Saturday, May 13, 2006
A friend recently asked me my opinion of the
It's too easy to point to the mess in
Afghanistanand Iraqfor all the wrongs that the has done. I, and many in Europe, do not for one minute believe that the US is in for the sake of spreading freedom and democracy, despite its own claim (so-called Operations "Enduring Freedom" and "Iraqi Freedom"). One was about revenge (face and honour after attacks of 911), the other about oil (and power to control the world's most valuable resource). US
I guess the question is what (super)power-dom does to a country. Like the saying, power corrupts, and certainly as the only superpower after the the Cold War, the
has been able to project its power (economic, military, soft pwer ('culture', media, entertainment) unchallenged. And that ability comes with responsibility but also arrogance. The US UScan do whatever it wants, trample over interantional agreements ( Kyoto, international criminal court, Iraq, and perhaps soon ). It conducts politics in its own way, governed by its own interests. If it wanted, the Iran UShas/had the ability and resources to stop famine in Africa, prevent human rights abuses in the Sudan, Rwanda, , the Balkans immediately etc. But it doesn't/didn't want to, because those places are of little interest and value to the Cambodia . All these places, and more, experience terrible human rights abuses and oppression, probably far worse than than anything Saddam attempted, but the US sits and does nothing (to be fair so does the rest of the interantional community). Instead the US USseems to pick on the small fish (Axis of Evil), those countries that are either international outcasts already or pose no real challange to the US' power, but leave the real abusers ( Saudi Arabia, China, ) well alone. End of the day it comes down to money and balancing your interets against those of others. And often freedom and happiness of others loses. Israel
Just read something which sort of backs up my arguments about how power corrupts. Some self-proclaimed neo-conservatives, who were adament that the Iraqi campaign was necessary and good are now changing their opinions. Even
Part of that is a structural problem in the world right now where
is so powerful that it creates a huge amount of resentment. There's a very high background level of anti-Americanism no matter what. The Bush people made it worse by the way they proceeded [ in Iraq], but it would have been difficult even in the absence of that. (Fukuyama) America
Somewhere else (uni essay 2003) I once wrote that the heigtening of tensions in the current international climate can be partly attributed to the US' own perceived insecurities:
The new world order with fragmented and weak entities under the auspice of a single superpower, the U.S., unrestrained in its capacity to project its power anywhere, anytime in the name of catch-all justifications of 'humanitarianism' or 'pre-emptive strikes', has perhaps also contributed to the increasing mutual suspicion leading to a more unpredictable environment.
Opposition exists in all sorts of relationships that are unequal, and the categorisation of people, whether as mad, terrorists, queer or rogues only heightens anxieties. The United States after 9-11 is traumatised. Yet the state is able to use the state of emergency as a pretext to modify its course in foreign affairs and at home, mould the hearts and minds of people and states, and pre-emptivism and the instilment of fear to determine the life or death, inclusion or exclusion of states and peoples everywhere. This ability to determine others, to label others and subject others to one's perception of the 'Other' is "the characteristic (privilege) of sovereign power…to seize hold of life in order to suppress it" . The Liberal ideology functions best gripped in a (false?) sense of fear, in order to construct the "regulated formation of the social body ", through which it can further delimit and 'hierarchise' unbalanced relations of domination and assert domination.
 Edward Said used this word, when he describes how the Orient is perceived by the West as everything that it is not, "living tableau of queerness", whereby feelings of suspicion and curiosity are aroused; Said, 1995, pg 103. The word today also has connotations to 'homosexuality', which Foucault has discussed in depth in The History of Sexuality, as a construct of the modern era.
 Michael Foucault, The History of Sexuality-Volume I: Introduction, Penguin Books, London, 1976, pp135-136
 Ibid. pp140-141. A 'social body' in this sense is very much reminiscent of the construction of the Kantian 'federation of free states', possessing the characteristics of Republicanism, submitting to the common 'pact of peace' and common goals of 'universal hospitality': See Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace, Hackett, Indianapolis, 1983
At the end of the day, it's a battle of 'hearts and minds' (thank you for the admission, Pentagon), not freedom and happiness. It's about trumpeting 'our' values and lives and blackening those of others that are seem as different or incompatible. No wonder the 'democracy project' that the US claims to be supporting and spreading around the world is not selling well.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Events of the past few years have seriously been inflammatory for any Muslim. The campaign in Afghanistan, the infamous episodes in Iraq (I and II), the ongoing occupation of Palestine, atrocities and hypocricies of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. And to blame 911 and the series of terrorist attacks that followed on ‘The Islam’ or ‘The Muslims’ is to lump together a bunch of extremists who hijack religion to further their own political agendas to the detriment of the majority, who profess a peace-loving and non-violent faith. Part of the exchange:
Dissent is near treason even when the state commits crimes and violatesBut then again freedom of expression is about the ability to write (or draw) anything that is influencing, be it in a negative or positive way, society. This is a fundamental right in a democracy:
international law. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king;
and in a world largely blind to the realities behind the attacks on Muslim
nations (coincidentally with abundant oil), "the group mind" has taken over.
Demonizing and dehumanizing Muslims help justify even more attacks on
(Kingdom of the Blind)
And what about boundaries of 'respecting thy neighbour'?:
Cartoonists must be free to draw about religion because it is often fanatics
acting in the name of religions who try to hijack our freedoms. They are the
ones who want to set the "limits."(NO!)
There are boundaries that are basics: courtesy and respect for the richness
of the diversities of cultures with which the world has been honored. Those
are the building blocks of our common humanity. They should be within our
being and that being should be built on respect. Attacking or making fun of
any religion falls without this. It does not need writing down. It is called
civilization. Our duty in the media is to defend it with all our might
without bias. (Basic Boundaries)
I can't remember who wrote it, but a right to express yourself does not automatically mean a duty to do so. And if a right excercised will have harmful effects on your neighbour, a little discretion and self-control is necessary. Write, but do so with responsibility. Draw, but do so wisely.
(Cartoon from Cagle.com, by Signe Wilkinson, published Feb 8 2006)
Thursday, May 11, 2006
you'd not imagine something like this happening in public and broad daylight. But it did. And the movtivations for it: because of the way the victims looked. What did those ladies do, or that innocent 2yr old child ever do, to provoke such extreme hatred and violence??
UPDATE 13 May 2006
Far right on the rise
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Here’s a shock.
So what’s the job description?
[…]They should demonstrate leadership in cooperating with the Council, abiding by the provision of the resolution, which called for a periodic review mechanism. The Group was convinced that the Council would not be a “case of old wine in a new bottle”, but would fulfil the aspirations of the international community.
By virtue of Resolution 60/251, members of the Council are voted into office by an absolute majority of the General Assembly. One consolation is that a member can has its membership suspended is it commits “commits gross and systematic violations of human rights”.
I wonder whether the political and religious prosecutions in the likes of China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, all of which have not ratified certain key human rights treaties, can be seen as “gross and systematic”. Are these UN-politicians blind?
This is what the
The Chinese Government has always attached great importance to the issue of human rights. While enhancing and protecting the human rights of its own people,
I can almost hear the laughter echo in the empty halls of the UN building after these words were said. Human Rights Watch has a website through which has extensively monitored the election procedure, containing pledges, statements and human rights record of the candidate countries.
Now if this is not a “truly historic occasion”, I don’t know what is.
UPDATE 21 May 2006
Is there a trend going on? Russia has just become the president of the Council of Europe--the organisation responsible for overseeing the protection and proliferation of democratic freedoms all over the continent. Again, a country not exactly wellknown for its democratic credentials is heading yet another international body, and thereby damaging its image. In-credible.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
One whole hour it took to fill two holes in my dentures. Ok, it's been close to 5 yrs since I last went to the dentist (long story), but my neck and mouth was sore after it today. Next week is the next consultation, where she'll thoroughly clean my dentures and give me advice on improving dental hygene.
Well, as the dentist worked, she and her assistent chatted like I wasn't there. The 'typical' 40yr old+ lady conversation...kids, holiday plans, and shopping, shopping, shopping. I could have laughed, if my mouth was not pried open widely by small metallic instruments. The dentist worked so close to me at times I could feel her bussum brush against my cheek, and hear her stomach growl.
Total cost? €392.60.
Yeah, that much.
It could be fun at the dentist, I see.
A representative of a local authority has argued for the compilation of a dog DNA database to stop rampant 'littering' on the streets. This way the owner who does not clean up after his dog's act will be faced with a fine. At the moment dog woners pay around €125 in dog tax. The councilman wants to abolish this and replace it with a dog DNA registration (€200), after which all dogs will need to wear a badge. Any dog caught without a badge will be fined €300, and illegal 'dumping' will be fined at €500.
I also came across a website called hondenpoep.com (dogshitdotcom), focusing on the issue of (you guessed it) dog shit. Pictures, discussions, articles galore.
You celebrate the unity and freedom of Europe, or so I heard.
But it's surprisingly quiet here, no fanfare, no parties, no great big ceremonies.
The only big news today is that Estonia just ratified the European Constitution, bringing the total number of 'pro' countries to 15.
After the referendum last year, this country needs to wait a bit until people can be convinced that the EU does mean something positive. For now, the politicians and noise coming from Brussels and Strasbourg just seem too far away.
This group of people seem optimistic though:
"If we fail, Europe is really in trouble. Then the extremists will seize
[Newropeans ] are not pro- or anti-Europe. It is old fashioned to
think in those terms. The time of construction has gone. [now] We finally must
organise the EU [in a democratic way] and give the European Parliament more
Europe underconstruction--is it ever finished?
EU 25-- how united is Europe?
UPDATE 10May 2006
Lack of enthuasiasm across the continent.
Europe is just one big joke!
SOCIALISM: You have two cows. State takes one and give it to someone else. COMMUNISM: You have two cows. State takes both of them and gives you milk. FASCISM: You have two cows. State takes both of them and sell you milk. CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. EUROPEAN FEDERALISM: You have two cows which you cannot afford to keep because of milk imported from a member state with cheaper labour. So you apply for financial aid from the European Union to subsidise your cows and are granted enough to carry on working them. You then sell your milk at the original high price to some government-owned distributor which then dumps your milk onto the market at the price that drove you to subsidies to make Europe competitive.
Adam Collins, Pontypridd, UK
UPDATE 11MAY 2006
Just found this great website by a Euronalysist with detailed and insightful information about all things EU. .
Dubbed the insurance against 'Orange-fever', employers can extend their insuranace cover to compenate the expected high number of 'sickleaves' just before and after the Dutch national team (with their characteristic colour orange) plays.
Now there's a football feverish country!
Monday, May 08, 2006
Just looked up my postcode and realised someone died a few metres up the street the other day. On Saturday the entire street was blocked and I saw a helicopter land in the middle of my street close to my house. I was wondering what it was.
Thanks to modern technology I can tell you what it was...
a traffic accident, where a 23yr old guy from Rotterdam was killed by a 53yr old from Voorburg.
I can also tell you that two 16yr olds dropped their pants in front of the public in Breda,
...that a drunk 51yr old exposed his private parts to a little girl in Gouda,
...that a 25yr old in Dordrecht was involved in a shooting incident possibly triggered by money issues,
...that a hemp plantation was found in an apartment here in Den Haag,
...that a bunch of vandals were possibly responsible for setting fire to a postbox in Tilburg,
...that a brawl broke out in Den Bosch at a bar,
...that a 63yr old man was caught 'satisfying' himself in public in Venlo,
...that a 21yr old girl was stabbed in her face in Utrecht,
...that two men in Leeuwaarden were arrested for a car radio scam,
...that a homeless 24yr old threatened a woman with a broken beer bottle after she told him off for peeing on the street
Hm, but really, do we need to know all this?
So much information, details and facts, at the click of your fingers.
The stuff of sensationalist journalism.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
So who is an eikel (literally acorn, but more commonly known as the swearword "asshole") according to the government?
An "asshole" is someone who is motivated by selfish motives and his/her own interests, and disregards the well-being of other people around him/her. With interactive games, rap and polls, you're taught what is acceptable behaviour, and what the consequences are for delinquencies, such as theft, destruction of public property, etc.
Here is the price you pay for vandalism.
- Bushokje (busstop) € 4.500,-
- Speelhuisje op het schoolplein (playhouse on school playground) € 1.250,-
- Brievenbus (post box)€ 700,-
- Ruit (window) € 300,-
- Rugleuning in de bus (back of a seat in bus) € 55,-
- Kras op een auto (scratching a car) € 400,-
Now there's Dutch liberalism for you!
Seems like there are a lot more assholes in the UK and France.
Interesting things I read this week:
The announced American ambition is to make the Arab states into democracies and install a liberal order in the region. Israelis, being realists, understand that this is a fantasy.
Israel's personal superpower, William Pfaff
Two constitutions, two elections and a referendum later,
Votes counted. Deals made. Chaos wins., Dexter Filkins
On reinventing and reforming Islam
“[the controversy over the cartoons was] a practical test for Arab countries: a clash between my ideology of dialogue and the ideology of a clash of civilizations”, Amr Khaled
The telegenic face of conservative Islam, Samantha M. Shapiro
Got an idea? Pirates of the Far East will steal it
Google’s self-censorship akin to
--News from the weekend edition of de Volkskrant
- A concerned article in the Volkskrant this weekend about the dismantling of the Dutch social-economic system…“Het poldermodel is hard op weg zichzelf overbodig te maken” [The poldermodel is increasingly making itself obselete], Gijs Herderschee, de Volkskrant, het Betoog pg 1, 6 mei 2006
The “poldermodel”, named after the ingenious system of canals and waterworks which keeps this low-lying country dry and safe, has often been praised as the Dutch economic miracle. It has for many years been the foundation of relatively high growth rates and social stability. Labour organisations that represent both employees and employers reach a consensus about eg income growth, employment benefits, social benefits etc, which in turn is put into action by the government. In theory all actors on the social, and economic fronts give an input and are representated, which is supposed to keep everyone happy.
The main body in charge of negotiating and reaching these social and economic agreements is the Sociaal Economische Raad (SER, Social Economic Council). Representatives from labour unions, of employers as well as the cabinet meet together with independent experts from academic world and elder statespeople to discuss and offer advice about the social-economic and financial policies of the government. For many years, certainly in the decade or so of the previous Purple governments (paarse kabinetten, made up of left-of-the-centre parties) the poldermodel functioned smoothly.
Everyone got what they wanted, and everyone was happy.
But it seems the poldermodel is increasingly becoming impossible to maintain. Instead of social and economic actors driving the socio-economic course of the country, in seems the political wing has taken over control, despite strong criticism and resistance. In October 2004, huge demonstrations broke out when the current cabinet almost completely dismantled the state pension plan. In the name of ‘smoothening’ modernization and achieving higher competitiveness, they argued. Further reasoning is that the population is ‘graying’, so there is a need to make the labour market more flexible to adapt. Hence calls from employers easier hire-and-fire, which has met strong opposition from unions. The fear now, which seems to be increasingly realized, is that the cabinet will have the say in raising the retirement age, in lengthening the number of working hours per week, and the making the eligibility for unemployment benefits more difficult. Whether the previous voices and roles of social and economic actors will be adhered to remains uncertain.
- Marjolijn Februari (“Vandaag schrijf ik over dingen die ik liever niet had willen weten” [Today I write about things that I would rather not have wanted to know about], de Volkskrant, het Betoog pg 3, 6 mei 2006) writes how hypocritical it is that many in the Netherlands point to Rumfeld’s famous hand-shake with Saddam at the end of the eighties, when in fact the Netherlands, as host of the International Court of Justice, was fully aware and fully complicit in selling chemicals necessary for the production of Saddam’s murderous gases.
- In a debate about the West and the Muslim world (“De fundamentalisten zijn op hun retour”, Wim Bosema, de Volkskrant, het Betoog pg 5.) Prof. An-Na’im describes the difference in the attitude toward immigration issues. In the
, different cultures grew together to form a culture of difference. Everyone is different, in terms of background and motivation, but everyone is an American. In US Europehowever immigrants were simply tolerated, and the majority of people were indifferent towards them. This was possible and acceptable when those immigrants did not form a threat to the European way of life and culture. But this tone has completely changed because of dramatic events in world affairs in recent years.
“Before cultural relativism dominated in
- “Beschaving moet vrij zijn en weerbaar” [Civilisation must be free and resilent], Mabel van Oranje, de Volkskrant, Forum pg17 6 mei 2006
About the increasing scepticism in
“This decreasing belief in freedom expresses itself in the western world in an increasing anxiety, uncertainty, fear of change and intolerance. We no longer defend ourselves, we harden. We are no longer inspired by a vision of improvement and progress; an attempt to meticulously maintain what we have achieved seems at the moment to drive many.
The complexity of the world and national interests serve as [the] excuse for our conformism. [In the way] the faith in freedom and self-esteem is being affected, we must not be surprised by the current European identity crisis. Foreigners seem no longer welcome, whereas the figures show that we probably would desperately need them in the future due to the graying population. Despite [the fact] that we claim to believe in the free market economy, we have become scared for free movement of goods, persons and services.”
Disclaimer: Translations of the texts above are mine. Translations were done to convey the original message as well as is possible, according to my understanding of the original articles. Please take typing and translation errors into account when reading.