Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Who Owns the News?

Dear Readers,

Please read the following attached document extracted from the Consumers Union web site. The link is the following: http://www.consumersunion.org/telecom/owns_news.htm

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 28, 2003


If the federal government weakens the rules for media ownership, a few, powerful media companies could gain greater influence over the news

Americans depend on mass media -- such as television, newspapers, and radio -- to learn about the news, understand issues, and make informed political choices.

The United States has certain rules for owning American media. These rules put limits on how many media outlets a company can own. Media ownership rules are designed to ensure that one company does not have too much control over the media content available in any community.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently reviewing the rules for media ownership. The FCC may decide to relax or eliminate the rules this year. For instance, the FCC is considering whether to ease the limits on how many TV stations and radio stations a company can own in a market, as well as remove the ban on one company owning a daily newspaper and local television station in the same market.

If the FCC relaxes the rules for media ownership, one company in a community would be able to own the local newspaper, several TV and radio stations, and the cable TV system. There would be fewer owners of networks, stations, and newspapers nationwide. The public's ability to have open, informed discussion with a wide variety of viewpoints would be compromised. It would likely result in higher costs for businesses that advertise in local media, and those costs would likely be passed onto consumers.

Consumers Union believes that media ownership rules are essential to a healthy democracy. They help make sure that the public receives a broad range of contrasting perspectives from the media, not just the opinions of a handful of media conglomerates. The rules protect Americans' First Amendment rights to a diverse marketplace of ideas. The stakes for consumers, citizens, and the nation are enormous.

The FCC is expected to make a final decision about relaxing media rules as early as spring 2003. Your opinion is very important:

We encourage you to contact your members of Congress and urge them to tell the FCC to preserve its traditional media ownership rules. Click here to send a letter to your lawmakers in Congress.

You can also contact the FCC directly at http://www.fcc.gov/ownership/Welcome.html. The site offers instructions for filing public comments with the FCC. When you visit the site, the simplest way to send your comments is to click on the phrase "go to ECFS" and scroll down to the bottom of the page where you will find the heading "Send a Brief Comment to FCC."

Below are reading materials about media ownership, including an in-depth story by USA Today that provides an excellent overview of this important issue:


Consumers Union Calls on Congress to Protect Local Ownership of the Media (HR 2052 and S 1046)
letters (Tue May 13 2003)


Nearly 300 Leading Academics Decry FCC Methodology for Lifting Ownership Safeguards
press release (Thur May 01 2003) - from the Center for Digital Democracy


Artist Groups Insist Public Voices Be Heard On Proposed Media Ownership Rule Changes
press release (Wed Apr 30 2003)


Letter to the FCC Regarding Media Ownership
letter (Wed Apr 30 2003)


Letter to the Senate from CU and Center for Creative Community Regarding Media Ownership
letter (Thur Apr 10 2003)


Two Important Developments In Debate Over The FCC's Media Ownership Review: Bipartisan Group Of Key Senators Ask FCC For Full Disclosure Before Revising Media Rules and...
press release (Thur Apr 10 2003)


Letter from the US Small Business Administration to the FCC Regarding Review of the Commission's Broadcast Ownership Rules
letter (Wed Apr 9 2003)


Letter from Members of the Senate Commerce Committee to the FCC Regarding Media Ownership
letter (Wed Apr 9 2003)

USA TODAY, "Relaxing rules raises concerns about diverse media voices," by David Lieberman, January 16, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

GOP Senators Express Concerns About FCC Review Of Media Ownership Rules
press release (Wed Mar 19 2003)


Consumer Groups Question FCC's Powell On Media Diversity Index
press release (Tue Mar 11 2003)


Loss Of Diversity, Localism And Independent Voices Harms The Public Interest: Some Recent Examples
report (Tue Mar 11 2003)


Consumer, Public Interest Groups Urge FCC To Preserve Media Ownership Rules
press release (Mon Feb 03 2003)

Reply Comments of CFA and CU Media Access Project
comments (PDF format) (Mon Feb 03 2003)

Comments of Consumer Federation of America Consumers Union Center for Digital Democracy Media Access Project
comments (Fri Jan 03 2003)

Maintaining Media Ownership Limits Critical To Preserve Access To Quality News And Information
press release (Fri Jan 03 2003)

Comments Filed at the FCC Regarding FCC Media Ownership Rules on Behalf of CU, CFA Center for Digital Democracy, and Media Access Project
executive summary (Thu Jan 02 2003)

Letter to FCC Regarding Media Ownership Proceedings
letter (Wed Oct 23 2002)

CU Statement on FCC Decision to Consolidate Review of Broadcast Media Ownership Rules
press release (Mon Jun 17 2002)

Letter to FCC Regarding Media Ownership Rules
letter (Tue Jun 04 2002)

Public Interest Groups Ask FCC to Preserve Cross-Ownership Rules
press release (Fri Feb 15 2002)

Consumer, Citizen Groups Ask FCC To Reimpose Federal Ownership Limits On Cable TV Ownership
press release (Tue Jan 08 2002)

Court Decision To Overturn FCC Cable TV Limits is Devastating Blow To Consumers
press release (Fri Mar 02 2001)



http://www.consumersunion.org/telecom/owns_news.htm

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

What is the Reality?

Dear Readers,

Religion is too complicated. Particularly, all the nifty-bitty rituals, the long frightening sermons of the Rabbis, Priests and Imams, the violent descriptions of hell-fire, and apparent heavy-handed approach toward progress and modernity by the overtly guarded religionists, are a big turn off. For many Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus and other religionists and non-believers, the experiences are similar. There are the mind-boggling rituals that have become the priority for many world-class religions over spirituality.

Recently, Islam has come under attack from various quarters. The political instability of our world, terrorism and war-guised-terrorism are making the tolerant groups become intolerant, polarized groups are quite common now.

Like all the other major religions, Islam has appeal that helped millions of people embrace it, and for many it may need reform, especially, regarding all those painstaking rituals. Islam’s reform perhaps will come from within itself, from its devoted followers who are open-minded enough to question intolerance shown by outrageous Mullahs and Ayatollahs and their under-whelming guidance toward peaceful spirituality.

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq is a devoted Muslim with open-mind and unlike other closed-minded religionists, he is not afraid to ask relevant questions. In his recent article that was published in IslamiCity web site (http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=IC0304-1938 ) and also favorably referred to in an article published in MSNBC, ( http://www.msnbc.com/news/915698.asp?0dm=C12RO ) the writer raised some urgent issues that tolerant Muslims need to look at carefully.

Here is one excerpt: “As I look around me I see futile discussions taking place that have very little to do with the essence of Islam. A peek into my e-mailbox and I see Muslims arguing on a major Islamic list-server, whether Ameen should be said loud or silently in prayers. Yes, prayer is fundamental to Islam and praying in a manner consistent with the Prophet's is important, but must the Muslims bicker about such details - and for centuries?”

Yes, this type of bickering is huge turn off for many. The valuable energies of Muslims are getting wasted on the fruitless discussions of saying “Ameen” loudly or silently.

Another excerpt: “Islam the religion of peace is not experiencing peace anywhere. Muslim nation-states are not at peace internally or externally. Muslim people are not at peace with themselves. Mosques, Muslim communities and organizations are not at peace among themselves. The Muslims are among those in the world with the highest illiteracy, poverty, infant mortality, insecurity and so on. That is an unfortunate reality. But is an over emphasis on all the ritual details the way to prepare for the ultimate reality, we all as human beings, must contend with?”

Dr. Farooq is right on this point. One may seriously ask why is the “religion of peace” Islam “not experiencing peace anywhere”? What are the causes and what are the necessary solutions? All these painful negatives piling in the Muslim nations like “highest illiteracy, poverty, infant mortality, insecurity”, why this is so? Is this only misfortune? Can Muslims leave their current miserable conditions only on “fate” or similar intangible faith-based abstracts?

Yes, many may argue that Muslim nations suffered immeasurable pains under centuries old appalling colonialism; they were subjected to wars and foreign aided disastrous interventions. But can the Muslim nations wash their hands off their own responsibilities? Can they ignore their own lackadaisical approach in this increasingly competitive world?

Dr. Farooq writes, “Muslim understanding and practices are overshadowed by excessive ritualization and legalism, ignoring moral, behavioral and attitudinal dimensions.” Can this be one of the reasons that Muslim nations are so far behind in the world stage? What purpose “excessive ritualization and legalism” serve other than thwarting the progress?

Another excerpt: ”our focus seems to be on those details of the religion on the basis of which we have entertained schism to the extent that in many cases Muslims are not safe from the hands and tongues of even fellow Muslims.” – and indeed so. It is the fellow Muslims who are the harshest critiques of other “lesser” Muslims, men or women. The division in gender, the overemphasis on veiling women from head to toe; trying to keeping them caged to serve the purpose of domineering men, what earthly or heavenly good purposes do they serve?

“As much emphasis Muslims put on fighting (much of which is among themselves), so little emphasis is placed on positively touching others' lives.” – only if Muslims could change this literal “fighting” mentality!

Before and after the two world wars of the last centuries, Jews had suffered tremendously; horrendous Nazis put millions of them to death; there were even rampant anti-Jewish feelings in the West as well for many centuries. But the Jewish people, with most of their devotion (Revision: exclude Ariel Sharon and arch conservatives like him) to education, business, technologies and overall modernity, they had surmounted the impossible. Now the top notch thinkers, scientists, artists, historians, educators, writers are composed of many Jewish talents. Their dedication and hard work had worked for the betterment of the whole world, including their communities.

Perhaps it is high time for Muslims to have similar earth-moving introspection. Rather than wasting energies in futile violence, terrorism, fighting against other Muslims or other religionists, the pain, anguish, sufferings and humiliations that the billions of Muslims are going through now, perhaps they can transform their pain into positive inspiration; anguish into building blocks of future success stories; sufferings and humiliations into historical anecdotes for the coming generations to learn from them, to build their backward nations and frustrated individuals into dynamic force well prepared for a competitive world.

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq’s article “What is the Reality” is thoroughly piercing and full of compassions. Interpretations of Religion or Non-Religion do not need to be a huge turn off for the future generations. These must be tolerant, appealing and inspirational as the time and world progress.

The article “What is the Reality” is attached below for your review.

Regards,

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 27, 2003


What is the Reality?
4/21/2003 - Religious Social - Article Ref: IC0304-1938
Number of comments: 134
By: Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
IslamiCity* -



Art work by rbstudios.com


"The Reality! What is the Reality? And what will make you realize what the Reality is?" These are the opening verses of Surah al-Haqqa - 69, in the Quran.

These are verses that jolt one's slumped consciousness with a conscious attempt to recalibrate it with the reality. I realize that my eyes are open - they usually are. But the eyes of my mind were shuttered. All the blessings that our Benevolent Lord bestowed upon me, all the knowledge and wisdom I gained, all the friends and well-wishers I have been blessed with; yet as a human being I am so laden with my failures, with my inability to keep engaged my consciousness. Aware that my consciousness can slump sporadically, I need that awakening jolt intermittently: "The reality! What is the Reality? ..."

As I look around me I see futile discussions taking place that have very little to do with the essence of Islam. A peek into my e-mailbox and I see Muslims arguing on a major Islamic list-server, whether Ameen should be said loud or silently in prayers. Yes, prayer is fundamental to Islam and praying in a manner consistent with the Prophet's is important, but must the Muslims bicker about such details - and for centuries?

I see Islamic magazines that are constantly reminding their beloved Muslim brethren and sisters about the innovations (Bid'at) in Islam and the utterly serious consequence of such things in the life hereafter. Yes, Muslims must be on guard about innovations in the beliefs or rituals, but even this constant reminder about innovation might be an innovation in itself, as the Prophet did not do it this way. Moreover, innovation in another - technological - sense is an imperative in our contemporary time. Is it any wonder that a society that is constantly reminded against "innovations" would have its overall ability to innovate stifled?

I hear from the Friday pulpits how women must cover their head so that not even a single hair strand would show. Observance of Islamic guidance in every aspect is important. Interestingly, it seems when it comes to admonishing the women and ensuring that they "remain in line" with God's wishes, we may be over-ambitiously animated and vigilant. The Hijab may have been a mainstay in Khutbah, but seldom have I heard any citation from the Quran that pays tribute to the "fighting" women! - And their Lord hath accepted of them, and answered them: "Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or FEMALE: Ye are members, one of another: Those who have left their homes, or been driven out there from, or suffered harm in My Cause, or FOUGHT or been slain,- verily, I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath;- A reward from the presence of Allah, and from His presence is the best of rewards." Quran 3:195

I observe children being rebuked in Mosques because they are deemed as having absolutely no respect for the stern, loud, deafening, frightening Khutbahs that even the adults have difficulty to feel drawn to. Yes, children should be educated about how to conduct themselves at different places, but do we ever think that some of these kids may develop a bad impression about their visit to Mosques and later our lack of tolerance for their childlike conduct may wither their attachment to Mosque? What is our priority?

I visit websites that are dedicated to drawing up long lists of select Muslim groups who would not be saved. Yes, believing things correctly and doing things properly are important. Yet, the Quran is so categorical against divisiveness and judgmentalism. Quran 23:52-53.

I come across pulp-literature about Islam in various parts of the Muslim world that lists one hundred twenty-four or thirty-two Fards (the obligatory) in Islam, where the list includes believing in the four madhabs (Islamic school of thought) constituting four fards. Of course, I myself don't know this list of Fards in entirety. Notably, attachment to a specific Madhab is merely coincidental through our birth and neither the Prophet nor his companions knew anything about any Madhab at all.


Art work by rbstudios.com


There is a positive side to all this. Essentially, most of these people are trying to prepare for that ultimate achievement, the salvation (Falah). Most of them are probably trying their best according to what they have been culturally conditioned to believe as essential to their salvation. However, something may have gone awry. Islam the religion of peace is not experiencing peace anywhere. Muslim nation-states are not at peace internally or externally. Muslim people are not at peace with themselves. Mosques, Muslim communities and organizations are not at peace among themselves. The Muslims are among those in the world with the highest illiteracy, poverty, infant mortality, insecurity and so on. That is an unfortunate reality. But is an over emphasis on all the ritual details the way to prepare for the ultimate reality, we all as human beings, must contend with?

If salvation or that Reality is of utmost concern to us, it seems that Muslims in general may have their priorities mixed up. Indeed, Muslims have largely lost their attachment to a pivotal Islamic precept: balance and moderation. After all, an important distinction of this Ummah is that it is the balanced Ummah (Ummatau wasat). Quran 2:143

Muslim understanding and practices are overshadowed by excessive ritualization and legalism, ignoring moral, behavioral and attitudinal dimensions. The Quran reminds us to keep our priority straight and balanced by focusing on major sins, so that Allah will wipe out our smaller transgressions or errors [Quran 4:31]; yet we just can't get over our predilection with too much detail.

Because of one single Hadith - and even that is of questionable reliability - which says "... that nation will not prosper which puts a woman in command of its affairs" [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5-709], most overstretched and restrictive rulings have been established about leadership. On the other hand, the Prophet said: "RUINED are those who indulge in hair-splitting" [Sahih Muslim; Vol. 4-6450], yet our focus seems to be on those details of the religion on the basis of which we have entertained schism to the extent that in many cases Muslims are not safe from the hands and tongues of even fellow Muslims. We have even forgotten the stern warning from the Prophet : "A person who would be thoroughly scrutinized (on the Day of Judgment by Allah) is ruined" [Hadhrat Aisha, Sahih Muslim, 6874], yet we have the most passionate obsession with scrutinizing others, especially in terms of minute details.

Lest we misunderstand, personal devotion to details is the beauty of a person's personal faith and commitment, like anyone presenting himself or herself to his or her lover in the most beautiful way. After all, Allah wants our relationship to be elevated to the level of love. Doesn't he? "... those of Faith are overflowing in their LOVE for Allah" [Quran 2:165] "Say: "If ye do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your sins: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." [Quran 3:31] Allah is supposed to be more loving than mothers are to their children [Riyadus Saleheen, 418].

Relationship of love is such that it can't be based on "hair-splitting" details. In loving relationships, so many things are not even spoken, but understood. Interestingly, in relationships of love, there are times when the passion of love clouds our communication - the right words are lost - but that is the language of love.

The matter of not letting our love for the Deen and the Sunnah turn into hair-splitting obsession is not merely an academic or polemical issue. One can see the effects in various parts of the Muslim world. In some countries, people have general security of their lives, but only under un-Islamic autocratic or monarchial rule.

Another major phenomenon of a Muslim society is that, parallel to overemphasis on details, there is also an overemphasis on forms rather than substance. Many times we come across heated exchange - to put it mildly - about whether it is all right to sleep between Tahajjud and Fajr prayer! Frequently, we come across abusive discussions in magazines or online, for example, as to whether Dua Qunut should be offered before, or after, Ruku in Witr prayer. Some discussions are, of course, never-ending, such as is it alright to raise hands while making dua. All these continue unabated over centuries and generations, while the Prophet has taught in unambiguous term that "Verily Allah does not look to your appearance or wealth, but he looks to your hearts and your deeds." [Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, 6221].

Yes, the overemphasis on legalism has robbed us of our manners and characters - actually, a good deal of our humanity, even though the Prophet has taught: "By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day." [Sunan Abu Dawood, 4780] Indeed, all those who care about the Reality (al-Haqqa) - the ultimate Reality - ought to pay attention to the Prophet's teaching: "There is NOTHING heavier than good character put in the scale of a believer on the Day of Resurrection." [Sunan Abu Dawood, 4781]

So, what can help us deal with the Reality? Apparently, in an ultimate sense, even our good deeds are not going to be of big help. "The deeds of anyone of you will NOT save you (from the Hell Fire)." [Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, 470] This particular Hadith has been very instructional for me, especially for an ordinary Muslim like me, full of failure and shortcomings. I don't know what the hundred fards are. I sometime pray Tarawih (night prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan) twenty rakat and at other times eight. I am not sure that the length of my beard is of appropriate length. Considering all the shortcomings and failures I have, what can I hope for?

Yet, the preceding Hadith gives hope for anyone who can't quite give up hope in the face of the reality. My humble reading of the Prophetic teaching in this context has served as an eye-opener. Through a careful reading of what was available, for example, in Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Muatta and so on, I did not come across a case whereby a person has been saved or forgiven in the ultimate sense for being accurate about ritual details. However, there are a number of illustrious Hadith that specifically mention cases whereby a particular person has been saved, forgiven, or given entrance to Paradise for acts of kindness. These are mostly cases involving people that we generally won't even think that they have a chance of salvation. Let's briefly look at some of these cases.

"A man NEVER did a good deed but removed a thorny branch from the road; it was either in the tree and someone cut it and threw it on the road, or it was lying on it, he removed it. Allah accepted this good deed of his and brought him into Paradise." [Sunan Abu Dawood; Vol. 3, 5225]

"A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that." [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, 538]

'Aisha reported: A poor woman came to me along with her daughters. I gave her three dates. She gave a date to each of them and then she took up one date and brought that to her mouth in order to eat that, but her daughters expressed desire to eat it. She then divided the date that she intended to eat between them. This (kind) treatment of her impressed me and I mentioned that which she did to Allah's Messenger . Thereupon he said: Verily Allah has assured Paradise for her, because of (this act) of her, or He has rescued her from Hell-Fire. [Sahih Muslim, 6363].


Art work by rbstudios.com


Each of the above cases, there are similarities. None of the people involved are identifiably pious, as in the cases of the man removing the thorn and the prostitute giving water to a thirsty dog. In the case of date-sharing mother, we don't know that she was a pious person. Another similarity is that none of their acts is related to any aqeedah (creed) or rituals. The most important underlying similarity is that their acts, done not consciously thinking about what might be the consequence for the Hereafter, positively and caringly touched someone else's life or was meant to touch. In one case, it involved even a dog. All of these acts were spontaneous moments during which their true humanity, a reflection of God's mercy, found expression through a small, otherwise not so mention worthy, act.

My feeble mind returns to Surah al-Haqqa! Many general things are mentioned in that Surah about many communities that have been destroyed because of their stubborn transgressions. Only one thing that is specifically mentioned is about not feeding the indigent, an act that touches others' lives [verse 34]. In the Quran so many times Amali Salihat (good deeds) has been mentioned, along with with having Iman (faith) as important to a believer's identity and existence. Thinking about virtuous deeds that might be of special importance for our salvation is the fact that most of these are deeds are those that touch others' lives. The above cases seem to suggest a type of deed that touches the life of others, without any regard to whether the people or lives touched were Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, secularists or atheists.

As much emphasis Muslims put on fighting (much of which is among themselves), so little emphasis is placed on positively touching others' lives. Indeed, it seems that to face the Reality, we can use the same kind of touch of Allah's mercy, grace and care that flowed through that mother sharing a date with her daughters, that no-good man who thought of and cared about others to remove a thorny branch from the road, and not the least, that prostitute who helped a dog to quench its thirst. They were not acting with the thought of being a Muslim or a believer. They were acting what humanity in us should prompt. Islam is to bring out in us as human beings. Our personal devotion to details of the Deen must be, according to the clear teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah, be balanced with our recognition of humanness in a broader perspective - rising above parochial ethnic, religious or other boundaries. Thus, in addition to everything that we have been taught to do and we generally do so as Muslims, to face that ultimate Reality, we need this kind of Islamic touch of humanity.

What can we do as individuals to have such Islamic touch? Why don't we all begin by doing a simple thing today.

A Simple Thing Today!

In life so many things to do
And, yes, so many things to say,
I know I can and I really wish
That I also do a simple thing today.

Let me help quench thirst of someone -
Be it a friend, a stranger, or even a dog,
Let me help carry someone
his burden: a box, a load or log.

Let me bring comfort to someone
Or be a helping hand, perchance,
From the road, if I come across,
Let me remove a thorny branch.

Let me speak a hopeful word
Or help someone find his way,
All the things that I do in a day,
O my Lord, let me do a simple thing today.

This amateur poem of mine should remind you of a Hadith. Hadhrat Abu Hurairah relates that the Prophet said: 'Charity is due from every part of a person's body. Every day on which the sun rises, doing justice between two persons is charity; to extend helping had to a person in riding his mount or put his luggage on it is charity; a pleasant word is charity; every step taken to join in the Salat (prayers) is charity; removing anything which causes harm from a path is charity.' [Sahih Muslim, Kitabul Zakah, 2204].


The author is an associate professor of economics and finance at Upper Iowa University. farooqm@globalwebpost.com; http://www.globalwebpost.com/farooqm

http://www.islamicity.com/articles/articles.asp?ref=IC0304-1938&p=1

Monday, May 26, 2003

Trade Protectionism and Poverty?



By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

May 26, 2003



For the vast majority of our world populace, dire poverty is the reality. The day-by-day struggle to earn the bread, to provide sufficient food for all the family members proves to be daunting for too many poor people around the world. Indeed there are positive initiatives taken. World Bank and other international organizations are working to address this urgent issue. However, still there are more to do, more fair policy needs to be undertaken to establish fair trade among nations that certainly can help reducing poverty.

The poorer nations lack the resources to compete with the richer nations. And the individuals in these poor nations are in further dejected form. Their government can’t provide them subsidies that the richer nations are able to provide to their farmers, their producers, and their manufacturers of various kinds.

Ian Goldin is World Bank’s Vice President of External and UN Affairs. A few weeks back on May 8 he had presented his valuable remarks at the National Economist Club Luncheon. He observed that the trade debate is the single most important issue for the poor people and it may take concerted efforts by everyone involved to reach fair international trade policy that could eliminate the on going trade imbalances that favors disproportionately the richer nations whereas the poorer nations and their people feel depressed and frustrated by the whole unsolved quandary.

Mr. Goldin observed, “In my view, all the rich countries, with some nice exceptions like New Zealand, are really not doing the right things. And so one can find specific policies in the U.S. or in the European countries or Japan that one can argue against, but this isn't to pick on any of them. It's to say that the whole system really needs to be revised and to be thought of in a very different way.”


Subsidies

Every nation tries to protect their interest, their businesses and industries and this is more so for the richer nations due to their immense resources. They provide needed subsidies, implement various tariff on imports to stifle the competition from the foreign nations. Mr. Goldin rightfully pondered that unless there are a level playfield for everyone, the on going trade debate will never be resolved.

Mr. Goldin said that the poor people face double trade barriers from the rich people of the world. One may ask why this is so? Because poor people “are concentrated in production in those sectors which have particularly high trade barriers”. Agriculture is one of these major sectors where double trade barriers are imposed on the poor. Most world’s poor are dependent on agriculture-based economy, they depend on agriculture on “either directly as farmers or indirectly as living in rural villages which are processing or providing inputs to farmers”.

Many economists believe that protectionism might be the barrier that is hindering the “hidden hand” of market to do its supposed wonderful trick in the market economy. Indeed there are poor countries that use the similar protectionism to protect their goods from being obliterated by the beefy foreign competition. And this problem is surely a complex issue, but overall it is the poor nations who are suffering the most. Protectionism in the form of subsidies is one of the major obstacles for international trade to flourish. Mr. Goldin observed, “Clearly, there's no chance that the poor countries can compete in subsidies. The total subsidy in rich countries is greater than the GDP of Africa. It's six times the level of overseas aid. And so the idea that somehow one could create a level playing field by everyone equally applying distortions is clearly a non-starter. And so the only solution--and also the right solution, I think, from many economists' point of view--is to ensure that these subsidies get reduced.”

Also, even in the richer nations, there are wide disparities of these subsidies where the majority of these subsidies do not go to the regular farmers. They go to the much richer farmers in the region. These subsidies “tend to push small farmers off the land in the rich countries because they capitalize their land, they lead to production patterns which are basically not supporting small farmers.” These policies are also detrimental to the environment. Mr. Goldin observed that 70 percent of the nitrogen oxide pollution, a fifth of the contributions to the global warming, comes from these trade protectionism policies. There are possible impacts on public health as well “through changing of diets and also through the types of production patterns that lead to concentration of production.”


Trade Distortionary Policies

In democracy, the politicians must look after their constituency, the interest of people they represent in the Government, and hence Mr. Goldin believes that “it's the sort of thing that should and will happen in a democratic political process.” However, he clearly objects to the interventions that he termed as trade distortionary. Subsidies are a form of interventions in trade. And Mr. Goldin said that it is the prime objective in a democratic process where looking after one’s constituency is equally important using those interventions “which can both meet the political objectives of supporting a countryside and which are not trade distortionary.” Mr. Goldin mentioned border controls and phytosanitary controls which prevent the exports and distort world prices.

Distortionary trade policies have heavy impacts on poor nations. Since the poor countries cannot produce products in lower prices comparing to the subsidized local products in the rich countries, they are unable to sell their products in competitive prices that surely reduces the demand for their products in relation to the substituting products with lower price.

Also, for the producers of these products in the poorer nations, they have limited preferential access at preferential prices and the opportunities for diversification out of them are extremely limited. [1] Mr. Goldin gives a simple example to clarify this point: “If you're a coffee producer in Nigeria or El Salvador, or wherever you are, and you decide that the coffee price is too bad for you, you want to get out of coffee, what are your options? What are your options? If the sugar quota is limited, you're not going to get into more sugar. But what else can you get into? Can you get into fruit? Can you get into higher-value products? Can you get into other products? And the answer on most of these things for most of these producers is that basically the options are progressively eroded both because of tariff and increasingly non-tariff barriers in these countries.”


Non-Tariff Barriers

What are the non-tariff barriers? Mr. Goldin said that these are implicit and explicit protectionism that take the guise of phytosanitary controls. In the richer nations these food controls are used to protect their domestic consumers from badly produced products, to provide them good quality food that they eat, good quality cloth they wear. However, Mr. Goldin strongly believes that the way these phytosanitary controls are being applied has led to very, very high barriers to entry and often implicit protection; in other words, these things are not applied for health reasons but for reasons which are really to do with implicit protectionism or explicit protectionism.[1]

Here is an example that Mr. Goldin provides to explain the subtle trade barriers imposed on poorer nations: “Some camel herders in Mauritania really wanted to diversify out of camels, nomadic existence--these are amongst the poorest of the poor living under $1 a day--and through a technical assistance project came to realize that if they produced camel cheese, this would be a very good opportunity for them. It sells for $10 a kilo. That's $23 a pound or something, $20 a pound. And they did some testing, and they discovered that the most luxurious stores in Paris … and other stores like Harrods, would take their products. But then they were told that they couldn't export this product because there was no tariff line and they would have to come in under other dairy products and the tariff rate was extremely high. And I can give you some of these tariff rates. They were also told that because these camels were not mechanically milked, they did not qualify under the veterinary standards of the European Union. They were also told that if they wanted to contest any of these rulings, they could, of course, contest, but that would cost, what they worked out, about a million dollars, at least. Well, the total annual production value is $3 million. This is not a very interesting proposition for them. So they started looking at other markets, like the U.S. and so on. But then they discovered that wherever they went to, because there's only one flight out of Mauritania which is to Paris, they would have to transit through Paris, and they would be subject to European controls, anyway.”

The poor camel farmers! What can they do? In market economy, finding profitable markets are the paramount goals of the producers, which is very much true for the poorer nations. And to reduce poverty, to get these poorer nations out of poverty ridden economy there must be investment climate that would give better opportunity for the poor people emerging from poverty. But as Mr. Goldin observed, the basic questions for these poor farmers is: where are their market? When various types of trade barriers are imposed, these poor farmers do not have opportunities to sell their products in profitable markets, thus no investment climate is produced, and the severe poverty continues as unending curse. Mr. Goldin pointedly observe that trade constrained policies of rich nations are responsible for seemingly unbreakable poverty cycle.

Mr. Goldin asks, “where do phytosanitary controls really have an impact on health and where are they there to protect local interests”?


Price Instability

These distortionary trade policies also affect on the instability of prices “because very small parts of the world market now are traded in core commodities”, and “the smaller the share of the world market that’s traded, the more that any shock of course, is felt on that market.” And due to this reason if a severe drought breaks out in one of the richer producing nations that produces one of these core commodities, “it has a dramatic impact on the global market, and there’s higher levels of instability.”

This type of instability affects both the producers and the consumers. Due to instability, if price of that commodity increases like grain prices, the consumers suffer by having to pay more. And if due to the instability the price of that commodity plunges to severe low, producers suffer, they lose their profits and savings, which in turn “reduce the opportunities for diversification and investment.”


Tariff Escalation

Tariff escalation is a serious problem. By escalated tariff, nations put escalated barriers for more processed products. Mr. Goldin provides two examples to clarify his point. The duty for the Chilean fresh tomatoes into the U.S. is 2.8 percent. However when these same tomatoes are dried and packaged, their duties are raised to 9 percent. And if the same Chilean tomatoes come as ingredients of salsa or ketchup, the duties are raised to 12 percent. Another example is cocoa beans. European Union puts 1 percent duty for imported cocoa beans, but the same cocoa beans processed as chocolate is 30 percent. Mr. Goldin observes that tariff escalation by the richer nations prevents developing countries adding value themselves on their products, which prevents them using their cows, their dairy products, their sugar, and their cocoa beans to produce chocolate and export it [1] that could provide them better profit and that would in turn reduce poverty in these poverty shackled nations.

Mr. Goldin doesn’t believe in pointing fingers to any particular countries since all the rich nations are adopting similar trade policies that are detrimental to reducing poverty in the poorer nations. While keeping in mind that the richer nations that are democratic, they have their responsibilities to their own citizens, their farmers, their producers and consumers, but on the same token, better policies might be taken to reduce this blatant disparity in trade imbalance “which would be hugely beneficial to developing countries”.

As Mr. Goldin clearly observed that the poorer countries need to continue their struggles as well in eradicating corruption from their government and business sectors, lowering their tariff on various products, adopting necessary “legal and regulatory reforms” that can allow a better investment climate in the poorer nations. World Bank and other international financial institutions are working to address these issues.

But it does not matter a great deal on how much progress the poor nations can make in creating viable investment climate, “if you find that the opportunities that are generated by them are hugely restricted” due to trade barriers imposed by the richer nations, all the good deeds of World Bank or other institutions and the sincere efforts of the poorer nations to get rid of poverty will never work. The aspirations of poorer nations to be independent, to elevate themselves in respectable contributing status in the world economy will always be frustrated by trade distortionary policies.

And this is a central issue that the richer nations must look hard at if they wish to see an equitable world where poverty is reduced and the depressions and angers of the poor are replaced by hopefulness toward progress.


References

1. Ian Goldin, “Protectionism and Poverty”, World Bank, Washington, D.C., May 8, 2003.
2. Picture Reference: "Children of the Basti", Tear Australia.


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Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.

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Saturday, May 24, 2003

Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake: A Future of Hope or Despair?

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 24, 2003


Pigoons and snats, wolvogs and chickienobs: man made creatures; manipulated, blended, genetically spliced and coalesced into caricature of darkest fantasia. What does humanity’s future hold in store?

There is no way that one can be certain where this world would be heeding to. Would it be a paradise that everyone dreams about where sustaining peace would reign over chaos? Or would it be total anarchy and war ravaged world full of despair? What would it be?

Margaret Atwood’s newest novel Oryx and Crake is based on this enigmatic subject.

Sometimes in the future, when the entire world is divided sharply between the have and have-nots, when the corporate culture are tucked in heavily “CorpSeCorps” protected compound from the dismayed ordinary folks in the “pleeblands”, a startlingly apocalyptic future is portrayed with all necessary bells and whistles splattered in this novel to make it a memorable one for the readers.

It is through the amazing advancements of science that our world have seen dramatic improvements in life for billions of people, though the impact might be far and between among groups or nations depending on the wealth of individuals. Nevertheless collectively, there indeed progresses have been made in every aspects of life, liberty and freedom. The previous decades’ racism is shunned. Unmanned rockets are launched for Mars. We are getting snapshots of earth from mars now; even man-made machine has crossed our solar system. New and improved drugs are getting manufactured. Physics is in its glorious stage through tremendous development in increasingly applicable quantum mechanics.

Progress is the magical word. But it is the same word that can be hijacked by the people with insatiable greed and thirst for unlimited power. Oryx and Crake is about this dark side of human species. What could happen if unchecked profit seeking deeds under the guise of “progress” take the modern world to unexpected course? What could befall if in this fatalistic future world civil liberties become the things of the past? What could transpire if only the few selected groups of people enjoy all the wealth and comforts whereas the majorities are left to deal with hunger, manufactured diseases and endless wars and terrorism?

Margaret Atwood began writing this novel in March 2001. She was almost halfway of writing Oryx and Crake, then the terrorists struck WTC in that inglorious morning of September 11. Ms Atwood reminisces the event in her website: “I was sitting in the Toronto airport, daydreaming about Part 8. In ten minutes my flight would be called. An old friend of mine came over and said, "We're not flying." "What do you mean?" I said. "Come and look at the television," he replied. It was September 11. I stopped writing for a number of weeks. It's deeply unsettling when you're writing about a fictional catastrophe and then a real one happens. I thought maybe I should turn to gardening books - something more cheerful. But then I started writing again, because what use would gardening books be in a world without gardens, and without books? And that was the vision that was preoccupying me.”[3]

And Oryx and Crake is that story where all the books been incinerated, only the selected ones are digitized, where arts, literature are being looked at with mocking gesture, where love and romance are replaced by mechanical lust and virtual flush.

Margaret Atwood describes a not-so-distant future, where the progress turn onto its lopsided head, and there are transgressions made on nature, genetic manipulation reaches its peak, dogs and wolves are blended into wolvogs, painless chicken production through chickienobs where drum sticks or chicken breasts are getting grown from artificially created chicken like creatures. So disturbing and palpable the scenes that one might feel a bit uncomfortable next time opening a greasy Kentucky Fried chicken deal of the day pack.

Here is one more excerpt from the author’s description of her novel, “Like The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper. It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians. As with The Handmaid's Tale, it invents nothing we haven't already invented or started to invent. Every novel begins with a what if, and then sets forth its axioms. The what if of Oryx and Crake is simply, What if we continue down the road we're already on? How slippery is the slope? What are our saving graces? Who's got the will to stop us?” [3]

Australia’s The Advertiser compares between The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake:

“In 1986, her The Handmaid's Tale predicted a monocultural and patriarchal America ruled by right-wing fundamentalists reacting extravagantly to perceived threats from Islam. Now she is advancing a new and perhaps more terrifying near-future scenario, one in which she has already registered an interest.” Her characters in The Handmaid's Tale gene-splice a sterility-causing virus based on mumps. They plan to slip it to Moscow officials in caviar, but abandon the idea because the virus is uncontrollable and therefore too dangerous. In her latest novel, Oryx and Crake, such caution has given way to corporate greed and scientific megalomania. Atwood has brilliantly imagined a technological dystopia where ethics and responsibility have been thrown to the wind and bio-engineers play God: "The whole world is now one vast uncontrolled experiment ... and the doctrine of unintended consequences is in full spate," she writes.” [2]

This is the story of Snowman, the protector of Crakers. Crakers are the new artificially created humanoids, devoid of all the negatives of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, who look at Snowman as the messenger of their creator. Snowman, who in earthly life was known as Jimmy, survived the apocalypse where almost the entire earth population were wiped out by newly invented and distributed botched pills called “BlyssPlus”. These children of Crakers, the green eyed men and women, bio engineered in the lab, eat only grass and leaves, they have built-in system hard-wired in their existence that protect them from all the follies of men like cheating, adultery, murders, racism or religious impulse. Their creator Crake made them to be free from all human vices. They don’t know what is jealousy, lust, rage or envy. They purr their wounds and minor infections like felines without needing modern medicine. They are designed to replace the “imperfect” human race; and Crake who in earthly life was known as Glen, designed them to take a jab at “CorpSeCorps” and corporate greed for which his scientist father was murdered when he had found out the devilish plan being cooked in the name of profits and science. Glen was super-genius; and he pursued his own schema of purifying the world, mending its endless problems by wiping out the entire human race and replacing it with his bio-engineered humanoid creatures.

Jimmy had an unhappy childhood. His father was a highly paid researcher for several bioengineer companies, and his mother, who was herself a researcher but had resigned after she had found out that the company was “meddling with the building blocks of life”. This had created a rift between Jimmy’s protesting mother and complying father who did not see any devious scheme in the scientific work he was involved in. Jimmy used to eavesdrop to his parents’ constant arguments and quarrels and was somewhat aware of the moral dilemma her mother was going through. In the end his mother ran away to join the underground rebel movement in the “pleebland” who were opposed to the “meddling with the building blocks of life”.

In his troubled childhood, Jimmy met Glen (Crake) at his school; they became best friend; they spent time playing gruesome online games in various internet sites, and prowled through various horrific TV channels that displayed live executions.

In Jimmy and Crake’s time, there are severe changes in world climate; global temperature has risen quite a bit, many coastal cities are now submerged under ocean, frequent sudden storms are the normal affairs.

This is also a story of triangle love, where Jimmy and Glen loved the same girl, Oryx, who was an Asian girl, sold in her childhood in some economically devastated place in Asia. Jimmy and Glen had met her through their inflamed teenage years’ incessant virtual lust filled browsing, and when they had finally met her many years after, the story of this girl’s life’s ordeal, the excruciating humiliation and imprisonment that she had gone through made Jimmy sympathetic toward her and that also made him enraged against those monstrous child-sellers who prowl through poor parts of this futuristic world, but strikingly similar to our present world, undetected.

“Snowman! Oh Snowman!” exclaim the Crakers, surrounding Jimmy, they want to hear stories, they want to hear about the world, where they came from, meaning of life and existence. To them, Jimmy has all the answers. And Jimmy provides them the simplistic explanation to the way of the world, the obliterated world where vengeful and greedy teetering human species have done the unthinkable at last. They have contributed wiping out their precious civilization and existence.

Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is one of her monumental achievements, it is filled with nostalgia, yarning for a bygone world, friends, family, lovers, the fearful agonies in the dark of the night perching in a tree. All the boastful achievements, glitzy styles amid the hunger of the billions, the ultimate exploitation of the poor, the permanent division of economic classes, these all read like unraveling of a premonitory poem that warn the rage-ripen world and its prehensile citizens in every single page of this unforgettable story.


References

1. Margaret Atwood, “Oryx and Crake”, McClelland Stewart Limited, Canada, April 2003.
2. Katharine England, “Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake”, The Advertiser, May 24, 2003.

3. Margaret Atwood, “Writing Oryx and Crake”, Random House, January 2003

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Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Series of Caskets

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 14, 2003


Warning Message


There was a warning message.

“Some images in this gallery may be disturbing because of their violent or graphic nature.”

And the warning was well intentioned.

The gloomy images of funeral caskets, series of them, showing an entire family of eight members, from large to small bodies of corpses occupying the wooden boxes, can be “disturbing” to many.

“The family of Amir Madlul weeps as he is buried at the cemetery in Najaf”, another image shows the tears of an elderly man, father of Amir, his cringed skin washed with pain. The last shower of 19-year-old Hashim Jalil shows one more graphic nature of this mucky war. A man was pouring water over lifeless Hashim’s brownish naked body, while his relative was reciting prayers for the dead man’s “liberated” soul. Hashim was shot in the head in Baghdad for his spurious journey to “liberation”.

One U.S. soldier was straightforward in his observation, “For lack of a better word, I feel almost guilty about the massacre. We wasted a lot of people. It makes you wonder how many were innocent. It takes away some of the pride. We won, but at what cost?" [1]

The human cost of war is the matter of selectivity to the victors. They conjure their rhetoric in praise of their “brilliant success”, fighting the “evildoers”, killing those “pesky Iraqis” by mother of all bombs. In war, dehumanization becomes the norm. And the disposability of certain human beings of different race, religion or nationality is termed as the “side effects” of war. These are the people of insignificance. In best-seller history books, their names won’t be mentioned. In the future academic curriculum in Iraq, their agonies will possibly be non-existent by the portrayal of supposed emancipation under the smoking hood of “benevolent” colonization.


Mismatched Bloodletting

In this war, the world has seen a grossly mismatched bloodletting while the “United Nations” was snoring in its presumed slumber. The first United Nations charter still decorates UN’s displaying verbiages: "We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims."

The war has shattered UN’s plump decorum. The war has exposed United Nations, the last refuge of the weak, as the place where scrawny third world nations’ voices are scuttled by not-to-talk-about bribes, intimidation and thuggish manipulation of votes. When the bombs were falling, killing thousands of Iraqis, UN couldn’t even muster to pass a war condemnation.

Facing the mighty opponents, their 21st century weapons and unadulterated candor, “waves of Iraqis armed only with rifles came against U.S. armored divisions in Najaf, the U.S. commander called in an air strike on the factory sheltering the Iraqis rather than have his troops continue the slaughter. Lt. Col. Woody Radcliff at the 3rd Infantry Division Operations Center said, "There were waves and waves of people coming at them, with AK-47s, and they were killing everyone. The commander (in the field) called and said, 'This is not right. This is insane. Let's hit the factory with close air support and take them out all at once.'[1]

And they took them out all at once.


Deceits and Bewitched Clairvoyance

This war was gloated as “one of the greatest military campaigns in history." Wow! The future generation will be indoctrinated with this form of deceits and bewitched clairvoyance. A shackled nation under devastating economic sanction imposed for perceived handling of dictator’s “threat” to the region and beyond, whose military was truncated considerably in last Gulf War, whose defense expenditure was about 0.35 percent comparing to the superpower, thrashing and massacring are now referred to as “one of the greatest military campaigns in history”. Is this a far-fetched imagination?

Anthony B Robinson is a priest. He writes, “On Good Friday, the prayers are repetitive. "God have mercy, Lord have mercy, God have mercy upon us." These are the right prayers for this time when there is reason for reflection and anguish, not elation or self-congratulation.” [1]

But elation or self-congratulation is abundant after this war. Blair is calling for a victorious parade. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are all smile, ear to ear, for profound establishment of might is right doctrine. Massive contracts are awarded to politically well-connected companies, in secret, to preserve the “classified” agenda. Michael Kinsley describes the possible feeling among the victors: “Hey, we paid for the destruction. If it weren't for us, there wouldn't be all these roads and bridges that need rebuilding. So if someone's going to make money rebuilding them, it ought to be us.” [2]

Destroy and rebuild. What a marvelous combination for the profiteers! Bomb and incinerate the poor, their schools, hospitals, refrain from protecting their sense of pride and thousands of years old historical lineages. Robert Darnton asks in his Washington Post article, “how will the Iraqis fuse a national identity out of the diverse cultures that have come apart with the destruction that has robbed them of their common past?”[11]


Is Terrorism Decimated?

From the very beginning the anti-war protesters had flooded the streets around the world. They had shouted their opposition to this ill-conceived war. They had rightfully pointed that this war would only create cycle of violence; the terrorists would be the ultimate beneficiaries since this lopsided war’s humiliation would be used as fuel on their insane terrorism against civilians all over the world. But the anti-war protesters’ warnings and peace resolution were not paid heed to. The leaders were gloating over war victory in Iraq. They were boasting that terrorists are defeated. “Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. . . . They're not a problem anymore."[13]

And like many other aspects of international events, this administration was completely mistaken in this heart of the issue as well. Terrorists are not decimated. They have regrouped and are continuing their insane murderous acts. May 12 was one of the testaments of their not being destroyed. They have synchronized three or four simultaneous terrorist attacks in Riyadh, targeting specifically the Western communities, their housing complex with powerful suicide bombs. There were dozens of innocent lives lost, hundreds injured.

New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd writes, "This was the big game for them — you put up or shut up, and they have failed," Cofer Black, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office, told The Washington Post last week. Of course, the other way of looking at it is that Al Qaeda works at its own pace and knows how to conduct operations on the run.” [13]

This attack was on the eve of US Secretary of State Collin Powel’s visit to Saudi Arabia. The terrorists wanted to derail any peace initiatives. They wanted to create provocation for further wars so that the cycle of violence continues unabated.

The undemocratic Saudi Government was under pressure both from internal repressed dissents and from abroad due to its inability in dealing effectively with Osama’s offspring. There are unemployed youths and hard-core Wahabbites who are the prime targets for Osama’s secretive human resource department. And Osama uses this suppressed anger among the voiceless and disenfranchised Saudis in his murderous causes.

What Saudi Arabia needs is a complete reform, starting from the top checkerboard to the bottom, eradicating entrenched corruption in the Princely state, and its eventual establishment of a democratic government where the Royal family could only be given the status of an honorable position, no power sharing at all with the people’s elected government. To defeat Osama and his offspring, perhaps there are no other alternatives than replacing the Saudi Monarchs with a fair democratic political system where foreign interventions and religious zealots are both get checked from destabilizing the region once more.

New York Times Editorial stress on this urgent reform process, “it is the best current chance for a way out, toward a future in which suicide attacks on innocent civilians will be understood by Muslims around the world not as a form of political protest, but as utter insanity.”[14] So do the needs are there for reform on neo-cons infested superpowers’ endless war agendas. When the both sides realize that this senseless cycle of violence must be stopped, insanity could be replaced by sane humanity.


Series of Caskets

In Iraq they are now unearthing mass gravesites where Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime buried the dissenters just after the 1991 Gulf War. The skulls and bony parts of murdered Iraqis wrapped in transparent plastics, their tattered old identification cards still visible that reveal their name, and the victims’ living relatives searching for trace of their loved ones among the heap of skeletal remains. There are reports that the aggrieved relatives are taking away the remaining bony parts of their loved ones so that they could be provided a decent burial, could be placed in wooden caskets for showing the last respects.

In Najaf, Nasiriyah, and many other bombed and devastated parts of Iraq, the victims’ families are still gathering around the grave sites of their beloved family members buried in graves, resting peacefully in brownish caskets.

They will need more caskets for the atrocities in Riyadh this week. More innocent bodies will be washed. Christians will be provided the best suits or magenta colored coats with a bow tie, resting in a soothing pillow in long dark coffins in respectful funeral services leaded by priests. Muslim victims will be enwrapped with their last white peace of cloth that is called shroud. Imam will recite prayers in the mosque for the departed souls.

When everyone leaves the graveyards, when the advertising lights are off, the cold lifeless bodies buried in a grave inside caskets away from all modern invasive intrusions, there remains only the decaying flesh on calcium oozing bones.

In the end, in series of caskets, we are the same.


References

1. Anthony B Robinson, “War in Iraq a Reason for Shame”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 18, 2003.

2. Michael Kinsley, “Spoils to the Victor”, Washington Post, April 18, 2003.

3. Jonathan Glancey, “Our Last Occupation”, The Guardian, April 19, 2003.

4. Ben Okri, “The New Dark Age”, The Guardian, April 19, 2003.

5. David Edwards, “Moral Meltdown”, Media Lens, April 18, 2003.

6. Ignacio Ramonet, “Lawless War”, Le Monde Diplomatique, April 2003 issue.

7. Peter Ford and Scott Peterson, “Baghdad’s Unexploded Bombs”, Christian Science Monitor, April 16, 2003.

8. Edward Said, “Give Us Back Our Democracy”, The Observer, April 20, 2003.

9. Pervez Hoodbhoy, “Islamabad Express”, Prospect, May 2003 issue.

10. Mary Riddell, “Blinded by the Myths of Victory”, The Observer, April 20, 2003.

11. Robert Darnton, “Burn a Country’s Past and Your Torch Its Future”, Washington Post, April 20, 2003.

12. Peter Preston, “The World won’t Forgive or Forget”, The Guardian, May 5, 2003.

13. Maureen Dowd, “Osama’s Offspring”, The New York Times, May 14, 2003.

14. “Death in Riyadh”, New York Times Editorial, May 14, 2003.

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Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: A Book Review

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 14, 2003

As I was reading this beautifully written book, rummaging through various outrageously artistic nitty-gritty details of life’s normality and abnormality, I couldn’t but chuckle reminiscing Senator Rick Santorum’s huff and puff only a few weeks ago. What would Santorum do if he had had read this novel? What could be his reaction? Perhaps another “sacred” scripture filled “talks” could bamboozle us. Perhaps not.

Jeffrey Eugenides has guts for sure. He is courageous to the bone. Not many contemporary writers could write a story on a subject that is considered serious “no! no!” in our modern world. Any mention of “abnormal” folks with “dysfunctional” or “weird” procreation or no-procreation “tools” is considered a subject for the underground honk-bonk liberals. Jeffrey Eugenides is bold in his ventures. He does not hesitate to develop his character, Calliope, who is a hermaphrodite, with every bit of humane compassion he could muster.

I still remember back in my old days, there were severe laughter and corny stare filled hush-hush rebuke whenever the slightest talks on these “unfortunate” folks came into discussion. One of the popular curses used by many was using their name.

In Indian subcontinent they are known as “Hijra”.

They are condemned from their birth. Their pain and suffering are not to be discussed. Open and shut case! No more discussion is allowed in all-purified heterosexual world.

Aha! We are called the modern world!

Like countless other hypocrisy filled shouting showy “morality” and “ethics”, the case for these condemned human beings are kept in shadow.

Jeffrey Eugenides wishes to shatter that “peaceful” serenity imbedded in modern porous morality.

When a child is born with abnormal “tools”, does he or she have any choice? But this inhumane world does not think so. We have venomous Falwell, murderous Laden, polygamous bearded Mullahs and Hari-Nam spewing orange scarf wearing temple men, who are in the forefront in their vicious campaign against all forms of “abnormality”, forgetting quite nicely about their own abnormal “pious” falsity.

Now that well-deserved condemnation is done and as I’m feeling much lighter after clearing my tonsil-filled throat, let’s look at Middlesex, this year’s Pulitzer winner.

Middlesex is Jeffrey Eugenides’ only second published book. For many it was a huge surprise that he could win literary world’s one of the respectable prize so early in his literary career. But he did it. Breaking away from all the old suffocated tradition, he has won the big prize this year. Jeffrey Eugenides is not completely unknown in the literary world. His first book Virgin Suicide that was published in 1993, got quite a good acclaim from various corners. Even the Publishers Weekly commented on his first novel, “Eugenides’s voice is so fresh and compelling, his powers of observation so startling and acute, that most will be mesmerized……Tantalizing….imaginative and talented.”

And he is talented, imaginative and all the other favorable adjectives that I can’t remember right now, can be bestowed to this writer maestro. From the very first sentence of Middlesex he has demonstrated his ability of embracing a reader with his hypnotic artistry, and getting away from that strong embrace is not quite ordinary matter.

The very first sentence reads the following: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” Thus the unforgettable story begins, the battle of sexes, gender identity, the girlish and boyish agony through childhood and adolescence were painted in colorful detail.

Calliope Helen Stephanides is his/her name. This is not the story of Calliope’s life only. This is the story of Desdemona, Lefty, Milton, Priest Mike, Sourmelina, Zizmo, Dr. Philobosian and many other memorable characters as well. A hefty five hundred-page book but when you read the last sentence, you might just wish for more.

Atrocity and brutality, wars and devastation are not limited only to our decades and generation. From the earliest memory and recorded history that man able to extract show the similar pattern of exploitation, murderous zeal, greed, treachery and corpse churning wars and battles scattered all over historical meander.

In 1919, “The Greek Army, encouraged by the Allied Nations, had invaded western Turkey”, “reclaiming the ancient Greek territory in Asia Minor.” Desdemona and Lefty, brother and sister lived in Bithynios controlled by the Greek till then. “A Greek flag flew over the former Ottoman palace. The Turks and their leader, “Mustafa Kemal, had retreated to Angora in the east. For the first time in their lives the Greeks of Asia Minor were out from under Turkish rule. No longer were the giaours (“infidel dogs”) forbidden to wear bright clothing or ride horses or use saddles. Never again, as in the last centuries, would Ottoman officials arrive in the village every year, carting off the strongest boys to serve in the Janissaries. Now, when the village men took silk to market in Bursa, they were free Greeks, in a free Greek city.”

But their euphoria did not last long.

The Turks invaded the Greek occupied land. Lefty and Desdemona were in panic. “We’ll go to Smyrna,” said Lefty. “Everyone says Smyrna’s the safest way”.

They were all wrong.

The occupying Greek General Hajienestis who was the Commander in Chief of the Greek forces in Asia Minor in that year, was informed by his second in command that “The Turkish cavalry has been sighted one hundred miles east of Smyrna. The refugee population is now 180,000. That’s an increase of 30,000 people since yesterday.” Desdemona and Lefty were not aware of this secret information. They have already embarked their journey to Smyrna believing that it was the safest place they could go.

There were rumors floating in the air. Allied warships were anchored near Smyrna along with other merchant ships. “---yesterday an Armenian newspaper had claimed that the Allies, eager to make amends for their support of the Greek invasion, were planning to hand the city over to the victorious Turks – the citizens looked out at the French destroyers and British battleships, still on hand to protect European commercial interests in Smyrna, and their fears were calmed.” They felt that the European powers would never let the Turks enter the city. “…if they did, the presence of the warships in the harbor would restrain the Turks from looting. Even during the massacres of 1915 the Armenians of Smyrna had been safe.”

But it was a mistake. In the end these allied battleships, warships and destroyers did not come to rescue for the poor and desperate.

Dr. Nishan Philobosian was from Smyrna. He believed firmly that no harm would come to the Smyrna residents, the Ally would never let it happen. Like a life insurance he possessed a letter that proclaimed, “This letter is to certify that Nishan Philobosian, M.D., did, on April 3, 1919, treat Mustafa Kemal Pasha for diverticulitis. Dr. Philobosian is respectfully recommended by Kemal Pasha to the esteem, confidence, and protection of all persons to whom he may present this letter.” (Page 47)

The beach of Smyrna was flooded with hundreds of thousands of refugees, huddled together with their family, hoping to getaway in a boat to a secured place while the Turks’ booming advancement could be heard in faraway places. These refugees had so much faith in Greek Armies and on Ally’s friendship. But what was happening in Ally’s mighty ships?

In one of those ships, Major Arthur Maxwell of His Majesty’s Marines were looking at these helpless refugees through his binocular. Here are some conversation excerpts:

“Jolly crowded, what?”

“Looks like Victoria Station on Christmas Eve, sir.”

“Look at those poor wretches. Left to fend for themselves. When words gets out about the Greek commissioner’s leaving, it’s going to be pandemonium.”

“Will we be evacuating refugees, sir?”

“Our orders are to protect British property and citizens.”

“But, surely, sir, if the Turks arrive and there’s a massacre …”

“There’s nothing we can do about it, Phillips. I’ve spent years in the Near East. The one lesson I’ve learned is that there is nothing you can do with these people. Nothing at all! The Turks are the best of the lot. The Armenian I liken to the Jew. Deficient moral and intellectual character. As for the Greeks, well, look at them. They’ve burned down the whole country and now they swarm in here crying for help. Nice cigar, what?”

“Awfully good, sir.”

“Smyrna tobacco. Finest in the world. Brings a tear to my eyes, Phillips, the thought of all that tobacco lying in those warehouses out there.”

“Perhaps we could send a detail to save the tobacco, sir.”

“Do I detect a note of sarcasm, Phillips?”

“Faintly, sir, faintly.”

“Good Lord, Phillips, I’m not heartless. I wish we could help these people. But we can’t. It’s not our war.”

“Are you certain of that, sir?”

“What do you mean?”

“We might have supported the Greek forces. Seeing as we sent them in.”

“They were dying to be sent in! Venizelos and his bunch. I don’t think you fathom the complexity of the situation. We have interests here in Turkey. We must proceed with the utmost care. We cannot let ourselves get caught up in these Byzantine struggles.”

“I see, sir. More cognac, sir?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“It’s a beautiful city, though, isn’t it?”

“Quite. You are aware of what Stravo said of Smyrna, are you not? He called Smyrna the finest city in Asia. That was back in the time of Agustus. It’s lasted that long. Take a good look, Phillips. Take a good long look.”

Yep! Take a good long look. The greedy interests over thousands of innocent civilians huddled in the cold of Smyrna beach. Their lives were expendable to the Ally and the Greek and Turk Armies. Poor Desdemona and Lefty were among these hapless refugees, holding each other’s hand, hoping for a better life in a secured place. The same dreams could be seen other equally hapless refugees, among their babies, children, elders, they were all hopeful. Their armies could never abandon them. Their European brethren could never leave them at the mercy of Turks. Could they?

Dr. Nishan Philobosian thought the same, and that’s the reason he wanted to stay in the city despite the oncoming Turkish march. He felt secured since he had possessed that “sacred” letter from Turkish leader. His wife and children were all sure that nothing could happen to them.

But some awful thing did happen. Dr. Philobosian’s family jumped when they heard the knock on the door. They thought it must be their father returning from the sick neighbor’s house. “Go. Let him in! Quick!” Toukhie says.

“Karekin vaults down the stairs two at a time. At the door he stops, collects himself, and quietly unbolts the door. At first, when he pulls it open, he sees nothing. Then there’s a soft hiss, followed by a ripping noise. The noise sounds as though it has nothing to do with him until suddenly a shirt button pops off and clatters against the door. Karekin looks down as all at once his mouth fills with a warm fluid. He feels himself being lifted off his feet, the sensation bringing back to him childhood memories of being whisked into the air by his father, and he says, “Dad, my button,” before he is lifted high enough to make out the steel bayonet puncturing his sternum. The fire’s reflection leads along the gun barrel, over the sight and hammer, to the soldier’s ecstatic face.”

Dr. Philobosian was not at home when Turkish soldiers attacked his family. When he returned, “It didn’t occur to Dr. Philobosian that the twisted body he stepped over in the street belonged to his younger son. He noticed only that his front door was open. In the foyer, he stopped to listen. There was only silence. Slowly, still holding his doctor’s bag, he climbed the stairs. All the lamps were on now. The living room was bright. Toukhie was sitting on the sofa, waiting for him. Her head had fallen backward as though in hilarity, the angle opening the wound so that a section of windpipe gleamed. Stepan sat slumped at the dining table, his right hand, which held the letter of protection, nailed down with a steak knife. Dr. Philobosian took a step and slipped, then noticed a trail of blood leading down the hallway. He followed the trail into the master bedroom, where he found his two daughters. They were both naked, lying on their backs. Three of their four breasts had been cut off. Rose’s hand reached out toward her sister as though to adjust the silver ribbon across her forehead.”

When I read these lines, I was speechless. Eugenides has given life to war’s viciousness and brutality. The full gore of war is in display. Like Iraqi limbless Ali, and thousands of other nameless innocent civilians bombed by the “coalition” invasion or butchered by Saddam and his murderous cohorts, the past generation, ages had witnessed the similar atrocity. There is no barrier of religions, any race or nationality. In the maddening hypnotic wars, every brutality is foreseeable, every devastation is predictable.

Eugenides chronicles the deeply saddening episode in burning Smyrna: “On the deck of the Jean Bart, the three new French citizens looked back at the burning city, ablaze from end to end. The fire would continue for the next three days, the flames visible for fifty miles. At sea, sailors would mistake the rising smoke for a gigantic mountain range. In the country they were heading for, America, the burning of Smyrna made the front pages for a day or two, before being bumped off by the Hall-Mills murder case (the body of Hall, a Protestant minister, had been found with that of Miss Mills, an attractive choir member) and the opening of the World Series. Admiral Mark Bristol of the U.S. Navy, concerned about damage to American-Turkish relations, cabled a press release in which he stated that “it is impossible to estimate the number of deaths due to killings, fire, and execution, but the total probably does not exceed 2000.” The American consul, George Horton, had a larger estimate. Of the 400,000 Ottoman Christians in Smyrna before the fire, 190,000 were unaccounted for by October 1. Horton halved that number and estimated the dead at 100,000.” Doesn’t this remind us the recent war casualty estimate that is shrouded in secrecy?

Middlesex is not about the war only. There are so many dynamic aspects of it that the writer has masterfully developed, it reads like a magic box, in each chapter there are surprises, there are flowing stories enwrapped with one another. Calliope was raised as a girl but in the end she discovered her true identity. This is her story. This is her father Milton’s story who was a die-hard republican, he had arguments with his democrat loving Greek expatriates in support of Richard Nixon. This story is also about a strange character named Zizmo, who was a bootlegger in the time of American alcohol prohibition, who was a firm supporter of Turks. Zizmo was so versatile that he even became a Muslim leader who had inspired the Detroit Black populace in converting to Nation of Islam. There were romance, there were agonies of dreams of bearing the mutant babies and genetic disorders. It was a nightmare for Rick Santorum and conservatives like him.

Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex is a literary triumph to the fullest extent.


Amazon Link: Click Here.

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Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.

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Saturday, May 10, 2003

Life of Pi – a Perplexed Boy’s Inquisitive Journey

Dear Readers,

Canadian writer Yann Martel’s spectacular novel “Life of Pi” is about a boy and his perplexed inquisitive journey through life. He is a boy of Indian origin.

“Life of Pi” is a story of this amazing boy Piscine Molitol who due to the deliberate distortion of his first name to “pissing”, obviously likes to be called as Pi as the irrational number Pi is pronounced. This is the story of Pi and an elegant and monstrous Royal Bengal Tiger, both of them are entrapped in a lifeboat, the struggle for survival, outmaneuvering nature and clinging on the ingenuity of instinct and his steadfast belief in multiple faiths, namely, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, makes this story a memorable one.

Along with its serious theme of life and death, this novel is quite funny as well. Pi’s earlier childhood was full of nostalgic memories in the middle of a zoo that his father owned. There was the atheist teacher who opens Pi’s eyes on nature the way he never had seen before. Pi’s successive journey to a Church, Mosque and a Temple, made him embrace each of these religions simultaneously. For Pi, each of these religions offered him a sense of peace that he did not wish to renounce by accepting any one specific religion and denouncing others. And Atheism had its own appeal to him as well.

I have attached a snippet from this lovable novel.

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 10, 2003

From Chapter 8

It was on a Sunday morning. I was quietly playing on my own. Father called out.

Children, come here.”

Something was wrong. His tone of voice set off a small alarm bell in my head. I quickly reviewed my conscience. It was clear. Ravi must be in trouble again. I wondered what he had done this time. I walked into the living room. Mother was there. That was unusual. The disciplining of children, like the tending of animals, was generally left to Father. Ravi walked in last, guilt written all over his criminal face.

“Ravi, Piscine, I have a very important lesson for you today.”

“Oh really, is this necessary?” interrupted Mother. Her face was flushed.

I swallowed. If Mother, normally so unruffled, so calm, was worried, even upset, it meant we were in serious trouble. I exchanged glances with Ravi.

“Yes, it is,” said father, annoyed. “It may very well save their lives.”

Save our lives! It was no longer a small alarm bell that was ringing in my head – they were big bells now, like the ones we heard from Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, not far from the zoo.

“But Piscine? He’s only eight,” Mother insisted.

“He’s the one who worries me the most.”

I’m innocent!” I burst out. “It’s Ravi’s fault, whatever it is. He did it!”

“What?” said Ravi. “I haven’t done anything wrong.” He gave me the evil eye.

“Shush!” said Father, raising his hand. He was looking at Mother. “Gita, you’ve seen Piscine. He’s at that age when boys run around and poke their noses everywhere.”

Me? A run-arounder? An everywhere-nose-poker? Not so, not so! Defend me, Mother, defend me, I implored in my heart. but she only sighed and nodded, a signal that the terrible business could proceed.

“Come with me”, said Father.

We set out like prisoners off to their execution.

We left the house, went through the gate, entered the zoo. It was early and the zoo hadn’t opened yet to the public. Animal keepers and groundskeepers were going about their work. I noticed Sitaram, who oversaw the orang-utans, my favorite keeper. He paused to watch us go by. We passed birds, bears, apes, monkeys, ungulates, the terranium house, the rhinos, the elephants, the giraffes.

We came to the big cats, our tigers, lions and leopards. Babu, their keeper, was waiting for us. We went round and down the path, and he unlocked the door to the cat house, which was at the center of a moated island. We entered. It was a vast and dim cement cavern, circular in shape, warm and humid, and smelling of cat urine. All around were great big cages divided up by thick, green, iron bars. A Yellowish light filtered down from the skylights. Through the cage exits we could see the vegetation of the surrounding island, flooded with sunlight. The cages were empty – save one: Mahisha, our Bengal tiger patriarch, a lanky, hulking beast of 550 pounds, had been detained. As soon as we stepped in, he loped up to the bars of his cage and set off a full-throated snarl, ears flat against his skull and round eyes fixed on Babu. The sound was so loud and fierce it seemed to shake the whole cat house. My knees started quaking. I got close to Mother. She was trembling, too. Even Father seemed to pause and steady himself. Only Babu was indifferent to the outburst and to the searing stare that bored into him like a drill. He had a tested trust in iron bars. Mahisha started pacing to and fro against the limits of his cage.

Father turned to us. “What animal is this?” he bellowed above Mahisha’s snarling.

“It’s a tiger,” Ravi and I answered in unison, obediently pointing out the blindingly obvious.

“Are tigers dangerous?”

“Yes, Father, tigers are dangerous.”

“Tigers are very dangerous,” Father shouted. “I want you to understand that you are never – under any circumstances – to touch a tiger, to pet a tiger, to put your hands through the bars of a cage, even to get close to a cage. Is that clear? Ravi?”

Ravi nodded vigorously.

“Piscine?”

I nodded even more vigorously.

He kept his eyes on me.

I nodded so hard I’m surprised my neck didn’t snap and my head fall to floor.

I would like to say in my own defence that though I may have anthropomorphized the animals till they spoke fluent English, the pheasants complaining in uppity British accents of their tea being cold and the baboons planning their bank robbery getaway in the flat, menacing tones of American gangsters, the fancy was always conscious. I quite deliberately dressed wild animals in tame costumes of my imagination. But I never deluded myself as to the real nature of my playmates. My poking nose had more sense than that. I don’t know where Father got the idea that his youngest son was itching to step into a cage with a ferocious carnivore. But wherever the strange worry came from – and Father was a worrier – he was clearly determined to rid himself of it that very morning.

“I’m going to show you how dangerous tigers are,” he continued. “I want you to remember this lesson for the rest of your lives.”

He turned to Babu and nodded. Babu left. Mahisha’s eyes followed him and did not move from the door he disappeared through. He returned a few seconds later carrying a goat with its legs tied. Mother gripped me from behind. Mahisha’s snarl turned into a growl deep in the throat.

Babu unlocked, opened, entered, closed and locked a cage next to the tiger’s cage. bars and a trapdoor separated the two. Immediately Mahisha was up against the dividing bars, pawing them. To his growling he now added explosive, arrested woofs. Babu placed the goat on the floor; its flanks were heaving violently, its tongue hung from its mouth, and its eyes were spinning orbs. He untied its legs. The goat got to its feet. Babu exited the cage in the same careful way he had entered it. The cage had two floors, one level with us, the other at the back, higher by about three feet, that led outside to the island. The goat scrambled to this second level. Mahisha, now unconcerned with Babu, paralleled the move in his cage in a fluid, effortless motion. He crouched and lay still, his slowly moving tail the only sign of tension.

Babu stepped up to the trapdoor between the cages and started pulling it open. In anticipation of satisfaction, Mahisha fell silent. I heard two things at that moment: Father saying “Never forget this lesson” as he looked on grimly; and the bleating of the goat. It must have been bleating all along, only we couldn’t hear it before.

I could feel Mother’s hand pressed against my pounding heart.

The trapdoor resisted with sharp cries. Mahisha was beside himself – he looked as if he were about to burst through the bars. He seemed to hesitate between staying where he was, at the place where his prey was closest but most certainly out of reach, and moving to the ground level, further away but where the trapdoor was located. He raised himself and started snarling again.

The goat started to jump. It jumped to amazing heights. I had no idea a goat could jump so high. But the back of the cage was a high and smooth cement wall.

With sudden ease the trapdoor slid open. Silence fell again, except for bleating and the click-click of the goat’s hooves against the floor.

A streak of black and orange flowed from one cage to the next.

Normally the big cats were not given food one day a week, to simulate conditions in the wild. We found out later that Father had ordered that Mahisha not be fed for three days.

I don’t know if I saw blood before turning into Mother’s arms or if I daubed it on later, in my memory, with a big brush. But I heard. It was enough to scare the living vegetarian daylights out of me. Mother bundled us out. We were in hysterics. She was incensed.

“How could you, Santosh? They’re children! They’ll be scarred for the rest of their lives.”

Her voice was hot and tremulous. I could see she had tears in her eyes. I felt better.

“Gita, my bird, it’s for their sake. What if Piscine had stuck his hand through the bars of the cage one day to touch the pretty orange fur? Better a goat than him, no?”

His voice was soft, nearly a whisper. He looked contrite. He never called her “my bird” in front of us.

We were huddled around her. He joined us. But the lesson was not over, though it was gentler after that.

Father led us to the lions and leopards.

:”Once there was a madman in Australia who was a black belt in karate. He wanted to prove himself against the lions. He lost. Badly. The keepers found only half his body in the morning.”

“Yes, Father.”

The Himalayan bears and the sloth bears.

“One strike of the claws from these cuddly creatures and your innards will be cooped out and splattered all over the ground.”

“Yes, Father.”

The hippos.

“With those soft, flabby mouths of theirs they’ll crush your body to a bloody pulp. On land they can outrun you.”

“Yes, Father.”

The hyenas.

“The strongest jaws in nature. Don’t think that they’re cowardly or that they only eat carion. They’re not and they don’t! They’ll start eating you while you’re still alive.”

“Yes, Father.”

The orang-utans.

“As strong as ten men. They’ll break your bones as if they were twigs. I know some of them were once pets and you played with them whey were small. But now they’re grown-up and wild and unpredictable.”

“Yes, Father.”

The ostrich.

“Looks flustered and silly, doesn’t it? Listen up: it’s one of the most dangerous animals in a zoo. Just one kick and your back is ……………..


Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0151008116/muktochinta-20/104-4818201-9754351

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Re: Dances of Wolves in Perpetual Wars

Replying to:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MuktoChinta/message/5502

Shaun: “Not pressing at the time? Not relevant? “

My Reply: These are called fictitious issues under a fictitious leader. Michael Moore is right about this. The neo-cons invent fictitious scenario as they did during the cold war. The same is true for the “evil” Russian empire. They invented fictitious enemies and kept fighting them for the spoils of war. Stalin did the same. As Hitler invented fictitious enemies among law abiding German and Polish Jews or among the faraway “impure” gentiles. And have you forgotten the “Gulf of Tonkin’s infamous history just before the bloodiest onslaught in Vietnam?

Shaun: “Increasing hostility towards the United States perpetrated with increasingly violent acts and increasingly dedicated members of violent groups acting with more effective communication. Sounds relevant to me. Sounds pretty current unless you've been reading different newspapers for the last few years.”

My Reply: Unless you have been reading only conservative belly burning propaganda, you must have implored what’s really happening in this world. Increasing hostility towards the United States? What about increasing hostility towards the rest of the world by the American Bush administration? Neo-cons want you to see the world in black and white. They want you to distinguish the world as “either you are with us or you are with the terrorist”. But is this world so simplistic like those neo-cons’ whims? Indeed there are terrorists who are violating every norms of human dignity by killing innocent civilians. But so is the present Bush administration when they defiantly use the cluster bombs to incinerate Iraqi babies and pregnant mothers. Sounds relevant to me. Sounds pretty current unless you’ve been reading altogether out of synch newspapers for the last few years amidst conservative celebration.

Shaun: “There has to be an American response to this increased threat to national security and I don't see how you intend to discuss the effects without discussing the cause. “

My Reply: Just after 9-11 the entire world was with the American people. The world shed tears, gathered in common unison to share the universal agony that the Americans felt at those moments of infamy. But what happened after that? How spuriously Bush Administration managed to turn the world sympathy into protests against American zeal? Force and over-force can never make a nation secured ad infinitum, there must be reconciliation, and searching the causes of confrontations among nations and people, the clashes of ideologies must be implored and peaceful negotiations must be undertaken without diving into greedy motives. We must discuss the cause, as you agree, to alleviate the ill effects of terrorism and brutal aggressions.

Shaun: “Your comments are as contradictory as Karim's. You rally against the use of force in this war which you call illegal and at the same time denounce what you see as an increasing willingness, or at least tolerance by the American people of the use of force by the American government. “

My Reply: Not only me, millions of peace loving people around the world rallied against use of force in this ill-conceived war. American people and American Government, especially the Bush Administration are not the synonymous terms. There are fundamental differences between them. American people are overwhelmingly peace loving as the rest of the world’s citizens are. It is the neo-cons infested Bush administration that is using all forms of lies, deceits to justify their warrior causes. Even the Nobel Laureate American ex-President Jimmy Carter was bold and clear in his opposition against this horrible war. Senator Byrd was prolific in his denouncement of Bush Administration just before the war rolled out. There are possibly good folks in present Bush administration as well, but they seem to be, at least for now, in the loosing side in the battle against the much stronger neo-cons establishment.

Shaun: “Have you so soon forgotten that the American people's wearinees of warfare and the fear of increased casualties was exactly what stopped American forces from removing Saddam from power in Iraq during the "Legal" Gulf War and limited the ongoing military function to one of containment?”

My Reply: No, I have not forgotten the first “Legal” Gulf war. Perhaps you have forgotten what lead to that war. Perhaps you’ve forgotten how and why the brutal Saddam got so much decorated pampers and bravados from the Reagan administration? Even Rumsfeld was all smile, shaking the dictator’s silky hand as if they were the best pals. Remember? America was still in the cocoon of anguish due to its severe loss of human lives during the Vietnam war and the Bush the first didn’t have the stomach to engage the nation once again into another potentially casualty prone war. But there are safe distances of almost three decades now from those painful Vietnam memories. And now that 911 fears is whipped up with the concerted efforts by strange relationship between the neo-cons and the so-called “liberal media”, publics’ psychology are tweaked for other grandiose wars.

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 7, 2003