Sunday, October 10, 2010

And the war drags on . . .

I thought again of the Iraqi child, whose parents had a beautiful garden, who showed a friend and I her drawing book, before the invasion. One picture had an abundance of flowers, carefully colored, in numerous hues, on the side were American soldiers - shooting at the flowers. "Why are the soldiers shooting the flowers?" We asked. "Because Americans hate flowers", she replied solemnly. It was a deeply saddening moment, that she represented so many children, who saw American as representing only wrath, fear and deprivation. She knew nothing of those Americans who had worked tirelessly to reverse the situation. If she has survived, she will be a young adult. She is unlikely to have changed her views.

The above is from Felicity Arbuthnot's "The Nightmare: The Iraq Invasion's Atrocities, Unearthing the Unthinkable" (Global Research) and Iraqi children have had to endure a great deal. Dr. Souad N. al-Azzawi outlined some of what they had to endure earlier this year at Global Research:

■ Direct killing during the military invasion operations where civilians were targeted directly. Additional casualties amongst children have resulted from unexploded ordinances along military engagement routes.

■ The direct killing and abuse of children during American troop raids on civilian areas like Fallujah, Haditha, Mahmodia, Telafer, Anbar, Mosul, and most of the other Iraqi cities[17]. The Massacre of the children in Haditha in 2005 is a good example of "collateral damage" among civilians.

■ Daily car bombs casualties, explosion of buildings and other terrorist attacks on civilians.

■ Detention and torture of Iraqi children in American and Iraqi governmental prisons. While in detention, the children are being brutalized, raped, and tortured. American guards videotaped these brutal crimes in Abu Graib and other prisons.

■ Poverty due to economic collapse and corruption caused acute malnutrition among Iraqi children. As was reported by Oxfam in July 2007, up to eight million Iraqis required immediate emergency aid, with nearly half the population living in "absolute poverty".

■ Starving whole cities as collective punishment by blocking the delivery of food, aid, and sustenance before raiding them increased the suffering of the young children and added more casualties among them.

■ Microbial pollution and lack of sanitation including drinking water shortages for up to 70% of the population caused the death of "one in eight Iraqi children" before their fifth birthday. Death of young children in Iraq has been attributed to water borne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, etc .

■ Contaminating and exposing other heavily populated cities to chemically toxic and radioactive ammunitions. Weapons like cluster bombs, Napalm, white phosphorous, and Depleted Uranium all caused drastic increases of cancer incidences, deformations in children, multiple malignancies and child leukemia. Children in areas like Basrah, Baghdad, Nasriya, Samawa, Fallujah, Dewania and other cities have been having multifold increases of such diseases. Over 24% of all children born in Fallujah in October 2009 had birth defects.The Minister of Environment in Iraq called upon the international community to help Iraqi authorities in facing the huge increase of cancer cases in Iraq.

■ The deterioration of the health care system and the intentional assassination of medical doctors have resulted in an increased number of casualties amongst children. It has been estimated that the mortality rate amongst the population of Iraq reached 650,000 from 2003 to 2006. Another survey indicated that the total number of dead for the period of 2003-2007 is about one million. Among other cases, the failures of the health care system were specified as one of the major causes.

■ Damage to the educational system. By 2004, it was estimated that two out of every three Iraqi children were dropping out of school. Statistics released by the Ministry of Education in October 2006 indicated that only 30% of the 3.5 million students were actually attending schools. Prior to the US invasion, UNESCO indicated that school attendance was nearly 100%. Assassination of educators and academics in Iraq drove their colleagues to leave the country. This brain drain and the intended destruction of schools and the educational system is part of the well planned cultural cleansing of the Iraqi society and identity.

■ Total collapse of Iraq's economy, the sectarian violence, American troop raids on civilians, the killing of a dear family member have all deprived the children in Iraq of an innocent, carefree childhood that is the right of any child. They have to deal with family breakdowns, poverty, and a complete and total lack of security. Iraqi children are being forced to assume income generating roles because their families are suffering from hunger and poverty. They are leaving schools and having to deal with adult problems such as unemployment, manual labor, etc. This situation exposes them to hardship, and many forms of abuse. Exposure to violence on a daily basis has affected their psychological development and behavior as well.

■ The drastic increase in the number of orphans in Iraq. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs estimated the number of Iraqi orphans to be around 4.5 million. Other estimates put them at around 5 million. About 500,000 of those orphans live on the streets without any home or family or specialized institutions to take care of them. Among these orphans, 700 are in Iraqi prisons and another 100 in American prisons.

■ The problems of families who were forced to migrate and the impact on their children. Since the invasion of Iraq, there have been about 2.2 million internally displaced people who were forced to migrate due to sectarian violence, American violence, etc. Well over two million other Iraqis were driven out of Iraq. On November 20, 2007 UNESCO reports indicated that the number of Iraqi children taking refuge in Syria alone was around 300,000. The problems of children who have been forced to migrate represent a real humanitarian crisis where a large number of families have no shelter, no finances, no health care, no education, and no security of any kind.

Iraqi children make up nearly 39% of Iraq's population and the median age is 20.4 years. What they've endured will not be wiped away or forgotten by them and they are the ones who will chart Iraq's future. Very little attention has been given to them.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, the number of US military people killed in the Iraq War since the start of the illegal war was 4427. Tonight? PDF format warning, DoD listed the the number of Americans killed serving in Iraq at 4428.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured three people (including two police officers) and a Mosul roadside bombing in which three people were injured. Reuters notes a Saturday Baghdad sticky bombing in which one person was injured.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul assault in which 1 police officer and two by-standers were killed. Reuters notes a Tuz Khurmato clash on Saturday in which two people were wounded (a suspected assailant and a mosque guard).

As the violence continues so does the stalemate. Jason Ditz ( reports, "As the Obama Administration applies growing pressure to all sides to accept a unity government with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (the favorite candidate for both the US and Iranian governments) retaining his position, it seems increasingly the other blocs are falling in line."

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's seven months and three days and counting.

Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) observes, "For outsiders, it may be difficult to fathom the idea of a political stalemate crippling a government for most of the year, destabilizing a fragile state and raising fears of new strife. But Iraq's ruthless history helps explain the psychodrama behind the seemingly endless negotiations that could drag on until early next year." Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) report, "The delay has affected much of the American strategy in Iraq, including trade deals and talks over what, if any, military role the United States will have after a deadline to remove the remaining 50,000 American troops by the end of 2011. The Sadrists vehemently oppose any longtime American military relationship with Iraq."

New content at Third:

Isaiah's latest goes up after this. Kat's "Kat's Korner: Neil Young's Le Noise" went up earlier. Pru notes "Are men from Mars and women from Venus?" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

The idea that biology leads to fundamental differences in men and women’s behaviour has become common sense. Cordelia Fine spoke to Siân Ruddick about why this pseudo-science is wrong—and is a justification for women’s oppression

We are regularly told that men and women play different roles in society because of fundamental biological differences. It is often assumed, for instance, that women are less able to think logically because their brains are less structured for reasoning than men’s brains.

Men, meanwhile, are said to be better suited to disciplines that use logic, such as maths and science, but not so good at communicating, empathising or multi-tasking.

In reality, these myths are a cover for a system that continues to discriminate against women.

The human mind is much more fluid than the stereotypes claim, and differences between male and female behaviour aren’t biologically determined—they are learned from society.

Cordelia Fine, a scientist researching the brain, has written a new book called Delusions Of Gender—The Real Science Behind Sex Difference.

She told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been really horrified by how information has been misrepresented in books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

“When I got knee deep in the scientific literature, what seemed to be a very solid structure is actually full of holes and crumbles away in your hands.

“I decided to write my book to explain how these popular books misrepresent and misunderstand what neuroscience can tell us about the differences between men and women.

“I wanted to take all this fascinating research that tells a much more complex and interesting story about gender—and make it accessible to everyone.”

Fine looks at research that knocks down some of the myths about male and female behaviour, and highlights the impact that the stereotypes themselves have on the way people act.


One study looked at two groups of students in France. The first group was asked to rate the accuracy of stereo­types about gender differences in maths and art capabilities.

They were then asked to rate their own abilities in these subjects. Next they reported their scores on art and maths tests that they had taken a couple of years earlier.

The girls reported that they had done better in the art test than they really had, while they underestimated how well they had done in maths—and the boys inflated their maths scores.

A second group of students were not asked about gender stereotypes before reporting their scores—and did not distort their results.

Fine says that, because the first group had gender stereotypes at the forefront of their minds, this influenced how they assessed their own abilities.

She also draws on studies in schools and universities that have shown that stereotypes and expectations not only affect how people rate themselves—they can also affect actual performance.

Shape-rotation tasks are frequently used to measure gender difference in cognition and 75 percent of those who score above average are male. This is used to justify the fact that men are over-represented in science and maths.

But expectations based on gender play an important role in shaping the results.

Fine reports that, when a group of students were told that the task was linked with success in aviation engineering and nuclear propulsion engineering, “men came out well ahead”.

But when the test was “femin­ised”—and students told the task tested skills needed in clothes design, interior design and flower arranging—the effects were reversed.

In other research, different groups took the same tests. One group was told that, due to genetics, men do better. Another was told that women do better for the same reason.

Women’s performance differed between the two groups—they performed just as well as men in the “women do better” group.

The pseudo-science that declares different behaviour in men and women to be rooted in biology also draws on differences in brain size and shape.

But as Fine writes, “Unless we’re happy to start comparing the spatial or empathising skills of big-headed men and women to their pin-headed counterparts, we may have to abandon the idea that we will find the answers to psychological gender differences in grey matter, white matter, corpus callosum size or any other alleged difference in brain structure that turns out to have more to do with size than sex.”


In any case, as Fine shows in the research quoted in her book, it is impossible to separate the way people’s brains work from the society that surrounds them.

And Fine stresses another failing of this idea—that scientists can’t examine gender in a vacuum.

Fine told Socialist Worker, “Nobody is just male or just female. We’re all lots of other things, based on class, ethnic background and so on.

“Gender interacts with all these other social identities so it won’t affect everyone in the same way.”

Myths about male and female biology aren’t new, but they are resilient.

The Essential Difference—a book by Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen—is an irritating reminder of how far we have to go. He still pushes the theory that, “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”

But real changes in the way we live have had some impact on science.

Fine points out that the transformation that has taken place in men’s and women’s lives undermine claims that biology determines our behaviour.

If women are “naturally” maternal and hardwired to have children, for example, why are more and more women choosing not to?

“The differences that ‘hardwired brain’ theories are trying to explain are getting smaller,” said Fine.

“No one would put forward a neurological theory now explaining why women shouldn’t be able to vote—because women have not only proved themselves capable of voting but also of being voted for.”


So why do such theories persist and become so popular?

“Scientists are influenced by the society they live in—and the gender inequality that surrounds them,” said Fine.

“Our society is so stratified by gender that it seems like a very important division. It has an impact on science—so when scientists look at male and female brains they will, by default, look for differences.

“Any difference they do find seems important. That study will then get picked up by the media, which is also preoccupied with sex differences, and it feeds into popular culture.”

Despite the changes that have taken place in women’s lives and the resulting changes in ideas, Fine argues that these shifts aren’t automatic. She stresses the need to keep fighting against ideas that turn women and men into caricatures.

“We can’t just assume that gender inequality will continue to decrease,” she said. “It reduces our motivation to work at gender equality.”

Fine concluded, “There is a popular, widely held view that science has definitively shown that we are hardwired in such a way that to strive for equality is pointless and futile.

“But science has not shown this and it’s very important to remember that.”

The impact of gender stereotypes is not confined to the classroom.

Men and women are constantly bombarded with messages about how they “should” behave and what roles are “suitable” for them. For women, the message is often that there is a limit on our horizons.

The prevalence of the pseudo-science that backs this up, despite evidence to the contrary, reinforces how much we still have to fight for.

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