Lessons from Chernobyl 30 Years Later

Source: history.com

Source: history.com

Each April 26, apart from recalling the anniversary of my first ever hard drive crash, I wonder if we have learned anything from Chernobyl.

Thirty years ago on this day, easily the worst peacetime nuclear disaster occurred on this planet. And it leaves us with a big question.

Can nuclear installations be trusted in the hands of the government near population centers?

I wonder why Chernobyl has not made the answer easier for us. Clearly not. Chernobyl is not just a reflection of the horrors of nuclear technology, but it is also an insight into the mindset of the bureaucracy in a country with a massive government.

Granted, such a design mistake has not been repeated since, yet that is not the only danger involved in nuclear reactors.

We probably do not realize the extent of irreversible damage nuclear radiation could cause. Actually, we clearly don’t.

 

Chernobyl released at least 100 times more radiation than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb, according to the BBC. Other sources consider the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone uninhabitable for humans due to dangerous Cesium radiation levels, and that the inhabitable zone would remain dangerous for the next 20,000 years. That’s shocking.

Not to mention the terrible toll the disaster has taken on animal life in the region, with suppressed biodiversity and startling diseases emerging among newborn and children as a result of genetic mutations.

 

Chernobyl disaster literally turned the neighboring Pripyat into a ghost town, which sends chills down your spine.

The nuclear radiation from the disaster spread out as far as Sweden and Western Europe.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

We may hear about it on a day like this, but we never really believe that a nuclear spill or meltdown as in the case of Chernobyl could last for thousands of years.

As of January 2016, 439 nuclear reactors are operating around the world on five continents. While there is no doubt that nuclear technology has only improved over the years and most scientists consider nuclear technology very safe, it hardly changes the lethality of a possible accident.

Fukushima could not have been a harsher reminder of our vulnerability. If a highly advanced industrial nation such as Japan cannot handle the breakdown of a nuclear reactor in the aftermath of a natural disaster, even worse can be expected from countries with far poorer government infrastructure, such as Pakistan and India.

As a matter of fact, some reports suggest that the fallout from Fukushima is far worse than Chernobyl and Hiroshima and that the worst effects of the accident are yet to materialize. However, the reporting of the risk has largely to do with the politics of the source as well, there is little doubt that Chernobyl was incomparable in its consequences due to its meltdown nature.

Fukushima also reveals is that no nuclear facility is completely disaster proof and that the potential fallout is nothing short of an environmental apocalypse.

I leave this post by pondering what to make of nuclear energy policy. Nuclear energy has its benefits as clean energy and the probability of nuclear accidents is considered very low. Furthermore, with maintaining nuclear weapons becoming almost a necessity for world powers, why not just take the risk of building nuclear reactors for power generation as well?

After all, they are well protected anyway.

But isn’t the risk of the pervasiveness of civil nuclear power plants unique in its own right? Despite the fact that most of the warnings about the potential danger of this mode of generating power are dismissed as pure alarmism.

Clearly, the only lesson that is visible after 30 years is that we are only building more nuclear reactors.

But what if we were building around our neighborhoods, with our own hands, the same disaster that we feared and dreaded so much during the uncertain Cold War?

Sadly, the evidence that we have witnessed over the years is just too overwhelming to ignore.

———————————————————————————————————————–

Yazidi Sex Slave Survivor Nadia Murad Taha Speaks Out Against Islamic State

Source: freedomfund.org

Source: freedomfund.org

If you ever wanted a glimpse into the horror that ISIL has forced millions of people in Iraq and Syria to live through, then listen to the nine-minute speech of this young girl at the United Nations Security Council.

If this does not shock any humanitarian soul, or convince someone that the Islamic State should be destroyed once and for all, I don’t know what will.

Her name is Nadia Murad Basee Taha. Her family was massacred and she was sold and abused by the barbarians at the helm of the sex slave trade that the Islamic State was so eager to to take up. It was almost the reason that they have been eyeing to target the Yazidis for. The trauma and torture that this young girl and thousands more like her went through are simply unimaginable. And the fact that she is brave enough to be here, campaigning against ISIL sends shivers down your spine. This is the sort of courage you can hardly imagine.

It’s unconscionable how the world is tolerating the unacceptable entity of the Islamic State. This is just another reminder that the world needs to move against the Islamic State fast.

While I really don’t like what it’s doing to the world, I actually respect the political positions of consistent liberal pacifists, libertarian and conservative isolationists and nationalists. Sure, they can ask the question why their respective countries, especially the United States, should bother about what is happening to the Yazidi, Kurds and other Iraqi and Syrian people. They have every right to ask that question.

But turning the other way is the easiest thing in the world to do. There is a reason why civilized nations of the world find it important to intervene in a humanitarian crisis because somebody needs to stand up for the helpless. Survivors like her speak volumes why Iraqi and Syrian refugees must be accepted to peaceful regions in as many numbers as possible. Imagine losing this life to war and conflict.

Doing so requires moral leadership and a sense of responsibility. I am proud of the fact that the United States delegation introduced her to the United Nations and it is probably the US leadership that would be required to eliminate the Islamic State. The people oppressed by the Islamic State need to be liberated.

If only fighting ISIL were more central to the political discourse around the world than it currently is.

 

Thank You for the Music, David Bowie

Source: David Bowie/urbanmilwaukee

Source: David Bowie/urbanmilwaukee

So what if that distant star in the sky that you love dies out?

And here we are, with grief thrust on us, numb-minded trying to make sense of the incomprehensible emotional torrent in our electric bags of fluids.

The only consolation perhaps is that I am not alone in this moment, yet everyone grieving this moment in their own private way. Probably that is how it is meant to be.

Everyone has their own journey of Bowie’s music, as is the case with all greatness. And everyone is saying that it is his music what will live on.

I would not talk about how great David Bowie was an artist, as a singer and songwriter and an actor. That he was a genius showman and a renaissance man, as an artist should be. That there was probably no parallel of his talent and career. There are plenty of other tributes to make the case, but you can only talk about the fingerprints of an artist on your heart, and on your life.

I have never connected with most music the way I did with Outside, which has a curious theme, and some of the most mesmerizing tracks you would ever hear. With just the subtlety and darkness to give a voice to the passing moments of your life. Hours of mental miles covered in the mesmerizing, magical, warping wormhole of “I’m Deranged.”

All this music coming from a man who understood that he had limited time, that we had limited time. Despite a career spanning five decades. What it meant to cease to exist, and to give up everything you have ever worked for, and everyone you ever loved. And that probably art is just one small but significant human effort to express existence in a senseless void.

A void that is only intensified by a sea of other souls.

Source: ISO/RCA/Columbia

Source: ISO/RCA/Columbia

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03f5cyt/player

So what do we miss about David Bowie?

He was pretty much reclusive for the final years of his life anyway, and was hardly seen in public events or media. It’s not that we saw him on TV everyday.

However, we always had the hope of hearing more from him, and seeing more of him, as in Prestige (2006), if not as in Labyrinth (1986) as Jareth the Goblin King. There probably was so much more, decades of audio and visual art in that wonderful mind and we never thought it would ever end.

His latest album Blackstar (2015) is proof he never quit until his last breath. But probably it was meant to be like this, a final gift. A final goodbye.

That’s what stars do. They shine for a while, and then fade away.

Thank you for the music, David Bowie.

Thank you for your  life. RIP.

Proactive, Not Reactive, Military Action Needed Against ISIS

Source: thequint.com

Source: thequint.com

Some of the worst fears about ISIS were realized during the November 13 Paris attacks that involved a suicide bomber, who turned out to be a Syrian refugee, and three groups of terrorists shooting out at three different locations. More than a hundred people lost their lives that night and several were injured as the terrorists mercilessly slaughtered peace loving French citizens. ISIS has taken responsibility for the heinous attack.

The incident has shocked and saddened everyone around the world, but it is just a reminder of how dangerous ISIS has become and how urgently substantial action against it is required.

The French President stated that his country would unleash a “pitiless” war against the terrorist state as revenge for the attack. While cynical critics would find that the hawks and the right wing rejoicing at this incident for using it for gaining support for the war, the truth is that many would see this as acting too late, though at least doing the right thing at last.

No wonder this atrocity is sufficient to warrant adequate military action by any standards. You know things are different when Democratic candidates sound as hawkish as the Republicans in their debate the following night, which gives you even more faith in the US leadership regardless of the political affiliation.

However, I find something else wrong with the approach of France to attack ISIS. While I am glad that France is finally prepared to strike ISIS locations in Syria and that it has every right to avenge the death of its citizens, they should have known better than just carrying out reactive vengeful strikes.

The French approach is precisely what is generally wrong with the reaction of the Western powers in terms of countering ISIS. They see ISIS as a distant security threat, which they do not need to do anything about unless their homes are threatened, instead of proactively intervening to prevent a humanitarian crisis and to destroy a local threat in the Middle East. The French reaction also suggests that up until this time it was not at war with the entity and did not consider its atrocities worthy of an intervention, as it considered necessary in the case of secular Libya. Sadly, it is only now that the French seek a global coalition against Islamic State.

Source: rare.us

Source: rare.us

Europe apparently did not have a problem with the existence of ISIS, without being bothered by the massacre they have been committing in Iraq and Syria. Even Israel has not taken any active action against it, because probably ISIS has been working to weaken Bashar Al-Assad, one of their archenemies. Or probably because the main victims of ISIS have primarily been Muslims of the Middle East, but by that rationale, you would expect Arab countries of the region to act against them, the reaction of which has been terribly dishonest and irresponsible. Nevertheless, you cannot expect much from morally bankrupt regimes.

The United States is probably the only exception, and they had better be, due to the enormous responsibility they bear following the Iraq War and their intervention in the Syrian Civil War. And they have been fighting ISIS alone without any considerable help from any ally in the region. However, despite reassurances by President Obama, his strategy has fallen short of effectively reducing the threat. Furthermore, he completely rules out deploying ground troops despite demands from the Republican leaders.

Such a reactive and defensive approach is what has resulted in the strengthening of ISIS in the first place. This should surely offer fodder to moralist critics who would accuse the Western powers of valuing the loss of life in Europe but completely ignoring the bloodbath in Syria and Lebanon, and genocide and human slavery in Kurdish Iraq.

Instead of striking back at ISIS as a reaction to some terrorist attack, proactive military action should be carried out against its targets until the complete annihilation of the terrorist entity as a state. This would not be possible without ground forces and occupation of the area making up the terrorist state.

The United States should also reconsider its withdrawal from Iraq, which has resulted in the breakdown of the security of a weak state with a Shia leadership unpopular with the local Sunnis. While President Obama could blame the Iraq War in 2003 initiated by George W. Bush for the rise of ISIS, history could see it as more of an unfinished business of his administration, or even a part of his Middle East foreign policy legacy.

As a matter of fact, President Obama has a great and rare opportunity to achieve undisputed greatness as a statesman following his historic Cuba initiative and the Iran Nuclear Deal. When he was elected President with the slogans of hope and change, even his fiercest enemies would have expected him to be destined to do great things. With the peace of the world at peril, and the Pope talking about the signs of a Third World War, his leadership can restore peace to the world if only he is willing to do what is necessary.  It is up to him to execute a swift blow to the terror network or wait for the next President to replace him to get the job done.

The United States is already tackling ISIS at his own pace, but in the words of Hillary Clinton, President Obama’s policy of “containment” of ISIS is not enough. President Obama tried calming the demands for more military action by using the very word just the night before ISIS attacked Paris and immediately came under fire. This incident seems to prove the last straw to wake the world up. The world must not rest until ISIS is destroyed. And since nobody else would even bother until the threat reaches their shores, United States remains the only moral leader in the world to take on the challenge.

However flawed the military strategy of Obama administration maybe, it still deserves greater respect for its principled action than the reactive measures France is going to take as revenge. If only a global coalition had been formed in a timely manner, the resources of ISIS could have been greatly reduced to carry out such attacks, though it would have required active pursuit of its presence in the continental Europe as well. But ISIS is feeding off the oil in the region and its supply lines must be destroyed.

ISIS has also threatened terrorist attacks in Washington D.C, and against any country that participates in bombings against them. The US intelligence believes they lack the resources to do so at the moment, but we must not let them grow strong enough to become capable of it, and must certainly stop underestimating the threat. The world still has time at its hands to prevent another tragedy like 11/13.

United States certainly does not need to bear this burden alone. The rest of the powers of the world have a chance to redeem their ignorance of the humanitarian crisis created by ISIS by joining a global coalition under US leadership. The United States, under the leadership of President Obama, is perfectly capable of rallying allied powers from around the world, not only from Europe and the Middle East, but from Asia Pacific as well to combat this threat together.

As long as the focus of the war becomes averting a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria instead of just defense of Western countries, the war should not feel like such a burden. However, I am not too sure if many in the West are still too concerned about the situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Value of Freedom

Source: npr.org

Source: npr.org

Alright, let’s give credit where it is due, even though I mostly find promoting Google Doodles very distasteful.

I woke up to this Google Doodle, and in a minute and a half, it made me realize something very striking.

Source: Google

You don’t value freedom, or even recognize its cost, until you find it gone or threatened by political forces that could so easily part individual from individual.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall, an almost universal symbol of tyranny and everything contrary to freedom, since the beginning of the Cold War.

And that’s the only thought that comes to my mind today.

How fragile freedom is.

Today, it means nothing to us because we have overcome the political conflict that gave rise to the human tragedy of a divided German Republic. The supposed liberators of the city ended up having it divided in the most terrible manner, even with deadly consequences.

How would you react if that happened to your city tomorrow? No matter where you live and no matter who forces the division.

There are many other examples too. The Koreas, the partition of Kashmir and the Indian sub continent, the Arab Israeli conflict.

But it’s easy to observe that not just 25 years, but a much shorter period, was sufficient to forget the misery of more than 3 decades of suffering that Berliners endured in the name of political conflict.

It is important to notice how two opposing political forces can actually divide a part of your lives for their own authoritarian power grab.

Just imagine you being unable to walk into a part of your own town, just because it belongs to an alien political entity now.

Is there anything more horrifying?

That’s just how precious freedom is.

The scary part is that all of this can happen tomorrow. All over again.

Source: TIME
Source: TIME

Brutality Defining Justice

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When justice needs to be served, how much is enough?

How much should be done to undo the wrong that has been committed and to relieve the wronged?

How much should the severity of the punishment be to inflict the same degree of pain that the victim of the crime suffered?

Is an eye for an eye enough? Or do we need to go beyond that to ensure that we have perfectly balanced the pans of the scale of justice?

How much torture would suffice the necessary urge for revenge?

Well, it’s hard to answer. Because every person has different needs and standards when it comes to revenge. But you do need a close-to-objective standard to establish a state-level punishment that would satisfy a mass audience.

So what could be the most potent standard?

Thankfully, there are systems of governance in the world that have just the answer.

Be as brutal as you possibly can be.

Sadly, gone are the days of medieval torture in Europe and even the Electric Chair has been outlawed in the most conservative states in the US.

But not to worry, there is plenty of other help.

Shariah Law punishment is alive and well, and growing healthy by the day.

Perhaps not everyone is chopping off everyone’s hand, but the intent is commendable.

Saudi Arabia recently beheaded another Pakistani for smuggling heroin. Well, the bastard certainly deserved that. That ought to teach those drug dealers a lesson.

But before you cry Islamophobia, well, it’s not the only guiding principle. there are a lot of guidelines in the secular law around the world, which can be just as illuminating.

Take China’s brutal punishment of Liu Xiaobao for an example. Is speaking your mind treason? And is treason even a crime?

Or perhaps take a few examples from the civilized world?

US citizen Jonathan Pollard is still in prison for spying for Israel in the United States. Could someone explain to me what has Private Manning done to deserve, how many, 35 years in prison. Or even how the terrorist financier Afia Siddiqui could probably survive 86 years of confinement, even though she has not apparently directly killed a single man. Or maybe Shakeel Afridi’s sentence.

But then again, isn’t our Blasphemy Law a by-product of the civilized world?

Oh, but that was the British Empire. Apologies.

Forget even that. What did private property destroyer Gullu Butt actually do to deserve 11 years in prison? Seriously, I would like to know.

We are probably just a bunch of self-righteous passive-aggressive closet sadists who thrive on publicly humiliating and killing one of our own. Which sounds more like symptoms of some sort of mass moralistic psychopathy. And in order to hide that instinct of ours, we have created the label of justice. Because we are not brave enough to apologize for our dark side.

And oh, swift justice. Isn’t that what Ambassador Zafar Hilaly recently quoted on Capital TV to hint why people loved the Sufi Muhammad regime in Swat so much. But he won’t recall it now. It was in the heat of the moment.

And then there is the news and opinion media to serve this very purpose. To satisfy our insatiable appetite and lust for punishing and humiliating someone. Like these cannibals and necrophiliacs.

But why bring local politics in.

Anyway, let’s go for more recent, safer examples.

Source: Golara Sajadian/AFP/Huffington Post

Source: Golara Sajadian/AFP/Huffington Post

Take Reyhaneh Jabbari for instance.

The poor woman killed someone who was about to rape her, which actually doesn’t make her an angel, but she did it in self defense. You never know if the rapist is going to not kill you, and prevention of rape is a right after all. So violence for violence, as per the eye-for-an-eye rule, is perfectly justified.

But no, she did something so terrible. The Iranians had to hang her despite all the Western propaganda. So they did. End of story.

But then again, she committed a murder. Numerous others are publicly hanged in Iran, with their executions seen in live media broadcast. According to many of my social conservative friends, this is the best form of punishment to help deter crime.

Let’s see the other extremity too.

Unlike her, somebody like Mukhtaran Mai survived a gang rape, which by the way, was ordered by a village judicial council or jirga to address another grievance. And dozens of women like her undergo that rather weird form of punishment.

Or maybe another, which involves calling for castration for rape. Death for rape. You know, folks back in India could be as brutal and heartless as the vigilante mobs and other brutal penalizing authorities.

Well, I can’t say I hold the moral high ground here. I definitely don’t. Following the brutal murder of a young girl after her gang rape in a bus in New Delhi, I felt the same way. But I do realize, I was wrong and probably not any better than the rapists.

Maybe I am as barbaric when push comes to shove. I support shooting at violent rioters to prevent killings and damage to private property anyway. And ironically, oppose capital punishment.

But my personal hypocrisies are secondary here. I could believe in private revenge, like a million superheroes, or I may not, but it’s setting a moral example for state governance is what matters here, doesn’t it?

Having said that, I still support, as in Jabbari’s case, killing for self defense, and even in theory and in part, the apparently savage Stand Your Ground laws in the United States, despite their discriminatory application, which demands abuse reviews and possible amends. It’s not a perfect world if you are looking for justice.

There are a lot of liberal folks in Pakistan who wanted to put Mumtaz Qadri to death. Recall him? The same guy who killed Governor Taseer because of his criticism of yet another barbaric guiding principle, the Blasphemy Law.

I am one of those who are against capital punishment for Mumtaz Qadri. I even think that the blood money laws, if not coerced, are among the better parts of Islam.

But probably a lot of folks would blame people like me for the death of a British blasphemer in Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail after the incarcerated Mumtaz Qadri incited his murder in religious zeal. He actually believes that shit.

I’d take them seriously, but we have a lot worse problems to deal with.

Because half of people in Pakistan want the country to look like this.

And this is what the other half wants.

And Justice has been served.

Happy Halloween.

The Questions You Should Not Ask

Source: AP/HBO

Source: AP/HBO

In recent days, a clip from Real Time with Bill Maher has been circulating all over the social media, and even in news publications. The clip is about the confrontation between Academy Award winning actor and director Ben Affleck and atheist scholar and neuroscientist Sam Harris.

Well, no introduction to the clip needed.

                               Source: HBO

This brief confrontation led to a number of critiques, both on Ben Affleck and Maher and Harris. The primary criticism on the latter was about their Islamophobia and bigotry. In comparison, Affleck was attacked for not being thoughtful in the debate.

There is little doubt about the fact that Ben Affleck was emotional form the word go, and Sam Harris even claimed he was “gunning for him from the start.” But in short, Affleck lost his cool and should have acted in a saner manner.

But instead of wasting our time with Affleck calling Maher and  Harris “racist”, which they most probably are (who cares), let’s focus on the other side of the debate.

You could argue that both of them have been displaying behavior toward Muslims, which could be termed hostile by many. Despite their claims that they do not engage in Islamophobia.

What is noteworthy is that most of their critics completely ignore their objection on tolerance of cruel and illiberal fundamental beliefs among Muslims. And the questions they raise are:

  • What is the punishment for apostasy in Islam?
  • What is the punishment for adultery in Islam?
  • What is the punishment for blasphemy in Islam?

The answer to all three questions happen to be death, like it or not.

These are the questions that you should not ask.

Even the recent opinion article from religion apologist and scholar Reza Aslan, who claims the moral high ground by saying that both sides lacked sophistication.

Curiously, that eloquent article conveniently lacked any mention of those questions, which kills the criticism on Maher and Harris for someone who is familiar with their rhetoric.

Now this could put some serious questions in the minds of someone who would actually want to disagree with them.

But yet another problem with this is that those who have already picked a side would not be prepared to change their minds. However, from my own experience, I know it is not true for everyone.

What Maher and Harris mean is that we probably have a big problem when that many Muslims actually believe in fundamental beliefs that have no room in a modern Western civilization. And which are simply unacceptable by any standard but their own.

And especially because their population makes up such a significant portion of the world population. So why not talk about it and take a step toward sorting this issue.

However, asking these very questions have become unacceptable in the unwritten rules of the Western progressive liberals. While they accuse people like Sam Harris to be indulging in bigotry and Islamophobia in the guise of criticizing religion, they could be accused of tolerating illiberal and even dangerously brutal beliefs in their eagerness to avoid being xenophobes as well.

So what is the solution?

How are you going to confront most Muslims for their irresponsible beliefs that they would gladly defend?

Should you just shut up because that’s racist?

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