The world’s water

November 19th, 2018


PHOTO/The Global Education Project

Fresh water accounts for 2.8% of the world’s water: 69.7% in glaciers, 30% in aquifers and 0.3% in surface water bodies (lakes and rivers).

Eight of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers are overexploited and depleted beyond the point of renewal.

Some 1.7 billion people live in basins where water consumption is greater than the available volume or renewal capacity. The UN predicts that by 2025, if consumption continues at its present rate, half of the world’s population will be living in ‘water stressed areas’, where water supply is less than 1,700 cubic metres per person per year.

Europe has 8% of the world’s fresh water and 13% of its population.

South America is one of the areas richest in water, with 28% of the world’s reserves and 6% of its population.

Lima (Peru) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) are among 20 major cities already under, or at risk of, water stress.

Sources: The World Bank; Centre d’Information sur l’Eau; United Nations; University of California

Le Monde Diplomatique for more

Killer politicians

November 19th, 2018


Americans are rightly horrified at Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, yet most fail to recognize that their own leaders’ murderous ways may be little different than those who ordered Khashoggi’s death. The pervasiveness of state-sponsored killings is no excuse for treating murder as acceptable, ever.

“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” asked Henry II as he instigated the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, in 1170. Down through the ages, presidents and princes around the world have been murderers and accessories to murder, as the great Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin and Walter Lunden documented in statistical detail in their masterwork Power and Morality. One of their main findings was that the behavior of ruling groups tends to be more criminal and amoral than that of the people over whom they rule.

What rulers crave most is deniability. But with the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government, the poisoning of former Russian spies living in the United Kingdom, and whispers that the head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, may have been executed in China, the curtain has been slipping more than usual of late. In Riyadh, Moscow, and even Beijing, the political class is scrambling to cover up its lethal ways.

But no one should feel self-righteous here. American presidents have a long history of murder, something unlikely to trouble the current incumbent, Donald Trump, whose favorite predecessor, Andrew Jackson, was a cold-blooded murderer, slaveowner, and ethnic cleanser of native Americans. For Harry Truman, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima spared him the likely high cost of invading Japan. But the second atomic bombing, of Nagasaki, was utterly indefensible and took place through sheer bureaucratic momentum: the bombing apparently occurred without Truman’s explicit order.

Since 1947, the deniability of presidential murder has been facilitated by the CIA, which has served as a secret army (and sometime death squad) for American presidents. The CIA has been a party to murders and mayhem in all parts of the world, with almost no oversight or accountability for its countless assassinations. It is possible, though not definitively proved, that the CIA even assassinated UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.

The CIA has only been held to public account on one occasion: the 1975 US Senate hearings led by Frank Church. Since then, the CIA has continued its violent and, yes, murderous ways, without any accountability for it or for the presidents who authorized its actions.

Many mass killings by presidents have involved the conventional military. Lyndon Johnson escalated US military intervention in Vietnam on the pretext of a North Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. Richard Nixon went further: by carpet-bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, he sought to instill in the Soviet Union the fear that he was an irrational leader capable of anything. (Nixon’s willingness to implement his “madman theory” is perhaps the self-fulfilling proof of his madness.) In the end, the Johnson-Nixon American war in Indochina cost millions of innocent lives. There was never a true accounting, and perhaps the opposite: plenty of precedents for later mass killings by US forces.

Project Syndicate for more

Oppression of Pakistan’s caricatured feudalism

November 19th, 2018


Large swathes of Pakistan are in the stranglehold of caricatured feudalism. These feudal relations are increasingly penetrated by finance capital as it imposes itself on social relations, politics and the economy itself. It has made the lives of millions miserable, deepening and brutalizing class exploitation. Rampant inequality and poverty remain chronic issues as millions can still be considered bonded labour. Such a harrowing situation is revealed by the fact that only five percent of agricultural households in Pakistan own nearly two-thirds of the farmland.

In the Indian subcontinent, the system prevailing before the advent of the British was known as Asiatic Mode of Production, or as Karl Marx put it, “Asiatic despotism.” The land was not privately owned but a common ownership of agricultural land. In this sense it was egalitarian. Feudalism was imposed by British imperialists through the Permanent Settlements Act. “Classical” feudalism, as described within the European context, never existed.

The Permanent Settlement Act was introduced first in Bengal and Bihar by the East India Company’s administrative head and later extended by Governor General, Lord Cornwallis over northern India in a series of regulations dated 1 May 1793. With it the British colonialists bestowed vast tracts of land mainly to the revenue collectors (zemindars) in order to raise land revenue. This grafted native Indians onto the British structure, ensuring their loyalty to British authority.

After partition, this class along with the comprador bourgeoisie became Pakistan’s hybrid ruling class. In their failure to carryout a national democratic revolution as the European bourgeois did in the 18th and 19th centuries Pakistan’s capitalists failed to abolish feudalism. Thus Pakistan was suspended in a hybrid model of feudal and capitalist relations.

Over the last few decades, a new form of feudalism emerged particularly during the periods of military dictatorship. With the help of the state machinery, the poor, small landholders are forced to hand over their land to a particular family for insignificant sums. New feudal owners like Jahangir Tareen of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf now own thousands of acres of land. He has become a typical Pakistani feudalist: a “well-educated” person who, with the help of military dictators, was able to buy sugar mills along with thousands of acres of land. It’s a vulgar combination of feudalism and capitalism.

The landlords’ base of power over local people is taking place at every step. Debt bondage is passed down “generation after generation” and the landlord controls the “distribution of water, fertilizers, tractor permits and agricultural credit.” This, in turn, gives them influence over the “revenue, police and judicial administration” of local government and its officials. In recent times, particularly harsh feudalism has existed in rural Sindh, Baluchistan and some parts of Southern Punjab. It is a form of slavery in 21st century Pakistan.

Asian Marxist Review for more

Weekend Edition

November 16th, 2018

Will India then become heaven?

November 16th, 2018


“While the area was put under strict security cover, it did not stop groups of kar sevaks from breaking barriers to reach the top of the mosque. The demolition took place right in front of BJP leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi, LK Advani and Uma Bharti who were at a dias set up for them.” PHOTO/TEXT/Getty Images/Robert Nickelsberg/Liaison/Huffington Post

“On December 6, 1992 a rally in favour of building a Ram Temple on site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya went horribly wrong. Organised by the BJP, VHP and other affiliated organisations, it resulted in the demolition of the mosque and led to riots across the country that killed more than 2000 people.” PHOTO/TEXT/Douglas E. Curran/AFP/Getty Images/Huffington Post

some Indian Hindus complained about India’s problems
the cause of problems they pointed out were “Muslims”
who make up a little over 14% of the population

I asked will India become a heaven if it didn’t have Muslims
the answer was in the affirmative

I said this is your fantasy
because if Muslims left India, Hindu extremists will go after Dalits
after the Dalits, it will be another group … and so on

July 11, 2016 in the Indian state of Gujarat. “Some 35 gau rakshaks attacked 7 Dalits in Mota Samadhiyala village of Una taluka in Gir Somnath district, accusing them of slaughtering a cow. Beat them with iron rods and sticks, kidnapped four Dalits and took them to Una, tied them to a car and flogged them publicly through the town. 7 Dalits were admitted to hospital. 5 gau rakshaks and a mob of 35 booked for attempt to murder and for subjecting SCs to atrocities. 31 persons, including two minor boys, held. Dalits have said they were merely skinning a dead cow.” PHOTO/TEXT/The Indian Express

this mentality is not restricted to Indian Hindus
it has become an international phenomenon
the communalism, racism, bigotry
show up around religion, color, caste, gender, sexual orientation, …

the Pakistani Sunni Muslims suffer severely from this
so do the racist Trump and his supporters

Buddhists in Myanmar (Burma) victimize the Rohingyas
one can go on and on …

religious/ethnic minorities are now the target of hostility
the majority communities vent their hatred with glee
in 1933, future Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru had ominously warned:

The communalism of a majority community
must of necessity bear a closer resemblance to nationalism
than the communalism of a minority group.”

85 years later, the quote remains true
when will things change?
when will racism, communalism and bigotry end?

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

A portrait of Othello as a black Muslim tragic hero

November 16th, 2018


Victor Oshin, left, says playing Othello resonated with his own experience of downplaying his identity to avoid being stereotyped PHOTO/Helen Murray/Al Jazeera

Adaptation explores religious roots of Shakespeare’s Moor of Venice as director says play is warning about ‘otherising’.

A new adaptation of Othello in the UK subtly interrogates the tragic hero’s religious identity, presenting to audiences the possibility that the Moor of Venice was a closeted, practising Muslim.

Produced by the English Touring Theatre, there is an Arabic recitation in the opening scene and an image of Othello with his hands cupped in what is unmistakably a Muslim prayer.

“I was very aware of the racism Othello suffers because of his skin colour, but there was a much more insidious and layered thing that was happening to him as an outsider,” director Richard Twyman told Al Jazeera.

“The biggest thing is within the language, where Othello is constantly called the Moor. We know historically about the Moorish kingdom of Spain (where Spanish Muslims or Moriscos’ were forcibly converted to Christianity in 1492). But I never put it together that Moor might also be referring to Othello’s spiritual and cultural identity,” he said.

It was not until Twyman encountered the research of Jerry Brotton, professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London and author of This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World, that it became plausible Islam was intrinsic to Othello’s identity.

Brotton told Al Jazeera: “A Moor is an inhabitant of Mauritania which is in northwest Africa. It’s effectively modern-day Morocco.

“In this period in the 15th and 16th century, Muslims were referred to as black. There was no word for Muslim. It didn’t enter the English language until the second decade of the 17th century. But you have all these synonyms – Turk, Moor, Saracen, Persian, which are an attempt by an English tradition to describe Muslims.”

In addition to the opening prayer scene, in which Othello unfurls a prayer mat for him and Desdemona to sit on during their marriage ceremony, the play makes other references to his spirituality.

In the first line, Othello recites in Arabic the foundational invocation for Muslims: “In the name of God, the most gracious the most merciful.”

He also moves from one religion to another.

A crucifix hangs from his neck throughout the play, but when he is told of his wife’s alleged infidelity, he raises his prayer beads and shouts in Arabic, “Ya Akbar”, “Oh, Great One”.

‘Islam was not the enemy’

Viewed in the historical context in which it was written, Othello offers a glimpse into the economic and political anti-Catholic alliance between Elizabethan England and the Muslim world.

“Spanish Catholicism for Protestant Elizabethan England was the absolute enemy,” Brotton said.

Contemporary relevance

Othello is an exceptional, loyal and erudite character, but positive associations are attempted to be dashed when Senator Brabantio is informed of his daughter Desdemona’s relationship with the black Venetian general – “an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe.”

Al Jazeera for more

End of hegemony: UN must reflect changing world order

November 16th, 2018


United Nations General Assembly PHOTO/Patrick Gruban, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a rational explanation of why India and Brazil, two countries with vast populations and significant and growing economies, are not permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The Council – made up of 5 permanent and ten rotating members – was designed to reflect a world order that was birthed from the horrific violence of World War II. It was as simple as this: Those who emerged on the side of the victors were granted permanent membership and a ‘veto’ power that would allow a single country to defy the will of the entire international community.

This unfair system, which has perpetually weakened the moral foundation of the UN, remains in effect to this day.

The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly just held in New York reflected both the impotence of the UN’s ability as a global platform to address pressing problems and also the chaotic political scene resulting from the organization’s lack of unity.

The misuse of the veto, the lack of accountability and the unfair representation at the UNSC – for example, not a single African or Latin American country is a permanent member – have all emasculated an organization that is meant, at least on paper, to uphold international law and achieves peace and global security.

While Richard Falk, the former UN Special Rapporteur, advocates the “need for a stronger UN,” he argues that “from the perspective of current geopolitical trends (the UN) seems to have declined almost to the vanishing point with respect to overarching challenges that states acting on their own cannot hope to overcome.”

Some of these problems are interconnected and cannot be redeemed through short-term or provisional solutions. For instance, climate change often leads to food shortages and hunger, which, in turn, contribute to the rising levels of migration and, consequently, to racism and violence.

Late last year, the UN’s World Food Program reported that global hunger is increasing, despite all attempts to curb it and to, ultimately, achieve the declared goal of ‘zero hunger.’ According to the WFP, 815 million people suffered from hunger in 2016, an increase of nearly 40 million from the previous year. The UN body called the latest figure an ‘indictment to humanity.’

The failing fight against climate change is another ‘indictment to humanity’. The UN-sponsored Paris Agreement of 2016 was a rare shining moment for the UN, as leaders from 195 countries consented to reduce their carbon dioxide emission through the lowering of their reliance on fossil fuel. The excitement, however, soon died out. In June 2017, the United States government pulled out of the global accord, putting the world, once more, in peril of global warming with its devastating impact on humanity.

This decision by the US Donald Trump Administration exemplifies the foundational problem within the UN – where one country can dominate or derail the whole international agenda, rendering the UN practically irrelevant.

Interestingly, the UN was established in 1945 to replace a body that, too, was rendered irrelevant and ineffective: The League of Nations.

But if the League of Nations lost its credibility because of its inability to prevent war, why has the UN survived all these years?

Palestine Chronicle for more

On fake investigations: From Kavanaugh to MBS

November 15th, 2018


Activists dressed as Saudi Crown Prince MBS and President Trump seen during a demonstration to protest the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, in Washington, US October 19, 2018 PHOTO/Leah Millis/Reuters

With the help of the Trump administration, the Saudi regime is trying to sell us a brand new fake investigation.

In the age of “fake news” and “alternative facts” you, of course, have “fake investigations”, too – the sort that FBI did on Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct allegations and now the sort Donald Trump tells us Mohammed bin Salman is doing into allegations of his own suspected involvement in the brutal murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Has anyone ever heard anything more absurd – for an accused to investigate himself? Yes, of course, we live in Trump time – any absurdity is the new normal.

The Saudis have now finally admitted that Khashoggi died at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, supposedly after a fistfight, and that “18 Saudi nationals have been arrested” for further investigation.

The Saudis should have hired what in Hollywood they call a “script supervisor” before they opened their mouth telling the world what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. So far, they have gone from flat denial to having Khashoggi start a fistfight with 15 cutthroat butchers the Saudis had sent to cut him to pieces. Right now, they are shooting a martial art movie with Khashoggi cast as Bruce Lee.

The Saudis know the world is not stupid, but they also know for a fact Jared Kushner is in their pocket. According to Intercept’s sources, Mohammed bin Salman bragged that the president’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser is “in his pocket” months ago. It is payback time. Trump will try to sell this cover-up by the Saudis the same way he sold the FBI’s cursory report on Kavanaugh.

Two years into his presidency, the whole world knows Donald Trump runs the US presidency the way he runs his real estate business: with no sense of decency, half a criminal brain, the meagre vocabulary of a failing middle schooler, covered by a cascade vulgarity of a gangster who thinks the whole world is his to cheat, to fool, and to rob. But, and here is the rub, we must never reduce this to Donald Trump himself; for, thanks to Trump and his associates, the world is, in fact, witness to the constitutional DNA of US politics, hitherto successfully hidden behind the thin and beguiling veneer of civility that perhaps Barack Obama best personified. With Trump, we see the real deal.

Unabashedly, Trump is rushing to defend and exonerate a suspected Saudi murderer the same way he rushed to exonerate a suspected attempted rapist who now sits on the Supreme Court of the United States.

After Professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward with exemplary courage and accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh with attempted rape when they were both in high school and other women, equally courageous, did the same with his misconduct much later into his adult life, Trump did what Trump does best: he faked it.

He produced a “fake” FBI investigation – one that simply going through the motions and did not even interview the primary suspect or accuser, and issued a secret report the public could not see, as his Republican accomplices rushed the nomination through a hasty vote cast almost entirely on partisan lines just a few weeks before crucial midterm elections. And Trump and his Republican cohorts won. Professor Ford and countless sexually abused women like her lost.

Kavanaugh was confirmed and, in a White House swearing-in ceremony, Trump added insult to injury by publicly apologizing to Kavanaugh for his inconveniences. Trump and his Republican senators chalked that victory, leaving at least half of a stunned nation in bewilderment and moral atrophy. He then took one final victory lap around the arena by leading his morally decrepit base in publicly laughing at a courageous woman, while gloating that his Supreme Court victory had added to his popularity with his supporters and would guarantee Republican victory during the midterm elections.

From Brett Kavanaugh to Mohammed bin Salman

Trump is now engaging in precisely the same act of moral degeneracy in the case of the disappearance and evident murder of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He is advocating for a Saudi investigation into their own presumed crime, with the prime suspect in charge of investing himself.

Al Jazeera for more

Defence against the dark arts: A look at Girish Karnad’s legacy

November 15th, 2018


Girish Karnad’s outspokenness has offended nearly everybody, from Tipu Sultan-haters to Kannada chauvinists and VS Naipaul acolytes. ILLUSTRATION/Suvajit Dey

For years, Girish Karnad has used history and ancient myths to examine the fault lines of Indian society, here and now. As he returns with a new historical play, a look at the 80-year-old’s legacy and why he still feels the need to voice his dissent.

Two sentries patrol the ramparts of the fort of the new capital, Daulatabad. It’s Scene Eight of Tughlaq, and the dreams of a visionary king have already been dragged through dust.

Girish Karnad recalls a moment in the production of his play in 1986, two years after Indira Gandhi was assassinated in her home by her guards. The younger one, convinced of the invincibility of the fort, says: “No army could take this.”

The older, wiser one, says: “Invariably, forts crumble from the inside.” “The moment the line was spoken, the whole audience drew its breath and gasped: hah!” says Karnad, his palm dramatically shutting his mouth, his eyes wide to mime the surprise of the audience. “It was a play about a 14th century sultan. But they immediately related it to Indira and what had happened to her,” he says.

Karnad wrote Tughlaq (1964) when he was 26 years old, creating a metaphor for authoritarianism that becomes relevant with each new bend in modern Indian history. When it was first published, the play’s depiction of Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s idealism, his efforts at creating a more secular state, his far-sighted ideas about the economy and his eventual disintegration into a mad tyrant seemed to provide a striking parallel to the disenchantment with Nehruvian ideals that had swiftly set in after Independence. During the Emergency, Tughlaq’s ruthlessness became a way to understand the way democracy could be gamed by a popular leader. “History is interesting because it gives me the essence of today’s living,” says the playwright, who turned 80 this year.

Six years after he wrote his last play, Karnad returns to history in Rakhsasa Tangadi (written in Kannada, like all his plays), which was released last month in Dharwad. “There is an interesting contradiction in the concept of a historical play. It is about history, which means it has happened in the past. But it’s a play, which means it is happening in front of you…This is the marvellous thing about theatre. The audience continually relates it to their own lives,” says Karnad, when we meet at his apartment in Bengaluru. In an orange khadi kurta, he is striking in appearance, if a little wan. He plugs in his oxygen pack matter-of-factly, explaining that it his “third lung”, one he needs 24×7. His sentences are shorter, the task of talking wears him down, but his attention seldom wavers.

Indian Express for more

Salesforce CEO: Tech billionaires ‘hoard their money’ and won’t help homeless

November 15th, 2018


Marc Benioff is supporting a proposed business tax that would generate money for homeless services in San Francisco. PHOTO/Alamy Stock Photo

In Guardian interview, Marc Benioff calls out Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and others for failing to give back to city where they got rich

Marc Benioff, the Salesforce CEO, has escalated his attacks on fellow San Francisco billionaires, saying they are “hoarding” money and don’t want to help the homeless.

In an interview with the Guardian on Tuesday, the tech entrepreneur intensified his criticisms of Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, saying: “He just doesn’t want to give, that’s all. And he hasn’t given anything of consequence in the city.”

Benioff’s recent efforts to call out ultra-wealthy business leaders has caused divides in the tech industry, which has typically been united in its resistance to taxes that could fund services and combat income inequality.

The CEOs’ unusual public spat centers on Proposition C, a ballot measure that would tax large businesses in San Francisco by implementing an average 0.5% gross receipts tax for company revenues over $50m. The measure is meant to help fix a rapidly expanding humanitarian crisis in the city.

The growth of tech firms such as Salesforce, a cloud computing company and one of the largest employers in the city, has contributed to a massive housing shortage, with thousands left homeless, including one in 25 public school children. Prop C, which Benioff is backing, is expected to raise between $250m and $300m a year to pay for housing, shelters, mental health treatment and more.

Dorsey, who also runs Square, a second major San Francisco-based tech firm, recently announced his opposition to the measure, saying he did not believe it was “the best way” to “fix the homeless problem”.

Benioff said by phone that he had expected Dorsey to stand against Prop C – and that he did not anticipate the Twitter co-founder would change his mind or give back in a meaningful way. “That’s not a surprise to me. There’s lots of CEOs and companies and billionaires in that category. We have 70 billionaires in San Francisco [Bay Area region]. Not all of them are giving money away. A lot of them are just hoarding it. They’re keeping it. That’s just who they are and how they look at their money.”

He continued: “This is a critical moment where I think Prop C kind of illuminates who is willing to be a San Franciscan and actually support our local services.”

The Guardian for more