Monday, September 24, 2007


Demonize This!

The highly politicized process by which the US picks its demons is always remarkable, but never has it been more clearly displayed than in the loud tempest over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to NYC during the opening session of the UN general assembly and in particular his participation in the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University. The best evidence of the narrow-mindedness of the furor over Iran's president is the fact that the keynote speaker at the Forum is Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, President of Turkmenistan, whose human rights record rivals that of any Iranian thug or cleric. Has anybody heard a peep out of the US media or its self-appointed defenders of high moral principles over the participation of the Turkmenistani President in this forum? Here's a summary of the human and political rights situation in Turkmenistan according to the latest survey from Freedom House, a conservative human rights organization which gives the country its lowest possible ratings for both political rights and civil liberties:

* Turkmenistan is not an electoral democracy. President Saparmurat Niyazov enjoyed virtually absolute power over all branches and levels of government. While the extent to which Niyazov’s successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, would be able to consolidate his own power remained unclear by the end of 2006, the legacy of absolute presidential power is likely to prove difficult to overcome.

* The country has two parliamentary bodies, neither of which enjoys genuine independence from the executive branch

* None of the country’s legislative elections have been free or fair.

* Corruption is widespread, with public officials often forced to bribe their way into their positions. The authorities have used anticorruption campaigns as a way to remove potential rivals.

* Freedom of speech and the press is severely restricted by the government, which controls all radio and television broadcasts and print media. Reports of dissenting political views are banned, as are even mild forms of criticism of the president. Subscriptions to foreign newspapers and magazines are forbidden, and foreign journalists have few opportunities to visit Turkmenistan

* The government restricts freedom of religion, and independent religious groups continue to face persecution.

* The government places significant restrictions on academic freedom, with schools increasingly being used to indoctrinate, rather than educate, students.

* The state security services regularly monitor the activities of citizens and foreign nationals, limiting open and free private discussion.

* Turkmenistan remains a smuggling corridor for drugs from neighboring Afghanistan.

* Employment and educational opportunities for ethnic minorities are limited by the government’s policy of promoting Turkmen national identity and its discrimination against those who are not ethnic Turkmen.

* The government restricts various personal social freedoms, including the wearing of long hair or beards by men.

* Freedom of movement, particularly overseas, is severely restricted.

What do you have to do to get a little criticism around here? This guy generates no protests, no outcry, no long-winded diatribes about endorsing his actions by allowing him to speak. In fact, Columbia apparently decided let's make him the keynote and see if anybody cares? Will CU President Lee Bollinger be there to take this guy to task?

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