Sunday, October 29, 2006

Call to Bloggers

Amnesty International issued a ‘Call to Bloggers’, asking them to get online and stand up for freedom of expression on the internet. The call comes as the online world prepares to meet at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF, Athens 30/10 – 2/11). Amnesty international is sending a delegation to ensure that human rights are not sidelined and remain at the heart of the forum’s discussions.

Steve Ballinger, part of Amnesty International’s delegation to the IGF, said:
"… some governments have sought to curtail this freedom. People have been locked up just for expressing their views in an email or a website. Sites and blogs have been shut down and firewalls built to prevent access to information."

I had the experience, during Saddam reign, of being blocked out of accessing even email service. A heavy firewall was preventing Iraqi internet users from a wide range of websites. It was like a kind of secret activity to pass information to friends & relatives about newly discovered websites; especially email service. One would change his/her email frequently making it not guaranteed to receive a reply, since one's email could be blocked at any time. Thanks to Arizona State official website which offered me, at that time, an email box for over a year without being discovered by Iraqi watch. So, I can understand the difficulties people are going through to access internet & to pass their words to the world.

Moreover, activists who use the internet to express their thoughts peacefully are being detained in some countries. Chinese journalist Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities." Yahoo! provided information to the government that was used in his prosecution.

"Today, our chance to fight a new hi-tech tyranny" as Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International, says in
The Observer:
"The internet is big business, but in the search for profits some companies have encroached on their own principles and those on which the internet was founded: free access to information. The results of searches using China-based search engines run by Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and local firms are censored, limiting the information users can access. Microsoft pulled down the work of one of China's most popular bloggers who had made politically sensitive comments. Yahoo gave information to the authorities that led to people being jailed for sending emails with political content. We do not accept these firms' arguments that it is better to have a censored Google, Yahoo or Microsoft in China than none at all."
Tunisian lawyer and human rights defender Mohammed Abbou is serving a three and a half year prison sentence for publishing articles critical of the Tunisian authorities on the Internet.
Vietnamese political dissident Truong Quoc Huy was first arrested in October 2005 with two other young people after chatting on a democracy and human rights website. On 18 August 2006, he was rearrested in an Internet cafe in Ho Chi Minh City. His whereabouts remain unknown and no charges have been publicized.
Iranian student activist and blogger Kianoosh Sanjari, aged 24, was arrested on 7 October whilst reporting on clashes between security forces and supporters of a Shi'a cleric. Kianoosh Sanjari is being held incommunicado at an unknown location and Amnesty International fears that he may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

Steve Ballinger said:
“Freedom of expression online is a right, not a privilege – but it’s a right that needs defending. We’re asking bloggers worldwide to show their solidarity with web users in countries where they can face jail just for criticizing the government."
“The Internet Governance Forum needs to know that the online community is bothered about free expression online and willing to stand up for it.”

If you are concerned about free expression online and willing to stand up for it, try to
sign this pledge on Internet freedom called ( Moreover, try to spread the word to others; put a link to the pledge on your website, if you have one.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ramadan & Eid

Ramadan has just finished in Iraq & the Muslim world. The last day of Ramadan, which is a month, was on sunday 22nd of October. Fasting according to Islam includes not eating or drinking or smoking from sunrise till sunset, not to have sexual intercourse with the husband/wife in the same period of the day, to try to do good deeds as much as one can do, to practice good habits…etc. In general, Ramadan is a month for focusing on training oneself soul to get closer to God by enhancing the good qualities of ones conduct. Lying, tittle-tattle, using bad language, false promises, hurting people…etc are forbidden in Islam. Many people find it not easy to quit such bad qualities. By creating an environment of watching each others behavior, it helps some people to quit them.
Ramadan has its cultural traditions and folklore activities. One of the famous folklore games is (Al-Mih’haibis). It is a game which needs nothing more than a finger ring and two teams of unlimited members. Each team tries to regain the ring which is hidden in one of the closed hands of the whole members of the opponent team. One member of the team who seeks for the ring goes through the players of the team which has the ring. Every player in the team with the ring should raise his hands in front of him so that the seeker, and his team, can see them clearly. The seeker should be of good ability to control the opponents psychologically and has predictability about where the ring might be hidden. He keeps on opening hand after another by pointing to each and saying his prediction. He has the right to consult his team players about their predictions. If he points to a certain hand and announce a wrong gesture then the one who has the ring shouts (Bat).

When the shout is heard that means the ring is going to remain with the same team for another round and another point is to be added to their score. Here a short break is made to sing traditional songs, mainly (Murab'aa), praising the victory of the team. Such game is played at night after breaking fast. There are famous ring seekers in every city and town. In Baghdad, for example, one may find these famous seekers in the old parts of the city. The old parts of Baghdad consist of alleys, and till now great games are held between the alleys teams.The trophy of the game is a big tray or more of (Baklawa). It is a kind of sweets well known in the Mideast countries. These trays of baklawa are to be eaten by the two teams when the game is over.

Nowadays such public gatherings are unsafe because of the bad security conditions, especially in Baghdad. Some Iraqi TV satellite channels organized championships for the game to keep it alive in the minds of new generations.
Ramadan is followed by Eid Al-Fitr (Less Bairam). First day of Eid, of three days, was on 23rd of October. Eid Al-Fitr represents a celebration of fasting after Ramadan. An Islamic ritual at the end of Ramadan is to pay little amount of money by every Muslim who has sufficient income. This amount is called (Zakah El-Fitr). It should be paid, by those who like to, on the last day of Ramadan. It is one kind of the social insurance in Islam. This (Zakah El-Fitr) is to be paid to poor people so that they can celebrate (Eid El-fitr).The amount differs from one year to another. This year it is about $1.5 for each person. That is to pay $1.5 for each member of the family by the paterfamilias. One may pay it directly to poor people whom he/she knows. Otherwise is to give it to a trustee.People visit and greet each other on Eid. In Iraq the most common greetings is (Ayamkum Sa’eida) which means (wishing you happy days).

A friend of mine insists on changing this greeting to (wishing you normal days). Of course he jokes about our abnormal days since 1990. He explains that we live under the line of normal days, so we should achieve normal life and then to think about happiness.Finally (Ayamkum Sa’eida) to all readers of this post.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Do we need the Americans? (II)

Since 1920 Iraq witnessed a significant growth in urban society. Baghdad was resembled to a large village by the British soldiers who entered the city in March 1917. They had heard a lot a bout (1001 nights) stories but they were astounded by the miserable town they conquered. The dominant lifestyle in Iraq was a mixture of tribal-religious traditions. These traditions did not evolve with the development of people's urbanization. People migrated from rural communities, for different reasons, could not cope with the constraints of cities.

Pacing toward state of law & civilization was taking place when it was interrupted by a series of coups. This series took place between 1958 and 1968. The final caused the bathists to gain power. Waves of villagers claimed possession of power since they were participants in implementing those coups. By the year 1979, in which Saddam seized power, the influence of tribal traditions started to regain dominance over the Iraqi society. The grip of law began to wane and people had to disclaim their rights, or to look for alternatives to help them in solving their everyday life's problems.

Nowadays, not resorting to law is a clear feature of the Iraqi society. Take a look at this article
which recites how political and militant Islam is clashing with tribal customs and a shared Arab and Muslim identity that have bonded Sunnis and Shiites for decades. The events are taking place in still-mixed neighborhood called Tobji, nestled in north-central Baghdad. One can notice, through the photo accompanying the article, the pastoral feature of the neighborhood (keep in mind it is in north-central Baghdad).

It is the rural and tribal values that prevailed over urban ones. It is expected, under global transition that this image would replicate in a world which is turning into a universal village. One of the unavoidable results of such globalized world is migration of people, and as a consequence their values, from the poor countryside of the world to the wealthy urban one. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements programme says:
"International migration, just like urbanisation, cannot be stopped in any sustainable or humane manner. It has to be managed. One can argue that in a globalised world, where we have unrestricted movement of money, goods and information, restrictions on the movement of people remains a major contradiction."
It has to be managed. One way of managing migration is to develop the 'countryside' of the world to reduce the number of emigrants looking for better life situations. Developing poor regions does not mean to impose certain values on other societies. It means to back up shared human values; Mr. Tony Blair put it like this:
"…we must fashion an international community that both embodies, and acts in pursuit of global values: liberty, democracy, tolerance, justice."
It is either developing those 'countryside' regions of the world or accepting what comes out from there. I refer always to what I call 'educational rehabilitation' of communities like the Iraqi one. Otherwise, incidents like this one
or killing the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh should be expected to intimidate western societies. It is the nowadays methods of communications, as one feature of globalization, which made it possible for radical Islamists to rally mob behind them protesting against cartoons satirizing Muhammad. And it is the airplanes which are mainly made to serve people and bring them closer to each other. This means of transport was used to attack the twin towers on 9/11.

It is not only a matter of military confrontation or security procedures. On 26 Feb, 1993 there was an attempt to blow up the world trade center and the US reaction was built on the idea that the states are immune and invulnerable, so did not retaliate.

Launching campaigns against Afghanistan and Iraq, after 9/11, is not a matter of argument under the status quo. It is either to cut and run accepting all the consequences, or to persist on completing the mission. Leaving Iraq without arranging things would, more likely, turn it into the most suitable incubator to hatch terrorists much faster than they do now. Iraq represents a magnet which drains those who are ready to commit aggressive deeds from all over the world. Is Iraq helping by draining these 'martyrs'? Yes it is.

Now the question becomes 'Does the US need the Iraqis?'

That’s another topic.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Do we need the Americans?(I)

In an interview in the Washington Post, Iraqi President Jalal Talibani said Iraq still needs foreign troops and would like a small U.S. presence of 10,000 troops and two airbases for the long term.

Does Iraq, or some other countries, really need foreign existence on its soil? What criterion is to decide it? Is it Iraq sovereignty? And what is it meant by 'sovereignty' in the new globalized world. Would such U.S. troops presence violate Iraq sovereignty?

I recall a Sudanese, on the BBC radio, called for 'benign occupation' of countries like Iraq & Sudan. His perspective was that such countries need to be rehabilitated and they need a foreign rational power to do it.

President Talabani views this presence as a deterrent to non-Iraqis from interfering in Iraq's affairs.
"The presence of American forces -- even a symbolic one -- will frighten those who are trying to interfere in our affairs."
This is good, but what about the internal policy of any future Iraqi government. Will this presence observe the US & Iraqi government interests only? What about the Iraqi people. On November 12, 2004 Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a joint press conference with President Bush:
"We have to complete our mission in Iraq, make sure that Iraq is a stable and a democratic country."
Mr. Blair emphasized on making sure of stable and "democratic" Iraq. But the words of Mr. Talabani sounds like as if he does not reject the idea of having only "stable" Iraq or as Mr. Blair put it:
“…when I was first a member of Parliament and making my way up the greasy pole and all the rest of it, there was a view in foreign policy that you dealt with countries on the basis of whatever attitude they had towards you, but really whatever they did within their own countries, that was up to them, and didn't really make a difference to your long-term relationship…”
Mr. Blair added:
"I think what we are learning today is that there is not stability of any true, long-term kind without democratic rights for free people to decide their government."
And that what people of Iraq is looking for. To keep a close eye on the Iraqi political elite performance is very important. The US has to patronize the new Iraqi political process for many coming years. This does not mean to keep a large number of troops in Iraq, but a number like what Mr. Talabani referred to might be sufficient.

These troops should be intended to keep any future Iraqi government on the rail of democracy. I believe these troops should have another mission. That is to prevent any kind of coups which derail the political life in Iraq.

The Americans have to keep on watching the adherence of any Iraqi government to the basic human rights. The most important among these, as I believe, is the freedom of opinion & expression. Being free to speak & criticize would help a lot in making improvements in different sectors of life.

Though the heavy existence of the Americans in Iraq, stark images of oppressing free speech are taking place. So what would happen if the Americans paid no attention to the political and human rights aspects and focused on their interests, assuming human rights are not included, according to the old method described above by Mr. Blair?

Ali Fadhil wrote in the
New York Times:
"With American encouragement, Iraq produced a generation of young journalists who are decades ahead of their counterparts elsewhere in the region."
"In the last year, however, as successive short-term governments have taken power in Baghdad, American support for the Iraqi news media has waned."
This led to:
"In mid-July, the Iraqi prime minister threatened to close any news media outlet that insufficiently supports the Iraqi government in its fight against sectarian violence. I fear that if this government survives, the press in Iraq will become similar to that in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Syria. This is bad news at a time when the Iraqi press needs protection more than ever."
Aljazeera TV office in Baghdad had been banned from working by Alawi government and recently Alarabya TV office has been suspended from reporting for a month for some blur reason. No regulations are clear for media work in Iraq. Aljazeera & Alarabya are still reporting from the US. Though there were several occasions of criticism by American officials to their conduct, but no one could stop them from working in the States. It shows the difference between a civilized community (the US) and an uncivilized one (Iraq).
Among many parties, recounted by Ali Fadhil, which target Iraqi journalists is:
"The American soldiers who were so helpful to us in the early days of the occupation now have a different attitude. By 2005, if an Iraqi journalist aimed a camera at a United States Army convoy, the soldiers’ rules of engagement allowed them to shoot. American soldiers have been responsible for the deaths of about 14 journalists in Iraq, the majority of them Iraqis."
His speculation is:
"The Iraqi people, however, will continue to suffer. There will be new mass murders, committed or encouraged by the very same people who denounced the killings under Saddam Hussein. And just as back then, there will be no news media to inform the world."
To prevent this, Iraq needs American existence (a military one or another). And the symbolic American presence asked for by Mr. Talabani is to be in favor of the Iraqi people & not a non-democratic government which maintains the US interests.

The question is "What makes the US work hard to create new civilized society in Iraq?" Is the US a charitable institution to help Iraq for nothing?
To be continued…