February 22, 2006

Bush's 'port'ly pow-wow

Having quelled the 'Quail' controversy, we are now moving to fresh pastures. What will Bush make of this one?

"The United States has approved a business deal that would turn over the operation of six major American ports to a company that is owned by the UAE" (Miami Herald)

"President Bush has announced he will veto any moves to stop the takeover, saying the Arab company is as safe as any other foreign entity to run a stevedoring operation" Australian Broadcasting Corp.

New York's Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, too, have objected. Clinton and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., expect to offer a bill to ban companies owned or controlled by foreign governments from acquiring U.S. port operations.

"Congress must stop this sale of American ports to foreign interests and, in an era of terrorism, prevent any more potential terrorist targets from falling into the hands of those who wish to destroy us".
©2006 Washington Post Writers Group

“It only provides . . . Congress an opportunity to talk tough and pander to the terrorism-rattled xenophobe in all of us”

“The United Arab Emirates is an ally, but its record in the war on terror is mixed. It is not irrational for the United States to resist putting port operations, perhaps the most vulnerable part of the security infrastructure, under that country’s control”

"We're very concerned about the level of rhetoric and the way that there seems to be the assumption that because a company is Arab it can't be trusted with our security," said Katherine Abbadi, executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of New York.

February 21, 2006

Cartoon carousels clashing cultures

The cartoon controversy in Denmark has spiralled into a cataclysmic event involving two different cultures and setting them on warpath. From a pacifists point of view, the situation is still redeemable, but only if we see it in the right perspective. There are three issues at stake here; free speech, freedom of press, and respect for all religions. All three, needless to say, are cornerstones of an evolved civilization.

The situation that has unfolded is rather unique in that it has put in play all of these three issues and asks of us, the bystanders, to rank the three in value of importance. This is in fact what's fuming the fire. The non western world holds its religious identity as being of prime importance, a means of self assertion in a foreign land. The western world, on the other hand, holds the right to free speech and a free press as being of utmost importance; believing that the two define who they are. Both parties are justified in their stance, yet there is the one thing that they overlook; all of the three issues under fire are vital constituents of a civilzed world, and must go hand in hand. One in exclusion of the other two would only lead to chaos and anarchy in our world. In which case it is illogical to take sides in this cartoon controversy if we are to call ourselves civilized world citizens. It is also unfair and presumptuous for world leaders and heads of nations to take sides on this issue because it would tear at the very fabric of our civilization, of which they are the leaders. What would be the most rational thing to do, for all, is to let go, and to move on.

This controversy reminds one of Lester Pearson's warning that we are in a world " when different civilizations will have to learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each others history and ideals and art and culture.....The alternative, in this overcrowded little world, is misunderstanding, tension, clash, and catastrophe." Obviously, national boundaries are no longer the demarcations that divide,"clashes of civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace, and an international order based on civilizations is the surest safeguard against world war."(Samuel Huntingdon). It is our culture and the values it represents that sets us apart from our neighbor. It is in our interest to seek commonalities with other cultures and to negotiate our differences so as to curb suspicion and instead forge meaningful alliances between differing cultures.

February 17, 2006

Struggling to make sense of 'struggle'

Why is struggle so glorified in Literature, Art, Philosophy, and every other 'ology' when semantically and in real life terms it translates into something that's painful and painstaking. Are we masochists and sadists by nature that we enjoy and take pride in 'struggling'. Sisyphus, the Corinthian king, may not be that tormented afterall; he might love to push that boulder up the mountain; he relishes the struggle involved, and he is doing it with pride, for eternity.

Struggle cleanses; it makes you a stronger individual; it brings meaning to an otherwise meaningless life, it brings forth hidden virtues and strengths and reaquaints you with yoursef; it's an essential part of growing up. These are some of the multiple references to struggle that I can conjure up in an instant. I'm pretty sure I can come up with many more if I were to dwell on it longer.

Struggle seems to be that ultimate goal that all of us must aspire to. However, when we attain it, the struggle, we are bound to experience pain and stress. One may have to take physical blows on the body like Gandhi did, suffer racial humiliation like Dr. King did, bear the onslaught of machine gun and sniper fire like the American soldiers in Iraq did and are still doing, live in subhuman conditions like the Iraqi prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, endure rape and torture like the tribes in Darfur did. The list is endless because struggle is an integral part of human life, and so far I haven't even touched on the struggles of us ordinary human beings. Our struggles go unpublicized because they are so ordinary so mundane and so rampant that our struggle does not merit mention. The common man's everyday struggle to put adequate food on the table cannot make it to this list of eminence. But it does get its bit of glorification in the comments of those near and dear to us "Look how hard he works to feed his family'. "There's a hard working single mother who will do all she can for her children". " Robert is a cancer survivor, and worked even through his Chemotherapy sittings". All of the above are real statements made by real people. The bottomline being, we applaud struggle, no matter how hard it comes.

Literature and Philosophy around the world deifies struggle too. Here are some examples:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Frederick Douglass, American Abolitionist

“Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us.”
William James, American Philosopher and Psychologist,

“Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible.”
Mao Tse-Tung,Chinese stateman

“Our duty is to encourage every one in his struggle to live up to his own highest idea, and strive at the same time to make the ideal as near as possible to the Truth.”
Swami Vivekananda, Indian Spiritual leader of the Hindu religion

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Albert Camus, French Novelist, Essayist and Playwright

“The most excellent jihad (struggle) is that for the conquest of self”
Muhammad quotes

“All is mystery; but he is a slave who will not struggle to penetrate the dark veil”
Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister and Novelist

Is it the imminence of struggle in human life that makes us glorify 'struggle'? Are the existentialists simply stating what we ordinary mortals fear to accept? What is it about 'struggle' that has endeared itself to humanity for generations and across cultures?

February 06, 2006

'America's Greatest Middle East Sage'.

I just finished reading Bernard Lewis's much acclaimed History of The Middle East. The reason I read it is rather interesting; because Bernard Lewis is a name quoted so often in discussions pertaining to the Middle East especially by some big wigs in the field. In addition, this is also the prescribed text in many of the Ivy League schools such as Princeton and Yale. Given my interest in the region, and my curiosity about both the author and the book, after the winter break, despite the other work related readings I had to do, I mustered the courage to begin reading this text.

The first few chapters were quite interesting because they provided a compact history of the Middle East before Islam took it over. It was interesting to see how Christianity was weaned out of the region.

Half way through the book I realized that my interest was waning because of the detailed history of the emergence of the Shia and Sunni sects in Islam. But I held on until I came to the part where 'voila' oil comes into the picture and the Middle East becomes the center stage for a world political drama.

An informative text that would be of interest to anyone that wishes to better understand the current Middle East situation; to see it in its historical context.

Bernard Lewis in one of his interviews had the following to say about the current situation in Iraq, "Democracy is a strong medicine, which you have to give to the patient in small, gradually increasing doses. If you give too much too quickly, you kill the patient. ....I'm not sure a federal constitution will work in Iraq. It's too sophisticated at this stage. Relaxation of authority has to come gradually. You can't create a functioning democracy overnight."
Apparently, Mr. Lewis has high hopes for Iraq because its cultural and intellectual standards have "miraculously, if precariously, survived his ( Saddam's) ravages." Lewis also pointed out that the status of women is high in Iraq, and that is reassuring because as mothers they have tremendous impact on the next generation, and it makes "a great deal of difference to have an educated mother." But Lewis's main reason for optimism is that "Iraqis have gone through everything, and are much less likely to be taken in by the fanatical groups in the region". Will America's greatest guru's words come true?