviewed to writing the book include: Peter Goss, director, CIA (1997-2004)), Lt. Gen. (retd.) William Jerry Boykin, Deputy undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Special Warfighting (2003-07), L. Paul Bremer III, presidential envoy and first U.S. Administrator to Iraq (2003-04), Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, General Moshe Ya’alon, Chief of Staff, Israeli Defense Forces (2002-05), Dore Gold, Israeli Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999) and dissidents from Arab and Iran. From the list of ‘experts’ cited it is not difficult to understand where the author’s motivation and sources of ‘information’ came from to writing this book with a bloated title.

The book talks about three groups of Muslims: radicals, reformers and revivalists. The book starts with a meeting that Rosenberg had with Jerry Boykin on February 2007. Lest we forget, Boykin is a Christian Zionist, who belongs to the millennium nuts that essentially see themselves as initiators for the Armageddon, fighting on the side of their lord Jesus Christ that will purify the world of disbelievers and all half-hearted Christians. While working for President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld, he made some highly insulting and provocative remarks about Islam in the days following 9/11. Truly, he is not the kind of guy a serious researcher or writer of history or an analyst of the current events would lean on to learn about the changing political and intellectual landscape of the Muslim world. That interview with and quotations from a bigot are enough to discredit Rosenberg’s work.

Iran’s nuclear ambition, albeit a civilian one, is not acceptable to the Zionists and Christian neo-crusaders of any kind. For many years they have been sharing (thanks to Mossad-feeding and CIA-devouring) and drawing upon the same recycled and unsubstantiated intelligence information to exaggerate Iran’s and Iraq’s capabilities while ensuring rather unabashedly Israel’s troublesome and unjustifiable absolute military and nuclear monopoly, control and dominance that remain unthreatened or unchallenged in the Middle East. These warmongers have been proven wrong in Iraq, and are blameworthy of triggering the American recession and national debt in the last few years. But that kind of faulty claims and exaggerations have not sidelined the Zionist jihadists. We are, therefore, not surprised to learn about Boykin’s pro-Israeli views about Iran. He thinks that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapon to annihilate western civilization -- a view similarly shared and propagated by eliminationist Jews everywhere. Like any extremist Zionist, Boykin is against any negotiation with Iran and calls such “inane.” (p. 13) To his kind, elimination of Iran is the solution.

It is no-brainer that the Israeli general Ya’alon, a war criminal himself, supports Boykin’s exaggerated and unfounded claims and faulty opinions about Iran. Ya’alon is quoted to even say that Iran would have military nuclear capability within a couple of months or maximum couple of years (from March 2007, when the interview was held). (p. 18) Well, as we know by now, none of these claims and opinions has come to be true. Iran is no closer to any nuclear arsenal today than it was assumed back in 2007.

Rosenberg also cites Netanyahu, the current Israeli prime minister, who like Boykin, says that Iran, if unchecked, will create a second Holocaust in Israel and “proceed on their idea of building a global empire.” (p. 19) Only a brain-dead idiot, uninformed about the world it lives in, can swallow such unsubstantiated claims and exaggerations about Iran’s ‘global aspirations’ unquestioning!

As I have pointed out elsewhere Israel -- the last of the apartheid states in our century -- with her backers and promoters in the western world, military and economy power of its allies and co-religionists remains the greatest threat to our generation. Israel is in the business of exploiting holocaust to extract maximum concessions and benefits for its ever-expansionist plans and eliminationist politics. With the Hollywood film-makers and media moguls on their sides, Israeli leaders like Netanyahu have been able to sell their poisonous pill to many unsuspected folks. Thus, rather than challenging the obvious Israeli possession of nuclear weapons, her marauding aggression, history of war and preemptive strikes against all her neighbors and annexation of land, dispossession of original inhabitants, striking civilian targets with the intent to incur maximum casualty, her criminal refusal to sign the nuclear NPT and rejection of outside inspection of her nuclear sites and scenes of war crimes, the debate is cynically forced upon a pretender – a potential threat. The rogue state has thus remained opposed to making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. Surely, we could have all benefited from such a life-saving and peaceful agenda, a call made for years by all the Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, by eliminating Israeli nuclear threat first before suspecting the absurd about others.

As to the views of the so-called radicals, Joel Rosenberg quotes Iran’s late spiritual leader Ayatullah Khomeini from his speeches of 1979-81, Osama Bin Laden and Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris, a cleric in Gaza (2005) who is little known outside Gaza. He also cherry picks words from Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani, and Lebanon’s Hasan Nasrallah. As to what these aforementioned ‘radicals’ believe Rosenberg quotes certain verses from the Qur’an (2:216, 5:33, 4:52, 5:51, 9:5, 9:12, 9:29-30, 22:19, 25:52, 47:4, 60:9, 66:9) which had a historical context. By misapplying their contextual framework, as if those verses are universally applicable for any Muslim, he does a terrible thing to the sacred text.

As I have pointed out many times before, if the hateful bigots like Rosenberg are looking for violent verses in the scripture, they need not go beyond their own Bible to find scores of such verses.

Rosenberg quotes statement from Walid Shoebat, a Palestinian convert to Christianity, to show martyrdom motivates Jihadists. Shoebat has long been found an unreliable and highly prejudicial narrator of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Rather than criticizing the motivation of the dead he should do us all a great favor by explaining what made those stone-throwing Palestinians of yesteryears to put on the suicide jacket today.

The author mentions the failed US Embassy rescue mission in Iran in the post-revolutionary days in which Colonel Charlie Beckwith, Delta force’s creator, and Jerry Boykin led the operation. Christian undertone is vividly clear among the mission leaders: “God has called us to lead fifty-three Americans out of bondage and back to freedom.” (p. 76). What is interesting in this detail narrative of the mission is that it disclosed how unreliable American contractors have been to the Muslim world. Even a ‘trusted’ puppet like the Shah of Iran could not be trusted. America deliberately sold faulty coastal radar system to Shah’s Iran so that American special forces could penetrate Iranian airspace undetected. (p. 77) Even then the mission to rescue American ‘spies’ or ‘hostages’ was a total fiasco with 8 US servicemen dead, 7 American helicopters lost, along with a C-130.

More disturbing is Rosenberg’s thesis that since a Pew poll in 2007 revealed that 5% of all Muslims in America had a favorable view of al Qaeda that there could be more than 100,000 radical Muslims living within the USA (p. 144). He goes on to extrapolate, much like his mentor Pipes, this number to include another 600,000 or more “Radical Muslims or Radical-leaning Muslims or sympathizers inside the country.” (p. 144) He then cites polling results in Europe conducted amongst Muslims which showed that some 15% Muslims in UK, Spain and France (and 7% in Germany) believed that suicide bombings against civilian targets were sometimes justified. Next, Joel takes the case for Muslims worldwide and finds that 7% would be classified as Radicals, which equals to some 91 million people (p. 149). Well, one can clearly see the fallacy of such arguments. A greater percentage of hateful bigots can be found in the non-Muslim world. The poll results, drawn from small samples of any given population, do not necessarily translate into actions. Thus, one can take a sigh of relief away from Rosenberg’s sinister conclusions by remembering that no serious attack has threatened the USA since 9/11. This, in spite of the fact that the country has been at war for nearly nine years (longer than the World War II) in the Muslim world in which more than a million unarmed Muslim civilians were killed by the USA and NATO allies.

As to the so-called reformers, Rosenberg fondly mentions the Moroccan model, which amongst other things, includes: reaching out to evangelical Christians in the West. By letting these Christian evangelists to operate freely, Morocco’s goal, according to Rosenberg, is to present a more pro-western image to the west. His Christian missionary zeal is unmistakable in this narrative. He reminds us that while such proselytizers are frowned upon in the non-Christian world, Morocco is a fertile ground for proselytism with thousands of converts to Christianity. I hope Morocco is not foolish or oblivious of the missionary ploys that once colonized the entire African continent while those soul-snatchers came for more than just the ‘heathen’ lost souls.

The most ludicrous part of the book is with the ‘revivalists’ when the author brings the story of someone named Tass Saada who is presented as one-time Yaser Arafat’s driver and bodyguard, unverified by the PLO. As expected, Taas, like Walid, has become a follower of Jesus by believing in the triune God (p. 365). Of course, he is “no longer a Radical – he is a Revivalist.” According to the author, “He no longer believes that Islam is the answer. He no longer believes jihad is the way. He believes that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one – Jew or Gentile, Radical or Reformer – can have a personal relationship with God without accepting that Jesus is the Messiah, just as the Bible teaches in John 14:6.” (p. 368) This narrative is so evangelical Christian that it insults one’s intelligence to rationalize Rosenberg’s categorization of an ex-Muslim as a revivalist in the Muslim world. This is like saying that a convert from Christianity to any other faith is a revivalist to Christianity!

Rosenberg believes that a Christian surge is taking place across the Middle East. According to senior Christian pastors and ministry leaders in Egypt, Rosenberg reminds us, there are now 2.5 million followers of Jesus in their country. A growing number of these are Muslim converts, whom he calls the MBBs (Muslim background believers in Christ). (p. 389) According to him, before 9/11 there were fewer than a hundred MBBs; by 2006 the estimate is 10,000 MBBs, which, by the way, represent less than half a percent of the total Christian population in Egypt. He says that these ‘revivalists’ are now using TV and radio to reach Muslims with the gospel. If these claims are true, they should put to rest the negative propaganda against Muslim societies that they are against religious freedom.

Rosenberg is typical of the cynical anti-Muslim, pen-pushing hawks whose voluminous work of 552 pages is not worth the paper it was written on. It offers very little to understand the mindset of the so-called Muslim Jihadists. Instead, it goes on to reveal not only hostile Christian missionary activities in the Muslim world but also the author’s own bias, zealotry and deplorable intolerance against Islam and Muslims. His book is similar to many post-9/11 era books that are written to keep alive the perceived “threat” of Islam before our eyes, while not only shielding western eliminationist campaigns against the Muslim world but also guaranteeing themselves profitable fees, consultancies, recurrent appearances in TV and lucrative book contracts.

It is said that falsehood oft repeated achieves the veneer of truth and some are sure to swallow it. Rosenberg’s book is a typical example of such an attempt at disseminating falsehood with Christian evangelical zeal that gave us the Crusades and the Inquisition, and led to the colonization of vast non-Christian territories of Asia, Africa and Latin America. A collection of lies and half-truths, quite a few unreliable sources and a plethora of false interpretation form the nucleus material for the above work. His repeated use of comments from anti-Muslim jihadists, bigots and racists, and ex-Muslims — whose motivation is nothing honorable either -- hardly carry any conviction.

For accounts of jihadist movements around the Middle East, a serious researcher or reader may find Professor Fawaz Gerges’s authoritative, deeply-researched books like – The Far Enemy: Why Jihad went Global (Cambridge University Press, 2005), and Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy (Harcourt Press, 2006) – much more useful.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Conservative South and the US Politics

For the past two weeks I have been on the road and air. The first week, I took a plane from Philadelphia to Greenville, South Carolina and stayed near Seneca, close to the campus of the Clemson University. I returned on Friday only to take another plane last Monday to fly to Cleveland, Ohio. I stayed in North Olmsted in the outskirts of the city, returning again to my home on Friday.

Geographically speaking, in the context of the huge size of the USA, South Carolina is actually not too far from Ohio. The two towns are only about 650 miles apart – almost on the same longitude (82-83 degree West). But beyond the commonalities, there are some striking differences in ways Americans in these two regions view things and act. Southerners appear to be a friendlier, hospitable and relaxing kind of people who are serious about life-work balance. They are not easily pushed to compromise their easy-going lifestyle for extra dollar. This healthy attitude is often missing in the north where people are willing to work long hours, even on the weekends, provided they can make some extra money.

This is not the first time that I have been to the south. In the last three decades I had the privilege to visit many parts of this huge country. In my trips to the south, I have briefly stayed in many places of Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama – the so-called Bible-Belt states. Their southern accent is very pleasing to the ears also. They are honest about their feelings and are willing to both express such views and stand for those. That is, they are less hypocritical than their counterparts to the north. They also seem to favor hot spicy foods. The abundance of churches in close proximity to their homes and businesses would remind any visitor from the north that he or she is in the south where people take religion seriously.

The drive from Greenville to Seneca takes about an hour; it is nearly sixty miles long. When I turned on the radio in the rental car, I heard the voice of Rush Limbaugh. Apparently, the previous renter was listening to that radio station. I have never been a fan of Rush, considering him more like a bigot and racist than an intelligent person. Not surprisingly, he was discussing the oil rig disaster as if it was a Godsend to him and his audience. I tried to scan other stations, but did not have much luck in finding either the NPR or some other channels away from the nasty polarizing talk show hosts. There is little doubt that such neo-conservative talk show hosts have had much to do with the changing political landscape of the south, making those states more pro-Republican than pro-Democrat.

The 2010 mid-term election is less than six months away. There is little doubt that some Democrats will lose their seats to more energized Republicans who see a ray of hope to their political comeback. After all, while the economy is recovering, not everyone is happy with the performance of the Congress. The Capitol Hill needs a change in both membership and leadership. A much coveted seat is the senatorial seat held by the Democrat -- Barbara Boxer of California. To many of her constituents she has been a dismal failure on many counts; Californians are tired of her and want a change. However, the in-fighting amongst the Republicans, especially the undue influence of the pro-Israeli lobby, has not made it any easy to find a stronger candidate to unseat the unpopular senator.

Since her election fiasco two years ago when she ran for the vice president ticket under John McCain, Sarah Palin has been claiming to speak for the Republican Party members and dissidents who are tired of career politicians. It is good to see that she has become wiser these days. She has endorsed Carly Fiorina, the Ex-CEO of Hewlett-Packard for the Senate seat in California. From the past remarks of Fiorina on the 2008 campaign trail that she could not imagine Palin would be qualified to be the CEO of a company like the H-P, she definitely wasn’t a natural pick to receive Sarah Palin's support. This endorsement of Fiorina is definitely a bold move by Palin given the fact that many of her supporters in the Tea Party movement favor another Republican candidate, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. Palin's endorsement of Fiorina in the Republican primary is a pragmatic one. She entreated voters recently: “Please consider that Carly is the conservative who has the potential to beat California's liberal senator, Barbara Boxer, in November.” She is absolutely right there.

Given the wide support she enjoys not just amongst many Republicans, but also within many Democrats and independents, no one within the California Republicans has a better chance than Fiorina to unseat Boxer. Now it is all up to the California Republicans to nominate Fiorina for the real contest.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The European Veil Debate – is it the Prelude to Eliminationist Politics?

Belgium is all set to become the first European nation to ban the Burqa (the face-covering veil that is worn by some Muslim women). The move will affect an estimated 650,000 Muslims in Belgium – 6 per cent of the population. Belgium’s lower house of parliament banned burqa-type Islamic dress in public. But the measure may face a challenge in the Senate where Christian Democrats and Liberals questioned the phrasing of the law, which says no one can appear in public “with the face fully covered or partly covered so as to render unrecognizable.”
Belgium, like many northern European countries, has a cold climate with daily temperature minimums of 7 °C (44.6 °F) and maximums of 14 °C (57.2 °F), based on the averages for the years 2000 to 2006. The average temperature is lowest in January at 3 °C (37.4 °F) and highest in July at 18 °C (64.4 °F). It does not take a genius to see the hypocrisy in the bill. During the winter season most Belgians end up using some forms of headscarves and face-masks (similar to ski-masks) to fight the cold, blistery winds blowing from the North Sea to render them unrecognizable. The text of the new law does not specifically mention Burqas but makes it illegal for anyone to wear clothing ‘that covers all or most of the face’ in any public place. And yet, the law doubtlessly will racially profile Muslim women for wearing burqa and niquab (face-covering). Under the proposals, Muslim women could face a week in prison or a fine for wearing a veil in public.
The Belgian move against Burqa comes as debates continue over banning the Burqa in France, Switzerland and Italy. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is the European lead dog leading this crusade. As I have shown elsewhere, while most European leaders are racists by nature, very few are as hostile to Islam and Muslims as Sarkozy has been. As the grandson of an opportunist Jew from Salonika (in today’s Greece and the old Ottoman empire) -- the homeland of many Donmehs (that lived there since the time of Sabbatai Zevi, a 17th-century Jewish kabbalist who falsely claimed to be the Messiah), the Young Turk movement and the Free Masons that brought down the fall of the Ottoman empire -- and a Free Mason himself, Sarkozy’s hostility to anything Islamic is simply unbelievable. It is rabidly eliminationist and extraordinary.
Sarkozy is also very close to Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. It goes without saying that Sarkozy’s enthusiasm to punish Iran and deny her the legitimate right to develop nuclear energy is rooted in his bigotry and Zionist heritage; he is doing the pitching for his eliminationist friend Netanyahu and the rogue state of Israel. In a May 10, 2007 issue of the Jewish Journal, Raanan Eliaz wrote something that escaped most people’s attention but given the fact that both Sarkozy and Netanyahu are the leaders in their respective countries, it is important that we revisit it. Raanan Eliaz, a former director at the Israeli National Security Council and the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. wrote, “Although Sarkozy’s family roots will not bring France closer to Israel, the president’s personal Israeli friends may. As interior minister, Sarkozy shared much common policy ground with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two started to develop a close friendship not long ago, and it is easy to observe similarities not only in their ideology and politics but also in their public image. If Netanyahu returns to Israel’s chief position, it will be interesting to see whether their personal dynamic will lead to a fresh start for Israel and France and a more constructive European role in the region.”
It is not difficult to connect now the dots in Sarkozy’s crusade against Muslims in France, in particular, and Islam and Iran, in general.
The essence of Sarkozy’s new paradigm, if we are to switch Jewish author Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s (the author of the book – Worse than War) terms from the German scene to today’s France is ‘eliminationist anti-Muslim’. We see a good parallel in Goldhagen’s depiction of German anti-Semitism with today’s anti-Muslim campaign by Sarkozy and his European ilk. At one extreme of this new spectrum is the French and European perception that Muslims are vaguely different. At the other extreme is the perception that Muslims are distinctly violent who, if not stopped now, will one day impose their ‘shariah’ on the French or European society. Between these poles is the perception that Muslims are more or less flawed. As we know from history, moving from one end of the spectrum to the other, the complementary German desire to eliminate an unappealing feature of the Jews rapidly yielded to the desire to eliminate Jews altogether. “The eliminationist mind-set”, Goldhagen proclaims, “tended towards an exterminationist one.” (HWE, p. 71) Through their speeches and acts today’s Sarkozy and other European leaders - closet and open bigots - have unmasked their own evil mindset.
President Sarkozy has said more than once that the face-covering veil is not welcome in France, and that he wants a law restricting it. In January, a French parliamentary committee issued a much-anticipated, 200-page report recommending that women be banned from wearing the full-face veil in public office buildings, schools, hospitals and while using mass transit. The full-face veil is viewed by many in France as a sign of extremism and a threat to gender equality and secularism.
Sarkozy began the debate in June 2009 when he said that the full-face veil was “not welcome” in France, currently home to more than 5 million Muslims, the largest such population in Europe. At present, fewer than 2,000 Muslim women wear the full-face veil in France, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Lawmaker André Gerin, the president of the 32-person, multi-party parliamentary panel, has called the full-face veil in France “the visible part of the iceberg” and warned that “behind the iceberg is a black tide of fundamentalism.”
Last week, a school in Spain - Instituto Camilo José Cela at the Madrid locality Pozuelo de Alarcón -- banned headscarves for Muslim girls. The school board’s bigoted decision is forcing the 16-year old Najwa Malha to not attend class while wearing headscarf. Like many places in Europe these days, the regional government (Comunidad Autónoma de Madrid) is held by a right-wing Fascist party – the Popular Party. As expected, when the student’s parents appealed against the school decision, it upheld the school decision. Interestingly, the national government, held by the left-wing Socialist Party (PSOE), has a dubious position. While the Minister of Education has stated that the right to religious freedom and the right to an education should prevail over the prohibition to use the headscarf, he, like many hypocritical Christians, differentiates between the presence of a Christian (Catholic) Cross in a class-room as a collective symbol and the headscarf as a personal symbol. Obviously, to closet bigots like him, too afraid to appear xenophobic on the religious ground, headscarf worn by a Muslim girl is symbolic of women’s oppression and not of her religious freedom. Not surprisingly, Christian female students in the catholic convents are not prohibited from wearing headscarves.
A vast majority of Muslim women consider hijab (headscarf) a religious obligation, mandated by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. A small section within this group consider wearing niqab and burqa as necessary, bringing them closer to their faith, much like old practices in many countries from India to Byzantium. Consider France, the home to more than five million Muslim residents, the most of any Western European country. Fewer than 2,000 are said to wear full-body veils or burqa there. It is silly to believe that they pose obvious threat to the French identity or security. It is ludicrous to say that when a Catholic nun uses headscarf it is progressive and kosher, however, when a Muslim girl or woman wears the same headscarf it is oppressive and/or symptomatic of her fundamentalist leanings. It is worth adding here that many of those wearing niqab and burqa in Europe are white reverts to Islam. It is folly to suggest that they were quiet, suppressed women.

Lest we forget it is Europe which at one time preached the wisdom of religious tolerance against bigotry. But hypocrisy has always been Europe’s trademark; thus, more often than not it has failed to live by its own standards. In many European countries, liberty and freedom are often misconstrued as licentiousness that allows unwed girls and women to give birth outside of marriage. No wonder in places like Iceland and France more than half the population is born out of wedlock.

Many European politicians seem willfully blind to the violation of individual liberties. They are looking for cheap ways to sidetrack public anger over high unemployment. It is hard to produce jobs and far too easy to fan anti-Muslim prejudices. These bigots have turned the hijab and burqa/niqab debates into menacing “national debate” on European identity. No political gain can justify hate-mongering, much less eliminationist trends so visible these days in Europe. Unfortunately, their bigotry is paying dividends, much like it did in the periods leading to the eliminationist pogroms and holocaust. Muslim-bashing has been an intoxicating vote-getter for far-right politicians in Europe, the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

However, probably not everything stemming the resurgent eliminationist mindset and tide in France, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Holland, Italy and other European states is lost. Following the fall of Premier Yves Leterme’s government April 22, Belgium faces early elections that may delay the passage of the anti-burqa ban. France’s top administrative body has advised the government that any total ban on face-covering Islamic veils could be unconstitutional as well as against the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. “It appears to the State Council that a general and absolute ban on the full veil as such can have no incontestable judicial basis,” it said.
The State Council, which is required to give an opinion before any major piece of legislation, added that rules requiring faces to be uncovered in public places such as schools, hospitals and law courts could be justified for security reasons to combat fraud and to meet the needs of some public services. That is, according to the State Council, a ban could be justified in some public places. Prime Minster Francois Fillon had asked the council for a legal opinion before drawing up a law on the subject. However, Jean Leonetti, the deputy parliamentary leader of Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party, said a ban “needs to be complete or else it is misunderstood”.
It is easy to see that a woman’s human rights are violated when a government requires her to wrap her body and face in an all-concealing veil, as the Taliban used to do when it ran Afghanistan. It should be just as easy to see the violation when a Belgian parliament recommends, as it did this week, or a French parliamentary panel recommended few weeks earlier, barring women who wear such veils — the burqa and the niqab — from using in public places, including schools, hospitals and public transportation. It is worth recalling that Muslim head scarves have been banned from public school classrooms in France since 2004.

Women must be free to make these decisions for themselves without any imposition from governments or enforcement agencies like the police. As I have noted some years ago, an overwhelming majority donning hijab, niqab and burqa does it on its freewill and is not forced to put up. A simple interview of these women and girls is enough to dispel the claims made by Sarkozy and other closet bigots and secular fundamentalists.

Instead of condemning the parliamentary panel’s recommendation, President Nicolas Sarkozy seems determined to outdo it. The Taliban would be pleased with Belgian Parliament’s decision and French parliamentary panel’s recommendation. The rest of the world should declare its utter disgust to Europe’s intolerance and eliminationist trends.