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The recent furor over a Florida pastor’s plans to burn copies of the Qu’ran on the anniversary of 9/11 and protests against a proposed Islamic community centre near New York City’s Ground Zero feature in this week’s roundup of the African blogosphere, along with Monsanto, Haiti and a message for Mugabe.

For seven days last week and reaching a climax on Friday 10 September, the US and other western media frenzied around a tiny church in Gainesville Florida which had promised to burn copies of the Qu’ran on the anniversary of 9/11. Around the fifth day the pastor, Terry Jones, on the apparent suggestion of Sarah Palin, conflated the threatened Qu’ran burning with the protest against the proposed Islamic community centre, Park51, to be built a few blocks from ‘Ground Zero’ In New York City. One of the things I found most disgraceful and distasteful about the whole Qu’ran burning threat, was the willingness of the media, the politicians and religious leaders to pander to Pastor Jones’ blatant publicity-seeking self. Instead this man, who in another era might well be at the forefront of a lynching crowd, was allowed to hold the US to ransom – in what can only be called an act of terrorism. two events are part of an increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric and Islamophobia in the US. Egyptian blogger, Mona Eltahawy discusses Park51 and the Gainesville church in the context of the right to offend. Her thesis is that if you believe you should be free to publish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, write derogatory slogans on the New York sidewalk outside Park51 or burn the Qur’an, then you should also believe in the right of others to offend, whether that be building an Islamic community centre near Ground Zero or a mosque anywhere in small town USA. You cannot have it both ways – which is what extremists on both sides of the fence seem to be demanding.

‘When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in 2005 that led to huge and at times deadly demonstrations across several Muslim-majority countries the following year, I defended the newspaper’s right to offend.
The freedom guaranteeing publication of those cartoons is the same as that which guarantees Park51’s right to build right there, two blocks from Ground Zero, and the same as that which guarantees the right of a Gainesville, Fla., pastor and his congregation to burn copies of the Qur’an on the anniversary of 9/11.

‘The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of expression, whether they offend people or not. Hurt feelings cannot be the basis of public policy. And that’s why I did not call on Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville not to burn the Qur’an when he threatened to do so.’ negative side of religion also showed its face in Nigeria’s capital Abuja. Abuja City reports on a planned ‘witch and wizard hunt’ to take place in the city under the auspices of ‘Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministeries’. Abuja City is critical about the practice, though he also appears concerned with how it will affect ‘brand’ Nigeria as much as the children themselves.

‘[T]his is very unjust and a lot of innocent children are affected by what people like Helen and Liberty foundation ministry are doing. If Helen is serious, there are many other places to chase out demons in Abuja, and believe me Nigeria will save million$ of petrol dollars from that exercise. Stop spoiling our Nigeria @ 50 re brand exercise...

‘Everything possible should be done to monitor and stop the activities of these so called witch hunters.’ has voted in a new constitution whilst Zimbabweans continue to debate theirs. Kubatana Blogs has a series of informative posts on the process as it pertains to women in particular. One video has been making it’s round in the African blogosphere is the one by FreshlyGround, ‘Chicken to Change’.

‘Top local band Freshlyground have added a cheeky spin to the music video of their latest single, Chicken to Change, as they challenge Zimbabwean president Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s leadership. The video, done in collaboration with the satirical Internet show ZA News, is the second for the seven-member band’s album Radio Africa. In the song, lead singer Zolani Mahola sings about what a noble “supernova” Mugabe was, but then says that somewhere along the way, he fell.’ Element has a series of posts on the use of comics for social and political commentary in Africa. Comics work in a kind of sideways approach which can be just as hard hitting as conventional text, video or audio journalism but it allows the reader/viewer to use their own imagination, to interpret the story as they see it rather than be spoon fed.

There are also two reports from Haiti where earthquake survivors demand right to education, shelter and protest against the continued UN occupation of their country. Land of Freedom reports on the continued lack of educational and shelter provision for the thousands of internally displaced people despite the billions of US dollars supposedly collected and available for the country. Journalist Kevin Pina recently reported that the published sums of money amounted to about US$30,000 per ID person in the country, so the question is where is all this money?

‘As children all over the world returned to school this month, the majority of Haitian earthquake survivors are still living under tarps, tents and sheets without access to basic services and have no schools or educational programs for their children to attend. Since food distributions were halted months ago, in many camps the children are beginning to have orange hair, a sign of malnutrition.

‘Eight months after the earthquake, non-governmental organisations have enormous amounts of money in their accounts and protests are multiplying to demand that funds be used to meet the immediate needs of earthquake victims. Tents distributed months ago have shredded and been destroyed by the searing sun by day and rains that force victims to stand without sleeping under tents, tarps and sheets nearly every night.

‘Despite the millions of dollars already spent since January 12th, less than 3% of the population has transitional housing. At the same time, the number of NGOs in earthquake-affected areas has increased. The brand new all-terrain vehicles and heavy security of the foreign humanitarian aid community stand in contrast to the desperate conditions of earthquake survivors. Haitians are demanding to know who the money donated is truly for, as they are suffering the same uncertain future and lack of immediate relief eight months after the quake as they were only eight days after.’ Haitian Blogger reports on the death of a young man in Cap Haitian last August. 16-year-old Gérald Jean Gilles’ body was found near the base of the UN Nepalese forces in the city. The UN are claiming his death was suicide but many doubt the truth of this as Giles worked in the UN camp was heard to cry out that he was being strangled. Haitian Blogger comments on a number of other incidents of violence involving the UN this year and also on the rumour of a deployment of Israeli soldiers to the country.

‘Reportedly, Israeli police forces have deployed to Haiti to serve "under the command of UN" military forces. Question: If these "special patrol officers" that make up this task force are only in Haiti "to fulfill policing roles, assist in quelling public disturbances and maintain public order, as well as securing the personal safety of Haitian residents," then why will they reportedly be living "in field conditions, spend the night in sleeping bags and tents, and will be equipped with army rations, special uniforms and wide-ranging personal equipment that will allow them to remain there for an extended period." Won't this camping out arrangement make it rather difficult for MINUSTAH to "command" these fourteen "specialist?"

‘As for the continuing oppressive UN military presence, many "manifestations" or demonstrations have been organized to protest MINUSTAH this year alone.’ Looks has two posts on Africans in ancient China and Chinese in ancient Africa. She also posts on the recent disclosure that the Bill Gates Foundation has directly invested up to US$21 million in the biotechnology giant Monsanto.

‘The food and crops: Apart from Bt cotton, GM food is being sent to Africa, Asia and Latin America via food aid. Example – “In 2003 Nigeria received 11,000 metric tons of soy meal as food aid from the US under the title “Food for Progress”. Taking into account that around 60% of soybeans in the US is GM it is quite likely that Nigeria has been receiving GM food through the back door so to speak. Another example Bassey gives is in Latin America where corn varieties not authorised for human consumption have been found in food aid sent in 2002 and in 2005.

‘More recently and one that cannot have been missed by Bill and Melinda Gates happened in Haiti in May this year. 5 months after the earthquake that killed up to 250,000 people and hundreds of thousands more left homeless, Monsanto in one of it’s most despicable acts sent 475 tons of seeds in an aid package to Haitian farmers. They clearly thought that hungry people will accept any food even food that will kill them and their future. But the Haitians refused. The seeds are patented to Monsanto. They cannot be reused meaning farmers become forever dependent on Monsanto. A bit like Microsoft, at least in the early days, when it had a monopoly on operating systems and software for all IBM clone machines. So one could say this kind of consumer lock-in is familiar to the Gates.’


* Sokari Ekine blogs at BlackLooks.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.