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Issue 341

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World crisis special article! Minefield of symbols
by Eduardo Galeano

Business
Share prices of arms manufacturers Lockheed Martin. ‘This will be a long war,’ the president of the planet announced. Bad news for the civilians who are dying or will be killed, but excellent news for the arms manufacturers.

With war, it doesn’t matter if it’s efficient. What matters is that it is profitable. Since 11 September, the stocks of General Dynamics, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and other engines of the war machine skyrocketed on Wall Street.

As was the case during the bombardment of Iraq and Yugoslavia, television rarely shows the victims. It is too busy showing the runway of new models of weapons. In the age of the market, war is not a tragedy but a vast international trade show. Arms manufacturers need wars like umbrella makers need rain.

Hollywood
Reality imitates the movies: everything blows up. Children get missiles from the film ‘Atlantis’ in the McDonald’s Happy Meal. It’s getting harder and harder to tell ketchup from blood.

And now the Pentagon has hired screenwriters and special-effects experts to help predict what the next terrorist targets will be and even think up ways to defend them. According to Variety show-biz magazine, one was the writer of ‘Die Hard’.

Wardrobe
In one of the most widely-diffused images, die-hard Osama bin Laden sports a turban but wears a US Army jacket and a Timex watch, made in the US.

He too is made in the US, like the other Islamic fundamentalists that the CIA recruited from 40 countries and armed against atheistic communism in Afghanistan. When the US celebrated victory in that war, then-president of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto warned Bush senior, in vain: ‘You have created a monster, a Frankenstein.’

Once again history has shown that a dog will bite the hand that feeds it. Yet the feeding continues. Now the fanatics provide the US with a perfect excuse to declare war on anyone anywhere to consolidate their universal dominion and use an unassailable explanation. During the month of September, US companies laid off 200,000 workers: ‘Call them bin Laden’s numbers,’ declared Labour Secretary Elaine Chao.

A few weeks before the Twin Towers collapsed, the world economy was collapsing. The Economist advised its readers: ‘Get a parachute.’ After what has happened, if you can’t get a parachute you can at least find at least a made-to-order culprit.

Panic
All humanity is coming down with the symptoms of anthrax: shivers, headaches, bruiselike spots on the skin... We are all afraid to open letters now, though not because of the old fear of an unpayable bill.

The Ukrainian military was conducting manoeuvres when a SA-5 missile struck a passenger aircraft killing 78 people. Was it an error, or did the smart bomb know that passenger airplanes are enemy weapons now? Will smart bombs hit the post office next?

Weapons
A US aircraft carrier, the Nimitz, was in Uruguayan waters for a day. This visit worried me because there is a building in my neighbourhood that looks just like a mosque, and with smart bombs you never know.

Fortunately nothing happened. Or almost nothing: a few Uruguayan politicians were invited on board to get to know the aircraft carrier, a floating city of death, and they were almost killed. The plane carrying them landed incorrectly and ended up with one wing in the water.

Thanks to this visit, we found out that the aircraft carrier cost $4.5 billion. According to figures from UNICEF and other UN organizations, the cost of three aircraft carriers like the Nimitz would be enough to provide food and medical assistance to all the sick and hungry children of the world for a year – children who are now dying at the rate of 24,000 per day.

Labour
Terrorism is not the only sector that uses ‘sleeper cells’. Uruguayan colonel Manuel Cordero, an Operation Condor participant during South America’s era of military dictators, declared that fighting dirty was ‘the only way’ to combat terrorism and that kidnapping, torture, assassination, and ‘disappearing’ were necessary. He has experience, and offers his own services.

The colonel says that he heard Bush’s speeches and that this is how the Third World War the US chief announced will be fought.

Unfortunately, he heard right.

Antecedents
Like the colonel, the former US ambassador to Honduras also has some experience in this area. John Negroponte, now the US ambassador to the United Nations, is threatening to bring the war ‘to other countries’, and he knows what he is talking about.

A few years back he brought war to Central America. Negroponte was the godfather of the contras in Nicaragua and the paramilitaries in Honduras. Then-president Ronald Reagan said at the time what Bush and bin Laden are saying today: anything goes.

Victims
Is this new war against the Taliban dictatorship or the people that they are ruling? How many civilians will be killed in the bombing?

Four Afghanis, who worked for the UN, were the first ‘collateral damage’ we heard about. The symbolism is everywhere in this war: they were working on mine removal.

Afghanistan is the most densely mined country in the world. Lying beneath the ground there are ten million mines ready to kill or maim whoever steps on them. Many were laid by the Russians during their invasion, and many more were laid against the Russians, donated by the US to the guerrillas of Allah. Afghanistan never accepted the prohibition on anti-personnel mines. Neither did the US. And now the caravans of fugitives are trying desperately to flee on foot or by mule from the missiles raining down from the sky and the mines exploding from inside the earth.

. . . .

Rigoberta Menchu, daughter of the Mayan people, a people of weavers, warns that we ‘are dangling from a thread of hope’. So we are. A single thread. In the global madhouse, between a man who thinks he’s Muhammad and another who thinks he’s Buffalo Bill, between the terrorists of the tower attacks and the terrorism of war, violence is undoing us.

Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan, is a regular columnist for the NI and
author of Memories of Fire and The Open Veins of Latin America. ©IPS.

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War buries Bush recount
The recount of 200,000 disputed Florida ballot papers from the disputed US presidential election has been quietly shelved in the wake of 11 September. Last January key media outlets – including the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN – joined forces to examine the uncounted Florida ballots. Originally pegged for release on 24 September, the results are now on indefinite hold. ‘There’s a sense that now is not the time to be writing about something that might make it look like someone else should have been elected president,’ said a partcipating journalist.

www.inside.com

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Kashmir

Inside a terrorist camp
[image, unknown] by Muhammad Ashraf

Beckoning death: a sign in a Kashmiri cemetery urges young people on to martyrdom.
Photo: Dermot Tatlow / Panos pictures

There were 12 of them in all, in one of the camps of Lashkar-i-Tayaba located on one of the highest mountain areas of Kashmir: all of them devoted to the planning and execution of suicide missions. It was a communication centre, well-equipped to monitor the activities of its Fadaieen inside the area of Kashmir under Indian occupation. Fadaieen are those who commit themselves to die alongside their enemies. Many of them from different camps have gone to Indian-occupied Kashmir for jihad. The main purpose of this camp was to keep in contact with them via radio.

Many of the mujahideen (holy warriors) from the Afghan jihad time of the 1980s were unemployed after the Soviet-supported regime of Dr Najibullah collapsed in 1992. The search for a new area for jihad brought them to Kashmir, where Pakistani military intelligence was only too willing to play the same role it did in Afghanistan in the 1980s and provide them with space, training and resources.

The motivational work was left to some religious organizations like Lashkar-i-Tayaba. They brought many young people from all parts of Pakistan into these camps in the name of jihad. These unemployed youth, mainly from poor peasant backgrounds, had it all – food, shelter and clothes and above all, a place promised in heaven if they lost their lives.

Who are they and why are they there? We wanted to know the realities by joining them inside the camp. As we were locals from the village who spoke the local language and owned some land in the village, they happily agreed to the suggestion that we spend the night with them. We found out that only one them was from Kashmir – one was Afghani and the rest were from southern Punjab in Pakistan.

The camp leader, Aziz, a man in his thirties, greeted us with joy with a good command of the English, Urdu, Pushto and Kashmir languages. His expectation was that, if we were motivated, as local Kashmiris we might join them to make up the nationality imbalance in the camp. For not many of our fellow youth would attend these camps. Our village is very often a sandwich in the crossfire between the Pakistani and Indian armies. Many of our villagers have died in the firing and, although no-one says it openly, not many would support these camps, which are at present the main base for our troubles.

We were offered a cup of tea. A lecture started after the prayer of Ishaa (the last of the five prayers of the day, around 8pm at night). The lecture was based on the theme that losing your life for a holy purpose will bring ever-lasting happiness. At the moment that you lose your life, your next life starts – a life that you have waited so long for. A map of heaven is drawn in such a way, and along with glorious examples of those who have gone before, that the effect upon the listener is difficult to ignore.

The strategies of these jihad groups have changed tremendously from attacking enemy camps with firearms to suicidal attacks. I was told by Aziz, the camp leader, that it is cheap to use this tactic. All you lose is a life that many of our youth want to get rid of. But the effects are tremendous. The success ratio, he said, is much higher than that of our strategy of the 1980s. When the Russians were in Afghanistan, we did not have a clue about this strategy. We were more for guerrilla warfare. That is why the struggle in Afghanistan took such a long time. Aziz talked with us on and on into the night, long after others had gone to sleep.

What exactly do you do here? we asked. ‘We monitor the activities of those who cross the border from here. They have some equipment that we provide them with so they can link up with us. Look, we are on a very high position in the mountains. This helps us to have the edge on the Indians. When we plan a Fedai attack, the mujahid is very well guarded by us. He is linked all the time with us. We provide him with accurate information, provided to us by several others in the same vicinity, to carry out a successful attack. He is motivated till the last minutes of his death. We often recite Qur’anic versions on the wireless system. He is encouraged to recite by heart the holy Qur’an and to read it to us. This helps. We have a very low ratio of those who went out on a mission and came back because of any fear.’

In the morning we were asked to get up at 3.30am. This was to pray for Tihajad, a prayer that is not obligatory for Muslims. But an extremely devout Muslim will not miss it. My friend asked me to ignore the call for prayer and sleep. But I told him that they might conclude that we were not good Muslims and thus find out who we were – and that would be the end of our lives. Please get up and go to the prayer, I pleaded. So it was that we had our first-ever Tihajad prayer.

They were all there, ba jammat (in line). Then we were asked to read the Qur’an till Fajar, the first formal prayer of the morning. After that we were again lectured by Aziz. His voice was full of emotion and we felt the heat of his plea for jihad. It was an inspiring speech with a lot of concrete examples of how to find a place in heaven when you go for a mission.

What is this life? What has it given to us? Have we ever enjoyed this life? Have we ever got any reward for this life? He went on and on recounting the miseries of life with the message that we should give it up and go for a better and everlasting life. Every one of the 12 men present were moving their heads in affirmation: yes, yes, that is the only way to get rid of US and Indian kafirs.

We were told that the guides who take these mujahid to India are only material beneficiaries. They are mainly Indian Kashmiris who charge at least 3,000 rupees ($60) to take one person across the border. They know the exact place and time for a safe escape. All along the Indian border that divides the two parts of Kashmir, there is an iron bar to stop these intrusions. But despite a heavy Indian army presence, many make their way across successfully – often with covering fire from the Pakistani army.

We felt that material benefits meant nothing to the mujahideen themselves. They are very well motivated for spiritual benefits. They go for suicidal attacks full of enthusiasm and commitment. They start living in heaven the day they decide to lose their life. We also felt there is no way to kill this desire by bombing them. It has to be tackled with countering political ideas, particularly among the youth.

We asked one of them why he had come there. His name was Mubashir, in his early twenties, from Lodhran, near Multan in Punjab. ‘I am a mochi (a shoemaker),’ he said, ‘and no-one likes me or my job in the town I come from.’ Mochis are like a low caste in Pakistan. They receive disgraceful treatment within Punjab’s feudal system. Even the middle class humiliates them.

‘Here in the camp,’ Mubashir told us, ‘I am learning new modern techniques of communication and am greatly respected by my fellows. I have never felt like a stranger here. I never felt the disgrace I face every day in my town. Here you have respect and the chance of an everlasting pleasant life.’

We asked Aziz, the camp leader, if we could return to the village to discuss if we wanted to become mujahideen.

On our way to the village, we were both still feeling the warmth of the ideas we had encountered and told each other: if it has this kind of effect on us, how much greater would be the effect on those who have never understood the basis of Islamic fundamentalism?

We were quite clear after our visit that these Islamic fundamentalists are like a new wave of fascism. They have to be crushed from the roots.

Muhammad Ashraf

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Israel / Palestine

'In our children's names'
The correspondence of a young
Israeli refusing military service

Mujahideen guerrillas in the mountains of Kashmir.
Martin Adler / Panos pictures

Letter from Yair Halper

Shalom,

My name is Yair Halper and I am a conscientious objector to military service. On Wednesday 17 October 2001, I will be incarcerated for my beliefs.

I consider myself a pacifist, and I am using that word only for the lack of a better one. I am only 18, still a child (at least in my eyes). I keep asking myself what the hell do I know about pacifism? My beliefs were never really tested. But still, ‘pacifist’ is the closest word I could find to describe and define what I am.

As a pacifist I object to any army universally, no matter where it is, who operates it or what purposes it serves. Furthermore, I object to service in the Israel Defence Forces in particular for political reasons. I will never carry a weapon and I refuse to wear a uniform or any symbol that represents, or that will in any way label me, as part of the army.

I see the Israeli army as a mechanism that hosts everything I oppose in its ranks. Every soldier contributes in his/her way to the perpetuation of not only the complete disregard for Palestinian human rights, but also the continuing fortification and confirmation of Military Israel.

The army brainwashes its soldiers to receive a brutal and inhumane mentality and makes the single soldier lose his/her individuality. I will not join a system that does not value human rights and that continues to rape, control and occupy the Palestinian territories.

As naive and clichéd as it sounds, I know of only one way to live my life and that is by being true to myself, holding fast to my beliefs and principles and living by what they dictate to me.

Yes, I am willing and will be proud to sit in jail for what I see as right.

As Dostoevsky said: ‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’

I would appreciate any support, be it by letters, phone calls or any way you see fit.

Peace!

Yair Halper
Military ID 7237405,
Military Prison 4,
IDF Postal no 02507,
Israel

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Letter to Yair from Joe Lockard

Shalom Yair,

Today news arrived about you in an e-mail circular. As I read, my heart grew sick.

Your father circulated the news from Israel that you are now sitting in Military Prison 4 at Tzrifin as a conscientious objector to military service. I read the letter you wrote before entering prison.

We have not seen each other for a half-dozen years, but I have heard occasional word about you. My memories of you begin as a child, from before you could walk. There is a bitterness to think of you sitting in prison for refusing to hurt other people or deprive them of their share of the sun.

Yet, though it is small comfort, sitting in prison is only brief suffering.

Too many continue to suffer far more, far longer, at the hands of those – on both sides – who refuse co-existence in Israel/Palestine.

Years ago I listened to a friend tell me of how he had put on a uniform and had gone to fight in 1967 ‘so my children would not have to put on a uniform’. Your parents have done much the same for you, as I have done for my own children. Somewhere, some time, we must stop wearing uniforms and carrying weapons in our children’s names.

A conscientious objector reminds us, particularly those of us who profess ourselves peace-lovers but willing to hold a weapon if necessary, that it takes courage to refuse weapons. A conscientious objector holds up those principles of peaceful co-existence that we claim and asks us to honor them with more than words.

So, after I swallow back my bitterness at your imprisonment, I am pleased that your principles have translated into principled refusals. Palestinian parents do not want Israeli soldiers standing guard atop their roofs. Israeli parents do not want their grown-up children to threaten Palestinian children in the streets. Many Palestinian and Israeli parents have great esteem for those who refuse to harm others.

When you were in sixth grade I was your literature teacher once a week. Hannah, the school principal, anxious to encourage a literature class, gave up her office and we sat down together there to read novels by Twain, Hawthorne and other writers. I was especially proud of your small class because you were reading the same books I was teaching that year to college students. The level of discussion was sometimes better than that of the college students.

Primary-school students are the unrecognized cutting edge of social thought because ‘fair’ and ‘not fair’ have yet to be layered over with social rationalizations. The sixth-grade students saw and sympathized instinctively with the unfairness and cruelty that the black slave Jim endured in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. False imprisonment for seeking freedom, such as Jim experiences, is the grossest unfairness.

I smiled slightly and grimly while reading your going-to-prison letter where you quoted Dostoevsky ‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’ In adversity, literature is comfort. In prison, stories are the remaining core of civilization – they become the reminder of a shared humanity inside and outside prison walls. I have never been to prison. The closest I came was army basic training, where my greatest comfort was reading a thick copy of Wole Soyinka’s prison autobiography The Man Died. Dostoevsky knew prisons well, as you may too.

I wish you the comfort of your education in these days.

Reading someone else’s story, as we once read American and English stories, is an effort to understand over distances of space, time and cultures. A story, for better or worse, speaks a truth that it cannot conceal even if it tries. We ask ‘Does this story respect other human beings? Does it treat them with decency and equality? Does the story look honestly at its world?’

To refuse to look at another story is to deny others the right to tell their own stories.

In your letter you write that you refuse to contribute to ‘the complete disregard for Palestinian human rights’. Palestinian stories have been denied their equal hearing, their equal claims, and their equal humanity.

Your act of refusal echoes a truth within those stories; it supports an end to an occupation that has defined unacceptable terms of life for both Israelis and Palestinians of your generation.

Outside your prison, the news is bad. American warplanes send steel through the bellies of children who have never heard of Osama bin Laden, a man who spews religious hatred against infidels. Atrocious people fill envelopes with death powder and send them to others they despise without just cause.

A political Arab-hater has been murdered in a Jerusalem hotel and two peoples – both led by violent and criminal men – are at the brink of war.

Religious war is spreading across the world, and its consequences are unimaginable. To refuse at this historic hour to accept such permanent antagonisms, violence and pain is honorable.

Tzedek tzedek tirdof. May you pursue justice with justice.

Joe Lockard

Both these letters appeared in the online journal Bad Subjects.
http://eserver.org/bs/

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Poverty

Side by side in destitution
The invisible plight of Afghanistan's
neighbour, Tajikistan

In the seething Green Market of Tajikistan’s dusty capital, Dushanbe, two wretched men sit a couple of metres away from each other, trying to glean a bit of shade from the overhanging trees.

Ahmed, an Afghani refugee, is missing a hand: chopped off by the ultra-religious Taliban as punishment for some imagined immorality, before he fled the country two years ago.

Timur, once a Tajik farmer, sits on the pavement, the creases of his ravaged face deepened by the still-powerful autumn sun. He lost a leg to gangrene after being hit by shell fragments during Tajikistan’s brutal civil war.

Both men keep their eyes downcast, hoping for handouts from passers by, most of whom are only an economic step above them.

Their plight is symbolic of a region where the bitterly opposed factions are as unforgiving as the land, where even the weather appears to set its face against humankind, and where life is an all-too-brief struggle before the dust settles over exhausted flesh and bones.

Since the US-led bombardment of Afghanistan began, the world’s attention has focused on one story of human misery, that of the Afghan people and especially refugees.

At the border, a four-hour drive south, there are many like Ahmed – old, vulnerable and handicapped people stuck in a refugee enclave above a dry river bed, unable to cross into the relative safety of Tajikistan.

But Tajikistan itself is a human catastrophe zone.

Always one of the poorest of the Soviet Union’s republics, it slid into destitution after the empire’s breakup in 1991, propelled by an explosion of civil war among ethnic, tribal and religious groups vying for power.

Now the war is over. But Tajikistan’s 5.7 million people are in a pitched battle for survival. The Government, headed by a Soviet-style leader, Imamali Rakhmonov, has never tackled the republic’s endemic corruption, and wealth is concentrated in a few not-so-clean hands.

Most industry has collapsed, and farming has been given over to increasingly unprofitable cotton growing. For the last three years drought has prevented many from feeding themselves from their small plots of land.

The average person earns less than $300 a year, and unemployment is impossible to quantify. Among those who work, salaried jobs are almost non-existent.

‘Anyone who has anything to sell tries to sell it,’ says Fatloh, a determinedly cheerful woman standing patiently next to an assortment of bright-colored scarves. ‘If you don’t sell anything you try to barter. If that doesn’t work your kids don’t eat.’

Many of the children who earn a pittance at the market carrying heavy sacks on their spindly shoulders have no shoes. Their filthy feet have the sinewy look that comes with chickens past their prime. In the winter some will stay home from school because they lack footwear for the mud and snow.

Not surprisingly, Tajikistan’s beleaguered people have greeted the war in Afghanistan with mixed feelings.

On one hand, it’s a horrible reminder of their own conflict, which ironically drove thousands of men over the border to hide from victors bent on revenge.

On the other, it’s an unexpected opportunity, bringing a steady stream of foreign journalists, aid workers and international officials into a territory that has seen only a few stray back-packers for a decade.

Hotels are suddenly working to capacity, turning away furious would-be customers. Cafés that catered only to a few regulars are now packing in guests noon and night. Taxi drivers happy to find one or two passengers a day now cruise for hard currency.

But the steadily escalating prices, which spark angry curses from foreigners, are a reminder that Tajikistan’s people know in their bones that outsiders give, and they take away.

Over the centuries they have seen few periods of peace and prosperity when their geographical position at the crossroads of Central Asia was a blessing not a curse.

‘Everything I earn I put away,’ says Mohammed, a taxi driver, apologizing for pocketing a month’s wages for a one-day ride. ‘I don’t need it today, but my family will need it for the winter.’

Humanitarian aid, a necessity for more than one-third of the population, is scarce in obscure Tajikistan, which has been traditionally outside the West’s sphere of influence. Now promises are rolling in alongside requests for co-operation in admitting American troops and planes.

But when the war ends, many suspect, the promises may be as empty as the hotels and cafés, and the pockets of the beggars siting in the dust of the marketplace.

Timur, who once tended his crops and gardens in the arid southern borderland, is expecting no aid from any quarter. As the afternoon wears on he struggles to his one foot with the help of a tree branch that doubles as a cane.

Tonight he may have enough sumoni – the local currency – to buy a round of bread from a fly-blown stand. Or he may not. Either way he will be back again tomorrow until he, too, vanishes like those who came before him, down all the years, unnoticed and unmourned.

Olivia Ward

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Big bad world, by PJ POLYP.

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