May 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The following piece appears on the London Review of Books Blog.
For most of the world’s media, Pakistan’s general election was about terrorism. Candidates were identified according to their attitude towards the Taliban, and labelled as ‘secular’ or ‘conservative’. Little was said about party platforms. Circumstances appeared to justify the focus. There was a savage campaign of intimidation by domestic extremists in the run-up to the vote. More than a hundred people died, most of them members of the outgoing ruling coalition parties. The Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said they were targeted because of their uncompromising attitude towards the Taliban and avowedly secular views. There is some truth to this; but their enthusiastic embrace of the ‘global war on terror’ was a more immediate cause.
Despite the violence, turnout was nearly 60 per cent, the highest in Pakistan’s history. Youth participation was unprecedented. Critics of the ‘war on terror’ roundly defeated its supporters. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has taken a consistent antiwar position, crushed the ANP in the north-west. The PTI did particularly well in Swat, Dir and the Federally Adminstered Tribal Areas, where most of Pakistan’s counterinsurgency operations and US drone attacks are carried out. Also leery of the war, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) evicted the PPP from Punjab, Pakistan’s richest, most populous and developed province.
Terrorism may be foremost in the minds of Western observers; Pakistanis are more worried about the economy, education and corruption. Opinion polls showed that people’s biggest concerns are inflation and unemployment, as well as power outages and high energy costs, which have stunted economic growth and caused much misery: 20-hour blackouts are not unknown. Not all Pakistanis are exposed to terrorist violence; everyone has to buy bread.
You can read the rest here.
April 10, 2013 § 3 Comments
Someone has uncovered the video of a very interesting Q&A from an event in 2008. Here is US defence secretary Chuck Hagel responding to a question about Iran’s nukes. (Also see my article on why the Israel lobby tried to block Hagel’s nomination)
Transcript: “I’ll answer your question as honestly as I can. That’s a hypothetical question that somehow frames up the simplicity of the hypothetical question. The complications in the Middle East, and I’m certainly not an expert there, I have a chapter on the Middle East, I do know [laughter], I know a little something about the Middle East. I spent a lot of time there. And I spent a lot of time in Israel with the prime ministers and others. You who are well informed on this issue know the complexities starting with go back to the Bible, go back to ancient times, thousands of years. I mean that, if you really want to start trying to understand the Middle East, Paul, or David Aaron Miller, who you may know, has a new book out on this, The Not So Promised Land [The Much Too Promised Land]. And if you want to read something that is very, very enlightening, this guy he’s getting tremendous reviews on it. He’s Jewish. He worked in the State Department, worked for Baker, worked for Albright, I think he’s worked for four secretaries of state, different Democrats, Republicans. But it’s a great, great book.”
April 9, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, a sociologist and editor of Pulsemedia.org, discusses the highly contested estimated number of Iraqi deaths due to the 2003 US invasion; why Iraq Body Count (the media’s go-to source) vastly under-reports casualties; how “excess death” statistical studies work; and how low-balling the costs of war – in terms of blood and treasure – distorts the public debate.
April 4, 2013 § 1 Comment
‘So many’, wrote TS Eliot, reflecting on the waste land left by the First World War. “I had not thought death had undone so many.”
This notion is unlikely to cross the minds of those surveying the devastation left by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The most frequently quoted fatality figure – about 115,000 Iraqis killed – is shocking. But compared to major conflicts of the past century, it is a relatively modest toll. The Battle of the Somme alone killed three times as many. More were killed by a single bomb dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War.
Former British prime minster Tony Blair, and then-US vice president Dick Cheney, were perhaps conscious of this when they expressed “no regrets” on the 10th anniversary of the war last month.
That the perpetrators of an aggressive war should accept the lowest costs for their folly is unsurprising. What is less explicable is why so many supposed critics of the war are crediting the same estimate. Brown University’s Costs of War project and the Centre for American Progress’s Iraq War Ledger use it as their main source.
You can read the rest here.
March 30, 2013 § 1 Comment
by William A. Cook
“Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own. Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day. It’s not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It’s not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; or restricting a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or displace Palestinian families from their homes Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land” (President Barak Obama in Israel 2013).
Would that the President might take his own advice—“Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes”—he need only open his eyes beyond the wall that imprisons the Palestinians he speaks about: see how the wall blinds the Jews to the plight of the people they drove from their land, see the barren landscape on the other side rubble strewn, savaged by bulldozers and missiles, see the people caught in a maelstrom of poverty and deprivation, listen to the mothers and wives weep for their husbands and sons jailed without charge in Israel’s Gulag where escape comes by self-starvation as the only defense against indefinite torture and lives lost to family and friends, listen to the cries of the people of the world who have condemned this barbaric behavior only to run into the President’s own wall–the veto in the UN Security Council that effectively denies the justice he so righteously exalts, “Peace is also just.” How true and how easily it could be made a reality if he were to simply abstain during the vote that sought to bring this defiant state before the International Court of Justice finally after 64 years of impunity to the very justice this President mouths, as though saying it levitates him beyond criticism.
March 23, 2013 § 1 Comment
An edited version of following article about the causes of the Iraq war appears in The National as “A parade of characters and causes led the US to war in Iraq“.
Ten years since ‘shock and awe’, the reasons behind the invasion of Iraq have yet to be satisfactorily explained. Journalists, scholars, statesmen, soldiers, spies, and ideologues have all toiled for answers. Oil, imperialism, militarism, democracy, Israel and free markets have each been offered as explanations. Mono-causal and mutually exclusive: they seem to enlighten less than they satisfy the innate human need for simplification. In the hands of academics, on the other hand, explanations inevitably turn ‘complex’ – a ubiquitous marker that separates man from mandarin.
To say that the causes of the Iraq war are easy to explain is not to say that they are simple. But the lack of simplicity also does not imply indeterminacy. The reality may be complex but is decidedly explicable.
March 20, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Wonders of Youtube! A 1991 video of a conversation between the two greats surfaces.
March 4, 2013 § Leave a Comment
by Dr. Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers
Two young Afghan boys herding cattle in Uruzgan Province of Afghanistan were mistakenly killed by NATO forces yesterday.
They were seven and eight years old.
Our globe, approving of ‘necessary or just war’, thinks, “We expect this to happen occasionally.”
Some say, “We’re sorry.”
Therefore today, with sorrow and rage, we the Afghan Peace Volunteers took our hearts to the streets.
We went with two cows, remembering that the two children were tending to their cattle on their last day.
We are those two children.
We want to be human again.
February 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
For some reason, SNL did not broadcast this.
February 3, 2013 § 1 Comment
My review of Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire which first appeared in Guernica.
As tsar Alexander III sat down for an evening’s entertainment at the St. Petersburg opera house in late 1887, he little knew that the performance would soon be upstaged by one much more dramatic. Shortly after the curtains rose, a slender, goateed man with azure eyes, dressed in robe and turban, got up from a box nearby and proclaimed loudly: “I intend to say the evening prayer—Allah-u-Akbar!” The audience sat bemused and soldiers waited impatiently as the man proceeded, unperturbed, with his evening prayers. His sole companion, the Russian-born intellectual Abdurreshid Ibrahim, squirmed in fear of his life.
Jamal ud-Din al-Afghani was determined to recruit Russian support in his campaign against the British. Having failed to secure an audience with the tsar, he had decided to use his daring as a calling card. The tsar’s curiosity was finally piqued and Afghani had his hearing.
This could be a scene out of Tolstoy or Lermontov; but so extraordinary a figure was Afghani (1838-97) that inserting him into fiction would have compromised verisimilitude. So, renowned essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra has opted for the genres of historical essay and intellectual biography to profile the lives of Afghani and other equally remarkable figures in From the Ruins of Empire: The intellectuals who remade Asia.
The book is a refreshing break from lachrymose histories of the East’s victimhood and laments about its past glories. It concerns a group of intellectuals who responded to the threat of western dominance with vigour and imagination. Together they engendered the intellectual currents that have shaped the last century of the region’s history. « Read the rest of this entry »