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[URBAN NOTE] “Basra, Dystopian City”

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Middle East Online hosts Peter Harling’s article, originally published in Le Monde diplomatique, about the decline of Iraq’s Basra.

Basra, the second or third largest city in Iraq, should be a great metropolis, more dynamic than Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha or Kuwait City, and should dominate the Gulf. Its port, Umm Qasr, offers the rest of the world access to one of the biggest oil-producing countries, which is also a huge potential consumer market. Hydrocarbons are abundant in the area, and the deposits are cheap to exploit, giving substantial profit margins no matter how much the price of oil varies.

Not so long ago, Basra was known for its cosmopolitan society, intellectual elite and skilled workforce — a real city that should have become a manufacturing power and a platform for regional trade. Its fertile hinterland is suited to rice and dates, for which it was once famed. Yet now, when you arrive at the airport, the first thing you see is a banner reading ‘Basra: Investment Paradise’ and all you can do is laugh, and despair.

Basra feels like a third-world dystopia. The state is almost absent, except as a governorate, which complains that it has not had a budget since 2013. Week after week, it is surrounded by demonstrators who never stop protesting, though they don’t attract much popular support. The spread of sectarian militias has almost eclipsed the presence of the official security forces. The foreign oil companies are also invisible: At best, they recruit manual labour locally, when some tribe or other resorts to violence to ensure that it receives a share of the oil money.

The economy is shifting rapidly from dependence on sectors that are already fairly doubtful — such as public funding (when salaries are actually paid and projects financed) and consumption of imported goods (especially cars) — towards the morbid reality of endemic corruption and trafficking in hydrocarbons and drugs. Meanwhile a continuing demographic explosion has led to uncontrolled urban development.

Basra is the exact opposite of a city-state — that ancient model of autonomous, resource-rich cities that seems to reappear when the nation-state disintegrates. Those who make the law here are outsiders. The governorate is subordinate to a hyper-centralised system: Even trivial decisions are taken in Baghdad, where Basra has few to speak for it — just one minister out of 30 and 9% of seats in parliament. The local political class represents non-indigenous parties and militias, which have a parasitic relationship to the city.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 9, 2016 at 6:30 pm

[NEWS] Some Monday links

  • Bloomberg looks at the Vietnamese government’s response to a mass fish death, examines political instability in Iraq, notes a potentially problematic nuclear plant in the United Kingdom, and studies an illegal amber rush in western Ukraine.
  • CBC looks at the recent New Brunswick ruling on interprovincial alcohol shipments, notes an auction of Prince’s blazer from Purple Rain, suggests that a Facebook rant by a man convicted of neglecting the health of his son may not help him in sentencing, and looks at the retirement of Pierre Karl Péladeau as head of the Parti Québécois.
  • The Inter Press Service notes African support for West Papuan freedom.
  • MacLean’s looks at the Island’s preparation for Mike Duffy’s return to the Senate, notes Karla Homolka’s children will have to deal with their mother’s past crimes, and reacts to the new Drake album.
  • National Geographic interviews the author of a new book on abandoned cities.
  • NPR notes how Somali-British poet Warsan Shane has become a star thanks to Beyoncé.
  • Universe Today notes Russia’s first launch from its Far Eastern Vostochny cosmodrone and reports on the identification of an extragalactic neutrino source.

[NEWS] Some Tuesday links

  • Africa is a Country looks at how Ethiopians interpret the 1966 visit of Haile Selassie to Jamaica.
  • The Building Blog depicts how a California town is literally being visibly distorted by seismic forces.
  • Bloomberg considers the import of Beyoncé’s debut of Lemonade on Tidal.
  • Bloomberg View notes how the China-Venezuela money-for-oil pact is failing and looks at the risks of being a Russian media mogul.
  • The Globe and Mail looks at the very high cost of internet in Nunavut.
  • MacLean’s looks at the Iran-Iraq War and examines Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
  • Universe Today notes how spaceflight apparently acts to accelerate aging.
  • Wired notes how much of Venezuela’s electricity shortage is the consequence of booming consumption in the good years.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • blogTO notes the refusal of Bombardier to explain to the TTC, even in the context of an impending lawsuit, why streetcar production is so delayed.
  • At the Broadside Blog, Caitlin Kelly recommends the movie Spotlight for its insights into the importance of journalism.
  • Crooked Timber considers protests at Princeton about racial representation.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting possibilities for direct imaging of the Alpha Centauri system.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes plans to close down the last coal-powered power plant in Britain.
  • Far Outliers looks at Russian and German encounters with Papuans in the late 19th century.
  • Language Hat starts a discussion on marginalized languages.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the defense of the mayor of Roanoke that his defense of the Japanese-American internment was not racist.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the importance of the Iran-Iraq War in the Middle East’s downward spiral.
  • pollotenchegg notes language use in Ukraine.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes how the Kirchner governments in Argentina subsidized energy companies.
  • Torontoist notes a Bloordale artist’s efforts to start a fact box in her neighbourhood.
  • Towleroad notes the belated recognition of a trans widow’s marriage.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the complications of the cut-off of electricity supply from Ukraine to Crimea.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alexander Harrowell is critical of certain plans for devolution that risk creating party fiefdoms.

[LINK] “Why Iraqi women are turning to the Internet to buy books”

Al Monitor‘s Omar Al-Jaffal writes about how book markets and their female buyers have adapted to the trying situations in Iraq. On the one hand, it’s great that books can achieve their liberatory potential anywhere, and that markets have adapted to even the trying conditions in Iraq. On the other, it’s a terrible shame that this adaptation was necessary.

The deteriorating security situation in the Iraqi capital has prevented Noor Jamal Abdul Hamid from going to Mutanabbi Street to shop for books and stationery. Abdul Hamid is a young woman who found herself crippled by risky roads and social restrictions that prevent her from leaving her house. Despite all this, she manages to read plenty of books and hosts discussions of what she reads over Twitter.

Abdul Hamid, who was born in Baghdad in 1991, is a graduate of Alrafidain College. She is currently unemployed and reads to pass the time. In order to understand what is going on in her society and the mysterious Iraqi political life, she opted for “finding the truth in books,” as she told Al-Monitor, and so created her own library.

But how did she manage to collect 300 books, including novels, poetry and philosophy, when she had no access to a bookstore? “I found a bookstore on Facebook that delivers books to my doorstep,” she said.

This trend has emerged as a result of the security situation, giving housebound women access to books, and has also created a successful venue of commerce.

Abdul Hamid taught her friend Saja Imad how to order books over the phone or through Facebook, and Saja began to collect a set of books of her own.

“Reading is fun. It is like you are talking to someone else in another world,” Imad told Al-Monitor. She offered the following advice: “Whenever you feel like talking to someone, do not hesitate to grab a book and read.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 9, 2015 at 6:44 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • The Boston Globe‘s Big Picture reports on Olympics evictions in Brazil, compares school life in Boston and Haiti, and follows an elderly man climbing Mount Washington.
  • blogTO suggests jets will not be coming to the Toronto Island airport and argues the city is unlikely to legalize Uber.
  • The Broadside Blog examines the staggering level of income inequality in the United States.
  • Centauri Dreams considers, in real-life and science fiction, the problems with maintaining artificial economies and notes the complexities of the Pluto system.
  • Crooked Timber notes the problems of organized labour and Labour in the United Kingdom.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes how atmospheric oxygen may not automatically point to the sign of life.
  • The Dragon’s Tales maps volcanic heat flow on Io and wonders if that world has a subsurface magna ocean
  • Far Outliers notes a popular thief in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan and looks at the politicization of the German military after the 1944 coup.
  • Geocurrents calls for recognizing the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and Somaliland and looks at the geography of American poverty.
  • Language Log notes Sinified Japanese.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money examines the complexities of race and history in New Mexico.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that India unlike China cannot sustain global growth, approves of Snyder’s Black Earth, and notes poor economic outcomes for graduates of some American universities.
  • Otto Pohl is not optimistic about Ghana’s economic future.
  • The Planetary Society Blog evaluates the latest images from Mars.
  • pollotenchegg evaluates the 1931 Polish census in what is now western Ukraine.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer looks at why Syrian refugees will not be resettled in South America and observes that Mexico has birthright citizenship.
  • Cheri Lucas Rowlands describes the negative relationship for her between blogging and writing.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog examines rising mortality in Ukraine and notes changing ethnic compositions of Tajikistan’s populations.
  • Savage Minds talks about the importance of teaching climate change in anthropology.
  • Transit Toronto notes Toronto now has nine new streetcars.
  • Whatever’s John Scalzi considers the situation of poor people who go to good schools.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the lack of Russian nationalism in the Donbas, observes the scale of the refugee problem in Ukraine, and looks at Russian alienation of Moldova.

[LINK] “Proposed mosque in Detroit suburb draws sharp opposition”

Al Jazeera America’s Steve Friess reports on conflict between Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims in the Detroit area on the location of a mosque in a Christian neighbourhood, a conflict rooted in past conflicts.

The nation’s largest concentration of Iraqi Christians, many driven from their homeland by persecution at the hands of Muslim groups, is mounting an intensive campaign to block a proposed mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan — sometimes by deploying public anti-Islam invective unusual in its bluntness even in this post-9/11 era.

The 20,500-square-foot mosque, to be built on four acres by the American Islamic Community Center (AICC), is to stand 60 feet tall along a major thoroughfare in a middle-class neighborhood if the Sterling Heights Planning Commission approves the plan at its meeting this Thursday. Opponents have dubbed it a “mega-mosque,” while Muslim leaders say it is of average size for houses of worship, including some nearby churches.

American leaders of the Chaldeans, an ancient Christian sect also known historically as ethnic Assyrians and originating from Iraq, have insisted in recent days that their opposition is based on concerns about traffic and property values, not religious enmity.

Yet a parade of speakers at a four-hour Sterling Heights City Council meeting on Aug. 13 offered vicious accusations that the group behind the mosque planned to use it to plot terrorist attacks and store weaponry, and attacked women who wear headscarves as scary to children. More of that sort of ire is being spewed on popular Chaldean group pages on Facebook and in signage and comments to local reporters at recent street-side protests near the proposed mosque site.

“This mosque is going to bring people like this. I do not want to be near people like this,” one resident, Saad Antoun, said at the City Council meeting as he held up a photo of women in burkas. “This is not humanity. … It is not right to live with people like this. This is not acceptable at all because these people are scaring the public. And they don’t care. … Can we prohibit this kind of public thing? We see them at the mall every day. We see them at shopping. Can we prohibit this? Can we make law against this? It’s scary and disgusting.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 9, 2015 at 5:25 pm