t.s. eliot is one of my favorite poets: “His poetry has all the advantages of a highly critical habit of mind,” writes A. Alvarez; “there is a coolness in the midst of involvement; he uses texts exactly for his own purpose; he is not carrie…d away. Hence the completeness and inviolability of the poems.”
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF and SHERYL WuDUNN
Published: August 17, 2009
IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.
Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.
One place to observe this alchemy of gender is in the muddy back alleys of Pakistan. In a slum outside the grand old city of Lahore, a woman named Saima Muhammad used to dissolve into tears every evening. A round-faced woman with thick black hair tucked into a head scarf, Saima had barely a rupee, and her deadbeat husband was unemployed and not particularly employable. He was frustrated and angry, and he coped by beating Saima each afternoon. Their house was falling apart, and Saima had to send her young daughter to live with an aunt, because there wasn’t enough food to go around.
“My sister-in-law made fun of me, saying, ‘You can’t even feed your children,’ ” recalled Saima when Nick met her two years ago on a trip to Pakistan. “My husband beat me up. My brother-in-law beat me up. I had an awful life.” Saima’s husband accumulated a debt of more than $3,000, and it seemed that these loans would hang over the family for generations. Then when Saima’s second child was born and turned out to be a girl as well, her mother-in-law, a harsh, blunt woman named Sharifa Bibi, raised the stakes.
“She’s not going to have a son,” Sharifa told Saima’s husband, in front of her. “So you should marry again. Take a second wife.” Saima was shattered and ran off sobbing. Another wife would leave even less money to feed and educate the children. And Saima herself would be marginalized in the household, cast off like an old sock. For days Saima walked around in a daze, her eyes red; the slightest incident would send her collapsing into hysterical tears.
It was at that point that Saima signed up with the Kashf Foundation, a Pakistani microfinance organization that lends tiny amounts of money to poor women to start businesses. Kashf is typical of microfinance institutions, in that it lends almost exclusively to women, in groups of 25. The women guarantee one another’s debts and meet every two weeks to make payments and discuss a social issue, like family planning or schooling for girls. A Pakistani woman is often forbidden to leave the house without her husband’s permission, but husbands tolerate these meetings because the women return with cash and investment ideas.
Saima took out a $65 loan and used the money to buy beads and cloth, which she transformed into beautiful embroidery that she then sold to merchants in the markets of Lahore. She used the profit to buy more beads and cloth, and soon she had an embroidery business and was earning a solid income — the only one in her household to do so. Saima took her elder daughter back from the aunt and began paying off her husband’s debt.
When merchants requested more embroidery than Saima could produce, she paid neighbors to assist her. Eventually 30 families were working for her, and she put her husband to work as well — “under my direction,” she explained with a twinkle in her eye. Saima became the tycoon of the neighborhood, and she was able to pay off her husband’s entire debt, keep her daughters in school, renovate the house, connect running water and buy a television.
“Now everyone comes to me to borrow money, the same ones who used to criticize me,” Saima said, beaming in satisfaction. “And the children of those who used to criticize me now come to my house to watch TV.”
Today, Saima is a bit plump and displays a gold nose ring as well as several other rings and bracelets on each wrist. She exudes self-confidence as she offers a grand tour of her home and work area, ostentatiously showing off the television and the new plumbing. She doesn’t even pretend to be subordinate to her husband. He spends his days mostly loafing around, occasionally helping with the work but always having to accept orders from his wife. He has become more impressed with females in general: Saima had a third child, also a girl, but now that’s not a problem. “Girls are just as good as boys,” he explained.
Saima’s new prosperity has transformed the family’s educational prospects. She is planning to send all three of her daughters through high school and maybe to college as well. She brings in tutors to improve their schoolwork, and her oldest child, Javaria, is ranked first in her class. We asked Javaria what she wanted to be when she grew up, thinking she might aspire to be a doctor or lawyer. Javaria cocked her head. “I’d like to do embroidery,” she said.
As for her husband, Saima said, “We have a good relationship now.” She explained, “We don’t fight, and he treats me well.” And what about finding another wife who might bear him a son? Saima chuckled at the question: “Now nobody says anything about that.” Sharifa Bibi, the mother-in-law, looked shocked when we asked whether she wanted her son to take a second wife to bear a son. “No, no,” she said. “Saima is bringing so much to this house. . . . She puts a roof over our heads and food on the table.”
Sharifa even allows that Saima is now largely exempt from beatings by her husband. “A woman should know her limits, and if not, then it’s her husband’s right to beat her,” Sharifa said. “But if a woman earns more than her husband, it’s difficult for him to discipline her.” Full article.
Extremists struck at the Iraqi Government with a wave of bombings and mortar attacks, killing at least 95 people and injuring more than 560 and raising new doubts about the withdrawal of US soldiers from the country. Full article.
Dostum’s return to prominence in Afghanistan comes despite his role overseeing a 2001 massacre at Dasht-e-Leili that left at least 2,000 Taliban POWs dead. He’s also had extensive ties with the US and was formerly on the CIA payroll. Full article.
The Rochester Genesee Valley Club of National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs Inc recognized women from all ethnic backgrounds to celebrate the city’s 175th anniversary. Women who helped improve living standards in the city in the areas of health, education, community service, business, religion, politics or government anytime from 1834 to 2009 were nominated. The club honored 175 nominees at an International White Glove Tea Party from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 16 at Carey Lake Historical Party House and Rose Garden, 959 Penfield Road. I was one of the award recipients.
Something strange has happened in America in the nine months since Barack Obama was elected. It has best been summarised by the comedian Bill Maher: “The Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved to a mental hospital.” Full article.
The demonstrators said John Yoo should be dismissed, disbarred and prosecuted for war crimes for his work as a Bush administration attorney from 2001 to 2003, when he helped craft legal theories for waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques.
Shouting “war criminal,” the protesters confronted Yoo as he entered a lecture hall on the first day of class at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, where the tenured professor is teaching a civil law course this semester. Full article.
Compiled below, in hopes that it may be of some assistance to Eric Holder, John Conyers, Patrick Leahy, active citizens, foreign courts, the International Criminal Court, law firms preparing civil suits, and local or state prosecutors with decency and nerve is a list of 50 top living U.S. war criminals. These are men and women who helped to launch wars of aggression or who have been complicit in lesser war crimes. These are not the lowest-ranking employees or troops who managed to stray from official criminal policies. These are the makers of those policies. Full article.
Perhaps for the first time in Pakistan’s recorded history, a cricket match was played between a transgendered team and professional cricketers – the transgendered team won! Full article.
Actor Mark Ruffalo reads union leader Eugene Debs’ famous “Canton, Ohio” speech. Part of a reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States (Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove) at All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA on Feb 1, 2007.
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan – The pace of American combat deaths in Afghanistan has quickened anew as roadside bombs killed five U.S. troops in 24 hours in the same western province, the American military said Thursday. Full article.
Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest friends and top advisors, also linked the Blackwater question to the safety of U.S. personnel in war zones: “Do not forget that we have men and women who are at risk every day overseas doing the very best they can to defend our country and so the president has to balance putting them at further risk with having the kind of transparent and open and clear availability of information that you so desperately want.” What this has to do with Blackwater is anyone’s guess. If what Jarrett was saying is that Blackwater keeps Americans safe abroad and therefore transparency on the company will not be forthcoming, then that is a pretty scandalous position. If Jarrett was referring to the administration’s blocking of the release of prisoner abuse photos (which was discussed earlier in the event), then it is a bankrupt argument. Full article.
The Supreme Court, over two Justices’ dissents, on Monday ordered a federal judge in Georgia to consider and rule on the claim of innocence in the murder case against Troy Anthony Davis (In re Davis, 08-1443) The Court told the District Court to “re…ceive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis’] innocence.” Full article.
Written by qunfuz, PULSE, August 17, 2009 at 4:07 pm
In “The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain”, Arun Kundnani writes, “Racisms are no longer domestically driven but take their impetus from the attempt to legitimise a deeply divided global order. They are the necessary products of an empire in denial.”
Commentators call for immigrants to be schooled in ‘our national story’, which includes hefty chapters on the beneficence of empire. Gordon Brown says, “The days of Britain having to apologise for the British Empire are over. We should celebrate!” Sarkozy urges France to be “proud of its history,” meaning its imperial history.
European empires did sometimes construct railways and drainage systems in the conquered lands. They did build law courts and disseminate a certain kind of cuture. But these questionable achievements must be understood against the larger ugly backdrop. Economies under imperial rule stagnated at best. Huge swathes of Africa were transformed from subsistence agricultural land to cashcrop plantations. When the value of the crop plummetted, or when the crop was grown more cheaply elsewhere, local people were left hungry and unskilled on exhausted soil. Africa has still not recovered from this deliberate underdevelopment. During British misrule, preventable famines killed tens of millions of Indians. Elsewhere in the empire, hundreds of thousands were forced into concentration camps, and torture was institutionalised. There were the genocides of indigenous Australians and Americans, by massacre and land theft as well as by disease. There was the little matter of the transatlantic slave trade.
The ethnic-sectarian tensions and political backwardness of much of the third world have roots in imperial power games. For instance, when the 1857 Indian uprising against the British was put down, the British developed a policy of excluding Muslims from education and economic power. A divide and rule strategy to exacerbate pre-existent Hindu-Muslim tensions was implemented precisely because the revolution had shown a remarkable degree of Indian national unity. And, as usual, traitors were rewarded. The twenty two families that rule what is now Pakistan (staffing the military high command and both major political parties) are the landowning families that ‘acquired’ their land in return for loyalty to the occupiers during the colonial period, especially in 1857.
Whenever there was a sign of a lesser people organising itself along ‘modern’ European lines, the British crushed the potential challenge. An example is Muhammad Ali’s Egypt, with its state education system, rational miltary organisation, and secularising legal code. A more recent instance is the Anglo-American 1953 coup against Mossadeq’s democratic nationalist government in Iran.
I mention all this not because I want to suggest that Westerners are particularly evil, that they are the only ones to have committed crimes of empire and enslavement, or that indigenous peoples would have managed themselves perfectly if left alone. I mention it because Western imperialism continues and, as competition for resources intensifies, is escalating. Our awareness of the crimes of empire is important because the whitewashing of imperial history proceeds in concert with a ramping-up of imperial intervention.
I’ve been refreshing myself on British and French imperial history in the Levant by reading the excellent 1972 book “Syria: Nation of the Modern World” by Tabitha Petran.
Remember that during the 1917 British-instigated Arab Revolt, the prospect of a unified Arab state was dangled before the Arabs, so long as they were required to make trouble for the collapsing Ottomans. But the British and the French had already signed the Sykes-Picot agreement, which carved up the eastern Arabs into British and French zones of influence, and the Balfour Declaration, by which Englishmen awarded Arab Palestine, as if it were a medal or a school cap, to Zionism.
The British also famously created landlocked, resourceless Transjordan in an afternoon, the straight lines of its borders giving new resonance to the double meaning of the English word ‘ruler’. They kept control of Iraq (which they had cut off from Kuwait, but that’s another story) by applying the glories of modern warfare. “I do not understand this sqeamishness about the use of gas,” said British hero Winston Churchill. “I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.” Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, later famous for the Dresden firestorm, enthused: “The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing means in casualties and damage. Within forty-five minutes a full-size village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.” This, I suppose, is what we should be celebrating with Gordon Brown. The British tried to install kings from the friendly Hashemite family in both places. In Iraq it took the army, and then Ba’athist army officers, to bring down the client regime. In Jordan the royal line stuck, and has been useful to the West ever since.
The French took the ex-Ottoman region of Greater Syria. Tabitha Petran’s book describes how the Maronite statelet on Mount Lebanon was expanded into a larger Lebanese state of reluctant Orthodox Christians, Shia and Sunni Muslims, and Druze, setting the scene for the later civil wars. As described, Palestine-Israel and Jordan had already been peeled away. Now the Syrian cities of Urfa, Aintab and Antioch, and the country’s largest port at Alexandretta, were ceded to the Western-oriented Turkish Republic. Cities lost their hinterlands, their markets and water supplies.
There were further unsuccessful efforts to dismember Syria. The French envisaged an Alawi state in the mountains around Lattakia and a Druze state around Jebel al-Arab in the south. They encouraged separatism in the Jezira and established ‘autonomous’ puppet governments in Aleppo and Damascus.
First the cutting, then the stunting. The Open Door economic policy flooded the country with cheap imports, while Syrian exports were heavily taxed. The consequences included a diminishment of gold reserves by 70%, a depreciation of the currency, mushrooming unemployment and a collapse in traditional skilled manufacturing. Throughout the French occupation, three percent of the state budget was spent on health care and five percent on education. French collective punishments against the unruly natives led to further trouble. For example, the gold fine imposed after an Alawi rebellion in 1921 made the mountain peasants for the first time hire their daughters out as domestic servants to the urban rich, which led to mutual resentments, which in turn intensified sectarianism when an Alawi-dominated army later took over the country’s political life.
Today the debate at the daring fringes of western political discourse is whether or not an empire would be a good idea, oblivious to the fact that there already is one. The United States underpins its control of markets with a military presence in more than 100 countries. In the larger middle east area, hundreds of thousands have died in American wars in the last half decade. These days, it’s called ‘the war against terror’. This is how far the dominant nations have come in their struggle to move beyond imperialism: they have learnt not to call it imperialism. But they used nice words in the past, too. When the French mangled and traumatised Syria’s society and economy, they did so in the name of a League of Nations mandate. Their supposed role was to develop Syria, to prepare its benighted people for independence.
One set of people forcing themselves on another set of people in order to ‘run’ their economy and reorganise their social life is a crime. It leads only to conflict and failure. This is an obvious truth that must not be forgotten.
Kashmiri activists and human rights groups say that rapes by men in uniform, extrajudicial killings and a lack of redress are endemic, not least because security forces are largely shielded from prosecution by laws put in place when Indian troops wer…e battling a once-potent insurgency here. Both local and national security forces here operate with impunity, they say. Full article.