Sunday, October 31, 2004

Osama, The Return

As the new Osama bin Laden tape appears just in time for the US elections in 2004 and the repercussions of such a tape being spoken primarily in the election context, insurgents in Iraq are growing bolder, and rasher.

The spate of kidnappings is getting worse with every subsequent headline. What is strange, however, that the kidnappings don't make much sense. By kidnapping an Irishwoman that lived and worked in Iraq for so many years as a humanitarian and married an Iraqi, I have no clue what they hope to achieve except enrage their own brothers.

Now, they have kidnapped a man from the world's third most populous Muslim country, Bangladesh. 42-year-old Abul Kashem, along with a Dinesh Rajaratnam of Sri Lanka, were kidnapped last week, though kidnappers are still strangely silent on their demands.

I think the general trend of declining popularity of the terrorists and insurgents should only be accelerated by recent events.

Osama bin Laden has enjoyed popularity, to a limited extent (and, I believe, now waning), in countries like Pakistan and most of the Arab states. The insurgents, however never got as much screentime as Osama, and so never had much of a chance to garner a following among the simpleton Muslims of the world. Whatever caliber of adoration they may have had to start with, it can only be declining considering their lowly tactics and sheer lack of taste.

The popularity of these groups should be severely declining in the Arab and other Muslim states. Moderate Muslims have always condemned the Wahhabi attitute of indiscriminate killing, but now I daresay even the Wahhabis are starting to get a little unnerved.

Bangladesh has a strong Saudi-backed Wahhabi movement. All fundamentalist issues in Bangladesh arise from Al Qaeda, the standard-bearer of Wahhabi fundamentalist activism while the Saudis fund fertile hatching grounds for Al Qaeda in their mosques and numerous madrasahs.

I've seen the kidnappings in a revolting light, always. But I'm wondering what the fundamentalists in Bangladesh, once open backers, now cornered into latent support of Osama bin Laden because of the success of the liberal Bangladeshi media, are thinking now.

There are several ways to look at it, I imagine. Al Qaeda doesn't depend so chiefly on popularity per se on their activities. No doubt, as a lethal activist movement, they're not out to win any popularity contests, but their main source of manpower is from the madrasahs that they fund in and around the Muslim world who are not subject to the opinions of the educated and opinionated middle-class.

With as much open negative publicity they're getting by kidnapping and killing what the normal man would perceive as standard, everyday people, not even sparing Muslims, their recruitment grounds, I would imagine, should be growing thin.

I wouldn't be so brash as to think that the end of Al Qaeda is anywhere on the horizon because of negative Western publicity. The Wahhabis have tremedously powerful machines of propaganda. I do find it difficult to imagine with all that has been happening with car bombs killing Iraqi civilians and tales of grizzly night-time murders of rookie Iraqi policemen splattered in the front news, how they can possibly enjoy any support at all, even from within.

Anybody that still supports Osama bin Laden, after he made the strongest references to his involvement in the September 11th attacks in his recent tape, must be ill in some form or another.

The days of conspiracy theories are over.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Afghans in Middle Earth

"A New Zealand court was considering whether to order two Muslim women to remove their burqa veils when they testify in a fraud case an issue that has sparked a debate about how much immigrants should change to fit into society here."

"The two, both Afghan [...] refugees, have refused to remove their all-encompassing burqas in court while giving evidence for the prosecution."

"But defence lawyers have insisted on seeing their faces when they testify, saying 'we need to see the body language' of witnesses."

"If the women are ordered to remove their veils and they refuse, they could be held in contempt of court and face penalties that include imprisonment."

"Defence lawyer Colin Amery told the radio station that people who come from outside New Zealand 'cannot expect to impose an alien culture, clothes and so on, upon a system of law which has always had openness,' [...] adding that migrants when in Rome (must) do as the Romans.'"

Boy, do I hate that phrase.

The loyalty of these women is admirable, Masha Allah, and understandable that the superior thing to do is to fight for what one believes in, that it is superior to cover the face as was the practice, although the face does not qualify by Sacred Law as awrah (part of the body that must be covered for basic decency). However, to say that one would be in trouble with God for taking off the niqab would be incorrect, since traditional Hanafi jurists (Afghans are primarily Hanafis) have said that maintaining niqab is difficult in the West and there is no blame in removing it.

However, the women are confronted with a situation of conditioning, just like normal people. Not used to exposing their faces in front of men, they have grown accustomed to the personal freedom that they perceive in being covered from head to toe, not dissimilar to the personal freedom other women feel by not covering.

This judgemental attitude of believing oneself to be "open" and another to be "closed" must be abandoned. All societies have norms and unwritten restrictions that are easily circumvented over time. That the Muslims choose to document them to preserve their perception of decency is, if anything, to their credit. Since "open" Western culture chooses not to have any such standardized moral code, they are open to integrate foreign elements of culture and norms, and by taking in refugees and immigrants, must be prepared to handle these elements in a manner that is mutually beneficial.

These immigrants come from distant and foreign lands where they grew up, and have known nothing else. They leave behind their families and possessions not out of will but out of need. A more compassionate and understanding stance needs to be taken, to reason with them and help them integrate rather than cornering them by judging them for being different and impoverished.

Like most immigrants, they have much to offer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Arab Problem: A Fear of Expression?

According to Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former correspondent for the New York Times now residing in Dubai and writing for UAE-based Gulf News, the biggest "gene" in the Arab psyche is fear of expression.

After reading his article, I saw a little advertisement where the Gulf News asked for responses from readers, albeit crippled (understandably) to only a hundred words. And so I wrote the following:

"Mr. Yousef is mistaken. First, he states the Arab problem is fear. This is wrong, it is ignorance and complacency. Second, he mentions 'hordes of enemies [...] poised at the gates.' I see no enemy but the Arab himself.

In addition, he calls for "reform" of "what is left" of Arab civilization. I cannot differ more. Islam, the standard-bearer of Arab civilization for more than a millenium thrives at full bloom, and needs no reformation, but a wholesale abandonment of "reformation," namely Wahhabism.

Finally, his statement that the US is a robust democracy is highly debateable; the candidates are as different as Coke and Pepsi, and it has the lowest and most class-skewed voter turnout of any Western democracy."

I summarized Mr. Youssef's arguments and put in my thoughts on the ones I found most pertinent within the 100-word limit. But I had much more to say.

Indeed, the Arab problem is not fear of expression. After living in the United Arab Emirates for the first eighteen years of my life, most of the Imaratis I ever met had little to express. Limited in their faculties of expression and thinking, the few that were intellectually inclined gave their loyalty wholesale to the dictator Sheikh Zayed, regardless of his numerous wrongs and misdeeds, simply because he was, I quote, "a good leader."

The intellectuals who had the courage to be vociferous were summarily silenced, but their primary audience and source material during their short tenures were expatriates, "foreigners" like myself.

I refuse to believe the Arab problem is fear of expression. The expression, for the few who have the taste for it, is there. Like I mentioned in my feedback, it's ignorance and complacency. They are vastly ignorant of their rights and the rights of others by common human standards, and unforgiveably complacent with their wealth. The vast majority of Imaratis are whole-heartedly fond of Sheikh Zayed, and those that are dissatisfied (and trust me, there are) are few and far between.

Youssef M. Ibrahim says:

"It even affects expatriates and visitors who come and go, so much that many of the foreigners who live among us in this Arab world become a version of Lawrence of Arabia, striving to be more Arab than the Arabs."

I have absolutely no idea where Mr. Ibrahim draws this conclusion from. The heart of Arabia in which T. E. Lawrence lived was primitive, barbaric and had little or no foreigners in them. Lawrence went to Arabia because his passion was Arabia.

Today, Arabs are no longer primitive, endowed with as much technology as money can buy, and their governments are barbaric only when nobody is looking. Modern Arab culture is exclusive and grossly adulterated by "Counter Strike" and "Friends," only "open" to Westerners, who enjoy a cup of Qahwah, sitting uncomfortably in a tent considering the possibility of a belly-dancer.

People like my family, educated professionals from Muslim India, lived there for 26 years without the name of a single local Arab family we were close with, and children of the United Arab Emirates like me and my brothers, learn Arabic and discover Islam only after leaving our desert abodes.

Society in the United Arab Emirates exists in pockets, each pocket neatly containing a single ethnicity. Arabic is not popularized as a language and no effort made to make it a more widely used. The language of taxi drivers is what goes, effectively Urdu or what forms of it exist from the majority Afghan taxi drivers. Arabs themselves take to learning Urdu, as is widely seen in places like Dubai, where marketability has a higher premium than in oil-rich, laid-back Abu Dhabi where I grew up.

There is no drive for integration whatsoever, and I have not seen any such versions of T.E. Lawrence in my time.

He then says:

"Hordes of enemies are poised at the gates, and huge internal pressure for change lies within."

By enemies, I can only infer countries like the United States, and the specific case of Iraq, as he himself mentions later in the article.

I see no enemy in the United States. The only enemy I perceive is the Arab himself. Endowed with wealth beyond imagining for over half a century, he has accomplished little but his own destruction, alienation and abandonment of his brothers in Palestine and consummate moral and spiritual impotence, that a vicious secularist and murderer as Saddam enjoyed popular support among the Arabs before the Americans swooped in on him.

I daresay, the enemy the Arab faces is much more menacing than any father of civilian carpet-bombing, or any Daisy-cutter that fell upon the innocents of Iraq.

"And if we cannot reform what is left of Arab civilisation will evaporate making place for a new agenda set by someone else."

The mindset of "If it doesn't work, reform it" has become so deep-rooted, that all other possibilities (like returning to a millenium of successful, pluralist tradition) is ruled out. This comes from a desire to be accepted not through integration, but through assimilation. The only "reform" I can visualize is the undisputed import of unlimited democracy where the will of the mob rules all, and unlimited freedom of speech, both unlimitedly Western in their inception and application.

Reform has been the bane of the Muslims, inciting violence and murder within the pluralist Muslims of old. Reform is not the solution, but revival.

In conclusion, despite the harsh poverties facing not only Arabs, but all Muslims alike, we must maintain the Prophetic tradition of optimism; no matter what "agenda set by someoene else" should befall us, we are fully aware of Who has set the Ultimate Agenda.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

"Airport Wahhabis"

Stephen Schwartz is a Jewish writer and journalist. He is a vociferous opponent of Wahhabi fundamentalism (and many other things). The following passage reminded me of one of Ahmed Deedat's talks where Sheikh Deedat mentioned so-called Saudi "petrodollars."

"The vast mafia of princely parasites, over some 70 years, further exacerbated the clash between Wahhabi claims of fundamentalist puritanism and the real character of their rule. Previously known for mixing religious piety and political opportunism, the Saudis introduced the new and even more outrageous problem of their private immorality. The Saudi aristocracy would become known as 'Airport Wahhabis'--once their private jets left the runways, bottles of whisky appeared, women's veils disappeared, and a high time was had by all. The 'Saudi oil prince' became an unparalleled symbol of debauchery, ostentation, and waste, as well as ignorance, prejudice, and brutality. Expenditures to clothe and bejewel their women, indulge in their children, build and decorate their palaces, and otherwise satisfy their appetities became legendary. Their tastes led them to taverns, casinos, brothels, and similar establishments. They bought fleets of automobiles, private jets, and yachts the size of warships. They invested in valuable Western art they did not understand or like and which often offended the sensitivies of the Wahhabi clerics. [...] Yet at the same time, they dedicated a large portion of their wealth to the promotion of international Wahhabi radicalism, in a desperate attempt to bridge the gulf between pretense and reality.

"How was it that the grotesque duplicity of the Saudi regime--fostering official puritanism and unofficial degeneracy, proclaiming loyalty to Islam while rooting out its traditions, and agitating for the wholesale destruction of Israel while proclaiming loyalty to the United States--was ignored for so long by Western leaders and public opinion?"

- Schwartz, Stephen. The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. Doubleday, 2002.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

US Presidential Debates, 2004: Points to Note

I'm glad they only plan three presidential debates and not more. The repetitiveness really gets to you toward the end. The same points were repeated over and over again: 95% of crates uninspected (why doesn't anybody do anything about that, Kerry's said it on public television like four times already), 75% of Al Qaida brought to justice (Bush was smart enough to actually paraphrase that to "three quarters;" hats off to his trainers), 90% of the cost of the war borne by American taxpayers, Kerry's consistent inconsistency, X-ray the cargo but not the cargo hold (any airport authority people listening?), 125,000 Iraqis trained, spread "freedom" and "liberty," et cetera.

A few points to note. First and foremost, Dubya improved markedly on the second and third debates. I bet he had to do a lot of homework for it, but he did a good job. The first debate was a joke, I think he was surprised John Kerry actually opposed him. He had a look on his face that spelled "Is this guy with me or against me?" But he improved in the second and third debates. He even used a long word in the third debate: he said the word "exaggeration," albeit after a dramatic (no doubt preparatory) pause. It's a miracle he didn't get a standing ovation from the audience that very moment, though I suppose the audience agreed to stay silent (where's the fun in that?).

Secondly, I don't know about other viewers, but Dubya's smirking was getting decidedly vexatious as the debate wore on. I have no clue what it is he finds semi-humorous enough to get him to smirk through the entire debate. I tried doing it myself, and I figured if I kept this up, I'd get face cramps by the first half hour.

At one point during the third debate, the questioner asked the President about homosexuality. He asked whether he thought it was a matter of choice or birth. George W. Bush's answer was a good one: he didn't know. His ambivalence reflects that of the scientific community, where definitive evidence for a genetic basis to homosexuality is yet to be found.

When John Kerry was asked about it, he mentioned Dick Cheney's daughter as a strong "it is a matter of birth" response. I winced when he did that, because I didn't think taking Cheney's daughter's name was a wise thing to do. Of course, that's just me and my naivete. The truth is the Cheney's have used their daughter to show their "compassionate conservative" outlook during their campaign for a while now. Although George W. Bush didn't mention anything about it after John Kerry made his response, there has been a public outcry after the debate.

I don't think anybody's going to raise the issue that George W. Bush didn't mention anything during the debate. Now, Dubya's come up with an official position on it. I don't see why he didn't make it clear during the debate, I'm sure many people would have liked that. I think this is a case in point: Dubya's plain slow. He's the pretty little doll, the ever-smirking simpleton. If anything needs a response, you can count on his speech-writers to include that in his next speech, or his trainers to teach him to make the point at a later date, but saying something on his own? Nuh-uh. This matches with Paul O'Neil's vicious indictment of the President's complete lack of participation in cabinet meetings.

One more point to note. Considering how much of a mess the United States is in, or any country for that matter, the sheer enormity of such a responsibility, how can anyone actually campaign for such a job? I wouldn't want such a job even if people begged me to take it and I knew I had the ability to carry it out properly.

In conclusion, I'd like to say that Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" was the highlight of these debates. I found myself intently looking forward to the 5-minute video clips they put up at their website after every debate. Jon Stewart, the host, is an absolute riot. It's a shame we don't have these back in Bangladesh. We have much more material than the Americans do.

Which reminds me of one of Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad's "Religion & Ethics: Thought for the Day" that the BBC features. In his 8th July entry, he reminds us that jokesters offer a "healthy disillusionment [of] institutions that have grown cruel, or complacent, or corrupt."

As Sheikh Murad puts it, "by pulling our legs, they keep us on our toes."

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

An Encounter With Dr. Douglas Osheroff

It’s a very refreshing experience to meet great people every once in a while. Sheikh Nuh says in his talks that the soul thirsts for wisdom, and good company.

I had the opportunity of observing a Nobel Laureate today, a Dr. Douglas Osheroff. His autobiography can be found here. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1996, sharing it with three other colleagues for the discovery of superfluidity in Helium-3, whatever that means.

Dr. Osheroff came off as an archetypical sweet, old man. Slightly hunched over, grasping the arms of the sofa he was sitting on, he spoke in a low, consonant voice and placed the quips flawlessly to keep the students involved. I suppose Americans are generally well-known for their easy-going attitude, a tendency to not take things too seriously and tremendous sense of humour. However, I particularly liked his insistence on humility.

Upfront, he said that he was not looking for the discovery that lead to the Nobel Prize, and maintained that most scientists that get Nobel Prizes are just ordinary people. Perhaps as consolation, he opined that although Stanford is home to about seventeen Nobel Laureates, it endows no particular advantage on an educational institution to excel. Obviously he was addressing the scientific community’s (and my university’s, no doubt) collective ambition for the Nobel Prize or some such appellation of achievement; I share no such ambition.

Side Note: Too many professors I have seen are quite taken by the concept of the Nobel Prize. One such Organic Chemistry professor of mine insisted on mentioning something of the Nobel Prize in almost every lecture, having had a Laureate as his supervisor during his postgrad at Harvard.

However, reading his autobiography where he talks candidly of his academic troubles, watching an interview and hearing him talk up-close and personal, it is truly gratifying to see people with the instinctive insight to insist on humility and not looking at oneself as above others.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Rethinking the Solutions, Revisited

The Daily Star is Bangladesh’s premiere English language daily. It runs a website which it updates daily and has archives as far back as November 2001. This website is at the top of my list when I want the lowdown on what goes down in and around Bangladesh.

It hosts, from my perception, an above average array of patrons of the sciences, with frequent op-eds that come from some of the more intellectually inclined from among our educated middle and upper classes.

One such piece caught my eye the other day, a rather detailed essay on long-term solutions to the floods in Bangladesh by a Dr. Nazrul Islam. My previous blog entry, “Rethink the Solutions,” was partially inspired by his latter piece on October 2nd, though after blogging, I discovered the Daily Star’s archives and dug up his article from August 10th and the opposing article on August 13th, both of which he refers to.

They make for some interesting reading, and so the links are here for reference in order of appearance:

  1. A Permanent Solution to the Floods, by Dr. Nazrul Islam, August 10th 2004
  2. Permanent Solution to Flood: Point to ponder, br Engr. Amirul Hussain, August 13th 2004
  3. Cordon Approach or Open Approach?, by. Dr. Nazrul Islam, October 2nd 2004

At the time of writing my October 2nd blog entry, I wasn’t familiar with Dr. Islam’s complete opinion. Though after reading the entire chain of articles, I find a startling similarity between the approach of Dr. Islam and Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad’s article on the Turkish earthquakes.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Rethink The Solutions

On September 13th 2004, the capital city of Dhaka was completely inundated after a 72-hour splurge of torrential rain. One of Asia’s megacities, for three days thereafter, came to a grinding halt, and the centre of the economy of a nation of more than 120 million people was shut down.

The rainwater inundated 25 of WASA’s water pumps, used to pump water out of the city, rendering them unserviceable. The remaining pumps were ineffective anyway, as the heavy winds that accompanied the rain took down the power lines servicing them. As Mother Nature’s attack, seemingly engineered for the suffering of her inhabitants, withdrew, and the city officially at a stop, rickhsaw pullers were charging exorbitant rates for trafficking passengers because of the increase in demand, businesses were forced to close down and drinking water became scarce as 10 million souls in and around Dhaka, bewildered, wondered if God had no decency, sending down such untold suffering only weeks after the “official” floods receded.

It is too simplistic to say that the natural disasters God sends at us are divine punishment. However, we pave the way for our own suffering, by divorcing ourselves from the land and from ourselves, unleashing the forces of nature, long held at bay by our connection and realization of the realities in which we live.

The world exists as a play between the attributes of the Divine. The Compassionate, The Merciful and the Gentle also appears as the Overwhelming, the Just and the Avenger. Thus the world is a play of darkness and light, of joy and hardships and of celebration and mourning.

It is a strange thing to witness that after so many years of thriving civilization in the low-lying delta lands now known as Bangladesh, only with the advent of the promises of “modern technology” do floods cause suffering to more people.

As Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad so eloquently puts it, modernity serves but one idol: money. What is termed today as “progress,” serves neither the people nor the realities of the land, but dedicates itself wholesale to the outward semblance of the corporal world.

As Dhaka grows horizontally and vertically without rest or restriction, already-impotent city authorities are being pushed to the blinding edge. Their incompetence, indulgence in bribery and corruption, short-sightedness and complete disregard of their responsibilities are destroying one of the world’s largest cities.

The concrete monstrosities that have mushroomed in modern-day Dhaka are partly to blame. An inflated indicator of economic progress, many of these ill-constructed, badly maintained and sometimes abandoned structures are built on former water bodies that served as buffer storage for the sudden deluge of rainwater that hits randomly. These high-capacity structures also put a tremendous strain on a neglected low-capacity sewage and power distribution system that the authorities just cannot be bothered to cope with.

But we all know this. The news regurgitates these reasons every day. Where, then lies the solution? A thousand-kilometre coastal barrier along the shores of the Bay of Bengal? I believed Bangladesh missed an immense opportunity at being a miracle of modern innovation by reverting wholesale and without thought to the architecture of her former European masters.

The "modern" outlook of infrastructure in Bangladesh should be completely abandoned and the traditional solutions brought back to the fore. The roads that line Bangladesh's countryside and run shamelessly through what used to be rivers should all be dismantled, and the nation put on a program to regenerate the rivers, ultimately to be reinstated as the primary mode of locomotion through the country. A new industry of research, development, innovation and ingenuity should be built from the ground up for these vehicles. Major roads such as those that run between Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna and other major cities should remain intact, but remodeled to allow rivers to do their job.

Dhaka and other major cities should be cordoned off, their limits set and the city authorities should set up long-term plans for raising these cities to the skies if they need to expand outside their generous boundaries. Major cities should be modeled after the villages, dotted with ponds and lakes that the villagers know are excellent storage for excess rainwater, and sections of the city should be leveled and gardens planted to improve the water uptake of the soil that is essential to ground water regeneration. All areas within city bounds should be landscaped to allow water to run off into these water bodies and parks, that have the capacity to store the excess rainwater.

If corruption was erradicated, funding even these ambitious projects would become much less of a problem. International aid has always been ready, but our politicians don't have the credibility to make our case. International organizations like the World Bank come in, sanction multi-billion dollar projects modeled after the solutions they used in wherever, by foreign engineers who have never lived in the country, that know nothing of the realities of Bangladesh and spend a lot of money churning up good, God-given soil only to be hit harder by the floods the next year. The politicians don't mind, because they get a healthy 10% of the aid and several hundreds of thousands of taka in bribes from local contractors who need the contracts. Overpaid foreign specialists are brought in, that siphon most of the aid money back with their luxurious salaries as engineering graduates from our most prestigious institutes loiter unemployed and after wallowing for years, take their brilliance to a foreign land. This vicious cycle must end.

Our people stand at a crossroads. We can either choose to realize the realities in which we live and mend our ways, or we can continue on the path to perdition, in which case natural disasters are just the beginning. The world’s climate is changing, and Bangladesh will be among the first nations to be swallowed by the sea. Radical solutions are needed. We must do something.

Decision 2004, Reprinted

The following is an article by the owner of this blog, from The Ridge, the official NUS campus magazine. It appeared in the October 2004 issue.

The 2004 US presidential election promises to be among the more interesting ones in recent history. As its status as the world’s sole superpower grows as a result of a series of unilateral aggressions against sovereign states (with debatable results, necessity and international support), American politics is becoming more and more relevant to those abroad.

How It Works

Contrary to popular belief, public opinion in the United States is not split into two neat halves. The great American electorate actually breaks down into thirds. Incumbent George W. Bush controls a third on the right, challenger John F. Kerry controls a third on the left, and then we have the centre, called swing-voters, who do not hold loyalties to either party. It is the swing-voters that John F. Kerry and George W. Bush are trying to woo, and it is the swing-voters that ultimately decide who the president will be. They constitute a mere 10% of the electorate.

The centre has been behind the incumbent for the large part of George W. Bush’s 4-year tenure. They supported him during his invasion of Afghanistan soon after the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and they largely supported his alarmist and grossly misinformed arguments for an invasion of Iraq.

American casualties in Iraq, however, have crossed the 4-digit boundary to a thousand and are still going strong. Pictures of Abu Ghraib haunt the American military’s reputation. With Bush’s tax cuts explicitly favoring the rich, a larger proportion of the 200-billion-dollar cheque for the war in Iraq comes from the middle class, and only two years after a record budget surplus the nation has the largest budget deficit in history.

With parameters such as these surpassing psychologically important levels, and an increasingly critical media brought to shame for its reproachfully biased dissemination of the administration’s pitch for war in early 2003, George W. Bush should have something to worry about when appealing to the votes of the centre swing-voters.

The Race

Bush’s continued competitiveness, and near lead, in public opinion polls, however, comes to show exactly how ambivalent the public is. Though not too keen on Bush, swingers do not seems too keen on Kerry either.

Bush’s lead on Massachusetts Senator Kerry owes heavily to his publicized persona as an established wartime president and Kerry’s fundamental disadvantages as a “waffler.” Only two senators throughout American history have actually gone on to become presidents. Senators have to pass many votes for and against bills of similar themes under different circumstances and these public records can be used with remarkable effectiveness to challenge a contender’s decisiveness and credibility.

In addition, re-election bids are more of a referendum on the incumbent’s performance in the past 4 years than an election. It is more of a decision as to whether or not the incumbent has done things well enough rather than a 50-50 choice, so the election is essentially Kerry’s to lose.

A Bipartisan Farce

American foreign policy as of late has shifted toward “pre-emptive strikes” and “regime change.” It insists on both safety at home and touts the noble cause of (selectively) endowing democracy abroad to those under the yoke of tyranny. Despite the noble rhetoric, America has the lowest and most class-skewed voter turnout among any Western democracy.

Tens of millions of voters regularly abstain from presidential elections, with a less than 50% voter turnout in 2000. The class gap is marked, with only 40% of eligible citizens in families with incomes of less than $15,000 voting, compared to 76% of families with incomes of more than $75,000 during the 1996 elections. The gap is projected to have increased in subsequent elections.

A significant portion of potential voters (and ultimate abstainers) in America look at bipartisan politics very skeptically. The Democrats and the Republicans, to them, is much like Coke and Pepsi; same product, different packaging. Their skepticism also owes itself to the fact that American politics revolves largely around big business. Six out of ten of Bush’s major campaign contributors are financial firms, and Kerry fares no better.

Noam Chomsky rather harshly contends that democracy in America “is to be construed as the right to choose among commodities.” Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at MIT and notable intellectual, maintains that real issues such as the economy and jobs are pushed to the background, and superficial vagaries such as “qualities,” “leadership” and “personality” are brought into the fore to marginalize the public and transfer decision-making to “unaccountable private power systems,” a “virtual Senate” of private investors and lenders.

Exploitation of a Tragedy

The Republican campaign insists that September 11th 2001 changed the face of the world forever. As such, only an experienced “wartime” president would be fit for the role, or else, as Dick Cheney stated on September 7th 2004 to reporters in Iowa, America could be hit again.

The attacks on September 11th 2001 were carried out on American soil, and represented a level of creativity not imagined possible by terrorists. Yet, according to their own investigations, the attacks were in planning for years before their near-flawless execution. It marked the beginning of a “War on Terror,” though it being dubious at best to declare war on an abstract noun.

America’s over-emphasis on terrorism has become a sickness of sorts among politicians and bureaucrats around the world. When questioned with the possibility of negotiations with the terrorists of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Beslan bungle on September 6th, 2004 Vladimir Putin cited the possibility of the United States negotiating with Bin Laden. To leverage the severity of the crisis, links to Al Qaeda were mentioned, which have since been discredited. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal called Al Qaeda attacks on Saudi soil on May 12th 2003 “our 9/11.” Former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani perversely stipulated August 30th 2004 that the nation owes it to the victims of 9/11 to re-elect George W. Bush.

When foreign and domestic politicians use a tragedy shamelessly and repeatedly to push their own agenda, it no longer becomes a tragedy. It becomes a marketing tool. The Republican insistence on a “new world” based on the gruesome events of September the 11th 2001 and the follow-up scare tactics are a masterful execution of the first rule of thumb in politics: when in trouble, change the topic.

The election next November can go either way, but both ways are similar enough in terms of foreign policy (most relevant to us) to cause worry. As the United States continues to dominate the world political and military scene, the chances of the common man coming under its thumb continue to increase. Despite the great freedoms endowed by the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allies almost 60 years ago, the subversion of public awareness and exploitation of the media threatens the fabric of free society and the right to self-governance, and ultimately undermines international law as has now become painfully apparent. From this side of the ocean, however, all we can do is watch.


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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)