Saturday, May 27, 2006

Weekly roundup: Week 21

  • “Als Verdonk wint, is de VVD zichzelf niet meer” [If Verdonk wins, the VVD is not itself any more]
    Thijs Broer, pp14-17, Vrij Nederland, 27 mei 2006

Rita Verdonk’s mannerisms and way of talking is more and more being likened to the populist tradition that Pim Fortuyn used. It was that way that he managed to turn heads in his direction, and also gain a lot of support from the people. But it also split the country and public opinion, in a country that has historically been be ordered and governed based on the ‘holy’ principle of consentialism.

Americanisation of the party elections

“The classical contrast in the VVD—the popular and elite electorate, the small entrepreneurs and landed citizenry—is being exhausted by the behaviour of Rita Verdonk and tactically exploited by her campaign team. It is a classical trick from American election campaigns: first you kick the establishment in the sheens [liter: purposely harm them], then you get your right with ‘the people’/ this is how the New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, with Verdonk’s current campaign leader Kay van de Linde […], also came to power”

[Note: Kay van de Linde was also the campaign manager of Pim Fortuyn, and who according to another article[1] taught Forturn to “Provoke, hope that the leftist media will reprimand you, and then mobilise the average man against the leftist media”. And that worked.]

And if Verdonk does come to power, what will she face then?

“If Verdonk wins, then the VVD will have a party-faction leader who in the past months [has spread] a complete lack of political insight and leadership of unity, and who is also on the brink of war with the vice-prime minister [and party comrade Gerrit Zalm], with almost the entire parliamentary faction, and a large part of the party list.”

  • “Het laffe land” [The cowardly country],
    Max van Weezel, pg25 Vrij Nederland, 27 mei 2006

One of the reasons why Ayaan Hirsi Ali decided to leave the country was because her neighbours had complained that (ironically) the stringent security measures in the neighborhood made them feel less secure. They took her to court and won. And even received compensation for their claim that because of AHA the value of their apartments would depreciate (this despite the fact that the neighbourhood, Archipel, is already one of the most valuable in Den Haag).

So what’s the verdict, according to this commentator?

“No wonder that the world press—from the rightist Wall Street Journal to the leftist Tageszeitung—raised the less heroic and gracious past of the Netherlands: the trains in the war that ran on time [alluding to the Nazi deportation of Jews from the Netherlands], the speed with which Dutchbat [the Dutch NATO battalion responsible for safeguarding Serbernica] looked the other way when Mladic came to get the Bosnian Muslims.

A too harsh judgement about the Netherlands? No. This country to have the antenna to make out the difference between primary issues (someone being threatened with death by fundamentalists) and the secondary issues (that she had informed the Immigration Service IND wrongly, that her presence brings the purchase value of our flat in danger).

The most astounding is that Rita Verdonl seems to be [winning electorally] also."

· Integration goes both ways. All this talk about the duty of immigrants to integrate and adopt to the local culture and customs, but that can only be successful if locals do the same. Here is an example of how it’s happening in Amsterdam. Some ‘white’ parents are sending their children to ‘black’ schools (where the student population is predominantly of foreign origin). And they’re doing so in the hope of raising open-minded and tolerant children. Way to go!

· Now the US wants Taiwan to ease trade barriers with China… a closer step toward peace, or unification?

· On the problem of missile proliferation in Asia. Let’s not worry about North Korea for now, but its giant neighbour: China!

North Korea has relatively small offensive missile capability, but has
declared by word and deed its willingness to use such weapons. China’s
overwhelming regional superiority in numbers of offensive missiles poses a particularly difficult problem for defenders. Missile production is a pocket of Chinese excellence. Their offensive missiles currently cost less to proliferate than defensive systems, an advantage that can offer operational leverage. This is not true just for an Asian scenario; study participants pointed out that the United States would have difficulty defending itself against a Chinese missile attack under the current US missile defense plan, and asked how smaller countries with fewer resources could possibly expect to successfully mount such a defense.

· And the brand new and GIGANTIC Berlin Hauptbahnhof is finally open! I remember seeing it under construction a few years ago, and the scale of it is unimaginable. It has different levels, with trains coming from all directions: S-Bahn, U-Bahn, regional and intercity express trains—all under a huge glass dome, overshadowed by office buildings and surrounded by a shopping complex. Though that would mean passengers who want to go to the city centre in the old west or old east would have to transfer in this new station located in the old ‘no man’s land’. And on the very first day a mad teenager managed to dampen the celebrations by brandishing his knife around.

UPDATE 29 mei 2006

Great pictures here.

  • “Ik ben de bruid van een nieuw huwelijk” [I am the bride of a new marriage]
    Nazmiye Oral, het Betoog pg 1, De Volkskrant, 27 mei 2006

An excellent article about the wedding of a Muslim woman; a wedding that straddles the traditional and the modern, that tries to bridge different cultures and generations. The wedding can be viewed here

Here’s a remarkable comment about the whole problematic of the integration debate:

“The dominant conception that you must take up Dutch values and norms in order to integrate completely is based on fear and indolence. Everything that reeks to a retention of the eastern origins is cause for distrust. If we want the best for these children, who are also our children, then we will figure out something completely different: it is of essential importance for their self-confidence and self-respect to accept all aspects of their identity.

The overwhelming majority of the Dutch population seems to know nothing else besides a ‘horror-Islam’. There is an enormous shortage of images that show the beauty of the Islamic culture. One must [remove from their perspectives and review] the images and rituals that are associated with fundamentalism, violence and terror. [It is up to the] Netherlanders to investigate what these rituals and customs really mean, because the coming generation will use them as well.”

  • “De Chinezen bieden Afrika nieuwe kansen” [The Chinese offer Africa new chances]
    Kees Broere, pg5 Het Betoog, de Volkskrant, 27 mei 2006

Just last weekend I had a discussion with a friend who is conducting research in Angola about the phenomenon of China’s increasing influence in the African continent. She said millions of highly-skilled Chinese workers are pouring into the country together with billions of investments in the oil and other natural resource extraction industries. To what extent does it benefit the local population? Not much she said. And instead of benefiting the locals what is happening is the development of a middle class of ‘Africans’ who have higher standards of living, education and professional privileges—only they are yellow skinned.

This article takes up the issue and raises many points about how Africa’s new Asian friend is hurting—and to be fair, also helping—the impoverished continent.

“[…] Africa is being threatened in becoming the terrain for a new Cold War. Not ideological this time, last in the period in which the US and the Soviet Union fought for their political sphere of influence, but an economic one. The keywords in the current ‘scramble for Africa’ are this time: ‘energy’, ‘natural resources’ and ‘sales markets’. The question in this struggle of titans is whether Africa will again become the bigger loser.”

On the presence of the Chinese:

“From Angola to the Sudan, from Kenia to Chad, from Zimbabwe to Nigeria: China is everywhere, as the importer of numerous wanted and less wanted products, but also on the other hand as an investor of billion, in especially the oil exploitation.

The big difference with the United States is that China often does not [make a fuss] about issues like human rights and democratisation. On the contrary, this time it is the government in Beijing, just like Washington in the previous century, to maintain African regimes ranging from the ‘less enlightened’ to the bluntly corrupt in their seats, as long as new energy concessions and market guarantees are [on offer as trade off]."

It is worrying thus that the developing world has found one another as partners in development, but at the expense of further progress in the field of human rights and freedoms. But then the question to ask is whether the hard stance of western countries in its trade agreements which are often conditioned on fulfilling certain promises to comply by ‘western/universal’ values are doing the trick. They’ve been tried and tested for well almost half a century since the decolonisation period, but regimes in Africa are often just as corrupt, just as vulnerable. It begs the question whether the so-called trade agreements are really beneficial to Africa, or whether they are sustaining the interests of the rich and powerful west, only in a more civilised and less subtle tone.

The arrival of the Chinese may not all be bad in this light:

“The continent will do well for the time being to take the hand that the Chinese are extending [to them], but that does not immediately also mean that the other, western hand should be completely left alone. For its economic as well political development Africa cam still benefit from the west. For issues like ‘fair trade’ and ‘democracy’ it does not need to knock on the Chinese, even though to the Africans there exists less of a need for this than with the westerners.

But Africa can also use the Chinese friendship to put the west under extra pressure to now finally fulfil its development promises. For this it will also need to show that it is able to take charge of the economy into its own hands, and to [syphon] knowledge from the rich countries in order to finally transform its natural resources into sellable products.”

  • “Wie denkt aan de slaven van Afrikanen en Arabieren?” [Who thinks about the slaves of Africans and Arabs?]
    Wim Bossema, pg 5 Het Betoog, de Volkskrant, 27 mei 2006

A controversial perspective on the African slave trade. French Historian Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau claims that slaves were not just traded by Europeans, but also by Africans themselves and Arabs as well. He theory has been backed up by a number of African historians, one of whom claims that as late as the seventies the phenomenon of African slavery within the continent itself still existed. Of course, the revelation in no way justifies or tries to brush aside the seriousness and atrocities of the slave trade. But I guess from it you could draw similarities with what is happening now, in terms of human trafficking. It isn’t happening en masse, but it happens.

One thing in his description of the slave trade that was striking:

“Indeed, the African traders and rulers profited and did not contribute to economic development, but it remains that the sale of slaves was a lucrative business, otherwise the dealers would not have done it."

Was he talking about the slave trade then…or perhaps what he said could be alluding to what is happening now too? Instead of slaves, those traders and rulers have seized upon diamonds and oil as the driving force behind their ‘lucrative business’.

UPDATE 4 juni 2006

China’s defence of its policies in Africa.

  • PC paranoia

The US State Department is worried that computers produced by Lenovo, a branch of IBM that was sold off to a Chinese company last year, would pose a security risk.

  • Aung San Suu Kyi’s extended house arrest

On the life and struggle of the Nobel Laureate

  • Reviewing the Salman Rushdie affair

This author claims that the capital of the UK has become “Londonistan”…it’s pretty his sensitive and thought provoking too:

Here in microcosm were the key features of what would only much later be recognised as a major and systematic threat to the state and its values. There was the murderous incitement; the flagrant defiance of both the rule of law and free speech; the religious fanaticism; the emergence of British Muslims as a distinct and hostile political entity; and the supine response by the British establishment. What was also on conspicuous display was the mind-twisting, back-to-front reasoning that is routinely used by many Muslims to turn their own violent aggression into victimhood.

The heated exchange of opinions at the end is also worth looking at

  • Fundamentalist backlash

How much is freedom of expression being restricted by militant religious fanatics?

What we are seeing is rival fundamentalists egging each other on in a politics of competitive grievance. Every time one secures a victory, the others realise they can't be left behind. If satirists are frightened of having a go at Islam because they believe they may be killed - and they are - why shouldn't Christian fundamentalists decide to become more menacing?

A comedian who takes a pop at the Pope sends the subliminal message: 'We can deride your religion as despicable because we know you are not so despicable you will resort to violence.' There is a limit to how long the ultras for any religion will put up with that before they change the ground rules.

[1] “Het laffe land” [The cowardly country], Max van Weezel, pg25 Vrij Nederland, 27 mei 2006

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