Saturday, April 5, 2008

Murdoch effects on WSJ filter in

The world of media bemoaned the Murdoch takeover of prestigious US paper, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

To alleviate concerns that the WSJ would be compromised to a neocon mouthpiece (as all of News Corp has become), Murdoch vowed at the time that he would not tamper with the paper's editorial spill.

However, my analysis of an excerpt of a WSJ editorial on the NATO summit in Bucharest will demonstrate that the WSJ hasn't been immune from the right-wing flu that leeches onto all of Murdoch's pets.

For the full article click on the link below:

The Battle of Bucharest

By Matthew Kaminski

April 4, 2008

European security is supposed to be last century's problem. Tell that to Ukraine and Georgia, which had their bids to join the West effectively vetoed by Russia at yesterday's unusually dramatic summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In the halls of Ceausescu's Palace of the People, American idealism squared off against a belligerent Kremlin and its chief European proxy, Germany. The U.S. lost this battle. The clear victor in Bucharest was Russia's Vladimir Putin, who wasn't even in town.

Washington won't be able to sugarcoat the setback to the America-led project of reunifying Europe. This was President Bush's last NATO summit, and his inability to persuade Germany into welcoming Ukraine and Georgia tarnishes his one indubitably positive legacy in Europe. In the summer of 2001, before the "Bush Doctrine" was born from the embers of 9/11, the president pledged to make the spread of freedom across the Continent a priority. Soon after, he welcomed seven former Soviet satellites into NATO, including Romania. Washington then backed the democratic "color" revolutionaries in Ukraine and Georgia...

Mr. Putin hates virtually every U.S. strategic initiative in Europe from the independence of Kosovo to installing missile defenses. But Russia has no direct interests in Kosovo and knows limited missile defenses pose no threat. MAP, on the other hand, matters. Georgia is a pro-American thorn in Russia's side that the Kremlin would like to pull out, by force if need be. As the largest ex-Soviet republic bar Russia, Ukraine is a coveted prize. Russia is desperate to keep these states in its sphere of influence. Yesterday Germany played the enabler...

Germany is the new France. As the current leader in Paris, Nicolas Sarkozy, buries the old Gaullist skepticism toward NATO, Berlin plays the role of troublesome ally. Gerhard Schröder is on Gazprom's payroll these days, but Schröderism lives on. His successor, Ms. Merkel, leads an unwieldy left-right coalition government, and according to a senior official close to her, didn't dare pick a fight on foreign policy, with elections on the horizon next year.

[Antoun] The opening two paragraphs already create a spin to a rather important piece of news. Ukraine and Georgia, both ex-Soviet republics, are braving internal problems and tension with Russia to improve their ties with the West.

The Russian perspective
Russia, in an expected response, has become increasingly apprehensive towards the EU and the US as the latter seek to encroach on - what Moscow considers - its sphere of influence. Moscow is feeling threatened, and why wouldn't it? Post-Berlin Wall, NATO and the EU have expanded to the frontier of Russia; actively supported the pro-Western revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine; and plied Kosovo from another Russian ally, Serbia. Russia feels the West has continued a belligerent policy towards Moscow, hence its toughened stance.

Yet the article completely discards the Russian perspective, and instead, promotes the neocon perspective that Bush is trying to bring freedom and democracy to the world (whose lie has already been dispelled by American actions in the MidEast), and big, bad Russia intends only to create chaos. Kaminski continues his tirade by lambasting Germany as a "Russian proxy", alleging that Berlin exists solely to do Russia's bidding. Ironically, Kaminski absolved newfound Bush ally, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, from the lashing, despite Sarkozy's equal vigorous opposition to offer membership talks to Ukraine and Georgia.

The European perspective
These two European powers see no interest in sparking a tense rift with Russia over two states that won't provide NATO with any increased security. Instead, offering membership to Ukraine and Georgia would only increase security risks for NATO as Russia's patience wears exceptionally thin. Bush has continued a post-Cold War American policy of encircling Moscow by scraping away at its former republics, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

Its Western European allies also had an interest to expand the EU's boundaries in order to create an Eastern European buffer between Western Europe and Russia. But that buffer has its limits. Creating a separating bridge between Western Europe and Russia was essential to European security.

The eastern expansion was a defensive move as an assurance that Russia will not spread its claws in Europe again. That does not solicit a change in policy from a defensive expansion to keep Russia out, to an aggressive policy to spread Western claws in Russia's enclave, a line which the Americans appear to be taking.

The Europeans do not see the positives in becoming the giant bear they sought to defeat. A line needs to be drawn to ensure an enduring stability between Russia and Europe, and that line - for Paris and Berlin - is Ukraine and Georgia.

The article lacks substance, analysis and wisdom. It has turned a summit involving a wide range of issues and perspectives into a single issue and perspective. Kaminski shelved European and Russian interests, and placed Bush's policies (not necessarily in the American interest) at the forefront, all in the name of the outdated slogan of "freedom and democracy". The world is aware of the reality of Bush's policies. The world is aware that "freedom and democracy" are the last desires on Bush's mind.

Yet, Kaminski continues to patronise and undermine the intellectual audience of WSJ by regurgitating old slogans, and writing a piece suitable for an audience of a British tabloid. No coincidence, Murdoch has had his claws in the British tabloids for quite some time. The fears that WSJ would mirror the single-minded Murdoch media have now become a reality.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The life of a little-known Syrian poet

I came across the following article in the Yemen Times, detailing the life of Syrian poet Mohammad Ahmed al-Maghout. We are all aware of the famous artists of our region, but the little-known contributors to art very rarely receive the recognition they deserve.

Al-Maghout had a turbulent life, raised in poverty, in and out of jail under an oppressive dictatorship. His life is an extraordinary demonstration that art transcends all obstacles and challenges life throws at us.

Mohammad Ahmed al-Maghout, a Syrian poet with a satiric pen

Issue: (1138), Volume 18 , From 17 March 2008 to 19 March 2008

Prepared by Eyad N. Al-Samman

Syrian poet, playwright, journalist and scenarist Mohammed Ahmed Al-Maghout was born in 1934 in Salamiyah, a town on the Orontes River in western Syria’s Hamah governorate.

Because his father was a farmer, Al-Maghout spent his childhood in miserable and poverty-stricken conditions. After receiving his primary education in Salamiyah, he moved to Damascus at age 14 and enrolled in a boarding school to study agronomy.

Being unable to pursue his studies there, he enrolled in another agricultural school in Al-Ghutah, a suburban area of Damascus. Still unable to continue, he joined the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, or SSNP, in his early 20s.

Arrested in 1955 during a crackdown by Syrian intelligence on SSNP members, Al-Maghout was imprisoned for nine months in Al-Mazzah Prison in Damascus. While there, he had the opportunity to write poetry for the first time, as well as meet renowned Syrian poet Adonis, who later introduced the novice poet to the public.

Fearing Syrian intelligence during the independent Arab Union Republic, Al-Maghout moved to Beirut in the late 1950s. While in Lebanon, he met poet Saniyah Saleh, who admired his poems, and later married her, continuing to reside in Beirut for a time. He began writing poetry, publishing them in Lebanon’s “Shi’ar” (Poetry) magazine, before returning to Syria and settling in Damascus.

A group of Syrian army officers organized a coup d’état against the Arab Union Republic government in September 1961 and a provisional Syrian national government subsequently was formed. As a SSNP member, Al-Maghout was arrested and again imprisoned for three months during that same year.

Following his release, he concealed himself in small, low-ceilinged rooms for several months in various quarters in Damascus, such as Ayn Al-Karsh and Bab Tuma, before settling down in Damascus for decades of writing and living with his two favorite pleasures – smoking cigarettes and listening to classic Lebanese music.

Al-Maghout’s poems, plays, television and movie scripts criticized corruption in regional governments and their restrictions upon their citizens. Many of his divans and other selected literary works were translated into several other languages. His work combines satire with descriptions of social misery and malaise, illustrating what he viewed as an ethical decline among the region’s rulers.

One of his first poems was “The Bitter Wine,” published in 1952 in Al-Adaab (The Arts) newspaper when he was 18 years old.

Al-Maghout published his first collection of poems in 1959, entitled, “Huzn fi Daw’a Al-Qamar” (Sadness in the Moonlight). His second divan was 1964’s “A Room with Millions of Walls,” followed by the 1970 divan, “The Joy is Not My Profession.”

His final published divan, “The Red Bedouin,” (2006) contained new texts treating numerous national issues.

As a journalist, Al-Maghout helped establish and develop the Syrian government’s Tishreen (October) newspaper, to which he contributed to defining that paper’s policy and nature by writing a daily corner alternately with another writer beginning in 1975. He also penned the column, “Alice in Wonderland,” in the Paris-based weekly Lebanese newspaper, Al-Mustaqbal (The Future).

Al-Maghout began writing one-act plays in 1965, shortly thereafter collaborating with Dureid Lahham, Syria’s most renowned actor, to produce some of the region’s most popular and acclaimed theatrical works.

His 1973 drama, “Tishreen’s Village,” was performed on stage but never published. It was a political comedy treating various issues, such as Syria’s modern history, the inefficiency of Arab leaders, the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The 1975 drama, “Expatriation,” dealt with the phenomena of the massive immigration of Arabs to the West in the 1970s.

Al-Maghout’s famed 1987 drama, “K’asak, Ya Watan,” (Cheers, My Homeland) portrayed current Arab perplexing and tragic economic, social and political situations, while his 1989 drama, “The Anemones,” focused on aspects of corruption, dictatorship and poverty in the Arab world.

Among his other dramatic works were “The Clown” (1974), “The Hunched Bird” (1976) and “Outside the Flock” (1999).

Lahham starred in some of Al-Maghout’s most famous screenplays, including the 1984 motion picture, “Al-Hudood,” (The Borders) about a man who loses his passport and becomes trapped between countries in a satire of Arab disunity.

Another screenplay was 1987’s “Al-Taqreer” (The Report), while Al-Maghout’s television scripts included “The Valley of Musk” and “The Night’s Tales.”

In 2001, Al-Maghout collected essays that he had penned and published in Al-Wasat magazine between 1998 and 2001 in the book, “Flowers’ Slayer.” He’s also known for his 1987 book, “I Will Betray My Homeland,” which is a collection of satiric political essays.

He penned only one autobiographical novel, 1974’s “The Swing.”

His divan, “Tall Trees’ Woodcutters,” was selected and published in UNESCO’s “Book in a Newspaper” project and subsequently bestowed Syria’s 2002 Cultural Medal. Al-Maghout also won the United Arab Emirates’ 2005 Al-Awais Cultural Award.

Al-Maghout died on April 3, 2006 at age 72 in Damascus. A true original and a national character, he was a Syrian intellectual who refused all unsatisfactory compromises and an independent voice for liberty and justice in the Arab world. One of his most famous satirical sayings was, “There’s only one perfect crime – to be born an Arab.”

Boycotting China an arrogant suggestion

China has attracted undesired attention in recent weeks as a result of deadly riots that have plagued Tibet and surrounding separatist regions.

The deaths are regrettable and the crackdown severe, reflecting a poor human rights record in China, which isn't anything out of the usual. Indeed, it is worth condemnation as all human rights violations are.

However, using the Olympic Games as a political toy is a bit of a farcical response. Not only does it once again give the impression of a hypocritical and arrogant West lecturing all others, but it erroneously ties the Olympic Games to a political agenda.

Addressing the former issue, the West is in no position to lecture any country on human rights abuses. The United States still retains the abhorrent capital punishment, and during the past century of a virtual Western monopoly on the Olympic Games, we witnessed two World Wars (primarily based in Europe) and a string of brutal conflicts spanning all over the globe that had either direct or indirect Western fingerprints.

American atrocities in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Iraq, including its blind support of Israeli apartheid never stopped the US from hosting the Olympics on multiple occasions. That's not taking into consideration America's internal policies, which involved widespread discrimination against its black minority for the better part of the century.

Why single out the US? My own country, Australia, admittedly undertook systematic ethnic cleansing for much of the 20th century through a process of stealing Aboriginal children from their families and placing them under white control. But Australia still hosted the Olympics in 1956. I could continue and open up Britain and France's black book, but I fear the post would never end.

Ideally, the Olympic Games aims to reinforce human values and obligations, but there isn't a single country on the planet that doesn't retain a haunted closet. The Games ought to focus on human rights, but let's not be demanding prerequisites from states who desire to host the privileged sporting season. Instead, the Games should be a method of plying a country towards a system of governance that respects human rights. The Olympic Games provides a rare openness between nations, an openness that may very well spread to the host people.

The Olympic Games has evolved beyond politics to become a culturally symbolic occasion. The Olympics are as much about cultural representation in our globalised world as it is about human rights. The Greek-invented sporting event promotes the notion of every nation belonging to a 'human world', 'our world'.

China has its faults, as does the West. China needs to address the Tibetan issue, and the US/UK need to withdraw out of Iraq. But China does represent over one billion people, and is Asia's largest country and most potent power. Within it lies thousands of years of mystifying history and customs foreign to the West that still surprise many of us in the most exciting ways. The Olympic Games is also about recognising and valuing our differing cultures, our differing histories, our differing journeys, and presenting them on a world stage.

Denying this major part of our world the right to represent thousands of years worth of its rich culture on the most global stage would be considered as a grave insult to the Chinese people. Any boycott wouldn't simply hit the heads of government, but the very people who will enjoy a rare chance to showcase themselves in a positive light.

The Olympics are no longer a European spectacle, nor a Western spectacle, but a global phenomenon. The West must come to the realisation that every nation on earth enjoys part ownership in this event, and that every nation has an equal right to be represented despite their current flaws. For we all have them.