Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A sight to see...

Sometimes I wonder to myself why some of the most beautiful places in the world are faced with the most problems. I look at this amazing picture from Karbala, Iraq, and think to myself how excited I would be if I had the chance to travel there...yet for some reason, amid all those crowds of devoted Shiite worshippers heading towards the mosque, there are forces somewhere in that city that are determined to make it more dangerous and less safe for not only aspiring visitors like myself, but the people who view it as a central part of their religious practice. The idea of Mahdi Army splinter cells planting IED's on Karbala's streets is more than a bit unnerving.

The saddest part is that many of these people (the terrorists and militias) are making it more dangerous in the name of the very religion they end up oppressing. Just think of all the Karbala residents who are afraid to leave their homes for fear of being caught up in a rival militia battle or and Al-Qaeda inspired car bomb attack. By all means, they need to be stopped, so that beautiful culture like the photo above can be appreciated by people the world over. Let's pray that the Iraqi Security Forces and their American allies succeed in routing terrorism from Iraq once and for all. That is closer to happening everyday, but it will take time, and the best way for it to succeed is if we can all stand united together.

I know I have been talking about Iraq a lot lately (my last few posts), but I would like to make the plea once again for everyone to forget about politics or their opinions and think about what's right. Some of you may be the fiercest Bush critics out there, but it doesn't change the fact that you should applaud the Iraqis for fighting against terrorism and feel a sense of happiness when positive news starts coming out of Iraq.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bringing some good news to the forefront

Things haven't been positive lately. If you turn on pretty much any news program today you are probably hearing about how "hopeless" things are. Waking up to news every morning and seeing that oil and gas prices have risen to new highs and the the outlook for the economy is "bleak" could certainly give someone the impression that there are few reasons to be looking up.

However, if you push past the morning news and the words coming from politicians who are seeking to translate these issues into votes, you can see that there are some good things--very good things in fact--that are happening.

Consider this...

From Timesonline:

Iraq dramatically increased the official size of its oil reserves yesterday after new data suggested that they could exceed Saudi Arabia’s and be the largest in the world.

The Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister told The Times that new exploration showed that his country has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, with as much as 350 billion barrels. The figure is triple the country’s present proven reserves and exceeds that of Saudi Arabia’s estimated 264 billion barrels of oil. Barham Salih said that the new estimate had been based on recent geological surveys and seismic data compiled by “reputable, international oil companies . . . This is a serious figure from credible sources.”

But that's not all. As its reserves grow, Iraq has the potential to reap in more than $70 billion in oil revenues in 2008. A profit like this means that the Government of Iraq can put more efforts into reconstruction and security improvements.

“We need to recognise after so many decades of mismanagement of the oil industry that we need to call a spade a spade,” he told a group of delegates at the World Economic Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh. “We can regulate it, but we need private investment to develop Iraq’s production capacities.” He said that Iraq was pumping 2.5 million barrels of oil a day at present, earning about $70 billion (£35.9 billion) in revenue this year.

Iraq may be receding in terms of news coverage. Success stories in Baghdad--like Operation Salaam, do not tarnish the current president's image nearly as much as the "struggling" economy do, which precisely the effect many in today's media would like to see. Americans going to the polls will no doubt be most concerned with the events happening in their immediate and everyday lives, like economic problems. Good news from the other side of the world may not be the first thing on voters minds this November, but nevertheless, to the people of Iraq, this current "oil crisis" is a blessing in disguise.

If Iraqi leaders can find a way to work together and use Iraq's commodities to rebuild their country, perhaps Iraq can become a safe and prosperous country. Perhaps this good news could even help to safeguard attempts by a possible Democratic Administration to pull the plug on American aide to Iraq in the coming months and years. Personally, such a notion allows me to breath a sigh of relief.

I can imagine it now--an Iraq that can govern itself, maintain a prosperous and growing economy, secure its cities, and open up to the world its amazing and beautiful culture. Terrorism will be a thing of the past in the streets of Baghdad, and checkpoints and roadblocks will be replaced by cafes and restaurants frequented by tourists from all across the world. Iraq will no longer be a political issue being debated on Capitol Hill...instead, it will be the subject of curiosity and desire to experience all the country has to offer.

It may seem like a dream, but then again, nothing is impossible, right?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Security...something to be appreciated

Sometimes, I really think that Americans take their security and safety for granted. Just think of all the consumers who will complain about rising prices at the gas station or the supermarket, but for the most part, they remain able to do so without fear of a terrorist attack.

On Tuesday, a series of devastating bomb blasts ripped through several crowded markets and Hindu Temples in the Indian city of Jaipur, killing or wounding hundreds of people.

From the BBC:

At least 60 people have been killed and more than 150 wounded after a series of bomb blasts tore through the city of Jaipur in western India, officials say.

The bombs went off near historic monuments in the crowded old city at one of the busiest times of the day.

The head of state police said it was a terrorist attack. Reports suggest the death toll could rise.

Jaipur, in Rajasthan, is a popular tourist destination about 260km (160 miles) from the Indian capital, Delhi.

No group has admitted planting bombs in Jaipur. It is not yet clear what the motive for attacking the city might be.

Most people in Jaipur are Hindus but the city has a large Muslim minority. Correspondents say it has no history of religious violence.

In the 6 years since 9/11, the United States has been spared the brutal wrath of terrorism...enough time to allow it to become a political punchline at times, mainly among the anti-Bush factions who believe that the president's policies are the biggest threat to global stability. Does anyone remember the movie "Fahrenheit 9/11", where Michael Moore suggests that the terrorist threat is overblown and is being exploited by the Bush Administration? In the months and years that followed that movie, we have seen terrorists blow up commuter trains in the bowels of London, execute school children in Russia, detonate wedding parties in Iraq and Jordan, assassinate leaders in Lebanon and Pakistan, repeatedly decimate cities in Algeria, and target cafes in Israel...the list goes on. Almost on a daily basis, political extremists are taking more and more victims.

But it is not only comments that come from the American left and the so-called "antiwar" movement I take issue with. I often see conservative commentators and Republicans saying the same old phrase "Its better to fight them over there than over here". To me, that is a really dumb phrase, because the entire world is in this together. This is not only an issue of "national security". The one group that has been singled out as the source behind much of the terrorism in the world--Muslims--have also been the biggest victims. Sure, Al-Qaeda and the Takfiri extremists take victims in all forms--they may be westerners, Hindus, or Jews, but more often than not, Muslims continue to be targeted the most. The fact that Muslims have taken the brunt of terrorist violence certainly puts a dent in the beliefs of televangelists like Rod Parsley who claim that Islam is an "evil" religion seeking to topple western civilization.

Showing gratitude

Instead of viewing countries like Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as the proverbial "over there" some political leaders speak of, we should show tremendous respect to the people of those countries for fighting terrorism...right in their own backyard. While Americans go out shopping with the biggest worry of how much they can spend, Iraqis, Afghans, and others who live "over there" have to do so while fearing for their lives.

Sometimes though, they are not given the respect they deserve. The so-called "antiwar" movement repeatedly downplays the reality that Al-Qaeda is indeed operating inside of Iraq and targeting innocent people in its campaign of mass murder. Instead, they would like to present to the American people (or as they see it, potential voters) that the current fighting is only about ancient hatred, and that Iraqis are lusting for each others' blood and unable to put their country back together. The Iraqi Security Forces are portrayed as incompetent and incapable of handling operations on their own, even as they are bravely fighting against terrorism (in their own country) and taking losses much higher than their American counterparts.

I suggest we show a little more appreciation...and respect. Just because the terror attacks that are wrecking havoc across the globe have not found their way into the streets of an American city these last few years does not mean we should forget about it. Our allies and friends, as well as those who are determined to make the world a more dangerous place are fully participating...and Americans should be as well.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Darfur update...

Are there any doubts remaining about whether or not the regime of Omar Al-Bashir, the Sudanese President, is actually looking for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Darfur?

From AP:

The peacekeeping force in Darfur said Tuesday it was still trying to evacuate those wounded in airstrikes two days earlier that an aid group reported left 12 people dead, including six children.

The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Ameerah Haq, called for immediate access to the wounded.

"I am deeply perturbed by the reported bombings of a school, water installations and a market where civilians, especially women and children are present," she said in a statement.

Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, commander of the joint African Union-UN peacekeeping mission, said the bombings were "unacceptable acts against civilians" and said recent Darfur violence reflected a "total lack of commitment" by the government and the rebel groups to the peace process.

U.S.-based Darfur Diaries said six children, ages 4 to 11, were killed in an airstrike Sunday on a school it funds in the village of Shegeg Karo in North Darfur. Six more people were killed when the village's market area was bombed.

Residents reported that a Sudanese government aircraft hovered over the area for some time before repeatedly bombing it, the aid group said.

At the same time, Bashir's government is facing an unprecedented threat from ethnic African rebels, who just recently mounted an assault on the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Unfortunately, this will only give the Sudanese government another opportunity to continue its scorched earth policy in Darfur.

From Reuters:

Sudanese forces hunted for suspected Darfur rebels in Khartoum on Monday after an unprecedented rebel attack at the weekend and detained Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi before releasing him.

Bursts of gunfire kept Khartoum on edge. It was the first time fighting had reached the capital in decades of conflict between the traditionally Arab-dominated central government and rebels from far-flung regions in the oil-producing country.

Darfur rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters he would keep up attacks until President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's government fell. About 65 people were believed to have been killed in the attack that began on Saturday.

As we head into an election year and news of the economy and rising oil prices take center stage, the Darfur Genocide may very well be disappearing from view. For those of us who still care, we must do everything to make sure the voices of Darfur's victims do not go unheard...because this is far from over. Peace in Darfur will never be possible if the Sudanese government is not revealed for the murderous force that it is.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The West's double-standard

At this time, the citizens of Myanmar are coping with the aftermath of a devastating cyclone. The death toll from the disaster is estimated to be in the tens of thousands, with many more missing and homeless. Aid Agencies are lining up to send in aid workers to provide much-needed relief, and even U.S. military vessels have been deployed off the coast of the Southeast Asian nation.

Unfortunately, this is not the only time the people of Myanmar have been suffering. Last year, the brutal military regime, known as the "Junta" orchestrated a campaign of ruthless murder against pro-democracy demonstrators.

From Al-Jazeera English:

For some reason, it seems that tragedies caused by mother nature take priority over those being caused by our fellow human beings. I suppose it is easier for people to rally together in the face of a storm or some other natural disaster, but much harder when the human suffering is being caused by a repressive military dictatorship.

Myanmar is not the only example. Is it necessary to invoke the Rwandan Genocide? The response to that spasm of destruction was merely a small presence of UN troops and an occasional voice of concern coming from the Clinton White House. For over three months, no one had the courage to do anything, and over a million people were left to die. Then there's Darfur, where some 400,000 people have been killed by the regime of Omar Al-Bashir. If correct, that estimate would be almost twice as many casualties as the 2004 tsunami that devastated coastal towns on the Indian Ocean. But because of our failure to even fully assess the situation, we may never know the exact number of victims claimed by the Khartoum Government. I probably shouldn't even mention violence-racked Eastern Congo, a nightmare that has claimed more lives than any of the above tragedies (both human and natural) combined. And then there are the occasions where human-caused death and destruction and natural disasters go hand and hand, like the Tamil Tigers' recruitment of child tsunami victims to fight as soldiers in the wake of the disaster.

To be clear, the outpouring of concern for the victims of Cyclone Nargis is a VERY good thing, and we can only pray that the regime in Yangon will accept every bit of aid and relief being offered. But it is a shame the international community can not take the same course of action in the face of threats that do not come from mother nature, but instead from a government that has betrayed its responsibility of protecting its citizens. Sadly, this storm is only salt in the wound for the people of Myanmar.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Some thoughts on Tibet

Last weekend, I visited Chinatown in San Francisco and had the opportunity to observe a man standing on top of a box and shouting out slogans against the Dalai Lama to a small crowd of onlookers. The first thought to cross my mind was how could anyone hate someone like the Dalai Lama, a peaceful man who has done nothing more than call for a peaceful resolution to the Chinese occupation of his homeland.

Since I saw that rather disturbing display, I have been thinking a lot about this issue and I realized one reason why China will probably never voluntarily give up Tibet. For one thing, Tibet is not the only region of China that is seeking autonomy. The Chinese are more than likely fearful that an autonomous Tibet will inspire Taiwan to do the same. Much like Tibet, Taiwan has been trying for years to break free from Chinese rule, all to no avail. Then there are the Muslim regions, such as Xinjiang Province in the far west. Recently, the Chinese have pointed to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an Al-Qaeda-linked extremist network, as a potential threat in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. So basically, if one province falls out of Chinese control, many more could follow. In the end, China could face the same fate as the Soviet Union.

Now, this is merely an attempt to try and understand why the Chinese continue the brutal siege of such a beautiful region. I do not think it would be a good thing if China disintegrated and millions of people were threatened with an economic crash and other problems that would emerge from such a scenario, but that would not be an issue if Mao Zedong and the communists decided against invading Tibet and conquering a people who only know peace in the first place. Is it really that much to ask for the Chinese to at least start a peaceful resolution by meeting with the Dalai Lama and treating him as a legitimate leader? Would it be so much to ask if he could return to his homeland without fear of retribution? These are steps that can be taken one at a time, but the Chinese have no desire to do so.

As the Dalai Lama's envoys are set to meet with Chinese officials, Chinese state media is continuing its criticism of him. With the upcoming Olympics, one might think that the Chinese would be doing everything they can to peacefully resolve this issue. The Dalai Lama is a man of is not as though China is facing a militant leader threatening to employ suicide bombers against civilian targets, as Israel and Sri Lanka are facing with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal or LTTE (Tamil Tigers) leader Vellupillai Prabakharan.

When the Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics begin, viewers the world over should remember that the Chinese security forces strolling through the crowds of spectators are not only busy keeping the event safe, but are also in the streets of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, holding down their ironclad grip on the city while attacking demonstrators who dare to defy them. With every Tibetan activist who is beaten, jailed, or killed, China is only reminding us that instead of a "world power", it is nothing more than another savage and evil regime engaging in acts of brutal violence against innocent people.