Faruq Faisel

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Site Seeing: Came across Nadine's site tonight. Her site says: Nadine Zahr is known for her strong presence, rich voice, and dynamic use of the acoustic guitar. Crafting songs that feel like confessions or pages torn from her personal journals, even the smallest statements speak truths that we’ve all experienced. From relationships to observations of the world around us, the music speaks universally as well as to our individual experiences. Inspired and influenced by legends, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Led Zepplin, and by contemporaries, Patty Griffin, Dave Matthews and Ani Difranco, Nadine’s music takes the listener on a familiar journey to new places. Nadine’s debut record, “Underneath the Everyday," produced by Dave Trumfio, is due out in late 2005.

Check it out, friends.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Harold Pinter's Nobel Lecture: A friend of mine sent this link. Thanks A.
Harold Pinter
Nobel Lecture
Art, Truth & Politics

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'

In each case I had no further information.

In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn't give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.

'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.

I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.'

So since B calls A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche.

The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems.

Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.

In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.

Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.

Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.
But as they died, she must die too.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing – and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case “innocent people” were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile.

The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries.

Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines.

But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?
Who was the dead body?
Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?
Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?
Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?
What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?
Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.

Nepal: Royal airline
Samaya, 29 December

Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation put one of its Boeing 757s at the disposal of King Gyanendra’s recent 21-day tour but it looks like it will get paid only for 48 flying hours.

Already on the verge of bankruptcy, the national flag carrier is sure to plunge deeper into crisis thanks to the state’s abuse of authority.

According to RNAC officials, the 757 was chartered at the rate of Rs 770,000 per hour. During the 21-day tour, the king used the plane to attend the SAARC summit in Dhaka and then the information summit in Tunisia. He then travelled on to Burundi, South Africa, Tanzania and Egypt. The government is paying the airline only for the hours it was in the air, which totals Rs 37 million. If the plane had flown its scheduled flights during those weeks, RNAC would have earned more than Rs 93 million, according to a senior pilot. This doesn’t even count the ground handling charges, landing and parking fees at various African airports and the airline’s losses for rerouting and cancellation of booked passengers. So the king’s visit cost the airline and ultimately the Nepali people, Rs 56 million. And that is only the airline’s losses.

Nepal: The king goes east, the army goes west
Jana Aastha, 28 December

Call it a coincidence or a calculated move, the king is starting his visit to the eastern region just when the Maoists’ extended unilateral ceasefire is set to end.
The trip, from 1-22 January, is aimed at bolstering the morale of security personnel and royalists. Another coincidence is that on the same day last week when the Maoist leaders announced that the ceasefire would be ending, the army launched its biggest operation so far in the Maoist heartland of Rolpa being coordinated by the RNA’s mid-western headquarters, which has been relocated to Surkhet from Nepalganj.

Since 22 December, thousands of soldiers from Dang, Salyan, Rukum and even Kathmandu have been deployed. On the fifth day of the army’s advance towards Rolpa, there was a fierce battle between soldiers and Maoists in Dumlachaur of Gairigaun. At least one soldier and two rebels were confirmed dead. However, the battle looks like it was more serious than that, 15 soldiers have been admitted to the military hospital in Chhauni.
Reportedly, the army did not have much difficulty overcoming the rebels near Holeri but the real fight began after about 3,000 soldiers reached Gairigaun on Monday. The rebels tried to pin them down by firing mortars from nearby hills. The army retaliated with long-range weapons and by evening the two sides were involved in close combat. Perhaps anticipating more such clashes, the army is keeping half-a-dozen helicopters on stand-by in Rukum’s headquarters Libang, at an army base in Dang and at mid-western headquarters in Surkhet.

For this biggest-ever offensive against the Maoists, the army has deployed 25 companies, one from each battalion in the country. The operation is being led by the chief of the army’s training directorate, Brig Gen Sharad Neupane, who previously led the No 4 Brigade in Surkhet at the time also responsible for Rolpa and Rukum districts. This is the army’s fourth offensive in Rolpa with Thawang as the target. Officials claim this effort is different because it is more result-oriented while past actions focussed on propaganda.

Indeed, details of the operation have been kept tightly guarded and first reports came out only three weeks after it began. If the army had publicised the move beforehand, it could have created a PR nightmare because the Maoists’ ceasefire was still in place. That could explain why the Maoists, who used to vacate even their strongholds as soon as the army arrived, chose to attack this time—to expose the army offensive during the ceasefire. The clash also demonstrates that the rebels have decided to counter-attack all army operations. This week we may hear of more clashes, and more casualties particularly in Rolpa because Gairigaun marks the gateway to the Maoist heartland.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Canada: The following story was posted on a list sreve in Canada. That has created some controversey and many of the subscribers are unsubscribing. Wondering what has triggered it? Here is the story:

Your pension contributions at work?We're investing our money in bombs, bullets and corporate crime, says Peter Gillespie
Toronto Star, December 22, 2005

Canadians like to think that we play a benevolent role in the world as humanitarians and peacemakers. But is this impression always accurate?

One place that reveals another side of Canada is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). The CPPIB, the investment arm of the Canada Pension Plan, was established in 1997 to invest surplus pension contributions so that the pensions of Canadians are assured into the future.

Today, the pension investment board controls one of the largest investment funds in the country with assets of more than $90 billion. More than half of CPPIB assets are held in publicly traded stocks of Canadian and foreign corporations. A program funded through compulsory orker contributions raises the question of whether the CPPIB uses socially responsible criteria in making investment decisions.

Astonishingly, the investment board uses no such criteria; indeed, CPPIB as consistently refused to screen investments on the basis of social, human rights, or environmental factors.

The result is that our pension contributions are invested in the world's leading arms manufacturers, in companies that have been prosecuted for riminal activities, in the tobacco industry, and in companies complicit in uman rights abuses.

Officially, Canada did not join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. However, all anadian workers who pay into the Canada Pension Plan are contributing to he war effort.

The war has been a bonanza for the arms trade as the U.S. military budget as expanded by about $100 billion a year. CPPIB holds investments in the op seven corporate beneficiaries of this spending orgy. For example, CPPIB olds investments in Lockheed Martin, the world's largest weapons producer.Lockheed is involved in virtually all aspects of weapons production, ncluding nuclear.

One of Lockheed's newest sidelines, through its ubsidiary Sytex, is recruiting contract "interrogators" to work ide-by-side with the U.S. army in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Private-sector nterrogators have been implicated in the torture scandals in Abu Ghraib rison.

Other U.S. arms manufacturers, such as Raytheon (CPPIB: $4 million), Northrop Grumman (CPPIB: $5.4 million) and General Electric (CPPIB: $323 illion) have also increased their profit margins considerably by their involvement in war production.

The war in Iraq has been good for companies with close connections to the Bush administration. Dick Cheney's former company Halliburton (CPPIB: $8 million) has received at least $7 billion in Iraq-related contracts.

Canadian companies are also doing well. The ammunition manufacturer SNC-TEC, a subsidiary of Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin (CPPIB investments: $160 million), is providing millions of bullets for U.S. forces in Iraq.

The Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade has identified almost $2 billion CPPIB investments in 50 Canadian companies supplying the U.S. military.

The investment board portfolio includes companies that have been found guilty of criminal offences. Monsanto (CPPIB: $8 million) recently paid a $1.5 million U.S. penalty related to bribery in Indonesia.

The U.S.-based drug plan manager Caremark RX (CPPIB: $10.5 million) agreed o pay $137.5 million U.S. to settle federal lawsuits, and still faces lawsuits in nine American states. WalMart (CPPIB: $19.5 million) was recently convicted of contravening child labour laws in the U.S. General Electric (CPPIB: $323 million) has been found guilty of multiple cases of fraud. CPPIB is also investing in companies profiting from situations of civil conflict overseas.

The Canadian company Ivanhoe (CPPIB: $17 million) operates the largest mining complex in Burma (Myanmar) on a 50-50 deal with Burma's military government. In 2004, Ivanhoe provided $23 million in profits to the Burmese junta, widely regarded as a ruthless dictatorship.

CPPIB also holds substantial investments in resource companies doing business in Sudan, where the scramble for oil has fed a conflict in which millions of people have been displaced and millions have died.

The Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada estimates that 45,000 deaths annually in Canada are attributable to tobacco. Yet the Canada Pension Plan has more than $90 million invested in the tobacco industry.

In October 2005, the CPPIB announced a policy on "responsible" investing. The policy asserts that CPPIB will encourage good corporate behaviour with respect to environmental, social and governance factors. However, the CPPIB will not screen stocks, either to exclude companies or particular sectors or to positively screen in order to identify companies with strong records on human rights, the environment and workers' rights. The CPPIB sees such an approach as posing "artificial barriers" to investment decision-making.

One wonders how the CPPIB will engage in dialogue with the more that 1,800 companies in its portfolio. How would CPPIB "engage" the arms trade or the tobacco industry? You either invest in these things, or not. The CPPIB has an obligation to invest wisely to ensure the future of the CPP. The CPPIB also has a responsibility to invest in ways that are in the public interest. These obligations are not contradictory. Public pension plans around the world are implementing ethical investment strategies and there is no reason why Canada cannot do the same.

Peter Gillespie is acting executive director of Inter Pares, a Canadian organization dedicated to promoting international social justice.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Announcing Two New Serieses: I am adding two new serieses on my blog. One, I would like to call- Blog Buster (alsmost sounds like Block Buster- the video rental chain) and number two would be "Site Seeing".

On Blog Buster I would like to profile either interesting and controversial or talked about blogs that I come across and on Site Seeing- I would like to write about interesting web sites that I come across. Please feel free to send me a line if you would like me to look at any blog or website as well.

Here is the first post on my Blog Buster series. However, the blog in question here is no more available on line. Too bad.

Grit organizer dumped for offensive blog
Liberal exec. compares NDP's Olivia Chow to a dog

Janice Tibbetts
CanWest News Service
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

OTTAWA — A senior Liberal organizer has quit the party executive after comparing an Asian-Canadian election candidate to a Chinese Chow Chow dog.Mike Klander, executive vice-president of the Liberal Party of Canada in Ontario, resigned suddenly Monday for posting photos of Toronto contender Olivia Chow and a Chow Chow on his weblog, under the caption “Separated at Birth.”

The NDP described the blog as “bordering on racist” and the Liberals, moving quickly into damage control on the Boxing Day holiday, asserted the posting was “tasteless” and did not reflect party values.

“It’s certainly our view as a party that there are lines that should not be crossed and unfortunately this was a tasteless posting and Mike recognizes that and has therefore submitted his resignation,” said spokesman Stephen Heckbert. “If anyone was offended by it, we certainly apologize as a party.”

A Chow Chow is a mid-size dog of Chinese origin that resembles the Pekingese breed.

Klander said he has also apologized informally to Chow, the wife of NDP Leader Jack Layton. She is running a tight race in the downtown Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina.

“It was a play on words and I didn’t intend it to be anything other than that,” Klander said in a telephone interview. “It was intended for a small group of friends, naively on my part.”

Klander took down his blog three days ago after getting wind of complaints. Klander also asserted on his webpage that Jack Layton is a “A-hole,” that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper “creeps people out,” and that cowboy hats make politicians “look gay.”

Harper, who had just taken part in the Lighting of the Memorah for Chanukah at the home of Rabbi Menachem Matusof in his Calgary Southwest riding on Monday night, shrugged off the comments. "Well, you know, there's kind of been a stream of this — you know, beer and popcorn, cars and coats, unfit for office, the use of Holocaust memorial pictures," said Harper. “Quite a campaign of slur and personal attack going on here, and one can only hope that the Liberal party will get a bit of a public backlash over it."

Klander, a Toronto consultant, has been active in the Liberal party since the late 1980s. As a party executive, Klander was a key organizer for Prime Minister Paul Martin’s leadership in Ontario and he also managed the 2000 election campaign in the province. In this campaign, he played only a minor role as a volunteer, said Heckbert, stressing Klander’s blog was a personal one, appearing on his own webpage rather than the Liberal website. Heckbert also praised Klander for having “a history of being a strong Liberal and someone who has worked for diversity.”

Heckbert said Klander resigned on his own initiative and was not pushed. However, in an interview with CanWest News Service just before he submitted his resignation, Klander said his only plan was to apologize to Chow. He also has pulled his blog for remainder of the campaign leading to the Jan. 23 vote.

NDP spokesman Ian Capstick said it is appropriate that Klander has resigned.“He realizes what he has done is offensive,” said Capstick. “Ms. Chow is looking forward to his direct apology.”

In light of the name-calling and slurs on the webpage, Capstick said Klander has a lot of amends to make beyond apologizing to Chow. “I think Mr. Klander touched a variety of different nerves,” said Capstick. “I think the Liberal party, the party that wraps itself in the charter so often, needs to stand up and take responsibility for Mr. Klander’s words and needs to ensure that Mr. Klander takes the appropriate action to make amends.”

Chow could not be reached for comment Monday, but she told the Toronto Star she was “saddened” by the web posting. “I’ll debate policy any time but to descend to this level is quite disappointing,” she said.

NDP spokesman Brad Lavigne said the blog “borders on racism, there’s no question about it.” Members of the Chinese Canadian National Council, which has been an active interest group in the current election campaign, could not be reached for comment.

Islamic Bombs and Bangladesh: Reporters Without Borders Press release on 27 December 2005 says:

A wave of Islamist terror sweeps over Bangladeshi press at year's end

Reporters Without Borders and the Bangladesh Centre for the Development of Journalism and Communication (BCDJC) voiced deep concern today about a mounting wave of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh and its impact on the press. At least 50 journalists and 10 publications have been threatened by terrorist groups in the past four months over supposedly "anti-Islamic" articles. Yet the government seems unable to restore confidence in the face of this new danger for the media.

"After ignoring the terrorist threat for so long, the authorities now have a responsibility to come up with a response," the two organisations said. "At stake is the safety of hundreds of threatened journalists who want to freely inform the public about the terrorism affecting their country. If the government fails to restore confidence among the journalists, investigative reports on jihadism will not be undertaken and self censorship will become the rule. We call on the authorities to establish a global plan for the protection of journalists and publications threatened by jihadist groups.

At least 55 journalists have received death threats since September from Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an Islamist group that has also promised to blow up eight newspapers and three press clubs. The latest victim, Amar Desh advisory editor Ataus Samad, received a letter from JMB on 22 December that said his newspaper would be "the next target."

"The more we investigate and criticise blind terrorism, the more we are exposed, and the government is partly responsible for this deterioration in our security," Bangladesh Observer editor Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury told Reporters Without Borders and the BCDJC.

The Islamist groups have systematically developed their harassment of the press. The threats began in the northern Rajshahi region where JMB founder Bangla Bai has launched an embryonic armed struggle for the introduction of Islamic law.

According to Dainik Sangbad correspondent Jahangir Alam Akash, who is also a stringer for the German radio station Deutsche Welle, most reporters in Rajshahi censor themselves for fear of becoming targets for the Islamists. "I no longer visit areas where Bangla Bai has been active because it is too risky," he told BCDJC.

Most of the journalists targeted in September were Hindus. At least 12 of them were threatened for writing about the activities of Islamist groups while not being Muslims themselves. In October, the jihadists harassed at least seven local news media - especially in the regions where they are most active - as well as the independent daily Bhorer Kagoj.

Eleven journalists and at least four press clubs - above all in Tangail and Natore - received letters in November saying their premises would be bombed. In December, it was the turn of national dailies such as Prothom Alo and Dainik Shamokal to be threatened with possible suicide attacks, while a total of 19 journalists in Barisal and Gazipur received written threats.

News organisations and press clubs have stepped up security measures to protect themselves from a wave attacks against targets of all kinds in which at least 20 people have been killed. People entering the headquarters of most newspapers and the national press club in Dhaka now have to pass through metal detectors. Protective measures have been installed in some press premises in the southern city of Chittagong. Some newspaper editors, such as the managing editor of the independent daily Janakantha, now have private security. Dainik Sangbad executive editor Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul confirmed that he was now taking extra precautions when he went out. A Prothom Alo journalist said measures had been taken against a possible attack.

The police have offered protection in some cases, but newspaper executives and editors usually turned it down on the grounds that it offered no guarantees. Just a few policemen with old rifles have been stationed outside a small number of newspapers and press clubs.

The secret services meanwhile continue to harass publications that carry embarrassing reports. On 22 December, for example, the National Security Intelligence chief summoned the editors of the private press agency BDNEWS after it revealed that the phones of some of the leaders of the ruling Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami were being tapped.

Since 2001, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's government has tried to gag the press in order to play down the rise of armed Islamist groups. In 2003, after a series of press reports about growing religious intolerance, Zia accused journalists of trying to damage Bangladesh's image at home and abroad by publishing false information.

Several journalists, including former Reporters Without Borders correspondent Saleem Samad, were imprisoned in 2002 for writing about the emergence of jihadism. The same year, then interior minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury had a Reuters stringer arrested and tortured for reporting in a dispatch that a group linked to Al Qaeda could have been to blame for a cinema bombing. In 2002, journalist and human rights activist Shahriar Kabir was the target of a smear campaign by several political parties - some of them in the government - in which he was branded as a "traitor" to Islam. One person was killed by Islamists during a demonstration in Chittagong against the release of a journalist.

The authorities did nothing at the time to stop murderous appeals.The authorities have also taken measures against foreign news media that tackled this subject. Distribution of the April 2002 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review was, for example, banned because it contained a report about Bangladesh entitled "A cocoon of terror."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Back in Nepal: Maoist supreme, Prachanda in a press statement has declared stated the following agitating programme for the disruption of the civic elections called by the government
on Feb 8:

1. 22 Dec 05 to 13 Jan 06 - Campaigning and Advertising for their Cause

2. 14 Jan 06 to 25 Jan 06 – Mass Movement, Mass Demonstrations and Mass Rallies

3. 26 Jan 06 to 04 Feb 06 – Action against individual candidates taking part in the local elections

4. 05 Feb 06 to 11 Feb 06 – Nepal Bandh (Closure of transport, shops and bazzars, educational institutions, industries and offices)

And here is the report that appeared in Kathmandu Post today:

Maoists announce programs to disrupt polls

KATHMANDU, Dec 22 - Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) on Thursday announced harsh programs to disrupt the upcoming municipal polls, including "people's action" against both candidates and officials.

In a joint statement, Maoist supremo Prachanda and Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai have also called for a nationwide strike to disrupt the polls. The rebel's statement comes two days after cabinet Vice-chairman, Dr Tulsi Giri, claimed to have "broken the backbone of terrorism," and insisted on polls.

"By interpreting the ceasefire as our weakness and 12-point understanding with the mainstream parties as a ploy, the feudal forces have stood against democracy and peace," the statement said, adding, "They have made public their fascist roadmap through Giri's mouth."

The rebel leaders have also said that they would launch a campaign for "people's action" from January 26 to February 4 against those filing for candidacy. "People's action" is a euphemism used by the rebels for physical violence against individuals. Such violence has receded markedly since Maoists announced ceasefire on September 3.

The rebel leaders have said the motive behind sabotaging the "municipal polls drama" was to create a situation required for constituent assembly elections. They have again called on the international community, including the UN, to distance themselves from the present regime and help implement the Maoist 12-point understanding with the parties to fulfill people's aspiration for peace.

They have also accused the government of pushing people to a "do or die state" by shutting down all avenues to a peaceful solution of the problem. "It has responded to our truce by killing dozens of our cadres, and carrying out a massacre in Nagarkot."

According to the statement, the party has fixed three slogans for their fresh round of programs: Let's root-out feudal and oppressive monarchy and establish democratic republic; Let's destroy so-called municipal polls and prepare for constituent assembly elections; and Let's implement 12-point understanding and create storm of people's movement.

Mainstream political parties, which bagged about 90 percent popular votes in the last parliamentary elections, have already decided to boycott the polls claiming that municipality polls is aimed at legitimizing king's February One coup and his autocratic rule thereafter.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Canada Liberated At last: Being born and lived in a country where almost every thing is restricted, the latest liberalization of Canada, my new home, brought a sense of victory and freedom to me.

It is like the talk of the country yesterday and today. Yesterday soon after mid day a friend of mine sent the first e-mail announcing the verdict. Saleem sent another e-mail to confirm if I have heard the news.

It was the headline on the evening TV news and even made the headline for the Globe and Mail.

Several blogs have posted this report. At least one blog,
Sex and Sensuality seems like totally dedicated to this development. I have borrowed the graphic for this post from the Sex and..... blog.

Please read the story from today's Globe and Mail below:

Top court redefines obscenity
Group sex, swinging, no longer considered bawdy behaviour

Thursday, December 22, 2005 Page

In a landmark ruling that shifts the legal ground under Canadian sexual behaviour, the Supreme Court of Canada said two Montreal swingers clubs didn't break obscenity laws because the group sex caused no harm to those doing the groping, or to society as a whole.

The decision -- hailed as a "stamp of approval" by swingers-club owners and deplored by conservative groups as a licence for libertine behaviour -- essentially legalizes group-sex clubs as long as participants are consenting adults.

The Supreme Court said the club owners were not operating illegal "bawdy houses," as they had been charged in the Quebec courts.

The ruling, endorsed by seven of the nine judges, says the definition of indecency should not depend on what is acceptable to the community at large, but instead should be based on the harm a particular activity might cause.

In the cases the court examined, there was no evidence that "the sexual conduct at issue harmed individuals or society," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the majority decision.
"Only those already disposed to this sort of sexual activity were allowed to participate and watch," and at both clubs there was no evidence of anti-social acts or attitudes, she wrote. "No one was pressured to have sex, paid for sex, or [was] treated as a mere sexual object for the gratification of others."

That the clubs were businesses didn't mean the activities that took place there were commercial" -- in other words, prostitution -- the ruling said. The only real danger to participants was that they might catch a sexually transmitted disease, but this is "conceptually and causally unrelated to indecency," Judge McLachlin wrote.

Two of the Supreme Court judges strongly objected to this view. Mr. Justice Michel Bastarache and Mr. Justice Louis LeBel said the activities at the clubs were indecent because they "clearly offended the Canadian community standards of tolerance." They said basing a decision merely on potential harm renders the current concept of indecency meaningless, and "strips of all relevance the social values that the Canadian community as a whole believes should be protected."

The majority ruling marks a significant change in Canada's legal environment, said professor Alan Young of York University's Osgoode Hall Law School. "The court is tired of trying to draw lines in the sand in relation to sexual liberty," he said. "It doesn't seem to be a judicial task that they want to adopt, and I can't blame them." Essentially, the court has ruled "when you close the door and only have invited guests who know exactly what's going on in the premises, then the law does not extend behind that closed door," Prof. Young said.

The ruling dealt specifically with two Quebec Court of Appeal decisions that came down on opposite sides of the issue. In one case, the Coeur à Corps bar was acquitted of being a "bawdy house," while the L'Orage club lost an appeal of a conviction on similar charges.

At Coeur à Corps, patrons paid $6 to get in after they were asked by a doorman whether they were "liberated." Every half hour, a translucent black curtain closed around the dance floor, and groups of couples engaged in -- or watched -- sex acts.

At the L'Orage club, patrons paid $200 and had to be interviewed to get access to a top-floor apartment where group-sex acts took place.

The key question before the Supreme Court was whether the sex acts were "indecent" under the law.

Noting that "depravity and corruption vary with the eye of the beholder," Judge McLachlin said it is impossible to set a community standard of tolerance in a diverse society. As a result, the court must look at the potential harm in each situation.

"Grounding criminal indecency in harm represents an important advance in this difficult area of the law," because it is easier to draw the line, she said.

Aurora Ben Zion, co-owner of a swingers club in Toronto, said her establishment has been operating carefully for three years as a members-only club, behind closed doors. The court has now "put a stamp on it that that is the legal way to operate."

Joseph Arvay, a Vancouver lawyer who represents the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said the ruling could have long-term implications for groups ranging from gay-bathhouse users to prostitutes to marijuana smokers.

"It is very likely that gay bathhouses across the country are now lawful, and will no longer be subject to harassment and prosecution by the authorities," he said. The ruling may also prompt arguments that the "harm-based" approach should be applied to other issues such as prostitution and marijuana use, he said.

Conservative groups were shocked by the ruling.

"This is an indication of a court out of control," said Gwen Landolt, national vice-president of the lobby group REAL Women of Canada. The seven majority judges are out of touch with ordinary Canadians, and are "leaping over community standards of behaviour on the basis of their own ideology and perspective," she said.

Experience shows that "wide open sexuality is very detrimental, certainly to young people," she said.

Color of Faith: (From Saleem Samad's blog)

Bangladesh born Canadian filmmaker Saiful Wadud Helal's short film COLOR OF FAITH (Bishwsher Rong) will be screened at Bangladesh International Short & Independent Film Festival 2005, Dhaka, 22-30 December.

After successful screening at prestigious Montreal Film Festival 2005, and South Asian Film Festival in December 2005 at New York, the film will now be screened in the his homeland where it was filmed last spring.

Helal is a journalist, television program director and a filmmaker. His previous two films Poet and Bonjour Montreal were released in 2000.

Each year at the end of spring hundreds of thousands of people gather for a week-long religious congregation in a remote village Badarpur, in Bangladesh. They sing and dance in remembrance of their saint "Langta" (Nacked). Hundreds of similar religious congregations of Sufi Saints are held in Bangladesh throughout the year.

Langta Baba, a Muslim Saint was a Sufi practitioner in ancient Bengal, who encouraged disciples from all faiths to believe in humanism. The different colors of faith blended into one, to experience the unity of all human beings. The villagers felt great pride that Langta Baba brought harmony between all faiths through special spiritual movement.

Albeit the film depicts a strong political statement through the simple language of the heart, and has also given an opportunity to the audience to interact with the disciples who remembers the Saint.T

The people of Bangladesh struggle every day with nature for survival. They acknowledge, appreciate and revere all the forces of nature. Religious faith provides them with added strength and courage. The sapling of religious faith brought over by Sufis and saints from the dry, scorched earth of Middle East & mostly from Central Asia has blossomed in the moist, olden soil of Bangladesh. Nevertheless, the fruit it bore is considered forbidden by fundamentalists- as forbidden as Gandham (the forbidden fruit of paradise).

Today any and every place- from Dhaka to Baghdad, from Madrid to London- is vulnerable to the threats of the prevailing "culture of bombing". Even the deceased saint and his followers cannot escape this fear of terror. In a world where people blinded with self-interest don't hesitate to give up their values at a bargained price, can we possibly call these selfless, greedless people "fanatics"?

In ancient Bengal, the Sufi's practiced secularism and oneness of people. Recently the Islamist and Jihadis in Bangladesh declared the Sufi disciples as non-Muslim. The fabric of secularism in the villages of floodplain Bengal has once again threatened.

Please visit

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Statement of Senator Leahy: Today US Senator Patrick Leahy issued the following statement on Nepal's downward spiral

December 21, 2005

Mr. President, this is the third time in the past six months that I have spoken in this chamber about Nepal. I do so because this land of mostly impoverished tea and rice farmers who toil between India and China on precipitous hillsides in the shadows of the Himalayas, is experiencing a political crisis that may plunge the country into chaos.

As many predicted, King Gyanendra’s seizure of absolute power on February 1st and suppression of civil liberties has damaged Nepal’s foreign relations, triggered clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and the police, and strengthened the Maoist insurgency.

The Maoists, whose use of extortion and brutality against poor villagers has spread throughout the country, announced a unilateral ceasefire on September 3rd which they recently extended for an additional month. Although flawed, the ceasefire was the impetus for a loose alliance with Nepal’s weak political parties after the King refused to negotiate with them and sought instead to consolidate his own grip on power.

Last month, the Maoists and the parties endorsed a vaguely worded but important 12 point understanding that could be the basis for a national dialogue to restore democracy and end the conflict. That, however, would require some reciprocal confidence building measures by the army, which has so far rejected the Maoist ceasefire as a ploy and continues to see itself as the defender of an anachronistic, corrupt and autocratic monarchy.

Although the army has won praise for its role in international peacekeeping missions, its reputation has been badly tarnished because of its abusive and ineffective campaign against the Maoists. It has engaged in arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings of ordinary citizens, which has alienated many of the same people who have been victims of the Maoists.

On December 10th, when hundreds of Nepali citizens took to the streets to protest the King’s repressive actions, the police used force to break up the rally and arrested several dozen people. The press reported another 120 arrests and dozens injured in demonstrations on December 17th. More protests are likely, and it may be only a matter of time before Katmandu is in the full throes of a pitched battle between pro-democracy demonstrators and the King’s security forces.
This is the disheartening situation in which Nepal finds itself today. The immediate challenge for the United States is how to help promote a political dialogue which includes the broadest possible participation from Nepali society to restore and strengthen democracy and end the conflict.

The Maoist ceasefire, while welcome, was a tactical move to lure the political parties into an alliance and further isolate the palace. There is no way to predict with confidence if the Maoists would participate in a political process in good faith, or simply use it as a ruse to gain new recruits and weapons. A resumption of attacks against civilians would be condemned and resisted by the international community. The Maoists should know that they cannot defeat the government by force, and as long as they extort money and property and abduct children they will be seen as enemies of the Nepali people.

Similarly, military experts have concluded that Nepal’s undisciplined army cannot defeat a determined insurgency that attacks civilians and army posts and then disappears into the mountains.

There are also concerns about Nepal’s political parties, who do not have a record of putting the interests of the nation above their own self interest. But the political parties, for all their flaws, are the real representatives of the Nepali people. They urgently need to reform, but there is no substitute for them.

Despite these difficulties and uncertainties, it is clear that the King has failed to provide the leadership to build bridges with the country’s democratic forces and develop a workable plan. It is also clear that efforts by the international community, including the United States, to appeal to the King to start such a process, have failed. The Bush Administration should apply whatever pressure it can, including denying U.S. visas to Nepali officials and their families.

With few options and no guarantees, Nepal’s hour of reckoning is approaching. There is a growing possibility that the King’s obstinacy and unpopularity will trigger massive civil unrest, shootings and arrests of many more civilians by soldiers and police, Nepal’s further isolation, and perhaps the end of the monarchy itself.

Only the army has the ability to convince the King to abandon his imperial ambitions, but time is running out. The army’s chief of staff, General Pyar Jung Thapa, was privileged to receive training at the Army War College and he has participated in other U.S. military training programs. He has led Nepali troops in UN peacekeeping missions. He knows, or he should have learned, that the function of a modern, professional military is to protect the rights and security of the people, not the privileges of a dictator who has squandered the moral authority of his office. It is not only in the interests of Nepal, but in the army’s long term self interest, to show real leadership at this critical time.

The United States should do everything possible to encourage the army to announce its own ceasefire, to accept international observers as the Maoists have said they would do, and to support a broadly inclusive political dialogue with or without the participation of the palace.

Such a process, to be meaningful, must lead to free and fair elections. The municipal elections announced by King Gyanendra for early next year, without any consultation with the political parties, are no solution. An attempt to apply a veneer of legitimacy to an otherwise undemocratic process will only prolong and exacerbate this crisis.

Many of the Maoist’s grievances mirror those of the majority of Nepal’s people who for centuries have suffered from discrimination, poverty, and abuse by one corrupt government after another. But Nepal’s problems, which are at the root of the conflict, can only be solved through a transparent, democratic process. The Maoists have opened the door a crack for that to begin. The army should reciprocate. The international community should lend its support.

Who Lost Nepal: Wall Street Journal has published an opinion peace on Nepal written by Robert Kaplan. Please see the article below. However, many readers disagree with his opinion and analysis.

Who Lost Nepal?
December 20, 2005
Wall Street Journal

Nepal, sandwiched between the two rising economic and demographic behemoths of the age — China and India — could be the first country since the fall of the Berlin Wall where communists emerge triumphant. If the Bush administration does not act decisively, that’s what might happen. The administration should not take solace in the flurry of negotiations between the Maoist insurgents (who control most of the hinterlands) and the country’s political parties in Kathmandu, which could undermine the last vestige of legitimate royal authority while further strengthening the insurgents.

By canceling Special Forces training missions to the besieged Royal Nepalese Army, and with the possibility of lethal cuts of American aid to the local military, the administration, along with Washington, has bought into popular abstractions about how to best implant democracy while ignoring the facts on the ground.

Nepal is fast becoming a replay of both Cambodia in the mid-1970s and El Salvador a decade later. In Cambodia, the monstrous Khmer Rouge were threatening the capital of Phnom Penh, home to a pathetically undemocratic yet legitimate regime to which a Democratic Congress had cut off aid — a result of the Watergate-inflicted weakness of the Nixon administration. In El Salvador, murderous right-wing forces that nevertheless represented a legitimate state were pitted against murderous left-wing ones that represented the geopolitical ambitions of the Soviet Union and Cuba. Though the media emphasized the atrocities of the right wing, the Reagan administration had little choice but to work with them. Eventually, the right wing in El Salvador, with the help of a small number of Army Special Forces trainers, won the day. And in the years that followed the Salvadoran state and military were reformed.

Winning the day did not mean outright success on the battlefield. It meant bloodying the left’s nose enough to give the state an edge in negotiations. Ronald Reagan, a Wilsonian, was also a realist. President Bush now needs to take Reagan’s El Salvador model to heart in Nepal.

In Nepal, there is an undemocratic monarch (King Gyanendra Bikram Shah) who has canceled the political process, even as his military is guilty of human-rights violations including the undocumented disappearances of civilians. It is also true that the political parties the king has disenfranchised are comprised of feudal politicians, unable to rise above caste loyalties and whose version of democracy was responsible for bringing the country to its knees in the 1990s, thus igniting the Maoist revolt in the first place.

As for the Royal Nepalese Army, or RNA, it is a typical Third World military with all which that entails, from poor discipline to poor record-keeping regarding detainees. The exemplary human-rights record that Washington demands will not be reached in Nepal until the society itself evolves. Meanwhile, the crimes that the RNA is alleged to have committed bear no comparison to those of the Maoists, such as “mutilation atrocities” in which a victim’s bones are broken before his limbs are cut off. Just as there are no good guys in this conflict, nor is there moral parity.

Unrestricted aid to the Royal Nepalese Army is neither necessary nor warranted. I am suggesting a resumption of Special Forces training to one RNA Ranger battalion in particular, as part of a broad-based political strategy that highlights a dialogue between the king and the country’s politicians. Special Forces are a tool, not an answer. The Nepalese Ranger battalion in question is one I know, having spent time at its training base with its officers and enlistees during a recent visit to Nepal.

The Nepalese officers are fluent English-speakers, graduates of Sandhurst, and of either the U.S. Army Ranger course at Fort Benning, Ga., or the Special Forces “Q” Course at Fort Bragg, N.C. These officers speak intelligently and specifically about human rights, and they bear striking resemblance to foreign students at our top liberal-arts universities. A sub-group of the global elite, they would likely make a better impression in Washington than many Nepalese politicians.
Nepalese Rangers fight and train at the squad and team levels, unlike most other third world military units that I’ve observed, which are only confident fighting in mass, at the company level or higher. Counterinsurgency, it should be said, is about small-unit penetration.

Because the political process in Kathmandu will take many months to at least ameliorate, this Ranger battalion is the best tangible mechanism available to keep pressure on the Maoists in the field while that happens. There is no military solution in Nepal — but concomitantly, there can be no political solution without military pressure. This is an aspect of the problem often missed by journalists and human-rights workers, whose relationship with each other is quite close, even as their one with military experts in Kathmandu is less so. In any case, the autocracy of the king and the periodic abuses of the RNA will be tossed aside by the media if the hammer-and-sickle ever does go up in Nepal, as the same media starts chanting, “Who Lost Nepal?”
Don’t discount the possibility. The Maoists have taken a cluster of ideological ideals and launched them into a full-fledged militaristic cult. I saw a similar process unfold in the 1980s in Eritrea, where the guerrilla movement went on to topple the Ethiopian government. Like the Eritreans, the Maoists are media-savvy, whereas the Royal Nepalese Army is not. (It took me weeks of lobbying with Nepalese officials to gain access to their elite Ranger battalion.) The political children of the 1990s in Nepal, who saw free-market economics and popular democracy breed greater social disparities, the Maoists embody a rebuke to globalization that cannot be divorced from social currents running throughout South Asia.

To wit: Nearby Bangladesh, which used to feature a relative easygoing coexistence between Hinduism and a mild Islam, is witnessing a starker and more assertive Wahabbist strain. A poor country that can’t say “no” to money, with an unregulated coastline, Bangladesh has become the perfect set-up for al Qaeda. As for India, because it is so diverse we have tended to see it in stereotypes: the locus of spiritualism during the hippie era and the locus of software genius during an era of global journalists who move between slick corporate headquarters and luxury hotels. But India, as usual, is seething with social unrest, renewed regional identities and impressively resilient leftist movements.

The Bush administration wants India to step up to the plate in Nepal. But India is itself conflicted about the Nepalese situation. Even if the Indian government wants to weaken the Maoists, left-wing parties within the Byzantine political firmament of New Delhi sympathize with them, and have the means of assistance across a porous border. While India does not want to see throngs of refugees from a Maoist Nepal stampede into its already unstable state of Bihar, India also enjoys the fact of a weak, divided client regime next door.

Alas, there is also China, which, just as it did in Uzbekistan, is waiting for human-rights issues to tie the Bush administration’s hands to the point where Beijing can walk in and provide aid without regard to the host country’s moral improvement. China has promised another $1 million in military aid to a Nepalese regime that the U.S. refuses to help, even as Nepal’s defense minister has met with his counterpart in Beijing.

A few Special Forces training teams and some basic weapons — as a tool to everything else we’re doing in the political sphere — is all that should be needed. The earlier in a crisis we intervene, the smaller the military footprint required. That’s how to prevent future Iraqs and Afghanistans.
Mr. Kaplan is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and author of “Imperial Grunts” (Random House, 2005).

Comments from three readers on a Website:
Comment by Jason — 12/21/2005
Mr. Kaplan is your typical wall street journalist!!!!!! Help the wealthy and screw the poor!!!!!! He's not for true democracy or freedom in Nepal!!!!! Hes wants to help a dictators army(terrorists) and install a government the USA can manipulate!!!! Thats typical USA(terrorists) policy!!! All you have to do is look across the world and see the corrupt governments and dictatorships that they support!!!! The Nepali people shouldn’t trust the US government or its supporters!!!!!!

Comment by bagbir — 12/21/2005
MR ROBERT D. KAPLAN sounds like a murderer. is he a CIA OR WHAT? people like him want to have fun- give more weapon to us so that we can kill each other, slice each other neatly. what an idiot?

Comment by Joe Pietri — 12/21/2005
To compare Cambodia to Nepal is a joke. First of all the US bombed Cambodia into the stone age, that genocide led to the events that allowed the Kymer Rouge into power. Why is the US interested in Nepal? Because they have designs on making Nepal a forward base next to China, remember that the CIA maintained a secret base in Lo Mustang in the 1960’s in support of the Khampa guerillas who fougth the Chinese! The US is not a free country!!! It is not a country that is for the people, it’s a country that feeds off the people!

Monday, December 19, 2005

My Cool Friends: Line I met Line Wolf Nielsen for the first time at a dinner in Kathmandu. Line is a journalist from Denmark working as Communication Advisor for a Danish NGO in Nepal. In 18 months when I was living in Kathmandu the friendship between us grew stronger. She also particiapated in one of the project activities that I was implementing in Nepal. We travelled to Lumbini, Budha's birth place with a group of Nepali journalists.

This week Line is in Hong Kong covering WTO. This is what she has written for Nepali Times this week.

Farmers’ fate
Nepal’s WTO delegation in Hong Kong is focussing on agriculture, access

A kilo of low quality rice today sells for Rs 20 in Nepal. Given that most Nepali households eat rice at least once a day, one would think that a drop in the price of rice should make people happy. Wrong.

If there is a sudden influx of rice priced at Rs 15 a kilo into the Nepali market, the effect will be devastating, both in social and economic terms. Securing the right to protect Nepal’s domestic rice market and farmers who depend on its production is the main goal of Nepal’s delegation at the sixth WTO Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong.

“Since 77 percent of Nepalis are farmers, a fall in the price of crops will also mean a huge drop in earnings for many families,” says Posh Raj Pandey, who heads the Trade Related Capacity Building project supported by UNDP. “A lower price will only benefit the people not living off the rice fields and those people tend to be better off and living in Kathmandu. We need to be able to aggressively expand our exports and still protect our farmers.”

Such policy flexibility, or ‘special safeguard measures’ as it is called in WTO-speak, was already written into the draft text of the agreement prior to this meeting. It’s been agreed that if imports exceed a certain threshold level, a nation belonging to the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) such as Nepal, will be allowed to raise tariffs or even ban imports or define quotas. What has not yet been agreed is the actual level of the threshold.

Negotiations are a question of give and take and in Hong Kong they are about the right to be defensive and protective, and aggressive and expansionistic at the same time. Basically, boosting exports while still protecting domestic markets is also what the other 149 WTO member states want but it is the size of domestic agricultural support that is the real hot potato here.

Currently it is accepted that LDCs can support domestic agriculture by spending as much as the equivalent of 10 percent of their GDP on subsidies. However, Nepal’s current level of subsidies amounts to only 1-2 percent.

“On paper it could look as if Nepal should aim at getting everyone else down to our level but if we look at the future potential of the country, we might want to give more and therefore it will be important for Nepal to maintain some flexibility here and not agree on a low level of support,” says Navin Dahal of the Kathmandu-based South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics & Environment (SAWTEE).

Nepal is participating in the WTO talks as a full member for the first time, following its accession in 2003. However, it is not negotiating on its own but as one of the LDC group, which is seeking a drastic reduction in agriculture and export subsidies provided by the EU and US.

Nepal’s main exports are textiles, leather goods, carpets, handicrafts and tea but volume will have to grow to push economic growth. “Expanding market access for the products that we already make is important,” says Gyan Chandra Acharya, Nepal’s ambassador to the WTO. Nepal and other LDCs need better market access for exports, including more countries agreeing to give products special tariff treatment or ‘differential treatment’, Acharya adds.

The two previous WTO meetings in Seattle and Cancun collapsed and although this one is billed as critical for completing a new multilateral trade accord, Nepal’s delegation is acutely aware of the competing interests.

Says Dahal: “In Doha it was decided that the LDCs should have better market access and long-term periods of transition... However, almost all these nice commitments are not mandatory and I find it hard to believe that the WTO members can agree on more binding measures.”

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Nepal: Nagarkot Tragedy When a nation gets caught in the web of unwanted conflict for too long, when someone has access to fire arms and feels the power of almighty, when the criminals take advantage of the situation, when the security sector enjoys impunity, and when individuals hang on to power for the sake of personal benefit, you get a tragedy as witnessed at Nagarkot.

As Naresh Newar reprted the incident in Nepali Times this week:

The festival was in full swing on Wednesday night at the Kali Debi temple on the eve of the full moon. Up to 300 revellers and pilgrims were offering prayers, others were dancing to blaring pop music nearby.
It was ten at night and Soni Gurung was selling fruits in her small shop. Sujan Shrestha, staff from the Club Himalaya resort, was there with his friends. Tsiring Lama was watching the people from a terrace.

Suddenly, young men from the feared Pipalbot gang and Sgt Basudeb Thapa from the nearby Nagarkot barrack got into a fight. They had a history of enmity and both were drunk. Tsiring, who was once beaten up by ‘Basay’ (as Sgt Thapa was known) knew things would turn nasty.
The ruffians from Pipalbot village were notorious for bullying and extorting villagers. They started beating up Sgt Thapa, who took out a knife and slashed one of them. The soldier was in rage and screamed, “I’ll come back and kill you all” and drove off in his motorcycle.

When Soni Gurung saw Sgt Thapa return, he had a gun but she didn’t think much of it. By this time, the Pipalbot gang had fled. But Sgt Thapa walked up to the temple’s wall and started firing with his INSAS assault rifle.

Soni saw Sujan Shrestha get a bullet in his stomach and fall. Bullets were whizzing in all directions, some people were killed on the spot, others lay wounded. Those who could run were hurt when they jumped off windows and slid down a cliff at the back.

When the shooting stopped, Basudeb was dead. Some eyewitnesses said he shot himself, while some think other must have shot him. Of the 11 dead, three were women—one of them a middle-aged woman hit in the head as she was kneeling to make an offering at the temple. At least 20 people were injured, three of them women and five children.

Sita Nagarkoti, was sitting at home when she heard the gunfire. She ran to the temple where her husband Ram Lal Nagarkoti had gone to pour mustard oil on the lamps. When she found him he was already dead with three bullet wounds, next to him was her elder daughter, also dead.

Twelve hours after the incident, when we reached the temple the flagstones were still caked with dried blood, bullet holes riddled the prayer flags, there was a red cap with a bullet hole. Altogether 33 rounds were fired from the automatic rifle.

The army was cleaning up the temple, and one unit had gone off in search of the Pipalbot gang. Most villagers were sick of the ruffians and wanted the gang caught.

But at Bhaktapur hospital where the 12 dead bodies were lined up in the courtyard, the mood was angry. Villagers who had come down to claim bodies of relatives shouted slogans calling the soldiers ‘terrorists’. Some of the anger was also directed at the tv cameramen.

Contrary to first reports, the Nagarkot incident did not involve Maoists. It was also not triggered by soldiers teasing women, but bad blood between an unpopular soldier and notorious local hooligans. It was a gang-fight that went tragically wrong.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Blogs and etc.: On Saturday, when I was flying out of Ottawa, read the National Post on the plane. Found the following story on the front page of the Post. Thought that it would be of interest for the blogers and those who like to read blogs.

Putting it all out there
A Web-friendly generation is willing to make just about anything public
Siri Agrell
National Post , Saturday, December 17, 2005

The pictures of Melissa started appearing on the Internet in October. The 24-year-old had sent some of them, grainy black-and-white self-portraits in various provocative positions, to a guy she knew and was starting to worry they would pop up online.

So instead, she began posting them herself, placing them on a Web log she keeps called Lewd Angel. "I'm not really sure why I put slutty pictures of myself on there," the Ottawa resident said this week. "I don't know. 'Cause I'm full of myself and I like taking pictures? Just because, I guess. It's really kind of, like, weirdly freeing."

At about the same time Melissa started her site, another set of revealing pictures began circulating through e-mail inboxes at London's University of Western Ontario. They featured a female student doing a striptease for a group of men in a campus dorm, and the photos soon made their way on to Web sites and, eventually, into several newspapers.

The immediate reaction of many people who saw them -- including the school's administration -- was to assume that the woman was being exploited, an idea she apparently dismissed.
For young people like her and Melissa, it is not surprising that university-age men partake in X-rated entertainment or that some female students may moonlight as amateur -- or professional -- strippers.

But they cannot explain the compulsive desire to document their own behaviour -- the social, salacious and silly actions that are now captured with digital cameras and shared through a constant stream of e-mails and blog postings. Pictures of sex acts, violence and drug use are mixed in with photos of everyday campus life, apparently without concern for self-incrimination.
Experts who are studying the phenomenon say young people do not consider the consequences of making such pictures public and that they view their online world as separate from real life.
But young men and women are not keeping these pictures for themselves. They also submit them to commercial outfits such as CollegeHumor.com and Break.com, which have made an industry of publicizing post-secondary indiscretions.

"There are so many Web sites like College Humor that show stuff from other schools, so it doesn't seem so outlandish," Paige Dzenis, a 21-year-old Western student, said of the so-called "Saugeen Stripper" incident, named for the university residence where it took place. "It is close to home, but it's not anything that's out of the ordinary."

And as hard as that might be to accept for some adults, most students say they are simply documenting college behaviour that was once the stuff of rumour and legend. On Break.com, there are boys smashing each other in the face with computer keyboards (it's called "getting Qwerty'd") and a group of girls dancing in a Vancouver club wearing only their bras and panties.

"In first year, everyone takes pictures of everything," Ms. Dzenis said. This inclination to document is driven, she believes, by a desire to validate your lifestyle and establish your own social standing.

"It's definitely to show that you have friends," she said. "When I went home for Christmas in first year, I took my pictures everywhere with me."

Ms. Dzenis received 15,000 hits on her blog this week from people looking for the Saugeen Stripper photos, and believes their female star would have known the pictures would circulate, although not necessarily so far afield.

"When I go out and we take a million photos, I really don't think they'll get any further than my roommate's blog," Ms. Dzenis said. "It's not interesting to anyone other than ourselves."
But this is where many experts say she is wrong.

"Some porn sites have taken pictures that are posted by young people with innocent intentions and given them a salacious context," said Peter Lyman, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is researching "digital kids."

"They don't really live in the world of consequential events and they don't recognize that what they create is in the public sector and can be exploited."
In his research, Prof. Lyman found people tend to stop documenting their behaviour online when they turn 26 and realize there are "public consequences for things that are intended as private acts."

"Once something's posted, it's probably going to be archived forever," he said. "It's one thing at age 15 to have your intimate thoughts there, but this same stuff's going to be accessible when you're 40."

But some young women say they already understand what they are doing -- it's the adults who don't get it.

A Western student who is familiar with the Saugeen Stripper incident said she does not like the way it is being interpreted.

"I don't like it when people say, 'Oh I feel so sorry for her.' It takes away from her whole ability to make a choice," said the 21-year-old, who did not want to be named. "I feel like it's almost an attack on girls, like they're stupid and naive. But maybe she just decided it was something she wanted to do."

Three years ago, this young woman was filmed for Canadian Wild Girls, the northern spawn of Girls Gone Wild -- low-budget videos featuring girls who perform salacious acts for the cameras in public places such as bars and beaches. Her image was featured in the company's frosh week video, in a trailer posted on its Web site and on late-night TV commercials.

"I knew what I was doing, but when people see it, they're, like, 'Are you sure you're OK?' " she recounted this week. "I'm totally fine with it. It doesn't bother me at all."

But Melanie Stewart Millar, the Toronto-based author of Cracking the Gender Code: Who rules the Wired World?, said that attitude may also fade with age.

"I think we're dealing with a certain false sense of security," she said. "These are girls who grew up believing that the battle for women's equality is finished. They may not make the link between subjecting themselves to possible exploitation online and the real-life conditions of their lives."

Julia, an 18-year-old student of Queen's University in Kingston, recently discovered the practical implications of wild behaviour.

She attended a promotional event for sportswear company Lululemon, which had promised free outfits to the first 30 people to show up at the store in their underwear.
She was photographed topless by two newspapers, and said she felt violated by the experience.
"You feel so vulnerable," she said. "It's a bad dream being naked in the newspaper."

But she feels differently about online pictures.

During the school's homecoming weekend, Julia and her classmates ran naked through the student ghetto as part of an initiation process. The streets were packed with crowds that eventually erupted into a riot, and Julia said there are Web sites that feature photographs of both the streaking and the violence.

"A lot of people took pictures," she said. "They're on some people's personal Web sites, which not a lot of people can get access to. But it wasn't anything big."
Still, what can feel like no big deal when it's shared with a specific person can take on a very different meaning when it reaches a larger audience.

Last year, a video surfaced of a female student of Brock University in St. Catharines. She had made it for her boyfriend, and in it she was masturbating. When the couple broke up, her ex-boyfriend posted the video online, and on one Web site, the "Brock Girl" video has been viewed more than one million times.

Mechthild Maczewski, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Victoria, said this sort of digital experimentation by young people can be as healthy as it is hazardous. "When you talk to them about it, the first thing that comes up is that it's fun," said Ms. Maczewski, who is studying the benefits of Internet connectedness. "They love writing, they love expressing themselves in a creative way."

The Internet, she says, functions as a 21st-century Room of One's Own, the mythical place Virginia Woolf longed for where she could work and explore her own identity.

"They feel like it's a space of their own, where they can do and say what they like," she said. "I think you can gain validation through expressing yourself. You can find people who appreciate and understand you for what you do."

Melissa said this is the reason she started her Web site. She had trouble adjusting to adulthood and dealing with the double standards often attached to female sexuality.

"I see myself as a creative person and I think I'm interesting, so I just want to talk about it, I guess," she said. "It's kind of saying, 'You can accept me for this or not.' "