Articles by Binoy Kampmark:
May 23, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It is an object study. Two men in a car, which is driven into another man. The attacked individual is then hacked to death by a meat cleaver or kitchen implement in broad daylight. There may be several instruments used. There are religious chants – or at least the sort popular opinion might expect. The individuals then ask bystanders to take photos and shots. This is their day. It should be preserved for history. Police then arrive and shoot the two men, one of them critically. Eyewitnesses claim that one of the individuals was carrying a firearm.
All of this has amounted to a “terror” attack. It took place in the south-east London area of Woolwich yesterday. Police were called to the scene of the incident on John Wilson Street at 2.20 p.m. But London has been witness to violent crimes before, as it will continue to be. The descriptions of this event have propelled an event of terrible violence into another category: one of terrorism. Yet hardly anything has actually been said to warrant the term. Then again, as Cicero claimed in his second oration against Verres, O tempora! O mores!
While the misuse of political terminology has become standard, tolerated fare in the twenty-four hour news cycle, it is worth looking at these unfolding events again to heed how terms of security can be misused. The “framing” of an event can have significant implications for policy. It doesn’t require the ponderings of cognitive linguist George Lakoff to remind us how effective those tactics can be. Don’t call it tax evasion. Call it tax minimisation. Don’t call it a criminal act – call it a “terrorist act” before all the facts are known. The agenda is dictated in advance.
May 20, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It has been a fiction that has held sway for a time. Mining booms create trickledown wealth. It is tagged as “sustainable” when it is premised on temporariness. Natural resources work for countries that possess them in abundance. Only on the periphery do we see the sense of foreboding that comes with these assets, be it the murder of such leaders as Patrice Lumumba in the Congo over fears that he might have handed over natural resources to the Soviets, or the fear of becoming a two speed economy, one dangerously reliant on commodity prices and extraction dues.
The latter is particularly relevant to the Australian context. Leaders like proclaiming the country as stable and untouched by the political fractiousness that tends to afflict other countries with similar pools of wealth. These scions of plunder are attempting to give lessons to other countries in the game, which is much like a thief teaching other thieves how best to open a safe in a sustainable, green way. This is the message at the Mining for Development Conference taking place in Sydney over May 20 and May 21.
The conference profile reads like a smooth document on dispute resolution and good governance, a manifesto of promise and environmental equilibrium. Mining, in short, is praiseworthy. It has had its problems, but the guests are keen to follow such standards as the EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative), the global standard for transparency of revenues from natural resources. And it has the blessings of AusAid, thereby surreptitiously linking aid to developing countries with a noble mining sector. If Coke would sponsor programs on nutrition, this is what it would look like.
May 13, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It has been hailed as the first conviction for genocide of a former head of state in his own country, and certainly the first of a former Latin American strongman. Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted by a Guatemalan court on Friday for his participation in crimes against the Mayans during his rule in 1982 and 1983. Montt’s sentences were steep: 50 years for genocide and 30 for crimes against humanity.
As ever with genocide, evidence of an intentioned plan to destroy a race had to be shown. The three-judge panel led by Yassmin Barrios was satisfied that the definition had been made out, finding that there had been a clear and systematic plan to exterminate the Ixil people. Prosecutors allege that up to 1,700 of the Ixil Maya were killed, in addition to torture, rape and the destruction of villages. The acts had occurred as part of a policy of clearing the countryside of Marxist guerrillas and sympathisers.
The heart of the defence by Ríos Montt was that, as a political leader, Montt could not be held accountable for military matters conducted in a rural province some few hours northwest of the Guatemalan capital. “I never authorised it, I never signed, I never proposed, I never ordered that race, ethnicity or religion to be attacked. I never did it!” In this, Montt was echoing the sentiments of the Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita, who was found constructively guilty for having not stopped the massacres that took place in the Philippines.
May 10, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
In one of St. Augustine’s observations (and there were many on the subject), the absence of morality among states would simply make them aggrandized bandits legitimised by rules of plunder. The Syrian conflict, with bloodied players both internal and external, is demonstrating this sad rule. Conventions heeding the consequences of force have been abandoned.
Foreign policy by the gun (and the bomb) is a gamble when initiated without direct provocation. Suggestion is enough. The attacks by Israel on Syrian targets ostensibly to stop disrupt missile shipments showed again how the moral dimensions of the conflict taking place is not merely murky but nigh obliterated. One might use an old expression Napoleon’s chief of police Joseph Fouché is said to have made on the execution of Louis Antoine, Duke of Enghien – this was worse than a crime, but a mistake.
For one thing, it has pushed the regime of Bashar al-Assad further into the eager and warming arms of Iran and Hezbollah. While the relationship is no secret, the titillation was hardly needed. In Assad’s words to Al-Akhbar daily on Thursday, he claimed that, “We have decided that we must advance toward them and turn into a resistance nation like Hezbollah [did in Lebanon], for the sake of Syria and future generations.” The new level of cooperation entailed that the regime would “give them everything.”
May 7, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
Giulio Andreotti was a creature of the Italian post-war scene, with its astonishing volatility and kaleidoscopic deals. Unlike his opponents, he proved astonishingly versatile. He seemingly occupied every notable position in Italian cabinets he could before his death at the age of 94. He was elected to parliament in 1946, and proved to be a masterful if ruthless architect in shaping Alcide de Gasperi’s Christian Democracy Party. During the Second World War, he proved busy cultivating the contacts among the Catholic establishment that would prove crucial in subsequent decades.
The odd feature of this behaviour was that he always seemed to exert influence from the shadows, a dealmaker who would, so went the popular depiction, been welcomed by the devil. He was prime minister seven times. He was minister of the interior, defense and foreign minister at stages. He was always stepping into the limelight.
Andreotti professionalised politics, making its pursuit inseparable from him as a being. He gravitated to power in the manner of lustful desire, a creature of heat who seemingly operated in the manner of that Italian expression that it is far better to have power than shag. (These are hardly mutually exclusive, but governing can have its distractions.)
May 2, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
“I think at this point they feel their only way out of Guantánamo is in a coffin.”
– Pardiss Kebriaei, Attorney with Centre for Constitutional Rights, May 1, 2013
Guantánamo’s resplendent carceral facilities remain a classic example of double realities, the co-existence of totemic impulses and the reflex of taboo. On the one hand, it has become an institutional reminder of the extensive, vague and indefinite “war” on terror, a foolish, reactive statement to calamity. On the other, it has assumed the most negative connotations, a rebuke to law, extra-legal subversions and a mockery of the legal system. To close it, however, would be deemed a violation. To keep it open similarly remains a violation of principle.
The Obama administration promised to close it but caved in under pressure from Congress and pro-camp advocates. As with so many matters, the power of the budget spoke volumes. Furthermore, these detainees, kept wrongfully in many instances without a tissue of evidence against their name, might well have a crack at the United States once they leave. Ever was there a disgruntled person made a criminal by a prison. Governments from other countries similarly balked – why should they receive such damaged cargo?
April 27, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
Frauds in time become historical artefacts, objects of their own worth. As projects, they may not have succeeded in attaining the brand of authenticity – but that hardly matters. Their authenticity is merely of a different sort – the fake as real, the fake as its own genuine worth. And so the fate of the Hitler Diaries, 62 volumes in all, which made such a splash in 1983 as being the actual record of a dictator’s life, have now become part of the historical record.
Earlier in the week, the forged Hitler diaries were rendered official documents of history – at least of a certain type, finding their way into the vaults of the German Federal Archives. As its president Michael Hollmann explained, “The fake Hitler diaries are documents of the past.”
Without any trace of irony, Hollmann claimed that the documents were “in good hands at the Federal Archives.” This in itself is astonishing to ponder – fake documents that themselves assume a historical role, readjusting the parameters of debate, generating their own standard of what is genuine. But of course, the point here is that Hitler is but the shadow of the entire affair, the ghost of laughter riding the image portrayed by Stuttgart dealer and hoaxer Konrad Kujau.
April 19, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It had to stutter and even fall at some point. The signs were already showing last Sunday when the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms announced it would withdraw support for the Manchin-Toomey bill. The argument of members was that the original bill had retained, among others, an amendment on rights restoration. The split in the pro-gun lobby camp was evidently not wide enough.
Crafted by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the bill would have insisted on background checks and made it more challenging for the mentally unfit to have access to various heavy weapons. It failed to get the supermajority needed to pass, stumbling because of a handful of Democrats and 40 Republicans. The defeat seemed to give the demonstrable middle finger to Americans who had agreed that the pile of corpses had risen high enough from gun shootings.
What proved astonishing in this debate was the mildness of the reform. There were no suggestions of massive prohibitions or confiscation. Limits were not excessive. The country would have still remain awash with murderous weapons. Even had it passed, the very assumption of having background checks is no guarantee of preventing killing. Faith in the reasonableness of one’s fellow human tends to be just that. As U.S. Senators often lack any faith except in occasional fits of moral outrage, the vote was always going to be difficult.
April 18, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
What an amusing bunch of radicals on the fringes of world civilization they can seem. But the politicians of the silver fern isles do tend to surprise, and shock, from time to time. Radical measures are embraced as an antidote to size. For being miniature on the global stage is no excuse not to be heard. And at stages, they have done a rather good job of doing it.
Noisier than ever, the decision to legalise gay marriage was taken with some fanfare. “In my view, marriage is a very personal thing between two individuals,” Prime Minister John Key observed. “And, in the end, this is part of the equality in modern-day New Zealand.”
Much of this move is centred about that word that never loses its nebulous form: love. This was certainly the point of the bill’s sponsor Louisa Wall. “In our society, the meaning of marriage is universal – it’s a declaration of love and commitment to a special person.”
April 13, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
Talk about the death penalty as it is employed by states has been bubbling away of late. The battle against life continues in terms of how states wish to punish those who do not comply with their promulgated order.
Transgressors, depending on perceived severity of offence, are still up for the chop (or the shot, electric or otherwise). Amnesty International has issued its latest list of bloody reading on the death penalty and which states continue to use it. Disturbing, some countries have decided to renew use in it.
Naturally, the world’s greatest indulger of freedom – the United States – figures alongside one of the deemed rogues of international order – Iran. Extremes meet on the equal plane of policing and punishment. Talk about civilisation and difference on such points is babble. When it comes to treating citizens and guests in a certain way, various governments have form.
April 8, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
Times are exciting, and terrifying, for the Malaysian electorate. The voters will be going to the polls to consider the prospects of uncertain change or a continued embrace of the status quo, which resembles a decaying carcass of ill-promise. There are no dates in the pipeline as yet.
No election in Malaysia is ordinary, even if the result has always been the same ruling party – Barisan Nasional joined to the hip with the Malay-dominated Umno. Theatre is inevitable. Corruption is mandatory, confirmed in such studies as the Bribe Payers Survey conducted by Transparent International, which found in 2012 that Malaysian companies were the most likely in the world of business to take a bribe. Second in the study was Mexico.
Promise is dangled only to be withdrawn, leaving a politically stunted electorate confused. It has always been the same story – the ruling national front coalition threatened at stages but never overturned. But things are changing, and the minders of the status quo are worried. The People’s Alliance, led by Anwar Ibrahim, hovers with menacing promise after garnering a third of the Parliament’s seats in the 2008 polls. “For the first time in the country since 1957,” observes academic Clive Kessler of the University of New South Wales, “the prime minister and his government are fighting for political survival, for their political lives.”
April 5, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
What happens to Australian delegations when they go overseas? They whimper, whine or fawn; they stumble into positions of prostrate foolishness. They resemble, as Malcolm Muggeridge described British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s meeting with the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev, Don Quixote mounting Rocinante, with Sancho Panza by his side. In this instance, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has several Panzas – the foreign minister Bob Carr, Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Financial Services Minister Bill Shorten. It is a true fools cast, and one fitting for a secondary power which is only relevant by the speed it digs up its resources and sends them to imperial powers, current and future.
A previous visit by the current prime minister went wrong. It seemed like an afterthought, clumsy, ill-executed. Her speech was appalling. As with her visit to the United States, the current leader of Australia is incapable of finding gravitas. She is, however, able to hit the hidden shallows. The latest is her insistence on pressuring China to “rein in” North Korea’s belligerent stance, a view that shows how ill-informed the Australian delegation is by the influence Beijing can exert over Pyongyang.
Aside from the usual blunders, Gillard’s press briefings have been slightly better, though the size of this Australian delegation comes across as overcompensation. The Australians want to make their small presence felt at the Boao Forum, a premier trade gathering that hasn’t previously figured too highly on the current government’s list of priorities. No high level representatives went last year.
April 2, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
As the Times of India reports, India started granting product patents on medicines in 2005 with one striking proviso. New forms or variations of known substances could not fall under the patent umbrella unless they exhibited “enhanced efficacy”, terminology which has troubled foreign pharmaceutical firms. Section 3(d) of the Indian patent law is the magic provision that distinguishes India from the United States and the European Union in approaches to how those patents are to be determined. It also allows, much to the worry of pharmaceutical giants, standing to public interest groups to object to the grant of a patent.
It is for that reason that the Swiss company Novartis was refused a patent for the beta-crystalline form of imatinib mesylate, a drug used in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). Novartis’ history with getting a patent in India on this drug is extensive, with an application for a patent filed as far back as 1998. After the passage of the legislation in 2005, the CPAA (Cancer Patients Aid Association) filed its opposition to the grant of a patent, citing the relatively high price Novartis was setting for its version of the drug (Glivec) at 130,000 rupees ($2400) a month against the considerably cheaper 8000 to 12000 rupees a month. The opposition did its trick, and Novartis’ patent application was refused by the Patent Office.
March 22, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It would be odd to find parallels between the Australian Labor Party’s behaviour during the week, one which saw a meandering and vain attempt at self-destruction, and a central European writer with a sense of the apocalyptic. But the parallels are there – the absurd situation, the words that mean little and the sheer arbitrariness.
Odder still is that this is a party in government presiding over a country that has seen 21 years of uninterrupted economic growth, with an unemployment rate of 5.4%. Australia is a nation bored by luxuries and governed by brats and prats. Its political classes are hollow. Its visionaries are permanent absentees.
March 15, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It is treated as a petulant child, the infelicitous member of the world community, and devoid of fidelity. Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post, struggling with his crystal ball gazing, tries to find the tempo the DPRK clicks to. He decides that Karl Marx’s remark about history repeating itself a second time as farce after tragedy requires a third phase: North Korea.
The assumptions, for there are only assumptions, are many. The decisions are not coming from the leader himself, the seemingly child-like steward Kim Jong-Un. No, that would be too much. As with previous ideologies of watching, be it with China, or with the Soviet Union, leaderships can be hostages to factions, to cliques, Mikado-like in their ceremonial impotence. The “experts” are, however, often the last to know.