Sunday, 29 July 2007


Of Marx, Christ, And The Persecution Of Radicals: How Will Humanity Survive The Capitalist Threat?

By Jason Miller
28 July, 2007

A few days ago, one of my closest friends hit me with a heavily loaded question.

"Are you a Communist?" she queried.
To which I replied:
I do not belong nor militate in any formal communist party in the U.S. Nor do I belong to any other political entity or party. Furthermore, I do not subscribe to a specific doctrine, ideology, or dogma. My allegiance is to my core principles and values, which are premised on honesty, justice, humanity, responsibility, critical thinking, open-mindedness, egalitarianism, compassion, a belief in a Higher Power of my understanding, and many of the teachings of Christ.
My personal beliefs aside, communism is an incredibly loaded word. Our infinitely mendacious educational, social, and media infrastructures begin inculcating reflexive rejection of "all things communist or socialist" into US Americans from the moment they draw their initial breath.
Why is the establishment so desperate to vaccinate us against the "disease" of communism?
Because at its hopelessly rotten core, capitalism, which is manifested most strongly in the United States, is about exploitation, hyper-competitiveness, "rugged individualism", survival of the fittest, concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, profits above all, property over people, greed, and selfishness. Perhaps worst of all, this pyramid scheme masquerading as a "moral" economic system inevitably leads to wars fueled by its insatiable demands for new markets, more resources, and cheaper labor. Why else would 350 million out of 6.5 billion people spend a trillion dollars a year on a military that has the capacity to destroy our planet thousands of times over, dwarfs the combined firepower of the rest of the world, and plagues over 130 countries with its "benign" occupations? We in the United States maintain a carefully crafted fa├žade as the "benevolent champions of democracy", but will quickly install ruthless tyrants and commit mass murder (euphemistically labeling our victims as "collateral damage") if sovereign nations dare to resist our economic rape and plunder.

And for those who have swallowed the specious argument that "true capitalism" doesn't exist, you're dreaming. Pinch yourself hard enough and you may awaken before it is too late. Capitalism is a cancer upon the sentient beings of the Earth and we are suffering through its advanced stages. Finance capital reigns supreme, massive oligopolies abound, wealth is increasingly accumulating in the hands of the few, imperial wars to expand markets and attain resources are increasing in frequency, and the insatiable greed driving this appalling perversion is raping and destroying the Earth.

Some opine that if we could just dismantle the "socialist" aspects of our socioeconomic system in the United States, restoring an unbridled free market, the world would be a much better place. Certainly our cynical plutocracy would welcome such a transition. However, it is hard to envision too many working people truly welcoming a return to ten year olds working twelve hour days, company towns, death and dismemberment on the job with no recourse against employers maintaining perilous work environments, miserly wages that would make today's working poor look relatively affluent, blatantly monopolistic business practices, and wanton disregard for the environment.
History has clearly demonstrated that "free markets" are "free passes" for acquisitive sociopaths who thrive on bullying and exploiting a large percentage of the Earth's sentient beings. And despite the ridiculously few and relatively minor restraints that social unrest has forced the opulent class to implement in the US, adept players in the deadly game of capitalism have refused to surrender their "inalienable right" to fuck the rest of the human race in their relentless charge to attain the power and wealth they so desperately crave to distract them from the existential agony of their spiritual emptiness.
[Note: If you don't find a historical perspective convincing enough, consider the deadly machinations of the "free market" in China as it hurtles headlong into the very bowels of capitalist Hell:

Karl Marx predicted the inevitable implosion of capitalism and theorized that a much more humane, egalitarian, and democratic system would rise in its place. It is little wonder that the bourgeoisie in the United States have striven so tenaciously to inculcate the unwashed masses to despise, fear, and ridicule socialism, communism, and nearly all aspects of Marxist thought. Sound bites, emotionally evocative images, ahistorical presentations, fear mongering, jingoism, advertising, and numerous temptations of instant gratification comprise a vast array of highly refined and insidious propaganda that perpetually hammers our minds to create a potent and effective false consciousness, and an irrational fear of anything but capitalism.
Socialism and communism, the political manifestations of Marxist ideas, have been grossly distorted within the framework of this false consciousness. While it is true that the implementations of Marx's philosophies have yielded mixed results (many of those outcomes are primarily due to the unwavering hostility of the older, well established capitalist powers in the second half of the 20th century, led of course by the U.S.), the chasm between reality and the mind fuck we have received since birth is wide enough to engulf Donald Trump's ego, or most of it anyway. For evidence, one need look no further than our Cold War nemesis.
Consider the pernicious myth that the United States "defeated" fascism in Europe in WWII. This lie persists despite the fact that a number of our very own uber-Capitalists did business with the Nazi regime until the 1942 Trading with the Enemy Act finally forbade it. Ironically, Prescott Bush, GW's grandfather, was amongst those profiting from Hitler's rise to power. Further, our ruling elite refused to intervene on behalf of a democratically elected government in Spain against Franco, who ultimately rose to power as a fascist dictator. Perhaps most importantly, the US lost about 500,000 people (almost all of whom were military personnel) in "defeating" Germany. Russia, one of history's most heavily vilified "communist" nations, sacrificed 20 million people to ensure Hitler's defeat. Had it not been for those evil "communists", we might be speaking German right now.
Shortages of consumer goods is another "communist failure" apologists for capitalism love to trot out as "proof" that their beloved license to plunder and conquer is inherently superior to a more just economic system. Yet time and again they suppress the real reasons these shortages occurred. Recognizing the existential threat that Marxist ideals posed to their Anglo, imperial, and patriarchal plutocracy, the United States ruling class and its allies circled the wagons and imposed crippling economic sanctions on nations attempting to implement communism (i.e. Russia and Cuba).
Domestically, communists and socialists endured harassment, financial ruin, and prison. Witness the Palmer Raids and the witch hunts of the McCarthy era. Thank God our opulent overlords nipped potential revolutionary action in the bud. It is a tremendous relief that such a small number of "richly deserving" individuals acted to ensure the perpetuation of their virtual monopoly on the wealth of our nation, particularly in light of the existence of over a million homeless US Americans. Heartwarming indeed.
Yet our intrepid profit-seekers weren't content to stop there. Realizing that the Soviet Union had an economy that was roughly 1/8th the size of the United States and was still largely agrarian all the way up to the Russian Revolution, they decided to initiate a ruinous military escalation that eventually culminated in the criminal nuclear arms race. Enabling obscene profits for the military industrial complex (by way of raping the US American taxpayer) and smothering communism in its infancy, the vampiric bourgeoisie ensured the perpetuation of its abominable existence. Meanwhile, the Ruskies faced the staggering tasks of industrializing a technologically backward nation, rebuilding their devastated infrastructure, and meeting consumer demands. So of course they didn't have a McDonalds on each corner or a new car dealer within a three mile radius of every home. They were too busy bringing their economy into the 20th Century, recovering from Hitler's invasion, and matching the US warhead for warhead.
Now, do I think that any manifestation of a communist government to date is a utopia? No. I see their flaws. But remember, those who have tried to implement socialism or communism have faced a formidable adversary in the form of the rotten bastards who comprise both our "elected" and our de facto governments. Crushing those who dare to attempt alternatives to the sacred cow of capitalism and trumpeting our "monopoly" on virtue, we US Americans would benefit tremendously from some serious soul-searching about our participation in a morally bankrupt mode of being. What spiritual growth or substance could possibly flourish in a system premised on greed, selfishness, and self-absorption?
Are we, the beneficiaries of a relative degree of physical security and comfort (in exchange for our complicity in crony capitalism, Neoliberal exploitation, and imperial invasions), truly superior to the communists and socialists we have been taught to fear and revile? How many invasions have Fidel or Chavez EVER launched?
We the People are mere pawns of our multimillionaires in Congress, the 10% who own 90% of our nation's wealth, massive corporations, and a group which includes in its ranks both GW and other abject criminals like Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Abrams, Negroponte, and many others who have acted with impunity dating back to the Nixon era. There is a revolving door between our government (including both "elected" and appointed officials) and major corporations. Cheney and Halliburton represent exhibit A. Lobbyists and special interest groups pull our legislators' strings and, in some instances, even write our laws, as was the case in the behind-closed-doors deal that Cheney cooked for the energy corporations. And look at our most likely Democratic Presidential nominee to be, Hillary Clinton, whose conservatism is one of the best kept secrets inside the Beltway. As a First Lady, she ostensibly fought aggressively for universal health care. She has now sold us out by accepting nearly a million dollars from the health care industry. Corruption, duplicity, mendacity, and egregious criminal conduct are not the exception. They are the rule in our vaunted capitalist system.
Our domestic politics, guided and determined by the demands of our predatory socioeconomic structure, are not alone in reeking of the fetid stench of profound moral decay. Consider our malevolent foreign policy, including myriad CIA covert operations, economic extortion, and outright imperial slaughter frequently employed to crush efforts by sovereign nations to defy the capitalist paradigm and implement socialism. For convincing evidence that we are NOT wearing white hats and making the world safe for democracy, do a little research on Chile and Salvador Allende, Cuba and Castro, Iran and Mossadeq, Franco and Spain, Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam (we "only" killed 3 million people there), Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.
Here is a good starting point (the entire website is excellent, but the page linked below gives a condensed version of parts of our history the plutocracy doesn't want the masses to know– the mainstream media and textbook writers have done a masterful job of shielding us from the truths displayed on this site):

While it wasn't his intention at the time, David Starr Jordan (from Imperial Democracy, 1899, pp. 50-51 –cited in Monthly Review, September 2006, p. 53.) penned an apt characterization of the despicable foreign policy of the American Empire:
"First you push into territories where you have no business to be, and where you had promised not to go; secondly, your intrusion provokes resentment and, in these wild countries, resentment means resistance; thirdly, you instantly cry out that the people are rebellious and that their act is rebellion (this in spite of your own assurance that you have no intention of setting up a permanent sovereignty over them); fourthly, you send a force to stamp out the rebellion; and fifthly, having spread bloodshed, confusion and anarchy, you declare, with hands uplifted to the heavens, that moral reasons force you to stay, for if you were to leave, this territory would be left in a condition which no civilized power could contemplate with equanimity or with composure. These are the five stages in the Forward Rake's progress."
Having analyzed our vile and reprehensible economic paradigm from many angles, I find it virtually impossible to believe that a critical thinking, decent human being could support our institutionalized rapacity, at least not once they pierced the simulacrum so fastidiously maintained by the corporate media.
Fortunately, challenging life experiences spurred me to undertake a spiritual and intellectual journey that enabled me to break free of the prison of false consciousness. While I tend to look at the world through a very eclectic lens, I derive most of my principles, beliefs, and sociopolitical views from Marxism, the Friends of Bill W, Christ's teachings, and Buddha.
Together with many dedicated and exceptional human beings, I am waging an intellectual/political struggle for social justice, a reasonable degree of peace in the world, a significant reduction in exploitation, a more equitable distribution of resources, an end to the rising epidemic of unnecessary suffering, the formation of a social structure based on our interdependence with nature and each other, the obliteration of the moronic, sociopathic American myth that individuality and personal rights supersede the well-being of the collective, true justice for criminals and their victims, the evisceration of corporate power, awakening people from their trance of self-absorption and apathy, and an end to the hedonistic narcissism manifested in obscene levels of consumerism. A number of factors indicate that we are in a pre-revolutionary stage in the United States. Premature revolutionary activity at this point would be suicidal folly, but meanwhile, we have plenty of opportunity to implement radical solutions at the personal level and to employ political education to win hearts and minds.
If you still tremble at the notion of "Godless communists, socialists or Marxists," remember that though I am not a Christian, I am deeply spiritual and derive tremendous inspiration from Christ and members of the Liberation Theology Movement. Marxist thought is not antithetical to spirituality, morality, or Christianity. In fact, I examined its synthesis with these elements in some detail when I wrote "Jesus Wouldn't Bomb Anyone: Why are we waging war on the poor and oppressed?" at:
No, I'm not the "communist bogeyman" that Ronald Reagan (who was a far better actor in the White House than he was in Hollywood) warned you about. How could I be? Communists, socialists, and Marxists are only potentially threatening to those amongst us who will waste eternity desperately attempting to squeeze camels through the eyes of needles.
Forget worrying about the "communist threat." We need to turn the moneyed establishment's idiocy on its head and focus our energies on answering a question that affects the 90% of us who aren't obscenely affluent:
How will humanity survive the capitalist threat?
Jason Miller is a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself intellectually and spiritually. He is Cyrano's Journal Online's associate editor ( and publishes Thomas Paine's Corner within Cyrano's at You can reach him at

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Friday, 27 July 2007

Yesterday Iftiqar Gilani,Today Binayak Sen


By Subhash Gatade
26 July, 2007

Does anybody remember the Delhi bureau chief of Kashmir Times, Mr Iftiqar Gilani who was hounded by the BJP government on fraudulent charges under the draconian Official Secrets Act supposedly for possessing some 'secret' documents. Interestingly when it was revealed that all the 'secret' documents purported to be in possession of Mr Gilani were easily available online, then the law and order people had no other alternative than to release him.
The world very well knows that why Mr Gilani was treated in such a humiliating manner. The only 'crime' the accredited journalist had committed was that he happened to be son in law of a famous Kashmiri leader.
Today the same fate awaits Dr Binayak Sen - a paediatrician by training and profession and a human rights activist by choice. This receipient of the famous Paul Harrison award for work in community health has received a new identity. - A menace to public safety - The Chattisgarh police whose own record of human rights violations would shame even the KPS Gills, has used the provisions of the draconian Chhatisgarh Special Public Safety Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act ( a substitute for POTA ) to detain Dr Binayak Sen in the wee hours of 14 th May. And the recent high court order has even refused him a bail.
It has been more than twenty five years that Dr Binayak Sen left his job at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi to dedicate himself to serve the poor and the downtrodden in Chhatisgarh. It was the time when a new workers- peasants movement was taking shape in Chattisgarh ( which was then part of Madhya Pradesh) under the leadership of the legendary leader Shankar Guha Niyogi. The martyrdom of more than eleven workers in Dalli-Rajhara in the immediate aftermath of the assumption of power by the Janata Party government was a news all over the country. Binayak Sen never looked back and continued working for the people despite many highs-lows of the movement. He played an important part in the formation of Shaheed Hospital at Dalli-Rajhara, a hospital run by the workers for the other downtrodden sections of society.
To further his concern for the really needy Dr Binayak donned many roles. He worked on community health projects, ran a clinic, also ran a organic farm near Raipur and was also adviser to the Chhatisgarh government for its community health project called 'Mitanin'. He found himself drawn into the fledgling human rights movement in the state when violations of human rights saw a quantum jump. But for his intervention ( of course alongwith other members of the civil liberty movement) the rest of the world would have never known the killing of twelve innocent tribals at Santoshpur by the security forces of the state supposedly to curb the Naxalite 'menace'. (31st March 2007) He was instrumental in forming an all India fact finding committee of civil liberty organisations to look into 'Salwa Judum' a campaign of arming tribals started by the government and using them as mercenaries. The report brought out by these organisations was an eye-opener. It showed how the state government has even allocated budget for this campaign which it calls a 'spontaneous response of the tribals towards the Naxalite 'menace'.
It was only last year that Dr Binayak Sen, - alongwith other civil liberty organisations and activists - had taken the initiative to organise a Convention in Raipur. The aim of the convention was to highlight the precarious human rights situation in the state, but an important item on their agenda was to focus the attention about a sinister move by the Chhatisgarh government to silence every dissenting voice. In fact Raman Singh led government had already made decisive moves in the direction of enacting a new law 'Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act' (2006) which had several provisions similar to the (now lapsed) draconian POTA.
It was rigthly pointed out that the proposed act CSPSA not only included violation of the principle of certainty in criminal law (including vague definition of membership and support to terrorist organisations) but also absence of pre-trial safeguards (including insufficient safeguards on arrest, the risk of torture, obstacles to confidential communications with counsel). An important provision which rather made it worse than POTA was the 'virtual impossibility of obtaining bail as there is no provision for remedy of appeal or review of detention.'
Little did any of the organisers or the participants to the convention had the premonition that Dr Binayak Sen himself would be charged under the act, detained for months together by denying bail on flimsy grounds.
Despite campaign by democratic rights activists which were joined in by voices of medical fraternity from the world over, the powers that be seem to be least concerned about his detention. For the powers that be it is not a matter of concern that world renowned intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Romila Thapar and several others have expressed their 'opposition' to this unwarranted detention of Dr Sen. For them it is not a big thing that 1500 doctors spread in different parts of the world who have been acquainted with the work of their fellow doctor have appealed to the Chhatisgarh government that he be released immediately and all false charges against him be dropped forthwith.
It should be added that 'Medico Friend Circle'(MFC) - a thirty year old organisation of doctors who are working to make health services more accessible to the poor and who have consistently opposed the corporate control over people's health, recently held a press conference in Raipur to oppose Dr Sen's detention. In fact they showed the media a thirty minute CD based on the work of Dr Sen, who is closely associated with MFC's work since his youth. In fact more than thirty well-known medical professionals spread in different parts of the country made it a point to be present in the Press meet and declare their solidarity with their comrade.
But leave dropping charges or releasing him, the courts are is not ready to grant him bail.Dr Sen has been charged with 'a prima facie case that the applicant was involved with some banned organisation' .The high court did not deem it necessary to grant interim relief despite knowing the fact that ' the said meeting between leader of a Maoist organisation and Dr Sen took place in the jail premises themselves' in the 'presence of jail officials' and the letters which the police claimed to have seized from Mr Sen's house were sent from the jail themselves with due stamp of the jail officials.
The Chhattisgarh PUCL has termed this order of the Chhattisgarh High Court as "unfortunate" as the Court has not appreciated all the material facts and evidence of the case as presented by the legal counsel for Dr. Binayak Sen during the arguments. It has also decided to move the Supreme Court so that the highest courts of the country can decide on the merit of the case. It has also resolved 'to take stock of the alarming situation in Chhattisgarh with regard to ruthless use of repressive laws and anti-democratic actions of the State Government and, in turn, formulate future strategy and action plan to defend democracy and restore the rule of law.'
These days media is agog with news of another innocent doctor called Dr Haneef who has been apprehended by the Australian police. It is for everyone to see to what extent the Australian police went in proving that he is a 'terrorist'. It is a mark of the vibrancy of the Australian civil society that people there have stood up in Dr. Haneef's defence. The consistent campaign by the civil liberty organisations with due support from the media has helped expose Australian government's highhandedness in l'affaire Haneef. It is a matter of time that Dr Haneef would be released.
One just wishes that much like their Australian counterpart, the civil society in this part of the globe also wakes up to the innocence of Dr Binayak Sen and tell the powers that be that 'We want him out' !
If the Australians can fight for the human rights of an Indian, should the Indians maintain a conspiracy of silence when one of their own is being brutalised by the state.

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Monday, 16 July 2007

Lessons From The Lal Masjid Tragedy

By Robert Jensen

12 July, 2007

Islamabad, Pakistan.

For my first three days in Pakistan, no conversation could go more than a few minutes without a reference to the crisis at the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) compound. I had landed in Islamabad on July 8, and by then it seemed clear that government forces would eventually storm the mosque and the attached women's seminary to end the confrontation with fundamentalist clerics and their supporters.

The final assault was finally unleashed as two companions and I drove to Lahore as part of a lecture tour. During several hours of intense discussion in the car, they gave me background and details that explained the real tragedy of the conflict.

When the news of the final assault came via cell phone we all fell silent, and we all quietly cried -- for those killed and for opportunities lost, out of our grief and from our fear.

In the Western news media and even much of the Pakistani press, the story was framed as crazed radical Islamist forces challenging relatively restrained government forces. Indeed, the two brothers who ran the mosque preached an interpretation of Islam that was mostly reactionary and sometimes violent. None of us in the car -- two Muslims and one Christian, all progressive in theological and political thought -- supported such views.

But there was more to the story. Farid Esack, one of the world's foremost progressive Muslim theologians who was in Pakistan to teach and lecture, and Junaid Ahmad, a Pakistani-American activist and law student directing the lecture series, both pointed out that key social/economic aspects of the story were being overlooked.

In addition to calls for shariah law under a fundamentalist Islamic state, Lal Masjid imams Abdur Rashid Ghazi and Mohammed Abdul Aziz critiqued the corruption of Pakistani political, military and economic elites, highlighting the living conditions of the millions of Pakistanis living in poverty. As in most Third-World societies, the inequality gap here has widened in recent years, as those who find their place in the U.S.-dominated neoliberal economic project prosper while most ordinary people suffer, especially the poor.

"We can reject the jihadist and patriarchal aspects and still recognize that there is in this fundamentalist philosophy a call for social justice, a challenge to the power-seeking and greed of elites," said Esack, the author of Qur'an: Liberation and Pluralism. "When I spoke with Ghazi, it was clear that was an important part of his thinking, and it's equally clear that the appeal of this theology is magnified by the lack of meaningful calls for justice from other sectors of society."

Esack, who teaches at Harvard Divinity School and is a former national commissioner for gender equality in South Africa, had been visiting the mosque regularly and speaking to Ghazi and others inside until government forces sealed the area a few days earlier. A native of South Africa who was active in the struggle against apartheid, Esack spent much of his childhood in Pakistan at a madarasa, where he was a classmate of Aziz. Contrary to the media image of Ghazi, the cleric had a broader agenda and wanted to learn more about how an Islamic state could be structured to ensure economic equality, Esack said.

"My vision of an inclusive polity influenced by progressive Islamic values is very different than Ghazi's, of course, but his theology should not be reduced to a caricature, as it so often was, especially in the West," Esack said.

Ahmad emphasized that another crucial part of the story involved economics, specifically land. Press reports focused on the provocative activities of students and supporters of Lal Masjid members threatening video store owners, raiding brothels and clashing with police, but an underlying cause of the conflict was the existence of "unauthorized" mosques. Many of these mosques and madrasas had been built without permits on unused public land in Islamabad. As the city has grown more crowded and developers eyed that real estate for commercial building, the government took the risky step of destroying some of those mosques (though the many non-religious, profit-generating projects also built without permits remain undisturbed). Clerics protested, adding to the intensity of the Lal Masjid conflict.

Esack and Ahmad agreed that another aspect of the crisis mostly ignored in the press was the fact that the events played out in Islamabad, home to the more secular/liberal and privileged elements of the society. While those liberals might ignore such movements and conflicts in the outer provinces, many found it offensive that such an embarrassing incident could happen in the capital, where the world eventually would pay attention.

"We hear about how this is bad for the image of Pakistan, with no comment about the lives of ordinary Pakistanis and the substance of what the country is about," Ahmad said. "Instead of talking about these fundamental questions of justice, many people wanted to see the incident ended to avoid further tarnishing of the country's image. It's like the obsession the United States has with simply changing its image in the Muslim world rather than recognizing the injustice of its policies."

In the construction of that image, the stories of the reality of the lives of people at Lal Masjid are typically untold. As the crisis unfolded and some of the madrasa students left the compound, the government gave them some money and told them to go home.

"The problem is, many had no homes to go to," Ahmad said. "Whatever the reactionary theology of Lal Masjid, it provided a place for many who were dispossessed or from poor families. If the economy ignores people and the state provides nothing, where will they go?"

My trip to Pakistan had been set months in advance; my presence there during this crisis was coincidence. Throughout my stay, as I listened to the discussion about the conflict, I realized how much less I could have understood the events if I had been in the United States, even though I would have been reading the international press on the web. The complexity of such stories so rarely makes it into print, and the humanity of the people demonized drops out all too easily.

As we drove in silence, I thought of how easy it is from positions of safety and comfort to denounce fundamentalism, how often I have done just that. But who are we targeting when we make such statements? I have no trouble denouncing the bin Ladens and al-Zawahiris, or the Bushs and Robertsons, and critiquing their twisted worldview. But what of the ordinary people struggling against the elites who ignore the cries of the suffering? When those people take up a fundamentalist theology that we Western left/progressives reject, must we not highlight the inequality we also say we oppose?

Esack said some have asked him what he hoped to gain by going to Lal Masjid and talking with someone like Ghazi, but he has no doubts about the value and appropriateness of his visits there.

"When we abandon engagement and dialogue with those who hold these beliefs, we are abandoning hope. My goal is not to wall myself off from other Muslims, but to search for authentic connections, even across these gaps. Is that not how we can heal the world, and ourselves?" he said. "It is precisely when we start to think of some of us as 'chosen' and others as 'frozen' that we happily become willing to defrost them with our bombs."

That moment in the car, as we absorbed the news that the troops had cleared the mosque and that Ghazi and dozens of others were dead, I felt angry at people like Ghazi and at the same time a deep sorrow for his death. I felt a much deeper rage at Pakistan's military president, Pervez Musharraf, and the U.S. leaders who support him. And I felt a kind of fear for the Muslim fundamentalism that unleashes such violent forces, which always reminds me of the equally frightening Christian fundamentalist theology circulating in the United States.

I bounced between a deep sense of despair and an equally deep sense of hope. Once the confrontation was set in motion, perhaps the people inside the mosque and the soldiers killed were doomed. But in the car in that moment, I could feel hope that the work of people like Esack and Ahmad was setting in motion other forces. Mostly I was grateful to be in their company to share the grief. In such moments, that connection is perhaps the most human and the most hopeful of endeavors.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Om makes it to chess terra final

Yesterday 14 July 2007, Om won four and a half points in the under 9s and was tied in the third place at the North UK chess Giga finals. This is a major achievement for Om as its the first time that he has made the cut and gets a look at the front running pack in the country.

Well done Om.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Recording a dream

12/7/07 @ 6.10 am

This morning I dreamt of many mambers of my family, many of who were dead.

I saw my late grand uncle Unniman, with who I had some nice chat.

I also saw my late paternal grandmother in her Irinjalakuda home - she was trying to evict a Caucasian woman who was living in her home. They (the family) had already denied her most facilities, so she was cooking for herself, on the western part of the home. I was trying to woo her and Ammuma was trying to wean me off, telling me how she refused to go et al.

I also saw the MKP family, and Pradeep was taking me on a ride to another house for meals etc.

Monday, 9 July 2007


Some wise principles from Little Buddha which it would be wise to respect and follow to the letter:


Children in the front seat of a car can cause accidents. Accidents in the back seat of a car can cause children.


If you cannot lend a hand, then be a nuisance! Either way, the most important thing is to take part!


If you believe that the quickest way to a man's heart is the stomach, know that you are aiming a little too high!


If you can laugh when everything is going horribly wrong, that means that you have found somebody to blame!


Women are like swimming pools: they cost a great deal of money to maintain, considering the time that you spend inside!


Never drink while driving. You could spill your beer!


Some bosses are like clouds: the minute they disappear, the day suddenly gets brighter!


To err is human. To blame someone else for your problem, is strategic.


Men wouldn't lie as much to the women in their life, if the women in their life didn't ask so many questions!


Women marry because they believe that he will change one day. Men marry because they believe that she will never change. Both are mistaken!


Your future depends on your dreams. Don't waste any time, go to bed NOW!



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Sunday, 8 July 2007

Dinner table chat about house prices turns nasty

Will Hutton
Sunday July 8, 2007
The Observer

At a gathering of my wife's family last weekend I was sharply reminded of the generation gap when it comes to property. The over-35s are winners with their cushion of equity, which grows vast the nearer they are to pensionable age; the under-35s have debts that make them feel fearful at becoming losers in the property jungle.

I had conversations that I am sure are reproduced all over the country. A mother spoke of her fears that it would be impossible to move to a larger flat in the same neighbourhood to accommodate a second baby. Another said that my generation did not understand how hard it was for young people to get started these days without well-off parents.

Britain has created a monstrous house-price-inflation machine that is beginning to devastate lives, segregate communities and dominate our culture. And do serious damage to the process of wealth generation. Last week's rise in interest rates to 5.75 per cent, with further interest-rate increases certain, is the price of a freedom to borrow.

We want that freedom, while deploring the irrationality it has produced. Which is why complaining about the latest interest-rate increase is pointless. The Bank of England is only doing its job - trying to hit 2 per cent inflation. It confronts never-ending inflation in house prices that makes home-owners richer, and who become ever more ingenious in translating that wealth into higher consumer spending and lower saving.

The property market is the epicentre of the problem. A recent report from the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit, chaired by economist Professor Stephen Nickell, argued that despite the doubling in house prices over the last 10 years, today's property market is still not overvalued. Higher demand, with another 223,000 new households forming every year is meeting stagnating supply. In 2000, house prices on average were four times incomes; now they are seven times and over the next 20 years will rise to 10 times.

It is an argument that is hard to counter - in which case there is trouble ahead. The Bank of England needs to see a sharp deceleration in house-price inflation in order to meet its inflation target. But if today's prices are as solidly underpinned as Nickell argues, and set to increase by another 50 per cent in the years ahead, then interest rates may have to rise very high indeed in the immediate future - certainly to 7 or even 8 per cent - to get the result the Bank needs.

What policy-makers obviously want to see is an orderly slowdown in prices rather than actual falls, while something is done to avert Nickell's forecast. Yet the whole exercise is fraught with risk. The market is frothy; many individuals are overborrowed. Anybody buying a house today risks seeing the price falling sometime in 2009 or 2010. House prices will probably begin to increase again afterwards, but today's risks are acute.

There are already casualties; repossessions are rising sharply and businesses closing, overwhelmed by debt. Parents are trapped into living with their middle-aged children. Neighbourhoods are becoming ever more segregated by class. And conversations like the one my family was having last weekend will become political. More affordable housing, as the government recognises, is a political, social and economic necessity.

The simple answer is to build more houses, especially social housing, but that means eroding the green belts and relaxing planning laws - unpopular ideas. There are tougher measures, too. If housing faced higher taxes, either through inheritance tax, a wealth tax, lifting stamp duty, or limiting tax-free capital gains on housing, then house-price inflation would slow. And if Britain repealed its far too generous concession that non-residents and non-domiciled individuals can buy and hoard houses without paying tax, that would dent overseas demand. All have been ruled out because of a recoil at higher taxes.

But the mood is changing. It seems the middle class has begun to decide that the current mayhem is not in its interests. Privately some Tory policy-makers are toying with finding ways to use the tax system to slow down house-price inflation, pondering whether it really would be political suicide.

The Labour party has been paralysed, writing off taxing as leftist and impractical. But the politics of the house-price inflation machine are beginning to change. It may have made many over-50s very rich, but for the rest the social division, the private heartache, the risks of massive indebtedness and yet dearer houses make no sense. Right-wing policies have created a world we don't like. The pendulum is swinging back.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

The NHS is a rip-off

Giles Whittell

Remember the name Chainsaw Rick. I have added the chainsaw bit, but you will see why. He appears in a so-called documentary that has not yet secured a British distributor but will spawn an awful lot more about Rick when it does.

The film is Sicko, a two-hour take-down of the mighty US healthcare industry directed by and starring the potato-faced Michael Moore (he of Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 911 and subject of too many right-wing diatribes to count). In it, Rick is an uninsured sadster who loses two fingers to a chainsaw and has to talk hard cash with an accountant before his general anaesthetic. It’ll be $12,000 to reattach the easy finger, he is told; $60,000 for the pair. Rick goes for the budget option.

Fully half of Sicko is devoted to envious glimpses of better-run, more equitable and more compassionate healthcare systems in other countries, such as Canada (where another power-saw victim gets all five digits reattached for nothing) and Britain, where Moore would clearly choose to live if he didn’t have such an avid following and such comprehensive health insurance at home.

“Keep your British health system,” he told one of our reviewers after a screening on Skid Row in LA. “Never get rid of it. It’s a wonderful thing.” He has also made the mistake of calling British healthcare “free”.

Let us be clear: Michael Moore is amiable, fearless and funny, especially when provoked. He is also a brilliant film-maker who has transformed his genre in the US, where documentaries now pack out cinemas from coast to coast.

You can take this as official. I have met him and liked him and am entirely trustworthy. The same cannot be said of Moore, of course. He is routinely denounced as a misleading, self-serving propagandist by critics who fail entirely to grasp that these are his great strengths.

When Moore barged his way into General Motors headquarters, and American culture, while making Roger & Me in 1988, it was about time. Here at last was a booming, populist, shamelessly blinkered voice from the American Left to answer those that had boomed unanswered from the Right throughout the Reagan years. Small wonder that he found a far-from-fringe constituency and became embarrassingly rich.

Moore’s European critics, in particular, continue to misunderstand his challenge and his audience. They delight in exposing his crafty way with “facts”, as if the corporate interests he attacks weren’t just as crafty. They worry that the millions of Americans who pay to see his output might actually believe everything he says, as if, being Americans, they lack the power of critical thinking. And they forget that many of those millions of Americans do in fact, quite reasonably, share Moore’s view that GM ignored its social responsibilities when Japanese competition hit home; that Kmart never had any business selling lethal handgun ammo to kids; and that when Charlton Heston raised a rifle in defiance a few days after the Columbine high-school massacre, he was a berk.

Moore, by contrast, was the man-grizzly who stood up to the idiot president of the NRA and lived to tell the tale. He was my hero. But now he has started spouting nonsense about the NHS, and he should know it’s nonsense, and know that we know.

It goes without saying that healthcare on the NHS isn’t free. But just how unfree it is gets too little attention. We pay for it through our noses, every month.

Next year’s NHS budget will be about £104 billion. That’s roughly £1,733 per man, woman and child. Multiplied by four for a typical two-child family, then divided by 12, that equates to median monthly family healthcare expenditure of £577, or $1,155 in American money. I can buy some very respectable US health insurance for $1,155 a month. In fact, on a quick and painless stroll through the website for Kaiser Permanente, a leading nonprofit US healthcare provider, entering my basic family details and the Beverly Hills zipcode, the most expensive family policy I can find that does not depend on contributions from the state or an employer costs $400 less than the sum Gordon Brown currently chooses to spend from my taxes, each month, on the NHS.

Being honest, I must add a few hundred to my US bill to cover “deductibles” and the portion of my US taxes going to federal schemes like Medicare and Medicaid. But I must also cop to earning more than the UK average, which means I pay more than average for my NHS care; through the nose, as I say.

American roadworks tend to be adorned with signs announcing, “Your Tax Dollars at Work”. There should be signs saying “Your Tax Pounds at Work” at the entrance to every NHS hospital and surgery, and whenever “at work” fails to describe what goes on inside them, taxpayer-patients should whinge like hell. They may not like it. They may not think it British, but nothing else is working and in the meantime they are being royally ripped off.

Really? But aren’t waiting lists down, as Mr Blair used to tell us every Wednesday? I would refer the Right Honourable gentleman to a recent ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court in favour of a man who sued to be allowed to buy insurance to speed up an operation. “Access to a waiting list,” the court found, “is not access to healthcare.”

Forty-seven million Americans are uninsured. This is a problem. Several million more are inadequately insured. Another problem. But that leaves more than 200 million fully insured Americans who’ve never heard of waiting lists. I envy them.

Friday, 6 July 2007

What Can India Offer?

The Indians know what they have to learn from Europe and they have been learning it for centuries on end. Europe, by contrast, rests content with descriptions of India as superstitious, corrupt, and underdeveloped. Or with woolly notions about meditation, yoga, karma, vedic astrology...

Today, India has become a global player of significant political and economical impact. Europe and India are facing each other as equal partners in pursuit of greater economic and political co-operation. This confronts both India and Europe with a challenge. The intelligentsia, the business world, politicians, educators and others, will have to answer the following question: What can India offer to the world of today and tomorrow?

I will not tackle this problem directly but instead take up one of its sub-questions: to whom is this problem important and why? I believe it is important to both Indians and Europeans but for different reasons. In this article, I will spell out and reflect upon some of these reasons.

For the first time in the last four to five hundred years, non-white and non-Christian cultures will have a significant impact on the affairs of the humankind. Here, India will play an important role. As a result, the need to explicate what it means to be an Indian (and what the ‘Indianness’ of the Indian culture consists of) will soon become the task of the entire intelligentsia in India. In this process, they will confront the challenge of responding to what Europe has so far thought and written about India. A response is required because the theoretical and textual study of the Indian culture has been undertaken mostly by Europe in the last three hundred years. What is more, it will also be a challenge because the study of India has largely occurred within the cultural framework of Europe.

In fulfilling this task, the Indian intelligentsia of tomorrow will have to solve a puzzle: what were the earlier generations of Indian thinkers busy with, in the course of the last two to three thousand years? Let me use a contrast with the European culture to exhibit the nature of this puzzle and its importance to the theme of this article.

What were the European intellectuals busy with, during the last two thousand years? It is almost impossible to answer this question without describing the history of Europe. Still, we can say they produced theologies, philosophies, fine arts, natural and social sciences … The list is so varied, so diverse and so huge that one does not know where to begin or how to end. Despite this, the fact remains: all interesting theories about human beings, their cultures and societies, which we use today, are products of the European intellectuals. So too are the institutions and practices that most of us find desirable: democratic institutions and courts of law, for instance. The sheer size, variety and the quality of the European contributions to humanity is overwhelming.

What were the Indian thinkers doing during the same period? The standard textbook story, which has schooled multiple generations including mine, goes as follows: caste system dominates India, women are discriminated against, the practice of widow-burning exists, corruption is rampant, most people believe in astrology, karma and reincarnation … If these properties characterize India of today and yesterday, the puzzle about what the earlier generations of Indian thinkers were doing turns into a very painful realization: when the intellectuals of one culture, the European culture, were busy challenging and changing the world, most thinkers from another culture, the Indian in our case, were apparently busy sustaining and defending undesirable and immoral practices. Of course there is our Buddha and our Gandhi but that is apparently all we have: exactly one Buddha and exactly one Gandhi. If this portrayal is true, the Indians have but one task - to modernize India - and the Indian culture but one goal - to become like the West as quickly as possible.

However, what if this portrayal is false? What if these basically European descriptions of India are wrong? In that case, the questions about what India has to offer the world and what the Indian thinkers were doing become important to the Europeans. For the first time, their knowledge of India will be subject to a kind of test that has never occurred before. Why ‘for the first time’? The answer is obvious: the knowledge of India was generated primarily when India was colonized. Subsequent to the Indian independence, India suffered from poverty and backwardness. In tomorrow’s world, the Indian intellectuals will be able to speak back with a newly found confidence and they will challenge the European descriptions of India. That is, for the first time, they will test the European knowledge of India and not just accept it as God’s own truth. Moreover, the results of this test are not of mere scientific interest; they will also have serious social, political and economic repercussions on the European societies. If true, the question becomes: what kind of ‘knowledge’ about India will be tested?
As an example, consider one of the things that Europe ‘knows’ about India: the Indian caste system. Almost everyone I know has very firm moral opinions on the subject. Many see in it the origin of all kinds of evils in India: from the denial of human rights to oppression; some see in it obstacles to progress and modernization and so on. I suppose we agree that we need to understand a phenomenon before making moral judgments. With this in mind, if you try and find out what this famous caste system is, and why people either attack or defend it, you discover the following: no ancient book exists that tells us what the principles of the caste system are; no Indian can tell you about its structure or its organization; no scientific theory has been developed that explains how or why it continues to exist. Simply put, nobody understands what it is or how it functions. In that case, how can anyone be pro or contra the caste system? If we focus on how people normally describe this system and understand how easy it is to turn such a description upside down, the absurdity of the situation becomes obvious. While emphasizing that I do not attack and much less defend the caste system in what follows, let us look at the existing descriptions and their consequences.

(a) Caste is an antiquated social system that arose in the dim past of India. If this is true, it has survived many challenges - the onslaught of Buddhism and the Bhakti movements, the Islamic and British colonization, Indian independence, world capitalism - and might even survive ‘globalization’. It follows, then, that the caste system is a very stable social organization.

(b) There exists no centralized authority to enforce the caste system across the length and breadth of India. In that case, it is an autonomous and decentralized organization.

(c) All kinds of social and political regulations, whether by the British or by the Indians, have not been able to eradicate this system. If true, it means that the caste system is a self-reproducing social structure.

(d) Caste system exists among the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Jains, the Christians, the Muslims… It has also existed under different environments. This means that this system adapts itself to the environments it finds itself in.

(e) Because new castes have come and gone over the centuries, this system must also be dynamic.

(f) Since caste system is present in different political organizations and survives under different political regimes, it is also neutral with respect to political ideologies.

Even though more can be said, this is enough for us.A simple redescription of what we think we know about the caste system tells us that it is an autonomous, decentralized, stable, adaptive, dynamic, self-reproducing social organization. It is also neutral with respect to political, religious and economic doctrines and environments. If indeed such a system ever existed, would it also not have been the most ideal form of social organization one could ever think of?

How can we try to understand this odd state of affairs? The question of the immorality of the caste system became immensely important after the British came to India. Consequently, there are two interesting possibilities to choose from: one, Indians did not criticize the caste system (before the British came to India) because Indians are immoral; two, the Europeans ‘discovered’ something that simply does not exist in India, viz. the social organization that the caste system is supposed to be.

The reason why I have spent time on this issue is to signal in the direction of a problem, which has very far-reaching consequences. If what Europe knows about India resembles what it claims to know about the caste system, what exactly does Europe know about India or her culture? Not very much, I am afraid. Precisely at a time when, to survive in a ‘globalizing’ world, knowledge of other cultures and peoples is a necessity, it appears as though Europe knows very little about either of the two.

Perhaps, the absence of knowledge is felt most acutely by the Europeans who invest in India. They rediscover that they are not well-equipped to do business in India. They understand neither the culture, nor the role of cultural differences in management structures and organizations. The books and articles on "culture and management" are full only of platitudes; on top of that, the newest trend in anthropology tells us that the notions of "culture" and "cultural differences" are almost of no use in understanding people.

In other words, I am suggesting the following: Europe’s ‘knowledge’ about India will be tested during this century. What the Europeans think they know of India tells us more about Europe than it does about India. In that case, quite obviously, the earlier generations of Indian thinkers were not merely busy instituting and defending immoral practices. What else were they doing then? Now, the puzzle becomes very intriguing: what were the Indian thinkers doing in the course of the last two to three thousand years? What did they think and write about? Did they make contributions to human knowledge? If yes, what are they? Answering these and allied questions will become one of the primary preoccupations of the Indian intelligentsia in the course of the twenty-first century. This puzzle is important to the Europeans too. Let me say why by setting the context first.
Let me sketch the context by raising a question: what has the world to learn from Europe? Here are the familiar answers: science and technology; democracy and the legal system; respect for human rights and ecological awareness; becoming modern and cosmopolitan… When such answers are given, one does not mean that the rest of the world has to learn this or that scientific theory, or a solution to this or that mathematical problem from Europe. One means something like this: the rest of the world has to learn a particular way of going-about with the world from the European culture. That is, one believes that this way of going-about is the unique contribution of the European culture, something that is absent in other cultures. Let us now reverse the question: what has Europe to learn from India? In all the thirty years I have spent in Europe and in all the thousands of books I have probably read, I have not come across a satisfactory answer.Most do not even raise the issue; those who do, mumble about ‘learning’ things that Europe once knew but has forgotten since. How to understand this situation?

The first possibility is that there is nothing to learn from India. This is possible, but implausible. It is possible that, much like the ‘chosen people’ that the Jews believe they are, Europe is the ‘chosen’ culture from all the cultures that populate the planet. However, it is implausible because I have not come across any explanation for this ‘European miracle’. Nevertheless, if there is nothing to learn from India, we can all sleep peacefully: the world, as we know it, will not be disturbed. This is the first possibility.

Consider the second possibility now. Europe has ‘something’ to learn from India but many Europeans do not yet know what. Some give the following answers: meditation, yoga, notions of Karma, Vedic astrology… These will not do: not only are there native meditative and astrological traditions in Europe, but such answers are also inadequate. It is like saying that one has to learn partial differential equations from Europe. So, let me push the question further: what is this ‘something’ Europe has to learn from India?

At this stage, I normally encounter silence because there does not appear to be any answer to give. Surely, this is strange: Europe has been studying India for centuries; it has colonized her territories and people; it tells Indians what is wrong with their society and culture… And yet, no answer is forthcoming. The Indians know what they have to learn from Europe and they have been learning it for centuries on end. Europe, by contrast, apparently has no proper answer to the question. By virtue of this, the second possibility, i.e. that Europe has something to learn from India but does not know what, is very disturbing. One culture, the Indian, has been learning for generations and centuries; the other culture, the European, does not know what to learn or even whether there is anything to learn. And these two cultures, for the first time in so many hundred years, will meet each other on the world arena as equals and as competitors. What will the outcome be?
Whatever the outcome, the meeting between these two cultures sets the context for the puzzle I spoke of earlier. Let me remind you what that puzzle is: what were the Indian thinkers doing in the course of the last two to three thousand years? What did they think and write about? Did they make contributions to human knowledge? If yes, what are they? To these questions, we have one set of indirect answers. In course of the last three hundred years or so, the mainstream theories in social sciences and humanities carry on as though Indian thinkers have made no substantial contributions to human knowledge. However, almost without exception, this splendid corpus of writings about human beings embodies assumptions of the Western culture. Not only have the Western intellectuals created these theories in humanities and social sciences; they also express how this culture has looked at the world so far. Generations of Indian intellectuals have accepted these answers as more or less true as well. The future generations will not be so accommodating though: they will test these answers for their truth. Even today, more and more people in India are gravitating towards this kind of research. This is not of mere academic interest to such people, whose numbers steadily increase. More than most, they realize that answers to these and allied questions have the potential to ignite an intellectual revolution on a world scale.

My own research, and that of many more in India and Asia, is focused on answering the puzzle.Within the scope of this article, I cannot even hope to tell you what the research results are. Therefore, I am forced to take a rain-check. Nevertheless, let me indicate the far-reaching nature of these results.

Even a limited acquaintance with the Indian or Asian culture tells us that their thinkers have also produced multiple ‘theories’ about human beings, which express the way the Indian or even Asian culture looks at the world. Yet, these theories are also contributions to human knowledge. This knowledge is about many things: the nature of human beings, the nature of ethics and morality, how human beings learn, what happiness is and how to reach it, what we could know about human beings… In short, this is knowledge about us; it is also about what we can know, what we might hope for and what we should be doing. As the Indian and the European cultures differ from each other, so do their views about human beings.

The European intellectuals have elaborated their stories so far. The Indians and the Asians will do the same in the course of this century. These two sets of theories will meet on the world arena too, as equals and as competitors. Today, we think that the European story about human beings constitutes knowledge. That is because there are no competitors to this story as yet. How about tomorrow, when there will be competition in the marketplace of ideas, and Indians and Asians come up with other and different theories?

So, by the end of this century, there will at least be two different sets of stories about human beings, their societies and cultures. One that the West has produced and the other that India and Asia will develop. Only one of these can be true or both will be false. However, these are issues for tomorrow. Today, let us merely appreciate why the theme of this article is so important to all of us.

S.N. Balagangadhara is Director of the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap, Ghent University, Belgium and Project Coordinator of the European Commission Asia-Link project DEVHAS -- Development of Human Resources And Strategies -- and this article was written for a DEVHAS project for education on the stereotypical images and cultural differences between Europe and South-Asia, within the European Commission Asia-Link Programme - a programme dedicated to higher education networking between Europe and Asia.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Put Away The Flags

by Howard Zinn;; July 03, 2007

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession."

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day."

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our "Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence." After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: "We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country."

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, "to civilize and Christianize" the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: "The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness."

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government's lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for "liberty," for "democracy"?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

Howard Zinn, a World War II bombardier, is the author of the best- selling "A People's History of the United States" (Perennial Classics, 2003, latest edition). This piece was distributed by the Progressive Media Project. Email to: Progressive Media Project using our contact form.

Where did the white man go wrong?"

The old Red Indian Chief sat in his hut on the reservation, smoking the
ceremonial pipe, eyeing the US government officials sent to interview him.

"Chief Two Eagles," one official began. "You have observed the white man
for 90 years.

You have observed his wars and his material wealth. You have seen his
progress and the damage he has done." The Chief nodded that it was so. The
official continued, "Considering all these events, in your opinion, where
did the white man go wrong?"

The Chief stared at the government officials for over a minute, and then
calmly replied, "When white man found the land, Indians were running it.
There were... no taxes, no debt, plenty buffalo, plenty beaver, women did
all the work, medicine man free. Indian man spent all day hunting and
fishing, and all night made love to his woman."

Then the Chief leaned back and smiled,

"White man dumb enough to think he could improve system like that."

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Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Blair the missionary

M.J. Akbar

One must not be harsh: it is not true that liars do not have a conscience. Why else would Tony Blair edge, at the cautious pace that public life demands, towards the Roman Catholic Church? He dropped in on Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on his farewell free ride around the world, and British media is full of stories about his proposed conversion to Catholicism.

Why would Blair want to become a Catholic except to confess? This Catholic practice has a unique advantage. Its details can never reach the front pages of the "feral" British newspapers. The Father Confessor shares details of the guilt only with God. Such a privilege is not available in the many schools and sects of the Protestant dispensation, a revolutionary theological movement inspired by a German reformer in the early 16th century, Martin Luther, because, in his view (with much evidence to back him) the Papacy had become dissolute. There were many venal sins that individual Popes were prey to, but Luther was angered most by the degeneration in the system of "indulgences" by which a sinner could, literally, pay his way out of sin. Money to the Church purchased forgiveness. The key to heaven lay in the treasury of the Vatican.

Protestants seek a solution. Catholics can get an absolution. True, matters are not quite so simple, for the Roman Church has long ended such deviations. Blair can’t sell the mortgage of his homes in London, and send a cheque to the Vatican appropriate to the dimensions of his lies on Iraq. But he is not turning into a Catholic to find out how many angels can dance on the head of a needle. Somewhere in his conscience there must be a thirst for redemption. The guilt of young lives sentenced to war must be heavy.

It is entirely in character therefore that he is trying to relaunch himself as a missionary, with Palestine as his mission.

There is some confusion about the precise profile of the mission. His few remaining friends are suggesting that Blair has been appointed some sort of High Plenipotentiary who will bring peace to the Middle East with the same skills that he displayed to bring amity in Ireland. But Blair’s Boss, George Bush, has just put in a corrective. State Department officials clarified on Wednesday 27 June that his only responsibility is "shoring up" Palestinian institutions, and not trying to negotiate a peace deal, or "final status", between Israel and the Palestinians. This latter job is for the Big Boys. And for a Big Girl. The State Department said that Condoleezza Rice would handle the serious bit herself, because, as she and Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have said, the United States is the only country Israel trusts as broker. Blair is a "true friend of Israel" agrees Olmert, but Britain is not the United States.

Blair’s mandate is really not much more than to ensure there is enough money for the Ramallah municipality to clear the garbage, and wheedle out all the Palestinian cash that Israel has withheld on one excuse or the other.

Blair’s parish is not even the whole of Palestine. He deals only with the part under the control of Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas and Gaza are out of his bounds. As presently defined, Blair has even less responsibility than once entrusted to the former World Bank President, Jim Wolfensohn, by the Quartet (America, European Union, Russia and the United Nations). Wolfensohn was told to get on with the economics of Palestine but to keep out of politics.

Blair, to state it simply, is no longer one of the Big Boys. He may or may not get a salary in his new mission, although he will certainly get a plane. I do hope, however, they don’t send the bill for the costs of the plane to Mahmoud Abbas. Nothing is impossible in the worldview of accountants.

Wolfensohn, whose sincerity and stature were beyond question, failed because the economics of Palestine is inextricably linked to its internal and external politics. Assuming Blair can manage more elbow room than a World Bank official, can he do any better at a moment of severe crisis?

What can Blair do as part-time envoy over the next one year that he could not do during ten years as full-time Prime Minister?

What can anyone do during an American election year, when balance is held hostage to election sensitivities? This process used to last less than a year. It has now extended to almost two years. New ideas do not get an airing during the missile wars of election debates. The risk of a missile becoming a boomerang is too high.

Blair’s mandate is limited to the patch controlled by Mahmoud Abbas. But the difficult part of the story is Hamas and the support it commands, not Abbas. Or is it the new strategy that Blair can mollycoddle Abbas while Israel goes to war with Hamas? It would be an easier war for Israel than Lebanon last year. Unlike hilly Lebanon, Gaza is flat, and Hamas is not Hezbollah.

Can Blair, perceived by most Muslims as part of the problem, reinvent himself as part of the solution? Blair represents a past that must be swept out of the way if a new route map is to be found. His successor, the new Prime Minister of Britain Gordon Brown, understands this. He has appointed David Miliband, a critic of the Iraq war and of Blair’s foreign policy, as his foreign secretary. Jack Straw led the campaign to make Brown Prime Minister but did not get his old job back because Straw was too closely identified with the war. Even before being sworn in, Brown said, "I would like to see all security and intelligence analysis independent of the political process and I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to do that." This was as sharp a slap across the Blair face as it was possible for a colleague to deliver. It was candid admission that Blair had manipulated intelligence (a charge Blair has assiduously denied) to build his case for the Iraq war.

A last question: was giving Salman Rushdie a title the best career launch for a job as middleman in the Middle East? Or even for a role as do-gooder for Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine?

But there is some good news for Blair. His famed and accomplished ability to lie with smouldering conviction should stand him in very good stead in his new mission. Who wants the truth in the Middle East? No one. The truth would upset too many governments. It might even uproot some of them.

Blair now accepts that Iraq is a "disaster". In his farewell remarks, he expressed his sympathy for the British troops who had sacrificed so much in his cause. He wished both his friends and his foes well as he said goodbye, but could not hide his long-suppressed hatred for the "feral" media (in a category beyond either friendship or enmity) which had been instrumental in aborting his term to a mere ten years. But at no point during his long goodbye did Blair apologise for Iraq.

Being Blair means never having to say sorry. Except, possibly, in the solitude of a confession in a Roman Catholic church some time soon.