Saturday, March 7, 2009

Last post here

This is my last blogpost here. Instead of having two, i'll just maintain one blog for anything i wanna blog about. ;-)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Racist slight against the Rohingyas draws no criticism from ASEAN

Myanmar's Outrageous Racism Excused
Asia Sentinel, 12 Feb 09

A racist slight against the Rohingyas draws no criticism from ASEAN

The reputation and so-called solidarity the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hit a new low this week with the Myanmar envoy to Hong Kong indulging an extraordinary racist outburst against brown people from his own country. Undiplomatic though his words were, they are the sort of remarks that come easily to the lips of some other Southeast and East Asians for whom brown skins have always been a sign of low class if not actual racial inferiority.

Consul General Ye Mint Aung wrote to his fellow diplomats in Hong Kong explaining that the Rohingyas were not actually Myanmese and were not accepted as one of the ethnic groups of his country, or indeed as citizens. He wrote: "You will see in the photos that their complexion is 'dark brown'" in contrast to the complexion of Myanmese which was "fair and soft, good looking as well."

He went on to claim that his own complexion was typical of a Myanmar gentleman and fellow diplomats could contrast their "handsome colleague" with the "ugly as ogres" Rohingyas whose pictures were in the newspapers.

The Myanmese belief in racial purity and the superiority appearance of pale skin, as well as not being Buddhist, seem the basis of refusal to admit the Rohingyas as citizens even though they have lived in the Rakhine (formerly Arakan) division of Myanmar for hundreds of years. Doubtless it would have been better for them if the British imperialist had drawn the map between Bengal and Burma differently but that border hill country is an ethnic patchwork. In reality the Rohingyas speak a version of Bengali and have a physical appearance akin to Bengalis.

It seems that the Mynmar representative can issue crude, written racist remarks not only about his fellow Asean members but which are deeply offensive to their populous neighbors to the west – Bangladesh and India.

Judging by the way that Thailand has been treating these stateless refugees, calling them economic migrants and pushing them off in engineless boats, with possibly hundreds dying at sea, Thai officials seem to agree with their Myanmar colleague that such dark-skinned "ogres" should not be allowed even to stop temporarily in Thailand in their search for security. Thai Prime Minister, the suitably "fair and soft" complexioned fourth generation Thai Chinese, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has been vocal in defending the army's murderous actions and calling the Rohingyas "economic migrants" despite their denial of citizenship in an Asean country.

The cringing attitudes shown by Asean towards Myanmar and the racist attitudes of some Asean countries is stunning. While pushing off the Rohingyas, who anyway wanted to go to Muslim countries, Thailand has turned a blind eye to the hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, "fair complexioned" Myanmese who work as cheap and expendable labor on Thai building sites and fishing boats. As for Asean, which supposedly now has a Human Rights agenda, it does nothing.

Malaysia once had a sympathetic attitude to the Rohingyas. Some 10,000 to 20,000 now live there having originally been offered succor as oppressed Muslims. But Malaysia has shifted towards appeasement of Myanmar and a suspicion of foreign workers generally, Muslim or not, despite the role that undocumented foreigners play in the economy.

Asean is supposed to discuss the Rohingyas refugee issue at its end February summit in Thailand. But do not expect anything other than platitudes, let alone any action to help these stateless people or condemn Myanmar.

Click on image to see enlarged version

Monday, February 2, 2009

Irshad Manji and Salman Rushdie at 92nd Street Y

See Irshad's post about this discussion. See here for 92nd Street Y's website.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sri Lanka: When the whole world isn't watching

Joel Charny
Reuters AlertNet
28 Jan 09

One of the harsh realities of the humanitarian field is that some crises capture public attention, while others do not. The patterns are rather rigid. Crises in Europe and the Middle East, especially Palestine, make headlines. Large-scale natural disasters, even in obscure places, attract interest due to the inherent human fascination with immense forces beyond our control. But crises due to “complex” political conflicts outside the zones of proven public engagement are doomed to obscurity, unless it rises to such a level that “genocide” (read “another Holocaust”) can be invoked.

The contrast between Gaza and Sri Lanka prompts these observations. In Gaza, despite restrictions on international humanitarian and media access imposed by the Israelis, the whole world was watching, counting the civilian casualties minute-by-minute, while the global debate swirled on the legitimacy of Israeli and Hamas conduct in the light of international humanitarian law. The conflict and the suffering that it engendered were daily front page news. Now, with at least a temporary halt in hostilities, assessments of the damage in Gaza will proceed and donors will pledge millions of dollars for the rebuilding process.

While Gaza was the world’s focus, a conflict that raises similar issues and challenges was proceeding in the Vanni region in the north of Sri Lanka. There, the Sri Lankan military is trying to deal the final death blow to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the guerilla movement that has been fighting for an independent state for the country’s Tamil minority in the northern part of the island. As in Gaza, civilians are trapped. Approximately 250,000 people are caught in the conflict zone, people who have already been displaced numerous times and have suffered from the perpetual difficulty of sustaining humanitarian assistance as the 25-year civil war has dragged on.

As in Gaza, the conduct of both sides has been problematic from the perspective of international humanitarian law and human rights. The Tigers are preventing people, including the local staff of UN agencies and their families, from fleeing the conflict zone. The Sri Lankan army is using heavy weaponry to shell areas where civilians are present. An attempt by the Sri Lankan army to set up a safe zone outside its area of operations foundered in the past few days, with dozens of civilians killed amid mutual recriminations by the combatants. Fewer than 5,000 Tamil civilians have managed to escape the Vanni. They are being held in government-run fenced camps in districts bordering the conflict zone with their freedom of movement restricted, even though they are Sri Lankan citizens.

The Sri Lankan government insisted that international staff of humanitarian agencies leave the Vanni in September 2008, and the conflict has drastically reduced the scale of humanitarian operations. There are few independent witnesses of the consequences of the war and the needs of the civilian population. Those present are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation by one of the parties. The lack of information makes it even more difficult for the world to focus on the conflict, exactly what the government and the Tigers want. They both prefer to act with impunity, while using the atrocities of the other side to score propaganda points within the narrow confines of the national press and the global Tamil solidarity network.

In short, 50% of the civilian population of the Vanni is displaced; humanitarian assistance is sporadic at best; 250,000 civilians are trapped in a conflict zone, and at least 100 have been killed since January 1st; international access is virtually nil. And while on January 26th the Secretary-General was finally moved to issue a statement pleading for respect for international humanitarian law, the world couldn’t be bothered. As of January 27th, not even Relief Web was listing Sri Lanka as an on-going crisis on its home page. The dying and wounded in Sri Lanka won’t have names or faces.

Bemoaning this neglect won’t change it. The blatant disparities in international attention are just part of “the cost of doing business” in the humanitarian field.

To Sri Lankans crying out for solidarity and assistance, there is little to say. The challenge of addressing their needs falls primarily to local organizations with the courage to defy the conflicting parties, while international organizations, with the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross, are consigned to the sidelines.

Joel R. Charny is vice president for policy with Refugees International, a Washington-based humanitarian advocacy organisation. He has extensive experience in Asia for RI, Oxfam America and the U.N. Development Programme. He has managed and assessed emergency response and post-conflict recovery programmes in Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Israel pursuing a strategy that is placing its long-term future at risk

I came across the following article, written by the Israeli Ambassador to Singapore, in today's edition of TODAY.

Following the Israeli Ambassador's article is an essay by John J. Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. I've read the book which he co-authored with Stephen M. Walt, professor of international affairs at JFK School of Government at Harvard University. The controversial book, published in 2007, started out as a controversial essay in 2006 published in the London Review of Books. (At the end of this post is a video of a 2007 documentary on the Israel Lobby in America)

Read also Stephen M. Walt's essay The myth of Israel's strategic genius and Avi Shlaim's essay How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe.
Lasting peace in the Middle East...

Accepting the existenceof a Jewish state there, and abandoning the dream of destroying it, is the answer

Thursday • January 22, 2009

Ilan Ben-Dov
Israeli Ambassador to Singapore

THREE weeks of fighting in Gaza have once again put the Middle East at the focal point of the international media.

Now, after another round of violence has ended, we have to ask ourselves again, what is the real root of the problem? What is the key which will lead us to peace in the Middle East?

The basic Arab argument is that the root of the problem is occupation. The Arab world accuses Israel of controlling occupied Arab territories and claims that this is the main issue which prevents peace in the Middle East.

This argument is utterly baseless. The Israelis believe that the root of the problem is the very fact that a large fraction of the Arab-Islamic world still rejects Israel’s right to exist, and rejects the basic right of Jews to live in their independent state of Israel.

Israel has shown in the past that in order to achieve peace, it is ready for territorial concessions, exactly as it did when it signed a peace treaty with its neighbour in the south, Egypt, and its neighbour in the east, Jordan. In both these cases, the dispute over territory was not an obstacle to peace.

Moreover, Israel endorses the establishment of a Palestinian independent state that will live in peace next to it.

In the last two military confrontations in the Middle East — the one with the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the one with Hamas in Gaza — Israel had to defend itself from radical Muslim terrorist organisations which are motivated by extreme religious, Jihadistic ideology that calls for the destruction of Israel.

It is time to reveal these facts loud and clear: Both Hamas and Hezbollah are heavily and directly influenced by Iran. It is the same Iran whose President is calling for the annihilation of Israel, the same Iran which does everything possible to sabotage and to harm any attempt of a dialogue and reconciliation between the Palestinians and Israel.

Iran does not only supply the ideological basis for Hezbollah and Hamas, it supplies them with huge amounts of weapons, ammunition and money.

It is also important to answer the question of what exactly do Hamas and Hezbollah mean by speaking about “occupied territories”? For them, the whole of Israel is considered a so-called “occupied territory”. They do not distinguish between Gaza and Tel-Aviv, between the West Bank and the city of Haifa. For the Iranian President who supports them, Israel must be “wiped out of the map”.

Should this lead us to despair? Of course not.

The Middle East is nowadays divided into two parts. The first is the radical, fundamentalistic-jihadistic part that dreams of the disappearance of Israel from the region. Whoever dreams these dreams is doomed to lead the Palestinians to a deadlock and to many more years of wars, suffering, poverty and hopelessness.

On the other hand, we find the moderate and pragmatic Arab world which aspires to find a peaceful solution based on mutual recognition, justice for both sides and a territorial compromise. Such a solution will pave the way for all people in this region — and especially for the Palestinian people, who have suffered so much in recent years — to a better future.

The key to a lasting solution of the Middle Eastern conflict is therefore not a question of occupied territories. For this question, we can find a compromise.

The real key to a solution is the willingness of the Arab and the Muslim countries to recognise the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East and to abandon the dream of destroying it.
Another War, Another Defeat
by John J. Mearsheimer
Published in the Jan 26, 2009 edition of The American Conservative

The Gaza offensive has succeeded in punishing the Palestinians but not in making Israel more secure.

Israelis and their American supporters claim that Israel learned its lessons well from the disastrous 2006 Lebanon war and has devised a winning strategy for the present war against Hamas. Of course, when a ceasefire comes, Israel will declare victory. Don’t believe it. Israel has foolishly started another war it cannot win.

The campaign in Gaza is said to have two objectives: 1) to put an end to the rockets and mortars that Palestinians have been firing into southern Israel since it withdrew from Gaza in August 2005; 2) to restore Israel’s deterrent, which was said to be diminished by the Lebanon fiasco, by Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and by its inability to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

But these are not the real goals of Operation Cast Lead. The actual purpose is connected to Israel’s long-term vision of how it intends to live with millions of Palestinians in its midst. It is part of a broader strategic goal: the creation of a “Greater Israel.” Specifically, Israel’s leaders remain determined to control all of what used to be known as Mandate Palestine, which includes Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians would have limited autonomy in a handful of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves, one of which is Gaza. Israel would control the borders around them, movement between them, the air above and the water below them.

The key to achieving this is to inflict massive pain on the Palestinians so that they come to accept the fact that they are a defeated people and that Israel will be largely responsible for controlling their future. This strategy, which was first articulated by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the 1920s and has heavily influenced Israeli policy since 1948, is commonly referred to as the “Iron Wall.”

What has been happening in Gaza is fully consistent with this strategy.

Let’s begin with Israel’s decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. The conventional wisdom is that Israel was serious about making peace with the Palestinians and that its leaders hoped the exit from Gaza would be a major step toward creating a viable Palestinian state. According to the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman, Israel was giving the Palestinians an opportunity to “build a decent mini-state there—a Dubai on the Mediterranean,” and if they did so, it would “fundamentally reshape the Israeli debate about whether the Palestinians can be handed most of the West Bank.”

This is pure fiction. Even before Hamas came to power, the Israelis intended to create an open-air prison for the Palestinians in Gaza and inflict great pain on them until they complied with Israel’s wishes. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon’s closest adviser at the time, candidly stated that the disengagement from Gaza was aimed at halting the peace process, not encouraging it. He described the disengagement as “formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Moreover, he emphasized that the withdrawal “places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. It forces them into a corner where they hate to be.”

Arnon Soffer, a prominent Israeli demographer who also advised Sharon, elaborated on what that pressure would look like. “When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”

In January 2006, five months after the Israelis pulled their settlers out of Gaza, Hamas won a decisive victory over Fatah in the Palestinian legislative elections. This meant trouble for Israel’s strategy because Hamas was democratically elected, well organized, not corrupt like Fatah, and unwilling to accept Israel’s existence. Israel responded by ratcheting up economic pressure on the Palestinians, but it did not work. In fact, the situation took another turn for the worse in March 2007, when Fatah and Hamas came together to form a national unity government. Hamas’s stature and political power were growing, and Israel’s divide-and-conquer strategy was unraveling.

To make matters worse, the national unity government began pushing for a long-term ceasefire. The Palestinians would end all missile attacks on Israel if the Israelis would stop arresting and assassinating Palestinians and end their economic stranglehold, opening the border crossings into Gaza.

Israel rejected that offer and with American backing set out to foment a civil war between Fatah and Hamas that would wreck the national unity government and put Fatah in charge. The plan backfired when Hamas drove Fatah out of Gaza, leaving Hamas in charge there and the more pliant Fatah in control of the West Bank. Israel then tightened the screws on the blockade around Gaza, causing even greater hardship and suffering among the Palestinians living there.

Hamas responded by continuing to fire rockets and mortars into Israel, while emphasizing that they still sought a long-term ceasefire, perhaps lasting ten years or more. This was not a noble gesture on Hamas’s part: they sought a ceasefire because the balance of power heavily favored Israel. The Israelis had no interest in a ceasefire and merely intensified the economic pressure on Gaza. But in the late spring of 2008, pressure from Israelis living under the rocket attacks led the government to agree to a six-month ceasefire starting on June 19. That agreement, which formally ended on Dec. 19, immediately preceded the present war, which began on Dec. 27.

The official Israeli position blames Hamas for undermining the ceasefire. This view is widely accepted in the United States, but it is not true. Israeli leaders disliked the ceasefire from the start, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the IDF to begin preparing for the present war while the ceasefire was being negotiated in June 2008. Furthermore, Dan Gillerman, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN, reports that Jerusalem began to prepare the propaganda campaign to sell the present war months before the conflict began. For its part, Hamas drastically reduced the number of missile attacks during the first five months of the ceasefire. A total of two rockets were fired into Israel during September and October, none by Hamas.

How did Israel behave during this same period? It continued arresting and assassinating Palestinians on the West Bank, and it continued the deadly blockade that was slowly strangling Gaza. Then on Nov. 4, as Americans voted for a new president, Israel attacked a tunnel inside Gaza and killed six Palestinians. It was the first major violation of the ceasefire, and the Palestinians—who had been “careful to maintain the ceasefire,” according to Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center—responded by resuming rocket attacks. The calm that had prevailed since June vanished as Israel ratcheted up the blockade and its attacks into Gaza and the Palestinians hurled more rockets at Israel. It is worth noting that not a single Israeli was killed by Palestinian missiles between Nov. 4 and the launching of the war on Dec. 27.

As the violence increased, Hamas made clear that it had no interest in extending the ceasefire beyond Dec. 19, which is hardly surprising, since it had not worked as intended. In mid-December, however, Hamas informed Israel that it was still willing to negotiate a long-term ceasefire if it included an end to the arrests and assassinations as well as the lifting of the blockade. But the Israelis, having used the ceasefire to prepare for war against Hamas, rejected this overture. The bombing of Gaza commenced eight days after the failed ceasefire formally ended.

If Israel wanted to stop missile attacks from Gaza, it could have done so by arranging a long-term ceasefire with Hamas. And if Israel were genuinely interested in creating a viable Palestinian state, it could have worked with the national unity government to implement a meaningful ceasefire and change Hamas’s thinking about a two-state solution. But Israel has a different agenda: it is determined to employ the Iron Wall strategy to get the Palestinians in Gaza to accept their fate as hapless subjects of a Greater Israel.

This brutal policy is clearly reflected in Israel’s conduct of the Gaza War. Israel and its supporters claim that the IDF is going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, in some cases taking risks that put Israeli soldiers in jeopardy. Hardly. One reason to doubt these claims is that Israel refuses to allow reporters into the war zone: it does not want the world to see what its soldiers and bombs are doing inside Gaza. At the same time, Israel has launched a massive propaganda campaign to put a positive spin on the horror stories that do emerge.

The best evidence, however, that Israel is deliberately seeking to punish the broader population in Gaza is the death and destruction the IDF has wrought on that small piece of real estate. Israel has killed over 1,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 4,000. Over half of the casualties are civilians, and many are children. The IDF’s opening salvo on Dec. 27 took place as children were leaving school, and one of its primary targets that day was a large group of graduating police cadets, who hardly qualified as terrorists. In what Ehud Barak called “an all-out war against Hamas,” Israel has targeted a university, schools, mosques, homes, apartment buildings, government offices, and even ambulances. A senior Israeli military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, explained the logic behind Israel’s expansive target set: “There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel.” In other words, everyone is a terrorist and everything is a legitimate target.

Israelis tend to be blunt, and they occasionally say what they are really doing. After the IDF killed 40 Palestinian civilians in a UN school on Jan. 6, Ha’aretz reported that “senior officers admit that the IDF has been using enormous firepower.” One officer explained, “For us, being cautious means being aggressive. From the minute we entered, we’ve acted like we’re at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground … I just hope those who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will describe the shock.”

One might accept that Israel is waging “a cruel, all-out war against 1.5 million Palestinian civilians,” as Ha’aretz put it in an editorial, but argue that it will eventually achieve its war aims and the rest of the world will quickly forget the horrors inflicted on the people of Gaza.

This is wishful thinking. For starters, Israel is unlikely to stop the rocket fire for any appreciable period of time unless it agrees to open Gaza’s borders and stop arresting and killing Palestinians. Israelis talk about cutting off the supply of rockets and mortars into Gaza, but weapons will continue to come in via secret tunnels and ships that sneak through Israel’s naval blockade. It will also be impossible to police all of the goods sent into Gaza through legitimate channels.

Israel could try to conquer all of Gaza and lock the place down. That would probably stop the rocket attacks if Israel deployed a large enough force. But then the IDF would be bogged down in a costly occupation against a deeply hostile population. They would eventually have to leave, and the rocket fire would resume. And if Israel fails to stop the rocket fire and keep it stopped, as seems likely, its deterrent will be diminished, not strengthened.

More importantly, there is little reason to think that the Israelis can beat Hamas into submission and get the Palestinians to live quietly in a handful of Bantustans inside Greater Israel. Israel has been humiliating, torturing, and killing Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and has not come close to cowing them. Indeed, Hamas’s reaction to Israel’s brutality seems to lend credence to Nietzsche’s remark that what does not kill you makes you stronger.

But even if the unexpected happens and the Palestinians cave, Israel would still lose because it will become an apartheid state. As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently said, Israel will “face a South African-style struggle” if the Palestinians do not get a viable state of their own. “As soon as that happens,” he argued, “the state of Israel is finished.” Yet Olmert has done nothing to stop settlement expansion and create a viable Palestinian state, relying instead on the Iron Wall strategy to deal with the Palestinians.

There is also little chance that people around the world who follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will soon forget the appalling punishment that Israel is meting out in Gaza. The destruction is just too obvious to miss, and too many people—especially in the Arab and Islamic world—care about the Palestinians’ fate. Moreover, discourse about this longstanding conflict has undergone a sea change in the West in recent years, and many of us who were once wholly sympathetic to Israel now see that the Israelis are the victimizers and the Palestinians are the victims. What is happening in Gaza will accelerate that changing picture of the conflict and long be seen as a dark stain on Israel’s reputation.

The bottom line is that no matter what happens on the battlefield, Israel cannot win its war in Gaza. In fact, it is pursuing a strategy—with lots of help from its so-called friends in the Diaspora—that is placing its long-term future at risk.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Video - Barack Obama taking the Oath of Office and Inaugural Address

I was watching this LIVE on TV. It was about 1.10am on 21 Jan 09 (Singapore time) when Obama took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural speech (see here for the text of his speech). I was also micro-blogging over at my twitter before, during and after the inauguration ceremony. What else can i say other than it was historic! ;-)