Archive for the 'racism' Category

anti-racism, capitalism, colonialism, history, racism, society, travel

Happy Waitangi Day: The Shadow of a Land

Today is Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national holiday. This day in 1840 marked the beginning of the end of New Zealand as a Maori Polynesian island, and its takeover as an arm of the white British empire. So, obviously a big cause for celebration.

The Treaty of Waitangi is given various interpretations, and the official and popular position today is that Waitangi day celebrates New Zealand and emphasises unity between Polynesian Maori and Pakeha (white New Zealanders). Many Kiwis see it simply, I suspect, as “a nice day off”. But Waitangi day – and specifically the 1840 Treaty – have also historically attracted a great deal of protest. And not within due cause.
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capitalism, colonialism, history, Latin America, Panama, racism, society, travel, USA

The Panama Canal – the great globaliser

As part of my journey round the world, leaving the American continents and crossing the Pacific ocean I took a container ship, in order to minimise my personal carbon emissions, and because I thought it would be an interesting way to travel. The  ship passed through the Panama Canal and shortly afterwards I recorded this account of the history of the Canal, the effect it had on Panama throughout the 20th century, and its role in placing the world in the straight-jacket of economic globalisation.

capitalism, colonialism, history, Latin America, Panama, racism, slavery, society, travel

Independence Day

Panama City. Friday night. The old town, the Casco Viejo, the historical centre of the city. It is raining. In fact it’s pouring. The weather forecast shows 32 or 33 degrees with torrential thunderstorms for the next six days.

I sit in the white brightly-lit bandstand in the centre of the central square, the Plaza de la Independencia. This is where Panamá declared its “independence” from Colombia in 1903. At that time all of Panama City was contained within the Casco Viejo. Within a few years the Canal was creating a boom and the city expanded. Today this area is barely more than an urban slum with the trappings of past wealth, not alike the centre of Havana, Cuba. Tonight, the plaza is practically deserted.

My photo set “Panama City Contrasts” on flickr

Below, still guarding their jewellery stall in the twilight are two indigenous Kuna people, the woman immediately recognisable with her colourful blouse, gold piercings and naked tightly-beaded calves. Above in the bandstand with me squat two gringos around their laptops, taking advantage of the bandstand’s power outlets. I think they live in the large van I saw on the corner. Something tells me they’re running Linux. Two dogs join us, one belonging to the gringos. A middle-aged Panamanian asks the gringos what their dog is called. She misunderstands him and gives him her name. I think she is Australian. He is shaving his face, very slowly and without a mirror. He has two different razors, as if he fears one might not do the job. It is unclear to me whether he has any water, or soap. He picks slowly to remove hairs from the blade. I think he might be also charging his phone. I presume he has a home, but his shoes are held together with neat loops of string. For all I know everything he owns could be in the carrier bag beside him. Continue Reading »

capitalism, colonialism, history, Latin America, politics, racism, society, travel

Machu Picchu: “100 years of prostitution of Andean culture”

This month saw the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu. Its discovery by the West, that is: it was in July 1911 that Hiram Bingham, a Yale historian, was led to the already 400-year old site by a local shepherd boy, and announced the presence of the Machu Picchu estate to the world.

Machu Picchu, morning mist

I visited Machu Picchu a couple of days before its anniversary; it was glorious. A sublime city in a sublime location; the hundreds of tourists walking around could not detract from its wonderfulness. I was back in nearby Cusco, “the heart of America” for Che Guevara, and capital of the Inca empire, for the anniversary itself. To celebrate, Cusco’s main plaza saw parades, a stage with big screens, and a Peruvian folk/rock band in the evening. It also saw low-key protests, including one banner that particularly caught my eye: “100 años de la prostitución de la cultura andina”.

Elsewhere on the streets, the Incas’ conquered descendants mainly went about their business; selling chewing gum and proffering beautiful and often hand-made gloves and ch’ullus (traditional hats made from alpaca wool) to the hoards of foreign tourists, at knock down prices. Continue Reading »

politics, racism, USA

American justice?

An American citizen, brought up and college-educated here in Brooklyn, is being held against his will, alone in a windowless room. He has been there for the last two years. He has not been convicted of any crime.

Before that, he was held in another windowless room for a year. He is not allowed to watch the news or to speak to anyone, except one family member at a time every few weeks, and even then only through the medium of a translator who will edit out anything he “should not” hear or say. His every move is watched by his captors on CCTV. He is allowed out of his cell for one hour a day, but not into the sunlight or fresh air: instead his jailers allow him to exercise inside a cage.

His case has attracted the interest and criticism of many American lawyers and groups such as Theatre Against the War, including such celebrities as Wallace Shawn.

He is charged with nothing more than allowing a duffel bag of waterproof socks and raincoats to be stored at his apartment in London. The only witness to this “crime” was a houseguest, who it turns out was in fact a government informer, and has a vested interest in testifying against him.

This American citizen is not being held by the Taliban, or by Al Qaida. He’s not being detained in Guantanamo Bay. He’s imprisoned in his own home town, in the centre of New York, by his own government; the American government.

Syed Fahad Hashmi is a young Muslim man in his twenties; a star of his class at Brooklyn College where he studied political science, and a masters graduate of international relations at the London Metropolitan University in England.

His teachers recall an eloquent and sincere man who would often act as a bridge and sympathetic negotiator between people with differing political views; a peacemaker and a diplomat.

But rather than furthering his career as a political scientist, it was Fahad’s fate to gain the distinction of being the first person to ever be extradited from Britain to the US under novel anti-terrorist legislation: it was in London’s notorious Belmarsh prison where he was first held for a year. Now imprisoned in New York, he is the subject of a community campaign led, not least, by his old college teachers, his parents, and his childhood friends & neighbours, to have him tried promptly and fairly, and for the US government to account for the treatment he has received.

His trial, which has been repeatedly postponed and now scheduled for the end of April, centres around the government informer who was Fahad’s house guest. This informer however is on trial separately himself, and will receive a reduced sentence for testifying against Fahad – one of the many causes of concern about the fairness of the prosecution’s case

Last month I attended a vigil for Fahad outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Downtown Manhattan: about 150 people were in attendance, and the event, featuring an impromptu theatre performance about the history of sedition in America, was broadcast live on internet “Radio Free Fahad”.

Prof Jeanne Theoharis, Fahads old teacher, address the vigil

Prof Jeanne Theoharis, Fahads old teacher, address the vigil

I met his old school teacher, an impressive woman and knowledgeable powerful speaker. I watched his best friend from high school, a sensitive and tender young man, grieve over the torture his friend is going through. I can’t help feeling that if the most powerful nation on earth, and one that is ostensibly committed to the rule of law, freedom, justice, legal due process, democracy and human rights, can act like this towards its own citizens, then what hope does it have of setting an example of how a civilised nation should act?

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Please help spread the word about Fahad Hashmi, and the way America and Britain have treated him.