Friday, July 30, 2010

One Picture Is Worth 90,000 "Secret Documents" Published By WikiLeaks.

Aisha is an 18-year-old Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off by a Taliban butcher for the "crime" of running away from the beatings she routinely suffered at the hands of her husband's family. Aisha's picture appears on the cover of Time magazine this week, provoking controversy.

Lost in all the self-serving and cowardly Code Pinkish yesbuttery and the handwringing about the propriety of a major magazine running a photograph so shocking - can we not at least stop for a moment to notice that Aisha, in the full flower of womanhood, is unspeakably beautiful in spite of her disfigurement? - is the fact that she wants the world to see her face. By her own account, she wants the world to see what the Taliban's resurgence means to Afghan women, and to see the obvious implications of the "negotiated" solution to the Afghan struggle that is so de rigueur in bourgeois-left circles in the rich countries of the world.

In her essay on the struggle of Afghan women, Time magazine's Aryn Baker reports the question Aisha raises: Talk that the Afghan government is considering some kind of political accommodation with the Taliban frightens her. "They are the people that did this to me," she says, touching her damaged face. "How can we reconcile with them?"

What is especially striking about this event is that for once, an Afghan opinion, and that of an Afghan woman, no less, has actually appeared not only as the focus of an article about Afghanistan in a major English-language periodical, but on its cover.

Remarkably, and fortuitously, the Afghan journalist Josh Shahryar, who cut his teeth as a writer for the Kabul Weekly (whose brave editor, Fahim Dashty, is a dear friend of ours), has just now managed to find a place for this essay in the Huffington Post. He writes:

I keep yearning for a day when I can turn on the TV, switch to CNN, FOX, MSNBC or CBS and see a discussion about Afghans where they actually question an Afghan. Day after day I wait, but in vain. I run through articles published about my country in the Washington Post and the New York Times to see opinion pieces written by Afghans -- but almost never see one.

. . . At a time when your media was supposed to tell you that your blood and sacrifice has indeed helped Afghanistan and that we are thankful to you, they told you otherwise. We don't like you -- they say -- and don't want your help. We are ungrateful devoted murderers who are just dying to kill you -- they warn. Our picture has been so skewed that you won't even recognize us if we walked amongst you. I won't be surprised if you think that we have fangs and blood dripping from our mouths and are just waiting to bite your jugular. This is who we are to you.

It is comforting to know that Aisha is now in a secure location in Afghanistan, with armed guards watching over her, thanks to Women for Afghan Women. Aisha will soon visit America for reconstructive surgery at the Grossman Burn Foundation. Time magazine is pitching in to help her.

Not so fortunate, in the matter of the concurrent media hubbub arising from WikiLeaks' recent sticking-it-to-the-man document dump, are the uncounted ordinary Afghans whose exposure to reprisals and terror has been so disgracefully overlooked in all the crawthumping about the implications for "our" security interests and "our" troops in the WikiLeaks affair. Once again, a round of applause to the self-congratulating WikiLeaks archgeek Julian Assange.

The Times reports that after just two hours of combing through the WikiLeaks documents it was able to find the names of dozens of Afghans said to have provided detailed intelligence to US forces - Afghans the Taliban and Al-Qaeda should be expected to be targeting in the war zone by now.

"If I were a Taliban operative with access to a computer — and lots of them have access to computers — I’d start searching the WikiLeaks data for incident reports near my area of operation to see if I recognized anyone," writes Joshua Foust. "And then I’d kill whomever I could identify. Those deaths would be directly attributable to WikiLeaks."

In conversation with Spencer Ackerman, Foust reports that, against WikiLeaks' claims of diligence, he found several identities of Afghans disclosed by the WikiLeaks documents - unredacted, full names, where they live, and so on - and those identities are now available to Taliban butchers. "I found myself shocked that WikiLeaks would be that cavalier with Afghan lives."

I am not shocked, I regret to say. But I am as disgusted as my comrade Brian Platt is - read his post here and if you have a shred of decency in you, you will be disgusted by the WikiLeaks' operation, too. And by the way, if you think anything really "new" was revealed by the vandals at WikiLeaks, here's another article by Josh Shahryar. It appeared in the Kabul Weekly, five years ago.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No Compromise With Fascism Or Mysogyny, Clerical Or Secular.

Why do we worry so much about alienating people who hold down screaming little girls and butcher their vaginas? Why are we so keen to be friends with the Taliban? Why do we allow the voices of the misogynists bearing the instruments of torture to drown out the voices of their victims?

- Comrade Lauryn Oates, in today's edition of The Propagandist.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"This haphazard cache of documents. . ." UPDATED.

Further to this post, the self-aggrandizing auto-uproar certain old media outfits ("It's just like Tom Hanks' film Charlie Wilson's War!") are making of their collaboration with the similarly self-congratulating (and self-described "information activist") arch-geek and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is turning into a heap of twisted info-wreckage.

The Wikileaks "bombshell" revelation that four Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan by American "friendly fire" in 2006 has turned out to be rubbish. The Yanks, routinely found wanting in their marksmanship and target-sighting skills at the best of times, did indeed drop a one-tonne bomb dangerously close to Canadian troops, but it "did not explode," if you don't mind, "and the Canadians were killed by grenades, rifle fire and rockets from Taliban insurgents who surrounded them on three sides, hiding in trenches and fortified buildings." Just like "the official story" said.

Does this kind of thing bother Assange, I wonder? Does it bother him that the children of the dead Canadians have to re-live their worst nightmare again four years later? "How do you explain after four years of telling them something — they were 11 and 14 when they lost their dad, and we told them one story, then something like this comes out in the media? My youngest grandson, he's 15 now, and last night when this came on he kicked the door in his bedroom. You know he's not like that. That's not who he is."

Here's Assange: "We are familiar with groups whose abuse we expose attempting to criticise the messenger to distract from the power of the message." But no need to panic, Wikileak fans. Old-fashioned customs like "fact-checking" aren't important when there's scandal to reveal: There's also a reference to a medevac helicopter being called in for a sick dog working with special forces troops.

Andrew Potter, as I noted earlier, has some interesting things to say about digital-age data-hacking and its implications for conventional news-gathering. But I'm beginning to wonder whether we're all taking these sorts of things a bit too seriously.

After all, here we have what for all appearances is a case of some especially cunning nerd hacking into the Toronto Star website to substitute a parody of a Jim Travers column about the Wikileaks affair and Canadian "perceptions" of the Afghanistan imbroglio, under Travers' own byline: "Even if these documents don’t change those perceptions, they may help this country see Afghanistan for what it is and what it’s doing to us." And nobody notices.

On the subject of news-media products well past their safe-to-consume date, the execrable anti-war windbag Eric "It's All About Oil!" Margolis is heading back to Americaland where he belongs after having been let go by the Sun Media outfit. And he's crying the same criticize-the-messenger wolf that Assange whines about: "Heretics like me who question war in Afghanistan, or deficit spending, or any of these other things are being shown the door."

More likely, Eric, you're being put out to pasture because you're a Pat-Buchanan-following, Taliban-sympathizing, conspiracy-mongering, placebo-dispensing right-wing douchebag that no self-respecting newspaper would hire as a paperboy.

There now. I feel much better.

Another update: NDP Wants Proof Taliban Killed Canadians. Does Jack Harris propose that we dig up the dead men from their graves to determine whether the bullet holes are where they are supposed to be? Exhaustive Canadian Forces Investigations Service Reports, the first-hand accounts of journalists, the eye-witness evidence of soldiers in the fight that day - not enough, apparently. Here's a soldier's report today: "I was there. My LAV CASEVACed Bulletmagnet after he was hit by the same shrap that got Mellish and Cushley. It was a Taliban Spig 9, not friendly fire. Jack Harris is a tool."

Christie Blatchford observes: "To conclude on the strength of a brief report in the War Logs that the Canadian government and the military had covered up a huge friendly-fire incident, the men who loved those dead soldiers would have had to be in on the conspiracy, would have had to lie and keep on lying when they returned home. A series of respected journalists, including those in the field that day, would all have been fooled or duped. Distinguished commanders also would have to have been in on it."

There would have to be something seriously wrong with you to call "conspiracy" on this.

(Regards to Mark Collins for the tip).

"This haphazard cache of documents. . ."

ANYONE who has spent the past two days reading through the 92,000 military field reports and other documents made public by the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. I’m a researcher who studies Afghanistan and have no regular access to classified information, yet I have seen nothing in the documents that has either surprised me or told me anything of significance. I suspect that’s the case even for someone who reads only a third of the articles on Afghanistan in his local newspaper. . .

Indeed. Mind you, if the rumpus makes things harder for the White House to persist in its coddling of the military-industrial complex known as the Pakistani ISI, then that's fine with me (bonus: Andrew Potter on the affair).

Meanwhile, the future need not be a boot stamping on a human face forever: Peter Ryley on Alone in Berlin.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"We pray for the Canadians to change their mind and stay."

KANDAHAR - There is anger and disappointment, mixed with a sense of disbelief, among western supporters in Afghanistan’s second largest city over Canada’s decision to bring its troops home next summer.

"People are very upset about this. Why leave us?" said Jalani Hamayoun, the former deputy governor of Kandahar and a candidate in parliamentary elections in September. . .

- from an excellent story by Matthew Fisher, confirming what the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee has found (full report here):

"Across the spectrum of the many Afghans we have consulted, the anticipated withdrawal of Canadian troops is regarded with a mix of apprehension, resignation, regret, confusion, and gratitude. None were happy with Canada’s decision to withdraw troops. This is consistent with a series of national public opinion polls undertaken in Afghanistan about the presence of foreign troops generally. While it routinely comes as a surprise to Canadians to learn this, the majority of Afghans favour the presence of foreign troops in their country. While views are sometimes mixed and hotly contested in regard to withdrawal timetables and military strategy and tactics, and levels of support tend to rise and fall, the majority of Afghans have consistently supported the UN-mandated, NATO-led ISAF effort in their country. . ."

From my essay in today's Calgary Herald: "I know what people in the world think about Afghanistan, because they always show the bombs and the killing. But they don't show the good news. For me," Yasameen said, "playing soccer, going out, shopping, the games I like playing, bicycle races -- this is not wrong. There are bad things. But I am not scared."

Friday, July 23, 2010

So Pack Up Your Sea Stores, Consider No Longer.

Thousands are sailing:

After almost 20 years as Europe’s strongest economy, during which hundreds of thousands of Polish, British and North American immigrants flocked to Dublin for work, the Irish are once again a nation of emigrants. Moving abroad, a response to the economic calamities of the past 170 years, has once again become the way out of an impossible situation at home, and is creating a new Irish diaspora.

"It’s back to the old ways.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Even The Crackpots Are Noticing.

For the very first time, something approaching a point of agreement: The Taliban have denounced this week's international conference on Afghanistan's future, saying the "vague and terrible agenda" shows that the U.S. and its allies intend to abandon the country and blame their ultimate defeat on the Afghan government.

To wit:

I. Barack Obama, apparently frustrated at the way the war is going, has reminded his national security advisers that while he was on the election campaign trail in 2008, he had advocated talking to America's enemies.

II. The US Treasury Department has added three top Haqqani Network and Taliban leaders to the list of designated terrorists for their support of terror groups in Afghanistan.

III. The move comes as Karzai has apparently persuaded Washington to push for de-listing certain Taliban leaders from a United Nations sanctions list first established in 1999.

IV. The United Nations is speeding up efforts that could lead to the removal of Taliban leaders from an international terrorist blacklist, the top United Nations official here said Saturday.

V. On the sidelines of a major security conference, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says Iran could play a central part in establishing peace in Afghanistan. "We believe in Iran's key role in assisting efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan based on its proximity and vast borders." .

VI. Inga-Britt Ahlenius, former head of the UN's Office for Internal Oversight Services, in a leaked 50-page memo to Ban Ki-moon - a stinging, 50-page denunication: "Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing for yourself. I regret to say that the secretariat now is in a process of decay. I am sad that we are in the process of decline and reduced relevance of the organisation. In short, we seem to be seen less and less as a relevant partner in the resolution of world problems."

Nevermind The Bollocks - Here's Comrade Peter Tatchell.

There really should be some sort of a Peter Tatchell Appreciation Society. Above is Pete laying into the British National Party's Nick Griffin. Here's Pete fighting for gay rights in Moscow. "Since the 1970s, the journalist and human-rights activist Peter Tatchell has been a singularly brave and principled voice for justice and human decency. It would be hard to name anyone in left-activist circles, anywhere in the English-speaking world, whose aim has been so true." Meant it then, mean it now.

On Peter, Maryam Namaize and the Antideutsche Tendency, here.

Against Bollocks.

And now, here's Peter Tatchell.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Also Known As Yesbuttery.

Our good friend Ben Cohen, in Huffpo, on the doctrine of equivalence and its sadly endless possibilities:

The whataboutery dispute, therefore, comes down to this. One side subscribes to the universality of human rights and urges two conclusions. Firstly, more equitable distribution of popular concern across the myriad human rights crises in the world. Secondly, greater awareness that the internal character of a regime -- whether it's a democracy or a tyranny -- will tell you a great deal about how responsive it will be to human rights complaints.

The other side filters everything through the idea of Empire -- including the ICC. If you regard the ICC as a tool of a sinister global conspiracy, there is no need to examine its status as a "court of last resort," and therefore particularly appropriate for those states which lack robust, transparent judicial systems.

But if you inhabit a universe where there is no difference between despots and democrats -- as the UN Human Rights Council does -- then the doctrine of equivalence reigns supreme and the possibilities for pointless whataboutery are, sadly, endless. . .

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Dominion of Fear.

My brave comrade Lauryn Oates, writing in Butterflies and Wheels: "This fear is something that has deep roots in Canadian culture, perpetuated through academic institutions, the media, even the peace movement. It has long been fashionable in the halls of western arts faculties to view all the world through the lens of post-colonialism. In classrooms across the country students of political science, anthropology, literature and other disciplines learn to see the developing world as unflinchingly hostile to foreign interference, as the wounds of conquest by imperial powers continue to heal. Through this lens, universal values do not exist. Young Canadians are taught to challenge their own western perceptions and to be culturally sensitive. Buzzwords like “ethnocentrism” abound, and all kinds of activities take on the metaphor of colonialism, whether international development projects or scientific research."

Meanwhile: You are working with the government. We Taliban warn you to stop working for the government otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working. The money you receive is haram [forbidden under Islam] and coming from the infidels. The choice is now with you.

Elsewhere: Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, is asking Canadians to stay engaged in Afghanistan on the simple grounds of helping fellow humans in great need. She said some people are afraid they are imposing "Western values" on Afghanistan, especially when it comes to equality for women, when no such distinction should be made. "Excuse me, these are human values," she said, winning applause. "These are universal values for all of us."

Up in the Okanagan Valley, 13-year-old Alaina Podmorow continues to do more for her Afghan sisters than the establishment "progressive" movement in Canada, combined, has managed to do. Chapters of Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan have sprung up around the country and fundraisers have been held in many cities. The groups have raised about $160,000 from the public and almost the same amount again in matching funds from the federal Canadian International Development Agency, the foreign-aid wing of the federal government.

My latest essay in the Calgary Herald, Majabeen is Unafraid:

Majabeen is dark-eyed, raven-haired and 17. She's the oldest of the 29 girls at the Omid-e-mirmun orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is going to go to university to be a doctor. When Majabeen was small, her father died in a car accident, her mother remarried, and the new husband wanted nothing to do with Majabeen or her younger sisters Qamaria and Zamaria. So the girls were abandoned. That was six years ago, and that's how these three sisters ended up here.

You would have no inkling of this sad story upon meeting Majabeen or her sisters. You would not know, either, that the two-storey brick house where they live is an orphanage. . .

Update: My dear friend Brian Platt writes: The right to education is universal,” I’ll say, “everywhere, for every person, at all times.” “Yes, but Brian . . .” they respond solemnly, and then proceed to enlighten me about the neo-conservative program to dominate the world, the neo-liberal agenda to smash the welfare state, and corporate schemes to brainwash us with advertising. Today when you urge one of my fellow progressives to support the right to education in Afghanistan, the response you inevitably get is “Yes, but . . .”

Friday, July 16, 2010

U.S. Court Tells State Department: Review Iranian Mojahedin 'Terrorist' Designation.

Great news: A federal appeals court in Washington today ruled that the U.S. State Department must reexamine the government's decision to designate the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (Mojahedin-e-Kalkh) a "terrorist" group. The three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel issued a 22-page per curiam judgment in favor of the PMOI, finding that the State Department did not give the PMOI due process protections that the circuit outlined in previous decisions.

This was behind my visit to Paris a couple of weeks back. (see Why Is Ottawa Demonizing Iran's Opposition?) Now maybe Canada will take notice.

Further background: Tehran's Worst Nightmare.

"The legal and logical conclusion of this judgment requires the Secretary of State to revoke the terrorist designation of the PMOI and remove all its adverse consequences without any delay. This designation has been from the very start an abuse of power and an attempt to assist the Iranian regime’s machinery of execution and torture. From this point on, maintaining the PMOI on the list would be a brazen defiance of law and the judgment of the court of appeals".

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Free Derry. Free Londonderry. Imagine - 2013.

"The world came to me in my darkest hours. Can it come to me now?"

Slugger O'Toole on the great city's astonishing and unlikely win.

Just imagine 2018.

Hats Off To Jonathon Kay: Against Denialism.

The conviction that global warming is some sort of giant intellectual fraud now has become a leading bullet point within mainstream North American conservatism; and so has come to bathe the whole movement in its increasingly crankish, conspiratorial glow.

Conservatives often pride themselves on their hard-headed approach to public-policy — in contradistinction to liberals, who generally are typecast as fuzzy-headed utopians. Yet when it comes to climate change, many conservatives I know will assign credibility to any stray piece of junk science that lands in their inbox … so long as it happens to support their own desired conclusion. (One conservative columnist I know formed her skeptical views on global warming based on testimonials she heard from novelist Michael Crichton.) The result is farcical: Impressionable conservatives who lack the numeracy skills to perform long division or balance their checkbooks feel entitled to spew elaborate proofs purporting to demonstrate how global warming is in fact caused by sunspots or flatulent farm animals.

Read it all. And while you're at it, read this.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In Defence Of Difference, An Argument For Resilience (Remember Vavilov).

It's gratifying to have been noticed by the New York Times' Week in Review, "highlighting the most interesting writing we’ve come across lately on the Web." I'm also happy to see that Seed Magazine finally got the essay (co-authored with Maywa Montenegro), about the theory and science of resilience, up on-line. Headlined "In Defence of Difference: Scientists offer new insight into what to protect of the world's rapidly vanishing languages, cultures, and species," it's about the way conventional environmentalism is outliving its usefulness, and you can read it all here.

I wrote a book on the subject. That's how fascinated I am by it all. In Canada, it's called Waiting for the Macaws. In America it's called The Sixth Extinction. In the UK, it's The Lost and Left Behind (my favorite) and in Germany it's Warten auf die Aras. Which all goes to show - the marketing people always have a hard time with ideas like these. I will conclude this bit of self-advertising this way: Long live the memory of comrade Nikolai Vavilov, whose dangerous and brilliant ideas inspired the book, and also caused him to be sent by Stalin to Saritov prison, were he died in 1943.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

". . .we can hang our heads in shame for the future of the left."

Edward Herman and David Peterson have written a very short book that's not nearly short enough. It should never have seen the light of day. It brings shame to its two American authors, its publisher Monthly Review, and all those who have provided enthusiastic jacket blurbs, many of them prominent in progressive circles – Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Norman Solomon, David Barsamian. If this is what Anglo-American Marxism, or socialism, or anti-imperialism has degenerated into, we can hang our heads in shame for the future of the left.

Why a lifetime anti-imperialist leftist like Herman (and presumably Peterson) wants to exculpate the Serbs of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia of crimes against humanity is beyond my understanding. Why would it not have been enough to point out that appalling crimes were committed by all sides, but in every case Serbs were one of those sides? The only conceivable reason seems to be that the US and its allies singled out the Serbs for attack, which ipso facto makes them the real victims. Indeed, the authors' ally Christopher Black perversely sees Milosevic as an heroic figure. . .

At the core of The Politics of Genocide is a conspiracy theory about Rwanda that would make a 911-Truther blush, but Herman and Peterson (even Louis Proyect calls them "flunkies for Ahmadinejad") also sneer at the slow-motion genocide in Darfur on the grounds that the fuss-making is all just a ruse to distract our attention from the Yankee lust for oil in the Congo. Too bad for Herman and Peterson: The ICC has just issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. But don't hold your breath.

"The Security Council is all about consensus. If all the countries, in particular the big countries, make an agreement between them, they stop the conflict in a second," said Moreno Ocampo. "What happens is, Darfuris have no oil, nothing, really, so no one cares, really. That's the problem."

Not unrelated: The German wing of the IHH - one of the bankrollers of the recently ill-fated Gaza flotilla - has just been banned as a Hamas-fundraising terrorist organization after a n investigation that long preceded the flotilla fiasco. Elsewhere, the other major flotilla sugardaddy, Malaysian crackpot Mahathir Mohamad, is giving out with his usual Jew-baiting hysteria: On the question on the Government and people of Malaysia is standing strong against the Neo Con Jewish controlled media which is distorting facts, spinning and spreading lies, especially with regards to Israel but instead there are Malaysian politicians like partyless-Opposition-Leader Anwar “Mat King Leather” Ibrahim trying very hard to ‘Earn back his position’, “He will go to the extend to buy space in CNN to show he is loyal to his Jewish masters. If he is loyal to his Jewish masters, then he would not be loyal to Malaysia”.

More flotsam on the way, too.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"I want to be a journalist, like Ajmal. I am a good storyteller."

The high street in Barakey, one of the poorer sections of Kabul, is now called Ajmal Naqeshbandi Road. Its whirling and chaotic traffic circle is called Ajmal Naqeshbandi Square and, in the neighbourhood's old cemetery, the most prominent shrine is devoted to the same Ajmal Naqeshbandi.

Naqeshbandi was executed by the Taliban in the spring of 2007. He was 26 years old. The inscription above his raised stone coffin reads, in Dari: "He was kind to his people, and was intolerable to the enemies of Afghanistan. Ajmal Naqeshbandi will always be remembered with honour by the people of Afghanistan."

Ajmal was kidnapped along with the Italian journalist with whom he was working -- Daniele Mastrogiacomo of La Repubblica -- and Mastrogiacomo's driver, Sayed Agha, in Helmand province, on March 5, 2007. A few days later, Agha was murdered on charges he was "spying for foreign troops." To ransom Mastrogiacomo, President Hamid Karzai agreed to release five ranking Taliban prisoners. But Karzai refused to ransom Ajmal, who was beheaded on April 8, 2007.

There was an uproar. The Naqeshbandi family says the Afghan government ended up paying a ransom of $30,000 and a Toyota land cruiser for Ajmal's remains, which had been left in the desert for three days. The body was returned to the family, in Kabul, with its head sewn back on.

I visited Ajmal's shrine with Ajmal's cousin, Baktash Muqim. . .

- from the latest in a series of my essays appearing in the Calgary Herald. A Herald reporter, Michelle Lang, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan last year. She'd planned to meet ordinary Afghans like Baktash. The series is in her honour.

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Place Where Everyone Is Welcome To Pray Or Sing.

There are virtually no public bars in Muslim countries; few places for people to let off steam, relax and unwind; and fewer where women are allowed to mingle with men. Mosques, especially of the increasingly influential Wahhabi or Deobandi strains imported to Pakistan by foreign wars and Middle Eastern clerics, can be as stern and silent as tombs. Their calls to prayer are shrill rather than inviting; their messages are exclusive, bellicose and misogynistic. Young men in their 20s, who might pour out of a sports bar flush with victory from a World Cup match, could just as easily rush out of radical prayer services looking for infidels to attack.

For millions of Muslims, the alternative to this militant ideology -- and the welcoming refuge from daily cares and burdens -- is the Sufi shrine. If a Deobandi mosque is a place of priestly order and genuflection and whispers, a Sufi shrine is the opposite: a messy free-for-all, a place where everyone is welcome to pray or sing or take a nap or hold a picnic; a pageant of humanity where beggars and addicts mingle with pilgrims and penitents, where families bring newborns in swaddling clothes and the newly dead in coffins to be blessed.

The reporter who wrote that essay is Pamela Constable, one of the best, but it struck me that Constable is letting the UN off rather easily. The culture of cowardice in the UN's upper echelons is at least partly a factor in the recent UN guesthouse closure, and there is nothing new in the circumstances that prevail in Kabul that should cause anyone to regard the closure as a sign that the city is suddenly a "de facto war zone." If it is a war zone, de facto or otherwise, it has been so for some while. Say, 30 years.

But she is dead right about the increasingly belligerent character of "official" Islam in the region, owing to the spreading toxins of Deobandism and Wahhabism. The popular and delightful old Islamic devotions of Afghanistan, not least the folk traditions of the Sufis, are being encircled and "cleansed" from Afghan culture.

I encountered this creeping chauvinism last month in Mazar-e-Sharif, at the city's splendid and sublime blue-domed Shrine of Hazrat Ali, a place most sacred (or grossly profane, if you are an Islamist) to Muslims for nine centuries, and sacred to Zoroastrians for longer still - they say Zarathustra himself is buried under the Shrine mosque. The shrine guardian took me accurately to be some sort of kaffir and refused me entry to the mosque proper, with obvious embarassment to himself and my hosts. The new rules say kaffirs can't come in. I wandered around and mingled with the pilgrims happily enough, and the guardian noticed me later and called me over to have tea with him, as a gesture of cordiality. He told me he was sorry. But the insult had been given, he knew it, and he clearly felt diminished by the indignity of it all.

The Sufis still have a place for themselves in the mosque in a chamber accessed by a back entrance, where they persist in their euphoric and hypnotic ritual chantings. My friends in Mazar told me the Sufis' days were numbered there, too. This was the scene:

UPDATE: Officials in northwestern Pakistan say two bombings have killed more than 65 people and wounded more than 112 others in a tribal area near the Afghan border. Police say the blasts involved a suicide bomber on a motorbike, followed by a suspected car bomb. The explosions took place at the site of Rasool Khan's office. Khan is a senior government administrator who says he was meeting with members of the local peace committee when the blasts took place.

Bloody hell. At least it's Friday quitting time. I'm off for a pint. Or a few.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Sentenced to deportation.

I. Whispers come and go. In them, the word “liberation” has been stuck to a term with nefarious connotations: “deportation.” “They will go directly from the prisons to the planes,” a gentleman who keeps his ear glued to the radio told me, based on what he hears on the prohibited broadcasts from the North. Forced expatriation, expulsion, exile, has been standard practice to get rid of dissenters. “If you don’t like it, leave,” they tell you from the time you’re small; “Get up and go,” they spit at you if you insist on complaining; “Why’d you come back?” is the greeting if you dare to return and continue to point out what you don’t like. The ability to rid themselves of the inconvenient, the skill to push off the island platform anyone who opposes them, this is a talent in which our leaders are quite adept.

II. For the first time on 10th March 1858, Supdt. J.B. Walker arrived with a batch of 200 freedom fighters. The second batch of 733 freedom fighter prisoners arrived in April 1868 from Karachi. They had been sentenced for life imprisonment. After this however it is not known how many thousands of freedom fighters were sent to the Andamans from the harbours of Bombay, Kolkata and Madras. Their numbers, names and addresses are not known.

III. "We were encouraged by the apparent agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the authorities for the release of 52 political prisoners," U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told reporters. "We think that's a positive sign. It's something that is overdue but nevertheless very welcome."

IV: During the 62 years of transportation from Ireland to Australia, some 30,000 men and 9,000 women were sent as convicts to Australia for a minimum period of seven years - many more followed their loved ones as free settlers to a new life in the colony. Transportation sentences were for periods of seven years (the most common), ten years, fourteen years or life.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the brave revolutionaries continue their struggle against the police state, Eatons and the corrupt capitalist hegemony:

Building schools, training teachers, publishing textbooks: it's how you win the peace.

Winning the war is the easy part. The enemy knows it. Why don't we? Comrade Lauryn reports from territory recently held by the savage Lord's Resistance Army in Northern Uganda and reflects on Afghanistan:

Out at the teachers college, rudimentary one-room classes speckle the property. There is a mostly defunct computer lab, once funded by USAID, but now housing a few poorly functioning computers competed over by the college's 500 students. The lab's manager, Denis Godwins, occasionally removes a poisonous snake wrapped around the doorknobs when he arrives in the morning, a holdover from the land's recent life as a hastily removed patch of jungle. The college is too far out of range to get Internet service. It has struggled to attract donors to meet basic needs like books and staff. There's no library on site, and little commercial activity in the area. Power outages are frequent and there is no generator for a backup source.

The situation in northern Uganda is sadly typical. . .

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) destroyed two more primary schools in Khar District of Bajaur Agency in the restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on Tuesday. So far, more than 88 schools have been destroyed in the Bajaur region, which borders Afghanistan.

The headless bodies of 11 Afghan civilians allegedly decapitated by Taliban insurgents have been found in central Afghanistan, police said Friday.

Suspected Taliban militants beheaded a headmaster and torched two schools in southern Afghanistan, officials said. On the same day, dozens of militants, riding on motorbikes, came to Zardalo area of the district and torched two elementary schools.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Sunday, July 04, 2010

I wrapped you in my cóta mór in the dead of night unseen.

KABUL - King Amanullah's palace must have been a splendid sight when it was built back in the 1920s. It's a bombed-out shell now. Just a short walk away there's a squatters' camp called Ruas-epanj.

About a dozen families live there, in a collection of crumbling stables, and we'd come there to share a meal of apples with Nasir Ahmed. At 16, Nasir had the face of an old man, but he was the size of a five-year-old. He was dying of tuberculosis and polio.

I was visiting Nasir with Mahboob Shah, a tireless, 38-year-old Kabuli who spends his days driving around in a rickety old Korean bucket-of-bolts, visiting squatters' camps and writing down their particulars in a little green notebook.

Mahboob nodded to two urchins, in rags. "Those two children, sitting there. They can no longer walk." He nodded toward a little boy. "This one is Ramin, Nasir's youngest brother. His legs don't move anymore either. When I first came here, there were 12 young children and they could not stand. There was one who was seven years old. He weighed four kilograms."

. . .from an essay of mine in today's Calgary Herald.

There was a time not long ago when scenes like this were common here in the auld place, where I'm making the rounds visiting cousins with my daughter Zoe. Up to the home farm in Tuamgraney, roving out the west to Bray Head and St. Finian's Bay, over the high country through Moll's Gap and back around, and out to Loop Head yesterday with my cousins Christine and Pat. In Limerick for the moment.

We'd hoped to get out to Skelligmichael but the sea was too rough, and in the end it didn't matter at all. Here's Zoe on a mountain above Portmagee where we had a picnic in the glorious rain with the Skellings in the far distance:

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Azadi, Azadi, Marg Bar Diktator: Canadian Voices Raised For Regime Change In Iran.

In The Tyee:

PARIS – Iran’s ruling mullahs say it’s a cult of assassins. The U.S. State Department says it’s a front for a shadowy Iranian terrorist group. But the National Council of the Resistance in Iran can count hawks from the George W. Bush era and European socialists among its strongest supporters, and the star attractions at a boisterous NCRI rally here last weekend included several Canadian MPs.

The NCRI gathering, which drew about 30,000 Iranian exiles from around the world, was more like an outdoor rock concert than a political rally. Jean Bouin Stadium in Taverny, a Paris suburb, was transformed into a sea of mauve hats and mauve sun umbrellas. Against a big-screen backdrop, the warm-up acts included speeches from former Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ghozali and former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar.

It was as surreal as it was spectacular. MP Rob Oliphant (Don Valley West), a soft-spoken United Church minister, chatted amiably offstage with John Bolton, the famously combative Iraq war enthusiast and former US representative to the United Nations. NCRI president Maryam Rajavi, the NCRI’s enigmatic president (some say her husband Masoud, the NCRI’s official leader, may be dead), hovered overheard in a helicopter while European politicians delivered their speeches. When she finally ascended the stage, the crowd roared with euphoria.

The Iranian theocracy, terrified of the NCRI, reacted quickly to the Paris rally. At a regime-approved demonstration on Monday at the French embassy in Tehran, hundreds of Khomeinist demonstrators demanded French president Nicholas Sarkozy arrest the NCRI leaders and send them back to to Iran for trial.

The NCRI is the best organized and most tightly disciplined Iranian opposition network in the world, and Canadians have been at the forefront in supoorting the NCRI. But the largest component of the NCRI coalition, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI), is listed as a terrorist group in both the U.S. and Canada.

Any day now, US troops and UN guards are expected to pull out of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where about 3,000 PMOI members have been stranded for several years. Last year, 11 Ashraf inmates died when Iraqi troops stormed the camp on orders from Iran’s friends in the Iraqi government, so the PMOI’s prospects at the moment look exceedingly grim.

Still, the mood in NCRI circles is guardedly optimistic these days. The UN has now approved sanctions against Tehran, and parliamentary majorities in 23 democracies have lately come out in support of the NCRI and the Mojahedin. Canada has just joined that club.

In Paris, Raymonde Folco (Laval – Les Isles) and Yasmin Ratansi (Don Valley East) brought news that 155 Canadian MPs – a parliamentary majority – had just signed a petition demanding that the UN and the US maintain protection of Camp Ashraf.

The British government and the European Parliament have granted the NCRI and the Mojahedin a clean bill of health, and the U.S. State Department’s designation is being challenged in the US Courts. Canada’s listing of the Mojahedin as a terrorist entity is expected to be reviewed later this summer.

“Now that we have a groundswell of support, I think we’ll be able to work with like-minded people to get them de-listed,” Ratansi said.

If the PMOI is struck from Ottawa’s terrorist blacklist, Canada will be in a position to openly support the NCRI and formally intervene at the UN on behalf of the Camp Ashraf inmates.
For MP Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier) the Mojahedin’s terrorist designation is both bogus and irrelevant: “My family were political refugees from Argentina a long time ago. The people at Camp Ashraf are refugees, and we have to demonstrate our solidarity. We have to make clear that we will not tolerate human rights abuses in Iran, so it’s right to be here.”

Said Oliphant: “Canada needs an independent foreign policy, and we need to think very carefully about what we mean when we define something as a terrorist group. This isn’t a terrorist group. This is a group that is struggling for freedom. They’re on the front lines of the struggle for democracy in Iran. They’re anti-violence.”

Former Alberta MP David Kilgour, a long-time friend of the NCRI and an honoured guest at the weekend gathering, said Canada’s de-listing of the PMOI would allow Ottawa to at least get out of the way of the NCRI’s pro-democracy mobilization. “It’s complicated, but as far as I’m concerned the criticism you hear about the NCRI and the People’s Mojahedin – it’s all nonsense.” Kilgour served as the master of ceremonies at an NCRI event in Paris last year that drew close to 90,000 people.

It was a long and winding road that ended up with the Mojahedin stranded at Ashraf in Iraq. Its twists and turns included a secret French pact with Tehran that freed French hostages kidnapped by Hezbollah, the Bill Clinton administration’s efforts to appease Tehran by demonizing and isolating the PMOI, and the Mojahedin’s own mistake in siding with Saddam Hussein during the bloody Iran-Iraq war of the early 1980s.

Where that road leads now, however, is anyone’s guess.

“The situation looks very perilous,” said David Matas, a Winnipeg refugee-rights lawyer who has been helping the NCRI find international-law protections for the Camp Ashraf Mojahedin.
Although the PMOI emerged as an Islamic-Marxist insurgency during the revolutionary fervour in Iran in the 1960s, the group renounced violence in 2001. Paradoxically, despite the US designation of the PMOI as a terrorist group, the US State Department later declared the Camp Ashraf Mojahedin to be protected refugees under the Geneva Conventions.
“None of this makes any sense,” Matas said. “If a Canadian court ever looked at the PMOI terrorist designation, my best guess is that it just wouldn’t stand up. Canada has no excuse for this.”

The very least the world’s democracies should do is make things less difficult for the NCRI, the main Iranian opposition group, and harder for the regime’s agents around the world, the NCRI’s friends and supports say.

“Canada could be very helpful,” Alireza Jafarzadeh, the Iranian-American engineer who was instrumental in exposing Iran’s ambition to build a nuclear bomb, told me. Canada has been among the Iranian regime’s most vocal critics at the UN, but Ottawa is shooting itself in the foot in the way it handles its relations with the Iranian opposition. Jafarzedeh reiterated the routine complaint from Iranian-Canadians that Khomeinist agents have been using the Immigrant Investor Program to come and go freely from Canada while pro-democracy Iranian exiles are commonly denied refugee status owing to their associations with the PMOI.

Author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis, Jafarzadeh said Iran’s democratic opposition isn’t asking Canada or anyone else for guns or money. “But Canada can help make the regime pay for its non-compliance. Let the Iranian people decide how to overthrow the regime, but remove all the roadblocks.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Based on international law and Geneva Conventions the residents of Ashraf are civilian “protected persons”. Therefore, the restrictions and unlawful blockade imposed on them by the government of Iraq must be lifted immediately.