Archive for June 2006

We Have Been Noticed

June 29, 2006

We still won’t take sweeties from strangers, but we’ll gladly take comments from people we’ve never met before and plenty of them. Until recently, those commenting upon our humble blog have been people who know us in the flesh and weren’t too sickened by the experience to break off all contact with us. But we now have had an echt spontaneous, unsolicited, unprompted visit and subsequent comment from our new friend “Wokan,” who was even so good as to link to us on his own blog. (See reciprocal digital backscratch on right hand side, under “Shout-Outs”).

Responding to a post about activists’ efforts to secure women’s rights in Iran, Wokan writes:

“I hope we can find a way to help their cause that doesn’t involve the Bush crime family dropping nukes on Iran. Not much point in women having rights if they’re dying of radiation poisoning.”

In addition to the astute observation as to the futility of rights for the dead, Wokan’s comment raises an important question: how, in fact, can we help? The power to change matters on the ground at the disposal of mere citizens such as ourselves seems so limited.

(Not to mention the fact that, as in the case of this shabby correspondent, some of us aren’t even citizens. Indeed, this sorry scribbler was today obliged to see the good people at the Varick Street office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services so as to renew his green card, which – as every dirty immigrant knows – is actually pink. Rather disconcertingly, the first thing I saw on passing through the metal detectors were framed headshots of President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney leering at me like twin jackals. Come to think of it, Cheney’s expression was more of a Gargamel-esque smirk, as though a cotton-tail bunny had just stumbled upon the business end of his hunting rifle and he was savouring the moment. Otherwise, the visit was quite pleasant. The office was staffed by a lovely team of delightfully plump ladies, one of whom took my trusting hand in hers and affixed my fingertips to a digital scanner. Apparently ink has been phased out except for kids, which is a terrible pity as I was rather hoping to pop over to Iraq for the next election and give the nearest cameraman a thumbs-up. But I digress.)

But while our influence may be limited, this is no reason to call the fight in favour of what one Iranian correspondent of mine calls a “totalitarian system based on compulsion and violation of human rights.” First of all, we must hold fast to that old leftist saw of “solidarity.” Their struggle is our struggle, no matter how remote it might seem. I recently had the good fortune to hear an important intellectual figure in Lebanon’s so-called Cedar Revolution – a man whose close friends and allies are routinely assassinated – speak of the struggle for democracy and human rights in his country. I asked him how we in the West, so far away, could help secular and liberal democrats in Lebanon and other countries with repressive governments. “The first thing,” he said, “is to acknowledge that we exist.” In some small way, we are attempting to honour that instruction. (more…)

Bush in a Bubble?

June 29, 2006

It has long been a mainstay of Washington punditry that George W. Bush operates his presidency from within a bubble. As Newsweek magazine opined last year, “Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon.” In the months since Newsweek ran its cover story, the White House has assiduously strived to divorce itself from this perception.

It is with this backdrop in mind that I was struck by a short item from the BBC today. The Beeb’s Khartoum correspondent, Alfred Taban, had an opportunity to meet with Bush in the oval office this week as one of four individuals honored by the National Endowment of Democracy for their efforts in promoting freedom. Speaking with the BBC’s Network Africa program, Taban relates how Bush was very interested to hear about how the 2005 North-South peace agreement was holding up on the ground in Sudan. “He asked me if the peace agreement was working and I said, ‘Mr. President, it is not working,’ and he was very surprised,” Taban said.

Bush then said that this was not what he had been informed, and Taban said he told Bush: “Well, whatever information you’re getting – that peace agreement is not being implemented by the government in Khartoum.”

One if forced to wonder what other information about the government in Khartoum is not getting through to the president.

England 1, Voles 0

June 26, 2006

Yes, despite the best efforts of their Ecuadorian puppet squad, the evil Volish empire was handed a convincing defeat courtesy of the miraculous free-kickery of Spice Girl impregnator and sometime international football star David Beckham. After his gorgeous set-piece strike beat the Ecuadorian goalkeeper in the 60th minute, Beckham celebrated by vomiting on the field.

Slanderous reports have attributed this triumphant spew to dehydration but their hack authors are obviously ignorant of history. Beckham was clearly reprising Henry V’s famous victory retch at the Battle of Agincourt, where good King Hal showed the cowardly French what British soldiers – and army rations – are made of.

Attention must also be paid to the marvelous efforts of England striker phenom and wunderkind Wayne Rooney. Like the savage little British bulldog he so closely resembles, Rooney was relentless in attack, humiliating Ecuador’s hapless defenders with astonishing runs and cheeky flick passes through their legs. Rooney…

…who has apparently made a Faustian pact to acquire superior footballing skills in exchange for his neck, is a mere twenty years old and made his English Premier League debut at only 16 years of age. He was previously voted FIFA embryo-of-the-month three times in a row.

Predictable

June 23, 2006

Amidst great expectations – and an ongoing genocide – the freshly revamped, reformed, rejiggered, United Nations Human Rights Council convened for its inaugural meeting in Geneva this week. Iran, which lost its bid for a seat on the new council, was kind enough to send a representative to the gathering who enjoyed observer status. Befitting a regime that beats women peacefully protesting, Iran sent Saeed Mortazavi who, according to The Washington Post, “has been the most public instrument of political repression in Iran since 2000, when he began a crackdown on the press while serving as a judge. As prosecutor general in Tehran, he has been accused of torture, illegal detention and other offenses…”

“It’s really . . . hard to interpret his place in the delegation as anything but an indication of contempt for human rights,” said Hadi Ghaemi, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Indeed. An inauspicious dawn for a new era of human rights advocacy at the UN.

To Intervene Or Not to Intervene?

June 21, 2006

That the United Nations is ineffective at responding to conflicts and humanitarian crises is obvious. That violent convulsions will continue to plague mankind is equally obvious. The question has long been what to do about these dual realities.

In the human rights community there has long floated around the idea of establishing an international rapid reaction force under the auspices of the United Nations security council that could immediately be deployed to address various crises as they emerge. In fact, in 1948 the first secretary-general of the UN proposed just such a force to deal with the violence and chaos that was then (and maybe still) plaguing Jerusalem. Predictably, the United States and the Soviet Union thought it a terrible idea.

When the idea is raised in earnest, it has historically been dismissed by the more pragmatic among us who see it as well-intentioned but hopelessly unfeasible. Not to be dissuaded, this week a group of academics, former government officials, and security experts tabled a proposal at the UN to create a 15,000 man military, civilian, police, and medical force to intervene for humanitarian purposes.

The proposal has some intellectual rigor behind it, contained in the pages of a compelling new book of essays [Warning: PDF link] edited by Robert Johansen of the University of Notre Dame. The volume is aptly titled A United Nations Emergency Peace Service to Prevent Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, and it makes a serious case for establishing what many have come to calling a “UN Army.” (In the book it is called an “Emergency Peace Force”).

In the introduction, Brain Urquhart addresses some of the common objections to the establishment of such a force. “…the most basic objection to a standing UN peace service is seldom expressed publicly. Protection of national sovereignty is a concern that very often limits the ability of the UN to do the right thing in the right way at the right time. Fear of any UN development that may erode national sovereignty has always limited the UN’s capacity for intervention.”

This is, in the phrasing of my colleague, a “spicy meatball.” It is indeed. It touches upon a fundamental contradiction that has always been at the heart of UN peacekeeping: international forces are only deployed with the agreement of the relative governments party to a crisis. In short, under certain circumstances – like say the slaughter of your own citizens – does a government forfeit the protections and privileges of sovereignty? Furthermore, who decides?

Now, presumably most people who ideologically reside somewhere near the center-left of the spectrum would offer up the UN Security Council for that task. But let us try a quick little thought experiment. For weeks the UN has been trying to convince the government in Khartoum to permit the entry of a UN force to take over for the pathetically undermanned and underequipped African Union force that is currently in Darfur. For weeks, the government has studiously avoided making a decision. Today, President Omar al-Bashir finally came out with an unequivocal statement, vowing to never allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur. For good measure he blamed Jewish organizations for pushing for their deployment.

So, what would be different today if we had a standing UN Emergency Peace Force? Well, if the force were only deployed at the approval of concerned governments…nothing. If the decision were taken out of Khartoum’s hands and placed into those of the security council. Well…nothing. It is highly inconceivable that China and Russia would agree to go over the head of the Sudanese government and sanction the intervention. Both for hard-headed economic reasons and because a larger issue is at play: namely the sanctity of sovereignty.

As noble as the sentiment is behind the creation of an Emergency Police Force, the need it would supposedly fill is sort of besides the point without some sort of resolution to the more fundamental problems posed by the very idea of humanitarian intervention.

Catastrophe!

June 21, 2006

No, not that weird Beckett play (come to think of it, “weird Beckett play” might be something of a redundancy), but the sight of star England Striker Michael Owen writhing on the German sod in agony. Owen’s knee is kaput, probably the ACL, and he’s out for the rest of the World Cup, leaving an already battered and hobbling England team to face the evil empire of Ecuador on Sunday. It doesn’t look good but We Still Believe.

As for the injury itself, it’s hard to believe this was a mere “accident.” Was this Krautish skullduggery in delayed vengeance for Monty’s victory over Rommel at El Alamein? Too obvious. Clearly, this was the work of voles.

Yes, Stephen Colbert has bears; your humble correspondent has voles – vicious, nefarious blighters the lot of them. Especially those Trinidadian and Tobagan voles. This time they’ve gone too far. In the name of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Borough of Camden, I declare a polite English fatwah upon all voles and those who harbour voles. Note the proud British spelling of “harbour” and feel my nation’s wrath, you foul endless-molar sprouting vermin. You’re on notice!

Trashing Women’s Rights in Tehran II

June 20, 2006

 

Avid small-d readers will recall an earlier post about an Iranian women's rights rally in Tehran and the risk that protesters might be savagely beaten, as they were on a previous occasion. Well, on June 12th these brave activists did indeed attempt to assemble peaceably to hold their rally and … were savagely beaten.

Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that "As the demonstrators assembled, the security forces immediately started to beat them with batons, sprayed them with pepper gas, marked the demonstrators with color spray, and took scores into custody." Intriguingly, this event seems to mark the first time that the Iranian regime transported female policewomen (read "fundamentalist goons") to beat and arrest female protesters, while male goons arrested male protesters. One wonders whether to consider this extreme sex segregation or equal opportunity thuggery.