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Wide Angle Blog
September 26th, 2008

Tensions between laborers and corporate India exploded on Monday when an angry mob of recently fired workers attacked the executives of Italian car-parts manufacturer Graziano Transmissioni.  Chief executive Lalit Kishore Choudhary, 47, was fatally injured by blows to the head, and two other senior executives sustained serious head wounds.   Police have arrested 63 people for murder and are investigating the violence.

This incident occurred on the heels of the recent shutdown of the Tata Motors plant in West Bengal.  Tata Motors, India’s largest automobile company, halted production on the plant indefinitely in early September when protests against the plant became increasingly confrontational and violent.  Farmers who had sold land to Tata — land which is known to be fertile given its proximity to the Ganges River -– are demanding it back.  The West Bengal plant was slated to roll out the Nano, the world’s cheapest car, as soon as October.  And there’s certainly a lot riding on the Nano – at the estimated cost of $2,165 to $2,500, it would put India and Tata Motors on the map for producing affordable cars.

On Wednesday, Tata reportedly began moving out of the factory in West Bengal, but Thursday, pro-Tata villagers took to the streets, and today, the state government made a last-ditch appeal to the company to stay put. Industry Minister Nirupam Sen said that if Tata leaves, it would be a “big loss” to the poor agricultural region. “There might be some people who were creating problems but that is not the voice of all the people and we want to convey it to the Tatas,” he said.

With one of the world’s fastest growing economies, India is experiencing a lot of growing pains.  WIDE ANGLE explored the difficulties of keeping up with India’s rapid economic growth in the 2007 film, The Dying Fields.  Cotton farmers in Vidarbha face a grim reality of crop failures, sinking global cotton prices and crushing debts, pushing many of them to suicide.

September 25th, 2008

After two years of struggling to get its news programming to American living rooms, Al Jazeera English’s program Witness will now be available to 30 million households in the U.S. via Link TV.

Created in 1996, the original Arabic-language Al Jazeera garnered global attention following the 9/11 attacks for broadcasting Osama bin Laden’s video taped messages, prompting former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to dub the station the “mouthpiece of Al-Qaeda.”

When Al Jazeera English launched in 2006, none of the major cable companies would carry the controversial station. By the end of its first year, Al Jazeera English reached nearly 90 million viewers around the world, but in the U.S., it could only be seen in northern Ohio and Burlington, Vermont.

In May 2008, the city-owned telecom company in Burlington decided to pull Al Jazeera following a flood of viewer complaints. This sparked a heated debate, with some citizens calling Al Jazeera anti-American, and others insisting that removing the channel would amount to censorship. Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss demanded that the channel not be pulled until the city’s residents had a chance to express their views. After two oversight committees were formed and citizens were asked for their input, the committees unanimously recommended that the city maintain Al Jazeera English.

Link TV’s vice president Lorraine Hess said she’s eager to include Al Jazeera in their lineup. “At Link TV we believe in airing programs that provide a unique perspective on international news, current events and cultures while presenting issues that are not often covered in the U.S. media,” Hess said.

Witness, Al Jazeera’s 30-minute, Emmy-nominated international documentary program, highlights the lives of ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances.

Link TV is available on cable in select cities, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and via satellite on DirecTV and Dish Network.

The show will air weekly starting Oct. 6 at 11 p.m.

In 2003, WIDE ANGLE’s film Exclusive to Al Jazeera went behind the scenes to Al Jazeera’s Arabic-broadcast headquarters in Qatar during its nonstop coverage of the war in Iraq. Exclusive to Al Jazeera shows the network’s similarities to its Western media counterparts — and the differences.

September 25th, 2008

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, and striking a balance between Islamic traditions and secular French values isn’t always simple. In 2004, in the wake of a ban on wearing headscarves in public schools, WIDE ANGLE’s Young, Muslim, and French explored these tensions in a racially diverse suburb of Paris.

This year, public debate in France has turned to a controversial court ruling annulling a marriage between two Muslims over the false pretense of chastity. The groom, a 30-something French engineer who converted to Islam, learned on their wedding night that his bride, a Moroccan-born nursing student, had lied about her virginity. The very next day he filed for an annulment, and won his case in April 2008.

The story broke in the center-left French newspaper Libération the following month, and a massive outcry raged as politicians on both the left and the right condemned the court ruling for undermining women’s rights and blurring the boundaries between religion and the secular sphere.

Members of the French Muslim community, on the other hand, denounced the hoopla as the latest example of French Islamophobia, as argued by this French blogger on the Muslim website “What was the real issue,” he asks, “the relationship between the sexes or the place of religion – especially Muslim – in the Republic?”

France’s Muslim-born Justice Minister Rachida Dati, who herself had a marriage annulled in her early twenties, at first backed the ruling by a Lille court, insisting it was legally sound, based on a breach of trust between the couple, not on the issue of virginity itself.

But Dati’s resolve was met by a barrage of outrage, including a petition written by some 150 European Union parliament members denouncing the ruling as a dangerous precedent.

This controversy comes amidst reports of a rise in the number of Muslim women in France and elsewhere in the West who are procuring fake virginity certificates or undergoing plastic surgery to reconstruct their hymens, to adhere to their families’ strict codes of honor.

Dati finally ordered an appeal, against the wishes of both spouses in the case. The prosecution made its case earlier this week in front of the appeals court, arguing that the original verdict should be overturned because making virginity a pre-condition for marriage discriminates against women.

A final decision is expected on November 17.

Check back here to read about how the verdict is received.

August 19th, 2008

iraqi refugee boyJames Foley, the U.S. State Department senior coordinator for Iraqi refugees, is meeting with Middle East officials to discuss the Iraqi refugee needs in the region and, ultimately, to speed up the process of admitting Iraqi refugees to the U.S. Since October 1, 2007, the Bush administration has admitted 4,742 Iraqi refugees, and said it is on track to meet the target of 12,000 admissions by September 30.

Foley is scheduled to tour Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Yesterday, he landed in Syria, a country that shelters over a million Iraqi refugees — more Iraqis than any other country. The visit of a high-ranking U.S. official to Syria is considered rare because of the country’s support of anti-Israeli groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Iraqis and Afghans account for more than half of the world’s 11.4 million refugees. UNHCR estimates that of the 4.7 million Iraqis who have left their homes since the Gulf War (1990-1991), two million have fled since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Advocacy and human rights groups, along with several U.S. senators, have accused the Bush administration of not doing enough for the Iraqis who have fled.

WIDE ANGLE’s film about the Iraqi refugee crisis in Syria and Jordan premieres on August 19. Check your local listings for airtimes, and check back here for updates.

Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

July 14th, 2008

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague has accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

With prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s official request for an arrest warrant on Monday, al-Bashir became the first head of state to be charged with war crimes by the ICC.

Al-Bashir “used the whole state apparatus, he used the army, he enrolled the janjaweed. They all reported to him,” Moreno-Ocampo said, presenting his evidence against al-Bashir to the court. “His alibi was a ‘counterinsurgency.’ His intent was genocide,” the prosecutor said.

But the Sudanese government has refused to recognize the authority of the court.

“We don’t recognize whatever comes out from the ICC,” Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Al al-Sadig said. “To us it is non-existent.”

United Nations aid workers and peacekeepers are worried that the warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest might cause problems for them on the ground in Sudan. Some aid organizations have evacuated all but the most essential members of their staff. Last week, seven members of the U.N./African Union peacekeeping force were killed in Darfur, and some speculated that the attack was carried out in anticipation of the ICC’s charge.

But in a statement issued after the court’s announcement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that U.N. peacekeeping, humanitarian and development work would continue.

July 1st, 2008

Heart of Darfur premieres tonight on WIDE ANGLE — check your local listings for air times.

After the film, the conversation continues online. Post your thoughts, questions and comments about the episode below. Host Aaron Brown and the WIDE ANGLE producers will post responses to a selection of questions throughout the week.

July 1st, 2008

United Nations Security Council representatives visited Darfur on Thursday, where they were scheduled to meet with refugees, aidworkers, U.N. peacekeepers and local government representatives.

The delegation met with officials from the beleaguered U.N./African Union peacekeeping force on Thursday morning. The Sudanese government’s insistence that troops come only from African nations has been a major obstacle for the joint mission, known as UNAMID. But the government promised Wednesday that Thai and Nepalese forces would be allowed into Darfur once Ethiopian and Egyptian troops arrive.

UNAMID commander Gen. Martin Agwai said that with the addition of the Egyptian, Ethiopian, Thai and Nepalese troops, he expects his force to grow from only 9,000 to 13,000 within the next three or four months.

But that number only represents half of the total number of troops authorized by Security Council Resolution 1769, and the mission still lacks attack helicopters, surveillance aircraft, transport helicopters, military engineers, and logistical support necessary to provide security for the people of Darfur.

On Thursday afternoon, the Security Council delegation visited the Zamzam refugee camp, outside the North Sudan capital of El Fasher. There, staff from the U.N.’s World Food Program told the delegates that they might have to cut food rations for the second time in two months due to the worsening security situation. In March, the WFP announced that it was transporting only half as much food as it normally would because bandits and hijackers were making it difficult for trucks to reach their destinations.

The Security Council delegation will meet with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday afternoon.

WIDE ANGLE reports from Darfur in Heart of Darfur, premiering July 1. Check your local listings for air times.

July 1st, 2008

darfur_westandunitedIn the midst of an often contentious campaign season, Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama issued a rare joint statement today, deploring the atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan. Referring to the violence there as “genocide,” the three presidential candidates appealed to the Sudanese government to end the violence, and vowed to make Darfur a priority for the next administration, whoever heads it.

“We stand united and demand that the genocide and violence in Darfur be brought to an end,” they wrote. “If peace and security for the people of Sudan are not in place when one of us is inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009, we pledge that the next administration will pursue these goals with unstinting resolve.”

The statement appeared as an advertisement in The New York Times, and was paid for by the SaveDarfur Coalition.

More that 200,000 people have died and nearly 2.5 million have been displaced in what UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has called “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.”

On July 31, 2007, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution authorizing the establishment of a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. The resolution calls for 20,000 troops and 6,000 police, but to date, there are only about 9,000 people on the ground, tasked with protecting the people of Darfur but restricted by a limited mandate.

This summer, WIDE ANGLE follows General Martin Luther Agwai, commander of the combined UN-African Union peacekeeping force, on a mission as he helicopters into hostile areas to meet with rebel leaders.

The film, Heart of Darfur, premieres on July 1. Check your local listings for the exact time, and check back here for updates.

June 24th, 2008

A Japanese warship docked in China Tuesday, for the first time since World War II. The destroyer Sazanami’s arrival in the southern Chinese port city of Zhanjiang follows the docking of a Chinese warship, the Shenzhen, in Japan last November.

The exchange is symbolic of improving relations between the two rival Asian powers and former WWII enemies.

The Sazanami carried food, blankets and emergency supplies for victims of China’s recent earthquake. Crew members are scheduled to participate in carefully choreographed “friendship” events, including a concert and reception.

But the visit is not without controversy, as many Chinese are still bitter over Japan’s invasion and occupation of their country during the 1930s and 1940s.

Last month, Japan decided against delivering aid to earthquake victims by means of military aircraft because of Chinese concerns about the presence of the Japanese military on their soil. A Japanese newspaper reported that a concert scheduled for today was canceled because “part of public opinion in China is against the Japanese destroyer’s visit.”

Still, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said that the visit would “help enhance the friendship and mutual trust between the two counties.

For more on the expanding role of the Japanese military, watch Japan’s About-Face, premiering on WIDE ANGLE on July 8th.

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