4th September, 2008
Pakistani politicians are furious that American soldiers carried out a raid against alleged Al-Qaeda operatives on Pakistani territory.
This is a very tangled issue. Firstly, the Pakistanis are alleging that the raid was based on faulty intelligence and resulted in the killing of innocent citizens, including women and children.
On the other hand it is clear that Pakistan has been at best ignoring and at worst supporting the build up of Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in its tribal regions for a while now. What is not so clear is whether the new political and military regimes in charge of the country were going to continue with this policy or change tack. After all, the PPP lost its leader to an attack by these militants and if it received the backing of General Kiyani, would be looking to defeating Taliban forces a priority.
To make things worse more complicated, the Pakistani government had agreed a ceasefire with militant forces during Ramadan. This could be seen as a continuation of the old policies or a smart, pragmatic step in order to try and take the religion card away from the terrorists. After all, one month isn’t going to make a difference in whether this battle is won or not.
3rd September, 2008
It has been said often that the American generation of the 1960s started the ‘culture wars’ that led the country to among the most angriest left-right political debates of any western democracy. The political divide among the Republicans and Democrats is far and wide on social issues, even if they largely agree on foreign policy and economic issues.
Barack Obama said he was going to get over that, and this is one of the reasons why many conservatives like Andrew Sullivan crossed over to his side. McCain too was seen as a ‘maverick’ who opposed his party frequently and together they would conduct a civil and serious election that wouldn’t be characterised by mud-slinging. I called bullshit on that months ago.
Gerard Baker is the US Editor of The Times. On Monday, he wrote an article for the US site Real Clear Politics, ‘comparing’ the achievements and experiences of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. The entire piece consists of Republican talking points criticising Obama and playing up Palin’s achievements. I found the following segment particularly amatuerish.
Obama: Regards people who “cling” to religion and guns as “bitter” . Spent 20 years being mentored and led spiritually by a man who proclaimed “God damn America” from his pulpit. Mysteriously, this mentor completely disappeared from public sight about four months ago.
Palin: Head of her high school Fellowship of Christian Athletes and for many years a member of the Assemblies of God congregation whose preachers have never been known to accuse the United States of deliberately spreading the AIDS virus. They remain in full public sight and can be seen every Sunday in churches across Alaska. A proud gun owner who has been known to cling only to the carcasses of dead caribou felled by her own aim.
I don’t have an issue with newspaper writers and editors expressing their opinions on blogs. In fact it can be very helpful to get a sense of the politics and interests of people who are otherwise anonymous, in order to understand how their personality influences what they choose to write about.
I’m not surprised that Gerard Baker thinks that John McCain would make a better President than Barack Obama. He writes for The Times after all! However, I am shocked that a serious journalist who still works for a big newspaper would engage in this type of smearing and swift-boating in a public forum.
I know Andrew Sullivan has been engaging in something similar with Sarah Palin. However he is a full-time blogger. I don’t agree with his intrusion into the Palin family’s private life, but if he wants to give up his objectivity in order to be a full-time attack dog that’s his prerogative.
I now have no reason to trust the US coverage of The Times and will not be reading that newspaper until that hack has been removed.
2nd September, 2008
I don’t know if this embedding works, but this is the latest episode of the Guardian’s Islamophonic, by its religion correspondent Riazat Butt.
I’m a guest this month, commenting on Sikh/Muslim tensions, the Muslim marriage contract and relationships etc.
Here is part 1, courtesy of YouTube (cheers Nyrone)
Part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.
I think there’s an important need to highlight this extremism. While I don’t tolerate racism or prejudice against all Muslims, it cannot be denied that there is still a hardcore element in the UK that are intent on preaching and spreading hatred. Pretending they don’t exist is not only dangerous but, over the longer term, counter-productive. We have always been against any sort of bigotry on this blog.
From TPM today:
It’s starting to look like John McCain’s historic selection of Sarah Palin hasn’t done him any favors in the polls.
Here’s this morning’s Rasmussen tracking poll: Obama 51%, McCain 45%, outside of the Â±2% margin of error. Obama was up 49%-46% yesterday, suggesting that Palin’s scandals may have helped him to double his lead in just one day of sampling.
And the new Hotline/Diageo poll has Obama up 48%-39%, compared to a 44%-40% lead from just one week ago.
Whoop whoop!! I’m trying to write some articles on Obama but keep getting distracted.
A new initiative to provide support for victims of domestic violence and forced marriages has been launched in Birmingham. Throughcare Housing and Support is a charity project that provides accommodation and support for victims, and has already received backing from the Police Domestic Violence Unit, the Crown Prosecution Service as well as local and national government.
1st September, 2008
British Muslims for Secular Democracy are deeply concerned over the messages given out by preachers in one of Britainâ€™s main mosques, as revealed by Channel 4â€™s Dispatches: Undercover Mosque, the return.
Female preachers are shown to be promoting segregation, condoning and justifying acts of violence against followers of other faiths and non-conformist Muslims. It is disturbing that such views continue to be propagated in Britain through holy places of worship. The misuse of such centres of prayer is inexcusable.
The fasting starts today right? Or is it tomorrow? Anyway, Ramadhan Mubarak to Muslim readers. And don’t behave like the Tower Hamlets Councillors if you work in local government….
Habib â€˜Paapuâ€™ Ullah died on Thursday 3rd July 2008 during a stop and search by Police Officers on a vehicle in a car park in High Wycombe at approximately 7.15pm. He was 39 years old and leaves behind a young family.
A group of friends have set up a campaign to raise awareness of his death in custody. On the Facebook page, they say:
We are concerned how a man can die in the process of being arrested and how he came to have breathing difficulties. There is an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation taking place into his death.
The release of the IPCC investigation is here. There was a peaceful protest about this last week. According to their campaign blog, five police officers are now under investiation by the IPCC. If you can, spread the word. I’ll bring updates when they come in.
31st August, 2008
There was a story in the Daily Mail last week titled, ‘Muslim council chiefs ban ALL members from ‘tea and sandwiches’ in meetings which take place during Ramadan‘
I thought – nah, this can’t be right. They can’t be that stupid. So I made some enquiries, and was forwarded the original correspondence sent around.
Douglas Carswell, Tory MP for Harwich and Clacton and Conservative Home favourite, has written an article calling for judicial appointments “more democratically accountable.” This should sound alarm bells for anyone who thinks that the Conservatives are going to be significantly different from New Labour. The hallmark of New Labour has long been its hatred of independent institutions, because they represent alternative sources of power and respect.
Most political theorists argue that for a stable society democracy alone isn’t enough (see Pakistan in the 1990s), and that strong institutions, like the judiciary, are needed to keep elected governments operating within the law. Mr. Carswell and the other Conservosocialists don’t like this system, because it restricts their absolute power. For them, the description of Parliament as an “elective dictatorship” wasn’t a warning, but a promise.
Fewer than two-thirds of babies are registered ‘white British’ – says the Telegraph. Interesting stats in that article.
I’m more surprised that the comments accompanying the Daily Mail article were largely sane. Ahh… bless. Its not all doom and gloom when it comes to race relations folks!
Update: I like Jamie Sport’s parody on this.
30th August, 2008
There’s a good article on Lenin’s Tomb about nazis who have signed up to the US army. I don’t know much about US neo-nazi organisations, which makes the article all the more fascinating.
Tom Metzger is one of the Godfathers of the neo-Nazi movement in the U.S. The former Grand Wizard of the KKK and the current leader of the White Aryan Resistance (W.A.R), he has seen the ebbing and flowing of the military attitude to far-right extremists over the past forty years.
â€œNow they are letting everybody in,â€ he says. â€œAll the gang-bangers, all the blacks, Mexicans, and white supremacists. I would say that 10% of army and marines â€“they are not in the Navy and Air force so much â€“ are racist extremists of some variety.â€
Erich Gliebe, the chairman of one of the most important neo-Nazi groups in the United States, the National Alliance, agrees. â€œI’ve heard the military have relaxed the regulations from a couple of members that are in there,â€ he says. â€œI think if a person wants to get into the military with just saying that they are in the National Alliance now that they can. In 2008, with the declining number of troops, I don’t think they are as picky as they used to be.â€
Hmmm… I wonder what the implication of this would be. One thing strikes me though – we don’t hear much about neo-nazi groups these days, even though they clearly exist and continue to flourish.
29th August, 2008
The government has put together a panel of around twenty young Muslims, to advise three Cabinet ministers in an “attempt by the Government to tackle Islamic extremism”. The Evening Standard has more. Steve is not impressed and thinks its ‘community leaders’ syndrome again.
I don’t agree. I think there is some merit in the government trying to find out what young Muslims are thinking on the subject, on an ongoing business. The ministers are free to reject that advise of course, but isn’t it better they’re listening? Its sure better than listening to the MCB.
McCain is smarter than he looks going by his choice for running mate:
Republican presidential nominee John McCain today selected Alaska governor Sarah Palin, a relative political novice, as his vice-presidential running mate.
The move is a bold play for the potentially millions of disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters who yearn to vote for a woman candidate in the November election and who have remained impervious to Democratic pleas for party unity.
The announcement came the morning after Barack Obama’s well-received address on the final day of the Democratic convention, a transparent effort to keep pundits from discussing Obama.
Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, one of the senior women in the US Senate, praised Palin as “a breath of fresh air.”
Team Obama must be watching this turn of events with interest. Sarah Palin presents a distinct challenge for him (as noted above), she could tempt Hillaryâ€™s supporters, sheâ€™s photogenic, sheâ€™s young and sheâ€™s a feminist. The US Presidential election just got a bit more interesting.
Update: BenSix notes the other challenges she presents as being not your average Republican.
Update 2: Team Obama responds with quite a scathing attack:
Barack Obama’s campaign is blasting John McCain for putting “the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency.”
I’ve been meaning to put down my thoughts on Obama and how the election is going for a while now, so I decided to do a ‘live’ (watching rerun on BBC Parliament) blog of Obama’s speech. Look forward to reading comments.
28th August, 2008
In about 3 weeks time I’ll be going away for a long trip. The trip will be between 4-6 weeks and I’ll explain more later what I plan to do. It’s a bit crazy but let’s see if it works out. And no, I’m not going to the US to work on the Obama campaign, though if I get back early enough I do plan to do that too.
Anyway, so like last time, a few of us writers here are meeting on 6th Sept (afternoon) in central London. Next Saturday. This is a different kind of a meetup since I’ll be bringing a ton of books & CDs with me to give away (I have strong Buddhist tendencies). Hence, the theme of the meet-up is to bring at least one book that you wouldn’t mind trading away and gain others. If you’re interested in joining us, mail me. To those who’ve come before – it will be at the same venue.
The letters page of thelondonpaper yesterday was full of angry people. Some were angry at Mayor Boris Johnson’s lame performance at the Olympics handover, and others were angry at the newspaper’s article yesterday that black youths were rioting at the Notting Hill Carnival. The original article, unsurprisingly, was mostly the result of police briefing, with its clear bias.
Most of the letter writers, who said they were white, said they saw the police being completely over-the-top in harassing and targeting black youths at the carnival, to the point that it was clearly agitating people. One local resident pointed out that in previous years when the police were more relaxed, the mood at the carnival was much better. Another said he was disgusted by the racist comments that some policemen were making.
In one sense it’s a low level campaign to challenge the legitimacy of the carnival. When Boris will look to pull the carnival’s funding, he’ll use the “violence” as his excuse. The police and the media will be on hand to help out on that front. Let’s see how long it takes.
For another example, see this Daily Mail article challenging the legitimacy of “black history” by insinuating that Winston Churchill is being ditched instead. See Akela’s diary for a rebuttal.
27th August, 2008
On the Republican National Committee Web site, under the section on â€œMeet Barack Obama,â€ heâ€™s called â€œa street organizer,â€ which can mean only one thing. By insinuation, Mother Teresa would be one step from a crack dealer. “Do we know if he ever sold drugs?” Sean Hannity [Fox News], ever eager to inject a lie that fits a stereotype in the national bloodstream, asked Jerome R. Corsi, the professional character assassin and author of â€œObama Nation.â€
The Texas Republican Party targets Obama with a Web video that shows pictures of an African who lives in a shack, identified as Obamaâ€™s half-brother, George Hussein Onyango Obama. Hint, hint. And at a Washington state fair this week, the Republican booth distributed $3 bills depicting Barack Obama with Arab headgear and a camel.
From the NY Times. But apparently, John McCain is a principled candidate who would never stoop so low as allowing his party to make racist attacks. This is the great Republican Party. Anyone pretending that its some principled outfit is fooling themselves.
Anyway, Obama has now officially been annointed the Democratic candidate. Now, its time to go on the attack guys. Meanwhile, I thought this anecdote was hilarious:
Obviously, race is a tripwire topic for television, as Chris Matthews of MSNBC demonstrated all too irrepressibly on Tuesday. Mr. Matthews said the Obamas are â€œlike the Huxtables,â€ and praised Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Obama as exceptional role models: “They do everything right. They have great kids, they work their hearts off, they make it in their professions, they donâ€™t live off welfare, they donâ€™t commit crimes, they donâ€™t live on affirmative action.”
His two African-American guests, the seasoned television personalities Ed Gordon and Jeff Johnson, gave him a skeptical look but did not comment.
Then Unity at Ministry of Truth has a good technical explanation. Modernity on the other hand is tracking the campaign side of things and explaining what is going on.
Obviously, I’m also concerned that its so easy for people to pull domain names. But don’t some website hosting companies provide a ‘lock’ service that makes it difficult for these kind of scams to be perpetrated? Hmmm… scary indeed.
Last weekend the New Scientist reported on the harrowing developments in the world of surveillance technology. The week before, the Home Office announced plans to give law-enforcement agencies, local councils and other public bodies access to the details of people’s text messages, emails and internet activity. New technology has been developed by Seimens to ensure this kind of absolute surveillance can be integrated into one system.
This software is trained on a large number of sample documents to pick out items such as names, phone numbers and places from generic text. This means it can spot names or numbers that crop up alongside anyone already of interest to the authorities, and then catalogue any documents that contain such associates.
Once a person is being monitored, pattern-recognition software first identifies their typical behaviour, such as repeated calls to certain numbers over a period of a few months. The software can then identify any deviations from the norm and flag up unusual activities, such as transactions with a foreign bank, or contact with someone who is also under surveillance, so that analysts can take a closer look.
The system has been sold in 60 countries and 90 phone call “monitoring centres”, developed by the joint-venture company Nokia Siemens Networks, are already being used around the world, although we don’t know which countries are using it.
Whatever the level of accuracy, human rights advocates are concerned that the system could give surveillance-hungry repressive regimes a ready-made means of monitoring their citizens. Carole Samdup of the organisation Rights and Democracy in Montreal, Canada, says the system bears a strong resemblance to the Chinese government’s “Golden Shield” concept, a massive surveillance network encompassing internet and email monitoring as well as speech and facial-recognition technologies and closed-circuit TV cameras.
I’m more worried about its use by non-repressive regimes.
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As if the world wasn’t dangerous enough Russia is baring it’s teeth in the face of growing opposition over it’s recent military and diplomatic actions:
Russia’s relations with the west plunged to their most critical point in a generation yesterday when the Kremlin built on its military rout of Georgia by recognising the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
Declaring that if his decision meant a new cold war, then so be it, President Dmitri Medvedev signed a decree conferring Russian recognition on Georgia’s two secessionist regions. The move flouted UN security council resolutions and dismissed western insistence during the crisis of the past three weeks on respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity and international borders.
Last night, Medvedev accused Washington of shipping arms to Georgia under the guise of humanitarian aid.
The new war is the old war as the world’s power tilts east…