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Women Are Swelling the Ranks of People Living in Extreme Poverty in America

This piece originally appeared on openDemocracy, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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Forced Evictions, Racist Attacks: What Britain's New Landlord Has in Store for Asylum Seekers in Private Housing

On the evening of Tuesday 30 October a new asylum seeker sent from London, 250 miles north to a property in Thornaby, Stockton found himself, along with four other asylum seekers, besieged by a crowd shouting racist abuse. They broke down the door and broke windows. The asylum seeker, a journalist, had only recently fled from such harassment in Iraq. The area is well known for racism and rowdyism yet the police refused to record the attack as a ‘racist’ incident. The landlord simply repaired the door (not the window), and refused to move the journalist. The other four asylum seekers left the property, fearing further attacks.

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Scarce Jobs, Slashed Salaries, and Schools Without Books: The Ugly Consequences of Austerity in Athens

In Athens, the beginning of autumn coincides with the return of an all too familiar scene: inside Parliament, politicians are quarrelling over details of the austerity requested of them by the Troika; outside, protesters are shouting their anger at what they see as unfair, unsuccessful and unsustainable policies.

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'Is Hollande Going to Expel Us All'? Roma Population in France Faces Discrimination and an Uncertain Future

The Roma families who live in the Voltaire settlement in Saint-Denis, near Paris, count themselves lucky. They live on a piece of land owned by the State, they have houses Рmodest prefab affairs that they built themselves, using materials put at their disposal by a philantropic entrepreneur Рand their children go to school. It's early September, la rentr̩e, and I'm following the steps of Adriana, a 30 year-old charity worker, who's going from house to house to help parents fill up school forms in French (the ones that say who to call in case of emergency, and whether you want your kid to have school meals). Adriana makes sure parents understand how parent-teacher books work, and I am reminded of my own childhood: a mother holds a notebook covered in yellow plastic, and nods intently to explanations given in Romanian. Here, school is taken seriously too.

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GOP Targets African-American Women in Voter Suppression Efforts

How will the American Presidential election be won in November 2012? By the Republicans buying the election? Perhaps. But money cannot always buy an election. That is why Republicans have spent the last 4-6 years passing a spate of voter suppression laws in “swing states” that will make it more difficult and costly for the young, the elderly, minorities, union members and single and elderly women to cast a vote for Barack Obama.

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Massacre of South African Mine Workers Recalls Dark Days of Apartheid

South Africans are reeling in horror at a violent incident on 16 August 2012 which recalls the darkest days of the country's apartheid past: the killing by armed police of around thirty-four miners (the precise number is not yet confirmed) at a platinum-mine owned by the giant Lonmin company, near Rustenberg in the country's north. Government ministers and senior figures in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) are expressing simultaneous shock, outrage and perplexity at what has become known as the "Marikana massacre". The recurrent refrain is that the task now is to understand what lies behind the tragedy, and that it’s too early to "point fingers" in blame. President Jacob Zuma, meanwhile, has promised the appointment of a commission of inquiry with a wide-ranging scope.

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Ireland's Long War: Despite Peace Agreement, Dissidents Continue Their Violent Campaign

On 27th April 2012 the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) held its annual conference in DublinIt was the first time Ireland had hosted the organisation, an intergovernmental regional security structure comprising 56 states, including all EU countries, Russia, the US and Canada.

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The Far Right Takes Root in Europe

The bloodthirsty attacks perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway on July 22 last year (leaving 77 dead) provided a brutal awakening for all those in Europe who had been passively observing the rise of the Islamophobic far right. As the trial opens, around thirty political parties that openly call for a "pure European identity" are effectively in the process of consolidating their parliamentary positions (occasionally even signing agreements with mainstream right wing parties, as is the case in the Netherlands), and are claiming an ever greater media presence.

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Why Iraq Remains Engulfed in Violence

Some of the uprisings in the Arab world in 2011 demonstrated the appeal and the power of nonviolent protest.  Others, however, bore witness to the enduring appeal of violence, both for embattled regimes and for those trying to unseat them.  For the former, violence and the threat of violence promises to restore order and discipline; for the latter it promises direct access to power.  It thus becomes in the projection of power both a symbol and an instrument of the seriousness of the political project, expressing resolve and representing the very embodiment of sovereignty:  the ability and the right to grant life and death.

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Why Women Dominate the Right-Wing Tea Party

Why have American women become so active in the right-wing Tea Party movement? Could it be that they are drawn to the new conservative Christian feminism publicized by Sarah Palin? Without its grassroots female supporters, the Tea Party would have far less appeal to voters who are frightened by economic insecurity, threats to moral purity and the gradual disappearance of a national white Christian culture.

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Leading UK Drug Reform Groups Push Ahead with Blueprints for Legalization

Perhaps because the scale of the UK crisis is measurably lower than in the States, and thus more manageable, two UK-based drug policy organizations have been able to craft individual  frameworks for reform and regulation that are garnering a lot of attention, and inspiring activists and reformers across the pond.

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Internet Freedoms Come of Age

As many a policy wonk / green lobbyist / aging ex-frontman of the Boomtown Rats will tell you, there comes a time in the life of a political rebel when you cut your hair, put on a tie, put down the placard and walk into the building. Entering the corridors of power to make your case may involve a little compromise of your principles, but that's all part of growing up.

Similarly, it seems, the internet is entering a new age of responsibility. Where once the out-of-control look seemed sexy -- all off-the-cuff and emergent in an oversized Grateful Dead t-shirt -- now as the World Wide Web is increasingly finding its place in polite, and profitable, society, something a little more refined is in order. Something with a degree of self-control.

Before November's World Summit of the Information Society in Tunis, the idea that the internet could be controlled was anathema to the "network of ends". Then when Google went into China last month, it cast light into the shadowy corners of a regime bent on censoring the net and controlling the packets of data that pass between its citizens and the outside world, to perpetuate its iron grip over a nation by depriving them of information. The image of internet control that was projected back out to the rest of the world spurred the US Congress to draft the Global Internet Freedom Bill, bringing the impulse to legislate into the open.

But legislation to harness the net's unstoppable flow of information has been drafted, away from the public eye, ever since powerful rightsholder lobbies realised that the internet's potential to distribute information at zero cost had grave implications for the way they did business.

A disparate group of campaigners has been the only voice for internet freedom in this often rarefied and remote debate. Sitting in on working groups in forgotten corners of Brussels, attending endless hearings of court cases in Washington, it has marked up both defeats and successes in their quest to keep technological innovation in the information age free from inappropriate constraints pursued by rightsholder groups.

In January 2003, creative commons frontman Lawrence Lessig failed to persuade the US Supreme Court that extending the period of copyright to nearly a century hinders the progress of science and the useful arts. The case against copyright term extension is now being fought by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive on free speech grounds.

In May 2005, the Electronic Frontier Foundation successfully persuaded the DC Circuit Court of Appeals that a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission to disable digital recordings of television broadcasts and criminalise the sale of hardware that did not conform to the specifications of rightsholder groups was beyond the organisation's remit. Following the US ruling's defeat, a similar piece of legislation developed by the Digital Video Broadcasting project is now making its way through Brussels.

In June 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that Grokster, the manufacturer of the peer-to-peer networking service Morpheus, was liable for copyright infringement that took place over its network. This reversed the precedent set by the famous Sony Betamax case against the video recorders, which decided that technologists working in the information field were free to create new ways of distributing and copying information so long as their inventions had significant non-copyright-infringing uses.

In July 2005, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to reject a European Commission recommendation to allow patents on software code, a development that could have led to the demise of free and open source software and the fossilisation of one of the most dynamic, innovative industries in "new Europe".

As these cases show, the fight between internet freedom and intellectual property law -- the "copyfight" -- is a never-ending one. Many characterise its protagonists as techno-utopians, or geeks worried that someone might take their toys away. But as the narrative of control over internet freedom joins the mainstream, it is worth remembering how long, and against what adversaries, the fight has been fought up until now.

The movement to keep the internet free will be the defining fight in the information age, just as the environmental movement is the defining fight of the industrial age. As our physical make-up is reduced to a string of ones and zeros, and knowledge replaces property and labour as the means of production, democratic access to information becomes a basic civil right.

The copyfight has many parallels with the early environmental movement. Valid interest in access to information unhindered by intellectual property law is diverse -- from librarians to scientists to developing world campaigners fighting for the right to distribute lifesaving generic antiretrovirals in Africa. These parties are beginning to organise together, as shown by Consumers International's recent condemnation of the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation's pursuit of tighter intellectual property controls. Just as peace campaigners joined with conservationists, animal rights activists with anti-nuclear protesters, so will the people who fight on the fringes of the information war join forces.

Copyfighters, like environmentalists, seek to protect a complex ecology. The abolition of copyright and patent law is not the goal of these defenders of internet freedom -- they merely seek a balance between the needs of creators to profit from their work and the needs of the public eventually to own it. As players in the knowledge economy continue to prospect in the pool of collective wisdom, copyfighters ask only that they do not over-farm.

Now that the fight for internet freedom has moved from the corporate to the political stage, it is likely to gain more exposure and more support. But it should be noted that the arguments used in this fight -- such as freedom of speech and transparency of government -- are similar to those used in the copyfight.

On 14 February, Condoleeza Rice announced a Global Internet Freedom Task Force. It will "consider the foreign policy aspects of internet freedom, including the use of technology to restrict access to political content and…efforts to modify internet governance structures in order to restrict the free flow of information." The fight for internet freedom has finally entered the corridors of power. Let's hope it remembers its roots.

The World Through a Looking Glass

Ever felt worn down by the modern world? Find yourself fantasising about other lives you could have lived -- as a courtier at Versailles, a geisha, perhaps a pipe-smoking Edwardian gentleman? A vision of the world as a simple place, without bio-terrorism, frankenstein foods, melting ice-caps. Life in serene freedom from latter-day horrors.

Except that some people still speak of the bad old days. My father, who grew up in Iran, used to say the second world war had been the most difficult time of his life, despite the fact that the country didn't see any fighting. "We spent hours queueing for bread, and when we got it, it was the worst kind, and all burnt," he recalled. My grandfather could have talked to you about the Depression, his own father about the shock of the Great War.

Every generation has its earth-shattering moments. So why do we tend to believe we've never had it so bad? It's easy to see a "meant to be" quality in the past that makes it seem less frightening although, at the time, it might have felt like the old certainties were unravelling. And of course, it's hardly in the news media's interests to reveal that there's nothing new under the sun.

So indulge me for a moment in a detour into my personal life. A few weeks ago I broke a full length mirror. Not only had it been my sole means of judging how well my top half matched my bottom half (faux pas have since been witnessed), like most outwardly rational people, I secretly retain one or two superstitions, among them a belief that smashing mirrors is serious bad luck. I began to worry that I had just brought seven years of misery on myself. Perhaps I should have found comfort in the fact that this would surely mean I could expect to live another seven years, and might as well stop worrying about plane crashes and terminal diseases for that period of time. Already a bad omen, it then became a source of guilt as my housemates rightly decided it was up to me to dispose of it. I wasn't sure how. In the end, I went at it with a hacksaw and a hammer, breaking it into manageable pieces and no doubt compounding the bad luck in the process.

Between the mirror and the hardboard backing were the brittle yellowed pages of a newspaper. Checking the date, I was surprised to find that it was a British Daily Mail from July 11, 1925. Back then, John Logie Baird was tinkering with the first TV set and F. Scott Fitzgerald had just published The Great Gatsby. "Ah," I thought wistfully, falling into the trap, "another world." Not quite.

Among the adverts for liver salts, nerve tonics and baby carriages was an article titled "Tragi-comedy of Monkeyville." Monkeyville, it emerged, was Dayton, Tennessee, where John T. Scopes, a high school teacher, had been arraigned on charges of teaching evolution. Very odd. Less than a week before, I'd been listening to a woman on the news. "The last time this happened, it was in the old world and people got burnt at the stake" she protested, from the epicentre of another crisis over whether to allow the teaching of creationism in American schools. I was ready to believe her line about this being something new and alien. Countless reports give the impression the Christian lobby in the US has never been stronger. But as my paper showed, the debate about the role of biblical teaching is far from new, even on her side of the Atlantic.

Perhaps stranger was that British shock at the anachronism of the debate was as tangible in 1925 as it is in 2005. John Blunt writes "one suddenly perceives that Tennessee is a much more incredible place than New Guinea, and that America contains mysteries of outlook that make China appear simple." He articulates an uneasiness, not alien to modern-day U.K. citizens, at being closely identified with the United States but uncomfortable with some of its mores. Blunt warms to his theme: "the strange prejudices of, let us say, a Kalmuk do not astonish one, because everything about him is completely different from oneself; but the stranger prejudices of a Tennessee farmer do astonish one, just because he appears, in so many ways, to be very much like oneself."

Equally disconcerting is the American love of spectacle, the desire to turn the proceedings of a courtroom into a piece of entertainment (O.J. Simpson springs to mind). The paper's special correspondent notes sniffily that on arrival the presiding judge stopped to allow photographs to be taken. Clearly enjoying his few moments of fame he posed again, his gavel raised, before calling the case. Blunt wonders that "the most modern business instincts appear to be mixed up with a mentality that flourished hundreds of years ago, and the dark intolerance of the Middle Ages to be mingled with a strong desire to "boost the occasion." That desire to "boost" the occasion is now so much in evidence that it passes without comment. This is one aspect of the article, at least, that would seem quaint to the modern reader.

Monkeyville wasn't the only story with eerie parallels to the present. I found British hooligans making nuisances of themselves on the continent, and the enormous cost to the taxpayer of the mass-slaughter of diseased cattle (tuberculosis, not foot and mouth or bird flu, was the animal affliction of the moment). Some unlucky hack had been sent across London to see how long it would take to get from Marble Arch to Liverpool Street at 11.30 in the morning. He spent 52 minutes behind the wheel, including the 12 minutes it took to cross Tottenham Court Road -- a time that would raise few eyebrows today. Though there was the occasional grocery barrow to contend with on his nightmare drive, at least he didn't have to risk encountering one of Mayor Ken Livingstone's unlovable new "bendy buses."

In the parliamentary section I read that Conservative M.P. Sir Robert Gower intends to ask a question about the British Broadcasting Company. At the time solely a radio broadcaster, then as now it was funded by a licence fee. Gower wanted to ask the minister responsible whether, in view of the profits made by the BBC over the past year, a reduction in the fee would be in order. The BBC's funding is still hotly debated today -- so when was the golden age of consensus on our public service broadcaster? It never existed.

Among the letters, a Major Bagley holds forth on the lamentable record of Great Britain's sporting representatives before attempting to explain "why foreigners win". The reason, he claims, is the lack of "organised games" in all but the best schools and universities in the UK. To anyone who follows the British press today, hand-wringing about our international sporting performance and the 'crisis' of physical education in schools is familiar background noise, though the Ashes victory and successful Olympic bid may have produced a brief lull.

On the back pages, America reappears, but this time the mind of the tourist, not the Tennessee farmer, is dissected. To understand the annual influx of visitors from the U.S., Europeans need look no further than the tedious uniformity of American culture: it doesn't matter where you are in the States, "buildings, furniture and clothes are everywhere identical, and language is too". It is the variety of the old world that attracts them, though with prohibition in full swing, the chance to sink a few can't have been far from their minds. But something odd is afoot; parts of London, Paris and Rome are beginning to look the same as well, the same as everywhere else, that is. "The imposing new Regent Street, for example, that has arisen in the last few years might just as well be a piece of Winnipeg or Sydney as of London." Anxiety about globalisation, a favourite 21st-century preoccupation, was already in full swing in 1925. Many now see the classical canyon of Regent's Street as the epitome of Grand Old England and instead deride the proliferation of Norman Foster's glass blobs. The objects are different, but the sentiment is the same.

Browsing my old newspaper I wonder at the egotism in assuming we are the first to experience anything. It seems bizarre that the surprise is fresh every time we are reminded that people in the past were just like us. Here is reason not to take the media's frequent predictions of doom, disaster and cultural decline too seriously. There are some things, you could argue, that genuinely are new: modern weapons, AIDS or global warming. But on examination, how similar even these problems are to the challenges faced by earlier generations: no small comfort -- they survived them, after all. The man on the street in 1925 was as beset by uncertainties as we are. The prospect of another, much more frightening war loomed large, and everyday tribulations, the traffic, the economy, the loss of old ways of life, were stories beloved of editors then as now.

My advice, the next time you're anxious about the rise of creationism, cloned coffee shops or the state of the world in general, is to go to the library and ask to see a copy of a daily paper from 1930, 1910 or even 1860. The longer view may be the more realistic.

A Constitution or an Epitaph?

The Iraqi constitutional committee could not come to an agreement on the issues that separated it by the Monday's deadline: the role Islam should play in the constitution, federalism as a model of government, the rights of women, even the official name of the new Iraqi state. The result is that the national assembly has given the negotiators a week's extension, until August 22 -- a period both long enough (in principle) to resolve differences, and short enough to sustain the pressure to do so.

The fact that none of the major issues have been settled is a worry, both for the Iraqi political process and for a George W Bush administration determined to see the negotiations end quickly. But the manner in which the process was extended is also significant.

The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) of 2004, passed by Paul Bremer -- head of the United States-appointed Coalition Provisional Authority set up following the end of the Saddam Hussein regime in April 2003 -- has operated in Iraq as a sort of interim constitution. It sets out the political timetable that the Iraqis are supposed to follow until a new constitution is passed and a permanent government is formed. The terms of the TAL specify that the drafting process should have been completed on 15 August 2005, but also indicate that the national assembly could request a six-month extension if a draft could not be completed by that date. However, the TAL makes no provision for a one-week extension. The national assembly's last-minute intervention is therefore its own invention.

The one-week extension has been presented as an amendment of the Transitional Administrative Law itself. This explanation is problematic. For example, Article 32(c) of the TAL provides that the national assembly cannot vote on a bill in the first four days after a bill is presented to it. An amendment passed in the final moments before the August 15 deadline expired clearly does not meet this four-day requirement. The national assembly, in other words, violated the TAL in order to amend it.

The Americans were desperate to avoid this type of development, and are especially disturbed by it. In practice, it means that the Iraqis are starting to deviate from the path that the occupation authorities had set for them. If a final constitution is indeed agreed on 22 August, the effect could be considered "benign". But what if no agreement is reached and the national assembly seeks a further extension? The pressure the Bush administration applied to secure agreement by 15 August did not work, and it may be no different next time around.

The scale of the differences that still divide the parties on three significant issues -- federalism, religion, and women -- reinforce the sense that meaningful agreement will be hard to reach.

Federalism or Centralism?

The first fundamental issue yet to be resolved is whether Iraq should become a federal country, and if so of what kind. It raises a number of vital subsidiary questions, such as the control and distribution of oil revenues.

The latest version of the draft constitution provides for four different levels of government:

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A Better Way to Tackle Terror

The five days between July 6 and July 10 were for Londoners a mini-epic of emotional intensity. Between exultant celebrations of the successful 2012 Olympic Games bid and proud commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the second world war, the city's transport networks suffered a coordinated assault of four bombings that killed 56 people and injured 700.

The pattern of events produced a familiar narrative in response: that Londoners -- and British people generally -- are good at pulling together in a crisis. This narrative, drawing on a broader sense of historical continuity and solidarity, encourages the British to feel that they can find themselves not merely in standing together, but in being prepared to fight together.

But 2005 is not 1945, and the bombings of "7/7" present a different kind of threat. The long, bloody conflict in Northern Ireland shows that if terrorism is approached as war, it cannot be defeated. If superior force could subdue terror, the mightiest military machine in history would by now surely have prevailed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What is needed instead is intelligence: intelligence of the obvious kind (tracking people down, stopping flows of money, cutting supplies of weapons and explosives) and of a less obvious kind (intelligence that understands the mind of the extremist). A reaction that asserts "these people only understand force" or "these people are psychopaths" does not help. It is potentially more useful -- though much more difficult -- to understand why people are furious enough to commit extreme acts of political violence, often involving their own deaths.

The Power of Humiliation

Terrorism is a calculated act of political violence intended to create maximum public disruption and response. The ultimate aim is psychological intimidation -- to create an environment in which people no longer feel safe. The intelligent response is also, in turn, psychological.

What might it feel like to be Osama bin Laden, or any militant Islamic fundamentalist? Perhaps this:

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London Lives

There is something perverse about globalization. I live and work in the area of London targeted in the four explosions on Thursday, July 7. None of our phones worked for several hours and I couldn't reach my family and close friends. Yet even before I quite realized what was happening, I was receiving emails from India, America, Azerbaijan, Kosovo and even Baghdad.

This area (Holborn, Russell Square, Aldwych) soon became eerily quiet except for the sound of sirens and helicopters. Between the dozens of ambulances and fire engines, people milled around on the streets trying to get their mobiles to work.

The latest tally of victims from the four bombings is more than 50 killed and 700 wounded. It is impossible to dignify this nihilistic crime by attributing political motives. It cannot be explained in terms of religion, ideology, or any rational motive, however perverted. A group calling itself "Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe" claims responsibility and says it is taking "revenge" on the "British Zionist crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan."

If the claim proves accurate, what kind of revenge is it to attack the city where 2 million people marched against the war in Iraq? Surely this is not the way to get the British out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some argue that the aim is to divide our city; the terrorists want Muslims to stay at home. They want to create an idea of jihad. But even this hypothesis implies too much rationality. The most that can be attributed to these insane criminals is a desire to be important. They have no other way to make us take notice except violence. They are small people who want a moment of global action.

This is why the best reaction to this crime is to ignore it -- to refuse to allow its perpetrators their moment of notoriety. Of course, it is important to strengthen protection of innocent people, and to track down the criminals and bring them before the courts. But the crime should not be allowed to derail everyday plans and projects.

So far, the response from the emergency services, from political, religious and civic leaders, and from London's population has been exemplary. They have offered solidarity to the victims and emphasised the need for Londoners to stick together. The crime has not produced terror or panic. Where possible, people are continuing with whatever was on their agenda where this is not disrupted by transport or by the hideous effects of the explosions.

Will citizens and their leaders carry this insistence on normality and continuity of behaviour into the broader political arena? They face this crucial question amidst an extraordinary period in London's, and Britain's, history. The mobilization around the G8 summit, the spectacular Live8 concerts, the vast protest march in Edinburgh, and the excitement generated by the Make Poverty History campaign have all generated a palpable mood of collective expectation.

Then, on July 6, the announcement that the 2012 Olympics would be held in London created a wave of jubilation. Every day for a fortnight seems to have been a global drama. Then the bombers struck, as if in an attempt to poison and derail this evolving mood. This makes it even more vital that politicians and citizens keep their balance.

The G8 must retain its focus. Tony Blair is right to decide that the leaders gathered in Gleneagles should "continue to discuss the issues that we were going to discuss and reach the conclusions that we were going to reach." Even George W Bush says that it was important to talk about debt reduction and aid for Africa -- though he could not quite bring himself to use the "c-word" (climate change) and referred to a "cleaner environment" instead. The best way that those powerful men in Gleneagles could show their solidarity with London is to make historic decisions on debt reduction, aid and trade, and climate change.

This consistency is also needed on other critical political issues. We need to go on thinking about Iraq, identity cards, Europe, the environment, in a way that is not swayed by these terrible events. For example, I still want to help build a peaceful and democratic Iraq, to support an inclusive government in Baghdad, and end the occupation irrespective of what happened in London. I still oppose the introduction of identity cards and want to defend civil liberties in Britain.

Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, got it right. London is a great cosmopolitan city with hundreds of languages and religions, where people keep coming "to be free, to live the life they choose, to be able to be themselves". Most Londoners love the city for that very reason. The message of Live8 and the Olympics bid was the solidarity, pride and enthusiasm of Londoners of all classes, religions, colour or culture. The best way to respond to threats from whatever quarter -- Islamic terrorists or white vigilantes -- is to remember how we felt before the attacks and keep that mood alive.

Africans Can Do it for Ourselves

Editor's Note: This article is adapted from a speech that Kenyan environment minister and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai gave on July 2, 2005, at London's African Diaspora & Development Day.

This is a historic time, when the spotlight is on Africa. It is appropriate for us to recognize and applaud the efforts of our friends, both within the G8 and in the wider civil society, who are trying to improve the quality of life in Africa.

In 2004, the peace prize award of Norway's Nobel committee linked the environment with democratic governance and peace. I have compared these three themes and the situation they create to a traditional African stool. Just as such a stool needs three solid legs to be stable, so does any stable state. And just as the legs, the body and the basin of the stool are made from one log, so leaders and citizens must together mould the three pillars.

One cannot build democracy in order later to manage resources sustainably and create peace. Managing resources accountably and responsibly, and sharing them more equitably, are essential to nurture a culture of peace. This in turn is possible only if there is adequate democratic space for everybody; space where the rule of law and the rights of all, including the weak and vulnerable, are respected.

A time for dignity

As I travel across the world, I find that people are concerned about this shift in the concept of peace and security. There can be no peace without sustainable management of resources, justice and fairness.

Indeed, most of the conflicts and wars are over resources: who will access, exploit and utilize them? Who will be excluded? Those who feel excluded, exploited and humiliated can threaten peace and security.

One of the worst outcomes of injustices is poverty. It robs human beings of their dignity. When people are poor and when they are reduced to beggars, they feel weak, humiliated, disrespected and undignified. They hide alone in corners and dare not raise their voices. They are neither heard nor seen. They often suffer in isolation and desperation.

Yet all human beings deserve respect and dignity. As long as millions of people live in poverty and indignity, humanity should feel diminished. This historic time gives all of us, especially those in leadership, the opportunity to reduce poverty.

There is a lot of poverty in Africa. Yet Africa is not a poor continent. It is endowed with human beings, sunshine, oil, precious stones, forests, water, wildlife, soil, land and agricultural products. So what is the problem?

First, many African people lack knowledge, skills and tools to add value to their raw materials so that they can take more processed goods into the local and international markets, where they would negotiate better prices and better rules for trade. In such situations, Africans find themselves locked out of productive, rewarding economic activities that would provide them with the regular income they need to sustain themselves.

They are either unemployed or underemployed � and they are certainly underpaid. They may wish to secure a well-paid job, but if they do not have the tools, nobody will hire them. Neither will they be able to take care of their housing, healthcare, education, nutrition, and other family and personal needs.

Second, there is economic injustice, which must be addressed not only by the rich industrialized countries, but also by African leaders. Africans have been poorly governed. This misgovernment continues to allow the exploitation of resources in Africa, without much benefit to African citizens.

Africa's diaspora and civil society

I commend the African diaspora for believing in small and medium-sized enterprises, which are key to enabling Africans to fulfil their aspirations for jobs and economic security. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido) reports that 90% of all businesses in Africa are small and medium-sized. We must support this sector, and ensure that it thrives. The diaspora can ensure that this sector grows in the home countries.

Africans in the diaspora are estimated to send back some $200 billion to Africa each year. This money assists both their families and the national economy. We need to encourage and sustain this interest and commitment. We need initiatives that are simple, attainable and able to generate visible success in a short time. This creates momentum, trust, excitement and goodwill around solutions that ordinary people themselves own and believe in.

A lot remains to be done. But I am encouraged by the increased willingness of African leaders to commit to gradual improvement of governance, especially through comparatively more free and fair elections, the creation of Nepad, sub-regional political and economic coalitions, and the African Union.

The African Union recently asked me to lead a process of mobilizing African civil society. My role is to create an organ to advise the African Union on the best way to involve Africans as active participants in the creation of a new Africa.

I was also appointed by the eleven heads of states within the central African sub-region to be a goodwill ambassador for the Congo basin forest ecosystem. These initiatives are evidence of a renaissance that needs encouragement and support from friends, partners and the diaspora.

We must support campaigns to save African forests and biodiversity. The importance of forests to humanity is well-known: ecological balancing; absorbing carbon; preventing loss of soil and subsequent desertification; safeguarding against floods; acting as reservoirs for genetic resources; controlling rainfall patterns; serving as catchment areas for freshwater and rivers.

Without such green life, humankind would not survive. But many of these services from forests are taken for granted, and environmental degradation continues despite many efforts.

Take the case of the Congo forest ecosystem. 200 million hectares of forest are under threat of extinction, as are 400 mammalian species and more than 10,000 plant species; all this, plus the livelihoods of more than a million indigenous people who depend on the forest resources of the ecosystem.

Africa will be especially adversely affected by climate change. I recommend to the G8 that the Convergence Plan for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa be a priority concern. It is an issue that, like no other, brings together the twin themes of the summit: climate change and Africa.

A lesson from Japan

The G8 countries' cancellation of the debts of the eighteen HIPC countries is welcome, but I urge that other countries in Africa also be considered. They may be able to make debt repayments, but they do so at the expense of education and healthcare, thus sacrificing the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.

The British prime minister, Tony Blair, and his Commission for Africainitiative, deserve great credit. I hope that other G8 countries will support his and his finance minister Gordon Brown's recommendations, especially in the area of debt, doubling of financial assistance and better terms of trade.

It is understandable that governments may sometimes wish to give conditional aid. But a patronizing approach to sovereign states undermines their authority, and the respect and trust they can receive from their people. An improvement of governance in Africa means that it would be more appropriate to give aid that is not tied so as to allow governments to address priorities identified by them and their citizens.

The diaspora is the face of Africa to the world. Its members have a special responsibility to be good ambassadors of Africa by working hard, respecting the law of the land, and being responsible and accountable members of the society in which they live. The diaspora influences the world's perception of African people.

In many industrialized countries like Britain and Japan, there is a "3R" campaign (reduce, repair, recycle) calling for more sustainable use of resources. Individuals and groups can engage in initiatives, which support the spirit of the Kyoto protocol and sustainable development.

In Japan, a campaign incorporating the 3R is strengthened by the beautiful concept of mottainai ("what a waste!), which urges people not to waste resources but to instead use them with respect and care. Awareness and commitment at a personal level is very important.

These examples are simple and workable ideas that we can practice individually everywhere: recyling plastic, reusing plastic bags, planting trees, printing on both sides of the paper, saving water -- all in the spirit of mottainai.

As we continue the struggle on behalf of our people, let us remember that we are not alone. We have friends and we build on bricks laid by our ancestors who labored and even died so that we, their children, might regain respect and dignity. This is our time, let us give our best.

I Am An Iraqi Journalist

I am an Iraqi journalist. Every day I am exposed to the nightmare the Iraqi people are living through -- but also to their fortitude and resilience. This experience makes me even more patriotic. Unlike many self-seeking (and non-Iraqi) Arab journalists -- those who are completely oblivious to the damage they are causing -- I have no interest in igniting an already catastrophic situation. Freedom of the press is important, but the consequences of bad journalism are ruinous. In present-day Iraq, sensationalism is synonymous with poisoning the entire nation.

I grew up as a member of Iraq's "war generation" -- a child when the 1980 war started with Iran, and a teenager during 1991's Desert Storm. There was no escape from war and accepting this pushed me into documenting its effects on film. I studied performing arts and film at university, and part of my filmmaking training is a commitment to seeing and presenting the truth.

I was the fourth in our family to flee Iraq. My younger sister, a doctor, escaped after hiding in the bathroom cubicle of a hospital for nine hours to avoid being forced to torture a conscript who had absconded from the army. The fashion then was to remove the top of the ears and brand the forehead as a mark of "cowardice." In hiding, she risked execution for treason.

I fled to Jordan soon after. I had my son there and began working for a large Arabic satellite news company in Amman, where my husband worked as a sound engineer. At least twice a month, the journalists and crew would be rounded up by the secret police, detained and questioned. This continued for months before the Jordanian government finally closed down our offices. My husband and I, unemployed and with a baby, needed to support ourselves. After months of applications, I found a job as a producer with al-Arabiya. The choice I had to make then was whether to build my career in Iraq and be separated from my son for months at a time, or struggle along in Jordan with him. I chose Iraq.

I do not know if I would have made the same choice now. The effect of my work on my son has been far worse than the separation from me, to the point that I have to force myself to not think of it. His awareness and morbid interest in death tolls, car bombs and violence in Iraq are my fault. When his father points me out on the television ("Look, there's mummy!") I am, more often than not, standing in a war zone, reporting on deaths, kidnappings and explosions. This makes me think too of Iraq's other children, who cannot be shielded from their everyday reality as much as their parents try.

The price to pay

Just over a week ago, the circumstances of my work were very different, as I chose to be an "embedded" journalist with Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi prime minister, on his four-day visit to Brussels, London and Washington. Some friends and colleagues discouraged and criticised my decision. "You are compromising your integrity," they told me; "How will people ever trust what you say? You'll never be taken seriously again."

Iraqi journalists are a very special group. They are the only journalists in Iraq who are frequently accused of treason or are asked to make decisions "in the interests of the nation" -- as if no other journalistic contingent covering Iraq's calamitous reality had any such responsibility. But I see my profession as a service to Iraq, especially when there are so many questions that deserve answers.

As part of al-Jaafari's entourage, I had greater access to information about Iraqi political realities than ever. The paradox -- as it may appear -- is that the closer to the government I became, the greater the quality of my coverage. None of my information was second-hand. On hearing breaking news, I could immediately confirm or refute reports that would go out to an anxious population. I continued to analyze, question, and criticise in a way that was well-informed and constructive in its intentions. I remained a journalist even in close proximity to power.

As a journalist in Iraq, I am used to accusations from different sides. Iyad Allawi's government closed the al-Arabiya offices in Baghdad for three months after alleging that we were guilty of "inhumanity" (because we showed footage of dead American soldiers) and condoning violence (because we used words like "resistance"). We also received daily threats from the "other side" who branded us as the government's "mouthpiece" (because we aired frequent interviews with those in power). In other words, we were guilty of journalism.

We used to joke about those threats, until one day "the other side" followed through, killing seven of my colleagues in a targeted car-bomb attack. It was a huge price to pay for a few exclusives. I was unconscious for four days and am still working hard to regain the use of my right arm and hand.

The hardest decision I have ever had to make is returning to Iraq after that attack. I was even more afraid of leaving my son without a mother. The definition of terror for me is allowing yourself to believe you are God, the judge of who lives and what dies. A true resistance shows its face and directly confronts those in power -- it doesn't lurk in the shadows murdering innocent people. But as a journalist, I can only guess at intentions; for that reason, I can describe the attackers neither as "terrorists" nor as the "resistance," only as "armed groups" -- that is as sure as I can be.

As an Iraqi living in Iraq, living under the cloud of attacks and kidnappings, I do not want to hear only news of bombs and killings, of the growing list of deaths and missing young women. I also want to know what is happening to restore public services, where communities are living a better life than they did under Saddam Hussein, whether the government is aware of and acting on the same problems that prevent me living a normal life. I want to know these things and to report them without fear or favour. The Iraqi people deserve the truth. They need to know that their sacrifices are worth their enormous sufferings.

My Lionhearted Little Cousin

This week, Iraq has suffered a string of unrelenting bomb attacks against its citizens. On Monday, June 13, the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera reported a car-bomb attack against a "US military convoy" that killed two Iraqi civilians and wounded eight others. My reaction to this report was the same as many people's � a passing sadness accompanied by a sense of hopelessness, and yes, a degree of apathy at yet another among hundreds of similar attacks.

On Tuesday evening, I received a phone call from an aunt in Baghdad informing me that her 3-year-old son, my cousin Ahmed, had been seriously injured in a car-bomb attack in Baghdad. The crackling line and two-second delay did not hide the grief in her voice, nor my unenviable inability to say anything comforting.

My family often expresses gratitude that all of us survived three wars, one of which lasted eight years and saw all the family's adult males conscripted. It was only after the last of these that my disabled grandfather and grandmother were robbed and beaten in their home, and forced to leave a beloved country for Jordan, where the government treats them like unwelcome (though paying) guests.

I spoke to my grandfather soon after the attack. Having worked in the oil industry under British authority, his English is that peculiar sort learned from colonial newspapers, cheap books and mustachioed men in safari hats. I asked him how he was and he replied in his strong accent, rolling his 'r's, "Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.�

Despite his injuries, I knew that the most hurt was to his pride and dignity: a grand old man unable to prevent strange men touching his wife of fifty years, taking his possessions and maliciously destroying things only he would value. They tore up his sixty-year-old newspaper clippings scrapbooks, broke bottles containing holy water he brought back from his pilgrimage to Mecca, and crushed a small straw basket he had bought at the age of six with money he made selling newspapers for the resistance.

This burglary was the prelude to a series of similar incidents. Most recently, my aunt, a producer and reporter, lost the use of her right hand after a targeted attack on the al-Arabiya television offices in Baghdad. She is a changed person, who can describe bloody events and look at gruesome images with a calm indifference that suggests deep trauma.

But never has the pain and anger been more gnawing than on hearing this latest news. Ahmed, my little cousin, was in London a few months ago. He has a strange, studious maturity about him, made more noticeable by his tiny size (even for his age), blond curls and wide, intent hazel eyes.

One day, I took Ahmed on his first trip to a zoo. We were watching the chimpanzees idling when we heard a crack of thunder in the distance. I was asking him a silly chimp-related question when I realized he was no longer at my side but had run off to hide in a sheltered, concrete corner. "The Americans have come to London!," he screamed as I tried to calm him.

I never once heard him talk about anything I associate with childhood. His conversation was full of "Americans,� "tanks,� "bombs" and even references to "those people.� Even seemingly playful references to Rambo and his then-hero Spiderman were accompanied by his insistence that Spiderman will "free Iraq from the Americans."

Ahmed's father, my uncle, was imprisoned and sentenced to execution by the Saddam regime, for unspecified reasons. After thousands of dollars of bribes and numerous "meetings,� he was released but remained under threat. Ahmed learned from the moment he could talk to avoid discussing his father with strangers. It entertained my family and pained me that when we asked for his full name, he answered, "Ahmed Rambo Assad (lion)". When I asked him why he chose this name, he said, "so that 'they' think Rambo is my dad and I am brave as a lion."

I could not then have found the words, but in retrospect I sense what I can only describe as a twisted innocence. It cannot be unique to Ahmed among Iraq's children. Now he is in hospital, suffering injuries inflicted not by his dreaded Americans but from people closer to the "they" of his earliest fears.

Every Iraqi family has a story that can convey the "human cost" of Iraq's nightmare. As they find no escape from intolerable daily realities, their children can never experience the privilege of innocence, learn how to play, talk about what children should.

As the adults in Iraqi children's lives, we bear much of the blame. Ahmed's story is a glimpse into the lives of all Iraqis, one that resonates to unseen and unheard depths behind the news reports informing us of the details of bombs, injuries and deaths. I can no longer ignore this unheard story and its implications for Iraq's future and am deeply ashamed that it took so much to bring it to my attention.

Mideast Meets West

Editor's Note: OpenDemocracy's "My America: Letters to Americans" series explores the relationship between America and the world in a series of exchanges between Americans and non-Americans from across the globe. Here, Iraqi blogger and mother of three sons, Faiza Al-Araji, writes to Anthony Swofford, ex-U.S. marine and author of the 1991 Gulf war memoir, "Jarhead."

Dear Anthony Swofford,

First of all, I salute you, because you have changed from a United States Marines sniper into a writer who thinks, meditates, and reconsiders his views in a meaningful way.

A sniper? What life is possible for a man who is trained to become a professional sniper at the age of 19? Such a young man, training to be a professional killer! Such a profession demands a person to freeze his mind, annul his thoughts and pull the trigger, without thinking that the person in front of him is also human – with a name, a profession, and a family that loves him.

But the profession of the writer you became means loving man, and praising him as a creature who deserves to live. Such a difference!

I regret that I have not been able to get hold of your book, "Jarhead," but I have read interviews with you on the Internet. As I understand, you didn't want to start your life in the conventional way: studying, looking for a job, getting married. You chose to enlist in the U.S. Marines as a way of looking for the unfamiliar; as an experiment in life, or a manner of dealing with it.

That is exactly what I have done too, since I graduated in engineering from the University of Baghdad in 1976. I was then engaged to be married, and I had to choose between two worlds. I could either get married in the traditional way, like all my friends and relatives; or I could go as a volunteer to Lebanon, where there was a civil war whose victims were Lebanese and Palestinian civilians.

Against all advice, my husband, a Palestinian, and I, an Iraqi, chose to go to Lebanon.

Why? Everyone I knew asked me this, but I was convinced it was the right thing to do. I didn't tell my family; I knew they would have stopped me. I had to tell them I was going to Basra to work in an engineering company. When I said goodbye my heart was breaking, because I was a liar. But my wish to face the experience was stronger than my feeble emotions.

We were sent to al-Damour, a Christian suburb south of Beirut. It was destroyed, abandoned, the houses looted. We started by forming an engineering committee, to rehabilitate the suburb, populated now by the survivors of the bombing and destruction of Palestinian refugee camps.

We restored the houses and repaired the water pipelines, so water was accessible to all houses. Then we worked to reconnect the power, so the lights shone once more. We helped establish a school, kindergarten, sewing workshop, medical center and a bakery. After a few months' work, the suburb had a life, activity, and commercial shops. We left, sure that our presence was no longer needed.

I remember this experience when I receive letters from American soldiers who came to Iraq to fight in the war, trying to convince me of the bright face of their work here. An example of this is a recent anonymous letter by an American woman soldier, describing her unit's campaign to provide school bags for children in rural areas, and asking her friend to buy her some pencils, erasers, sharpeners and rulers for 25 children. She says she feels happy when their military convoy passes through villages. She throws candies to the barefoot children, and she sees happiness on their faces. She tells her friend she thinks they are doing a good job here.

How does this woman think? Her government bombed these villages, killing men, women, and children. Then she arrives, distributing candy to salve her conscience, and America's. If I were in her shoes, surely I would have thought: to make these children happy, we should repair the water, electricity and sewage services. We should re-equip the school. The children's future will not be brightened by driving past in a military vehicle and throwing candy!

How wide is the gap between we Iraqis and America? For me, one of the benefits of this war is that it has brought American people here. We used to imagine the American through the movies: a superhuman, devoid of faults. But the war revealed the American to be simply an ordinary person, like all of us. He could be kind-hearted, peaceful and polite, or he could be vicious, aggressive and brutish. He could be intelligent and witty, or he could be unintelligent or average.

Yet in my own personal experience here, I can truthfully say I have never encountered or heard of noble attitudes from American soldiers towards Iraqi people. I am sorry: I have wished to meet an understanding, tender soldier. I would have written something nice about him. But I never have.

At the roadblocks, American soldiers deal with us all in the same rough way, devoid of feelings. They never show us their human face. One evening I was stopped by a soldier who wanted to search my car, and for me to go to another street to stand in line and wait. I asked him to search me now, in my street. It was night, and I was working late; I was a woman, so couldn't he make an exception in this case? He said, roughly: I don't care.

I went where I was told, and stood in line. Later he approached me and said he was sorry, but those were his orders. I felt there was a caring human inside him, but that he was making an effort to keep "him" away from me. It seems that these are the American soldiers' orders: do not use your humanity and emotions with Iraqis. These soldiers are nice creatures filled with passion when they go home, carrying love to their families, wives and children. But they couldn't give some of it to Iraqis. This is what we see every day.

The big questions remain. How true were the reasons for this war in the first place? Were they really for the welfare of the Iraqis, and their future? Or for the American government's material and political benefit? These questions are connected ... as must be the answers.

How much of it is true?
And how much is false?
I do not know.

Maybe the American people know.

Yours,
Faiza al-Araji



Dear Faiza al-Araji,

I appreciate that you salute my prior service to my country. I'd prefer that that salute be reserved for the people from both of our countries who are currently risking their lives in Iraq. My time as a soldier is over.

My movement from sniper to writer is not so incredible as you might imagine. In all civilizations there exists a tradition of men putting down the sword and picking up the pen in order to articulate the horror and depravity of warfare. There are also those who try to depict war as a celebration of all that is good and great in man, but you and I know better.

You're correct – candy thrown from trucks toward young children is not a rehabilitative act. It's actually demeaning and inhuman. If I had a child in Iraq I would tell her to refuse tokens from the occupying forces until they performed substantive repairs to our ruined infrastructure, as promised.

Your time in al-Damour, Lebanon is evidence that swift reconstruction is possible. Of course, this requires cooperation by all involved parties.

I'm sorry that your experiences with American soldiers have generally been sour. Mostly they are very young men who fear for their lives. By now, many of them question their mission and the original reasoning behind the invasion of Iraq. I assure you that most of them would rather be in America than patrolling the dangerous streets and alleys of Iraq. Yes, if they hadn't invaded in the first place they wouldn't now be living with such dangers.

You didn't mention the insurgency in your letter. I have very gentle and liberal friends who concede that if another country attempted to force its will on America, they would gather arms and fight. This doesn't really solve the problem in Iraq now, but it does point to the fact that insurgencies are populist and idealist, not elitist; they don't emanate from a central power. My fear is that this is true in Iraq and that any reserve of goodwill the American forces once owned in the neighborhoods of Iraq is gone. I suspect that your country has become a shooting gallery because of poor planning on the part of the American forces and a lack of cooperation on the part of some Iraqis. Iraqis must also take responsibility for the state of their country.

The story of Iraq over the last 18 months is one of missed opportunities and failed diplomacy. The biggest mistake was disbanding the Iraqi army. The young men in the military should have been reprocessed, given new uniforms, new training, and a good wage. If that had happened, I believe we would currently not have an insurgency.

Iraqis should also look at their neighbors and ask serious questions about their lack of involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq. A strong Iraq might cause trouble for nearby leaders who don't allow their people the most basic of human rights. Hasn't Iraq been called the jewel of the Middle East? I'm certain your country will regain its splendor.

I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq, and still am. But it's difficult to remain opposed to an act that has already passed. Now we must attempt to create an atmosphere of stability. With the Iraqi people in the lead, America must assist the creation of a modern state. The democracy on offer may not be perfect, but it does propose a working model for representative governance that must certainly be more appealing than tyrannical rule.

The deaths on all sides in this conflict are unfortunate and maddening. Mothers in Arkansas weep the same tears that mothers in Fallujah weep. Indeed, I believe the gap between Iraqis and Americans is rather small. Here in America people work hard in order to raise families, educate themselves and their children, enjoy leisure with friends and loved ones. I have no doubt that Iraqis live similar lives. Love and work and play are the essentials of well-being, as the great psychoanalysts have said.

The soldier who tracked you down and apologized for his aggressive behavior – he is the face of America. Americans of good conscience apologize for the aggressive behavior of their government. Americans of good conscience recognize that the war was waged on pretence. Americans of good conscience are as invested in the swift and peaceful resolution of this conflict as you and your fellow countrymen and countrywomen.

I appreciate the clear view of Iraq you offered me. I hope that we are able to continue this correspondence.

Sincerely,
Anthony Swofford

Race in the Anti-Society

Race is a difficult subject for me to write about. I am a prisoner, and during the many years that I have served I have tried to live race neutral, so to speak. But race is a big factor inside: your skin colour legislates who you can talk to and where you can sit; it can protect you, or get you killed.

I was raised in Lake Forest Park, Washington state, an affluent suburb in north Seattle. The schools I attended were predominantly white. Although my father had escaped from communist Cuba, and was thus of Hispanic origin, he married my mother, a white American of many generations, and easily adapted to her American way of life.

My parents owned a small business, and our family life was more American than Hispanic. We spoke English, spent time camping and fishing, ate our evening meals together, and were entertained with American music and television. None of the American friends my sisters and I grew up with were of Hispanic extraction.

My last name is Hispanic, but this background has conditioned me to feel out of place when immersed in communities that are other than American. I am not fluent in Spanish, have little knowledge of Spanish music or culture, and I have not identified personally with issues of importance to Hispanic Americans. Indeed, before my imprisonment I naturally gravitated to those who shared the same background, and my relationships generally were with white Americans.

Taking on colour

When I was imprisoned seventeen years ago, I instantly became part of an undesirable group: society's castaways. My perceptions of what to expect had been shaped by the stereotypical images I saw depicted in popular film. In high- and medium-security prisons, I came to observe, those images were remarkably accurate. Prisons are anti-societies, dominated by those who express hatred and disdain for the values that make for a prosperous, healthy, lawful community. Life reverts to a primitive culture that respects violence and encourages prisoners to at least cultivate the perception that they have the means to employ it with lethal force if provoked.

During that initial induction period, it also became clear that differences of background, speech, or values were clearly less salient as racial or ethnic category: black, Hispanic, white. In USP Atlanta, where I was confined, most of my fellow-inmates were from the southeastern United States, a long way from my northwest Seattle home. Around 2,000 of the 2,700 prisoners were black.

"Herberto in maximum security at California Youth Authority," by Joseph Rodriguez

Many urban blacks feel as though they have suffered oppression at the expense of the white power structure for their entire lives. To some extent, many black prisoners hold whites - not their own criminal behavior or the choices they have made - accountable for their difficult status in life. Whereas whites control the world beyond prison boundaries, blacks in prison tend to view the communities inside as their own.

Their numbers cement this dominance in many aspects of penitentiary life. The common areas, the television programming, even the basketball courts in every prison yard reflect it.

There are no formal policies of segregation, but prisoners segregate themselves voluntarily. They become territorial. In the chow hall, for example, as many as 700 people congregate, with blacks sitting in one area, Hispanics in another, whites in a third. Problems erupt when prisoners cross these racial lines. The same holds true for television rooms, and for benches located in open spaces on the compound.

In such a segregated environment, the smallest event can set off a chain reaction. For example, a new black prisoner sat at a table in the white section of the chow hall. A white prisoner, with all the tact possible for such a conversation, told him that he was in the wrong section. The black responded that he was free to eat in any area he chose. The result was a smashed food tray over the black's head and a vicious fight. Administrators responded with an institution lockdown, confining all prisoners to their cells.

Some hotheads welcome the immediate excitement that comes with such explosions of violence. But when small-scale race wars erupt, the shot-callers - prisoners who are considered leaders, controlling various cliques within each racial group - may come together in an effort to prevent it from spreading.

How does a man become a shot-caller? In societies beyond prison walls people earn distinctions and promotions through merit, and it is a twisted version of merit that operates here too. A shot-caller is generally a man who is known to have "put in his work" - that is, he is a man defiant of authority, one who has killed and has no compunction about killing again.

Photo by Joseph Rodriguez, published in East Side Stories: Gang Life in East LA

Meanwhile, prison officials have many tools at their disposal to quell prison tensions. They can impose lockdowns immediately, by force if necessary. No one wants the punishment of twenty-three-hour days stuffed in a tiny concrete room that they must share with at least one cellmate. If this sanction is not enough, administrators can transport troublemakers or instigators to other prisons across the country, separating a man further by perhaps thousands of miles from family and friends.

In an effort to prevent such inevitable administrative responses to violence, shot-callers in the prison forbid those within their group from launching major disturbances within the prison, especially over sensitive racial issues.

The currents of power

During six years behind the high walls of USP Atlanta, I came to know many gang leaders. Raven was the leader of a congregation of several hundred blacks who were allowed to meet under the ostensible guise of religious worship; others perceived them as a vicious gang.

"Muthafuckas listen to what I say 'cause if they don't, they know I'm a peel they skull all the way back to the white meat. Nothin' goes down in dis bitch I ain't know about," Raven boasted to me once. Raven had been convicted of several murders, including one in prison, and was serving a sentence of four life terms.

Whereas Raven's power came from the strength in numbers that he controlled inside the prison, the power of other leaders came from the control they continued to exert beyond prison walls. When I first arrived inside, the men assigned to the cell next to mine were a couple of older and highly-respected Mafia chieftains, and we developed a friendship. Although their group's numbers in prison were small, they exuded strength of personality and enjoyed a status that was widely respected inside maximum security. Others assumed that the group's protection extended to me. I did nothing to dispel those misconceptions, and my term proceeded without interference from gang thugs or predators seeking to exploit weakness.

Inside, many gangs and cliques form a kind of pseudo-family, frequently for the purpose of trafficking in prison contraband or the extortion of weaker prisoners. The long sentences and the absence of a parole system or opportunities for individuals to earn early release through merit encourage men to bind together to increasing their influence or power. The result can be racial gang warfare.

Gangs make alliances, keep delicate truces or live as sworn enemies with each other. They are immersed in exploitation, extortion, and illegal rackets within prison walls. Their members use tattoos, handshakes, hand-signs, and other covert methods to reveal their status to others. They employ tribal initiation ceremonies, with a blood-in, blood-out commitment. This means that gang members must spill the blood of a gang's enemy before they can be considered a full member; the only way out of the gang is death.


Gang members take offense when others impersonate authentic gang membership. Spider, for example, had been featured on one of America's true crime shows as a wanted bank robber who was not only extremely dangerous but a declared member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang formed by white prisoners in the 1970s with the ostensible goal of protecting whites from the growing black prisoner populations.

The television show was broadcast nationwide. When Spider was caught and sentenced to prison, he faced a life-threatening problem: he was not, in fact, a true member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Members of black gangs marked Spider for death; Aryan Brotherhood members not only refused to defend him, but threatened his life as well. In the face of such extremes, Spider feigned an escape attempt, in order to ensure several years in solitary punishment cells.

A way of life

The federal prison system is now so crowded that medium-security prisons have become very much like the high-security penitentiaries, with broadly the same racial tensions and group problems. But as prisoners move to low-security institutions, they form bonds according to class more than race. The pressure and agitation decline markedly. In minimum-security prisons, like the camp in Florence, Colorado where I currently am confined, racial tensions tend to dissipate, if not disappear.

When I entered the prison system with a forty-five-year sentence, it was important to me that I did not align myself with any particular racial group, because to do so would bring expectations that I would participate in group violence or crime. Instead, I focused on my own goals and kept my circle of friends and acquaintances very small.

The time in prison behind me and before me is long. Now that I have worked my way into minimum-security, where racial and other tensions are less pervasive, I no longer feel threatened by my environment. But then again, after so many years, prison has become a way of life for me.







The Legacy of the 68 Olympics

The 2004 Athens Olympics have been accompanied by inevitable reminiscences of Olympiads past in the United States and European media. But their coverage has been marked by a notable amnesia regarding the 1968 games in Mexico City, and in particular about a single incident of terrible violence just before that event whose deep impacts on Mexican history, politics, and society continue to reverberate thirty-six years later.

President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz had formally opened the Mexico City games on 12 October of that seminal year in an atmosphere redolent (according to a contemporary New York Times report) of "pageantry, brotherhood, and peace." Just ten days earlier, on 2 October 1968, Diaz Ordaz – for many reasons, but certainly out of determination that the games should proceed unmolested by social protest – had unleashed the combined power of the Mexican military and police forces on a mass of unarmed student demonstrators and other civilians in the city's Plaza de las Tres Culturas, shooting and bayoneting to death more than 300 of them, then covering up the scale of the slaughter and attendant torture and disappearances.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), even though one of its members had witnessed corpses being piled onto lorries for removal from the Plaza killing ground, voted in an emergency meeting to carry on regardless.

The legacy of 1968

The 1968 games would in political terms be remembered in the wider world not for the myriad victims of Mexican state terror (as Octavio Paz called it), but for the black-gloved fists, raised in a silent but eloquent call for black power, of the Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the 200-metre gold- and bronze-medal winners. Their symbolic protest was punished by prompt ejection from the Olympic village by the tidy-minded IOC, suspension from the United States national team and vilification by its media.

But for Mexicans, for Mexico, October 1968 would carry a very different political legacy: the bloody defeat of a massive, three-month-old student movement that had begun (or so it had seemed) seriously to challenge the sclerotic, authoritarian rule of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the inheritor of the mantle of the victorious Mexican revolution of 1910-20 and the sole party of government for almost four decades. And it would be not the black gloves of Smith and Carlos but the single white glove worn as identification by members of the "Olympia Battalion" – a secret army unit of thugs who wove their way among the students, arresting them and beating them up – that would eventually come to symbolise this watershed in the nation's history.

A watershed indeed, despite the fact that the "Tlatelolco massacre" (named after the housing estate where the event took place) spelled defeat for the burgeoning student-led protest movement of 1968, and that fully thirty-two years would elapse before the election of the first non-PRI president in Mexico's modern history – Vicente Fox of the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), in July 2000.

At the time, and appropriately enough, Diaz Ordaz foresaw nothing of the erosive process ahead: "Mexico will be the same before and after Tlatelolco [and] because of Tlatelolco", he concluded in his memoirs. As Enrique Krauze notes in his Mexico: biography of power, 1810-1996 (English translation by Hank Heifetz; HarperCollins, 1997), "he could not have been more mistaken." For the Tlatelolco massacre was also, indubitably, the beginning of the decline of the PRI's hegemony.

It might have been otherwise, for the initial cover-up was highly effective and durable. Without the almost miraculous presence of the cosmopolitan intellectual Elena Poniatowska, whose relentless investigative journalism produced a most extraordinary oral history, La Noche de Tlatelolco [Mexico City, Era, 1971; English translation by Barbara Bray: Massacre in Mexico (Viking, 1975)], it would surely have been sustained for even longer than it was.

I said 1968 was a seminal, watershed year for Mexico. I daresay that such a characterisation with respect to the French, British, or American versions could provoke an argument; but for the Mexican, it is beyond dispute. Anyone doubting this, and indeed anyone interested in the destiny of the Mexican "generation of '68" that emerged from the bath of fire of Tlatelolco – only to confront both the dirty war of the 1970s, with its thousands of killed and disappeared, as well as the multifarious and canny seductions of state power – would benefit from reading an accessible, liberal account of the PRI's agonised retreat from unalloyed hegemony, namely Opening Mexico: the making of a democracy, by the New York Times reporters Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004).

But for those of a more leftish, marginal or even romantic bent, I want to recommend '68, by the well-known Mexican writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II (Seven Stories Press, 2004, available in the original Spanish or in an English translation by me). Taibo's remarkable book, first published in 1991, is a brief memoir of the student movement based on notes made in the immediate aftermath of the disaster for a novel that "probably did not want to be written".

It is an anecdotal time-capsule, quirky, intimate, and poignant. It is also a collective profile of the author's generation of middle-class kids in all their pre-Tlatelolco innocence – so alike, yet so different from their peer '68ers in North America or Europe. To communicate its distinct flavour, especially to readers beyond the Mexican world, it is worth quoting at length:

"We read Howard Fast and Julius Fucik, Julio Cortazar and Mario Benedetti, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury and Jesus Diaz.... We were surprised by Carlos Fuentes's Where the Air Is Clear; in sharp contrast to our decontextualised readings of Lenin, here was a scientific account of the formation of the new Mexican big bourgeoisie, product of a perverse union between Sonoran generals and the sanctimonious daughters of Porfirist oligarchs or shopkeepers just off the boat from Spain. ... Literature was real reality. We listened to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary – the music of the anti-Vietnam War generation; secretly, we (or at least the schmaltz-prone among us) listened to Charles Aznavour and Cuco Sanchez."

A reservoir of commitment

Here is Taibo looking back with twenty years' worth of hindsight:

"When all was said and done, it had been nothing but a student movement lasting one hundred and twenty-three days. No more and no less. And yet it had given us – given a whole generation of students – a past and a country, a ground beneath our feet.... The most unhinged joined an urban guerrilla struggle that over the next five years bled out into a merciless dirty war. A very large group of us went into the neighborhoods and founded community organizations ... others went into factories .... others ended up in the countryside - an even stranger land."

"Of course there were defeats, a shitload of them, but surrender was rare. Sixty-eight bequeathed us the reserves of defiance and determination that had been the motor of the Movement as a whole, and it infused us with a sense of place, a firmly rooted feeling of nationality."

"But then there are days when I see myself, and I don't recognize myself. Bad times, when the night prolongs a rainy day, when sleep won't come, and I wrestle vainly with the computer keyboard. I realize then that we seem doomed to be ghosts of '68. Well, what's so bad about that? I ask myself: better to be Draculas of resistance than PRI-ist monsters of Frankenstein, or of modernity. And then the keys produce graceless sparks, weak flares, memories that are sometimes painful but most of the time raise a slight smile; and I long for that old spirit of laughter; I mourn, growing fearful of the dark, for an intensity now lost, for that feeling of immortality, for that other me of that never-ending year."

Over the last decade or so, wrote Taibo in 2003, "the persistence of the intellectual community and of a number of newspapers and magazines has repeatedly turned the spotlight back onto the '68 Movement.... Photographs and films have been dug out of the archives, an excellent documentary has been made by Carlos Mendoza ... and a book published, Parte de Guerra II (Mexico City: Aguilar, 2002), with a commentary by Carlos Monsivais and Julio Scherer Garcia, that sheds much light on the role of the army."

A door to the past

The refusal of writers like Taibo to allow the ghosts of Tlatelolco to rest seemed ready to find its official vindication with the arrival in power of the Vicente Fox administration in 2000, after seventy-one years of unbroken PRI rule. The new leader's much-touted commitment to "transparency" was followed by the appointment of a special public prosecutor to investigate the political crimes of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Mexican state gradually admitted that it had been responsible for many hundreds of killings in those years. Yet, to date, only one indictment has been sought – over an incident on 10 June 1971 when dozens of student demonstrators were killed. The event, known as the "Corpus Christi massacre", involved a bizarre plot to intimidate some veteran student leaders of 1968 who were then just being released from prison. The plot was supposedly prepared by the then president Luis Echeverria and executed by a goon squad known as Los Halcones (The Falcons).

On 22 July 2004, special prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo Prieto charged Echeverria (Diaz Ordaz's interior minister in October 1968) with "genocide" over the incident. A breakthrough? But after two days the request to indict Echeverria was denied on the basis of a thirty-year statute of limitations; the government has appealed.

So today, things remain much as described in late 2003 by Paco Ignacio Taibo II (whose felicitous epithet for the Fox transition is "decaffeinated"): "as long as the murderers are not brought to justice, the wounds will fester. The special prosecutor's office has moved only under external pressure, lurching this way and that, opening investigations and calling on ex-presidents to testify, which they refuse to do. As for us, obdurate as ever, thirty-five years down the line, we are back in the street again."

The Axis of Disorder

Neo-conservatism has created an "axis of disorder" within American governance. But it will not disappear even if its current champions fade from view. A former official in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations and a former British diplomat argue that neo-conservatism is a manifestation of a deeper syndrome that has structural roots in United States history and politics.

The stealthy transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 28, 2004 raises an intriguing question of whether a parallel transition will also take place at some future midnight in Washington – specifically whether the neo-conservative influence that did so much to instigate the Iraq war will also be bundled unceremoniously into retirement.

Those who have recently met privately with Paul Wolfowitz, the war's most ardent neo-conservative advocate, report that he is a subdued personality. If Wolfowitz and his colleagues depart the scene, what changes does this foreshadow for American foreign policy?

It is already possible to discern a more collegial tone in American discourse – on policy fronts as diverse as North Korea, Nato and the Group of Eight (G8). There is talk of Colin Powell, the bruised but still combative critic of neo-conservatism, remaining secretary of state after a Bush victory in November 2004.

Furthermore, within Republican circles in Washington there is a palpable backlash against policies that many party veterans fear may cost the election. Many current Republican gatherings reverberate to the sound of establishment internationalists, anti-empire sceptics, deficit hawks, or simple believers in good governance voicing their dismay at the damage they perceive the neo-conservative follies have inflicted on the nation and the party.

What is happening may be described as a new institutional syndrome in Washington – the "axis of disorder." It represents a lethal combination of underperformance in the executive, on Capitol Hill and within the opinion-leading elite.

Many observers would celebrate the eclipse of a neo-conservatism that has brought American governance to this pass. But a word of caution is in order. The neo-conservatives' demise has been predicted before. The post-cold war era of the 1990s, when Norman Podhoretz pronounced that neo-conservatism no longer existed as a distinctive phenomenon, was one such moment. John Judis in Foreign Affairs even described the neo-con journey as "a transition from Trotskyism to anachronism."

These predictions proved premature – but although "neo-conservatism" returned to the political lexicon after the Republican victory in 2000, this has proved more journalistic shorthand than shaping a category of understanding. Now, if the term and the policies it has been used to connote are once more losing their potency, what exactly will be removed from American foreign-policy thinking?

The Neo-conservative Core

The three chief tenets of neo-conservative ideology are:

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Framing Afghanistan

Afghanistan's first post-Taliban feature film, a bleak yet lyrical story of a young girl forced to 'pass' as a boy in order to support her widowed mother, is provoking worldwide interest in the country's cinematic heritage and future. Siddiq Barmak is the director of Osama. He was born in Afghanistan in 1962 and attended film school in Moscow. He lived in exile in Pakistan from 1996-2002, and returned to head the Afghan Film Organisation and the Afghan Children's Education Movement.

Osama is a very beautiful and poignant film, but also extremely sad.

Yes, I'm very sorry about that! All my friends have been telling me that I must make a comedy next time.

You also wrote the screenplay for Osama. When did the idea come to you for this film?

When I was in Pakistan I was searching within the Afghan community for a good story. I heard a lot of stories from children working on the streets. But in fact, the film's story came from Saha, a Pashtun-language Afghan newspaper published in Peshawar.

The newspaper article described a little girl who went to school during the Taliban period, something that was forbidden according to Taliban -- not Islamic -- beliefs. She decided to cut her beautiful hair and dress like a boy, and she went to the school, which was a hidden, underground one. But this secret school was exposed, its principal arrested by the Amr bil-Ma'aruf -- the Taliban's religious police -- and executed. The girl's true identity was revealed.

It was a very short story but I was shocked that the girl wanted to change her sex under pressure. It seemed like a kind of fascism. I really wanted to make this the subject of my film. Then, when I started to write the script, I started to collect some other true stories and it became not so short.

For example, when I returned to Kabul from Peshawar I saw that the priority for people in Kabul was to feed themselves and their family. I made the mission of the little girl in the film to get a job rather than to go to school. The story was not completely changed, but I introduced different things.

There were also things I filmed which I left out. There was a scene where the little girl, who ends up being the mullah's wife, escapes from the house with all the other women. They go on a long journey over a very beautiful landscape. The final scene is a shot of them crossing the rainbow. It was very beautiful, and it was my dream that they should reach this freedom. But it was not very true. It felt like lying, it wasn't part of myself. That's why I decided to take it out.

Are you based in Kabul now?

Yes, after six years in Pakistan I am living in Kabul with my family. Also with my mother and father, my wife and two daughters and one son.

We were together in Pakistan. I was working in Peshawar as an actor for a radio show called 'New Home New Life.' And also for a small cultural centre, called Irfan.

How did you feel when you were allowed to go back home?

It was a special feeling. It was like I was reborn. I never forget that snow was falling. I love this image of Afghanistan with snow falling. It was like the gods saying welcome.

What is so clear in your film is that there was a kind of eradication of the past in Afghanistan under the Taliban. All forms of history and art seem to have disappeared. This is movingly symbolised in the film in the way that people's homes were bare, all their memories were in a box. The past only remains in the fragments of the grandmother's stories. Where do you, and the Afghan Film Organisation (AFO) which you head, begin to repair the damage?

One of the very worst things that happened to our people during the Taliban was that they were not able to make a decision for themselves. It broke up all the systems of human society in Afghanistan.

I was the head of the AFO -- a state institution with authority over the production of film, including censorship -- from 1992-96. When the Taliban came to power I escaped to Peshawar, and lived there for six years. In February 2002, I returned to Kabul.

When I came back, it was like being in another world. My friends had broken down, they had forgotten that they were filmmakers. It was terrible. From all that had happened to my country and my friends, I thought that it was very important to renew the things that had been left to waste. Not only physical things like equipment and buildings, but also the rehabilitation of the soul. But for this to happen, we have to make a very strong effort to create a new beginning for Afghan cinema.

While you were in Pakistan, the Taliban destroyed many of your films. Can they be restored? What's happening about that?

Not only my films but the work of other filmmakers was destroyed. They searched my house and destroyed my 8mm cameras, photos, projectors. The Taliban not only blew up the Buddha statues in Bamiyan; the Taliban leader Mullah Omar also gave orders to destroy the National Gallery, the National Film Archive, the radio and studio archive.

They actually started with the film archives. Fortunately, some very bravehearted radio colleagues came to the main building of the Afghan Film Institute, closed the door and started to hide all the original films - everywhere! Under the floorboards, in the dark rooms, on the roof, behind the screens - everywhere they could. They also cut the electricity, so it was completely dark, just like a film studio.

The Taliban didn't know the structure of the building, so they couldn't find these hidden things. But they did find some copies of these films outside the building. There were a lot of wonderful films from Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, USA, even two or three from Britain. The Taliban burnt them all -- around 2,600 films -- in the very place we wanted to raise a new building to house this archive. It was a catastrophe, actually.

What is the state of film in Afghanistan now?

In Lahore, Pakistan, there are around 134 working cinemas. In the whole of Afghanistan after 1978, there were 26 movie theatres -- 18 of them in Kabul. Many of these were lost in the war. The ones that remain show mainly Indian Bollywood and American Hollywood films. But all the time, we are looking for different, independent films from places near us. For instance, I really want to show Sabiha Sumar's film, Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters). This genre of film is very important -- it's a different film, completely different.

It's very important for our independence to have a good cinema inside Afghanistan. We had a bad experience after the Soviet invasion in 1979 -- government monopolisation of cinema, and of everything.

Regarding cinema, we are really making progress. For example I made Osama without any government support. It was a good experience to work with my colleagues in inviting foreign investment to benefit an Afghan cinema project. But all governments should support and subsidise their film industries. It is a way of creating a more open society where filmmakers can give themselves freedom. We are just beginning to do this.

I'm especially happy to see that girls are becoming involved in filmmaking. In 2003, twelve girls studied camerawork and techniques, and they have made very interesting short features about the situation of women in Afghanistan. Now they want to make a short feature film, with actors and actresses. It's a very brave and big step.

You're also the chair of the Afghan Children Education Movement.

The famous Iranian film director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, is also a great friend of Afghanistan. After making his film Kandahar, and before 9/11, he decided to create an Afghan Children's Education Movement (ACEM) to provide Afghan children, refugees near to the Iranian border, with facilities for education. He also tried to persuade the Iranian government to pass a special law allowing education for Afghan children.

After the Taliban regime fell in November 2001, Mohsen transferred the ACEM to Afghanistan. He set up schools, got the parents involved, played an active part in ensuring the existence of education. Now I'm the head of this movement and trying to expand its scope to try and build a new Afghan cinema. We are discovering some great acting talent in schools, orphanages, children's centres -- also among girls and boys working in different jobs on the streets. In Osama, most of the actors were street kids in real life. My belief is that we can also find some great future filmmakers among these children. We're trying to teach them, to provide facilities, encourage them to develop their ideas, to make documentaries and short films.

Who funds the ACEM? Does the Afghan government give you money?

No, not the Afghan government, but we have some friends from Japan, who have lots of good interest regarding this issue. We have also received some funds from Unesco.

It was fascinating to see in Osama that children who had lived their whole lives in a country with no films, no television, could express their inner selves so naturally.

It's very natural that people who have collected all these pains, memories and experiences inside themselves now want to express the complexities of their lives. My opinion is that children especially hold a big part of the truth of all these disasters. They have their own experiences. Look at the improvisation of these boys and girls in Osama. There is a lot of dialogue that they created themselves. The Afghan people love entertainment, dancing, singing, music. It's part of our culture.

My understanding is that this isn't against Islam. I'm very, very sorry that sometimes the western media use terms like Islamic fundamentalism. Fanaticism is fanaticism and you can find these kinds of issues and problems in every religion and every culture, even democratic cultures. My belief is that it's one of the worst things for people to abuse democratic concepts to reach very bad goals. This is fanaticism in a democratic way.

There's a Brazilian film, City of God, about life in the favelas, the slum areas, where all the actors are street children. The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami uses a similar technique in Ten, where the mother and the son share this relationship in real life.

There have always been filmmakers in every part of the world who discover a new way of telling a story. For example, Italian neo-realist cinema after 1945, where the filmmakers were looking for simplicity, wanted to make low-budget films, but could not find professional actors for the kind of film and story they were searching for.

This experience has many lessons for Afghanistan, one that we can combine with our own, old traditions of dastan, storytelling. We share with Iran, maybe also with Pakistan and India, a tradition where the saddhu (storyteller) would stand in the middle of the audience and tell a story. He would play all the characters, male and female. It was a very effective and simple method of telling stories of life that could illuminate the most profound questions about life and philosophy.

In India, there are some historical books - we call them Qalila al-jumna (Stories of the River) - where, like The Jungle Book, each character is an animal, symbolising a member of society. From kings and ministers, to servants and cooks. This is a simple way to transfer a very important thing to the audience, the listeners. It's a good model for films, using tradition that connects with ordinary people's lives.

Sometimes it's good to have a Hollywood film as well, to make a contrast. Wolfgang Becker, the director of Goodbye, Lenin said that Hollywood films are like a very beautiful cocktail, with lots of different colours, but Iranian films are true waters from a spring. It's something to do with the colours - very simple, but not simplistic, no fantastic lighting and decoration or glamorous casting. I think the new generation of filmmakers everywhere are looking for pure things.

The computerising and the digitalising should not allow us to forget that the main subject of film must be human. Many films, not only Hollywood films, want to show the future, but what is their subject? Without humans, it's impossible to make a film.

The trouble with the Hollywood empire is that it occupies everything. For example, yesterday I wanted to see some real British films, and somebody told me that there are no British films -- they are all American films. In other countries like Germany, even France and Italy, the film industry has problems. I feel that we need balance. Hollywood has the right to make films as well as a lot of money, but there needs to be an alternative.

So do you have an idea for your next project?

Afghanistan has several neighbouring countries with a great literary heritage -- Farsi, Turkish, Arabic. But the truly beautiful things are in Urdu. Urdu is the language of poetry. For Afghanistan, Mohammad Iqbal is a misaal, an exemplary poet. Inshallah, I might make a film one day on one of his great poems.

With Osama, I wanted to show something not too optimistic, not too cheerful. Next time, I want to show reality another way; maybe a black comedy. I will work with children again, but next time I really want to work with adults because they are making a lot of mistakes and I have to say something about that.

When you look at Kabul and Afghanistan today, can you see and feel the change? In Osama, the streets were desolate and lonely, with an underlying sense of fear.

Yes, I see big changes. Life is coming back. There is a lot of rebellion now, a good thing. Though there are no big projects for street people.

In my opinion, Afghan people are very enthusiastic. They really want to see their life strong. They really wanted to join with the new civilisation of the world, to have a good contact and good relationship with the world, especially their neighbouring countries.

Sometimes, unfortunately, we have difficulties with Pakistan. The country's leader, Pervez Musharraf, is under a lot of pressure from fundamentalist groups. I hope that he can find a good way to solve these problems, which can have a bad side-effect on our society as well.

But although I see changes for the better, our society faces severe financial difficulties. Some countries help us in the field of health. Hospitals were rebuilt by Chinese, Koreans, Germans, French, Indians. But, with an urban population now around 4 million, this is not enough even in Kabul -- far less across the villages and districts.

It is so important to provide health and education to families in the village areas. This is just beginning. Sometimes it's very difficult to accept that not everything can be solved overnight. We face a very strong reality. So it's going to take a long time to solve our problems.

Near the end of the film, there's a big shot of the women's jail, with the close up of the girl skipping. In reality, what happened to the prisoners -- were they released?

The last scene of the film symbolises the way that the women are inside something larger than a jail. They are inside the history of inequality between women and men.

Even in democratic societies, people think that there are two castes -- male and female. It's an untouchable, unknown battle - the fight between female and male. In eastern societies it's more prominent, but it exists everywhere. Males are too much egoists. The male is worried about the female taking his position in society.

Today in Kabul, you can see that women have their own feminist organisations, offices, their own political party, a women-only radio station. The door is closed to men. This can become a kind of complex, unfortunately.

There is also very positive progress in these developments. But it must be remembered that Kabul is not Afghanistan. Action by and for women must take place everywhere, down to the smallest village. They still face awful difficulties. There are widows, women who have lost their brothers, husbands, fathers. There are lots of orphans. They don't have any jobs or facilities, even basic things. They are homeless, they are begging on the streets.

It means that you have to start from zero. To build, to have windows in the houses, to find roofs for the house, animals, property. But even that is not enough. It's easy to build everything, but it's very difficult to rebuild the human soul. I think that what we are building now, we will only see the fruits of in the next generation. Maybe even the generation after that.

Inside the Fire

Trucks, oil tankers, tanks are burning on the highway east to Fallujah. A stream of boys and men goes to and from a lorry that is not burnt, stripping it bare. We turn onto the back roads through Abu Ghraib, Nuha and Ahrar singing in Arabic, past the vehicles full of people with few possessions heading the other way, past the improvised refreshment posts along the way where boys throw food through the windows into the bus for us and for the people still inside Fallujah.

The bus is following a car with the nephew of a local sheikh and a guide who has contacts with the Mujahedin and has cleared this with them. The reason I am on the bus is that a journalist I know turned up at my door at about 11 at night telling me things were desperate in Fallujah. He had been bringing out children with their limbs blown off. The US soldiers were going around telling people to leave by dusk or they would be killed, but then when people fled with whatever they could carry, they were stopped at the US military checkpoint on the edge of town and not let out, trapped, watching the sun go down.

He said aid vehicles and the media were being turned away. He said there was some medical aid that needed to go in and there was a better chance of it getting there with foreigners, westerners, to get through the American checkpoints. The rest of the way was secured with the armed groups who control the roads we would travel on. We would take in the medical supplies, see what else we could do to help and then use the bus to bring out people who needed to leave.

I’ll spare you the whole decision making process, the questions we all asked ourselves and each other, and you can spare me the accusations of madness, but what it came down to was this: if I don’t do it, who will?

Either way, we arrived in one piece.

We pile the stuff in the corridor and the boxes are torn open straightaway; the blankets most welcomed. It is not a hospital at all but a clinic, a private doctor’s surgery treating people free since air strikes destroyed the town’s main hospital. Another has been improvised in a car garage. There is no anesthetic. The blood bags are in a drinks fridge and the doctors warm them up under the hot tap in an unhygienic toilet.

Screaming women come in, praying, slapping their chests and faces. Ummi, mother, one cries. I hold her until Maki, a consultant and acting director of the clinic, brings me to the bed where a child of about ten is lying with a bullet wound to the head. A smaller child is being treated for a similar injury in the next bed. A US sniper, they said, hit them and their grandmother as they left their home to flee Fallujah.

The lights go out, the fan stops and in the sudden quiet someone holds up the flame of a cigarette lighter for the doctor to carry on operating by. The electricity to the town has been cut off for days and when the generator runs out of petrol they just have to manage till it comes back on. Dave quickly donates his torch. The children are not going to live.

“Come,� says Maki and ushers me alone into a room where an old woman has just had an abdominal bullet wound stitched up. Another in her leg is being dressed, the bed under her foot soaked with blood, a white flag still clutched in her hand and the same story: “I was leaving my home to go to Baghdad when I was hit by a US sniper.� Some of the town is held by US marines, other parts by the local fighters. These people’s homes are in the US controlled area and they are adamant that the shooters were US marines.

Snipers are causing not just carnage but also the paralysis of the ambulance and evacuation services. The biggest hospital after the main one was bombed is in US territory and cut off from the clinic by snipers. The ambulance has been repaired four times after bullet damage. Bodies are lying in the streets because no one can go to collect them without being shot.

Some said we were mad to come to Iraq; quite a few said we were completely insane to come to Fallujah, and now there are people telling me that getting in the back of the pick-up to go past the snipers and get sick and injured people is the craziest thing they have ever seen. I know, though, that if we don’t, no one will.

He is holding a white flag with a red crescent on; I don’t know his name. The men we pass wave us on when the driver explains where we are going. The silence is ferocious in the no man’s land between the pick-up at the edge of the Mujahedin territory, which has just gone from our sight around the last corner and the marines’ line beyond the next wall; no birds, no music, no indication that anyone is still living – until a gate opens opposite and a woman comes out and points.

We edge along to the hole in the wall where we can see the car, spent mortar shells around it. The feet are visible, crossed, in the gutter. I think he is dead already. The snipers are visible too, two of them on the corner of the building. As yet I think they can’t see us so we need to let them know we are there.

“Hello,� I bellow at the top of my voice. “Can you hear me?� They must. They are about 30 meters from us, maybe less, and it’s so still you could hear the flies buzzing at fifty paces. I repeat myself a few times, still without reply, so decide to explain myself a bit more.

“We are a medical team. We want to remove this wounded man. Is it OK for us to come out and get him? Can you give us a signal that it’s OK?�

I’m sure they can hear me but they are still not responding. Maybe they didn’t understand it all, so I say the same again. Dave yells too in his US accent. I yell again. Finally I think I hear a shout back. Not sure, I call again.

“Hello.�

“Yeah.�

“Can we come out and get him?�

“Yeah.�

Slowly, our hands up, we go out. The black cloud that rises to greet us carries with it a hot, sour smell. Solidified, his legs are heavy. I leave them to Rana and Dave, our guide lifting under his hips. The Kalashnikov is attached by sticky blood to his hair and hand and we don’t want it with us so I put my foot on it as I pick up his shoulders and his blood falls out through the hole in his back. We heave him into the pick-up as best we can and try to outrun the flies.

I suppose he was wearing flip flops because he is barefoot now, no more than 20 years old, in imitation Nike pants and a blue and black striped football shirt with a big 28 on the back. As the orderlies from the clinic pull the young fighter off the pick-up, yellow fluid pours from his mouth and they flip him over, face up, the way into the clinic clearing in front of them, straight up the ramp into the makeshift morgue.

We wash the blood off our hands and get in the ambulance. There are people trapped in the other hospital who need to go to Baghdad. Siren screaming, lights flashing, we huddle on the floor of the ambulance, passports and ID cards held out the windows. We pack it with people, one with his chest taped together and a drip, one on a stretcher, legs jerking violently so I have to hold them down as we wheel him out, lifting him over steps.

The hospital is better able to treat them than the clinic but has not got enough of anything to sort them out properly and the only way to get them to Baghdad is on our bus, which means they have to go to the clinic. We are crammed on the floor of the ambulance in case it’s shot at. Nisareen, a female doctor about my age, can’t stop a few tears once we are out.

The doctor rushes out to meet me: “Can you go to fetch a lady? She is pregnant and she is delivering the baby soon.�

Azzam is driving, Ahmed in the middle directing him and me by the window, the visible foreigner, the passport. Something scatters across my hand, simultaneous with the crashing of a bullet through the ambulance, some plastic part dislodged, flying through the window.

We stop, turn off the siren, keep the blue light flashing, wait, eyes on the silhouettes of men in US marine uniforms on the corners of the buildings. Several shots come. We duck, get as low as possible and I can see tiny red lights whipping past the window, past my head. Some, it’s hard to tell, are hitting the ambulance. I start singing. What else do you do when someone’s shooting at you? A tire bursts with an enormous noise and a jerk of the vehicle.

I am outraged. We are trying to get to a woman who is giving birth without any medical attention, without electricity, in a city under siege, in a clearly marked ambulance, and you are shooting at us. How dare you?

How dare you?

Azzam grabs the gear stick and gets the ambulance into reverse, another tire bursting as we go over the ridge in the centre of the road, the shots still coming as we flee around the corner. I carry on singing. The wheels are scraping, burst rubber burning on the road.

The men run for a stretcher as we arrive and I shake my head. They spot the new bullet holes and run to see if we are OK. “Is there any other way to get to her,� I want to know. “La, maaku tareeq.� There is no other way.

They say we did the right thing. They say they have fixed the ambulance four times already and they will fix it again but the radiator is gone and the wheels are buckled and the woman is still at home in the dark giving birth alone. I let her down.

We can’t go out again. For one thing there is no ambulance and besides it’s dark now and that means our foreign faces can’t protect the people who go out with us or the people we pick up.

Maki is the acting director of the place. He says he hated Saddam but now he hates the Americans more.

We take off the blue gowns as the sky starts exploding somewhere beyond the building opposite. Minutes later a car roars up to the clinic. I can hear him screaming before I can see that there is no skin left on his body. He is burnt from head to foot. For sure there is nothing they can do. He will die of dehydration within a few days.

Another man is pulled from the car onto a stretcher. Cluster bombs, they say, although it is not clear whether they mean one or both of them. We set off walking to Mr. Yasser’s house, waiting at each corner for someone to check the street before we cross. A ball of fire falls from a plane, splits into smaller balls of bright white lights. I think they are cluster bombs, because cluster bombs are in the front of my mind, but they vanish, just magnesium flares, incredibly bright and short-lived, giving a flash picture of the town from above.

Yasser asks us all to introduce ourselves. I tell him I’m training to be a lawyer. One of the other men asks whether I know about international law. They want to know about the law on war crimes, what a war crime is. I tell them I know some of the Geneva Conventions, that I’ll bring some information next time I come and we can get someone to explain it in Arabic.

We bring up the matter of Nayoko. This group of fighters has nothing to do with the ones who are holding the Japanese hostages, but while they are thanking us for what we did this evening, we talk about the things Nayoko did for the street kids, how much they loved her. They can’t promise anything but that they will try and find out where she is and try to persuade the group to let her and the others go.

I don’t suppose it will make any difference. They are busy fighting a war in Fallujah. They are unconnected with the other group. But it can’t hurt to try.
The planes are above us all night. As I doze I forget I’m not on a long distance flight. The constant bass note of an unmanned reconnaissance drone overlaid with the frantic thrash of jets and the dull beat of helicopters and interrupted by explosions.

In the morning I make balloon dogs, giraffes and elephants for the little ones, Abdullah, Aboudi, who is clearly distressed by the noise of the aircraft and the explosions. I blow bubbles which he follows with his eyes. Finally, finally, I score a smile. The twins, thirteen years old, laugh too. One of them is an ambulance driver; both said to be handy with a Kalashnikov.

The doctors look haggard in the morning. None has slept more than a couple of hours a night for a week. One has had only eight hours of sleep in the last seven days, missing the funerals of his brother and aunt because he was needed at the hospital.

“The dead we cannot help,� Jassim said. “I must worry about the injured.�

We go again, Dave, Rana and me, this time in a pick-up. There are some sick people close to the marines’ line who need evacuating. No one dares come out of their houses because the marines are on top of the buildings shooting at anything that moves. Saad fetches us a white flag and tells us not to worry, he has checked and secured the road, no Mujahedin will fire at us, that peace is upon us; this eleven year old child, his face covered with a keffiyeh, but for his bright brown eyes, his AK47 almost as tall as he is.

We shout again to the soldiers, hold up the flag with a red crescent sprayed onto it. Two come down from the building, cover this side and Rana mutters, “Allah-o-akbar. Please nobody take a shot at them.�

We jump down and tell them we need to get some sick people from the houses and they want Rana to go and bring out the family from the house whose roof they are on. Thirteen women and children are still inside, in one room, without food and water for the last 24hours.

“We’re going to be going through soon clearing the houses,� the senior one says.

“What does that mean, clearing the houses?�

“Going into every one searching for weapons.� He is checking his watch, can’t tell me what will start when, of course, but there is going to be air strikes in support. “If you’re going to do this you have to do it soon.�

First we go down the street we were sent to. There is a man, face down, in a white dishdash, a small round red stain on his back. We run to him. Again the flies have got there first. Dave is at his shoulders, I am by his knees and as we reach to roll him onto the stretcher Dave’s hand goes through his chest, through the cavity left by the bullet that entered so neatly through his back and blew his heart out.

There is no weapon in his hand. Only when we arrive, his sons come out, crying, shouting. He was unarmed, they scream. He was unarmed. He just went out the gate and they shot him. None of them have dared come out since. No one had dared come to get his body, horrified, terrified, forced to violate the traditions of treating the body immediately. They couldn’t have known we were coming so it’s inconceivable that anyone came out and retrieved a weapon but left the body.

He was unarmed, 55 years old, shot in the back.

We cover his face, carry him to the pick-up. There is nothing to cover his body with. The sick woman is helped out of the house, the little girls around her hugging cloth bags to their bodies, whispering, “Baba, baba.� Daddy. Shaking, they let us go first, hands up, around the corner, then we usher them to the cab of the pick-up, shielding their heads so they can’t see him, the cuddly fat man stiff in the back.

The people seem to pour out of the houses now in the hope we can escort them safely out of the line of fire; kids, women, men, anxiously asking us where they can all go, or only the women and children. We go to ask. The young marine tells us that men of fighting age can’t leave. “What’s fighting age,� I want to know. He contemplates. “Anything under 45. No lower limit.�
It appalls me that all those men would be trapped in a city which is about to be destroyed. Not all of them are fighters, not all are armed. It is going to happen out of the view of the world, out of sight of the media, because most of the media in Fallujah is embedded with the marines or turned away at the outskirts. Before we can pass the message on, two explosions scatter the crowd in the side street back into their houses.

Rana is with the marines evacuating the family from the house they are occupying. The pick-up isn’t back yet. The families are hiding behind their walls. We wait, because there is nothing else we can do. We wait in no man’s land. The marines, at least, are watching us through binoculars; maybe the local fighters are too.

I have a disappearing handkerchief in my pocket so while I’m sitting like a lemon, nowhere to go, gunfire and explosions aplenty all around, I make the handkerchief disappear, reappear, disappear. It is always best, I think, to seem completely unthreatening and completely unconcerned, so no one worries about you enough to shoot. We can’t wait too long though. Rana has been gone for ages. We have to go and get her to hurry. There is a young man in the group. She has talked them into letting him leave too.

A man wants to use his police car to carry some of the people, a couple of elderly ones who can’t walk far, the smallest children. It’s missing a door. Who knows if he was really a police or the car was appropriated and just ended up there? It doesn’t matter if it gets more people out faster. They creep from their houses, huddle by the wall, follow us out, their hands up too, and walk up the street clutching babies, bags, each other.

The pick-up gets back and we shovel as many onto it as we can as an ambulance arrives from somewhere. A young man waves from the doorway of what is left of a house, his upper body bare, a blood soaked bandage around his arm, probably a fighter but it makes no difference once someone is wounded and unarmed.

Getting the dead is not essential. Like the doctor said, the dead don’t need help, but if it’s easy enough then we will. Since we are already OK with the soldiers and the ambulance is here, we run down to fetch them in. It is important in Islam to bury the body straightaway.

The ambulance follows us down. The soldiers start shouting in English at us for it to stop, pointing guns. It is moving fast. We are all yelling, signaling for it to stop, but it seems to take forever for the driver to hear and see us. It stops. It stops, before they open fire. We haul them onto the stretchers and run, shove them in the back. Rana squeezes in the front with the wounded man and Dave and I crouch in the back beside the bodies. He says he had allergies as a kid and has not much sense of smell. I wish, retrospectively, for childhood allergies, and stick my head out the window.

The bus is going to leave, taking the injured people back to Baghdad, the man with the burns, one of the women who was shot in the jaw and shoulder by a sniper, several others. Rana says she is staying to help.

Dave and I don’t hesitate: we are staying too. “If I don’t do it, who will?� has become an accidental motto and I am acutely aware after the last foray how many people, how many women and children, are still in their houses either because they have nowhere to go, because they are scared to go out of the door or because they have chosen to stay.

To begin with it is agreed, then Azzam says we have to go. He has contacts only with some armed groups. There are different issues to square with each one. We need to get these people back to Baghdad as quickly as we can. If we are kidnapped or killed it will cause even more problems, so it’s better that we just get on the bus and leave and come back with him as soon as possible.

It hurts to climb onto the bus when the doctor has just asked us to go and evacuate some more people. I hate the fact that a qualified medic can’t travel in the ambulance but I can, just because I look like the sniper’s sister or one of his mates, but that’s the way it is today and the way it was yesterday and I feel like a traitor for leaving, but I can’t see where I have a choice. It is a war now and as alien as it is to me to do what I am told, for once I have to.

Jassim is scared. He harangues Mohammed constantly, tries to pull him out of the driver’s seat wile we are moving. The woman with the gunshot wound is on the back seat, the man with the burns in front of her, being fanned with cardboard from the empty boxes, his intravenous drips swinging from the rail along the ceiling of the bus. It is hot. It must be unbearable for him.

Saad comes onto the bus to wish us well for the journey. He shakes Dave’s hand and then mine. I hold his in both of mine and tell him “Dir balak,� take care, as if I could say anything more stupid to a pre-teen Mujahedin with an AK47 in his other hand, and our eyes meet and stay fixed, his full of fire and fear.

Can’t I take him away? Can’t I take him somewhere he can be a child? Can’t I make him a balloon giraffe and give him some drawing pens and tell him not to forget to brush his teeth? Can’t I find the person who put the rifle in the hands of that little boy? Can’t I tell someone about what that does to a child? Do I have to leave him here where there are heavily armed men all around him and lots of them are not on his side, however many sides there are in all of this? And of course I do. I do have to leave him, like child soldiers everywhere.

The way back is tense, the bus almost getting stuck in a dip in the sand, people escaping in anything, even piled on the trailer of a tractor, lines of cars and pick-ups and buses ferrying people to the dubious sanctuary of Baghdad, lines of men in vehicles queuing to get back into the city having brought their families to safety, either to fight or to help evacuate more people.

The driver, Jassim, the father, ignores Azzam and takes a different road so that suddenly we are not following the lead car and we are on a road that is controlled by a different armed group than the ones which know us.

A crowd of men waves guns to stop the bus. Somehow they apparently believe that there are American soldiers on the bus, as if they wouldn’t be in tanks or helicopters, and there are men getting out of their cars with shouts of “Sahafa Amreeki,� American journalists. The passengers shout out of the windows, “Ana min Fallujah,� I am from Fallujah. Gunmen run onto the bus and see that it is true, there are sick and injured and old people, Iraqis, and then relax, wave us on.

We stop in Abu Ghraib and swap seats, foreigners in the front, Iraqis less visible, headscarves off so we look more western. The American soldiers are so happy to see westerners they don’t mind too much about the Iraqis with us, search the men and the bus, leave the women unsearched because there are no women soldiers to search us. Mohammed keeps asking me if things are going to be OK.

“Al-melaach wiyana,� I tell him. The angels are with us. He laughs.

And then we are in Baghdad, delivering them to the hospitals, Nuha in tears as they take the burnt man off groaning and whimpering. She puts her arms around me and asks me to be her friend. I make her feel less isolated, she says, less alone.

And the satellite news says the cease-fire is holding and George Bush says to the troops on Easter Sunday that, “I know what we’re doing in Iraq is right.� Shooting unarmed men in the back outside their family home is right? Shooting grandmothers with white flags is right? Shooting at women and children who are fleeing their homes is right? Firing at ambulances is right?

Well George, I know too now. I know what it looks like when you brutalize people so much that they have nothing left to lose. I know what it looks like when an operation is being done without anesthetic because the hospitals are destroyed or under sniper fire and the city is under siege and aid isn’t getting in properly.

I know what it sounds like too. I know what it looks like when tracer bullets are passing your head, even though you are in an ambulance. I know what it looks like when a man’s chest is no longer inside him and what it smells like, and I know what it looks like when his wife and children pour out of his house.

It’s a crime and it’s a disgrace to us all.

Jo Wilding first visited Iraq in August 2001, and stayed in Baghdad in February-March 2003, in the month before the war and the first twelve days of bombing. She works with Circus2Iraq, performing and running workshops for Iraqi children, is training to become a lawyer. She is currently volunteering in Fallujah to help evacuate the wounded.

Euro Anti-Semitism?

"Europe has a problem" -- or so says Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

And no, he is not referring to the suspension of the rules governing the euro. Nor to the creation of a rival military force to Nato. Nor to the disagreement over the proposed European Union constitution. Nor to the recent publication of the Geneva Accords for Middle East peace -- dismissed by his pal William Safire as "rejected politicians representing not even a minority of the parties in the dispute [posing] for cameras while signing an agreement in the benevolent presence of Jimmy Carter."

Rather, Sharon is referring to the spate of attacks on Jews and Jewish interests that have plagued the European continent throughout 2003.

Sharon has added his heavyweight voice to a chorus of concern about the rise of European anti-Semitism -- a chorus outnumbered only by those who say there is no European anti-Semitism worth worrying about, and if you believe Sharon and co., the anti-Semites themselves.

With Turkish suicide bombs, Parisian firebombs, the destruction of nearly 400 Jewish graves in East London, a German MP blaming the Jews for Bolshevism and repeated cases of anti-Jew graffiti appearing the length and breadth of Europe -- and that's by no means an exhaustive list -- concern is warranted.

At the very least, in the words of John Vinocur of the International Herald Tribune, "anti-Jewish outbursts and attacks have become an undeniable and embarrassing pattern."

So, what's going on?

Writing in the London Times this week, Mark Mazower, a professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, called anti-Semitism one of the "old catch-all labels of the past," entirely inappropriate to the current situation in Europe. "What has emerged," argued Mazower, "is not at heart a racial antagonism but a political one -- an anti-Zionism which takes Israeli rhetoric at face value by conflating Israelis and Jews."

Sharon says, "You cannot separate here. Israel is treated as a Jewish state," which manages to both make Mazower's argument and refute it. What we are seeing, Sharon maintains, is a re-emergence of "an anti-Semitism that has always existed."

According to Mazower, "contrary to what Sharon has indicated, only a few odd-balls regard expressions of anti-Semitism as politically or culturally acceptable ... What is new in the present equation is the violence mostly in France by young Arab youths against Jewish targets, a spill-over into Europe of the kind of anti-Zionism already described."

Two weeks after the bombing of two synagogues in Istanbul and the firebombing of a Jewish school in Paris, it is hard to know whose point is proved by the news this week that 27-year-old Shadi Abdellah, a Jordanian Islamic fundamentalist, was convicted in a Düsseldorf state court of planning with the al-Tawhid terror group to bomb the Jewish Museum in Berlin and a Jewish-owned disco or bar in Düsseldorf.

The question perhaps has moved on from the always difficult, "When is an attack on Israel anti-Semitic?" to the even more difficult "Do attacks by Muslims on Jews and Jewish targets in Europe equate to European anti-Semitism?"

Writing in Slate after the bombing of the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Christopher Hitchens wrote: "The worshippers at the Neve Shalom were not killed for building a settlement in the West Bank: They were members of a very old and honorable community who were murdered for being Jews."

The next day, in response to Jacques Chirac's "Attacking a Jew in France is an attack on all of France," John Vinocur noted in the IHT that the French president "made no references to the motors of the new French and European anti-Semitism alongside his determination to eradicate the problem, anti-Semitism's perpetrators were left, in descriptive terms at least, as phantoms."

And so it remains. Last week, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia ( EUMC, the EU's anti-racism body) suppressed a report it had commissioned from the Anti-Semitism Research Institute of Berlin's Technical University, after the findings proved controversial.

The EUMC stands accused of shelving the report and orchestrating a cover-up. Why? Well, because the report found that young Muslims were to blame for many of the attacks on Jews. The authors of the report say they "were told several times by the European Union to change their conclusions" ( Daily Telegraph). Although never giving what one would call clear reasons for refusing to publish the report (the EUMC website offers little if any explanation, except to say "The EUMC is currently facing a challenge of its credibility and there is danger that this could destabilize the Centre and draw it away from its core business"), the EUMC claims the report was badly written and talked about contractual obligations.

Juliane Wetzel, co-researcher on the report, believes, "The EUMC didn't want to publish the report because it's not politically correct. The results give the EUMC problems because it wants to protect precisely these groups."

"It was totally clear [the report] was for publication," says Werner Bergmann, author of the report. "We would not write it for someone else to rewrite it and include in something else."

The EUMC sent the Berlin centre a letter saying, "The EUMC must be seen as bringing groups of people together, not as acting divisively ... The authors [of the report] assert a direct connection between anti-Semitism and 'Arab/North African Muslims', 'the Muslim population', 'the Arab-Muslim population', 'young Muslims' in Europe. The authors assert a direct connections [sic] between anti-Semitism and 'immigrants' ... All these generalising statements are made despite acknowledgement on the last page that 'the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination remains a common struggle'. Mention of Muslim people should only be made if it were directly relevant to the specific manifestations of anti-Semitism. Any generalisation should be strictly avoided."

The EUMC has published three reports on Islamophobia, but still not a single report on anti-Semitism.

And here's another thing. The Daily Telegraph says that "Alterations were also sought when [the report] linked anti-Semitism to both anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel."

Back to square one.

Last month, as reported in the Diary, Israel was deemed "the biggest threat to world peace" in a eurobarometer poll.

John Vinocur sought some clarity from French academic Pierre-André Taguieff, author of La Nouvelle Judeophobie, who argues that modern-day French anti-Semitism has nothing to do with Nazism, but was "transported by Islamic radicalism, and relayed by European political groups looking to replace worn-out battle cries of "third-world revolution and anti-imperialism.""

Taguieff points to the anarchists, Trotskyists, Greens and anti-globalists (whose recent demonstrations have included the burning of the Israeli flag) who, he says, "have contributed to making judeophobic clichés and slogans acceptable, and then respectable, on the basis of a nazification of the 'Jews-Zionists-Israelis.'"

Britain's Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks (author of "The Dignity of Difference") is seemingly in agreement. In an interview with the Times this week, Sacks spoke of a political problem sliding into "the demonisation of a whole group" through the actions of "a strange coalition of radical Islamists, the anti-American left and the extreme right, groups who would otherwise have virtually nothing in common."

Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, argues that in Europe Jews are the victims of entirely one-sided attacks by Muslim youth gangs. "Not a single Jew in Europe has attacked an imam or set fire to a mosque or hurled stones through the windows," he says.

For those of you interested in the ins-and-outs of the hack trade, the journalist Julie Burchill resigned from Britain's Guardian newspaper this week, saying she refuses to accept the paper's distinction between anti-Zionism (which it supports) and anti-Semitism (which it does not support).

Fresh from briefing the House of Commons anti-Semitism monitoring committee, Israeli expert Robert Wistrich told the Jewish Chronicle: "The wave of anti-Semitism sweeping Europe today is a threat not only to Jews but also to the essence of Western democracy."

Sharon is right -- Europe has a problem.

Dominic Hilton is a columnist for openDemocracy.net.

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