Wednesday, November 28, 2007

French riot, opening wounds

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to bring to justice rioters who shot at police in Paris in urban unrest that followed the death of two youths.

The current unrest in France is another test for Sarkozy as president on how he can deal with it. Some French employers need to shake off their prejudices. Sometimes the name stands in the way of employment. Qualified people aren’t employed simply because they carry a Muslim name. France needs to eradicate the roots of unrest that causes great damages for people and property.

The Causes of unrest among the immigrants is largely due to the fact that they feel marginalized because of lack of good education and opportunities. Resorting to violence on their part and to repression on the part of the French authorities isn’t the best way to solve this problem. The immigrants are mainly trying to flee the miseries of their home countries. But in France there are areas that a replica of third world countries in terms of poverty and social decay. The French government should learn its lessons from 2005 riots. Tough measures didn’t work. It calmed the situation momentarily but the seeds of trouble are still there. Taking hard measures to limit immigration through DNA tests and the requirement of high skills won’t solve the problem.

France should take care of unskilled immigrants by providing them with professional training and encourage them to set up their businesses. Employers should be more considerate. They shouldn’t look at the origins of job applicants but at their qualifications. When discrimination is eradicated, rioters will have only themselves to blame. “segregating” them in immigrant districts where they have their own world amounts to creating societies within France which will find it difficult to integrate in a country that still look at them as citizens of immigrant origins and not simply as French citizens regardless of name, race or religion.

Listen to BBC WHYS Show on this topic.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

political leaning

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Should racists have a platform?

Protests are expected later outside the Oxford Union when two controversial figures arrive for a free speech event. Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, and David Irving - jailed for denying the Holocaust - are to take part in an Oxford Union debate.

Words are the motors for action. Speeches can be the biggest movers. Hitler didn’t at first rule Germany by forming an army. He used his fiery speeches to gather support. Through his speeches he got the allegiance of the army and the Nazi sympathisers. Words can become deadly weapons as they translate thoughts which affect actions. Many thinkers change the world through their writings and speeches. Words have magic on the mind if they are eloquently expressed. The best forms of speech are slogans which can result in automaton thinking and actions. Labelling a group of people or a race with well memorised phrases can turn into die-hard attitudes. It should take generations to change them.

Racism and anti-Semitism are some of the contentious issues that despite campaigns and educational programmes are still entrenched in the mind of many. In many countries where Jews have left in masses and no longer exist there, anti-Semitism still exists. This is handed down from parents to children. Old stories and religious scripts are used for that effect. In orthodox interpretation of religions Jews are still seen as infidel. The religions that came after Judaism are meant to correct their irreligiousness. The revival of the Latin Mass created great controversy among Jews.

In the Muslim world, the speeches of Al Qaeda broadcast on the internet or on Al Jazeera TV channel had immediate effect on many young Muslims. This in turn has become a security scare for the authorities who have to discover and dismantle Al Qaeda cells now operating in tens of countries.

People, especially thinkers, should be free to express their views. But speech should be limited to what can unite people of different races and creeds. The danger is in manipulating facts and manipulating people’s mind to the point of their seeing facts distortedly.

There are different ways to start revolutionary thinking, but not on the basis of inferiority and superiority pattern, especially when it comes from influential thinkers whose words can be taken as gospel-truth by the multitude. At best people should keep their racial and fanatic attitude to themselves. Sometimes social hypocrisy works to maintain peace. Being straight on controversial attitudes in public will result just in extreme reaction on all sides.

Faith and politics

Tony Blair avoided talking about his religious views while in office for fear of being labelled "a nutter", the former prime minister has revealed.

Religion still has importance for many people. Through it they find inspiration and feel secure as there is an almighty that can look after them when their fellow human beings can let them down. Without belief in an ocean of grief or solitude, one can gather one’s strength to face life with all its oddities.

In Morocco, people aren’t asked to identify their religion in their identity documents as they are all considered Muslims. Political parties based on religion alone or ethnicities are banned. Many Moroccan communist or secular politicians are known not to practise religion by for example praying five times a day. When they take official responsibilities, they have to perform prayers at least on religious days like Eid Al Fiter after Ramadan when all important personalities in the country perform this religious rite.

In many countries, political leaders have to show their faith when faith is of paramount importance to the population. In Nigeria for example, leaders are identified as whether Muslims or Christians. In the USA, late president Kennedy was the first president of Catholic confession. US presidents’ speeches end with “God bless America”. In the dollar bill there is the prominent expression, “In God we trust.” So faith is of paramount importance in poor and rich countries alike. The fact that there are strong religious groups in the USA shows that no president can have massive votes if he or she proves atheist. In the run up to the presidential preliminaries, the BBC presented a documentary Panorama on Obama under the title, "Is America ready for a black president”. A section of the show was devoted to Obama’s faith and its influence on his chances to succeed in his presidential campaign. He is facing rumours by his opponents who say that he has Muslim blood in his veins, for the simple reason that his step father is a Muslim. Others were spreading false information about him like he studied in a Madrassa in Indonesia when he was a boy. Others nicknamed his Obama Osama. So in the USA, to take it just as an example, the question is not to have faith or not but which faith.

In multicultural and multi-faith societies, faith should be set apart. Secular approach is the best as politicians are seen for how they perform and not what they believe. Politicians who go too much public about their faith can just offend people of other faiths in such societies. It’s better to point out to a leader as socialist or liberal and to attribute their failure or success to their religious affiliation.

Blair was right in keeping his faith secret at least to avoid the embarrassment of being seen as taking decisions based on his faith. In the UK, the Queen is the Commander of the Faithful. It’s better to leave this official responsibility in her hands. There are other religious leaders who can guide the faithful. A Prime Minister or whoever other politicians seeking guidance from the religious leaders will put in jeopardy the separation of state and church. As such, politicians can talk about their faith in their memoirs after leaving office and not to contain it in their public statements or to make it the basis of their decision making to the dismay of people of other faiths, the atheists, the seculars and the agnostics.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Freddom of expression, religion and freedom

Controversial Bangladeshi feminist writer Taslima Nasreen has been moved out of the western Indian city of Jaipur to an undisclosed destination.

Taslima Nasreen is one of the few authors who have to pay for their voice. She isn’t the first one to be threatened with death. Sulmane Rushdie is a striking example of the authors who has to go in hiding for about twenty years because of the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa to have him killed. Although it is revoked later by the Iranian religious authority, there is still a bounty on his head by Muslim extremists.

Taslima Nasreen can be right or wrong in her attitude towards some Muslim practices, which can be just the invention of some Muslim scholars. But there are cases in which women are treated unfairly. In Saudi Arabia women can’t drive or set up their own businesses without the supervision of a male. The latest outcry was case of a gang-rape woman victim who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six-months in jail. Her crime was to accompany males with whom she had no family relations.

But Taslima Nasreen isn’t the only author to be silenced. In the West, there are many authors, especially males ones, who have to flee their countries of origin to express themselves freely without the risk of being prosecuted.

Free speech is a fundamental right. Authors should be protected as long as their ideas are for enlightenment and not about the spread of hatred. It’s wrong that the interpretation of Islam should remain in the hands just of male dominance, belittling female capacity to come up with the right notions on how society should deal with all individuals regardless of gender or race.

Taslima Nasreen remains for many reformists a daring voice. She needs the support of those who see female liberation through vocal and political action. Perhaps the best way for her is to be granted asylum in a Western country where she can enjoy her full freedom as a woman and as an author. Using death threat is not the perfect way to silence calls for fundamental rights. An author can be killed but his/her ideas can’t as long as they are embraced by the multitude. Killing is barbaric. Dialogue is an aspect of civilised behaviour.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Which is better, living under independence or colonialism?

Things were better in Africa if compared to the current disappointment in the running governments. Many Africans are still subject to poverty despite the huge resources in their country. Others don’t feel secure as in DR Congo where there is a raging civil war. Many Africans feel that the wealth of their country is primarily plundered by their countrymen who make a small minority usurping the bulk of their country-s wealth.

Many feel that they’re living under neo-colonialism as their economy is run by foreign companies which make the greatest profits while profits go to the country’s elite. For some there is no difference between colonialism and independence as they aren’t tasting the fruits of their country. At worst colonialism is better than independence.

In North Africa, the fight against colonialism was in the hope of getting things better for all. Only a minority benefited from different services under colonialism. In the majority of cases, families with big names had their children have the best of education which allowed them to have key posts in the government. Through time they became an oligarchy that has the best of the country’s wealth.

The question if Morocco better under independence than under colonialism. On the face of it, Morocco has been transformed since its independence. There are more educated people than under colonial era. But there is also disillusionment with independence as the slogans of equality and prosperity are matched by the actual huge disparities between the rich and the poor.

Morocco still has very close ties with its former colonial power. 60% of its foreign exchanges are with it. The largest Moroccan immigrant community is in France, more than one million.
Many Moroccans still look to the European or French system of government as the model. They want real democracy. Currently there is an apparent rupture between the government and people. In the last general elections only 37% of the voters took part.

This doesn’t mean that the Moroccans want to be ruled again by France although they take it as reference in good management. Simply they want their leaders to be up to the challenge and make them feel that they have a country called in Morocco. Currently, patriotism is put into question by many as they see their country in the hands of the very few in terms of wealth and political influence.

Morocco is better than what it was under colonialism. But as an independent country it still needs to make things far better by restoring common people’s confidence in their government who should work jointly under democracy for the good of all. It’s sad that hopeless Moroccans still look to Europe as the saviour by trying to illegally migrate to it. They feel an independent Morocco makes no difference for them. They want a country where they can feel better and have a real home. Some laughs at independence by saying that French colonialism was replaced just by anew one through the grip on power and wealth of the country by the very few at the expense of the big majority.

Listen to part of the show.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Can we go vegan?

There are increasing calls by vegetarians to change our established diet based on meat and to go vegans. They’re citing the different benefits for human beings as well as for the environment.

Meat consumption is only a problem in rich countries whose members have the highest rate of consumption per person. Consuming meat is considered as a sign of well being as in the past its consumption was associated with a sign of wealth. The poor had no choice but to go vegetarian.

Still being vegetarian can be more costly than eating meat. Many fruits and vegetables are beyond the means of those with a medium or poor income. So they fall on cheap meals based on meat.

The blame also shouldn’t be on those who use meat in their diet. There are countries where livestock is a part of their culture. In India cows are sacred. So it will be hard to ask the Hindus in India to cut the number of cows in their country or to ask them to donate some of them to poor countries which consume meat. In parts Africa an Asia, livestock is a sign of social prestige. The more livestock one has the more respect one gets. In Muslim countries, sheep are used as a religious rite for Eid al-Udha. For the hajj in Mecca, each person should sacrifice a sheep. Around the Muslim world each family or adult Muslim should sacrifice a sheep on this day.

There is also the economic factor. Many farmers as well as industries depend on meat-based food processing. As there is an increase in population, it will be hard to see that vegetables and fruits alone will suffice. There will be a need for more land to grow more vegetables and fruits and an increase in the use of chemical fertilizers, with the dire consequences on the environment.

In terms of health and nutrition, there will be still disparities. Poor people will still find it difficult to buy fruits and vegetables rich in calories and vitamins. There should be a balance in how food of all sorts is distributed fairly across the world within each country. People should make a balance of what they eat. Discarding meat altogether of one’s diet will remain unconvincing for many. It amounts to a total reshuffle of collective and personal traditions and customs.

Does this also mean that people should be raised vegetarian from infancy? Babies should rely just on breastfeeding without compensating for that with baby milk in case the mother doesn’t produce milk It seems livestock is there to stay in society unless a convincing substitution is found.

Discarding meat altogether of one’s diet will remain unconvincing for many. It amounts to a total reshuffle of collective and personal traditions and customs.

To compensate for abstaining from meat, should we go fish eating? Even going vegan can be a stretch on earth resources if we don’t eat moderately. Moderation is the key to health eating.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Crime and punishment

In Saudi Arabia there was a strange incident in which woman who was a gang-rape victim who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six-months in jail. Seven men from the majority Sunni community were found guilty of the rape and sentenced to prison terms ranging from just under a year to five years. While a rapist is prosecuted and the victim is compensated, here we have the case of both parties subjected to punishment. This is worse than punishing a person simply on intent. At least the would-be victim will be spared being hurt by the aggressor and “disciplined” by the law.

To make a comparison, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was sentenced to six year imprisonment, of which he served three years for rape, although the victim was with him in his hotel room at 02:00 a.m. So in Saudi Arabia, instead of the young women being fairly treated and receiving counselling, she is thrown in prison as a criminal.

Another guy who showed his desire to have sex with children, the risk can be in luring them via the chat-room. Today sending an email expressing intent or having a website for such intent is like sending letters to homes as it was the case in old days. People should be careful about what thy say and do on the internet as this new monster has become uncontrollable despite the huge efforts for censorship.

But intent should be an excuse for prosecution as it is the leading way to commit any act. In this case, the person caught is guilty as it is proven. Thoughts are what behind many actions. One can spread them without committing any act, but still that person is guilty. A gang leader can give just instructions without firing a bullet or robbing a bank but as a mastermind he/she should get the same punishment as the perpetrator. Saddam was executed, not because of direct killing of thousands of people but they were carried out under his orders.

In dictatorships, thoughts are policed. In the former soviet block, people couldn’t voice any criticism of the regime even to their friends. In former East Germany, husbands and wives were spying on each other. Of course we shouldn’t come to the point where the state implant spies in our bedrooms. A large margin of freedom should be left for a normal life. We needn’t live in a Big Brother society where we are watched 24/7.

As the way we think is essentially the way we behave and as we are members of a society that should stick together, people should learn to have normal and creative thoughts, not to inflict harm but to help for the good of all. Only schizophrenic, lunatic and desperate people who come out with deranged ideas. They should be monitored. Their best place is an asylum or tight security prison.

Children and drinking age

Morocco is one of the big producers of red wine. But by law Moroccans aren’t allowed to drink it. Anyone caught drunk in the street will be prosecuted. Strangely enough, there are pubs in all cities, groceries and supermarkets where all sorts of alcoholic drinks, from beers to whiskies are sold. Still there is another kinds of drink (eau de vie) brewed privately and sold to those who can’t afford the price of whisky. This kind of privately brewed drink can be a health risk as it is made clandestinely in unhygienic places.

There are few Moroccan families that have alcohol available at home where children can see adults drink like drinking a glass of water. Up to now, there aren’t yet widespread risks of children tasting alcohols. But in disadvantaged areas, there are very young children (mainly) who are addicted to glue sniffing.

Coming to children experiencing alcohol with or without their tutors’ consent, tutors, especially parents should set the example to them by not bringing alcohol in large quantity and displaying it all the time in the kitchen or the living room. Adults shouldn’t drink in front of the children. When the atmosphere gets “merry”, the children become curious to taste that drink.

Parents should learn to be closer to their children. It’s not enough to provide them with the daily necessities, education and a governess that can make sure all is well. Parents should learn to have moral authority over their children through persuasion and by setting them a good example.

Another point, today’s children are exposed to many facets of life through the media and the outside now growing more and more complex. Such an exposure is good for them as it will help them to cope with life later. However they need guidance from their parents and teachers on how to avoid falling in great risks with dire consequences. As for drinks, they should know that their body isn’t fully developed to absorb alcohols without effects on their organs. A drunken child becomes irresponsible, careless about his/her studies. They can indulge in behaviours that can get them in trouble with the law. There are cases of children who killed their peers under the influence of drink or drugs. Parents should introduce children to the literature dealing with the negative aspects of drinking at all ages. If possible, they should take them to centres where alcoholics are receiving treatments and the patients should be willing to share their experiences with them as a way to deter them from attempting to touch any sort of drinks. Children should be trained on what is the best for them to eat and drink to keep healthy. They should have activities through which they can spend their energy. It’s actually boredom, curiosity and the desire for adventure that make them fall in this temptation that can end into pathological addiction.

As the law prohibits selling alcohol to minors, this means children get hold of it through adults who buy it. They get hold of it at home or from an adult. As it is dangerous, it should be kept under lock and key. Putting bottles in the fridge from which children lay hand on food will be a temptation to open a bottle and taste it. There is also the desire of children to imitate adults and to brag among themselves about being defiant and risk taker.

And finally, there is still the issue of children experiencing drugs or teenage pregnancies. That’s another subject.

Listen to BBC WHYS show on this subject.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Should Hamas be ousted?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called for Gaza's Hamas rulers to be "brought down", his strongest call yet for their removal.

Hamas has turned into a repressive movement. For Gazans, they are now deprived of free land as they are locked by Israel preventing them from free movement. From Hamas they are subjected to dictatorship as none can voice opposition without reprisal. As such Hamas shouldn’t stay in power till it ends its term. It was elected by the Palestinians when Fatah grew unpopular because of corruption. Hamas promised to clean the mess. To its surprise it found itself forming a government while Fatah humiliatingly lost power. The euphoria of Hamas success was thwarted by international response that required it to recognise Israel. But Hamas kept to its "three nos” to Israel: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.

The differences between Hamas and Fatah leading to total rupture between them is a signal that national unity is far from being reality in a very small land with very huge problems. Fatah has scored many points on Hamas by keeping having international support while Hamas international status is declining, among other things through isolation. While Fatah’s president Abbas is seen holding talks and carrying normal political activities, Hamas leader is seen foaming with anger, holding rallies and giving speeches that now sound empty to the hard hit Gazans.

Hamas is still holding the old principle of the "three nos” to Israel. This has put it even more isolated as the international community is giving its backing to the relatively moderate Fatah movement. Hamas has the drawback of having purely an Islamist agenda regarded by many as an encouragement to Islamic extremism calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. As such Hamas looks a threat to Israel as well as to liberal Palestinians who seek to deal with the Palestinian issue in light of international development playing on flexibility rather than on rigid dogma.

Today Hamas is also faced with other nos from the Gazans who’ve seen their living standards getting far worse than when they were under the direct rule of Israel before the establishment of the Palestinian authorities that recognised Israel and than when they were under the corrupt rule of Fatah. It should be both democratic and pragmatic by allowing the Gazans to choose who should rule them, Hamas or Fatah through fair elections.

Fatah looks more practical as it has managed to get international support sparing Palestinians in the West Bank the suffering currently undergone by their countrymen in Gaza. The reports show that Gaza is currently in dire crises at all levels. Palestinians there are relatively living in a collective prison. They aren’t allowed to get out Gaza because of Israel blockade. They can’t get access to basic commodities at fair prices and quantity. Politicians can have long-term projects and can wait for their policies to deliver. They equate them with the future of the state. Ordinary people seek the immediacy of the action. Gazans are now one of the poorest in the Middle East, if not in the world. Slogans are no longer an impetus to continue their struggle against Israeli occupation and totally acquiescing to whatever measure undertaken by Hamas at the expense of their welfare.

But as Hamas still have its supporters, it should be dealt with through negotiation. It isn’t just a political party as traditionally known in democratic countries. It is a movement with heavily armed militias. It won’t be easy to solve it just by a decree. Hamas should be democratic. So far if failed to deliver on its promises because of international isolation, Israel blockade, deep differences with Fatah amounting to exchanges of fire and deaths on both sides. It should agree to the holding of elections that diffuse tensions in this volatile region. As it maintains its legitimacy because it won the elections, Gaza and the West Bank will remain apart delaying the setup of a future Palestinian state. The suffering of the Gazans will continue in the face of intransigence on all sides. As many Gazans are ready to leave Gaza, this shows many Gazans want Hamas to go. Hamas surely won’t go as it can be under pressure from other sides like Iran that want it to remain a thorn in the side of Israel. Israel’s nightmare is Iran having nuclear weapons. Iran’s nightmare is Israel dealing a heavy blow to Hamas that can put an end to its influence in this region through Hamas.

As Hamas is growing unpopular, it shouldn’t prolong the suffering of the Gazans. It should agree to early elections although it knows it can lose them. This can diffuse the tensions in the region. Hamas staying in power in Gaza will simply create two sections of Palestinians, those under the rule of Fatah relatively enjoying normal living standards while those under the rule of Hamas are daily struggling to make ends meet. The situation in Gaza will just create more rift among the Palestinians who because of the history of their struggle and suffering need a united political front that take into accounts the current international reality and not keep living on dogmas that can never materialise. Hamas’s three nos to Israel and its intransigence internally especially with its opponent Fatah will just lead to its humiliating downfall in future elections. Hamas need to be wise before, not after, the event. It should at least hold a referendum to ask the Gazans if they still want it to be in charge of their day-to day destiny.

Can Hamas go? Hamas can go as long as it is let to go by outside players. As a thick-skinned political movement, it won’t look to the suffering of the Gazans, it will continue to put the blame just on Israel the occupier and Fatah “the traitor”.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is Iraq getting better?

Is Iraq getting better? The statistics say so, across the board.

The figures put as a justification of military success are still unconvincing. They are dealt with in terms of statistics. They seem like figures by a company which was on the brink of bankruptcy but now things look better for it as the deficit has been replaced by profit. On the humanitarian issue, a single life matters. It is said that in BBC Jim Muir report that “The US military admit that around 13% of Baghdad - mainly parts of the huge eastern Shia suburbs, Sadr City, where the Mehdi Army used to hold undisputed sway - remain to be brought fully under control. This means the potential of future increasing trouble is still there. Admittedly, the US military and administration aren’t crying victory yet but simply things are getting better. Things will get better when security is total and when there is national unity more solid than minor and tribal differences and finally when the ordinary Iraqis start having a better living standard.

The situation in Iraq still remains unpredictable as the figures about violence casualties shouldn’t be seen as the barometer of political success. Iraq is still far from returning to total normality as everyone has to be on the alert. There is still political wrangling among the main sections of Iraq, Kurds, Sunnis and Shiaas about power sharing.

It may be argued that security is a priority for political stability. But the fall in the recurrence of violence won’t quickly be an encouraging sign for the Iraqis to move freely without looking around them. Important personalities still have to be surrounded by heavily armed guards. The green zone remains fortified. Poverty is still roaming making millions malnourished, short of water and electricity. Unemployment is still there while qualified Iraqis, especially doctors, are leaving the country.

Iraqi refugees aren’t going to start coming back to a country still torn and wounded by the scars of past savage violence that claimed hundreds of thousands of people from all sides. This means pressure will remain on neighbouring countries where they have taken refuge, especially Jordan and Syria.

For the US, this doesn’t mean a quick pullout or a substantial reduction in troops and military budget. The Bush administration has apparently achieved this level of violence reduction by having sent 30,000 extra troops and allocating new military budgets in billions of dollars. A steep slide in violence can be advantageous to George Bush who will end his presidency feeling that he has accomplished his mission, regardless of the unpopularity he has got at home and abroad. This can make the job of the new administration easy as it will reap the fruits of Iraq invasion through colossal investments which will keep the US economy going and the US treasury getting back what has been spent on the war.

As the security situation in Iraq is fundamentally the concern of the Iraqis who have been paying for the current crisis in death and injuries, it’s unlikely the demographic aspect of Iraq will be restored to what it was like before the invasion and the start of violence. Baghdad as well as other areas where the Sunnis and the Shiaas used to live side by side will have the aspect of segregated areas.

The apparent improving situation in Iraq can be just a lull as the roots of the currents violence aren’t eradicated. Iraq is still far from having a national security force and army as it is known in stable countries. Currently, the Iraqis forces can't impose law and order without having coalition forces led by the US on their side. Arms are still in the hands of powerful militias like Moqtada Sadr's militias or the Mehdi Army. Differences can erupt at any time on the issue of oil revenues and power sharing. Each section is seeking to get more rather than give more through negotiations. Iraq will remain a no-go area in most parts as safety remains a concern. The fact that some American diplomats refused to join the US embassy in Baghdad explains to what extent Iraq is still a dangerous place, especially for the Americans whose army has a heavy presence there.

So in general, the “improving” situation in Iraq can be just good news for the military (the direct target of violence) and the politicians who try to capitalise on it. For Iraq as a country it will need years, if not decades, to get back to normal as the US and its allies will need more years of heavy presence to make sure things are under control according to their political agenda.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bhutto calling Musharraf to quit

Pakistan's detained opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has called for President Pervez Musharraf to step down.

Benazir Bhutto should be seen as the legacy of her father who was toppled and executed by the military. Times have changed since his death. But she remains in a sort of way the genie that comes out of the bottle from time to time only to create havoc or raise dusts that ought to be left covering what should be covered. May the exile for her was a reflection on how to make a strong comeback after the humiliations she suffered, being a guest in the United Arab Emirates and separated from her husband whose medical condition was affected by years of imprisonment.

Since Bhutto set foot in Pakistan, events started to unfold quickly, from bomb attacks, imposition of martial law by Musharraf to the threat by the Commonwealth Organisation to suspend Pakistan from it.

Benazir Bhutto should be seen as the future saviour of democracy in Pakistan. She seems to be among the few who have great charisma to put a stiff challenge to Musharraf. Ironically, in this Muslim country, Benazir, as a woman, is seen to have more courage to say no to Musharraf in defiance to his martial law and army. Maybe Musharraf’s mistake was to drop all the previous charges against her which were the reason for her eight years exile and an impediment to her safe return to her country.

Musharraf seems to be far from keeping to his words. He seems to be blowing hot and cold. He promised to step down as the head of the army if elected president. Once elected, he imposed martial law to keep as head of state and army chief. He imposed house arrest on Benazir Bhutto only to lift it shortly later. Then he sent hundreds of troops to surround her house to prevent her from leading public protests to his rule He declared elections to be held in February to change his mind for January. Pakistan seems to be living under Musharraf’s whims in the absence of democratic institutions. His rule is a striking example of one-man-show politics.

But it seems both Benazir and Bhutto as a heavy force should work jointly for the best of Pakistan. There should be democratic elections run in normal circumstances and not through martial law and the imprisonment of opposition members. Once the elections are over, the army should work for sustaining security and peace. As long as the army is the arbitrator in political matters, democracy will be weakened. Self-seeking politicians will ally themselves with the strongest side, currently the military, leaving democracy activists exposed to the threat of arrest and imprisonment. Maybe Pakistan military rulers should look to Turkey which succeeded in making a balance between military and civilian powers.

In a BBC interview, late King Hussein of Jordan was asked about the future of the Hashemite/ Jordanian monarchy. He wisely responded that the survival of Jordan was more important than that of the monarchy. Good politicians should think about what is best for their country and not just about the survival of the oligarchy they have created through their ferocious grip on power.

Musharraf is now responsible for the present situation in Pakistan through the policies he undertakes. Benazir is having a message for the future. It remains to see how she can be a successful leader in a volatile country, whose leaders are known to end their terms either by being overthrown and sent to exile like Nawaz Sharif or by death through accident as it was the case of Zia Ul Huq or execution as it was the single case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Listen to the BBC WHYS show on this issue.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Who should "shut up"?

Spain's King Juan Carlos told Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to " shut up" as the Ibero-American summit drew to a close in Santiago, Chile.

Chavez should learn to be diplomatic, especially when talking in public about politicians with whom he totally doesn't see eye to eye. Summit conferences shouldn’t become a theatre where speakers rival to be on spotlight in the media by uttering pejorative terms. In North Africa, the Libyan leader Gaddafi is known for his bizarre behaviour and speeches. When he was in Belgrade in the 80s, he brought with him 10 she-camels to drink their milk. He seems to have matured politically by refraining from such behaviour. Gaddafi once described late American president Roland Reagan as a cowboy to which he replied by describing him as the stray dog of the Middle East.

Saddam in his war of words with the USA and UK sparked disparaging terms. His former minister Tarik Aziz described USA as an elephant followed by UK the rat. Tony Blair once said that Saddam should be put in cage.

In 1991, after Iraq invasion of Kuwait there was an Arab foreign ministers conference. During lunch in this conference there was exchange of nasty words between the delegates as well as the throwing of plates at one another. In another Arab summit, there was footage of Gaddafi angrily addressing Egyptian Husni Mubarak asking him to go to hell. In 2003, there were angry exchanges between the head of the Iraqi delegation and that of the Kuwaiti delegation at the Arab League conference. So history of violent exchanges at summits and conferences isn’t short at least in the Arab world.

Once late Moroccan King Hassan II was asked by a Spanish journalist to give his opinion about the relations between Morocco and Spain. He replied that the Moroccans and the Spanish had the same temperament. They easily get hot under the collar. The same, in my opinion, can be said about the Arabs and people from the Mediterranean region. After all, people in Latin America are originally from this part of the world. It's no wonder if there are hot exchanges between them. After all the Spanish and the People in Latin America are cousins.

Concerning Chavez’s description of former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as 'fascist, he should have respect for the Spanish delegation, including the king. There are other terms to describe him without offending anyone. By saying so, this implies King Juan Carlos was behind his fascist policy and so the whole Spanish regime is fascist, as well. Maybe Chavez wants Spain to return to the rule of Franco regime so he can find a great ally in southern Europe to counterattack the improving relations between France and the USA.

Chavez considered his statement as a part of free speech. But considering his closure of TV station RCTV channel just contradicts his statements. He said he wouldn’t be silenced but he he’s free to silence his opponents. It’s better to use diplomatic terms for political effect. Using words just to attract the attention of the media and to get ordinary people talk isn’t the best way to do politics. In democratic societies such remarks are left to free media which is allowed to poke fun at anyone or make them look the ugliest. Heads of states should be above using terms which self-respecting and shrewd politicians refrain from using face to face with their opponents.

double ticket for double weight

A leading Australian nutritionist has urged airlines to charge obese passengers more for their seats.

Fat people can be embarrassing for their neighbours on planes. Passengers, although using common transport, need privacy. So sitting next to a very fat passenger gives the impression of being surrounded by a towering body which can even eclipse free view.

In the USA, the CNN reported some years ago the case of two fat black women companions who had complained about being obliged to pay double ticket each. They asked to pay for three tickets instead of four but this was refused. The airliner carrying them said that policy wasn’t enforced in internal flights but just on international ones.

As airliners have lenient policies towards the handicapped, it should have the same policy towards fat people as long as this doesn’t pose a problem to the passengers or affect the weight limits an aircraft has in transporting goods and people. There are some scientific researches showing that obesity can be genetic. So such fat people shouldn’t have double punishment: living with the medical consequences of their obesity and paying double for flights. After all, none of us choose to have an unpopular and unhealthy shape.

As a compromise, I suggest that airliners should “penalise” fat people through their luggage. If a fat person weighing, say, 120 kilogram and the normal weight should be 80 kilogram, they should carry only light luggage with them or they should pay double for the 40 kilograms of luggage weight if they have a heavy one instead of paying a double ticket. I know this sounds illogical.

But forcing people to pay double ticket to reduce weight won’t have the desired effect. There can be many fat people who rarely take a plane. Others used to taking first class will circumvent this penalty by taking second class. They can’t have the same comfort but at least they won’t feel they have paid double. So this decision to double the fee can be just symbolic. Its effect or popularity should be measured if it is implemented in other means of common transport like buses and trains, underground metros. Perhaps the most strident measure can be if fat people are given an ultimatum to reduce weight or they will lose their jobs or if recruitment for a job is based on weight.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Legalizing prostitution

Members of the Women's Institute (WI) in Hampshire have said they want to see brothels
legalised in the UK.

Legalising prostitution will remain problematic in many countries as this will be against their upheld cultural values. It will mean encouraging sexual freedom as a trade whereby the body is the item. Prostitutes are still a source of shame to their families. In some Middle Eastern countries women (married or unmarried) are killed for the family’s honour just because they seen or suspected of having an affair. In such countries, prostitutes should at least practise their profession away from home. In the Gulf States like Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, there seems to be a shortage of local prostitutes, so prostitutes are imported from other Arab countries like Egypt, Lebanon and Morocco. Some women go there of their own free will. Others are lured in going there by being offered in their home countries jobs like maids, hairdressers or waitresses to find themselves trapped into a prostitution network. Ironically, these countries posing as conservative and even strictly Islamic never officially admit such practices or they have thousands of prostitutes, especially from Arab and Asian countries.

Legalising prostitution in countries where sexual freedom is taken for granted needs other legal measures, like prostitutes displaying different prices for their different services, declaring their income, and getting social security like anyone practising a trade legally. They can be self-employed or create an association that can grow into a big company. We may hear in the future of prostitution international conferences where prostitutes exchange experiences on how to make their work more appealing. But one of the drawbacks of this profession is that the majority of prostitutes have to retire in their early forties, a relatively early age. Not being skilled in any work they will have to live on a pension and/or the money they have saved from their trade.

If this job is legalised, it means it won’t be criminal to deal with it as a trade. This means there will be qualification centres for prostitution giving would-be prostitutes advice on how to practise their trade safely without running the risk of falling into the paws of networks that will exploit them without guaranteeing them any rights.

One last point, society shouldn’t continue to be hypocritical about this issue. Prostitution is one of the most lucrative trades. Without which many services can’t operate like tourism, hotels, and bars and so on. Prostitution is a fact. No legislation has so far succeeded in fighting it altogether. It’s there around us. Prostitutes are in the corner or simply on the internet. They have developed their means to attract their clients. But societies like to keep this hypocritical attitude in the hope that one day it will be totally eradicated. But as long as sexual conduct – such as adultery - hasn’t changed despite time and different aspects of civilisation, prostitution will be there. Societies which have accepted same sex marriage, doesn’t penalize incest, should be more forward and legalize prostitution. After all, legalizing it will not necessarily mean an increase in the number of prostitutes, but it will transparently reflect a trend still regarded as a taboo. As any other job, it needs people with orientation for it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Human rights and political alliances

It is a common policy by US administrations to seek allies in the third world it can do business with. Latin America used to be ruled by bloody military dictatorships. One of the bloodiest dictators was Pinochet who was seen by the USA as its ally against the spread of communism in this part of the world led by Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

So it’s no wonder if the US is finding in Musharraf an excellent ally in its fight against Al Qaeda which still has strongholds in many of the inaccessible parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. An interesting remark is that many of US allies in the third world have a poor record on human rights according to Human rights Watch. Saudi Arabia is an example of the countries enjoying full American support despite its lack of democratic practices as it was envisaged by Pt Bush in his plan for Middle East democracy. As long as might in politics is considered as right, wrongs will be overlooked as putting them right can results in adverse wrongs to the parties seeking to make things right.

Pakistan has always been known for its lack of democratic transitions in power as power shifts from one leader to another through military coups, making democratic elections bringing to power the likes of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif an exception rather than the rule. The US seems to be dealing with Pakistan as it is and adapting to its political reality as long as it isn’t standing in its way to fight its enemies.

The other point is that currently the US can only trust the military now that Pakistan has become a nuclear power. Letting this country get out of hand will make it a big ally of countries opponent to the US like Iran. As long as trouble is limited in Pakistan through sporadic demonstrations, repressions and bomb attacks without shaking the position of the military, Pakistan will look for the US as the best political deal it can get. It can’t force Musharraf to reduce his powers for the benefit of parties that can turn against the USA. It’s a deal. Musharraf needs the US for his survival. The US needs Musharraf “to protect America and protect American lives by continuing to fight against terrorists". It’s a battle of survival at whatever cost. That‘s what politics is about.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

US presidential race and world expectations

Barrack Obama should be elected president to break the historic routine of US presidents of Anglo-Saxon descent. US should have a new face abroad and at home. USA needs to improve its image among Muslims who see it as Israel unconditional supporter, Iraq invader and a menace to Iran.

Whoever is elected as president should work hard to improve the image of the USA tarnished by the foreign policy of the current Bush Administration after 9/11. Any future president should make USA look benign instead of a monstrously bullying nation through its war machine and economic sanctions. USA needs the popular support of the countries it wants to do business with and not just a coercive alliance with puppet regimes that through them it secures its strategic and economic superiority.

Perhaps small countries should learn to balance their relation worldwide. Relying on a single power is like putting all one’s eggs in a single basket, with the risk of having all smashed out at a very short notice.