It is the festive season for Fatwas

22 February 2006 |

LUCKNOW: Unusual causes have unusual effects. As a fallout of UP minister Yaqoob Qureshi's fatwa that he would pay Rs 51 crore for killing Danish cartoonist for caricaturing the Prophet, an unheard of body called the Hindu Law Board on Wednesday came up with a counter bounty.

It has offered Qureshi Rs 101 crore for slaying M F Husain, embroiled in a controversy over depictions of Saraswati and Bharat Mata and owners of an European distillery for using Durga illustrations to promote their wine.

Although no one knew about the existence of the Board until Wednesday, its president Ashok Pandey, an Allahabad High Court lawyer, claimed the body was 3,500-member strong and the decision was taken at a board meeting.

Of course, no one knows where the money will come from.

"Although gods and the Prophet are quite capable of punishing those who malign their image, the task could also be delegated to their devotees.

The minister is, therefore, very well within his right to demand the scalps of the offending cartoonists and the HPLB fully supports him," Pandey said.

But Qureshi, Pandey said in his caveat, "must not be selective and should also be prepared to avenge insult to pantheons of Hindu gods and goddesses as well."

He then announced a Rs 101 crore bounty on Qureshi and said if anyone else undertook the task, the payout would be Rs 51 crore.

Exhorting the Haji to pick up an AK-47, "the way Lord Ram wielded the bow and arrow to eliminate the evil king of Lanka," Pandey promised to make Qureshi a "true national hero, regardless of narrow confines of caste and communities."

A Vertex Hope


"The VX-950 pill recently drove the virus down to undetectable levels within 28 days in all 12 patients of a tiny clinical trial. Standard treatments typically clear the virus in only about half of patients after a full year of treatment.

Vertex plans to soon begin mid-stage trials involving more than 200 patients to verify the VX-950's impressive earlier effectiveness and its lack of side effects.

Boger said he is hopeful VX-950 in larger trials will also eliminate the virus in the lion's share of patients.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it was 90 plus (percent)," Boger said.

An estimated 4 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, which quietly attacks the liver for decades and is the leading cause of liver transplants."

However, if NM283 is approved so it could be used alongside the Vertex pill in a "cocktail" of therapies.

Later on Tuesday, Idenix Chief Executive Jean-Pierre Sommadossi said NM283 indeed would be a key component of hepatitis C cocktail therapy.

Sommadossi said it and a drug being developed by Roche are the only ones he knows of in clinical trials that block polymerase, a protein the virus requires to replicate.

By contrast, the Vertex drug and hepatitis C treatments being developed by other companies block another protein, known as protease.

In search of a Gandhi


The world badly needs a Gandhi. Nelson Mandela is not young anymore.
People are killing each other.
It is out of the fear that iof we don't kill - they will kill us.
There is something terribly wrong with the way people think these days.

When everyone wants to live in peace... why is it so difficult to get peace?

A caricature of decency


Should there be a line drawn? And who gets to draw the line...? For an argument there is a counter-argument... both sides have to be heard, before we make any conclusions.

Why are we killing each other? Why is hatred the most celebrated form of emotion these days? West and East are responsible for it - claiming only they have the right to live or better rule the world.

Here is one argument by the Editor who published the cartoons.

Why I Published Those Cartoons

By Flemming Rose
Sunday, February 19, 2006

"Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy."

Childish. Irresponsible. Hate speech. A provocation just for the sake of provocation. A PR stunt. Critics of 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad I decided to publish in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten have not minced their words. They say that freedom of expression does not imply an endorsement of insulting people's religious feelings, and besides, they add, the media censor themselves every day. So, please do not teach us a lesson about limitless freedom of speech.

I agree that the freedom to publish things doesn't mean you publish everything. Jyllands-Posten would not publish pornographic images or graphic details of dead bodies; swear words rarely make it into our pages. So we are not fundamentalists in our support for freedom of expression.

But the cartoon story is different.

Those examples have to do with exercising restraint because of ethical standards and taste; call it editing. By contrast, I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that we Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out. The idea wasn't to provoke gratuitously -- and we certainly didn't intend to trigger violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter.

At the end of September, a Danish standup comedian said in an interview with Jyllands-Posten that he had no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but he dared not do the same thing with the Koran.

This was the culmination of a series of disturbing instances of self-censorship. Last September, a Danish children's writer had trouble finding an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad. Three people turned down the job for fear of consequences. The person who finally accepted insisted on anonymity, which in my book is a form of self-censorship. European translators of a critical book about Islam also did not want their names to appear on the book cover beside the name of the author, a Somalia-born Dutch politician who has herself been in hiding.

Around the same time, the Tate gallery in London withdrew an installation by the avant-garde artist John Latham depicting the Koran, Bible and Talmud torn to pieces. The museum explained that it did not want to stir things up after the London bombings. (A few months earlier, to avoid offending Muslims, a museum in Goteborg, Sweden, had removed a painting with a sexual motif and a quotation from the Koran.)

Finally, at the end of September, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with a group of imams, one of whom called on the prime minister to interfere with the press in order to get more positive coverage of Islam.

So, over two weeks we witnessed a half-dozen cases of self-censorship, pitting freedom of speech against the fear of confronting issues about Islam. This was a legitimate news story to cover, and Jyllands-Posten decided to do it by adopting the well-known journalistic principle: Show, don't tell. I wrote to members of the association of Danish cartoonists asking them "to draw Muhammad as you see him." We certainly did not ask them to make fun of the prophet. Twelve out of 25 active members responded.

We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.

The cartoons do not in any way demonize or stereotype Muslims. In fact, they differ from one another both in the way they depict the prophet and in whom they target. One cartoon makes fun of Jyllands-Posten, portraying its cultural editors as a bunch of reactionary provocateurs. Another suggests that the children's writer who could not find an illustrator for his book went public just to get cheap publicity. A third puts the head of the anti-immigration Danish People's Party in a lineup, as if she is a suspected criminal.

One cartoon -- depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban -- has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name. The cartoon also plays into the fairy tale about Aladdin and the orange that fell into his turban and made his fortune. This suggests that the bomb comes from the outside world and is not an inherent characteristic of the prophet.

On occasion, Jyllands-Posten has refused to print satirical cartoons of Jesus, but not because it applies a double standard. In fact, the same cartoonist who drew the image of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban drew a cartoon with Jesus on the cross having dollar notes in his eyes and another with the star of David attached to a bomb fuse. There were, however, no embassy burnings or death threats when we published those.

Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.

This is exactly why Karl Popper, in his seminal work "The Open Society and Its Enemies," insisted that one should not be tolerant with the intolerant. Nowhere do so many religions coexist peacefully as in a democracy where freedom of expression is a fundamental right. In Saudi Arabia, you can get arrested for wearing a cross or having a Bible in your suitcase, while Muslims in secular Denmark can have their own mosques, cemeteries, schools, TV and radio stations.

I acknowledge that some people have been offended by the publication of the cartoons, and Jyllands-Posten has apologized for that. But we cannot apologize for our right to publish material, even offensive material. You cannot edit a newspaper if you are paralyzed by worries about every possible insult.

I am offended by things in the paper every day: transcripts of speeches by Osama bin Laden, photos from Abu Ghraib, people insisting that Israel should be erased from the face of the Earth, people saying the Holocaust never happened. But that does not mean that I would refrain from printing them as long as they fell within the limits of the law and of the newspaper's ethical code. That other editors would make different choices is the essence of pluralism.

As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders. That is what happened to human rights activists and writers such as Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, Boris Pasternak. The regime accused them of anti-Soviet propaganda, just as some Muslims are labeling 12 cartoons in a Danish newspaper anti-Islamic.

The lesson from the Cold War is: If you give in to totalitarian impulses once, new demands follow. The West prevailed in the Cold War because we stood by our fundamental values and did not appease totalitarian tyrants.

Since the Sept. 30 publication of the cartoons, we have had a constructive debate in Denmark and Europe about freedom of expression, freedom of religion and respect for immigrants and people's beliefs. Never before have so many Danish Muslims participated in a public dialogue -- in town hall meetings, letters to editors, opinion columns and debates on radio and TV. We have had no anti-Muslim riots, no Muslims fleeing the country and no Muslims committing violence. The radical imams who misinformed their counterparts in the Middle East about the situation for Muslims in Denmark have been marginalized. They no longer speak for the Muslim community in Denmark because moderate Muslims have had the courage to speak out against them.

In January, Jyllands-Posten ran three full pages of interviews and photos of moderate Muslims saying no to being represented by the imams. They insist that their faith is compatible with a modern secular democracy. A network of moderate Muslims committed to the constitution has been established, and the anti-immigration People's Party called on its members to differentiate between radical and moderate Muslims, i.e. between Muslims propagating sharia law and Muslims accepting the rule of secular law. The Muslim face of Denmark has changed, and it is becoming clear that this is not a debate between "them" and "us," but between those committed to democracy in Denmark and those who are not.

This is the sort of debate that Jyllands-Posten had hoped to generate when it chose to test the limits of self-censorship by calling on cartoonists to challenge a Muslim taboo. Did we achieve our purpose? Yes and no. Some of the spirited defenses of our freedom of expression have been inspiring. But tragic demonstrations throughout the Middle East and Asia were not what we anticipated, much less desired. Moreover, the newspaper has received 104 registered threats, 10 people have been arrested, cartoonists have been forced into hiding because of threats against their lives and Jyllands-Posten's headquarters have been evacuated several times due to bomb threats. This is hardly a climate for easing self-censorship.

Still, I think the cartoons now have a place in two separate narratives, one in Europe and one in the Middle East. In the words of the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the integration of Muslims into European societies has been sped up by 300 years due to the cartoons; perhaps we do not need to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again in Europe. The narrative in the Middle East is more complex, but that has very little to do with the cartoons.

Flemming Rose is the culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

The limits to free speech

Cartoon wars

Free speech should override religious sensitivities. And it is not just the property of the West

“I DISAGREE with what you say and even if you are threatened with death I will not defend very strongly your right to say it.” That, with apologies to Voltaire, seems to have been the initial pathetic response of some western governments to the republication by many European newspapers of several cartoons of Muhammad first published in a Danish newspaper in September. When the republished cartoons stirred Muslim violence across the world, Britain and America took fright. It was “unacceptable” to incite religious hatred by publishing such pictures, said America's State Department. Jack Straw, Britain's foreign secretary, called their publication unnecessary, insensitive, disrespectful and wrong.

Really? There is no question that these cartoons are offensive to many Muslims . They offend against a convention in Islam that the Prophet should not be depicted. And they offend because they can be read as equating Islam with terrorism: one cartoon has Muhammad with a bomb for his headgear. It is not a good idea for newspapers to insult people's religious or any other beliefs just for the sake of it. But that is and should be their own decision, not a decision for governments, clerics or other self-appointed arbiters of taste and responsibility. In a free country people should be free to publish whatever they want within the limits set by law.

No country permits completely free speech. Typically, it is limited by prohibitions against libel, defamation, obscenity, judicial or parliamentary privilege and what have you. In seven European countries it is illegal to say that Hitler did not murder millions of Jews. Britain still has a pretty dormant blasphemy law (the Christian God only) on its statute books. Drawing the line requires fine judgements by both lawmakers and juries. Britain, for example, has just jailed a notorious imam, Abu Hamza of London's Finsbury Park mosque, for using language a jury construed as solicitation to murder (see article). Last week, however, another British jury acquitted Nick Griffin, a notorious bigot who calls Islam “vicious and wicked”, on charges of stirring racial hatred.

In this newspaper's view, the fewer constraints that are placed on free speech the better. Limits designed to protect people (from libel and murder, for example) are easier to justify than those that aim in some way to control thinking (such as laws on blasphemy, obscenity and Holocaust-denial). Denying the Holocaust should certainly not be outlawed: far better to let those who deny well-documented facts expose themselves to ridicule than pose as martyrs. But the Muhammad cartoons were lawful in all the European countries where they were published. And when western newspapers lawfully publish words or pictures that cause offence—be they ever so unnecessary, insensitive or disrespectful—western governments should think very carefully before denouncing them.

Freedom of expression, including the freedom to poke fun at religion, is not just a hard-won human right but the defining freedom of liberal societies. When such a freedom comes under threat of violence, the job of governments should be to defend it without reservation. To their credit, many politicians in continental Europe have done just that. France's interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, said rather magnificently that he preferred “an excess of caricature to an excess of censorship”—though President Jacques Chirac later spoiled the effect by condemning the cartoons as a “manifest provocation”.

Shouldn't the right to free speech be tempered by a sense of responsibility? Of course. Most people do not go about insulting their fellows just because they have a right to. The media ought to show special sensitivity when the things they say might stir up hatred or hurt the feelings of vulnerable minorities. But sensitivity cannot always ordain silence. Protecting free expression will often require hurting the feelings of individuals or groups, even if this damages social harmony. The Muhammad cartoons may be such a case.

In Britain and America, few newspapers feel that their freedoms are at risk. But on the European mainland, some of the papers that published the cartoons say they did so precisely because their right to publish was being called into question. In the Netherlands two years ago a film maker was murdered for daring to criticise Islam. Danish journalists have received death threats. In a climate in which political correctness has morphed into fear of physical attack, showing solidarity may well be the responsible thing for a free press to do. And the decision, of course, must lie with the press, not governments.

It is no coincidence that the feeblest response to the outpouring of Muslim rage has come from Britain and America. Having sent their armies rampaging into the Muslim heartland, planting their flags in Afghanistan and Iraq and putting Saddam Hussein on trial, George Bush and Tony Blair have some making up to do with Muslims. Long before making a drama out of the Danish cartoons, a great many Muslims had come to equate the war on terrorism with a war against Islam. This is an equation Osama bin Laden and other enemies of the West would like very much to encourage and exploit. In circumstances in which embassies are being torched, isn't denouncing the cartoons the least the West can do to show its respect for Islam, and to stave off a much-feared clash of civilisations?

No. There are many things western countries could usefully say and do to ease relations with Islam, but shutting up their own newspapers is not one of them. People who feel that they are not free to give voice to their worries about terrorism, globalisation or the encroachment of new cultures or religions will not love their neighbours any better. If anything, the opposite is the case: people need to let off steam. And freedom of expression, remember, is not just a pillar of western democracy, as sacred in its own way as Muhammad is to pious Muslims. It is also a freedom that millions of Muslims have come to enjoy or to aspire to themselves. Ultimately, spreading and strengthening it may be one of the best hopes for avoiding the incomprehension that can lead civilisations into conflict.

Devils and Dust

20 February 2006 |

Got my finger on the trigger
But I don't know who to trust
I look into your eyes
There's just devils and dust

We're a long, long way from home Bob
Home's a long, long way from us
Feel the dirty winds blowin'
Devils and dust

I got God on my side
I'm just trying to survive
But if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love

Fear is a powerful thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God-filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust

Well I dreamed of you last night
In a field of blood and stone
Blood began to dry
And a smell began to rise

Well I dreamed of you last night Mom
In a field of mud and bone
And your blood began to dry
The smell began to rise

Got God on our side
We're just trying to survive
But if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love

Fear is a powerful thing
It'll turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God-filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust
It'll take your God-filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust

Now every woman and every man
They wanna take your right to stand
Find the love with God wills
The faith that He commands

I've got my finger on the trigger
Tonight faith just ain't enough
And I look inside my heart
There's just devils and dust

But I've got God on my side
And I'm just trying to survive
But if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love

Fear is a dangerous thing
It'll turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God-filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust
It'll take your God-filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust

- Springsteen

It is everything about the war in Iraq... I know America has a lot of good people, people who can think and feel.

Abu Ghraib and Salon


By continuing to publish documentation of the abuse, we hope to shed light on a chapter in American history that this administration has tried to keep in the shadows.

By Joan Walsh

Feb. 18, 2006 | In the wake of our publication Wednesday evening of photos from Abu Ghraib prison that had not previously been available to the public, Salon's readers have raised several issues that we'd like to address. The most important of these are: Why did we publish this material when we did? Was Salon somehow "sitting on" this material? And why didn't we publish everything we have?

We received a voluminous archive of Abu Ghraib materials a week before we published our story. With help from our news team, investigative reporter Mark Benjamin began the careful process of vetting what his source provided and determining what we had that was new and not simply duplicates or near-duplicates of images already available to the public.

This process took several days. As we were digging into the archive, the Australian television news show "Dateline" published its own Abu Ghraib file, with many, but not all, of the photos we were busy cataloging.

It's tough to be scooped, but it's tougher to live with the result of making bad judgment calls under the gun of a deadline. We accepted the risks posed by our choice not to rush to publish what we had without vetting and authenticating it, even after the Australian photos ran. We also realized we had two assets the excellent Australian report did not: some unique and disturbing photos of abuse, but maybe more important, documentation of what many of the photos depicted in the Army's own Criminal Investigation Command (CID) report -- information that allowed us to provide informative captions with our photos.

So we set out to create a photo portfolio that provided context for all the images shown. Our goal was to publish newsworthy images that hadn't been widely seen before, providing the best information that the CID investigation materials could offer.

In the end we published 18 photos. We ruled out photos that depicted horrific scenes that we couldn't be sure were the result of abuse -- while disturbing, certain subsets of images might be photos of people who arrived at the prison dead or injured, who were injured in the course of a battle and not during interrogation or torture.

We felt that the 18 photos we chose represented a cross section of the types of psychological and physical abuse known to have occurred at Abu Ghraib -- in particular, sexual humiliation. The photos depicted almost routine nudity, along with many instances of male prisoners with their faces covered by women's underwear, as well as arguably the most disturbing image of the group, the scene of an allegedly mentally deranged prisoner apparently sodomizing himself with an unidentified object.

For now, there are two criticisms we'd like to answer. One is the suggestion from some readers that we should put the entire archive on our Web site. Another is the provocative, though I think disingenuous, demand that if we're willing to inflame Muslim sentiment with this awful photo gallery, then we should have also hosted -- and should now immediately publish -- the Danish cartoons of Mohammed that spread riots and violence throughout Europe and the Muslim world.

Let's take the last argument first, since I was bludgeoned with it by Tucker Carlson on MSNBC's "The Situation" Thursday night -- and, more important, since some of our readers are asking the question sincerely. I'm enormously proud of our coverage of the Danish cartoon controversy. We were among the first U.S. news organizations to give it significant attention, and from our very first story, we linked to Web sites hosting the cartoons in question, as we typically do with samples of media that have come under fire.

We're not a newspaper; we're a creature of the Web, and the cartoons are easily accessible in our world. We linked early and often, we got criticism for even linking, and meanwhile we covered the story from every imaginable angle: an interview with passionate Dutch legislator and Muslim reformer Hirsi Ali, who defended the cartoons and insisted they be shown everywhere; a nuanced examination of the politics behind the Jyllands-Posten decision to run the cartoons, by a liberal Danish intellectual; a tough analysis by Juan Cole; reporting from the streets of Morocco.

Simply put, the cartoons are not being suppressed on the Web -- in fact, they're easy to find. Were they to disappear tomorrow thanks to some campaign or censorship, we'd have to seriously consider making them available on Salon, given their news value. For now, that's not the issue.

There's something essentially wrong about equating the Mohammed cartoons and the Abu Ghraib photos, anyway. The former are Op-Ed pieces commissioned by editors; the latter are images of actual events. We can and do condemn the hate and violence the cartoons provoked. But as Americans we are directly complicit in the violence that took place at a prison run by the American military. It is our story in a way that Danish cartoons can never be.

As Walter Shapiro argued so movingly in his piece explaining why we ran the photos, the point is not merely that Americans tortured these prisoners in our custody; the point is that our military personnel went to such great lengths to capture the humiliation on camera. It's a double violation, a double humiliation (and it's why we took care to obscure the identities of any victims whose faces were visible).

Abu Ghraib matters severely. It will go down in history as a terrible humiliation for our democracy, for our ideas about the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of conquering armies. For a brief scarring moment in 2004, just a few weeks really, we had a national crisis over Abu Ghraib. But after a short period of time, the pathologically secretive Bush administration announced the controversy was over, everyone was free to go back to what they were doing, there was nothing to look at here, move along.

A handful of low-level military personnel were indeed prosecuted; but the leaders of the prison and of the interrogation project never faced charges. And meanwhile, we learned from our leaders: Oh, by the way, there were many more photos, cataloged by the Pentagon and shared with some congressional leaders. But they weren't fit to be seen by the American public. So the government hid them away, and continues to do so -- despite losing in federal district court to a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights seeking release of the images.

But what about the argument that publishing more evidence of Abu Ghraib abuse simply incites further violence against American targets? As an American news organization, we do not believe we should make decisions about censoring discussion and debate of our government, and our military, based on fear of extreme Muslim reaction. As Federal District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein wrote in a decision in favor of the ACLU and CCR suit, rejecting administration arguments that the images would inflame terrorists: "Terrorists do not need pretexts for their barbarism."

Now Salon, we believe, has the archive the ACLU and CCR have sought. We face a series of decisions about what, if anything, further to do with it. We definitely intend to publish a significant amount of additional material in the near future. But we have also rejected the notion of a quick and dirty dump of the contents to the Web. Some significant portion of the documents we possess does not appear to relate at all to prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and we can see no public interest served by publishing it.

So sticking with the bar we established for ourselves earlier this week, we will, at minimum, continue to work with the photos -- brand new and already published -- for which we can find documentation in the CID report, those we know the Army already found were evidence of abuse and/or torture. There are several disturbing videos we will attempt to hold to the same standard. Our staff will continue its reporting efforts to determine the legal, political and journalistic implications of those images. We will work to provide accurate and useful captions for whatever we publish.

We know we'll publish more, but we don't know how much we'll publish, and we don't know exactly when. We may disappoint those who think we should post everything to the Web and let readers sort out their meaning. But to us, that seems an abdication of responsibility. If you come to the Abu Ghraib archive at Salon -- we have one, and it will grow -- you will have a sense of confidence that you understand the images and the stories behind them.

To people who say this should have been over in the spring of 2004, when CBS and the New Yorker first published disturbing images of torture, let me say, I agree. At that point, our government could have said, "Yes, we have many more of these disturbing photos, and here they are. Let's stare at them and feel grief and outrage and decide as a nation that this was a terrible breach of everything we stand for. Let's figure out the chain of command that led to this abuse. Let's go beyond punishing the low-level service members who participated. Let's uncover the institutional decisions that led to this depravity. Let's examine whether higher-ups imposed policies for aggressive interrogation that countenanced such appalling behavior."

Had the Pentagon and the White House done all that, maybe this would have been behind us almost two years ago. But of course, they didn't. This is an administration known for obsessive, scandalous secrecy; Abu Ghraib is just one point on a long continuum of cover-ups. As we create an Abu Ghraib archive, we will aim to shed light on what the administration has determined to keep dark. In giving the American electorate the information it needs, we'll try to provide some of the transparency our government has so sorely lacked.

We'll do our job with integrity and diligence. That, of course, takes time. So thanks for your patience and your trust.

-- By Joan Walsh

Where is our Anti-Virus?

15 February 2006 |

Hepatitis C: 170-200 million people infected
Hepatitis B: 350-400 million people infected
HIV: 40 million people infected
STD: 500 Million people infected

World population is at 6 billion
600 Million people have deadly hepatitis
Hepatitis B or C hits 1 in every ten people.
The odds get really bad when we add the HIV and STD cases into it.
1/5th of the world population has some disease that can be spread through sex!

Eau de Cologne vs Perfume

06 February 2006 |

So Lakshmi Mittal should pare his plans according to his ethnicity?

Priya Ramani

Priya Ramani When Lakshmi Niwas Mittal announced his 18.6 billion euro bid for King Kong-sized steel producer Arcelor last month, it apparently surprised even his dad Mohan. So it’s understandable that the French were a little taken aback.

But that still doesn’t excuse their hostile response. Arcelor’s Chief Executive Guy Dolle described the hostile bid as a ‘‘bit ridiculous’’, adding that European steel was like ‘‘perfume’’ and Mittal’s steel like ‘‘eau de cologne.’’ Ittar would have been a more accurate comparison, but then Dolle is clearly not a global citizen.

The French company’s board of directors said the offer spelt doom for its shareholders. In fact, Arcelor’s share price shot up by more than 30 per cent as markets took a call that the mega deal would go through despite the noisy opposition. Why, even the otherwise stagnant stock price of Germany’s second biggest steel-maker Salzgitter AG has been on the rise since the bid announcement. After all, mergers and acquisitions are muscle builders in any stock market, irrespective of who’s doing the buying. Analysts see the latest Mittal announcement as a signal of an exciting period of consolidation in the European steel industry.

The firm said any hostile takeover by the soft-spoken Mittal would also hurt its employees, the country and the memory of Louis XIV (Okay, I made that last one up but I’m sure you haven’t forgotten that Mittal’s daughter was married in his palace in 2004).

Unhappy French Finance Minister Thierry Breton went a step further. He said he wasn’t sure whether corporate governance systems and cultures of the world’s two biggest steel companies were even compatible (Translation: The French will certainly not say namaste or allow samosas in their canteen). Another ridiculous thing he said was that the bid lacked vision—now a Rajasthan-born tycoon who started out in a village without electricity, yet managed to reach a point where he could pick the 17th century Palace of Versailles as a wedding venue for his daughter and who believes he can create the world’s first 100 million-tonne plus steel producer may lack subtlety and taste, but he’s certainly not low on vision.

In fact, the same Breton who’s protesting about Mittal’s future plans for Arcelor was once a die-hard believer in aggressive cost cutting. That’s exactly how he rescued the French government-run Thomson Multimedia in the 1990s. Before he took over the company in 1997, the French even considered selling the ailing electronics firm to South Korea’s Daewoo for one franc.

Back in those days, Breton swore by concepts like reinvention. But now the dynamic, curly-haired man — who moved from CEO of French Telecom to finance minister — has a completely different opinion. He recently expressed ‘‘profound concern’’ that the hostile bid was launched without any preliminary discussion between the two parties. Not that Arcelor hasn’t been aware of Mittal’s intentions — Dolle himself claimed his company had been preparing to do battle with the Indian-born tycoon for almost a year. So on and so forth and more such racist hogwash.

Sunil Prasad, the secretary-general of the Brussels-based Europe India Chamber of Commerce (EICC), explained it slightly more diplomatically. ‘‘The hostile reaction of French and other European Union politicians against Mittal’s bid shows the economic immaturity of Europeans in the age of merger and acquisition as a part of the globalisation process,” he told a news agency.

But he’s being too polite.

Look at us. Are we making a fuss because multinationals, including Swiss biggie Holcim and French giant Lafarge, now control nearly a quarter of India’s cement production? I haven’t heard anyone around me complain about the smell of French cement.

This is the age of the global bidder and, whether the French like it or not, the New Tycoon doesn’t necessarily eat croissants for breakfast.

Indian companies are increasingly looking at global opportunities. We still have only one Mittal — after all, he’s the world’s third richest man after Bill Gates and Warren Buffet (my personal favourite) — but, on a smaller scale, there’s been a lot of recent action.

Indian companies have increasingly realised the cost benefits of going global—Videocon bought Thomson SA’s colour picture tube business in China, Poland and Mexico, Matrix Labs picked up Belgium’s DocPharma, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited acquired Teleglobe International Holdings (in fact, the Tata group was on a roll in 2005 with overseas deals totalling more than $650 million), Reliance Infocomm bought Flag Telecom, ONGC bought Texas-based Exxon Mobil’s 30 per cent share in some Brazilian oil fields... the list is longer than in any previous year.

Perhaps the French Flinch stems from that favourite European paranoia—outsourcing. The fear that Indians are answering all the phone calls of the developed world. After all, as Arcelor declared, even Japan was a better partner than India.

Of course, we’re as exclusionist as anyone. We go on tours that promise dal-chawal in Bulgaria, insist on carrying pickle (in leaky bottles) that immigration officers can smell a mile away and love building white marble temples in every global neighbourhood we inhabit. We have our own XL mix of racial and colonial hang-ups. No wonder the French are worried that the Mittals of India could change the way they live and work.

But that’s not the point. The French (or the Indians) can no longer get away with their stereotypical impressions of the way they think businesses should be run and their narrow images of who should be boss. These days, you never know which country the next CEO is coming from. And in a time like this, why on earth should a Lakshmi Mittal — whose European hub is spread across at least a dozen countries — have to prove that his steel smells as fragrant as the stuff they make in France?