Monday, May 25, 2009

VIDEO: Palestinians buying houses in Jewish settlements in Jerusalem ...

The text accompanying this Al Jazeera video is as follows:

The Israeli prime minister has said he will not accept limits on the expansion of Jewish housing in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

One of the reasons for Binyamin Netanyahu's support of the construction is Israel's drive to keep Jewish population levels up in areas they claim as their own.

Now Al Jazeera has discovered that hundreds of Palestinian-Israelis have bought houses and are living in disputed settlements in East Jerusalem.

Sherine Tadros reports.




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BLOGS/CRIKEY: Sydney Writers' Festival does blogging ...



To blog or not to blog? That was just one of the questions posed by moderator Rachel Hills to a panel of bloggers, journalists and one burnt-out ex-journalist at a Sydney Writers' Festival gig on Sunday.

The panel consisted of former Sydney Morning Herald scribe and Webdiary founder Margo Kingston, blogger and author Anthony Loewenstein, blogger and tabloid opinion editor Tim Blair and blogger and former editor of Girlfriend magazine Erica Bartle. Their task was to test the following proposition:

If bloggers are all wannabe journalists and journalists are all complacent hacks, why do so few manage to cross over?

The discussion was fairly free-flowing and surprisingly civil, given what one participant has written about two of the others. I'll summarise in "first person" what each speaker said at various points.

Kingston: Paul McGeogh kinda pushed me into citizen journalism via what was once the Herald's Webdiary, and I'm not sure whether to thank or sue him. The interaction with readers was the best thing that happened to me in journalism. Webdiary contributors included concerned expats and rural readers. Journos often put on a persona of detachment because they don't want their own personal failings exposed whilst quite happy to expose the same failings in others. Many future blog-related jobs will be about moderating comments, and those employed have a high burnout rate. Currently sub-editors do this.

Loewenstein: Why can't journalists also be advocates? Many effectively advocate despite the veneer of objectivity. Studies have shown that the vast majority of media stories are generated from one source or press release. Journos rarely talk to real people, content to talk to each other. In many non-Western countries, bloggers are the only source of non-state information and take enormous risks, many jailed and tortured.

Bartle: There are no rules in blogging, unlike journalism. Blogs provide a superficial readership experience. I rarely spend an hour online reading a feature article. So much womens magazine journalism is just googling or desktop journalism, with not enough going out into the "fashion trenches". Rarely do magazine writers speak to people beyond fixed contact lists. Journalist hopefuls should be careful with what they put online as potential employers may not like what you write even if it's well-written.

Blair: I started blogging after a long career in journalism for Time Magazine and the Daily Telegraph. I'm somewhat lazy and the short form of blogging suited me. When you write a blog post, you can't help but tell something about yourself (perhaps something like this?). Blog journalists are surprisingly thin-skinned. I encourage young upcoming journos to blog. It's like an online CV. In these recessionary times, blogging can lead to employment. The Daily Telegraph doesn't have paid comment moderators (Yep, we can tell).

And what did the chairperson have to say? My notes show Rachel Hills saying she only found a few bloggers in mainstream media interesting enough to visit.

First published in Crikey on 25 May 2009.

UPDATE I: A regular commenter on Tim Blair's bog recently commented on the SWF discussion here. Tim leaves his own comment. Readers can draw their own conclusions.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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VIDEO: Jesse Ventura on waterboarding ...

"Have we waterboarded anyone else?"



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GREECE: Immigration crisis ...

Though some far-Right bloggers treat recent Greek riots as the result of certain groups behaving badly, the situation is far more complex.

The following clip from AlJazeera English illustrates that the violence is a two-way street, and that much of it is incited by those having views as ugly as the blogger hyperlinked above.

The text accompanying this video is reproduced below.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf


Greece's illegal immigrants represent a part of Europe's black economy, often exploited and living in extreme poverty. In Athens, the capital, many say they have no where else to go.

While Greece has been seeking help from the European Union to strengthen its borders, tensions between Greeks and immigrants remain high.

Al Jazeera's Nicole Itano has more.




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Saturday, May 23, 2009

COMMENT: Why fight racism when you can incite racism to sell newspapers?


Writing in The Age on May 22 2009, Nazeem Hussain asks some very simple questions about attacks on South Asian (largely Indian) overseas students:

I am another brown person. I can say unequivocally, on behalf of every other non-white person in the country, that hearing about racially motivated crimes frightens us.

To an aggressor bent on beating up a "fob" (fresh off the boat) or a "curry", it does not matter that I was born here, and that my parents came here long before the attacker was born. To the aggressor, I simply match the description of their target.

What concerns me is that each time an attack against an Indian is reported, Victoria Police has quite determinedly ensured the issue of racism is not closely linked to the crime.

Inspector Scott Mahoney said that "sometimes, it's just a combination of timing and chance". Is that supposed to mean that the attackers don't see colour when they incessantly find targets of Indian appearance? These "chance" encounters that he describes are occurring with alarming regularity.

With respect, the inspector's analysis is flawed. Victoria Police has itself claimed that people of Indian background are "over-represented as victims". When both the victims and the aggressors claim that these attacks are racially motivated, what purpose does it serve to avoid a discussion about racism?

The police are charged with upholding the law and fighting crime, whatever its causes. There is little benefit in denying the existence of racist attitudes in our communities ...

So far, we have seen police directing their attention to victims and potential victims, telling them they should not speak loudly in their native language or travel on public transport with their MP3 players on display. Police also set up a hotline for Indian victims after the attack on Sharma. I fail to see how these measures tackle the cause of the attacks.

Now the police plan to go to India to educate Australia-bound students on how to minimise the risk of being attacked.

I thought the police said these attacks were opportunistic? Why, then, are they going specifically to India to advise Indians on safety? Or is this simply a business trip to ensure Indian international students continue to bring education revenue into the state by allaying their fears?

If it is racist hate-crimes we are looking at, just call them racist hate-crimes. Who or what is committing them is irrelevant.

But Andrew Bolt, provocateur-in-chief for the Herald Sun, isn't interested about the race of victims. Why is that, Andrew? Are they of the wrong colour? Instead, Andrew wants to accuse the whistle-blower of being involved in a cover-up.

But, since he’s writing in The Age, he does not dare be frank himself and name (directly) one of the ethnic groups most implicated in these attacks ...

Jeez, Andrew, does it really matter what ethnic background they are when the gangs perpetrating the incidents are themselves of no single ethnicity? What is the point of pointing out each ethnicity of each perpetrator? What will it prove? That non-whites have the ability to be racist also? That perpetrators of every race and colour can be inspired by the same violent and racist sentiments that you allow onto your blog? And that companies like Dell (whose banner advertisement appeared on Bolt's blog when I accessed it) sponsor?

The two most senior Muslim coppers in the UK are being had up, separately, on charges of serious fraud. Their defence is that the police ‘system’ is ‘institutionlly racist’. This is what happens when cultures (not races!) who do not share Western values in the rule of law and blind justice (and much more besides) infiltrate rather than assimilate. It is too late for Britain (and Holland and France and Canada) but not too late for Australia.
Why is it that Hindus don’t run around the planet beheading people, stoning women to death, letting off bombs and flying planes into buildings?
Gardez Bien (Reply)
Fri 22 May 09 (08:08am)

Probably because Hindus are too busy getting bashed up in Melbourne.

Had Andrew Bolt and his cyber-buddies read the balance of Hussain's article, they would have understood his point. There's no point Victorian police heading off to India to warn people there of the dangers lurking on our trains. Maybe what they should do is deal with the problem here. And acknowledge that these attacks are almost certainly racially motivated, regardless of who is perpetrating them.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, May 22, 2009

COMMENT: Pollyanna dimwits?

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Some months back, my good friend Janet Albrechtsen expressed her frustration with what she described as

... a sweet but rather dim-witted Pollyanna view of the world.

She was upset that the Obama administration was moving away from torture, secret prisons, extraordinary renditions and keeping dangerous terrorists at the Hotel Guantanamo.

Lord knows how she must feel about Obama releasing the so-called torture memos. And anyone who cares about the future of Western civilisation must be horrified at the prospect of hard-working Bush administration officials, among them senior legal advisers, being prosecuted for sanctioning torture.

Of course, if the torture really was geared toward merely protecting American citizens, torture hawks and opponents of that unruly beast we call the Rule of Law might have a point. But a fair amount of the torture was used merely to elicit evidence supporting a decision to go to war in Iraq. So we torture people to provide us with evidence to prosecute a war in another part of the world where we torture more people.

The dishonesty of the arguments and rhetoric used by many of those supporting torture was illustrated by lawyer and author Philippe Sands during an interview with Lateline recently:

Last summer, I testified before the House Judiciary Committee on a couple of occasions and one of the Republican congressman, Trent Franks, put to me, "What's all the fuss about? If waterboarding was used, it was used on no more than three men for a total of one minute each, grand total three minutes." In fact, we now find out through the release of these memos that two men were waterboarded a total of 266 times, which is absolutely astonishing. One individual 183 times. And you really have to ask yourself, you know, when they got to waterboarding event number 83, did they really think there was anything more they could get out of him?

And about Australia's possible involvement in the torture of detainees, including Australian citizens? Philippe Sands again:

Australia and Britain were very supportive of President Bush's war on terror. I haven't focussed on the Australian situation, but if Australia was half as involved as Britain, then it seems likely that material will come out. I mean, the US wasn't on its own on these issues and it's to the great credit, I think, of the present administration that they believe in transparency and openness. They're putting materials out. That's going to cause some difficulties for some of the United States' allies, I suspect.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, May 18, 2009

POLITICS/COMMENT: Rebuking Rumsfeld ...


GQ Magazine carries an interesting and lengthy feature article profiling former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld through the eyes of his colleagues in the Bush administration. You'd think those working with Rumsfeld would be somewhat more charitable than openly ridiculing him. No such luck for Bush'd war monger.

... in speaking with the former Bush officials, it becomes evident that Rumsfeld impaired administration performance on a host of matters extending well beyond Iraq to impact America’s relations with other nations, the safety of our troops, and the response to Hurricane Katrina.

A major criticism of Rumsfeld was his insistence on stalling decisions that had to be made. This had a direct impact on the military tribunals at Guantanamo.

The Department of Justice got a taste of such stalling tactics two months after September 11, when the president issued an order authorizing the establishment of military commissions to try suspected terrorists. Rumsfeld resisted this imposition of authority on his DoD turf. “We tried to get these military commissions up and running,” recalls one former DoJ official. “There’d be a lot of ‘Well, he’s working on it.’ In my own view, that’s cost the administration a lot. Hearings for detainees would’ve been viewed one way back in 2002. But by 2006”—the year commissions were at last enacted—“it’s not so appealing.”

Rumsfeld also wasn't so keen to share access to American intelligence capabilities to its allies including Australia.

Similarly, Rumsfeld delayed the implementation of a 2004 presidential order granting our Australian and British allies access to the Pentagon’s classified Internet system known as SIPRNet. “He always had what sounded like a good reason,” says one of Bush’s top advisers. “But I had a lot of back channels and found out that it was being held up.” It finally took Australian prime minister John Howard forcibly complaining to Bush about the matter in the fall of 2006 for SIPRNet to become accessible.

It's great to see Howard putting his foot down to Bush about something.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf


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Friday, May 15, 2009

COMMENT: Adventures with Wikipedia ...


I've been having fun following changes to an entry made about me on Wikipedia. In particular, I've enjoyed following some more malicious entries made by one person who calls him/her/itself "Johnnyturk888".

It seems JT888 is determined to paint me as some kind of child of bin-Ladin.

While in Pakistan, he attended an Islamic religious school, called a maddrassa where he came to believe in sharia law and an Islamic form of government.

I attended a madressa in Karachi for a period of 6 months. I was 6 years old at the time. How a 6 year old could come to believe in any particular legal and governmental system beats me.

Then there is this classic:

In 2009, Yusuf was part of a Christian photo opportunity washing the feet of the homeless.

Actually, I have been washing feet with Bill Crews and a few Buddhist monks on the Thursday morning before Easter since 2006.

I'm not sure who Johnnyturk888 is, but one Wikipedia moderator has this to say about him/her/it:

Johnnyturk888 has been on a continuous campaign to smear and undermine the subject of this biography. The problems with his edits have been pointed out repeatedly, yet he repeats them over and over again ... His attacks on Yusuf aren't overt, but their derogatory intention is clear in the aggressive insistence on misleading and inaccurate depictions including poorly sources material and statements taken out of context. I don't want to spend any more time reverting his edits, so I think it's time that Johnnyturk888 is encouraged to move along.

It's a bit hard for someone in the throws of complete obsession to move along. Still, JT888's strange fixation with me does make entertaining reading.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf



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Thursday, May 07, 2009

VIDEO: US troops handed out Bibles in both Iraq and Afghanistan ...

What's the big deal with a bit of evangelism? Better a Bible than vicious dogs at your testicles, I say.

Except that handing out Bibles confirms all the stereotypes Arabs and Afghans have of Coalition forces occupying the country just to bring Iraq and Afghanistan into the broader "Christian empire". Taliban propagandists will have an even bigger field day than they are already having with US bombardments on US civilians.

Here is the text accompanying this video:

The highest ranking military officer in the United States says it's not the military's position to ever push any specific form of religion, in response to an exclusive Al Jazeera report that showed a group of US soldiers in Afghanistan in possession of Bibles translated into local languages.

The troops discussed giving the Bibles to Afghans as gifts - despite military directives banning soldiers from spreading religion, as Al Jazeera's James Bays reports.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf



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CRIKEY: Feudalism is the worst form of government there is, except for all the rest ...




We’re living in the age of bailouts, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari knows it. During his recent meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Zardari likened his request for billions of dollars in military and other aid to the US government bailout of AIG.

The implication of this, of course, is that Pakistan is being severely mismanaged in much the same way as bailed out corporations. Many Pakistanis won’t dispute this. Two nights ago during a TV debate on the independent Pakistani cable news channel Aaj TV, there was near-unanimity among pundits (including former leaders of Zardari’s Pakistani People’s Party) that the government has stuffed the whole Taliban thing up. Yet still the Obama administration has no option but to deal with the elected government.

Pakistani villagers, however, do have other options, which the Taliban is taking full advantage of. The New York Times reported last month that the Taliban were:
... engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small
group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants … [T]he militants
organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops. The approach
allowed the Taliban to offer economic spoils to people frustrated with lax and
corrupt government even as the militants imposed a strict form of Islam through
terror and intimidation.
Asif Ali Zaradari is scion of Pakistan’s feudal political establishment, as are many in his PPP and in other more secular parties such as Opposition Leader Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League. The vast majority of Pakistanis live in villages and certainly are not wealthy land owners. The Taliban could repeat the same strategies in other Pakistani provinces, orchestrating what could become a peasant-based revolution.

However, victory for the Taliban isn’t just as easy as pitting peasants against feudal lords. What many Western observers forget is that the Taliban’s style of Islam is deeply unpopular in a region where the indigenous Muslim culture has had centuries of interaction with (and influence by) other faiths such as Hinduism and Sikhism.

The Taliban’s narrow sectarian agenda worries Shia Muslims, who make up around 20% of Pakistan’s population. The Taliban regard Shias as non-Muslims and have already shown disdain for at least one minority.

Still, the Taliban are only within 100 miles of the Pakistani capital. As Pakistani troops march in, an army of refugees from the Swat Valley are marching in the opposite direction, many headed for refugee camps once occupied by Afghan refugees fleeing Soviet invaders.

First published in Crikey on 7 May 2009.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf



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VIDEO: Just how serious is Obama about ending torture?

The Obama Administration has repeated the mantra of the Bush Administration - that America does not torture. But just how serious is Obama about torture? The following video might provide some clues. Here is the text accompanying the video:

As Barack Obama prepares marks his first 100 days in power, pressure is mounting to hold the administration of George Bush, the former US president, to account for its role in authorising torture.

While it's still unclear whether anyone will be charged, Al Jazeera's Avi Lewis sat down with a panel of experts to find out where the debate over torture now stands.



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PAKISTAN: Talking Taliban around the clock ...

You only need a smattering or Urdu and access to Pakistani cable TV news channels to understand just how worried many Pakistanis are about the Taliban incursions. Government officials surely must be worried about the Taliban's ability to win hearts and minds, especially if this report in the New York Times is anything to go by.

The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here ...

In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power.

To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops, the residents, government officials and analysts said.

The approach allowed the Taliban to offer economic spoils to people frustrated with lax and corrupt government even as the militants imposed a strict form of Islam through terror and intimidation.

“This was a bloody revolution in Swat,” said a senior Pakistani official who oversees Swat, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the Taliban. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it sweeps the established order of Pakistan.”

The Taliban’s ability to exploit class divisions adds a new dimension to the insurgency and is raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal.
The government in Islamabad is seen as representing more of the feudal economic status quo. One can hardly expect the Pakistan Peoples' Party government to do much about land reform when the PPP is dominated by wealthy land owners. Even the Predident Asif Ali Zardari comes from a land owning family.

Successive Pakistani governments have since failed to provide land reform and even the most basic forms of education and health care. Avenues to advancement for the vast majority of rural poor do not exist.
But why would people turn to the Taliban for social justice? After all, they know that the Taliban will close down girls' schools and stop women from going into the marketplace. The Taliban are also notoriously anti-Shia, and will close down many traditional Sufi shrines that play an important role in the indigenous folk Islam.

Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American lawyer and former classmate of President Obama’s, said, “The people of Pakistan are psychologically ready for a revolution.”

Sunni militancy is taking advantage of deep class divisions that have long festered in Pakistan, he said. “The militants, for their part, are promising more than just proscriptions on music and schooling,” he said. “They are also promising Islamic justice, effective government and economic redistribution.”
The strange thing is that at the last Pakistani elections people in Swat, like in so many places in the "tribal areas", refused to vote for religious parties. Instead they opted for secular parties.

Some nights back, I saw a TV debate on Aaj TV in which Pakistani analysts were questioning the Pakistan Army's ability to defeat the Taliban. It's impossible to overstate the impact that the takeover of Swat has had on the country. Swat may be among the "tribal areas", but it is still only within 100 miles of Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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VIDEO: A victim of extraordinary rendition speaks out ...

Here is the text accompanying the video from AlJazeera English concerning the extraordinary rendition of Canadian citizen Maher Arar.

Maher Arar is the most well-known victim of the Bush administration's notorious
policy of extraordinary rendition. In an exclusive interview, Arar talked to
Josh Rushing.



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