Ahmadinejad: The secret history of Iran’s radical leader

kasra_najiAs Iran’s nuclear programme accelerates, attention is focused on the blacksmith’s son who could have his finger on the trigger. Who is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What drives him? What formed him? To whom, if anyone, does he answer?’ Internationally acclaimed journalist Kasra Naji, a native Persian speaker, has spent years in Iran interviewing friends, family and colleagues of the firebrand President to tell for the first time the story of how he came to power. In a journalistic career spanning two decades, Kasra Naji has reported from the Middle East and Asia for CNN, BBC, Financial Times, The Guardian, LA Times, and the Economist. His book ‘Ahmadinejad – the secret history of Iran’s Radical Leader’ will be published by I.B Tauris in December this year.

Deforestation and climate change: the need for urgent action

jutta_killThe world’s forests are under pressure. Tropical forests are disappearing fast due to commercial logging, mining, hydropower, and the hunger for land. The last temperate and northern old growth forests are being destroyed by the timber, paper and oil industries. The livelihoods of forest peoples are being undermine and every year thousands of plant and animal species disappear.

This forest loss contributes around 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions annually and the climate change debate has brought the plight of the remaining intact forests back into the spotlight. But will the new approaches discussed in the climate context reflect the lessons learned from two decades of failed initiatives to slow deforestation? Resurgence article.

Jutta Kill, is Climate Campaigner with FERN, a non-governmental organisation which works to achieve greater environmental and social justice, focussing on forests and forest peoples’ rights in the policies and practices of the European Union. Her formal education is in forest ecology, and she has worked as climate campaigner for FERN since 2000 and is co-founder of the Durban Group for Climate Justice. FERN’s climate campaign has contributed significantly to the Durban Group critique of carbon trading as an unsuitable instrument to tackle climate change in a just and effective manner, and has become a leading voice in exposing the failings of carbon ‘offset’ schemes via the website SinksWatch and proposing just and effective alternatives to offset trading. Since 2005, FERN’s climate campaign has begun to document and analyse the impacts on local livelihoods of EU biofuel targets and why such an approach is likely to exacerbate the forest crisis and delay meaningful action towards a climate-proof transport and energy policy in the EU.

Cuba policy after Bush: Sucession or transition?

US Cuba Policy after Bush: Succession or transition? with Dr Stephen Wilkinson
Since Fidel Castro fell ill last year, there has been much speculation about whether the succession of Raul Castro will produce a transition in the policies of the Cuban government towards market reforms and a more open democratic system. But little has been said about a possible change in US policy when a new president – most likely a Democrat – replaces President Bush in January 2009. How will this election impact on the five decades old embargo of Cuba? Dr Stephen Wilkinson http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/stephen_wilkinson/ an academic, author and journalist specialising in Cuban culture, politics and economics, and assistant director of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba www.cubastudies.org will analyse the prospects for a favourable change in US policy.

Lebanon at the Crossroads

alex_klaushoferLebanon is caught between the desire to recover from the recent Hezbollah-Israeli war fought on its territory and the internal political crisis paralysing its development. Alex Klaushofer is a freelance journalist writing on social affairs and politics in Britain and the Middle East. She has previously worked as Middle East communications manager for Christian Aid, and has a particular interest in humanitarian issues. She is the author of ‘Paradise Divided’, her recent book on Lebanon, which highlights the internal and external pressures which are pushing Lebanon into civil conflict.

Corruption in high places: BAE Systems and the UK Government

In December, in a blatant violation of international anti-bribery agreements, the UK Serious Fraud Office terminated its investigation into BAE Systems’ dealings with Saudi Arabia, citing national security considerations. The decision carries profound implications for international corruption, and raises questions about the conflicts of interest between the Attorney General’s role as a politician and his responsibility for the work of the SFO. It also irreparably damages the country’s reputation. The decision has been questioned by the OECD and a legal challenge has been initiated by two NGOs, The Corner House and the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. Nicholas Hildyard, who works with The Corner House, will discuss the case and its probable consequences.

Extraordinary rendition: Is the British Government turning a blind eye to torture?

doug_jewellOver the last three years allegations of ‘extraordinary rendition’ flights by the CIA, whereby people are taken to third party countries to face torture, have continued to surface in the media, in courtrooms and in international investigations. Doug Jewell, Campaigns Co-ordinator for the UK’s leading civil liberties and human rights group; Liberty, outlines what is known about this practice. Drawing upon the many reports and investigations underway he will examine what this practice involves, why it is illegal under international law and how it fits into a broader strategy for conducting the ‘war on terror’; a strategy which has undermined basic rights and freedoms whilst failing to safeguard security.

Remotely controlled: The impact of electronic media on children

While controversy continues to surround the way the content of screen media affects children’s thoughts and behaviour, a growing body of empirical evidence shows that watching television causes physiological changes. Most of these effects occur irrespective of the type of programme children watch – whether it’s sex and violence or the Teletubbies. It is the medium, not the message, and banning advertising to children does not address this fundamental influence.

Dr Aric Sigman is a Member of the Institute of Biology and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. He travels abroad frequently to observe the influence of television in various cultures, including Bhutan, Tonga, Myanmar, Iran, Korea, Vietnam, Mali, Bolivia, Burkina Faso and Eastern Siberia, and has written a new book Remotely Controlled: How television is damaging our lives, summarising the empirical literature concerning the biological, psychological, social and political effects associated with watching television. His health and psychology book Getting Physical won The Times Educational Supplement’s Information Book Award in 1993. He compiles research reviews for a range of both charitable and non-charitable organisations. Dr Sigman will explain how early exposure to screen media alters brain function and physiology, and profoundly stimulates consumerism in children.

Article published in Biologist: Visual Voodoo: The Biological Impact of Watching Television. Biologist. Vol. 54 (1) 14 – 19.

Conversation with Craig Murray

craig_murraybook_craigmurray_1As Britain’s outspoken Ambassador to the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan, Craig Murray helped expose vicious human rights abuses by the formerly US-funded regime of Islam Karimov. He is now a prominent critic of Western policy in the region. Now a writer and broadcaster, Craig’s best selling hardback edition of his book ‘Murder in Samarkand’ is being launched in paperback at Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE on Wednesday 7th March, 6.30pm. In this candid and at times shocking memoir, he lays bare the dark and dirty underside of the War on Terror. Harold Pinter comments: ‘A fearless book by a fearless man. Craig Murray tells the truth whether the “authorities” like it or not. I salute a man of integrity.

Understanding Islam

Dr Chris Hewer will explain the religious, Islamic issues involved in the contemporary situation and provide an insight into Jihad in the context of current affairs. Dr Hewer has worked in Christian Muslim relations, based in Birmingham, since 1986, and from 1999 to 2005 was Advisor on Inter-Faith Relations to the Bishop of Birmingham. He now works in London as the St Ethelburger Fellow in Christian Muslim relations. His newly published book in ‘Understanding Islam – The First Ten Steps’ is widely admired for its informative and accessible style – never was a book so necessary.

The new civilising mission: Myanmar (Burma) at the hands of latter-day Orientalists

Dr Zarni is the founder of the Free Burma Coalition and Visiting Research Fellow, Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford. He recently wrote a controversial article in the New Statesman challenging common perceptions about Myanmar.

Most recently, the Bush Administration has succeeded in putting Myanmar, a former British colony of Burma, on the Security Council’ agenda as one of 150 permanent discussion items. Beijing calls Washington’s framing of its neighbour as ‘threat to world peace’ “preposterous” and promises in no uncertain terms to block any binding Myanmar resolution at the Council.

Dr Zarni will dissect the politics of the demonisation of Myanmar by both the Bush Administration and the well-meaning but misguided “pro-democracy” Western campaigners and lobbyists, who have unintentionally amplified his country’s economic hardship and political isolation. He will also examine the political impact of the West’s decade-long fixation with Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and with the minority guerrillas once loyal to the British. See article in New Statesman. Finally, he will look at the role of the United States and the United Kingdom in creating the conditions that gave rise to the ascent of the military government and its role as a unifying force in Myanmar.