A Shadow World perspective on the UK election

By Andrew Fienstein

Dear Friends,
An apology for mass mailing in this way, but as someone who has seen the Shadow World film (http://shadowworldfilm.com/) and/or knows my work on the global arms trade, I wanted to share these thoughts with you. In terms of the issues I have devoted myself to over the past 17 years, tomorrow?s election in the UK is the most crucial for decades. For the first time in a very long time one of the leadership candidates of the main parties has a history of campaigning for a better regulated, safer, less corrupt arms trade.
The global trade in weapons is not only riddled with corruption, but it?s deadly consequences are if anything getting worse, as we witness in the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in Syria and Yemen. In the case of Yemen over 4,000 civilians have been killed, many of them by jets, bombs and missiles sold to Saudi Arabia by the UK government (over ?3.3bn worth since March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition bombings started). British advisers are supposed to be working with the coalition forces on targeting, but according to the UN a third of the targets hit are schools, hospitals, places of worship, residential buildings and agricultural land. Given the huge subsidies for British arms manufacturers (including BAE & Rolls Royce who are amongst the most corrupt companies on the planet) these atrocities are being committed in our name with our tax pounds.

Continue reading “A Shadow World perspective on the UK election”

U.S. MILITARY BASES: Resisting 'sexual terrorists' in Okinawa

Protester at a rally against an alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by an American serviceman in Okinawa islands, southwestern Japan. March 23, 2008. AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye
Protester at a rally against an alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl
by an American serviceman in Okinawa islands, southwestern Japan.
March 23, 2008. AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

By Rahnuma Ahmed
For the military-industrial complex named the United States, Okinawa is a ‘hub’ for conducting strategic operations throughout the Pacific, but for its residents, US military bases seem to be a hub which harbours ‘sexual terrorists.’
As Okinawan resistance to the US bases lengthens, as our knowledge of the workings of the ‘garrisoning of the globe’ (Chalmers Johnson) deepens, it is not surprising that several authors have likened the US military to the ISIS (or ISIL, Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant).
Matt Pepe writes, ‘One of the strongest condemnations of terrorist groups like ISIS?rightly so?is that they exploit women for sex. Examination of the U.S. military’s history abroad reveals a track record of similar sexual abuse of local women and girls.’ US soldiers had told David Vine, author of Base Nation, that their coworkers had bought women as ‘sex slaves.’
Such information, of course, is hard to come by in the Western mainstream media.
Women’s bodies cemented military alliances
The United States has a global network of 800 military installations around the world; the emergence of the bases were accompanied by the development of ‘commercial sex zones.’ Most of theses bases resemble each other, writes Vine, ‘filled with liquor stores, fast-food outlets, tattoo parlors, bars and clubs, and prostitution in one form or another. The evidence is just outside the gates in places such as Baumholder and Kaiserslautern in Germany, and Kadena and Kin Town in Okinawa.’
When the Second World War came to an end, the behaviour of American troops became a matter of concern. They were behaving ‘as though Koreans were a conquered nation rather than a liberated people.’ Although this eventually led to a ‘hands off Korean women’ policy, it excluded women in brothels, dance halls and those working in the streets. The Japanese had forced hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, China, Okinawa, rural Japan, and other parts of Asia into sexual slavery, known as the ‘comfort stations’ system. After the US occupied present-day South Korea (1945-1948), American military authorities took over some of the ‘comfort stations’ with the assistance of Korean officials (paradoxically, the issue of ‘comfort women’ is still a contentious issue between the Koreans and the Japanese).
According to a 1965 survey, 85% of GIs either had ‘been with’ or had ‘been out with’ a prostitute. Although the formal system of sexual slavery came to an end after the Second World War, Vine cites an American military chaplain who had commented, ‘Many men have their steadies. Some of them own their girls, complete with hooch [small house] and furniture. Before leaving Korea, they sell the package to a man who is just coming in’ (emphasis in original).
After US military bases were installed in South Korea in the 1950s, settlements known as ‘camptowns’ emerged close by; more than 150,000 Korean women, lacking any other economic alternative, took up sex work. Many of them were later subjected to severe social stigmatisation, and forced into destitution. While some would argue that the ‘supply emerged to meet a market demand’, Pepe caustically notes, military bases are not a product of the free market, they are ‘imposed without consent on communities where they dominate the local economies’ thwarting the ‘possibilities of independent development.’
Camptowns and prostitution were foreign currency-earners for Korea’s cash-strapped, war-ravaged economy, writes Vine; government documents reveal South Korean officials strategising on how to ‘encourage GIs to spend their money on women in Korea rather than Japan’ during their official leave, on offering classes in basic English and etiquette to women. Aeran Kim, a former sex worker recalls, ‘They urged us to sell as much as possible to the GI’s, praising us as ‘dollar-earning patriots.’ Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military.’
Another sex-worker, who refused to be identified, said, ‘Women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans. Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s.’
Okinawa as America’s ‘strategic frontier’
Okinawa Island (part of the larger Ryukyu Islands group) was described by Douglas Mac Arthur, the famous five-star general of the US Army, as the ‘island-bastion’ of America’s ‘strategic frontier‘ on the eastern coast of the Asian continent.
The presence of hundreds of military bases had marked the American occupation of Japan (1945-1952) after its defeat in the Second World War. These were closed down after the normalisation of relations on the condition that their functions would be transferred to Okinawa. Mainland Japan had agreed; since then, Okinawa has borne the brunt of serving American and Japanese strategic interests.
Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila, Tokyo?all lie within a 1500 kilometre radius, ‘If there is a trouble spot in the Pacific and the Department of Defense needs to move forces quickly, Okinawa [has] the facilities to support that response’ (globalsecurity.org).
Okinawa, which is only 0.6% of the land mass of Japan, hosts 75% of all US bases in the country. Of the 32 military bases located on the Ryukyu Islands, 20 are on the main island of Okinawa, occupying 20% of the island; there are also 48 restricted air and ocean training sites on the island. Almost half of US forces, nearly 26,000 military personnel, are stationed in Okinawa.
The Kadena Air Base was used for B-29 bombing missions during the Korean War (1950-1953); it was a major staging area throughout the Vietnam War (1955-1975); troops stationed in Okinawa were deployed to the Persian Gulf in the 1990s; weapons used in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq were stored and transported from Okinawa’s military bases.
One thousand nuclear warheads were deployed in Okinawa; this was acknowledged (and removed) only before the US returned Okinawa to Japan, after a 22-year long US occupation (1950-1972). But since US military presence remained intact, the occupation of Okinawa continues. As Richard Falk puts it, it is a colony in a post-colonial era, subjugated to ‘pursuing the Asian strategic interests of the United States.’
A ‘sordid history’ and ‘deepest regrets’
It was September 4, 1995, about 8:00 pm. A 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl was abducted by two Marines (Pfc. Rodrico Harp, 21, and Pfc. Kendrick M. Ledet, 20) and a Navy Seaman (Marcus D. Gill, 22).
According to Harp’s attorney, Mitsonobu Matsunaga, the three men went out to buy sex but decided on rape instead ‘because one of them did not have enough money’ (www.latimes.com, October 28, 1995).
Gill had rented a car, he picked up Harp, Ledet and another servicemen, after having lunch, they drove around all afternoon, but when Gill spoke of rape, the fourth man declined and left the group. Harp and Ledet had nearly $30, but Gill said he was broke, and anyway, paid sex was ‘no fun.’ He proposed rape. He had come prepared with duct tape and condoms.
When the three servicemen saw a Japanese girl wearing a school uniform with a bag of books, they stopped the car, pulled her inside, put her in the back seat, taped her mouth and eyes, and bound her hands and legs. They drove to a secluded field, parked the car, Gill, who was described as a ‘tank’?6 feet tall, weighing 260-270 pounds?got out, and went into the back seat. He ”violently’ beat the struggling schoolgirl, telling her to ‘let me do what I want to do.”
The victim insisted on reporting it to the police, she didn’t want it to happen to another girl. The incident provoked the largest demonstration against US military bases in the history of Okinawa, drawing nearly 100,000 protestors.
The US invoked Article 17 of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) regarding jurisdiction over US military personnel, and refused to surrender the three suspects to the Japanese authorities. It led protestors to demand that the two governments revise the security treaty, and the SOFA; some argued for their cancellation.
The commander of US forces in the Pacific Admiral Richard C. Macke told defence writers, ‘For the price they paid to rent the car they could have had a girl.’
More recently, the Associated Press (AP) obtained more than 1,000 internal Department of Defense documents, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents, detailing investigations of sex crimes from 2005 to early 2013, involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, reveal a ‘sordid history.’ ‘[M]ost offendors were not incarcerated, suspects received light punishments after being accused of serious violations, and victims increasingly were wary of cooperating with investigators’ (www.capitolhillblue.com, February 9, 2014).
Light punishments were ‘non-judicial penalties’, ranging from offendors being ‘fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or [being] removed from the military.’ In 30 cases, only a letter of reprimand was issued. In 46 Marine, and 22 Navy, cases, personnel who had initially been accused of a ‘violent sex crime’  were punished for nonviolent or nonsexual offenses, such as, assault, failure to obey, adultery, having sex in barracks and fraternization. In two rape cases, the charges were dropped after the commanders overruled recommendations for courts martial. In sum, allegations were handled chaotically, and judgments were ‘random.’
The documents also show a pattern found in US bases elsewhere, US troops who ‘commit sexual assaults are most likely to abuse their fellow troops.’
US president Barack Obama’s official visit to Japan in May 2016 was overshadowed by the slaying of an Okinawan woman, Rina Shimabukuro, by a former US marine and current civilian worker, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato. Obama offered his ‘sincere condolences and deepest regrets.’
Media reports of the AP investigation led USA’s elected representatives to insist on the need for ‘further changes in the military’s legal system.’ It caused military officials to reiterate that ‘numerous changes [were being made to] military law and policy’ to ensure that allegations would be taken ‘seriously’, that the perpetrators would be ‘punished’.
‘Sensitivity training’ or structural violence?
A women’s movement demanding peace, human rights, and demilitarisation was formed in September 1995 after the rape of the 12-year-old scholgirl. The Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence (OWAAMV) has concentrated on analysing the consequences of ‘long-term active foreign military occupation.’
Kozue Akibayashi and Suzuyo Takazato write, the mainland Japanese media regularly ask OWAAMV, what are the statistics of sexual crimes committed by US soldiers in Okinawa. To which they say, no official statistics of sex crimes by US soldiers are available of the period of US occupation. Social stigma generally prevents victimised women from speaking up, hence, official statistics ‘reflect only the tip of the iceberg.’
The US military’s history of sexual violence in Okinawa has been pieced together by the OWAAMV from hospital records, police reports, newspaper articles and oral histories of victims and survivors. The seventh revision of their ongoing research documents ‘around 300 cases of different sorts of assaults against women and girls, including cases of gang rape, attempted rape, abduction, and murder.’
Their research reveals that preparation for war intensifies gender-based military violence. During World War II and the Korean War, ‘women experienced rampant and indiscriminate military violence’, for instance, a group of 2-6 soldiers would abduct a woman at gun- or knifepoint; they would gangrape her, and often give her to other groups of soldiers for more gangrape; soldiers would not hesitate to kill or severely injure those who tried to help the victims.
During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, violence was aimed at women working in the sex industry, rape cases were ‘rampant’, 3-4 women were strangled to death each year.
Military violence against women in various forms increased in intensity when troops stationed in Okinawa were deployed to the Persian Gulf in the 1990s. The September 11 attacks in 2001 also ‘brought direct changes to the military violence against women in Okinawa.’ As did the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, ‘crimes committed by US soldiers have increased or become more brutal.’
Akibayashi and Takazato emphasise, the military is a violence-producing institution, it is inextricably linked to sexual and gender violence. Soldiers, especially marines, are prepared to engage in life and death combat, they are trained ‘to maximize their capacity to attack and destroy an ‘enemy’, a dehumanized other.’ Denigrating women is intrinsic to much military training. ‘Pent-up feelings of frustration, anger, and aggression that soldiers acquire from combat training and experiences are often vented against women in their base locality, a reflection of misogyny and racial discrimination.’
Is a change in military culture possible? Takazato doesn’t think so, ‘Military violence is not random.’ Gwyn Kirk of the International Women’s Network Against Militarism agrees, it is not a workplace issue, nor is it about the abuse of power by higher-ups. ‘Soldiers are trained to kill. This means seeing ‘others’ as foreign or less-than-human, even those from allied nations like Japan.’
Gender, masculinity, national chauvinism and racism intersect, violently so. As Okinawan women say of US trooops abusing their coworkers, ‘If they do this to their own colleagues no wonder they do it to us.’ And therefore, US military women seeking justice for sexual violence committed against them, must remember that they are ‘part of a superpower with 1,000 bases overseas.’ If they seek gains, they must include women who are outside those bases, they too, ‘must be part of this conversation.’
Military violence is structural. Legal reforms, or talk of changing military culture, of imparting gender sensitivity training to troops, will not do.
Another definition of ‘security’
The question is, whose security does the military provide? ‘We have the US-Japan Security Treaty, but it doesn’t protect us. We demand another definition of security,’ says Takazato.
A re-definiton of security involves the dismantling of American military bases, and the end of the US occupation of Okinawa.

Embracing the Other

Shahidul Alam?s new show combats Islamophobia, extremism: The Punch

Interview by Ina Puri


For celebrated Bangladeshi photographer, writer and curator Shahidul Alam, a just world is a plural space where many thoughts can coexist. His latest show, Embracing the Other, opens in Dhaka on May 8

“If you?re not making certain people uncomfortable by your presence, you are probably doing something wrong.? Bangladesh?s best-known photographer, writer and curator Shahidul Alam, 61, has lived by that adage, which, by and large, sums up why he does what he does. 

For Alam, who has been actively involved in the movement for democracy in Bangladesh for over three decades, photojournalism was a corollary of being an activist on the streets, seeking to see himself on the edge, so as to constantly ?feel the heat?, questioning, going beyond the obvious, not settling  for safe options.  

Shahidul Alam in the thick of things at anti government protest. Photo: Md. Mainuddin

In Bangladesh, Alam is credited with many ?firsts?: Among other things, he set up Drik Picture Library, the country?s first picture agency, in 1989; Pathshala, its first photo school in 1998; and the first email network in the country in 1994. He also founded the first photo festival in Asia, Chobi Mela, in 2000. Continue reading “Embracing the Other”

Quelling anti-Rampal protests (with South Korean assistance)

rahnuma ahmed

It was a peaceful procession.
We had gathered under the aegis of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, outside the National Press Club in Dhaka, on October 19, 2016. After a brief rally, where speakers described the harm that the Rampal coal power plant would cause the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest straddling both sides of the Bangladesh-India border, we formed a procession, raised slogans and proceeded toward the Indian High Commission in Gulshan to deliver an open letter for the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
Since India is the major partner in building the Maitree Super Thermal Power Project, i.e., the Rampal coal power plant, the National Committee’s open letter called on the Indian prime minister to scrap the project.
It’s not only us. Forty-one Indian people’s movements, green and civil rights organisations have called on Narendra Modi to scrap the the project. So has the Unesco and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A Unesco statement recommended the ‘Rampal power plant project be cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location’ as it could damage the world heritage site, home to 450 Royal Bengal tigers, expose downriver forests to pollution and acid rain, threaten the breeding grounds of Ganges and Irrawaddy river dolphins, far worsen the already liminal ecosystem which is being threatened by rising sea levels (The Guardian, October 18, 2016). Three large French banks, including BNP Paribas, a sponsor of the Paris climate summit in 2015, have refused to invest, while two Norwegian pension funds have withdrawn their investment. Continue reading “Quelling anti-Rampal protests (with South Korean assistance)”

Irfanul Islam, and an 8-mile stretch of road

by rahnuma ahmed

Dhaka-Narayanganj Link road. ? Jannatul Mawa
Dhaka-Narayanganj Link road. ? Jannatul Mawa

Why was Irfan killed? Why did they have to kill him, if it was for the money, they had already snatched it away, why kill him? Was it accidental, did he die because a novice, or a brute, hit him on the head too hard? Or did he die because he had resisted, because one of his abductors had grabbed his throat and in the ensuing tussle, squeezed it for a fraction of a second too long?
These questions haunt us, as his killers remain untraced, unknown, even now, a year later. Continue reading “Irfanul Islam, and an 8-mile stretch of road”


‘Go back NTPC, get out India’
rahnuma ahmed

Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. ? Taslima Akhter
Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. ? Taslima Akhter

Of all the slogans raised in protest against the coal power plant being built at Rampal in Bagerhat, this one’s the best. Continue reading “RESISTING RAMPAL”

Had cadmium ever glowed so red?

I’d pretty much perfected the art. I’d go down to the newest library I could find. Become a member as quickly as I could, and armed with my new membership card head straight to section 770, the magical number for photography at UK public libraries. I would take out the full complement of 8 books that I was allowed at any one time. When the lending period was over, they would be replaced by another eight.
I devoured the books, which were mostly monographs, or ones on technique, composition or even special effects. I knew too little about photography, to know how limited my knowledge was. It was many years later, when my partner Rahnuma, gave me a copy of “The Seventh Man” by John Berger, that a new way of looking at photographs opened up. Unknowingly, it was the book “Ways of Seeing” that later opened another window. One that helped me see the world of storytelling. That was when I realised that image making was only a part of the process. Once youtube arrived on the scene, and the television series with the same name entered our consciousness in such a powerful way, his TV series “Ways of Seeing” became my new staple diet. Here was a leftie who could still speak in a language the average person could understand, and that too on a topic such as art. His fascination was neither about the artist nor the artwork itself, but how we responded to it and how it gained new meaning through our interaction. While it was art he was dissecting, it was popular culture he was framing it within.
That there was so much to read in a photograph, beyond the technicalities of shutter speed, aperture and resolution, is something my years of reading section 770 had never revealed. The photographs of Jean Mohr (The Seventh Man), were unlikely to win awards in contests, or fetch high prices in auctions, but Berger’s insights into the situations and the relationships that the photographs embodied, gave them a value way beyond the mechanics of image formation. Berger never undermined the technical or aesthetic merits of a photograph. He simply found far more interesting things to unearth.

John Berger signing book for Pathshala with Shahidul Alam, at South Bank in London. Photo by Paul Bryers

Continue reading “Had cadmium ever glowed so red?”

Save Sunderbans: Global Protest 7th Jan 17

The Price of Gratitude
It is where the Bengal Tiger, now close to extinction, still stalks. It is where deer roam and hummingbirds fly. It is the richest terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem anywhere. Sunderbans (?beautiful forest? in Bangla), the world?s largest single tract mangrove forest is a UNESCO-declared World Heritage that has sheltered 50 million coastal people from ravaging storms. The beautiful forest is in danger. The joint project of PDB (Bangladesh) and NTPC (India) for 1320 MW Rampal imported coal-fired power plant spells disaster for Bangladesh. Thousands have taken to the streets in protest, braving arrest and torture, but the government, who have already killed protesters of other energy projects are determined to bludgeon through. We need you and we need you now.
On the 7th January 2017, we have called for a global protest. You have a role to play. Join the movement.
Stage demonstrations/human chains and send written appeals to the embassies of Bangladesh and India.
Organise bicycle rallies, boat rallies, use theatre, songs, cartoons, masks or just hold up placards. Send us your protest/solidarity video messages and photographs.
Appeal to United Nations.
Campaign to International Press/Media
Find other creative ways to resist.
Send them to: [email protected] and [email protected]. Share this message and make it go viral.