Giving the People credit

Giving the People credit
By Brian Self

Cyprus Observer, Cyprus
Oct 20 2006


In a replay of what happened in June an allergy struck this week,
coinciding as then with a tangible shift in the seasons. At summer’s
start I hadn’t noticed the arrival of the cicadas but the first October
storm was unavoidable; the scent of wet tree bark, and at night cloud
banks over the Karpaz torn apart by lightning – a demented stage
setting for the arrival of Mozart’s ‘Queen of the Night’. That day
dusk came on with a deepening yellow light belonging to the deserts in
central Asia, where dust and the vast emptiness are palpable qualities
of an otherworldliness. Together with the alarmingly frequent power
cuts in Lapta; the small ants still coming out with sugar from the
dispenser, the scene might easily have tipped into autumnal melancholy,
but no, I recognised the symptoms of over exposure to news from certain
places in the world, in this case brought on by a Guardian article:
Aura of fear and death stalks Iraq.

The antidote – good news – was nowhere to be found, and what appeared
to be cause for optimism was rapidly taken away. British army Chief
Sir Richard Dannatt’s ‘blistering’ denunciation of Tony Blair’s foreign
policy and his call for withdrawing British troops out of Iraq ‘soon’
was welcomed by the Stop the War Coalition and large numbers of the
British public. But on the morning of Friday the 13th as the Guardian
wrote of "a political bombshell" and an outspoken intervention
"unprecedented in modern times" Sir Richard was talking on the BBC
downplaying and revising his remarks, stating that they were not
"substantially new or newsworthy." The encouragement felt by anti-war
campaigners was further dissipated when Tony Blair, who "was bound
to be infuriated by the interview" responded by saying he agreed with
"every word" the General said. The original interview with the Daily
Mail contained more outspoken views than the next day’s headlines
suggested; several times Dannatt wandered away from military matters
by saying that planning for the post-war phase in Iraq was "poor," and
that a moral and spiritual vacuum in Britain might help the "Islamist
threat" make "undue progress." Blair’s position is too weak to sack
a general whose understanding of the British public’s mood is far
better than his own. The pity is that valid issues were raised whose
urgency was immediately drowned in Whitehall and cross-party bickering
reminiscent of the Blair-Brown leadership squabbles. A conservative,
Christian General questioning his own Prime Minister’s faith based
certainties is an oddity deserving more serious attention.

Time on their side As news from Baghdad resembled aspects of a
Hollywood scripted horror film another British General in Afghanistan,
Lt. General David Richards was giving an interview to the New York
Times and also revising some of his more recent remarks to the
press. He was using the opportunity to vent his indignation over a
Guardian column by Simon Jenkins who wrote that he was baffled by
Richard’s naivete about the Taliban. "I am not naïve; he’s naïve,"
the General complained, insisting that the surge by the Taliban across
southern Afghanistan was not a popular uprising. Jenkins was generous
with some of his ‘facts’, but there was one salient point not commented
upon by Richards. The International Security Assistance Force he
commands numbers 31,000 troops; when the Russians left in 1989, their
defeated and humiliated divisions had 110,000 soldiers spread across
the entire country. "People do not want a return to the Taliban,"
said Richards, "but we need time to allow that aspiration to win."

The Taliban have time on their side but Richards does not have very
much left. Generals in Iraq and Afghanistan echo their political
masters in Washington and London in saying they cannot afford to fail,
but they are failing; the facts are there for all to see.

Poles growing further apart By Wednesday morning there was no escaping
from sanctions against North Korea, American Congressional cover-ups
and the latest estimate of Iraqi civilian casualties. Writing about
the meaning of 655,000 deaths the editor of the Lancet Richard Horton
ended on an idealistic note. "We need a new set of principles to govern
our diplomacy and military strategy – principles that are based on the
idea of human security and not national security, health and wellbeing
and not economic self-interest and territorial ambition. The best
hope we can have from our terrible misadventure in Iraq is that a
new political and social movement will grow to overturn the politics
of humiliation. We are one human family. Let’s act like it." Well,
the world acts otherwise, but this was the stuff I wanted to hear;
to become permanently jaundiced by an unending stream of reports of
killing, cruelty and the incompetence of those governing us is as
damaging to the spirit as misplaced optimism. And there were other
idealistic notes as well, in unexpected places. The growing carnage in
Iraq and Afghanistan and heightened tension with Iran has connected
parallels with a schism between Islam and the West which seems to be
deepening. Protests at the Pope’s remarks, at Jack Straw’s comments
on the wearing of veils, Turkey’s reaction to the French government’s
handling of the Armenian genocide issue are only the most publicised
incidents among many pointing to an increasing polarisation.

The Cordoba Initiative was founded in 2002 as a multi-faith
organisation whose objective is ‘to heal the relationship between the
Islamic World and America’. Its founder Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was
interviewed last month by Foreign Policy magazine about the Pope’s
remarks, US foreign policy towards the Muslim world and Iran in
particular. On the subject of possible sanctions against Iran Rauf
said: "Imposing sanctions on Iraq had no impact on Saddam Hussein …

When you employ sanctions, you’re creating an artificial economic
depression. If there are sanctions against Iran, it will strengthen
the Iranians’ resolve." He went on to say: "People basically want
a few simple things in life: a decent meal, the ability to clothe
themselves, and a roof over their heads. And they want their pride.

To do that you have to engage with people on an equal basis." The
contrast between Rauf’s words and those of most European and American
politicians could not be greater.


On Thursday morning the permanent secretary of that most secretive and
discreet body, the Nobel Prize Committee, was asked by the BBC if he
would give a hint as to who would be awarded the Peace prize. "No,
I want to keep my job," he said, only revealing there were 191
nominations and prompted by the interviewer said yes, the winner would
be a surprise. It was in fact a well kept secret. When a journalist,
days before the announcement, handed the Nobel Institute’s head Geir
Lundestad a bookmaker’s list of 60 candidates, he remarked that it
was "a good list." Finland’s former president Martti Ahtisaari who
brokered a peace settlement in Indonesia’s Aceh province – widely
tipped as the favourite – was at the top. Two hours after the BBC
interview the Laureate’s name was announced; neither Muhammed Yunus
nor his Grameen Bank were on the bookmaker’s list.

Journalists at the prize giving ceremony, accustomed to statesmen
or humanitarian agencies as recipients were shocked; no financial
institution or banker had ever won the Peace prize.

Breaking the cycle of poverty In the Citation was the sentence:
"Every single individual on earth has both the potential and the right
to live a decent life." By creating a new kind of bank, giving small
loans to the poorest of the poor without collateral, Yunus, according
to the World Bank’s Bangladesh director has improved the lives of
half of the country’s 140 million population. Destitute widows,
abandoned wives, rickshaw drivers, sweepers, landless labourers and
beggars use loans from $12 to $80 to buy cows, chickens, bamboo for
crafting stools, or incense to sell in stalls. Beggars were encouraged
to take merchandise with them to sell from door to door, ribbons or
biscuits; some have stopped begging. But the true significance of
breaking out of poverty for people who live on less than $1 a day,
is the self-respect and status which comes from having all children of
school age in school, where all family members eat three meals a day,
have a sanitary toilet, a rainproof house, clean drinking water and
the ability to repay $8 a week on their loan.

At present the bank has 6.5 million borrowers, 97% of whom are women,
and the loan repayment rate is almost 99 percent.

Yunus has his detractors and critics. Interest rates are higher
than those charged by commercial banks, but loan agreements have
no provision for legal recovery in the event of default. Some right
wing American organisations view the Grameen Bank as far left and its
empowerment of women as an enemy to procreation and the family. But, as
the Citation speech said, "Microcredit has proved to be an important
liberating force in societies where women in particular have to
struggle against repressive social and economic conditions."

And, said the Nobel Committee, "development from below also serves
to advance democracy and human rights." It also serves to engender
pride, and the simple things of a decent life; something the barrel
of a gun never achieves.

–Boundary_(ID_G52b1VM4PvLZInfwF+l5Rg)- –

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