Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khalid Hosseini)

Summary: A Splendid Thousand Suns is a tale about the frailty of character of strong men and innate strength of frail women. The novel explores the lives of two Afghan women who belong to totally different backgrounds but are forced to share the same unhappy household. It narrates their tragedies, their unwavering endurances and sacrifices in the face of cruelty and hardships. The backdrop is, once again, the war torn Afghanistan mutilated by forces from within and without. The two women face rejection from their families and their brutal husband, suffer from domestic violence and yet find love, companionship and consolation from each other. It is the story of Mariam who is an illegitimate child of a wealthy Herati businessman. Jalil did not have the courage to marry her mother after dishonoring her. His weak will perished under pressure from his family and he married the young, innocent girl to Rasheed a brutish cobbler some thirty years her senior. Repeated miscarriages dashed all of Rasheed’s hopes of fathering a son and he subjected Mariam to torture over petty domestic issues. Unwanted, unloved Mariam soldiered on silently till Laila entered her life. Laila was the beloved daughter of a university teacher who imbibes in her his love for education, poetry, art and culture. With Kabul under fire from warlords, Laila’s childhood sweetheart Tariq departs for Pakistan, leaving Laila in a big predicament. To avoid shame, she too marries Rasheed but soon loses her place as the queen of his heart when she gives birth to a daughter. Slowly affection and friendship develops between Laila and older Mariam …a relationship so strong that it transcends all differences and enables them to withstand depravation, starvation and brutality all around them. Laila also suffers violence at the hands of her husband till one day while he was attempting to strangle her Mariam kills him to save Laila. Laila ultimately finds love and contentment and becomes a teacher in a local orphanage. But more than Laila, it is Mariam who leaves her memories in the hearts of others as bright as the brilliance of a thousand splendid suns.
 Khalid Hossieni, through the lives of these women, lays bare the underlying issues that plague Afghanistan today. The women, in an average Afghan household, are still considered worthless. We see glimpses of these in Nana’s words when she says “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” Political unrest, deteriorating law and order situation, years of wars, first as jihad against the Soviet regime and later as warlords and Taliban took over, have left Afghanistan bleeding and made millions of Afghanis homeless and destitute. It is actually their story too as Hossieni tries to show that love and heroism can triumph over death and destruction whether of an individual or a nation


Monday, June 27, 2011

Where do the Children Play ~ yusuf Islam

the Rhythm of Time ~ Bobby Sands (March 1954 - May 1981)

There's an inner thing in every man,
Do you know this thing my friend?
It has withstood the blows of a million years,
And will do so to the end.

It was born when time did not exist
And it grew up out of life,
It cut down evil's strangling vines,
Like a slashing searing knife.

It lit fires when fires were not,
And burnt the mind of man,
Tempering leandened hearts to steel,
From the time that time began.

It wept by the waters of Babylon,
And when all men were a loss,
It screeched in writhing agony,
And it hung bleeding from the Cross.

It died in Rome by lion and sword,
And in defiant cruel array,
When the deathly word was 'Spartacus'
Along with Appian Way.

It marched with Wat the Tyler's poor,
And frightened lord and king,
And it was emblazoned in their deathly stare,
As e'er a living thing.

It smiled in holy innocence,
Before conquistadors of old,
So meek and tame and unaware,
Of the deathly power of gold.

It burst forth through pitiful Paris streets,
And stormed the old Bastille,
And marched upon the serpent's head,
And crushed it 'neath its heel.

It died in blood on Buffalo Plains,
And starved by moons of rain,
Its heart was buried in Wounded Knee,
But it will come to rise again.

It screamed aloud by Kerry lakes,
As it was knelt upon the ground,
And it died in great defiance,
As they coldly shot it down.

It is found in every light of hope,
It knows no bounds nor space
It has risen in red and black and white,
It is there in every race.

It lies in the hearts of heroes dead,
It screams in tyrants' eyes,
It has reached the peak of mountains high,
It comes searing 'cross the skies.

It lights the dark of this prison cell,
It thunders forth its might,
It is 'the undauntable thought', my friend,
That thought that says 'I'm right! '

BOBBY SANDS was twenty seven years old when he died on the sixty sixth day of hunger-strike in the H-Block prison hospital, Long Kesh, on the 5th May 1981. The young IRA Volunteer who had spent almost the last nine years of his short life in prison as a result of his Irish republican activities was, by the time of his death, world-famous having been elected to the british parliament and having withstood pressures, political and moral (including an emissary from Pope John Paul II) , for him to abandon his fast which was aimed at countering a criminalisation policy by the british government. His name became a household word in Ireland, and his sacrifice (as did that of those who followed him) overturned british propaganda on Ireland and had a real effect in advancing the cause of Irish freedom.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

JalaaludDin Rumi (1207-1273 A.D.)

Jalaluddin Rumi, better known simply as Rumi, was perhaps the finest Persian poet of all time and a great influence on Muslim writing and culture. His poetry is still well known throughout the modern world, and he is one of the best selling poets in America.

Jalaluddin Rumi was born in 1207 in Balkh in present-day Afghanistan. Increasing Mongol incursions when he was around the age of eleven forced his family to leave Afghanistan, who travelled to Baghdad, Mecca, Damascus and finally settled in Konya in Turkey. Rumi lived here for most of his life.

Rumi was the son of a renowned Sufi scholar, and it is more than likely that he was introduced to Sufism from a young age. Sufism is a branch of Islam primarily concerned with developing the spirituality, or more precisely the inner character, of a Muslim.
Both he and his father were firm believers in the revelations of the Qur'an, but criticised the mere outwardly legal and ritual practice that was being promoted at the time. In fact, much of his work is dedicated to waking people up, and encouraging them to experience life themselves, rather blindly following the scholars of the day.
Rumi spent his early years, like many Muslims of the time, learning and studying Arabic, law, ahadith (the body of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), history, the Qur'an, theology, philosophy, mathematics and astronomy.
By the time of his father's death he had become an outstanding scholar in his own right, and took over his father's position as one of the highest scholars in the country at the young age of 24.
He spent his time teaching and giving lectures to the public, and until the age of about 35, lived a fairly non-descript life.
Then in 1244 Rumi met a travelling Sufi, called Shams (or Shamsi Tabrizi) and the whole course of his life changed.
Shams became fast friends with Rumi, in whom he recognised a kindred spirit. The two developed a very close friendship and it was at this point that Rumi became more and more secluded, shunning the society of those he previously would discuss and debate matters with.
His relationship with Shams caused great jealousy in his family and other students, and after a few years, Shams disappeared. Many believe he was murdered, but Rumi himself did not think so. He travelled for years looking for his friend, and it was this loss that led to the outpouring of his soul through his poetry.
He wrote numerous lines of love poetry, called ghazals, but though they outwardly seem to be about Shams, it is not difficult to see that they are in fact poems describing his overpowering love of God.
Shams' effect on Rumi was decisive. Whereas Rumi had before preached Islam soberly, he became, through Shams' influence, filled with the love of God. What was inside his soul finally came out.

Rumi rarely wrote down his own poetry. The six books of poetry in the Mathnawi were written entirely by Rumi, who would compose and dictate the poetry, and his student Husam Chulabi, who would write and edit it.
It is believed that Rumi would turn round and round while reciting his poetry, and it is this dance which formed the basis for the Mevlevi Order, or Whirling Dervishes, after his death. Dervish means doorway, and the dance is believed to be a mystical portal between the earthly and cosmic worlds.
Rumi died in 1273 CE, halfway through the sixth volume of the Mathnawi.
The Mevlevi Order has been presided over by a member of Rumi's family for over 800 years.
2007 was designated the UNESCO Year of Rumi.

Silence from Gulistan ~Saadi

To the ignorant man nothing is better than silence,
And were he aware of this he would no longer be ignorant.
When you are not possessed of perfection or excellence,
It is better that you keep your tongue within your mouth.
The tongue bringeth disgrace upon men.
The nut without a kernel is light in weight.
The beast will not learn of thee how to speak;
Learn thou of the beast how to be silent.
Whoever reflecteth not before he answereth,
Will probably utter inappropriate words.
Either adorn thy speech with the intelligence of a man,
Or sit in silence like a dumb animal.

(translated by: Sameul Robinson)

the Grass of God's Gardeb ~by Saadi (c. 1213-1291)

I saw bouquets of fresh roses
tied upon copula of grass
I asked: what is despicable grass
to sit also in the line of Roses

The grass wept and said: Hush
comparison does not obliterate nobility
Although I have no color, beauty and perfume
Am I not afterall the Grass of God's Garden

(translated by Edward Holden)

Professor Khalid Mahmud: an idealist bows out —Dr Muneer Ahmad

Professor Khalid Mahmud’s life is an illustration of the career of a typical post-World War II idealist. That period produced hundreds and thousands of such heroic persons. Disgusted with the miserable condition of man in society dominated by poverty created and sustained by the market forces, they were in search of a brave new world free from exploitation of man by man.

He was born in Kashmir. When communal riots broke out shortly before 1947 his father asked him and his younger brother to pick up a few valuables to carry to a place of refuge. The two brothers concealed a few storybooks under their sweaters. These were the ‘valuables’ they could think of carrying to a place of safety.

Professor Khalid Mahmud passed away on May 10 in Islamabad. He was a political scientist by academic training. He chose the occupation of a teacher for livelihood. Otherwise he was a political worker by avocation. He spent his entire life building grassroots organisations (trade unions, student bodies, teachers’ associations) to provide a foundation for a comprehensive transformation of society. He was a self-effacing man. He never sought public office. He always remained in the background. He promoted others in leadership roles. His primary objective was to build institutions.

Khalid received his initial political orientation in Gordon College, Rawalpindi. Later, he joined the Punjab University, through Government College, Lahore, to study for a Masters in political science. He graduated in 1957 in the first division. His Masters’ thesis was on the subject of trade unionism in Pakistan. His external examiner was Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The university published his thesis on trade unions as a monograph. For his research work on trade unions he travelled throughout the country, including East Pakistan. In the following years, many students wrote dissertations on different trade unions in Lahore taking Khalid’s thesis as a model.

After graduation, the Political Science Department appointed Khalid as a research scholar whose main assignment was to write a doctoral thesis in order to earn a PhD. He chose the topic ‘Political Parties in Pakistan’. When martial law was declared in 1958, he stopped working on his doctoral thesis on the plea that the political parties had been banned. I feel it was a lame and unfortunate excuse. He had already done considerable research work and could have easily written his doctoral dissertation in spite of the ban.

One notable feature of Khalid’s personality was a pronounced contempt for careerism. Unlike many other young men of his age, he never ever thought of becoming a civil servant. In fact, he was scornful of the idea. He also displayed little enthusiasm for higher education abroad. He declined offers for higher studies abroad for a doctorate. On occasions he surrendered such offers in favour of younger colleagues. If he ever contemplated a ‘career’, it was to be a professor. He did land up as a university lecturer in the Political Science Department of the Punjab University in 1968, 10 years after graduating from the same department. He was invited to join by Dr Anwar H Syed, who was at that time a professor in an American university and had joined the Punjab University as professor and head of the Political Science Department a little earlier on the special invitation of the then Vice Chancellor, Professor Hameed Ahmad Khan.

Khalid’s goal in life was not a career in any form. He did not aspire for a highly paid job, academic distinction or a prestigious position. It was political work — political work for the total transformation of society. He was influenced by Marx. He was inspired by people like Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The examples of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China led by Mao offered to him models of the future human society. He was a dedicated teacher. He lived in a spartan hostel room on the campus. He was not married and did not intend to. Apart from teaching, he worked among students and university teachers for the transformation of society. For him that was the primary task. All others were secondary. During this period (1968-78) he may be credited with three achievements. He set up, of course in cooperation with others, the National Students Organisation (NSO), a strident, anti-imperialist, anti-obscurantist force composed of young students. Among university teachers, he played a central role in reorganising and revitalising the Punjab University Academic Staff Association (PUASA). Today if the PUASA is an enduring professional organisation, it is largely due to the long, patient steering provided during its formative years by Professor Khalid Mahmud and other members of his team. His third achievement may be considered his work as a member of the Punjab University team for drafting proposals for the new education policy during 1968-69.

After the Zia martial law, political opponents from within the university conspired to remove prominent left-liberal teachers from the Punjab University. One of the university teachers removed from service was Mushahid Hussain. Most of the liberal teachers were transferred to hardship places. (Normally university professors are not transferable.) Khalid was transferred to a college in the district of Gujrat. He did not report for duty; thus he simply threw away his job. As a result, for many years he lived in self-inflicted destitution. Several years later, when Mushahid was appointed as the editor of The Muslim, he took Khalid on board. For quite some time this job provided him the badly needed lifeline. Gifted as he was, he immediately established himself as a talented columnist. It was during this period that he was introduced to the newspaper readers as ‘Professor’ Khalid Mahmud. It was done in order to distinguish him from his namesake colleagues. The incisive articles he wrote were later published in two volumes titled Pakistan Political Scene.

When he left The Muslim, after a few years, he joined the Institute of Regional Studies in Islamabad. Here, he wrote some highly insightful research articles on India. The political history of India was Khalid’s favourite subject from his college days. Many of his articles were published in the journal of the Institute. His knowledge of politics of India, both pre- and post-partition, was encyclopaedic. He also took an opportunity to travel through India and meet many political leaders. Thus he was no textbook specialist on India.

From a highly respected professor of political science, Khalid had now become recognised as a columnist and a mass communication expert. In due course he was invited to work as editor of one of the leading English language dailies, The Nation. He served in that capacity with distinction both at Lahore and at Islamabad. When he suffered a stroke four years before his death, his activities became severely curtailed. However, he continued writing a column for a journal till his last breath.

Professor Khalid Mahmud’s life is an illustration of the career of a typical post-World War II idealist. That period produced hundreds and thousands of such heroic persons. Disgusted with the miserable condition of man in society dominated by poverty created and sustained by the market forces, they were in search of a brave new world free from exploitation of man by man. They turned away from lust for power and wealth. They disowned their middle class origin and established solidarity with the working people. They sacrificed their personal comforts in order to build an infrastructure for revolutionising the entire society. It is tragic to see that their struggle and sacrifice has met with failure. Market forces are victorious. Greed reigns supreme. Idealism is battered. Did these idealists choose a wrong path? Are the stubborn forces of tradition too powerful to be surmounted by innovation? It seems that idealists like Khalid will continue to rise generation after generation in spite of setbacks. But will they, one day, meet with success? That is the question.


Noam Chomsky ~ Cold War

Noam Chomsky (cold war) Video

Saturday, June 25, 2011

It's not Radical Islam that worries the US - it's Independence ~Noam Chomsky (Feb, 2011)

"The Arab world is on fire," al-Jazeera reported last week, while throughout the region, western allies "are quickly losing their influence". The shock wave was set in motion by the dramatic uprising in Tunisia that drove out a western-backed dictator, with reverberations especially in Egypt, where demonstrators overwhelmed a dictator's brutal police.
Observers compared it to the toppling of Russian domains in 1989, but there are important differences. Crucially, no Mikhail Gorbachev exists among the great powers that support the Arab dictators. Rather, Washington and its allies keep to the well-established principle that democracy is acceptable only insofar as it conforms to strategic and economic objectives: fine in enemy territory (up to a point), but not in our backyard, please, unless properly tamed.

One 1989 comparison has some validity: Romania, where Washington maintained its support for Nicolae Ceausescu, the most vicious of the east European dictators, until the allegiance became untenable. Then Washington hailed his overthrow while the past was erased. That is a standard pattern: Ferdinand Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Chun Doo-hwan, Suharto and many other useful gangsters. It may be under way in the case of Hosni Mubarak, along with routine efforts to try to ensure a successor regime will not veer far from the approved path. The current hope appears to be Mubarak loyalist General Omar Suleiman, just named Egypt's vice-president. Suleiman, the longtime head of the intelligence services, is despised by the rebelling public almost as much as the dictator himself.

A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds. While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The general threat has always been independence. The US and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.

A familiar example is Saudi Arabia, the ideological centre of radical Islam (and of Islamic terror). Another in a long list is Zia ul-Haq, the most brutal of Pakistan's dictators and President Reagan's favorite, who carried out a programme of radical Islamisation (with Saudi funding).

"The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control," says Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian official and now director of Middle East research for the Carnegie Endowment. "With this line of thinking, entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground."

Therefore the public can be dismissed. The doctrine traces far back and generalises worldwide, to US home territory as well. In the event of unrest, tactical shifts may be necessary, but always with an eye to reasserting control.

The vibrant democracy movement in Tunisia was directed against "a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems", ruled by a dictator whose family was hated for their venality. So said US ambassador Robert Godec in a July 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks.

Therefore to some observers the WikiLeaks "documents should create a comforting feeling among the American public that officials aren't asleep at the switch" -- indeed, that the cables are so supportive of US policies that it is almost as if Obama is leaking them himself (or so Jacob Heilbrunn writes in The National Interest.)

"America should give Assange a medal," says a headline in the Financial Times, where Gideon Rachman writes: "America's foreign policy comes across as principled, intelligent and pragmatic … the public position taken by the US on any given issue is usually the private position as well."

In this view, WikiLeaks undermines "conspiracy theorists" who question the noble motives Washington proclaims.

Godec's cable supports these judgments -- at least if we look no further. If we do,, as foreign policy analyst Stephen Zunes reports in Foreign Policy in Focus, we find that, with Godec's information in hand, Washington provided $12m in military aid to Tunisia. As it happens, Tunisia was one of only five foreign beneficiaries: Israel (routinely); the two Middle East dictatorships Egypt and Jordan; and Colombia, which has long had the worst human-rights record and the most US military aid in the hemisphere.

Heilbrunn's exhibit A is Arab support for US policies targeting Iran, revealed by leaked cables. Rachman too seizes on this example, as did the media generally, hailing these encouraging revelations. The reactions illustrate how profound is the contempt for democracy in the educated culture.

Unmentioned is what the population thinks -- easily discovered. According to polls released by the Brookings Institution in August, some Arabs agree with Washington and western commentators that Iran is a threat: 10%. In contrast, they regard the US and Israel as the major threats (77%; 88%).

Arab opinion is so hostile to Washington's policies that a majority (57%) think regional security would be enhanced if Iran had nuclear weapons. Still, "there is nothing wrong, everything is under control" (as Muasher describes the prevailing fantasy). The dictators support us. Their subjects can be ignored -- unless they break their chains, and then policy must be adjusted.

Other leaks also appear to lend support to the enthusiastic judgments about Washington's nobility. In July 2009, Hugo Llorens, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, informed Washington of an embassy investigation of "legal and constitutional issues surrounding the 28 June forced removal of President Manuel 'Mel' Zelaya."

The embassy concluded that "there is no doubt that the military, supreme court and national congress conspired on 28 June in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the executive branch". Very admirable, except that President Obama proceeded to break with almost all of Latin America and Europe by supporting the coup regime and dismissing subsequent atrocities.

Perhaps the most remarkable WikiLeaks revelations have to do with Pakistan, reviewed by foreign policy analyst Fred Branfman in Truthdig.

The cables reveal that the US embassy is well aware that Washington's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan not only intensifies rampant anti-Americanism but also "risks destabilising the Pakistani state" and even raises a threat of the ultimate nightmare: that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists.

Again, the revelations "should create a comforting feeling … that officials are not asleep at the switch" (Heilbrunn's words) -- while Washington marches stalwartly toward disaster.


War, Peace and Obama's Nobel (Nov, 2009)

"Silence is often more eloquent than loud clamour, so let us attend to what is unspoken."
The hopes and prospects for peace aren't well aligned -- not even close. The task is to bring them nearer. Presumably that was the intent of the Nobel Peace Prize committee in choosing President Barack Obama.
The prize "seemed a kind of prayer and encouragement by the Nobel committee for future endeavor and more consensual American leadership," Steven Erlanger and Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in The New York Times.
The nature of the Bush-Obama transition bears directly on the likelihood that the prayers and encouragement might lead to progress.
The Nobel committee's concerns were valid. They singled out Obama's rhetoric on reducing nuclear weapons.
Right now Iran's nuclear ambitions dominate the headlines. The warnings are that Iran may be concealing something from the International Atomic Energy Agency and violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 1887, passed last month and hailed as a victory for Obama's efforts to contain Iran.
Meanwhile, a debate continues on whether Obama's recent decision to reconfigure missile-defense systems in Europe is a capitulation to the Russians or a pragmatic step to defend the West from Iranian nuclear attack.
Silence is often more eloquent than loud clamor, so let us attend to what is unspoken.
Amid the furor over Iranian duplicity, the IAEA passed a resolution calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and open its nuclear facilities to inspection.
The United States and Europe tried to block the IAEA resolution, but it passed anyway. The media virtually ignored the event.
The United States assured Israel that it would support Israel's rejection of the resolution -- reaffirming a secret understanding that has allowed Israel to maintain a nuclear arsenal closed to international inspections, according to officials familiar with the arrangements. Again, the media were silent.
Indian officials greeted U.N. Resolution 1887 by announcing that India "can now build nuclear weapons with the same destructive power as those in the arsenals of the world's major nuclear powers," the Financial Times reported.
Both India and Pakistan are expanding their nuclear weapons programs. They have twice come dangerously close to nuclear war, and the problems that almost ignited this catastrophe are very much alive.
Obama greeted Resolution 1887 differently. The day before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his inspiring commitment to peace, the Pentagon announced it was accelerating delivery of the most lethal non-nuclear weapons in the arsenal: 13-ton bombs for B-2 and B-52 stealth bombers, designed to destroy deeply hidden bunkers shielded by 10,000 pounds of reinforced concrete.
It's no secret the bunker busters could be deployed against Iran.
Planning for these "massive ordnance penetrators" began in the Bush years but languished until Obama called for developing them rapidly when he came into office.
Passed unanimously, Resolution 1887 calls for the end of threats of force and for all countries to join the NPT, as Iran did long ago. NPT non-signers are India, Israel and Pakistan, all of which developed nuclear weapons with U.S. help, in violation of the NPT.
Iran hasn't invaded another country for hundreds of years -- unlike the United States, Israel and India (which occupies Kashmir, brutally).
The threat from Iran is minuscule. If Iran had nuclear weapons and delivery systems and prepared to use them, the country would be vaporized.
To believe Iran would use nuclear weapons to attack Israel, or anyone, "amounts to assuming that Iran's leaders are insane" and that they look forward to being reduced to "radioactive dust," strategic analyst Leonard Weiss observes, adding that Israel's missile-carrying submarines are "virtually impervious to preemptive military attack," not to speak of the immense U.S. arsenal.
In naval maneuvers in July, Israel sent its Dolphin class subs, capable of carrying nuclear missiles, through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea, sometimes accompanied by warships, to a position from which they could attack Iran -- as they have a "sovereign right" to do, according to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Not for the first time, what is veiled in silence would receive front-page headlines in societies that valued their freedom and were concerned with the fate of the world.
The Iranian regime is harsh and repressive, and no humane person wants Iran -- or anyone else -- to have nuclear weapons. But a little honesty would not hurt in addressing these problems.
The Nobel Peace Prize, of course, is not concerned solely with reducing the threat of terminal nuclear war, but rather with war generally, and the preparation for war. In this regard, the selection of Obama raised eyebrows, not least in Iran, surrounded by U.S. occupying armies.
On Iran's borders in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, Obama has escalated Bush's war and is likely to proceed on that course, perhaps sharply.
Obama has made clear that the United States intends to retain a long-term major presence in the region. That much is signaled by the huge city-within-a city called "the Baghdad Embassy," unlike any embassy in the world.
Obama has announced the construction of mega-embassies in Islamabad and Kabul, and huge consulates in Peshawar and elsewhere.
Nonpartisan budget and security monitors report in Government Executive that the "administration's request for $538 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2010 and its stated intention to maintain a high level of funding in the coming years put the president on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II. And that's not counting the additional $130 billion the administration is requesting to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan next year, with even more war spending slated for future years."
The Nobel Peace Prize committee might well have made truly worthy choices, prominent among them the remarkable Afghan activist Malalai Joya.
This brave woman survived the Russians, and then the radical Islamists whose brutality was so extreme that the population welcomed the Taliban. Joya has withstood the Taliban and now the return of the warlords under the Karzai government.
Throughout, Joya worked effectively for human rights, particularly for women; she was elected to parliament and then expelled when she continued to denounce warlord atrocities. She now lives underground under heavy protection, but she continues the struggle, in word and deed. By such actions, repeated everywhere as best we can, the prospects for peace edge closer to hopes.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Humanitarian Imperialism by Noam Chomsky (2008)

Jean Bricmont’s concept “humanitarian imperialism” succinctly captures a dilemma that has faced Western leaders and the Western intellectual community since the collapse of the Soviet Union. From the origins of the Cold War, there was a reflexive justification for every resort to force and terror, subversion and economic strangulation: the acts were undertaken in defense against what John F. Kennedy called “the monolithic and ruthless conspiracy” based in the Kremlin (or sometimes in Beijing), a force of unmitigated evil dedicated to extending its brutal sway over the entire world. The formula covered just about every imaginable case of intervention, no matter what the facts might be. But with the Soviet Union gone, either the policies would have to change, or new justifications would have to be devised. It became clear very quickly which course would be followed, casting new light on what had come before, and on the institutional basis of policy.
The end of the Cold War unleashed an impressive flow of rhetoric assuring the world that the West would now be free to pursue its traditional dedication to freedom, democracy, justice, and human rights unhampered by superpower rivalry, though there were some—called “realists” in international relations theory—who warned that in “granting idealism a near exclusive hold on our foreign policy,” we may be going too far and might harm our interests. [1] Such notions as “humanitarian intervention” and “the responsibility to protect” soon came to be salient features of Western discourse on policy, commonly described as establishing a “new norm” in international affairs.
The millennium ended with an extraordinary display of self-congratulation on the part of Western intellectuals, awe-struck at the sight of the “idealistic new world bent on ending inhumanity,” which had entered a “noble phase” in its foreign policy with a “saintly glow” as for the first time in history a state is dedicated to “principles and values,” acting from “altruism” and “moral fervor” alone as the leader of the “enlightened states,” hence free to use force where its leaders “believe it to be just”—only a small sample of a deluge from respected liberal voices. [2]
Several questions immediately come to mind. First, how does the self-image conform to the historical record prior to the end of the Cold War? If it does not, then what reason would there be to expect a sudden dedication to “granting idealism a near exclusive hold on our foreign policy,” or any hold at all? And how in fact did policies change with the superpower enemy gone? A prior question is whether such considerations should even arise.
There are two views about the significance of the historical record. The attitude of those who celebrate the “emerging norms” is expressed clearly by one of their most distinguished scholar/advocates, international relations professor Thomas Weiss: critical examination of the record, he writes, is nothing more than “sound-bites and invectives about Washington’s historically evil foreign policy,” hence “easy to ignore.” [3]
A conflicting stance is that policy decisions substantially flow from institutional structures, and since these remain stable, examination of the record provides valuable insight into the “emerging norms” and the contemporary world. That is the stance that Bricmont adopts in his study of “the ideology of human rights,” and that I will adopt here.

One critical case was the Kennedy administration’s preparation of the military coup in Brazil to overthrow the mildly social democratic Goulart government. The planned coup took place shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, establishing the first of a series of vicious National Security States and setting off a plague of repression throughout the continent that lasted through Reagan’s terrorist wars that devastated Central America in the 1980s. With the same justification, Kennedy’s 1962 military mission to Colombia advised the government to resort to “paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents,” actions that “should be backed by the United States.” In the Latin American context, the phrase “known communist proponents” referred to labor leaders, priests organizing peasants, human rights activists, in fact anyone committed to social change in violent and repressive societies.
These principles were quickly incorporated into the training and practices of the military. The respected president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Vásquez Carrizosa, wrote that the Kennedy administration “took great pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades, accepting the new strategy of the death squads,” ushering in what is known in Latin America as the National Security Doctrine,…not defense against an external enemy, but a way to make the military establishment the masters of the game [with] the right to combat the internal enemy, as set forth in the Brazilian doctrine, the Argentine doctrine, the Uruguayan doctrine, and the Colombian doctrine: it is the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who are assumed to be communist extremists. And this could mean anyone, including human rights activists such as myself.

The reasons for intervention, subversion, terror, and repression are not obscure. They are summarized accurately by Patrice McSherry in the most careful scholarly study of Operation Condor, the international terrorist operation established with U.S. backing in Pinochet’s Chile: “the Latin American militaries, normally acting with the support of the U.S. government, overthrew civilian governments and destroyed other centers of democratic power in their societies (parties, unions, universities, and constitutionalist sectors of the armed forces) precisely when the class orientation of the state was about to change or was in the process of change, shifting state power to non-elite social sectors...Preventing such transformations of the state was a key objective of Latin American elites, and U.S. officials considered it a vital national security interest as well.” [5]
It is easy to demonstrate that what are termed “national security interests” have only an incidental relation to the security of the nation, though they have a very close relation to the interests of dominant sectors within the imperial state, and to the general state interest of ensuring obedience.

The term “stability” is used here in its standard technical meaning: subordination to Washington’s will. There is no contradiction, for example, when liberal commentator James Chace, former editor of Foreign Affairs, explains that the United States sought to “destabilize a freely elected Marxist government in Chile” because “we were determined to seek stability” (under the Pinochet dictatorship).

(extract from Humanitarian Imperialsim- The doctrine of Imperial Right ~Noam chomsky website

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Leo Tolstoy Russian author, one of the greatest of all novelists. His life is often seen to form two distinct parts: first comes the author of great novels, and later a prophet and moral reformer. His major works include War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Some great quotes by a great novelist:

"Faith is the sense of life, that sense by virtue of which man does not destroy himself, but continues to live on. It is the force whereby we live".

"In all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments, the governments alone, independent of the interests of the people, to whom war is always pernicious even when successful".

 "Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source".

"Man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity".

"The greater the state, the more wrong and cruel its patriotism, and the greater is the sum of suffering upon which its power is founded". 

"The two most powerful warriors are patience and time". 

"A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction"

"Anything is better than lies and deceit! " 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jane Austen (1775 - 1817)

Jane Austen was an English novelist whose books, set among the English middle and upper classes, are notable for their wit, social observation and insights into the lives of early 19th century women.

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in the village of Steventon in Hampshire. She was one of eight children of a clergyman and grew up in a close-knit family. She began to write as a teenager. In 1801 the family moved to Bath. After the death of Jane's father in 1805 Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother moved several times eventually settling in Chawton, near Steventon.
Jane's brother Henry helped her negotiate with a publisher and her first novel, 'Sense and Sensibility', appeared in 1811. Her next novel 'Pride and Prejudice', which she described as her "own darling child" received highly favourable reviews. 'Mansfield Park' was published in 1814, then 'Emma' in 1816. 'Emma' was dedicated to the prince regent, an admirer of her work. All of Jane Austen's novels were published anonymously.
In 1816, Jane began to suffer from ill-health, probably due to Addison's disease. She travelled to Winchester to receive treatment, and died there on 18 July 1817. Two more novels, 'Persuasion' and 'Northanger Abbey' were published posthumously and a final novel was left incomplete.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

(Extracts from) 'Noam Chomsky' ~Notes on Anarchism

A French writer, sympathetic to anarchism, wrote in the 1890s that "anarchism has a broad back, like paper it endures anything" -- including, he noted those whose acts are such that "a mortal enemy of anarchism could not have done better."1 There have been many styles of thought and action that have been referred to as "anarchist." It would be hopeless to try to encompass all of these conflicting tendencies in some general theory or ideology.

"a fixed, self-enclosed social system but rather a definite trend in the historic development of mankind, which, in contrast with the intellectual guardianship of all clerical and governmental institutions, strives for the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life. Even freedom is only a relative, not an absolute concept, since it tends constantly to become broader and to affect wider circles in more manifold ways. For the anarchist, freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities, and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account. The less this natural development of man is influenced by ecclesiastical or political guardianship, the more efficient and harmonious will human personality become, the more will it become the measure of the intellectual culture of the society in which it has grown."

The consistent anarchist, then, should be a socialist, but a socialist of a particular sort. He will not only oppose alienated and specialized labor and look forward to the appropriation of capital by the whole body of workers, but he will also insist that this appropriation be direct, not exercised by some elite force acting in the name of the proletariat. He will, in short, oppose

the organization of production by the Government. It means State-socialism, the command of the State officials over production and the command of managers, scientists, shop-officials in the shop....The goal of the working class is liberation from exploitation. This goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting itself for the bourgeoisie. It is only realized by the workers themselves being master over production.Anarchism is necessarily anticapitalist in that it "opposes the exploitation of man by man." But anarchism also opposes "the dominion of man over man." It insists that "socialism will be free or it will not be at all. In its recognition of this lies the genuine and profound justification for the existence of anarchism."14 From this point of view, anarchism may be regarded as the libertarian wing of socialism. It is in this spirit that Daniel Guérin has approached the study of anarchism in Anarchism and other works.15 Guérin quotes Adolph Fischer, who said that "every anarchist is a socialist but not every socialist is necessarily an anarchist." Similarly Bakunin, in his "anarchist manifesto" of 1865, the program of his projected international revolutionary fraternity, laid down the principle that each member must be, to begin with, a socialist.A consistent anarchist must oppose private ownership of the means of production and the wage slavery which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer. As Marx put it, socialists look forward to a society in which labor will "become not only a means of life, but also the highest want in life,"16 an impossibility when the worker is driven by external authority or need rather than inner impulse: "no form of wage-labor, even though one may be less obnoxious that another, can do away with the misery of wage-labor itself."17 A consistent anarchist must oppose not only alienated labor but also the stupefying specialization of labor that takes place when the means for developing production

Characterization of "revolutionary Socialism":
The revolutionary Socialist denies that State ownership can end in anything other than a bureaucratic despotism. We have seen why the State cannot democratically control industry. Industry can only be democratically owned and controlled by the workers electing directly from their own ranks industrial administrative committees. Socialism will be fundamentally an industrial system; its constituencies will be of an industrial character. Thus those carrying on the social activities and industries of society will be directly represented in the local and central councils of social administration. In this way the powers of such delegates will flow upwards from those carrying on the work and conversant with the needs of the community. When the central administrative industrial committee meets it will represent every phase of social activity. Hence the capitalist political or geographical state will be replaced by the industrial administrative committee of Socialism. The transition from the one social system to the other will be thesocial revolution. The political State throughout history has meant the government of men by ruling classes; the Republic of Socialism will be the government of industry administered on behalf of the whole community. The former meant the economic and political subjection of the many; the latter will mean the economic freedom of all -- it will be, therefore, a true democracy.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

"I walk tall with my Reading habit" (by Samima)

Recalling  childhood, I found myself indulged deeply in a habit of reading. Inception was  by small stories like Aesop fables; and it ranged  from fairy tales to thrillers like Imran series. I had books on morals, historic figures like Razia Sultana, Salahuddin Ayubi, Muslim Caliphs and their justice.  Of course the choice of books (in those time) was mostly by my mother …. She used to present me books on birthdays or other occasions.

So the seed of reading was sown there in me very early and very deep. Then comes a time when the my books started to age with me. Here comes hardcore literature both  English and Urdu, there was chic feminism of Austen, Asmat Chughtai and Amrita Pritam,  refined writings of Wilde, Bernard Shaw and  Bedi , unconventional fictions by Hardy and taboo by Manto, mysteries by Conan Doyl, classic novels of Hajra Masroor, Razia Butt and Khadija Mastoor or best sellers ranging from Stanley Wolpert’s Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan to Tehmina  Durrani’s My Feudal Lord and so many more all around me, waiting  to be explored  and I took full advantage of them in my Khalid Uncle’s library. Reading habit  was fuel for me in those times .  I remember in the hardpacked  competitional  education days, but I still used to manage some time  out for this habit, don’t know why but every read book proved only a drop in the bucket.

 Today, when I look around, I hardly find a teenager having such  inclination for reading, most aren’t  great proponents . They rather consider reading as very primordial or elementary way of killing time.  Even the course books aren’t welcomed much. Cable and Internet adds fuel to fire in these circumstances. So, Is  the habit of reading dying? though a defence one can give is "World is becoming faster" but internet and other sources of entertainment can never replace books. Acquiring  habits  is always a personal choice, but  it is parents responsibility to provide their child with a stimulating environment or at least any predisposition to certain good habit should  be welcomed.  Reading  books helps not only building imagination & character, but also defines  individual’s perspective of society; along with giving  depth to his personality. During this habit my process of actualization started and was able to comprehend why  Sir Francis Bacon once said “Knowledge is Power”.

Some people these days do manifest liking for the habit, they explicitly tell  u about their  reading habit, but ironically it  only covers newspaper/ magazine reading or some articles of  famous journalist. Our  society isn’t only  lacking this regular disposition  but is  depriving  itself  from  knowledge that these books can provide  us.  We are proactive in becoming  ‘informed’ and overlooking the part called  ‘knowledge ’. Both must go hand in hand, otherwise this shortcoming can always be exploited.