Hazaras in Mongolia, a report that uncaps a host of memories and feelings

My good friend Hannah has sent me a link to this site.  It portrays Hazaras from Afghanistan who are studying in Mongolia.  For me is was a surprising treat and brought back so many memories.  I am so glad to see the  young women, few of whom I actually got to meet in the Hazarajat; clearly the times and the context are different.  In ways difficult to explain I have a deep feeling for the Hazaras, among whom I spent the better part of two years many years ago.  For this reason I will never  be able to read the Kite Runner — I break down in the first few pages; the experience brings something out of me I never knew was there.  Could other anthropologists have such sentimental attachments to the people they studied?  For reasons I can’t explain I dearly loved the people I knew.  Now I see their offspring, and I am thrilled.
[Click on the title to see what has stimulated such memories.] http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64351

The Arab League to Syria’s Assad: Talk to the opposition.

That the Arab League has come together on a proposal to Assad is good news.  Whether it will amount to anything is something else.  The opprobrium of the world has not yet forced Assad to step down – which is what his enemies demand if they are to give of their demonstrations.  In the mean time Assad’s troops keep on killing unarmed citizens of their country.
That the rest of the world wants to intervene is a sign of how little anyone cares anymore about the conventions of the Peace of Westphalia.  The world is too small now; it’s too easy to peak over the fence and see what our neighbors are doing to their citizens.  We cringe at what we see in North Korea  But Assad tells us that without his regime the Middle East will be an “Afghanistan”.  Meaning what?   Here is what Al Jazeera tells us. [click on the title for the whole article].
Arab League hands Syria plan to end unrest  Oct 31, 2011
The Arab League has handed Syrian officials a plan for ending seven months of increasingly violent unrest against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The Arab League committee put its plan, involving talks in Cairo between the Syrian authorities and their opponents, to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Bouthaina Shaaban, a political adviser to Assad, on Sunday in Qatar.
The League had previously set a two-week deadline for the start of such talks, which expired on Sunday. The committee said it hoped for a Syrian response to its plan by Monday.
“More important than a dialogue is action… This committee has given a very strong response to the recent killings,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, whose country presides over the committee, told reporters in Doha.
Syrian objections to holding a meeting regarding what they consider domestic affairs outside Syria was one of the points of disagreement between the two sides.
Assad told Russian television on Sunday that he would co-operate with the opposition even as he had earlier warned in another interview of an “earthquake” if the West intervenes in his country.
In an interview with Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Assad said international involvement risked transforming Syria into “another Afghanistan”.
He also stressed Syria was key to keeping the peace in the region.
. . . 

Torture is back in Egypt

Torture has been a powerful radicalizing element in the Middle East.  It was torture that turned Sayed Qutb from a critic of the Egyptian government and the west to one who believed the whole system was corrupt and irredeemable: the only hope was extreme action.  It was torture that radicalized Ayman Zawahiri, now head of Al Qaeda.  And it was torture that created the hatred of the Egyptians for the police and underlaid the explosion of public demonstrations against President Mubarak early this year.  
The police seem unable to avoid the practice in Egypt.  Now that they are back on the streets the Egyptians are at risk of losing much of what they have gained.  Here is an article that appeared in the Bikya Masr website on October 28.

Power and torture in Egypt by Desmond Shephard Oct 28

“We are all Khaled Said” turned to “We are all Mina Daniel” and then on Thursday evening Egyptians began the “We are all Essam” campaign after rights activists and NGOs reported 24-year-old Essam Atta was brutally tortured to death by prison guards at Torah prison in Cairo after they discovered a mobile phone SIM card in his cell.
The images of the slain Egyptian sparked a massive outpouring of anger toward the country’s police, who also shot dead a man just outside the capital on Thursday. The police have returned in full force to Egypt and it has left the country on the edge, with calls for demonstrations beginning to foment once more. Calls for a renewal of revolution have been drifting in for the past day. Activists are angry.
The return of the police, which was largely responsible for the murder of over 850 Egyptians during the 18 days of uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, has shown that they have regained their power over daily life in the country. Random checkpoints, ID checking and detention have once more become the norm on Egypt’s streets.
Essam Atta has become the new Khaled Said – the man who was tortured and murdered in Alexandria in June 2010, who largely began the road to revolution – after he was sodomized by a hose by prison guards, who then tossed his body in front of Cairo’s Qasr el-Aini hospital Thursday evening.
According to the al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation and Torture, Essam Atta suffered a severe drop in blood pressure and heart failure after being tortured by police officials at Tora prison.
There have already been over 2,000 “likes” on the We are all Essam Facebook page, showing that Egyptians can mobilize quickly.
What Thursday’s torture of the 24-year-old represents is the power, corruption and torture intrinsically part of the Egyptian police force. On Wednesday, the two officers who killed Khaled Said were handed baffling sentences of 7 years in prison on manslaughter charges. It signalled to many activists that change had not come to Egypt in the 9 months since Mubarak was ousted. Instead, what we are witnessing is the rise of the police yet again in the country, employing the same tactics that left a country angry, fearful and ready for revolution.
The power the police have in this country is hard to deny. They can come into cafes, interrogate anyone at anytime. Videos showing police torture have done much to spur a mindset change in the country, but the reality is that after decades of state television broadcasting horrendous reports on the glories of the police, cracking through the inherent belief in the military and the police is proving difficult.
One Egyptian mother, who had never heard of a blog and didn’t have a Twitter account, when told that a man had been tortured to death by prison guards wouldn’t believe the military would allow such an incident to occur. “The military would never let this happen, I know that because they supported the revolution and are making Egypt great again,” the 33-year-old woman told me.
Public opinion seems to fall into this line of thinking. Talking with people, the online activists appear out of touch with the majority, even as they espouse arguably the truth about Egypt’s current predicament. The vast majority of Egyptians believe the official government stance on a number of issues, including the Maspero massacre on October 9 that saw the armed forces kill 27 people, police violence, torture and murder. The military, and its police arm, have created an almost monopoly on public discourse that despite the handful of activists on online networks, tend to garner the support of the masses.
Torture is not new to Egypt, unfortunately. From Khaled Said to Essam Atta, hundreds of Egyptians have been tortured by police, electrocuted, beaten and killed. The difficulty now facing Egypt is how to respond. Online campaigns are all good and well, but they will not galvanize the public.
Ahmed Maher, a co-founder of the 6th of April Movement, recently said he doesn’t use Twitter because that is not how to reach people. He is right. What is needed, in order to counter the increasing power and monopoly on information in Egypt, is a grassroots campaign that speaks with the people on the abuses that are leaving Egypt in a precarious position less than one month before parliamentary elections are set to begin.
Change can come, but fighting against power and torture in the country continues to prove difficult. In the end, when the rulers of the country had been part of the former regime for nearly two decades, it’s extremely hard to battle against their machine.

Signs of the reconfiguration of the world: China bailing out the Europeans

The news that the bailout chief of the Europeans has gone to the Chinese for help marks how much has changed in the world.  The wealth of the Chinese is indeed sufficient to stabilize the Euro, but if a deal takes place it will signify what seems already to have happened:  The Chinese have become far more hegemonic than they even knew, or most of the rest of us have yet recognized.  [Click on the title above for a link to the Reuters report]

Americans are now awakening to the status of their country in the world, that it has been a worldwide hegemon, even though the Americans had no such intention.  The country simply grew into that role almost unintentionally.  It just seemed natural for American companies to reach further out across the globe in search of the things necessary to keep their profits and in effect to keep the country growing.  That the consequence of their outreach was to bring ever greater sectors of the globe into a certain kind of relation with the country was hardly noticed, at least as first.

Now that seems to be happening to the Chinese.  I understand that the new play Chinglish captures the confused difference between what Americans think of China [= the world’s new hegemon] and what the Chinese think of their country [= up-and-coming but far from having arrived].  While the Chinese people have yet to grasp China’s position in the world the rest of the world marvels to observe a country of more than a billion people growing at a pace more than three times the pace that America has ever grown.  That’s the significance of the appeal for China’s help by the EU’s bailout chief:  it foregrounds the sense that China, whatever its intentions, is about to become the world’s new hegemon.

[NB China responded that they are not ready to bail out Europe; link here.]

What an ice free Arctic Ocean may mean: New access, more fossil fuels, Russian benefit.

We continue to believe that changes in the accessibility of places and people affect the course of events in a profound way.   This is the significance of Andrew Kramer’s recent article in the New York Times about the opening of the Arctic Ocean to traffic in summer.  As the earth warms the ice packs of the Arctic are giving way to melt and new sea lanes are opening up for what appears to be lengthening periods of the year, effectively drawing closer the largest markets of Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.  “The voyage from Rotterdam to Yokohama, Japan, via the Northeast Passage, for example, is about 4,450 miles shorter than the currently preferred route through the Suez …”  Costs of travel are declining; speed of access has heightened.  Already the Norwegians have found it profitable to resume mining iron ore.  They now ship ore to China in 21 days versus the 37 days that it used to take via Suez, reducing their costs by $300,000 per trip.  It will also enable the exploitation of gas and oil reserves believed to reside in the Arctic sectors of Russia.  [For a link to the New York Times article click here.]
The Ecologist has just published [Oct 19, 2011] a notice that “Putin’s Russia will lead a ‘new era of Arctic industrialization,’” in which Tom Levitt claims that “Russia is leading an urgent rush to exploit the Arctic’s oil and gas reserves.”  In a recent conference Vladmir Putin  indicated that Russia intends develop “offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling, new sea terminals, infrastructure and the promotion of a commercial shipping route through the increasingly ice-free Arctic Seas.”  Russia plans to industrialize the Arctic. Putin exposed a hope that the Arctic will supplant the Suez and Panama Canals as the main shipping lanes between Europe and Asia.  And of course Putin has designs on the oil and gas reserves believed to lie under the Arctic Sea.  These are believed to be huge, possibly as much a 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered fossil fuel reserves.  Already 240 billion barrels of oil and oil equivalents (mostly gas) have been found in the region, “a figure almost as much as the entire proven hydrocarbon reserves of Saudi Arabia.”
Within a few years the earth will be smaller, and incalculable amounts of hydrocarbons will be available for a world that seems unable to acquire enough of them – controlled in this case by Putin’s Russia.  Who says Russia’s importance is receeding?  For a link to the Ecologist article, click here.]


The world stands by while Bahrain crushes its own citizens. What is there to do?

The outrage of the situation in Bahrain is that the world is standing by, watching the people of that country suffer terrible abuse, without a word.  The article below had to be produced without the author’s name being revealed because it tells the story of cases of abuse for which there is no justification whatever, anywhere.  But the great nations of the world allow it to take place without comment. This is because the US needs to continue its use of the island as a naval base; Saudi Arabia thinks it must prop up this Sunni regime versus its mainly Shia citizenry lest the Shia of Saudi Arabia get similar ideas of expressing dissent; and the Iranians, who claim to care about Shiite minorities elsewhere, dare not provide too much help to the Bahraini Shia lest their own citizens, whose demonstrations they barely quelled in 2009, get even more restive. So the various parties who might have an influence on Bahrain are content with the system in place remaining unchanged.  
Of course we are outraged.  But what is there to do about it?  This is the world we live in, and we despise its many abuses and pious hypocracies.  At the same time it all too easy to be self-righteous about it.  We all want a better world; we are all against graft and repression and abuse and greed [at least in others].  But its hard to know how to object without simply being unduly pious about it ourselves.  
Thankfully, there is someone in Bahrain, who has done something about the abuses there:  he/she has told the world what is going on there.  But for that person, unlike me, merely to tell the truth as they find it entails a risk to life and limb, even possibly to family.  To them we say thanks; and we pray for their welfare.  And thanks to Al Jazeera.  [Click HERE for a link to the whole article.]

“Two weeks in Bahrain’s
military courts:  The families of six of
the hundreds of people given long jail sentences speak out about the ‘abuse of justice'”.  Reporter
in Bahrain
18 Oct 2011 

Protests which began in February continue despite the prison
terms handed out by military courts [REUTERS]

Teachers, professors, politicians, doctors, athletes,
students and others have all appeared in Bahrain’s military courts. In just
two weeks, 208 people were sentenced or lost appeals, leading to a cumulative
total of just less than 2,500 years in prison.
Many of those imprisoned took part in massive pro-democracy
protests earlier this year. Others, families say, were in the wrong place at
the wrong time and were targeted by virtue of their religious sect.
One lawyer, who represents dozens of the convicted and who
asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera the total numbers of how many have stood
in front of military courts are not clear – but he estimates at least 600. Well
over 1,000 people have been arrested since the crackdown began, he said.
In an attempt to quell the uprising, the island’s rulers
invited Saudi and other Gulf troops to Bahrain in March, and called for a
three-month state of emergency, or what it called the “National Safety
With the emergency law came the military trials of hundreds
of people in “National Safety Courts”. According to the lawyer, the
courts were basically military courts, since both judge and general prosecutor
were both drawn from the military judicial system.

Slavery is still widely practiced in the world. And in the US?

Most of us have assumed that slavery was abolished long ago.  Little do we know.  Al Jazeera has a special series of programs on slavery.  [Click on the title above for a link.] Their programs highlight several kinds of enslavement.

  • Food chain slaves:  They say there are 40,000 slaves in the US today.
  • Sex slaves:  “There are an estimated 1.4 million sex slaves in the world today and international trafficking is on the rise.”
  • Bonded slaves:  “a form of slavery that is passed down from one generation to the next.”
  • Child slaves: “There are at least 8.4 million child slaves in the world today, many of them held as forced labour.”
  • Charcoal slaves: ” Poverty stricken men from north of Brazil are lured to remote camps where they are used as slave laborers.”
  • Bridal slaves

    India has the world’s largest number of slaves, among them an increasing number of women and girls sold into marriage

  • Prison slaves:  In Chinese factories.

There is enough here to give a whole course on slavery around the world.  Of course there are several useful books on the topic:  For instance, Kevin Bales, Disposable People.

China’s restrained relation to Pakistan

Jane Perlez’s report on Pakistani-China relations a while back revealed significant dimensions of that relationship that are worth emphasizing [click on the title for a link to the whole article]:  Pakistan, for all its potentiality to China, is not yet in a position to be useful to China.  Several statements in this text stood out for me:

“Pakistan’s ability to use China to offset its collapsing relations with the United States may be far more limited than it appears, raising the prospect that Pakistan will be left on the world’s periphery once the Americans wind down the war in Afghanistan …”

But China’s core interests lie elsewhere — in its competition with the United States and in East Asia, experts say. China has shown little interest in propping up the troubled Pakistani economy, … [and they] have pulled back on some [projects] as they have come under the threat of terrorism . . . . Last month a large Chinese coal mining company . . .  canceled a $19 billion contract in Sindh Province, citing concerns about security, in particular employees’ safety.”

The most important concern about insecurity in Pakistan is that it could spill into Xinjiang. 

“[I]f it’s not stable [in Pakistan] we can’t keep the peace in Xinjiang.”

And the project in Gwadar has stalled. 

The Pakistanis]  “asked China to build a naval base at Gwadar, the port on the Arabian Sea where China completed commercial facilities in 2008. [But they were rebuffed.] … For the moment, China does not see Gwadar as being of much strategic value, . . .  Since its completion, the port has become a rusting hulk, a destination to nowhere.”  

Yes, the original supposition was that it would become a terminal for pipelines from Turkmenistan, via Afghanistan, and possibly from Iran.  Events in Afghanistan have precluded that.  Even so, it is reasonable to suppose that under different circumstances Gwadar could become vitally important — an issue to be watched.

The economic downturn: The scale of the loss

“The crash of September 2008 brought the largest bankruptcies in world history, pushing more than 30 million people into unemployment and bringing many countries to the edge of insolvency. Wall Street turned back the clock to 1929.”
The reason?
“A lack of government regulation; easy lending in the US housing market meant anyone could qualify for a home loan with no government regulations in place.”  [Al Jazeera, 11/15/11] [Click on the title above for a link to the source.]

Iranian Plot or another Lackawanna Misfire?

The behavior of the Iranians has been so bizarre over the years that scarcely anything that that regime did would surprise, but there is reason to wonder about this new claim that they had hatched a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the United States.  The central figure in this plot turns out to be “more a stumbling opportunist than a calculating killer” [NYTimes today; click on the title for a link].

The United States has a huge system of surveillance that costs billions of dollars, but for all they do – and they have to be good at what they do – they have been unable to claim many major discoveries.  Not to denigrate this history, because most of us agree that such a system is necessary in this complex world.  But the man they have accused of plotting to kill a Saudi diplomat?  If today’s paper is to be believed, this man can hardly be up to the task that he is accused of.  This guy has “left a string of failed businesses and angry creditors in his wake, and an embittered ex-wife who sought a protective order against him. … [he is] perennially disheveled, …and hopelessly disorganized.”
It is hard not to think back to the accusations against the so-called Lackawanna Six, who were shadowed for over a year because they had once been involved in a training camp in Afghanistan; as it happened no evidence of seditious activity was ever found against them.  They were however accused when one of them flew to Yemen and announced in a telegram to his friends that he was getting married.  To the intelligence community the word “wedding” in the telegram meant he was about to commit a suicide attack.  After a national alert the government quietly dropped all charges:  It turned out he did get married after all.  Suicide?  Well, it depends on what you think about marriage [!].

So now we have a 56 year old loser to accuse of a complex potentially heinous crime.  Lets hope it turns out better this time.  

Addenda on what others say:

How strong is the case against Iran plot suspect?
Jeffrey Toobin 10/14/11
Wagging the Dog with Iran’s Maxwell Smart
by Juan Cole 10/13/2011 

*Unanswered questions over the alleged Iranian assassination plot*
*Iran ‘plot’ raises unanswered questions*