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Thursday night saw an incensed debate over Israel’s attack on the Gaza strip with Israeli PM Shimon Peres defending his nation’s actions. The video for the same may be viewed below,

This open session involved UN Sec General Ban Ki Moon, Arab League Sec General Amr Moussa, Mr. Shimon Peres and Turkish PM Erdogan in what has been termed a very lively discussion. Peres came out strongly on Israel’s right to self defence and brought out the threats that the hamas posed to the jewish nation. He was however alone in his defence as the remaining leaders were vehement in their opposition to the offensive and Israel’s treatment of civilians during the attack of which Mr. Peres offered no apologies or explanation.

The Israeli president unleashed a harsh, unyielding rant that was full of strange statements, truncated arguments and meandering rhetoric. Clearly, he is feeling the effects of his age as his remarks bordered on the incoherent at times. But what was most evident was the choleric tone.

Here are a few of the stranger statements: he claimed that Israel could not accept the Saudi 2002 initiative because “there was a small problem of Iran” which wishes to rule the Middle East. Peres also claimed that Hamas did not win a democratic election. Rather Mahmoud Abbas DID win an election as president of the Palestinians. Peres also claimed there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza; that Israel supplies all the water, fuel and electricity that Gaza needs; and that if there is a problem he would personally intervene to correct it.

Also, during the debate the Turkish PM was not given a chance to reply to Mr. Peres by the Moderator at which he got up and walked out of the room. News items here.

The Webcast of the whole session may be seen here.

United Nations General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann has called for a world ban on anyone defaming any religion. According to him, while there does exist a right to free speech and expression, the international community should aim towards the comity of religions. Notably,  there is a steady and worrisome trend of stories in Western countries restricting free speech in the name of tolerance of religion, sexual orientation and other values.For instance, in September criminal charges filed against leading French author Pierre Péan, who is charged with racial hatred for derogatory things said about Tutsis in a book in a book about Rwandan genocide.

Jonathan Turley puts forth the idea that this comment by the UNGA President is not way out of line as many Islamic states prosecute people for blasphemy and even issue fatwas against those who speak foul against their religion. He states;

A suspended Nicaraguan priest, D’Escoto is little concerned about the devastating blow to free speech and free press in such a rule — dangers already realized in various countries where speaking against a religion has resulted in criminal penalties and even death. In making this outrageous call, D’Escoto has given critics of international legal systems a great boost — showing the dangers of such rules in restricting cherished constitutional rights.

Looking at this in the context of Indian Law, the Indian Penal Code contains a series of sections from 295 where in words/ acts ‘deliberately’ said so as to hurt the feelings of any religion are a crime and punishable in law. However, in a series of case law, the Court has said that such acts would only constitute a crime when it is done ‘deliberately’, i.e. with an intent and tending to disrupt public order. This law is more of a synthesis between free speech and religious concerns.

The actions of the President, when not seen in isolation, as evidence to a general movement towards placing restrictions on rights in the name of public order and state security. We have seen that happening in India, the United States, UK and now coming from the President of the United Nations General Assembly.

The picture above is of a Ugandan Child and a missionaire. Its been 60 years since the passing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (10th December 1948 – 10th December 2008). It today is the single most important instrument for the protection of human rights around the world. May this picture send the message that a lot more instances of HR vioations lay ahead of it and with it the hopes of millions around the world.

The United States Supreme Court will now decide on the issue of granting immunity to former Attorney general Ashcroft on the issue of the treatment of detainees not related to terrorism during the 9/11 attacks.

“The petitioner was among more than 700 Arab and South Asian Muslim men from the New York City area rounded up after the September 11, 2001 attacks. While they were all eventually charged with immigration violations or minor crimes, none was linked to terrorism.

In his lawsuit, Iqbal alleges that Ashcroft and Mueller targeted the men for investigation and punitive detention, sidestepping procedural protections usually granted to such detainees.

Iqbal, who was held at a maximum security section of a Brooklyn federal prison, says he was subjected to harsh treatment and discrimination and that federal officials classified him as a “high interest” suspect because he was a Muslim from Pakistan.

A June 2003 report by the Department of Justice inspector general found “significant problems” in the treatment of detainees like Iqbal.”

Earlier, the Fed Court and state Supreme Court had denied giving immunity to the cabinet officials involved and now the US Supreme Court is seized of the matter. The fundamental issue of this case would be whether there should be any special legal immunity conferred to cabinet officials in the handling of terrorism and crisis situations. Should we expect another hamdan v. Rumsfled in the making here ?

An analysis of the case and its impact may be found here .

A summary preview of what to expect out of the case may be viewed here.

Somebody should feed George Bush a morsel of plain rice with red chilli powder. This should act as a substitute for his ordinary diet of beef, pork, potato chips, beacon, bread and numerous sauces. He should know that 200 million people in India still have that as their staple food and 200 million more are forced to remain hungry. He dare accuse us of eating a lot of calories while he sits in the Oval Office, away from the reality in the average Indian household.

TOI reported;

An average American consumes 1012 Kg of food in a year.

An Average Indian; merely 172 Kg in a year.

More than a third of the world’s poor live in India and 40% of our population lives below the internationally recognised poverty benchmark of 1$ a day. If we are eating a little more food on an average, then more than the growing middle class and their tastes; its to stop the starvation deaths, farmer suicides and people from going hungry everyday.

I was reading Gurcharan Das’s India unbound where he wrote that the poor seem to be at the forefront of every economic policy, election manifesto in India; but they just don’t seem to be coming up and being uplifted. Other than on paper, the poor in our country just don’t seem to matter; neither to the Indian bureaucrats or George W Bush.  We all live such shallow, superficial lives that we seem to ignore the existence of those few who should matter. And there are times when we must care.

If the above picture is the cause of inflation and the world food shortage, then its good. Because in India, below is how most of the people generally live;

So I think George Bush should retract his statement and P Chidambaram shouldn’t Tact worse and attribute it to the use of bio-fuels. There is a limit to stupidity and both of them are crossing it.