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Monday, April 28, 2008

Baithak World Apr 27: Malawi, Egyptian View, Israeli Take, Western Media, Lighght Verse, Catastrophist, Neoconner, Haj, Wrong kind of Muslim, Pope...

There is a need to scale-up the dramatic success of Malawi, a famine-prone country in southern Africa, which three years ago established a special fund to help its farmers get fertiliser and high-yield seeds. Malawi's harvest doubled after just one year. An international fund based on the Malawi model would cost a mere Rs 401($10) per person annually in the rich world, or 40,000 crore ($10 billion) in all. Abolish subsidies: The US and Europe should abandon their policies of subsidising the conversion of food into biofuels. The US government gives farmers a taxpayer-financed subsidy of Rs 6 per litre (51¢ per gal.) of ethanol to divert corn from the food and feed-grain supply. There may be a case for biofuels produced on lands that do not produce foods–tree crops, grasses and wood products–but there's no case for doling out subsidies to put the world's dinner into the gas tank. Need more Malawis

What is remarkable, however, is that Arab countries greeted Carter's mission with utter indifference. Even in Ramallah, Carter was met by junior Palestinian officials. Abbas, who was getting ready for a Moscow trip, saw no reason why he should confer with the former US president. But Carter got at least to visit Arafat's tomb. Cairo kept its cool. It arranged for Carter to meet a delegation of Hamas officials, but otherwise was unenthusiastic about his mission. Why are Arab officials so worried about Carter meeting Hamas leaders? Are they too eager to please America and Israel to admit that Hamas's involvement in talks is a good idea? And yet they received Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, with open arms when she went to Qatar. Her trip was even covered by a special team from Al-Jazeera. What is this all about? We want to stay on Israel's good side but won't let half the Palestinians have their say? The Arabs are falling into a trap. They are so busy listening to American and Israeli officials that they cannot spare the time to consider other options. The next few days will see another peace conference in Sharm El-Sheikh. In that conference, President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert would put their signature to another piece of paper. But there will not be solutions in this region anytime soon, not until Bush is out of office. The US has been holding talks with Iran for nearly five years in secret. We have no idea what came out of this. As far as we're concerned, anything can happen. A military strike against Iran is not to be ruled out. And renewed fighting in Lebanon is all too probable. These are things that we should be concerned about, but are we? Cairo View- Salama A Salama - Salama A Salama

Prior to planning once more the course of the railway between Haifa and Damascus, and before Israeli developers start searching for land on which to build shopping malls in Aleppo - one should feel free to be a little insulted. Why did Israelis need to hear about their prime minister's intentions to relinquish the Golan Heights from the Syrian media, Syrian cabinet ministers and the Syrian President? Why didn't Ehud Olmert screw up his courage during one of the thousands of interviews he gave for the holiday and inform Israelis that he had told Egypt's President Bashar Assad that he intended to withdraw from the Golan? Did he think he could write a little note - "O.K., take the heights" - and transmit it through the Turkish mediator to Assad and that everything would remain secret? Assad will tell you what's happening

What is the media agenda? Why do some stories get covered and others covered up? On May 1, 2005 The Times of London published confidential minutes of a July 23, 2002 meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his cabinet members showing that Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush secretly agreed to wage war on Iraq for "regime change" nearly a year before their invasion of the country. British and U.S. officials insisted for months after that they had no plans to invade. Why weren't U.S. media more probing all along? The Washington Post reported in April 2003 that the Pentagon had no plans to count civilian casualties in Iraq. Did U.S. media react negatively? No. Why not? Had dismembered Iraqi civilians been printed on playing cards like the Iraqi leadership's "Most Wanted List" that was all the rage at the start of the war, would they have received more attention? Don't we all know the number of victims from the horrible terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field where one of the planes crashed on that fateful day? Are the lives of innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine worth less? Did reporters ask questions of officials like: "Why did the U.S. edit the 12,000-page Iraqi weapons report to the U.N. Security Council removing all names of U.S. firms that had previously sold weapons materials to Iraq in the past?" While media in the Muslim and Arab worlds have opposed the war in Iraq and in other Muslim countries, their reports and editorial lines can hardly be viewed as monolithic. It is important to understand the nuanced handling of news coming from these sources. Because of their reticence, or outright criticism of the Iraq war, channels like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya came under attack by U.S. officials and their neoconservative supporters. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and the subsequent Iraqi Governing Council had temporarily shut down Al Jazeera's bureau as punishment. Is Coverage of Arabs, Islam Good? Western Media Under Scrutiny Magda Abu-FAdil

One evening last fall I joined a small crowd in a dusty room off busy Qasr-Al-Nil street in Cairo, facing a banner that read, “Welcome to the Cultural Salon of Dr. Alaa Al Aswany.” Many of those seated around me seemed to be simple celebrity spotters, there to see in the flesh the biggest-selling novelist in Arabic, Al Aswany, who is also an increasingly bold critic of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, which in Egypt has held power uninterruptedly for 27 years. The rest appeared to be aspiring writers or students eager for literary and political instruction. Austerely furnished with a single fluorescent light, half-broken chairs and a solitary table scarred with overlapping teacup rings, the room defused all expectations of literary glamour. Nevertheless, it offered a frisson of political danger. When the salon was held the previous year, Egyptian intelligence agents so intimidated the owner of the cafe where the meeting was taking place that he screamed at Al Aswany and his audience to go away. He later apologized, explaining that he had done it for the sake of the government spies who were watching him. Where Alaa Al Aswany Is Writing From -Pankaj Mishra

This book collects nearly all the poems Aram Saroyan wrote in the 1960s, when he was in his early 20s and, as he put it, “the only person available at a typewriter who didn’t have some predetermined use in mind for it.” The resulting pages, tapped in Aram Saroyan by his typewriter, were succinct. Saroyan was the master of the one-word poem. But his works were as musical and meaningful as more conventional poetry, too, and a lot more amusing. The minimal poems were eye openers, ear openers and mind openers, and no one else was doing anything much like them at the time, and no one has since. Saroyan was known as a “concrete poet” — that is, he was writing poems meant to be looked at as much as read. His poems aimed to be things as well as words, and they used all the resources of the alphanumeric page (or slab of stone, as Ian Hamilton Finlay did, or poster or other medium) rather than being merely linguistic expression of pre-existing ideas or perceptions. All interesting poems do this to a degree, poetry being a recognition that consciousness is made of language, but concrete poems are an extreme example, which accounts for a substantial part of their poetic pedigree (and high-class license). Lighght Verse - Richard Hell

In “The Second Plane,” his collection of noisy, knowing writings about theocracy and terror, Martin Amis goes out on a limb. He denounces both. Really, he does. He hates Islamism and he hates Islamist murder. And so he should: if certain forms of evil are not hated, then they have not been fully understood. Amis enjoys the moral element in contempt, and he is splendidly unperturbed by the prospect of giving offense. But he appears to believe that an insult is an analysis. He wants us to remember, about the Islamists in Britain, “their six-liter plastic tubs of hairdressing bleach and nail-polish remover, their crystalline triacetone triperoxide and chapatti flour.” He knows for a fact that Islamists “habitually” jump red lights, so as “to show contempt for the law of the land (and contempt for reason).” Iranians, he teaches, are “mystical, volatile and masochistic.” Amis seems to regard his little curses as almost military contributions to the struggle. He has a hot, heroic view of himself. He writes as if he, with his wrinkled copies of Bernard Lewis and Philip Larkin, is what stands between us and the restoration of the caliphate. He is not only outraged by Sept. 11, he is also excited by it. “If Sept. 11 had to happen, then I am not at all sorry that it happened in my lifetime.” Don’t you see? It no longer matters that we missed the Spanish Civil War. ¡No pasarán! The Catastrophist - Leon Wieseltier

In 2007, a whopping 400,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from 300,000 in 2006, according to the industry tracker Bowker, which attributed the sharp rise to the number of print-on-demand books and reprints of out-of-print titles. University writing programs are thriving, while writers’ conferences abound, offering aspiring authors a chance to network and “workshop” their work. The blog tracker Technorati estimates that 175,000 new blogs are created worldwide each day (with a lucky few bloggers getting book deals). And the same N.E.A. study found that 7 percent of adults polled, or 15 million people, did creative writing, mostly “for personal fulfillment.” In short, everyone has a story — and everyone wants to tell it. Fewer people may be reading, but everywhere you turn, Americans are sounding their barbaric yawps over the roofs of the world, as good old Walt Whitman, himself a self-published author, once put it. You’re an Author? Me Too! - Rachel Donadio

There’s never been anyone like Ahmad Chalabi in American history, never a foreigner without official status so crucially involved in a decision by the United States to go to war. Of course, Winston Churchill helped engineer America’s entry into World War II, but he was, after all, prime minister of the United Kingdom. And Chalabi — a University of Chicago Ph.D. in mathematics, wealthy banker forever going bankrupt, and creator and sole proprietor of a Potemkin Iraqi freedom front financed entirely by United States taxpayers — is no Winston Churchill. Neoconner - Leslie Gelb

Muslim pilgrims perform the circumambulate of the Kaaba in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Click image to expand.Muslim pilgrims in the holy city of Mecca

Last December, more than 2 million Muslims from around the world converged on Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca. The Hajjis spent a month performing religious rituals, mingling with Muslims from all walks of life, and, in some cases, taking part in communal chants of "Death to America" led by Islamic extremists. This was understandably unnerving to the 10,000 or so Americans who made the pilgrimage, not to mention those who didn't. Such behavior raised concerns that the Hajj is a breeding ground for anti-Western sentiment—or worse.

Then again, the spirit of friendship and community that typically prevails during the Hajj has also been known to promote tolerance and understanding across peoples. Malcolm X famously softened his views on black-white relations during his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he witnessed a "spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."

So does the Hajj open minds, or does it expose Muslims to radical views that unite them against the non-Islamic world? To find out, researchers David Clingingsmith, Asim Khwaja, and Michael Kremer surveyed more than 1,600 Pakistanis, about half of whom went on the Hajj in 2006. In a recent, as yet unpublished study, they report that those who went to Mecca came back with more moderate views on a range of issues, both religious and nonreligious, suggesting that the Hajj may be helpful in curbing the spread of extremism in the Islamic world. Does going to Mecca make Muslims more moderate? By Ray Fisman

Your dress is quite Western,' they said ruefully. I was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved top (yes, I really do remember what I was wearing that day. How could I not? I thought I was going to be famous and on TV), but I was hardly scantily clad. So much for the empowered, modern, young, cool Muslim woman; turns out what the BBC really wanted was a authentic, well-covered one instead. Sadly, my story, the fairly common, non-conflicting story where cultures don't clash, but sit quietly side by side with minimal effort required, is one that never gets the limelight. But it's the one that needs to be heard so that British Muslims can simply get on with being who they are instead of continually being defined on other people's terms and in other people's words. Women in Black - even the name says it all. I'm the wrong kind of Muslim for the TV - Huma Qureshi

Child abuse. Sexual abuse. Women raised to be baby machines controlled by powerful older men in the name of God. These shockers -- and many more -- are flagrantly on offer in the spectacle unfolding around the 139 women and 437 children removed by Texas authorities from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado. The YFZ is an outpost of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a breakaway Mormon cult presided over by Warren Jeffs, convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape and awaiting trial in Arizona for incest and conspiracy. The visuals are riveting: women in pastel prairie dresses and identical pompadour-cum-french-braid hairstyles weeping for their children in state custody; skinny-necked middle-aged men insisting they had no idea it was illegal to marry and impregnate multiple 15-year-olds. There's a feminist angle, a child-protection angle and a civil liberties angle -- it isn't clear that the children were in immediate danger, and this drastic and clumsy sweep might well cause cultists to isolate themselves even more. The original impetus for the raid -- a desperate phone call from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl raped and abused by her 50-year-old "spiritual husband" -- is looking more and more like a hoax. Men of the Cloth: The Vatican Isn't So Far From Fundamentalist Mormonism By Katha Pollitt

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law.The legal interpretation, outlined in recent letters, sheds new light on the still-secret rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude, even under an executive order issued last summer that President Bush said meant that the C.I.A. would comply with international strictures against harsh treatment of detainees. While the Geneva Conventions prohibit “outrages upon personal dignity,” a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard, and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments. Letters Give C.I.A. Tactics a Legal Rationale

U.S. fumes after Israeli envoy to UN envoy brands Carter 'a bigot'
[We can call him names - You cannot]

Paul Jay presents RealNews
Israel rejects Hamas truce offer
Hamas offers a six-month 'calm,' but Israel signals it won't follow suit view

Brazil bans rice exports, protests in Peru
Africa, Latin America to be short 500K tons of rice as Brazil becomes latest country to ban rice exports view


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