For lack of a real person finds it surprising that only 64% voted against the ban on gun sales in Brazil, and suggests that with 36,000 annual gun deaths in Brazil, Americans should stop complaining about their 2000 Iraq war dead. Huh? Why?
Here are photos from the 2000 too many peace protest in New York's Times Square the day before yesterday. The NY Times has a chilling online interactive feature with the faces, names and ages of the (mostly) young men who died.
How's this for perspective instead? At least 26,732 Iraqi civilians dead, according to Iraq Body Count.
An Anti-Uribe blogger in Columbia, links to Isabel Hilton's article, Álvaro Uribe’s gift: Colombia’s mafia goes legit and says he feels it shows that scepticism in the world is greater than the Columbian press - or government - would make it seem.
openDemocracy event in New York
Obviously, everyone in NY should come to this. I'm very excited about the speakers. Check out Anthony Barnett's interview with Mary Robinson about her human rights work from 2003.
In New York, openDemocracy, the The Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs, and New York Society for Ethical Culture present:
"Is a FAIRER Globalization Possible?"
*Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and President of Realising Rights: Ethical Globalisation Initiative
Globalization has brought about more opportunities for people worldwide, but also rising inequality within and between nations. This poverty and despair is unsustainable and morally unacceptable. But what should be done? Gideon Rose, Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs will serve as Moderator.
Tuesday, October 26, 2005 from 7pm to 9:00pm. At the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street at Central Park West. (Subways: 1 & 9 to 66th St-Lincoln Center. Or A/C to Columbus Circle.) Donations will be accepted. No reservations. Seating is first come, first served. Call openDemocracy's New York office on +1 (646) 220-1459 for more info.
Brazil on a knife edge
“Should the sale of guns and ammunition to civilians be prohibited?” This is the question that 122 million Brazilians answered 'No' to as they went to the polls yesterday to vote in the first referendum on gun control in the world.
The daily crime statistics would seem to have pointed overwhelmingly to an obvious Yes vote. There are currently an estimated 17 million guns in Brazil and 39,000 firearms deaths every year. Over 500,000 people have been killed by guns between 1979 and 2003 – more than in any other country in the world, including those at war.
However, to combat these shocking statistics, the powerful ‘No’ lobby – supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the US and accused of a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign – has been promulgating the commonly held belief that the guns used to commit crimes are those acquired on the illegal market or diverted from state security forces. Enforcement, they say, would allow criminals in possession of weapons already to further threaten the security of ‘ordinary’ citizens.
Such a view seems to have struck a chord with the electorate and reflects a mind-set entrenched within social and institutional spheres that has allowed a culture of violence to go unchecked for so long. Since the military government of the 1970s policing has become a matter of protecting one group a civilians from another. In a Manichean division of society drawn along economic (and therefore racial) lines, “ordinary” citizens are protected against the marginais, or “low-lifes”. Under this so-called “criminalisation of poverty”, the Polícia Militar (PM) continually demonise and target “subversive elements” of the population within poor, urban (favela) communities. Judges are able to issue collective warrants drawn against whole communities containing “genetic rubbish” in order to respond to “the cry of help and justice” by “honest” citizens.
Those that are seen to be dangerous are therefore literally removed from the streets in what the police advertise as a civil war. The disparity in mortality statistics tells a different story. In Rio in 2003, 1192 civilians were killed versus only 45 policemen in co-called “shoot-outs” in which the police are cast as the victims. Police power and police action have all too often become one and the same thing over the last two decades under a reductive methodology in which deaths are seen as evidence of effective and efficient policing. This results-oriented approach has been to the detriment of preventative policing and criminal investigation (over 90% of people are arrested in the act of committing a crime) and has led to the highest increase in prison population in the world (1995 to 2003 saw a 93% increase). The forced classification of prisoners by criminal faction in many prisons has lead to the perpetuation of factions within favela communities on the outside and further violent clashes on the inside.
It is clear that the democratisation of power does not necessarily bring the democratisation of institutions and the state. Authoritarian patterns of behaviour continue within state institutions including a culture of impunity amongst the security forces offering police an official mandate for violence against a crimal(ised) class. If, as David Bayley has famously asserted, “the police are to government as the edge is to a knife”, in Brazil the security forces have cut through the rule of law, severing notions of citizenship and tearing up the liberal tradition by its roots. Brazil is still a long way from upholding the 5th article of its constitution guaranteeing equality under the law and the discourse of human rights continues to be degraded in the public sphere as offering privileges for “bandits” whilst acting against the concerns of “good citizens”.
There remains a suspicion by many that the government’s disarmament campaign – begun in 2003 under President Lula – is a mere gesture to both the public and to the watching world whilst the will to true institutional reform remains a long way off. Whilst not a solution to Brazil’s security problems the banning of guns would have been a crucial first step – especially after the sale of guns has soared in the months leading up to the vote – on the road towards reform and must be viewed as a missed opportunity. The government must now act to bring about weighty and long-term commitments to reform the police and changing a public and institutional mindset that continues to cut Brazilian society into good and bad, rich and poor.
Debating our debate
Marc Schulman's blog on the article I wrote with our Editor Isabel Hilton misses most of the points despite generous quotations - thanks for them. Solana linked to it below. It is far too defensive. A huge debate is finally opening up in the United States about the dangers of the way it is seeking to impose democracy, and it is not 'anti-American' to make these points just because one is not American.
As for the leadership of the anti-war demonstrations, I agree. We refer to the exceptional size and genuine character of the popular feeling against President Bush's war of choice. Alas, the leadership of the organisations that called them were there because they opposed the war in Afghanistan. In my view, their sectarianism ensured that there was no popular, or democratic follow-through.
There is a good discussion about this in Todd Gitlin's blog at TPM cafe.
In his blog, Marcus Gilroy-Ware who has written for openDemocracy about Wikipedia, defends the open source encyclopedia from The Register's Andrew Orlowski. Orlowski's article, "Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems" has been buzzing around the internet propelled by horror that someone could say something so mean about a collaborative success story. "Yes it's garbage," he says, "but it's delivered so much faster!" Admittedly, he makes some good points (you should read it) but not enough to merit such scorn. Like Marcus, I'm left with the sense that Orlowski doesn't quite get it. Has he ever edited a page himself?
In his blog, Somali-Norwegian Bill Ainashe shoots down Hazem Saghieh & Saleh Bechir's argument on openDemocracy that the "muslim community" is a European invention. He says the community even "predates the European colonialists" and was the foundation for a Muslim empire that ruled for centuries...
It's a pleasant surprise to see openDemocracy's RSS feed included on the ArabAmerican.net news portal (in the right hand column). It's really simple to set something like this up. With more than 4 new articles a day, it's a good service too.
Response to Barnett and Hilton
Marc Schulman on the blog American Future, carefully uncovers what he says are leftist, anti-American flaws in Anthony Barnett and Isabel Hilton's recent democracy article on openDemocracy. "Dangerously naive," he says. Him or them?
Singabloodypore rallies behind openDemocracy and says it's time to fight back against threats to democracy and human rights.
Chavez answers your questions
BBC World's Talking Point is fielding questions from the audience for President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Post your own question to him here. So far most of them are pretty congratulatory. "I love your stance, etc". I wonder if the Chavez camp is fielding the questions too. Either way, I doubt the BBC would ask, "OK, once and for all. Did you rig the elections?" no matter who posed the question.
Here's what I would like to know:
A major part of the World Social Forum will take place in your capital city Caracas in January 2006. You were the star speaker at last year's World Social Forum in Brazil, which attracted more than 100,000 activists from around the world. And you quoted outcomes from the Forum in your speech at the UN Summit in September. As a head of state, how have you become such a popular figure among activists, and what do you hope the Forum will achieve in 2006?