Saudi King Abdullah in UK

Saudi Arabia‘s King Abdullah is due to arrive in the UK on Monday for the first state visit by a Saudi monarch for 20 years.

In politics there are only mutual interests that matter. It’s no wonder if UK, a constitutional monarchy has close relations with Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy. Both are concerned about terrorism as Islamists can originate from SA seeking to carry out terrorist attacks in UK. Or simply they give logistic and financial supports to Jihadist in UK, Pakistan or anywhere else in the world. The stability of SA depends on close links with UK and the USA economically and militarily. But it’s unlikely they will pressure Saudi monarchy to become fully democratic as long as it guarantees their interests. Saudi Arabia is still seen as a country with full economic potentials. Its oil is more attractive than anything else when its price doesn’t stop soaring.

Saudi Arabia is one of the richest kingdoms on earth but one with the poorest records on human rights. The Saudis can’t have a good time in their country as they are deprived of personal freedom. They travel abroad to have a good time in places like casinos and bars and to enjoy sexual freedom as when they are caught having sex outside marriage in their country they can’t escape being flogged or even beheaded. So money doesn’t buy freedom in this rich country, even for the rich. Protesting openly about human rights abuses in this country can be counterproductive for the business communities in these countries whose aim is to have secure shipment of oil and not full implementations of human rights as this can be regarded by the cynics as an internal matter.

Mr Cable’s decision to boycott King Abdullah’s visit will have little impact as the King is in UK for business. He will have little to worry about as Mr Cable’s party has little chance to be in power in the foreseeable future. In Saudi Arabia public pressure has little impact. It’s sure that Cable’s boycott will be overlooked in Saudi media which will rather focus on the lavish welcome he will receive by the Queen and her government and on the agreements to be officially signed by UK and SA.


Gays, rights and ethics

Should people confront prejudice? Is it the moral duty of individuals and governments to expose and challenge prejudice, whether racial, sexual or otherwise? Or do people have a right to believe what they believe?

It’s difficult in many societies to be lenient about sexual conduct or orientation. Sex remains associated with honour. The sexual conduct of an individual affects his/her surrounding, especially the family. In some Middle Eastern countries there is the killing for honour when a girl or a woman is suspected of having sexual relation outside marriage is killed by her nearest relative, be it a brother or a father. In such countries the maximum sentence for such killing is one year imprisonment. So it will be hard that in such countries that homosexuality will be tolerated. One of the worst names to call someone by is “gay”. This doesn’t mean homosexuality doesn’t exist in these countries, but it is considered as a taboo practised in hiding. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is punishable by death. So in this country activists should call for the sentence to be reduced at least by imprisonment. Asking for gay rights in Saudi Arabia is hard to achieve.

In Egypt, a film The Yacoubian Building caused uproar in 2006 because of depicting homosexuality. This means homosexuality is a taboo in whatever forms although it is a part of its reality.

For Muslim countries, religion is a key factor in judging people’s conduct. Homosexuality is considered as one of the biggest sins. There is only death and hell for those who practice it although in Muslim Arabic culture there are works depicting homosexuality as in the poems of Abu Nuwas. So in a sense it is tolerated to discuss this issue from a past era than to deal with it as it is at present.

In Moroccan society, gays are just subject to jokes and contempt. There is no established culture to defend them. There is a Gay association called KifKif for Moroccan gays living abroad. Such associations are banned. But gays caught in the act are relatively leniently punished as they have to spend six months in prison compared to Saudi Arabia where they are merely executed. In Moroccan society the worst thing that can affect parents or families is to have a gay among them. Having a son in prison for crime or drug trafficking is benign compared to having him there for homosexuality. In this country gays are known in their surrounding, but at least they aren’t surrounded by the threat of arrest as long as they keep discretion.

In fact it can be easy to persuade people to change their concept of any other form of prejudice, racial or about gender. But sex remains a contentious issue. Transgender and same sex intimacy through free relation or marriage will remain a taboo in many conservative societies as long as sex remains an important aspect of socially accepted identity governed by religious influence. In a sense, sex remains an area surrounded by different boundaries. One can’t have sex in all possible ways as there are taboos like incest, homosexuality, and paedophilia that will surely continue to raise endless debates about where boundaries should begin and end.

Homosexuality can be accepted in societies that have made giant steps in establishing human rights. Societies still struggling to establish basic human rights like freedom of speech and free election consider gay rights as of trivial importance. Gays considered as a minority are seen of minor importance when it comes to their rights but a great danger to social ethics if they become publicly vocal. When talked about publicly they’re seen as a pathological case that needs help. Homosexuality isn’t openly considered as a natural orientation. It’s very difficult for gays in morally conservative societies to find open acceptance. They will continue to be seen as sinners worthy of punishment rather than consideration.

So far it has never been heard of lesbians punished in a Muslim society. Homosexuality seems to mean sexual intercourse between males. There is no religious punishment for women indulging in the same sex as religiously homosexuality means sodomy. This should raise further debates about the particular meaning of homosexuality in Muslim societies.

Prejudice is inherent in many societies because of the rejection of the specificities of different groups because of their culture or orientation. Shock can just aggravate prejudices as it provides opponents with ammunition to charge against each other. If dialogue is impossible, it’s better to let things stand where they are. In societies where homosexuality is practised discretely without causing outrage, it’s better for gays to be contented with their secret practices rather than come out to ask for the recognition they can never get.

Race and prejudice

James Watson , the veteran Nobel scientist who helped to unravel the structure of DNA in 1953, cancelled his book tour in Britain and returned home to the United States yesterday after his research institute suspended him for his comments about the intelligence of Africans.

Intelligence based on race is mistaken notion. Apparently black people are among the poorest on earth today. White Europeans were among the poorest in the Middle Ages, not because they were less intelligent but because of the political system at that time. The Europeans have become prosperous thanks to political reforms. But not all of them. Until recently, Ireland was the poorest in the EU not because of the intelligence of its people but because of the political situation.

Each of us is endowed with a type of intelligence. There are people endowed with intelligence in economics, others in science etc. there is also the environment that decides one’s intelligence. A black person living in a poor African country with few school facilities is unlikely to do well as another black living in Europe where he has the means to have full and fruitful education. Black people in the USA could do just menial jobs requiring little skills because they were denied equal opportunities. The countless black stars and successful people in this country at present shows that people become intelligent not thanks to race but to the opportunities.

People can have prejudices towards each other as a part of their attitudes. This can be accepted as a social phenomenon. But for racial prejudices to come from an authority is unacceptable. Science isn’t about attitudes. It’s about facts. One should produce tangible facts before coming to a conclusion.

Labelling one race as less or more intelligent amounts to perpetuating racial prejudices. What matters is how to adapt in life. If black people, especially in Africa, are given the opportunity to make their life better, they will devise a mode of modern life, not necessarily a replica of the white people’s. James Watson and those who adopt his views should produce scientific evidence based on genes and the like and not simply on the current situation of the Africans which has to do with their political system and not their intelligence.

A school for tolerance?

The Max Rayne school in Jerusalem opened yesterday with the aim that it crosses religious divide to teach children a lesson in unity.

Racially and religiously mixed schools are a way to bridge the gap between deeply divided communities. The fact that parents accept to send their children to such schools is an acceptance on their parts for tolerance. But the article published in the Times shows that trust hasn’t been established yet among Arab and Jews. There is an extract in it when the mother asked her girl who had spent the night with an Arab girl ‘She didn’t try to kill you, she didn’t try to hurt you?”

This shows that mixing with Jewish and Arab pupils doesn’t go beyond school, which is in itself a failure. The aim is to prepare the members of these communities to share a peaceful life on their shared land. If at school they’re taught tolerance and at home they’re fed with hatred towards their peers from the other community, this is likely to foster even deep division when they grow up. It will be better to let these pupils to decide for themselves and to grow to accept one another. If not the aim of the school will just backfire as it will be a ground where they will have just further evidence why they shouldn’t coexist as they come there armed with their parents’ antagonistic views.

Cats and dogs are innately hateful of one another but they can grow into friends if conditioned to be so. Children are just conditioned by adults who see in them the continuity of their held belief. There are radicals who are against any normalisation likeYoshua Haham, an irate pensioner who said, I wouldn’t put my Jewish kids in with Muslims. I don’t want them to learn about Muslim culture. It is such people whose satisfaction is to destroy any bridge that can help communities with opposite views to cross to each other territories for mutual understanding and coexistence.

But as long as there is misunderstanding and even mistrust among pupils in this school without physical violence or damage, it is a good sign that one day they will come to their own conclusions about how they should live through direct contact and not just through inculcated notions.

Can peace return to DR Congo?

Army reinforcements have been sent to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where an offensive is planned against a renegade general’s forces.

DR Congo is a vast country with a big population and enormous resources. It’s a country that is difficult to govern without risking political and social instability. From its creation, it was governed by iron fist as democracy in it was stifled by its late and long running president Joseph Mobutu for more than 30 years.

It’s interesting to see that this huge country was occupied by a very small European country, Belgium. The similarity between the two is they have ethnic groups. Belgium population is ethnically various, but it has kept together under one constitution. In DR Congo, tribalism is the source of its divisions.

The tragedy of many African countries is that they are ruled on tribal lines. The Rwanda genocide in 1994, to the indifference of the world, was carried out because of tribal enmity in this country between the Hutu and the Tutsis. In DR Congo the civil war lingered because of the desire to keep to power on tribal line instead of ruling on democratic basis. This country remains under external influence, especially from neighbouring countries siding with one side or the other. The misfortune of DR Congo is that it is in the centre of Africa where its trouble isn’t a grievous danger to world peace. The best thing it can do is to keep a large UN peacekeeping force to keep the country calm to the minimum.

As for the rebels to lay their arms, this has to do with the will of the government in Kinshasa to integrate the rebels in power sharing. But it seems each side depends on its armed forces to keep it challenging the other at the expense of the progress this country it can enjoy in view of its enormous natural resources. Ironically, these resources income evaporate in arms purchase when many of the population are under abject poverty or dying because their means for survival are used to spill blood.

Many groups and governments in Africa are known for breaking their agreements as soon as they sign them. The rebels and the government in DR Congo can come to a deal but the desire to keep to power on the part of the government and the desire of the rebels to have more than the government can accept will put things to square one. There can be the risk of the rebels falling apart with one side vowed to continue its fight. Sudan is an example when there are other rebel groups resisting any peace agreement with the Sudanese government. In view of the similarity of the conflicts in Africa, the rebels in DR Congo won’t be an exception.

The people in DR Congo should have the wisdom for democratic power sharing to allow all the Congolese to enjoy the wealth of their country instead of seeing it plundered because of greed just for power by those ready to kill their countrymen as if they were foreign invaders with no right to enjoy life in their country.

China, a congress for reform or just self-criticism?

Chinese President Hu Jintao has said in a keynote speech that the Communist Party he leads has fallen short of the people’s expectations.

Napoleon once said “Quand la Chine s’éveillera, le monde tremblera”, which means “When China wakes, the world will tremble”. But from the tone of Chinese President’s speech, China hasn’t risen to fulfil its social and economic expectations. It can be a worry just to the rest of the world, which sees in it a rising power blowing hot and cold in every direction.

China has been a great worry to the existing capitalist power when it was implementing rigorous communist principles as it had an influence on emerging countries with communist principles. Its ideology was more frightening although at that time China was economically backward and awkward.

Today China with giant economic rise, the world economic powers are feeling the shake as it is starting to pull the rug from under their feet. It is starting to flex its muscles as it entered the world markets benefiting from trade surplus with the USA amounting to billions of dollars.

But internally, the economic boom has just widened economic disparities across China, which will make Mao Tse Tung turn in his grave with rage. Economic reforms are far from yielding popular results as the economic boom is at the expense of the poorly paid labour. Ironically, when under communism, China was waging propaganda against capitalism because according to it workers were slaves to corporations, now it is allowing these corporations to invest in it benefiting from Chinese cheap labour. In a sense, Chinese labours are just enriching Western corporations and Chinese government treasury.

Economic liberalism isn’t enough as political freedom is very restricted. What is interesting is that China has strong economic relations with the West but also strong political relations with repressive regimes as in Burma. When the West is ready for strong action in Darfur, it is opposing them because of its economic interests.

Chinese President Hu Jintao lashed out at officials who were extravagant, wasteful and corrupt. If the Chinese government fails to redress the economic situation it will have more extravagant, wasteful and corrupt officials. Unequally shared economic boom will create just a minority enjoying lifestyle as that in Shanghai and Hong Kong while the rest will be living under acute poverty which was in the first place the reason for the Communist Revolution.

Land Reform in Zimbabwe or racial revenge?

Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe underwent a dismal land reform . It was instigated by consideration of the colonial past of this country. Robert Mugabe seeking to wipe out any legacy from the Whites had the “genius” idea of stripping white farmers of their lands despite their high competence and productivity. Big lands were parcelled into tiny farms owned by inexperienced black farmers. The consequence is that that Zimbabwe has fallen from a food exporting country and even food donor to poor countries to a country under the threat of starvation.

When economy is influenced by blind ideology it sinks into stagnation and deterioration. Robert Mugabe is ready to sacrifice anything and anyone, including white Zimbabweans just to purge himself from the complex of having been once under the rule of the whites. His visions seem to be inclined to the past when Zimbabwe was unknown to the Europeans and the whole land was roamed by its original inhabitants and wildlife.

Mugabe just causes his country to be more divided. There are the white who are stripped of their economic power without his succeeding in empowering black Zimbabweans. He caused a political rift among the Zimbabweans at all level. The land he’s sought to free has become barren. Destitute Zimbabweans are seeking other countries as theirs is offering them oppression from a black leader who seems to cherish his survival despite the odds without caring about the plight of those have new alternatives to his extreme policies.

His policy is likely to lead his country to further ruins in an age of globalisation and of political and economic alliances. For those who missed the world economic crush of 1929, they will have just to go to Zimbabwe to see what it looked like then – although the causes are different now and then. Lands in this country lay to waste as their roots are sprayed by the poisonous policies of Robert Mugabe, whose pleasure is to see them disowned by the whites rather than exploited by them although they can enrich the national economy through taxes and exports.

Mugabe should look to South Africa which underwent worse conditions under apartheid. The South Africans reconciled themselves with their past and are relatively having a racial harmony. Black South Africans aren’t seeking to expel the white or to dispossess them. It’s no wonder if South Africa kept its economic superiority at the African level. In contrast Zimbabwe has become one of the poorest countries. Steve Wander once in Master Blaster sang in celebration of independent Zimbabwe.

They want us to join their fighting
But our answer today
Is to let all our worries
Like the breeze through our fingers slip away
Peace has come to Zimbabwe
Third World’s right on the one
Now’s the time for celebration
‘Cause we’ve only just begunI wonder if he is in Zimbabwe, he will sing the same song in praise of Robert Mugabe.

Prince Hicam of Moroco on Al Jazeera

Pakistani politics in the grip of the military

President Pervez Musharraf must be harbouring bitter-sweet feelings about the latest ruling from Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
It says that Saturday’s election, in which he looks a certain winner, can go ahead.

President Musharraf survived partly thanks to the international political conjuncture. Ironically when the World Trade Centre was crumbling on 9/11/2001 to the horror of the world, Pt Musharraf saw his star rising as the US saw in him a key ally in its fight of Al Qaeda. He made friends with it but internally he made a lot of enemies especially among Al Qaeda groups which made many attempts on his life. Musharraf must clearly know that his power isn’t guaranteed by his alliance with the USA as that can spark even more protest at home because of anti-Americanism and internal problems. While he has grip on the military, he can’t have full grip on the political parties opposed to his rule and enjoying popular support. Such parties at least play the role, even mildly, of check and balance on his rule as he can’t dissolve them or turn Pakistan into a dictatorship. To be fair, the Supreme Court has been decisive on many crucial moments like the re-instauration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. This in a way shows the independence of the justice system in a country ruled by a General.

Pt Musharraf has been lucky in ruling Pakistan for a long time, a country where leaders are easily toppled or defeated in elections. Pakistan looks like a bomb ready to explode in view of religious extremism and popular discontent erupting from time to time, the latest are the bloody incidents of the red mosque in which hundreds died. A political agreement between him and his political opponents can diffuse the tensions at least for fair elections in which democracy is the winner.

Musharraf can be a charismatic leader but ex-Prime Minister
Benazir Bhutto can be more charismatic if she has better messages to sell to the disenchanted. Maybe her “alliance” with Musharraf will cost her her credibility making her look as a politician seeking just power without caring to make power return solely in the hands in the civilians who can be elected by having people behind them and not the military. There will be something looking amiss in Pakistani politics as long ex-prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is set aside, making him the next challenger or the current trouble maker through his supporters.

President Musharraf was lucky to keep in power for 8 years, a record by Pakistani standards. He should set the record by returning the country to full democracy. The military ethics won’t allow him to use fraud to stay in power. Either losing or winning through democratic elections he will be at least credited with saving the country from complete chaos, should all political tendencies use their bases for an all out confrontation, to the dismay of the USA for which Pakistan (a nuclear power and a strong base of Muslim fundamentalists) should be kept stable at all costs even if it comes to persuade Musharraf to leave power under the pretext of presidential elections.

The American Dream

The USA has been the dream for many because of its size and its huge technical and natural potentials. It was an escape for many from economic deprivation and political persecution. The first immigrants to it were essentially the Europeans who faced political and religious persecutions, especially the Irish Catholics.

Today, it’s becoming clear that the USA is no longer the sole absolute power as other emerging powers like China and India are rivalling it on the world stage although they haven’t yet succeeded in making it a shrunk power. The USA is still a land of dreams for those facing absolute dictatorship in their home-countries. For them an escape to the USA despite the reduced opportunities is better than eking-out a living under oppression. The national lottery for migration to the USA shows to what extent it remains the hope for many to start a news life. The 12 million illegal immigrants, especially from Mexico and Latin America show that the USA is the only exit for a better life.

The USA, despite its shortcomings, remains a huge machine producing the best. Its cultural influence is apparent throughout the world. Even those who reject it find themselves obliged to imitate its cultural values because they are a shortcut to easy life and success.

As to the quotation, “[America is]…a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement“, it remains debatable as there are still other factors like race and creed. Many black people for instance complain that they are underachievers because of prejudices against them despite the existence of black celebrities from politics like Condoleezza Rice to sports like Tiger Woods.

The USA is a country of corporations where competition is fierce driving anyone to do their best but sometimes at the expense of those who with their small means can’t fight. Globalisation is even driving small businesses out of the market while outsourcing is reducing job opportunities for those with little skills.

On a final note people from around the world should succeed in implementing their dreams in their own countries. The USA after all is a land, a parcel from Planet Earth. Other countries have the same, if not more resources than it. But they lack the ability to make the best of what they have. You can have a forest. But what matters is what you make of its trees. Are they destined just for making chars or sticks or are they destined to make the best carpentry and to substitute the lost ones. People all over the world should make the best of their potentials and not to keep looking to the USA as the sole land of opportunities as they can’t make it on their own lands.

The USA is destined for a demographic change in the future when there will be no racially dominant group. It is estimated that in less than ten years, there will be no racial majority in California and the same will all over the USA in 2050. It will be interesting to see the kind of dreams this new racial mix and proportion will produce and how the USA will fair on world stage as many accuse the White American to be behind the drive for total supremacy through all means, including military interventions and regime changes.

Here is a comment by VictorK published on BBC WHYS reflecting the fear of the USA losing its White Anglo-Saxon majority. I wonder how credible his views below are.

Abdelilah Boukili’s post raised a point that I’d really like to see WHYS address: the demographic transformation of the USA.

On present trends, unless the Government and people of the US change their current immigration policy, America will, by 2050, lose -forever – its historic European majority. Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians will outnumber Euro-Americans.

But what’s rarely debated is whether ‘America’ will still exist if this happens. Analysts like Samuel Huntington argue that America is ‘America’ because it possesses an historic Anglo-Protestant cultural core, and whatever undermines or destroys that core must of necessity also undermine and destroy America as an historic nation with a set of values and traditions derived from its Anglo-Protestant core (liberty, constitutional government, the rule of law, dynamic capitalism, freedom of religion, the pursuit of happiness, etc). Others – neocons especially – argue that America is a ‘notion’, an idea, the world’s first ‘proposition nation’, and that the massive stream of legal and illegal immigrants that it receives need not threaten American identity or values, so long as the immigrants are all assimilated into American culture via the celebrated ‘melting pot.’

I think that the neocons show – as usual, a la Iraq and Afghanistan – undue optimism based on good intentions and a theory based on nothing in particular, certainly not reality. The argument by the likes of Huntington – which I for one find persuasive – is drawn from history and represents what is known from the experience of nations.

On current trends the year 2050 will mark the disintegration and collapse of the United States. It will be balkanised along racial and ethnic lines and will become a kind of superior Brazil, though probably not so harmonious re its constituent tribes. It will cease to be a superpower as it devotes more and more of its resources and energies to trying to manage the racial and ethnic conflicts that will increasingly characterise its public life, conflicts that will no longer benefit from the existence of a dominant (and benign) Euro-American majority to impose humane solutions. China will displace the US as a global power. The possibility of secession in the South west of the country will become a reality (with Hispanic majorities dominating from Texas to California), or the rest of the country will expel this region from the US, the south west having by now become an extension of the corrupt and incompetent states of Latin America. The American presence in the world, which on the whole has been a force for good, will have permanently ended.

That’s the nightmare scenario, but not an impossible one on present trends. I’d be sorry to see it, or anything like it, come to pass, since a world dominated by China will be an even greater nightmare.

It’s up to Americans to prevent this future realising itself by taking their presently lax and irresponsible immigration policy in hand, for the good not just of their country, but of the world.

Demography is destiny, and America’s current demographic future is a bleak one (as are France’s and Holland’s, which face the even more terrible prospect of becoming part of North Africa).

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