Politik Pop

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mengimbangi Persahabatan AS dan Kebangkitan China

"Signifikan perjanjian itu bagi kedua-dua negara sangat jelas. Australia menegaskan peranannya yang lebih luas dalam susunan keselamatan serantau, manakala Jepun memperlihatkan haluan baru dalam dasar luar dan pertahanan. Perjanjian pertahanan dengan Australia itu, yang terlaksana ketika Abe dengan jelas memperlihatkan sikap konservatifnya, adalah yang pertama bagi Jepun selain hubungan pertahanan dengan AS."

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Artikel berkaitan: Menangani Kebangkitan China

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lagi Pasal Pop Paling Politik Masa Kini

From BBC News, March 23, 2007

Cultures Clash in Cinema History

As the blood sprays and body parts are scattered in the sword and sandal blockbuster 300, the first thought on your mind may not be "have they got the armour right?".

But crying foul when Hollywood plays fast and loose with facts is not just for history nerds.

The heroic westerner vs tyrannical Persian theme of 300 - based on Frank Miller's graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC - has sparked indignation from some commentators in the US, and brought protests from the Iranian authorities.

And while not every movie provokes an international incident, bending the facts to fit the film is nothing new - as film historian Kevin Brownlow reveals.

"In his 1927 epic Napoleon, director Abel Gance showed his hero at the Club des Cordeliers when the Marseillaise was first sung. He was informed that Napoleon had not been present. 'He is now,' he said."

A particular low point in the relationship between film and fact was 1936's The Charge of the Light Brigade.

"Instead of being the result of a military blunder during a war in Southern Russia," said Mr Brownlow. "The doomed attack became an act of personal revenge in India.

"They got so many things wrong you wonder why they bothered to pretend it was history at all."

Star of The Charge, Errol Flynn, also took the role of General Custer in They Died With Their Boots On, where he died a hero's death with his men.

"Some evidence suggests many of the US soldiers were shot in the back and were therefore running away - but who would want to see that?," says Mr Brownlow.

The political power of films was understood by Stalin who, eyeing the growing belligerence of the Nazis ordered a rousing account of 13th century warlord Alexander Nevsky who had defeated invading German knights.

Mr Brownlow said: "Such was the rush it was shot in July heat on artificial snow. But no sooner had it been finished than the 1938 Hitler-Stalin Pact had been signed and the picture had to be put on the shelf.

"It came off the shelf just as quickly when Hitler invaded in 1941."

Things got little better in the post-war era.

US journalist Lowell Thomas helped create the legend of Lawrence of Arabia with his filmed reports and was even included in David Lean's 1962 epic.

"Despite being confronted with perhaps the most brilliant spectacle in talking picture history," recalls Mr Brownlow, "He said 'The only accurate things in Lawrence were the camels and the sand'."

While it would be hard to make a film about as volatile region as the Middle East without drawing protests from somewhere, British audiences can be almost as prickly.

American War of Independence epic The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, was condemned for portraying the British soldiers, or Redcoats, as child-murdering criminals.

So vocal were the objections that the then Culture Secretary warned there was a difference between "putting a gloss on something and distorting things beyond all recognition".

By then, Gibson had developed a reputation for sticking it to the British.

Dr Martin Farr, a lecturer in Politics at the University of Newcastle, said: "Braveheart is one of the most striking examples of a film influencing the real world.

"I went to a screening in Glasgow and the SNP were handing out leaflets. During the film, every English death was greeted with a huge cheer."

Just to show it was not a fluke, Gibson has gone on to upset both Jews, with The Passion of the Christ, and Mayan central Americans, with Apocalypto.

Dr Farr emphasised popular films and academic history are different creatures: "The demands of camera is such that you can't be as fair in 90 minutes as you can in 100,000 words.

"But there is a line that moviemakers should not cross. In U571 the audience was told that the US, rather than the British, navy seized Germany's Enigma code machine.

"It was one of the most significant moments of the Second World War and to alter it so fundamentally is unfair."

Such controversy shows, believes Dr Farr, a basic fact about history.

"It's never settled. There is never one view of what happened and why. Just imagine the fuss that is going to be caused when they make a film about Margaret Thatcher."

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Pop Paling Politik Masa Kini

Thermopylae: The Metamorphoses of a Myth

"So far, so good. Miller runs into trouble when he offers an interpretation of the story. The Spartans, he says, sacrificed themselves for the freedom of Greece. And not only for Greek liberty: the Spartans were "the world's one hope for reason and justice", and the Persians were living "in a sea of mysticism and tyranny". Although Thermopylae was a defeat, it showed the world what free men are capable of, inspired the other Greeks, and therefore saved Greek culture and all of western civilization."

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What Do I Think About 300?

"It is unfortunate that very few curriculum in the US cover world history and it is very easy to misdirect the general public on historical facts. The Persians are renowned for being brave warriors with tremendous amount of chivalry and bravery whether in victory or defeat—they have always been very just (let’s not forget that Cyrus the Great drafted the first Declaration of Human Rights in 539BC, freeing thousands of Jews from slavery!)"

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Friday, March 16, 2007

TV Watch: Fox News

From PopMatters, March 16, 2007

The Lies They Tell: How to Stop the Fox Propaganda Machine

As presidential aspirants announce their candidacies in an already mind-numbing procession, the “Sliming Bowl” is well under way. No candidate has been smeared more than Barack Obama, and no smearer more relentless than Fox News, as the short video by Brave New Films demonstrates.

“Sliming” is the rabid, rapid, media barrage of persistently repeated lies and innuendo mastered by the right-wing media machine, which aims to tar candidates with negative associations before their campaigns get rolling. Or alternatively, to bruise them enough so that they will suffer under the burden of damaged goods as they try to gain footing.

The conservative roots usually puts out a speculative story through Fox News or Matt Drudge (of the Drudge Report), a powerful mouthpiece for the Bush White House. Then the right-wing echo reverberates as the lies make their way to talk radio and the right-wing blogosphere. Eventually, it gets picked up and carried by the mainstream media, with few understanding where the story originated.

In fact, disinformation conjured by the conservatives often has its most profound impact with the steady cooperation of the corporate press in repeating their lies. How many people still think that Al Gore said he invented the Internet?

The power of Fox and Matt Drudge to serve as kingpins of the Bush White House echo chamber, while at the same time being key agenda-setters for the mainstream press is a daunting problem for Democrats, progressive media makers, and bloggers.

Fox’s ability to be blatantly partisan, yet be treated like serious news journalists, is an unprecedented and thus far successful, juggling act. Furthermore, Fox critics are perpetually frustrated with the counter-productive collusion of Democrats and some activists to cooperate with Fox by appearing on its shows, aiding Fox’s claims of the legitimacy of its new organization.

But bloggers and activist groups are fighting harder to discredit Fox News for its bias. Just last week, it was announced that Fox News Channel, working with the Nevada Democratic Party and the Western Majority Project, will host an August 2007 Democratic Debate in Reno, Nevada, “which is expected to attract the top Democratic contenders for President.”

Not so fast says MoveOn, Free Press, and others. Petition campaigns are under way, aimed at the Nevada Democrats and the DNC, applying serious heat to drop Fox’s control of the event because it is not a legitimate news organization. There are also plans to target Fox’s advertisers in a campaign reminiscent of an earlier successful one against Sinclair Broadcasting for its nightly rabid right-wing harangues that were forced upon their affiliate’s news shows.

Willing to fight dirtier and make up bigger lies, the right wing has dominated smear campaigns going back decades—remember Donald Segretti and Nixon’s dirty tricks? Most recently the “Swiftboaters for Truth” campaign mercilessly and inaccurately maligned John Kerry’s military record, playing a role in his defeat to Bush in 2004. The anti-Kerry campaign stands as the gold standard for conservatives’ ability to get the mainstream media to carry their message without doing their own work—even creating a new verb for the political lexicon—swiftboating. But the progressive internet media and blogosphere are pushing back, using the speed and versatility of the web to whack the conservative “wing nuts” and pandering candidates with some of their own tools—albeit stopping far short of making stuff up.

Most recently John McCain felt the sting of the blogosphere as the hypocrisy of his “Straight Talk Express” persona, applauded and enhanced by the mainstream media, has been nailed in the video, McCain vs. McCain, produced by Robert Greenwald and his team at Brave New Films.

More than 300 blogs linked to the video and thrust Greenwald onto the front page of the L.A. Times to tell the story. Other media are now covering the hypocrisy angle as a N.Y. Times front page story focused on dissent in McCain’s own back yard among the grassroots conservative Republicans in Nevada. There, Rob Haney, a Republican state committeeman in McCains’s own district told the Nation‘s Max Blumenthal, “The guy has no core, his only principle is winning the presidency. He likes to call his campaign the ‘straight talk express.’ Well, down here we call it the ‘forked tongue express.’”

While McCain has taken a much-deserved beating for his hypocrisy, blatant efforts at total disinformation have been aimed at Barack Obama, the fresh-faced Democratic candidate and senator from Illinois.

Obama has been hammered for a whole grab-bag of alleged misdeeds, most which he had nothing to do with—such as his name, his early schooling, and his parentage—while other “nuggets of expose,” like the fact that he smokes cigarettes, is treated like a deep, dark media secret.

Fox News, with its Muslim bashing, leads the way in the smear campaign against Obama. A catalogue of Fox’s propaganda aimed at Obama has been collected by Greenwald, whose highly popular film Outfoxed got wide distribution through Blockbuster, Netflix, and thousands of house parties across the country two years ago.

Paul Waldman, of Media Matters and the Gadfly, charts the first of what are already many false stories spread about Barack Obama—that he attended a fundamentalist madrassa when he lived in Indonesia as a boy. Waldman writes:

When insightmag.com, a website owned by the right-wing Washington Times, put out a breathless report trumpeting the fantasy, Fox News immediately jumped on board, as did Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest of the talk radio bile spewers. “Why didn’t anybody ever mention,” asked Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, a man who makes Larry King look like Oscar Wilde, “that that man right there was raised—spent the first decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father—as a Muslim and was educated in a madrassa?”

This sentence contained no fewer than five falsehoods: Obama wasn’t raised by his father, his father left the family when Obama was two years old, his father wasn’t a practicing Muslim, Obama wasn’t raised as a Muslim and he didn’t go to a madrassa. “Well, he didn’t admit it,” chimed in co-host Brian Kilmeade. “I mean, that’s the issue.”

Lots of people tend to dismiss Fox’s influence, saying that they have been discredited among those who matter, and its audience is mainly conservatives who are beyond reason. But that notion misses the point, as Fox’s audience is larger than CNN and MSNBC combined, and many watch it for its perceived entertainment value.

More importantly, Fox, as one part of the right-wing echo chamber, is a key component in the feeder system into the mainstream media. Many journalists and editors revel in the right-wing disinformation machine as something akin to watching a car wreck and seem obliged to report accusations by right-wing media, even if made up.

And in the big picture, mainstream media does not seem to comprehend that in being unable or unwilling to find the truth before they report misinformation, they are contributing to their own demise. As the media system is increasingly transformed into polarized voices, mainstream media has already lost a good deal of its credibility and its audience.

As Waldman notes:

In their repugnant book “The Way to Win,” ABC News political director Mark Halperin and John Harris of The Politico (and formerly of the Washington Post) explain that, as journalists, “Matt Drudge rules our world.”

In other words, when Drudge—a right-wing operative who closely coordinates his activities with the Republican National Committee—puts up a sensational story on his website, Halperin, Harris and the rest of their cohorts simply have no choice but to run off and cover it, whether it is true or not.

In the case of the Madrassa issue, in what was seen as a marketing ploy to crow about the differences between CNN and Fox, CNN actually investigated the Insight/Fox lie about Obama’s school being a hotbed of fundamentalism. Their journalist found the truth—that the school Obama attended was benign and taught about various religions. But not before, as one example, the Washington Post’s media reporter Howard Kurtz, who is also CNN’s media reporter, featured the charges prominently in the Post, framing his story with the Insight/Fox lies, not with skepticism. He eventually followed up with more critical reporting and also debunked the story on CNN.

Many were cheered when Obama drew a line and seemed to take the position of refusing to go on Fox, in response to their disinformation campaign about him.

As Waldman sees it, “this kind of hardball is long overdue, not because Fox itself can be shamed into exercising some journalistic responsibility (shamelessness is one of the primary employment requirements at Fox) but because it sends a message to other journalists: We will hold you accountable for your actions. If you spread lies, we’ll treat you like a liar, and we don’t talk to liars.” In terms of Fox’s role in the possible candidates debate in Nevada, Hugh Jackson, writing for the Las Vegas Gleaner, writes that the Nevada Dems are getting “outfoxed.”

An example of how disrespectful and counterproductive such Fox News-sponsored Democratic debates are, consider the Sept. 9, 2003, Democratic debate in Baltimore, Md., hosted by Fox News in partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus. Fox News graphics, as well as a banner over the stage, titled the event as the “Democrat Candidate Presidential Debate,” a misconstruction of “Democratic” used as an epithet. Fox News then summarized the debate with a story titled “Democratic Candidates Offer Grim View of America,” continuing with such jabs as “the depiction of the president as the root of all evil began at the top of Tuesday night’s debate.”

Filmmaker Greenwald feels adamant that in order to hold Fox accountable, Democratic candidates should not go on their shows:

Day after day, week after week, Fox viciously and brutally attacks, maligns and tries to destroy our values. And we participate in this obscenity to get some airtime? We are nuts to keep going on without a good fight about the rules. We should push back on them.

The idea that we will outsmart, outmanipulate, out-talk Hannity and O’Reilly on an ongoing basis is nonsense. And I say this having studied O’Reilly for a year. But there seems to be little appetite from our side, especially the politicians, to play hardball. Remember, Fox News is dead and gone if we don’t go on so they have someone to fight with.

Jane Fleming may be an exception to the Greenwald rule. As head of Young Democrats of America, she has become a regular on Fox, and sees it differently:

I think if we don’t go on Fox, it is a mistake. It allows them to continue to portray us as weak and not willing to fight back. I enjoy going on—I think it gives us an opportunity to get our message out to Republicans and Independents and to show the Dems that are watching we are present.

I get emails from Republicans and Democrats thanking me for talking back to Hannity like: “Saw your clip from Fox News—just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your performance against the she-devil and Hannity. You are making us proud—keep up the good work!” and “I’ve seen you numerous times on Fox News representing the Democrats, and I wanted to let you know that you do a hell of a job! Some of our representatives on Fox are so lame, I think they might be closet Republicans, but you do very well handling the likes of Hannity and Coulter. Keep kickin’ butt, Jane.”

It remains to be seen if Obama and the other Democratic candidates are truly willing to hold journalists responsible for their actions. But, in the end the blogs and the progressive Internet can play a forceful role against Fox.

“They spread the facts, they put pressure on the media to report them accurately and they generally made the kind of ruckus the right wing has been much more effective at creating,” wrote Waldman. “During the 2004 campaign, blogs were still a novelty ... years later they have become a major player, and journalists ... have finally realized that blogs can’t be ignored. And if there’s one thing bloggers don’t hesitate to do, it is calling journalists to account when they have sinned ... The 2008 election will be a test of whether blogs have the power to enforce some standard of truth and shame on those news organizations that buy into made-up tales like the Obama madrassa story.”

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

AlterNet is an award-winning news magazine and online community that creates original journalism and amplifies the best of dozens of other independent media sources. Find more AlterNet content at www.alternet.org.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Senjata Ekonomi untuk Lemahkan Iran

Persoalan kemungkinan Amerika Syarikat melancarkan perang terhadap Iran sedang hangat dibincangkan. Sekiranya diperhatikan daripada retorik pemimpin AS Presiden George W Bush dan Presiden Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dari Iran, perang akan tercetus tidak lama lagi.

Retorik Bush tentang Iran - yang menyamai amarannya tentang bahaya senjata pemusnah Iraq, halangan urusan perbankan dengan Iran, pergerakan kapal perang AS ke kawasan sekitar Iran dan latihan perang diketuai AS beberapa bulan lalu menunjukkan persediaan Bush untuk melancarkan serangan terhadap Iran. Semua ini dilaksanakan sejak sekitar setahun lalu.

Negara-negara Arab seperti Arab Saudi, Qatar, Emiriyah Arab Bersatu dan Kuwait telah pun memberikan sokongan kepada agenda Washington dengan menyertai latihan tentera dan membenarkan wilayah mereka digunakan untuk melancarkan serangan ke atas Iran.

Media arus perdana AS telah ternyata sekali lagi menjadi penyokong perang dan tidak memainkan peranannya sebagai pengkritik kuasa. Kes dakwaan Bush bahawa kerajaan Iran terlibat membekalkan senjata kepada pejuang di Iraq menguatkan kepercayaan sokongan media arus perdana Barat kepada agenda memerangi Iran.

Pentadbiran Bush membocorkan maklumat-maklumat terpilih kepada media yang tidak kritikal. Maklumat-maklumat itu semua menunjukkan apa yang ingin dibuktikan pentadbiran Bush iaitu Iran mengancam keselamatan dunia.

Ketika hendak menyerang Iraq, bukti palsu senjata pemusnah besar-besaran dan hubungan rejim Saddam Hussein dengan al-Qaeda dimainkan dan diterima dengan tidak kritikal oleh media. Persamaan dengan pembinaan kes terhadap Iran dapat dilihat jelas semua pihak.

Hari ini peranan kumpulan pejuang Syiah dimainkan oleh Bush. Mereka dikatakan mempunyai hubungan dengan Iran, walaupun di Iraq, serangan paling banyak terhadap tentera AS dilakukan oleh pejuang Sunni, tetapi hanya serangan kumpulan Syiah diperbesarkan.

AS juga melakukan tindakan provokasi terhadap Iran di Iraq, kemungkinan dengan harapan mendorong Iran bertindak dan memberikan alasan untuk AS bertindak balas.

Bagaimanapun, sehingga kini tidak dikemukakan bukti jelas apa yang dikatakan program senjata nuklear Iran atau pun hubungan Iran dengan militan di Iraq. Seorang pakar dari New America Foundation ketika muncul dalam televisyen al-Jazeera menyatakan sukar untuk dipercayai hubungan kerajaan Iran dengan pembekalan senjata tersebut. Menurutnya Iran tidak terlibat dengan setiap perincian operasi menentang AS di Iraq.


Walaupun Tehran secara konsisten menyatakan kesediaan bersemuka dan mencari jalan penyelesaian diplomatik yang rasional, pelawaan itu ditolak Washington. Rundingan dengan Korea Utara yang telah pun mempunyai teknologi senjata nuklear telah pun berjaya mendesak Pyongyang menghentikan ujian senjata nuklearnya. Ini menunjukkan jalan diplomatik boleh diambil, tetapi AS enggan berbuat demikian.

Menurut anggaran perisikan nasional AS, Iran hanya akan dapat membina senjata nuklear menjelang 2015. Tetapi, di Iran sendiri berlangsung debat hangat sama ada senjata nuklear diperlukan.

Isu sebenar bukan senjata nuklear Iran kerana Iran tidak memiliki senjata nuklear. Iran juga mematuhi peruntukan Perjanjian Mencegah Percambahan Nuklear atau NPT. Keenganan Iran menghentikan program nuklear bukan menunjukkan penentangan terhadap rejim kawalan nuklear antarabangsa tetapi sekadar meneruskan program yang dibenarkan di bawah NPT.

Iran pernah pada 2003 menghentikan aktiviti nuklearnya ketika berunding dengan Britain, Jerman dan Perancis tetapi kemudian memutuskan untuk meneruskannya selepas melihat tidak ada perkembangan yang membawa ke mana-mana.

Terbaru, Iran sekali lagi menegaskan tidak akan menghentikan aktiviti program nuklear, tetapi mengalu-alukan rundingan tanpa sebarang syarat.

Menteri luar Iran, Manuchehr Mottaki berkata demikian selepas AS dan ahli Majlis Keselamatan Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu dengan Jerman menimbangkan untuk meningkatkan sekatan ke atas Iran selepas satu mesyuarat.

Bagaimanapun Rusia dan China telah menghalang tindakan lebih keras terhadap Iran, tetapi sekiranya AS bertindak menyerang Iran, kedua-dua negara pemegang veto dalam Majlis Keselamatan ini tidak mampu menghalang.

Majlis Keselamatan mengenakan sekatan terhad terhadap Iran Disember lalu dan memberikan tempoh 60 hari untuk menghentikan program nuklear. Tempoh itu berakhir Rabu minggu lalu.

Hakikatnya, rejim kawalan nuklear antarabangsa tidak berfungsi seperti sepatutnya kerana tidak ada cara untuk menghalang mana-mana negara mendapatkan senjata nuklear dan kuasa-kuasa besar sendiri mencabuli peraturan ini untuk kepentingan masing-masing, seperti AS yang memberi bantuan nuklear kepada India dan melindungi Israel.

Iran tahu bahawa hasil minyak hanya sementara kerana produksinya semakin merosot kerana penyusutan sumber itu dan kekurangan pelaburan asing yang membawa teknologi untuk mencari dan mengekstrak dengan lebih berkesan.

Pendirian Bush enggan berunding dengan Iran yang masih jauh daripada memiliki senjata nuklear menunjukkan pendirian tentang Iran telah pun dibuat.

Isu-isu seperti sokongan kepada terorisme, senjata nuklear dan sebagainya hanya untuk mengelirukan.

Sejak beberapa tahun lalu, AS tidak menyertai usaha diplomatik berunding dengan Iran berhubung program nuklearnya. Malah, AS menggunakan Majlis Keselamatan Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu untuk mengenakan sekatan terhadap Iran. Sekatan ini memberi kesan kepada ekonomi Iran.

Sekatan ekonomi

Dalam menekan Iran, AS menggunakan sepenuhnya senjata ekonomi melalui sekatan PBB dan pelbagai cara lain.

Januari lalu, pentadbiran Bush mengharamkan urusniaga bank AS dengan sebuah bank milik negara Iran, Bank Sepah. Sebelum itu, tindakan sama dikenakan ke atas sebuah lagi bank milik kerajaan Iran, Bank Saderat.

Mei tahun lalu, empat bank Eropah, UBS, Credit Suisse, ABN Amro dan HSBC menghadkan aktiviti mereka di Iran ekoran tekanan Washington. Bank-bank tersebut diberi amaran agar tidak “terlibat dengan kerajaan yang menyokong terorisme.”

UBS dan ABN Amro pernah didenda pihak berkuasa AS kerana berurusniaga dengan negara-negara yang ingin dipinggirkan AS.

Walaupun ada pihak mendakwa Iran boleh bertahan disebabkan harga minyak tinggi yang membawa pendapatan, sekatan ini mampu menghalang aktiviti ekonomi Iran di peringkat antarabangsa dan menghalang pelaburan asing, terutama apabila AS meningkatkan tekanan terhadap negara lain.

Bagaimanapun, tindakan itu bukan senjata ekonomi paling keras terhadap Tehran. Arab Saudi, negara pengeluar minyak terbesar dunia yang juga pesaing Iran di rantau Timur Tengah bersedia meningkatkan produksi minyak untuk menjatuhkan harga komoditi itu di pasaran global. Ini akan memberi kesan kepada ekonomi Iran yang bergantung hampir sepenuhnya pada pendapatan minyak.

Peranan Arab Saudi menunjukkan isu penting persaingan untuk menjadi kuasa utama di Timur Tengah.

Peningkatan pengaruh Iran akan bermakna pengaruh Arab Saudi merosot. Sekarang Arab Saudi masih dilihat sebagai negara paling berpengaruh di Timur Tengah dan di kalangan negara-negara Muslim. Terbaru, rundingan damai melibatkan Hamas dan Fatah di Mekah meningkatkan lagi profil Arab Saudi sebagai kuasa Timur Tengah yang berpengaruh.

Dan tidak boleh dinafikan juga persaingan aliran Sunni dan Syiah di dunia Muslim. Sejarah telah menunjukkan persaingan politik dan ideologi antara Saudi dan Iran. Persaingan ini meningkat dengan mendadak ekoran kebangkitan yang menjatuhkan Shah Reza Pahlavi di Iran. Saudi bimbang penyebaran pengaruh Iran turut menyebarkan sekali aliran Syiah.


Selain Arab Saudi, Israel merupakan negara yang paling bimbang dengan perluasan pengaruh Iran. Iran menjadi salah satu sumber kekuatan Hizbullah dan turut memberi sokongan kepada Hamas.

Peningkatan harga minyak yang tinggi memberi pendapatan lebih kepada Iran dan ini membolehkannya memberi bantuan kepada Hizbullah dan Hamas.

Sekiranya Arab Saudi memainkan peranan seperti Iran ini, pengaruh Iran mungkin merosot. Arab Saudi mempunyai sumber kewangan yang lebih besar daripada Iran.

Israel sentiasa melihat Iran sebagai ancaman, terutama dengan peningkatan pengaruh dan keupayaan teknologi terkini. Retorik Presiden Ahmadinejad memberi peluang kepada Israel untuk memperbesarkan ancaman Iran.

Israel kini satu-satunya negara Timur Tengah mempunyai senjata nuklear. Walaupun jalan Iran masih jauh, Israel bimbang Iran akan mencabar hegemoni nuklearnya di Timur Tengah.

Iran yang lebih kuat bermakna Hizbullah dan Hamas yang lebih berupaya menghadapi Israel secara ketenteraan.

Arab Saudi kini dilaporkan bukan sahaja menggunakan sumber kewangan untuk melemahkan pengaruh Iran tetapi juga Syria, sebuah lagi negara yang membekalkan senjata kepada Hizbullah.

AS telah pun melemahkan pengaruh Syria di Lubnan apabila berjaya mendorong pengunduran tentera Syria dari negara itu.

Pengaruh Iran yang meningkat dirasakan oleh kuasa Timur Tengah seperti Arab Saudi dan Israel. Peningkatan pengaruh Iran yang berlaku tanpa sekatan membimbangkan kuasa-kuasa lain di rantau ini. - 27 Februari, 2007

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

The New Mecca

From The New York Times, March 8, 2007

The Price of Progress: Transforming Islam’s Holiest Site

Five times a day across the globe devout Muslims face this city in prayer, focused on a site where they believe Abraham built a temple to God. The spot is also the place Muslims are expected to visit at least once in their lives.

Now as they make the pilgrimage clothed in simple white cotton wraps, they will see something other than the stark black cube known as the Kaaba, which is literally the center of the Muslim world. They will also see Starbucks. And Cartier and Tiffany. And H&M and Topshop.

The Abraj al Bait Mall — one of the largest in Saudi Arabia, outfitted with flat-panel monitors with advertisements and announcements, neon lights, an amusement park ride, fast-food restaurants and a lingerie shop — has been built directly across from Islam’s holiest site.

Not everyone considers this progress.

“Mecca is becoming like Las Vegas, and that is a disaster,” said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, a Saudi opposition research organization. “It will have a disastrous effect on Muslims because going to Mecca will have no feeling. There is no charm anymore. All you see is glass and cement.”

The mall, which opened a week before the annual pilgrimage, called the hajj, in December, is the first phase in a $13 billion construction boom in Mecca that promises to change how this city, forbidden to everyone but Muslims, looks and feels.

The Abraj al Bait housing and hotel complex, a 1.5-million-square-yard development that will include a towering hotel, has begun to redraw the skyline of this ancient religious city.

When the project is completed in 2009, it will include the seventh tallest building in the world, its developers say, with a hospital, hotels and prayer halls. A public-announcement system pipes in prayers from the Grand Mosque across the way, and worshipers can join the masses simply by opening their draperies.

In nearby Jabal Omar, an entire mountain is being flattened to make way for a huge hotel and high-rise complex. And elsewhere, cranes dot the skyline with up to 130 new high-rise towers planned for the area.

“This is the end of Mecca,” said Dr. Irfan Ahmed in London. He has formed the Islamic Heritage Foundation to try to preserve the Islamic history of Mecca, Medina, the second holiest city, and other important religious sites in Saudi Arabia. “Before, even in the days of the Ottomans, none of the buildings in Mecca towered higher than the Grand Mosque. Now these are much higher and more disrespectful.”

Money is certainly one of the motivators in the building boom. Every year, up to four million people descend on this city during the pilgrimage, while a stream continues to flow through here during the year, spending an average $2,000 to $3,000 to stay, eat and shop.

Billboards along the way to Mecca remind investors of the potential earnings from owning an apartment here; some claim a 25 percent return on investment. Advertisements on Arab satellite television channels remind viewers that “you, too, can have the opportunity to enjoy this blessed view.”

Muhammad al-Abboud, a real estate agent, recounts tales of Pakistani businessmen plunking down $15 million to buy several apartments at a time. Saudi princes own entire floors.

A three-bedroom apartment here runs about $3 million, Mr. Abboud said. One directly overlooking the Grand Mosque can reach $5 million.

Critics of the development complain that the result is gated communities where worshipers can separate themselves from the crowds, thereby violating the spirit of the hajj, where all stand equal before God.

“All of Mecca is a sanctuary,” Mr. Abboud said. “So how could something like this not be snapped up?” But some groups say the building boom also has religious motives. They accuse the archconservative Salafi, who hold great sway in Saudi Arabia, of seeking to eliminate historic spots, fearing that these sites would become objects of worship themselves.

Dr. Ahmed of London has cataloged the destruction of more than 300 separate antiquity sites, including cemeteries and mosques. He says the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived was razed and today a dilapidated library, with its windows and doors shuttered, stands in its place.

“It is not respecting the Kaaba, not respecting the house of God or the environment of the sanctuary,” Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who wants to preserve Mecca’s heritage, said of the development. “You are not supposed to even cut a tree in this city, so how could you blow up a mountain? The Islamic laws have been broken.”

Progress has exacted a heavy price in Mecca. More pilgrims than ever can come here, thanks to billions spent on tunnels and infrastructure to accommodate them. But in exchange, the city’s once famed night market, where pilgrims brought their wares to sell, is gone. The Meccan homes and buildings that filled the area near the mosque were demolished in the 1970s to enlarge the mosque. The neighborhoods and families who lived near the mosque and welcomed pilgrims have long since moved away.

Mecca has long been a commercial as well as a religious center, but increasingly global brands dominate here.

Mr. Angawi, the Saudi architect, has led a lonely campaign within the kingdom to bring attention to the destruction of the historic sites. Dr. Ahmed has worked to lobby Asian and Arab governments to press the Saudis to stop such demolitions. And Mr. Ahmed, in Washington, has built a database of the historic spots now destroyed. Many Muslims inside and outside Saudi Arabia have remained silent about the issues, they say, fearing the loss of financing from Saudi Arabia for religious institutions and projects.

Saudi officials say they have been painstakingly preserving the Islamic artifacts they find, and operate two small museums in Mecca. In all, they say, more than $19 billion has been spent on preserving the country’s Muslim heritage. They dismiss their critics as cranks who have no following.

Developers and real estate agents, meanwhile, say the construction makes room for even more Muslims to take part in the hajj, and therefore serves the greater good.

That suggests that the changes are far from over.

“Mecca has never been changed like it has now,” Mr. Angawi said. “What you see now is only 10 percent of what’s to come. What is coming is much, much worse.”

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Perang Dingin baru

Era Baru Hubungan Rusia-AS

"Rusia merancang untuk membelanjakan AS$189 bilion dalam tempoh lima tahun akan datang untuk pemodenan tentera. Rancangan ini diumumkan 8 Februari lalu oleh menteri pertahanan Ivanov. Program ini juga melibatkan kapal selam nuklear baru, pengebom-pengebom strategik supersonik TU-160, dan pembangunan pesawat pejuang generasi kelima. Tentu sekali rancangan ini bukan untuk memerangi teroris di Kaukasus tetapi untuk mengimbangi kuasa tentera AS."

Klik untuk artikel penuh.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Kristof Kempen Obama

From The New York Times, March 6, 2007

Obama: Man of the World

The conventional wisdom about Barack Obama is that he’s smart and charismatic but so inexperienced that we should feel jittery about him in the Oval Office.

But that view is myopic. In some respects, Mr. Obama is far more experienced than other presidential candidates.

His experience as an antipoverty organizer in Chicago, for example, gives him a deep grasp of a crucial 21st-century challenge — poverty in America — that almost all politicians lack. He says that grass-roots experience helps explain why he favors not only government spending programs, like early childhood education, but also cultural initiatives, like efforts to promote responsible fatherhood.

In foreign policy as well, Mr. Obama would bring to the White House an important experience that most other candidates lack: he has actually lived abroad. He spent four years as a child in Indonesia and attended schools in the Indonesian language, which he still speaks.

“I was a little Jakarta street kid,” he said in a wide-ranging interview in his office (excerpts are on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground). He once got in trouble for making faces during Koran study classes in his elementary school, but a president is less likely to stereotype Muslims as fanatics — and more likely to be aware of their nationalism — if he once studied the Koran with them.

Mr. Obama recalled the opening lines of the Arabic call to prayer, reciting them with a first-rate accent. In a remark that seemed delightfully uncalculated (it’ll give Alabama voters heart attacks), Mr. Obama described the call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”

Moreover, Mr. Obama’s own grandfather in Kenya was a Muslim. Mr. Obama never met his grandfather and says he isn’t sure if his grandfather’s two wives were simultaneous or consecutive, or even if he was Sunni or Shiite. (O.K., maybe Mr. Obama should just give up on Alabama.)

Our biggest mistake since World War II has been a lack of sensitivity to other people’s nationalism, from Vietnam to Iraq. Perhaps as a result of his background, Mr. Obama has been unusually sensitive to such issues and to the need to project respect rather than arrogance. He has consistently shown great instincts.

Mr. Obama’s visit to Africa last year hit just the right diplomatic notes. In Kenya, he warmly greeted the president — but denounced corruption and went out of his way to visit a bold newspaper that government agents had ransacked. In South Africa, he respectfully but firmly criticized the government’s unscientific bungling of the AIDS epidemic. In Chad, he visited Darfur refugees.

“My experience growing up in Indonesia or having family in small villages in Africa — I think it makes me much more mindful of the importance of issues like personal security or freedom from corruption,” he said, adding: “I’ve witnessed it in much more direct ways than I think the average American has witnessed it.”

As a senator, Mr. Obama has not only seized the issue of nuclear proliferation, but also the question of small arms. For a majority of the world’s inhabitants, those AK-47s and R.P.G.’s are the weapons of mass destruction.

So how would an Obama administration differ from the Bill Clinton presidency in foreign policy? One way, he said, would be a much greater emphasis on promoting education, health care and development in Africa and other poor regions — not just for humanitarian reasons, but also with an eye to national security.

“If we can’t take what, relative to our military hardware and defense budgets, are a pittance, and put some resources into these areas, we will not be secure,” he noted, adding: “The Marshall Plan was part of a security strategy; it wasn’t simply charity.”

Mr. Obama thumps the White House on trade and foreign investments, like the Dubai ports deal — but he isn’t demagogic in the way that too many Democrats have been. And three years ago, Mr. Obama was quoted in The Chicago Tribune as making hawkish comments about a military strike on Iran, but in the interview he pirouetted and noted that one of the lessons of Iraq is that “being trigger-happy ... is a recipe for disaster.” That’s a welcome sign of growth.

So, granted, Mr. Obama lacks the extensive experience at top levels of diplomacy of, say, Dick Cheney or ... oh, never mind.

What sets Mr. Obama apart is the way his training has been at the grass-roots rather than in the treetops. And that may be the richest kind of background of all, yielding not just experience, but also wisdom.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

TV Rules

Senator John McCain of Arizona announced his decision to run for president in The Late Show With David Letterman. The list of politicians announcing their candidacy in talk shows seems inevitably to grow. Arnold Shcwarzenegger, now governor of California, announced that he was running for the governor of California in Jay Leno's show, in California.

But McCain will have to compete with other more TV-friendly candidates, like Hillary Clinton, who carries the Clinton brand. Bill Clinton was dubbed the most photogenic president in the era of television.

In today's era of television, where pop appeal matters, the road to the White House no longer goes through only Larry King.

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Menangani Kebangkitan China

Naib presiden Amerika Syarikat, Dick Cheney dalam lawatan ke Australia baru-baru ini mengemukakan kebimbangan terhadap peningkatan keupayaan ketenteraan China, kuasa Asia yang sedang aktif mengukuhkan kedudukan di persada antarabangsa.

Dalam ucapannya di Sydney, Cheney berkata, “Ujian antisatelit bulan lalu, peningkatan keupayaan tentera China yang pantas, tidak konstruktif dan tidak konsisten dengan matlamat China seperti yang didakwa, iaitu ‘kebangkitan aman.’ “

Ucapan itu, yang dibuat dalam rangka lawatan ke Australia dan Jepun bukan sekadar ucapan biasa sekutu kuat ketika lawatan rasmi. Penegasan Cheney itu ialah ucapan terima kasih terhadap sokongan Australia dalam “perang menentang keganasan” dan juga untuk mengukuhkan pakatan dengan Canberra dan Tokyo bagi menangani kebangkitan China.

Pemimpin Australia dengan Jepun juga bakal mengadakan pertemuan bulan depan dalam usaha mengukuhkan pakatan kedua-dua negara bagi mengimbangi China.

Australia dan Jepun ialah dua negara yang akan menerima kesan langsung daripada peningkatan kuasa China dan dua negara yang mampu bekerjasama dengan Washington untuk menangani kebangkitan China.

Kedua-dua Canberra dan Tokyo sedar mereka perlu bergantung pada persahabatan dan sokongan AS untuk menangani apa yang dilihat sebagai ancaman dari rantau Asia Pasifik. Kedua-dua negara melihat ancaman sekeliling semakin meningkat.

Jepun bimbang dengan peningkatan keupayaan tentera China, sekaligus pengaruhnya di Asia Timur, manakala Australia, selain bimbang dengan peningkatan China, juga melihat Indonesia dengan penuh syak sebagai tempat subur bagi gerakan radikal seperti Jamaah Islamiyyah.

Hubungan dingin Jepun dengan China menjadi satu faktor merapatkan Tokyo dengan Washington. Dengan meningkatkan prospek dominasi China di Asia Timur, Tokyo akan lebih melihat ke Barat untuk sokongan.

Australia pula, di bawah pemerintahan Perdana Menteri John Howard telah menegaskan kedudukannya sebagai “timbalan sherif” kepada AS. Disebabkan kedudukan sejarah Australia sebagai sekutu Barat dan jurang budaya Australia dengan Asia, kiblat politik Canberra juga akan kekal di Barat, tidak kira parti mana yang memerintah Australia.

Kedua-dua Australia dan Jepun ialah sekutu penting AS di Asia Timur. Dalam Sidang Kemuncak Asia Timur di Kuala Lumpur akhir 2005, peranan kedua-dua pihak mengimbangi pengaruh China dapat diperhatikan dengan jelas.

Australia berperanan sebagai pengimbang di rantau Asia Pasifik bagi pihak AS. Konflik global seperti Perang Dunia ke-2 telah memperlihatkan peranan Australia kepada kuasa Barat.

Kini, dengan kebangkitan China dan juga India di Asia, Australia sekali lagi diperlukan untuk berperanan sebagai pengimbang. Sebagai negara yang paling maju kelengkapan tentera di Asia Pasifik, kepentingan Australia tidak dapat diketepikan.

Kedua-dua China dan India sedang meningkatkan kuasa tentera laut dan Australia diperlukan untuk berperanan sebagai sekutu yang boleh diharapkan oleh AS. Sekiranya sebarang konflik bersenjata tercetus di Asia Timur, Australia akan dikehendaki berperanan lebih besar.

Australia juga semakin berasa bimbang dengan perkembangan ekoran tercetusnya “perang menentang terorisme” dan penglibatan dan sokongan kuatnya untuk tindakan ketenteraan AS di Iraq. Tragedi di Bali, Indonesia pada 2002 dan beberapa pengeboman lain dikaitkan dengan penglibatan Australia dalam perang yang dilancarkan AS.

Australia berjiran dengan Indonesia, negara yang pernah bermusuh dengannya dan kini dilihat sebagai mendatangkan ancaman baru kepada keselamatan Australia. Kedua-dua jiran ini juga bersaing dalam merebut sumber galian di kawasan berhampiran.

Realiti ini menyebabkan Australia merasakan ia dikepung oleh Indonesia dan China, negara besar yang kepentingannya tidak selari dengan kepentingan Barat dalam banyak hal.

Disebabkan kedudukan India yang agak berkecuali – tidak sepenuhnya bersama AS tetapi tidak mempunyai hubungan rapat dengan China – perhatian Canberra terhadap India tidak sehebat kebimbangan terhadap China, walaupun kedua-dua sedang membina kekuatan tentera laut (blue water navy).

Bagaimanapun, hala tuju hubungan Delhi dengan Washington masih belum benar-benar jelas dan ini juga akan memberi kesan kepada sikap Canberra terhadap kebangkitan India.

Australia juga perlu mengimbangi pakatannya dengan AS kerana ia turut mempunyai hubungan ekonomi yang kuat dengan China.

Australia mungkin sukar untuk mewujudkan hubungan yang lebih baik dengan negara-negara Asia lain ekoran sikapnya yang mencabar kesabaran jirannya, seperti mengutarakan kemungkinan serangan preemtif terhadap kumpulan teroris di negara jiran. Ini dinyatakan Howard, mengundang kritikan keras negara jirannya.

Kepentingan Australia, melibatkan sumber minyak dan gas dan saingan dengan Indonesia dan China memerlukan sokongan Washington.

Australia, seperti juga Jepun, juga salah sebuah negara sekutu yang terlibat dengan sistem pertahanan peluru berpandu yang diusahakan dengan hebat oleh pentadbiran Presiden George W Bush.

Selari dengan kebangkitan China, Jepun semakin bergerak ke arah konservatisme. Sejak Perdana Menteri Shinzo Abe memegang jawatan, hala tuju Jepun ke arah tentera yang lebih bebas dan lebih berkeupayaan telah dapat dilihat dengan jelas. Abe turut menegaskan hubungan baik dengan AS.

Ketika Cheney melawat Tokyo baru-baru ini, antara agenda yang dibincangkan ialah meluaskan penyelarasan tentera AS dengan Jepun.

Jepun mempunyai belanja ketenteraan yang tinggi, melebihi AS$40 bilion setahun, walaupun peranan tentera Jepun masih kecil. Antara hasrat Abe ialah meminda perlembagaan negara ini untuk memberi peranan lebih besar kepada pasukan tenteranya.

Abe telah pun menaikkan taraf tentera Jepun dengan meletakkannya di tahap kementerian kabinet awal Januari lalu. Agensi Pertahanan Jepun kini dikenali sebagai Kementerian Pertahanan dan jawatan penasihat keselamatan negara dalam kabinet Jepun diwujudkan Abe.

Walaupun mendapat tentangan hebat rakyat Jepun, Tokyo berkeras dengan pendirian mengekalkan malah meningkatkan kehadiran tentera AS di pangkalan Jepun.

Sebuah pangkalan udara di Hiroshima sedang dinaiktaraf dengan belanja sebanyak AS$1.9 bilion. AS akan meningkatkan kehadiran tentera udaranya di pangkalan ini.

Baru-baru ini, Jepun melancarkan satelit pengintipnya yang keempat, tidak lama selepas China menjalankan ujian senjata antisatelit. Keupayaan perisikan Jepun ini membimbangkan musuhnya China.

Jepun telah membuktikan peranannya sebagai sekutu yang boleh diharapkan oleh AS. Tokyo telah memberikan sumbangan kewangan dan mengerahkan anggota tentera ke medan konflik sejak perang Iraq pertama.

Dalam ketegangan dengan Korea Utara, Jepun juga mendahului negara lain. Kini Jepun masih lagi berperanan aktif dalam memastikan Pyongyang menghentikan ujian senjata nuklearnya.

Ini dilakukan untuk mengekalkan kedudukannya sebagai sebuah negara berpengaruh di Asia Timur. Tambahan pula Pyongyang mendapat sokongan China, walaupun dalam kes nuklear Korea Utara, sokongan itu agak terhad.

Dalam mencorakkan komuniti Asia Timur masa depan, Jepun juga memainkan peranan agresif dan bersaing dengan China, musuh sejarahnya. Persaingan kedua-dua kuasa Asia ini terzahir dengan terang sekali menjelang Sidang Kemuncak Asia Timur pertama pada Disember 2005.

Seperti juga Australia, Jepun bimbang dengan jirannya yang lebih besar dan sentiasa mencabar. Jepun juga memerhatikan usaha China mendapatkan sumber tenaga secara agresif di seluruh dunia.

Jepun yang mengimport 80% sumber minyaknya kini sedang berusaha mengukuhkan kehadiran dalam industri minyak Asia Tengah, kawasan yang lebih dekat dengan China, secara fizikal dan juga politik.

Usaha Jepun mengejar sumber tenaga juga memerlukan sokongan AS, selain hubungan baik dengan Rusia, sebuah lagi negara sumber minyaknya. Contohnya dalam projek saluran minyak Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan yang melibatkan syarikat minyak Jepun.

Dalam perebutan sumber tenaga dan persaingan membina saluran yang selari dengan kepentingan masing-masing di sekitar Asia Tengah dan Kaukasus, saingan antara AS, Rusia dan China juga berlangsung dengan hebat. Jepun perlu memilih pihak yang boleh memenuhi kepentingannya.

China mengukuhkan pengaruhnya di Asia Timur ketika AS terlibat dengan perangnya di Afghanistan dan Iraq. Kini, ketika China semakin menegaskan pengaruhnya di seluruh dunia hingga ke Afrika, AS mengukuhkan semula pakatanya dengan Australia dan Jepun.

Ucapan Cheney di Australia ialah usaha mengukuhkan pakatan dengan timbalan sherifnya Australia dan seteru kuat China, Jepun, sebagai usaha menegaskan kembali pengaruh AS di Asia Timur.

Waktu ini, ketika cabaran terhadap kepentingan AS semakin meningkat, bukan sahaja daripada China tetapi juga negara lain yang mempunyai hubungan baik dengan China, pengukuhan pakatan AS-Australia-Jepun ini menjadi lebih kritikal.

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