Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Mumbai Massacre

The taking of any life, according to my personal belief, is a cardinal sin, and neither war, nor 'jihad' nor anything can justify this to me. The Mumbai Massacre, the 9/11 incident, the killing of Palestinians, Iraqi's, Afghans and anyone in the world all fall within my definition of senseless murder. It is sad testimony that in this day and age we cannot sit across the table and sort things out and have to resort to this mayhem. The Mumbai Massacre will be tainted by many different connotations but none of these will bring back the people who died and their only fault was to be there at that time.

Sadly the terrible incident will be colored in the light of the tense political relationship between Pakistan and India, and people will forget that Pakistani's too face the wrath of this terrible mayhem and any Pakistani who had a sense of empathy will feel the pain of what the Indian nation has gone through. It is a time to heal and it is a time for people to educate themselves on the scourge of this hate that is falsely using the name of Islam, which actually is a very tolerant religion, to spread hate and death.

Terrorism does not have a face and it does not rely on the conveinence of borders, so it does not matter if one or all of the attackers in Mumbai were Pakistani or from wherever. These same people could just as easily have attacked a hotel in Karachi as they did in Mumbai. What people have to understand, appreciate and act upon is a common sense of loss and bring about an understanding of why these people have such hate and what can be done to deal with it.

Indian reaction internally will test their dogma of secularism and indeed some Indian Muslims will become the target of a form of internal exclusion and suspicion that will fall upon them. It would be in the interest of peace that such recriminations are not directed towards the Muslims, Pakistani or anyone in general terms. This was not a communal, religious or state act, it was the work of some misguided people who have been led to believe that their means are justified for the ills they feel they have suffered.

Underlying these sort of events bring about the urgency for people to settle their differences and bring about peace in their communities. People have said this is India's 9/11, I hope India does not react in the way the US acted when the 9/11 act happened to them. It is not the solution that would achieve anything, and while the people behind such an attack should be brought to justice it also implies that a better understanding of how to tackle the mind of these youth is needed. I have argued, even in my book soon to be published, that the battle that is going on is not on battlefields or a war for land, it is a battle for the minds of the next generation of our youth. It is here that we have to win the argument.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

UAE and the Global Financial Crisis

The financial markets around the world have taken a massive beating, but certainly not the first and certainly not the last. However, as with all such situations of extreme volatility the human mind loses perspective and we begin to forget the context and scope of what exactly is happening. I lived through the Stock Market crash of 1987 and was then trading in the financial markets and saw, one Monday afternoon, everything go red on the screen. It was ofcourse scary to say the least but in months the market had gradually crawled back to not only its former levels but then took off on a barraging bull run through the 1990's. Look at a stock market price chart of the past 30 years and that evening when my heart stopped still is only evidenced by a small jagged little line going down to then rise and leave a small tick mark. I call it the tick mark from the ultimate teacher of financial wisdom; the market itself, which told me I learned something.

I will share what I learned. Crises will come and go; not long ago the Asian Contaignation was seen as the Arrmageddon the financial system as we know it, today people have to stretch their mind to remember what it was. The current crisis is a combination of silly deregulation of the mortgage markets in the US and the abandoned lending of the banks to people who could not afford what they were buying. However, what took the toll was when banks wanted to switch these mortgages into securitized paper (called sub prime paper) and this ofcourse was bought by banks. When accounting rules did not allow this paper to be not marked to market the banks suddenly realized they were holding onto to something that was not that valuable after all. (A dummy version of explaining this). The ensuing concern on the worth of the banks clearly began to hurt their profits and in essence made the world stand up and wonder what was really the true worth if the financial system.

Just prior to the adjustments that took place in the market values, the banking system had been leveraged to around 11 to 12 times the equity base needed to support it. Typically this leverage is around seven times and thus a correction was overdue in any case. Now you will wonder what all this has to do with the UAE market or indeed the GCC market?

Indeed there is some interdependence of financial markets and what happens in New York will have an effect on UAE, Singapore and in small measure to some small Balkan country too. The question is what should be the extent of this impact?

First of all the UAE and GCC banking systems exposure to the sub prime market was negligible in consideration of their size of the domestic banks. In addition none of the local banks were in anyways involved in heavy overseas lending. Yes property markets were a bit over heated and prices has rocketed up and to some extent the argument of supply and demand was being using too often to justify over 100% returns on real estate. Yes there is a strong demand for housing, and my estimate is that this is about 38,000 homes currently needed with an additional 12,000 per year for the next five to seven years. Yes loads of projects have been announced but those nearing completion and fullfiling this demand are few.

Secondly the real estate market had moved up on the back of speculators who chose to put down 3 to 5% on a property and then flipped it to another investor till finally the end user was paying over 40 to 60% more than he could have by buying direct from the developer. So in essence alot of paper profits were being created for middle men who didn't do more than merely be at the right place at the right time with their check book ofcourse.

Thirdly those investors who are serious and hold property for longer than a few weeks or months have the money even today, and for them an opportunity has been created.

What is likely to happen? First I believe people will realize that the market is being talked down more than it should. Second there is no doubt some prices had gone up too much and the greed factor for the developers was too much. These people will have to realize that construction prices have come down and at the same time their is a need to price the projects better and the sales prices too. I foresee developers who will look for say 20% maximum profit and target the end user there is likely to me more joy than headache.

The financial system of the UAE is strong and UAE, especially Abu Dhabi has the firepower to remedy any glitches in the need for money in an instant. Yes the will to do so has to be there, and this is ofcourse going to be tested from time to time. For the moment and based on my experience here it is highly unlikely that UAE will be allowed to have a financial crunch of any sort, not because of the words that can be said but because of the financial resource available to correct things.

I am not suggesting a wild spree of rising prices should occur again but as normalcy has returned to the market, value has been created. Those with strong nerves are more likely to have a better time than those who look at the doom and gloom.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What a change.

Less then ten years ago we would have said a black American US President was a 'no way' and that the US was not ready for such a step. With the amazing election of President Barrack Obama history has been made, but what is phenomenal that he never once played the ethnic or the race argument in his election campaign and instead concentrated on the issues of the war, the economy and the need for change in American society. From a virtually unknown junior senator he moved to forge the nation forward with a conviction that was infectious and a passion that was calm and his message was consistent. We have to also admire the man who picked off two formidable opponents, first Hilary Clinton for the nomination of his party and then John McCain in a style and way that saw them fall apart.

In this sense Obama was the voice of the young, and the unheard came to the fore with a crescendo that was deafening. He was gracious in his arguments and focused in his temperament allowing John McCain to even speak down to him in the debates, showing for once that while McCain wanted to feed off fear, Obama fed of the message of hope and bringing together an America that has challenges which were the result of the fears that both Bush and McCain, almost by default, were surviving off.

In a world where world statesmen are in short supply Barrack Obama for once has stepped forward and also claimed that role not only for himself but also now sets the stage for America once again to restore respect and dignity in the community of the nations. Indeed this is the moment where not only history is being made but he has offered a rare ray of hope to all, whether you are an American or not..

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Zardari:Is this charming?

President Asif Ali Zardari is not new to meeting public figures, he lived in the shadow of the Late Benazir Bhutto for long, and indeed he is not new to meeting western women. Thus I see his opening remarks on meeting Sarah Palin a feeble attempt to be charming. Well initially! Complimenting her on looking 'more gorgeous in person' is perhaps right from the book 'The Game' but still acceptable to woo a woman who could be a heartbeat away from the White House one day. But then when asked by the cameramen to shake hands again his comment, 'if they keep insisting I might hug you' was lame, uncalled for and frankly totally out of order for the President of a country. I am a very liberal man, perhaps more than most Western men, but then wearing the mantle of a Presidency asks for people to bring some dignity to the position you hold.

I can see that Mr. Zardari sees himself as the champion of the fight against terrorism and this is where he and Sarah Palin might have alot of rhetoric to share. However, my former school mate, Asif I mean, has to understand that the problem of violence in Pakistan is a mixture of Taliban, Al Qadea and the lack of respect for the tribal system. I belong to that tribal system and I know a fair amount of how people of the Khyber Agency see things.

I am often then asked how to deal with this problem in the North of Pakistan? My solutions may not be complete but they will be certainly better than what is on offer at the moment. In the first place I would take a page from the book the British wrote about respecting the tribal system and working WITH it to control trouble. This would mean strengthening the Jirga (tribal councils) system and putting money into the tribal chiefs hands with the following deal; we will support your system if you have no taliban and no al Qadea in your region. If we know they are there then we will stop supporting you. The Pakhtun system is based on honor and respect and with the Pakistan and the US armed forces making incursions into tribal regions the traditional chiefs have lost face, power and respect in their own tribes. Yet they form the basis on which the society is knit together.

Yes the task is more difficult given that the Al Qadea and perhaps the Taliban have used money and religion to consolidate themselves in the tribal system, yet they have not got enough control over the populous of tribes who need to build their respect and trust into the tribal chiefs. While this will not solve the problems immediately but it will release the army from fighting the tribal people and deploy to protect more of the border.

However, all this may be too much for a new President to appreciate and understand for the moment, but then being in the job one either learns or just stumbles. What ever was discussed later between Palin and Zardari I cannot see it being highly enligthening considering her view is right wing hawkish and Zardari's view seems to be 'formative and lost'. I hope for the sake of Pakistan that the learning process of being diplomatic and charming is not all what we see from a President. We would want to see wisdom and leadership, not high school attempts at charm. The interesting thing is that what I would remember of Asif is that he can rise to the occasion, meeting Palin was certainly not one of them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sarah Palin: A view from abroad

When an unknown person pops up on the political stage, especially one that figures the center stage of the US Presidential election, we can either applaud the stroke of genius or wonder what the hell happened here. In the case of Sarah Palin, the emotions from the outside are neither, they are more like a total disbelief that a person who has governed a state where there are more elk then people and who prides herself to have 'pitbull' fighting instincts can be placed a heartbeat away from the most powerful person on Earth.

Thanks to the internet, the media and ofcourse seeing her in her first interview I have wondered to myself, do I want a woman who has not political sense of the world, (i.e. Bush Doctrine question drew a blank), has never met another head of state, and really doesn't have clue where perhaps the continents are to be the Vice President of a country that has made it its business to be in every backyard of the world; simply no way. Sarah Palin and the impending 'statetrooper-gate' matter clearly shows this woman carries her grudges, rewards her friends (five appointees who were school friends and takes her fights public. What seems dangerous is that she has enough people who will cover for her, take the fall for her, and judging by her body language and speech, this is one nasty woman in the neighborhood.

Now how would Sarah 'pitbull' Palin perform on the world scene? First of all she may be ignorant of the Bush Doctrine but she is cast too much in his mould. and therefore will have a propensity to continue to use force as a means of international policy. Second, since she seems to pride herself as someone who doesn't give up an argument it is more likely that her interface with world leaders will not be entirely pleasant. It is one thing to be intelligent and argumentative, but given she seems almost in grade one of international politics being argumentative may not be the wisest thing to do.

It would seem that the Palin factor will appeal to the hawks in the Republican party, but whether the Hillary supporters will shift from the Democrats to support a mediocre political lightweight remains to be seen. There is so far little substance to the striking looks of a woman who could perhaps be the most manipulative figure in US political history. I also suspect more will be revealed of the woman who pretty much sees herself as the lone sheriff in the old West town. The scary part is she will shoot before she looks, and that is where the problem is. Someone once said 'never put your mouth into motion before your brain is in gear'. It would seem that might be a word of advice for Sarah Palin.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Asif Zardari: President?

I went to school with Mr. Asif Zardari, at Cadet College Petaro, and last saw him briefly in Abu Dhabi when he made his first trip there as the spouse of the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. The brief visit was at the Intercontinental Hotel in suite and it was awkward since he had just assumed an importance that he bubbled with and I was looking at someone who we never did take very seriously as classmates. That he had political ambitions was obvious as he dabbled in college politics even briefly being part of a take over of the college in 1971 when General Yahya's government collapsed and some cadets thought a military college deserved some egalitarian politics. I recall walking in to the office if the Principal and demanding the ring leader and his friends hand back the college, amongst the ringleaders was Asif too, but once the leader had been subdued Asif understood it was not to be.

We remained friends and I would say one thing over the years I admired that he looked after his friends, especially those who were 'loyal' to him, and this was in keeping with the politics of Pakistan. His wife, the charming Benazir remained more in contact as I had been in UAE and so was she in and out of the place. We met a few times, talked politics even exchanged a few opinions about her trials and tribulations. I always thought of her as very intelligent and charming and indeed engaging, however to this day I have wondered if she sincerely did improve the lot of the people of Pakistan or whether she tried but was working in a system where things are hard to change. Yet her myopia was interesting when she visited me the last time at my home in Abu Dhabi, this was years back, we did argue when she refused to admit that her ministers or party members have been corrupt. It was perhaps a sore point with her, but I would concede on balance she seemed to have had a better hope for Pakistan then others at that point in time.

Her death was indeed a loss and I did, or tried to do my duty of phoning in a condolence two weeks after the funeral. I never got to speak to Asif, and one of our common friends actually had the cheek to suggest that now 'Asif's political career is rising I am not surprised you are remembering him'. But then that is how Pakistan has become one contacts politicians because one wants something. For me the welfare of the country is all I want. Which brings one to the what Mr. Zaradari will do as President.

While I do not know him given he decades since we studied together, I am constrained to see his profile from the media. My guess he will get carried away, forgetting the role of the President and in a sense he may at some stage forget the Army does have a say in matters. He will wheel and deal his way through alot, and in many cases get away with it, but the biggest legacy he will have to face will that of whether he can rise about the corruption, or the temptation of it, whether he can be bipartisan, whether he can do what is good for Pakistan rather than what is good for him, or only his political party or indeed external powers.

I want Asif to succeed, not for his own good, but for the good of the country, and if in that process he gets a measure of success rubbed off on him great for him. However, the reality is that he seems to have wheeled himself into a position where the political process has little faith him, he has broken his word a few times already and most of all will he now restore the judges? In effect this is not a test of Asif Zardari, its a test for the system.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

McCain-Palin: wool over the eyes

If I was only listening to the words from both Sen McCain and Gov Palin talking about Washington and how they will change Washington I would have sworn these were Democrats talking of changing eight years of Washington politics. Actually this is the biggest wool over the eyes attempt by the McCain-Palin camp to pretend that they are part of the people who will change eight years of mismanagement in Washington. It is almost as of McCain is trying to disown the Bush years, and in this way by putting aside the legacy he and Palin are running the risk of being in the mid stream of Republican politics and shedding them to be party less. Lets face it the McCain economic plan is exactly the same as that of the Bush years, so the current pain that is hurting American people is the same economic policies that McCain has embraced.

Gov Sarah Palin is ofcourse a surprise and while initially the gambit has paid off and the 'Palin who?' response was fed with her unique style of speech the reality is that she didn't say a word about universal medical care, education or the economy, actually showing how weak she is on these issues. The reality remains that the likes of McCain-Palin have never had the poor on the agenda and now try to review their mandate with rhetorical speeches; weak on substance, and emotional triggers. At the end of the day McCain played his prisoner of war (we are talking of the one over 35 years ago) card and Palin played her 'hockey mom' card when in reality none of her kids play hockey. Once the euphoria of all this dies we will find that Palin will actually be a liability even though she is being portrayed as an ideological heiress to the George W Bush without the liability of having been associated with him. The issue remains that she does not have the experience for the job and her handlers know (all politicians have handlers who tell them what to do) that there is just so much mileage you can get from stage craft.

If the American people buy this drama then indeed they have the wool pulled all the way over their face, perhaps down to their knees.

End American Alienation

The Current Discussion: In their campaign, should Barack Obama and running mate Joseph Biden advocate a clean break in U.S. foreign policy, or should they rely on continuity and experience?

The past eight years of U.S. foreign policy have been perhaps the worst ever for the image of the United States. I am not supporter of either Democrats or Republicans, especially when it comes to foreign policy. The U.S. policy towards other nations has been one of dictation, coercion and feeding off the fear that is being bred within the U.S. domestic policy. The war on terrorism has been made such a priority that upon its pretext two countries were invaded resulting in more than 5,000 U.S. deaths alone (many more than the 2,800 who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.) After seven years, the man they seek is still at large, Iraq is a mess and unfortunately the U.S. image in almost every country is at rock bottom. It has become such a farce that the U.S. policy makers (and indeed the fellows in Homeland Security, too) do not know friend from foe, and a criticism of U.S. policy has been equated with being an enemy of the U.S. There must be a departure from this policy of alienation that the present U.S. administration has engaged upon.

So what should Obama-Biden do on foreign policy? First deal with the world fairly, and fairly means ALL parties are treated fairly. Bring the Palestinian question to the forefront, open a sincere dialogue with Iran, disengage in an honorable way from Iraq and Afghanistan, and most of all stop propping up governments that are unpopular (Musharraf is gone, though I suspect now 'General' Zardari will be the vanguard against terrorism in Pakistan.) Let the world see that actually most Americans are actually great people. The U.S. is the only true superpower left, which brings a responsibility to show leadership in world affairs, not hegemony. All these things that have to be done to fix things will be difficult, but they have to be done to make the world a better and safer place.

What will the hawks say about terrorism? Terrorism is a threat that has been made bigger than life; more people died in road accidents in the U.S. than by any other violent acts (42,815 in 2002, of which 4078 alone died on the roads in California, according to Fatality Accident Reporting System and the IRTAD.) Does this mean we wage a war on automobiles? More than 35,000 people each year are killed in the U.S. by guns and another 65,000 are injured, and yet there is no noise about this being an epidemic. But the war on terrorism has been pushed into such a major problem that the broader picture has been ignored.

The U.S. has to lead and it has to assume a responsibility to lead with fairness, a problem-solving attitude and statesmanship that has been frankly absent on the world scene. It is time to bring this all together; it's time for Obama and Biden to step up and do it. There cannot be another way forward because confrontation has never solved issues. While this may sound too aggressive, all I can say is that we have seen a major failure of U.S. foreign policy and it is now time to fix it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Al-Qaeda – the United States' Invisible Foe

The Current Discussion: CIA Director Michael Hayden says al-Qaeda is more or less defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Should the Bush administration take credit? How much?

When wars are fought with an adversary who is largely invisible, how can one make the assertion that the war is over? CIA Director Michael Hayden says the war against al-Qaeda is over –“more or less.” Now if ever there was a wishy-washy statement, that is one. The question now is, is it “more” or is it “less”? The entire gambit of media output coming from the Bush Administration on Iraq, Afghanistan and indeed the al-Qaeda is so distorted and mixed up. At the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. In the ensuing months, as the management of Iraq literally fell apart under the worst public management ever done by Mr. Paul Bremen and others, an insurgency against the U.S. flared up. This was, and is, a domestic movement, nothing to do with al-Qaeda or others. While some attacks have been attributed to and even claimed by the al-Qaeda of Iraq, this was largely a splinter element. Thus, to defeat the al-Qaeda is not consequential in Iraq. What is consequential is the larger issue of managing the country and bringing about order in a country where insensitivity to the aspirations of the people has led to the worsening of the situation.

In Afghanistan, while the al-Qaeda may well have existed and, perhaps, still do, the issue of law and order is more complex. I have no doubt that while the Taliban were hated by the people, the fact they reinstated order and stopped the internal civil war is what the Afghan people remember as more important. Hamid Karzai has had a tremendous task on his hands. Whether he can restore order has to depend on his handling of the tribal and social fabric of a difficult country – hopefully doing it without foreign troops propping him up.

I have always argued that the underlying problems of these societies have to be resolved, not just through cosmetic changes at the top or on the surface. This means bringing economic well-being to a broader spectrum of people, accepting that the aspirations of each might be different from what the U.S. may want. Yes, al-Qaeda may well be a matter of concern for the U.S. Administration, but one has to understand that within these societies the issues are much larger and more acute than they might expect. One has to admit that mismanagement of these societies was going on well before the U.S. intervened. However, if the purpose of the intervention was to make things better, this has been a total failure and the result is clear – we’ve allowed a destabilized society to be exploited by all factions in this invisible war.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Internet No Automatic Revolution

From my Postglobal piece

The Current Discussion: Egypt has detained a number of its citizens for using the social networking site Facebook to organize anti-government protests. What online sites are most effective in influencing politics -- and is the impact positive?

In the context of Egypt, the government’s reaction to the use of sites like Facebook to influence politics within the country forms a broader pattern of media control. In essence Facebook, Hi5, and other social networking communities do get the wrath of governments on the basis of alleged erosion of 'social values'. This is a delicate subject for most of the emerging world, but I am not entirely sure that Facebook, per se, is known for being a platform for political dissent. For instance, the entire protest against General Musharraf's handling of Pakistan’s Judiciary, while absolutely high-handed, has not been reflected in places like Facebook. Yet blogs, other internet sites and even email e-blogs have become more effective mainly because they remain more targeted.

As far as the internet media is concerned, it’s becoming more powerful, especially with the ease of net traffic and of course more flexibility in content presentation. However, in a number of cases even the more serious political platforms on the internet have questionable effectiveness as instruments of direct change. Burma, Tibet, Iraq, the Arab World, Israel’s behavior and American insensitivity to world opinion – all have figured in various prestigious platforms. The result has been that while people may end up being better informed, I am not sure they are willing to do much more about it than perhaps an occasional protest email.

Take the example of PostGlobal itself. While there is no doubt this forum has a respected readership, there is perhaps, judging by some reader comments, a tendency to only read the headline and the first paragraph and then leave a comment. (To use my last post as an example, some readers felt I was asking only the Arabs to accept Israel, when I was additionally arguing that Israel has to stop its inhuman treatment of the Arabs and even quoted Amnesty International.) So on balance, the situation is not as simple as saying that if it’s on the Internet, it will influence opinion. It is more likely that it will shape some opinions, but unless the leadership or the audience that needs to act is really going to take serious note of the media on the net, I would argue that it will still be some time before we can say that Internet-based opinions matter. Perhaps this is because of the fractured nature of the Internet, and because I can hardly see General Musharraf, President Bush or Hosni Mubarak waking up each morning and reading the hundreds of blogs out in cyberspace.

Nevertheless, for those who care and do understand the writers’ complete arguments, there is a case that it can provide the basis for interaction and perhaps eventually action.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An Orphaned Tibet

The Current Discussion: Protests over the Olympic torch relay have led to a crackdown in Tibet. Is Tibetan independence a lost cause? If not, what should its supporters do to win it?

Tibet's plight is not just about the sadness and loss of country that Tibetans feel - it is a constant reminder of the lack of a moral stance that countries have on this issue. World riots over the Olympic torch merely highlight the world's enthusiasm for showing they do not agree with the Chinese government. This is a message that is not getting to the governments, which continue to behave as if there is no problem with Tibet. There is no second thoughts about the fact that Tibet was invaded by the Chinese, albeit decades ago. There seems to be a suggestion that since the takeover of Tibet happened so long ago, it might as well be considered a lost cause.

The upcoming Olympics raise China's profile and hence the urgency to show the world that not all agree with how the Tibetan issue has been handled by the community of governments. While calls for its boycott are equated with the boycott of the Moscow Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, most athletes and governments don't really want to create a fuss over the continued Chinese occupation of Tibet. However, there are different faces to this protest; perhaps taking part in the Olympics but boycotting the opening ceremony. Imagine the Chinese televising the opening ceremony, with only the Chinese team in attendance?

Realistically, the Tibetan cause is lost in terms of pressure, sympathy or action from any of the governments that can exert even moral pressure on China, not that such moral pressure work on the mind of the Chinese leadership. However, it is obvious that people around the world do care about the Tibetan issue; this is where the current protests come into play to try and raise the interest in this lost cause. Tibet has no strategic value for the Americans, British or the French, and perhaps their need not to offend China far outweighs their moral responsibilities here. In a sense, the current protests around the high-profile Olympics are the last chance for people who support the Tibetan cause to do something about it. If they fail, the issue will recede back to being a footnote in the newspapers and in our minds.

Arabs Must Accept Israel

My PostGlobal piece
The Current Discussion:Israel celebrated its 60th birthday last week. Will it survive to celebrate its 100th?

This may sound shocking coming from a Pakistani living in Dubai, but the reality is that Arabs must learn to accept Israel in their midst. While a great deal is said about Iranian leadership and Hamas wanting the destruction of Israel, if we move beyond the rhetoric, the country is there to stay.

Israel has come so far, irrespective of the controversies that surrounded its creation and its position on the Middle East political map. It will indeed make it to its 100th birthday. What will affect Arab perceptions of Israel is the way the country conducts itself. Yes, there are acts against Israel which are violent, and there are acts by Israel that create the conditions for violence to gain steam. But the issue of forcibly taking Arab lands is real: part of the inherent problem lies in claims that since an Arab farmer does not have proof of land ownership, the State of Israel can then take it.
I am not suggesting that violence on the part of the Arabs is an answer, but there is enough liberal thought on both sides to acknowledge that both have done wrongs and that these need to be stopped and then corrected wherever possible. There is a consensus among most NGOs that Israel's track record on human rights in the Occupied Territories is appalling; its surprising that a people who suffered the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis could themselves treat people with such indignity in their own lands. This is of course not a reason to wish for an end to Israel, but more an appeal to the voices of reason on both the Arab and the Israeli sides, to bring about tolerance, acceptance and fairness into the equation.

Thus, the question is not whether Israel will make it to its 100th birthday, but in what manner will it conduct itself as it does so? In a 2004 report on Israel, Amnesty International claimed:

"…abuses committed by the Israeli army constituted crimes against humanity and war crimes, including unlawful killings; extensive and wanton destruction of property; obstruction of medical assistance and targeting of medical personnel; torture; and the use of Palestinians as human shields."

People will suggest that I am ignoring Arab violence against Israel. I am not. I am merely asking critics be fair and look ahead and see that it takes two hands to clap. I wish Israel well, as I do all its neighbors.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Stronger Love For Troubled Times
The Current Discussion: For Valentine’s Day, this question: What is the future of love?

Although our moderators asked this question in the interest of lightening up the debate, it comes across somewhat like asking as to the future of global warming, or the future of the U.S. economy. Perhaps our approach to life, love and happiness is too stunted to consider the esoteric elements of life anymore; is it in earnestness that we have commercialized Valentine’s Day and Christmas?

I am happy to report that at the most basic level, the future of love is there to stay, though in what shape or form is a matter of conjecture when it comes to the perspectives from which we approach it. But then truly love is, in its essence, a process, composed of a myriad of passions which bring a procession of expectations, joys, laughter, intimacy and much more to our heart, with the occasional heartache, too. To a jilted lover, love then is masochistic, to a newly loved it’s a joyous moment promised forever. In either case love between humans will remain, and for as long as humankind exists. Love is without a true gender; it is in its form nothing else then the process of loving through the expression of emotions. How society becomes more tolerant will dictate the more varied expressions of love, some to the dismay of many who would oppose same-sex marriage.

Love is, in the end, the process by which you realize your best in the other person. It’s an act of giving, and even though at a societal level we are faced with more cliched hatred then ever before, there is a higher probability that at the personal level love will sustain and perhaps in these troubled times grow stronger. I hope we as humans will not forget to love. As I once wrote to my wife, in a poem:

I have stepped forward
I have capitulated
And if this love were to annihilate me

Gladly shall I be its servile servant
For a soul surrendered to love
Is better than servitude to angered aloneness.

Hijab Politics

From my PostGlobal contribution

Hijab Politics
I come from a tribal family from Pakistan and was brought up to respect the religious wishes and inclinations of all people. This meant that my mother and sisters never wore the veil, and even when my mother visited the tribal areas for the first time in 1942 and wanted to wear a veil, my father told her she should not wear it if she did not wish to. My uncles and aunts were initially shocked by my mother turning up in a sari and no veil, to which my father replied that religion was a personal matter.

Thus, all the noise in Europe over the issue of the veil seems to me a bit overblown. I personally do not believe that the veil in modern times is necessary, and as societies modernize and educate their people they will realize that the issue of a veil is more to veil one’s intentions rather than a simple cover up. In equal measure, I agree that Muslims in Europe and America can modernize and not necessarily Westernize. Yet when such societies are put under siege, with media pressure to abandon what they think is important, there is a tendency to drag one’s heels and avoid change. The freedom-loving sense within me says that if in a democratic and free system one religion is allowed to practice its beliefs, so must the others.

I feel a personal sense of disappointment that the Turkish parliament has decided to change a secular tradition in Turkey, but that feeling has to be weighed with the fact that this was an act of parliament and not an arbitrary decision by a mullah. Although as secular democrats we may find it as a loss to our ideals of freedom, we must also accept that this seems to be what the Turkish people voted for. In that sense, accepting it is vitally important, as is the hope that if indeed the people did not want it then the rule will be dissolved through the action of future parliaments. What is important is that the veil is not imposed, but is a matter of choice.

The issue of the veil is more contentious within ostensibly Christian countries, where Muslim minorities may wish to wear the veil (as was the case in France) and laws are passed to take away that individual choice. In UAE, where I live, there are Christian churches on land donated by the government and there is a freedom given to the various faiths. I do hope that other Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia, will eventually adopt the same attitude. Throughout history there are examples of coexistence that stand out, i.e. Spain under the Muslims. Passing laws that are targeted against religions never works, as we have seen in history, and in the same vein all that the Turkish government has done is granted the freedom of choice to women to either wear the veil or not. I would hope that in the long run, the veil will not be imposed but will continue to be a matter of choice. Choice is, after all, the premise of any democratic system, however we may disagree with it. Thus, to me, forcing women to wear the veil is also wrong.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

America's economic barometer

America's Economic Barometer
The Current Discussion: If countries around the world are doing so well economically, why are they still catching a cold when the United States sneezes?

In a more interdependent world, we simply can’t ignore the economic wellbeing of the world’s largest economy. A further slide in the U.S. cannot remain an isolated event. The U.S. dollar remains the major reserve currency, with all the major commodities being priced in U.S. dollars – so it is hardly surprising that the weakness of the U.S. financial system will have international ramifications.

A major fall of the U.S. dollar or its stock market will more than likely affect other economies as their financial assets in U.S. markets contract. That spells trouble for economies, as their asset base is mostly denominated in U.S. dollars. However, one has to admit that the economic landscape is changing in large measure as other economies are expanding, and while they would be affected by a U.S. slowdown it does not mean a compete breakdown will occur. The emergence of China and India as two major economic players, not far from becoming major economic powers, implies that the economic balance is changing. However, these markets are more likely to attract capital investments into their manufacturing and service sector and not their stock markets, mainly because it is hard for them to compete with the efficiency of the U.S. market.

However, the immediate impact of U.S. stock market changes is more a barometer to which other markets react, as is the case today. However, in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, i.e. the rich oil producers) generally the economic performance is relatively immune to a U.S. recession, even though their stock markets do have knee-jerk reactions. The question remains: in a world where globalization seems to be the direction of economic progress, will the woes of the U.S. dominate economic performance? Perhaps for some time to come the financial impact will be there, as the U.S. dollar remains a major reserve currency and perhaps the largest financial market. However, as other markets mature the direct impact will be minimized (though never really absent) as the impact of globalization will also mean that other economies like Europe, China and India will also be able to impact global economic performance.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Dear Candidates

My contribution to Washington Posts Postglobal site

Dear Candidates: Equal Attention to the World’s Problems
The Question: The U.S. starts to choose a president this week. If you could send the candidates one message, what would it be?

What the world today needs, more than ever, is a world statesman: someone who can guide the world with empathy and compassion, not guns and missiles. The world has been brought to the brink of massive destruction, and while one cannot blame American leadership for all of the problems, America must take responsibility for what it has done wrong.

The demands on your attention will be many, some born out of a moral prerogative, others born from the pressures of the commercial world and leading the world’s largest military power. While I do not expect leaders to be perfect, I do expect them to be fair on the issues of world politics.

We wish to see an American president who is willing to be brave and balanced on the issue of Palestine and Israel, to condemn the Israeli aggression with the same tone as Palestinian suicide bombers are condemned. We wish for someone who will act on world affairs based on reason and fact, not emotion and conjecture, to bring to the forefront the values of fairness that are expected within American societies. There is no doubt that America is a great nation, with some of the finest values of freedom of speech and the rule of law, but its leadership seems to have forgotten these values and these need to be rekindled into the body politic of the nation. It is this that will win the hearts and minds of the people around the world. Asking for democracy in Iraq and and Pakistan is indeed a bold statement, but to ignore China's violations of human rights especially with respect to Tibet, or to take the pressure off of Burma, all show that its current leadership seeks selective democracy.

The world ahead of us needs understanding, not an ‘us and them’ approach. American leaders need to become the 'we', with a true worldly view. At the start of this long road to the White House, which of you will embrace this vision, and more importantly which will carry it into your term of office? The world is watching.