Weekend Edition

April 24th, 2015

Not all veils and guns

April 24th, 2015

by B.R. GOWANI

Sania Mirza (right) created history by becoming the first female tennis player from India to achieve the world number one rank in doubles, following her stupendous title win at the WTA Family Circle Cup with partner Martina Hingis. PHOTO/First Post

The influence of the western media, especially the US, can be gauged from its success in creating the image of Muslim men as gun-toting religious fanatics and that of Muslim women as veiled ignorant cows. From Australia to the United States this image is now permanently engraved on the minds of the majority of westerners, and on many others’ who would like to see Muslims in that light because of their countries’ disputes with neighboring Muslim countries. And yet there are others who would equate Muslim sympathy for the suffering of Palestine, Iraq, or Afghanistan, as “terrorism.”

There are terrorists in all communities, including Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim. On the other hand, like other religious communities, Islam also has artists, intellectuals, athletes, entertainers, and rebels.

If a terrorist incident happens in Sri Lanka (where the majority is Buddhist), which the electronic media finds it worthy to display, than Sri Lanka will be in the news once only — unless the US is planning to wage a war against that nation, in which case the coverage will be 24/7.

There are over fifty countries where the majority of the population is Muslim. If the above criterion is applied to Muslim countries, than over fifty times those countries will be in the news. Now add the past animosities of the Crusades; the late 1940s creation of Israel on Palestinian land; Western greed for the Middle Eastern oil — which is the US “national interest;” the total US control of Middle East oil in order to cut off its allies Europe and Japan’s oil supplies, in case they show any trace of independent policies; its support of China’s oil-rich neighbors (the Central Asian nations) with the aim of locking China’s energy requirements when present relations deteriorate; its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan; its planning of war against Iran; and its dragging of Pakistan into the “war on terror.”

Reader can now imagine how many times the Muslim countries will be in the news?

After 2001’s ghastly act on the US soil, no other terroristic incident has happened and yet the government and the news media never shy away from creating a fear mania.

Paranoia makes people, as well as nations, do all sorts of crazy things. However, the US has gone pathologically crazy. Two news items of last year will make it clear: The FBI went through the grocery stores’ customers’ data for the year 2005 and 2006 for the San Francisco area. Its aim was to check any rise in the sales of Middle Eastern food such as falafel, together with other information, and thus get to the Iranian agents in the area. However, it was discontinued after the operation’s legality was questioned.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s Deputy Chief, Michael P. Downing, ordered general mapping of Muslim areas “seeking to identify at-risk communities,” because he is “looking for communities and enclaves based on risk factors that are likely to become isolated.” The LAPD wants to “reach out to these communities,” and for that it’s necessary “to know where the Pakistanis, Iranians and Chechens are.”

Five words sums up the LAPD plan: Keep an eye on Muslims.

Under heavy criticism the plan was shelved.

There are three million Muslims in the United States. Let’s say that 1 per cent, or 30,000 of them, are terrorists and on average four of them join hands to carry on their nefarious activities. So now we have 7,500 terrorist groups and they all plan to destroy this country. However, out of those 7,500, only 1 per cent or 75 groups (or 300 “terrorists”) succeed in their plan. Imagine the scale of devastation! If they attack the major highways, airports, sea ports, bridges, down towns, and rail tracks the US economy would come to a standstill and China would be at its doorstep asking back for its loaned money. (Not that the US is going to pay back. It would probably declare a war on China-a final nail in the coffin of US imperialism.)

(Encyclopedia Britannica, PBS, and many others give a figure of 5 to 7 million where as some Jewish groups go for half that number. May be they are right or perhaps it’s their anti-Muslim bias. I have gone for the lower figure to make the Jewish Lobby happy. On the contrary, the Lobby in this example would, I am sure, prefer the higher figure.

The US State Department says that by 2010 the number of Muslims in the US will exceed that of Jews. Currently there are about two per cent Jews, or approximately 6 million.

In TV news, they frequently show how the reporters just slip in at the major airports without going through the security checks. So it is not an impossible task.

Like many non-Muslims, Muslims may feel hurt by the deaths and devastation visited upon Iraq and Afghanistan by the US. There may be many who would feel outraged and will think about avenging. But basically it is limited to that feeling only. Next day they may be going (as students, employees, or owners) to their offices, educational institutions, courts, liquor stores, gas stations, motels, hotels, and other working and business places.

But the image persists because the ordinary people are not given any respite from constant hateful bombardments from the mad media.

Another familiar sight on the TV news is the introductory footage to items about Muslim countries, which invariably shows Muslim men in various postures of prayer, as if they don’t do anything else in life. One can only wonder as to how the Muslim population is on the rise (besides the new converts), or how the economy runs, or how the underpaid adults and children produce goods for the Western countries, or so many other things.

Not every Muslim man is brandishing a gun nor is every woman clad in a burka.

Many Muslims are not only proficient in their fields but several of them also create history. A tiny uneven sample related to few fields:

Leila Ahmed is a professor who teaches at the Harvard Divinity School and is the author of “Women and Gender in Islam” and her autobiography “A Border Passage: From Cairo to America, a Woman’s Journey.”

Halid Beslic is a famous Bosnian folk singer.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (previously Yasmin Damji) is a journalist who lives in London, England, and writes for London’s Independent newspaper. Prior to that, she used to write for New Statesman. She frequently appears on BBC to debate on racialism and other issues.

Shamim Ara started out as an actress, a very fine and successful one, who later turned film producer and director. She is South Asia’s most prolific and successful woman director.
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India’s wrong priorities: As children go hungry PM Modi buys fighter jets in France

April 24th, 2015

by JEAN-PIERRE LEHMANN

Water distribution and access to sanitation in Indian villages are terrible; girls (and it is always girls!) need to walk huge distances to fetch water from wells, thereby missing out on school. Over a-third of females in India are illiterate; there are more illiterate females in India than in the rest of the world combined.

On the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent state visit to France (GDP per capita, $42,000) it was announced that India (GDP per capita, $6,000) would purchase 36 “ready to fly” Rafale fighter jets from French aerospace behemoth Dassault Aviation. Great news for France! This brings in revenue and creates lots of jobs. This is especially so as there have been difficulties getting customers; so far, until PM Modi’s proposed purchase, the only sale had been to Egyptian military dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The implications for India, however, are depressing: one more vivid illustration of misguided policies at the expense of the poor. 960 million Indians live on less than $2 a day. Reading the data is one thing; seeing the consequences, as I did recently driving through the slums on the outskirts of Jaipur, is heart-wrenching. Their plight could not be worse. Rafale jet fighters are about the last thing they need!

India will soon surpass China to become the world’s most populous nation, reaching 1.6 billion by the middle of the century. The demographic profiles of the two countries are totally different. Whereas China faces the challenges of a rapidly aging society, hence a decrease in the labor pool; with its huge demographic dividend (50% of the population is less than 25, 65% less than 35) India needs to create millions and millions of jobs. If hundreds of millions of Indians remain mired in poverty and the young fail to be educated, employed and motivated, the consequences could be truly dramatic for Indians, but also for the world in the 21st century. Not only will India have failed; humanity will have failed.

India matters to the world. With a civilization stretching back thousands of years, India has a great deal to contribute to global civilization. The richer India is not only materially, but also culturally and spiritually, the richer the planet is; this had been the case for centuries until the impoverishment of the country caused by 200 years of British colonialism. (But that should be a challenge, not an excuse!)

In short, India has a lot to offer the world; but to be in a position to do so it has to improve radically the lives of hundreds of millions of its own citizens. A country that has 44% of its children under five suffering from malnutrition – providing the world with one-third of the total population of hungry children – can perhaps become a world power (if it keeps on buying state-of-the-art French fighter jets), but certainly not a world role model: India’s purchase of fighter jets may be a means to achieve greater hard power, but in the process, as domestic social conditions of misery and injustice continue to fester, it is losing soft power.

Forbes for more

via South Asia Citizens Web

Yes, you can catch insanity

April 24th, 2015

by ANDREW CURRY

One day in March 2010, Isak McCune started clearing his throat with a forceful, violent sound. The New Hampshire toddler was 3, with a Beatles mop of blonde hair and a cuddly, loving personality. His parents had no idea where the guttural tic came from. They figured it was springtime allergies.

Soon after, Isak began to scream as if in pain and grunt at his parents and peers. When he wasn’t throwing hours-long tantrums, he stared vacantly into space. By the time he was 5, he was plagued by insistent, terrifying thoughts of death. “He would smash his head into windows and glass whenever the word ‘dead’ came into his head. He was trying to drown out the thoughts,” says his mother, Robin McCune, a baker in Goffstown, a small town outside Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city.

Isak’s parents took him to pediatricians, therapy appointments, and psychiatrists. He was diagnosed with a host of disorders: sensory processing disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). At 5, he spent a year on Prozac, “and seemed to get worse on it,” says Robin McCune.

The McCunes tried to make peace with the idea that their son might never come back. In kindergarten, he grunted and screamed, frightening his teachers and classmates. “He started hearing voices, thought he saw things, he couldn’t go to the bathroom alone,” Robin McCune says. “His fear was immense and paralyzing.”

But as Isak’s illness dragged into its fourth year, they reconsidered the possibility. The year before the epic meltdowns began, his older brother had four strep infections; perhaps it was more than coincidence. In September 2013, three and a half years after his first tics appeared, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist in Boston put Isak on azithromycin, a common antibiotic used to treat food poisoning, severe ear infections, and particularly persistent cases of strep throat.

The results were dramatic. Isak’s crippling fear vanished within days. Then he stopped grunting. Less than a week after starting his son on the antibiotic, Adam McCune saw Isak smile for the first time in nearly four years. After a few weeks, the tantrums that had held the family hostage for years faded away.

Nautilus for more

Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)

April 23rd, 2015

Past, present, and future: Interview with Eduardo Galeano

by JORGE MAJFUD

Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano (left) shaking hand with late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela PHOTO/BBC

J. M.: Okay, more to the point, could you sum up cruelty in an image, in a situation that you have experienced?

E. G.: It happened to me years ago, in a truck that was crossing the upper Paraná. Except for me, everyone was from that area. Nobody spoke. We were packed closely together, in the bed of the truck, bouncing around. Next to me, a very poor woman, with a baby in her arms. The baby was burning with fever, crying. The woman just said that she needed a doctor, that somewhere there had to be a doctor. And finally we arrived somewhere, I don’t know how many hours had gone by, the baby hadn’t cried for a long time. I helped that woman get off the truck. When I picked up the baby, I saw that the baby was dead. The killer who had committed this cruelty was an entire system of power, neither in prison nor traveling around on rickety old trucks.

J. M.: Are we witnessing the end of capitalism, of a paradigm based on consumerism and financial success, or is this simply one more crisis which will end up strengthening the system itself, the same hegemonic culture?

E. G.: I frequently receive invitations to attend the burial of capitalism. We know quite well, however, that this system — which privatizes its profits but kindly socializes its losses and, as if that weren’t enough, tries to convince us that that is philanthropy — will live more than seven lives. To a great degree, capitalism feeds off the discrediting of its alternatives. The word socialism, for example, has been emptied of meaning, by the bureaucracy that used it in the name of the people and by the social democracy that in its name modernized capitalism’s look. We know that this capitalist system is managing quite well to survive the catastrophes that it unleashes. We don’t know, on the other hand, how many lives its main victim — the planet we inhabit, squeezed to the last drop — will be able to live. Where will we move, when the planet is left without water, without land, without air? The company Lunar International is already selling plots of land on the moon. At the end of 2008, the Russian multimillionaire Roman Abramovich made a gift of a little plot to his fiancée.

J. M.: Can we compare the appearance of the Internet with the revolution produced by the printing press in the 15th century?

E. G.: I have no idea, but it is important to remember that the printing press was not born in the 15th century. The Chinese had invented it two centuries earlier. In reality, the three inventions that made the Renaissance possible were all Chinese inventions: the printing press, the compass, and gunpowder. I don’t know if education has improved today, but before we used to learn a universal history reduced to the history of Europe. From the Middle East, nothing or almost nothing. Not a word about China, nothing about India. And about Africa, we only knew what professor Tarzan taught us, and he was never there. And about the American past, about the pre-Colombian world, some little folkloric thing, a few colored feathers . . . and ciao.

Monthly Review Zine for more

Eduardo Galeano ruptured the veins of imperialism in Latin America

by MARK FRIED and SHARMINI PERIES

Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer, poet and cultural critic of our time, died on Monday at age seventy-four. This evokes my memory of the fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009 that was held in Port of Spain, where Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in a very hopeful mood gave the newly elected President of the United States Barack Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America. President Obama was making his first diplomatic visit to the region.

This act really resonated with me, as I worked for President Chávez for several years, and this is the first of many books that President Chávez had given me. Eduardo Galeano’s book, Open Veins of Latin America. Perhaps the book made a difference to Barack Obama. As I begin this interview, President Obama lifted Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror.

The Real News for more

Memories of an afternoon with the late Eduardo Galeano

Galeano was an iconic literary and intellectual figure of the Latin American Left, but his work has a global footprint. Arguably among the most influential books of the second half of the 20th century, his landmark 1971 Open Veins of Latin America has been translated into more than a dozen languages and sold over a million copies. It stands with Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized, and Gillo Pontecorvo’s film The Battle of Algiers, as part of the pantheon of anti-colonialism and Third Worldism. Hamid Dabashi calls Galeano a “creative voice of an alternative historiography, a mode of subaltern thinking and writing before a number of Bengali historians made the term globally popular.”

Open Veins of Latin America was banned under the murderous military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay alike, and Galeano himself was driven into exile under his country’s regime during the 1970s. In 2009 the book made international headlines—and saw a major surge in sales—when Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez personally presented Barack Obama with a copy.

But while Open Veins was Galeano’s best-known work, his magnum opus was a trilogy titled Memory of Fire. My friend Scott Sherman captures it beautifully:

Unquestionably Galeano’s masterwork, Memory of Fire is a kind of secret history of the Americas, told in hundreds of kaleidoscopic vignettes that resurrected the lives of campesinos and slaves, dictators and scoundrels, poets and visionaries. Memoirs, novels, bits of poetry, folklore, forgotten travel books, ecclesiastical histories, revisionist monographs, Amnesty Inrnational reports — all of these sources constituted the raw material of Galeano’s sprawling mosaic.

Indeed, Galeano “rivals such masters of the fable as Kafka,” the literary critic Michael Dirda once wrote.

by DANNY POSTEL

In These Times for more

Gunter Grass (1927-2015)

April 23rd, 2015

Günter Grass: the man who broke the silence

Günter Grass (centre) with then German chancellor Willy Brandt (right) and his colleague Heinrich Böll (left) during the first congress of the German Writers’ Association in Stuttgart, January 1970. PHOTO/Dick/EPA

Truth-teller, controversialist, affectionate friend – above all, ingenious and inspirational novelist … Orhan Pamuk, John Irving and other writers salute Günter Grass, who died this week

Rachel Seiffert

Günter Grass was a name I knew long before I read him. His volumes lived on my parents’ bookshelves, the somewhat po-faced flounder on the dust jacket of Der Butt (The Flounder) an unsettling but nonetheless compelling call to open the covers. Grass was an artist as well as a writer, and famously designed his own book jackets. The image he created for Der Butt – a dark line-drawing, a fish depicted whispering into a listening ear – is redolent of secrets, of unease.

He established himself from the first as an exposer of Third Reich shame and secrets, The Tin Drum dismantling the failures of his parents’ generation with a shrewd and deft storyteller’s irony. Bold and very funny, often grotesquely so, the following two volumes of his Danzig trilogy confirmed him as the moral compass for a generation of postwar German leftwingers. Over his career he became a thorn in the side not just of conservatives, but ideologues of all kinds.

By the 1970s, his books were publishing events, with enormous first print runs, advance copies in the thousands and reading tours that pulled in significant audiences. His modus operandi, like Oskar, his drumming protagonist, was to make a big noise. He sought to do this, increasingly, through controversy, enraging feminists with the amoral philandering anti-hero of Der Butt, for example. More recently, in 2012, he got himself banned from Israel over a poem about Iran.

The Tin Drum remains a model of excellence: a book to find solace in for its wit and sharp-eyed characterisation. Anna Bronski, the drumming Oskar’s grandmother, is one of world literature’s great supporting characters, and I frequently use extracts of her depiction when running seminars on the writer’s craft. He also spoke out against the reunification process. In that brief and turbulent time after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but before the two Germanys were joined again, many in the east debated the idea of remaining a separate state, even of having another go at socialism, without the Wall and the Stasi. However unrealistic this seems with hindsight, or when seen from the outside, for countless East Germans, the pace and presumption of reunification were an affront. Grass’s approach to this was typically intemperate: he compared the process to Hitler’s annexation of Austria. By then, he seemed always to have half an eye on his reputation.

But his books mattered; in his heyday, there was a sense that literary fiction should and did matter. He wasn’t alone: Heinrich Böll, his fellow German Nobel laureate, also took Third Reich guilt and postwar silences as his themes, and Walter Kempowski, whose Echolot and final novel are now available in English translation, used dry wit to underscore his countrymen’s hypocrisies. Grass, however, was arguably the key public literary figure of that generation; his work essential reading for the German book-buying public, whether they approved of him or not. My Hamburg grandmother fell into the latter category, but she insisted my cultural education – one of those stiffly German notions, which Grass so delighted in thumbing his nose at – would be incomplete without his stories.

With his revelation, late in life, of his teenage Waffen-SS membership, Grass became the story; the secret he kept back, almost to the last, making his life’s narrative seem more tightly – and more conventionally – plotted than any of his fiction. It was distasteful, given the moral status he’d so long enjoyed and exploited, and perhaps especially given that it came out as part of the advance publicity for his memoirs. For many, this was the last straw: who could take him seriously any more?

The revelation has figured prominently in every obituary and article I’ve read this week, and rightly so but for the pall it casts over the brilliance of Grass’s early work. This does the writing, if not the man, an injustice; it might even be missing the point. Grass was a phenomenon: a man of so many parts. Artist, sculptor, journalist, speechwriter. Acid-penned novelist, derider of silences, pricker of postwar consciences and complacent West German bubbles. Attention-seeker, celebrity author and political animal. It was salutary, and bitingly ironic, to discover him to be also (as the Germans say) stinknormal, stinkingly normal. His wartime record reads like that of any number of other German teenage boys at the time. Tarred, in the end, with the same brush he wielded, and with the same historical brush as his nation, Grass led an exemplary – in both senses – 20th-century German life.

The Guardian for more

Trans-Pacific Partnership versus equality and democracy

April 23rd, 2015

by EDWARD S. HERMAN

It has been interesting to see how President Obama and even the leading Republicans have come to accept that inequality is perhaps excessive and needs to be addressed. The President has followed this through by proposing modest tax increases on the rich, modest public investments in education and infrastructure, a small increase in the rate of pay of military personnel and federal workers, and a small sum for trade displacement assistance. The Republicans will rely on freedom from Obama’s oppressive rule, along with their longstanding faith in trickle-down economics.

Some cynics have explained Obama’s modest boldness in this dangerous terrain on the basis of its sure failure of implementation given the Republican majorities in House and Senate. But it is also interesting that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that Obama has been pushing hard, for which he seeks fast-track approval (with no on-the-floor debate or amendments), would have a significant negative effect on equality, offsetting any positives based on the (unlikely) enactment of his pro-equality proposals.

The TPP would encourage further out-sourcing and job and tax revenue loss, a further weakening of labor’s bargaining power, windfalls for the wealthy from enhanced copyright and patent protection, along with reduced government revenue for social spending. This is a rerun of the 1993-1995 experience with NAFTA, where Bill Clinton ran roughshod over his popular base and Democratic majority in order to serve corporate interests, with measurably negative effects on jobs, wages and income equality. (See Jeff Faux, “NAFTA at 20: State of the American Worker,” Foreign Policy in Focus, December 13, 2013.) The mainstream media then and now have backed the job-killing and inequality increasing “economic freedom” agenda and, while the Republicans will not permit passage of Obama’s explicitly anti-inequality proposals, many of them will join with him in this program that a large segment of the business elite supports.

It should be noted that TPP, like NAFTA, focuses heavily on investors’ (i.e., corporate) rights, not reducing tariffs; only 4 of its 29 chapters deal with trade. But free trade sounds much more virtuous than “investors rights,” so for PR and the mainstream media it is a “free trade agreement.” (See Mark Weisbrot, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty is the Complete Opposite of ‘Free Trade’,” Guardian, November 19, 2013.) It is also notable how the Obama administration has tried to avoid any democratic input into the formulation of this agreement. Mr. Transparency has once again outdone himself in reducing transparency and trying to jam through an agreement that will threaten and damage public rights without public knowledge or debate, formulated in secret mainly in collaboration with corporate representatives. Fortunately for the public interest and democracy there is that traitorous creature Julian Assange whose organization WikiLeaks tapped into the secret negotiations and on November 13, 2013, released a 95-page draft text of a proposed chapter on “Intellectual Property Rights.” Quoting from the Wiki-Leaks release: “That 30,000-word IP Chapter lays out provisions for instituting a far-reaching, transnational legal and enforcement regime, modifying or replacing existing laws in TPP member states. The Chapter’s subsections include agreements relating to patents (who may produce goods or drugs), copyrights (who may transmit information), trademarks (who may describe information or goods as authentic) and industrial design.

Z Communications for more

Secret files reveal the structure of Islamic State

April 22nd, 2015

by CHRISTOPH REUTER

Haji Bakr, the secretive strategic head of Islamic State, was killed in early 2014. At first, Syrian rebels didn’t know who they had killed. But when they realized, they searched the house, gathering up computers, passports, mobile phone SIM cards, a GPS device and, most importantly, papers. They didn’t find a Koran anywhere.

Aloof. Polite. Cajoling. Extremely attentive. Restrained. Dishonest. Inscrutable. Malicious. The rebels from northern Syria, remembering encounters with him months later, recall completely different facets of the man. But they agree on one thing: “We never knew exactly who we were sitting across from.”

In fact, not even those who shot and killed him after a brief firefight in the town of Tal Rifaat on a January morning in 2014 knew the true identity of the tall man in his late fifties. They were unaware that they had killed the strategic head of the group calling itself “Islamic State” (IS). The fact that this could have happened at all was the result of a rare but fatal miscalculation by the brilliant planner. The local rebels placed the body into a refrigerator, in which they intended to bury him. Only later, when they realized how important the man was, did they lift his body out again.

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi was the real name of the Iraqi, whose bony features were softened by a white beard. But no one knew him by that name. Even his best-known pseudonym, Haji Bakr, wasn’t widely known. But that was precisely part of the plan. The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was.

But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated. Spiegel has gained exclusive access to the 31 pages, some consisting of several pages pasted together. They reveal a multilayered composition and directives for action, some already tested and others newly devised for the anarchical situation in Syria’s rebel-held territories. In a sense, the documents are the source code of the most successful terrorist army in recent history.

Until now, much of the information about IS has come from fighters who had defected and data sets from the IS internal administration seized in Baghdad. But none of this offered an explanation for the group’s meteoric rise to prominence, before air strikes in the late summer of 2014 put a stop to its triumphal march.

For the first time, the Haji Bakr documents now make it possible to reach conclusions on how the IS leadership is organized and what role former officials in the government of ex-dictator Saddam Hussein play in it. Above all, however, they show how the takeover in northern Syria was planned, making the group’s later advances into Iraq possible in the first place. In addition, months of research undertaken by SPIEGEL in Syria, as well as other newly discovered records, exclusive to SPIEGEL, show that Haji Bakr’s instructions were carried out meticulously.

Spiegel Online International for more

Chronicle of a death online

April 22nd, 2015

by KANNAN SUNDARAM

Speaking Up: “[Sri Lankan writer] Sharmila [Seyyid, on the left,] continues to be in partial hiding, fearful of her child’s safety, but still bold and confident.” “On the night of January 8, on the pointed advice of the police, Perumal Murugan [on the right] fled his hometown with his family. A day later, Tiruchengode town observed a total shutdown protesting his novel, “Mathorubhagan.” This came after weeks of abusive and threatening phone calls. Earlier, on December 26, an illegal assembly of people burnt copies of his book, demanded a ban on the book and the arrest of its author and its publisher.” PHOTO/TEXT/The Hindu

First exiled from her country, Sri Lankan writer Sharmila Seyyid, has now been ‘raped’ and ‘killed’ online.

Fundamentalism knows no boundaries. In India, it was Perumal Murugan who announced the death of the writer in him. In Sri Lanka, writer Sharmila Seyyid was ‘raped’ and ‘murdered’ online on March 28, marking a new low in the history of intolerance. If casteist and Hindutva forces drove the writer in Mr. Murugan to death, it was fundamentalist Muslim groups who ‘killed’ Ms. Seyyid online. A seemingly real news report of the event, accompanied by a gory photoshopped picture of Ms. Seyyid’s body, went viral. Its impact was so real that her family and friends rushed to her home in shock and sorrow.

Her father Seyyid Ahmed wrote in his complaint in Eravur police station in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka that there has been a concerted effort to incite hatred in the Muslim community against his daughter. Threats of kidnapping were also sent to Ms. Seyyid’s younger sister. It has become hard for the family to live in the community amidst all the rumours and suspicion, Mr. Ahmed said. He greatly fears for the lives of his daughters and their children.

The controversy

Ms. Seyyid, a single mother, journalist, activist and writer, was barely 30 when she was in the eye of the controversy that forced her into self-exile from eastern Sri Lanka. She has a graduate degree in journalism, and is the founder-president of the Organisation for Social Development, established in 2009, a community-based organisation in Eravur. On November 18, 2012, she was interviewed on BBC TamilOsai after her first collection of poems Siragu Mulaitha Penn (The women who grew wings) was released in Sri Lanka. Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem, speaking at the event, highlighted a few of her poems, one of which one was about sex workers.

In response to a question from the BBC reporter, Ms. Seyyid said that legalising sex work would help protect sex workers. This was interpreted as endorsing prostitution, considered haram in Islam. The threatening calls began soon after. By the next morning, Ms. Seyyid had received hundreds of missed calls on her mobile phone. There were news reports that condemned her for supporting sex work and the social media joined in.

Ms. Seyyid issued a clarification explaining that she was only highlighting a social reality and did not intend to defy Islamic tenets. She expressed regret for unwittingly hurting people’s sentiments. But when clergy compelled her to retract the statement, she refused. An English academy she ran along with her sister was damaged in an attack and an attempt was made to burn it down. She fled Sri Lanka soon after, but the online world continued to watch her every move and hound her. She has been warned repeatedly for posting photographs on Facebook of herself without a purdah. When she posted a photo album of selfies with her son, she was warned for posing playfully like a ‘mendicant in penance’.

The Hindu for more

via South Asia Citizens Web

Noam Chomsky on the roots of American Racism

April 22nd, 2015

by GEORGE YANCY and NOAM CHOMSKY

In 1619, the Dutch introduced the first captured Africans to America, planting the seeds of a slavery system that evolved into a nightmare of abuse and cuelty that would ultimately divide the nation. IMAGE/History

This is the eighth in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Noam Chomsky, a linguist, political philosopher and one of the world’s most prominent public intellectuals. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, “On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare,” with Andre Vltchek.

– George Yancy

George Yancy: When I think about the title of your book “On Western Terrorism,” I’m reminded of the fact that many black people in the United States have had a long history of being terrorized by white racism, from random beatings to the lynching of more than 3,000 black people (including women) between 1882 and 1968. This is why in 2003, when I read about the dehumanizing acts committed at Abu Ghraib prison, I wasn’t surprised. I recall that after the photos appeared President George W. Bush said that “This is not the America I know.” But isn’t this the America black people have always known?

Noam Chomsky: The America that “black people have always known” is not an attractive one. The first black slaves were brought to the colonies 400 years ago. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that during this long period there have been only a few decades when African-Americans, apart from a few, had some limited possibilities for entering the mainstream of American society.

We also cannot allow ourselves to forget that the hideous slave labor camps of the new “empire of liberty” were a primary source for the wealth and privilege of American society, as well as England and the continent. The industrial revolution was based on cotton, produced primarily in the slave labor camps of the United States.

As is now known, they were highly efficient. Productivity increased even faster than in industry, thanks to the technology of the bullwhip and pistol, and the efficient practice of brutal torture, as Edward E. Baptist demonstrates in his recent study, “The Half Has Never Been Told.” The achievement includes not only the great wealth of the planter aristocracy but also American and British manufacturing, commerce and the financial institutions of modern state capitalism.

It is, or should be, well-known that the United States developed by flatly rejecting the principles of “sound economics” preached to it by the leading economists of the day, and familiar in today’s sober instructions to latecomers in development. Instead, the newly liberated colonies followed the model of England with radical state intervention in the economy, including high tariffs to protect infant industry, first textiles, later steel and others.

The New York Times for more