Turkey at the Turning Point?

11 10 2007
tukey flag in breeze

Christopher de Bellaigue in The New York Review of Books

It is now clear that Turkey, a country to which Western visitors have often applied adjectives such as “timeless” and “slothful,” is changing profoundly, and with un-Oriental speed. To the many Turks who welcome this transformation, it holds out the promise of a free public culture, equally open to devout Muslims, secularists, and critics of Turkey’s past politics—something the country has never known. A smaller but nonetheless considerable number see the changes as a Trojan horse for Islamism as severe as one finds in Iran or Saudi Arabia. These two views come into sharp conflict on the subject of Abdullah Gül, whom the Turkish parliament recently elected president.

Abdullah Gül is a conscientious Muslim. He says his prayers and observes the Ramadan fast. His wife appears in public with a silk scarf wound tightly around her head. Although he was once associated with Islamism of a rather virulent kind and was a member of the Welfare Party, whose stated goal was to challenge Turkey’s secular traditions, Gül gives the impression of having mellowed. As foreign minister in the mildly Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from 2003 until his election to the presidency, Gül directed his energies mainly at promoting Turkey’s claims to EU membership. As president, he has promised to safeguard Turkey’s secular regime.

More here.


I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer

9 10 2007

Ed Pilkington in The Guardian

Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.

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Why Burma Was Crushed

9 10 2007

Lindsey Hilsum in the New Statesman

An estimated 2.5 million people of Chinese descent live in Burma; several ethnic groups straddle the 2,000-kilometre border dividing the two countries. Believing the junta’s inflexibility to be inherently unstable, the Chinese government has tried to persuade the generals to come to some accommodation with the political opposition and rebellious ethnic fighters. Chinese officials have met opposition leaders in Kunming, on the Chinese side of the border, and in June they facilitated a meeting between US and Burmese government representatives. The current upheaval may have stymied that initiative, but according to the Burma specialist Larry Jagan, Beijing had hoped the contacts could herald a process similar to the six-party talks that have brought North Korean and US negotiators together.

Western leaders dream of a Burma reinvented in their image – with a little lustre from association with the revered opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi rubbing off on them. But China is still ruled by the Communist Party that shot and mowed down protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and which suppresses Buddhist monks in Tibet.

Authoritarian capitalism, not liberal democracy, has made China successful. The Beijing government’s ideal would be for the Burmese generals to allow limited political participation, so that stability could be assured and China’s supply of timber, gemstones, oil and natural gas guaranteed.

More here.

Iran executes more Arabs

22 09 2007

Peter Tatchell in The Guardian‘s Comment is Free

“The west is obsessed with Tehran’s nuclear programme, but doesn’t give a damn about human rights abuses.”

The Islamic Republic of Iran has executed three more Arab political prisoners, just days after a visit from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour. In further defiance of the UN and international law, four more Arabs face imminent execution.

There have been no protests from Britain, the EU or the UN. The UN’s silence comes on top of the truly appalling vote by UN Human Rights Council to abandon its monitoring of human rights abuses in Iran.

The only thing the west seems to care about is Iran’s nuclear programme. Human rights abuses do not concern Washington, London or Brussels. Nor do they concern President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Both men have warmly embraced the tyrant of Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Arab League, the supposed defender of Arab peoples worldwide, is equally indifferent. It has refused to protest to Iran about the persecution of ethnic Arabs in the south-west of the country – the oil-rich region Tehran calls Khuzestan, but which the indigenous Arab peoples call al-Ahwaz.

More here.

The Belgian Crisis – according to The Brussels Journal

30 08 2007
belgian crisis

The present crisis began after the June 10 general elections were won in Flanders by parties who are no longer willing to subsidize Wallonia in return for larger Flemish autonomy and pro-market economic reforms. The immediate cause of the crisis is a 2003 ruling of the Belgian Constitutional Court that the present Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) electoral constituency be divided into a bilingual constituency Brussels and a Flemish constituency Halle-Vilvoorde. The Court ruled that the BHV-constituency is unconstitutional because it allows Walloon politicians to stand for elections in Flanders, while Flemish politicians are not allowed to stand in Wallonia. The Walloon politicians, however, refuse to approve the division of the BHV-constituency if the Flemings do not pay a price for it.

The resolve of the Flemings is causing the Belgian establishment to panic. Yesterday two members of the Crown Council, Wilfried Martens, a former Belgian Prime Minister (1979-1992) and the current president of the European People’s Party, and Willy Claes, the former Secretary-General of NATO (1994-1995) who had to resign his NATO position because of his involvement in a Belgian corruption scandal, appeared on Flemish public television to warn the Flemish against opting for independence. “If we still want to play a significant role in Europe, we [Flemings and Walloons] have to accept common responsibilities,” Mr Martens said. “Solidarity [read: the duty of the Flemings to subsidize Wallonia] is an essential value of the European Union. It is simply unthinkable that we should renounce that.” Another Crown Council member, Herman De Croo, recently said that “Flemish nationalists are mentally handicapped.” He later offered his apologies for this statement to… the mentally handicapped.

More here.

Russia vs Georgia: a war of perceptions

29 08 2007

Donald Rayfield in Open Democracy

This was followed on the night of 21 August by the entry of a Russian military jet which seems to have discharged a missile which fell on a cornfield (and also did not ignite) in the vicinity of Georgia’s border with the disputed territory of South Ossetia.

Both incidents have been given the full diplomatic treatment – official statements, condemnations, appeals to scientific evidence, calls for solidarity from allies and the international community (including the United Nations). The west’s anxiety about becoming embroiled in further confrontation with Russia mean that Georgia’s attempts to bring its grievance over Russian behaviour to the attention of the Security Council will probably be as ineffective as the missile itself. There is a recent precedent: the Russia-originated cyber-attack on Estonia in April-May 2007 which targeted the government’s computer system – in apparent revenge for Estonia’s moving of a city-centre statue commemorating the country’s “liberation” by the Red Army in 1944 – has not met with any effective protest or sanctions.

But if Georgia will find it difficult to persuade the world to take the incidents seriously enough, the violation of its territory is part of a pattern that reveals much about the mindset currently animating Russian policy. A key aspect of this is the deep xenophobia that pervades Russian politics and public opinion directed at Americans, western Europeans, and Chinese but, above all, at the people of nations which have secured their independence since the fall of the Soviet Union. In this sense the Georgians are only one target of a wider “blame culture” in Moscow (as the Estonia example confirms). But it is also the case that the bitterness directed against them (and reciprocated in full) reflects the illusions of a Russia that thinks it “knows” and understands Georgia – and has not yet understood that, in fact, it no longer does.

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The eastern Afghanistan offensive

24 08 2007
afghanistan map

Bill Roggio reports in his blog.

The battle at the Tora Bora mountains in Nangarhar province has completed its first week, the fighting has intensified as Afghan Army and US forces hunt Taliban and al Qaeda fighters who have infiltrated the region. Scores of Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are reported to have been captured after upwards of 50 terrorists were killed in the initial fighting. A senior al Qaeda leader was also reported to have been wounded in the attack.

Dr. Amin al Haq, who serves as Osama bin Laden’s security coordinator, was reported to have been wounded in the fighting, The Telegraph’s Tom Coghlan reported from Tora Bora. Al Haq is said to have fled across the border into Pakistan’s Kurram agency. As bin Laden’s security coordinator, al Haq commands the elite Black Guard, the fanatical praetorian bodyguards devoted to the security of al Qaeda’s leader.

Al Haq was born in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, was educated as a doctor, and practiced medicine in Pakistan. He accompanied Osama bin Laden during the 2001 battle at Tora Bora, and helped senior al Qaeda leaders escape the US and Afghan militia assault on the cave complex.

Several senior al Qaeda leaders — such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Saif al Adel, and Walid bin Attash — rose through the ranks in al Qaeda by serving in the Black Guard. A Special Forces raid against the Black Guard camp in Danda Saidgai in North Waziristan, Pakistan in March 2006 resulted in the death of Imam Asad and several dozen members of the Black Guard. Asad was the Danda Saidgai camp commander, a senior Chechen al Qaeda commander, and associate of Shamil Basayev, the Chechen al Qaeda leader killed by Russian security forces in July 2006.

More here.