27 January 2010

Adding Injury to Injury

From the front page of the Sunday, 24 January 2010, issue of the Daily Star (Dhaka, Bangladesh)

By Sheikh Md Shahidul Islam, B’baria
Eight months after being raped, a 16-year-old at Khargor of Kasba upazila in Brahmanbaria had to receive 101 lashes as “punishment”.

A village arbitration found her guilty and issued the 101 lashes fatwa (religious edict) but amazingly left alleged rapist Enamul Mia, 20, untouched.

The arbitration also fined the victim’s father Tk 1,000 and issued another fatwa that her family would be forced into isolation if he failed to pay up.

Village matbar (local leader) Delwar Hossain alias Ullashi executed the durra (lashes) on January 17.

Family sources said Enamul Mia of Gabbari used to eve-tease [sexually harass] the girl on her way to Sathgram Advocate Haroon-or-Rashid High School. He raped her April last year. Fearing the shame, the girl did not disclose the incident.

The girl’s family had married her off to a man of neighbouring Ghatiara village but after a month into the marriage medical test discovered she was seven months pregnant.

She was divorced and she had to live at her father’s place after an abortion. Following her return, a group of so-called matbars led by Manik Mia declared that her family is to be isolated until punished.

On January 17, the influential group arranged the arbitration at the yard of the victim.

At one stage of the inhuman torture, the girl collapsed and fainted. She regained her sense after two hours.

Ullashi presided over the arbitration while Wahid Mia, Basu Mia, Manik Mia, Shahjahan Mia, Dulal Mia, Maulana Md Kawser Mia, Imam of Gupinathpur Baro Mosque, Maulana Md Ishaque Mia, Imam of Khargor Jame Mosque, and a few others played key roles.

“Enamul has spoiled my life. I want justice,” said the girl as tears rolled down from her eyes.

Talking to The Daily Star, neighbours spoke in favour of the girl and blamed Enamul. They did not dare to say anything against the so-called village arbitration.

The girl’s father said members of the influential group are now keeping a watch on them so that they could not move or seek legal action.

Wahid Mia said they executed the 101 lashes on the girl following the religious edict and they did not call Enamul during the arbitration as he belongs to another village.

A team of human rights activists led by advocate Mili Chowdhury visited the spot.

Their organisation will help the victim file separate cases against the culprits, Mili said.

Kasba Police Station Officer-in-Charge (OC) Md Jahirul Islam Khan said they would take appropriate action if the victim files a case in this regard.

Three women were whipped as a result of fatwas in the district during the last six months.
A certain M. Hossain commented on this story the same day:
I love Islam but I would never support the non-Islamic activities of unauthorized Mullahs & Matbar in this poor village in Bangladesh. The Rapist Enamul must be given capital punishment for raping a 16-year-old girl. The people, who gave the fatwa against the victim, must be given exemplary punishment. They must be given rigorous imprisonment (RI). The father & the girl must be provided with due compensations and be rehabilitated in normal life and the government must stop it now & forever.
The Daily Star editorialized the next day:
Court order on extrajudicial penalties disregarded

JUSTICE has been made a farce of once again. In a shocking repetition of misuse of fatwa, a rape victim was at the receiving end of a hundred and one lashes; the punishment was fixed through local arbitration participated by some village elders in a village in Kashba upazilla. And the rapist is roaming scot-free.

The incident is shocking not only for the gruesome brutality meted out to the 16 year old girl, but also because of the attitude of the law enforcing agency who did not act promptly enough to prevent the whipping or take cognisance of the incident later. It is very clear that the High Court directive to the police, issued in August 2009, to investigate all extrajudicial punishments, has not been fully implemented. Had that been the case the perpetrators would have been brought to justice and made examples of, and this would have acted as a deterrent to others.

The recent incident is disturbing on two counts. It demonstrates once again that helpless women, who are victims of rape and other forms of torture, not only cannot seek redress of law, they and their parents are further subjected to physical and mental torture including social ostracisation, as in the recent case in Kashba.

The other disturbing aspect is the role of the police. We cannot comprehend the statement the OC of Kashba PS that he would take appropriate action if the victim filed a case in this regard. He is in clear breach of the High Court directives in this regard. It is even more disturbing because three women have been victims of lashing as result of fatwa in this very district during the current month.

One cannot speak too strongly against this kind of aberrations that is being used to perpetrate violence against women. This practice must stop immediately. We join with the conscious segment of the society in calling upon the government to take steps to stop the parallel system of justice that misuse the name of religion. While the highest court has taken cognisance of the matter the police have not been quite up to the task earnestly as yet.

We suggest that the perpetrators of torture on the hapless girl be proceeded against immediately, and the OC, who is waiting for the victim to lodge a formal complaint to take action, act without delay.
“jamal” commented on this editorial:
I cannot believe this is happening in 2010 in our country, it’s as if we have not made any progress and remain barbarians of old times. The police should be brought to task, everyone knows that they refuse to take cases when they feel like it which is probably what happened here.)
Further comment would be superfluous.

(H/t Jennifer McCreight)

25 January 2010

Manifest Destiny

I’ve been amusing myself by leafing through some of John L. O’Sullivan’s editorials on things like westward expansion, our Indian policy, and the future of America. This is supposed to be for a section on my (still very hypothetical) Modoc War book, and has been brought to me through the courtesy of the good folk at Cornell University.

I’ve been looking for a gateway to enter into the world view of nineteenth century America as it were, and I’m thinking of using O’Sullivan for that purpose. This guy was the editor and publisher of a literary magazine called The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, which was sort of a Democratic counterpart to the Whiggish North American Review. (The latter is also available at the Cornell University site.)

The book section hasn’t exactly jelled yet, but I’m getting a better picture of my quarry, at any rate. I transcribed “Annexation” and stuck it up at Wikisource, and I’ve transcribed “Territorial Aggrandizement” and “Our Indian Policy” as well, though so far they’re just sitting on my computer.

O'Sullivan, by the way, was born on a ship off the coast of Gibraltar during the war of 1812; his mother had taken refuge there from fear of a plague on shore. (What she was doing in Gibraltar my internet sources don't say.) He was elected to the New York legislature in his twenties, where he made himself unpopular by campaigning against the death penalty. He was a Van Buren supporter during the election of 1844—this was the free-for-all where the sitting president had been drummed out of his party and the white house really was up for grabs—and the Whigs were running Henry Clay. (One of the ironies of history is that neither Daniel Webster nor Henry Clay were ever president, though their names are remembered now much better than many of those who actually succeeded in getting the prize.) O’Sullivan ended up disappointed, of course, when James K. Polk, the first “dark horse” candidate (supposedly), somehow emerged from the melee the victor, in spite of his often-expressed lack of interest in the position. He stood behind Polk even so, but without the enthusiasm he’d shown for Van Buren.

O’Sullivan was a visionary. While his United States was bounded by the Rocky Mountains, he looked forward to a nation united by ties of wire and rail that spanned the continent from Atlantic to Pacific. “[T]he day cannot be distant,” he wrote, “which shall witness the conveyance of the representatives from Oregon and California to Washington within less time than a few years ago was devoted to a similar journey by those from Ohio; while the magnetic telegraph will enable the editors of the “San Francisco Union,” the “Astoria Evening Post,” or the “Nootka Morning News” to set up in type the first half of the President’s Inaugural, before the echoes of the latter half shall have died away beneath the lofty porch of the Capitol, as spoken from his lips.” Yes, not only Texas, but California, Oregon, New Mexico, Chihuahua, Yucatan, Cuba, and the British provinces to the north were all to dissolve their allegiances and clamor for annexation by the United States. There would be no need for a war—indeed, nothing was less likely—rather, the natural strength of the Saxon peoples would draw settlers like magnets to these uninhabited lands. What was more natural than that, once there, they would want to join with the United States? It was practically inevitable.

Slavery was an awkward problem, true, but so was the alternative. O’Sullivan was appalled by the conditions workers in the free north faced, and felt that there might be some features of the slave system that were superior to the wage system that produced such grinding poverty. Might not slavery, if purged of such objectionable features as “the separation of families, excessive severities, subjection to the licentiousness of mastership … contain some dim undeveloped germ of that very principle of reform thus aimed at [by reformers like Charles Fourier], out of which proceeds some compensation at least for its other evils, making it the duty of true reform to cultivate and develope [sic] the good, and remove the evils?”

If slavery goes, O’Sullivan looks forward to
the ultimate disappearance of the negro race from our borders. The Spanish Indian-American populations of Mexico, Central America and South America, afford the only receptacle capable of absorbing that race whenever we shall be prepared to slough it off—to emancipate it from slavery, and (simultaneously necessary) to remove it from the midst of our own. Themselves already of mixed and confused blood, and free from the “the prejudices” which among us so insuperably forbid the social amalgamation which can alone elevate the Negro race out of a virtually servile degradation even though legally free, the regions occupied by those populations must strongly attract the black race in that direction; and as soon as the destined hour of emancipation shall arrive, will relieve the question of one of its worst difficulties, if not absolutely the greatest.
The native Americans too pose a problem.
It [i]s impossible that two systems of governments, so diverse as the Indian and American, should coexist on the same territory. All history proved this. The most rational hope of success for this race, the only one which indeed appear[s] practical on a scale commensurate with the object, [i]s to remove them, with their own consent, to a position entirely without the boundaries of the state jurisdictions, where they might assert their political sovereignty, and live and develope their true national character, under their own laws.
And their ultimate fate? O’Sullivan is optimistic, given the abilities shown by the more progressive members to survive and thrive under the new circumstances. But
Our greatest apprehensions, we must confess, before closing this paper, arise from the peculiar geographical position of the Indian territory with relation to our own. … Our population is on the broad move West. Nothing, it is evident, will now repress them this side of the Pacific. The snowy heights of the Rocky Mountains are already scaled; and we but apply the results of the past to the future, in saying that the path which has been trod by a few, will be trod by many. Now, the removed tribes are precisely in the centre of this path. From the mouth of the Platte, or the Konza, the great highway to the Oregon must run west. Whether this new tide of emigration be successful or unsuccessful, will those who compose it spare to trample on the red man? Will they suddenly become kind to him, to whom they have been unkind? Will they cease to desire the lands which their children want? Will they consent to see the nation separated by an Indian state? Will they award honors, nay, justice, to that state? Twenty years will answer these questions.
In spite of O’Sullivan’s comments on race, he doesn’t seem to have believed in it. In a very interesting piece entitled “Do the Various Races of Man Constitute a Single Species?” he suggests that race is an imaginary construct, and that racial types are simply the extremes in the continuum of human variability. He considers it quite possible that some groups are superior to others in particular abilities, but argues that the variability within a group is greater than the difference between groups.

He’s an odd character, and one I’m glad to have encountered, in spite of his curious limitations. There’s a biography out on him that I want to read, if I can get a copy. Unfortunately my local library doesn’t have it; I’ll have to resort to buying it or getting it through interlibrary loan. It does seem to me a trifle unfair that he is remembered now only for two things—his invention of the phrase “manifest destiny,” and his magazine’s motto: “The best government is that which governs least.”

08 January 2010

Out of Time and Ideas

I am out of time to write anything here today, and frankly out of ideas. It’s been a busy day, what with venturing downtown again to get my glasses (this time with success) and engaging in several other activities—which shall be nameless here, alas. Perhaps I will meet with more success tomorrow.

07 January 2010

The Machine Stops

There were gradations of terror—at times came rumours of hope—the Mending Apparatus was almost mended—the enemies of the Machine had been got under—new “nerve-centres” were evolving which would do the work even more magnificently than before. But there came a day when, without the slightest warning, without any previous hint of feebleness, the entire communication-system broke down, all over the world, and the world, as they understood it, ended.
E. M. Forster

There is no salmon in the stores—rumor has it that the oceans have died and that the bounty it has supplied in the past will no longer be ours for the taking. Corned beef has vanished inexplicably too. I ventured out of my cell today in quest of my new glasses—the ones that will allow me to read again without blocking one eye and squinting with the other—but the stars were against me.

The robotic voice at the municipal conveyance station informed us that the Steel Bridge connection was borked, and delays of up to twenty minutes were to be expected. We would have to find our own way across the Willamette somehow, and God have mercy on our souls. It was not reassuring, far from it, but perhaps only to be expected in these Days of Decline.

The horizontal conveyance was late and crowded, but the signs of ongoing life were reassuring. We sailed past the vats of ruined beer at the Widmer brewery and deadended at the Rose Quarter, where the voice of the system—a person this time, and not the usual robot—suggested that we find whatever alternate transport we could, since he was taking the conveyance back up to the Expo Center. We dismounted at a dead run, making for the sole transport device in sight, which serenely left the platform before we could catch up with it. It was stuffed to the gills with people anyway, and there were a lot of us.

“Sign the medical marijuana petition?” asked a guy on the platform hopelessly. “We just want to get it on the ballot, a yes or no vote, right?”

“Can I read it?” I asked.

“That’s probably wise,” he said, “But I’ll have to unhook the petition from the clipboard. The text’s on the back, you see.” He was clearly hoping I would change my mind.

“I like to read something before I sign it,” I said apologetically. “It’s a quirk. I’ve been taken in before.” I was really wondering if any of these machines would actually take me across the river, or if I was waiting here for nothing.

He gingerly unhooked the document and handed it to me, while heading off in search of another victim. I read a lot of verbiage about setting up marijuana dispensaries while wondering vaguely, don’t we already have medical marijuana? What would this bill actually do? Still, it seemed churlish not to sign the petition after the guy had gone to all the trouble of unhooking it for me to read. I signed it and passed it back to him.

An ancient belching monstrosity ground to a halt on the tracks alongside me, loaded with people, and I ascended the steps and sat cautiously down while it chugged protestingly off in the general direction of downtown. There was mysterious activity going on on the bridge, and men seemed to be indicating structural elements that might be on their last legs. “The bridge was stuck open this morning,” somebody said. Best not to look, I thought, and stared bleakly out down the gray river.

Our transport device creaked and screeched as we rumbled into downtown Portland at approximately the speed that could have been managed a hundred years before by an arthritic donkey pulling a ton of coal. Walking would probably have been faster, but the scene outside was not inviting, featuring artificial chasms and crags. It was a relief to see that the municipal library’s iron gates were still hanging invitingly open, and some flickering lights showed business continuing. I clambered out and walked up the few streets to the place my new glasses supposedly awaited.

There was a badly-scrawled sheet hanging on the glass door; it communicated somewhat incoherently the intelligence that the Vision Center was closed due to the (unexplained) power outage. There were people crawling about in the ruins inside, but I was still as blind as Henry Bemis on the steps of the shattered library in the Twilight Zone episode. It isn’t fair—it isn’t fair at all, damn it.

Sometimes living in the future sucks.

06 January 2010

Witness to History Gone

93-year-old Tsutomu Yamaguchi passed away last Monday at the age of 93. You’ve probably never heard of him. In all the world’s population there are very few people who have survived an atomic bomb attack; fewer yet survived two of them. Tsutomu Yamaguchi was one of them.

On 6 August 1945 he went on a business trip to Hiroshima. The timing was particularly unfortunate; that was the day the Enola Gay dropped the first of the two atomic bombs used against Japan in the closing days of World War II. Over one hundred thousand people lost their lives in that single blast; Tsutomu Yamaguchi was only two miles from the center, and yet survived, though badly burned. After spending a night in an air raid shelter, he went back home to his wife and infant son. They lived in Nagasaki.

Nagasaki may not be as famous as Hiroshima, but it was the site of the second atomic bomb drop, on 9 August 1945. Tsutomu Yamaguchi must have just been settling in when it happened. Seventy thousand people died, but his family was spared.

Apparently 165 people are known to have survived both blasts. It’s an odd distinction, both unlucky and lucky at the same time. Unlucky enough to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time twice over, and lucky enough to have survived the horrors. Twice over.

It is probably due to the existence of people like Tsutomu Yamaguchi—living witnesses to the catastrophe of an atomic bomb attack—that any of us are alive today. Fire-breathing patriots on both sides of the Iron Curtain were all too ready to drop the big one and see what happened during the Cold War; if there had been no witnesses to tell of the consequences, might they not have prevailed? Hiroshima and Nagasaki stood in the way; they were monuments to what the rest of the world could all too easily become. Those who had witnessed the—what? Tragedy? Horror? The words are too feeble. These are the kinds of reactions that belong inside stars, not on the surface of our green and fragile planet. These witnesses had seen what none of us should ever have to experience, and maybe from them we learned enough to hold off on the consequences of an unlimited nuclear war. When I was a child I never expected to see 2010; that the great atomic war never happened may well be due in part to those who kept the unthinkable memories alive.

05 January 2010

Twelfth Night, and Welcome to It

And so we come at last to the conclusion of the Xmastide festivities, this night of the Twelfth Day of Christmas 2010 of the Common Era (or 12010 of the Holocene Era). The War on Christmas didn’t get as much press this year as last, it seems like, though some nuts in California apparently are lobbying to make Christmas carols mandatory. I hope they mean for the Xmas season only, and not all year. I mean, I like “O Holy Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” all right, but I’m pretty well Xmas caroled out for the foreseeable future.

This is the first year since I was a child that I didn’t expose myself to some version of “A Christmas Carol” and “The Nutcracker”; I didn’t listen to “Green Chri$tma$”; I didn’t even dig out “A Christmas Garland.” (I’ve sort of lost heart a bit, what with losing most of my library this past year.) We did have a tree—still have it up actually, though I suppose we should get busy taking it down, what with Epiphany just around the corner and all. I have a hard time caring, truth to tell.

I got one really cool gift for Xmas—April D. DeConick’s Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas, which I’m really looking forward to digging into. I’ve read through it, of course, but I’m going to have to brush up on my Coptic—and there’s another annoyance, my Coptic grammar seems to have disappeared with the bulk of my library, though (thank God) not my dictionary. Roadblocks everywhere I look. Anyway, I’m going to have to get up to speed a bit to really come to grips with the subject. Still, it should be fun.

04 January 2010

And All Was Light

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in Night:
GOD said, Let Newton be! and all was Light.
The end of the Christmas season is in sight, with Epiphany just around the corner this Eleventh Day of Christmas in the year 2010 of the Common Era. It’s Newton’s birthday according to the present calendar, though by the calendar in use in England in the year 1642/3, he was born on 25 December, Christmas Day. Across the channel in France, however, where they had long since adopted the Gregorian calendar, it was 4 January, as it was throughout Europe—the Roman Catholic parts, anyway.

It’s always seemed rather appropriate to me that Newton should have been born during this season—his work on optics fits well with the theme of a Festival of Lights, and his work on celestial mechanics connects nicely with the oddity of planetary movements that creates the winter solstice. And of course he fancied himself a theologian, wasting his talents deciphering the numbers in the Book of Daniel, for example—which gives him ties (of a sort) with Hanukkah as well.

Consulting my master list I see that we’ve shot by all seven days of Kwanzaa (26 December through 1 January), Boxing Day (26 December), St. Stephen’s Day (26 December), St. John’s Day (27 December), Holy Innocents’ Day (28 December), Hogmanay (31 December), St. Sylvester’s Day (31 December), and New Year (1 January). And we’ve also had the first through the tenth Days of Christmas. I had pieces started for at least some of these, but as the season got eaten up with plumbing disasters and other calls on my time I guess I’ll save them for next year. Or never, depending on which comes first.

Anyway, Happy 367th birthday, Sir Isaac.

03 January 2010

And They're Off

Remember a few years back when Muslims around the world elected to throw a hissy-fit over a handful of cartoons, some of which allegedly depicted the historical figure Mohammed? To judge from the accounts of the attempted murder of one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, the other day, most people don’t. A casual reading of more than a dozen news stories, blog entries, and other ephemera, turns up the following “facts”—
  • Kurt Westergaard drew cartoons of Mohammed;
  • These cartoons depicted Mohammed as a terrorist;
  • The publication of his cartoons “sparked a storm of protest and violence across the Muslim world.” [see The Guardian and The Hot Joints for examples]
Well, that may be how people remember it, but it ain’t how it happened. First, Kurt Westergaard drew one—count it—one caricature of the popular conception of Mohammed. The image was depicted with a bomb-shaped turban—an obvious reference to the prophet being used to justify violence. There were eleven other cartoons in the series, but they were not drawn by Westergaard; they were drawn by other artists. At least one of them did not depict Mohammed (the prophet) at all, but rather a schoolboy bearing the same name. The publication of the cartoons occurred without incident; it was only later that Muslim riots occurred. They appear to have been organized by activists with an agenda; the images shown to the Muslim world included three concoctions (one supposedly depicting Mohammed as a pig) that were not part of this or any other published cartoon series.

Anyway, it seems that a deranged Muslim fanatic broke into Kurt Westergaard’s home wielding an axe and a knife with the attention of murdering him—this during a visit by the cartoonists five-year-old granddaughter. This (alleged) assassination attempt is only one in a series committed by Muslim fanatics in the past few years over this or that fancied grievance. (Anybody else remember Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh, and Hitoshi Igarashi? [“Publish and Be Damned”]) Various media accounts are now saying that the unidentified 27-year-old Somali man had “ties” to al Quada (who doesn’t?) and may have been involved in a plot to murder Hilary Clinton, but I’m skeptical of these tidbits. Nothing about this suggests the hallmark precision of an al Quada attack; it seems more like the result of a single deranged man who—like John Lennon’s assassin—has been fed on religious propaganda for too long. Time will tell. Danish Muslims don’t want anything to do with the guy, apparently: “The Danish Muslim Union strongly distances itself from the attack and any kind of extremism that leads to such acts,” at any rate [The Guardian].

A spokesman for a radical Somali group cheered him on, however—from a safe distance. “There could be some people who might say that boy was related to Shebab or other Islamic organisations, but I tell you that this incident is not something that could be related only to Shebab or other Islamic organisations. It is a general obligation for all Muslims to defend their religion and the prophet. He really did what was to be done by any other Muslim.” [“Somali Group hails attack on Danish cartoonist”]

See also:

02 January 2010

They've Just Lifted the Sombrero Ban in Germany

Okay, once again I'm going to try to write more regularly here. On the other hand, today was filled up with adventures in plumbing and I didn't have time to write anything that wasn't crap. But as I've just learned from a reliable source that the sombrero ban in Germany has finally been lifted, and that thousands of sombrero-wearing Germans have just taken to the streets, I will write a quick note expressing my solidarity with sombrero-wearers everywhere. Not that I'm going to actually go so far as to wear a sombrero myself, mind you.

This leaves only Detroit and the Czech Republic as sombrero-free islands in the rising tide of oversize hats.

01 January 2010

2009: Year in Review

In my younger days, when I still kept a journal regularly, I used to spend the final moments of the year writing up a quick summary of its high points. So far 2009 has had no high points that I can think of, personal high points I mean, and it has had a wealth of low points. As a matter of fact I really believe that 2009 was one of the worst years of my life—not as bad as say 1997 (the year that started with my father dying) or maybe even 1970 (one of my suicidal years), but still pretty goddamn bad. I’ll hope for better from 2010, but I’m not holding my breath.
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