October 13, 2013 § Leave a comment
For a long time it’s been too late for a happy ending in Syria. The longer this process continues, the less we can hope for.
How do you fight a monster without becoming a monster? How, particularly when the monster’s chief strategy is to make a monster of you? How, when the world’s most powerful storytellers depict you as a monster? How, when monsters hiding behind human facades walk by blindly as you are tortured, raped, humiliated, maimed, murdered?
I don’t really know. I’d welcome a reading list, if anyone has one.
I know this monster must be fought, even if we become monsters while fighting it. I know we must fight both internally and externally. I know the greater and lesser jihads must be fought simultaneously.
At some point, somehow, this stage will be replaced by another. Most probably that stage like this one will be bumbled through blindly. Human beings seldom or never achieve control over their larger social movements. Still, it’s pleasant to imagine that Syrians will be able to defuse the sectarian tensions which have existed at least since ibn Taymiyyeh, which were immeasurably exacerbated by Sykes-Picot and the French occupation’s construction of an ‘army of minorities’, and then set afire by Assad’s gang and its allies. It’s good to hope too that a new constitution will guard against any party, clique or ideological police imposing its straitjacket on the plural people.
Beyond religion and politics, environmental factors should also be taken into account.
It’s interesting to note that Jared Diamond’s three factors of civilisational collapse (deforestation, soil erosion, water management problems) have been present in Syria since late Ottoman times, and rampant in the last couple of decades. People my age who grew up in Damascus remember that in their childhoods the Ghouta still consisted of orchards and streams, that summer temperatures almost never climbed above the mid to high thirties. You don’t have to be my age to remember the Barada as an actual river, rather than a layer of concrete and a few stinking pools. Wasn’t Damascus the city the Prophet refused to enter, fearing to sin by imagining himself prematurely in paradise? The dicatorship’s corruption (anyone with connections or money could build in the green zone) put paid to that. Stupidly grand development schemes repeated the pattern all over the country (Lake Assad, like Lake Nasser, was an environmental and social disaster – see Omar Amiralay’s film A Flood in Ba‘ath Land – a wonderful exercise in quiet irony). People’s lack of control over the public space meant they were alienated from it, and threw black plastic bags all over it (this explains the discrepancy between people’s spotlessly clean homes and the filth in the streets outside). Over the decade before the revolution erupted, a million climate change refugees, according to the UN, left the desertifying north east for the impoverished outskirts of Dera’a, Homs, Damascus and Aleppo. This, combined with the effects of Bashaar’s crony capitalism, provides the backdrop to the uprising. The revolutions to the west, and the monster’s extreme violence, provided the spark.
January 10, 2013 § Leave a comment
A new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimates that globally 30-50% of food is wasted. (Download the report.). In the following video Trstram Stuart, author of the 2009 book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, tackles the subject. Writing in the Financial Times Tristram quoted Lord Haskins, then one of the chief advisers to the government on food and farming, as estimating that 70% of food produced in Britain is wasted. This is obviously a striking example of market efficiency.
June 23, 2011 § 1 Comment
From Al Jazeera‘s excellent Witness series:
The small town of Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta is facing the consequences of being the first to witness the impact of the Tar Sands project, which may be the tipping point for oil development in Canada. The local community has experienced a spike in cancer cases and dire studies have revealed the true consequences of “dirty oil”.
Gripped in a Faustian pact with the American energy consumer, the Canadian government is doing everything it can to protect the dirtiest oil project ever known. In the following account, filmmaker Tom Radford describes witnessing a David and Goliath struggle.
Below the fold you can also watch Dirty Oil, the 2009 documentary on the Alberta tar sands directed by Leslie Iwerks.
January 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
“How else to describe this, but as a form of mass insanity. Just when we know we need to be learning to live on the surface of our planet, off the power of sun, wind and waves; we are frantically digging to get at the dirtiest, highest emitting stuff imaginable…”
The brilliant Naomi Klein delivered this TED talk at on December 8, 2010, in Washington, DC. (A transcript of her speech is to be found below the fold).
October 15, 2010 § 1 Comment
From El Alto to Cochabamba, Detroit to Dar Es Salaam, A World Without Water documents the human costs of water privatisation and the systemic denial of access to safe drinking water through its commodification. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.1 billion people has no access to any type of improved drinking source of water, 2.6 billion people lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine, and, as a direct consequence, 1.6 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (90% of these are children under 5).
October 15, 2010 § 2 Comments
Water in Israel is probably one of the most blatant faces of apartheid. As reports like the Amnesty International report of 2009, “Troubled Waters” and the B’tselem website coverage of the issue, “The Water Crisis” show us, Israel’s resources are invested in water theft/access denial from Palestinians. But water in Israel is not just a substance of life, for those who can’t have it, it’s a tradable commodity, for those who’ll never miss it.
Like a Fish in National Waters
Water resources in Israel are all state-owned. Naturally- as is usually the case within the militaristic, nationalistic Israel- the state will allocate these resources to serve its “national needs”. Water theft is a good example of “negative” policy, which is so obviously discriminatory, violent and inexcusable, that the only way to sell it to the public is not to mention it at all. True to form, when cave- dwelling Palestinians are kicked out of their caves and their harvesting canisters (on the cave roof?) are destroyed [“Troubled Waters”, p.2], there’s no Israeli media around to record it, spin it and dish it. “Positive” policy, however, is always easy to sell. After all, we “dried the swamps and made the wilderness bloom”, and the environmental devastation of swamp drying still isn’t being taught in schools.
October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment
With the Cancun UN climate conference only weeks away now, the brilliant Avi Lewis travels to Bolivia to explore the country’s climate crusade from the inside on this edition of Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines.
The climate crisis in Bolivia is not a headline or an abstraction – it is playing out in people’s lives in real time. Melting glaciers are threatening the water supply of the country’s two biggest cities. Increasing droughts and floods are playing havoc with agriculture. So it is no surprise that in climate negotiations, Bolivia is emerging as a leader in the global south – advancing both radical solutions and analysis that make rich countries distinctly nervous.
May 4, 2010 § 4 Comments
Ever since Bono declared his intention to “bring some sex appeal to the idea of wanting to change
the world” on the front pages of Vanity Fair, I’ve been suspicious of celebrity endorsements of struggles for social justice. James Cameron, the director of the brilliant Avatar, is an exception, however. In this interview on the Riz Khan show, Cameron speaks about his recent visit to Brazil and the resistance of local communities to the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, which threatens the destruction of the homeland of tens of thousands of people. In eminently sensible and respectful terms, he discusses his support for their struggle and his reaction to the way indigenous activists around the world have embraced the motif of the Navi struggle against corporate imperialism so masterfully depicted in Avatar. What is more, it seems his initial reluctance to acknowledge the parallels between the Navi and the Palestinian struggle is waning too.
Below the fold, you can find another recent IPS interview with Cameron where he further discusses the relationship between Avatar and and its appropriation by indigenous activists. (For previous PULSE posts on Avatar see the review by Kim Bizzari and Max Ajl’s response to Slavoj Zizek.)
March 10, 2010 § 2 Comments
If you saw Johann Hari’s widely-circulated indictment of corruption in the conservation movement in The Nation, you should watch his interview from Tuesday’s Democracy Now! With Christine MacDonald, he lays out the real outage in the environmental community — the collusion between several of the largest conservation groups and some of the world’s worst polluters. As he wrote last week:
Groups like Conservation International are among the most trusted “brands” in America, pledged to protect and defend nature. Yet as we confront the biggest ecological crisis in human history, many of the green organizations meant to be leading the fight are busy shoveling up hard cash from the world’s worst polluters–and burying science-based environmentalism in return. Sometimes the corruption is subtle; sometimes it is blatant. In the middle of a swirl of bogus climate scandals trumped up by deniers, here is the real Climategate, waiting to be exposed.
MacDonald, meanwhile, has authored Green, Inc. which similarly exposes the complacency of a number of organizations in the wake of alarming corruption and corporate influence.
July 5, 2009 § 1 Comment
“The uprising in the Amazon is more urgent than Iran’s”, writes Johann Hari of The Independent – “it will determine the future of the planet.” Hyperboles aside, this is truly an excellent piece of journalism. The silence and lack of solidarity from the ‘left’ in the West for the heroic struggles for survival of indigenous peoples throughout Latin America in the face of brutal political and economic repression is “shaming” indeed. “These people had nothing” writes Hari “but they stood up to the oil companies. We have everything, yet too many of us sit limp and passive, filling up our tanks with stolen oil without a thought for tomorrow. The people of the Amazon have shown they are up for the fight to save our ecosystem. Are we?” Let’s see how things shape up during this week’s G8 summit in Italy but the prospects for a revival of the faltering alter-globalisation movement seem rather bleak, according to Ben Trott. (Also, have a look at Belen’s excellent piece on recent events in Peru, if you haven’t already.)
While the world nervously watches the uprising in Iran, an even more important uprising has been passing unnoticed – yet its outcome will shape your fate, and mine.In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies – and, for today, they have won.