Monthly Archives: November 2011

The New Middle East, will belong to those who live there…

Standard

Egypt is known best to Egyptians

The members of the Green revolution and young Iranians should be made aware of what is  known to the the new generation of Arabs who like their Iranian peers took to the streets to demand a new future for their country earlier this year and through today. The are convinced that the US is responsible for the mess that is hindering peace during the most crucial times.  It is also widely accepted in the region that the US will go great lengths in ensuring the existence of Israel, a country that they believe has doomed the region by its cunning and devious plans. If the Arabs are weary, Iranians too must be cautious.

America fears that an Islamic government in Egypt would destabilize peace  with Israel.  There are rumors that the US is clandestinely encouraging violent clashes that have ravaged Cairo for the past couple of weeks. They have also been trying tirelessly to block Iran’s nuclear capability for this very reason.

Hamza Abu Salma, a young Egyptian reflects the anger of his peers. “We know that USA is supporting the Military council and they don’t want us to have a free country and we know well who we are fighting and it’s still the very same USA who is supporting the police and the gas bombs and the killing bombs. This is known here and we also know who they are supporting in the internal society and what problems they are causing.”

Based on what the region has witnessed since the beginning of this year, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to determine that Egypt and Libya are under occupation. Every developing country that has ever tried to advance and help others advance has fallen. This was known as ‘colonization’, today it is referred to as ‘occupation’.  We have seen this happen time and again in history. It is strange then that people have yet to learn to rely on themselves and on their resources. The question that perplexes political analysts is why people continue to ask assistance of those that have a long history of betrayal?

In fact, the very reason America is entrusted power should be questioned. It is not enough to respond by saying that America deserves to protect  itself and its interests. Does this interest then justify what the US military did to Iraq, and Afghanistan, and what the government in the guise of NATO is currently doing to Libyans? And if it is, why then aren’t Al-Qaeda or other groups that defend their faith, country, and traditions? All have killed innocent people, and sure enough if one is a defender, the others should be as well. The word hypocrisy bears to mind!

The world knows this and yet those who can make a difference- common Americans, remain silent.There are a few  activists and groups raising hell now and again, but this is not enough for the scope of the problem. Americans have tremendous power, simply by the way their government is organized and they must be reminded that silence is often translated as compliance. The noteworthy Occupy movement of America is a good reference point and can be influential in how the US government runs its foreign policy as well. The movement would need to expand its agenda and strive to involve people from all social and economic classes.  Americans are able to cease all the injustice that their government is engaged in simply by way of refusing to pay taxes. If the influx of  tax dollars is severed, the US armed forces will be paralyzed and they would be constrained to choose their battles and moves wisely, instead of simply impairing countries and leaders under the pretext of protecting their power position. For one thing, their power is slipping and their desperation to hold on, is becoming obvious.  This, the American people should realize, before their government continues to compromise their security.

And for this too we have history to turn to. Beginning the first quarter of the 19th century Indians engaged in civil disobedience against the British. Workers quit showing up for work in mills and consumers shifted to Indian-produced products. These simple acts led to an independent country in 1947, albeit the bloody partition of the country into modern-day India and Pakistan. India’s Gandhi, leader of the non-violent movement is revered all over the world. Why then do we see such few Gandhis today?

Another Egyptian Ahmed Amin (name changed) expresses disbelief at what is happening in Libya. “I do not understand why the Libyans even had a revolution. Ghaddafi was a bit eccentric, but the country was prosperous. The way he was killed, is disgusting and the killings of his supporters since his death are a shame for humanity. What happened to restorative justice that America advocates for? Every time a leader tries to unite a region in turmoil, the US must interfere and destroy the peace and plans of the region. I don’t think the US wanted Ghaddafi to unite Africa in peace and prosperity. The US also needed the oil reserves of Libya. God is witnessing their devious intentions and there will be justice, inshaAllah.”

Ahmed and Hamza are two of millions of Arabs who are willing to face American bullets as they defend their land from intruders. There will be justice and peace they say, but it will be on their accord. The general consensus in the region since the revolution in Tunisia changed the region is that no military government or American puppets will govern them. The harder America tries to hold on as a result, the easier it will be for the Islamic government to prevail. America must therefore be weary of inciting further instability as the Arabs warn that the consequences can be grave. Who can blame them though? When Al Qaeda successfully carried out the 9/11 attacks, America headed to avenge the act. Do policy makers in Washington think, that the Arabs will sit still and let Pentagon destroy their hope for a future? Power players are not naive.

The young Iranians therefore should be weary of whom they are channeling their SOS toward. They must need reminding of their history, which  is tainted with American infamy. Perhaps, they need to be informed that it was the US that supported the Shah until they realized he wouldn’t serve as their puppet, before they endorsed Khomeini, the very man the youth of Iran detest.

It feels like home…

Standard

It is mid November and today has turned out to be a beautiful day.  I am seated on a bench in a garden that lies in the middle of the two buildings of Sanford School fascinated by all the color I see around me. Indians are renowned for their use of color, and it feels like I am home with the green, orange, red, yellow, and rusty color splash all around. The leaves  sway with the pleasant breeze and I am sinking into a different world. It is moments like these, where you let your mind wander and it is during these wanderings that great ideas surface. Today however, I’d like to share my experience at Duke, a school that I barely know and yet it reminds me of home.

As an undergraduate student I was an integral part of the student life at the University of West Georgia. I have still held on to the t-shirt a dear friend of mine designed which reads, “Hello my name is Mariam and I run UWG, because I am involved in everything!” I was happy and content. Then I spend some wonderful time traveling around Asia and working in Thailand. This was followed by a not-so happy encounter with a prestigious American graduate institution. I do not doubt that SAIS is a prestigious school, but it is not for me. I grew depressed and didn’t know how to snap out of it. I had taken a huge loan(despite my fellowship) and also worked part time as an English teacher to make ends meet. Italy is an expensive country, I had been warned. But it could be dealt with, I thought. I had to learn the hard way that I was wrong. My grades plummeted and I failed to grasp much of the curriculum. I was stuck in a building with no campus life. What works for others did not work for me. I decided to depart from there after I accepted my Rotary fellowship. I was thrilled, and rightly so. I love every aspect of being here. It reminds me of my years at UWG where I was a buzzing bee. Being at Duke is about exploring, learning, and contributing, rather than just writing research papers.  I also sense a difference in attitude amid my colleagues. They are  not here primarily to network. A large chunk of us have had several years of professional work experience and so they were not as superficial as I felt some of my classmates at SAIS-Bologna were.

Don’t get me wrong, I was able to meet some of my best friends at SAIS, but for the most part, I felt that SAIS was all about competing against one another. At Duke we help each other succeed. I recognized the Americanism that was prevalent amid my SAIS class. Toward the end of my semester there, I dreaded the prospect of being sucked into this system and decided to break free and do what I like best, which I clearly wasn’t pursuing. So finally I took the plunge. Here at Duke the class is a great deal pragmatic and we do have a life beyond the classroom which need not cost an arm and a leg.  I chose to reach out to the other promising future that awaited me at Duke and I feel at home again! I have a wonderful host family who adopted me as one of their own.  With all things bright and delightful, I can confess that good fortune comes to those who wait.

I am a Blue Devil and am thrilled to be one!

What about the Inalienable rights of Palestinians?

Standard

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms,
” Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

The drafters of the UDHR meant well when the UN General Assembly adopted the document on 10 December 1948. Somehow however, their successors have adopted selective enforcement. They impose the rights guaranteed by the declaration as they deem suitable. Thus it can be concluded, that there is no such thing as universal human rights. The document is worthless. Why else would the US continue to support Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land?  Why would they  then harshly criticize the Iranian government for its crackdown on the protestors post 2009 elections? They seem to be suffering from bipolar justice disorder.

It is common knowledge that the US has a long track record of human rights abuses. The list is endless-racism, unnecessary wars, war crimes, treatment of Guantanamo prisoners, and most recently the government’s crackdown on the Occupy movement participants in New York and a number of other US cities. It is shocking then, that they shift their rhetoric toward other leaders who oppress their population or their opposition. It is even more shocking that they keep calm in the presence of continuing oppression of Palestinians. How is it that Palestinians have no human rights and Israelis do? Many analysts have argued that the Israel-Palestine situation is way beyond resolution, and it will stay unresolved if the human rights of Palestinians continue to be violated. Others argue that it will take a genocide of the Palestinians for the US to act as it did following WWII for German Jews. Then there are a few who believe that a whole generation change would be the single most important step toward a solution. The oppression however, must cease.

On a closer study of the Articles of the UDHR, Israel is in violation of all the rights listed in the document in some capacity or the other. If the document is legit, shouldn’t Israel be prosecuted for the grave violations? The Zionist lobby in the US will prevent that from happening, and the US government remains non-compliant despite changes in the administration. It can therefore be concluded that the US government is a puppet organization. They don’t deserve the respect accorded to them for being powerful, because in essence, they are not! This disregard for US power from international allies will perhaps hold them back from forcing their values (which they don’t even follow) on other nations,  unless of-course, they can be fair and just themselves. If they continue to disregard the rights of Palestinians to their homeland, essentially ignoring the UDHR they should consider giving up the power position they hold in the international community before their (and their controller’s) power is shamefully displaced or ousted  from the global community,  just as their colleagues in the Arab world.

But can the US government be trusted on defraying from their position to recognize and uphold the rights of Palestine? Perhaps. They have betrayed every partner in the Middle East they had once supported- the Shah of Iran, Mubarak,  and Saddam Hussein. Have we forgotten that they (the CIA) were responsible for creating Osama bin Laden by supporting the Mujahedeen to fight the Soviet Union? Does anyone else see the trend continue with NATO support of rebels in Libya. More on this in a separate post. For now, let us continue to embed some humanity into the heart and mind of  the US government.

An Open Letter to Iranian President, Ahmadinejad

Standard

Dear President,

You and I have had our differences, but I’d rather we deferred them and worked on other issues that we can collectively agree on without resorting to attacks. You cannot for instance ignore the horde of 15-29 year olds who crowd every neighborhood of our country without the means of earning a livelihood. The 2009 Green Revolution was, besides other things, an outcry of our country’s dire unemployment problem. I’d like to emphasize the urgency of this issue and offer some suggestions for efficient policies. Let me assure you that as long as the government shows that it is capable of taking care of its people, we will respect its authority. However, you can’t expect calm and compliance when our basic needs are unmet.

Chapter IV, Article 43 of our Constitution states the government is bound to ensure employment conditions and opportunities for everyone, with a view toward attaining full employment of the population. It was our government that prided itself with its natalist policy in the 1980s and now that the children of this policy have come of age they face a detrimental job market. According to figures reported by Birth Registration Organization (BRO) a total of 153 births in a day have been registered over the nine-month period in 2009, showing an increase of 4.3% compared to the same period in the last year. You reinforced this policy earlier in 2010, but offered no explanation for where the funds to pay for the new births would come from. Our economy is growing disproportionately to our population and with the bulk of our economy in your control, and majority of public sector investments earmarked for large capital and not labor-intensive heavy industries such as oil, petrochemicals, iron, steel and military hardware, you have failed to accommodate new job seekers.

In response to the economic hardships after the Revolution, Imam Khomeni introduced rationing and kept consumer prices for energy, basic foods, medicines and utilities well below market prices. Without reforms, the cost of these subsidies will only grow. In 2005, you won the presidency promising increased social services and aid to the poor. But your cash handouts only weakened the purchasing power of poor and middle class Iranians by increasing inflation. Contrary to advice by global economists, you decided to withdraw subsidies quickly instead of taking a more gradual approach to avoid a dramatic rise in inflation for families and industries. But subsidy reform while crucial is alone not sufficient to solve our chronic economic problems and unemployment.

To improve our nation’s overall health and decrease unemployment, we need to look at our peers and analyze how they were able to rise out of their economic stagnations. China is a perfect example: they have emerged as a success while maintaining a system of governance which is fairly similar to ours. After Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening up policy” was the single best policy that raised the country out of its economic miseries. He encouraged expansion of private business ownership and foreign investment. We can follow suit but avoid trading with the West by shifting our focus to the East. We could have a huge market in South and South East Asia but this should be further encouraged by providing benefits to the more labor-intensive private sectors like the textile and carpet industries. The proposed construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan should be given undue precedence as a means to tap into existing offers.

Our country also has a rich cultural history and this is something we could use to our advantage by promoting tourism as an additional way to foster economic growth. I agree that tourism would open the country up to Western ideas, but which is more important: the well-being of your people, or a fake legitimacy since the people are unhappy with your policies? I would like to reiterate that young Iranians like myself are less concerned with who governs us than with the creation of a thriving environment for our basic needs to be met. You have been criticized by outsiders and your own people for being oppressive and I argue that opening up our borders to the world (particularly to our allies) is an answer to the criticism that you and your administration have been subjected to. We don’t have to have Western-style tourism; instead we have a lot to offer that the rest of the world and in particular our Western counterparts, can only learn about in books. China has realized that the international community is more important than it has acknowledged in the past.

The West has strongly criticized China’s control of the media just as it has criticized ours and having realized this they have launched a global media revolution. This is a sign that managing these international impressions is crucial for a state to emerge as a global power. Another way to open up borders is via educational exchange. We have world-class universities and can create student exchanges for the sciences. International students from our ally countries would bring in huge revenues. If there is something we can learn from the West is their international student market which has been a tremendous economic and cultural resource for them. This would boost the quality of our Iranian students as well, as they would be exposed to knowledge from other parts of the world where we have friends.

I conclude, therefore that it is in the best interest of the administration to make these economic reforms a priority because they give the young men of our country something constructive to do. Employment issues have had a devastating effect on our youth, many of whom resort to alcohol and drugs, dating, prostitution, and marriages that end in early divorce to occupy their unfulfilled time. I let you choose: open the borders for trade or face the wrath of your people.

Your Selfless Supporter

Conflict-A Bollywood Model

Standard

Once upon a time, a boy was born. With his entry he earned several labels- Brahmin, Hindu, Mumbaiker, Maharashtrian, Indian, Asian, wealthy, and oh yes, his fate too was decided, “hamara beta Raj bada hoke Engineer banega!” [our son Raj will grow up to be an engineer]

A few days later a girl was born. Her identity too was carved in stone- Shia, Muslim, Karchiwali, Pakistani, Asian, poor, and of course her family ensured that they crafted her destiny as well, as if they were God, “ Munni badi hoke, apne shoher aur bachon ka khyal karengi!” [our daughter will grow up and take care of her husband and children]

And considering this is a Bollywood film, you know there must be some “conflict”. This word is very crucial in mass communication, because without it there is no thrill. So we as a society elevate the term, as if indicating that it is inseparable from human nature. And to many it is reality, and for the many who grow up with Bollywood films, it is the only truth we know.

So getting back to our Raj and Munni story we know that for there to be a story, our protagonists must meet and become lovers.  Despite this redundant script, the film will sell because it is based on the India- Pakistan connection or rather disconnection! And let us not forget the other most common cause of conflict in Hindi movies-the gap between the rich and poor. As a big fan of Bollywood, this on-screen conflict is the only type of conflict I enjoy. It is only when we begin to adopt this into our lives, that our minds get fogged by hate.

If our hero and heroine were to get married without any hurdles, it wouldn’t be fun, now would it?  But, Bollywood is known for it’s happy endings.  Our reality is so far from this. We have more complex conflicts and solving them is not just about reaching out to your opponent and breaking into a dance in the sudden rain or a dance around the trees! If it only was, I would take this super-hit Bollywood model to Palestine, to Israel, to Zimbabwe, to Sudan, to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, to Iran, and bring it here to the US!

King of my Castle

Standard

I was being shown around

If you are foreigner with a slightly American accent or are American-Iranian, you would be a rock star in Iran. During my last visit to Iran, I recall being elevated despite having limited ties to America. But who’d want to shun the attention? Every mother was trying to get me to marry her son and every person wanted to hang out with me and show me off to his or her friends. My half-brother even teased saying I have more friends (in Iran) than he did and he has lived in Iran all his life. What surprised me most was hearing a similar affinity for the USA from the younger diaspora in Europe.

There is this sense, rather belief that America is good and their government evil for closing the country’s border to foreigners. During the 2009 Green Movement protests, the signs and slogans were visibly in English, which compared to the revolutionary slogans in the Arab world was clearly directed for the world beyond their borders (particularly their dream country). Some may argue that I am reading too much into this; I say we have to study all that is out there. You can sniff this love for America wherever young crowds assemble.

The underground parties beat any party I have ever been to; they were wild! The DJ plays some chart toppers- Shakira, Rihanna, Black Eyed Peas, Li’l Wayne and an endless list of hip hop numbers. There is imported liquor (some of the best actually), recreational drugs, and dirty dancing. I am not making this up. I have never had so many night-outs.

Over-ground activities include hanging out at parks into the wee hours of the morning, driving up and down some busy streets where kids in their flashy BMWs exchange numbers; I collected 4 in a half-hour. Let’s look at a parallel case, in India I was to be home before sunset and I would get into a soup if I even attempted to have a boyfriend. Need I say more?

I enjoyed the Persian hospitality- yes, I was genuinely welcome for the most part. And then there were others- those completely blinded by the American dream that somehow has found its way to the streets of Tehran despite the sanctions and sterile relationship between the two nations. These included Iranians who treated me to expensive Italian cuisine, young ladies who I rode with to meet several of their boyfriends (all within a couple of hours), and those that took me shopping. I was amazed and concerned all at once. Amazed because of the level of economic and social freedom that these youth have (despite the constant complaints that they don’t), and concerned because the government’s unshakeable Islamic law was eroding the great Persia. Every one of the youths desired desperately to escape, from what, I am not sure. Those that had managed to get out, continued to defame of their country, Islam, and the government.  This sparked a concern, that the glorious Persia, was losing its strength.

At the end of my trip I concluded that many Iranians are willing to give up their luxurious life for a life of toil in America. Ask any one of them what they intend to do, when they arrive at their dream country, and there’s silence.  They don’t know how hard you have to work to earn a day’s meal. In America they will not have their BMWs and Ferraris. They won’t have the warmth of the Persian culture. But yes, they will have freedom- freedom of the western kind which is so vague even for those who have known nothing else.

I recall shedding tears at the Shah’s grave in Cairo, his vision for a glorious Persia, died with him.