Interdisciplinary Human Rights Conference

No blogging for a few days.  I am off to the America, Human Rights and the World Interdisciplinary Human Rights Conference to be held at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Will see you all early next week.  If you are interested in the Conference Program, Click Here.

Meanwhile here are some questions to think about:

  1. Was Columbia University right in inviting the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak in their campus?

  2. Was the President of Columbia University, Dr. Lee Bolinger, wrong in publicly castigating a visiting foreign dignitary without showing any respect, however unpleasant the visiting dignitary maybe?

  3. Is the President of Iran really a crazy guy with some bizarre ideas or is he putting an act on just to rile up the crowd and come up looking as a hero among his supporters?

List of Daunting World Problems

The UN Secretary General has come with up a list of daunting world problems, and I strongly agree with him.  Here is the summary version of the list that he presented at the start of the General Assembly Session at the United Nations today

  • Combating global warming
  • Fighting poverty
  • Ending the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region
  • An end to violence, an end to occupation, the creation of a Palestinian state at peace with itself and Israel, and a comprehensive regional peace between Israel and the Arab world
  • Fixing Iraq, “the whole world’s problem”
  • Promoting political negotiations and national reconciliation, and dealing with drug trafficking and terrorism in Afghanistan

 Let me add a few more items to the list that Sec-Gen Ban Ki-Moon did not mention: 

  • Dealing with Unstable Iran
  • Dealing with Polluting China
  • Dealing with China’s growing influence in the developing world and its reluctance promote democracy and freedoms in various parts of the world.

 Did I miss anything? Feel free to add to the list of daunting global problems.

Forcible Death via Female Genital Cutting or FGM

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Female Genital Cutting or Female Circumcision involves the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons.”  This debate has reached center-stage in Egypt when recently a 13-year old girl died as a result of surgeries performed to “preserve chastity and honor.” 

The irony of the whole matter is that as the NY Times report points out, the outrage was not over the fact that this poor girl died, but the fact that the “government shut down the clinic,” which seems to have stirred up a national debate even in one of the most repressive societies in the world. They will not stop us,” shouted Saad Yehia, a tea shop owner along the main street. “We support circumcision!” he shouted over and over. Even if the state doesn’t like it, we will circumcise the girls,” shouted Fahmy Ezzeddin Shaweesh, an elder in the village?

Though Egypt’s Health Ministry ordered an end to the practice in 1996, it allowed exceptions in cases of emergency, a loophole critics describe as so wide that it effectively rendered the ban meaningless. But now the government is trying to force a comprehensive ban. Egypt’s grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, declared it haram, or prohibited by Islam; Egypt’s highest religious official, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, called it harmful; television advertisements have been shown on state channels to discourage it; and a national hot line was set up to answer the public’s questions about genital cutting.

But as the men in this village demonstrated, widespread social change in Egypt comes slowly. This country is conservative, religious and, for many, guided largely by traditions, even when those traditions do not adhere to the tenets of their faith, be it Christianity or Islam. For centuries Egyptian girls, usually between the ages of 7 and 13, have been taken to have the procedure done, sometimes by a doctor, sometimes by a barber or whoever else in the village would do it. As recently as 2005, a government health survey showed that 96 percent of the thousands of married, divorced or widowed women interviewed said they had undergone the procedure – a figure that astounds even many Egyptians. In the language of the survey, “The practice of female circumcision is virtually universal among women of reproductive age in Egypt.” Though the practice is common and increasingly contentious throughout sub-Saharan Africa, among Arab states the only other place where this practice is customary is in southern Yemen, experts here said. In Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot hold most jobs, the practice is viewed as abhorrent, a reflection of pre-Islamic traditions.

Even the religious ministry, various other local agencies, and the wife of Egyptian President Suzzane Mubarak are attempting to produce change. But this change has been very slow, little too slow for the 13-year old girl who died cruelly during this unnecessary procedure. So, the question before us is how do we bring about change in a society that is deeply resistant to altering its cultural practices? How do we persuade people who take daughters to the local barber for this procedure to understand that it does not in anyway enhance a person’s dignity, virtue, or beauty? How do we make these stupid men who insist on this procedure prior to marriage understand that FGM will not enhance their manliness or keep their fragile egos intact and that they cannot rely on religion to justify these cruel acts? When should international human rights regimes step-in? What constructive role can the international norms and actors play? It is clear that we cannot go marching into other countries and engage in name-calling or simply ban these practices without sufficient ground-work or sustained implementation efforts.

Syria—Shame, Shame, No Honor in This

The story of 16-year old Zahra al-Azzo is simply mind boggling, outlandish, and unbelievable. This triple tragedy and the sheer brutality encountered by this girl in the name of religion and culture is simply beyond the pale of reason. No you know why Universal Human Rights matter; now you know why we cannot hide under the banner of state sovereignty and cultural relativism to continue on with our various vicious practices; now we realize the importance of supporting women’s education, gender equality, and local empowerment.

In the outskirts of Damascus on a “rainy Sunday morning in January and very cold; as he left, Fawaz turned back one last time to tuck the blanket more snugly around his 16-year-old wife. Zahra slept on without stirring, and her husband locked the door of their tiny apartment carefully behind him. Zahra was most likely still sleeping when her older brother, Fayyez, entered the apartment a short time later, using a stolen key and carrying a dagger. His sister lay on the carpeted floor, on the thin, foam mattress she shared with her husband, so Fayyez must have had to kneel next to Zahra as he raised the dagger and stabbed her five times in the head and back: brutal, tearing thrusts that shattered the base of her skull and nearly severed her spinal column. Leaving the door open, Fayyez walked downstairs and out to the local police station. There, he reportedly turned himself in, telling the officers on duty that he had killed his sister in order to remove the dishonor she had brought on the family by losing her virginity out of wedlock nearly 10 months earlier.” 

 “Zahra then only 15, was kidnapped in the spring of 2006 near her home in northern Syria, taken to Damascus by her abductor and raped; how the police who discovered her feared that her family, as commonly happens in Syria, would blame Zahra for the rape and kill her; how these authorities then placed Zahra in a prison for girls, believing it the only way to protect her from her relatives. And then in December, how a cousin of Zahra’s, 27-year-old Fawaz, agreed to marry her in order to secure her release and also, he hoped, restore her reputation in the eyes of her family; how, just a month after her wedding to Fawaz, Zahra’s 25-year-old brother, Fayyez, stabbed her as she slept.”

“In Syria and other Arab countries, many men are brought up to believe in an idea of personal honor that regards defending the chastity of their sisters, their daughters and other women in the family as a primary social obligation. Honor crimes tend to occur, activists say, when men feel pressed by their communities to demonstrate that they are sufficiently protective of their female relatives’ virtue. Pairs of lovers are sometimes killed together, but most frequently only the women are singled out for punishment. Sometimes women are killed for the mere suspicion of an affair, or on account of a false accusation, or because they were sexually abused, or because, like Zahra, they were raped.”

“In speaking with the police, Zahra’s brother used a colloquial expression, ghasalat al arr (washing away the shame), which means the killing of a woman or girl whose very life has come to be seen as an unbearable stain on the honor of her male relatives. Once this kind of familial sexual shame has been “washed,” the killing is traditionally forgotten as quickly as possible. Under Syrian law, an honor killing is not murder, and the man who commits it is not a murderer. As in many other Arab countries, even if the killer is convicted on the lesser charge of a “crime of honor,” he is usually set free within months.”

“It turned out that his uncle had given him the phone so that he could call and tell the family that he’d killed his sister. We learned later that they had a party that night to celebrate the cleansing of their honor. The whole village was invited.”

For more on this gruesome story, continue here “A Dishonorable Affair.”

Genocidal and Cynical Sudan

The Special Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has gathered strong evidence showing that Ahmad Muhammad Harun, former Minister of State for the Interior of the Government of the Sudan, and Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Militia/Janjaweed, jointly committed crimes against the civilian population in Darfur. According to the evidence collected by the ICC over 20 month period the ICC special prosecutor’s office believes that

“there are reasonable grounds to believe that Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb, (also known as Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman) bear criminal responsibility in relation to 51 counts of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes. The evidence shows they acted together, and with others, with the common purpose of carrying out attacks against the civilian populations. The crimes were allegedly committed during attacks on the villages and towns of Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar, and Arawala in West Darfur between August 2003 and March 2004. The Prosecution has focused on some of the most serious incidents and the individuals who, according to the evidence, bear the greatest responsibility for those incidents. In early 2003, Ahmad Harun was appointed as head of the “Darfur Security desk”. The most prominent of his coordination tasks was his management of, and personal participation in, the recruitment, funding and arming of Militia/Janjaweed – forces that would ultimately number in the tens of thousands. During a public meeting, Ahmad Harun said that as the head of the “Darfur Security desk”, he had been given “all the power and authority to kill or forgive whoever in Darfur for the sake of peace and security.”

In an extraordinarily cynical move, the Sudanese government has appointed the genocidal Ahmad Muhammad Harun to form its own Human Rights Committee to investigate human rights violations in Darfur. This clearly demonstrates that the Sudanese government has no desire to address the barbaric tragedy in Darfur or any interest in bringing the perpetrators to justice. As the NY Times Editorial correctly points out, the actions of the Sudanese governments need to be strongly condemned by the United States and the United Nations. The INTERPOL has a search warrant out for Ahmad Muhammad Harun and we sincerely hope they get him.

Iraq War–Wag the Dog Syndrome

In 1997 during the peak of the sex scandals in Washington DC, a movie called Wag the Dog starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro was released about a Washington DC media specialist who is hired to construct an entire made-for-TV fake war in the former Soviet satellite state of Albania to divert popular attention from the sex scandals.

The Bush administration seems to have taken a page from the Wag the Dog Syndrome.According to the Washington Post, the U.S. military has erected an entire fake market in the Dora Market Section of Baghdad for the visiting American dignitaries to be photographed and then the good news spread in the United States made about the progress the “Surge” had made via pliable agents like Fox News, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Times.

The post says that “American generals and politicians visit Combat Outpost Gator, nestled behind a towering blast wall in the Dora market. They arrive in convoys of armored Humvees, sometimes accompanied by helicopter gunships, to see what U.S. commanders display as proof of the effectiveness of a seven-month-long security offensive, fueled by 30,000 U.S. reinforcements.Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military leader in Iraq, frequently cites the market as a sign of progress.””The Dora market is a Potemkin village (or rather a fake village) of sorts.

The U.S. military hands out $2,500 grants to shop owners to open or improve their businesses. The military has fixed windows and doors and even helped rebuild shops that had burned down, soldiers and others said. We helped them a lot. We gave them money, security, even the locks on their doors, said a 36-year-old Iraqi interpreter. Everything we gave them. That’s why the violence has stopped. That’s why they cooperate with us. The Americans are giving money, so they’re opening up stores,” said Falah Hassan Fadhil, 27, who sells cosmetics. 1st Lt. Jose Molina, who is in charge of monitoring and disbursing the grant money, said the U.S. military includes barely operating stores in its tally. Although they sell dust, they are open for business,” said Molina, 35, from Dallas. They intend to sell goods or they may just have a handful of goods. But they are still counted.”

Stunning, absolutely stunning, the United States military and this administration has taken-up selling the war, instead they have taken-up selling fake success and fake photo-opportunities. So that the steady stream of Washington Fakers can fake it that they have “visited Iraq” and they have fake determined that the fake surge is working, and so that we should put more money into it, and more lives must be sacrificed. Twisted logic and fakery! Wow, Simply Wow…can we sink any lower!


24iraq_600.jpg As with everyone else on this message board, I am absolutely stunned by the sheer depravity and incompetence of this administration. This is a fascist propaganda regime in power and they are making the old Soviets look good. I teach International Relations and Foreign Policy and every day in my class, it takes me enormous effort to focus on the course materials and not talk about Iraq and US foreign policy all time. I am on the radio or the Internet pretty much all the time reading and blogging on Iraq. On Wednesday, I organized a forum in our campus to discuss the Iraq conflict and Middle East Policy and three panelists really really struggled to say something meaningful and positive about this administration. I don’t think there is any redeeming value left in this administration and it is entirely unclear as to how we are going get through another 16 months of spinning, stage-managing, mixing metaphors and historical analogies, and the in-your-face mendacity taken to an art form by Karl Rove and the Republicans.

The Iraq invasion is such monumental boondoggle of colossal proportions that it would take 15 to 20 years before the U.S. can meaningfully extricate from this full-blown civil war that is raging in Mess-o-potamia. Every day the drip-drip of violence is simply stunning, revolting and disgusting, little babies being torn to bits, mothers berating their chests and wailing for their husbands, brothers, and fathers, and young men and women coming home every day in body bags, limbs blown, and bodies disfigured. This is bad, very bad for the collective humanity, it destroys everything positive that the United States has achieved in different areas of humanitarian assistance over many decades. I am actually surprised that 26% of the American People actually support this President or is it just a statistical anomaly.