Posts Tagged 'Muslim'

The substance of Obama’s Cairo speech shows little change is likely

For Obama, “Islam” is synonymous with overwhelming popular opposition across many Muslim-majority countries to the increasingly intrusive and violent American military, political and economic interventions, and the resistance this opposition generates.   “The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.”  He lectured Palestinians that It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus, but did Obama really imagine that such words would impress an Arab public that watched in horror as Israel slaughtered 1,400 people in Gaza last winter, including hundreds of sleeping, fleeing or terrified children, with American-supplied weapons?  And how is Palestine to be a viable state if it is dismembered by the existing Israeli settlements, which Obama says nothing about?

On the other hand, Robert Dreyfuss, in the Nation, thinks Obama hit a home run.

Guardian (UK),  June 4, 2009

A Bush in sheep’s clothing

By Ali Abunimah

Obama’s speech shows little real change. In most regards his analysis maintains flawed American policies

Once you strip away the mujamalat – the courtesies exchanged between guest and host – the substance of President Obama’s speech in Cairo indicates there is likely to be little real change in US policy. It is not necessary to divine Obama’s intentions – he may be utterly sincere and I believe he is. It is his analysis and prescriptions that in most regards maintain flawed American policies intact.

Though he pledged to “speak the truth as best I can”, there was much the president left out. He spoke of tension between “America and Islam” – the former a concrete specific place, the latter a vague construct subsuming peoples, practices, histories and countries more varied than similar.

Labelling America’s “other” as a nebulous and all-encompassing “Islam” (even while professing rapprochement and respect) is a way to avoid acknowledging what does in fact unite and mobilise people across many Muslim-majority countries: overwhelming popular opposition to increasingly intrusive and violent American military, political and economic interventions in many of those countries. This opposition – and the resistance it generates – has now become for supporters of those interventions, synonymous with “Islam”.

It was disappointing that Obama recycled his predecessor’s notion that “violent extremism” exists in a vacuum, unrelated to America’s (and its proxies’) exponentially greater use of violence before and after September 11, 2001. He dwelled on the “enormous trauma” done to the US when almost 3,000 people were killed that day, but spoke not one word about the hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows left in Iraq – those whom Muntazer al-Zaidi’s flying shoe forced Americans to remember only for a few seconds last year. He ignored the dozens of civilians who die each week in the “necessary” war in Afghanistan, or the millions of refugees fleeing the US-invoked escalation in Pakistan.

As President George Bush often did, Obama affirmed that it is only a violent minority that besmirches the name of a vast and “peaceful” Muslim majority. But he seemed once again to implicate all Muslims as suspect when he warned, “The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.”

Nowhere were these blindspots more apparent than his statements about Palestine/Israel. He gave his audience a detailed lesson on the Holocaust and explicitly used it as a justification for the creation of Israel. “It is also undeniable,” the president said, “that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation.”

Suffered in pursuit of a homeland? The pain of dislocation? They already had a homeland. They suffered from being ethnically cleansed and dispossessed of it and prevented from returning on the grounds that they are from the wrong ethno-national group. Why is that still so hard to say?

He lectured Palestinians that “resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed”. He warned them that “It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.” (Note: the last suicide attack targeting civilians by a Palestinian occurred in 2004)

Fair enough, but did Obama really imagine that such words would impress an Arab public that watched in horror as Israel slaughtered 1,400 people in Gaza last winter, including hundreds of sleeping, fleeing or terrified children, with American-supplied weapons? Did he think his listeners would not remember that the number of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians targeted and killed by Israel has always far exceeded by orders of magnitude the number of Israelis killed by Arabs precisely because of the American arms he has pledged to continue giving Israel with no accountability? Amnesty International recently confirmed what Palestinians long knew: Israel broke the negotiated ceasefire when it attacked Gaza last November 4, prompting retaliatory rockets that killed no Israelis until after Israel launched its much bigger attack on Gaza. That he continues to remain silent about what happened in Gaza, and refuses to hold Israel accountable demonstrates anything but a commitment to full truth-telling.

Some people are prepared to give Obama a pass for all this because he is at last talking tough on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. In Cairo, he said: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

These carefully chosen words focus only on continued construction, not on the existence of the settlements themselves; they are entirely compatible with the peace process industry consensus that existing settlements will remain where they are for ever. This raises the question of where Obama thinks he is going. He summarised Palestinians’ “legitimate aspirations” as being the establishment of a “state”. This has become a convenient slogan to that is supposed to replace for Palestinians their pursuit of rights and justice that the proposed state actually denies. Obama is already on record opposing Palestinian refugees’ right to return home, and has never supported the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to live free from racist and religious incitement, persecution and practices fanned by Israel’s highest office holders and written into its laws.

He may have more determination than his predecessor but he remains committed to an unworkable two-state “vision” aimed not at restoring Palestinian rights, but preserving Israel as an enclave of Israeli Jewish privilege. It is a dead end.

There was one sentence in his speech I cheered for and which he should heed: “Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.”

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

Wealth Gap in India has Created a Social Time Bomb

Newsweek yesterday wrote “In recent years, the global media has been abuzz with glowing headlines about India’s economic leaps and bounds, the emergence of its consumerist middle class, and its status as one of the last frontiers for luxury conglomerates looking to consolidate their recent gains. But, as the ongoing terrorist assault on Mumbai indicates, maintaining its recent momentum will be a delicate task, and one that it cannot accomplish without bringing all of its citizens on board, including, most importantly, its disaffected Muslim underclass., a large Muslim minority of approximately 150 million.”

India is one of the most wealth-unequal nations in the world, due to the triumph of economic neo-liberalism, which began in the early 1990s, which was eagerly embraced by the richest families in India.  Everyone knows there is a wealth gap in India, but the degree of inequality is stunning.

India has developed incredible wealth for a tiny minority. India’s economy, Asia’s 3rd largest, has grown at 9% per year for past 4 years. The top 10 percent of India’s population owns between 33 to 50 percent of the country’s wealth, Some 1.8 million households earning $100,000 or more a year, spend a tenth of that on luxury goods. [1]

The concentration of wealth among super-rich is particularly striking. Mumbai alone has more billionaires than all of Scandinavia, but half the 13 million population lives in slums. [2]

India has 53 billionaires in a population of 1 billion (5 millionths of a percent), and their wealth is equivalent to 31% of India’s GDP. India ranks 4th in world in number of billionaires, after US, Russia, and Germany, but India’s billionaires richer than Russia’s or Germany’s. India is ahead of Japan, China, UK, France, for example. [3] Luxury malls with gold-plated ceilings are proliferating across India., right next to slums. [4]

The vast majority of people in India now live in incredible poverty. 80% of India’s population earn about $5 per week, and live on 50 US cents per day. [5] In 2007, India was 94th out of 118 nations in the Global Hunger Index, below Ethiopia, for example. [6] As India’s neoliberalism developed full force in the late 1990s, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh had half the world’s hungry people, yet together they had 50 million tons of surplus grain. [7] One fifth of the world’s 500,000 women who died in childbirth in 2007 were from India. [8]

In the UN’s Human Development Index, (a composite of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita), India scores 128 in world, behind desperately poor, ravaged areas with no wealth such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Botswana, and even the occupied areas of Palestine. [9]

The situation for farmers in India, 60% of the population, is so desperate that between 1997-2007, according to government figures,166,000 Indian farmers killed themselves. From 2001 to 2006, Indian farmers killed themselves at the rate of one every half-hour. [10]

International corporate takeover of seed, pesticide, and fertilizer markets since 1991 have raised cultivation costs from $50 per acre to $300 per acre. Farmers growing food cannot afford to plant enough to feed themselves, so they have to buy grain, whose prices have skyrocketed. 60% of outlays in farm households, averaging $12 per person, goes for food. [11]

Farmers are particularly desperate in areas that followed IMF directives to abandon food crops and plant cash crops. For example, India is the world’s second biggest producer of cotton. US subsidies to US cotton-farming corporations exceed the value of the cotton itself, so cheap US cotton imports have flooded India and driven income to India’s cotton farmers down 70%., while cultivation cost have increased six-fold since 1991. Farmer suicides in cotton-growing areas occur once every six hours. [12]

Indian farmers are unable to get $100 loans for seed or fertilizer because of 14% interest rates, while in the cities, middle-class professionals are approached by banks to borrow tens of thousands at 4% interest to buy Mercedes cars. [13]

Finally, Government investment in agricultural development, like irrigation, decreased from 14% of GDP in 1991, to 6% in 2005. [14]

Muslims in India have an average literacy rate just higher than low-cast Hindus. Muslims are 13% of population but less than 5% of government posts, and only 4% of university undergraduates. Muslim poverty rate in urban areas is 38%, higher than low-cast Hindus. [15]

As Newsweek concludes, if there is a quantum of solace to be extracted from this tragedy, it’s that it serves as an urgent call to address the underlying causes of terrorism, the most pressing issue of our time, with a targeted effort to counteract the destabilizing effects of poverty, lack of basic education, health care and civil rights. [16] We have a simpler way of saying it: “No Justice, No Peace!”


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