Friday, May 25, 2007

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

Israel continues its war against Palestinians relentlessly. When I was growing up in India, we learned that the Palestinian people were struggling for freedom and independence under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Having itself borne the brunt of Colonial demarcations foisted on local populations, perhaps India saw in the mid-east situation- where a militarily strong group (the Israelis) supported by the west had not only wrested land from the inhabitants of the land but were continuing to subjugate them- a repeat of the might is right argument. All I remember is the feeling that there were still groups around the world fighting for independence as India had done decades before I was born.

Moving to America resulted in a change in my view-point. I read about the history of discrimination faced by the Jewish diaspora (pogroms in Russia, pre Soviet as well as Soviet; and ghettos all over Europe) eventually culminating in the holocaust. How enterprising as a people the Jews were and how this often lead to their being persecuted and restrained (this from a dear Jewish friend from long ago). And now, here were these same people at last in the place they could call Israel, which is where they originated from millenia ago. They were hemmed in all sides by vicious and opposing Islamic forces and had to fight for their very existence.

It has taken me many years again to see that the colonials tore out a chunk of land where lives were being lived and gave it as their "gift" to a people who were owed compensation for the mistreatment meted out to them collectively by the west (I include Russia here since it does want so badly to be counted in Europe than Asia and aspires to be G8). So how come the Palestinian people, who were at the time the indigenous population of present day Israel, ended up being the bad guys? Palestine has been a festering wound in the middle east that has served as a focal rallying cry. If you were to meet your average Palestinian, they are not fundamentalist. In fact, Palestineans were and are considered more progressive than many other Islamic people in the mid-east.

Palestine has been under siege for a very long time and in all that time, Israel has only kept creeping out of its borders, and restricting Palestinian lives. Palestinians who go abroad to find a livelihood are severely restricted from returning and even lose their residency rights. But what is there to stay in Palestine for? Israel has done its best to try and settle Israeli families and drive Palestinians out through economic, geographical and financial restrictions. The fabric of a whole society torn asunder! Families separated, hospitals destroyed, self-esteems destroyed, checkposts created, children scattered, schools destroyed, guns distributed. You would think the one people who would have learned the meaning of compassion based on their own horrific past would know better than to visit such pain on others.

I don't condone violence. It was wrong for it to have been used against the Jews in the first place. But their historic suffering does not give them a free pass to do violence unto others in the name of protecting themselves. Israel's actions have been egregiously violent and we have not had enough leaders stand up and call it to task for it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Healthy, Wealthy & Wise

My daily commute from home to work in Birmingham (the original city in the UK) was about 5 miles alongside canals. I would run or bike. When I started out, I was mostly walking or running to work. I bought a car for work since I was expected to eventually carry equipment to GP offices to gather data for the study we would be running. But I did not need the car for well over a year. Frank brought me my bicycle from the States after I had found a place. So some days I would bike and others I would run. It was a form of exercise when I started out, so I'd gear up and then at work, I'd shower change and get to work. Same routine back in the evenings.

On the few occasions that I took the car to work I realized how amazingly pleasant my bike commute was compared to my auto-commute. No stopping and going. My jams were at worst a gaggle of geese who decided to cross the path and were being hissy to protect the goslings. It was beautiful. I slowly changed from seeing the bike ride as exercise to seeing it more as my transportation system. And while that may not seem like a great change to most, it was something that I had to learn from Jurriaan who came from Amsterdam.

To Jurriaan, the bike is a very practical and efficient form of transport for any journey that was about 10 miles or less. And if one did not treat it as a workout, then biking at a leisurely pace not only got you where you were going, but you didn't really have to gear up and change before and after since you would not be sweating like crazy. I decided to give it a try. Wow! To integrate a bicycle into your everyday life is a very liberating experience in more ways than one.

I am in Europe again, this time in Netherlands & Belgium. These two countries are awash in bicycles and cyclists. Everybody hops on a bicycle and pedals off to daily life. To work, to grocery stores, with children to the park, to schools, to pubs... I think the bike-culture is at least one factor in the consistently high ranks north western European nations receive in the best-place-to-live polls. More on how I think this plays out in future blogs. Also pictures! :)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Man the Borders - the Huns are Coming!

In April, I saw a news report where Bush (jr.) was visiting some border patrols facing southern borders and congratulating them on amassing arsenal, building fences and beefing up security. He made a speech about how more needed to be done to prevent others from "sneaking in." I have a serious issue with the tone and manner in which the immigration debate (more like propaganda) has been conducted. This nation stands for freedom and self-determination. Immigrants flock to it to be free of their domestic persecutions and for new opportunities to hew a better life. One could argue that many of these south of the border immigrants have more legitimate rights to be here, given the historically contiguous nature of this region as well as perhaps closer blood-ties to the original inhabitants of the Americas.

Early arriving Europeans wrested this nation from its original inhabitants. Many European Americans feel sad about their history and feel that were mass European migration to the Americas to happen today, perhaps everyone would be treated differently. And yet, this nation's leader seeks to demonize immigrants who might, had the US not been colonized, be moving across this landscape quite legitimately. Where's the hope for redress of historic ills when present day politics continue to make some people the blessed and the others the invaders?

Cross-border immigration is even tied to the war on terror in order to motivate the security forces further. Such rhetoric and propaganda has resulted in spawning vigilante justice along the border where man attacks man in the name of land and law.

Human migrations have existed since humans existed. To me it seems a very basic right that the movement of living beings not be curtailed. There are natural self-correcting mechanisms affected by environmental, ecological and individual conditions to name but a few. In fact, it is these forces that are driving current day migrations just as they did in the past. But today, we have stopped up borders on one side of which lies starvation and on the other side waste.

Here's a fact that is not as well known as it should be. You know that fight against poverty that everyone is talking about? Money being sent by migrant workers to their families exceeds all foreign aid put together. $110bn annually! And remember that most of these guys often work the lowest paid jobs. And in case you are thinking that the transfer of money comes at the expense of the rich nations, think again. I have one quote from a World Bank report on migration and development here: " migration could double world income..." (See links.) It takes a different tone from the political vitriol being spewed at migrants in most of the developed, benevolent, western nations.

It seems to me that we like to pat ourselves on the back too much for being civilized and enlightened in the 21st century. As long as national borders exist and people treat each other unequally based on differences, we cannot claim to have moved into a compassionate era of mutual and beneficial co-existence.