Monday, September 24, 2007

Our "friend" Ahmedinejad

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, president of Iran, is well known for his radical anti-western ideas. Who could forget:
  • His constant denials of the holocaust of Jewish people in Europe during World War II?
  • His invitations to the world to "wipe Israel off the map"?
  • His nuclear program for "civilian purposes"?
  • His measures to purify the Persian culture from western influences, banning western music and eliminating any foreign word from the Persian vocabulary?
It may be hard to believe, but there is a person who can easily forget about all those comments and ideas... and such person is, of course, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad himself. Or, at least, he can pretend that he never thought about his radical ideas according to the situation and his interests.

Ahmedinejad visited recently the United States to give a conference at Columbia University, an event highly criticized and protested against by several student societies and organizations. The ideas given on his speech could not be more risible and hypocritical. Some of the highlights he touched upon were the following (my comments in red):
  • His regime does not support terrorism (let's not forget about Hezbollah and Hamas, among others).
  • The conflicts in Middle East need to be addressed through dialogue (which is true, but his regime has not particularly supported that option in the facts. He rather invites leaders to "wipe Israel off the map").
  • Most of the world believes that Iran's nuclear program has a civilian purpose (Do you know any person, apart from Ahmedinejad and his friends, who buys this argument? I don't).
  • Iran's foreign policy is all about security and peace for the world (by providing weapons to kill US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq).
  • There is no homosexuality in Iran (there is, but it's banned and severely punished).
Logically, Ahmedinejad's points caused some laughs to the audience. He went to Columbia to demonstrate his talent to lie and to change his speeches and ideas as he considers appropriate. His goal was probably to show himself as a centered, caring and friendly leader to people in the US to gain some international support and to clean his own (and his regime's) highly rusted reputation in the western hemisphere. But the damage and the danger that he has set to Iran and the world will take much more than that to be repaired.

Click here for more information about Ahmedinejad's speech at Columbia University
Photo by AP

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A bit of justice after the Khmer Rouge?

Happily for people in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge Party's rule is not a way of life for them anymore. Still, the scars caused by such movement are fresh in the minds of people in that nation, and for those who survived it, there is a good reason to be happy today: Nuon Chea (also known as Long Reth), one of the highest leaders of the movement, was arrested and will be tried soon for crimes against humanity.

The Khmer Rouge regime was one of the most ruthless, barbaric, criminal and inhuman political systems that mankind has ever seen. Such regime was controlled by a small posse of leaders, from which Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot (picture on the left), was the effective leader. The idea of the Khmer Rouge was to turn Cambodia into a "true" communist state (more or less in the same way that currently happens in North Korea, but worse). After reaching power in Cambodia in 1975, the regime changed the name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea, and took a series of extreme measures to successfully introduce their pure communism: Abolition of the currency, relocation of people from urban areas to rural communal farms, expropriation of private assets, isolation of the country from international influence and prohibition of religions were only some of the regulations. Obviously, as any other regime of its type, the Khmer Rouge did not tolerate any critics for their movement, thus students, intellectuals and ideologists were seen as enemies of the State.

Although the Khmer Rouge's rule lasted until 1979 (roughly four years), the results of their obscene regime were catastrophic and humiliating. Millions of men, women, children and elders, mostly intellectuals, monks, and individuals related to former governments, were killed in the numerous prison camps that operated in Democratic Kampuchea. The most remarkable camp was Tuol Sleng (also known as S-21), which serves today as a museum of the Cambodian holocaust.

The regime was forced out of power in 1979 by the Vietnamese army, who found in the Khmer Rouge a threat for their own national security and interests. Although the Khmer Rouge leaders tried to regain power through guerrilla, they failed and the Democratic Kampuchea was restored once again as the Kingdom of Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge was officially dissolved by its leader, Pol Pot, in 1996. Surprisingly, only a few leaders were arrested afterwards. Here's what happened to some of the most important figures of the Khmer Rouge:

  • Pol Pot died in 1998 and was never apprehended.
  • Chhit Choeun (better known as Ta Mok), another top leader of the Khmer Rouge, was arrested in 1999 and died in 2006 while waiting to be tried.
  • Ieng Sary, one of Pol Pot's closest collaborators, was officially pardoned by king Norodom Sihanouk in 1996 (thus he enjoys immunity). He currently lives happily and free in Cambodia.
  • Khang Khek Leu (also known as Duch), believed to be the individual that ran Tuol Sleng, was arrested and tried in 1999, after several years of hiding in Cambodia, Thailand and China, and changing his name a few times. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and is currently imprisoned.
  • Khieu Samphan, a tenacious defender of Pol Pot and loyal supporter of such individual, surrendered to the Cambodian government in 1998 after the dissolution of the Khmer Rouge. However, he enjoys retirement now and lives as a free person in Cambodia.
  • Son Sen was murdered along with other members of his family in 1997 by orders of Pol Pot.
Nuon Chea (right), often referred to as "Brother number 2" within the Khmer Rouge elite, enjoyed a free, happy, peaceful and modest life in Cambodia after Prime Minister Hun Sen (a Khmer Rouge defector) gave up any prosecution against him in 1998. A considerable amount of Cambodians, as well as the international community, were concerned about Hun Sen's passive attitude towards Nuon Chea. It took 9 years, until today, that Hun Sen's government changed their passive attitude and decided to arrest Nuon, aged 82, and charge him with crimes against humanity. Many people see this as a step closer to justice for the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, although people do not fully trust the Cambodian judicial system. However, at least Nuon Chea is not a free individual now, which is a step closer to punishment for the atrocities in which he participated between 1975 and 1979. Probably, the survivors of the Cambodian massacre would like to see Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan following the same fate as Nuon Chea.

More information about the Khmer Rouge regime here.
More information about Nuon Chea's apprehension here.

Nuon Chea's photo by AP

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The cheating New England Patriots

As a fan of the Buffalo Bills, I want to start this post by wishing Kevin Everett a full recovery. Kevin, a reserve tight end for the Bills, got a serious cervical spine injury last weekend, during the game against the Denver Broncos. Such injury was described as "potentially lethal and grave" by the Bills' doctors, and it is feared that Kevin won't be able to walk again. I sincerely hope it is not the case, and once again, I wish him a full recovery from this injury.

In the league spectrum, as a Bills fan it is also normal to feel some sort of dislike for the New England Patriots. After all, they're divisional rivals of Buffalo, and definitely the rival to beat by the rest of the division during the last few years. Another divisional rival of the Pats are the New York Jets, team which apparently was able to discover part of the suspicious and dark power that has been used lately by the Patriots to achieve success. They discovered that the Patriots had a cameraman who aimed his camera at the Jets' defensive coaches that were sending signals to their players in the field. This kind of practices, of course, are against the NFL's rules.

The camera was confiscated to the cameraman and it was send along with its recordings for investigation to the NFL. After investigating the incident and the evidence, the league determined that New England indeed violated the rules (or, said in different terms, they did cheat!). Now the team will face a punishment that is still to be determined by the NFL, but potential measures are ranging from suspensions to fines. Surprisingly, a member of the league's competition committee who asked not to be identified confirmed that prior similar incidents were recorded for the Patriots, which means that the Patriots could have been cheating for some time now.

A very shameful situation for the coach Bill Bellichick (picture on the right) and his staff. The NFL is looking forward to talk face to face with Bellichick before deciding for a penalty, but if the Patriots have cheated, it'll be well deserved for them to be punished. After all, the game is also about ethics and fair-play, and every player should demonstrate their best on the field under the same rules and conditions.

More information about the Pats' case here.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Voting: With or without niqab?

One thing that could hardly be denied about Canada is the fact that it is a very tolerant country. I would almost cite it as an exemplary place, although it is true that in some specific towns around Canada, such exemplary behavior is not necessarily followed. However, the record is reasonably clean, and people with thousands of different cultural backgrounds and beliefs live all across the country and tolerate one another.

In recent days, there has been an interesting political issue related to tolerance to multiculturalism and its boundary with civil obligations: Should Muslim women voters show their faces by removing their niqabs or burkas (sort of veils that cover their faces) to allow full identification?. It is a dilemma that has awakened a big controversy, especially among the electoral authorities, the Canadian Parliament and the Prime Minister.

Elections Canada, the main electoral authority in the country, released last week a policy in which they considered that women wearing niqabs or burkas and not showing their face should be allowed to vote. Such policy contravenes a law passed by the Parliament a few months ago, which requires all voters to identify themselves, thus demanding Muslim women to remove their veils exclusively to vote. However, Elections Canada defends its policy by adding that they will require Muslim women wearing niqabs to show two government-issued ID pieces at the voting booth, or to bring along another voter who confirms their identity.

Elections Canada's safety measures do not seem to satisfy the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who expressed his disagreement with the electoral organization. The Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois, opposition parties in Canada, have spoken against Elections Canada's idea. Even Muslim leaders have allegedly said that removing the niqabs or burkas for identification at the voting booths would not be a big deal (although, interestingly, Muslim women have apparently not issued any opinion about the discussion). Only one party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), has shown a neutral attitude towards the case. Elections Canada, however, seems to be a bit reluctant to pull their policy back, and the Prime Minister appears to be eager to dispute that issue in the Parliament.

I must agree with the Prime Minister and the rest of political players that have shown their concern about Elections Canada's policy. To ask Muslim women to remove their burkas or niqabs before voting should not harm the cultural sensitiveness that prides the country, it is only a safety measure to make sure that the voter is precisely the person who claims to be, so her right to vote can be fully respected and protected. That way, the possibilities of fraud or unlawful voting are minimized.

With so much opposition to the policy, it looks unlikely that Elections Canada can successfully implement their plan, but they will fight to settle it down. Nevertheless, their intentions might be doomed to failure.