Hung, Prawn and Quartered

On the train journey back from London last Sunday, I read in the Observer that apparently the UK’s appetite for prawns is fed by brutality abroad.

The article says,

Now a pressure group, Environmental Justice Foundation, is calling for an embargo of prawns from Bangladesh. It claims that at least 150 people have been killed and thousands injured in clashes linked to prawn production after it was transformed into a major export industry to meet growing international demand.

The article goes on to say, that this problem is a result of the lack of regulation in the Bangladesh prawn farming industry, which is in no way helped, it is further alleged, by collusion between the illegal prawn farming gangs and authorities.

Bangladesh is the world’s fifth-largest producer of farmed prawns, exporting ??210 million worth in 2000, providing an estimated 6.5 million kilos to the UK annually, about a tenth of all prawns eaten in Britain. Globally, the prawn trade is thought to be worth nearly ??6 billion a year.

The article further goes on to name names of individuals and companies that import the Bangladeshi prawns into Britain and then quotes Steve Trent, the Director of the Foundation,

“Until there is total reform of the prawn industry it is unacceptable for any Western seafood company to be doing business there.”

I don’t condone the illegal occupation of land by these gangs and am certainly against the attacks on the poor farmers, (pictures and statements from the victims were available in the paper edition which were, rather conveniently, supplied by the Foundation), but I wonder if a call for a total boycott of the Bangladeshi prawn industry is a ‘just’ response.

Unless the Environmental Justice Foundation thinks that all 13,000 prawn farms are run by illegal gangs then such a boycott would lead to even more suffering for genuine prawn farmers.

The fact is, though, that this is hardly mentioned in any of the Bangladeshi press, (at least not the online versions), and I can only conclude that either the problem is being totally overlooked by them, (not likely as they’re quite good at hi-lighting foreign reports of Bangladeshi human rights abuse), or that it’s just another example of sensational news reporting.

I’m proud of the fact Bangladesh is trying to diversify it’s exports and seems to be succeeding to some extent but am disappointed that it’s just the same old ‘Human Right’s Violation’ horse being flogged yet again by the British Press.

That’s not to dismiss the claims out of hand but what research on the ground, (i.e. in Bangladesh), have they done to verify the claims of yet another ‘independent environmental agency’?

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D’ya Luv “George Dubya”?

Top Ten quotes from the most powerful man on the planet…

10. “That’s a chapter, the last chapter of the 20th, 20th, 21st century that most of us would rather forget. The last chapter of the 20th century. This is the first chapter of the 21st century.”

9. “Marijuana? Cocaine? I’m not going to talk about what I did as a child”

8. “This is Preservation Month. I appreciate preservation. It’s what you do when you run for president. You gotta preserve.”

7. “I don’t remember debates. I don’t think we spent a lot of time debating it. Maybe we did, but I don’t remember.”

6. “It’s time to get some plain-spoken folks in the nation’s capital.”

5. “It’s clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it.”

4. “We must all hear the universal call to like your neighbour like you like to be liked yourself.”

3. “When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world and you knew exactly who they were. It was us versus them, and it was clear who them was. Today we are not so sure who they are, but we know they’re there.”

2. “This is still a dangerous world. It’s a world of madmen and uncertainity and potential mental losses.”

1. “I think we agree, the past is over.”

Copied these gems from a link on the AOL login splash page… I think I detect the influence of Fukuyama …. or maybe it’s Foghorn Leghorn!

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Weekend in London

I went down to London for the weekend and met up with a few friends. One of whom was Sue who along with her partner Karl, had recently cut short a backpacking trip through South America because they felt unsafe.

I was surprised at this since my own trip (quite a number of years ago, now) through Bolivia and Brazil had been full of incident but I hadn’t felt particularly unsafe. What struck me about Sue and Karl’s experience was that she cited being mistaken for [North] Americans as the reason for the hostility. Coincidentally, I was chatting with a few people in “The Mason’s Arms” near the Edgware Road yesterday and one bloke called Gary, who happened to be a weblogger, said that the most comments he ever got for any of his blogs, was when a number of Brazilians left some indicating their intense joy at the events of 9-11!

Is South America popping up onto the anti-American radar screens? Probably not, I mean it was just a weekend in London.

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I should have been writing up my notes from yesterday’s recce for “Whips, Chains and Rubber Tips” but ended up spending most of the afternoon in email debates with a couple of friends.

The first revolved around an article by George Monbiot where he suggests that, “There is only one way to check American power and that is to support the euro”. A proposition that, in my mind, seems calculated to undermine the US (thereby the World) economy, which may not actually lead to a reduction of American hegemonistic tendancies but would almost certainly lead to greater world instability.

I am all for some sort of checks and balances to American geo-political ambitions but through diplomatic means, anyway the point of the debate with my friend wasn’t about how to achieve this it was about George Monbiot’s about face as regards the Euro.

He’s such a staunch anti-globalisation pundit yet thinks nothing of suggesting that [East] Europeans should consider relinquishing some of their newly-found sovereignity to the EU in order to oppose the US. I mean, that’s not anti-globalisation, that’s just sour grapes!

I just don’t like inconsistency in my pundits.

The second debate was about Muslim block-voting in up-coming Scottish Parliamentary elections from an article in the Mirror;

Mark Smith

24th April 2003

MUSLIM leaders have urged followers to reject the Labour Party in the
Scottish election in a major break with tradition.

Muslims have been asked to vote tactically to remove Labour MSPs who
supported the war against Iraq.

A new Muslim political group, the Lothian Muslim Voting Committee, says
they should back the SNP with their first vote and the Scottish Socialist Party
with the second.

More than 100 Muslims also turned out to support the tactical voting strategy
at a meeting in Edinburgh’s Central Mosque on Tuesday. Committee chairman
Abdul Ibrahim said: “We want people to vote for any party that is likely to
oust Labour or the Tories.”

SNP campaign co-ordinator Nicola Sturgeon was pleased of the new votes.

She said: “Like so many they obviously have a sense of failure at the direction
of Labour.”

(Which I provide in full as I can’t find a link to it.)

My friend felt that this was the beginnings of a political cohesiveness amongst the Muslims. Perhaps so, I could see his point, but asked what he would advise a prospective voter to do in the case of a good constituancy MP who has served his community well but who belongs to a party, (say Labour), which he [the voter] wants to ‘hold to account’?

The upshot of this debate was that Muslim voters have to raise their ‘political game’ in order to voice their concerns, perhaps by tactical voting but not when these tactics damage a good MP or allow the likes of the BNP in ‘through the back door’.

What I found interesting about the two (albeit unrigourous) debates was that they took place at all. Prior to the War in Iraq, there was never any such debate amongst my friends – Politics being almost taboo but the war has changed that.

Perhaps reflecting the socio-political inclinations of my 2nd Gen. South Asian peers, the war was preceded by a flurry of political musings – all anti-war. Immediately after the fall of Baghdad there was silence for a number of days and I thought that normal service had been resumed but today seems to show that something has changed.

I’m almost hesitant to say it but it seems to be some kind of liberation. Pandora’s box has been opened and who know’s what kind of ills have been let loose as a consequence [of war] but whether in Karbala, Edinburgh or Birmingham people are talking politics.

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St.

As usual St. George’s day underwhelms the nation even as some are still recovering from the effects of St. Patrick’s day over a month ago, (okay I exaggerate but everyone knew about St. Patrick’s day well in advance of it and many celebrated it).

I’m ambivalent about the day, afterall St George and his cross are often, (perhaps unfairly), associated with the right wing of the British political spectrum. And the Left have often been complicit in promoting that association perhaps seeing it as a nationalist, (therefore an anti-internationalist), symbol.

But St. George is a curious choice for England’s Patron Saint, unlike St. Patrick who was Irish or St. David who was Welsh, St. George was by all accounts a Turk! What’s more his mother was from the Palestine and the virgin he famously saved from the dragon was Libyan!

By a curious coincidence, April the 23rd is William Shakespeare’s birthday, (it’s also his death date!). I expect that if England were to have a national day then William Shakespeare’s birthdate wouldn’t be a bad one – and one that everyone would be quite happy to celebrate, afterall…

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

(–Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet”, 1595)

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