Showing posts from September, 2012

‘Freedom to criticize religion is a touchstone of free expression’ - Interview with Gilbert Achcar

Anyone incensed by symbolic violence, such as the video in the US or cartoons in France, should retaliate with symbolic violence in the same way or with peaceful protest. Not through physical violence Muslims should ‘simply ignore the crazy provocations,’ Gilbert Achcar says. He thinks that those who engaged in violent protests against the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video did exactly what the video’s production team were hoping for as a result of their provocation. Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon and teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Among his books are  The Clash of Barbarisms , which came out in a second expanded edition in 2006; a book of dialogues with Noam Chomsky on the Middle East,  Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy  (2nd edition in 2008); and most recently  The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives  (2010). His next book analyzing the Arab upheaval will come out in the spring of 2013. Whi

Film remembers Indian lawyer Shahid Azmi as symbol of hope

A film about a murdered Indian human rights lawyer has been creating waves on the international film circuit. Film critic Saibal Chatterjee talks to director Hansal Mehta about the film.   Shahid - the eponymous film about Shahid Azmi, the defence lawyer for one of three men accused of involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks - had its world premiere at the recent Toronto Film Festival.  Mr Azmi represented Indian national Fahim Ansari who was subsequently acquitted of charges of involvement.  The November 2008 attacks, which targeted luxury hotels, Mumbai's main railway station and a Jewish cultural centre, claimed 166 lives. Nine of the attackers were also killed. Lawyer Shahid Azmi secured 17 acquittals in a seven-year career  Mr Azmi, who was himself once detained under India's anti-terror laws, and then became a lawyer and defended those who were wrongly accused in cases of terrorism, was shot dead in his Mumbai office in February 2010. He was only 32.   "The incredi

Hubble's hidden treasures

Among the million-plus observations that have been made by the Hubble Space Telescope are  'Hubble's Hidden Treasures'  – beautiful images that have never been seen by the public. Nasa launched a competition to identify some of the best. First prize and winner of the public vote was Josh Lake for finding this image of the star-forming region NGC 1763 in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Lake produced a two-colour image from the data, showing glowing hydrogen in blue and nitrogen in red A close-up of the Sun's coronal mass ejection with Earth to scale Astronomers have found molecules of glycolaldehyde – a simple sugar – in  t he gas  surrounding a young binary star with a similar mass to our sun.  This is the first time sugar has been found in space around such a star,  and the discovery shows that some of the building blocks of life are potentially  in the right place, at the right time , to become part of planets forming around stars Experience what it's

Greek police in an open alliance with neo-Nazis?

Greece 's far-right Golden Dawn party is increasingly assuming the role of law enforcement officers on the streets of the bankrupt country, with mounting evidence that Athenians are being openly directed by police to seek help from the neo-Nazi group, analysts, activists and lawyers say. In return, a growing number of Greek crime victims have come to see the party, whose symbol bears an uncanny resemblance to the swastika, as a "protector". One victim of crime, an eloquent US-trained civil servant, told the Guardian of her family's shock at being referred to the party when her mother recently called the police following an incident involving Albanian immigrants in their downtown apartment block. "They immediately said if it's an issue with immigrants go to Golden Dawn," said the 38-year-old, who fearing for her job and safety, spoke only on condition of anonymity. "We don't condone Golden Dawn but there is an acute social problem that has co

Samar Halarnkar: Accepting Aamir

Mohammed Aamir tells me he forgets things easily, a consequence of frequent beatings, 14 years in jail and the trauma of being called a terrorist and - this appears to bother him the most - traitor to his country.  There are some things he never forgets: that he was 18 years old,  an 11th- grade student, walking down a poorly lit Old Delhi street at 9:30 pm on the night of February 20, 1998, when some men grabbed and bundled him into a Maruti Gypsy; that it was January 9, 2012, when he walked out of Delhi's Tihar Jail, a free man. His father, a toy dealer, was dead. His mother was paralysed and mute. Aamir has had to learn many things, such as using a mobile phone. "Only the rich had cellphones when I went to jail," says Aamir, now 32. "I've learned to use a computer, e-mail, and I am on Facebook. I want to be a part of society and my country again."  For a man who was tortured and charged with 17 counts of murder, terrorism and waging war against his co

"We are Europe's misery" - plight of the Romany people in France

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 – modest prefab affairs that they built themselves, using materials put at their disposal by a philantropic entrepreneur – and their children go to school. It's early September,  la rentrée , 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. In Romania, Adriana, who studied psychology, used to work in a bank. She moved to France three years ago and now a

At last, some human solidarity! Sisterhood triumphs over caste in Hissar

DABRA (HISAR, HARYANA): He sat at the back of the crowded bus, hiding part of his face with an angochcha, looking away at the passing countryside. But one glance and she knew it was him. She got off the bus, rushed home, told her elders. They made a call, and at the next stop, the police stood waiting to take the young man away. And thus Baljeet, better known in Dabra as Sittu, one of the dozen-odd jat boys on the run after allegedly raping a 16-year-old dalit girl on September 9 and filming the act to blackmail her not to squeal, was finally arrested on Saturday.  The case has roiled Hisar, the district of Haryana infamous for jat-dalit tensions. But in small mercies, Baljeet's arrest — the first in the case — took place on information shared by a jat girl.  The college student prefers to be anonymous. Baljeet is her neighbour. So are the other boys still on the run. It is not easy to act against your own community, her mother explains, even if they are goondas.  "But the

Private Prisons: Immigration Convictions In Record Numbers Fueling Corporate Profits

Privatised jails! There's no limit to the institutions of private property.. This spring, a group of inmates at a privately operated federal prison in Mississippi -- most of them undocumented immigrants from Mexico --  rose up against their guards , setting fires, taking hostages and ultimately killing one correctional officer.  The riot, the latest in a string of uprisings at low-security private prisons housing undocumented immigrants, came after   complaints from prisoners  about "substandard food, medical conditions and disrespectful staff members," according to a  federal court affidavit   filed by the FBI. The inmates incarcerated in the Mississippi prison and more than a dozen private facilities across the country are not awaiting deportation in the immigrant detention system. Instead, many are serving prison time for the crime of crossing the border, a federal offense that prosecutors are  filing in record numbers  as part of a government crackdown on illega

Are you going to Kudankulam?

On Tuesday this week, three Japanese visitors who are part of the anti-nuclear movement in Japan were refused entry to India and deported on arrival at Chennai.  Reading the account sent by them from Kuala Lumpur makes for not-exactly-pleasant reading.  “When we got off the plane and approached the immigration counter, one personnel came to us smiling... [and took] us to the immigration office. [There were more than five personnel there.] ... one asked me [Yoko Unoda] whether I am a member of No Nukes Asia Forum Japan. ‘You signed the international petition on Kudankulam, didn’t you?’ ... another person asked, ‘Mr Watarida ... he is involved in the anti-nuclear movement in Kaminoseki, right?’ ‘Are you going to Kudankulam? Who invited you all? … Who will pick you up at Tuticorin airport? [they had a copy of the itinerary of the domestic flight] Tell me their names. Tell me their telephone numbers. Will you join the agitation?’ They asked many questions and surprisingly, they knew

The banality of evil: The day I confronted my troll

He drove me off Twitter, hacked my Facebook, and abused and terrified my family. Yet the biggest shock of all was meeting him: by Leo Traynor I'm back on Twitter. I can imagine the cries of "I knew he wouldn't last!" from the Twitterati. But give me a few minutes of your time and I'll tell you why I'm back and the real truth about exactly why I left in the first place. In my blog of 12 August entitled Walking, Not Running, I talked about my time on Twitter and my basic reasons for leaving. I stand over a lot of what I said. The atmosphere there has changed and there have been negative stories in the media about trolling, etc, for months now. The brand has been damaged and Twitter needs to act fairly swiftly to repair it. At the time of writing that blog, for reasons that will become obvious, I was very sketchy about my own personal experience. When I left Twitter numerous people thought it was as a result of an overreaction on my behalf. That

Hummingbirds' backward flight

Although hummingbirds routinely fly backwards, it has never before been scientifically described in detail.  University of California scientists Dr Nir Sapir and Robert Dudley, recorded the birds' flight biomechanics using high-speed cameras and oxygen uptake.  They found that hummingbirds' backward flight uses similar amounts of energy to flying forwards.  The results are published in the   Journal of Experimental Biology . Backward flight is frequently used by members of the hummingbird family as they reverse from a nectar-bearing flower after feeding.  Dr Sapir noticed this while observing hummingbirds on a feeder.  "I actually saw it happening in a feeder that was positioned in my balcony. Many hummingbirds were using it and they all were flying backwards. It puzzled me that we know almost nothing about this flight style."  To further understand this type of flight Dr Sapir and Robert Dudley devised an experiment using a sucrose-filled syringe disguised as

Nature’s water purifiers help clean up lakes

More and more of our waterways are being starved of life through pollution. One simple, yet improbable, solution? Cover rafts in plants. Just five years ago, Fish Fry Lake was dying. The groundwater flowing into the lake situated 30 miles northeast of Billings, Montana, contained high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, common ingredients in agricultural fertilisers and animal waste. The nitrogen and phosphorus had fostered an overgrowth of algae, which covered the lake and blocked sunlight from penetrating the surface. The deep water was a dead zone, devoid of oxygen and home to very little aquatic life. The solution was as simple as it was improbable: cover rafts with plants, and set them afloat in the lake. Within a year-and-a-half, the algal blooms were gone. Water clarity improved. Oxygen levels rose. Today, the lake is home to a thriving community of fish, including  black crappie ,  yellow perch and  Yellowstone cutthroat trout .  The story of Fish Fry Lake demonstrates t