Thursday, December 18, 2008

a rare voice of reason

The Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid is well known internationally as an expert on the Taliban, of course. But his latest book, "Descent into Chaos", is much more than a brilliant overview of the problems that the Taliban are posing to Afghanistan and Pakistan these days. It is unique as he is equally scathing in his criticism of the Bush and Karzai administrations, and at the same time very open about the shortcomings of Pakistan's policies towards Islamist militants.
Rashid is very clear that he supported the invasion to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but that almost everything went wrong after that: The US administration wasn't interested at all in nation building, also because it wanted to "move on" quickly to invade Iraq next. The weak Karzai government failed to curb the warlords' influence and drug trafficking.
Whereas these shortcomings have been openly discussed in the international media many times, Rashid's book is most interesting when he exposes the double-dealing of Pakistan's president Musharraf - who openly supported the war against the Taliban, but continued to help them behind the scenes. Intriguing for example Rashid's account of the evacuation of Pakistani officers (and Taliban as well as al-Qaeda leaders) from the beleaguered Afghan city of Kunduz in November 2001:
For Pakistan, the stalemate in Kunduz was turning into a disaster as hundreds of ISI officers and soldiers from the Frontier Corps aiding the Taliban were trapped there. They had been ordered to quit Afghanistan after 9/11 and had two months to escape, but instead they had stayed on to fight alongside the Taliban. Musharraf telephoned Bush and asked for a huge favor - a U.S. bombing pause and the opening of an air corridor so that Pakistani aircraft could ferry his officers out of Kunduz. Bush and Vice President Cheney agreed, but the operation was top secret, with most cabinet members kept in the dark.
This tells a lot about how naive the US were in dealing with Musharraf. He was encouraged, says Rashid, to grant the Taliban a safe haven in Waziristan and let the Afghan Taliban leadership operate out of the capital of Balochistan, Quetta.

To what extent the Pakistani secret services, in particular the ISI, have continued their support for the Taliban and other "jihadi" groups after 9/11, has been a much debated question. Rashid concludes, based on the information he received from retired Pakistani intelligence officials, that the ISI found it too dangerous to cooperate openly with the Taliban, but instead chose to "outsource" this support to a new, clandestine organization:

Former ISI trainers of the Taliban, retired Pashtun officers from the army and especially the Frontier Corps, were rehired on contract. They set up offices in private houses in Peshawar, Quetta, and other cities and maintained no links with the local ISI station chief or the army. Most of these agents held down regular jobs, working undercover as coordinators for Afghan refugees, bureaucrats, researchers at universities, teachers at colleges, and even aid workers. Others set up NGOs ostensibly to work with Afghan refugees.

The question is: How can this double-dealing be ended? Certainly not by increasing pressure from the outside, argues Rashid in a recent article (with Barnett Rubin in "Foreign Affairs")...

the concept of "pressuring" Pakistan is flawed. No state can be successfully pressured into acts it considers suicidal. The Pakistani security establishment believes that it faces both a U.S.-Indian-Afghan alliance and a separate Iranian-Russian alliance, each aimed at undermining Pakistani influence in Afghanistan and even dismembering the Pakistani state. Some (but not all) in the establishment see armed militants within Pakistan as a threat -- but they largely consider it one that is ultimately controllable, and in any case secondary to the threat posed by their nuclear-armed enemies.

The reactions to recent Indian accusations following the Mumbai attacks would seem to prove him right: Pressure from abroad only reinforces the feeling of isolation in Pakistan. The only practicable approach would be, therefore, a foreign policy that takes into account Pakistan's security concerns.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

warlordism in pakistan

The situation in Pakistan's tribal areas has become quite confusing for most observers. As fighting, abductions and US air strikes are intensifying, it is becoming more and more difficult for independent journalists to visit the areas. How many militant groups are operating there? Which of them belong to the Taliban? How many foreign militants are active in the region? Is the Pakistani army making any headway with its operations? Outsiders won't be able to find reliable answers. 
But it seems clear the Pakistani tribal areas have been following a trend well known from Afghanistan: The traditional tribal structures have been weakened substantially, and as the state has failed to establish its control, the tribal areas are practically run by different warlords and their militias. An interesting example is that of Mangal Bagh in the Khyber Agency near Peshawar. Syed Manzar Abbas Zaidi from the University of Central Lancashire, UK, has just published "A Profile of Mangal Bagh" which makes interesting reading: From a humble social origin (he worked as a truck cleaner) he has risen to become the de facto ruler of the Khyber Agency. His militia "Lashkar-e-Islam" is popular for maintaining "law and order", i.e. his version of sharia. He follows a sectarian Islamist ideology although he had been an active member of the secular ANP in the past. And, perhaps most interesting, he has not joined the Taliban, but maintains a good relationship with the Pakistani authorities. As Zaidi puts it,
There is strong suspicion that Bagh is fighting a proxy battle for Pakistani intelligence.
This summer, the army was alarmed by violent incidents in Peshawar and launched an "operation" in the Khyber agency against Mangal Bagh. But, as Zaidi writes:
During the operation, security forces were actively engaged in blowing up bases vacated by Lashkar-e-Islam. This was more of eyewash than anything else, since brick structures can be rebuilt easily by such affluent groups. ... Militant movement was seen in the area, even as security forces stepped up their operations, giving rise to the surmise that the operation had been premeditated between the forces and Lashkar-e-Islam to save face for the establishment. ... The operation culminated in 13 days, with an agreement reached between Bagh and the government. The government, of course, declared the operation to be an unmitigated success.
Apparently, the Pakistani army and its intelligence agencies are using warlords such as Mangal Bagh, but at the same time, they have to show them (and the public) their limits when things get "out of hand". This (not very new) "strategy" raises a couple of questions: Will support for extremist militants not further de-legitimize state authority? Is it not bound to strengthen Taliban-type ideology, and eventually turn against the army itself? Why is there no attempt to fill the power vacuum otherwise? 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

help obama!

A very interesting debate is going on all over the world about what Barack Obama's election victory means: "Can we really believe in change?", everyone seems to be wondering, in private conversations - and of course in the media, too. To mention just one example: A very illuminating programme on "Democracy Now" this week about the chances for changes in US foreign policy.
On the one hand, there are the Obama fans who point out that he won the election on the promise of change, and will have to deliver; that it is a historic change in itself that a coloured man will be US president; that there are some very concrete policy fields where he plans to be different (climate change, to mention one which is not exactly marginal); and that he basically is a decent, charming and intelligent guy who will not let us down. 
On the other hand, there are the skeptics. They argue that his foreign policy positions were not too different from McCain or even Bush in the campaign. In some fields, such as Jerusalem or Pakistan, he seemed more rightist than McCain at times. They also point to his first appointment: Congressman Rahm Emanuel, the new Chief of Staff at the White House, who is an ardent supporter of Israel. 
What makes the debate so interesting is that both sides are right! There is an opportunity for change, and there is the danger that everything will just remain the way it is. One person does not make history. He is tied to structures and will be influenced from different quarters.
The unusually high turnout in the US and the global enthusiasm demonstrate that people around the world desperately want change. But there are also many well-organized pressure groups and there is a well-established policy discourse in the US - which, for example, regards it as given that the United States (and not the United Nations, for example) have the responsibility to solve every major problem in the world. 
So it's not enough to become an Obama groupie, nor to watch things from a distance. People's pressure will have to continue from outside, and citizens will have to monitor if change is happening. But how? The Obama campaign itself had a strong grassroots element, a lot of mobilization happened via the net. It would seem to make sense to continue using such instruments - like the "A Million Messages to Obama" campaign. The conventional media will certainly have to play a role. What else?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

the changing world of the indian village

Some impressions from my recent "exposure" stay in an Indian village -- in Nasik district, Maharashtra: Having lived in Indian villages before, I was really surprised to see how much the Indian countryside is changing these days.

growing capsicum in the greenhouse

First of all how much the production is targeted to far-away markets, how much the village is part of the global economy. Many farmers in Maharashtra produce grapes for export these days, wine is being made for customers abroad, and genetically modified "BT cotton" is grown. These farmers are very active, constantly on the look for new technologies and markets. They use a lot of "modern" technology such as fertilizers, machines, pesticides, sophisticated irrigation and GM plants. They take huge loans to invest in their crops, and many earn "lakhs" of Rupees (thousands of Euros) after paying back their loans with the harvest. At the same time, the landless labourers (in this village 70 per cent of the population) still have to live on 40 Rs. (women) or 55-60 Rs. (men) of daily earnings - less than one Euro a day... 

environmental concerns

But innovation is also going in other directions: There is a growing number of organic farmers in Maharashtra who stop using pesticides and chemical fertilizer. This 73-year-old farmer has developed his own theory of "natural farming": He doesn't even buy organic fertilizer, and claims he is still making money. As an additional activity, he has planted hundreds of thousands of trees and is distributing the saplings free of cost to anyone who wants them. 

a model village

Most interesting about the particular village I lived in was to see how much the villagers had done for development over the last few years: They had managed to convince everyone there to build a toilet in their house, and to use it, too... They had established small savings and loans groups for women. As a reward, they got water connections for every house from the state government (which has given up the top-down approach to development and requests the citizens to share responsibilities). They were proud that they didn't have elections for the village council (which led to infighting in neighbouring villages), but nominated only as many candidates as there were posts on the basis of consensus...

harmony, not rivalry

The villagers tried to sort out conflicts themselves through a special committee, and had managed to keep the police out of the village in this way. They stressed that political parties and caste rivalries don't matter. Of course, there have always been symbols of harmony in the Indian countryside, and I found a nice one there, too: In this village without any Muslim inhabitant, the Hindu villagers maintained, decorated and worshipped the tomb of a Muslim saint.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

pakistanis, control and conspiracies

Conspiracy theories, a study recently presented in the magazine "Science" has found, are likely to be believed by people whenever they feel they are not in control. For outsiders following Pakistani media, it would seem Pakistanis definitely feel they have no control over their country. Conspiracy theories, wherever the war in the tribal areas is discussed. Most popular is the search for a "foreign hand" behind the militancy. It's quite common these days to hear a TV host, such as Javed Chaudhary on "Express TV", tell his viewers:
It's a fact that weapons and technology for the war in the tribal areas are coming from Russia. Russia is providing large amounts of ammunition and explosives which are brought to Mazar-e-Sharif via Iran. And from there into the Pakistani tribal areas. In Pakistan, commandos have been arrested who were no Muslims, who eat dogs' and cats' meat and drink alcohol.
Well, personally I find it difficult to imagine the tribal areas full of dog-eating foreign agents, but there are definitely more extreme characters on Pakistani TV. Take Zaid Hamid, for example, who runs a think tank and a series of programs on News1 channel, both called "Brass Tacks". He presents a totally closed and confused view of the world in which everything can be explained logically - and which is full of enemies of Pakistan - such as India, obviously, with whom a final showdown is inevitable, according to Zaid Hamid. Who, almost needless to say, has lots of fans...

In two recent articles in the Pakistani daily "The News", Fasi Zaka has criticized some of this hate speech which is freely published in the Pakistani media. About Zaid Hamid, he writes:

In this postmodern world where people have surrendered a good deal of their intimate freedoms to impersonal institutions, where the interlinked nexus of governments and corporations creates ripples that people find difficult to understand, the conspiracy theorist takes the easy way out by assuming that all events are at the hands of a secret few. Despite the invalidity of these theses, they have staying power because they offer no proof, and hence they cannot be disproved, especially if they are the product of a paranoid imagination. Common to most of these conspiracy theories is 'de-individualization', which is lumping people into impersonal groups and taking their humanity away from them. That's what Zaid Hamid does when he rants about the inferiority of Hindus, the inherent evil nature of Jews or Pakistani leaders he disagrees with. He neglects to realize that his method is what also drove the neoconservatives in creating a world in their own ethnocentric image and in the killing fields of Iraq.

All of this is not without its negative fallout. As Fasi Zaka rightly points out,
crucially, what people like Zaid Hamid do is hurt the process of self-reflection which is needed. Why look inwards for self-improvement if it is someone else's fault?
The only way out would seem to be transparency. As long as people feel no control at all, that not even their most basic questions are answered, many will be ready to believe anything...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

issues, dogmas and "bullshit" in us presidential debates

I found Obama more convincing than McCain overall during the first debate, and I gather that's what most polls have shown to be the majority reaction among viewers in the US. However, I would like to add that on the issue of Pakistan, about which I have written here before, McCain certainly made more sense. Considering McCain's stance on not talking to Iran and his very hawkish anti-Russian rhetoric, though, Obama clearly appeared much more rational on these issues.
On the whole, I was positively surprised that both spoke well and knew what they were talking about - after eight years of Bush, this is a step forward! There is progress in other fields as well, such as in both candidates' condemnation of torture and the realization that America can not go it alone, but needs its so-called "allies".
At the same time, it is disturbing to see that there are entrenched foreign policy dogmas in the mainstream US discourse which nobody questions: The manichean world view about the good guys and the bad guys is one of them - all the debate revolves around how the good guys can defeat the bad guys. Seen this way, the scope for a real change in US foreign policy after the elections seems very limited.

I still find it difficult to get used to how much of the US media cover the election campaigns, including the debates - that there is relatively less discussion of the campaign issues and more focus on the "performance" of candidates. It leaves me with the impression that not looking your opponent in the face is considered a worse flaw than wrong policies. Or, as "The Onion" has put it, US elections are eventually decided by "bullshit".
Of course, issues do matter to some people, and they are certainly being discussed in the US media: CBS had a "reality check" on the first debate and ABC News a similar "fact check", exposing some factual errors both candidates made. The liberal online newspaper-cum-blog Huffington Post compares the candidates' stands on key issues in great detail.
But then, of course, there is the Sarah Palin factor. Sarah Palin clearly was no match for Joe Biden during their debate last week. On many occasions, she clearly didn't answer the questions she was asked, but gave some other rehearsed statement instead. She certainly does not know what she is talking about. And yet, it doesn't seem to have damaged her chances, as the contested swing voters are not so pre-occupied with issues either. As "The Times" put it,

On the substance, you might choose to award the debate – just - to Senator Biden. He seemed more in command of the issues and answered the questions from Gwen Ifill, the moderator, more directly...
But impressions may matter more to voters than evidence of detailed knowledge of Washington policymaking.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

zardari wants a hug

The bizarre meeting between US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari this week in New York had the world laughing. The Guardian has a hilarious commentary on it, full of malicious remarks like this one:
Zardari should be heralded as a medical phenomenon and toured across the globe. Who knew the cure for dementia, depression and PTSD was obtaining the post of president of Pakistan?
And, on a little more serious note,
with his flagrant display of sleaze-ball rhetoric, Zardari unwittingly symbolised the turbulent and twisted relationship between the US and its volatile, erstwhile lover Pakistan. One partner actively and shamelessly covets nearness, while the other selfishly exploits these lustful pangs for myopic policy initiatives.
Must read!

Friday, September 26, 2008

dissenting voices on afghanistan

With a parliamentary debate and decision about the extension of the mandate for German troops coming up in October, the situation in Afghanistan and the German role there are being debated in the German public. The CDU-SPD coalition government plans to increase German troops in Afghanistan by 1,000 to 4,500. But a worsening security situation and shock about German soldiers killing Afghan civilians recently have made the mission controversial again. The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine thinks the issue will definitely play a role in the election next year, and it says Chancellor Merkel's CDU is nervous that the SPD might try to attract voters with an anti-war campaign (just as Gerhard Schröder won the 2002 elections by opposing the Iraq war). For the time being, only the Left Party is clearly against the war, with the Greens split on the issue and support of the war in the SPD waning. But even the conservative CDU has its share of dissidents: The party's defence expert Willy Wimmer, a former secretary in the defence ministry, is calling for a unilateral withdrawal of German troops saying, "this is not our war." Wimmer has over the years become very critical of the United States and complains that there is no German foreign policy worth the name on many issues; instead, he claims, Germany tends to blindly follow the US. 
The German media, too, are being criticized. Former ZDF star reporter Ulrich Tilgner quit the public television channel in February after reporting for years from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. In a recent interview with the newspaper Tagesspiegel, he repeats previous criticism of the ZDF, suggesting that it is not critical enough of the German government on Afghanistan. In contrast, he is very positive about his new working environment at Swiss television where there is "more readiness to acknowledge mistakes in Western policies" and "editorial teams tend not to be dominated by colleagues with only limited knowledge, as has become common in Germany." Martin Gerner, a journalist who has been working regularly as a trainer and consultant in Afghanistan since 2004, in an article for the journal message, points out that too many German reporters in Afghanistan are traveling with the German troops, the Bundeswehr, which influences their coverage. He thinks there are many taboos in the German media: There is hardly any reporting about the difficult psychological situation the soldiers face, nor about the parallel worlds foreigners and locals inhabit in Kabul, highlighted by signboards such as "No Afghans in this restaurant".
But Gerner also thinks that withdrawing German troops would be wrong. In a recent commentary, he writes:
A premature withdrawal would leave behind a power vacuum that would be filled by the Taliban, criminals and former warlords. It would be the opposite of the "sustainability" that donor countries like to use as a catch phrase. Sending thousands of reinforcements, as is currently being discussed, would be just as wrong. The Soviet Army didn't manage to get the country under control with 200,000 soldiers. So the 1,000 additional German troops envisaged in Berlin's new Afghanistan mandate don't make much sense. What's needed is a strategy from the West that emphasizes politics over military. It's a fallacy to believe that, under the current circumstances, the military can pave the way for civilian reconstruction in all areas.

Monday, September 22, 2008

automatic journalism

Amidst all the turbulences on the financial markets these days, a funny event some days ago got less attention than it might have deserved: A newspaper article from 2002 titled "United Airlines Files for Bankruptcy" got picked up by Google News, was falsely presented as a new story there, was again picked up by the Bloomberg financial news agency, and this led to a drastic plunge in United Airlines shares. Apparently after a certain stage the selling of shares was also automatic - there are computer programmes for this... About a billion dollars of market value were lost before trading was stopped! Afterwards, a blame game started between the Tribune company which owns the newspaper (the South Florida Sun-Sentinel) and Google. (Of course, Google News functions without any editor, it is a totally automatic search engine.) The New York Times explained:
Tribune said in a statement that its archived bankruptcy article had simply been there online all along. The statement blamed “the inability of Google’s automated search agent ‘Googlebot’ to differentiate between breaking news and frequently viewed stories on the Web sites of its newspapers” for the problem.
For its part, Google said it was unfair to blame it for Tribune’s mistakes, including the failure to date the article properly, and the failure to use one of many simple methods to prevent links to old articles from appearing on a news page or being seen by a search engine.
Sounds quite technical to me... What about letting human beings with a brain come in between all the engines sometimes?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

islamic fundamentalism and western imperialism

A day after another horrible suicide bomb attack, this time at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, I'd like to quote here some of the last words of a book I just finished: "The Last Mughal" by William Dalrymple. It's a remarkable work about the uprising in India, in Delhi 1857 against the British, which failed and in the end brought down the Mughal dynasty. Dalrymple points out that the British (wrongly) branded this revolt as a kind of global Muslim conspiracy, whereas it was in fact an uprising within the British Indian army which was mostly made up of high-caste Hindus. But this idea of the "Muslim conspiracy" and its fallout have, in hindsight, had dramatic implications for Hindu-Muslim relations in South Asia and probably also for the global relationship between the West and the Muslim world. I cannot go into all the details - you have to read the 500 pages yourselves - just one more explanation before the quote: Dalrymple contrasts the narrow-minded British approach with the tolerant ways of the Mughal court and its last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Today, West and East again face each other uneasily across a divide that many see as religious war. Jihadis again fight what they regard as a defensive action against their Christian enemies, and again innocent women, children and civilians are slaughtered. As before, Western Evangelical politicians are apt to cast their opponents and enemies in the role of 'incarnate fiends' and conflate armed resistance to invasion and occupation with 'pure evil'. Again Western countries, blind to the effect their foreign policies have on the wider world, feel aggrieved to be attacked - as they interpret it - by mindless fanatics. 
Against this bleak dualism, there is much to value in Zafar's peaceful and tolerant attitude to life; and there is also much to regret in the way that the British swept away and rooted out the late Mughals' pluralistic and philosophically composite civilisation.
As we have seen in our own time, nothing threatens the liberal and moderate aspect of Islam so much as aggressive Western intrusion and interference in the East, just as nothing so dramatically radicalises the ordinary Muslim and feeds the power of the extremists: the histories of Islamic fundamentalism and Western imperialism have, after all, often been closely, and dangerously, intertwined. There are clear lessons here. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

america's ill-advised new pakistan policy

In the US presidential election campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain have indicated they would focus more on fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Particularly Barack Obama's criticism of the US war in Iraq which he said had only diverted attention from fighting Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, seems to have put President Bush under pressure to do more on the restive border region, in particular the tribal areas in Pakistan. These so-called FATA, maintains Christina Lamb in the Sunday Times of London, are
now almost entirely controlled by the Pakistani Taliban militias who in turn provide protection to the Afghan Taliban and to Al-Qaeda. The area is fast becoming the principal global launching pad for terrorists.
On the one hand, this has infuriated the US army fighting in Afghanistan, on the other hand Bush seems to be hoping for a "breakthrough" in fighting Al-Qaida, says Christina Lamb:
The growing frustration among US commanders in Afghanistan coincided with whatappears to be a new determination by George W Bush to find Bin Laden before hispresidency ends in January.“I know the hunt is on. They are pulling out all the stops,” said a US defence official. “They want to find Bin Laden before the president leaves office and ensure that Al-Qaeda will not attack the US during the upcoming elections.”
And so, Bush decided to act:
Whether it was because of the worsening security situation, or in the hope of springing “an October surprise” in the form of Bin Laden’s head to boost the election chances of the Republican John McCain, Bush decided it was time to go beyond reconnaissance and tracking. In late July he issued a secret national security presidential directive authorising special forces to carry out ground operations inside Pakistan without its permission.
But the American forces seem to lack the intelligence necessary for successful strikes within Pakistan. The Times article describes a case in early September when US commandos killed children in Pakistan. In fact, some seem to have foreseen that the new "strategy" would not work. As Gareth Porter writes for IPS,
State Department and some Pentagon officials had managed to delay the proposed military escalation in Pakistan for a year by arguing that it would be based on nearly nonexistent intelligence and would only increase support for the Islamic extremists in that country.
The critics could argue that
the previous experience with missile strikes against al Qaeda targets using predator drones and the facts on the ground provided plenty of ammunition to those who opposed the escalation. It showed that the proposed actions would have little or no impact on either the Taliban or al Qaeda in Pakistan, and would bring destabilising political blowback.
But "vested interests" made sure the new policy was implemented, Porter says. Ex-CIA officer Robert Baer, who should know these things, is also highly sceptical about "overhead surveillance" in the tribal areas. Writing for TIME, he argues that
the Bush Administration's decision to step up attacks in Pakistan is fatally reckless, because the cross-border operations' chances of capturing or killing al Qaeda's leadership are slim. American intelligence isn't good enough for precision raids like this. Pakistan's tribal regions are a black hole that even Pakistani operatives can't enter and come back alive.
On top of it, Baer says,
after the New York Times ran an article that U.S. forces were officially given the go-ahead to enter Pakistan without prior Pakistani permission, Pakistan had no choice but to react.
There were even reports that Pakistani soldiers shot earlier this week, forcing US troops to turn back into Afghanistan.

Is it really so difficult to understand? There will be no military victory over terrorism or the Taliban. Instead, it would be crucial to isolate them politically by forging a broad coalition of moderates and democrats. But with their ill-advised military attacks, the US are only going to alienate Pakistan's army, civilians and politicians. And mind you, Bush is only implementing what Barack Obama had demanded! In a recent interview with Democracy Now, Pakistani writer Tariq Ali warns:
I think this was a big mistake that Senator Obama made. He will regret it, because I don’t think he was briefed on what the situation in Afghanistan is. You know, historically, every time the US occupiers are cornered in a country, they try and blame the neighboring country—the same in Vietnam when they started
bombing Cambodia, saying it was Cambodia’s faults. The threats against Iran, even as we speak, and now the missions in Pakistan, the bombing raids in Pakistan, the killing of civilians in Pakistan, when the real crisis and the real problem is a war and an occupation inside Afghanistan which has gone badly wrong.

Monday, September 15, 2008

a witch-hunt of indian muslims?

Five bombs exploded in the Indian capital Delhi on Saturday. The attackers targeted well-known markets where the well-off middle class citizens go for their weekend shopping and entertainment. No wonder, then, in a way, that the mainstream Indian media put pressure on the government to do more against terrorism. But on the other hand, there's a growing sense that the fear of terrorist attacks is being used to target the Muslim minority in India. Asghar Ali Engineer, a leading Muslim social scientist and activist from Mumbai, writes:

This is alienating the community besides allowing real culprits to escape and it has grave consequence in the sense that bomb explosions continue as real culprits are never nabbed.

As Yogi Sikand writes on the website The South Asian,
it appears that powerful elements within the state apparatus are deeply implicated, along with Hindu terrorist groups, in a witch-hunt of India's Muslim citizens.
Ajit Sahi, a journalist with Tehelka magazine, recently did a three-month investigation into SIMI, the "Students Islamic Movement of India", which has been routinely accused of masterminding terrorist attacks in India. But, writes Sahi:
The government had seven years to bring proof of its claims about SIMI, but it hasn’t yet done so and it appears doubtful it will bring some dramatic proof anytime soon.
Tehelka has published Sahi's findings about the "SIMI fictions" in great detail on their website. There are touching stories about youngsters such as a doctor, who have quite obviously been falsely implicated in terrorism cases, but continue to be stigmatized. But why don't the mainstream media talk about all this? In a recent interview, Ajit Sahi said:
I am just a simple journalist. Doing these investigations into the SIMI affair and exposing the heaps of lies of the police and the state about the blasts and the arrested persons has made me feel purposeful as never before. I am 42 now, and so far I have been chasing money and highly-paid jobs. But now, after going through all this in the course of the investigations I have been doing into charges against innocent Muslims, I have more clarity as to my purpose in life... Every decent journalist should ... investigate the truth. I have to speak out the truth and expose the lies that the government and its agents are so blatantly spreading.
Well said, and not only for India...

Friday, September 12, 2008

web movement for democracy

I find the advocacy website (avaaz means "voice" in Urdu, Hindi and many other languages) one of the most inspiring attempts to use the internet for political activism. They run global campaigns on different issues, have a truly global agenda and a broad range of debate within the community. Interesting reading, for example, their questions and answers with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. The future of global politics?

Monday, August 25, 2008

bbc presenter criticizes afghanistan coverage

Veteran BBC correspondent and presenter Lyse Doucet has criticized the coverage of the Afghan war on British TV. According to the Daily Mail, Doucet told the Edinburgh International Television Conference:
What's lacking in the coverage of the Afghans is the sense of the humanity of the Afghans... You knew that the bombs were dropping in that direction and the guns pointing in that direction but you never got a sense of how Afghans are as a people.
In what turned out to be a controversial statement, Doucet called on her colleagues to also show the "humanity" of the Taliban. You just need to read the "comments" column to find out that this proposal does not get down well with at least the Daily Mail readership... which doesn't change the fact that she has a point there, of course. Just consider that even in "Lions for Lambs" which was widely regarded as an anti-war movie, there was no attempt at all to understand the Afghans in the story. It was all about the US discussion about the war in Afghanistan, but without any Afghanistan actually shown...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

musharraf resigns - second thoughts from pakistan

What I find most interesting about Pakistani media reactions the day after is how openly Musharraf is criticized for his policy on Afghanistan and the Taliban. The Daily Times writes that Musharraf derived legitimacy for his rule from serving both the interests of the army and the Americans...

...until a clash of legitimacies (army versus NATO-ISAF) made it difficult for him to pass off his double-dealing as political ambivalence. This began to happen after his policy of giving shelter to the Taliban leadership of
Afghanistan in Quetta could not be maintained without adverse reaction from Washington, and his strategy of retaining domination of Afghanistan resulted in cross-border Taliban raids into Afghanistan.

And Yousuf Nazar demands in DAWN that Musharraf "face an open trial":
His greatest crime was that he compromised Pakistan’s national interests to consolidate his power when he was an international pariah and brought Pakistan to the brink of Balkanisation by his dual track policy of covertly supporting the Afghan Taliban while allowing the Americans to conduct air strikes on Pakistan.

He elaborates:

A section of our English-speaking elite believe Musharraf was trying to save them from the Taliban. This makes you wonder how ignorant one can be. He secured the evacuation of more than 3,000 Taliban and militants between Nov 15 and 23, 2001 from Kunduz in Afghanistan, where they had been trapped, to Pakistan’s tribal areas from where they were to later organise and conduct terrorist attacks.

Musharraf used the intelligence agencies to rig the 2002 elections to enable the supporters of religious militants and Lal Masjid extremists, such as Chaudhry Shujaat and Ijazul Haq, to gain power in the centre and the religious elements to gain ground in the NWFP and Balochistan. The politics of fear and blackmail was practised, fully exploiting the apprehensions of Pakistanis and the West of religious extremists.

Many people have criticized the ISI's involvement in the making of the alliance of religious parties, the MMA on many occasions, but Musharraf's links to the Taliban have generally not been exposed in this way in the Pakistani media, I believe. Could be helpful for an honest debate.

And finally, a bold claim by political scientist Rasul Bakhsh Rais, also in the Daily Times - wonder if he's right here, specially in the second half:

The real credit for causing Musharraf’s fall goes to civil society and the media, both new actors on Pakistan’s social and political scene. In all new democracies, where the transition from military to civilian rule has taken place, these two actors have proved catalysts of political change, and the agenda-setters and messengers of political forces.

Monday, August 18, 2008

musharraf resigns - first reactions by international media

Pervez Musharraf’s resignation announcement could have beaten Hitchcock at his best in terms of suspense. (Times of India)

"Until the last minute he was in two minds, facing a choice between fight and flight," a close aide, who had strongly advised him to cling to power, told AFP.

The speech was as much an attempt to secure his historical legacy as it was an effort to refute critics who said that he had undermined the country's stability by clinging to the presidency. (Wall Street Journal)

In the end, the Pakistani ruling coalition only needed to summon the courage — something they found in short supply for nearly five months — to go for the kill. (

Pervez Musharraf, who resigned on Monday, took Pakistan to the brink of war with India during the 1999 Kargil hostilities only to launch a sustained peace process a few years later. (

Critics say he suffered from a "saviour complex" and believed he was indispensable. (Reuters)

If the president retained substantial powers, Zardari might want the position, although he has has hinted the next president may be a woman. Analysts speculate that the ethnic Pashtun leader Asfandyar Wali Khan is a frontrunner because he is liberal and it would be a sign of national unity. (Guardian)

If over the coming months the weak civilian partners fail to arrest the decline of the economy and the rise of militancy, they may face a galling nostalgia for the one-man rule of the Musharraf years. (Time)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

some comments on "Guardians of Power"

Dear David Edwards and David Cromwell,

I have read your book „Guardians of Power“ with great interest. As a working journalist myself for the last decade, I find it extremely thought-provoking and disturbing. It certainly deserves to be read and debated among journalists and media scholars. There can be no excuse for the serious mistakes which you expose, the obvious bias and the arrogance shown by senior representatives of the British media especially before the invasion of Iraq.

Nevertheless, I would like to raise a few questions and share my experience with how editorial teams in "mainstream media" work. And I think, while far from dismissing your criticism, I'd suggest you look more closely into the daily decision-making process in the media, because this is where the main problems are - and where we should look for solutions. Whereas more "citizen journalism" might help, what we really need - in my opinion - is more professionalism in the media, not less.

I am not entirely convinced about your analysis of the reasons for biased media coverage. You talk about the media doing „propaganda“ – mainly for big business and the establishment. You talk about the influence of the corporate sector over the media and claim it is responsible for suppressing stories. In certain cases, this may be true. There are large media conglomerates run by business tycoons in many countries, and they also follow certain editorial policies. But what is more surprising is that even supposedly independent institutions like public service broadcasters fail in their job.

And: How do you explain, for example, that German and French media never supported the war in Iraq? That they heavily criticized the practice of „embedded journalism“ and remain staunch critics of George W. Bush? Surely the major German and French companies don’t have so totally different interests from the British and Americans? Why does a widely read and respected critical newspaper such as „Le Monde diplomatique“ exist in France, but not in Britain? How do you explain that, in Pakistan, mainstream private commercial TV channels have over the last more than a year been extremely critical of the pro-American, pro-business President Musharraf? And instead upheld democratic ideals of an independent judiciary and human rights? That mainstream TV journalism helped force Musharraf to step down as army chief and hold free elections? It just doesn’t make sense at all according to your theoretical framework.

In my experience, this is more about political cultures, mindsets – and work routines. These days, most journalists are not very creative people. Journalists themselves are the biggest media consumers. A few news agencies define their news agenda for the day. It’s a well-established daily routine to follow the others, and not to be different.

This is true for single news stories, but even more for „angles“ or „frames“ for certain ongoing developments – such as the „war on terror“. Or for what, for want of better terminology, I’d like to call a „discourse“. There is an enormous power in established ways of seeing the world, and it requires enormous efforts (not just of journalists) to shift these paradigms – to question who are the good and who are the bad guys, for example.

Because we don’t have a global public sphere, these mindsets, frames and discourses can vary from country to country. There is a strong anti-Bush public discourse or even anti-American stereotype in countries such as France, Germany and Pakistan. Any number of influential multinational companies won’t prevent critical coverage of the Iraq war here. (Though we have other blind spots which we don’t recognize.)

If this is true, it makes changing the media much easier. Most journalists I have met are ambitious about their job. They want to be good, and there is a lot of journalistic training in different fields such as techniques of writing and presenting – though hardly in editorial independence and investigative journalism, for example. If all the talk about the media controlling the government and being the fourth pillar of the state were true, the first training should be how to fulfil this role. Just as a lawyer is trained to defend his client no matter what he himself thinks about the case, a journalist must learn to doubt the version of the Prime Minister’s spokesman. In my experience, this is easier for journalists who know they are working in an authoritarian country - such as Pakistan, and even China. But we tend to get complacent in democracies, where chances are high that a majority of us have voted for this government ourselves. On the other hand, if lawyers and judges could learn their job over the centuries, why can’t we?

I'd like to draw your attention to an article published more than 20 years ago by an anthropologist and journalist, James Lett. He writes:
To be recognized as a journalist, you simply have to work as a journalist--and that’s true in very few other professions. Lacking both a reliable methodology for gathering information and a sound theoretical basis for organizing knowledge, journalists have little choice but to practice a journalism that is both uninformed and unanalytical. From an anthropological point of view, journalism is exceedingly uncritical.
I am convinced these are the crucial issues: There is not enough reflection – in fact, most of the time, there is no reflection at all – among journalists about their role and their work. Instead, there is a strange obsession with "news" – though, as James Lett, whom I have quoted before, puts it:
Television news rarely makes people examine their world view or question their ethos. Instead, television news regularly re-affirms their preconceptions and reinforces their prejudices. There’s nothing new about the news.
Our media are full of stereotypes, full of boring repetitions every day. To avoid this, we need more critical minds, more serious professionals. We certainly don’t need less professional journalism, as you suggest. There is a role for „citizen journalists“ such as bloggers (as there is for juries in courts, for example), but don’t overestimate it! We need people who monitor the media, as you do it, and we need a broadly based public debate. But „netizens“ will also be prone to spread rumours and hate speech. They should inspire, correct and supplement broadcasters and newspapers, but cannot replace credible, critical mass media.

Thanks for an important book, and keep up your work!

Best regards,

Thomas Bärthlein

Monday, July 14, 2008

tibetan-chinese dialogue

It's quite unusual for Chinese and Tibetan intellectuals to meet for a public dialogue -- anywhere in the world. Today's discussion in Bonn between Kelsing Gyaltsen, one of the Dalai Lama's two special envoys for negotiations with the Chinese leadership, and Gu Xuewu, Chinese-born political scientist and professor at Bochum University, was such a rare occasion. And, besides all the differences between them, there were lots of points where they came close to each other:
Both agreed that former Chinese leader Hu Yaobang stood for a much wiser policy on Tibet in the 1980s. Both agreed that Buddhism could play a role in bringing both groups together, as many Chinese are interested in Tibetan Buddhism these days, and Tibetan monasteries flourish due to Chinese contributors. Kelsang Gyaltsen appreciated that the general view among Chinese intellectuals about Tibet and Tibetans had improved drastically over the last few years, and that a group of Chinese intellectuals criticized the Tibet policy in an open letter to their government in March. 
Gu Xuewu pointed out that, while the crucial post of party head in Lhasa has been reserved for a Han Chinese, the majority of cadres on all levels remain Tibetans. He thinks the Dalai Lama's proposal of a "third way" - autonomy within China - is unrealistic, not least because the Chinese government would be afraid of other minorities claiming similar rights.
Whereas according to Kelsang Gyaltsen the Chinese negotiators on Tibet (whom he otherwise characterized as hardliners) agreed to discuss autonomy in the next round of talks in October, it also became clear that the Tibetans' position is not without contradictions here: They claim autonomy status for those regions with a Tibetan majority or (?) sizable Tibetan population, also in other provinces, i.e. Qinghai and Sichuan. And they expect that these territories are also protected in some way from the influx of Chinese immigrants. But what about those areas where the Chinese are already in a majority - such as the city of Lhasa itself? 

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

olympic countdown

A month before the Beijing Olympics, the anti-Beijing rhetoric is dying down, as President Bush himself declares his intention to attend the opening ceremony. It's probably better this way. Political change in China will only come from inside... Li Wenkai, one of China's leading investigative journalists, recently pointed out that foreign pressure on issues such as Tibet made work more difficult for him and his colleagues, as it lead to increased surveillance and censorship by the authorities. His "Nanfang dushi bao" or "Southern Metropolitan Daily" has earned itself a name for uncovering all kinds of scams and reporting independently on controversial social issues. They employ a whole team of 20 investigative reporters, who have to be extra careful to find out which topics they can deal with. Although a lot of their material never gets printed, this is a way in which China keeps opening up, slowly but steadily. Is there any Western newspaper that puts so much effort in research? Under such difficult circumstances? Maybe this spirit is something we can learn from the Chinese...

Monday, July 7, 2008

pakistan and the taliban

After a few months of trying negotiations, the first major military operations against militants on the Afghan border under the new Pakistani government has begun. Although this particular "Lashkar" in Khyber agency does not seem to have links to the Taliban, the signal is clear. And it is quite possible that the latest suicide bombing against the police in Islamabad is related to this new development.

One would expect a furious debate in the country about this issue: How should one deal with the militants? Where does Pakistan stand?

Well, a debate there is, but it is taking place mostly in the Pakistani community abroad or on the fringes of the political spectre. A very instructive debate can be found on the website, which has become a major source of information for Pakistanis abroad.

A couple of days ago, pkpolitics published an article called "Views of a Pakhtoon" which defends the Taliban and drew lots of reactions, both positive and negative. Certainly nothing in between.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, one of the most outspoken liberal intellectuals, is one of the very few voices these days who openly calls on Pakistan to fight the militants with military force, if necessary. In the DAWN daily newspaper, he writes at the end of a brilliantly argued and certainly not pro-American editorial:
Pakistan must find the will to fight the Taliban. The state, at both the national and provincial level, must assert its responsibility to protect life and law rather than simply make deals.

DAWN columnist Irfan Husain, who lives in London, supports him:

From the very beginning, this creeping insurgency has been treated as an ideological and strategic issue, rather than the law and order problem it basically is. By negotiating endlessly with violent law-breakers, we have given them a legitimacy they did not deserve.

Why is it that not more people join them? The majority of Pakistanis at home probably don't want the Taliban in power (they certainly haven't voted for extremist parties in the last election), but they do not want military operations against them either. They don't want foreign troops in Afghanistan, and they want to get rid of a president who, most think, has "sold" them to the Americans. Let him go first, then everything is possible, even pacifying the militants. The most popular politicians such as Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan argue in this way, and most opinion leaders in the media, too... But even should Musharraf go one day - how is the problem of militancy simply going to disappear? Is it really enough to make Musharraf, the army and the Americans the scapegoat for everything?

By the way, this is just another outsider speaking...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

kisch and stereotypes

For some time, I've been intrigued by the question why contemporary media so often follow and even strengthen stereotypes especially when it comes to covering other countries. (I did a small study once on how German newspapers wrote about Pakistan after 9/11, with results that were disillusioning: There was hardly anything in the papers except terrorism and dangers, and the image created was totally different from what I had experienced Pakistan to be like.) 
Is it because of the process in which journalists produce their work? The way manuscripts are edited and streamlined and reporters with deviant approaches don't even get a chance to start working because their editors will push them in another direction?
Or do the reporters limit their focus themselves? Are certain discourses (e.g. about "Islam") so powerful that one "automatically" sees the world in a certain way?

Reading some of the reporting done by Egon Erwin Kisch from the Soviet Union and China in the 1920s these days, I was struck how much journalism has changed over the last 80 years. Kisch was the German reporter of his time. A Jew from Prague who was equally fluent in Czech and German, he had (similarly to Franz Kafka) opted for German as the language he wrote in. After the First World War, he moved to Berlin and worked for German papers, traveling all over the world, then fled to live in exile after 1933. I find his pieces still interesting to read after all these years. His writing style is totally literary, i.e. he tries to be original in all his descriptions, inventing new words and images in almost every sentence. Another very obvious difference from most of today's journalists is how many random observations he includes in his articles.

When the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" ran a series about famous journalists five years ago, Jakob Augstein (himself the son of another journalist icon, Rudolf Augstein of "Der Spiegel") observed that today, much of Kisch's writings would be rejected by desk editors as literature, not reporting. Some of the texts would be regarded as not relevant enough; some of his writing (e.g. about Soviet Russia) is clearly partial, although Kisch always held up the ideal of "objectivity" - but he was a Communist and this shows; and Augstein also points out that Kisch was quite good at marketing himself. Is or was Kisch over-rated then?

Well, whereas it is certainly interesting to read Kisch with the eyes of the contemporary journalist, we could also take a look at today's journalism with Kisch in mind. How has it become so different? I think the biggest difference is the sheer amount of media exposure we have ourselves. From the desk editor to the reporter, we all know how this or that competitor has approached this topic we are doing now. We follow the news agencies and let them decide our agendas. We might then be looking for a slightly new angle and imagine we are doing something "different" - but have actually become much more cautious. 

And I believe this is how we all keep reproducing stereotypes, both the reporters and the desk editors. We believe that we have to leave out observations on the side, which are not relevant to "our story" (in fact, they might complete the picture). We think it is safer and easier to repeat set phrases and images (just take the bearded Muslim fundamentalists), instead of inventing our own language and imagery (it's the same with TV visuals). We have become less imaginative and less curious. I'm sure much of the output of our news media industry is totally boring for the consumers, and that's why new forms of communication like citizen journalism and blogs are becoming so popular.

Friday, June 27, 2008


The traditional distinction of "left" and "right" politics has become blurred, and many people tend to get confused as to where certain politicians stand ("New Labour", etc.). A relatively simple concept to replace the old one and to give you some orientation is the "political compass" proposed by the website of the same name. You take a short test and are then told your political position on a two-dimensional scale, both on an economic (still labeled "left-right") and on a "social" ("authoritarian"-"libertarian") axis. It's not bad though I somehow feel it doesn't do justice to all these flexible politicians who don't really care where they stand themselves. (They quote a "Times of India" article on the website according to which most Indian politicians refused to take the test when asked by the newspaper...) Anyway, it's interesting to see that all the European Social Democrats, and all the US presidential candidates including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, belong to the "authoritarian right" corner of the political spectrum. Myself I landed in the libertarian-left corner, though more libertarian than left. The Dalai Lama is somewhere close, according to the website. Pity that he doesn't stand in elections...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

online mobbing

A journalist colleague A works for B website here in Germany. When he rejected another colleague C's manuscript and asked him to make some amendments before publishing, C got upset. C happens to belong to a certain group D. As there are certain conflicts between groups D and E, A had been of the opinion that C's manuscript didn't reflect the viewpoint of E group well enough. So far, a normal story.
Anyway, C got the impression that A doesn't like D group, and that this was the reason for his behaviour. The next thing that happened was that C shared his version with some people of D group. Suddenly, certain websites spread the word that A was against group D. And whereas the conflict between A and C has long been settled, A continues to find claims that he is against group D at the top of the list whenever he googles his own name...
I find the story totally scary, but it's probably not that unusual, as media reports about "cyberbullying" from South Korea and the United States show - both cases are more serious than what happened to A. 

Nothing entirely new either - bullying and mobbing happen offline as well. Hopefully, with some legal reforms, there may be ways of handling the problem in future. In the meantime, better be careful...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

new media - new politics?

Barack Obama has created a website to fight rumours about him that are mostly spread on the internet. OK, maybe it's not really adequate and wise to label it a "smear" if people spread the word that Barack Obama is a Muslim (he is a "committed Christian", of course, according to his website) - but it clearly shows one thing: In American politics, blogs are considered influential. You cannot simply ignore them any more. I don't think this could happen in Europe yet - but in some parts of Asia, the role of the web in politics is even bigger. And I'm not even talking about places like China, Iran or Myanmar where blogs are one of the few ways to express your views at all. Consider Malaysia, where Jeff Ooi might be the world's first parliamentarian who was elected because he was a well-known blogger. Or South Korea, where the latest protests against US beef imports have been labeled "digital populism", according to the International Herald Tribune. High school students started the agitation first after discussing the dangers of US beef on an internet discussion forum...
The mainstream media and the government ignored them at first. But protesters stepped forward as "citizen reporters," conducting interviews, taking photographs and, thanks to the country's high-speed wireless Internet, uploading videos on their blogs and Internet forums.
But there's a flip side to their activism: It's easy to spread rumours and create panic in the web community. The IHT report gives an example:
One scientifically unproven claim that circulated on the Internet was that Koreans have a gene that makes them particularly susceptible to mad cow disease.
Interestingly, the activists even put pressure on the more moderate mainstream media in order to make their and only their version of the story heard:
Protesters...flooded companies with phone calls warning of product boycotts if they did not withdraw ads from the country's three main conservative dailies, whose editorials urged "reason and rationality."
I wonder how the papers can react... Maybe start an anti-rumour website like Barack Obama?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

some questions on tibet

Why is it that Tibetan protests get so much more attention abroad than the ones by Uyghurs in Xinjiang (where discontent with Chinese rule is at least as strong)?
If Tibet was a part of China at some point in history, does it mean it must remain one in future?
Aren't there maybe similar problems all over the region, with people from the overpopulated plains, from bigger ethnic groups, migrating to the mountains and marginalizing the "locals"... like in Bhutan, in Sikkim, from Bangladesh into Northeast India? What can be a fair solution for these cases?
And why indeed do people not talk about solutions?

There was an interesting article recently in Himal Southasian magazine, about possible ways to approach a solution to the Tibet crisis.

Monday, June 16, 2008


We should all be watching more documentaries... I finally managed to see one I've been wanting to see all the time - "Ironeaters" by the Bangladeshi filmmaker Shaheen Dill-Riaz. It was selected "best film" at Film Southasia '07 in Kathmandu and received several other prizes... and rightly so, for his portrait of the shipbreaking industry near Chittagong doesn't only have stunning images, and you learn so much about God knows what (society, life, ships...) - what I find most striking about Shaheen (there's one other documentary I've seen, "Sand and Water") is how he depicts people's lives with hardly any author's commentary. The poorest of the poor are not only given a voice here, they come across with dignity: Not just as "victims", but always as full human beings. I haven't quite seen that elsewhere.
Why can't we simply give voices to the ordinary people more often as journalists? Because we don't have the formats? Don't always have 90 minutes? Are too fond of telling our own stories? Or simply too lazy, or not modest enough to just listen?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

to begin with

Having watched Geert Wilders' film "Fitna" recently (online, of course), I was struck by how much attention it got. Why should anyone want to waste their time on something so badly argued, so badly produced? And yet, millions clicked on it and watched it (including me) - an audience he would never have had before the days of the world wide web. All the calls for banning the "movie" simply evaporated, as censorship has become technically impossible. If anything, the resistance only increased its appeal. Extreme viewpoints are everywhere on the web, just visit any discussion forum... And they seem to acquire a totally exaggerated importance, completely out of proportion with "real life". Even Al Qaida would be nowhere close to where they are without the internet. But wasn't the net supposed to connect us all, bridge all the gaps? We have the technology to connect people, but is it working? 

Apparently, the more traditional "global media" are also losing their capacity to integrate people across the globe. After the Muslim world started mistrusting CNN and BBC, the recent events in Tibet have shown that many Chinese, too, think the Western media are biased against them. Kai Hafez has claimed that media globalization is just a myth: More often than not, the media are only reinforcing our mutual prejudices. Satellites and broadband alone won't bring us closer to each other.

And yet, the world has become smaller in many ways. Dutch films do disturb people in Pakistan. We need to develop new ways of communicating with each other in this age of globalization, new levels of tolerance and respect - and eventually, new channels and forms for global democracy. Let's share ideas.