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Week of January 20, 2004

Program 0403


Iraqi Police | Transcript | MP3

Global Citizen: Michael Chyet | Transcript | MP3

Oud Player | Transcript | MP3

Iran NGOs | Transcript | MP3

Multilateral World | Transcript | MP3

Destination: Thames Riverboat | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

JORGE PEREZ: From the point of view of the quality and the accessibility of the products, it’s a good thing, because you have it close to the, to the houses. And it’s very fresh. I prefer these organic products instead of those produced by chemicals.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Cuba’s organic farming experiment.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, an American linguist’s new Kurdish dictionary.

MICHAEL CHYET: Just about any big university will have a Near Eastern Studies department where they teach Hebrew and Arabic and Turkish and Persian. Well, how about Kurdish? Only now, for, apparently for political reasons, are they starting to become interested in that.

PORTER: And Iraq’s prince of oud players.

OMAR BASHIR: [summarized by a translator] Basically, it is an improvisational, meditational music, so he, he’s wants to give you like, room for your imagination.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

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Cuba Farming

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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost its economic subsidies and the island couldn’t afford to buy pesticides and chemical fertilizers. As a result, in the early 1990s Cuban food production dropped by 50 percent. Stuck with bad lemons, Cuba decided to make lemonade and turned to organic farming. Reese Erlich visited Cuba recently to learn about the successes and failures of what has become one of the world’s largest experiments in organic agriculture.

[The sound of a man cutting grass with a machete]

REESE ERLICH: Here in a residential area in western Havana, a man cuts grass the old fashioned way—with a machete.

[The sound of a man cutting grass with a machete]

ERLICH: Seventy-six-year-old Heriberto Gallart and his family started this organic farm back in 1994 as a way to grow food for the neighborhood.

HERIBERTO GALLART: [via a translator] This area was basically a garbage dump for the community and they also stored construction materials. So basically we had to clean up all the land and take all the stones, all the garbage out, and then add earth to it. We only use organic matter to, for the, for the production. We use no chemicals at all. It’s not difficult at all. On the contrary, it’s easier and safer. We are not running the risk of contaminating the produce and putting a risk on the population that buys our products. It’s healthy produce and it’s, it’s very good for the population in the area.

ERLICH: The 3/4 hectare of land boasts neat rows of lettuce, carrots, green beans, and other vegetables. Beautiful flowers bloom along the outer edge of the garden. But these flowers do more than create a festive air.

ERLICH: [speaking directly to Mr. Gallart] Show me some of the examples here.

GALLART: [via a translator] This ornamental plants that you can see here, the flowers attract the bugs. So it’s actually a very good pest control. We plant also corn and sunflower. So they grow at the same time that the plant is growing and that works throughout the season as a pest control.

ERLICH: So the pests go for the basil and the other plants, not for their, the crops?

GALLART: [via a translator] Exactly.

[The sound of people walking and a dog barking]

ERLICH: The Cuban government provides agronomists to advise small farms like this one on how best to grow crops without using any pesticides or artificial fertilizer. Cuba has recovered from the massive food shortages of the early 1990s. Today organic farming has restored the Cold War level of production for some crops, particularly vegetables. Small farms, not large plantations, are now a key source of food for the cities.

[The sound of a man hoeing the earth]

ERLICH: Gallart says small farms provide much needed food for Havana residents without giving up their socialist ideals. They can sell either directly to neighbors or to the government, which then provides food to Cubans at subsidized prices.

GALLART: [via a translator] They can also sell to the state if they need certain products that we have. All we sell to the state basically goes to the schools of the community. And the prices we have set here are in accordance to the income of the families who live in this community.

ERLICH: Originally this organic farm was operated by one family. Then two other families agreed to participate. They pay no rent for the land because it’s state owned. They pay only a 5 percent tax on items sold. All the profits are split equally among the three families.

GALLART: [via a translator] The profits of our production are, will never turn anyone into a millionaire, so it’s just to satisfy the needs of the people. We don’t have luxuries here. You don’t see a fancy car around. Neither Mercedes nor a Lada, the old Russia cars. [laughing]

[The sound of people walking on gravel]

GALLART: [via a translator] In a socialist country like ours, there is a regulation of the production. So there is no excess production. What I see happening in other countries, capitalist countries, is that there is an excess production. They cannot sell what they have produced and instead of lowering prices, what they do with that excess production, is to destroy it. And that is not satisfying to anybody.

ERLICH: Gallart remains a committed Marxist. But does this organic socialism work for ordinary consumers? After all, Cubans—like people everywhere—want wholesome food but at affordable prices.

[The sound of a street vendor trying to attract shoppers]

ERLICH: Jorge Perez does the weekly shopping for his family. Today he gives me an open-air lesson on food prices in Cuba.

ERLICH: [speaking to Mr. Perez at the market] It looks like good quality. I mean, I would buy, I would buy fruits and vegetables here. Yeah. Now, you remember what it was like in ’92, ’93, ’94. How does this compare to those years?

JORGE PEREZ: Much better now, much better.


JORGE PEREZ: The quality, the amount is good. The prices—no. The prices were much, much cheaper in 1992.

ERLICH: And there’s the rub. In the old days, big agricultural farms produced food staples, which were then sold cheaply in government-run stores. Sometimes there were shortages of food and quality was always an issue. Today there’s plenty of food available, but at much higher prices. That’s because Cubans can now shop at free markets that have no government price controls.

ERLICH: [speaking to Mr. Perez at the market] Let’s take a look at the prices and see how they look.

[Mr. Perez speaks to the vendor in Spanish, asking the cost of tomatoes]

JORGE PEREZ: [explaining the prices to Mr. Ehrlich] Of course, in the case of the tomatoes here, which they say 20 pesos, which is almost $1 per pound. It’s very expensive. This will start going down as the tomato crop goes on, which it starts this month, next month. It will go down to eight pesos. Even eight pesos is expensive, of course, for one pound of tomatoes, if a person gets 300 pesos a month.

[The sound of someone chopping meat]

ERLICH: Meat is even more expensive. A pound of pork costs more than a doctor’s daily salary. So how can ordinary Cubans afford to buy food?

JORGE PEREZ: It’s very hard for the people that got, that get a low salary. They have to eat certain things, like sweet potatoes, things that are very cheap. They can’t manage to buy even vegetables at this time. They eat a lot of rice, a lot of beans.

ERLICH: Perez notes that all Cubans still have ration cards to buy basic foodstuffs at cheap prices from state owned stores.

JORGE PEREZ: At the control, state control amount, they give you every month, you get rice, you get beans, you get some protein at the end of the month, monthly.

ERLICH: Chicken?

JORGE PEREZ: Chicken especially. Mashed meat…

ERLICH: Like hamburger?

JORGE PEREZ: …with soy.

ERLICH: Oh, hamburger with soy extender.

ERLICH: Perez says that most Cubans applaud the experiment in organic farming because it has helped overcome the country’s food shortages.

JORGE PEREZ: It’s a way of, of producing some vegetables, etcetera, around the populated areas. From the point of view of the quality and the accessibility of the products, it’s a good thing, because you have it close to the, to the houses. And it’s very fresh. I prefer these organic products.

[The sound of a man cutting grass with a machete]

ERLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich in Havana.

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: Iraq’s new police force—next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Iraqi Police

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MCHUGH: When Benito Mussolini, the wartime leader of Italy, was hanged at the end of World War Two, some of his die-hard supporters maintained that no matter how great his crimes, he at least made the trains run on time. Dictators often achieve popularity by bringing order to their that societies they dominate—and the same is true of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. While it’s now known that his henchmen were executing thousands of his political opponents, under Saddam day-to-day street crime in Iraq was almost unheard of. But now that the power of the country’s secret police has been broken, the Iraqi capital Baghdad is coming to grips with a very western-style crime wave. Common Ground‘s Simon Marks spent a day with officers of the Major Crimes Unit of the Iraqi police as they patrolled the mean streets of the country’s capital.

[The sound of a police vehicle at high speed]

SIMON MARKS: The day starts early for the Major Crimes Unit of the Iraqi police. It’s just after 4:30 in the morning, and already detectives, accompanied by the US Military police who escort them, are rolling through the darkened streets of Baghdad, preparing to launch a pre-dawn raid. Their target—a series of houses in a Baghdad suburb where they believe members of a gang responsible for a string of murders, kidnappings, and robberies are holed up.

[The sound of gunfire]

MARKS: As the officers move in gunfire is briefly exchanged, the bullets piercing the morning silence. Kidnapping is a new crime here, and one that Lieutenant Colonel Anwar Abdul Jabbar, who heads the Major Crimes Unit, is desperate to stamp out.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL ANWAR ABDUL JABBAR: [via a translator] We never had this before. In my 18 years as an officer, I never dealt with or heard about a single kidnapping case. Kidnapping started when the war ended. The gangs of looters that formed after the regime fell, they would kidnap each other and demand ransoms. Then they started to kidnap innocent civilians. Now they go after anyone they like. So it’s absolutely a byproduct of our circumstances.

[The sound of suspects being arrested]

MARKS: On this occasion, the Major Crimes Units believes that it’s successfully arrested its targets. The leader of the gang is wanted to four murders. And as he’s led out by detectives, even though he offers no resistance…

[The sound of yelling and scuffling as the suspect is arrested]

MARKS: …he’s manhandled, forced to the ground and punched by some of the arresting officers. Iraqi kidnappers are known for preying on teenage women. There are no Miranda rights read here as the suspects are taken in.

SERGEANT MICHAEL ROUTH: Compared to western law enforcement, things here are different.

MARKS: Sergeant Michael Routh is a reservist serving with the US military police. A police officer from Hannibal, Missouri, he has been helping to train members of major crimes unit. At a time when human rights organizations are accusing the US Army of acting in an overly aggressive manner in Iraqi streets, he says he is trying to persuade the Iraqi officers to respect western concepts of justice and suspects’ rights.

SERGEANT ROUTH: We’re trying to let them know, you know, that their only role is, is in law enforcement, is to make the arrest, to gather information and not to pass the judgment. That is for a judge to do. And if the judge finds him guilty, that’s to the judge.

[The sound of someone breaking open a safe with an axe]

MARKS: By lunchtime, the major crimes unit is back on the road. This time, a counterfeit operation believed responsible for forging millions of Iraqi dinars is in its sights and an axe is deployed to crack open a safe in a suspect’s home. The homeowner is away.

[The sound of the safe being opened]

MARKS: Neighbors tell officers they saw the man leaving the apartment the previous night carrying printing equipment with him. But the very fact that neighbors are prepared to co-operate with the police, is an indication that the relationship between detectives and the Iraqi people is slowly finding a new dynamic. For years the force was a repressive tool of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Now, Lieutenant Colonel Anwar Abdul Jabbar says his men are working hard to win the trust of the people.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL JABBAR: [via a translator] Through working with the people, and as long as they can see us out there working to improve security, we’re out there representing ourselves. As they see the situation improve they’ll give us credit and won’t forget the role that we’re playing.

MARKS: It will, though, be a long hard battle. The Major Crimes Unit has just 40 officers with the power of arrest to serve a city the size of Los Angeles, and most Iraqis aren’t in the habit of viewing the country’s policing agencies as benevolent providers of security. But the Major Crimes Unit works on, and its officers will be back on the streets in the early hours of the morning. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Baghdad.

[Musical interlude]

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Global Citizen: Michael Chyet

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PORTER: Michael Chyet is an American citizen, but after spending a year in Israel when he was in the eighth grade, he was hooked on foreign languages and cultures. Since then he’s traveled the globe studying some 35 different languages, and he considers himself fluent in tongues ranging from French to Kurdish. He recently published one of the first, and definitely the most comprehensive, Kurdish-English dictionaries ever produced. Judith Smelser spoke with Michael Chyet as part of our occasional global citizen series.

JUDITH SMELSER: Tell me when you first realized that you had a talent and a love for languages.

MICHAEL CHYET: Well, the story goes when I was in first grade I was bored at the elementary school, and so my neurotic Jewish parents took me to a sociologist-psychologist I guess, and he had me draw pictures and stuff, and basically he told them that I was bored and to put me into a private school. So next thing I knew I was in a Hebrew day school—half day English, half day Hebrew—and I stayed there from first grade through sixth grade. And then in seventh grade, I went to the college preparatory high school, and there you had to study Latin. And I discovered in seventh grade that it came very easily to me. And that same year, I discovered in our attic books of my father’s and of my mother’s for learning German and Yiddish and Spanish and French. Soon after that I added Russian to it. So basically it started that way and like a snowball, it began to grow bigger and bigger. After a couple of years—well, I’m also a folk dancer and a folklorist, and I love—if I love a people’s music and dance, I just eventually end up learning the language. So I love the languages of the Balkans and the music of the Balkans

[The sound of Balkan folk music]

CHYET: That would be like Bulgarian and Macedonian and Serbo-Croatian and Romanian and Albanian and Greek. And once when I had mono, I studied Hungarian as a way of keeping myself entertained while I was recuperating. But anyway, the seeds of becoming a specialist in the Middle East were planted when I was in the eighth grade in Israel with first Hebrew, then Arabic, and then eventually I studied Persian and then Turkish. And after I had all of those under my belt, so to speak, then I started studying Kurdish. And again it was the music and the dance that first hooked me in.

[The sound of Turkish folk music]

CHYET: There were these dances from Turkey that I just loved, and I remember when I was 18 reading a description of a folk dance, and it said this is a dance of the Kurdish minority of eastern Turkey. And I was flabbergasted, basically. I thought to myself, “You mean there’s someone in Turkey besides the Turks?”

SMELSER: You seem to have honed in on Kurdish. You spent 16 years working on your dictionary, your Kurdish-English dictionary. Was there anything other than the music and dance that drew you to that particular language?

CHYET: It was like terra incognita. Like no one else cared about it or was interested in it. So I sort of created a niche for myself. I mean, within Middle Eastern studies, just look, just about any big university will have a Near Eastern Studies department where they teach Hebrew and Arabic and Turkish and Persian. Well, how about Kurdish? Only now, for, apparently for political reasons, are they starting to become interested in that. I just—when I hear Kurdish being spoken, something inside me just opens up. Something’s very happy. And I have to say that I also feel that way about Dutch and also about Arabic. I mean, there are just certain languages that I just have a special affinity for.

SMELSER: How many languages would you say you speak?

CHYET: Well let’s distinguish between speaking and studying. I have studied around 35 languages. That does not mean that I speak 35 languages. It takes years to actually develop fluency in a language and also the passive ability to understand when other people speak. That takes years. I have that for Hebrew, for Arabic—many dialects of Arabic—for Turkish, for Kurdish, French, because I lived in France recently.

SMELSER: How many different places have you lived?

CHYET: Outside of the United States, I’ve lived in Israel several times, and that includes the Arab sector of Israel, two years in that Arab village. I’ve lived in Turkey; I’ve lived in France for a year. And I’ve traveled. Some people think it’s a lot, but I’m painfully aware of how little I’ve traveled actually.

SMELSER: But you have traveled quite a bit in most peoples’ book. So you have studied 35 languages, traveled all over the world, met countless different people from different cultures. So do you consider yourself a global citizen?

CHYET: Yeah. I consider all of the languages and music and cultures and foods of the world a richness. And I’m curious about them. I would like to encourage people to tap into their curiosity instead of into their fear about other people. And now both Europe and the United States are so full of immigrants from wherever you can imagine. You don’t have to go very far in most cases to find an ethnic grocery or an ethnic restaurant or whatever. And I just think that it, it enriches us all to discover other cultures and find out what things we have in common and what things are different.

PORTER: Michael Chyet spent five years as the Senior Editor of the Voice of America’s Kurdish Service. Currently he works as a cataloguer of Middle Eastern languages at the Library of Congress. The views expressed in this interview are purely his own. He spoke with Judith Smelser in Washington.

[Musical interlude]

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Oud Player

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MCHUGH: It’s a musical instrument that’s found a home in many cultures. In modern America, its electric and favored by rock stars. In medieval Europe, it was heard at royal courts, by kings and queens. In India, it has a long, thin neck and a small, round body. Its the guitar—related to the Renaissance lute and the sitar of India. And, in Iraq, halfway between Europe and India, there’s a similar instrument, the oud. After a concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Priscilla Huff spoke with the prince of oud players, Omar Bashir.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

PRISCILLA HUFF: Without sheet music, Omar Bashir opened his concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. with a 19-minute composition, a taqsim in maqam hijazkar—that is, a solo improvisation upon a melodic mode.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

OMAR BASHIR: [via a translator] Its a very eclectic kind of music, so it allows you a lot of, a lot for your imagination.

HUFF: Omar Bashir is the son of Munir Bashir, an Iraqi known as the king of oud players, who died in 1997. Born in Hungary, Omar Bashir trained at the Baghdad Music and Ballet School. In his early twenties, Omar returned to Budapest to join the Franz Liszt Academy. A friend from Hungary served as translator.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

OMAR BASHIR: [summarized by a translator] He started when he was five, he started learning from his father. He was a world-famous lute player and he started learning from him and he was nine when he gave his first performance.

HUFF: Omar Bashir has already won his own fan base, as one elderly lady insisted on an autograph from the handsome young Iraqi.

TERESA, AN AUTOGRAPH SEEKER: What is that instrument called? I’m Teresa, from Ireland.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

HUFF: That instrument is the oud—shaped like half a fat pear with a short stem, originally it had five double strings, but Omar Bashir plays the version his father developed, which has a sixth bass double string.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

HUFF: Western music is based in melody, a tune upon which musicians build harmony and themes. Music of the Arab world, such as that of the oud, sounds utterly different, because the focus is not melody. Instead, the compositions begin with a maqam which is similar to the Western concept of a musical key—such as C major. But its different, because the oud allows for the quarter tone—a smaller variation between notes than the 8-noteWestern scale. The oud player performs what are called taqsim—a type of improvisation that allows for spontaneous moments, yet has musical structure.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

OMAR BASHIR: [summarized by a translator] Basically, it is an improvisational, meditational music, so he, he wants to give you like, room to, for your imagination. Whatever you wanna be, wherever you wanna be—if you wanna be in the desert, you know, you can be in a desert.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

HUFF: This taqsim is called Love and Peace and it was written by Omar Bashir’s father, Munir Bashir. Omar says he’s also composing.

OMAR BASHIR: [summarized by a translator] He writes themes. He has written many themes like that himself. But today he played that in memory of his father.

HUFF: But, what Omar’s music reveals is the continuum of the influence of guitar-like instruments across cultures.

[The sound of an oud playing flamenco music]

HUFF: If you listen, you can almost hear the stomping feet of the Spanish flamenco—and that’s because Moors brought the oud to Spain in the 8th century and they remained there through the 16th century

[The sound of an oud playing flamenco music]

HUFF: The oud also traveled with the Gypsies, who may have started their cross-continental journey in India, hundreds of years ago.

OMAR BASHIR: [summarized by a translator] They took a little piece of culture with them every country they went through and composed their music.

HUFF: From India, across the mountains of Pakistan to the valleys of Iraq, and then beyond the deserts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean sea to Spain, Omar Bashir, the prince of the oud demonstrates the universal language that is music.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

HUFF: For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

KEITH PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, the contributions of Iran’s nongovernmental organizations.

HOSSEIN HAFEZIAN: If we look at the number of NGOs we will find that there has been a three- to four-fold increase in number of NGOs in Iran, especially NGOs working on women’s issues.

MCHUGH: Plus, a Thai official’s call for a new multilateralism. And, our Destination Spotlight shines on London’s River Thames.

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Iran NGOs

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PORTER: Nongovernmental organizations in Iran are not a new phenomenon, but in recent years, they have been on the rise. Their activities range from helping women and children to protecting the environment. As Roxana Saberi reports, many of these Iranian NGOs are faced with financial and bureaucratic challenges. But some are making big changes in the lives of Iranians.

[The sound of Hasti speaking slowly]

ROXANA SABERI: For three-year-old Hasti, forming these words is a big success. She found help at the nongovernmental organization Tavanyab. The NGO, based in Tehran, helps physically and mentally disabled children, from birth to age 16. Today parents and their children are meeting to express thanks to the NGO and its supporters.

FARA: [via a translator] I’ve been bringing my child here for a year. It’s completely free. The programs they put together for the kids are wonderful.

SABERI: Hasti’s mother Fara says Tavanyab has not only helped her daughter, who was born prematurely, start to speak. But the NGO has also taught her as a mother a valuable lesson.

FARA: [via a translator] The most important thing they teach families is to never think these kids have a problem, a disability. And they teach families that they can take their kids into every environment and not to treat them in an unusual way because these kids are not different from other children.

SABERI: Tavanyab is one of hundreds of NGOs that have been popping up in Iran in the past few years, though analysts say they’ve existed in Iran in their modern form since at least the 19th century. Many rely on a combination of government and international funding, membership fees, and private donations. Iranian authorities say there are now around 4,000 NGO’s now operating in the Islamic Republic, working in areas such as drug prevention, environmental protection, and women’s rights. Analysts attribute the growth partly to the election of Reformist President Mohammad Khatami. Though hardliners in the Islamic regime have been accused of blocking many of his efforts for reform, he has encouraged the development of civil society and increased government funding for NGOs.

HOSSEIN HAFEZIAN: If we look at the number of NGOs we will find that there has been a three- to four-fold increase in number of NGOs in Iran, especially NGOs working on women’s issues, on child rights, and environment and certain other fields.

SABERI: Hossein Hafezian, an Iranian researcher of Middle Eastern studies, says despite their growth in numbers, the NGOs are faced with certain challenges.

HAFEZIAN: There are some analysts and sociologists that claim we do not have true NGOs in Iran because no NGO can work without first gaining its license from the government, without first acquiring the government’s authorization, and any NGO in Iran should work according to the regulations imposed and enacted by the government.

SABERI: Hafezian says Iran’s Interior Ministry screens applicants who want to set up NGOs and Iranian NGOs are not allowed to take part in political activities. People involved with NGOs have said because many of the groups get some funding from public sources, they often come under the close watch and control of the government.

[Sounds from an NGO congress]

SABERI: Still, the possibility for NGOs to make a mark on the Iranian society is attracting many Iranians—especially young people. At this National Youth NGO Congress in Tehran, one organizer says 850 licenses have been given to youth NGOs, and 2,500 others have applied or are being set up. Participants here, like 23-year-old Amir, seem to feel less bound by red tape than absorbed in their own activities. He’s a member of Iran’s Green Peace Association.

AMIR: [via a translator] We work mostly in the environmental field, and we cooperate with the city council. I think that in a country like ours, where there are so many young people, the youth can be effective in building their own society.

SABERI: Yousefi Sadat, the director of a group of youth NGOs in Ardibil, in northwestern Iran, agrees. He says NGOs are a way for people to make a difference from the ground up, instead of waiting for change from above.

YOUSEFI BOUJERDI SADAT: [via a translator] We don’t want to step in political activities. I believe that political activities in Iran could not solve any problems of the people. I hope that in the next 10 to 15 years, the next generation will create a great evolution in Iran.

SABERI: The work of NGOs is not going unnoticed. Ashraf Boujerdi, Deputy for Social Affairs at the Interior Minister, says groups like Tavanyab often provide services the government cannot.

ASHRAF BOUJERDI: [via a translator] More than we serve them, they serve us. And actually, they take a load off the government’s shoulders, and they perform the duties of the government. We can only thank them for going through the trouble. I think that in the future, no program in our society will be complete unless an NGO is a part of it.

SABERI: It will take time for the Iranian public to get to know more about these new NGOs. Supporters of Tavanyab hopes through private donations, the NGO will set up branches in other cities outside the capital. Iranians owe it, they say, to those who cannot help themselves.

[The sound of Hasti speaking slowly]

SABERI: I’m Roxana Saberi, in Tehran.

PORTER: The role of nongovernmental organizations in Iran has taken on even greater importance in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Bam. This report was filed just days before that catastrophe.

[Musical interlude]

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Multilateral World

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MCHUGH: The world is more interconnected than ever. Through technology, we’ve developed incredible communications. And, people can travel almost anywhere using faster, cheaper transportation. Because of this globalization, Surin Pitsuwan, a former foreign minister of Thailand is calling for a new multilateralism. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman spoke with Pitsuwan, and started by asking him to describe this new multilateralism.

SURIN PITSUWAN: Because of the interconnectedness of the world today as a result of the process of globalization, peoples around the world want to be part of the process of policymaking that would affect them. Whether it is a policy of the international organizations—agencies like the UN—or, I think they wish that they have some way of communicating their feelings and their sense of directions of where the world is going, to major powers like the United States, like Europe, like Japan. Because in this world of globalization you cannot separate problem of one country, one people from another any more. So, the logic of globalization is to ask, to demand for a more effective form of participation, of contribution, of ownership of policies that would be effecting the entire world. The logic of it is multilateralism. And many people tend to think that multilateralism can be created by connecting a series of bilateral agreements from one country with another, one country with another country and if you have enough, and that is multilateralism. It is not.

The effective and workable model of multilateralism would be opening up a space for every player, every country, every state, every people around the world to be a part of that process. And I think it is in the making. But we are in the period of adjustment. I think the world is adjusting to the fact that the United States is the supreme hyper power. The world is trying to adjust, trying to find a way how to communicate their frustrations, their vision, their aspiration, to the United States. Before they had found they were relying on the United Nations. Now they found that the United Nations is not as effective so there need to be an adjustment there. There needs to be some restructuring there. And I think the US itself, United States people, also need to be more sensitive, more attentive to the problems of the world expressed, articulated by the people from around the world. That is the only way that we will have true multilateralism.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: I’ve heard you say the United States sees the rest of the world through technology. Would you explain to our audience what that means.

PITSUWAN: In the past your engagement with the world has been people to people. Even if it was in the state of war it’s the people in touch with people feeling the sufferings and the pains and the aspirations and the dreams of the people. Like in the Vietnam War. You were closer to the people in the field than now. Now, because it is the supremacy of technology, it is precision weapons, it is guided missiles that do the job from 34,000, 35,000 feet, maybe more. So you don’t feel the people, you don’t feel the emotions, you don’t feel the suffering. You don’t feel the risk either. That takes the human dimension out of engagement, out of conflict. Therefore I’ve been saying the American people see the world through the lens of the cameras, through technology, through satellites, rather than feeling immediate on the ground, in touch. So there is no human relationship out of the contact. Even if it is a conflict. In Vietnam you have had tremendous human contact. You have had tremendous human relations built upon your presence there. In the Middle East, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, you’ll have much, much less. And that’s because of the new kind of war, new power of technology.

And I don’t know if you can understand the world through the eyes of the technology. You will have to compensate it somehow in some way.. And I think by closer attention, closer focus, by exchange, by cooperation, by feeling the problems that they are feeling on the ground. That might be able to compensate for this long distance relationship that you have had. And it’s going to change your perception of the world if there is no correction, if there is no compensation. And that will have implication on your role in the world, on your influence in the world, on the perception of peoples outside the United States about the US people. And that I think is a critical issues that needs to be looked at.

BROCKMAN: Another issue; Americans generally think of the Middle East when they think of Islam. How is Islam in Southeast Asia different from what we see in the Middle East?

PITSUWAN: Islam, or the Muslim world, is not a monolithic world. There are shades of differences. And Islam and Muslims in Southeast Asia are traditionally moderate, accommodating, and tolerant. Because in the extremity of any culture you are forced to accommodate with the environment, which is different from the center. I would call the heartland of Islam. Southeast Asia is in the eastern extremity of the Islamic world. So from the beginning Muslims in Southeast Asia were forced to accommodate, adapt, and adopt, innovate. As times go on we have to survive. Therefore our kind of Islam is more conducive to changes, to the challenges of modernity, of globalization. You have exceptions everywhere. But on the whole Muslims in Southeast Asia are more moderate, are more flexible, and are much more open and tolerant.

BROCKMAN: What is the West’s proper role in working with Southeast Asia?

PITSUWAN: As I said, Southeast Asia in a way it’s far ahead of many regions around the world. The level of economic progress is pretty high. Many of those economies are now self-sustaining. Many of the problems in the region, if they can find a modality to cooperate and to work together they could contribute to the solution of those problems. Drugs trafficking, human trafficking, environment, violence, terrorism—I think the West can contribute to helping creating the modalities, the systems, and the organizations and the management, the modes of cooperation among us, with the West, with ourselves, among ourselves. That would be helpful. And promote the values of openness, values of democracy, of human rights. Help some countries that may have been open in the past but are relapsing. Help countries that are still on the way, not quite yet open but knows that in the end they will have to open up. I think there are ways and means of working together without imposing, without interfering, without being perceived as coming from outside threatening the terrain, threatening the institutions that have been in existence for a long, long time. I think we can work together.

Education, human resource development, exchange opportunities, in the end help these people prepare themselves to qualified to take part and to benefit from the changes that are taking place in the process of globalization. I think that would be most effective and the contributions will be most appreciated from Southeast Asia without feeling that it is being imposed from outside.

BROCKMAN: Surin Pitsuwan, is a former foreign minister of Thailand. He currently serves in that country’s parliament. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

PORTER: Coming up next, working the River Thames. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Destination: Thames Riverboat

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: London’s River Thames is a little over 200 miles in length—nothing compared to the Mississippi, Nile, or Amazon—but for hundreds of years the river has been central to the development of the British capital. It provides a vital travel link and for hundreds of years has employed tens of thousands on the water, in the docks of the East End and in traders’ warehouses. Nowadays business has slowed on the Thames. Most of the docks have closed for business and the warehouses are mainly apartments. But there are still a few whose livelihoods are tied to the river. Every day passenger cruisers take tourists from the House of Commons, the British parliament in Westminster, to historical Greenwich. Suzanne Chislett takes a look at the lives of these river workers for this week’s Destination Spotlight.

[The sound of a boat leaving a dock]

SUZANNE CHISLETT: The River Thames runs through the heart of the British capital. It divides London into distinctive north and south regions and Londoners are fiercely proud of which side of the river they come from. But, for around 300 licensed watermen, the river is the true heart of London.

[The sound of watermen talking to each other about another waterman]

CHISLETT: Gordon Markley has been working on the River Thames for 20 years. He skippers a tourist boat called the Millennium of Peace.

GORDON MARKLEY: It’s a very close knit community on the river. Everyone knows others by name. And that’s even if you go back to the river’s heyday, which lasted up to the late ’60s when there was thousands of men working out here, even in those times everybody knew each other by name practically. And it’s carried on from then. It’s a very close knit community.

CHISLETT: The Thames is the reason London exists. People have been working and traveling on the river since the Romans first crossed the water 2,000 years ago. Until just a couple of hundred years ago, the river was the main commuter route, as skipper Gordon Markley told me as we traveled upstream.

MARKLEY: There was only one bridge over the times, so it was far easier to be ferried across the river by the local watermen. There was only one bridge, which was London bridge, so it was a very, very busy river with people just being ferried backwards and forwards across the river for a small fee. But that, that’s all died now, since the construction of all the bridges over the river.

CHISLETT: Working on the Thames is still one of the few professions where sons tend to follow in their father’s footsteps. Paul Wilson is Fleet Operations Director of City Cruises. He worked alongside his father on the river and served a seven year apprenticeship.

PAUL WILSON: It’s tradition. And the apprenticeship was father and son, it was always passed down to father and son so there were no sort of interlopers or people from the outside coming in.

CHISLETT: And his son Ben, pilot onboard the Millennium of Peace, has become the sixth generation of the Wilson family to take to the river.

BEN WILSON: From a young age I was being brought down here weekends by my dad and worked a bit here with me granddad. And I think I knew what I wanted to do at an early age. And you just, I think you are just generally born into it.

CHISLETT: Fleet Operations manager Paul Wilson is more often found behind his desk than on a boat these days. But when your entire office building is floating at the end of a pier, it’s still not a bad place to work.

PAUL WILSON: Well, from where I am sitting in my office, looking up river about half a mile is the famous Tower Bridge. Lots of people think it is London Bridge. It’s the gateway to the sea. And then opposite, we’ve got the old entrance to the London docks that was started in the early sixteenth century. The first police force in the world is Whopping, and it was the police force, the first police force, were on the river because there was more skullduggery and things going on that shouldn’t, on ships and people stealing and killing. And so the metropolitan police, the world famous police, started on the river at Whopping.

CHISLETT: Further upstream, onboard the Millennium of Peace, pilot Ben Wilson was taking us past some of the newest riverside attractions like the Tate Modern Art Gallery and the London Eye Ferris wheel.

BEN WILSON: I’ve been on the river now for eight years it’s coming up. I’ve seen so much change in that amount of years it is unbelievable. But, I work with older members and they have seen even more changes. And you never know what’s going to come around the corner, what’s going to happen next on the Thames.

CHISLETT: And as more people boarded the Millennium of Peace to see for themselves how London looks from the river, Ben told me how he’s looking forward to witnessing the changes on the riverbanks.

BEN WILSON: It’s all good for changing. Yeah. All good for the trade that we are doing now. The London Eye, it is bringing tourism in and it keeps us all in work I suppose. And yeah, things have, have got to change. They will always change. And you’ve just got to adapt to them.

[The sound of a boat leaving the docks and watermen talking to each other]

CHISLETT: For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett on the River Thames in London.

[The sound of boat engines]

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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