Focal Points Blog

Nuclear Weapons Are Like the Wedding at Cana

NuclearWarhead

Remember the story in the Gospel of John from the Bible’s New Testament about the first miracle of Jesus Christ? To refresh your memory, Jesus attended a wedding with his mother and disciples (what, he couldn’t get a date?), in a village called Cana, which may have been in Galilee in northern Israel. When the wine ran out, he converted containers of water into wine. John also told us about the miracle of the loaves and fishes, which entailed Jesus feeding thousands with five barley loaves and two small fish.

The U.S. government can be pretty miraculous, too. It’s demonstrated a capability to perform a similar act to Jesus, but with nuclear weapons. The more they disappear, it seems, the more magically others reappear to replace them.
Read More

Was Reagan’s Nuclear About-face at Reykjavik Genuine?

Ronald Reagan

On May 13 Variety reported on a movie that’s been long in development, in part because it’s been in want of a director.

Baltasar Kormakur, an Icelandic helmer-producer who’s become one of Hollywood’s hottest film directors, is in discussions to direct “Reykjavik,” a historical drama chronicling the 1986 Reykjavik Summit which took place during the Cold War. Michael Douglas is attached to star as President Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile, in a May 13 op-ed at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Hugh Gusterson would take away from Reagan one of the few acts of his that even vaguely resembled an accomplishment: his attempt to abolish nuclear weapons (which he then proceeded to sabotage by clinging to his beloved missile defense, even though Gorbachev made it clear that would never fly with Russia’s generals). Gusterson, whose insights seldom fail to impress, writes of a function he recently attended at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington at which Kenneth Adelman, director of the Agency for Arms Control and Disarmament during the Reagan administration, speaking about his new book Reagan at Reykjavik.
Read More

The First Roma Feminist

Ilona Zambo

Ilona Zambo

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

In the United States, women of color frequently experience the double burden of discrimination. They are discriminated against by race and also by gender. The same applies to Roma women in East-Central Europe. And sexism imposes its own double burden, for Roma women must confront not only the prejudices of society as a whole but also discrimination within traditional Roma families.

I met Ilona Zambo in 1993, after she’d already set up her Gypsy Mothers’ Association. She was focusing at the time on family and social welfare laws that discriminated against Roma women, and she was also hoping to adapt affirmative action to the Hungarian context. She was a powerful advocate of women and children when many organizations focused on Roma men. When re-interviewing her last May, I was surprised to learn that her advocacy did not come so much from her own experience as those of other Roma women she had met.
Read More

Boko Haram Makes Al Qaeda Look Benign in Comparison

Boko Haram

Not many in the West are aware of just how frequently Nigeria’s Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram commits mass acts of violence. In the last two months, they not only kidnapped 234 schoolgirls, but, three weeks later, attacked a town on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon and massacred 336 people. Apparently it was short on security because the military was concentrating on the rescue the kidnapped girls.

But it’s not just the West which is either ill-informed or ignores Boko Haram’s crimes (see sidebar of its Wikipedia page for a timeline since 2010), it’s Nigeria, too. In February, at GQ, Alex Preston wrote that, because they attack the government, attacks are un- or under-reported.
Read More

Don’t Blame Shariah for Honor Killing

Afghanistan Court

In the New York Times, Rob Nordlund has been covering the story of young Afghan couple Zakia and Mohammad Ali, who, after eloping in March, have been on the run from her family. Since Zakia refused her father’s first choice for a husband, they fear her family will make her the victim of an “honor” killing. On May 3, in a piece about them and a young woman who was the apparent victim of an honor killing, he wrote:

Neither Amina nor Zakia and Mohammad Ali did anything against the law — or, more specifically, against two of the legal systems in effect in Afghanistan: the body of civil law enacted over the past decade with Western assistance, or the classic Islamic code of Shariah that is also enshrined in law. Both protect the rights of women not to be forced into marriage against their will.
Read More

Unbroken Chain of Repression: From Mubarak to Morsi to the Military

Egyptian military

The Egyptian military preparing to confront demonstrators

For Dr. Mohamed Mukhtar Gomaa, the Egyptian Minister of Islamic Religious Trusts, religious affairs, Islam and politics should not mix. Dr. Gomaa who was attending the Conference on the Dialogue Between Civilizations and Cultures in Bahrain this week told me during my interview with him that “Islam should not be part of politics because the role of religion should only be about preaching a moral public life and for the betterment of society. We should advocate a centrist form of Islam especially that of Al Azahr, which is the center of Islamic learning in Egypt and across the Islamic world.”

Mr. Gomaa argued that  politics and power are corrupting therefore religion should stay away from politics and power. The frame of reference of Mr. Gomaa here is the political crises that are currently dividing Egypt between those who support the Muslim Brotherhood and president Mohamad Morsi ― who was deposed from power on June 30th 2013 by the Egyptian military after a mass protests broke out against it ― and those who support the military takeover of power in a coup that took place few days later.
Read More

The Climate Change Fight Might Be Better Off Without Joe Q. Public

Global warming

In an opinion piece at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dawn Stover recently wrote:

Apparently most Americans have not only lost interest in learning about what’s happening to our world, but are actively repelled by the very mention of this world.

Take a moment to let that sink in before we proceed. Ms. Stover again:

In a recent interview published by Grist.org, marketing expert David Fenton of Fenton Communications said he tells environmental groups not to use words such as “planet,” “Earth,” or “environment.” … Even “sustainability” has become a dirty word in many circles. As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains in a new report, conspiracy theorists have “poisoned rational discussion” by spreading falsehoods about the United Nations’ innocuous (not to mention nonbinding) Agenda 21 global sustainability program.
Read More

Toward a Roma Cosmopolitanism

Nicolae Gheorghe

Nicolae Gheorghe

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Last August 8, the great Romanian sociologist Nicolae Gheorghe passed away. He was only 66. I first met him in 1990, when he was just embarking on his project of elevating Roma issues to the highest level of European politics. Because he spoke English and had an academic background, he was often the lone Roma representative in European human rights meetings or on TV panel discussions. He worked on Roma issues at the Council of Europe, at the EU, at the UN, and for many years at the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe.

I saw him again, and for the last time, in Budapest last May. He was very sick, in the late stages of colon cancer, and he moved with great difficulty. And yet he had pushed himself to travel from Italy to Hungary to be part of a seminar and book launch with his comrade-in-arms Andras Biro at the Central European University. The book, From Victimhood to Citizenship, is a dialogue among several people in or knowledgeable about the Roma community, and it provides an opportunity for Gheorghe to reflect on his own work and the contrasting views of others. He used his trip to Budapest to speak with a wide variety of people, including Roma students at Central European University. I managed to interview him in the lobby of his hotel on the morning before he was to return to Italy where he was staying with his sister. His day was scheduled with back-to-back meetings, and even his trip out to the airport was an opportunity for a conversation. He seemed to know that he did not have much time left, and he was determined to squeeze as many interactions as possible into his day – with old friends, new faces, and even just passing acquaintances like me.
Read More

Can Bahrain Lead the Arab World in Religious Tolerance and Democratic Reform?

Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic affairs Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa

Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic affairs Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa

Speaking with the Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs His Excellency Sheikh  Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa in Manama recently during the conference on “Dialogue between Civilizations and Cultures” was to say the least full of surprises.

For one thing, one would not expect a high-level Arab official to be so candid and vibrantly open-minded to discuss his country’s problems, the future of freedom and democracy in his country, and to address charges of  human rights abuses without reservation or verbal gymnastics typical of Arab politicians.

This was in itself a major development and a breath of fresh air in the region and indeed for the future of freedom of press. According to Mr. Al Khalifa, a forty-four-year-old British educated former prosecutor and judge, Bahrain already has an open and vibrant society and it is working to develop system of government accountability which would eventually evolve to an open democracy.
Read More

South Sudan Has Failed to Justify Its Existence

Rebel leader Riek Machar

Rebel leader Riek Machar

Earlier in May, the South Sudanese government resumed its negotiations with the rebels. That very week, The Sudan Tribune reported that numerous civilians, who had sought shelter at a United Nations base in Bor, were killed by an unknown mob. Also, trainee soldiers were shot in Mapel, and several other civilians were killed in Bentiu, allegedly by the rebels.

The international media, on the other hand, either refused to cover the crisis in South Sudan, or simply chose to highlight the fact that both sides are now negotiating with each other. Sadly, the negotiations seem to be headed nowhere, and chances of peace in South Sudan do not look good.
Read More

Page 13 of 183« First...1112131415...203040...Last »