Monday, May 31, 2010

Massouda Jalal, Jose Maria Aznar Win UN Watch Human Rights Awards

Dr. Massouda Jalal, the first woman in Afghanistan to run for presidential office, and who later served as Afghanistan's Minister for Women’s Affairs, has been given UN Watch’s Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award, a prize named after the late founder of UN Watch.

“It is not the sole responsibility of the international community or the UN to ensure our freedom. But how can it be that under their watch, we women, and many men too, have seen their freedoms eroded so substantially?” asked Dr. Jalal. “Women’s rights are the key to fighting dictatorship and extremism, militarization and warlordism. Women are the key to the future.”

Dr. Jalal will visit Canada soon to testify before Parliament.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nick Cohen: Who Will Stand Up To The Liberal Democrat Party's Extreme Right?

Something Nasty In The Woodshed:

. . .Let Baroness Tonge stand as an example of a malaise which has gripped hundreds of thousands of people who are playing with ideas previous generations would have described as fascist without hesitation. Instead of supporting the PLO-led Palestinian Authority, which for all its corruption and faults represents the best hope of a liberal democratic Palestine, she supports the clerical fascism of Hamas, and has gone to the Ba'athist tyranny of Syria to describe its leaders as "shrewd, plausible and actually very likeable".

. . . Do not dismiss her as an eccentric. Hers is a common and highly hypocritical version of Little Englandism found everywhere in modern liberalism. Instead of saying that they want the quiet life and to avoid foreign entanglements, its proponents hide their dislike of the policies of the rulers of their own countries behind a façade of insincere concern for the suffering of others abroad.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wazhma Frogh: No Reward For Bullies, No Impunity For Strongmen.

A majority of analysts believe that the negotiation and granting of amnesty to insurgents is the key to creating peace in Afghanistan. But critics of this view rightly point out that the provision of justice is an essential prerequisite for peace and the rule of law. Afghanistan’s recent history has shown that the co-option of self-appointed strongmen and commanders in the government has backfired. The strongmen who were offered impunity and positions in the government failed to deliver services and their failure has directly led to increase in support for the insurgency. In addition, the impunity granted to them has allowed them to feel a sense of entitlement to power. As a consequence, they continue to pose a threat to security if faced with losing out on opportunities.

Read the rest here.

"We can't assign a policeman to every resident in the city," said Kandahar's police chief, Sardar Mohammad Zazai. To protect Afghan officials, U.S. and Canadian military contingents in Kandahar have provided armored cars, assigned foreign security details and launched ambitious plans to fortify government buildings. One idea is to build a bulletproof "ballistics walkway" between the offices of the mayor and governor.

Zazai disputes the notion that the Taliban is getting stronger in Kandahar. "This is all a propaganda campaign. They want to show the world that the government of Afghanistan is weak," he said. "The Taliban can't fight our forces face-to-face; they can only assassinate the people."


"Premature withdrawal from Afghanistan is a major mistake," Abdullah said. "You abandoned us once and you are still paying the price for it. We are still paying the price for it. Now the people of Afghanistan are losing hope and fear that they will be abandoned again -- this is the reality."


Friday, May 14, 2010

Marg Bar Diktator: General Strike In Iranian Kurdistan, Silence In The West.

Iranian Kurds have launched one of their largest strikes in recent years, closing shops and bazaars in nearly all Sunni Kurdish cities and towns in eastern Iran to protest the execution of five people, including four Kurdish activists, on Sunday. Among the lynched was teachers' union activist Farzad Kamangar.

Sunday’s executions brought the total for the weekend to 11. Six men convicted of drug smuggling were hanged on Saturday, but the executions are clearly intended to discourage people from rallying against the government on June 12, the anniversary of the "re-election" of the Khomeinist puppet Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

This morning we learn that the regime's thugs have now arrested Ejlal Qavamai, spokesman for Kurdistan Human Rights Organization. His arrest appears to be connected with his interview with the media regarding the general strike.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, about 1,000 protesters demonstrated against the Tehran regime's ill-treatment and execution of Afghan refugees. The protesters threw eggs on the gate of Tehran's consulate in the eastern city of Jalalabad and burned an effigy of Iran's clerical dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

And yet all is quiet on the western front. Barely a word about any of this in the mainstream press. No marches in the streets in solidarity with our Iranian sisters and brothers. Why?

"In the West, the Left sees only the Ahmadinejad propaganda -- death to the U.S., death to imperialism. It claims it is anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, but the people in Iran know that this is baloney," says Mehdi Kouhestaninejad, a senior officer with the Canadian Labour Congress. "We have to challenge our attitudes. We have to recognize that there is no connection between the Left in the West and the Left in Iran."

We could start by exposing the regime's apologists and the Khomeinist crackpots that have found such a welcoming roost for themselves in certain "anti-war" circles. We could also leave off with the inane "Hands Off Iran" and "Israel Apartheid Week" mumbo-jumbo and acknowledge how deep the rot has spread.

As Samira Mohyeddin's bravely observes: "The United Nations have now enshrined my right to be stoned, they have enshrined my judicious right to be half a person; my right not to divorce or child custody, my right to no freedom of mobility, my right not to higher education after marriage without permission of my husband. The country that guarantees my subjugated role in society is now sitting on the women's council of the United Nations."

Talk like that will get you killed in Iran. Lynched, to be more specific, by the state. There are more than 130 offences punishable by the death penalty in Iran. They include "sex crimes" such as adultery and homosexuality, apostasy, heresy, blasphemy, having a civilized affection for alcoholic spirits, and possession of drugs.

The crime committed by teacher and trade unionist Farzad Kamangar? "Enmity against God." After a trial that lasted a mere seven minutes, Kamangar languished in prison for nearly five years before he was hanged last Sunday. In his last letter from Evin prison, he wrote: "Is it possible to be a teacher and not show the way to the sea to the small fish? Is it possible to stare into the eyes of the children of this nation and remain silent? Is it possible to accept the responsibility of being a teacher and informing the people, but not say anything?"

Never forgive. Never forget. Farzad Kamangar:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Through The Garden Gate To Freedom

While Parwani villages remain profoundly conservative places, there is simply no comparison with "the Taliban time." In those days, the women of Parwan were hiding in the cellars.

The Taliban, covetous of Parwan's rich farmlands and orchards, set about to carve up the land and dole it out among their own crowd. They roared across Parwan in heavily-armed armadas of Toyota SUVs, and they drove off the men, butchering the brave ones who stood and fought. The Parwani women would come out at night to kill the Taliban.

"The Taliban burned our lands and tried to force people to move to Jalalabad," Mah Jan recalled. "The men escaped. When the Taliban came with guns, the women would come out to beat them to death with their bare hands."

That's from my latest essay in the series on Afghanistan's unsung heroes.

Meanwhile, I'll be in Halifax this Sunday evening at the Maritime Conservatory for this public forum on the question, What Should Canada Do In Afghanistan Post-2011? I'll be joining Najia Haneefi, founder of the Afghan Women's Political Participation Committee; Lauryn Oates, human rights activist, leading voice in Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and co-founder of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee; and Andrew Beckett, a medical officer with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Then, this coming Monday evening Lauryn and I will be speaking at another public forum on the same subject in Montreal, at the Atwater Library in Westmount, with Ershad Ahmadi, deputy chief of the Afghanistan Mission to Canada, and Stephen Saideman, Canada Research Chair in International Security and Ethnic Conflict at McGill University.

From there it's off to Winnipeg with Lauryn and Ershad, where we'll be joining a panel discussion about Canada in Afghanistan at the University of Winnipeg, Tuesday evening, May 18, with Anne Longston, a former technical adviser to Afghanistan's education minister, and Lasha Tchantouridze, a research associate in the Centre for Defence and Security Studies and adjunct professor in the faculty of graduate studies at the University of Manitoba.

On Thursday evening, May 20, in Regina, Lauryn, Najia Haneefi and I will be joined by His Excellency Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, at a panel discussion at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum Theatre. I'll be looking forward to mixing it up in Regina, let me tell you.

Each event is free, but seating is limited, so you might want to RSVP the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee ( to hold a place for yourself.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem, Let My Right Hand Forget Her Cunning. - Psalm 137:5.

. . .Tensions in and around Jerusalem have soared in past months over the deeply-controversial issue of Jewish construction in annexed east Jerusalem in a move which poses a constant threat to peace efforts.

Despite US assurances to the Palestinians that Israel would freeze certain settlement activity in the eastern sector for the next two years, top Israeli officials have denied the existence of any such commitment.

"There is no agreement about freezing building in east Jerusalem and normal life in Jerusalem will continue as in every other city in Israel," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told journalists during a visit to Tokyo.

The hatred of Israel in Europe is the best example Bruckner produces. Hardly anyone mentions that the Arab and Iranian dictatorships find anti-Semitism as useful a method for distracting their subject people from examining their worthless regimes as the tsars and the Nazis did.

For Europeans, criticism of sagging Arab nationalist states and resurgent theocracy would mean accepting the existence of alternative sources of sin outside the West and confronting the racial prejudices in Europe's Muslim minorities. Better to blame Israel as a source of danger to Europe for its failure to behave as true penitent.

Bewildered outsiders look on a continent where Holocaust commemoration is a civic religion and wonder how guilt for an anti-Semitic past can coexist with rising anti-Semitism and the singling out for perpetual attack of the world's only Jewish state. Bruckner's convincing answer is that because Israel stands up to its enemies it is in European eyes the root cause of the rage against it. Europe copes with the guilt of the Holocaust by transferring it to Israel, which involves the recycling of the revolting trope that Jews are now Nazis.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The U.S. to Afghanistan: 'We Will Not Abandon You.'

One of those very rare occasions when the spin on the surface cannot conceal what lies beneath:

Yesterday, Mrs Clinton sought to play down fears of a precipitous exit that could serve as a rationale for unpalatable deals between Kabul and the Taleban, as Mr Karzai has previously threatened.

Mrs Clinton told Afghan and American Cabinet officials assembled at the State Department: “As we look towards a responsible orderly transition in the international combat mission in Afghanistan, we will not abandon the Afghan people. Our civilian commitment will remain long into the future.”

Polls released yesterday showed a slim majority of Americans think the war is no longer worth fighting, underlining the rationale for military withdrawal. A larger majority, however, still approve of Mr Obama’s handling of the war, from the impending military “surge” in Kandahar to the promise of a gradual withdrawal starting next year.

However, Afghan officials told The Times this week that Mr Karzai wanted a longer military commitment from Washington and was prepared to wield the threat of deals with the Taleban to get it.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

From Afghanistan To Israel To Palestine: What The People Say.

Visiting The Shrine of Journalist Ajmal Naqeshbandi, With His Cousin Baktash Muqim:

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 nighbourhood'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.

'Troops Out' Not A Slogan You'll Hear From Afghan Feminist Shamsia Sharifi:

. . .Like so many Afghan feminists, Sharifi is mystified by the persistent calls for troop withdrawal that are so frequently voiced in the rich countries of the world by people who imagine themselves to be champions of women's rights.

"We need to have the troops in Afghanistan," she said. "If the Taliban come back, the target will be us again."

Sharifi laughed out loud at the idea of Taliban peace talks. "Maybe your country should make a visa for me," she joked. "It is very hard, even now," she said, referring to the severely conservative imams and hard-line Islamists who still wield such influence throughout Afghan society. "It is a risk for us to do this, what we do, teaching women about their rights. But we are very scared of the Taliban coming back. And the Taliban is also always attacking NGO persons.

"So we are very scared that they might come back, and we pray to God that they don't come back."

Those are snippets from the two most recent instalments in the Afghan Heroes Series.

Meantime, I've been pursuing similar questions lately in Israel & Palestine, and will be turning to the results of those inquiries before returning to Afghanistan later this month. In the meantime, here's me, goofing off, going for a camel ride in the West Bank, on the outskirts of the ancient city of Jericho:

And here's what it looks like passing through a checkpoint from the West Bank back into East Jerusalem:

Still on the road. Writing this from an airport. Must. . . sleep. . .

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Speaking Truth To Power In Palestine

JERUSALEM - "A journalist should be a watchdog. A journalist should be critical of the establishment. A journalist should try to be the voice of the people, but in the Arab world, a journalist is taught first he must be loyal to the president, loyal to the state, loyal to the homeland. Maybe truth, but that is last.

"Yes, I still get threatened. I would be much more afraid to show my face in Ramallah if I was lying, but most of the threats I get these days are from North American campuses. Americans, Canadians, some self-hating Jews, university professors. This is what you get for refusing to go along with the narrative. You know. They show up wearing the kaffiyeh and shouting, and they just want to say Israel is bad, war crimes, apartheid, that is all. But that doesn' make you pro-Palestine. That doesn't make you pro-peace. Instead of organizing Israel Apartheid Week, they should be helping with human rights under Hamas, women's rights under Hamas. A free press. But people on North American university campuses are more radical than Hamas."

So said Kaled Abu Toameh last night over an after-dinner bottle of wine. Having long been a great admirer of his brave work it was grand to swap notes. There is a charming, bemused exasperation about Toameh. He's quick-witted, sharp-tongued, hilarious, and helpfully possessed of what George Orwell once called "a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts." We need more of that sort of thing.

I'll be writing more about my conversations with Toameh in the coming days, and about the conversations I've been having with a variety of remarkable people in this beautiful, heartbreaking country. I'll be poring over my notes and trying to make sense of things, but one thing, so far, is painfully plain. While the contradictions between the postures of the so-called "Left" in the rich countries of the world and the aspirations of the oppressed peoples it claims to champion is a phenomenon I've written about mainly in the context of Afghanistan, precisely the same contradictions show up in the Israeli-Palestinian context. In spades. But then I would say that, wouldn't I? Being a lickspittle apologist for the Zionist-Imperialist Hegemony and all.

Meantime, read Toameh. Here's a primer:

1. During a recent visit to several university campuses in the U.S., I discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah.

2.United States-led sanctions on the Gaza Strip have thus far played into the hands of Hamas, earning it more sympathy among radicalized and disillusioned Palestinians. Because of these mistakes, the Gaza Strip is now swarming with scores of Islamic fundamentalist groups who are leading the Palestinians toward the abyss.

3. What About The Arab Apartheid?

4. What About The Arab Apartheid? Part II.