Saturday, September 29, 2007

There's always a price

Jane Goodall probably knows that we burn too much fuel. That's why she's speaking against the biofuel industry, and its growing appetite for rainforest lands.

We are desperately searching for a source of energy that will sustain our extravagance. We think that the 2-car family is ok so long as they're both hybrids. We think we've done the environment a favour when our disposable plates are made from recyclable paper. Someone once suggested to me that "Earthwater" was a good alternative to commercial bottled water. The water is trucked thousands of kilometers from glaciers in BC and Alberta to Canadian cities that already have clean sources of public water

The system is something like this : The Iraqi refugees flee their country => the Iraqi "government" relinquishes oil concessions in the country => the oil goes from their country to the world market => the gas prices stay down in our country => we buy the Earthwater => Earthwater donates a portion to UNHCR => and then the money goes to help the Iraqi refugees who've had to flee their country.

We in the "developed" nations don't seem to have much of a concept of just how extravagantly we live. More importantly, we don't seem to have concept of just how it is being paid for, and just who is paying for it. If we find a more efficient way to use our energy, the impulse is to start using more of it. If we find a new source of energy, the impulse is to breath a sigh of relief, and carry on.

Biofuel's gotta come from somewhere.

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The Jews Who Love Ahmadinejad

It usually can't be stressed enough that Judaism and Zionism are separate belief systems. Judaism is both a belief system and an ethnic identity that is thousands of years old, that enjoins good action on its followers, flowing from the same fundamental proposition that form the basis of Islam - that there is only one Almighty (Al-Mighty?) and that service to that Almighty is the definition of good. Zionism is a political agenda that seeks to consolidate already inhabited land under the control of political movement conceived by and for European Jews.

There are those regressive individuals on either side of the Middle East conflict who out of ignorance or arrogance wish to blur this line. Of the former, we have the many millions of Muslims who look upon all Jews as Zionists, and consequently look upon them with suspicion. On the other side, we have those Zionist "professionals" - the PR people, the Likudniks, the American Evangelicals, the Western chauvanists, and the shrewd imperialists who lead all of the former. They wish to link the future of the Jewish people inextricably with that of the future of Zionism, such that a desire to vanquish this vile ideology of greed and racism can be easily portrayed as an attempt to destroy the Jewish people. Of the two, the ones who are more dangerous to Judaism are the later - the Zionists themselves, for their goal is to hold Judaism hostage to a self-interested political agenda, and use innocent Jews as the human shields of the movement.

What's missing from this analysis, however, is the perspective of religious Anti-Zionist Jews themselves, who go further than to simply say that Judaism and Zionism are separate entities; instead, they assert that Judaism and Zionism are mutually exclusive.

This is why when President Ahmadinejad comes to New York, they come out in his support - it's obvious that the push towards war in the Middle East doesn't come from Iran today anymore than it did in 1980, when all the great powers from the US to the USSR and the Arab despots supported Saddam Hussein's invasion.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Democracy is like virginity"

"either you have it, or you don't."

Pakistan is a chaotic place. Anyone who has hurtled down a Karachi thoroughfare without a seat belt could tell you. Ever wonder where all those crippled beggars come from? I have been told by more than one person that they are deliberately crippled by criminal gangs who take a cut of their earnings, usually while this same person was deftly dodging hapless pedestrians and 5-passenger motorcycles. Injuries are South Asia's forgotten epidemic.

While the military is negotiating for the release of over 250 security personnel in the Mehsud tribal lands of Waziristan from militant locals, Benazir Bhutto is busy sacrificing the country's future for the pleasure of the boss in Washington. I'm not going to make the obvious crack that comes to mind, she being a woman, but you can bet that people are. . .

The one-liner that opened this post is due to Pakistani journalist Irfan Hussain. His latest article chronicling the moral descent of General Musharraf is a good read.

From the article:

...In case the Supreme Court does not strike down this grotesque bid, what we will be left with is hardly the ‘transition to democracy’ being pushed by Washington, and so avidly pursued by Benazir Bhutto. It should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that there is no legal, constitutional or ethical grounds for Musharraf to stay and pretend he is heading a democratic set-up.

In her dealings with Musharraf, Ms Bhutto has forgotten that power is never handed over willingly; it has to be seized.

This is true in states where an institutional framework has not evolved to make the peaceful transfer of power possible. With brief democratic interludes disrupted by long military interventions, Pakistan has not been able to grow into a democracy where power rests with the people...

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Glimspes of Iraq

The Iraqi "government" has finally "expelled" private "security firm" Blackwater USA. The reason for the first set of quotes is obvious - Iraq doesn't really have a government. Public utilities are scant, its Army is fully recruited by Washington, its deputies can't leave the Green Zone, and the only military forces in the country that aren't effectively commanded from Washington are under the control of local militias, the largest and most active one being that of Muqtada Al-Sadr's faction, who've announced their intention to withdraw from the, what were we calling it, "government."

The second set of quotes is a result of the first. You want to expel Blackwater? You and which army? The American one whose soldiers have been taking orders from Blackwater employees? The "New Iraqi Army?" Good luck. It collapsed in the first assault on Fallujah, despite the fact that it was the Americans, with an overwhelming advantage, who were doing the bulk of the fighting, and in early 2005, only one of its 90 battalions had any mobility or heavy weaponry to speak of.

Blackwater isn't a security firm any more than Iraqi's recruited to fight for the US can be called an "Iraqi army." We aren't talking about mall guards here. The reason they are being asked to leave is a series of murders of Iraqis by heavily-armed Blackwater personnel, famous for their rampaging armoured vehicles and guns-blazing approach to rush hour traffic.

What never ceases to amaze me is the number of people who still cling to the notion that the American intention is to spread democracy. It is like a religious faith whose prophets sit in the White House, and whose priests are their intellectual apologists in academia and the media. Even the articles I've quoted here both contain some sort of assumption that the invasion was done for the sake of democracy, while the insurgents are fighting because they hate representative government. An examination of the region, however, makes it obvious that Uncle Sam hates democracy more than anyone else. His friends and enablers are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the smaller oily Arab despotisms - each chock-full of American military bases, American military aid dollars, or both. The more democratic a Middle Eastern country was, the less likely it was to provide assistance with the invasion of Iraq.

And yet, even those opponents of the Bush administration still speak under the assumption that the intention was so noble, and all that was wrong was the plan. Why would the US government want to spread "democracy," against all its own interests, in the Middle East? The only evidence we have for that is that Bush said so. And we know that he never lies.

And speaking of American enemies who are shouldering the burden of the humanitarian crisis that the Americans themselves created, this is a sorrowful post from Baghdad burning, the blog of an Iraqi woman who, if you haven't been following, has be agonizing with the decision of whether or not to leave the country for Syria. While the blood and oil-soaked self-appointed royal families of the Arab world had no trouble stomaching the Iraq war, they're refusing to allow Iraqi refugess on their soil, leaving the last Baathist dictatorship and Arab foe of the Americans to pick up the pieces.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Try not to cry

What keeps you and me from throwing stones? Is it wisdom, or cowardice?

Note who the "man in the mirror" is. Very appropriate.

Credit to Sami Yusuf and Outlandish. To much "nasheed" and other "Islamic songs" are popular only amongst those with the puritanical self-discipline to like them on principle. The world needs more contemporary Muslim artistic expression that has inherent worth.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mea Culpa

Well, it appears my thinly veiled vitriol about those currently privileged with the knowledge and position of ulama and their constant moonfighting was a bit ill-thought.

Apparently, two major Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) bodies, one in Europe and the one ISNA goes by, have decided that lunar dates can be calculated ahead of time. That their decision comes a century or two late only adds to the significance of this. I knew that ISNA had made a similar announcement last year, but the continued disjointedness of the Muslim community calendars didn't make it seem all that momentous.

This year's fatwa was announced on the main page of the ISNA website, but that url now returns a 404, a day after I checked it (I don't want to speculate why). A copy of the first half can be found at .

This year, ISNA has adjusted its calculation to use Mecca time, and not Greenwich, as their lunar dateline. Fair enough. This doesn't mean that all the Muslim organizations are on the same page - "ICNA" which has been around a couple of years, with its name that conveniently resembles ISNA, is still clinging to the use of the naked eye. Every community has such people. I'm just happy that we can look forwards to more coordinated community events, starting when it is most important, in Ramadhan. Inshallah.

Which speaking of which, is tomorrow!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What causes AIDS?

Apparently, exports do.

Her data is a tad fishy, but the ideas are intriguing.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Ramadhan - it is possible.

The blessed month is fast approaching, but before that we will be treated to the usual bouts of what has been wittily termed "moonfighting." Some authorities will tell us, the lay Muslim masses, that we should wait until the moon is seen by someone in our community. Others will tell us to wait until it is seen in Mecca. Then there will be those of us without such authority who will nevertheless shamelessly argue that the position of the moon in relation to the earth and the sun has followed the same pattern, with insignificant change, probably since before humans were around to argue over it, and definitely since God in the Qur'an said "The Sun and the Moon follow courses exactly computed" (Qur'an 55:5) Still, some people find it charming for their calendar to be full of surprises.

That aside, Ramadhan, or Ramzan, if you're speaking a South Asian language, is my favourite time of the year. Even without the festivities, the food, and the family, the days have a different quality to them. It is said that during Ramadhan, the Shaitan is kept chained, and it certainly feels that way. You get the feeling that you are less influenced by what is around you, that your mistakes are more your own, your good deeds more to your credit. You start to find out who you really are.

More importantly, perhaps, Ramadhan is a time of change. Behavioural change is the greatest challenge in public policy, and the subject of innumerable self-help books. Without changing our behaviour, we can't conserve the environment, we can't stamp out HIV, we can't bring about social justice, we can't end persecution, we can't, we can't, we can't. And yet it is so hard to control ourselves.

Ramadhan is proof that it is possible, if we have the inspiration, to change our behaviour. The late-riser can, for a month, become the early riser. The glutton can eat like a bird. The flirt can control himself. The potty-mouth will watch his language. The miser will give a little more freely. The hermit will give company to his neighbours. Not everyone does, and not everyone will, but for the majority of us its possible, because so many of us find the strength.

Whether we maintain our resolve is another matter - but that is not proof that Ramadhan can't change us. It's just proof that we do have a choice, that our environment does not actually dictate all of our bad actions. It's proof that while so many of us choose wrongly, it is possible to choose right.

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Friday, September 7, 2007

The Hiatus Ends Today

I've been on the road a lot and so haven't been posting here. Over the last week I settled down, my mind full of things I wanted to talk about, discuss, and write about, but for some reason I delayed coming here. Feels good now, though - it always does, once you get started.

Much has happened in the world in the last two weeks, and yet it is relatively unchanged. I'll get to some of it later. One thing I did want to comment on was the vibrancy of Turkish democracy.

Yes, Turkey has finally, after every sort of political intrigue, including thinly veiled threats
from the army to once again snatch the reins of power, elected Abdullah Gul President.

For those who haven't been following, Turkey's AK party, known as "Justice and Development" in English, is perhaps the most progressive party to emerge in Turkey since Mustafa Kemal founded the republic. PM Erdogan has pursued a steady path of bringing Turkey towards economic development and social justice, exploring EU accession with more enthusiasm than any of his "secularist" predecessors, and opening up restrictions on Kurdish cultural and political activities.

His foreign minister, who capably kept Turkey out of the Iraq debacle, is, we are told to believe, objectionable. Why? His wife wears a hijab. He is an "Islamist." And so, a scrap of women's clothing and a meaningless political smear are used by the West's genuine Islamophobes to explain to us why an authoritarian, oppressive, bloodthirsty Turkish secularism is preferably to a democracy whose parliament handed the reigns to an "Islamist," whatever that is supposed to mean.

The Turkish press didn't seem so hysterical. Zaman, an English daily, was ardently Pro-Gul. Even those who were not thrilled by his election, however, were more confident in Turkish democracy than they were afraid of Gul's supposed top-secret Shari'ah agenda. A good sampling of Turkish press can be found here from the Beeb.

Over here in the West, however, legions of self-appointed policy gurus have lined up to tell us, once again, that Muslims eat mazzohs made with the blood of gentile childr. . .. oh wait, wrong libel. . . oh yeah . . . that a core tenet of Islam is world domination through bloody conquest and forced conversion.

Mubarak Turkey, Mubarak! You are an example to the entire world.

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