Pakistan and The Violence Against Women

96a17fab-e51a-46e8-9b95-0b688f95f715-460x276I have been particularly troubled with the recent death of Farzana Parveen, a woman bludgeoned to death in Pakistan by her own family for marrying a man against the family’s wishes.

Now I’ve been hearing about this story all over the web/Twitter, NPR, cable news, and the print media outlets online and I just cannot grasp the fact that this still happens in any part of the World. And she’s not the only one.

When I hear of one incident, I hear another reported in Sudan, Iran, and what appears to be mainly the Muslim world, but I will not say that they only occur in these regions for I have no on-hand evidence to support it or to contradict it.

But more than just shocking me, it sickens me and I cannot get over the fact that latelythese actions still take place among family members. How can you bludgeon, beat to death, or stone a sister/mother/cousin/daughter? What kind of father/husband/brother/cousin are you? I do not to split hairs over evil acts here but it’s not like it’s a stranger.

I found a really powerful piece in The Guardian’s Observer section online by Shaista Aziz, an Observer commentator and stand-up comic, who knew one of the victims of so-called “honor” killings in Kashmir Pakistan. It also has some good stats and is an important read.










Malala’s Critics At Home

Malala YousafzaiA good article in the NYT Magazine on how Malala Yousafzai (the young Pakistani teen who was shot in the head by a Taliban fighter for going to school and was rumored to be a possible recipient of the Nobel Peace Prizw) has critics at home. Varying reasons why she goes unheralded by some are examined along with a good documentary on her story is presented.

Read/See Here.



Taliban’s Sick Apology to Malala

malala-bannerEveryone remembers the story of Malala Youfsafzai, right? She’s the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by a Taliban fighter on her school bus just because she advocated for a girls right to an education. Now a Taliban leader named Adnan Rasheed has sent her a “apology letter” that you must read about here in The Atlantic. It’s horrible.

Read Here.

How Healthy is Government Secrecy?

One of the most important aspects of government, regardless of whether we are discussing democracy or authoritarianism, is government secrecy.  This can show up in many forms but one of the key reasons for its existence is the illusion of competency at all times by the ruling entity.  The risk the ruling elite face when something damaging reaches the masses is too great no matter how small or big.  If this were ancient times, for example, an Egyptian pharaoh would not want the people realizing he does not actually possess supernatural powers.  In today’s more democratic world, governments do not want people knowing anything that may be used to put their reelection chances in jeopardy.

An article in The Guardian this weekend gives the perspective of what dangers may come from one former U.S. government insider William Leonard, ex-head of the Information Security Oversight Office from 2002 to 2007.  Leonard points out the amount of documents being kept secret has expanded greatly over the past two administrations and wonders how positive this is for the public.  He sums up the most lethal actions in this statement:

Governments have decided under the cloak of secrecy to unleash the brutality of violence in our name and that of our fellow citizens. So extra judicial kidnapping becomes ‘rendition’, torture becomes ‘enhanced interrogation’, detainees are held on information that barely qualifies as hearsay, and assassination becomes ‘targeted killing’.

One always must remember that in a democracy the actions taken by the government are always assumed to be the will of the people no matter how horrible those actions may be.  Take U.S. support in the past for former dictatorial strongmen around the world.  The Shah in Iran.  Mubarak in Egypt.  Hussein in Iraq.  The American people were never asked whether we wanted to support these men and, if aware of their actions and not fed their “shining” personalities through the lens of the government wanting to support them, would not likely have condoned U.S. support.  But, since we democratically elect our leaders, it is assumed our government’s actions are our will.

Which brings us to a few more articles that appeared over the weekend.  It was revealed by a UN investigator on Friday the Pakistani government does not officially sanction U.S. drone strikes on its soil.  Although it does appear likely that a secret understanding exists between the U.S. and Pakistani governments over this policy, the strikes are so unpopular in Pakistan the government must maintain a veil of innocence regardless of whether they approve or not.  As stated in the article, “it is estimated that between 2004 and 2013, CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed up to 3,460 people.  About 890 of them were civilians.”  Judging from their cooperation (Pakistan’s government, not its people) and lack of true outrage at the U.S., it seems very likely that secret agreement is very real.

This leads to another article on drones and an issue that has been hotly debated but might be a colossal distraction from a bigger problem (a possibly welcomed distraction by the U.S. government).  Jonathan Hafetz, Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School of Law, points out in an op-ed that debating whether U.S. citizens should or shouldn’t be targeted by drones distracts us away from the use of drones themselves and the thousands that have been killed by them, whether guilty or innocent.  Hafetz states there have only been two cases of American citizens being targeted by drones in comparison to the thousands of foreign nationals who have suffered the same fate.  His most important points:

Despite increases in the accuracy of drone strikes, errors still occur. Those errors have a devastating effect not just on the family members of victims and their communities, but also influence opinions about the US in countries where the strikes occur. One consequence is to increase radicalisation and undermine support for US counterterrorism operations – precisely the result the US wants to avoid.

Another consequence is the precedent the US is setting on the international stage. Over time, more countries will have access to this new technology, which they may use against perceived threats in ways the US does not like and that could unleash destabilising forces. The US will be in a stronger position to exercise leadership in this area in the future if it acts responsibly now and conforms its conduct to broadly accepted legal principles. In the final analysis, the US will be judged by how it uses drones not against its own citizens, but against others.

Every mistake made in drone policy has devastating consequences and all of those mistakes are not viewed by foreign peoples as an error in judgement by a few officials in government.  It is seen as a mistake by the U.S.A. no matter what state you live in or who you voted for.

Which brings us to one last issue in relation to government secrecy that arose this weekend.  In an interview with Israeli TV, President Obama stated, “right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close.”  This somewhat echoes the recent revelation by Israeli intelligence that they believe Iran will not have a nuclear weapon until 2015 or 2016 but does not tell us why Obama believes that or what type of intelligence we have that Iran is even pursuing a nuclear weapon in the first place.  This being the case, are we truly willing to allow Iranian blood (or anyone’s blood for that matter) to be shed with little to no evidence given to the American people as to why the attack on Iran is even needed?

All of this being said, is government secrecy in a democracy healthy?  Let’s take two relatively recent cases where government incompetency was exposed and might have been avoided if the public had increased transparency to what the government was actually doing.  First, a small one, the GSA scandal over the agency’s conference in Las Vegas.  The cost of this was relatively small and the scandal not particularly devastating but it rightly deserved to be shown for what it was, a gross excess by irresponsible government employees.  If those at fault had been aware of possible public scrutiny and were more fearful of exposure of their extravagances, they likely would not have been so careless in the first place and the hundreds of thousands in wasted taxpayer dollars would have not been spent.  Second, a bigger and more devastating instance of government secrecy: the Iraq War.  If the public was aware of how shaky the intelligence was regarding the WMDs, would the war have been allowed to begin in the first place?  Not likely and, again, money and, more importantly, lives would have been saved before the government was allowed to carry out its incompetent action.

Some may make the argument a certain level of government secrecy is needed, for instance how to build a nuclear bomb and where these bombs are being housed.  Fair enough.  But that has seemingly been expanded to new levels and is growing in ways that are certainly unhealthy to the public the government is supposed to be serving and representing.  With the amount of media outlets available today, more government transparency would be healthy regardless of political leanings.  The number of enterprising reporters doing investigative work would ensure that every level of government is kept under the watchful eye of the public and fewer and fewer instances of carelessness would occur.  When you know someone is looking closely over your shoulder, you make sure you are doing the best work possible, which is something we are at liberty to want and should expect out of our government.

But this will not happen if government secrecy continues to expand.  The time has come to further question what we need to know about government and what we will allow to occur in our names.  The difficult part is having one of the political parties swallow its pride and say they will allow this while they are in power and are potentially exposed to the effects of more transparency.  It is up to us to demand this change in the relationship of public and government from the political party we support for the greater good of everyone, whether we live on American soil or anywhere else on Earth.

Terrorism and Info Skewing of United States’ Actions

An interesting article appeared today from Reuters laying out some of the findings about terrorist attacks around the world over the past decade.  Most of the info is not particularly surprising, such as the most affected countries being Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, but a few tidbits in the article deserve some attention.  The first is something well known and long told but always bears repeating since some doubt about this point continues:

War: define, please?
War: define, please?

The U.S. military interventions pursued as part of the West’s anti-al Qaeda “war on terror”, the researchers suggested, may have simply made matters worse – while whether they made the U.S. homeland safer was impossible to prove…”After 9/11, terrorist activity fell back to pre-2000 levels until after the Iraq invasion, and has since escalated dramatically,” Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Invading Iraq in the name of the War on Terror was a colossal mistake and little more needs to be said about that considering this fact has been driven home by the experts since before the invasion began.

Two other pieces of info should be noted from this study.  Both have to do with the wording in the study and what is not included to ensure the numbers do not potentially embarrass certain world actors.  The first bit:

The researchers used the University of Maryland definition of “terrorism”: “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation”.  It did not include casualties from government-backed action such as aerial bombing or other killings. (Emphasis added.)

This means any action taken by a country’s internationally recognized government, such as the Syrian government killing its own citizens or the United States invading another country, would not be included in the results.  Drone attacks would also be excluded from the findings.  That being said we must ask, if the words “by a non-state actor” were removed from the definition given, would the actions of the U.S. government be terrorism?  The answer is left for the reader to decide but shouldn’t we ask why governments aren’t included in this definition?  Technically, one of the key reasons the U.S. went to war with Iraq was the falsely alleged Iraqi support of terrorism, particularly al-Qaeda.  If we can claim a government is involved in terrorism to the point of invading to overthrow said government, shouldn’t these actors be included in such a study?

The second bit of info in the article intended not to attract attention to the United States’ internal issues:

The study said its methodology allowed researchers the scope to exclude actions that could be seen as insurgency, hate crime or organized crime and incidents about which insufficient information was available.

The interesting item here is the exclusion of hate crimes from the study.  Judging from the given definition of terrorism, there is little doubt hate crimes would actually fit the study and, according to the latest numbers(2010) given by the FBI, would look bad for the U.S. considering the number of hate crimes in 2010 (6,628) actually exceeds the number of global terrorist incidents in 2011 (4,564).  It should be noted the number of deaths because of hate crimes is very small (7) but there is no argument against the reality they are carried out “to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation”.

Hate crime = terrorism??
Hate crime = terrorism??

This is not to suggest hate crimes are America’s biggest crime problem or only an American issue.  This is simply a question of how we define and include information in studies that could potentially put a negative focus on the actions of the United States both internationally and domestically.  We cannot be scared of what we might find and should recognize we are far from saints when it comes to the overall issue of violence on this planet.  Only then can we take the proper steps needed to correct these injustices.

Law Universities Come Out Against Drone Attacks

The Guardian published an article regarding a study by Stanford and New York universities on drone attacks in Pakistan and how they are counterproductive.

Read Here.