Daily Archives: 19 June 2005

Romania’s Role in Freeing Hostages in Iraq

Jim Hoagland’s column in last Thursday’s Washington Post exposed an unusual angle on the hostage-taking business in Iraq.

Three haggard Romanian journalists appeared on al-Jazeera television April 22, in handcuffs and with guns pointed at their heads, to beg for their lives. They would be killed if Romania did not immediately withdraw its 860 troops from Iraq, their captors announced to the world….

There is a happy ending to this particular story: The Romanian government, which rejected any troop withdrawals, managed to win the journalists’ freedom a month after their suffering was exploited on al-Jazeera. With the help of Iraq’s besieged authorities, Bucharest has also unraveled many details of the kidnapping plot.

That investigation in turn contributed to the freeing Sunday of French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi translator, Hussein Hanoun Saadi. They and the Romanians were held on a “hostage farm” north of Baghdad by one of the local networks that traffic in foreign and Iraqi hostages. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin publicly thanked Romania on Tuesday for its help.

Criminality became ingrained in Iraqi society during the long and brutal rule of Saddam Hussein, and it did not disappear with the U.S. invasion. Many of those who finance or commit the bombings and other atrocities that flash nightly on American television screens, where the violence is interpreted uniformly as a political phenomenon, fight to be able to return to crime-as-usual in Iraq.

The Romanian case also casts new light on the strong connections that united the Iraqi dictator — and other Arab leaders — with the intelligence services and political establishments of the Soviet bloc for three decades. As they made cause against the United States together, they also made money together.

The U.N. oil-for-food scandal is in many ways only a small strand in the vast web of international corruption and violence spun around the Middle East’s oil riches….

The [Romanian] election last December of a democratic government headed by President Traian Basescu [who ran as an anticorruption candidate] has finally opened the files of the Romanian Intelligence Service …

O să fie foarte interesant, cred eu.

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Growth of Papuan Nationalism, 1961-2004

Honolulu-based East-West Center has issued a policy study that is of particular interest to me, for its focus both on Papua and on the construction of national identity.

Pan-Papuan identity is much more widespread and the commitment to a Papuan nation much stronger in 2004 than it was in 1963, when Indonesia thought it was liberating the Papuans from the yoke of Dutch colonialism. Rather than feeling liberated from colonial rule, Papuans have felt subjugated, marginalized from the processes of economic development, and threatened by the mass influx of Indonesian settlers. They have also developed a sense of common Papuan ethnicity in opposition to Indonesian dominance of the local economy and administration, an identity that, ironically, has spread in part as a result of the increasing reach of Indonesian administration. These pan-Papuan views have become the cultural and ethnic currency of a common Papuan struggle against Indonesian rule. Yet the sharp ethnic distinctions Papuans make between themselves and Indonesians reflect the various and complex relationships Papuans have had with the latter.

Despite the sharp distinctions they draw between themselves and Indonesians, the Papuans are themselves diverse. Papuan society is a mosaic of over three hundred small, local, and often isolated ethno-linguistic groups, whose contacts with each other and with non-Papuans has varied significantly. The evolution of Papuan nationalism has therefore gone hand in hand with the creation of a pan-Papuan identity. The first generation to begin thinking of themselves as Papuans were the graduates of the mission schools and colleges established by the Dutch to train officials, police, and teachers after the Pacific War. The study examines two regions to illustrate something of Papua’s ethnic and religious diversity as well as the different ways in which regions have interacted with the world outside Papua. These two regions, Fakfak [on the lower beak of the Bird’s Head] and Serui [on Yapen Island], had displayed some of the strongest pro-Indonesian sentiment prior to 1961. Today, the choice between Papuan and Indonesian identity is a hotly contested issue in Fakfak, while Serui has become anti-Indonesian. The analysis in these case studies sheds additional light on the ways Papuans have negotiated their ways through choices of identity and political orientation.

SOURCE: Constructing Papuan Nationalism: History, Ethnicity, and Adaptation, by Richard Chauvel.

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Beijing’s (and Washington’s) Policies toward the Uyghurs

Honolulu-based East-West Center has just issued a policy study that sounds two notes worth repeating.

Both Beijing and Washington are about to lose crucial political opportunities in this far-flung territory. Beijing’s new hard-line stance, which restricts even language and culture, has galled the many moderate Xinjiang citizens who once grudgingly accepted Chinese political restrictions as a price of regional economic development. The PRC government still has an opportunity to win back these people with a more pluralistic cultural policy that emphasizes support for Uyghur and other policy-relevant minority languages and that eases other cultural restrictions, particularly on religion. Without such a policy shift, as Beijing well knows, Xinjiang could become China’s Kashmir. Yet if current PRC policy stays on course, any change is likely to be even more restrictive, since the government considers its cultural accommodation of the 1980s and 1990s to be a cause of unrest, rather than a solution to it.

The United States, for its part, must make clear to Beijing that current U.S. political imperatives will not distract U.S. policy from supporting human rights, including cultural rights. The Uyghurs have been among the most pro-American citizens in China. They also happen to be Muslims. If the United States wants international partners in fighting terrorism, it should cultivate a cooperative partnership with China, including the Uyghurs. If the Xinjiang region is to be involved in an initiative against international terrorism, then the United States can urge China and its allies to cultivate the Uyghurs—with their knowledge of the language and cultures of Central Asia—as partners rather than as opponents. As Washington has begun to realize, its anti-Uyghur policies, even those targeted only at violent fringe groups, have already generated negative sentiment in Xinjiang towards the United States. Policies perceived as anti-Uyghur or anti-Muslim could well radicalize previously apolitical Uyghurs, pushing them into militant or radical Islamic groups.

SOURCE: The Xinjiang Conflict: Uyghur Identity, Language Policy, and Political Discourse, by Arienne M. Dwyer (2005).

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