Sunday, February 26, 2006

Very interesting article

I recommend the story in NY Times magazine about how the former mouthpiece of the Taliban is attending undergraduate college at none other than Yale University. Here is a link to the story

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Late night rambling

Everyday I wake up in this region, my region, I am still amazed how the tangled web of craziness, brilliance, fanaticism, ignorance, brutality and grace weaves itself around us.

Lots of times I wonder why am I still here, I like my culture, yet despise our “reality”, I had many opportunity to set sail, yet always my anchor pulls my back. This accursed attraction to what I define as my land, the one that mistreat me, and yet, like an abused child, I cling to the memories of a happy childhood that never was.

A lot of that is a question of timing, I was born in the seventies and became aware in 80s. The fire of the second Arab renaissance was waning already, Marx has failed to predict “historical certainty” with regard to Arab society. Arab nationalism became a whip in the hand of military tyrants. The wars of 67 and 73 has destroyed the “progressive” appeal of the left, the madness of the Lebanese civil war and the Arab impotence with regard to 82 invasion has sealed the deal.

I am not going to run amok with history, but my region grew darker and darker, all the “gains” of the 50s and 60s were erased, many will argue that we are at Europe pre-reformation level, a quite depressing thought.

Which bring us to now, I stand here, a very “westernized” Arab, wondering if I belong here anymore. I wake up to hear about mosques being blown up and reprisal killings, about journalists being executed, about death cultists who wanted to blow an oil facility. In my land everything changes but the pattern persist, new government in Palestine, 5 dead from an Israeli “incursion”, people making money of booming stock & property markets, while thousands of poor workers drown out of sheer negligence.

The craziness of my region even afflicts the outsiders, who promote democracy while practicing torture, who promote free trade, unless Arabs want to by their ports. They demand stable oil supplies while declaring their intent to reduce their consumption by 75%.

It saddens me to see “my people” angry, misinformed and only roused to vent intolerance. I die inside when I hear young educated people repeat ludicrous conspiracy theories. I hurt when I hear xenophobic and anti-Semitic speech. I don’t like most Israelis, but I cannot blame everything that is wrong with my world on a “Jewish conspiracy”.

So I sit and fume at TV, switching between incendiary (and heavily editorialized) news coverage and mindless entertainment, as if the only two choice are to be angered and roused or brainwashed by Nancy Ajram clones. I read the written media, regional and international, search for conciseness, and I find plenty of it, and yet we are stuck here, on roadside, getting more insular and misunderstood. Believing only in our victimhood and that our only salvation is something to be delivered from above.

I am a stranger in my land, at exile in my home, chained by my identity to a destiny that isn’t mine, and yet I don’t leave. As a son of an olive growing family, I believe in deep roots, and I dream of the sunrise that will open eyes and mind, of my people becoming aware, of themselves and the world. I guess the hope keeps me here and mobile, like my nomad ancestors, between the corners of my region, retracing Alexander the great, dreaming of Gilgamesh and precious indigo, and ships and many songs and books and happy lives, of Baghdad before Hulako, of fishing boats in Acre, of rich harvest and clean streets, of horses that know the road home, and of people who smile at strangers.

As with all romances, reality is harsh antidote, the magic that was, simply was. I get restless, I start researching house prices in Sydney, Cape Town, Vancouver, and New Canaan, Connecticut. I enquire about shipping rate for my precious books, I weigh paying off the car loan. Then I somehow get sucked into a typical maelstrom, and things slip, and I smell home while passing a neighbor’s door, I hear my area accent and I turn my head, I play with friends children and I am overjoyed. I call home and bitch about my latest pet peeves.

This cycle apparently has no end, despair is not an option, neither is dilution of identity. Truthfully though, my identity has less and less to do with my region and more to do with me.

Back to square minus one.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The road to hell is paved with best intentions or is it worst intentions.

I just finished another important book, The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer. This book is quite eye-opening, it traces the beginning of the Iraq war to its ideological birth in the neoconservative camp, and also in the Iraqi exile community.

While the role of Wolfowitz et al is quite well documented, the idealistic Iraqi exiles (to distinguish them from opportunists, Iranian stooges and ex-Baathists) has been sort of overlooked, and the author highlights that.

After reviewing the stirrings that led to the war, the author offers a very objective view of the mistakes that America has committed in Iraq since the fall of the Saddam regime. The Author himself is not anti-Iraq war, and as a New York Times and The New Yorker correspondent, he kept going to Iraq, spending his time outside the "Green Zone"

The book recounts a very sad story, on how the "perpetrators" of the war in the Pentagon wanted to just depose Saddam, impose Ahmad Chalaby, and then leave within 90 days. The refused to plan for the aftermath of the war, and were ideologically opposed to "nation building", this intentional failure of planning, led to many missed opportunities for the US and led to many calamities that mainly afflicted the poor Iraqi people.

The author document how inept the American CPA (Coalition Provincial Authority) was and how removed from the Iraqi population and the situation on the street. How the untrained US army and basic failure to deliver security wasted all the goodwill that came with "liberation". Also how the American rash moves have turned an entire community of Iraqis (Sunnis) into losers, and how that strengthened the hand of extremists and old regime supporters.

The story goes on, with extensive details and impressive reporting, with stories of Iraqis from all walks of life and of Americans in the middle of the quagmire (my description, not the author's), the big conclusion you get out of the book is, while the US will go home in a few years and study the 'lessons of Iraq", it is the Iraqis will suffer for ages from the Americans' mistake, many of them committed by incompetence rather by malice, and often with the best intentions.

While I do not agree with the author on that point, I highly recommend the book, it gives a lot of insight into the inner works of the US government and its internal battles. It also documents from an American view the first 2 years of occupation, and its many mistakes.

This is a link to the book on Amazon.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Book Review: Confessions of an economic hit man by John Perkins

Those who know me best know that I despise conspiracy theory as an explanation of history, especially in our region. Unfortunately for me and my presumable solid logic, for the last couple of years, more and more revelations of plots and conspiracies have seriously undermined my argument, this book is a case in point.

The book is a an autobiography and/or expose of what the author refer to as EHT, an economic hit man. That refers to high ranking consultants and business executive in the US who deal with developing countries, often in collusion with the US intelligence community and international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and so on. The author refers to this "Cabal" as the Corporatocracy.

The author start his story by telling how he was interviewed by the NSA (the biggest US intelligence agency), then was approached by an international consulting organization based on the agency recommendation. Upon joining, he is put through an induction process that rival James Bond training, he is told that he will be an economic hit man. That means that he will travel to "Third World Countries" on behest of the World Bank et al, and basically convince the developing countries to ask for huge loans that they can never repay in order to build huge (and far exceeding need) infrastructure projects to be built by American firms that will send all of the money home to the US. When the countries understandably default of the debt, they become under the thumb of the corporatocracy and more importantly, politically in the US pocket.

The Author then recounts his first assignment in Indonesia, where he was tasked to estimate the country's need of electric power. He was pushed by superiors into grossly overestimating the growth in consumption to justify bigger loans and thus bigger bounty for US construction and power companies. When a senior expert refuses to toe the line, he is fired and replaced by the author, who despite misgivings, deliver what is expected of him. As reward, he is given a promotion and the title Chief Economist, even when he obviously does not have the qualifications.

This story repeated in many countries, and the result is always similar, the population suffer, while the multinational corporations and the local elites make billions. It is quite depressing to read how the "fruits of modernity" never reaches the average citizen in the developing world even when they are burdened by the debt assumed in their name.

A notable mention is the author dealing with Saudi Arabia, which he refers to as the Saudi Money Laundering Affair, if this is true, it tells alot about the problems Saudi Arabia faces today. The Author recounts how the Saudi government has agreed after the Oil Shocks to use the majority of its petrodollars to purchase US treasury bonds. The US treasury will then use the interest on these bonds to execute mega projects in the Kingdom, all by US companies and designed by the corporatocracy. Projects were designed with the interest of the US companies in mind, not the Saudi citizens!

In short, the book is eye opening, and in a way explains why the rich stay rich in this world, mainly because they make the rules of the game and it is extremely in their favour. Whatever you think of the author, most of his arguments and statements are backed up by facts, and it tells a depressing story, it also explain why some developing countries (especially in Latin America) are rejecting to be in this system anymore, and more frequently, they are rejecting American style democracy that came with loans and promises of development.

I greatly encourage you to read this book, this a link to the book on Amazon

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Water fountain- Kyoto Posted by Picasa

Famed Gion area- Kyoto Posted by Picasa

A crane in a river in central Kyoto Posted by Picasa

Heian Shrine- Kyoto Posted by Picasa

Traditional house in Gion- Kyoto Posted by Picasa

Shrine in Gion- Kyoto Posted by Picasa

Traditional street- Kyoto Posted by Picasa

Zen Garden- Kyoto Posted by Picasa

Roppongi Hills (Video projection on Metro Hat)- Tokyo Posted by Picasa

Temple Moat- Kyoto Posted by Picasa

Roppongi Hills Mori Tower- Tokyo Posted by Picasa

Roppongi Hills Building - Tokyo Posted by Picasa

Roppongi Hills Office Building- Tokyo Posted by Picasa

Bike parking lot in Kyoto Posted by Picasa

Roppongi Hills Metro Hat Posted by Picasa

Back in Dubai!

I am home! Yes, Dubai became home for me, in a real sense, and homecoming was sweet, even after a long vacation.

I spent 20 days away, half in Japan, half in Malaysia, and it was incredible fun, it makes me wonder what made me neglect Asia for 9 years and and stick to Europe and North America, Asia is amazing, I witnessed Chinese New Year celebrations, which was swell.

This is a short post, I will post again tomorrow with pictures and some commentary and book reviews on the 9 (yes 9!) books I read while away.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Exporting our intolerance and censorship to Europe!

Although I am on vacation and away from the region, I just cannot keep my mouth (and keyboard) shut about the Danish Cartoons fiasco.

First of all, I am against offending people for offense sake, but for anybody who lived in the West (especially western Europe), freedom of expression is sacrosanct, not religion and prophets and texts, freedom is sacrosanct.

This freedom did not come easily, the Vatican (and to a lesser extent other churches) was a dominating presence that strangles any questioning of its dogmatic view. Newspapers had to battle this influence and many people went to jail for the offense of mocking a cardinal, a pope, and occasionally Christ!

As the values of democracy and human rights became the de facto religion of Europe, religious texts, figures, and practices came into a multitude of criticism, and that at times took the form of mockery, no religion suffered this as much as the local dominant one, Christianity, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Disciples, Apostles, and so on were mocked non-stop. The cross, the ultimate Christian religious symbol became a fashion statement devoid of any significance.

The church tried to fight all of these trends, but the civil society won, and rightly so, to censor the freedom of expression in the name of respecting religious sensitivity was deemed unacceptable, Christ simply has to turn the other cheek, so to speak.

That brings us to the Danish Cartoons, I was disgusted by the Arab reaction, not because it rejected the cartoons, which is a right, but how it was non-discriminating, and ignorant in the way it expected the state (Denmark) to control it media the way they do in the Arab World.

In the Arab World eyes, each Dane (and later Scandinavian) became responsible. Not only we don't understand the other, we project our own (rather ugly) image on it -the way a journalist is jailed for critiquing another Arab leader for example-.

The Western world is expected to censor itself when it comes to our values and beliefs, how ridiculous! If the Danish Prime Minister is unable to stop the newspaper mocking Jesus, he should not be able stop that being done to Prophet Mohammed, just because we are offended!

I think that the Arab World should take a serious look at itself before start criticizing others for intolerance, our textbooks and media is full of extremely xenophobic and religiously intolerant speech, and the answer is not in censoring the West, it is in opening up freedoms at home.

My point simply, is that we Arabs are always choosing to be more emotional than rational, and in the case there was a failure to distinguish what is in poor taste from a Western attack on Islam, prudence people!