Monday, February 25, 2008

Comparing Ralph Nader and Imran Khan

Amidst the dismissive comments and the howls of protests from Democrats, Ralph Nader has entered the 2008 US presidential race. As expected, his reasons include the lack of debate among the mainstream candidates on what he sees as the core issues of the day. No stranger to US presidential politics, Ralph Nader (born February 27, 1934, in Winsted, Connecticut) is an Arab American attorney of Lebanese descent, author, lecturer, political activist, and currently a candidate in the United States presidential election, 2008. Areas of particular concern to Nader are consumer rights, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and democratic government. A recent documentary titled "The Unreasonable Man" chronicles the life of Ralph Nader. The title "The Unreasonable Man" comes from a famous quote attributed to the early 20th century British playwright George Bernard Shaw who said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Laying out the case for his candidacy, Nader has told the media that include NBC's "Meet The Press" that he wants to bring significant but neglected issues to the table such as the lack of single-payer universal health coverage, the bloated US military budget and the failed US policy of unqualified support for Israel in the Middle East. Attacking both Clinton and Obama in an interview, Nader said, "Obama is an overly cautious captive of his handlers and Clinton is a panderer and a flatterer.”

Nader took Obama to task for changing his position on the Palestinian issue. It should be noted that in March 2007, Obama said at a small gathering in Iowa, "Nobody's suffering more than the Palestinian people. But here's Obama's position in February 2008: "The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks against Israel.… If it cannot...I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all," Obama wrote to Ambassador Khalilzad, adding he understood why Israel was "forced" to shut down Gaza's border crossings." What has happened in the 11 months between then and now is an object lesson and a reminder of the intense pressure under which presidential candidates stake out positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the demonstrated effectiveness of the Israeli lobby in the United States.

While Ralph Nader may succeed in bringing the neglected but important issues into the US political debate, he has almost no chance of being elected to any office. "Obviously, the system is triple-rigged against any small candidate," he said. "All we can do is try to loosen it up, challenge it, bring it to account in some court cases and build for the future. We can also keep an exciting, practical, progressive agenda before the American people — get more people to run for local, state and national office."

Ralph Nader reminds me of Imran Khan in Pakistan. Imran Khan is a well-meaning, well-respected, and honest former cricket hero bringing out the issues of democracy, civil society and rule of law, that the mainstream parties do not particularly care about. But the presence of Imran Khan on the Pakistani political scene does offer hope for the future.


temporal said...

there is much to be said about this comparison


Riaz Haq said...

As I watched both Imran and Ralph taking ro the media yesterday, it occurred to me that have much in common. The one big difference is that Ralph believes in participation and Imran in boycott.

Riaz Haq said...

The latest issue of Newsweek has a story titled "Good for the Jews?" that raises questions about Obama's support of Israel. Danny Ayalon, Israel's former Ambassador to US, says Iran would exploit Obama's gullibility and race ahead with its nuclear program. Hilary is using this argument against Obama to peel away Obama's Jewish supporters.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a Guardian story on Imran Khan:

..."As I stood there, watching them, I knew the moment had come," Khan, who is the leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insafr party, said. "Now nothing can stop us. This is a revolution, a tsunami. We will not just win the next elections – we will sweep them."
Over 100,000 people crammed into a historic Lahore park. Many were middle-class Pakistanis – young, urban, educated – drawn by Khan's rhetoric and their anger at conventional politics.

"This is the emergence of a new force. The cry for change is resonating across Pakistan," said Ayaz Amir, a parliamentarian from rival Nawaz Sharif's party, who was there. "Young, old, professionals, women – I've never seen such people at a public meeting in Pakistan before."

The sight, Amir added, had "scared the living daylights" out of his own party.

But others are sceptical that Khan represents real change. "We've heard this rhetoric many times before," said Badar Alam, editor of Herald magazine. "I'm cautious about it. I don't know what agenda he is really promoting."

Khan is visibly buoyant. For years he has campaigned on a platform of what some call "anti-politics" – virulent criticism of the graft and patronage that infect Pakistani politics. Now, he says, he has been proved right.
His plan for the economy is to "inspire" Pakistanis to pay tax – currently only 2% do so. "We just need to have some austerity and collect taxes. If we do that, we can balance our budgets," he said.

In power, Khan said, he would cut off American aid. "I want to be a friend of the Americans, not their lackey. Aid is a curse for a poor country; it stops you making the required reforms and props up crooks."
"Anyone who thinks this country will be taken over by Taliban are fools. There's no concept of a theocracy anywhere in the Muslim world for the past 1,400 years. If I came to power, I could end this conflict in 90 days – guaranteed."
Yet Khan is defiantly proud that his newfound success is vindication against what he calls the "liberal, westernised elite" – wealthy, English-speaking Pakistanis who, he claims, are out of touch with the realities of their own country. "I call them coconuts: brown on the outside, white on the inside, looking at Pakistan through a westernised lens," he says.

His political views are firmly rooted in a particular view of Islam. He does not favour changes to the notorious blasphemy law – a virulent debate that led to the assassination of his friend Salmaan Taseer last January. "The time is not right. There would be bloodshed. We need to worry about other things," he says.
But the main opposition challenger, Nawaz Sharif, has failed to capitalize on this misfortune. His N-league party, which controls the Punjab government, has grown unpopular for failing to contain an outbreak of dengue fever in recent months. Sharif is also estranged from the powerful military, which launched him into politics in the 1980s, due to his long-standing rivalry with Pervez Musharraf, the general who ousted Sharif from power in 1999.

The turmoil has emboldened challengers. One is Musharraf, who currently lives in exile in London, and has vowed to return to Pakistan next March. But the general faces numerous obstacles, including court prosecutions, security threats and opposition from the army leadership. The other is Khan, until recently viewed as a fringe player in national politics, seen most often on chatshows and protests against drone strikes........