The Doctrine in Action

by matttbastard

Hooray for shock therapy in Afghanistan:

Senior British, US and local aid workers have described a number of problems [with reconstruction in Afghanistan] including bribery, profiteering, poor planning and incompetence. The overall effect has been to cripple the development effort structured under the Bush administration’s insistence on an unregulated and profit-driven approach to reconstruction.

“The major donor agencies operate on the mistaken assumption that it’s more efficient and profitable to do things through market mechanisms,” a senior American contractor working in Afghanistan told the Guardian on condition of anonymity. “The notion of big government is a spectre for American conservatives and this [the reconstruction process] is an American conservative project.”

The contractor said the “original plan was to get in, prop up Karzai, kill al-Qaida, privatise all government-owned enterprises and get out. It wasn’t a development project, that wasn’t a concern. Development was an afterthought.

The Graun calls this “poor planning and incompetence.”  Sorry, but “an unregulated and profit-driven approach to reconstruction” may be indeed reflect willful indifference and a shoddy understanding of what proper reconstruction of a failed state actually entails.   But it goes well beyond ‘poor planning and incompetence;’  This is outright criminal negligence on the part of pathologically obsessive free-market ideologues who didn’t give a good goddamn about cleaning up the mess they made.

In other words, textbook disaster capitalism.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Quote of the Day: On Saying Sorry

by matttbastard

…I had a chance to watch the prime minister’s apology for the residential schools and the subsequent speeeches [sic]. I wish I were in Canada to take part in a moving moment in Canadian history. I hope, as I am sure almost all Canadians do, that as a society we can collectively start to tackle the problems that so many aboriginal communities face.

But, please, let the apology not become an icon, something that we pull out from time to time and admire and then put away again. Let it not be something that makes us feel good about ourselves so that we can avoid thinking about the things that should shame us.

Apologies are a fashion today, and on the whole a good one. This past February, the Australian government finally said sorry for the decades-long practice of seizing its Aboriginal children from their families and giving them to white families to be brought up “white.”

Apologies are good both for those who are admitting their past sins and those who receive them. Accepting the past, as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission showed, is an important step towards moving into the future. But words are cheap if they are not preceded by serious thought and followed by serious action.

What did it really do when Tony Blair apologized for the Irish potato famine? Or when the descendant of the notorious Elizabethan Sir John Hawkins apologized for slavery? Are such apologies anything more than easy sentimentality? And what do apologies mean when they are not accompanied by any significant acts of restitution? Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said “sorry,” but significantly did not explain what his government was going to do about the lot of present-day Aboriginals.

What is Canada going to do for today’s Aboriginals? I am still waiting to know. I don’t want to think that dwelling on the past a way of avoiding dealing with the present.

Margaret MacMillan

It’s a bit of a mystery…why Stephen Harper is only apologizing today for the residential schools program. The program certainly merits a plea for forgiveness, but it was only part of the program aimed at eliminating Indian culture and completing the European domination of the country.

You could argue that, since Canada didn’t exist as an independent country until it was already too late for the natives, the broader campaign wasn’t really our doing. That would make it the fault of somebody in London or Paris, since they were the ones calling the shots at the time. But stealing an entire country demands more than just a government order; it requires the enthusiastic participation of the general population, which in Canada’s case was willingly given.

So, strictly speaking, the apology given in the House of Commons today should be for the overall willingness of Canada’s founders to participate in the subjugation and humiliation of the First Nations before, during and after 1867, viewing it as a necessary evil towards establishing a new nation in their place. It derives from the same sense of guilt the Catholic church plays on, the need to recognize the roots of the entity you belong too [sic].

I don’t know why the government isn’t doing that. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact the subjugation and humiliation goes on to this day; that the government, and Canadians in general, are embarrassed and frustrated that the poverty of so many native communities continues to resemble third world countries rather than prosperous, pleasant Canada. It may also reflect the continued lack of a clear understanding of what to do about it. Begging forgiveness might highlight too much that the government doesn’t have a solution.

Kelly McParland

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

“An Act of Criminal International Misogyny”

by matttbastard

Via Feminist Peace Network, The Nation recently published a blistering speech from former UN AIDS envoy (and current co-director of AIDS-Free World) Stephen Lewis that highlights the lackluster, indifferent international response to endemic rape and sexual violence against women in the Congo.

A sample:

I want to set out an argument that essentially says that what’s happening in the Congo is an act of criminal international misogyny, sustained by the indifference of nation states and by the delinquency of the United Nations.

[…]

The sordid saga ebbs and flows. But it was brought back into sudden, vivid public notoriety by Eve Ensler’s trip to the Congo in July and August of last year, her visit to the Panzi Hospital, her interviews with the women survivors of rape, and her visceral piece of writing in Glamour magazine which began with the words “I have just returned from Hell.”

Eve set off an extraordinary chain reaction: her visit was followed by a fact-finding mission by the current UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs who, upon his return, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in which he said that the Congo was the worst place in the world for women. Those views were then echoed everywhere (including by the EU Parliament), triggering front page stories in the New York Times, the Washington Postand the Los Angeles Times, and a lengthy segment on 60 Minutes by Anderson Cooper of CNN.

Largely as a result of this growing clamor against the war on women in the Congo, and the fact that Eve Ensler herself testified before the Security Council, the United Nations resolution that renewed the mandate for the UN Peacekeeping force in the Congo (MONUC, as it’s called) contained some of the strongest language condemning rape and sexual violence ever to appear in a Security Council resolution, and obliged MONUC, in no uncertain terms, to protect the women of the Congo. The resolution was passed at the end of December last year.

In January of this year, scarce one month later, there was an “Act of Engagement”–a so-called peace commitment signed amongst the warring parties. I use “so-called” advisedly because evidence of peace is hard to find. But that’s not the point: the point is much more revelatory and much more damning.

The peace commitment is a fairly lengthy document. Unbelievably, from beginning to end, the word “rape” never appears. Unbelievably, from beginning to end, the phrase “sexual violence” never appears. Unbelievably, “women” are mentioned but once, lumped in with children, the elderly and the disabled. It’s as if the organizers of the peace conference had never heard of the Security Council resolution.

But it gets worse. The peace document actually grants amnesty–I repeat, amnesty–to those who have participated in the fighting. To be sure, it makes a deliberate legal distinction, stating that war crimes or crimes against humanity will not be excused. But who’s kidding whom? This arcane legal dancing on the head of a pin is not likely to weigh heavily on the troops in the field, who have now been given every reason to believe that since the rapes they committed up to now have been officially forgiven and forgotten, they can rape with impunity again. And indeed, as Dr. Mukwege testified before Congress just last week, the raping and sexual violence continues.

The war may stutter; the raping is unabated.

But the most absurd dimension of this whole discreditable process is the fact that the peace talks were “facilitated”–they were effectively orchestrated–by MONUC, that is to say, by the United Nations. And perhaps most unconscionable of all, despite the existence for seven years of another Security Council resolution 1325, calling for women to be active participants in all peace deliberations, there was no one at that peace table directly representing the women, the more than 200,000 women, whose lives and anatomies were torn to shreds by the very war that the peace talks were meant to resolve.

Thus does the United Nations violate its own principles.

But, as FPN rightly notes,

While voices like Lewis’ are most welcome, the reality is male-dominated governments and organizations they run are not going to stop this misogynistic carnage, it is the women that must speak out and take action.

Both Lewis’ speech and the FPN post deserve to be given the RTWDT (read the whole damn thing) treatment.

Related: More from elle, Liss and Pizza Diavola, all of whom link to a number of other excellent posts that provide further information on the situation in the DRC, including this powerful and inspiring offering from SheCodes.  Also see Sokari @ Black Looks (h/t Anxious Black Woman, who has also compiled a wide variety of must-click links on the subject), who notes the irony of Eve Ensler’s “visceral piece of writing” having been published in an inherently misogynistic venue like Glamour Magazine. Sokari also decries the vain hypocrisy of humanitarian ventures that “literally feed on the suffering of others, assigning guilt to victims whilst managing to remove their white selves, their corporate money and power from any responsibility in that suffering.”

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Paradox and Hypocrisy

by matttbastard

Fatemeh Fakhraie examines the reaction garnered by the story of a female Saudi gang rape victim who was recently sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison as punishment for speaking to Saudi media outlets about the crime perpetrated against her. Fakhraie laments the subsequent no win situation Muslim women often find themselves in when situations like the Saudi incident arise, forced to choose whether to defend themselves “against Islamophobia, against racism, or against misogyny”:

This “triple threat” is one we often face as Muslim women (especially if we are also women of color). We always seem to be battling against one (or more) of these three issues: racism (for Muslim women who are also non-white), Islamophobia, or misogyny (not just from our own Muslim communities, but also from non-Muslim communities who think they know what’s best for us).

Being on the defensive all the time creates reactionary behavior. We always feel like we have to keep our guards up to defend our faith and our choices, and it gets tiring. Most Muslims don’t necessarily mind explaining stuff (that is, if you’re genuinely interested in understanding instead of starting an argument), but we can’t all be Encyclopedia Islamicas all the time.

Some of this “damage control” keeps us from having dialogues within our communities. Muslim women face a lot of problems within our communities as well as outside, but we’re afraid to talk about it because it can potentially be used against us. People in our own communities this power: for example, feminists in Iran are accused of being too “Westernized” by compatriots who have no interest in changing the status quo for women. Many women who seek their fair share are given this load of crap in order to guilt them into shutting up, because Westernization is equated with undesirable qualities in the Muslim world. Or, if we try to speak out to a non-Muslim audience, we are accused of “betraying” Islam or our communities by airing out our “dirty laundry.”

And this is a legitimate fear. We don’t want to reinforce negative ideas about Islam, Muslim men and women, or Muslims of any race. But if our own communities won’t listen to us or engage in a dialogue to raise awareness and potentially enact change (phew, a lot of buzzwords in there!), what else are we supposed to do?

Related: Laila Lalami reviews The Politics of the Veil by historian Joan Wallach Scott, which “examines the particular French obsession with the foulard [headscarf], which culminated in March 2004 with the adoption of a law that made it illegal for students to display any “conspicuous signs” of religious affiliation.” As Lalami notes, “both Islamic Sharia and strict French laïcité produced gender systems that essentially deprived women of the right to dispose of their bodies as they wished”:

[I[n Islamic tradition, women are urged to be modest and to steer clear of tabarruj. This Arabic noun has its roots in the verb baraja, which means “to display” or “to show off,” and the noun can be translated as something like “affectation.” In A Season in Mecca, his narrative book about the pilgrimage, Moroccan anthropologist Abdellah Hammoudi uses the term “ostentation” to translate tabarruj, “the invariable term for a bearing that is deemed immodest or conspicuous, a hieratic stance.” Similarly, the French law born out of strict definitions of laïcité warned schoolgirls about displaying “conspicuous” signs of religious affiliation. In short, the battle between the two modes of thinking was played out in women’s bodies.

The sexual argument against the foulard was common in France in 2003, although by that point the word “foulard” had all but disappeared from public discourse and was replaced by voile, or veil, which covers the entire face except for the eyes. This was erroneous but not entirely innocent, of course, because it made it possible for commentators to talk in terms of more general stereotypes of Muslim women in places like Yemen, where the veil is prevalent, rather than the reality of suburban Paris, where it is not. More recently, in an interview with a London-based newspaper, Bernard-Henri Lévy went as far as to say that “the veil is an invitation to rape.” It is perverse to suggest that a woman is inviting rape by the way she dresses, but such is the extreme that Lévy will go to in order to preserve the idea of a homogeneous female European identity. In this view, a European woman is uncovered, and that signifies both her availability to the male gaze as well as her liberation.

It is interesting, too, that Lévy demands for himself that which he is not willing to give others. In 2004 he hired the designer Andrée Putman to renovate his vacation home in Tangier. The home lies next to the famous Café Hafa, whose regulars once included Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams and Jean Genet, and which has unparalleled views of the Mediterranean. Patrons of the cafe can no longer enjoy an unobstructed view, however, because during the renovations Lévy constructed a wall around his terrace, where his wife, the actress and singer Arielle Dombasle, likes to sunbathe. Lévy reportedly wanted to protect her from the eyes of the men at the Café Hafa. Unveiling only goes one way, it seems.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

International Day Of Action 11.17.07: Solidarity With Aboriginal People In The Northern Territory

by matttbastard

It’s already November 18th in The Land Down Under. However, us folks here in the Northern Hemisphere still have ample time to speak out against the Howard government and call for an end to racist, colonialist policies towards Indigenous people that defy their inherent right to self determination and sovereignty. Some ideas on what you can do to show solidarity, courtesy Fire Fly:

  • Donate to the National Aboriginal Alliance. Find out more on their website, here: http://www.nationalaboriginalalliance.org/
  • Spread the news of this horrendous violation of human rights to as many people as possible. Write an article about it, post to your blog about it, send the news to your friends via email. Encourage your friends to speak out about it as well.
  • If you are part of a political organisation, collective, or group, please send your words of solidarity and support to the National Aboriginal Alliance. Send messages of solidarity to: secretariat at nationalaboriginalalliance dot org.
  • Write letters to Mal Brough, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, or John Howard. You can find guidelines here: http://www.antar.org.au/action/current_actions/

Background: more on the Northern Territory, the “Little Children are Sacred” report and the National Emergency Response from The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC (AU), The Observer, World Socialist Web Site and New Matilda.

Must read: Marion Scrymgour, Minister for Family and Community Services in the Northern Territory Government, on why colonial intervention, though not historically unprecedented, is not a viable solution to Indigenous problems:

With a view to reducing the Commonwealth’s administrative burden, then prime minister Stanley Bruce wrote in 1927 to his South Australian counterpart to see whether SA would take the lighter-skinned mixed-race children slated for removal.

He said: “If these babies were removed, at their present early age, from their present environment to homes in South Australia, they would not know in later life that they had Aboriginal blood and would probably be absorbed into the white population and become useful citizens.”

The words sound harsh and discordant today, but they are not really all that different from those of the current Prime Minister, with his fixation on “one Australia” and the culture and values he wants to impose through his new citizenship test.

The Howard Government’s declaration of “national emergency” came in response to the Little children are sacred report into child abuse in Aboriginal townships and communities. Mind you, this was not the first time the Government — and other governments — had been made aware of child abuse and neglect in Aboriginal communities. Queensland, Western Australia and NSW had similar inquiries in recent years, with little apparent action from those jurisdictions — and certainly none from Canberra.

Aboriginal women from this nation have been begging for action from Howard over a number of social problems for the best part of a decade. Women’s shelters, night patrols and kids’ programs had been dumped by the Commonwealth over that time, a process accelerated since the abolition of ATSIC after the 2004 elections.

[…]

It is as if the second Intervention has given the Commonwealth permission to enact a great undoing of our lives. Aboriginal Territorians are being herded back to the primitivism of assimilation and native welfare. It has been a deliberate, savage attack on the sanctity of Aboriginal family life.

Instead of a working through of the ways and means of reaching mutual understandings and solutions, thousands of our parents, thousands of our grandparents, have been tarred by the same brush.

Decent, caring fathers, uncles, brothers and grandfathers feel they have been branded as child abusers. Aboriginal women have been portrayed as pathetic creatures, incapable of caring for their families or their children.

The first Intervention had little regard for children; the second Intervention — and its National Emergency response — offers little more. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the interests of the current regime in Canberra lie elsewhere.

(Op-ed is an edited extract from the 2007 Charles Perkins Oration; full text available here).

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers