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DR. MEHDI TAGHAVI: Now we lost our market to Chinese, to Turks, to Pakistanis, and to Afghanistan. Now they are producing more cheaper, better quality.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Iranian carpet weavers struggle to make ends meet.
KEITH PORTER: Plus, behind the scenes look at the creation of the International Criminal Court.
PAM SPEES: At the core of this was the belief that we need this court and that people could sort of join hands and push from that point forward.
PORTER: And we stroll through this week’s Destination Spotlight, Beijing’s famous Tiananmen Square.
ED LANFRANCO: Mao wanted to show how red he was; that he was even surpassing the Soviet Union insofar as his revolutionary ardor. So, that’s why the square is as large as it is.
MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.
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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. Handmade Persian carpets have been known throughout the world for their designs, rich colors, and high quality. Carpet-making likely began around 2,500 years ago in Persia and has been a way of life for many Iranian families, who have passed the tradition down from one generation to the next. But these carpets are now facing growing problems. In recent years, Iran’s share of the world’s carpet exports has dropped from 50 percent to around 30 percent. As Roxana Saberi reports from Tehran, this competition is coming from home and abroad.
ROXANA SABERI: Many Iranians would tell you a home is soulless without a Persian carpet.
[Sounds from a busy Persian carpet fair]
SABERI: At Iran’s 12th Annual Carpet Fair in Tehran, a little soul is what these vendors are trying to sell.
DARIUS: [via a translator] We have both old and new carpets and we produce carpets in Tabriz. We renovate and repair old carpets and produce new ones based on traditional designs.
SABERI: Darius has been selling handmade Persian carpets for 13 years—mostly to the US and Europe. He admits his carpets are expensive, often going for many thousands of dollars. But he says anyone who buys one will not be sorry.
DARIUS: [via a translator] Of course hand made carpets are more expensive than machine-made ones, because they require a lot of time and expense, while the others are mass produced in large factories. In my opinion, handmade carpets are like an artistic painting because they are created by man and are based on an idea or story.
SABERI: Persian carpets are a major export for Iran. They make up around 12 percent of the country’s non-oil exports. But now the Persian carpet industry is facing problems—growing competition at home and abroad. Within the country, modern factories are displacing expensive hand-woven rugs with low cost machine-made carpets. And outside Iran, foreigners are buying more and more hand-made carpets from other countries. Dr. Mehdi Taghavi, an economics professor at Allame Tabatabaie University in Tehran, says one reason Iran is facing foreign competition is that Persian handmade carpets are losing their quality.
DR. MEHDI TAGHAVI: We exported carpets, too much carpet, cheaply, with low prices. You see when these producers found out that they buy the carpet like everything else, instead of using the natural material, they use the synthetic material, so the quality went down. Now we lost our market to Chinese, to Turks, to Pakistanis, and to Afghanistan. Now they are producing more cheaper, better quality, so they have lost our market abroad to other countries.
SABERI: The effects of this competition are being felt by the makers of handmade carpets across Iran—especially by families whose livelihood depends on the carpet business.
[The sound of weavers making carpet by hand]
SABERI: Here in Esfenjan village in northwestern Iran, handmade-carpet making is a main industry. Mohammad Bairamzadeh sits diligently at his loom, propped up in his small, bare home. Helping him weave are his wife and his 13-year-old son—one of five he has taught to make carpets.
MOHAMMAD BAIRAMZADEH: [via a translator] I am 45 years old. I’ve been doing this work for about 35 years, since I was 10. In our village, we make many large carpets. All of them are handmade, no machine-mades at all.
SABERI: Eight hours a day for the past four months, Mohammad has been working on his current project. He skillfully ties knots of colorful thread into the columns of his loom, occasionally looking up at a template to make sure the emerging pattern is correct. When he and his family are finished with this six and a half by ten foot carpet, a scene of hunters and animals will appear. This could take another five months of hard work and concentration. Mohammad says the carpet will then likely sell for up to 3 million tomans, or about $3,600. But his wife Afruze, says this price will be well below what she thinks it’s worth.
AFRUZE: [via a translator] In the old days, we used to export our carpets and foreigners used to come here to buy them, but it’s no longer like that. The bazaar grew weak. Our work has hit a dead-end.
SABERI: Mohammad says another factor is the growing competition from the machine-mades in the domestic market. But he stresses that hand-made carpets are well worth the cost.
MOHAMMAD BAIRAMZADEH: [via a translator] We have confidence in our carpets because we made them ourselves. The life and durability of handmade carpets is longer. Machine-made carpets wear out sooner. If this one has a life of 20 years, that one has a life of 5 years. So our carpets are better. Our industry is this; machine-made carpets are hurting us.
SABERI: It’s not hard to see the effects of this growing competition. Many young Iranians are not interested in continuing their family tradition. Instead, they leave to find work in larger cities. This, economists say, is hurting some smaller towns and villages. Optimists hope the situation will improve. They believe the export of Persian carpets will exceed $17 billion a year by 2020. But other authorities disagree. They say the market for these carpets won’t improve as long as consumers are happier admiring them in museums instead of spending money for a little hand-made Persian spirit at home. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi, in Tehran.
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MCHUGH: The birth of the International Criminal Court is viewed as one of the greatest accomplishments by nonprofit international citizen groups. These nongovernmental organizations—known as NGOs—kept the idea alive for decades. And in the 1990s, they began a tightly organized campaign to draft a global treaty creating the court resulting in the 1998 Rome statute.
PORTER: One of the NGOs deeply involved in the process was the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice. I asked the group’s outgoing Program Director, Pam Spees, to explain what motivated the high level of cooperation, which was the hallmark of this campaign.
PAM SPEES: At the core of this was the belief that we need this court and that people could sort of, you know, join hands and you know, push from that point forward. And all other differences that might normally plague this type of coalition aside, that was the motivating and the sort of uniting factor.
PORTER: I saw in a note that you wrote earlier this year where you said, “The document which created the International Criminal Court stands as the most significant example of gender mainstreaming in an international treaty.” Can you give us some examples of that?
SPEES: You have to have the perspective of how all plans and policies and actions of an organization impact gender. The idea being that it’s not just a matter of more women in the mix, although that’s a part of it, it’s how everything impacts differently on men and women. So in terms of how that plays into the Rome statute and the ICC, you see that in terms of the, the crimes that are included within the Rome statute that weren’t explicitly codified prior to that in international humanitarian law. Crimes like, well rape was present in prior conventions but not, not clearly enunciated as a crime that required punishment. It was sort of termed in protected language and there was really nothing included that explicitly required countries and militaries to prohibit it and punish it. And that was a critique, a long-running critique of international humanitarian law prior to the Rome statute. With the Rome statute, you’ve got rape and sexual slavery and forced prostitution, forced pregnancy and forced sterilization and other sexual violence included explicitly as war crimes. And that they are to be considered as among the most serious of concern to the international community as a whole, as is stated in the preamble.
In addition, you’ve got for the first time ever gender-based persecution prohibited in the statute and trafficking as a form of enslavement. Now these are innovations and that’s, that was key. But that’s not where the advocacy stopped. I mean, there was an effort to make sure that you had procedural mechanisms and structural mechanisms built into the statute to help ensure that these things are carried out. And that, that includes for instance the, the requirement of a victims and witnesses unit with expertise on violence against women. It requires the Office of the Prosecutor to have legal advisors with expertise on violence against women. There are a whole series of mandates in the statute and the rules that have to do with the trial of sexual and gender violence crimes and the nondiscriminatory trial of that. So these are some of the ways.
And then, of course, you have the requirement of a fair representation of women and men on the court. And that was also key, you know, a key structural mechanism. And I think that the recent elections show us that this was actually something that was taken seriously because you ended up with seven women elected to an 18-member panel of judges. And that was quite astounding given the level of representation in other international tribunals.
PORTER: Are there requirements for women in the staff of the court as well as their presence on the court?
SPEES: The statute requires that the prosecutor and the registrar take this into account as they’re staffing their offices. And they, the, they’re also to take into account the need with people with expertise in violence against women and children.
PORTER: You recently decided to close down the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice. Why?
SPEES: Because it was a caucus. It was, by its nature, it was something that developed, and sort of spontaneously in this negotiation and it was an advocacy mechanism that enabled women’s groups and women’s voices to be brought to bear into this process. Once the process of negotiation ended, we’ve now got a court and that requires a whole different type of advocacy and different form of work. So that’s what the Women’s Caucus was. And I think it was one of the most successful efforts in the international arena. We’ve got 18 judges and the court’s being set up. And that’s, now the emphasis shifts to the court. And it’s unprecedented. We’ve never had a permanent international criminal tribunal before. And the advocacy needed is unprecedented. So it’s, it’s sort of moving forward without a blueprint for this.
PORTER: Given this success of civil society in the creation of the International Criminal Court, are there lessons that have been learned, things that we can apply to future movements?
SPEES: For women’s groups I think it’s, it was, there are a lot of lessons in terms of how to come together, how to come together in an arena that wasn’t necessarily friendly at first. It’s one thing to do advocacy around the Fourth World Conference on Women and to articulate demands there in a conference that is about women and women’s human rights. It’s a completely different thing to bring the same people and the same sort of ways of advocacy into an arena like the ICC negotiations, which were highly technical and legal and were very—the people negotiating this were very unfamiliar with women’s advocacy and with the sort of larger, broader women’s human rights movement. And so there was, there were a lot of lessons I think on all sides, actually, and in terms of how to advocate, in terms of how to come together. And I think we’ll be learning newer lessons as we move into the era where we have an International Criminal Court, and that the level of advocacy and the type of advocacy that’s needed.
PORTER: Pam Spees is the former Program Director for the now-defunct Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice.
MCHUGH: Coming up next, saving the world’s turtles. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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MCHUGH: It’s a truly global issue. The world’s turtle population is disappearing before our eyes. Sea and land turtles are traditional delicacies in Asia. Chinese folklore claims turtles have mythical healing qualities. And the booming Chinese economy means many millions of that country’s citizens can afford for the first time to eat turtle meat. The results are cataclysmic. One estimate says 40,000 turtles are caught in the wild and killed every week. The problem is beyond the reach of zoos and traditional conservation societies. In fact, much of the rescuing and rearing of turtles is done by a band of highly committed private individuals. Nathan King caught up with one of these so-called private rescuers at his central Manhattan apartment.
[The sounds of footsteps on wooden stairs]
NATHAN KING: [speaking while climbing the stairs] So it’s nine flights?
RICHARD OGUST: Nine flight walk-up.
KING: Nine flights up a Tribeca apartment building, whose address must remain secret for security reasons, is a steel door. Beyond that is what can only be described as a Noah’s Ark for turtles.
[The sound of a steel door opening/closing]
KING: Wow! That’s all I can say, is, wow!
KING: Richard Ogust is fighting what many would consider a losing battle. His New York apartment is filled to the brim with tanks and tubs, each one home to a species of turtle saved from becoming someone’s meal.
OGUST: They are diamondback terrapin in these large tanks here, which were mostly Fulton Fish market confiscations. These are more heosemys depressa, a species from Burma that was thought to be extinct until 1985. On the ground are leucoephalon yuwonoi, also called the Sulawesi Forest turtle. These were first discovered by science in 1995. They’ve been on the critically endangered list for the last three years.
KING: It’s estimated that between 10 and 20 million turtles are consumed in the Chinese market a year. Species are disappearing fast.
OGUST: These are some captive born rhinoclemmys from Central America. Behind you are critically endangered chelodina longicollis from Rottnest Island. It’s a snake neck turtle. There are forcunine turtles from Sulawesi. They are found only on the same island that the yuwonoi are found on. These are stars, from a confiscation, Indian Star tortoises.
KING: The apartment is home to 1,000 turtles, over 100 species in all, most of which are endangered, and some that are no longer seen in the wild. Some in the media have tried to paint Richard out as a little bit crazy but he is anything but. In fact, he’s part of the Turtle Survival Alliance, a network of over 200 individuals who dedicate themselves to taking in and taking care of wild turtles. Richard is one of the go-to guys for New York customs officials when they confiscate rare turtles. But it’s not just New York. His apartment is truly a global sanctuary. Turtles here come from as far away as China, Burma, and Vietnam. And when the turtles arrive they can be in a terrible state, having suffered months of abuse.
OGUST: Whether it’s in Asia or Africa the Mediterranean or Central Asia, is that the animals are collected at the village level by the villagers, sometimes by children, sometimes by hunters with dogs. They’re housed without food or water. They simply are not fed and not given water until a middle man arrives who will collect them from the various villages, bring them to a larger town, and then they’re finally transshipped to their market destination. Throughout this time they’re primarily not fed and not given water. This can be several months. So the lighter the animals are for transportation the less the cost of the transportation. Then when they get to market they’re sold by weight. So with some of the larger tortoises, we come in we find they’ve been gut-loaded with sand. It’s just been poured down their throats in a slurry.
KING: Many of the turtles here need years of attention to make it back from the brink of death, the sort of attention that just can’t be provided by zoos or regular conservation societies. Individual collectors have now turned into conservationists and are often a turtles only hope. But many like Richard admit they are struggling. His co-worker is Laura Mostello.
LAURA MOSTELLO: It’s a never-ending job because there’s always something to do. They have a lot of problems. A lot of the confiscated animals come in sick or mishandled, dehydrated. So what I do is, they’ve been soaking overnight. I dry them and I also check them individually for any problems that they might have. I check their weights, make sure everybody is eating. There are some who are sick so I keep a special, an especially close eye on them. You could stay here 24 hours and you could still find something to do.
KING: When it comes to turtles round-the-clock attention is not enough. With life spans of over a 100 years many turtles out live their owners.
OGUST: What we need to do is to establish an institute that exists between the zoo community and the private community that has, takes advantages of the ethos and the experience of both communities, where we can establish these animals for long-term conservation purposes. ‘Cause many of these animals hopefully will live beyond my lifetime. All of us are aware that we have to account for their disposition after our deaths and what we don’t want to see happen is what’s happened in the past, where someone dies and their collection, their group of animals, are just suddenly put up for sale and distributed. There’s high mortality and they just go to the winds and virtually disappear.
KING: That is now happening. Richard is involved in setting up the Tewksbury Institute in New Jersey which will house thousands of rescued turtles in a suitable habitats and serve as a focal point for future conservation efforts. Beyond that it’s hoped hunting turtles in the wild will be replaced by turtle farming to satisfy Asia’s growing appetite.
OGUST: These are chora trifaciata, sometimes called Golden Coin. There’s a belief in China that these cure cancer so they will sell for $1,000 an ounce. They’ve been stripped from the wild completely. They are being captive bred. They do not cure cancer.
KING: But for real success, most agree that the hardest part will be to spread the conservation message to Asian societies. They really hold the key to the preservation of the world’s turtles. For Common Ground, I’m Nathan King in New York.
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MCHUGH: When most people in the West think of Tiananmen Square, they immediately remember the violent and deadly 1989 student protests there. But the meaning of the square is much more complex for people living in China. As part of our occasional Destination Spotlight series Celia Hatton visited Beijing’s famous Tiananmen Square.
[The sound of martial music and marching soldiers.]
CELIA HATTON: Sunrise on Tiananmen Square. Even at this hour of the day, tourists have assembled to watch the daily procession of Chinese soldiers raise the Chinese flag in the center of the city.
[The sound of the Chinese national anthem being played at the flag raising ceremony.]
HATTON: Tiananmen Square lays both literally and figuratively at the heart of Beijing’s capital, at the entrance to China’s ancient Imperial City. When the massive gateway to the palace was built five centuries ago, it was meant to serve as the opening to the emperor’s lavish inner sanctum. Now, although tourists arrive every day to gape at the architecture of the palace buildings, it is the square in front of the gate that usually gets the spotlight.
[The sounds of music and crowds at Tiananmen Square.]
HATTON: When most people first arrive on the Square, it takes a few moments to digest its sheer size. Covering over forty hectares, or roughly 90 football fields, the vast open space in the middle of Beijing is lined with imposing buildings, from the politically central Great Hall of the People to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. Longtime Beijing resident Ed Lanfranco writes a weekly column on landmarks around the city. He says that the size of the square has a lot to do with Communist Leader Mao’s urge to compete with the Soviets when the modern square was built in 1958.
ED LANFRANCO: You gotta have a huge public space for a country of 1.3 billion people, I suppose. And it was really because Mao wanted to show how red he was; that he was even surpassing the Soviet Union insofar as his revolutionary ardor. So, that’s why the square is as large as it is.
HATTON: Just a few years after the modern square was built, the chaotic Cultural Revolution began. Teenage Red Guards would travel from all over China to catch a glimpse of their beloved leader, Mao Tse-tung, when he appeared on the Square.
[The sound of fanatical teenagers cheering for Chairman Mao.]
HATTON: That was the last time for a while that the Square would be filled with such happy souls. For years after that, people instead came to Tiananmen to voice their anger, first to denounce the so-called Gang of Four who engineered the bloody Cultural Revolution, then to mourn the death of popular premier Zhou Enlai. But it was the pro-democracy demonstrations in June 1989 that really put Tiananmen on the map for most people outside China.
[Sounds from the 1989 pro-democracy student protests]
HATTON: In April 1989, pro-democracy demonstrators began to camp in the Square to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a popular leader who was in favor of reform. Over time, more than a million people took part in the protests and the real mandate of the demonstration voiced widespread anger at government corruption, the slow speed of reform, and a general lack of political freedom in China.
[The sound of gunfire.]
HATTON: June 3, 1989—Chinese tanks began advancing towards the unarmed protesters who had been camped in the Square for more than six weeks. Few know for sure how many died for the two nights of shooting that occurred in and around Tiananmen Square. Most groups outside China say the total hovers around 1,000. This gruesome event shaped the way that many foreigners view China itself and heralded a new era of political suppression that still exists across the mainland. In a testament to China’s rapid pace of change though, just over 10 years later, the same spot was the focal point of a gleeful celebration.
[The sound of enthusiastic crowds cheering over China being selected as the host country for the 2008 Olympics]
HATTON: On this July evening in 2001, Tiananmen Square came full circle. Once again, almost a million people filled the Square to celebrate—this time because of Beijing’s successful bid for the 2008 Olympic games. In a sign of how quickly China is changing, joyous crowds welcomed the same government leaders into the Square whom had been the target of protests in 1989. Because of its frequent appearance in recent Chinese history, Ed Lanfranco likens Tiananmen Square to the ground zero of Chinese politics. In 2000, four members of the outlawed Falun Gong sect set themselves on fire in the square to protest their lack of political recognition. Despite the government’s violent reaction to the democracy protests in 1989, Chinese people still view the Square as the ultimate place to go to voice their opinions.
ED LANFRANCO: Whenever Chinese or foreign adherents to the Falun Gong go to Tiananmen Square, they’re going right to the heart of the Chinese government. It’s almost like poking them right in the eye. It’s the one place you are sure to get a response.
HATTON: Today, Tiananmen could be one of the most tightly patrolled places in the world. In response to the 1989 massacre and the more recent Falun Gong protests, police cars, trained dogs, and plainclothes officers litter the Square. Those who are very brave, or very desperate still come here to voice their opinions.
[The sound of people speaking out in the Square.]
HATTON: Despite all of the security measures, Chinese people still flock to the Square to enjoy themselves on weekends. On an average Saturday, Chinese kids come to Tiananmen to learn to fly kites with their grandparents and tourists line up to pose for photos in front of the massive portrait of Mao Tse-tung that hangs on Tiananmen Gate. And so, this is how the Square remains today—in a precarious position as a tourist destination, the blood-spattered scene of a recent massacre, and the place where some Chinese still go to speak out. Perhaps there is no other place in the world that has so dramatically witnessed the growing pains of a modern empire. With this week’s Destination Spotlight, I’m Celia Hatton in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.
PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
KEITH PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, Madeline Albright explains why she is a global citizen.
FORMER US SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think global citizenship is understanding the interdependence that we all are a part of, and how one part of the world depends on the other, whether it is for food or climate or peace.
MCHUGH: Plus, making headlines with the United Nations. And, jazz straight from Damascus.
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PORTER: Madeleine Albright is the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States government. From 1993 to 1997 she served as America’s ambassador to the United Nations. In 1997 she became US Secretary of State for the Clinton administration’s second term. And this week, she is our Global Citizen profile. Madeleine Albright was born in Prague and emigrated from Czechoslovakia to America with her family after the Communist takeover in 1948. Her recently published memoir, Madam Secretary, sets the story of her own life against the international stage. Nina-Maria Potts spoke with Madeleine Albright in Washington, DC about the notion of global citizenship and her search for self-identity.
NINA-MARIA POTTS: What does global citizenship mean to you, and to what extent do you consider yourself a global citizen?
FORMER US SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think global citizenship is understanding the interdependence that we all are a part of, and how one part of the world depends on the other, whether it is for food or climate or peace. And that we all have responsibilities towards each other, and especially the United States as the world’s most powerful country, has the opportunity and the responsibility to try to shape a more peaceful future.
POTTS: Is being global necessarily a good thing? Does it mean just not being insular? Why is the United Nations, as some have said , morally superior to the United States, just because it’s a global body?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the United Nations is the only forum where all the nations of the world can speak on an equal footing. And it is a very useful, I found anyway, from my four years there, of knowing what the views of other countries are on a whole host of issues and trying to develop policies that don’t pit one part of the world against the other, or beggar the poor countries at the expense of the rich countries. And it has an awful lot of very valuable roles that it can play. It cannot do more than the nation states allow it to do. And I am a great believer in the United Nations. I do think that it needs to have a lot of reform. It’s grown from an organization that had 51 countries and to now having over, 190 I guess at this point. So a lot of the internal aspects of it have to be adjusted to the size. I don’t think it’s morally superior. I think that it is very important and very useful.
POTTS: Is there an irony that on the one hand, there’s the liberal, utopian idea of universal brotherhood, the brotherhood of man, but actually it’s the militant Islamic world that has reinforced a fascistic notion of “you’re either with us or against us”? But yet it’s Washington which gets accused of acting unilaterally. Is there an irony in that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we are a long way from the global brotherhood aspect of it, because it goes back to what I said earlier, there’s just this sense of the need to identify with your own that sometimes goes overboard. I’ve often said this: it’s one thing to be proud of your own group, it’s another thing to have your pride turn into hate of the other group. And I think that we are in a peculiar period where pride in oneself, i.e., some of the extremist Islamic groups, has turned into the opposite of “we versus us” that comes out of the United States at this point. And neither of those sentiments I think are very useful. Because what I would like to see is, clearly there are extremists everywhere, and they need to be marginalized by those who see the greater commonality of our goals than those who try to make choices between one side and another.
POTTS: You’ve been making news for a long time. Can I ask you where you get your news?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I get my news in a variety of places. Obviously from—now from the public media. I listen to public radio all the time. I read all the newspapers and I read a lot of the journals. When I was in the government I got my news through very detailed intelligence briefings. Which, there was so much, that I always used to say to myself, “Read every word, because you’re gonna be so sorry when you can’t read it anymore.” But I get my information in a way that I think I would recommend to people, which is that you should not ever rely on just one source of information, that it’s very important to weigh the various pieces of information and then compare them to each other, and distill out of it something. Because if you get hooked, even on public radio, you, you can’t have just one source.
POTTS: Do you feel more depressed about the state of the world today, than you did say 30 years ago?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I am a perpetual optimist. I have to say it’s the one thing that, that I really, is consistent with me. But I actually, 30 years ago, things were pretty bad. I think that we’re talking the 1970s and great concern about our highly dangerous and adversary relationship with the Soviet Union, and the fact that so many people were stuck behind the Iron Curtain. And, and that is all very hopeful now. I am depressed by some of the policies that are going on now because I think that they don’t add to what I thought the 21st century was going to be about, which was a greater openness, a support for democracy—not the imposition of democracy, the support for democracy—and greater free trade and more interdependence and the building of a variety of alliance structures. But I am hoping very much that we will be able to move forward. I think the scourge of terrorism is something that has cast a huge shadow on the beginning of this century and it’s something that will unfortunately I think be with us for the foreseeable future. So even for an inveterate optimist I think that’s a very hard part to deal with.
MCHUGH: Nina-Maria Potts spoke with this week’s global citizen, Madeleine Albright in Washington, DC.
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MCHUGH: The United Nations is garnering plenty of headlines across the world these days. And today, keeping track of the UN and its various agencies is easier than you might think. UNWire is an independent, internet news site dedicated to covering the United Nations. I recently spoke with UNWire’s Editor in Chief, Steve Hirsch.
STEVE HIRSCH: UNWire is a daily online news service that covers the United Nations and UN-related news. It is funded by the UN Foundation but it is produced independently by this company, the National Journal Group. We are also connected by ownership with the Atlantic Monthly. The content of UNWire is, it’s a mixture of what we call coverage of the coverage, which is a daily synopses, or synopses of daily news coverage from around the world on issues related to the UN, plus original coverage which comes from our people who are based here and in New York. We also have a weekly column by Barbara Crossette, who is the former UN Bureau Chief of The New York Times. And we’re free. That’s the important thing. Anybody can get us free by going to www.unwire.org.
MCHUGH: Now it does seem odd that you are doing coverage of the UN but you are based and we are talking today in Washington.
HIRSCH: In Washington. The reason is this; is when the original deal was made National Journal, because its core business is coverage of Washington—National Journal is here in Washington—as it happens also the UN Foundation is here in Washington—for the most part it, it doesn’t make a lot of difference so far. Because when we, we do about 20 stories a day. That means that we have a crew of writers who come in here starting at six o’clock in the morning reading papers and looking at Web sites from around the world. And they can do that from Washington or New York or Indianapolis or Moscow or, you know, anyplace where they had free access to the Web. And we have, we have a full-time correspondent in New York. And I’m in New York periodically. And Barbara is in New York periodically. We may in the future increase our presence in New York. And a lot of what we do is overseas. So it worked out that way.
MCHUGH: What would you say is the general level of knowledge among Americans about the UN?
HIRSCH: Oh, I think it’s low. I think it’s very low. That’s not unique to Americans, I don’t think. I mean, this is not an America bashing comment. But Americans I think because of the size of this country, because of a traditional insularity and because this country feels—and to some extent rightly—that it can act without consulting other people, Americans don’t, haven’t felt a need to know about the UN. And a lot of Americans are hostile to the UN. So, I think that, that Americans don’t know much about the UN and when they think of the UN they might think of, of UNICEF—you know, kids collecting for UNICEF at Halloween or they might think of the big building. Even people who are sympathetic to the UN. If you travel at all around the world as some of us do and you go to places where the UN is a force you discover that, that the UN, the UN is present in a lot of ways and does a lot of things around the world. And in some countries the UN is an extremely important institution. You know, they think, in a lot of places I think Kofi Annan, who is the Secretary General of the United Nations, is, is thought of us equal to a head of state. Whereas in this country I don’t think—there’s probably a lot of Americans who don’t even know who he is. When I was a kid—and I’m 51 years old, to put this in context—one of the people who, who was on the news fairly frequently was Richard C. Hotelet, who was UN Correspondent for CBS News. And if you were, if you were somebody who watched the news, you know, you would be as likely to know him almost as Eric Sevareid or Walker Cronkite. I think probably today 99 percent of Americans couldn’t name a single reporter covering the UN. And I think that’s an indication of, of the level of how concerned Americans are with the UN.
MCHUGH: So who is your audience then? Is it diplomats? Is it policymakers? Lobbyists? Or is it actually the American or world public?
HIRSCH: Well, it’s all of those plus more. We, we have a worldwide audience and it is, it is policymakers, it is, is diplomats, it is UN employees, it is UN officials, it’s students, it’s congressional people. It’s, it includes both people who for professional reasons need to follow the UN and need to know what’s going on and what the UN is doing and it is also people who because of reasons of, of, of personal political belief or personal concern—you know, activists—who want to know what the UN is doing.
MCHUGH: What is your traffic like? Have you been able to track your Web traffic?
HIRSCH: We are in the middle of a massive promotion of it right now. And it seems to me that it ought to be huge. I think that our product, the editorial product, is great. And I’ve never had a complaint about the product. And I’ve gotten e-mail from, from all the way from, from really pro-UN leaders of the UN Association-type organizations, to people who work for anti-UN members of Congress. And all of them, all of those people have said it’s good. But I think we need to get the word out more.
MCHUGH: Well, I wanted to ask what is the reaction to UNWire at the UN?
HIRSCH: It’s good at the UN. When I went up to get my UN press pass the first time the woman who was handing me the material, she said, “Who do you work for?” And I said, “National Journal Group.” And she just looked at me blankly. And my friend who is in the PR office whispered in my ear, “Say UNWire.” And I said—cause they’re both legitimate—I said, “UNWire.” She said, Oh! UNWire! Oh, that’s fine.” And they all turned, all the clerks and secretaries said, “Oh, that’s great. We all read UNWire every day.”
MCHUGH: And this is even though you don’t necessarily always give them favorable coverage.
HIRSCH: Oh, absolutely. We print the news. We are just as apt to report a story that reflects badly on the UN as one that reflects well on the UN.
MCHUGH: Well, final question—where do you see the UN in five years? Ten years?
HIRSCH: I don’t know. It depends who succeeds Kofi Annan as Secretary General and I’m not placing any bets. It may depend inordinately on what happens in the American government. I don’t know where the UN is gonna go. I, I think though—it may be that with the end of the Cold War that, that the UN will of necessity become more significant. But that, that may be exactly wrong. It could be exactly the opposite, too. It could be that other, you know, that—I mean, who can predict international relations. When Bush was elected President in 2000, you know, who would have predicted 9/11? And, and it’s consequences? So I don’t know. I’m not even sure where it’s going to be in a year.
MCHUGH: Steve Hirsch is Editor and Chief of UNWire.org. I spoke with him in Washington, DC.
PORTER: Coming up next, Middle Eastern jazz. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
Listen to This Segment: MP3
PORTER: The Middle East has a wonderful and long musical tradition, very different from that in the West. But Reese Erlich found a Syrian trumpeter who has mastered both Middle Eastern and Western styles. His fusion of the two musical traditions might surprise and delight you. Erlich calls this story “When the Saints Go Marching In—to Damascus.”
[The sound of “When the Saints Go Marching In—to Damascus,” with same melody as “When the Saints Go Marching In,” but with a very strong Middle Eastern feel to it]
REESE ERLICH: As a youngster growing up in Damascus, Fuad Barakat learned middle eastern music on his grandmother’s oud, a kind of Arabic wide-bodied guitar. He later studied western classical music on the trumpet.
FUAD BARAKAT: I survived needing both of them. Equally. You can’t take your, the beauty away from a car and you can’t take it away from a horse. This is, Western music is very beautiful and the Arabic approach is very beautiful.
ERLICH: With modern technology these days it’s much easier to play both. Barakat has invited me to a small party with friends and fellow musicians to demonstrate how he fuses the music of the east and west. Barakat sits down at a normal looking keyboard, the kind used by rock bands around the world. He plays a western, major scale.
[The sound of Mr. Barakat playing piano notes in western-style music]
ERLICH: Then Barakat punches a button, and the keyboard shifts to the Middle Eastern, pentatonic scale.
BARAKAT: Pentatonic was five notes
[Mr. Barakat then plays the five piano notes of the Middle Eastern pentatonic scale]
ERLICH: Then keyboard player Said Sar takes over. He punches a few more buttons and starts up the drum machine and other instruments. But instead of a hip-hop beat with bass guitar, he brings up the tabla, oud, and accordion.
[The sound of Mr. Sar playing a more orchestrated Middle Eastern-style of music]
ERLICH: Fuad Barakat lived in Houston for 16 years and earned a living playing all kinds of popular music—from polka to soft rock. But his real love is jazz. These days, back home in Damascus, he experiments with fusing middle eastern music with jazz.
BARAKAT: For example, let’s say if we take a melody like When the Saints.
[The sound of Mr. Barakat playing When the Saints Go Marching In, first in a jazz style, then in Middle Eastern-style]
ERLICH: Barakat not only plays jazz with a Middle Eastern bent. He plays popular Arabic music in a jazz style by adding swing and blue notes, the bending of notes below their normal tone. First Barakat plays an Arabic pop standard.
ERLICH: [addressing Mr. Barakat directly] What’s it called again?
BARAKAT: Talanight Tach Hamoura.
[The sound of Mr. Barakat playing Middle Eastern-style music]
BARAKAT: If we take this song, and we try to jazz it. I will do some swinging.
BARAKAT: Then I start, afterwards, I will enter the, the blue notes.
[plays full jazz version]
BARAKAT: An Arab can enjoy it and an American can understand it because it comes to your, to you, in the way you are used to get music. But if I play some authentic instruments, some real, you know, ethnic instruments, like, you know, oud, you probably will not accept it the way you accept it, on, you know, with the drums, and a bass, and you know, and a guitar, and then a trumpet in solo.
ERLICH: So in a sense you are trying to bring the wealth of this music to a wider audience, in the way that you arrange it?
BARAKAT: To tell you the truth, my main goal was to enjoy myself. [laughs] I enjoy myself very much playing these songs. Suddenly to my, you know, astonishment, some people enjoyed them, too.
[The sound of Mr. Barakat’s Middle Eastern jazz]
ERLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich in Damascus.
[The sound of Mr. Barakat’s Middle Eastern jazz]
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