Thursday, December 24, 2009

The reason for the failure of Copenhagen

Stilwell says that rich countries are trying to exchange "beads and blankets for Manhattan." He adds: "This is a colonial moment. That's why no stone has been left unturned in getting heads of state here to sign off on this kind of deal.... Then there's no going back. You've carved up the last remaining unowned resource and allocated it to the wealthy."

Under the leadership of America, nothing can be expected except an un equal distribution of everything. America has come to stand for inequality and the virtues of self interest only even if it comes at the cost of depriving millions of minimal existence.
In many ways the negotiations on the environment represents the pits in offering leadership to a problem that affects the preservation of our planet. The Chinese appear to understand the magnitude of the problem more than America and yet an American, Al Gore, was given a prize, for talking glibly about global warming.
The tragedy is that a large part of America would want to do the right thing and yet our political system does not give them a voice. The eight years of Bush were spent in denial for dealing with the most serious problem faced by our planet and now that Obama is willing to at least accept that this is a problem, we have a weak President unable to break free of interests of the Corporations.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The role of Kashmir and the Army in Pakistan

Pakistan has built up the 5th largest army in the world and has erroneously fallen upon the rent an army concept. America has been instrumental in feeding upon the ambitions of the various army generals to keep Pakistan under their influence.

The army has now become an integral part of the political structure. Pakistan's generals are no better or worse than it's political leaders, although they ( the generals) have been less covetous of personal fortunes than the civilians.
I believe in any future political set up the army must agree to keep out of politics in return for some form of consultative role. The Turkish example might be worth studying.

Kashmir is a lost cause for all but the Kashmiris but it has spawned the huge defense spending on both sides and has resulted in Pakistan today becoming a Nuclear power. In many ways Pakistan's nuclear capability has come at the expense of the literacy of it's citizen, but without it's nuclear muscle Pakistan would be a pariah nation shunned by all including the US.

For better or worse Pakistan has the misfortune of sharing a border with Afghanistan, which is today the wild west of Muslim fundamentalists and this will no doubt shape the future of what Pakistan will become. If India has shaped Pakistan's past, Afghanistan will likely shape it's future. This is what happens to a people who have no legitimate vision of their own. They are buffeted by fate and others.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A new world order?

Several interesting points from viewing the video. Please see the video first.

1. The world as a whole is a better place today in terms of wealth and health than it was in 1858.
2. Imperialism helped the West and hurt Asia ( except Japan). Victory in two world wars put the West in control of making rules on how the game is to be played. The rules were slanted giving the West a huge edge.
3. Sovereignty is critical for the growth of a nation. A freer world ( free of Imperial domination, whether military or Economic) will lead to greater prosperity for every one as the rules will be more even.
4. The possibility of war to maintain the status quo of the West has already been tried. Fear of the emergence of China partly influenced the attack on Iraq. The idea was to occupy the Middle East ( including Iran) so that Energy supplies could be controlled to the disadvantage of China and India. This attempt has failed bar the shouting.

A new world order is emerging not just because nations like China and India are gaining a bigger say in making the rules but also because the West in their panic are making colossal mistakes hurting their credibility and calling into question the robustness of their institutions.



Monday, September 14, 2009

Are The Muslims up to it?

There is a message in this for all Muslims of the world. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire a decision seems to have been taken by the victors to enslave the Muslims and never allow them to even think of being free again. The Muslim territories contained oil and were rich in other natural resources which could fuel the economies of the victors.

Muslims nations world wide are now weak, Impotent and servile to the US and Isreal. No one is to blame for this more than the Muslims. The refusal to join the Industrial revolution, shows up in the weakness of the way Islam is interpreted. A 100 % focus on rituals has left Islam as nothing but a way of observing these rituals for the sake of observing them, in a mistaken belief that this all that God wants of us.

Forgotten are the lessons of Badr and Uhud. The fight has gone out of Muslims except a few. The few that are willing to fight are the ones who are the most ritualistic. On the other hand rituals are the main thing that has kept Islam alive. The faith of the many has sustained what the reasoning of the few would have fritterred away. I hope that this lesson is never forgotten. The fact that Islam has so much to offer to the world is lost both on Muslims and non Muslims alike.

There are those Muslims who would like to characterize Islam as a religion of peace. Whether they do it to appease those who accuse it of terrorism or they genuinely believe it, I do not know but I do know that that statement is incorrect and does an injustice to Islam. Islam is a Religion that seeks Jusice more than Peace. It advocates fighting against Injsutice. It advocates fighting to protect your religion and beliefs where they are threatened.
No Muslim should feel embarrased or apologetic in wanting to fight for their freedoms. Otherwise they deserve the humiliation and Injustice that is being waged on the Palestinians. ( a people composed not just of Muslims but also Jews and Christians).

In a world increasingly dominated by a powerful minority who are lording it over a powerless majority, the dirtiest word is now Democracy. The looming limitations of Capitalism, Secularism, Democracy are creating a vacum not fully visble to all but this vacum creates an opportunity for those who believe in Justice, whether they call themselves Muslim or not.
Let us be clear that Injustice cannot be overcome without a fight. Those who do not have a stomach for it should get out of the kitchen ( in fact they already have) including those who would like to call themselves Muslims but want to look the other way.

Those Muslims nations who take as their protectors the very nations who are responsible for most of the Injustices are a blot on the name of Islam. The powerful will never be the protectors of the powerless. It is only Islam that advocates that those that have a lot should and must share with those who have little. The powerless are the orphans of the world and one of Islams greatest message is to care for the orphans.

Are Muslims ready to fill this vacum ? Unfortunately I see no signs of it. Will Muslims be ready for the fight in a 100 years? If not, then they may never. Then they can keep their rituals and I hope that they will be very happy with them.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is the US political system capable of bringing about change that does not perpetuate the interests of the elite?


he stood with his predecessor – serial bubble-blowing Alan Greenspan – who argued that monetary authorities are best positioned to clean up the mess after the bursting of asset bubbles rather than to pre-empt the damage. "

Editorial Comment

The biggest criticism of US Policy is that they their planners are not adjusting to the new realities represented by globalisation, the failures of US Foreign policy, the loss of faith in the dollar and the apparent lack of any ethics in the general economic environment. I believe it is less a case of the planners not being aware of the need to make fundamental changes as the fact that these changes will hurt some major players and their interests and therefore will not be allowed to happen.
A consumer economy based on the good credit standing of the US will have to undergo change when the US is no longer AAA but this is a tough sell to the powerful retail Industry. A foreign policy that hurts the interests of AIPAC and the defense Industry is a non starter.
Is the US political system capable of bringing about change that does not perpetuate the interests of the elite? This is the biggest hurdle when the answer is " unlikely". While the non elite forces are greater in number, they still lack the organisation to have an impact. There is a growing sense of frustration that the Democratic Party is too much in the grip of the elite. It is only less elitist to the extent that the Republican party is far more racist and for the time being the Democratic President is black.
The forlorn hope that a grass roots movement will revolt and bring about change rises perpetually in the American heart. What will this grass roots movement be based on? Anti race, resistance to war or a concern for the environment. I believe neither of these. People will revolt, when they do, because of economic injustice. The lack of jobs, housing,reasonable heath care and adequate educational opportunities will bring out people on the streets faster. Not until people come out on to the streets to express their point of view will any one sit up and take notice. I believe that we need to build up the platform for Economic Justice within Wespac and build awareness not just for a better life but specially for meeting the basics of life. Until such time that we can show the way of achieving this both through mobilising and education, we cannot give the hope to the distressed that is needed. Hope will come with success and success will come through more vigorous and effective action. The message is quite clear, we cannot wait for Obama to deliver. It should be enough that he is there, we need for ourselves to mobilise and deliver.


The case against Bernanke
By Stephen Roach
Published: August 25 2009 16:02 | Last updated: August 25 2009 16:02
Barack Obama has rendered one of his most important post-crisis verdicts: Ben Bernanke will be nominated for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. This is a very shortsighted decision. While America’s head central banker deserves credit for being creative and courageous in orchestrating an unusually aggressive monetary easing programme, it is important to remember that his pre-crisis actions played an equally critical role in setting the stage for the most wrenching recession since the 1930s. It is as if a doctor guilty of malpractice is being given credit for inventing a miracle cure. Maybe the patient needs a new doctor.
Mr Bernanke made three critical mistakes in his pre-Lehman incarnation: First, and foremost, he was deeply wedded to the philosophical conviction that central banks should be agnostic when it comes to asset bubbles. On this count, he stood with his predecessor – serial bubble-blowing Alan Greenspan – who argued that monetary authorities are best positioned to clean up the mess after the bursting of asset bubbles rather than to pre-empt the damage. As a corollary to this approach, both Mr Bernanke and Mr Greenspan drew the wrong conclusions from post-bubble strategies earlier in this decade put in place after the bursting of the equity bubble in 2000. In retrospect, the Fed’s injection of excess liquidity in 2001-2003, which Mr Bernanke endorsed with fervour, played a key role in setting the stage for the lethal mix of property and credit bubbles.

Second, Mr Bernanke was the intellectual champion of the “global saving glut” defence that exonerated the US from its bubble-prone tendencies and pinned the blame on surplus savers in Asia. While there is no denying the demand for dollar assets by foreign creditors, it is absurd to blame overseas lenders for reckless behaviour by Americans that a US central bank should have contained. Asia’s surplus savers had nothing to do with America’s irresponsible penchant for leveraging a housing bubble and using the proceeds to fund consumption. Mr Bernanke’s saving glut argument was at the core of a deep-seated US denial that failed to look in the mirror and pinned blame on others.

Third, Mr Bernanke is cut from the same market libertarian cloth that got the Fed into this mess. Steeped in the Greenspan credo that markets know better than regulators, Mr Bernanke was aligned with the prevailing Fed mindset that abrogated its regulatory authority in the era of excess. The derivatives’ explosion, extreme leverage of regulated and shadow banks and excesses of mortgage lending were all flagrant abuses that both Mr Bernanke and Mr Greenspan could have said no to. But they did not. As a result, a complex and unstable system veered dangerously out of control.
Notwithstanding these mistakes, Mr Obama may be premature in giving Mr Bernanke credit for the great cure. No one knows for certain as to whether the Fed’s strategy will ultimately be successful. The worst of the US recession appears to have been arrested for now – a fairly typical, but temporary, outgrowth of the time-honored inventory cycle. But the sustainability of any post-bubble recovery is always dubious. Just ask Japan 20 years after the bursting of its bubbles.
While financial markets are giddy with hopes of economic revival – in part inspired by Mr Bernanke’s cheerleading at the Fed’s annual Jackson Hole gathering – there is still good reason to believe that the US recovery will be anaemic and fragile. US consumers are in the early stages of a multi-year retrenchment as they cut debt and rebuild retirement saving. The unusual breadth and synchronicity of the global recession will restrain US export demand from becoming a new growth engine.
It would be the height of folly to reward Mr Bernanke for the recovery that never stuck. Yet Mr Bernanke’s apparent reward is, unfortunately, typical of the snap judgments that guide Washington decision-making. In this same vein, it is hard to forget Mr Greenspan’s mission-accomplished speech in 2004 that claimed “our strategy of addressing the bubble’s consequences rather than the bubble itself has been successful”. Eager to declare the crisis over, the Obama verdict may be equally premature.
The Bernanke reappointment is a welcome chance for a broader debate over the conduct and role of US monetary policy. Mr Obama has made sweeping proposals that give the Fed broad new powers in managing systemic risks. I argued in the Financial Times 10 months ago that the Fed should not be granted these powers without greater accountability as required by a “financial stability mandate” – in effect, forcing the Fed to shape monetary policy with an aim towards avoiding asset bubbles and imbalances. Without a revamped policy mandate, it is conceivable that we could face another destabilising crisis.
Ultimately, these decisions boil down to the person – in this case, Mr Bernanke – who is being charged with the awesome responsibility as America’s chief economic policymaker. As a student of the Great Depression, he should have known better. Yes, he reacted strongly after the fact in taking actions to avoid the pitfalls highlighted by his own research. But he lacked the foresight and courage to resist the most reckless tendencies of the era of excess. The world needs central bankers who avoid problems, not those who specialise in post-crisis damage control. For that reason, alone, he should not be reappointed. Let the debate begin.

The writer is chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and author of The Next Asia to be published next month

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Who rules America?


"Fighting the special interests doesn't pay and doesn't succeed."

Editorial Comment

Paul Craig Roberts has been railing against this system for a long time but as we are seeing in the case of Health care the corporations own Congress. I do not expect anything to change soon even under Obama. What may gain traction though is the second part of the article which questions why we are in Afghanistan. As the cost of conducting this war exceeds the cost of the Iraq war, sheer Economics will make people ask the obvious questions, what are we doing pouring valuable resources like men and money into the worlds biggest hell hole?

Obama has a very short window to make up his mind about how he will justify the Afghan war but if it is still there by the time of the next elections he will have run out of sell able ideas. His commitment to AfPak has stopped his party from pointing out the obvious connection between the Iraq/Afghanistan adventure and his failure to finance the Health Care plan. The Health Care plan incidentally is dying before our very eyes.

The other point in the article which gets no sympathy from any one because no one really cares about them ( never mind the car sticker s which say, I support the toops) is the psychological destruction of the men and women who serve in the US army. In spite of the various programs that the army puts them through on their return, a fairly large number become killers, rapists, wife/girl friend beaters, misfits and outcasts of society.

There is even less sympathy for what we have done to Iraq in destroying their country. No one questions how Iraq is now a much worse place for it's citizen then it was under Saddam. All we care about is to declare victory and to get out. If there are huge red flags relating to an ailing nation then we are not recognising them because we are not admitting that any thing serious ails us.

We are a nation in denial about our sickness and continue to harp on the great virtues of our Democracy and our Financial systems.


"We have shifted from a culture of production to a culture of consumption. "

"The skillfully manufactured images and slogans that flood the airwaves and infect our political discourse mask reality. And we do not protest. "
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Consider the following written by Chris Hedges in his new Book:

I reported in my new book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle from the ringside of professional wrestling bouts at Madison Square Garden, from Las Vegas where I wrote about the pornographic film industry, from academic conferences held by positive psychologists -- who claim to be able to engineer happiness – and from the campuses of universities to chronicle our terrifying flight as a culture into a state of illusion. I looked at the array of mechanisms used to divert us from confronting the economic, political and moral collapse around us. I examined the fantasy that if we draw on our inner resources and strengths, if we realize that we are truly exceptional, we can have everything we desire.
The childish idea that we can always prevail, that reality is never an impediment to what we want, is the central motif of illusion peddled on popular talk shows, by the Christian Right, by Hollywood, in corporate retreats, by the news industry and by self-help gurus. Reality can always be overcome. The future will always be glorious. And held out to keep us amused and entertained are spectacles and celebrities who have become idealized versions of ourselves and who, we are assured,20we can all one day become.
The cultural embrace of illusion, and the celebrity culture that has risen up around it, have accompanied the awful hollowing out of the state. We have shifted from a culture of production to a culture of consumption. We have been sold a system of casino capitalism, with its complicated and unregulated deals of turning debt into magical assets, to create fictional wealth for us and vast wealth for our elite. We have internalized the awful ethic of corporatism -- one built around the cult of the self and consumption as an inner compulsion -- to believe that living is about our own advancement and our own happiness at the expense of others. Corporations, behind the smoke screen, have ruthlessly dismantled and destroyed our manufacturing base and impoverished our working class. The free market became our god and government was taken hostage by corporations, the same corporations that entice us daily with illusions though the mass media, the entertainment industry and popular culture.
The more we sever ourselves from a literate, print-based world, a world of complexity and nuance, a world of ideas, for one informed by comforting, reassuring images, fantasies, slogans and a celebration of violence the more we implode. We ask, like the wrestling fans or those who confuse love with pornography, to be fed lies. We demand lies. The skillfully manufactured images and slogans that flood the airwaves and infect our political discourse mask reali ty. And we do not protest. The lonely Cassandras who speak the truth about our misguided imperial wars, the global economic meltdown and the imminent danger of multiple pollutions that are destroying the eco-system that sustains the human species, are drowned out by arenas full of fans chanting "Slut! Slut! Slut!" or television audiences chanting "Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" The worse reality becomes, the less a beleaguered population wants to hear about it and the more it distracts itself with squalid pseudo-events of celebrity breakdowns, gossip and trivia.
A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. And we are dying now. We will wake from our state of induced childishness, one where trivia and gossip pass for news and information, one where our goal is not justice by an elusive and unattainable happiness, to confront the stark limitations before us or we will continue our headlong retreat into fantasy. Those who do not grow up in times of despair and turmoil inevitably turn to demagogues and charlatans to entertain and reassure them. And these demagogues, as they have throughout history, lead the crowd, blinded and amused, towards despotism.


Who Rules America?
By Paul Craig Roberts

What do you suppose it is like to be elected president of the United States only to find that your power is restricted to the service of powerful interest groups?

A president who does a good job for the ruling interest groups is paid off with remunerative corporate directorships, outrageous speaking fees, and a lucrative book contract. If he is young when he assumes office, like Bill Clinton and Obama, it means a long life of luxurious leisure.

Fighting the special interests doesn't pay and doesn't succeed. On April 30 the primacy of special over public interests was demonstrated yet again. The Democrats' bill to prevent 1.7 million mortgage foreclosures and, thus, preserve $300 billion in home equity by permitting homeowners to renegotiate their mortgages, was defeated in the Senate, despite the 60-vote majority of the Democrats. The banksters were able to defeat the bill 51 to 45.

These are the same financial gangsters whose unbridled greed and utter irresponsibility have=2 0wiped out half of Americans' retirement savings, sent the economy into a deep hole, and threatened the US dollar's reserve currency role. It is difficult to imagine an interest group with a more damaged reputation. Yet, a majority of "the people's representatives" voted as the discredited banksters instructed.

Hundreds of billions of public dollars have gone to bail out the banksters, but when some Democrats tried to get the Senate to do a mite for homeowners, the US Senate stuck with the banks.The Senate's motto is: "Hundreds of billions for the banksters, not a dime for homeowners."

If Obama was naive about well-intentioned change before the vote, he no longer has this political handicap.

Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin acknowledged the voters' defeat by the discredited banksters. The banks, Durbin said, "frankly own the place."

It is not difficult to understand why. Among those who defeated the homeowners bill are senators Jon Tester (Mont), Max Baucus (Mont), Blanche Lincoln (Ark), Ben Nelson (Neb), ManyLandrieu (La), Tim Johnson (SD), and Arlan Specter (Pa). According to reports, the banksters have poured a half million dollars into Tester's campaign funds. Baucus has received $3.5 million; Lincoln $1.3 million; Nelson $1.4 million; Landrieu $2 million; Johnson $2.5 million; Spec ter $4.5 million.

The same Congress that can't find a dime for homeowners or health care appropriates hundreds of billions of dollars for the military/security complex. The week after the Senate foreclosed on American homeowners, the Obama "change" administration asked Congress for an additional $61 billion dollars for the neoconservatives' war in Iraq and $65 billion more for the neoconservatives' war in Afghanistan. Congress greeted this request with a rousing "Yes we can!"

The additional $126 billion comes on top of the $533.7 billion "defense" budget for this year. The $660 billion--probably a low-ball number--is ten times the military spending of China, the second most powerful country in the world.

How is it possible that "the world's only superpower" is threatened by the likes of Iraq and Afghanistan? How can the US be a superpower if it is threatened by countries that have no military capability other than a guerilla capability to resist invaders?

These "wars" are a hoax designed to enrich the US armaments industry and to infuse the "security forces" with police powers over American citizenry.

Not a dime to prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes, but hundreds of billions of dollars to murder Muslim20women and children and to create millions of refugees, many of whom will either sign up with insurgents or end up as the next wave of immigrants into America.

This is the way the American government works. And it thinks it is a "city on the hill, a light unto the world."

Americans elected Obama because he said he would end the gratuitous criminal wars of the Bush brownshirts, wars that have destroyed America's reputation and financial solvency and serve no public interest. But once in office Obama found that he was ruled by the military/security complex. War is not being ended, merely transferred from the unpopular war in Iraq to the more popular war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Obama, in violation of Pakistan's sovereignty, continues to attack "targets" in Pakistan. In place of a war in Iraq, the military/security complex now has two wars going in much more difficult circumstances.

Viewing the promotion gravy train that results from decades of warfare, the US officer corps has responded to the "challenge to American security" from the Taliban. "We have to kill them over there before they come over here." No member of the US government or its numerous well-paid agents has ever explained how the Taliban, which is focused on Afghanistan, could ever get to America. Yet this hyped fear is sufficient for the public to support the continuing enrichment of the military/security complex, while American homes are foreclosed by the banksters who have destroyed the retirement prospects of the US population..

According to Pentagon budget documents, by next year the cost of the war against Afghanistan will exceed the cost of the war against Iraq. According to a Nobel prize-winning economist and a budget expert at Harvard University, the war against Iraq has cost the American taxpayers $3 trillion, that is, $3,000 billion in out-of-pocket and already incurred future costs, such as caring for veterans.

If the Pentagon is correct, then by next year the US government will have squandered $6 trillion dollars on two wars, the only purpose of which is to enrich the munitions manufacturers and the "security" bureaucracy.

The human and social costs are dramatic as well and not only for the Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani populations ravaged by American bombs. Dahr Jamail reports that US Army psychiatrists have concluded that by their third deployment, 30 percent of American troops are mental wrecks. Among the costs that reverberate across generations of Americans are elevated rates of suicide, unemployment, divorce, child and spousal abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and incarceration. http://www.truthout .org/051209J? n

In the Afghan "desert of death" the Obama administration is constructing a giant military base. Why? What does the internal politics of Afghanistan have to do with the US?

What is this enormous waste of resources that America does not have accomplishing besides enriching the American munitions industry?

China and to some extent India are the rising powers in the world. Russia, the largest country on earth, is armed with a nuclear arsenal as terrifying as the American one. The US dollar's role as reserve currency, the most important source of American power, is undermined by the budget deficits that result from the munition corporations' wars and the bankster bailouts.

Why is the US making itself impotent fighting wars that have nothing whatsoever to do with its security, wars that are, in fact, threatening its security?

The answer is that the military/security lobby, the financial gangsters, and AIPAC rule. The American people be damned.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Beloscuni in Tehran- A book Review Comments on the state of Democracy


" What we call the ‘crisis of democracy’ isn’t something that happens when people stop believing in their own power but, on the contrary, when they stop trusting the elites, when they perceive that the throne is empty, that the decision is now theirs. ‘Free elections’ involve a minimal show of politeness when those in power pretend that they do not really hold the power, and ask us to decide freely if we want to grant it to them.
We act as though we were free, not only accepting but even demanding that an invisible injunction tell us what to do and think."

"..nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware that they are corrupt, but we practise them anyway because we assume they work even if we don’t believe in them. "

Editorial Comment

A brilliant essay on the state of Democracy as well as the role that capitalism is playing by a person who seems to have thought more about Democracy than Capitalism.
I have questioned consistently whether Democracy as practiced today particularly in the US is serving a useful purpose. So wedded are people to this concept here that they are not only proud of the way they practice it but wish to export it to the rest of the world. They know no other way to govern themselves and are therefore willing to live with all the warts, boils, stink and much more serious side effects that comes with the way they practice it.

A democratic process that does not simultaneously have as it's goal the bringing of Economic Justice is no more than treason against the people that it purports to serve. When a nation puts Capitalism on a higher pedestal than Democracy than it serves the interests of Capitalism and not Democracy. Capitalism is a wild animal that will usurp Democracy and bend it to it's will if it is given the slightest leeway and nothing serves Capitalism more than Materialism and nothing serves materialism more than self interest and nothing serves self interest more than the absence of spiritualism in life.

Russia and Italy have been given as examples where the elite ( representatives of Capitalism) have created the drama that deludes their people into thinking that what is happening is in their name. The question is whether even if something happens in the name of the people is it in their best interest and who decides what is in the best interest of people.

One of the greatest skills of America is Marketing itself. In this way it does a great job in Marketing to its citizen that the highest goal to aspire to for a nation is unending affluence powered by ruthless materialism. This is treated as a given and not questioned even in the face of unequal economic opportunity. In order to do this Democracy must have the strength to curb raw Capitailsm or end up in the dustbin of History as a Capitalist tool more than a Democratic process. Just as Iran is ruled by the clergy, America is ruled by it's Corporations and the rich and both call themselves Democracies and both accuse the other with some justification of confusing Democracy with Elitism.

23 July 2009
Slavoj Žižek
Berlusconi in Tehran
Slavoj Žižek
When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, but before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture often takes place. All of a sudden, people know the game is up: they simply cease to be afraid. It isn’t just that the regime loses its legitimacy: its exercise of power is now perceived as a panic reaction, a gesture of impotence. Ryszard Kapuściński, in Shah of Shahs, his account of the Khomeini revolution, located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman withdrew. Within a couple of hours, all Tehran had heard about the incident, and although the streetfighting carried on for weeks, everyone somehow knew it was all over. Is something similar happening now?
There are many versions of last month’s events in Tehran. Some see in the protests the culmination of the pro-Western ‘reform movement’, something along the lines of the colour-coded revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. They support the protests as a secular reaction to the Khomeini revolution, as the first step towards a new liberal-democratic Iran freed from Muslim fundamentalism. They are countered by sceptics who think that Ahmadinejad actually won, that he is the voice of the majority, while Mousavi’s support comes from the middle classes and their gilded youth. Let’s face facts, they say: in Ahmadinejad, Iran has the president it deserves. Then there are those who dismiss Mousavi as a member of the clerical establishment whose differences from Ahmadinejad are merely cosmetic. He too wants to continue with the atomic energy programme, is against recognising Israel, and when he was prime minister in the repressive years of the war with Iraq enjoyed the full support of Khomeini.
Finally, and saddest of all, are the leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad. What is at stake for them is Iranian freedom from imperialism. Ahmadinejad won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed corruption among the elite and used Iran’s oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority. This, we are told, is the true Ahmadinejad: the Holocaust-denying fanatic is a creation of the Western media. In this view, what’s been happening in Iran is a repetition of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh – a coup, financed by the West, against the legitimate premier. This not only ignores the facts (the high electoral turnout, up from the usual 55 to 85 per cent, can be explained only as a protest vote), it also assumes, patronisingly, that Ahmadinejad is good enough for the backward Iranians: they aren’t yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular left.
Opposed to one another though they are, all these versions read the Iranian protests as a conflict between Islamic hardliners and pro-Western liberal reformists. That is why they find it so difficult to locate Mousavi: is he a Western-backed reformer who wants to increase people’s freedom and introduce a market economy, or a member of the clerical establishment whose victory wouldn’t significantly change the nature of the regime? Either way, the true nature of the protests is being missed.
The green colours adopted by the Mousavi supporters and the cries of ‘Allahu akbar!’ that resonated from the roofs of Tehran in the evening darkness suggested that the protesters saw themselves as returning to the roots of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, and cancelling out the corruption that followed it. This was evident in the way the crowds behaved: the emphatic unity of the people, their creative self-organisation and improvised forms of protest, the unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline. Picture the march: thousands of men and women demonstrating in complete silence. This was a genuine popular uprising on the part of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution. We should contrast the events in Iran with the US intervention in Iraq: an assertion of popular will on the one hand, a foreign imposition of democracy on the other. The events in Iran can also be read as a comment on the platitudes of Obama’s Cairo speech, which focused on the dialogue between religions: no, we don’t need a dialogue between religions (or civilisations), we need a bond of political solidarity between those who struggle for justice in Muslim countries and those who participate in the same struggle elsewhere.
Two crucial observations follow. First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a corrupt Islamofascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the ayatollahs. His demagogic distribution of crumbs to the poor shouldn’t deceive us: he has the backing not only of the organs of police repression and a very Westernised PR apparatus. He is also supported by a powerful new class of Iranians who have become rich thanks to the regime’s corruption – the Revolutionary Guard is not a working-class militia, but a mega-corporation, the most powerful centre of wealth in the country.
Second, we have to draw a clear distinction between the two main candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi is, effectively, a reformist, a proponent of an Iranian version of identity politics, promising favours to particular groups of every kind. Mousavi is something entirely different: he stands for the resuscitation of the popular dream that sustained the Khomeini revolution. It was a utopian dream, but one can’t deny the genuinely utopian aspect of what was so much more than a hardline Islamist takeover. Now is the time to remember the effervescence that followed the revolution, the explosion of political and social creativity, organisational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. That this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the revolution was an authentic political event, an opening that unleashed altogether new forces of social transformation: a moment in which ‘everything seemed possible.’ What followed was a gradual closing-down of possibilities as the Islamic establishment took political control. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the ‘return of the repressed’ of the Khomeini revolution.
What all this means is that there is a genuinely liberatory potential in Islam: we don’t have to go back to the tenth century to find a ‘good’ Islam, we have it right here, in front of us. The future is uncertain – the popular explosion has been contained, and the regime will regain ground. However, it will no longer be seen the same way: it will be just one more corrupt authoritarian government. Ayatollah Khamenei will lose whatever remained of his status as a principled spiritual leader elevated above the fray and appear as what he is – one opportunistic politician among many. But whatever the outcome, it is vital to keep in mind that we have witnessed a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit within the frame of a struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If we don’t see this, if as a consequence of our cynical pragmatism, we have lost the capacity to recognise the promise of emancipation, we in the West will have entered a post-democratic era, ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.
Is there a link between Ahmadinejad and Berlusconi? Isn’t it preposterous even to compare Ahmadinejad with a democratically elected Western leader? Unfortunately, it isn’t: the two are part of the same global process. If there is one person to whom monuments will be built a hundred years from now, Peter Sloterdijk once remarked, it is Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean leader who thought up and put into practice a ‘capitalism with Asian values’. The virus of authoritarian capitalism is slowly but surely spreading around the globe. Deng Xiaoping praised Singapore as the model that all of China should follow. Until now, capitalism has always seemed to be inextricably linked with democracy; it’s true there were, from time to time, episodes of direct dictatorship, but, after a decade or two, democracy again imposed itself (in South Korea, for example, or Chile). Now, however, the link between democracy and capitalism has been broken.
This doesn’t mean, needless to say, that we should renounce democracy in favour of capitalist progress, but that we should confront the limitations of parliamentary representative democracy. The American journalist Walter Lippmann coined the term ‘manufacturing consent’, later made famous by Chomsky, but Lippmann intended it in a positive way. Like Plato, he saw the public as a great beast or a bewildered herd, floundering in the ‘chaos of local opinions’. The herd, he wrote in Public Opinion (1922), must be governed by ‘a specialised class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality’: an elite class acting to circumvent the primary defect of democracy, which is its inability to bring about the ideal of the ‘omni-competent citizen’. There is no mystery in what Lippmann was saying, it is manifestly true; the mystery is that, knowing it, we continue to play the game. We act as though we were free, not only accepting but even demanding that an invisible injunction tell us what to do and think.
In this sense, in a democracy, the ordinary citizen is effectively a king, but a king in a constitutional democracy, a king whose decisions are merely formal, whose function is to sign measures proposed by the executive. The problem of democratic legitimacy is homologous to the problem of constitutional democracy: how to protect the dignity of the king? How to make it seem that the king effectively decides, when we all know this is not true? What we call the ‘crisis of democracy’ isn’t something that happens when people stop believing in their own power but, on the contrary, when they stop trusting the elites, when they perceive that the throne is empty, that the decision is now theirs. ‘Free elections’ involve a minimal show of politeness when those in power pretend that they do not really hold the power, and ask us to decide freely if we want to grant it to them.
Alain Badiou has proposed a distinction between two types (or rather levels) of corruption in democracy: the first, empirical corruption, is what we usually understand by the term, but the second pertains to the form of democracy per se, and the way it reduces politics to the negotiation of private interests. This distinction becomes visible in the (rare) case of an honest ‘democratic’ politician who, while fighting empirical corruption, nonetheless sustains the formal space of the other sort. (There is, of course, also the opposite case of the empirically corrupted politician who acts on behalf of the dictatorship of Virtue.)
‘If democracy means representation,’ Badiou writes in De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom?, ‘it is first of all the representation of the general system that bears its forms. In other words: electoral democracy is only representative in so far as it is first of all the consensual representation of capitalism, or of what today has been renamed the “market economy”. This is its underlying corruption.’[*] At the empirical level multi-party liberal democracy ‘represents’ – mirrors, registers, measures – the quantitative dispersal of people’s opinions, what they think about the parties’ proposed programmes and about their candidates etc. However, in a more radical, ‘transcendental’ sense, multi-party liberal democracy ‘represents’ – instantiates – a certain vision of society, politics and the role of the individuals in it. Multi-party liberal democracy ‘represents’ a precise vision of social life in which politics is organised so that parties compete in elections to exert control over the state legislative and executive apparatus. This transcendental frame is never neutral – it privileges certain values and practices – and this becomes palpable in moments of crisis or indifference, when we experience the inability of the democratic system to register what people want or think. In the UK elections of 2005, for example, despite Tony Blair’s growing unpopularity, there was no way for this disaffection to find political expression. Something was obviously very wrong here: it wasn’t that people didn’t know what they wanted, but rather that cynicism, or resignation, prevented them from acting.
This is not to say that democratic elections should be despised; the point is only to insist that they are not in themselves an indication of the true state of affairs; as a rule, they tend to reflect the predominant doxa. Take an unproblematic example: France in 1940. Even Jacques Duclos, the number two in the French Communist Party, admitted that if, at that point in time, free elections had been held in France, Marshal Pétain would have won with 90 per cent of the vote. When De Gaulle refused to acknowledge France’s capitulation and continued to resist, he claimed that only he, and not the Vichy regime, spoke on behalf of the true France (not, note, on behalf of the ‘majority of the French’). He was claiming to be speaking the truth even if it had no democratic legitimacy and was clearly opposed to the opinion of the majority of the French people. There can be democratic elections which enact a moment of truth: elections in which, against its sceptical-cynical inertia, the majority momentarily ‘awakens’ and votes against the hegemonic opinion; however, that such elections are so exceptional shows that they are not as such a medium of truth.
It is democracy’s authentic potential that is losing ground with the rise of authoritarian capitalism, whose tentacles are coming closer and closer to the West. The change always takes place in accordance with a country’s values: Putin’s capitalism with ‘Russian values’ (the brutal display of power), Berlusconi’s capitalism with ‘Italian values’ (comical posturing). Both Putin and Berlusconi rule in democracies which are gradually being reduced to an empty shell, and, in spite of the rapidly worsening economic situation, they both enjoy popular support (more than two-thirds of the electorate). No wonder they are personal friends: each of them has a habit of ‘spontaneous’ outbursts (which, in Putin’s case, are prepared in advance in conformity with the Russian ‘national character’). From time to time, Putin likes to use a dirty word or utter an obscene threat. When, a couple of years ago, a Western journalist asked him an awkward question about Chechnya, Putin snapped back that, if the man wasn’t yet circumcised, he was cordially invited to Moscow, where they have excellent surgeons who would cut a little more radically than usual.
Berlusconi is a significant figure, and Italy an experimental laboratory where our future is being worked out. If our political choice is between permissive-liberal technocratism and fundamentalist populism, Berlusconi’s great achievement has been to reconcile the two, to embody both at the same time. It is arguably this combination which makes him unbeatable, at least in the near future: the remains of the Italian ‘left’ are now resigned to him as their fate. This is perhaps the saddest aspect of his reign: his democracy is a democracy of those who win by default, who rule through cynical demoralisation.
Berlusconi acts more and more shamelessly: not only ignoring or neutralising legal investigations into his private business interests, but behaving in such a way as to undermine his dignity as head of state. The dignity of classical politics stems from its elevation above the play of particular interests in civil society: politics is ‘alienated’ from civil society, it presents itself as the ideal sphere of the citoyen in contrast to the conflict of selfish interests that characterise the bourgeois. Berlusconi has effectively abolished this alienation: in today’s Italy, state power is directly exerted by the bourgeois, who openly exploits it as a means to protect his own economic interest, and who parades his personal life as if he were taking part in a reality TV show.
The last tragic US president was Richard Nixon: he was a crook, but a crook who fell victim to the gap between his ideals and ambitions on the one hand, and political realities on the other. With Ronald Reagan (and Carlos Menem in Argentina), a different figure entered the stage, a ‘Teflon’ president no longer expected to stick to his electoral programme, and therefore impervious to factual criticism (remember how Reagan’s popularity went up after every public appearance, as journalists enumerated his mistakes). This new presidential type mixes ‘spontaneous’ outbursts with ruthless manipulation.
The wager behind Berlusconi’s vulgarities is that the people will identify with him as embodying the mythic image of the average Italian: I am one of you, a little bit corrupt, in trouble with the law, in trouble with my wife because I’m attracted to other women. Even his grandiose enactment of the role of the noble politician, il cavaliere, is more like an operatic poor man’s dream of greatness. Yet we shouldn’t be fooled: behind the clownish mask there is a state power that functions with ruthless efficiency. Perhaps by laughing at Berlusconi we are already playing his game. A technocratic economic administration combined with a clownish façade does not suffice, however: something more is needed. That something is fear, and here Berlusconi’s two-headed dragon enters: immigrants and ‘communists’ (Berlusconi’s generic name for anyone who attacks him, including the Economist).
Kung Fu Panda, the 2008 cartoon hit, provides the basic co-ordinates for understanding the ideological situation I have been describing. The fat panda dreams of becoming a kung fu warrior. He is chosen by blind chance (beneath which lurks the hand of destiny, of course), to be the hero to save his city, and succeeds. But the film’s pseudo-Oriental spiritualism is constantly undermined by a cynical humour. The surprise is that this continuous making-fun-of-itself makes it no less spiritual: the film ultimately takes the butt of its endless jokes seriously. A well-known anecdote about Niels Bohr illustrates the same idea. Surprised at seeing a horseshoe above the door of Bohr’s country house, a visiting scientist said he didn’t believe that horseshoes kept evil spirits out of the house, to which Bohr answered: ‘Neither do I; I have it there because I was told that it works just as well if one doesn’t believe in it!’ This is how ideology functions today: nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware that they are corrupt, but we practise them anyway because we assume they work even if we don’t believe in them. Berlusconi is our own Kung Fu Panda. As the Marx Brothers might have put it, ‘this man may look like a corrupt idiot and act like a corrupt idiot, but don’t let that deceive you – he is a corrupt idiot.’
To get a glimpse of the reality beneath this deception, call to mind the events of July 2008, when the Italian government proclaimed a state of emergency in the whole of Italy as a response to the illegal entry of immigrants from North Africa and Eastern Europe. At the beginning of August, it made a show of deploying 4000 armed soldiers to control sensitive points in big cities (train stations, commercial centres and so on.) A state of emergency was introduced without any great fuss: life was to go on as normal. Is this not the state we are approaching in developed countries all around the world, where this or that form of emergency (against the terrorist threat, against immigrants) is simply accepted as a measure necessary to guarantee the normal run of things?
What is the reality of this state of emergency? On 7 August 2007, a crew of seven Tunisian fishermen dropped anchor 30 miles south of the island of Lampedusa off Sicily. Awakened by screams, they saw a rubber boat crammed with starving people – 44 African migrants, as it turned out – on the point of sinking. The captain decided to bring them to the nearest port, at Lampedusa, where his entire crew was arrested. On 20 September, the fishermen went on trial in Sicily for the crime of ‘aiding and abetting illegal immigration’. If convicted, they would get between one and 15 years in jail. Everyone agreed that the real point of this absurd trial was to dissuade other boats from doing the same: no action was taken against other fishermen who, when they found themselves in similar situations, apparently beat the migrants away with sticks, leaving them to drown. What the incident demonstrates is that Agamben’s notion of homo sacer – the figure excluded from the civil order, who can be killed with impunity – is being realised not only in the US war on terror, but also in Europe, the supposed bastion of human rights and humanitarianism.
The formula of ‘reasonable anti-semitism’ was best formulated in 1938 by Robert Brasillach, who saw himself as a ‘moderate’ anti-semite:
We grant ourselves permission to applaud Charlie Chaplin, a half Jew, at the movies; to admire Proust, a half Jew; to applaud Yehudi Menuhin, a Jew; and the voice of Hitler is carried over radio waves named after the Jew Hertz . . . We don’t want to kill anyone, we don’t want to organise any pogroms. But we also think that the best way to hinder the always unpredictable actions of instinctual anti-semitism is to organise a reasonable anti-semitism.
Our governments righteously reject populist racism as ‘unreasonable’ by our democratic standards, and instead endorse ‘reasonably’ racist protective measures. ‘We grant ourselves permission to applaud African and Eastern European sportsmen, Asian doctors, Indian software programmers,’ today’s Brasillachs, some of them social democrats, are telling us. ‘We don’t want to kill anyone, we don’t want to organise any pogroms. But we also think that the best way to hinder the always unpredictable, violent actions of the instinctual anti-immigrant is to organise reasonable anti-immigrant protection.’ A clear passage from direct barbarism to Berlusconian barbarism with a human face.
* The Meanings of Sarkozy by Alain Badiou, translated by David Fernbach (Verso, 117 pp., £12.99, February, 978 1 84467 309 4).
Slavoj Žižek, dialectical-materialist philosopher and Lacanian psychoanalyst, is codirector of the International Centre for Humanities, Birkbeck College, London

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Al-Qaeda spreads its tentacles


"Unlike in Iraq, where al-Qaeda chose to participate directly in battles with its own front line fighters and under its own brand name, bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in South Asia is increasingly content to play a role behind the scenes, influencing key players in the struggle and furthering its political interests, said Western terrorism analysts and Afghans."

Edtorial Comment

FATA has become world Head Quarters for Osama. The Mehshud Taliban are different from the Mullah Omar Taliban. There are also the ISI Taliban. Swat for a time became a rallying point for all Taliban. The Pak army was content to let Swat happen so that they could alarm the Americans enough to get serious money commitments from them. This strategy almost backfired. The Taliban could have won the war but for their own stupidities and high handedness. Incidents like flogging women in public turned the tide against them and made possible the timing of the Army intervention.

The Taliban has developed a superior fighting force but lack a coherent political or religious ideology. This is an area where Al Qaeda can help them but Al Qaeda's role still remains that of trainer, financier. It is not clear if Al Zawahiri has the intellectual capability to develop Economic Justice philosophies. Like most other people they have misread Syed Qutub.

The Swat experience should be an eye opener for the Taliban. Where they achieved military victory, they lost out on the Islamic concepts of Justice. In the final analysis they behaved more like bandits than Islamic warriors. In fact they proved to the world that they have very little understanding of Islamic thinking. So far their desire to rid their land of foreign occupation and influence remains a basic tenet but what they will do after the foreigner leaves or is made to leave is a lot of woolly mumbo jumbo. This is where they read Qutub correctly. Unless you get rid of the foreigner, you will be unable to evolve your own way of life, according to Qutub.

Here lies the problem the battle between the American way of life, which for all intents is obsolete and an Islamic way of life, which remains largely undefined in the context of a modern state there is a lot of confusion and empty rhetoric. The evolution of Islamic thinking then becomes the primary challenge for all Muslim Intellectuals.

That the Mulla has a very basic and rudimentary knowledge of Islam is more than crystal clear but the basic instinct of the mullah that a primitive life of simplicity with freedom is preferable to a life of subservience and slavery is the right one.

The only thing that stands between Pakistan being beaten into a pulp like the Afghan is Pakistan's nuclear capability. The current American strategy is to take out that capability. That is the other problem in the current scenario, Pakistan is not clear whether in America it is dealing with friend or foe.


Al-Qaeda spreads its tentacles
By Philip Smucker

KHOST, Afghanistan - Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network is seizing a greater role behind the scenes in Afghanistan and Pakistan in an effort that could block the Barack Obama administration's stated goal of denying the terror network sanctuary in South Asia.

A three-month investigation of al-Qaeda's activities, from Nuristan in the north to Paktika in the southeast, suggests that bin Laden's terror network - working through Afghan and Pakistani partners - is present in almost every Afghan and Pakistani province along the fluid border areas between the two countries.

Interviews with US military commanders and American radio intercepts of Arab and Chechen fighters as well as confirmed

captures or kills of foreign fighters inside Afghanistan bolster the findings.

More alarming to Western terrorism analysts and US commanders, however, is the recognition that al-Qaeda has succeeded in goading its regional partners into accepting the idea of a "two-front-war" against US-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Afghanistan and the government in Pakistan. That war in turn guarantees bin Laden's network permanent safe havens along the porous border between the two nations, from which it can plan larger international terrorist attacks.

Unlike in Iraq, where al-Qaeda chose to participate directly in battles with its own frontline fighters and under its own brand name, bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in South Asia is increasingly content to play a role behind the scenes, influencing key players in the struggle and furthering its political interests, said Western terrorism analysts and Afghans.

American terrorism experts say that al-Qaeda's leadership has chosen the senior leader of Pakistan's Taliban, Baitullah Mahsud, as their point man. Uzbek and Chechen "trigger men", most of whom have been living opposite across the border in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas in Pakistan, have helped Mahsud, 34, consolidate his own authority up and down the border in the past year. In March, the US government offered a US$5 million reward for Mahsud, whom it says is a "key al-Qaeda facilitator", or ally, responsible for multiple suicide attacks.

Pakistani officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan said this week that Mahsud was using al-Qaeda's highly trained gunmen in the Pakistani Taliban's ongoing guerrilla struggle in the Swat Valley. Mahsud bullied his way into a position of leadership across most of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas earlier this year when a new coalition of insurgent groups confirmed him as their "supreme commander" in February.

American counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan are focused on building a bulwark against al-Qaeda, which the Barack Obama administration deems an essential part of the puzzle for peace in South Asia. But Mahsud and several of his deputies, who operate on both sides of the border, have created a strong bridge linking the Pakistani Taliban with the Afghan Taliban in a two-front war with a border that has proven impossible for US and Pakistani forces to control.

"Al-Qaeda is operating parasitically on the successes of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban by providing them with critical services, including global media networks, resource mobilization and precious human capital," said Vahid Brown, an al-Qaeda analyst with West Point's prestigious Combating Terrorism Center (CTC).

An Afghan, working with Western forces in Afghanistan and who asked to remain anonymous, said he had monitored al-Qaeda radio traffic in a Paktika province district that is a stronghold of the Haqqani network, run by Sirajuddin Haqqani. "I set up a radio scanner two months ago and I picked up Chechens and Arabs talking regularly," he said. "At one point, we heard an Arab talking to a Chechen say, 'Hey, the money has come in, you can attack soon'." The Afghan said that an Afghan al-Qaeda figure, Maulvi Twaha, who he said he had personally seen shoot dead five Afghan students in 2001, was operating openly in the province, assisting foreign agents and fighters to enter and leave the region.
An American, embedded as a trainer with the Afghan National Army, confirmed similar radio traffic. "It sounds from radio chatter like they have more recruits coming in, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Chechen fighters," said US Army Major Cory Schultz, 37, from the San Francisco Bay Area.

A leading al-Qaeda propagandist and ideologue, Abu Yahya al-Libbi, an escapee from the US prison at Bagram in July 2005, claimed in a propaganda booklet released in mid-March that Pakistan's army should be treated as an occupying infidel army waging an offensive war on an invaded Muslim population. He told Pakistanis that it was incumbent on them, as "good Muslims", to fight their own government.

Al-Libbi has helped the Pakistani Taliban set up successful propaganda operations of their own with FM broadcast stations that operate through portable Chinese transmission boxes. "Abu Yahya al-Libbi translates the network's ideas to a popular audience" on both sides of the border, said Brian Fishman, also at West Point's CTC.

Al-Libbi maintains close ties to the "Tora Bora Front" in eastern Afghanistan, north of the White Mountains, and has been interviewed on the website of the front, which is the domain of Mujahid Khalis, the son of deceased mujahideen leader Younus Khalis, who welcomed bin Laden to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.

Al-Qaeda's proxy Mahsud has aligned his fighters closely with those of Mullah "Radio" Fazlullah, whose insurgents are fighting a protracted war with Pakistani forces well to the north of Waziristan and centered in the region of Swat in Pakistan.

In a 2007 interview with this correspondent, Fazlullah did not mince words in support of al-Qaeda's goals in neighboring Afghanistan and around the globe: "When Muslims are under attack in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have a duty to fight back against the American crusaders and their allies," he said.

Other leading insurgent groups led by Jalaluddin Haqqani's son, Sirajuddin, as well as Mullah Nazir, who operate along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border out of Waziristan, have been forced to agree to the new al-Qaeda-backed strategy for the two-front war, said Western terrorism analysts.

Though bin Laden remains the head of al-Qaeda, operational control and support for wars in South Asia is largely believed to be the work of his right-hand man, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, who lives in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Other leading American terrorism experts said al-Qaeda had made significant adaptations meant to enhance its own power base, albeit usually well hidden behind the scenes. "Al-Qaeda is acting as a force multiplier by providing funding, assistance in propaganda efforts using its print and video outlets, strategic planning ability and aid on tactics," said Seth Jones, an advisor to the US military and the author of the forthcoming book, Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires.

Terrorism analysts believe that bin Laden has likely taken refuge in North or South Waziristan, or a large city well inside Pakistan's settled areas. They say his larger-than-life presence remains a thorn in the side of US efforts. "He is the head of the snake and he does matter," said Fishman, adding that bin Laden still likely takes part in the network's major decision-making.

West Point's terrorism analysts believe that al-Qaeda stands to gain from continued fighting and chaos on both sides of the border. "There has already been a significant movement of Pakistani Taliban leaders in the al-Qaeda camp into the settled areas of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province and their front for operations planning is spreading," said Brown. "Hundreds of thousands of additional internally displaced persons in Pakistan means lots of fresh blood for al-Qaeda's ranks."

Both US military and Afghan security officials confirmed a steady movement - by air from Dubai and other aerial hubs, by land across Iran and water from the Gulf - of international jihadis from the Middle East to South Asia. Many Arabs, Chechens and other foreign fighters recently completed tours of fighting in Iraq, where al-Qaeda suffered significant setbacks.

American military commanders say they are doing what they can to flush out known Taliban and al-Qaeda safe havens inside Afghanistan, but terrorism experts believe insurgents are planning fresh attacks in conjunction with an influx of 20,000 US and NATO forces this summer.

Colonel John Spiszer, 46, of Harker Heights, Texas, who commands US forces north of the White Mountains in eastern Afghanistan, acknowledged that one, Abu Ikhlas al Masri, an Egyptian al-Qaeda member, was contributing to the intense fight against his forces in the province of Kunar, not far from the Pakistani regions of Swat and Bajaur.

"The guys [al-Qaeda and other financiers] giving the insurgents money right now are doing it to survive and get fighters," he said. He added that his goal in pressing the fight along the border with Pakistan was to keep "facilitators and financiers" locked down in a battle near the border and keep them from further impacting the fight inside Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the ties between al-Qaeda and leading insurgent groups go back to the days of bin Laden's own involvement in the fight against the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, he fought in eastern Afghanistan himself near Khost in the remote town of Jaji in Paktia province. Many of al-Qaeda's Arab operatives later took up residence inside Afghanistan as the Taliban rose to power in the late 1990s. Most of this crowd fled to Pakistan in the wake of the US invasion in 2001.

Leading Arabs and Uzbeks, in addition to plotting international terrorist actions, became successful in the cross-border trade of opium and heroin. Efforts of Pakistani and Afghan warlords to wrest more control of Pakistan's share of the regional drug trade from these same groups have failed, said Western analysts and Afghans.

Across from Khost in Pakistan, over mountains traversable by bicycle, al-Qaeda's own military trainers still work closely with strategic Taliban commanders at Haqqani command centers like the Manba Ulum Haqqania madrassa (seminary) in Northern Waziristan.

American unmanned Predator drones have repeatedly dropped bombs on or near the religious school, which is believed to maintain a number of secret bases across Waziristan. As a precaution against the US's aerial raids, al-Qaeda members in Waziristan rarely have tea in groups of more than three, said Afghans who travel to the region.

In addition, Taliban fighters, often working with al-Qaeda military trainers, have started to train indoors as well as in small mud-walled compounds, where they attract only limited attention from US aerial overflights and drone bombing runs.

Most Afghanistan-Pakistan insurgent groups, led by Mahsud and Mullah Omar's Afghan Taliban, have not officially adopted the "al-Qaeda" brand name, but they have essentially sworn their allegiance to bin Laden, say leading experts on the terror network.
They claim that al-Qaeda has learned from the mistake of going into business under its own name in Iraq and it prefers, instead, to remain behind the scenes, protected by local gunmen on the one hand, but capable of influencing the fight against US and foreign "infidels" in South Asia on the other hand.

Philip Smucker is a commentator and journalist based in South Asia and the Middle East. He is the author of Al-Qaeda's Great Escape: The Military and the Media on Terror's Trail (2004). He is currently writing My Brother, My Enemy, a book about America and the battle of ideas in the Islamic world.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

We do not make History, History makes us.

Let us not be in denial about how strong and powerful and good we are. Any wave of History can break our spine and render us helpless and impotent.

We are all a part of History for better or worse. We do not make History, History makes us. We do not choose to be born, it is written that we will be born. Our choices are to be victims or heroes of History.

It is the combined interaction of human energy that creates the currents in the river of time

in which we all float. Our choices are then to swim with the current or against it. Few men can even pretend to change the course of History only because it is History that chose them to be larger than life.


Never mind N. Korea, who will stand up to America and Israel?


Paul Craig Roberts lists the recent atrocities of the US which are destabilising the world and creating very serious Humanitarian issues. Nations are being destroyed, people made homeless and trillions of dollars of American tax payer money blown up in smoke while Americans themselves are getting unemployed in large numbers and American Industry is bankrupted.
Yet apart from a minority of journalists like Paul, the American media and hence the American public thinks that North Korea is a problem. North Korea may be a problem for it's own people but nowhere has it stated any designs on others in the way that the US does.
Incredible amounts of money is being spent by the US in supporting autocratic rulers to suppress their people from ever challenging the terrible role of the US in their countries. Saudi Arabia , Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia are just a few of these countries.
Unknown to us a New World is emerging from the rubble created by a super power gone mad. This world will not be friendly to the US but stand in the ranks of Iran, Venezuela, China, Russia, North Korea, India, Pakistan,Afghanistan, Iraq, Brazil, Cuba, Palestine and every other nation which throws off the yoke of American Imperialism so as to gain freedom to search their own destiny.
Twenty to thirty million homeless people will be in the forefront of this march against US power and the march will truly start when these people get rid of the American agents in their own countries. If we think there is a lot of instability in the world, we have seen nothing yet. The blow back from American policies has not even started yet. The orphans of the world have yet to realise as to who is responsible for killing their parents.


Never mind N. Korea, who will stand up to America and Israel?

By Paul Craig Roberts
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 28, 2009, 00:10

“Obama Calls on World to ‘Stand Up To’ North Korea” read the headline. The United States, Obama said, was determined to protect “the peace and security of the world.”

Shades of doublespeak, doublethink, 1984.

North Korea is a small place. China alone could snuff it out in a few minutes. Yet, the president of the US thinks that nothing less than the entire world is a match for North Korea.

We are witnessing the Washington gangsters construct yet another threat like Slobodan Milosevic, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, John Walker Lindh, Hamdi, Padilla, Sami Al-Arian, Hamas, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the hapless detainees demonized by former US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld as “the 700 most dangerous terrorists on the face of the earth,” who were tortured for six years at Gitmo only to be quietly released. Just another mistake, sorry.

The military/security complex that rules America, together with the Israel Lobby and the financial banksters, needs a long list of dangerous enemies to keep the taxpayers’ money flowing into its coffers.

The Homeland Security lobby is dependent on endless threats to convince Americans that they must forego civil liberty in order to be safe and secure.

The real question is who is going to stand up to the American and Israeli governments?

Who is going to protect Americans’ and Israelis’ civil liberties, especially those of Israeli dissenters and Israel’s Arab citizens?

Who is going to protect Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, Lebanese, Iranians, and Syrians from Americans and Israelis?

Not Obama, and not the right-wing brownshirts that today rule Israel.

Obama’s notion that it takes the entire world to stand up to N. Korea is mind-boggling, but this mind-boggling idea pales in comparison to Obama’s guarantee that America will protect “the peace and security of the world.”

Is this the same America that bombed Serbia, including Chinese diplomatic offices and civilian passenger trains, and pried Kosovo loose from Serbia and gave it to a gang of Muslin drug lords, lending them NATO troops to protect their operation?

Is this the same America that is responsible for approximately one million dead Iraqis, leaving orphans and widows everywhere and making refugees out of one-fifth of the Iraqi population?

Is this the same America that blocked the rest of the world from condemning Israel for its murderous attack on Lebanese civilians in 2006 and on Gazans most recently, the same America that has covered up for Israel’s theft of Palestine over the past 60 years, a theft that has produced 4 million Palestinian refugees driven by Israeli violence and terror from their homes and villages?

Is this the same America that is conducting military exercises in former constituent parts of Russia and ringing Russia with missile bases?

Is this the same America that has bombed Afghanistan into rubble with massive civilian casualties?

Is this the same America that has started a horrific new war in Pakistan, a war that in its first few days has produced one million refugees?

“The peace and security of the world”? Whose world?

On his return from his consultation with Obama in Washington, the brownshirted Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared that it was Israel’s responsibility to “eliminate” the “nuclear threat” from Iran.

What nuclear threat? The US intelligence agencies are unanimous in their conclusion that Iran has had no nuclear weapons program since 2003. The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency report that there is no sign of a nuclear weapons program in Iran.

Who is Iran bombing? How many refugees is Iran sending fleeing for their lives?

Who is North Korea bombing?

The two great murderous, refugee-producing countries are the US and Israel. Between them, they have murdered and dislocated millions of people who were a threat to no one.

No countries on earth rival the US and Israel for barbaric murderous violence.

But Obama gives assurances that the US will protect “the peace and security of the world.” And the brownshirt Netanyahu assures the world that Israel will save it from the “Iranian threat.”

Where is the media?

Why aren’t people laughing their heads off?Paul Craig Roberts [email him] was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider’s Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Dialogue on Pakistan

" Pakistan has 173 million people and 100 nuclear weapons, an army which is bigger than the American army, and the headquarters of al Qaida sitting in two-thirds of the country which the government does not control,"

Half of the failed states on the list failed because the US tried to impose a regime on them.
In the case of Pakistan by far the largest , the US and its ally are not and have not been on the same wave length, either under Musharraf or Zardari. This results in constant finger pointing. The US says Pakistan is not doing enough, The Pakistanis say the US is using too much force. The difference of opinion with partners is not resolved through consensus but by the US bullying it's partner into submission. Both the US and Pakistan admit that their joint strategy is not working but neither party is coming up with any new thinking.
Contrast this with the other partnership where the partners are on the same wavelength. This is US/Israel. They are equally committed to the use of force and attrition while playing lip service to peace. Even this policy is in tatters, achieving nothing but disaster and an adverse domino effect on the surrounding world.
All US analysts are now saying that the US policy is helping the Taliban, yet the US imagination does not fit comfortably into a non violent policy, other wise Palestine could have been resolved many years ago. The US has now become even more than before the problem and not the solution.
The real issue of the haves and the have nots is not being attended to either inside the US or outside. The have nots are the people of failed states, all two billion of them. Pakistan is about to become the first state where the have nots will try to take matters in their own hands.

You are being logical again. You do realize that just because a course of action would be catastrophic is no guarantee that the US will refrain from following it.

I completely agree that the Pakistanis must resolve their own problems -- and also the Lebanese, as Mirene pointed out in another message. The issue I have is that the solutions that the people choose might not (in fact probably would not) further the US agenda, and this will be stymied.

Let's skip over the centuries of Western colonial divide-and-rule style interference for the moment and assume that left to their own devices humans are smart enough to overcome the history and work together to solve problems. I want to look at a more recent example instead.

George Bush demanded, against much advice, that Palestinians be allowed to hold elections. If it could be taken at face value this is a perfectly fine idea. But wouldn't you know it, those darn Palestinians up and elected the "wrong" people. And we all know what has happened since. And yet the Palestinians are blamed for the fact that they are factionalized and the leadership is ineffectual.

In other words, you may solve your own problems "democratically" if and only if the solution you choose is consistent with US interests. Otherwise there will be hell to pay.

Similarly, what if the Lebanese were to decide to give Hezbollah a ruling majority? I'm not saying whether this would be in their best interests domestically or not, it's just a "what if". Can we safely predict that the US would abide by the will of the people and call and congratulate Nasrullah on his victory?

Or would they demand that Hezbollah first denounce Iran, recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and agree to become a responsible member of the international community -- i.e., abide by Washington's dictates? And failing that would they link up with some Dahlan type to undermine, disunify or outright overthrow the new government?

The Afghan occupation is in my view a perfect example of (delayed) "mission creep". The Bush cabal went in, got a toehold, and quickly turned their attention to Iraq, which was the real target, and forgot about Afghanistan. After a while, as cooler heads had predicted from the outset, the Taliban regrouped and reasserted themselves. This was allowed to fester for several years as the Iraq escapade wasn't exactly going as planned.

When someone finally decided to pay attention to it, they noticed that the FATA in Pakistan was a place where the British-drawn border was treated as non-existent by the resident Pashtuns. Here comes the "Cambodia-Laos" strategy -- just go over the border and kill people.

Well of course this is illegal, and it's no longer possible to conduct aerial bombardment in secret, so low-profile drones are employed instead. But guess what: the drones also kill innocent bystanders along with (or instead of) the intended targets, and this pisses people off. Meanwhile, you muck around in the internal politics of the country pretending to promote "democracy", causing more instability and resentment. Spoon in the pre-existing tensions with India (which has its own lunatic fringe and ethno-religious strife) and pretty soon you have a situation ready to boil over.

Now, what do you think are the chances that the US will step back and let the temperatures cool, or will they panic at the thought that those nukes could wind up in "Islamic fundamentalist" hands and overreact? This was reportedly only narrowly averted several times while Bush and Musharraf were in power; Zardari's government is not able to assure anyone that it has things under control.

This is what I meant by an invasion of Pakistan. Not that the US is looking for an excuse to do this, but may be considering it as a contingency, recognizes that it will be a mess and needs to prepare the public. Or perhaps instead they will get their proxy to do it (India), as they instigated Ethiopia to invade Somalia. That way, if the worst happens and nukes go off (oops), it will only kill the locals instead of US troops and can be blamed on them and not on us.

This sounds appalling, I know that, and Machiavellian in the extreme. But the truth is I can see no discernible difference in substance (as opposed to style) between Bush and Obama; the same militaristic idiots are still running things, and the imperial agenda remains intact. One's expectation ("hope") that Obama would proceed cautiously and non-violently in other parts of the world has not been fulfilled -- in his first week in office he had already authorized several drone attacks in Pakistan. Blood on his hands in his first week in office.

I believe that the people on the ground if left in peace to do this will step back from the brink, as they have done before, because they are simply not suicidal. But I do not expect the US to abandon its bogus "war on terror" or its underlying hegemonic agenda, which it must do if the rage that has been engendered around the world during the past eight years (let alone prior decades) is to truly dissipate. Obama has made clear that he sees "humanitarian intervention" as a legitimate role for the United States, and that he will not do anything to change the selfish, wasteful American way of life if such action would interfere with the priorities of the power interests.


I don't believe a full scale invasion is on the cards. If it were ever to happen, India would be involved and a lot of pre invasion rhetoric would come from India. Part of the reason why the Pak Army will not withdraw it's forces from the Eastern borders is because that is where it expects the attack to come from.
Ironically the enemies of Pakistan are neither to the East or West. Pakistanis are their own worst enemies.While I rail against the unproductive policies of the US which do make matters worse but the problems of Pakistan can only be solved by the Pakistanis.

"I believe that the people on the ground if left in peace to do this will step back from the brink, as they have done before, because they are simply not suicidal. But I do not expect the US to abandon its bogus "war on terror" or its underlying hegemonic agenda, which it must do if the rage that has been engendered around the world during the past eight years (let alone prior decades) is to truly dissipate." Mary Fox

The point you make about the local leadership being helpless in the face of powerful and persistent interference from the US, whether in Pakistan or Lebanon is a valid one. How does one get rid of an Imperial power which wants to control you? Gandhi is given as an example but Gandhi would never have succeeded without World War II weakening the British. The Ayatollah Khomeini is a better example of single handedly dislodging the Shah. Along come the Taliban, with the promise of dislodging the US and not much else. They are certainly not ideal but they may be an example of the wrong people at the right time. Non State actors come alive when the State actors are hijacked by Empire and non State actors do not have the luxury of being nice specially when confronted by a ruthless and all powerful enemy.

You and I and many others are convinced that the Imperial policy of the US is not just bad for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of the Middle East but disastrous for the US. The logic that you accuse me of is rampant in Washington. It does not take into account unintended consequences. The unintended consequences of US Foreign policy are having a bigger impact then the intended consequences. The only difference is that the unintended consequences are shaping a new world in which the US will be thrown out of each of the countries which they covet today. This will not happen before millions of innocent lives are lost or displaced. This will not happen before the US is humiliated as they were in Vietnam as they were by Osama as they were by Khomeni and as they are now being by the Taliban. The increasing rise of non sate actors like Hezbollah is a reaction to corrupt Governments supported by the US. How else do people take matters into their own hands.

Obama is our chosen person to get us out of an immoral, unjust and criminal policy. While the writing is on the wall that even he may not be up to it, we have to give him more time than a 100 days. At the same time we have to start getting more active to let him know where we stand.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009



"Most major insurance companies use outside firms to reinsure, but the vast majority of AIG's reinsurance contracts are negotiated internally among its affiliates, Gober says, and these internal balance sheets don't add up."

Editorial comment

Capitalism's excesses just keep piling up. It was well known the the American Economy was a pack of cards but one which some how kept standing based on it's size, its assumed productivity and it's record of growth. Once the music stopped, Capitalism is the one left standing without a chair. If Madoff was the biggest individual scandal, AIG is beginning to looks like the biggest corporate swindle.

Previously Bush had already indulged in the biggest Government swindle, taking the country into a trillion dollar war based on lies about WMDs and based on private instructions from God. Yet no one, no one, is being held accountable, not even Madoff. He will probably get off in time with a light sentence for good behavior.

Still to break, the big media swindle. Presenting America with two points of view and silencing the third point of view. These are the people kept away from TV interviews, their views not given space in the oped pages, letters to the Editor, they are even denied a place in Presidential debates even while they are standing for President. These are people denied tenure in colleges, they are fired from their jobs for having a third point of view, their identities revealed at the cost of their security and at the expense of national security and the list goes on and on.

Fortunately the Internet has provided the public an access to various points of view. People can make up their own mind about what they want to believe but they should know how unscrupulously they have been lied to, cheated and made fools of. Unless a concerted effort is made to change this culture of materialism, nothing can save us from falling off the cliff.


The Next AIG Scandal?
The firm's problems may extend to its 'healthy' insurance side. By Michael Hirsh | Newsweek Web ExclusiveMar 18, 2009

Outrageous. It's the preferred adjective used by Barack Obama and Ben Bernanke to describe AIG, the crippled giant that has turned into a national money pit. AIG has swallowed at least $170 billion in taxpayer money so far while funneling $165 million of it onward in bonuses to its incompetent executives, along with tens of billions more to equally privileged "counterparties" like Goldman Sachs.But I suspect that—with apologies to a famous American patriot—we have not yet begun to get outraged. At least if some of the insurance experts I've been talking to are correct.Thomas Gober, a former Mississippi state insurance examiner who has tracked fraud in the industry for 23 years and served previously as a consultant to the FBI and the Department of Justice, says he believes AIG's supposedly solvent insurance business may be at least as troubled as its reckless financial-products unit. Far from being "healthy," as state insurance regulators, ratings agencies and other experts have repeatedly described the insurance side, Gober calls it "a house of cards." Citing numerous documents he has obtained from state insurance regulators and obscure data buried in AIG's own 300-page annual reports, Gober argues that AIG's 71 interlocking domestic U.S. insurance subsidiaries are in hock to each other to an astonishing degree.Most of this as-yet-undiscovered problem, Gober says, lies in the area of reinsurance, whereby one insurance company insures the liabilities of another so that the latter doesn't have to carry all the risk on its books. Most major insurance companies use outside firms to reinsure, but the vast majority of AIG's reinsurance contracts are negotiated internally among its affiliates, Gober says, and these internal balance sheets don't add up. The annual report of one major AIG subsidiary, American Home Assurance, shows that it owes $25 billion to another AIG affiliate, National Union Fire, Gober maintains. But American has only $22 billion of total invested assets on its balance sheet, he says, and it has issued another $22 billion in guarantees to the other companies. "The American Home assets and liquidity raise serious questions about their ability to make good on their promise to National Union Fire," says Gober, who has a consulting business devoted to protecting policyholders. Gober says there are numerous other examples of "cooked books" between AIG subsidiaries. Based on the state insurance regulators' own reports detailing unanswered questions, the tally in losses could be hundreds of billions of dollars more than AIG is now acknowledging.One early sign of trouble came when Christian Milton, AIG's vice president of reinsurance from 1982 to 2005, was convicted last year in federal district court of conspiracy, securities fraud, mail fraud and making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Milton was sentenced in January; his lawyers have indicated plans to appeal.)AIG spokesman Mark Herr took strong exception: "We strongly disagree with Mr. Gober's analysis, which lacks a fundamental understanding of our commercial insurance operations' inter-company risk sharing agreements or even the basics of statutory accounting. Our primary regulators, including New York and Pennsylvania, regularly review our statutory filings as well as our intra-company risk sharing pool, and have raised no objections to this structure. They have repeatedly stated that we have sufficient financial strength to meet our obligations. In fact, in today's hearing on AIG, Joel Ario, Pennsylvania State Insurance Commissioner, commented that the insurance companies of AIG remain strong and well capitalized. " But if Gober is right, the implications are almost too awful to contemplate. Despite its troubles on Wall Street, AIG is still the largest insurance company in the United States, controlling both the largest life and health insurer and the second-largest property and casualty insurer. It has 30 million U.S. customers. AIG is also a major provider of guaranteed investment contracts and products that protect people in 401(k) plans, as well as being the leading commercial insurer in the U.S. It is one of the largest insurance companies in the world, with insurance and financial operations in more than 130 countries. These insurance businesses were once thought to be so solid that AIG was able to use the triple-A rating it was routinely awarded to start up its vast credit-default- swap business.Public outrage has been building, along with the outcry about bonuses, over all the taxpayer money that has gone to keep AIG afloat by paying off the credit-default- swap counterparties. While some worries have surfaced about the various insurance companies' risky securities-lending practices, most have escaped scrutiny. But if millions of AIG policyholders are at risk too and no one's saying it yet, the populist backlash could get really ugly.Gober has brought his allegations to the attention of the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Barney Frank. A committee spokesman did not immediately return a call asking for comment. But over at the Senate banking committee, ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby during hearings last week raised questions about whether AIG's insurance side was as sound as the company maintained it to be. In response, Eric Dinallo, New York state's superintendent of insurance, said he thought "the operating companies of AIG, particularly the property companies, are in excellent condition." But Dinallo admitted he had examined only 25 of the domestic AIG companies and added: "There are problems with state insurance regulation. I've been a proponent of us revisiting it."And therein lies the real problem. More than any other Wall Street rogue, AIG has been able to indulge in "regulatory arbitrage" on a global scale, creating totally unsupervised businesses that act beyond the purview of any government (AIG has repeatedly said that its problems were confined to the London-based financial-products unit). The company's ability to escape an umbrella regulator was one reason the financial-products group was able to sell, indiscriminately and without hedges, credit-default swaps around the world in the belief that they could never all come due at once. They did. Fed chairman Bernanke told lawmakers in early March that AIG "exploited a huge gap in the regulatory system" and was essentially a hedge fund attached to a "large and stable insurance company." But is that really an accurate description? Huge regulatory gaps also exist in insurance. "There is no federal insurance regulator," according to a senior government banking official, only individual state agencies. Are we missing something really big here? If so, there might be another terrible reckoning to come.© 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Is the west thwarting Arab plans for reform?


"..a majority of Muslims is convinced that the west – interested only in a stability based on regional strongmen, the security of Israel and cheap oil – is engaged in a war against Islam and is bent on denying them the freedoms it claims for itself."

Editorial comment
There is a revival of interest amongst Muslims to follow a model other than that presented by the West. The thinking of people like Jamal uddin Afghani ,Mohammed Abdou and Rashid Ridha are being re examined. All of them had no issues with modernity but felt that Modernity without Islamic values would degenerate as it seems to have done recently in the West. Syed Qutub is not mentioned in the article but he advocated a complete abstinence from the West if one is ever to focus on Islam. Without Islamic Social Justice and Islamic Ethics, Capitalism is nothing but exploitation of one human being by another. Disillusionment with the West is setting the scene for a revival of Islam. Muslims are flocking in droves toward a greater religiosity, notwithstanding the Taliban. What remains is for Islamic thinkers of the calibre of Qutub, Afghani and Abdou to emerge and explain Islam in today's context. Khusro

Is the west thwarting Arab plans for reform?
By David Gardner,
Uneasy Lies the Head was the perhaps inevitable title of the autobiography of the late King Hussein of Jordan, the West’s favourite benign Arab despot. He was the improbable survivor of innumerable plots, coups and uprisings, of three Arab-Israeli wars, two Gulf wars and a civil war with the Palestinians, as well as around a dozen assassination attempts in the 46 years he wore the heavy crown of his improbable desert kingdom. The Hashemite monarch, descended from the family of the Prophet Mohammed and the Sharifs of Mecca, exuded total confidence in his legitimacy. Yet, this most open of Arab autocrats, this elegant and charming authoritarian, relied on the military and the Mukhabarat, his ubiquitous secret police, to stay in power, no less than in any other Arab state. To underline this truth is not necessarily to disparage King Hussein’s often liberal instincts. What it reveals is that even a leader willing to experiment with change, a regal populist who could utter the word “democracy” with a more or less straight face, a monarch who was once prepared to share (a bit of his) power with Islamists, was in the end no different from his peers.But a Hussein experiment of 20 years ago is jostling its way back onto the political agendas of the Arab world and wider Middle East: the attempt to marry Islam and democracy. This is the single biggest challenge facing a region mired in despotism and failure, where US and western collusion with local strongmen has created an Arab Exception – leaving the Arabs marooned in tyranny as waves of democracy broke over eastern Europe and Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia. There is no other part of the world – not even China – where the west operates with such little regard for the human and political rights of local citizens. The west’s morbid fear of political Islam has served to deny Arabs democracy in case they support Islamists, just as during the cold war many Latin Americans, Asians and Africans had to endure western-endorsed dictators lest they supported communists. Unless the Arab countries and the broader Middle East can find a way out of this pit of autocracy, their people – more than half of them under 25 – will be condemned to bleak lives of despair, humiliation and rage. Western support for autocracy and indulgence of corruption in this region, far from securing stability, breeds extremism and, in extremis, failed states. It will, of course, be primarily up to the citizens of these countries to claw their way out of that pit. But the least they can expect from the west is not to keep stamping on their fingers.So what was it King Hussein did? In 1989, the king risked an experiment in “guided democracy”. The main beneficiaries were Islamists, grouped mostly in the Jordanian chapter of the pan-Islamic Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) . With 34 out of 80 assembly seats, the Islamists were the largest, and the only ideologically cohesive, bloc. In 1990-91, the king brought four Muslim Brothers into the cabinet. In private conversation four years later, he even foresaw the day when Jordan would have an Islamist prime minister, “and they and the people will see what government is about and who can do it”. But, first, he bound their leadership into a constitutional consensus. This set out the rules of managed democracy. Crucially, it also established Islam as but one fount of political legitimacy, alongside the parallel claims of Jordanian patriotism, Arab nationalism, and universal values. This Jordanian National Charter (al-Mithaq al-Watani al-Urduni) remains one of the most suggestive political documents to have emerged in the modern Arab world. It bucked the trend in the region. The minute the Brothers began to develop an agenda independently from the Palace, however, King Hussein changed the rules, enacting new electoral laws to guarantee majorities in parliament of Bedouin loyalists and tribal grandees. As the peace Jordan signed with Israel in 1994 grew ever more unpopular, moreover, so the king rolled back his democratic reforms, limiting change to largely meaningless changes of government (he ran through 56 prime ministers in 46 years).This episode nonetheless remains important, and transcends Jordan. King Hussein’s volte face meant an opportunity was lost to develop new forms of legitimacy – democratic legitimacy – by one of the few Arab leaders who had any reserves of this precious commodity left. Yet in the following two decades, there would be repeated attempts – from Khatami’s Iran to post-Saddam Iraq, from Erdogan’s Turkey to King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia – either to synthesise Islam and democracy or tilt towards forms of modernity the region’s religious heritage could sustain.The Islam and modernity debate, which accompanied the collapse of the Ottoman empire after the first World War, has emerged again nearly a century later. But there is an important difference. Few Muslims now invest much hope in the democratic western powers (essentially the US, Britain and France) that back the rulers who oppress them, even if, against the odds, they still admire “western” values, science and culture. There is no endemic or intrinsic conflict between Christians and Muslims. Rather, the root of the problem is that a majority of Muslims is convinced that the west – interested only in a stability based on regional strongmen, the security of Israel and cheap oil – is engaged in a war against Islam and is bent on denying them the freedoms it claims for itself.That is why it is so self-defeating to collude in tyranny as ostensibly a lesser evil than political Islam. The challenge now is to ensure that these Muslims are not driven into the arms of the jihadis who are poised to enter the Muslim mainstream. As poll after depressing poll shows, the moral credit of the west could hardly be lower in the Muslim and Arab worlds. As western client-rulers and local despots suppress all political challenge, leaving their people only the mosque and the madrassa as space to rally and regroup, Islamists are the beneficiaries. They build on doctrine common to all Islam: the concern to build a just society and to preserve the unity of the Umma, the worldwide community of believers. That is already a seductive political combination even before any spark of religious belief is added. Add to it the familiar list of timeless and actual Muslim grievances, the sense of a religion under siege and the lament for lost glory, and what emerges is a potent liberation theology.Democracy, in this unpromising context, could open a long period of illiberal politics that may be inimical to stability. Yet the west’s only realistic choice is to foster, or at least not actively obstruct, the right of Arabs to decide their own future, in whatever form they wish. That form will be heavily influenced by Islamism. Yet the west should be able to see the similarities between Islamism (or Islamic revivalism) and 19th-century nationalism in Europe. Both started as a sort of forced march into the future and then they detoured in sinister and destructive ways: fascism then and the jihadi cult of death now. Any sane policy would be devoted to preventing the evolution of a lethal form of radical Islam, in no small part by finding space for a thoughtful Islamism to emerge.That is no longer easy. The freedom agenda proclaimed by George W. Bush has been discredited. Yet the insight brought to the west so violently by al-Qaeda on September 11 2001 and subsequently – that tyranny breeds terrorism and instability, infantilises politics and holds back development – is no less valid. Not the least of the challenges facing Barack Obama is to rescue that insight before it is too late.It was never the spontaneous choice of the Arabs and the Muslims to retreat into Islam, even after colliding with a confident and expansionist Europe in the late 18th century. The Islamic revival only acquired legs when balance-of-power politics and subsequent western support for tyrants thwarted nationalist and democratic attempts at modernisation.Obviously, once the European powers thrust into Arab and Muslim lands in the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries – taking Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Lebanon, and shrinking the Ottoman hinterland before pointing a dagger at its heartland – the question of modernity, much less democracy, must in many Muslim minds have been displaced by the question of survival. There had been no shortage of “modernist” Islamic thinkers, trying to tease out the lessons of western success and clear the thickets of superstition from Muslim minds. But, while looking forward, they also looked backwards to the dawn of Islam.Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-97), probably, despite his name, a Persian who studied philosophy in the Shia holy city of Najaf in Iraq, came to represent a flowing together of Islamic reform and nationalist assertion that would trickle into almost every political current in the region. As the historian Albert Hourani has pointed out, he brought a radical new emphasis on Islam as a civilisation rather than Islam as a religion, yet “only by a return to Islam can the strength and civilisation of Muslims be restored”. Islam needed to reclaim its scientific roots, and harvest the new fruits that had flowered in Europe from stems originally planted by the Muslims. With the unity of the Umma, Islam could once more have a universal mission in the world, because, as anyone who studied it could see, it was tolerant, rational and in harmony with the principles uncovered by science through the ages, not least by the great Muslim scientists who had not only adorned their own civilisation but recovered the civilisation of the west. Under Afghani’s disciples, however, the emphasis on reform, and the nature of universalism, gradually changed. Mohammed Abduh (1849-1905), an Egyptian scholar who in 1899 became the Mufti of Egypt, was above all concerned to show that the road to modernity could be discovered in the roots of Islam. Ostensibly modern concepts could be evolved out of traditional Islamic notions provided they were properly understood and adapted. Thus, Muslims could identify the principle of maslaha – whereby a judge could select from rival legal traditions to find the best outcome for public welfare – as the slightly more modern idea of the public good or interest. They would be able to recognise ijma – something between the consensus of the scholars and the acceptance of the community – as public opinion. Above all they could authentically claim their own tradition of democracy in the practice of shura or consultation.Abduh’s attempt to spring Islam into the vanguard of modernity was partly a job of reinterpreting and unifying Islamic law and adapting it to modern problems, partly a job of revealing the true meaning of old precepts and practices. It both cases it had to involve ijtihad – the exercise of independent but scholarly judgment – to confront the circumstances of modernity unforeseen at the dawn of Islam. Under Rashid Rida (1865-1935), a Syrian disciple of both Afghani and Abduh, many of the themes are the same, but he insistently argues that the technical skills of modernity arise out of the right moral habits and intellectual principles. If the teaching of Islam is properly understood, it will lead to success in this world and the next. In Rida’s al-Manar (The Lighthouse) periodical, which had an important influence on both Islamic revivalism and pan-Arab nationalism, “true Islam involves two things, acceptance of the unity of God and consultation [shura] in matters of state, and despotic rulers have tried to make Muslims forget the second by encouraging them to abandon the first”. But Rida increasingly looked back towards the Islam of the al-Salaf al-Salih – the pious forerunners of the first generations. That focus quickly led to the perception that decay had come about as a result of surrender to philosophy, speculation and mysticism – rather than surrender to God, the precise meaning of the word Islam. This meant all developments after the Salafi period and the subsequent establishment of the four orthodox schools of Sunni jurisprudence were deeply suspect. What started, therefore, as an injunction to learn the secrets of western culture as the prelude to relaunching Islam as a triumphantly universal civilisation subtly mutated into a highly defensive Islamic revivalism led initially by organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, determined to rid Islam of the seeds of western decadence. These ideas would mutate further, once detached from the sort of world that gave birth to them: an inclusive and entire world dislocated by the upheaval of modernity and the penetration of imperial power. Such Janus-like modernism easily cleared a path for the Islamic revivalism of this century, especially after nationalism was thwarted and the Arab world proceeded up one blind alley after another, following what Osama bin Laden has derided as “earthly flags”.With the bin Ladenists, the notion of the Umma has been corrupted into fascistic and supremacist ideas analogous to the Volk or the Razza, with their primacy over individual human rights and the universal rights of humanity, a muscular Islamism that appeals to the young yet elicits a vicarious thrill among orderly conservatives. As the American scholar of fascism, Robert Paxton, puts it well, “war is indispensable for the maintenance of fascist muscle tone”. Substitute “jihad” for war and “Islamist” for fascist and you have an important element of the attraction of the modern holy warrior.There are grounds for hope. Islamism comes in many guises. Turkey, for example, has shown that political Islam can evolve. The ruling Justice and Development party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan was rebuilt from the wreckage of two failed Islamist parties and broadened into a sort of Muslim equivalent of Christian Democracy. It is widely admired in the Arab and Muslim worlds, not as a model but because it works. Success sells.In Iran, by contrast, reformist attempts under Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) to create a freer society with a government accountable to the people under the rule of law mesmerised the region but eventually hit the buffers of theocracy. The silky and smiling Iranian president was rebuffed in his search for détente by Bill Clinton and rejected when he offered a “grand bargain” to George W. Bush in 2003. The price of failure was the shrewdly extremist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.Top Shia clerics in Iraq, however, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, take their inspiration not from Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979 but from its constitutional revolution of 1906, aimed at establishing elected, representative government and the rule of law. While jealous of their prerogatives, the Iraqi clergy sought a new contract between ruler and ruled, not to become the new rulers like Iran’s theocrats. The 2005 Iraqi constitution, like the 1989 Jordanian National Charter, establishes Islam as a “basic” source of legislation, but states that no law can infringe the “principles of democracy” or the “rights and basic freedoms” enumerated in the rest of the constitution. This was no blueprint for secular liberalism. But nor, in a country that elected Islamists to two thirds of parliamentary seats, was it a warrant for theocracy.In Saudi Arabia, the region’s original theocracy, the ruling House of Saud’s hesitant steps to lead the kingdom towards a modernity its Islamic heritage can absorb means curbing the corrosive power of the Wahhabi religious establishment. King Abdullah’s most feasible way forward is to enlist Islamist progressives, the richest source of ideas for renewal. That is a risk the al-Saud may not be willing or able to take. As one senior prince, a moderniser who fears opening the door to Islamist reformers, puts it with a certain melancholy: “We liberals sit around a bottle of Scotch and complain to each other, and then, the next morning, do nothing. Yet if we don’t get real progress, economically, socially and politically, we are going to be in a terrible mess in five to 10 years.”While both the clerical establishment and al-Qaeda revile such “whisky liberals”, they see as their real adversary the Islamist reformers who advocate far-reaching change, many of whom have rediscovered the thinking of Islamic revivalists of a century ago. The ideas of, for example, Mohammed Abduh on maslaha (public interest), shura (consultation) and above all of ijtihad, or independent reasoning to marry Islamic belief with modern challenges, have resurfaced almost as a newly minted currency. The idea of civil society was reborn, with Muslim credentials the Wahhabi establishment justly fears. The turning point was the 2003 petition, called “A vision for the present and future of the homeland”, signed by leading Islamist reformers and liberals – although the former were and are the real force. As this pluralism implies, the document is founded on the principles of confessional and political diversity in Saudi Arabia. But for the first time, reformers both liberal and Islamist broke the taboo about speaking out against Wahhabism, implying that its totalitarian ideology was the deathly hand holding back the emergence of Saudi Arabia as a successful modern state its citizens would easily support.In this respect, the 2003 Saudi “Vision” document is as suggestive of a path forward as the 1989 Jordanian National Charter or the still unrealised Iraqi constitution of 2005. They all draw on and revisit the sources of renewal that are and will remain Islamic, and in important ways, Islamist. The Islamist reformers nonetheless want free elections, freedom of expression and association, an independent judiciary and a fairer distribution of wealth – in short, a constitutional monarchy, if not a bicycling monarchy.The idiom, however strange to western or liberal ears, is a large part of the story, because it gives those who use it to articulate reform a recognisable immediacy, an authenticity and a legitimacy that shields them from the usual charges of foreign influence and intrusion. Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Qassim, a former (defenestrated) Saudi judge and reformer, is a particularly authoritative version of the genre. “Al-Qaeda and the clergy are essentially doing the same thing in different ways – putting pressure on the House of Saud for being less devout than it should be. This paralyses reform,” he maintains. “The only way out of this is to dilute the link with Wahhabi fanaticism. The only way forward is to win the legitimacy of society itself – through political reform that does not depend on the approval of the clergy. If you make society part of reform you can overcome the clergy – it is the only way.” David Gardner is the FT’s chief leader writer. His book ‘Last Chance: The Middle East in the Balance’ is published by I.B. Tauris next week
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009