Thursday, April 29, 2004

Arithmetic of Poverty for World's Poorest




Dear Readers,

Poorest of the poor are neglected. For billions of people dire poverty is the fact of life. There are hard workingmen like Kanu Sarkar who has to peddle rickshaw everyday, even in severe pain from ulcer in his stomach. Clutching his belly, he says, "If I can't work for even a day, my wife and children go unfed," He can’t even decide between seeing a doctor or buying food, “laying out the pitiless arithmetic of poverty”.

The New York Times article “Debate Stirs Over Tiny Loans for World’s Poorest” is a very well written piece. It is a reminder for us the lucky ones what most of the world’s populace are going through everyday.

Microcredit has proven to be blessing for many, who perhaps would not dare to step in any standard money lending institutions. Poorest of the poor generally do not count in all the development process for any nation’s political leadership, except when the election time comes. Then there would be rush to distribute clothes among the poor by the sly politicians. Getting nice pictures in local or national newspapers could attract more votes.

However, there are honorable people like Dr. Muhammad Yunus whose “unorthodox gesture” in creating Grameen Bank has mesmerized the world, “The idea that small loans enable millions of poor people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps has captivated liberals and conservatives alike.”

More to be done for men, women and children who are at the lowest rung of economic ladder. Eradication of extreme poverty needs more collaboration and new creative ideas like Dr. Yunus had proposed decades ago. With training for acquiring skills, increasing literacy among the segment of the population whose voices and sufferings are largely ignored, and broadening the horizon of microcredit and other useful grants so that the benefits could reach more distressed and Kanu Sarkar and his destitute family, and millions of other like him may someday do not have to choose between food and medicine, do not have to peddle rickshaw to feed his family, clutching belly with throbbing ulcer inside. Arithmetic of poverty must not be pitiless.

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 29, 2004


Debate Stirs Over Tiny Loans for World's Poorest
By CELIA W. DUGGER


Amit Bhargava/Corbis, for The New York Time Women in Bangladesh preparing to make payments on small loans they received under a program to help poor people start businesses

GORMA, Bangladesh — Nearly every woman in this village seems to have gotten tiny loans to invest in a miniature business.

None has made better use of the cash than Firoza Akhter, a shrewd, flinty young mother who put her profits from four loans into cows, goats, land, a sturdy house and private tutors for her daughter. "I can make money out of anything," she boasted in her wheezy voice, a gold, flower-shaped stud glinting in her nose. Hers is a shining success story for microcredit.

But while she came from humble origins, she was not among the poorest of the poor. Like many of the 50 million people who take part in microcredit programs, she hovered at the upper fringe of poverty.

Today there is a growing push for the nonprofit groups and banks that run such programs to reach deeper into the ranks of the poor, though there is little rigorous evidence judging whether the very poor benefit from microcredit, economists say.

Since 1988, the United States Congress has appropriated $2 billion for such programs. In new rules to take effect next year, it has put teeth into a requirement that half of American aid for these loans — defined as $1,000 or less in Europe and Eurasia, $400 or less in Latin America and $300 or less in the rest of the world — go to the very poor living on less than $1 a day.

The new rules have stirred strong opposition from other donors and a range of microfinance institutions, which contend that the industry may grow faster and ultimately help more very poor people by aiming at a wider pool that ranges from people who are struggling but not poor to those much further down the economic ladder.

"This limbo dance to serve the poorest is a distraction from a much broader issue of trying to reach a billion people who have no access to credit or a safe place to save their money," said Elizabeth Littlefield, a former managing director at J. P. Morgan who now heads the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, an association of donors.

Researchers for this country's largest microlender, the Bangladesh Rural Action Committee, or BRAC, have found that people near the poverty line are the main users of microfinance and are more likely to get more and bigger loans and build successful microenterprises.

By contrast, BRAC has found that the very poor are more likely to drop out of microcredit programs.

But the group's leaders say the microcredit industry needs to try new approaches to help the poorest people. They have coupled small loans with skills training and grants of food. And they are experimenting When the dynamic Ms. Akhter got her first loan, for $50, she said she already had $250 saved from working as a cook and raising chickens, the family trade. "I thought I could increase my capital by taking the loan," she said. She invested it in a calf she later sold for $100. Her next $80 — borrowed at 27 percent interest — she loaned out at more than triple that rate.

Today her skillful investments have helped her become relatively prosperous, despite having left her husband in disgust after he took a fourth wife. "She was always enterprising," said her father, who gave her chicks to tend when she was just a girl.

Johara Khatun took a loan from a non-governmental organization to invest in a teashop that she runs along with her husband. Some lenders in Bangladesh, the heartland of the microcredit movement, are experimenting with new ways to reach the poorest of the poor.

Since the 1980's, wealthy nations and international organizations have provided billions of dollars for microcredit programs. The idea that small loans enable millions of poor people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps has captivated liberals and conservatives alike.

But there are still no stringent evaluations of microcredit programs generally viewed as credible by experts. "Energetic, entrepreneurial people do well with microcredit," said Jonathan Morduch, an associate professor of public policy and economics at New York University. "But others who are less skilled and trained, how do they do? Can very poor households get decent returns or not? That's the big question policy-wise."

At a time when the United Nations is pursuing the eradication of extreme poverty as the world's top development goal, advocates of the new congressional rules fear that the poorest people are too often neglected.

Before microlenders arrived, the poor had little choice but to become deeply indebted to moneylenders who charged exorbitant interest rates of 120 percent or more a year.

They have mobilized elected officials from the United States to Britain and Japan to petition the World Bank, the largest provider of microfinance funds, as well as the African, Asian and Inter-American development banks, to adhere to the same emphasis on the very poor that was adopted by the United States Congress.

"It's a myth that you can't reach the very poor," said Sam Daley-Harris, a musician-turned-advocate who founded the Results Educational Fund, which lobbied Congress for the new rules. He points to Share Microfin, an Indian lender, as evidence that the very poor can be helped with microcredit.

In the village of Gorma, the experience of Bina and Kanu Sarkar, a gaunt couple with anxious eyes, illustrates the complexities of escaping poverty, even where microcredit is available.

Here, the paddy fields are alive with barefoot men delicately planting tender rice seedlings and oxen lazing in the sun. The landscape is a gentle, quilted patchwork of scratchy brown burlap and soft green silk, but the life it supports is hard.

Before microlenders arrived, the poor had little choice but to become deeply indebted to moneylenders who charged exorbitant interest rates of 120 percent or more a year. Microfinance institutions in Bangladesh generally charge from 20 to 50 percent.

Mrs. Sarkar last year became one of BRAC's 3.5 million borrowers. She used the $50 to buy her husband a rickshaw, which will save him 35 cents on the daily rickshaw rental fee once the loan is paid off. But even with the extra earnings, the Sarkars, both illiterate, will be desperately poor.

They and their sons, Badal, 12, and Akash, 6, struggle to get by on the $1 a day that Mr. Sarkar earns pedaling his rickshaw. Now even that meager livelihood is threatened by an ulcer that doubles him over in agony.

"The choice is whether to see a doctor or buy food," he said, laying out the pitiless arithmetic of poverty. "The government doctors don't check us properly because we don't pay them money. Even if they prescribe medicines, we can't afford them."

If his strength continues to seep away, the rickshaw will be no use to him, he explained. The evening before, after miles of hard pedaling, he was forced to forfeit a fare when his stomach pain grew unbearable. He had to ask his passengers to get down.

As he related the story, Akash clambered into the rickshaw and pedaled out of the dirt courtyard. His father leapt up to chase the boy in a panic, fearing a crash would destroy the one asset he needed to feed his family.

"If I can't work for even a day, my wife and children go unfed," he said, clutching his belly.

Some lenders here in Bangladesh, the heartland of the microcredit movement, are experimenting with new ways to reach the poorest of the poor. For years, BRAC has offered some poor women free wheat and training along with micro loans.

But now it has entirely dropped the use of loans in one pilot program for "ultrapoor" women. BRAC gives them goats or cows to raise, coupled with training and health care, rather than burdening them with debts they cannot repay.

BRAC has found that the very poor are more likely to drop out of microcredit programs.

None of the poverty-stricken women who sat under a palm tree in Mochahata village on a recent morning had ever dared to apply for a microloan. One woman's pierced nose hole was empty because she had already been forced to sell her gold stud for money. Another's 9-year-old son pedaled a rickshaw for 50 cents a day to keep the family fed.

But they eagerly joined BRAC's new program — and were pleased to see their fast-breeding goats multiply. They were still so poor that their bodies seemed little more than collections of bones beneath worn saris, but their new assets offered hope.

"I had nothing, nobody," said Mina, who worked as a maid for payment in rice after her husband abandoned her. "I was scared to become a member of BRAC. I was too poor to repay a loan. But now that I'm getting goats free, I'm interested."


Source Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/29/international/asia/29MICR.html

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Oppressions of Ahmadiyya Muslims in Bangladesh




By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 28, 2004


Bigotry and zealotry are raising tentacles of fear and oppression in various parts of our globe and Bangladesh is no exception of this. A few months ago, rather than being bold in upholding the nation’s law in protecting freedom of religion and expression, Bangladesh Government, reportedly steered by the radical Islamic groups had imposed crushing injunctions on Ahmadiyya Muslims. Their publishing books were banned, clearly bypassing “Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Bangladesh is a state party states: " Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…”[2]

The recent agitations against the Ahmadiyya community has reportedly been spearheaded by Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ), a partner in Khaleda Zia's coalition government. Though in the past, it was Jamaat-e-Islami who took leading role in anti-Ahmadiyya activities, this time around, at least on the surface, they are not agitating this issue, mostly they are silent. It is mainly Hifazate Khatme Nabuwat Andolon (HKNA) who were leading the activities, including their call for anti-Government movement if Ahmadiyya were not excommunicated soon. [4] A brief look back to history would find a similar pattern between IOJ's recent anti-Ahmadiyya activities and Jamaat's past actions regarding this issue.


A Brief Look Back to History

Agitations against the Ahmadiyya have been going on for many years. Political parties with Islamic tone, in the era of West and East Pakistan, utilized the explosive Ahmadiyya issue, like Jamaat-e-Islami did, when they couldn't make much inroad into the newly formed Pakistani government because government employees were forbidden from engaging in any political groups. This lead to Jamaat-e-Islami's readjustment of its political goal, and it declared itself as the caretakers of Islam in Pakistan. They demanded the outlawing of the Ahmadiya faction of Islam.

A similar pattern can be seen arising in IOJ's agitation against Ahmadiyya, they apparently are following the old example of Jamaat, to get inroad in Bangladeshi politics by exploiting communal tensions. In other words, it is the cheap political ambition of IOJ leaders that seem to be driving their communal actions.


Who are these Ahmadiya believers?

"The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam is a religious organization, international in its scope, with branches in over 174 countries in Africa, North America, South America, Asia, Australasia, and Europe. At present, its total membership exceeds 170 million worldwide. Ahmadiyya Movement was established in 1889 by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) in a small and remote village, Qadian, in the Punjab, India. He claimed to be the expected reformer of the latter days, the Awaited One of the world community of religions (The Mahdi and Messiah). " [3] Mirza Ghulam claimed that he too had experience a divine revelation as Prophet Muhammad had.

For the orthodox Muslim leaders and preachers, this claim by Mirza Ghulam was seen as blasphemous since the Koran explicitly stated that Muhammad was the last Prophet. Except Mirza Ghulam's new revelation claim, "the Ahmadiya believed in exactly the same things as any other Muslim, with regional variations". [1]

Orthodox Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami members were agitating the common Muslims with their burning speeches in the Mosques and newspaper articles that "in a Muslim state the Ahmadiyya be declared a religious minority outside Islam, accorded the same rights as Christians or Hindus, but banned from appearing or recruiting as Muslims". [1] Even the Oxford-educated chief minister of the Punjab, Mumtaz Daultana was part of this anti-Ahmadiyya agitation, mostly for political ambition. However, the agitation began to take the nasty turn, when Pakistan's Ahmadiyya foreign minister Zafarullah Khan publicly acknowledged his Ahmadiyya affiliation by addressing an Ahmadi conference in Karachi. [1]

Initially Maolana Maududi, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami did not wish to get into this nasty debate relating Ahmadiyya questions, however, as anti-Ahmadiyya agitation got its momentum, he did not wish to be outmaneuvered on this issue. He published a 'virulent text' entitled as "The Ahmadiyya Problem". Before his inflammatory book was banned in Pakistan, it was sold 57,000 copies. The message in his book "excited orthodox passions, making Maududi a central figure in what followed". [1]

Here are a few excerpts from Maududi's book:

"Nowadays, experience has proven the great wisdom and beautiful benefits of this good favor from Allah. The belief that Mohammad was the last prophet united all monotheists in following only one prophet, and thus endowed them with what strengthened and ensured their unity and interactions. The renewal of a doctrine by many prophets separate the nation into many communities. If we expel Qadiyanis, none will dare to rise among us and pretend a new message to destroy our unity and solidarity. But if we overlook Qadiyanism, we will help and encourage many pretenders to rise and feign, and thus we participate in harming Muslim solidarity. And if we neglect this danger, our example will be followed by our sons, and thus the destruction will not stop and our society will face a new kind of danger everyday; dangers which split the Muslim nation. This is our true argument on which we base our demands of making Qadiyanis a minority which has the rights of any non-Muslims minority. In fact, the argument that reaches home is with us and no other reasonable argument can be brought against our demand."[1]

In 1953, carefully orchestrated riot broke out in Punjab on this burning issue of Ahmadiya. Pakistani central government imposed martial law and curfew in Lahore. [1] "Soldiers opened fire on bearded mobs." The riots were put down by the Pakistani soldiers within two days. Maududi and his Jamaat-e-Islami party member Kausar Niazi were arrested. They were charged with treason. 'Both were found guilty and sentenced to death, later commuted to some years in prison. Maududi's offence was his book. Kausar Niazi had indulged in violent and obscene rhetoric at a public rally, and stoked the crowd to such a fury that a mob surrounded and lynched an on-duty policeman. For his role in encouraging the riots to further his factional interests in the Muslim League, Chief Minister Mumtaz Daultana was forced to resign, his political career effectively at an end.' [1]

Pakistani government appointed Justice Muhammad Munir and Justice M.R. Kayani to investigate the 'causes of the anti-Ahmadi disturbance'. [1] Tariq Ali in his book "The Clash of Fundamentalisms -- Crusades, Jihads and Modernity" opines that Justice Munir and Kayani produced the only modernist text in Pakistan's history and he insists that instead of lying buried in the archives, it should be part of the university curriculum, or at least made available to the library.

In this investigative report, Justice Munir and Kayani referred to the ulama's call for Pakistan to be run as an official 'Islami State', and to their demands against Ahmadis. Here is a portion of the report:

"The question, therefore, whether a person is or is not a Muslim will be of fundamental importance, and it was for this reason that we asked most of the leading ulama to give their definition of a Muslim, the point being that if the ulama of the various sects believed the Ahmadis to be kafirs [unbelievers], they must have been quite clear in their minds not only about the grounds of such belief but also about the definition of a Muslim because the claim that a certain person or community is not within the pale of Islam implies on the part of the claimant an exact conception of what a Muslim is. The result of this part of the inquiry, however, has been anything but satisfactory, and if considerable confusion exists in the minds of our ulama on such a simple matter, one can easily imagine what the differences on more complicated matters will be.....Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulama, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulama, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim but kafirs according to the definition of everyone else....And it does not require much imagination to judge of the consequences of this doctrine when it is remembered that no two ulama have agreed before us as to the definition of a Muslim....If the constituents of each of the definitions given by the ulama are given effect to, and subjected to the rule of 'combination and permutation' and the form of charge in the Inquisition's sentence on Galileo is adopted mutatis mutandis as a model, the grounds on which a person may be indicted for apostasy will be too numerous to count."

The ulama in those days used to belief (and many claims that they still do) that in an Islamic state, a Muslim who becomes a kafir is subject to the death penalty. Justice Munir and Kayani's report refers to this strongly held view of these Islamic clerics:

Tariq Ali opines that Justice Munir and Kayani's report was a bold defense of modernity and secularism. The report argued that religious intervention was unwarranted, "its recourse to violence had created a political crisis and it could only impede the development of the new state. There it should be excluded from Pakistan's politics and institutions. A separation between religion and the state was crucial if the country was to move forward." What did Jamat-e-Islami had to say on this report? "Maududi's leading lieutenant, Mian Tufail, retorted: 'Our religion is our politics, our politics is our religion'". [1]

Tariq Ali's book is informative, but he does show bias in some instances, against Jamaat-e-Islami, against America as well. It is hard to get to the bottom of the facts in our time of information bonanza, especially the historical ones, since there are so many literature, for or against, it must need serious readings before coming up to any conclusions. Having said that I also feel that we must be vocal against any forms of discriminations and injustices. If we hesitate in our condemnation on blatant violation of human rights for the sole basis that we may lack enough understanding on religious or secular terms for the time, burden of our timely inaction would be bear by the oppressed.

Ignoring their atrocious deeds in Bangladesh's independence war in 1971 for the sake of presenting a balanced view for the moment, many believe that Jamaat-e-Islami must have taken quantifiable positive steps in Bangladesh and Pakistan, without that they could not get so much popular support there. For the vast majority of disenfranchised Bangladeshis, who do not have access to modern education, healthcare and left unattended at the bottom of economic ladder, perhaps Jamaat and other Islamic parties do provide hope with their message of religion and that segments of doctrinal views that conform with social cohesion. And many say that Jamaat-e-Islami "has politically matured significantly to engage in Ahmadiyya issue" this time around. There are other more radical Islamic groups have sprung up in the last few decades. But being one of the dominant religious parties in Bangladesh, and considering their historical role in aniti-Ahmadiyya movements, there can be serious doubts on Jamaat's neutrality in this recent agitation.

Communal based politics has inherent flaws due to their adherence to inflexible dogmatic beliefs that attempt to reshape political landscape with mostly limited and non-progressive steps, may that come from Indian BJP, Bangladeshi or Pakistani Jamaat or IOJ, or even harsh form of Stalinists, or North America's Pat Robertson's and Falwell's followers or Israeli "peaceful" Sharon type agendas, they all have similar disturbing pattern.

I find the Ahmadiyya problem to be a human rights issue, their freedom of choosing religion and performing rituals, their basis to be called Muslim should be respected. Individual people can have different opinion on a particular issue, but the Government must protect the fundamental rights of people. This is also related to Rushdie, Taslima and Humayun Azad issues in broader term. Anytime someone opposes the mainstream of Islam, writes books against religion or "religious" bigots, there are violent attacks or fatwa for their immediate killings.

There is a book of fiction that I read last year, it is Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" where the writer has raised questions on the very essence of Christianity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene issue, Constantine's conspiracy, descendants of Jesus, etc., and not surprisingly that the conservative Christians took it as offence, but the American Government did not ban that book outright, it has been at the top of chart in most Best Seller's list. [7]

Here is an extract from an article on Dan Brown's book: "In 13 months, readers have bought more than six million copies of the book, a historical thriller that claims Christianity was founded on a cover-up -- that the church has conspired for centuries to hide evidence that Jesus was a mere mortal, married Mary Magdalene and had children whose descendants live in France." [6]

In America, Mormons and the Jehovah's Witness sects are ridiculed for their beliefs, but here the Government, still, protects the rights of these folks calling themselves as Christians.


Vocal Muslim Diasporas

In the West, the Muslim immigrant diasporas are vocal toward any forms of oppressions against Muslims. They are mostly united in opposition to injustice in Iraq, occupied Palestine, Kashmir or Chechnya. Should there be any differences and silent acceptance when coercion and brutality occurs in their native lands?

When the “super powers” or “others” commit oppressions against Muslim nations, protests are loud and swift, but then why is the apparent inability in condemning injustice committed by the fellow Muslims on other sects?

Thousands of Muslims are living in fear in America, Canada, UK and other Western nations. And their fear does have justification. Reports of arbitrary imprisonments and deportations, abuses at the workplace, subjected to slur and racial flair, are not uncommon these days. Muslims are in minority here. After the September 11 terrorist acts in the heartland of America, millions of Muslims are paying the price of crime committed by a tiny segment of their community who had adopted murderous philosophy that Muslims in general reject.

Historically, evidences are plentiful in various parts of our world on minority oppression, domination and subjugation by the forceful majority of a region. Before the Civil Rights era, African Americans were subjected to painful racial profiling, hideous discrimination, and unfair justice system and even put into death by lynching for the slightest transgression, without trial or in a staged one.

In India, Muslims are oppressed by the majority Hindus as was clearly demonstrated by the ugly galore in Gujarat riotous killings of thousands of innocent Muslim men, women and children, burnt alive, or stabbed, mutilated, raped, and desecrated. This was not the first time that it had happened. In Mumbai, Delhi and in other parts of India similar atrocious pasts are unforgettable.

Muslims do not have their hands clean either. They had oppressed fellow minority populace wherever the opportunity arose. In Bangladesh, there are reports of systemic oppressions on minority Hindus, roasting alive entire Hindu family, raping of 11 year old Hindu girl, looting, blatant discrimination, and the non-cooperative police force in solving these crimes are not distal phenomena. As were the killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915 by the Ottoman Turks that till to date many Muslims and even the Turkish Government remain in state of denial.

There are criminals in every nation, under the umbrella of every religion. The goons who excommunicated 100 Ahmadiyya Muslims, including women and children, in the district of Kushtia, the murderers who had beaten to death the Imam of a local Ahmadiyya mosque in the district of Jessore last year, the raiding of Ahmadiyya mosques, burning and banning of their books and this year Government of Bangladesh’s adoption of intolerant policy toward Ahmadiyya community that goes against all the standard international Human Rights laws, are shocking.

Even a small concession to the bigots can legitimize oppressions against minority. This shameful example could be utilized in appalling manner by other zealots in other nations in devising and implementing their legitimization of oppression against the Muslim minority.

I find all the Ahmadiyya and other related issues puzzling. Being raised and born in a Muslim family, I did find Islam to be a peaceful religion. But the goons and thugs of various Islamic parties, not so different from other secular political parties' goons, makes me feel sad. If Islam espouses to be puritanical than the secularists can dare to claim, then purity must come from our actions, in the foremost form of respecting others' views, their creeds and religions or non-religions. Jamaat-e-Islami, IOJ and others can surely play positive role, and Islam does provide ample of resources to lead peaceful and productive lives, but first there must be shift on rotten politics that's been going on in Bangladesh and other parts of our subcontinent.

It is paramount that Muslims join forces with the others in the international community in condemning wholeheartedly against any forms of discrimination and oppression on the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Bangladesh.


References

1. Tariq Ali, "The Clash of Fundamentalisms – Crusades, Jihads and Modernity", Verso, London, New York, 2002

2. Amnesty International “Bangladesh -- The Ahmadiyya Community -- Their Rights Must Be Protected”, April 23, 2004.

3. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, http://www.alislam.org/

4. Sharier Khan, "New Wave of Intolerance: Bangladesh Cracks Down on Muslim Sect", One World Net, January 9, 2004.

5. "Bangladesh: Ahmadiyya Books Banned", The Daily Star, January 9, 2004.

6. Laurie Goodstein, "Defenders of Christianity Rebut", The New York Times, April 27, 2004.

7. Dan Brown, "Da Vinci Code", 2003.


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

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

Columnist Mary McGrory Dies at 85




Dear Readers,

It was only a few years ago that I had begun to read Mary McGrory’s weekly column and her piercing writings reminded me what does assertive journalism means.

Mary McGrory had been writing for more than half a century, won Pulitzer Prize many years back, and she had continued her fearless journalism career to the very last column she had written for The Washington Post.

It was only last year, just days before the Iraq invasion had begun, just hours before “shock and awe” and “precision” bombs had commenced showering over Iraqis, children included, Mary McGrory wrote in that opinion column: “Although you can depend on her to produce her lovely weapons, Mother Nature cannot be programmed. Already, the authorities are conceding that the cherry blossoms will not be in their prime for the festival, an annual event that draws thousands of visitors. That is, if they're not afraid of retaliatory acts of terrorism once the laser-guided bombs start dropping on Baghdad -- with specific instructions, as we understand it, not to kill those children who are on so many minds. The prime minister of Canada made a sensible suggestion to George Stephanopoulos: The United States should declare victory over Iraq. The strategy of a huge force on the border, inspection teams at work and world pressure bearing down has worked -- war is not necessary.” [Read the Full Article]

Before the almost daily happenstances of bomb blasts in recent days, terrorism around the world, before our world has become more polarized, Mary McGrory wrote in her March 9, 2003 article: “Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni made the same point before a congressional hearing. His nightmare was the prospect of seeing, on a split TV screen, Israelis killing Arabs on the West Bank and Americans killing Arabs in Iraq. He suggested it might stimulate enlistments in al Qaeda.”

One year ago she correctly pointed to the facts, separating fable and fiction, and wrote: " Bush does not like to hear about the consequences of his obsession and deals harshly with those who discuss them. The most severe punishment was meted out to Larry Lindsey, his erstwhile economic adviser, who put the bill for the war in Iraq at $200 billion. He was fired. Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, committed the error of truth-telling and was set down hard. When asked, he estimated that it would take "several hundred thousand soldiers" to occupy Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz landed on him. "Way off the mark," he steamed. Bush said at his news conference, almost airily, that the costs of the war would be taken care of in a supplemental appropriation. In the Bush circle, zeal is much prized. Niccolo Machiavelli's advice to courtiers is followed: "Do not question the ends of the prince -- just tell him how to best do what he wants to do." Bush insists that war or peace is all up to Hussein. To the American people he says, remember 9/11, trust me. As he said at his news conference, "when it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission." In other words, let the shock and awe begin. “

Read the full article from the following link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A59647-2003Mar7¬Found=true

When her writings had stopped getting published in The Washington Post last year, like many, I was saddened to read news of her severe illness.

Mary McGrory died this week, but her intrepid writings, her assertive conscience deduced from her articles, should be a constant reminder for many of us, that the battle for freedom and liberty and justice is not fought with bombs and bullets only that could stimulate more violence in return with senseless deaths and destructions to follow, pen could be mightier in progressive causes if used with care and dedication. The memory of Mary McGrory’s brilliant writing career and life that ended ought to remain as a tribute and inspiration to this truth.

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 22, 2004


Columnist Mary McGrory Dies at 85
Legendary Newswoman Covered a Half-Century of Washington

By David Von Drehle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 21, 2004; 4:10 PM

Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, a major figure in 20th-century American journalism, a writer of lasting influence, exquisite technique, liberal convictions, a contempt for phonies and a love of orphans and delphiniums, died last night at George Washington University Hospital.

A hospital spokeswoman declined to give the cause of death.

Born Aug. 22, 1918, in Boston, McGrory had 85 poetic and eventful years on a sometimes disappointing but often amusing Earth.

"The most luminous writer and clearest thinker in the business," New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd declared of McGrory at a tribute to her career several years ago. This opinion was widely held. Longtime Boston Globe editor Thomas Winship called her "the undisputed best handler of the English language in the news business." One of her rivals for that title, former Times columnist Russell Baker, noted her influence on later generations: McGrory was, he said, "a pioneering force in today's tell-it-like-it-is, show-them-no-mercy journalism."

Her career stretched from the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, when the unknown McGrory jolted the capital with her charming but rapier daily reports, to the Iraq war of 2003, on which she wavered with characteristic candor before coming down squarely in opposition in some of her last columns before a stroke silenced her voice. Her last column was published in The Washington Post on March 16, 2003, and she retired at the end of that year.

Her résumé included the Pulitzer Prize and membership on the Nixon administration's notorious "enemies list."

"Mary was simply one of the best opinion columnists of her time," said Leonard Downie Jr. , The Washington Post's executive editor. "She wrote lyrically, and she never had difficulty expressing an opinion. But perhaps most impressive was Mary's reporting. She seemed to know everyone in politics, and in many other fields, besides. And her columns always revealed something to readers that they never would have otherwise known."

It seems safe to say that Washington won't soon see her like again. McGrory could command senators to sing old hymns for her lasagna; her lawn boys went on to senior positions in government and journalism; and through nearly 50 years of covering politics she managed, by flirtation and intimidation, always to avoid schlepping her own suitcase.

Colleagues will remember McGrory for her work ethic, which was nearly unmatched -- even after decades in the rarified air of national syndication, she still staked out the Speaker's Lobby and sat through interminable photo ops -- for her eagle eye, which always caught the telling detail, and for the effortless grace of her prose, which came only by enormous effort.

Devoted readers may recall other things: the annual dispatches from Antrim, N.H., and Rome, gardener McGrory's perennial battles with the bulb-eating squirrels of Macomb Street NW, the Christmastime reports on the resilient children of St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home.

For lifelong Washingtonians, McGrory's death is a sort of last winking of the once-bright light that was the Washington Star. Though her column appeared for more than two decades in The Washington Post after the Star's demise, McGrory never shifted her loyalties. "Mary was the Star," said one of the many journalists she nurtured there, Jeffrey Frank, now a senior editor at the New Yorker. With champagne in times of joy and a sardonic laugh in times of sorrow, McGrory was "the grand Earth Mother" of the city's roisterous afternoon paper, Frank said, and she sang "Nearer My God to Thee" outside her office as the ship went down in 1981.

Making Her Mark

Mary McGrory made her life and her mark in Washington, but she was Boston Irish to the core. She preferred scamps, underdogs and Yeats to prigs, Brahmins and Dickens. Of politicians, she could tolerate almost anything but dullness. She once summed up the view of politics she learned as a girl at the family breakfast table: "If you're going to do all these dreadful things, you should be funny about it."

Her mother was Mary Catherine McGrory, her father a postal clerk named Edward Patrick McGrory. He was her hero, who taught her by example "how people ought to act. . . . He taught my brother and me to recite poetry and to treasure words -- and to enjoy the small things of life, like walking and talking and nice dogs and fresh raspberries and blueberries and things like that."

The Girls' Latin School near Fenway Park was a rigorous public academy for promising college-bound students. Mary McGrory found herself there, "11 years old and toiling through Gaul with Julius Caesar," mastering verb declensions and diagramming sentences, veni and vidi and vici. "It was sort of like the Marine Corps," she recalled. "It was basically impossible. Nothing was good enough."

But the rigors of grammar would prove as useful to her as anatomy to a surgeon, for McGrory discovered her calling on the comics page of the Boston Herald-Traveler, in a strip called "Jane Arden" about an intrepid "girl reporter."

The question was how. There was no clear path for women into the newspaper business. McGrory's route ran from Boston's Emmanuel College to the Hickock Secretarial School to the publishing house of Houghton Mifflin as an editorial assistant. She hired on as secretary to Alice Dixon Bond, a Beacon Hill clubwoman who served as book editor at the Herald-Traveler.

"I was crazy about newspapers," McGrory remembered in an oral history preserved by the Women's Press Club Foundation. So she gritted her teeth through Bond's "endless gossip about the Women's City Club" and seized every chance to write -- book reviews, author appearances, dog stories. "People love dog stories," she observed.

At night, McGrory sailed from party to party, singing, laughing, hearing and telling stories, and always her favorite tales came back to politics. A lover of Thackeray and Jane Austen, McGrory understood that great stories are rooted in great characters, and the political stage was teeming with them -- like the pol named Russo who said his name was his platform: "R for Righteousness, U for Unity, SS for Social Security, and O for Honesty!"

She begged for a shot in the newsroom, but the answer was always no. However, her book reviews caught the eye of John K. Hutchens, book editor of the New York Herald Tribune, who began commissioning pieces from her. Hutchens gave McGrory a letter of introduction to a friend at the Star, which was looking for a second book reviewer. In 1947, she began life with her two great loves: the nation's capital, and the Star.

"It was Heaven," she said wistfully of the paper that launched her career and nurtured her character, "wonderful, kind, welcoming, fun . . . full of eccentrics and desperate people trying to meet five deadlines a day. . . . I loved it the minute I set foot in it."

The Star was then a reflection of Newbold Noyes, national editor at the time, who could shape the paper to his own tastes because his family owned it. Noyes filled his shabby newsroom with dazzling, if sometimes unformed, talents.

The eager book reviewer turned heads with her gift for concise observation. Not long after she arrived in Washington, McGrory was sent to cover a book party for the actor James Mason, whose eyes, she wrote, were "brook brown."

"Where'd you get that?" asked a skeptical editor.

"In New Hampshire, the water in the brooks flows over the rocks and it's brown," she answered. "I've seen it."

Early in 1954, Noyes approached McGrory and asked, "Say, Mary, aren't you ever going to get married?" In those days, there seemed to be little point for an editor to advance the career of a woman destined for motherhood. But with McGrory past 35 and still single, perhaps she was worth a risk.

"We think you should add humor and color and charm and flair to the news pages," said Noyes, as McGrory often recounted the story.

To which she answered: "Oh, is that all?"

The Army-McCarthy hearings were her first assignment.

The McCarthy Hearings

Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican, had roiled the country for several years by then with his sensational allegations of communists in high places. Now he had fatefully set his sights on the U.S. Army, a dramatic miscalculation that again and again brought shades of Shakespeare to McGrory's mind. Noyes told her to write what she saw just as if she were writing a letter to her aunt.

"The star, Senator McCarthy, ploughs his high-shouldered way through the crowds amid small cheers. He is tanned and grinning," she wrote in her first dispatch, published April 23, 1954. "Secretary of the Army Robert Stevens, by contrast with the Senator, looks about as dangerous as an Eagle Scout leading his first patrol." McCarthy's devious counsel, Roy Cohn, was "pale, wan and a trifle aggrieved," she continued; "he looks like a boy who has had a letter sent home from school about him and come back with his elders to get things straightened out."

She continued thus day after day through the tumultuous hearings, which unspooled through the year and ended with McCarthy's undoing. The pieces, which ran unobtrusively on inside pages, instantly galvanized an audience. "Reaction was so vehement, you know, pro and con," she recalled. Within a few days, other journalists were commenting on her; the columnist Doris Fleeson declared that "she's been coiled up on her bookshelf all these years just waiting to strike."

McGrory tore the edges from newspapers on her desk and rolled them into tight balls as she fretted over each word. Reporter Chick Yarbrough dubbed these her "anguishes," and counted them each morning. "There were 36 anguishes last night," he announced one day. "You must have had a very bad time."

In fact, she was having the time of her life. "It was what I had thought I had wanted to do all along," McGrory once said, "take huge events and get a little angle on them . . . observing closely, accurately, and picking out the right thing or the right person to begin with, to be the focal point . . . and making a pattern or some sort of sense of it."

As her column moved on to other subjects, some in the business speculated that her approach was distinctively feminine, an opinion that McGrory was unlikely to appreciate. She never identified with other woman writers nor did she take up the cause of feminism. Her approach was to say, "I made it in a man's world and you must make it, too," Spencer explained. "She felt like you get what you deserve and if you can't work out a better deal it's your failing."

She compared herself to the legendary columnists Murray Kempton and Jimmy Breslin: "We go places, we talk to people," rather than lunching with sources and stroking one's chin.

Laughter and Song

As with so many political reporters, her first campaign was her favorite -- the failed 1956 effort of Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver. In her recollections of this and many other milestones of her life, one theme emerged: That Mary McGrory would overlook almost any flaw in a person or event that offered laughter and song. By the time her column went into national syndication in 1960, McGrory was already famous as Washington's "leprechaun-turned-reporter," as Newsweek put it, whose best-known trait was her genial yet adamant assumption that men were alive to serve her.

Writers as distinguished as Kempton, Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times, Marquis Childs of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch were described in Newsweek as "McGrory's Bearers . . . expected to carry the typewriter, coats, notes and sandwiches" of their queenly colleague.

"They'd do everything but write your lead for you," she said of her retinue, which over the decades came to include just about every male political writer alive. "It was wonderful."

The Star syndicated McGrory as a way of fending off overtures from Post publisher Philip L. Graham, who was dazzled by McGrory's "rising star" and "kept trying to hire her," the late Katharine Graham, his widow, once recounted.

McGrory displayed supreme confidence in her judgments concerning character and emotion. After witnessing Richard Nixon's furious news conference after losing a campaign for governor of California in 1962, she wrote an award-winning column that declared: "Mr. Nixon carried on for 17 minutes in a finale of intemperance and incoherence perhaps unmatched in American political annals. He pulled the havoc down around his ears, while his staff looked on aghast."

A year later, in a fever of grief, she churned out scene pieces and tone poems and even an editorial for the Star when her adored John F. Kennedy was assassinated. "He brought gaiety, glamor and grace to the American political scene in a measure never known before," one piece began. "That lightsome tread, that debonair touch, that shock of chestnut hair, that beguiling grin, that shattering understatement -- these are what we shall remember."

Following her heart, McGrory once arranged a secret meeting between Nixon's foreign policy guru Henry A. Kissinger and a group of student activists opposed to the Vietnam War. It was a rare foray into behind-the-scenes powerbrokering and it failed miserably, she felt. While she honored her vow of confidentiality, she told a historian, Kissinger leaked word of the meeting to portray himself as open-minded. "It was a mistake and I shouldn't have done it," she concluded.

By contrast, McGrory played down the value and influence of her cogitation on matters of policy and great moment. Despite years of columns protesting the Vietnam War, she couldn't even persuade her own editorial page, she modestly noted.

The Pulitzer

McGrory's Pulitzer Prize was a question of when, not if. When it came, the timing was apt. With Watergate. Washington and the nation were once again riveted by Senate hearings, just as in 1954. Once again, McGrory's was the definitive eye.

She "felt at home" at the Watergate hearings, she once said. "You know, it always comes down to the characters," and here was the best cast since McCarthy Co. At the center of it all was the special committee chairman, Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.), "the rock that all those waves had to dash against," as McGrory put it.

McGrory followed the drama through its climax in Nixon's August 1974 resignation, and for her work that year she received journalism's highest honor. Her aversion to Nixon had not wavered after that wild 1962 news conference. McGrory lit into him straightaway once he reached the White House and never let up, and when the list of White House "enemies" compiled by Nixon aides became public in 1973, no one was surprised to see her name on it.

Membership on the list "was great," McGrory later said. Columnist Art Buchwald complained that he, too, should have been on the list -- "he'd written as much anti-Nixon stuff as I had," she recalled him saying. But he took her to the place of the moment, Sans Souci, to celebrate, and when they walked in, the diners rose in a standing ovation.

Once a columnist has the top prizes and a syndication deal, the last remaining motivation is pride. In this, Mary McGrory was unparalleled. After the Star, she covered more than 20 years of major stories for The Post with a column so richly reported that it fit comfortably into the news pages.

By her career's end, she had a good decade on David S. Broder, more than that on Rowland Evans, Robert Novak, Jack Germond and Jules Witcover, nearly a generation on George F. Will. And yet she never slacked off. In 1992, well into her seventies, she bulled her way into a "closed" event at a posh New York law firm and demanded to hear what would-be vice president Al Gore was saying. "Is this man running for partner of Cravath, Swain Moore? Or is he running for the vice presidency of the United States?" she cried?

McGrory pounded the pavement and fretted her adjectives far into her eighties, and she applied the same bemused and laser eye to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush that she first focused on Joe McCarthy and John F. Kennedy.

The songs she had once sung with Estes Kefauver were now sung to the piano accompaniment of Clinton aide Mark D. Gearan. The orphans she took to splash alongside Kennedy children at Hickory Hill kept returning with her each summer long after those children were grown and gone.

"I wish I'd been more assertive," she once said, summing up her regrets. "And I wish I'd gotten married . . . . I wish I'd been quicker to see things, understand things . . . . I wish I'd been better organized and hadn't spent so much time trying to find things I'd lost, dropped, forgotten. I wish I could have cracked the White House somehow. . . . We could be here all night talking about what I would do differently."

But what she did is a public record -- her peers would say a public monument -- that both recounted and improved her times. "Any reporter brave enough to print an absolutely unvarnished fact in a newspaper can't be all bad," Russell Baker said in tribute to Mary McGrory, and by that measure, she was excellent indeed.

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A32971-2004Apr22.html

Thursday, April 15, 2004

America's Ayatollah



Dear Readers,

As much as I could remember, Richard Cohen, the distinguished writer for the Washington Post, was in favor of Bush’s war in Iraq last year. Like millions of other good-natured Americans and other nationals, Bush and Blair’s trickery had put a mushroom cloud between the reality and fabrication. But the cloud has started to dissipate, and the writers like Mr. Cohen has begun to lash out against America’s Ayatollahs, the “almighty” driven current Bush Administration, who had taken the nation to a war on the basis of gross sham.

These are all good indications that American slumbering consciousness that was most likely suspended just aftermath of the devastating September 11 attacks a few years ago, are rising up once again. This is the time taking back America from the disastrous path that Bush is leading to, willingly playing at the hands of terrorists of visible and invisible attributes, this is the time challenging dogmatic Bush policies with the rational ones that can achieve sustainable peace in the end.

Regards,

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 15, 2004



America's Ayatollah

By Richard Cohen

Thursday, April 15, 2004; Page A25

The term of the moment in Washington is "the wall." This is the legal barrier that once separated the CIA and its investigators from the FBI and its investigators, and which may have contributed to the confusion that enabled the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A more interesting wall, however, was on view Tuesday evening in President Bush's prime-time news conference. It's the one between him and reality.

Never mind that even for Bush, this was a poor performance -- answers that resembled a frantic scavenger hunt for the right (or any) word or, too often, a thought. Never mind that he really had very little to say -- no exit plan for Iraq, no second thoughts about Sept. 11, no wonderment, even, at the apparent disappearance of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and how that might have happened. Like a kid who has been told otherwise, Bush persists in believing in his own version of Santa Claus. The weapons are there, somewhere -- in a North Pole of his mind.

What matters more is the phrase Bush used five times in one way or another: "We're changing the world." He used it always in reference to the war in Iraq and he used it in ways that would make even Woodrow Wilson, that presidential personification of naive morality, shake his head in bemusement. In Bush's rhetoric, a war to rid Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction, a war to ensure that Condoleezza Rice's "mushroom cloud" did not appear over an American city, has mutated into an effort to reorder the world.

"I also know that there's an historic opportunity here to change the world," Bush said of the effort in Iraq. But the next sentence was even more disquieting. "And it's very important for the loved ones of our troops to understand that the mission is an important, vital mission for the security of America and for the ability to change the world for the better." It is one thing to die to defend your country. It is quite another to do that for a single man's impossible dream. What Bush wants is admirable. It is not, however, attainable.

Shortly after Sept. 11, Bush used the word "crusade" to characterize his response to the attacks. The Islamic world, remembering countless crusades on behalf of Christianity, protested, and Bush quickly interred the word in the National Archives or someplace. Nonetheless, that is pretty much what Bush described in his news conference -- not a crusade for Christ and not one to oust the Muslims from Jerusalem but an American one that would eradicate terrorism and, in short, "change the world." The United States, the president said, had been "called" for that task.

Some people might consider this religious drivel and others might find it stirring, but whatever it is, it cannot be the basis for foreign policy, not to mention a war. Yet it explains, as nothing else can, just why Bush is so adamantly steadfast about Iraq and why he simply asserts what is not proved or just plain untrue -- the purported connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, for instance, or why Hussein was such a threat, when we have it on the word of David Kay and countless weapons inspectors that he manifestly was not. Bush talks as if only an atheist would demand proof when faith alone more than suffices. He is America's own ayatollah.

Several investigative commissions are now meeting in Washington, looking into intelligence failures -- everything from the failure to detect and intercept the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to the assertion that Iraq was armed to the teeth with all sorts of awful stuff. But what really has to be examined is how a single man, the president, took the nation and part of the world to war because, as he essentially put it Tuesday night, he was "called" to do it.

If that is the case, and it sure seems so at the moment, then this commission has to ask us all -- and I don't exclude myself -- how much of Congress and the press went to war with an air of juvenile glee. The Commission on Credulous Stupidity may call me as its first witness, but after that it has to examine how, despite our vaunted separation of powers, a barely elected president opted for a war that need not have been fought. This is Bush's cause, a noble but irrational effort much like the one that set off for Jerusalem in the year 1212. It was known as the Children's Crusade.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13298-2004Apr14.html

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Shock and Awe Plastered in Permanence



By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 14, 2004


Nothing original popped out of his head. He looked perplexed, shifted weight from one leg to another, eye sockets rolled. Plenty of “hmm”, and “umm” were heard, and the old messages are replayed, the “incredible” Mr. Bush’s non-credible portrayal of war in Iraq.

"One thing is for certain, though, about me, and the world has learned this: When I say something, I mean it. The credibility of the United States is incredibly important for keeping world peace and freedom."

After seeing one hour long press conference, an infrequent event for this administration than a solar eclipse, foreigners from thousands of miles away or a hard-working American in neighboring suburb, sipping a club soda under a tropical colored umbrella or in a music roared tavern may ponder, how and why the intelligent Americans had “elected” this mediocrity loaded person as their leader. Does he deserve to be leader of the “free world”? Can he be the “Leader of the civilization”?

There were the same manners of invoking 911 in almost every other sentence, uttering the mantra of “terrorism”, and the name of “almighty” that supposedly has chosen him amidst all the other many times more qualified citizen, dispersing freedom among the shackled ones.

Bush wants the world to know that America does what it means. America is behind every promise it makes. Does one have to look very far than this “almighty” driven administration to contradict his dubious assertions?

How can the world forget the same conviction driven Bush administration that tried to pacify the world by portraying a “liberated” Iraq where they so eloquently presented their neocon vision that after American invasion there would be flowers with Arabian fragrance on the road to victory, there would be delicious sweets for every “liberated” soul to cherish in a free Iraq? What happened to those flowers and sweets? In every deliberate lubrication of Iraqi freedom sold to public with those non-existent WMD claim, even Secretary of Defense was so sure of their whereabouts that he did not hesitate to say, “'We know where they are”, with delicacy that the best chef could surely envy, they ingrained the hallucinating link between 911 and Iraq in public’s collective imagination.

One year after the “war ended”, now the world sees endless shocking images arising from Iraq. We see residents of Fallujah are streaming out of their city, burying loved ones in the soccer field because they could not take corpses to the city’s cemetery, there is a siege. This is a bombarded and devastated place. Hundreds and thousands dead, countless injured, no real tally is available for the public scrutiny. A very “precise and deliberate” reaction by the “coalition”. Deaths have begotten more deaths. Rage has begotten rage.

Though it would be tempting to pointing finger to last year’s premonitions by all the good folks who did have foreseen this very disturbing scenario, the increasingly chaotic mess, killings of more innocent Iraqis and deaths of hundreds of soldiers, orphaning families rooted on the sand dunes encircling the Tigris and in the vicinity of Mississippi river thousands of miles away alike, nonetheless, is painful to watch the continuing down spiraling of Iraq.

The mourning of the widows, the shrieks of crying children like four year old Nasser Fadil whose left leg was crudely amputated to save his life from the severe blast injuries, and many other children like him either on the side of their shredded parents and siblings, or being placed on the cold hospital floor, waiting to be treated or for surgery for the amputation of their gangrene filled limbs, while the morgues are overflowing with the freshly arriving dead. The irremovable shock and awe plastered in permanence on victims’ face, the dried tears turned into seething anger, all point toward a more devastating future, creeping at the bay.

The major networks showed the grim images of charred bodies of four American contractors last week. There were reports of dancing Iraqis, poking the dead bodies, hanging them, desecrating the honor of the dead human beings, honor that all the major religions presume to be an universal gesture for the ones at the time of their rest. Hostages are taken, threatened to be killed, and the plea of family members for their release, are flooding the news networks.

This war, this anarchy and brutality, vengeance and reprisals, the invocation of God or nationalism, capitalism or imperialism, emanate a tectonic shift from the rosy picture of cakewalk envisioned by the Neo-Conservatives prior to the Iraq war last year. In his press conference last night, Bush failed miserably once again to show true leadership that Americans needed in this troubling time. He tiptoed all the delicate questions, uttered the repeated words of “almighty”, his “conviction”, “terrorism”, etc., and still grasping the last thread of hope of finding the non-existent WMD that his own employed weapons inspector David Kay even said that did not exist prior to the Iraq war, and Bush quacks the jokes of finding “fifty tons mustard gas in Turkey farm” that quite hilariously rhymes with human bum. This is outrageous, an insult to American combined intelligentsias.

Karl Rove was shown sitting and listening intently in yesterday’s press conference. Many claim that he is the man shaping the political strategies in the Bush Administration, behind the scene, and surely there are many others, faces not shown on TV screen, but their goal is the same, re-electing Bush, continuing the “war-footing” policy toward infinitum, if necessary. What other qualification Bush could offer unless it is not the “war against the evildoers”? Beat the drums, play the bugles, and four more years of world’s most powerful office is yours to play in, stage in more wars to come.

This is an abysmal time for American history. The painful memory of 911 still invokes tears; the horrific images never depart from one’s peripheral mind. Politicians know this very well. Left and the Right, liberal and conservatives are trying to manipulate people’s anger, their stoked fear into political gambit, into shaping the political direction of American democracy. Any startling revelations on 911 intelligence failures can generate millions of dollars worth of revenues for the publishing corporations and the media conglomerates with its consequential rising of polls for the hopeful Democrats. And putting more woods in public’s raging anger, inciting hatred against the “others”, in this case, the “Muslim fanatics”, just a few long names of middle-eastern sounding origins in any odious acts, proven or unproven, could raise Bush’s political polling stance in remarkable swiftness.

Is the American citizenry so naïve not to see through the conspiratorial maze? Most certainly not. There are clear objections, protests by the millions against Bush’s endless war policies, his curtailing of cherished liberties are openly challenged in functioning courts around the nation.

There are definitely monstrous men and women who falsely claim to be Muslim, with their hideous goals of inflicting deaths and injuries on innocent civilians, far and near, regardless of one’s national origins or religious orientation, even the fellow Muslims do not get any free passes from their atrocious deeds, nonetheless, falsely justified military invasion of a sovereign nation like Iraq, would not curb the coddled aspiration of attenuating terrorism, most certainly it is used as the tool for recruiting millions more. Bush and his hawkish administration has miserably blundered the extraordinary good wills the world had shown toward American tragedy just aftermath of the September 11 devastation, they had turned world’s sympathy into open condemnation for their own naked aggressions.

In his stuttered press conference last night, Bush never acknowledged any grievous faults that his hawkish policies have been able to achieve. A huge achievement! A bonfire must be shooting through the sky, charcoaling all the new leaves of trees in its regeneration of rage.


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

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