Weekend Reading 1

November 18, 2006

Starting with this weekend, I will try to post two or three “recommended readings” every Friday. The theme will reflect that of this blog’s, that is to say there will be no particular theme. Just stuff from all over the place that I have read and liked (I will not recommend something I have not read myself.) These will be essays/articles/poems/blog entries that have struck my own idiosyncratic fancy and you are at liberty to read them or not -they do come highly recommended however.

So how is this any different from my usual posts (that mostly bear links to other readings too)? The answer is, they will not be accompanied by my usually excessive and long-winded extrapolation and commentary. Just for you to read. Maybe through the comments section you can share your thoughts, though with so many lurkers I highly doubt that.

So on to the first weekend’s readings:


Update on UCLA Police Brutality

November 18, 2006

Power to the People! Thanks to YouTube!

Thanks also to a crude cell-phone video of the incident of police brutality against an Iranian student on UCLA campus (see my earlier post) the issue has received much attention.

  • For the third day in a row the video is the most linked-to video on Technorati, prompting this insightful post (Candid Cameras) from Dan Glaister on Guardian’s blog Comment is Free. Consider posting a link to the video from your blog.
  • UCLA officials has taken notice and have ordered an independent investigation into the case. (This was recommended by CAIR-LA earlier.)
  • More interestingly, the government of the Islamic Republic has sent its two cents on the matter: In a statement issues Saturday, Iran’s foreign ministry has said that the incident has “hurt the feelings of the Iranian nation.” (It strikes me that the government of Iran lacks the credibility to defend students and to debate brutality against them.

I will fallow this issue over the next few days and report any further developments. It is important that his incident not go unnoticed, and if proven to be motivated by religious or racial intolerance, it should provide the starting point for a long-awaited debate on the matter.

Afghanistan’s Katrina

November 18, 2006

AFP reports: “More than 50 people have been killed and another 100 are missing in western Afghanistan after the worst flooding in years.”Unfortunately the toll is bound to rise -missing usually means dead here. I just think they put the toll lower to get the public used to the idea -the principal of gradualism at work.

The government and the international aid agencies say relief is on the way. What stands between now and this becoming Afghanistan’s Katrina is how they will deliver on that promise. (The comparison is intended only to contrast official attitude and reaction to the catastrophe and not to compare death tolls and loss of property.)

It’s All About Kaching!

November 18, 2006

The Channel 4 News crew wrap up a week of live broadcast from Afghanistan with this report on doing business in Afghanistan. The team interviews one of the country’s emerging tycoons Azmarai Kamgar, the owner of Kam Air and a handful of other enterprises. Mr. Kamgar is forthright in saying that regardless of who is in power (the Communists, the Mujahideen, Taliban, Karzai, or “someone else tomorrow” -he leaves it open) he is ready to deal with them and not betroth himself too loyally to any particular ideology. In the best tradition of successful businessmen everywhere, he complains about government and accuses it of trying to “destroy” the business community in Afghanistan. With his money he plans to break into the energy sector -but only after he builds himself a “Neverland” in Mazar-i Sharif. (Read Alex Thomson’s blog entry The Easyjet of Afghanistan.)

Also in the report we hear some hair-raising premonitions from former Minister of Planning and current MP Mr. Ramazan Bashardost about a secretive “mafia” that runs Afghanistan from “behind closed doors,” and whose members include top government officials and a few international players. Although Mr. Bashardost is not taken too seriously in Afghanistan these days, all the same with the levels of corruption as rampant as it is in Afghanistan, he can only be right. What I am uncertain about is whether the “mafia” that he speaks of real or imaginary/metaphorical. He seems to use the word literally, and that is no cause for comfort. Separately, I have observed disturbing signs elsewhere that indicate the existence of if not an outright mafia, at least an implicit “understanding” between various vested business interests, none of which coincide too closely with the public’s interest in Afghanistan. I shall purposefully remain vague for now.

(To see videos of the week’s Channel 4 reporting from Afghanistan and to read their news blog visit News from Afghanistan.)

Letters to the Radio Station

November 18, 2006

If one day one were to write a review of the modern technologies that saw the most use and made the greatest of impacts on life in Afghanistan (the real Afghanistan, the rural Afghanistan) three would top my list. These are, hierarchically:

a) Radio

b) Ak-47

c) Mobile phone

Of the three, Kalashnikov’s legacy is all too widely known, and mobile phones have yet to make their mark in shaping and transforming life in rural Afghanistan (it has already started, and is projected to continue in an unprecedented way.)

Radio, however, has become such an ubiquitous part of rural life over the years that many have forgotten that it is a relic of modern life in these backwaters. In its usefulness, mobility, low cost operation, and the ruggedness of the Japanese panasonic models, the radio might have as well been invented specifically for rural Afghanistan.

For starters, there is no electricity in these parts. Equally significant, two thirds of all adults are illiterate. With a radio, you don’t have to have electric power, lots of money, lots of literacy, or lots of leisure time to sit on a couch (assuming you had one of those -to the horror of your neighbors.) A couple of AAA batteries will last you a good deal of time, and you can carry the radio around on the field as you cut down the autumn’s fields of alfalfa -and be connected with such far off places as London and Dushanbe, and thereby through the BBC anchor’s desk, to Tokyo and Timbuktu. (Tip: chewing on the used batteries for squeezing extra juice out of them is also an option, buying you some air time until you travel to the shops a day’s walk away to fetch new ones.)

Years ago I read a touching short story about radios in Afghanistan. It told the tale of when a radio is first introduced in a village -a real case of shock and awe. A decade or so ago I myself lived in one such place (somehow after all these years the place still lives in me) -where the radio, my fathers travels to Pakistan, and Jack London and Victor Hugo’s translated short stories that he brought back were my connection to the outside world and fueled my fantasies of living in that world as I tended to sheep.

I could have been the writer of one of these letters (and the overly done paintings) to the local radio station. The letters (mostly written by middle school children) are deeply touching in their meticulous penmanship and drawings, and their emotion-filled testimonials and poetry.

In the words of a reader named Sofiya who wrote a comment in response all the way from Moscow, Russia (addressed directly to the young audience,) “The most obvious projection of the letters is normality; normal life in these little villages and towns; or at least a tendency to return to it.”

Be sure to check out the audience’s letters as well as Sofiya’s response by visiting the Afghan Local Radio blog. I was amazed by both.