Monday, February 28, 2011

Iran Is Closer To Imploding

Although Iran is an Islamic dictatorship that controls its news, certain things are leaking out. The revolts in the Arab world are making them very nervous.

• Disloyal Opposition. The opposition leaders during the disputed 2009 presidential election did not mean to undo the Islamic Revolution. The millions who voted for the opposition just wanted a better and less pious president. However, after the government set goons on the peaceful demonstrators in the streets, the world witnessed a major gulf between the opposition and the power elites. The opposition was beginning to look like a revolution against the “Islamic” part of the Islamic Revolution, and was brutally put down by the government.

Now, Tehran’s chief prosecutor has announced that no opposition leader may leave the country—and they may all be put on trial for criminal sedition. The majority of opposition figures and people arrested in the streets have been charged with being “mohareb,” or fighting against God.” Was the god they were fighting against Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollah?

• Islamic or Military Dictatorship? For quite a while, President Ahmadinejad was the fair-haired boy of the clerics—especially Supreme Ayatolla Khamenei, who declared the election results before anyone had even counted votes. But there are cracks in this relationship. There are credible rumors that the Ayatollah is an opium addict whose addiction has dimmed his mind; and there are even more credible rumors that Ahmadinejad has used state money to maintain a thuggish military force devoted to him. We could well see an openly fascist dictatorship emerging and it is difficult to know how much “Islamic” will be left in this revolutionary government.

• The Nuclear Project. The government has been putting out the word that all nuclear physicists from around the world are welcome to work in Iran. How would such hired guns know that they will not be targeted for assassination as quite a few others have been? And how do they know that they will not be held hostage if the government needs to find someone to blame for equipment failures? Russian technicians have already fled the country for that reason; the centrifuges do not work right. And somebody has let loose a complex computer virus against their nuclear program.

• No More Bread and Circuses. The Iranian government (mostly under Ahmadinejad’s initiative) has been buying off the poor with subsidies. Bread, gasoline, and heating fuels have been kept inexpensive through government largess. Now, as sanctions and mismanagement bite their budgets, they are cutting those subsidies. Fuel price increases affect everyone—none of whom may raise their own prices, which are state-controlled. Truck and taxi drivers and bread sellers are on strike. As people protest, the government sends out their paramilitary goons to beat up merchants who are “overcharging.” An Iranian winter with insufficient heating and cooking fuel and unaffordable (and badly refined) gasoline brought down the late Shah’s government 30 years ago. Does history repeat?

• Islamic Scholarship. The government is shutting down university humanities departments because western literature, history, and sociology are “un-Islamic.” However, they are inviting computer hackers (Wikileaks) to help them spy on their people and solve their computer worm problem.

• Culture Wars. All TV cooking shows have been cancelled except for those that teach Iranian cooking. Iranians should not eat “foreign cuisine.” No more Iron Chefs, alas.

• Islamic Human Rights. Iran’s most famous prizewinning filmmaker, Jafar Panahi, in prison for six years for “insulting the Islamic Republic,” is barred from making movies for 20 years. Two young American men are still in prison for supposedly crossing the Iranian border while hiking. A rash of arrests of “spies for the Zionists” and some 80 supposedly “hardline Christians” frighten the already alarmed religious minorities.

• Execution Binge. So far this year, more than 80 people (mostly Kurds) have been executed by hanging after bouts of torture. Fourteen other Kurdish activists are on death row. Life in Iran seems increasingly desperate.

If the brave opposition out there in the streets can get the support of labor unions (particularly oil workers) and the merchants in the bazaar, they can take down this government.

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of How Do You Know That? Contact her at or

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Price of “Stability"

The current fretting in the media over how the events in the Middle East will affect "prices at the pump" is remarkably obtuse. Or rather: it is extremely clever in keeping us obtuse, for it gets the relationship between these issues precisely wrong. It deliberately keeps the focus on our own comforts and inalienable "way of life", when, in fact, it is those very things that lie at root of the region's turmoil.

The tens thousands of people who are now streaming into the streets to take back their countries -- and in many instances paying with their lives -- are doing so because they could no longer tolerate a system we in the West called “stability.” This “stability” was not in fact a viable model for human societies but was instead a mutually reinforcing system of ostensibly secure energy underwritten by massive Pentagon expenditures and military bases, as well as international diplomacy guided by an extremely narrow and alienating conception of what constitutes Israel’s best interests.

In the name of this “stability" we have propped up and funded some of the worst dictators in the world, outfitted them with advanced weapons and allowed them to repress their peoples in corrupt political regimes we ourselves would never tolerate. This “stability” may have brought us cheap gas and a semblance of security for Israel, but both were the most tenuous of illusions.

For the millions of people suffering under our despots, however, our “stability” was all too real. With their hopes and aspirations crushed by stagnant and corrupt economies, with all hope of change shackled in prisons and torture chambers along with dissidents and enemies of this “stability”, is it any wonder that so many people in the Middle East viewed our cynical diplomacy with mistrust or outright antipathy?

Who could have thought this could go on forever? Most in the West were quite happy to believe it would, even though its bloody and medieval glory betrayed every vestige of our so-called Western values. Our chimerical comforts have been paid for in blood, but since this currency was in the form of peoples whose cultures we couldn't he bothered to understand, we were content to keep it running as long as we could afford to drive our cars to amply-stocked shelves at Wal-Mart.

But it was intolerable, this “stability.” It was immoral and unsustainable, made possible only by the soothing lies we told ourselves about our civilization and its motives, justifying our refusal to peer further at the ugly machinations that made it all possible.

Now, however, the curtain has torn. We stand, dumbfounded at our impotence, as people across the Arab world tear away the cruel edifice that we built. Still, we cling to the notion that it will subside, that we will somehow manage to return to “stability”, and that the “high prices at the pump” will be temporary.

It is a remarkable moment. More than the fall of Communism, which only fuelled our triumphalism, the upheaval in the Middle East will prove significant because it will force a reckoning in the West. We will need to face the reality that our “stability” was bought with tyranny, while our own freedoms were paper-thin, defined essentially in terms of our ability to shop, rather than any real ability to guide our own destinies.

Clearly, the people of the Middle East desire the same things we have always wanted for ourselves: a moderate, just and democratic society. If we are to hold true to our values and show them to be of any worth at all, we in the West should finally step out of the way and let them have it. If so, what may emerge from these events will hopefully be a new narrative, one that will replace the “clash of civilizations” with partnership.

By Michael Dudley

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oneonta Sister City Celebrates 10th Anniversary in India

The Ninash Foundation is a 501© (3) charity that has been promoting literacy among the underprivileged children by opening schools in India since 1996. In 2000, Oneonta (NY) Mayor Kim Muller in cooperation with the Ninash Foundation signed a declaration proclaiming Oneonta (USA) and Dundlod (India) as sister cities.

Marking the 10th year anniversary of the Oneonta-Dundlod sister cities project, Ashok Malhotra, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy and Linda Drake, Director of Center for Social Responsibility and Community at SUNY Oneonta, just returned from their exciting trip to India. Their group consisted of six Oneontans and two faculty members from Belmont University, Nashville. They visited the Ninash Foundation’s six Indo-International Schools in India: an elementary and a high school in each of the three remote villages of Dundlod (Rajasthan), Mahapura (Rajasthan) and Kuran (Gujarat), which were built with the help of the participants of the SUNY Oneonta “Learn and Serve” program.

The group visited the first Indo-International School in Dundlod, which started in 1996 with 50 underprivileged children, has now grown to 550 students. Combining the celebrations of the 15th Anniversary of the school and the10th Anniversary of the sister cities project, the children performed music, dances and plays to entertain the guests from India and the USA. The celebration was further augmented by the news that 10 students from the Dundlod Indo-International School had completed their studies and were going to the college of their choice.

The Ninash Foundation, through the generous donations of individuals and organizations globally and locally, provided funds to the Dundlod High School to construct two new class rooms and an office. To provide the children the richness of the Indian and Western cultural heritage, one of the class rooms will be named as the Jack Finestone Music Room and the other as Hari Chand Chopra Culture Room. These rooms will be used for classes to provide music, stories and other cultural enrichment programs.

One of the side highlights of the trip was the giving away of 50 dairy goats to the poorest of poor people of Dundlod by Linda. This “joy of giving” was made possible by the kind-heartedness of the children and teachers of the Riverside Elementary School, Oneonta, New York, who participated in the “Kiss the Goat Project” during December, 2010 to raise money for 27 goats. The remaining funds for 23 goats were generously donated by the members of the Oneonta colleges and local community. During the past 5 years, as part of the sister cities project, children and teachers from the Oneonta City Schools District and the members of the Oneonta community have donated 153 goats to provide dairy products to at least 600 members of the Dundlod community. An un-matched feat of compassion and generosity that is a part of the Oneonta-Dundlod sister cities project since 2000!

The group started the New Year’s Eve by celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Ninash’s building of the second Indo-International School in Kuran, Gujarat, an area which was completely devastated by an earthquake in 2001. The Ninash group was greeted by the members of the village government, local community, teachers and 280 students, who entertained by performing dances, music and short skits in four different languages. The entertainment provided by the Indian and Western musicians was followed by a delightful fire display.

On the New Year’s Day, the group inaugurated a mobile library funded by the Ninash Foundation. They also dedicated a garden with flowering bushes and a tree in memory of Dr. Douglas Shrader, SUNY Oneonta Distinguished Teaching Professor, who had selflessly given time to be a voice over for the Ninash’s video, which helped raise funds in half a dozen countries. Similar memorial gardens are planned in the other Indo-International schools during this year.

The Ninash group also visited the third Indo-International Culture School in Mahapura where they were greeted with leis and flowers by more than 270 enthusiastic children and teachers. Since the school is moving towards becoming a high school, it highlighted its accomplishments by showing its four newly built rooms to accommodate classes up to the 9th grade, new toilets and an eco-friendly garden. In addition, it displayed stained glass art done by the two newly hired art teachers in the John Koller and Mimi Forman Artisan Wing. As part of preserving the culture of India, children entertained the group by presenting poems, plays, dances and music on topics ranging from India’s linguistic diversity and global warming to education as a human right. The inside and outside of every classroom was decorated with paintings and art work, which was a joy to behold. Along with the Ninash group, a number of Indian and foreign guests were invited to enjoy the entertainment presented by the children.

Ninash’s six Indo-International schools are dedicated to educating more than 1100 underprivileged (female and minority) children of India. The schools have been making a genuine economic and cultural impact in the three villages where they are located. They have become the hubs of educational and social change; a model for the rest of rural India. All this exciting progress has been made possible by the generous donations of individuals and organizations from all over the world. To continue this access to education and a future to these forgotten children of humanity, we need to raise $60,000 each year to provide the salaries and other recurring expenses of the six schools.

The Ninash Foundation has laid down its goal for the year 2011 to raise $250,000 to set up a trust fund. Please join the Ninash team and be a partner in promoting literacy among the underprivileged. Your gift to education is like the giving tree, which will keep giving for the generations to come. For information on how to donate, please visit the Ninash Foundation website.

By Dr. Ashok Malhotra, Founder, The Ninash Foundation

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Review: The Prince of Wales' "Harmony"

Reviewed by Michael Dudley

In this lavishly produced, beautifully illustrated but somewhat self-edifying book, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales argues that most of our global crises -- from climate change to poverty to our soulless built environments -- are owed to our disconnection from Nature (which he capitalizes).

According to the prince, our civilization's woes can be traced to the ideological dominance of modernism and scientific rationalism. In promoting a thoroughly mechanistic view of humanity and the world and demystifying nature, these beliefs led us to consider all plants, animals and minerals as mere economic commodities.

To the modernist worldview, writes the prince, the only valid measures are economic ones; happiness, and interpersonal relationships -- to say nothing of our bonds with nature -- count for nothing.

The alternative worldview, he argues, is evident all around us: Artistic traditions, esthetic geometries, designs in nature and historic architecture all reveal the harmonic balance within nature that has been almost completely forgotten in the West (aboriginal cultures aside).

Despite its subtitle, Harmony actually sets out a very old way of looking at the world, one in which we are physically and spiritually seen as a part of the natural world.

To demonstrate such harmony in action, Prince Charles and his co-authors describe how people everywhere are working at the margins to restore this lost balance. Through a return to traditional agricultural practices, dramatic reductions in consumption, technological innovations, a resurgent civil society and holistic economic approaches, individuals and organizations are showing how ecological harmony can promote a high quality of life.

Not incidentally, many of these innovations are those undertaken by the prince himself. Between his Foundation for the Built Environment, the Foundation for Integrated Health, the Accounting for Sustainability project, the School of Traditional Arts, various sustainable agriculture efforts and his Start campaign to promote more sustainable consumer choices, Prince Charles has achieved results few elected officials can match.

However, this involvement has not been without controversy. The prince has routinely come under fire in the British media for using his extraordinary position in this way, potentially undermining the monarchy's constitutionally neutral role.

These attacks likely go a long way towards explaining the somewhat defensive tone found throughout the book, as well as the author's insistence on unnecessarily prefacing his (far from original) eco-sophic musings with variations on "It is my belief that ..." as if he alone were the only one arguing for a return to ecological balance.

Indeed, the main problem with Harmony is that, while the prince isn't immodest about his contributions, he can't resist inserting himself at every opportunity. Not only are there enough pictures of the prince for Harmony to serve as a royal photo album (did he really need to be on the cover? Or posing with a squirrel?), he also gives almost no due to the writings of other notable contemporary ecologists such as Joanna Macy, David Orr, Bill McKibben or Vandana Shiva, to name but a few.

Despite his valuable message and inspiring examples, perhaps Prince Charles should have taken a cue from McKibben, who noted in his 1993 book The Age of Missing Information, that a genuine contemplation of nature reveals the profound extent to which the world "isn't about you."

Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World
By the Prince of Wales, with Tony Juniper and Ian Kelly
HarperCollins, 330 pages, $33

New Book: The Uniqueness of Western Civilization

ISCSC member Ricardo Duchesne has released a new book, entitled "The Uniqueness of Western Civilization." According to the publisher,

"This extensively researched book argues that the development of a libertarian culture was an indispensable component of the rise of the West. The roots of the West's superior intellectual and artistic creativity should be traced back to the aristocratic warlike culture of Indo-European speakers. Among the many fascinating topics discussed are: the ascendancy of multicultural historians and the degradation of European history; China's ecological endowments and imperial windfalls; military revolutions in Europe 1300-1800; the science and chivalry of Henry the Navigator; Judaism and its contribution to Western rationalism; the cultural richness of Max Weber versus the intellectual poverty of Pomeranz, Wong, Goldstone, Goody, and A.G. Frank; change without progress in the East; Hegel's Phenomenology of the [Western] Spirit; Nietzsche and the education of the Homeric Greeks; Kojeve's master-slave dialectic and the Western state of nature; Christian virtues and German aristocratic expansionism."

The publisher also provides access to the table of contents.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Can “Power to the People” Get Egyptians Democracy?

Reporters standing amidst the throngs in Independence Square in Cairo seem to be carried away by the excitement of this demonstration of popular will. I do not share their enthusiasm; I fear human beings in mobs. Nice, ordinary people can be transformed by group-think (and a handful of manipulators) into deadly and destructive monsters. It takes only moments to go from a peaceful demonstration to organized burning, looting, and murder. But so far, this “revolution” has been remarkably peaceful.

The Egyptians have much to be unhappy about. They have plummeted from the most important and most civilized modernizing Arab Muslim state a century ago to a grossly overpopulated country that cannot keep up with its needs. They have seen their aspirations to lead the rest of the Arab world into the modern secular world fail. Nobody seems to have a roadmap to a thriving and more egalitarian Egypt. They have tried monarchy, dictatorship, sham democracy, and the only other roadmap not yet tried is that offered by the Muslim Brotherhood-an organization that believes that ultimately, Sharia Law, not democracy, is the answer for Egypt.

So what are we seeing in the streets? We see very angry (and mostly male) faces, and hear group chanting of slogans that someone must have started before being picked up by the crowds. We see shoes held high and ready to throw (an Arab custom that harkens back to hails of slippers hurled by women in bordellos to mock an inadequate customer. Remember the shoes hurled at President Bush by an Iraqi reporter some years back?) It is the utmost symbol of scorn for another-and the shoes are being aimed at President Mubarak, whose offer to step down after a next election was not enough for the crowds.

We hear cries of “freedom, we want freedom” but what does this mean? Do the protesters want freedom from their authoritarian government? How about from their authoritarian fathers? Are the men shouting for freedom ready to give it to their wives and daughters too? How far do they want that freedom to go?

If Mubarak steps down right now, who then has the power to hold a government together until the next election is held? And how is that election to be managed? Are there candidates ready to run, and is there time for them to campaign so that the voters know who they are?

A parliament must change the constitution so that there can be new election rules. But will the crowds trust the parliament that is already there? Which comes first-an election for president or an election for a new parliament?

What these Arab revolutions need to recognize is that demonstrations are not enough. They need caretakers to manage the government until desirable changes can be effected. Haste can be the enemy here.

While we worry about the uncertainty of revolutions sweeping the Arab world right now, we might consider what we can learn from history. In 1848, Europe was swept by revolutionary fervor, led by France and then spreading everywhere. Europe's establishment governments (monarchies) put them down (amidst bloodshed and imprisonment of radicals) and the next round of changes did not come for decades. But changes did come-and have continued to come since then in the developed world. It is a gradual and slow process.

Prosperity does not come when population explosion cannot be stabilized and women not admitted to equality in the society. Real freedom means opportunity for all to learn, to participate, and to encourage values that promote honesty, respect for law, and an end to nepotism and corruption.

The US is condemned by many for not rushing in to support this Arab revolution. We are criticized for wanting democracy, and then when an election is held in Gaza and Islamists win, we do not support it.

We are not obliged to support an election that has given one man, one vote, one time.

By Laina Farhat-Holzman

Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, writer, lecturer, and author of a new book: How Do You Know That? A Guide to Critical Thinking About Global Issues. Contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.comor