Archive for the ‘zindagani’ Category

Case in Point: How NY Times Perpetuates Islamophobia.

July 23, 2011

Today, was a heinous day of cold blooded attack in Oslo and its vicinity. Many innocent victims many of them young died in a senseless attack which NY Times and other media outlets compared to a war zone. Sadly, if such an attack happened in Baghdad, Karachi or Kabul then the news would have been a blur or perhaps not even fit to print or put on the frontpage. But today I woke up to NYTimes.com alert about an apparent Jihadi attack in the heart of a European capital. The newspaper offered the name of the Jihadi organization and gave an extensive rationalization on why the attack might have taken place.

So how did they respond later when it turns out (to great relief of millions of Muslims, black and brown immigrants in Europe-America bracing themselves for another round of Xenophobic backlash) that the terrorist was indeed ‘native’, white and not Muslim. Well first goes the language of terrorism and the entire blame is individualized, its all about the person who carried out the bombing or perhaps a few Nazi nutters but they have nothing to do with European culture. Unlike Jihadists who of course represent the ‘real’ of Islam. At the end of the day we are left with the sorry rationalization that such terror acts might not have been perpetrated by Jihadis but rather inspired by them, as if there is no history of terrorist violence in the West. Alas we forget: Timothy McVeigh, Columbine and countless shootings at schools, Churches, Offices. I am not even going back to WWII here.

Its really a shame that such a biased newspaper carries so much influence and weight when it comes to framing the world to Americans.

Here is an excerpt from pg 2 of today’s (7/22/11) NYTimes.com story:
At Least 80 Dead in Norway Shooting
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/23/world/europe/23oslo.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&hp

American counterterrorism officials cautioned that Norway’s own homegrown extremists, with unknown grievances, could be responsible for the attacks.

Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.

Still, there was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible. In 2004 and again in 2008, the No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden, threatened Norway because of its support of the American-led NATO military operation in Afghanistan.

Norway has about 550 soldiers and three medevac helicopters in northern Afghanistan, a Norwegian defense official said. The government has indicated that it will continue to support the Afghan operations as long as the alliance needs partners on the ground.

Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s signature brutality and multiple attacks.

“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al Qaeda,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington. “One lesson I take away from this is that attacks, especially in the West, are going to move to automatic weapons.”

Before and After Bin Laden

May 12, 2011

For most Americans the pre-dawn assassination of Osama Bin Laden is the closing chapter of a traumatic decade that started on that fateful Tuesday morning of September 11th. The attacks on World Trade Center and the Pentagon were said to herald a new age defined by the ‘war on terror” (a vague term at best and oxymoron at worst), pre-emptive war, suicide bombings, drone missile attacks, and legalization of torture. A stream of news anchors, talk show hosts and politicians made sure that we knew we were living in a new era by referring to 9/11 as “The day the world changed”. Sometimes it felt as if all of history could be divided as before and after 9/11. Indeed that was the state of American collective memory in the run up to the wars. Billions of dollars were spent to bomb and occupy Afghanistan; one of the poorest and war ravaged places in the world to capture Bin Laden, a former cold war asset. In the end Bin Laden was nowhere to be found, (after all he was taking refuge in the relative comfort of Abbotabad). As the hunt for Bin Laden, and Taliban leadership grew cold there were other justification offered for the war, Afghanistan had to occupied in order to save it from extremists, it had to be occupied in order to save Afghani women from the extremist Taleban, and now Afghanistan has to be bombed in order to end the war. An entire region was punished for the actions of a few militants. History didn’t seem to matter nor did the fact that the most wanted terrorists were former allies. All that was before 9/11. As Donald Rumsfeld, the chatty former Secretary of Defense put it best himself when he stated that there are “known knowns and then there are known un-knowns”.

After Afghanistan, the American war machine zeroed in on Iraq as neo-conservatives spooked the already frightened public by blanketing the airwaves about the existence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program. There were large protests and deep anxieties about this war but the space for critique closed down as the war got going. Shock and awe the two basic elements of terror were the opening salvo of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The American tilt to war pushed Jihad from a fringe topic that had little precedence in modern times to a transnational form of resistance that attracted the outraged youth. The devastation in Afghanistan and Iraq magnified Bin Laden’s stature from a marginal figure in the Muslim world to a spokesman of the oppressed Ummah. All of this was possible by sacralizing 9/11 as an event outside of history by narrating the attacks to define good and evil in contemporary America.

However, for most people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, the attacks on World Trade center were not a beginning, or an end but just another chapter of violence that goes back to the last decade of cold war. The crucial difference now was that the attacks happened in the heart of the empire, whereas cold war battles were mostly fought by Black and Brown people in the global South. Bin Laden or for that matter Saddam Hussein were both creatures of late cold war alliances when American policy makers saw them as assets to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, or Iran after the Islamic Revolution. One can find photographs of a smiling Rumsfeld locked in a handshake with Saddam Hussein (at a time when Saddam was known to use chemical weapons), or Osama Bin Laden boasting about the help he received from Americans in the Jihad in his speeches and interviews. Overall, these facts don’t seem to matter because they are relegated to the pre-history as before 9/11. For years anti-war activists held on to the belief that only if people knew the facts then they would rise up against American imperial policies but this faith in reason overlooked the basic desire to sacralize 9/11 and to maintain a noble self image.

Domestically, the specter of Bin Laden had an enormous impact on America. The hard fought civil rights protections that were gained after decades of struggle were rolled back overnight as racial profiling became justified. Muslim-Americans, immigrants, and people of color became subjects of suspicion. In the days and weeks after 9/11 Shopkeepers were detained for carrying box-cutters, tourists were detained for taking photographs, restaurant workers were arrested when neighbors grew suspicious of people getting in and out of mini-van. All it took was a gesture, a scarf, a beard or innocuous garb to arouse suspicion and for authorities to ask for legal papers. The fear that gripped America was as much the work of Al-Qaeda as it was the doing of Homeland Security. The multi-billion dollar agency that was created to provide protection and gather intelligence issued fluctuating color coded terror alerts, confusing guidelines on what to watch out for and a culture of surveillance. We saw how ‘homeland security’ can blur into terror as it anticipates another attack or mimics similar techniques. In this past decade US moved away from International laws concerning rules of war and the treatment of political prisoners were put on hold as American intelligence agencies sanctioned torture (enhanced interrogation) of “enemy combatants’ who in most cases were completely innocent men caught and sold to the US. The iconic images of Abu Ghraib Prisoners will remain one of the most horrifying testimonials of the the thin line between security and terror, when they become one and the same.

It didn’t have to be this way and indeed in the days and weeks after the 9/11 attacks there was great introspection and reflection when Americans started paying attention to the world in a new way: “why did this happen? why do they hate us? what is happening in Palestine/Israel? Why were so many of the attackers from Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Is war the solution to violence?” These questions betray a sense of bewilderment and disconnect that defined American attitude to the non-western world in days before 9/11. But now there was a great desire to learn more about the Muslims, Middle East, and the conflicts that have engulfed Southwest Asia. The space for reflection and inquiry closed fast as the war drums were beaten on CNN and Fox as America went to war. We were told that the enemy was Bin Laden, Taliban and yes it had to do something with Islam. That was that and there was no room to reflect on the trail of destruction that created the conditions for an Al-Qaeda or Taleban to form, or the fact that Americans were now chasing the ghosts of cold war battles in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Radicalism also proliferates in countries that have to endure the despotic of authoritarian leaders like Saddam Hussein, the Saudi royal family or unaccountable institutions like the Pakistan Army.

In this moment of jubilation in America there is little desire to face up to the reality that the trail of destruction that made it possible for Al Qaeda and Bin Laden to emerge has only expanded. In fact with tens of thousands killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the destabilization of Pakistan it seems that the specter of Bin Laden and American foreign policy will haunt us for a long time to come.

Washington justifies its narrow foreign policy in the name of national interest. It paints a picture of the world where only Americans and Europeans are fond of peace, democracy and freedom. Its all too complicated for rest of the world, the Muslim world still falls in a mysterious void where ‘experts’ are brought in to extract meaning and shape to acts of brutality and violence. There is no sense of history, and no accountability. The nihilistic war culture of violence and terror personified by Bin Laden will continue as long as America pursues short term policies that put price of oil over and above human rights. The popularity of Al-Qaeda and the myth of Bin Laden crystallized in the moment when ordinary people felt they had little power over their own destiny. Recently Bin Laden’s vision of puritanical state has greatly weakened by the proliferation of democratic protests but these gains are still tenuous and vulnerable to counter-revolutions. The revolutions in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia have shown a deep desire for more open and democratic future in the Muslim world but here again America’s narrow understanding of national security does not allow it to fully support these movements and I fear that in short time a more favorable client leader will emerge. Things might change but they stay the same, case in point is the current discrepancy in the NATO’s support for the insurgency in Libya while keeping all eyes shut to the brutal repression, arrests in Bahrain where doctors have been tortured for coming to aid of protesters, students and human rights activists have been killed and now Shi’a mosques are to be razed to the ground. One will be hard pressed to find reports in Bahrain in America or the fact that Saudi Arabia has sent in its Army to help aid the repression. While the world might forget Bahrain, those on the grounds will always remember that the bullets, the tanks and the ammunition used by Bahraini police, and Saudi soldiers were made in America. So it goes on

Pakistan is a revealing case in that it has been witness to mass mobilization in every decade yet every change in government has closely followed the powerful interests of the national elite and American establishment at a huge cost to the vast majority of its own population. The chaos and confusion created by wars, American foreign policy, the Pakistan Army’s coups have created an environment where conspiracies carry more weight than facts, where an entire population is squeezed dry to pay for an Army that plays a duplicitous games with its own people and the world.

The Coming Plantations

May 11, 2011

In the last two years the Pakistani government has announced that it will allot hundreds of thousands of acres of land to foreign countries and private corporations. Proponents of the plan argue that corporate agriculture will attract investment in the rural sector and it will introduce large-scale agricultural production that will generate greater rural employment. However, there is little evidence that this plan will offer any major benefits to the rural poor. Colonial planters, like advocates for corporate farming, saw themselves as investors and innovators of commercial agriculture. The history of plantations in South America, Caribbean and Asia tells us that this kind of intensive transnational agriculture doesn’t eradicate poverty but rather that it accelerates dependency while weakening food sovereignty among poorer nations. It is ironic that the popularly elected government is now actively planning to do way with land ownership ceilings that were put in place as part of the land reform acts under Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Bhutto’s regime.

In the coming year we will see government ministers present this plan as a generous investment, or even a favor by our regional Muslim allies. Giving large chunks of land is going to be transferred to sovereign funds owned by Saudi Arabia and Gulf Emirates, that want to secure food availability for their population goes against the logic of sustainable development and it will do little to improve the lot of the rural poor. In fact, the Corporate Agriculture Plan will worsen the precarious food security situation in Pakistan and hurt average person who is finding it increasingly difficult to afford basic food staples. Given the history of exploitive work conditions in Saudi Arabia and Emirati states it is very likely that the new corporate farms will function like colonial plantations.

Turning back to contemporary Pakistan, there has been radical neglect of important livelihood issues in the last decade as Pakistan became embroiled in a series of crises starting with the war in Afghanistan, lawyers movement, Musharraf martial law, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the insurgency in Waziristan. The ensuing crises pushed aside all substantive discussions of economic inequality and access to livelihood opportunities. The lack of planning and regulation is all too evident in the series of food shortages that have followed surplus bumper crops. A lot more ink has been spilled to explain the proliferation of religious and sectarian violence than to understand the effects economic factors that might be feeding these movements. Missing in these analyses is a discussion of residual forms of violence that lie in extreme disparities of wealth, diminishing protections for vulnerable populations like peasant farmers, the mass movement of rural poor to urban slums and the increasingly precarious access to food that feeds anti-state sentiments. In return the state has resorted to militarized response to poor peoples struggle for subsistence. In fact the extra-judicial terrorism courts provide the government an alibi to go after and arrest peasant leaders and fisherfolk who defied the imposition of corporate farming type contract and leases.

Here I am drawing on my experience in Okara military farms where the tenant farmers have been struggling to retain their access to the land they have been tiling for almost a century. Since 2000 the tenant farmers have been defying the military’s edict to impose a new tenancy system of contract farming. The tenants have refused to sign onto a cash tenancy system because it didn’t guarantee secure longterm access to the land. In fact the cash contract system will make them more vulnerable for evictions. During the course of the struggle the tenant farmers have discovered that the military farmlands are actually owned by the Punjab Government and the military’s official lease expired long before the creation of Pakistan. The food crisis in the last two years has proven the mazarin point about the significance of secure access to land for the poor. I recall talking to Nazeer Bola, a tenant farmer, in 2004 about what gave the tenant farmers the will to defy the military in 2003: He simply answered:

We knew that as soon as we accept this contract system we will be thrown out of these lands. We can accept death but we don’t accept this contract system” (interview). Losing rights over this land meant eviction and destitution to the tenant farmers.

Nazeer gave example of the indigent poor in Karachi to illustrate what life would be like for the mazareen if they lost their rights over these lands. He argued that in contrast to the extreme poverty in the cities, even the poorest group in the village (like the laborer caste kammi’s) had a marla (a small plot) where they could grow enough food to survive, whereas being destitute in the city meant having no place to sleep and no land to grow one’s food. The tenant farmers saw the new contract system as a threat to their subsistence and food security. As we have seen in the past few years the growing shortage of food available in the markets is not due to the lack of food production but to the growing speculation and de-regulation in agriculture.

So far the government hasn’t offered much information about how the lands will be allotted, are they going to allot rakhs (government owned commons that are cultivated by peasants, are they going to displace small peasant or are they going to buy land at market rate)? However, large-scale allotment of land will certainly involve the displacement of existing population of peasants, or pastoralists who reside on the land. Recently, Madagascar struck a similar accord with Daewoo to give almost 50% of its arable land to the Korean corporate giant for 99 years. According to an article in Financial Times, Daewoo will not have to pay anything in exchange for investing and making the land optimally cultivable. A representative from Daewoo was quoted by Financial Times (Nov 19, 2008) justified the transfer: “It is totally undeveloped land which has been left untouched. And we will provide jobs for them by farming it, which is good for Madagascar”. This language is eerily similar to the current government. However, the FT also raised doubts about the benefits to Madagascar by quoting a European Diplomat in South Afrcia who stated “We suspect there will be very limited direct benefits [for Madagascar]. Extractive projects have very little spill-over to a broader industrialisation.” Like SEZ phenomenon in many developing economies large scale allotment of lands will not help improve the economic capacity and development of the country. There needs to be some serious efforts to provide greater support for smaller farmers, greater availability to arable land to rural poor and a network of cooperatives for farmers to hold distributors accountable in price gouging.

In fact the history of agricultural development in USA, Japan, Korea shows that early development of agriculture infrastructure happened with a very controlled trade and regulation of agriculture in a way that supported small farmers.

Source:

http://us.ft.com/ftgateway/superpage.ftnews_id=fto111920081227033091&page=2%20%20