'A modern day journey through the wild western Balkans'

Sunday, October 29, 2006

But it's so nice...

It's true, I am treehugger. And it's true too, that i fear global climate change is going to fuck us royally. BUT, i must say that i have enjoyed this October more than i have any other that comes to mind. Why, you might ask? Well companeros, the weather here has been pure magic. As autumn sets in the leaves have turned to a phenomenal array of inspiring colours...yet the daytime temperatures remain in the high teens and 20's (Celcius that is).

I was in Herzegovina for the weekend in the town of Trebinje. This gorgeous town is the southernmost settlement in BiH. It's sandwiched between Croatia and Montenegro near the cities of Dubrovnik and Herceg Novi. Yesterday the temperature was 28!!! It was so blissful.

I visited quaint stone-home villages that produce some of the finest wine and cheese i have ever had the pleasure to experience. It's all organic of course...and made in the very same way as the early Slav settlers did over a millenia ago. Or is it millenium?

So I had a brilliant late October jaunt through southern Herzegovina. Succulent wines and mouth watering cheeses. Short sleeve shirts...sun glasses....outdoor cafe's. Perfect. Or is it? Although it's good for me now (and i mean really good)....is it really good for us in the long run?

Global warming is not only going to 'cost us' trillions, but is already turning some parts of the planet into inhabitable wastelands. Selfishly, I live in a place that is blessed with an abundance of water, forests and rich soil. I know others are not so fortunate. But it's so nice to be this warm. So I go back to sunning myself in the late October heatwave. Hasta la pacha mama siempre companeros!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hooligans, Assholes, & Shitheads

I've said many times how much i admire and enjoy the wonderful companeros I have discovered here on the Balkan peninsula. It must be said, however, that there is an equal - if not larger- population of utter assholes that roam this natural wonderland.

I know many brothers and sisters from Serbia, great rainbow warriors. I don't know how they cope with the extreme right that dominates Serbia. Just a small example of the type of racism and violence that is so prevalent in Serbian society; this week alone there were two major incidents at football matches. One where the team from Novi Pazar (a part of Sandzak with a large Muslim population) played against RAD. The RAD fans went bezerk, screaming 'noz, zica, srebrenica!' which amounts to 'knifes, wires, Srebrenica' -- expressing their pride and joy of the genocide committed by the Serbs at Srebrenica. They then went on to attack the police - par for the course I guess.

The other incident involved another Serbian team that happens to have a player from Africa on their squad. A large group of opposing fans appeared, decked out in Ku Klux Klan outfits with confederate flags and all. I think backward ass southerners from the sticks of Mississippi would be embarrassed to do that in the 21st century. Not Serbian hooligans though. Not even in the slightest bit.

The most disturbing thing about that for me is that there is no outcry. There is no reaction. So i ask myself, is this accepted in Serbian society? Have the hooligans become our role models or are we just so scared and apathetic that just 'do our own thing?'

Now to Bosnia -- man, do we pack 'em full with shitheads here. Our new and beloved president, Mr. Haris Silajdzic, who praised the citizens for their maturity for democracy in the last elections, has just pulled the biggest scam in post-war Bosnian history.

Together with his good buddy Safet Orucevic, a former poker machine vendor - have signed a deal worth close to a billion euros to practice their democracy on Bosnians. They aere going to build 6 major hydro electric dams on Bosnia and Herzegovina's most beautiful waterways. What's the crime you ask? Well besides damming up the most precious and abundant natural resource the country has....it was all done in total secrecy. No strategy. No transparency. No environmental impact assessment. No public debates. NO DEMOCRACY.

And the beauty of it all is that it is now becoming apparent that they have been strategizing and planning this for many years. The former Minister of the Environment, Ramiz Mehmedagic, left his post as minister to become general director of Intrade. This company had a profit of 200 euros last year. Guess what, Intrade got the concessions to build two hydroelectric dams on the Neretva River. And guess what else, he comes from Dr. Silajdzic's party. So does the Minister of Energy - who pushed this agreement through without anyone knowing about it.

And we, who try to promote sustainable development and protect BiH's environment - are the criminals who want to make 'Indians' out of Bosnians and Herzegovinians. It is they, with thier monopolistic and ultra-capitalistic ideals that want to make monkeys and paupers out of us.

But fear not companeros...we shall rise. We shall rise. And pray that we overcome the asshole syndrome that grips the balkan peninsula. Smrt Facizam, Sloboda naroda! Death to fascism, freedom to the people!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Che the radical Islamist?

Is it the beard that fooled people?

I tend to 'stumble' every now and then to find like minded souls and explore the fascinating world of cyber revolution. Stumble upon is a great forum to share ideas, thoughts, pictures and even blogs. I just had a long time 'friend' of mine - whom i have never met but stumbled with regularly, take me of her 'friends' list for 'siding' with the radical muslims. HHmmm. Interesting I thought. I don't recall siding with anybody. Quite the contrary really.

Firstly, as a socialist and revolutionary, I couldn't possibly side with the Christian or Muslim right. Secondly, i hoped and thought that i was making clear my intentions - which were and are of the purest nature. My intentions were to offer perspective of the 'other' side, which, for Europeans and Americans, is the Muslim side.

My friend was offended that i had abandoned ship and joined the ranks of religious fanatics. What blog was she reading? To me, this is just further proof of just how much of an understanding gap there is. The privelage many of us have in the west to be as left, liberal, and secular as we like is not one many people in the not-so-democratic Muslim world enjoy. Yes, i said privelage. We can afford to be what we feel to be because our society lets us. Many Muslims societies, however, are quite different....dare i say drastically different. They certainly are more traditional and conservative - but that does not make them radical jihadists.

One thing we have not grasped in the west is that their religion is not a once a week on Sunday occassion. It is an integral part of every day of practicing Muslims lives. Society is built on the pillars of Islam, one prays five times per day, it has a direct effect on most aspects of life - right down to what people eat and how the eat it. These are not bad things...they are just different. And its these differences that both sides are intolerant of.

Muslims don't hate the west. Most anti-west Muslim sentiment is solely based on the exploitive nature of western foreign policy towards our drug dealers - the oil rich Middle East. The violence, manipulation, oppression of many Muslims is supported by - and even created by - the western powers. The Saudi regime is the finest example.

I strongly felt we missed a great opportunity after Sept. 11. We failed to ask why and how. Why would anyone feel so desperate and angry to do what they did? How can we engage with them to assure this doesn't happen again? We did neither. We called the war cries. And look where it's gotten us. That's why I am trying, in my own way, to shed light on the thought that we might be different and that is, well, really ok.

My mom always told me, 'two wrongs don't make a right, son.' No, you're right mom, they don't. She also taught me that there are two sides to every coin - and i will truly understand only when i look on both sides. That, my friends, is my intention. Not to choose sides - but to show them.

Hasta la coin siempre

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Unveil yourselves I say!

The subject has rocked Europe like few other 'cultural clashes' that i have witnessed since escaping the yankees in Bolivia. It's yet another white man insensitivity subject that even has socialists and revolutionaries saying 'hey, hold on a second!'. It's the veils. Yes, the veils that many Muslim women around the world traditionally wear.

I'm not going to get into the wrongs and rights, just to give a bit of perspective. Listen.

I see the words veil and headscarf being used by white Europeans in many contradictory contexts. Let's clarify. Hijab is a headscarf that covers the hair and usually wraps around the neck. The veil is often interpreted as being the ninja outfit, where womens heads are completely covered so as to see only the eyes, or in some cases nothing at all. Taleban style if you will. This is called the nikab. Westerners use the word veil for both things, get it straight whitey. So opposition to the veil isn't even a clear issue from within the opposing side.

For clarification the difference should be noted. Hijab in Islam actually means modesty or privacy. And it is believed that women should practice modesty both for themselves but to keep the gazing eyes of man down. The khimar is the actual headscarf. The veil that covers the entire face is called the nikab.

Islam requires women to be modest, henceforth many of them wear the hijab, or headscarf. The nikab, or taliban style cover, is not an Islamic practice. A Fatwa, or Islamic legal pronouncement makes it clear that women are not obliged to wear nikab - but rather this is a cultural issue within more conservative or radical interpretations of Islam (just like the west has some Christian right wackies).

The French caused an awefully painful row within their already highly strained relations with French Muslims, mainly of northern Africa descent, by banning hijabs in public schools. It most certainly raised even more anti-Muslim sentiment but also more anti-French sentiment even amongst it own non-Christian communities. Whether the French will ever admit it or not, they have a serious racism problem - and its aimed mainly at Muslims and Africans. The Germans have passed similar laws, much to the dismay of its large Turkish-Muslim population.

The Brits, famous for their true melting pot status amongst the Europeans, have began treading in this murky water. Jack Straw is calling for a ban of veils, or nikabs, in the UK. Not the ban on hijabs. The well integrated, but edgy Muslim community is not so happy about this. With the ultra liberal socialist mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, even backing the idea - I think many Muslims see it as the drawn sword. And I'm afraid it could get ugly. But if the UK Muslims are listening to Mr. Livingstone, he's on to something. He clearly stated that he feels the veils should go -- but that it should be over a period of time and from within the Muslim community. It shouldn't, he added, be decided by a group of old white male politicians. Not to mention that many Muslim women scholars are saying women should thank Jack Straw for this.

I'm by no means an expert on veils. What i do know is that there are many, many woman who absolutely voluntarily and willingly cover themselves with a headscarf for religious purposes. Most of the European peasantry covered themselves with a headscarf just a hundred years ago and can still be found in christian villages throughout eastern and southern europe. It is also true that many Muslim cultures in the world 'oblige' their women to wear the veil. So the voluntary and involuntary. Willing and unwilling. France says no head scarves, no nothing -- look like a sexy french school girl with your belly button hanging out. The Brits haven't ventured that far, they accept the head scarf, but oppose the ninja turtle look.

Turkey has a similar issue. In its bid to become a secular society -- and to integrate into the unwelcoming arms of the European Union, it has forbidden even the nikab and in some places even the hijab in public schools and universities. Sarajevo now has a large female Turkish population coming to study here so they can wear what they wish. This to me is a fascinating occurance.

The west, so-called champions of democracy, freedom of expression and religio,n is on the attack - or as some percieve on the defensive - when Islam is in question. Sarajevo and Bosnia enjoys the best of both worlds. It is Europe's largest 'indigenous' Muslim population, all of whom are white Europeans and embrace European principles. Bosnian Islam is very secular, and indeed seen by most European leaders as a model example of the type of Islam they want being taught in their increasing number of mosques and madressa's within the EU. The question of hijab and nikabs hasn't come up yet here in Bosnia. The hijab is accepted and tolerated, as are the nikab wearers (which is an extremely small percentage of Muslim women).

The progressive west is certainly faltering when it comes to questions of its growing Muslim populations and addressing the cultural and religious difference between east and west. The Muslims too have yet to seriously address the fears and concerns of 'indigenous' white westerners - who have opened their doors from some of the worlds worst economically and socially oppressed societies. This door has to swing both ways. The west must do more to grasp the concepts of Islam - and understand the vast cultural differences even with the large and diverse Muslim community, which covers three continents. Muslims too need to understand the fears and concerns of secular westerners who now have to deal with strict Islamic rules within their own communities.

If western women can run around half naked, can eastern women completely cover themselves? Is there really a difference?

There is no black and white my friends. We all need to take the veils off...and look at each other eye to eye. Brother to brother, face to face, let's unite the human race.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ramadan Fast

I'm sort of in my post iftar trance as I write. Fasting has been an interesting, and surpisingly easy experience. I have very much enjoyed the spirit of Ramazan, with friends and families gathering regularly for good meals and quality time together every day. The fast itself certainly enhances self contemplation. And my body seems to be appreciating the cleansing process. Its not just the external fast though that i find fascinating, but rather the internal one.

There is an unsaid concientiousness about the words you speak. There is a calmness to ones temperament. There is a general attempt at slowing things down and paying attention to the people around you. Ramazan is a time for inner peace - at least for those who choose to embrace that.

Westerners are, as usual, only exposed to the 'sixty bodies being found in Baghdad' or the car bombs that go off daily between Shiites and Sunni's. That is the image of the Muslim world. Violent people, extreme views, radical interpretations, suicidal tendencies. It's not all that black and white, in fact, not at all.

I saw a clip of "Jesus Camp" -- a startling depiction of the new generation of Christian soldiers in America. Its not at all far off of the impressions we are IV fed of the extreme elements in the Muslim world. Onward Christian soldiers is a horribly scary concept...as scary as desperate Muslims thinking they will buy a ticket to dzenet if they die in the name of Islam. So a lot of us have really gone off the deep end...all because we haven't yet explored ways to understand each other and our obvious fears - and henceforth so-called 'hatred.'

What I see here though, in this time of contemplation and fasting...is a desperate need to be understood, respected, and walk as equals amongst the white west. If the west can't offer at least that to the east - then the moral high ground the west seems to think it holds is no more solid than the lads wreaking havoc in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we will all continue to have a long and painful road ahead of us. And from my shoes...none of us really want that. Do we?

Masalaam companeros

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Who are the terrorists again?

When Chechen Muslims took hostages in Beslan - they were deemed terrorists. When a Palestinian commits suicide whilst killing Jewish civilians - they are terrorists. When Iraqi's capture or kidnap foreigners, whether they kill them or not - they are terrorists.

When an American takes young school children hostage and kills them - he was abused. When American school children are filled with so much hate they storm into school and shoot their classmates - they are 'troubled' youth. When angry American employees take revenge on their former employer and kill co-workers - they are simply crazy.

Americans 'god given right' to tote guns is perfectly acceptable in American society. It's fascinating to watch the awe stricken victims ask 'how could this happen?' I ask, 'how could this not happen?'
When Muslims commit atrocities, they are terrorists and must be stopped at any costs. America places sanctions on countries, arms embargo's, and more often than not - bombs the hell out them for daring to kidnap, shoot, and/or kill Americans. Yet when Americans do the same thing to other Americans - nothing is done. That is not deemed domestic terrorism. Are the streets and schools of America not being terrorised by their obsession and acceptance of violence?

Until America understands that it is the most violent society on earth and that its culture of weapons and war are wreaking havoc around the world - and indeed in their own back yard, the violence will continue to spiral. It will continue to spiral because America embraces violences with open arms. It refuses to see the NRA as an enemy of the state. It refuses to see that Columbine children grew up in a weapons of war setting. It refuses to see that the new god, TV and video games is completely saturated with ultra-violence.

But you see, the guns support the economy and our fear of each other. The missles keep the war machine alive and young boys dead. The TV and video games keep our minds at bay and distracted from what's really going on. So i ask, who are the terrorists amongst us? Why do we allow the state to support this terror?

When will we stop killing our children?