Non-Aligned Movement Loses Summit Site
DHAKA — The next meeting of the 46-year-old Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was supposed to be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2002. But a victory by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) in recent elections derailed that plan. At its first cabinet meeting in October, the new government withdrew the offer to host, citing the troubled international situation and its own financial problems.
Dhaka’s about-face came after three South Asian nations — Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan — offered the US facilities to launch military strikes against Afghanistan. Yet, observers say the reasons for the pullout are mainly financial and ideological: An enormous amount was to be spent on what the new administration and others call a dead movement.
Ousted premiere Sheikh Hasina warned the "undiplomatic" cancellation could damage Bangladesh’s image. The Daily Star criticized the earlier leadership for agreeing to host without consulting the cabinet and parliament, but also castigated the new government for calling NAM dead.
Non-alignment grew out of the 1955 Afro-Asian conference in Bandung, Indonesia. At a time when the world was divided into two ideological blocs, 25 states argued that they could provide a third voice. Since a first meeting in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, NAM has held 11 subsequent summits. Membership has increased to 114.
Defenders argue that NAM may be floundering, but needs to be revived. The end of the Cold War and emergence of a "unipolar world" don’t diminish the many gaps between the rich and the poor worlds, they note. At this point, however, the first question for the NAM ministerial coordinating bureau is whether it can arrange a summit somewhere else by next March or April.
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BOSTON — In the aftermath of Sept. 11, a conservative academic group founded by Lynne Cheney, the wife of the US vice president, blasted 40 college professors for not showing enough patriotism. The attack, issued by leaders of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, was yet another salvo in the culture war.
Several scholars who were singled out said they felt blacklisted, complaining that their words had been taken out of context to make them look like enemies of the state. "It’s a little too reminiscent of McCarthyism," said Hugh Gusterson, an associate professor at MIT named for making a connection between suffering in the US and Afghanistan at a campus peace rally.
Although Cheney, former chief of the National Endowment of the Humanities, didn’t write the report, it quotes her and was prepared by two close allies. Listing 117 comments or incidents, it argues that campuses are hostile to the US government and out of step. "Indeed," it adds, "the message of much of academe was clear: Blame America First."
"For the most part, public comments in academia were equivocal and often pointing the finger at America rather than the terrorists," noted Anne Neal, a report author and council official. Several of the named scholars replied that the council is attempting to silence criticism of the Bush administration.
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TORONTO — A target of the 1950s anti-communist crusade charges that Canada’s proposed anti-terrorist legislation could lead to the same kind of repression. Author and broadcaster Lynne Gordon warns that Bill C-36 would give the federal government "unbelievable powers," including the freedom to arrest or jail anyone suspected of planning a terrorist attack without a warrant.
Echoing the concerns being voiced about so-called anti-terrorism laws in the US, she explained, "You can be arrested just on preventive measures and held for so many hours or a week. You have no recourse unless they decide to let you go." As TV performers in New York during the 50s, Gordon and her husband, John Henry Faulk, became ensnared in the assault on civil liberties led by US Senator Joseph McCarthy. Denounced as unpatriotic and subversive, those suspected of communist sympathies were investigated, fired, and blacklisted, often without knowing why.
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Aussie Strongman Plays Race Card
SYDNEY — Australian Prime Minister John Howard was re-elected in November, thanks to asylum seekers and international terrorism. Until August, he looked like a loser due to the 10 percent consumption tax his government introduced last year. But then, the Norwegian cargo vessel Tampa rescued 433 boat people heading for the country.
Howard seized the opportunity, refusing to let the Tampa enter the country’s waters, driving back all smuggling boats, and setting up "boat people colonies." More than 70 percent of Australians reportedly supported his actions. After Sept. 11, Howard fanned the flames. "You don’t know who’s coming and you don’t know whether they do have terrorist links or not," he announced.
Insularism, isolationism, and even racialism are still widespread, remnants of the White Australia policy repealed about 30 years ago. The One Nation Party, a semi-racialist group, captured about one million votes this year. Party leader Pauline Hanson claims Howard helped himself by stealing her policy.
Concerns are growing that Australia is becoming more insular and White. The operative euphemism is "protectionist nationalism."
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Airline Freaks Over Abbey Book
PHILADEPHIA — It finally happened. An airline passenger has been prohibited from flying — and banned — simply because of the book he was reading.
The problems began after 22-year-old Neil Godfrey was selected by a United Airlines clerk for a random baggage search on Oct. 10. When he placed the novel he was reading on the conveyor belt, a security guard got worried. It was Hayduke Lives! Edward Abbey’s sequel to his classic of environmental activism, The Monkey Wrench Gang. The cover shows a man’s hand holding several sticks of dynamite, with a clock taped to the side.
As Godfrey waited to board, a National Guardsman, Philadelphia cops, Pennsylvania State Troopers, and airport security descended to question him about the book and his trip to Phoenix. For 45 minutes, officials took notes on the novel’s contents. In the book, George Washington Hayduke commits acts of sabotage to save the environment.
Eventually, a United employee announced that Godfrey wouldn’t be flying "for three reasons": first, the book; second, he’d purchased his ticket on Sept. 11; and third, his driver’s license had expired. They were wrong about the license, but he was kept off the plane, anyway.
Later that day, his mother booked him another flight. This time, police, security, and 15 other lawmen were waiting, and the airport operations supervisor for United decided "he would not be allowed to fly." When Godfrey’s father called, a spokesperson said the young man "was banned from flying United" because he cracked "a joke about bombs."
"Stories like Godfrey’s are likely to become increasingly common," remarked an airport spokesperson. Apparently, law enforcement and airlines don’t believe free expression and freedom to read count during a period defined as wartime.
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Uzbek Dictator Gets a US Pass
TASHKENT — The US-led military operation called "Enduring Freedom" was launched mainly on the shoulders of two dictators, Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf and Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov. Pakistan has already been rewarded; economic sanctions imposed for its nuclear program have been lifted, some of its $3.6 billion in US debt has been written off, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to new loans.
Now it’s Uzbekistan’s turn, especially after the Central Asian republic let the US use its airspace and military infrastructure. In return, Washington has apparently promised to defend its new host in any attack by Afghanistan, a remote prospect. The twist is that, according to the Washington Post, Uzbekistan and the US have been conducting covert anti-Taliban operations since mid-2000, and there has been significant security and military cooperation between them for "two to three years."
Not surprisingly, details of the deal remain secret. But one of two options are likely: The US will pressure the IMF to resume loans while helping to reform the financial sector, or possibly lean on the World Bank to grant soft loans, coupled with deferred interest payments or outright waiver of outstanding foreign loans.
The Uzbek government has barely changed from the Soviet times, and the Communist chief is still in power. The republic, accounting for half the 52 million inhabitants of five Muslim-majority Central Asian states, remains under one-party rule.
Its human rights record is abominable. In the name of suppressing Islamic militancy, authorities arrest men for wearing beards and women for wearing veils. People also are jailed for circulating religious leaflets, attending unregistered mosques, or listening to the sermons of unregistered preachers. Legitimate opposition, secular and Islamic, has been driven underground.
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Getting Ready For Low Power
WASHINGTON — To date, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued about 120 permits for low power radio stations in the US. At least six are on the air, and 55 requests have been dismissed. But many applicants are still waiting for word. The FCC reportedly wants to focus first on applicants who have no competition.
You might think most objections would come from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) or National Public Radio (NPR). Actually, the main critics have been the Microradio Implementation Project, National Lawyers Guild, Christian Community Broadcasters, and Prometheus Radio. Their concern is that national churches have put in dozens of applications through affiliates, hoping to build low power empires.
According to Prometheus, about 100 permits are sitting unused because the applicants didn’t raise money until they won approval. Now they’re scrambling, but most sources don’t give large grants until they see that the organization can do volunteer-intensive, grassroots fundraising.
In Philadephia, Radio Volta kept busy while waiting by launching an Internet radio station. The idea was to set up the studio and give people a chance to practice. Some programmers picked up bigger Internet audiences than they might get via FM. In fact, one programmer requested that his show not go on FM. His satirical content, poking fun at the hypocrisy of the religious right, probably would have violated FCC obscenity rules, but became very popular on the Internet.
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Kenya Restores Lunatic Line
ATHI RIVER — The first steam engine to cross Kenya in almost 20 years left Nairobi in early November, marking the centenary of a colonial railway dubbed the "lunatic line" for its huge cost in money and lives. Called the Mount Gelai, the train steamed down track originally built by British colonialists to link Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, to Mombasa on the coast.
The train was restored by a team of technicians, including retired mechanics who worked on it during freight-hauling days between 1955 and 1980. A tour company sponsored the project, hoping the train will help Kenya’s tourist industry, which is struggling over safety worries, poor infrastructure, and fierce competition from rival destinations.
A century ago, London politicians ridiculed the idea of building a railway to go "from nowhere to utterly nowhere." One satirist described it in a poem as "the lunatic line." Kenya’s Masai tribe in turn dubbed the 581-mile track the "iron snake." During construction, man-eating lions killed 28 Indian laborers who were building a bridge. Tropical disease also reaped a heavy toll.
The railway was completed in 1901. Almost a century later, its building was turned into a Hollywood film, The Ghost and the Darkness, starring Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer.
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Big Mac Attacks
BOMBAY — Despite security fears, McDonald’s is pushing ahead with plans to expand in India. The goal is 80 outlets. The cost, at least $60 million, will be shared by McDonald’s and its two Indian partners. But the chain, which already has 30 restaurants occupying prime space in Bombay and Delhi, could be vulnerable to protesters angry over Afghanistan, not to mention the menu.
"There are some disadvantages when you have a highly visible brand," admits Amit Jatia, director of Hardcastle Restaurants, one of India’s two franchises. In May, right-wing Hindu groups attacked a McDonald’s in Bombay after an ethnic Indian lawyer sued the company for selling fries flavored with beef tallow. McDonald’s said it uses beef tallow in the US, but denied using beef in any of its Indian products.
Five years ago, the first McDonald’s outlet in India caused a stir in Bombay. Crowds lined up for days to get mutton burgers and fries. "We have a nice vegetarian menu and we don’t even use eggs in ice cream or mayonnaise," claims Jatia. India’s Hindus revere cows as sacred, and Muslims, who form a significant minority, don’t eat pork.
Other Western restaurant chains also have faced resistance. In 1996, farmers attacked and damaged a Kentucky Fried Chicken store in Bangalore, saying KFC represented Western food habits that aren’t needed in India. After the attack on Afghanistan began, a Coca Cola bottling plant was bombed in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.