Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thought for today

With the silence in the mind, always comes at first what seems to be a loss of memory, but there is nothing to be anxious about - it comes back in due time and the memory is a better one, more correct and more exact.

- The Mother [p-36, White Roses, Sixth Edition, 1999]

Orlando Patterson on the situation in Jamaica

Jamaica’s Bloody Democracy
Published: May 28, 2010
From the NYT
THE violence tearing apart Jamaica, a democratic state, raises serious questions not only about its government’s capacity to provide basic security but, more broadly and disturbingly, the link between violence and democracy itself.

The specific causes of the turmoil are well known. For decades political leaders have used armed local gangs to mobilize voters in their constituencies; the gangs are rewarded with the spoils of power, in particular housing and employment contracts they can dole out. Opposition leaders counter with their own gangs, resulting in chronic violence during election seasons.

These gangs eventually moved into international drug trafficking, with their leaders, called “dons,” becoming ever more powerful. The tables turned quite some time ago, with the politicians becoming dependent on the dons for their survival.

A case in point is the reliance of Prime Minister Bruce Golding on one notorious don, Christopher Coke, whose refusal to surrender for extradition to the United States to stand trial on gun and drug charges led last week to virtual warfare on the streets of the capital, Kingston, and the deaths of scores of civilians.

Endemic political corruption is hardly Jamaica’s only problem. Add to it paltry rates of economic growth, widespread poverty and income inequality, vast urban slums and a police force considered brutal and despised by the poor, and it is little surprise that the island nation’s homicide rate is always among the handful of the world’s highest.

Yet Jamaica, to its credit, has by global standards achieved a robust democracy. However great the violence during elections, voting is fair and governments change at the national level regularly and fairly smoothly. The judiciary, if overburdened, is nonetheless independent and relatively uncorrupt. There is a vigorous free press, and a lively civil society. Freedom House has continuously categorized the island as a “free” country.

For most observers of democracy, Jamaica’s violence seems an anomaly. Democracy is held to be inherently prone to good order and peace. According to this “democratic peace” doctrine, democracies do not go to war with each other, and in domestic life they provide nonviolent means of settling differences. Violence, writes the political theorist John Keane, is anathema to democracy’s “spirit and substance.”

It may or may not be true that democracies do not wage war with each other, but a growing number of analysts have concluded that, domestically, democracies are in fact more prone to violence than authoritarian states, measured by incidence of civil wars, communal conflict and homicide.

There are many obvious examples of this: India has far more street crime than China; the countries of the former Soviet Union are more violent now than they were under Communism; the streets of South Africa became more dangerous after apartheid was dismantled; Brazil was safer before 1985 under its military rule.

Three good explanations are offered for this connection between democracy and violent crime. First, it has been persuasively shown by social scientists like David Rapoport of the University of California at Los Angeles and Leonard Weinberg of the University of Nevada at Reno that the electoral process itself tends, on balance, to promote violence more than peace.

Sometimes the ballot can substitute for the bullets of civil wars, as in Nicaragua in 1990 when the Sandinista government was voted out peacefully. However, the opposite is more often the case, as in Greece in 1967, when electoral uncertainty led to a military coup, and Algeria in 1992, when elections were canceled in the face of a certain victory by a fundamentalist Islamic party, leading to civil war.

Another well-supported argument is that democracies are especially vulnerable to ethnic conflict and organized crime. In diverse democracies, the temptation of leaders to exploit ethnic identity for political ends is an all too frequent source of major conflict, sometimes culminating in oppression of minorities and even genocide. We saw this happen in Rwanda in 1994 and the former Yugoslav states in the 1990s. Dennis Austin, who has studied political strife in India and Sri Lanka, has concluded that in such societies “democracy is itself a spur to violence” adding “depth to the sense of division.”

Orlando Patterson is a professor of sociology at Harvard

Religion gone global: an interview with Reza Aslan

Religion gone global: an interview with Reza Aslan

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Alternatives to hitting our kids

From Mothering Magazine

Issue 127
By Peggy O'Mara

At a meeting I attended recently, I mentioned an article we wanted to solicit entitled “Instead of Hitting.” One woman asked what the title meant. Another said, “But doesn’t the Bible tell us to hit our kids?” Later in the conversation, when I questioned the wisdom of time-outs, people were even more confused. Well, if we don’t hit or punish—I could hear them all wonder silently—then what are we supposed to do? These are legitimate concerns. When I was a new mom 30 years ago, I had these same questions.

I started out hitting my kids. I would lose my temper when their behavior got out of my control, and I would hit. I never felt good about it, but I didn’t know what else to do, and I thought it was effective because afterward I had regained control of the situation. I thought that I had to hit them because I had to control them. Certainly, others expected that I should, and I thought that was what parenting was all about. But it just didn’t feel right.

About the time that my third child was born, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “People are not for hitting and children are people too.” I was flabbergasted because I believed this, but I was still hitting my children. I was waiting to discover something else to do first and then to stop hitting. When I saw the bumper sticker, I realized that I would just have to stop. Then I would figure out what else to do. And I did.

I was initially inspired by a concept I heard at La Leche League meetings: that discipline is based on loving guidance. Later I read the books Liberated Parents, Liberated Children and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and I had the opportunity to interview the authors. But their concepts were foreign to me. I embraced them intellectually but didn’t have an emotional clue about how to implement them. I grew up in an authoritarian household, and my own upbringing was what I knew habitually.

The books of Faber and Mazlish are based on the work of the psychologist Haim Ginott, author of Between Parent and Child. What they all recommend is a fundamental paradigm shift from authoritarian parenting to cooperative parenting. In fact, in Dolores Curran’s book The Traits of Healthy Families, she found that in healthy families no one family member is dominant. While corporal punishment of children produces short-term obedience, it has long-term negative consequences on character and behavior. Research at the University of New Hampshire found that children who are rarely or never spanked have higher scores on cognitive tests than children who are frequently spanked.

But how do we change our habits and our beliefs? When I read Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, I was terrified. I felt totally out of control. It took me a while to get my sea legs and to realize that the control I achieved by spanking was an illusion. My children would learn to hide their bad behavior from me if I spanked them, but I could never ultimately control them, and they would learn to resent me. The only hope I had of truly “controlling” things—that is, of having my own needs met—was rooted in our relationship. It is ultimately the relationship of love and mutual respect that ensures socialized behavior.

We want to make sure that as parents we do teach our children to be effective socially. Others expect this of us as well. Our desire to control our children is often thus precipitated by our image of ourselves as good, caring parents. At times, our concern for our own image can affect our actions toward our children more than our concern for their welfare. Often when we spank, we do so because we just can’t tolerate our children acting in such a way. Our pride is hurt.

I think loss of pride is little compared to the loss of intimacy with our children that comes when we spank and punish them. We have to be very honest with ourselves to shift to a paradigm of cooperation. We have to be willing to take responsibility in conflicts with our children and to acknowledge that our own attitudes or beliefs might be contributing to the problem. We have to try hard not to take conflict personally, but to see it as an opportunity to learn new information that will help us prevent future conflict. We must learn humility.

Being humble, however, does not mean that we give up our authority. A parent’s authority is based not on being right all the time but on being the one in charge. You do not have to give up your authority as a parent or be permissive to parent in a more cooperative way. However, you do have to learn a new language, and it takes time. The more you practice cooperation, the more skilled at it you become.

What is this new language? What are the elements that help us discipline nonviolently with loving guidance, and without punishment, time-outs, or spanking? They are words. They are attitudes. They are beliefs. They are demeanor. For example, the number-one trait of a healthy family is the ability to communicate and listen. Loving guidance implies that children, like adults, have good reasons for their behavior and that their cooperation can be engaged to solve problems.

How do we engage the cooperation of children? We talk to them in a different way. Here are some examples of new ways to approach problems with our children:
We can describe what we see.
I see a glass near the edge of the table.
We can describe the problem.
The kitchen is a mess.
We can give information.
Bikes left out in the rain will rust.
We can make a statement of appropriate function or behavior.
We don’t hit people.
We can offer a choice.
You can wear the red outfit or
the green outfit.
We can say it in a word.
We can describe what we feel.
When I come home tired from work, I feel sorry for myself when I have to make dinner. It would be so nice to come home to dinner being cooked and to have some help in the kitchen.
We can write a note.

The communication suggestions above stand in sharp contrast to poor communication, which blames, accuses, calls names, threatens, commands,
lectures, warns, evokes martyrdom, compares, is sarcastic, or prophesies. Notice the example under “We can describe what we feel,” above. It encourages family members to come forward to help. It is an “I” message and talks totally about the speaker’s feelings without accusing anyone else of anything. The word you is not in the sentence.

If instead a parent said something blaming and self-pitying, such as “I can’t believe I have to come home so tired and make dinner, too. Why don’t you ever make dinner for me? Why don’t you ever help me? I have to do everything myself,” family members would begrudgingly offer help, but they would be more likely to mentally focus on defending themselves than on the needy parent.

Communication is a skill we can always improve upon, and communicating means we have to get comfortable with strong emotions and be willing to talk about anything. Good communication is fostered by spending time talking together and by being sensitive to timing and context. And, perhaps most important, good communication requires that we learn to rebound from anger and to reconcile with others afterward.

To rebound from anger, we have to free ourselves of blame and judgment, even toward ourselves. It is easier to be tolerant of others when we are tolerant of ourselves. In fact, it helps to have a kind of radical self-acceptance and to trust in things as they are. This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to change things or to get our own needs met, but we do so with the compassionate understanding that we all have good, even if sometimes mistaken, reasons for our behavior.

When we appreciate that others have good reasons for their behavior, it allows us to approach them with love in our hearts. That way we are more likely to frame our arguments in some of the ways that Haim Ginott suggested decades ago:
• Express nuances of anger without nuances of insult.
• Talk to the situation, not the
character of the person.
• Disagree without being disagreeable.
• Change a mood, not a mind.

When I was a new parent trying to figure out this new language of engaging cooperation, I put lists of suggestions like those above on my refrigerator. I put up a list of alternatives to punishment. The list helped me to remember new solutions instead of habitually relying on old, adversarial ones. Eventually I made these solutions my own. You will, too.

Here are some alternatives to punishment:
• Point out a way to be helpful.
• Express strong disapproval without attacking character.
• State your expectations.
• Show your child how to make amends.
• Take action.
• Allow your child to experience the consequences of his or her own behavior.
• Sympathize with the child. Be compassionate but stick to your decision.
• Give an early warning.
• Give specific instructions. Tell what to clean up, not just to “clean up.”
• Ask your child if you can help.
• Ignore some annoying behavior. Don’t reinforce negative behavior by giving it too much attention.
• Do nothing.
• Tackle one problem at a time. Correct one behavior at a time.
• Use your sense of humor.
• Give yourself time to grow and change.
• Be affectionate.
• Make sure the children are getting enough sleep.
• Use the Golden Rule for children. Do unto them as you would like to have done unto you.
• Convey respect.
• Overlook differences that don’t really matter.
• Don’t do for your children what they can do for themselves.
• Schedule family time.
• Use “I” statements.
• Don’t reward inappropriate behavior.
• Use encouragement and honest praise rather than blanket praise.
• Stop and think before you act.
• Don’t make a big fuss over spills and accidents.
• Acknowledge positive behavior.
• Sometimes just listen and be sympathetic. You can be sympathetic to both sides.
• Be willing to change your mind.
• Say “yes” as much as possible.
• Get support and inspiration as a parent so that you remember you have choices.
• Continue to think of your child as an emotional equal and figure it out.
• Just say “no” to spanking.

At the end of the day, we want to preserve healthy, intimate relationships with our children into adulthood, while also giving them correct guidance during childhood. As the parent of adult children, my experience has been that a good way to do this is by engaging cooperation rather than by hitting or punishing. Some would argue that this dilutes authority, but that hasn’t been my experience. It has been my ability to take responsibility as a parent, not harsh discipline, that has given me authority with my children. Harsh discipline produces compliance based on fear, which is not as binding as voluntary cooperation based on affection.

When I get confused about discipline, I think about what I would do in a similar situation with an adult friend. I would not slap my adult friend, for example, for spilling her drink. I would assume that she made an honest mistake. I would not punish my friend for acting immaturely in a group. Instead, I would try to understand and sympathize, would give her the benefit of the doubt, and would be eager to hear her side of the story. We give our friends a wide berth because we do not feel responsible for their behavior in the same way we do for our children’s behavior. It requires a huge leap of faith to trust our children to their own destinies while we also guide them through ours. We love our children more than anyone else on earth, and we want to give them tools to be effective in the world. It makes sense to model compassion. It works.

Friday, May 28, 2010

We are all Ahmadi today

From chapati mystery via my name is khan

There are four million of me in Pakistan. This Islamic Republic is the only state in the world which has officially declared me to to be a non-Muslim. Why? It’s simple. I am an Ahmadi.

Ordinances have been passed against me. Acts and Constitutional Amendments have been drafted around me. Shortly after the heart and soul of our nation was ripped into two, a country reeling to define and defend its own identity unleashed itself upon me. In 1974, a parliament I had voted for adopted a law that outlawed me.

The rest of you were given a different story. Unlike you, I was not a “a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH”. But nobody really asked me what I believed in. Why? Because I am different. Because I don’t matter. Because I am an Ahmadi.

A powerful man who killed another powerful man in the name of the law did worse to me. In 1984, the General of an Army I pay for, support and serve with passed another law: now I could not call myself a Muslim at all, or even “pose as Muslim”.

You might have noted the affects of that today. As my attackers unleashed their wrath, television networks I watch and love got the location of the bloodshed all wrong. What I call a mosque, they called a “place of worship”. That’s alright though. It’s not their fault. I’m used to the special treatment. After all, I am an Ahmadi.

But I wish things were different. I wish I was like you. I wish I was a Sunni, a Shia, a Punjabi, a Pakhtoon, a Baloch, a Sindhi, a Memon, a Gujrati, a Siraiki, a Makrani. If I was any of those, or even anyone else, I would have been called a martyr or “shaheed” in the papers today. My family would have liked that. They would have even engraved it on my grave, like you do for your loved ones. But that doesn’t matter though. It’s what comes after the grave that really matters. And in my case, I’ve been reassured by you that not much good awaits me there.

But you can’t blame me for wishing. I wish I could give you a hug this Eid. I wish I could say “asalamalaikum” and “eid mubarak” to you as well. I wish I could read to you the history of my people and even have you sample my food. But I can’t. That could cost me three years of prison time.

Finally, I also wish my attackers had chosen another date. For you, today was a day to remember. After all, it was twelve years ago that you unleashed your might upon the world by reducing a mountain to ashes. You had invented the weapon to counter all weapons. You detractors were scared and your enemies terrified. For causing yesterday’s incident to dampen your re-living that moment of pride, I apologize. Please accept my condolences.

But you don’t have to. You’ve got other things to do. Why waste your time with me? After all, I am an Ahmadi.

Akbar Ganji

from the boston globe via 3qd
Dreaming of a Free Iran
Akbar Ganji accepts the Friedman Prize
Akbar Ganji
Translated by Hamid Dabashi
On May 13, 2010 Iranian journalist and dissident Akbar Ganji received the CATO Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. Upon accepting the award, he discussed his ideas about Iranian democracy, liberty, and U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Akbar Ganji / photo by Alan Klehr
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to start by thanking the CATO Institute for awarding me this prize, which I accept as a moral and ethical endorsement of Iran’s Green Movement. I very much hope that this award will facilitate our struggle for advancing democracy and human rights in Iran.
Human history has been interpreted in many ways. I read this history as a sustained course of struggle for liberty—the struggle of slaves, women, people of color, the poor, the disenfranchised, of religious minorities and dissidents of various sorts, to rid themselves of the tyranny they have endured. The history of emancipation movements in the United States is in fact a perfect example of such endeavors for liberty: the struggle against foreign domination, the revolt against slavery, the women’s rights movements, and the civil rights movement are all prime examples of such uprisings, which have in turn become inspirational for similar movements around the globe. The American tradition of struggling for freedom has been instrumental in spreading the culture of liberty and democracy throughout the world. Today the American people and their social institutions continue to help disseminating the same humane principles that inspired their own founding fathers.
Today one can see many societies that are reaping the benefits of these sustained struggles for liberty. There is no doubt that the relative freedom in these countries is the result of the institutionalization of a more-or-less acceptable degree of democracy; and needless to say, democracy is the result of a powerful civil society, and that is in turn contingent on the freedom to elect a representative government, which is itself predicated on freedom of expression, action, and organization. Good or bad, the fate of a people, however, is not entirely in their own hands. Appropriate international circumstances are also necessary preconditions for the empowerment of civil societies and a transition to a democratic system that is committed to popular sovereignty and human rights.
The misfortune of the people who live in the Middle East, the region from which I come, is that the international conditions have never been conducive to achieving democracy. Quite to the contrary, these conditions have always been to the benefit of the enemies of freedom. When we look at the history of the last century, we see that Western countries, led by the United States, have brought dictatorial regimes to power and have consistently supported them. What is noteworthy is that defending these dictatorial regimes, which has always been done under the assumption of protecting the security and the interests of the West, has never achieved its stated goals. In his famous speech in November 2003, President [George W.] Bush said:
Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.
Whatever the cause of such policies, their result was walking shoulder to shoulder with diabolical enemies of freedom, a policy that of course was not limited to the Middle East. In 1942 President Roosevelt, quoting a Balkan proverb, famously told Prime Minister Churchill, apropos their meeting with Stalin in Yalta, “It is permitted in time of grave danger to walk with the devil until you have crossed the bridge.” The inevitable result of walking with the devil has been the ascendency of mostly military dictators around the globe. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson once said about one of these dictators, Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, after he had parted ways with Stalin, that “he might be a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch.” Thus, to prevent the spread of Communism, the West walked with dictators toward welcoming sons-of-bitches. Between 1962 and 1975, some 38 military coups were masterminded, one of the most famous of which was that of General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, who in collaboration with the American government toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973. This was not news for us in Iran, for two decades earlier we had experienced the military coup sponsored and engineered by the American and British government against the government of Mohammad Mossadeq.
People of the Middle East had been living under the tyranny of secular and corrupt governments, which were all supported by the United States and other Western countries. This context left them recourse to only one political alternative: religious fundamentalism. The United States and the Western world reaped the first fruit of their own deeds with the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and today they face fully grown and powerful trees of violent fundamentalism, and of course they must remember with shame their own share in planting these trees. The results of these prolonged policies endanger the possibility of democracy because if in countries like Egypt or Saudi Arabia free elections were to be held today, these fundamentalists would most probably win. Iran is the only country in the region that if fair, free, and competitive elections were held today, democratic forces that believe in the separation of religion from the state would be victorious. This is because for 31 years Iranians have experienced extremist Islamic fundamentalism. The United States and the Western world must cease supporting secular dictators or following policies that will inadvertently keep religious dictatorships in power, instead they should, for reasons of self-interest, support democracy and human rights as principal pillars of their foreign policies.
The gushing wound of Palestine is the most appropriate site for the worsening infection of fundamentalism.
The foolish policy of supporting dictators was soon replaced with another misguided policy. Entirely oblivious to the complications of Middle Eastern politics, President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were under the impression that by invading a country and occupying it they could bring democracy to it. In Afghanistan and Iraq all such delusions went up in flames and burnt out in smoke. Even President Bush himself, during the last year of his presidency, kept repeating that the United States cannot be allowed to be defeated in Iraq. Today, which American politician can guarantee a clear vision for the future of Afghanistan and Iraq after foreign forces leave? Even President Obama, who came to office promising to withdraw from Iraq, is today entangled in the messy aftermath of the U.S. invasion of that country and cannot easily deliver on his promise. And yet, unfortunately, it seems that attacking Iran still seems to be an option that this administration is taking under consideration.
The fact that people in the Middle East feel threatened by the United States and the West, and are thus inclined towards its enemy—namely the fundamentalists—is not entirely because of this history of U.S. support for secular tyrannies or merely a reaction to the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The one-sided support of the United States for Israel has exacerbated this situation. The gushing wound of Palestine is the most appropriate site for the worsening of the infection of fundamentalism. A just solution to the Palestinian problem, and the formation of an independent Palestinian state, next to Israel, is essential to reconstructing the image of the United States in the Muslim world. Moreover, a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict will transform the region and move it away from the destabilizing decades of the past and help the development of democracy.
Please allow me now to turn to another American policy in the region, that pertaining to nuclear proliferation. U.S. strategy here is equally conducive to the growth of fundamentalism. American policies on this issue are predicated on double standards. Completely ignoring Israel’s massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, the United States is fixated on the Islamic Republic in preventing it from becoming a nuclear power. There is no doubt that the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power while ruled by a religious-military dictatorship is not only detrimental to a better life for the people of Iran and possibly may even delay the transition to democracy, but it will also pose a grave danger to the world at large. But the double standard evident in American behavior, in not adopting the principle of a complete disarmament for all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, will only exacerbate the cause of fundamentalism and strengthen regimes such as the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The point here is not merely that Iran should not be attacked militarily. The point is that even entertaining the possibility of a military strike, especially when predicated on the nuclear issue, is beneficial to the fundamentalists who rule Iran. As such, the idea itself is detrimental to the democratic movement in my country. Moreover, it is especially beneficial to those fundamentalist forces that thrive on the persistence of such double standards. Of course, this is not to blame the American military policies or double standards for every problem in Iran or the Middle East. I simply wish to insist on the following point:
The Iranian regime will abuse the current emergency conditions—brought on by the threat of a military strike—to push the democratic Green Movement away from the center of world attention. The Green Movement in Iran is the sign of the deep dissatisfaction of Iranians against those who rule over them. This is a pluralist movement that pursues its objectives through nonviolent means. The Iranian people, women and the youth in particular, are struggling for liberty—the freedom to choose the kind of life they want to lead, freedom to form voluntary associations, freedom for peaceful assembly to express their concerns, freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, of religion, of behavior, and above all freedom to choose a life worthy of their dignified humanity. But those who rule Iran have not only refused to grant these liberties, but in fact with their severe and brutal crackdown, they have responded in an entirely unjust way.
At this very moment, scores of those struggling for liberty and human rights are suffering under unbearable conditions in Iranian prisons. Those who have name recognition are treated better than others—though still under inhumane and despicable conditions. Scores of ordinary people, meanwhile, are suffering in these prisons under intolerable conditions. Because they are unknown and invisible, the regime has an open-ended license to do with them as it pleases.
During the post-electoral crisis in Iran, the Iranian security forces opened fire on ordinary people in the streets, killing many and arresting thousands more. As admitted by the officials of the Islamic Republic themselves, at least four people have been killed under torture. The deaths of these four people alone is a telling example of the condition in Iranian prisons, and how the Islamic Republic treats its own citizens. At the same time, the bodies of some other prisoners have been given to their relatives, who have been told that their loved ones committed suicide or else suffered a heart attack. It is the bitter truth that the Iranian regime has just resumed a new wave of political executions in order to convey to its opponents that it will tolerate no opposition.
The most recent examples of these violent behaviors are the executions of five Kurdish Iranians early in the morning on May 9 of this year. The charge against these five political prisoners, as the Islamic Republic has said, was membership in political parties that the government considers illegal. Without due process of law these prisoners have been executed so that an example can be made of them for other opponents of the state.
Iranians who care for democracy in their homeland will support prosecuting those who rule over Iran. They believe that these ruthless leaders ought to be tried in international criminal courts and charged with crimes against humanity. They wish that those who have ordered or executed the suppressing of the Iranian people be arrested the instant they leave the country. In this context, the Iranian people want to prevent the sale of technologies of suppression to the ruling regime in Iran. For example, the Islamic Republic is denying people the right to learn the truth from autonomous media sources on the Internet, and from satellites. If the people of Iran are not allowed to have access to satellite television, why should the tyrannical regime of the Islamic Republic be able to use the facilities of the international satellite system? When in Iran the formation of independent labor unions, in the private or public sector, is disallowed, why is it that the international community does not make doing business with Iran contingent on the formation of such independent unions? Why is it that foreign investments in the Iranian economy, especially in the oil industry or the selling of technology, cannot be made contingent on respecting human rights? Why is it that the United Nations, through such organizations as the International Labor Organization and The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development does not exercise oversight over the process of signing economic contracts between Iran and foreign companies, to ascertain that these contracts are awarded legally and through a transparent bidding processes?
Careless sanctions will fail to alter the behavior of the Iranian government or its regime and weaken the groundwork for democracy by strengthening the state.
There are many ways to bring the rulers of the Islamic republic to justice. But the Iranian people do not deserve to be subjected to more hardship than what is already perpetrated on them by the Islamic Republic. Today, again there is much talk of economic sanctions against Iran. But we should not forget that unintelligent broad sanctions would weaken Iranian civil society and strengthen the power of suppression. In fact, the intensification of economic sanctions will be entirely useless in dismantling this regime. It will, ipso facto, add to the pain and suffering of the working and middle classes, and as such it will not only deprive the Green Movement of its strongest supporters but will in fact alter the political agenda of people altogether, as the struggle for daily sustenance, and to make ends meet, will replace the struggle for liberty.
The intensification of economic sanctions will also make the Iranian state-run economy even more contingent on the state and as a result will make the current conditions even more corrupt and repressive. Those who believe that the free-market economy is the mother of democracy then will have to oppose economic sanctions at least from this perspective. When we talk about democratization of Iran and a transition to democracy, we will have to pay attention to the historical processes that have resulted in democratic systems and their relationship to the free market. Historically, liberalism preceded democracy. In other words, democracy was a suit tailored to liberal societies. The economy of all the existing democracies has been a free-market economy. Although the shortcomings of the free market cannot be ignored, it is the best recognized system for the appropriation of resources, and politically will result in non-governmental centers of power that can pave the way towards democracy. And the reverse is also true. Careless sanctions will not only fail to alter the behavior of the Iranian government or its regime but will in fact weaken the groundwork for democracy by strengthening the state.
Finally, I would like to make a reference to Milton Friedman, in whose name I now receive an award. Defending Friedman is invariably considered a total defense of the free-market economy. My defense of the free-market economy and its consequences for creating or strengthening the conditions of democracy might also be interpreted as a total defense of the free-market economy and by extension of Milton Friedman. I am well aware of the shortcomings of the infrastructure of a free-market economy. Even Friedman himself, though he was among the most prominent libertarians, was equally aware of the limitations of the free-market economy. For this reason, he believed that the state should provide services for basic human needs through negative taxation and by paying cash to those under the poverty line, and through government vouchers providing for their education from elementary school to college. Governmental investment in education will not only have a positive role in the economy but will also advance more equal opportunities. Equal opportunity is ultimately what is denied people in undemocratic regimes. If we are dreaming of a free Iran, then we are after an Iran with equal opportunity for every citizen, something worthy of our humanity.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

MiA in the NYT magazine

More here
In the Grammy Awards in 2009, Maya Arulpragasam, also known as M.I.A., performed her biggest hit, “Paper Planes,” a rap song that infuses rebellious, defiant lyrics with the sounds of her native Sri Lanka, a riff lifted from the Clash, the bang-bang of a gun and the ka-ching of a cash register. Maya, as she is called, was nine months pregnant (to the day), and while she was onstage rapping about “some some some I some I murder, some I some I let go” — in a black skintight, body-stocking dress, transparent except for polka-dot patches that strategically covered her belly, breasts and derrière — she began to experience contractions. As the pain hit, Maya was performing with the male titans of rap (Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I.) and she later told me that she thought all the free-floating testosterone caused her to go into labor. While American rappers today tend to celebrate sex, wealth and status, Maya, who grew up listening to the politicized rhymes of Public Enemy, takes international dance beats and meshes them with the very un-American voice of the militant rebel. In contrast to, say, Bono or John Lennon, with their peacenik messages, Maya taps into her rage at the persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka to espouse violence: while you’re under the sway of the beat, she’s rapping, “You wanna win a war?/Like P.L.O. I don’t surrender.”

Although her publicist had a wheelchair ready and a midwife on call, Maya, who has a deep and instinctive affinity for the provocative, knew that this Grammy moment was not to be missed. It had everything: artistic credibility, high drama, a massive audience. The baby would just have to wait. The combination of being nearly naked, hugely pregnant, singing incendiary lyrics and having the eyes of the world upon her was too much to resist. And she was riveting, upstaging the four much more famous guys and dominating the stage. “That’s gangsta,” said Queen Latifah, one of the show’s presenters.

Three days later, her son, Ikhyd (pronounced I-kid) Edgar Arular Bronf man, was born. His father is Maya’s fiancé, Ben Bronfman, son of the Warner Music Group chief executive and Seagram’s heir Edgar Bronfman Jr. In one of many contradictions that seem to provide the narrative for Maya’s life and art, Ikhyd was not, as she had repeatedly announced he would be, born at home in a pool of water. As usual, she wanted to transform her personal life into a political statement. “You gotta embrace the pain, embrace the struggle,” she proclaimed weeks before Ikhyd was born. “And my giving birth is nothing when I think about all the people in Sri Lanka that have to give birth in a concentration camp.”

As it happened, Maya, who is 34, gave birth in a private room in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “Ben’s family insisted,” she told me a year later, when we met in March for drinks at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, in nearby Beverly Hills. Before the Grammys, Maya and Bronfman moved to Los Angeles from New York, buying a house in very white, very wealthy Brentwood, an isolated and bucolic section of the city with a minimal history of trauma and violent uprisings. “L.A. is a lovely place to have a baby,” Maya said. She’s surprisingly petite and ladylike, with beautiful almond-shaped dark brown eyes and full lips that she painted a deep red the day we met. Maya has a unique tomboy-meets-ghetto-fabulous-meets-exotic-princess look that, like her music, manages to combine sexy elements (lingerie peeks out from under her see-through tops) with individual flourishes (she designs elaborate patterns for her nails) and ethnic accents (the bright, rich prints of Africa are her wardrobe staple). Like all style originals, Maya wears her clothes with great confidence — she knows how to edit her presentation for maximum effect. At the Beverly Wilshire, she was wearing high-heeled pumps with leggings under a hip-length, sheer white tunic woven with gold threads and an outsize black jacket that looked as if it might be on loan from her boyfriend. Her only jewelry was a simple diamond engagement ring.

“We went to the Grammys, we had the baby and we bought the house,” Maya said as she studied the menu, deciding on a glass of wine and French fries. “A month later, all this stuff was happening in Sri Lanka” — the Tamil insurgency was being defeated amid reports of thousands of civilian casualties — “and I started speaking up against it. And then, within a month, I found out my house was being bugged, my phones were being tapped and my e-mails were being hacked into. I was getting death threats, like ‘hope your baby dies.’ The biggest Sinhalese community is in Santa Monica, people who are sworn enemies of the Tamils, which is me.” She paused. “I live around the corner from Beverly Hills, and I feel semiprotected by Ben and, if anything happens to me, then Ben’s family will not take it. Jimmy Iovine, who runs Interscope, my record company, said, ‘Pick your battles carefully — don’t put your life at risk,’ but at the end of the day, I don’t see how you can shut up and just enjoy success when other people who don’t have the fame or the luxury to rent security guards are suffering. What the hell do they do? They just die.”

Maya’s tirade, typical in the way it moved from the political to the personal and back again, was interrupted by a waiter, who offered her a variety of rolls. She chose the olive bread. Maya’s political fervor stems from her upbringing. Although she was born in London, her family moved back to Sri Lanka when she was 6 months old, to a country torn by fighting between the Tamil Hindu minority and the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. In the ’70s, her father, Arular, helped found the Tamil militant group EROS (Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students), trained with the P.L.O. in Lebanon and spearheaded a movement to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the country. EROS was eventually overwhelmed by a stronger and more vicious militant group, the Tamil Tigers. In their struggle for political control, the Tigers not only went after government troops and Sinhalese civilians but also their own people, including Tamil women and children. “The Tigers ruled the people under them with an iron fist,” Ahilan Kadirgamar at Sri Lanka Democracy Forum told me. “They used mafia like tactics, and they would forcefully recruit child soldiers. Maya’s father was never with the Tigers. He stayed away.”

In 1983, when she was 8, Maya, her mother and her two siblings moved to London. Her father stayed in Sri Lanka. Throughout her music career, which began in 2004, and especially around the time of the Grammys, Maya has used the spotlight to call attention to Tamil grievances. She named her first album “Arular,” after her father. Even though her father was not a Tiger, she also used tigers on her Web site and her album artwork and she favored tiger-striped clothing. This was not an accident. By the time her first album came out, the Tamil cause was mostly synonymous with the cause of the Tamil Tigers. Maya, committed to the cause, allied herself with the group despite its consistent use of terror tactics, which included systematic massacres of Sinhalese villagers. (In turn, government forces were known to retaliate against Tamil villages and were accused of supporting death squads.)

In the press, Maya was labeled a terrorist sympathizer by some; others charged her with being unsophisticated about the politics of Sri Lanka. “People in exile tend to be more nationalistic,” Kadirgamar said. “And Maya took a very simplistic explanation of the problems between Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese government and the Tamils. It’s very unfair when you condemn one side of this conflict. The Tigers were killing people, and the government was killing people. It was a brutal war, and M.I.A. had a role in putting the Tigers on the map. She doesn’t seem to know the complexity of what these groups do.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dalai Lama on Faiths

Many Faiths, One Truth
Published: May 24, 2010

WHEN I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.

Times Topics: Buddhism | Christians and Christianity | Islam | Jews and Judaism
Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.

An early eye-opener for me was my meeting with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in India shortly before his untimely death in 1968. Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism. The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions.

A main point in my discussion with Merton was how central compassion was to the message of both Christianity and Buddhism. In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus’ acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering.

I’m a firm believer in the power of personal contact to bridge differences, so I’ve long been drawn to dialogues with people of other religious outlooks. The focus on compassion that Merton and I observed in our two religions strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us.

Take Judaism, for instance. I first visited a synagogue in Cochin, India, in 1965, and have met with many rabbis over the years. I remember vividly the rabbi in the Netherlands who told me about the Holocaust with such intensity that we were both in tears. And I’ve learned how the Talmud and the Bible repeat the theme of compassion, as in the passage in Leviticus that admonishes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In my many encounters with Hindu scholars in India, I’ve come to see the centrality of selfless compassion in Hinduism too — as expressed, for instance, in the Bhagavad Gita, which praises those who “delight in the welfare of all beings.” I’m moved by the ways this value has been expressed in the life of great beings like Mahatma Gandhi, or the lesser-known Baba Amte, who founded a leper colony not far from a Tibetan settlement in Maharashtra State in India. There he fed and sheltered lepers who were otherwise shunned. When I received my Nobel Peace Prize, I made a donation to his colony.

Compassion is equally important in Islam — and recognizing that has become crucial in the years since Sept. 11, especially in answering those who paint Islam as a militant faith. On the first anniversary of 9/11, I spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, pleading that we not blindly follow the lead of some in the news media and let the violent acts of a few individuals define an entire religion.

Let me tell you about the Islam I know. Tibet has had an Islamic community for around 400 years, although my richest contacts with Islam have been in India, which has the world’s second-largest Muslim population. An imam in Ladakh once told me that a true Muslim should love and respect all of Allah’s creatures. And in my understanding, Islam enshrines compassion as a core spiritual principle, reflected in the very name of God, the “Compassionate and Merciful,” that appears at the beginning of virtually each chapter of the Koran.

Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever. As a species, we must embrace the oneness of humanity as we face global issues like pandemics, economic crises and ecological disaster. At that scale, our response must be as one.

Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers — it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author, most recently, of “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 25, 2010, on page A27

Sunday, May 23, 2010

thought for sunday

Most of you live on the surface of your being, exposed to the touch of external influences. You live almost projected, as it were, outside your own body, and when you meet some unpleasant being similarly projected you get upset. The whole trouble arises out of your not being accustomed to stepping back. You must always step back into yourself - learn to go deep within - step back and you will be safe. Do not lend yourself to the superficial forces which move in the outside world. Even if you are in a hurry to do something, step back for a while and you will discover to your surprise how much sooner and with what greater success your work can be done. If someone is angry with you, do not be caught in his vibrations but simply step back and his anger, finding no support or response, will vanish. Always keep your peace, resist all temptation to lose it. Never decide anything without stepping back, never speak a word without stepping back, never throw yourself into action without stepping back. All that belongs to the ordinary world is impermanent and fugitive, so there is nothing in it worth getting upset about. What is lasting, eternal, immortal and infinite - that indeed is worth having, worth conquering, worth possessing. It is Divine Light, Divine Love, Divine Life - it is also Supreme Peace, Perfect Joy and All-Mastery upon earth with the Complete Manifestation as the crowning. When you get the sense of the relativity of things, then whatever happens you can step back and look; you can remain quiet and call on the Divine Force and wait for an answer. Then you will know exactly what to do. Remember, therefore, that you cannot receive the answer before you are very peaceful. Practise that inner peace, make at least a small beginning and go on in your practice until it becomes a habit with you.

- The Mother [CWMCE, 3:160]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Germaine Greer

From 3QD. A wonderful history of the women's movement laid out by one of it's seminal figures.

Better half still battling
ALR From: The Australian May 05, 2010 12:05AM 1 comment

THE past 40 years have seen huge changes in the lives and expectations of women all across the world. To the women of the middle classes of the Western world it may well seem that the changes in their situation are the most relevant and the most important, as the proliferating media debate, revise, reformulate and revile feminist ideas. Much of this is mere chatter, which fuels the lifestyle magazines, is dictated by fashion and the endless hunt for novelty, and can safely be ignored.

Feminism was no sooner recognised as a social force than the commercial media were bound to declare that it was over. The odd woman had barely got her bottom on a seat in the boardroom before we were told that high-flying female executives were ditching wealth and power and opting for stay-at-home motherhood. Contrariwise we were told that now that women could have it all, there was no need for feminist activism or even feminist attitudes.

Under the twitter could be heard the rumble of massive change. Something terrible happened to marriage. Why do half of all marriages end in divorce and why are so many of those divorces initiated by the partner who has most to lose, the wife? Is this the end of monogamy and the patriarchal family? Are men and women struggling to arrive at rational systems of child-rearing that do not presuppose the subjection of one partner? Or is it just women? Patterns of cohabitation and parenting are disintegrating and reforming, as women walk away from relationships that are at worst demeaning or dangerous, or at best unfair and unrewarding.

At the same time, lovers of the same sex are demanding and winning the right to marry. This may look very like chaos, but chaos is the matrix out of which viable structures form.

Wherever we look we seem to be reaping the whirlwind. I learn from reports in the Australian media that since January 2007, 48 men have been able to prove by using DNA testing that the children they were paying to support were not their biological offspring, and the Child Support Agency has given them their money back, $434,378 in all. The largest single payment was $70,000.

Actually, hundreds of tests were carried out and many more men learned to their sorrow that the children they were obliged to support were indeed theirs. It begins to look very much as if men are more interested in not being fathers than they are in being fathers. In that case Engels was wrong and the patriarchal family did not evolve as a mechanism to control the means of human reproduction. There may be others, but the only case I know of in which a father had recourse to DNA testing to claim a child rather than reject it is that of British politician David Blunkett, whose claim was disproved. DNA testing is advertised in the lads' magazines solely as a way of disproving paternity.

None of this I foresaw. I sat down at my red Olivetti typewriter in 1969 to write an explanation of why giving women the vote had made very little difference to the masculine power structure. I pitched The Female Eunuch at the youngish individual reader, the discontented woman of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, published six years earlier. Unlike Betty, I didn't believe that women's sexuality was the problem; to me it was more likely to be the solution.

The domesticated woman was, in my view, estranged and alienated from her own sexual desires, and hence her creativity and her joy in life. She saw herself as duty-bound to respond to the demands of others, as a sex object, as a carer, as a worker. Her life was an endless struggle to fulfil contradictory demands. Her consciousness of failure in fulfilling those demands was endlessly exploited by the billion-dollar beauty business and by all the other professionals who make a living out of female anxiety.

Among the impossible demands that are still being made of the woman of 2010, as they were of the woman of 1970, is that she stay forever young, when our pedophilic culture makes clear that actual adulthood is already too old. Why else would Kate Moss, who has the body of a 12-year-old, be the rich world's favourite model? The anguish to which The Female Eunuch addressed itself is more acute now than it has ever been. Little girls are frantic about the least sign of fat on thighs or buttocks; girl children are starving themselves; girl toddlers everywhere are hideous in pink, which they wear as a uniform confirming sexual identity. Teenagers are demanding augmentation mammoplasty and their parents are happy to pay for it, because they think it will confer self-esteem and confidence. As if.

The Female Eunuch was part of a process that was already a hundred years old and is now called, for no obvious reason, the second wave of feminism. The women who began to agitate more than a century ago for the right to earn their own living were those women who had no chance of marrying and living off the family wage earned by a husband. In the closing decades of the 19th century, never-married females, particularly those of the middle class, were forced to live in humiliating dependency on their relatives. As the cost of setting up house rose in comparison to real wages, more and more men found that they could not afford to marry. The only work available to unmarried women was menial, unsuitable for ladies of the middle classes.

One job respectable middle-class women had always done was teaching, either in private houses as governesses or in dame schools. The enactment of laws providing for education of all children was only possible because of the existence of a pool of unmarried women who could take over primary education. The exclusion of married women from the profession seemed only fair: a married woman who was being supported by her husband should not be in a position to displace a woman who had to earn her own living. Marriage would continue to mean instant disqualification from teaching, followed by resignation or dismissal, until well into the 20th century.

The huge manpower losses of World War I meant that the number of never-married women and young widows multiplied. Virtually all single girls went to work and as time went on they worked for longer and longer, before finally making it to the altar. For more and more women, suddenly to lose their independent income and be obliged to stay at home seemed irksome and unnecessary. The standard of living, otherwise known as the level of consumption, was rising fast and the family wage was not rising at the same pace. Working-class women who worked as single girls were used to continuing to work after they were married; middle-class women soon had no choice but to follow their example.

The women who worked in essential industries during World War II were at first happy to stay at home and care for their husbands and have babies when it ended, but it was not long before restlessness set in. Women were by then reluctant to produce more than an ever-decreasing number of children, partly because the cost of parenthood was also rising. Motherhood was no longer a career option. Child-bearing being delayed and optimum family size being reached early meant women were less and less likely to devote their lives to it. Changing economic circumstances meant few of them could afford to.

At the time The Female Eunuch was being written the numbers of married women with dependent children who were having to go to work to finance the family debt and maintain their standard of living was inexorably rising.

Most of those women were not only poorly paid but guilty and harassed, amid much media scaremongering about "latch-key children" and juvenile deliquency. The only child care available was either ruinously expensive or involved exploiting relatives. The work the women were doing was for the most part anything but fulfilling and offered no prospects of advancement. The trade unions clung to the unrealistic notion of the family wage and paid their female staff as badly and provided as poor conditions for them as any other employer.

The paucity of employment options for women with school-age children was not so much depressing as humiliating, but young women leaving school were not much likelier to find well-paid and fulfilling work than their married sisters. Teaching and nursing were conspicuously badly paid. Something had to give. For the first time there was talk of equal pay. The trade unions, which should have known better, turned this into "equal pay for work of equal value", with the consequence that women's work was defined as inferior in value. A woman sewing upholstery for a car, say, was deemed to be doing a job of less value than a man tightening a screw on the assembly line. Women cleaners were doing work of less value than male janitors.

Women's jobs remain systematically undervalued to this day. What is more depressing is that formerly elite occupations, in medicine, for example, are declining in prestige as women come to dominate in the field. The status of teachers has never been lower as hands are wrung over the shortage of male teachers, particularly in primary schools. The dominance of women in caring for children, the disabled and the elderly may be one way of explaining the relentless marginalisation of all three sectors, despite the rhetoric adopted by all political parties when it is time to get out the female vote.

Then there is the perennial problem of housework. Though there was constant talk of men doing their bit, the person who does housework remains female. All the data shows that the bulk of unpaid work across the world is still done by females. As for housework, men were quick to understand the obvious: that housework expands to fill the time available.

If I go into student lodgings, which are nowadays usually mixed, I will find that the girls do the cleaning and buy the toilet paper and the instant coffee, and the boys let them. The boys say they don't mind dirty dishes stacked up in the sink; the girls say they do. At the same time that we are being regaled with dire warnings about the way today's women emasculate men, men are blithely availing themselves of the unpaid services of women, without needing to consider themselves in the least beholden.

Sport occupies twice as many column centimetres as international or domestic politics, and the rhetoric of sport has never been more masculinist. Women's participation in sport increases slowly, and women's support of women's sport increases even more slowly. Being sporty carries certain connotations; most women in the public eye will still insist that they are girly girls who adore dressing-up and shopping.

The feminist revolution has been called "the longest revolution". Extensive change is inevitable but it cannot be hurried or imposed top-down. If in the developed world women cannot take one step forward without being struck by a disproportionate backlash, the situation in the developing world is immeasurably worse.

Asia accounts for 60 per cent of the world's population, and all across Asia the status of women appears to be at best unchanged and at worst deteriorating, despite the best efforts of the international community.

It was Mao Zedong who said that "women hold up half the sky". This was because like other socialist leaders he realised that women were more reliable agents of social change than men, not because he had read The Female Eunuch. (The Chinese language rights were acquired in 1999 by a publisher in Taipei; the famous Inner Mongolian People's Publishing House published it in the same year.)

In Maoist China 40 years ago, the sexes dressed alike and worked side by side. Women workers were as likely to be promoted as men, and party cadres were as likely to be women as men. With the introduction of the one-child policy in 1978 it became apparent that, whatever the official line, in the popular estimation, including that of women themselves, women were worth much less than men. If there was to be only one child per family, most people wanted it to be a son.

Nobody knows how many female foetuses were aborted or how many girl babies were killed. Nobody knows how many unmated men China has now; estimates vary from 30 million to 50 million. Unmated men are both vulnerable and dangerous. They form the majority of prison populations all over the world. How China will deal with many millions of never-married men is imponderable. They could form the largest standing army the world has seen.

In India in 1971 I found among the books spread out on the pavement by an itinerant bookseller a bootleg copy of The Female Eunuch, offset printed on the cheapest paper, and selling for a few rupees. Until it fell to pieces, it was my personal copy. (The first Hindi edition was printed in 1999.) When I went to Deolali in 1985 to research my father's wartime experience in the military hospital there, I met the commanding officers of what is now a cantonment hospital for the Indian army. They were two full colonels, both women, imposing in their khaki saris. When I wrote down my name for them, they cried, "Oh no! Oh no! Is it really you?" They grabbed my hands and held them, their eyes shining.

I was astonished and deeply humbled. How could such women think that they owed me anything? To have an impact among educated women in India is one thing. For the vast majority of women in the subcontinent, survival is the issue: 37 million or so Indian women are missing.

All things being equal, more boys than girls will be conceived, more miscarried and more born. Greater mortality of boys usually means that by adulthood the numbers have reached parity, unless female children suffer from poorer health care and poorer nutrition than their brothers, in which case fewer girls will survive to adulthood. In 2010, in addition to the numbers of girl babies who will die as a consequence of inadequate care, we must add the number of girls who will never be born at all because of selective abortion. A recent report by the UN Development Program has found that in Asia today 119 boys will be born for every 100 girls:

Females cannot take survival for granted. Sex-selective abortion, infanticide and death from health and nutritional neglect in Asia have left 96 million missing women -- and the numbers seem to be increasing in absolute terms.

If market forces can be thought to apply in such a case, we might expect the value of women to rise as they become scarcer. There are some signs in South Korea, for example, that parents are now expressing a preference for daughters over sons, the comparative value of sons having declined as daughters have become more economically active and as able to care for ageing parents, and governments have taken on some of the responsibilities of both. The Korean language rights to The Female Eunuch and my 1999 follow-up The Whole Woman have recently been acquired, one small piece of evidence that a change in consciousness is afoot, at least among the middle classes.

Feminism may come too late for the vast majority of Asian women, who are still struggling against crude oppression, exclusion from the cash economy, illiteracy and systematic violence. The rise and rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the decline of secularism in so many Asian countries has reversed any improvement in the lot of women. In 1970, for example, Iran was a forward-looking pro-American state, with a women's organisation led by Princess Ashraf. The story of what happened then is an object lesson in why outsiders should not impose their notions of reform.

Reza Pahlavi was only shah of Iran because of the joint British-American Operation Ajax, which in 1953 deposed the elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh, who had nationalised Iran's oil industry and Iranian oil reserves. Pahlavi, being ruler only by Anglo-American force majeure, curried favour by summary modernisation along Western lines.

In 1972 I was invited, with Helvi Sipila and Betty Friedan, to address the Organisation of Iranian Women. During that visit I managed to arrange a meeting with Islamic Marxist women who wore the old heavy woollen chador, outlawed since 1936, as a sign of their defiance of the shah and Savak, the ubiquitous secret police. During the protests of 1978-79, in which high numbers of women participated, the chador proved invaluable as a way of evading detection. After the revolution, the top-down reforms of the shah were jettisoned. The status of women reverted: a wife could once more be summarily divorced; a daughter's right to inherit was half of a son's; absolute segregation was re-imposed; all women were required to wear hijab in public.

We are now seeing the growth of an indigenous feminist movement in Iran, itself the outcome of the high level of education traditionally achieved by so many Iranian women. Women account for nearly three-quarters of Iranian university enrolments even in such traditionally male fields as science and engineering. Though women's participation in economic activity remains low, more and more pressure is being brought to bear by educated women keen to use that education in their own interest and for the betterment of society, despite the heavy penalties that feminist activism has incurred. In recent years the Iranian birth rate has steadily fallen.

The Female Eunuch was translated into Farsi in 1970 by Mehrangiz Manoutcherian, Iran's first woman lawyer and founder-president of the International League of Women Jurists. When Mehry told me, I made her a present of the rights, but I don't know if her translation was ever published. Mehry's biography was co-written by heroic Iranian feminist Nooshin Ahmadi, one of the leaders of the One Million Signatures campaign and an important member of the group now struggling to oust President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When I read of the street theatre she and her colleagues, who include Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, have devised, I would be proud to think that they drew some inspiration from my work, but I doubt they need it.

The Female Eunuch would only have been important to Iranian activists because a significant number of Iranian women were well-educated; to a woman who cannot read, a book will mean very little. According to the UN, education is a fundamental human right, yet in 41 of the 195 countries in the world, more than half the female population cannot read. Seven out of eight Afghan women cannot read and, if the Taliban have their way, never will. The language of Afghanistan is Farsi. I would hope that a Farsi edition of The Female Eunuch makes it to Afghanistan, if I did not dread the thought of the punishment that would be meted out to any woman found with one.

In India, and in many other countries undergoing stop-go modernisation, women's literacy is rising faster than men's. In Pakistan this is not the case. In 1975, 36 per cent of men could read and only 11 per cent of women. In 2001, it was estimated that though the literacy rates for both sexes had improved, women were improving at a slower rate than men; 58 per cent of men were literate and only 29 per cent of women. The number of illiterate Pakistanis doubled since 1951, while the number of illiterate women tripled, as the population grew. Concern about female illiteracy is driven by a number of considerations, of which the most commonly stressed is that low female literacy is positively correlated with a high birth rate. It is thought that women who cannot read cannot manage a contraceptive regime; it is at least as likely that a woman who is an unpaid agricultural labourer for her husband's family has no incentive to limit the number of her children, and every encouragement to breed her own replacement workforce.

This is the same woman who will walk many kilometres to find medical treatment for a sick son, but not for a daughter. If you asked her why, she might answer that she did not want to bring up a female child to suffer as she has. Besides, daughters go to work in their husbands' families, taking dowries with them. In terms of the family's survival, a daughter is a dead liability. Until that situation changes, nothing else will change for the better. The rise in the number of bride-burnings in India is a worrying reminder that consumerism may well bring with it changes for the worse in the condition of India's women.

It is a strange fact that when feminist issues are on the table, a semantic opposition is assumed to exist between women and society. Issues such as women's education are not considered primarily in relation to the women's quality of life, but as involving gains for "society". The education of women is to be promoted because it is the most efficient way of bringing down the birth rate, because children of educated mothers are more likely to survive, because women's productivity, even in agriculture, increases when they are educated. The terminology used by Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow for US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of the US foreign policy and women program at the council, is typical: "Educated women have fewer children, provide better nutrition and health for their families, experience significantly lower child mortality, generate more income and are far more likely to educate their children than women with little or no schooling."

You would not think, given this kind of bias, that women are 51 per cent of society.

From the foundation of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1976, in which 97 per cent of theclients were female, it has been understood that financial aid given to women produces a better return for the investors and for the community. Microcredit, which has expanded enormously, is female business. Developing economies are not learning from the example of the World Bank and the international aid agencies, however.

The growing prosperity of China and India has resulted in an entrepreneurial class that has no interest in enfranchising women or ensuring their economic independence. Prostitution, and its marketing machine, pornography, increases exponentially. Within the capitalist system, this is a more predictable outcome of a demographic shortage of women than any improvement in status. The female minority becomes a commodity to be bought and sold. The resurgence of prostitution in China began with economic liberalisation in 1979 and has kept pace with the growth of the Chinese economy. One Chinese economist believes that in China there as as many as 20 million prostitutes. Chinese prostitutes work all over Asia, including in Afghanistan.

The Female Eunuch was my first book, and not my best. It is only important now because so many women found in it something they were already looking for. I did not create those women; those women created me. When a woman stops me in the street to say, "You changed my life", I always (boringly) reply: "You changed your life. If my work helped, I am glad, but the achievement is yours." When wowsers tell me I destroyed the family, I reply, "You do me too much credit." For the past hundred years women have been gearing up for revolution, but it hasn't begun to happen . When the real thing starts, I shall be forgotten.

Monday, May 17, 2010

thought for today from Lama Surya Das

"What is needed for a successful practice? Sogyal Rinpoche writes that what we need to begin is pure motivation, to be authentic and natural. Pure motivation and a good heart are fundamental. I remember how Dudjom Rinpoche [1904–1987] always used to say that a person needs three qualities.
The first, he said, is sampa zangpo a good heart.The second is tenpo to be stable and reliable. One of our greatest problems is that we lack stability. However much we want to be stable and reliable, everything is so impermanent that things are always in a state of flux. Then, if our mind is not strong, we can be swept away by circumstances and changes. When everything is so impermanent, we become unreliable."

--Tricycle magazine

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

thought for today

look at [anger] and see how trifling is the occasion of the rising of this anger and its outburst - it becomes more and more causeless - and the absurdity of such movements itself. It would not really be difficult to get rid of it if, when it comes, you looked at it calmly - for it is perfectly possible to stand back in one part of the being, observing in a detached equanimity even while the anger rises on the surface - as if it were someone else in your being who had the anger

- Sri Aurobindo [SABCL, 24:1410-11]


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clusters of green

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the path you take is yours alone

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lady bird

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peonies unfolding

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green thumb

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pitter patter

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Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer

A simple idea teach where the kids are at..