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Week of September 23, 2003

Program 0338


US-Syria Relations | Transcript | MP3

Arab Free Trade Zone | Transcript | MP3

The American Effect | Transcript | MP3

Mexico Ecology | Transcript | MP3

Summer Institute | Transcript | MP3

Tunisian Artist | Transcript | MP3

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

SIMON MARKS: As you take a wander through these ancient markets it isn’t just the different sounds and smells that assault the senses. There’s also a growing sense of anxiety here.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, Syria’s troubled relationship with the US.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Plus, the prospects for an Arab free trade zone.

HASHEM AKKAD: The difference between the size of the two countries is too big. So such a partnership is very dangerous. So it has to be considered thoroughly and carefully.

MCHUGH: And a visit to a new art exhibit titled “The American Effect.”

LARRY RINDER: People all over the world can maintain simultaneous and sometimes contradictory views about America. It’s common sense that people would have complicated perspectives on a country as large and powerful as America.

PORTER: These stories—coming up next.

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US-Syria Relations

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MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. The United States is keeping the pressure up on Syria, after President Bush accused the government in Damascus of harboring terrorists and aiding fleeing members of Saddam Hussein’s former regime in Iraq. The issue of America’s future relationship with Syria—a virtual one-party state that has been ruled by the Ba’ath Party since 1953—is now causing divisions within the Bush administration. Conservatives argue that regime change worked in Iraq, and should be tried across the border in Syria. Others within the Bush White House argue that the US can-and-should work with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. We wondered what the Syrians think about their relationship with the USA. Common Ground‘s Simon Marks reports from Damascus.

[Sounds of Moslem calls to prayer]

SIMON MARKS: It isn’t easy getting people in Damascus to talk to you. Take a wander down one of the ancient bazaars that dominate the center of the city, and certainly they’ll express interest in the presence of a western visitor in their midst. But in a country that has been ruled by the Arab nationalist Ba’ath Party since 1953, and by one family for over 30 years, when talk turns to politics, Syrians invariably fall silent.

MOUHANNED AL SHOUEKI: We believe that the president is a wise man, so he knows what to do.

MARKS: Which is why Mouhanned Al-Shoueiki is worth listening to. A market trader, whose family has run a small trinket store in the Syrian capital for a quarter of a century, selling carpets and lamps and beads to passing tourists, he was one of the few people we encountered willing to talk politics. A self-confessed supporter of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, he told us that life today in Damascus is improving.

MOUHANNED AL SHOUEKI: Many things has been changed in Damascus to be better, and we have more freedom. We, he has been fixed many streets, many roads in the, in the city. And we feel that a very big change happened in those two years, so that’s perfect. That’s what we really need, of course, because since a long time, nothing has happened in Syria in general. And it’s not in Damascus; it’s in the whole country.

MARKS: Other Syrians we spoke to, who were unwilling for their comments to be broadcast, told us they hadn’t noticed much change since the country’s new, young President came to power. But everyone seemed to agree that Bashar Al Assad, who succeeded his father, Syrian strongman Hafez Al Assad, three years ago, is at least trying to reform his nation. Age 37, he never expected to be running the country. He was training to be an ophthalmologist in Britain, but when his older brother Basil suddenly died in a car crash, his father called him back to Damascus to inherit the mantle of power.

[Sounds from a busy Damascus market]

MARKS: Today, the image of Bashar Al Assad can be seen all over the country, invariably pictured alongside his late father who exercised total power here for 30 years. From his base in Damascus—founded in 6,000 BC, it’s the world’s oldest, continuously-populated metropolis—Hafez Al Assad often bedeviled successive occupants of the White House with a hard-line, no-compromise approach to the politics of the Middle East. Today, his son finds the shoe is suddenly on the other foot. It’s the US that is bedeviling Syria.

[Sounds from a busy Damascus market]

MARKS: As you take a wander through these ancient markets it isn’t just the different sounds and smells that assault the senses. There’s also a growing sense of anxiety here that the events that have occurred on the other side of this country’s border with Iraq—the US-led invasion and occupation—could mean that Syria is next. And that sense is only exacerbated by some of the statements made by President Bush within the past few weeks.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Today Syria and Iran continue to harbor and assist terrorists. This behavior is completely unacceptable and states that support terror will be held accountable. Supporting and harboring terrorists undermines the prospects for peace in the Middle East and betrays the true interests of the Palestinian people.

MARKS: The US claims that beyond Syria’s long-standing support for militant regional groups like Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah, under Bashar Al Assad the country has been offering a lifeline to supporters of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Several members of the old Iraqi leadership were apprehended by US-led forces close to the Syrian border. Syria acknowledges that some of its young citizens traveled to Iraq to fight on Saddam Hussein’s side. And though Damascus vigorously denies it, the US also suspects Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction may have been transported across the border into Syria before Saddam Hussein lost his grip over the levers of his country’s power.

MAHDI DAHLALA: [via a translator] Logically there could not be any cooperation, politically or militarily, with the former Iraqi regime.

[The sound of printing presses]

MARKS: Mahdi Dahlala is the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper operated by Syria’s governing Ba’ath Party. Every night, fresh copies clatter out from rusting printing presses that were sold to Syria by an American company some 30 years ago. Readership of the newspaper has declined precipitously since then. Today, Al Ba’ath sells only 55,000 copies in a country of 17 million people, as many Syrians now choose to read newspapers from other, more liberal parts of the Arab world. Like many loyal government servants, the newspaper’s editor vigorously denies claims that the Syrians sent military supplies to the former Iraqi leader or offered sanctuary to Saddam Hussein or his top lieutenants.

MAHDI DAHLALA: [via a translator] Many high Iraqi officials have been wanted here in Syria since 1966. Saddam Hussein would sooner show up in Washington than in Damascus. He would be in Washington for sure before he would be in Damascus, because he has been wanted here since 1966, and there was no contact between Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad and Saddam Hussein. No contact between them at all.

MARKS: The Syrians insist their relationship with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was purely economic. Syrian government officials declined repeated requests for interviews, but there are several things they implored us to report about their country. Syria supported UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which demanded the unconditional disarmament of Iraq. It backed the US war on terror, helping to apprehend several leading members of Al Qaeda. It severed diplomatic relations with Baghdad back in the 1970s and never restored them. Damascus even served as the headquarters for many leading members of the Iraqi opposition throughout Saddam Hussein’s rule. That is the context in which newspaper editor Mahdi Dahlala insists Syria is ready for a new relationship with the USA, although he’s critical of the US occupation of Iraq.

MAHDI DAHLALA: [via a translator] We do not want a foreign country invading an Arab land just because you dislike its regime. Even if Syria had the military capabilities to change the regime in Iraq, we would not have done it. The Iraqi opposition has worked in Syria for over three decades and is still here. Saddam’s was one of the worst regimes ever. But the problem for us is that the Arab country is being occupied by a foreign force without United Nations approval.

MARKS: The Syrians continue to jail journalists, academics, and political opponents of the ruling Ba’ath Party, and they show little tolerance for dissent. The Syrian government’s opponents in the US accuse Damascus of developing a Syrian stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, and some conservatives within the Bush administration argue that by keeping the diplomatic, and if necessary, military pressure on Syria, the US will be able to extract concessions. In the central bazaar of Damascus, trader Mouhannad Al Shoueki is not so sure.

[Sounds from a busy Damascus market]

MARKS: [now interviewing Mouhannad Al Shoueki directly] Do people in Syria worry that what happened in Iraq yesterday might happen in Syria tomorrow?

MOUHANNED AL SHOUEKI: No, I don’t think so. No. Because it’s, Syria is completely different than Iraq, and they have no reasons to come here, I think. They found big lies to go to Iraq. But I don’t think that they’re allowed to come here.

[Sounds from a busy Damascus market]

MARKS: Whether a US-led coalition ever comes to Syria will depend in part on the political moves that are made here in Damascus over the next few months. The war next door in Iraq has unquestionably focused attention on the relationship between the US and Syria. But warming that relationship will require not just reformist moves by the Syrian government, but an acknowledgment by Washington that Bashar Al Assad is a leader with whom the White House is prepared to engage. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Damascus.

[Musical interlude]

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Arab Free Trade Zone

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MCHUGH: In the aftermath of the Iraq War, the US has offered to establish a free trade zone with Arab countries supportive of American policies. The European Union is already pursuing its own free trade agreements in the region. But who really benefits from these treaties? Correspondent Reese Erlich files this report from Lebanon and Syria.

[The sound of textile factory machines]

REESE ERLICH: If anyone should benefit from a US-Arab free trade agreement, it’s Sleiman Khattar, owner of this textile and garment factory in Beirut. He already exports stone washed jeans to the US and Europe. Walking around the factory, he explains how the jeans get that aged look. It’s not hundreds of peasant women washing jeans with rocks. It’s a bald Lebanese guy with a sand blasting hose.

SLEIMAN KHATTAR: We are going to pass by the garment factory. We give age to the jeans and to the material.

ERLICH: [interviewing Mr. Khattar directly]

ERLICH: You stone wash the jeans, that sort of thing?

SLEIMAN KHATTAR: Yes. We do this with a sand blasting machine.

[The sound of blasting the jeans]

ERLICH: Later workers put the jeans into huge industrial washing machines and add pumice stones. They rip a hole in the knee, and soon the brand new jeans look very, very raggedy—perfect for sale in America.

[Sounds from the jeans factory]

SLEIMAN KHATTAR: These are some of the garments that made in our plant made, that to look older or to look dirty. For myself, I would never wear this.

ERLICH: [laughing] I’m don’t, I’m not…

SLEIMAN KHATTAR: Thanks God, thanks God that there are people that buy this, and this is our market.

[Sounds from the jeans factory]

ERLICH: Khattar’s factory has shrunk from about 400 workers 10 years ago to only 80 today. He would like to expand exports to America, but the US now charges a 17 percent import duty on all Lebanese textiles and garments.

PROFESSOR ELIE YACHOUI: If there is an agreement regarding free trade between Lebanon and United States, I think this will be a great opportunity for the Lebanese textile sector to have a bigger share in the American market.

ERLICH: President Bush has offered to set up free trade agreements with individual Arab countries, and later set up a regional free trade zone. While some export oriented industries would clearly benefit, Arab leaders remain skeptical of such an agreement with the US. Elie Yachoui, a professor of Economy and Finance at St. Joseph’s University in Beirut, says the US is bound to unfairly dominate any such free trade zone.

PROFESSOR ELIE YACHOUI: The American economy is a giant economy. The Lebanese economy is really nothing compared to American one. And that’s why I’m personally afraid in that with a free trade zone American products will invade, perhaps, our little markets.

ERLICH: But Lebanese supporters of an agreement note that the US and Jordan established free trade in 2000. Jordan claims that the FTA—or Free Trade Agreement—significantly increased exports and added 30,000 jobs to its economy. Roy Badaro is a garment factory owner and representative of the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce.

ROY BADARO: Jordan gained a lot of this agreement. They, it created jobs and it created a momentum for creating the jobs, etcetera. I think Jordan did, is doing very well due to the FTA agreement.

PROFESSOR YACHOUI: Concerning the economy of Jordan, we know that it’s a little economy with very limited possibilities.

ERLICH: Professor Yachoui says Jordan may not prove much of a model for the rest of the Arab world. He says the US-Jordan agreement relies more on politics than free trade economics.

PROFESSOR YACHOUI: I don’t know if this free trade zone with the United States is a real one or it’s a kind of economic help, aid, from the United States to the Kingdom of Jordan because we know, everybody know, that Jordan is completely aligned on the American policy in the region.

ERLICH: Politics does indeed play a strong role in the proposed free trade agreements, admits Badaro. The Jordan-US agreement, for example, requires that seven percent of the content of all Jordanian goods exported to the US be from Israel. That provision alone would anger many Arab countries. So what do business and political leaders in other countries think about the proposed agreements?

[Factory sounds]

ERLICH: Some Syrian businessmen would love to see a free trade agreement with the US. Meet Mohammed Akkad, Director of the Cadbury-Schweppes bottling plant just outside Damascus. Despite the fact that the US lists Syria a state sponsor of terrorism, the US is happy to buy Syrian products.

[The sound of a door closing and someone walking from the factory floor into a quiet room]

ERLICH: [Directly interviewing Mohammed Akkad] Okay, So we’re inside the laboratory here?

MOHAMMED AKKAD: We are test, making all tests on the bottles.

ERLICH: You’ve gotten some big orders lately from the US and British Army in Iraq, huh?

MOHAMMED AKKAD: [laughing] Yes, They get a lot of this. Because really it is a famous mark and good product.

ERLICH: It’s a famous brand.

MOHAMMED AKKAD: Yes, famous brand. I think they have, they should have daily a lot of the cola, Coke as you call it in the United States.

ERLICH: Akkad says Syrian exporters would benefit a lot if the US dropped its trade barriers.

MOHAMMED AKKAD: I think in Syria there is many of the light industries such as clothes, material of clothes, cotton products. All these are available and considerably they are cheap in comparison with the prices of the other countries. I think this will have a good chance to be exported to the United States.

ERLICH: For the moment, the US excludes Syria from participating in any free trade agreements because it’s on the US terrorism list. For its part, the Syrian government isn’t exactly begging to open up such an agreement with the US, either. Hashem Akkad, a member of Syria’s National Assembly, says the government hasn’t taken a formal position yet, but he says there’s not much enthusiasm.

HASHEM AKKAD: The difference between the size of the two countries is too big. So such a partnership is very dangerous. So it has to be considered thoroughly and carefully. The Syrian economy might not get any benefit out of such agreement. On the contrary we may lose a lot of taxes or customs duties to be paid on American imported goods to the Syrian market.

ERLICH: And it’s not just government leaders who are skeptical of US motives in pushing for free trade.

[Sounds of men in a café, playing backgammon and talking]

ERLICH: At this Damascus café, Samir Kassem sits with friends, playing backgammon and smoking Bahrain tobacco through a water pipe. He says, given the recent history of the US in the Middle East, why should the Americans suddenly want to help Arabs with free trade?

SAMIR KASSEM: [via a translator] The American administration doesn’t have any interest or any willingness to develop the under-developing countries. They care about maintaining their position as a superpower.

ERLICH: Even Lebanese Chamber of Commerce official Roy Badaro admits the US won’t be getting very far until the Israel-Palestinian conflict is resolved.

BADARO: We should have, first of all, have peace. Lebanon will not sign any agreement unless there will be a full and comprehensive and final peace. And you know this is not in the very, very short term. And then also of course, when you will have peace, it’s, the agreement, the FTA agreement will come I think later on. And it needs some time to let people to understand.

[Sounds of men in a café, playing backgammon and talking]

ERLICH: The US hopes that economic trade can lead to political reconciliation in the region. But so far the US has only started free trade negotiations with Morocco and is seeking an agreement with Bahrain. Other Arab countries say resolving the region’s political problems must come first. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich, Damascus.

MCHUGH: “The American Effect,” next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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The American Effect

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PORTER: “The American Effect,” an exhibition currently showing at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, is timely, if not controversial. It brings together work from foreign artists from around the world. The subject is attitudes towards the United States. From futuristic sculptures of downtown Manhattan to Mogul-style miniatures depicting the relationship between President Bush and Pakistan’s President Musharaff, the collection is both homage to the US and a critique. Correspondent Nathan King toured the gallery with the show’s curator and discovered that attitudes about the US are as varied as the artists’ work on display.

[Sound of a Balkan ballad]

NATHAN KING: It doesn’t sound like a lament to the death of US President Kennedy but that’s just what it is—a Balkan ballad played on a traditional instrument, composed after the President’s death in Dallas in 1963. Now the work is part of a piece of art that highlights the global reach of the United States of America and its politics. Audio, video, sculpture, and painting are all part of the mix at “The American Effect, brought together by Larry Rinder, Head of Contemporary Art at the Whitney.

LARRY RINDER: The exhibition extends back to 1990. It was very clear to me that the phenomenon that we’re looking at is a phenomenon that predates Iraq, it predates September 11th, and I believe it really begins with the end of the Cold War. It begins at the moment that the United States becomes the sole global superpower, which sets into play a geopolitical paradigm that is one of power and hegemony on political, economic, and military levels, but which also has a very interesting psychological dimension. When you go from a bipolar world to a unipolar world, it sets up a very different and unique psychological dynamic, I think. And I think one of the things that is interesting about this exhibition is the way that it indicates, through these artists’ eyes, how American has become a figure of the global imagination.

KING: One exhibit that doesn’t require that much imagination is a set of life-size statues of American superheroes by French artist Gilles Barbier.

RINDER: These are American comic superheroes. We have Captain America, Superman, the Hulk, Cat Woman, Wonder Woman, and Mr. Fantastic. And they are all sitting around in the lounge of a nursing home. And they’re life size wax figures in their costumes, but they are now as we see them at the age that they would be if they had aged normally or naturally instead of remaining forever young, as they do in the comic books.

KING: So what does this say?

RINDER: Well, one of the great things about art is that it says a lot of things. And not all of them are explicit or overt. But you know, one can read into it what one wants, I suppose.

KING: Do you think an aging superpower or signs of decay?

RINDER: Well, there, there may be something there. But although ironically America has never been more powerful. So maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

[The sound of people talking in the gallery]

KING: The timing of the exhibit could not have been more controversial. With US policy in Iraq and towards European allies under scrutiny the exhibit throws up many uncomfortable questions about America’s use of its influence. But, the exhibition is far from just a bout of US bashing. There are many exhibits that praise the US. A particular favorite is a model of New York City called “New Manhattan City 3021,” a futuristic impression of Manhattan. And the skyline resembles a Las Vegas-like wonderland and suggests New York City’s capacity for recovery and regeneration. There are also exhibits which praise President Bush’s foreign policy.

RINDER: The subject of this particular series, which he calls “The Bush Series,” is President George Bush. And specifically his relationship to Pakistan and the leader of Pakistan, Pervez Musharaff. So in one piece over here we see Bush and Musharaff represented in a kind of a ceremonial or symbolic wedding, embracing each other underneath a ceremonial pergola, while beneath them a whole host of wedding celebrants cavort, including several Pakistani generals and Ronald McDonald, and I think Rudolph Giuliani is in there some place. Now we Americans like to look at things like this and immediately assume that this is all intended ironically. But according to Sara Wasseem, this is all very much in earnest. And she is very supportive of the relationship between Pakistan and the US and their collaboration in the war against terror.

KING: There is a lot of criticism though of America’s comparative materialism, and self censorship. The show forces gallery-goers to think about the cause and effect of America’s position as sole superpower. And love it or hate it “The American Effect” has left a lasting impression on many audiences.

GALLERY GOER #1: It’s not a beautiful thing at all. There’s a certain ugliness to it. But a kind of ugliness that is compelling and that you have to respond to.

GALLERY GOER #2: Well, it’s the second time I’ve seen it. I find it fascinating. And I had to take my cousin this time. I just find it fascinating, the different feelings about America and it really opens your eyes because, well, I just came back from Europe and I also got some feedback from people about the war. And, and friends in London who were sort of upset with us for dragging them into it. And I, it’s the same feeling I got here. You know.

KING: Organizers of “The American Effect” had expected a lot of negative media coverage. At a time of war they expected to be called unpatriotic but so far most of the reviews have been balanced. That might be because the organizers sought to reflect the whole range of emotions felt about the US in the world at large.

RINDER: People all over the world can maintain simultaneous and sometimes contradictory views about America. So they can simultaneously love certain things about America and hate other things. Which is only common sense. I mean, even with our own spouses or pets or children there are things we love and some things we don’t love so much. So it’s common sense that people would have, you know, complicated perspectives on a country as large and powerful as America.

KING: For Common Ground, I’m Nathan King at the Whitney Gallery in New York.

PORTER: You can view “The American Effect” at the Whitney Museum of American Art through October 12th.

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KEITH PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, the politics of Mexico’s environment.

OCTAVIO KLIMEK: [via a translator] We don’t hide that there are beaches which have problems and that for some reason they are polluted by wastewater discharges. What we’ve managed to achieve with this type of information is to draw in the authorities who are responsible for the treatment and disposal of water.

MCHUGH: Plus, teaching American teachers about the Middle East. And the music of Tunisia by way of Chicago.

NAJIB BARHRI: Actually, music is peace. [laughing] I’m trying my best to affect these two people.

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Mexico Ecology

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PORTER: Winning office on a platform of change, Mexican President Vicente Fox pledged to tackle many glaring problems like pollution. Fox declared the environment a matter of national security and proposed a new model of governmental and citizen collaboration to reverse crises like disappearing forests and contaminated waterways. But three years into the Fox presidency, these problems are festering and cooperation between different entities remains a daunting task. Kent Paterson files this report from Mexico’s Pacific coast.

[The sound of a marching band]

KENT PATERSON: School children and adults march through the streets of Zihuatanejo, a once small fishing village located in Guerrero state. Their parade honors the environment and efforts to save it. Many of the youngsters are dressed up like sea turtles, a species that was formerly plentiful here but which now suffers from declining populations. Teenager Andrea Rincon says she is angry about the state of ecology in her town.

ANDREA RINCON: [via a translator] At the beginning of the last century Zihuatanejo was a beautiful port populated by fishermen, and the people lived off of the fishing from the bay. I believe that all this has been forgotten through the years because of the desire to industrialize Zihuatanejo and turn it into a modern town.

[The sound of fishermen talking while they put their boats in the water]

PATERSON: On Zihuatanejo’s main beach, fishermen still prepare their small boats for early morning forays into the sea. But the town is more of a tourist trap now, and an explosion of irregular settlements lacking wastewater infrastructures aggravates an environmental crisis facing the bay.

[Sounds of wildlife]

PATERSON: Near the main beach untreated wastewater drains into the bay, right at the feet of people who swim in the warm waters. At least as far back as 1996 the Mexican Navy began warning of high levels of pollution from fecal coli forms, which sometimes exceeded the standard considered safe for human health by more than 2,000 times. The Navy declared sections of the bay unfit for swimming and fishing, but no health warnings were ever posted by authorities nor was effective action taken to curb the pollution. Then a surprise visit happened.

[The sound of Zihuatanejo Mayor Amador Campos speaking in Spanish]

PATERSON: Zihuatanejo Mayor Amador Campos is the town’s first chief executive to hail from an opposition party, the center-left PRD. Campos says he was confronted with an emergency on his first day of office late last year when an official with the federal environmental enforcement agency called Profepa arrived with bad news. It was the very moment tourist-dependent Zihuatanejo was gearing up for the winter high season.

MAYOR AMADOR CAMPOS: [via a translator] He came to tell me that the conditions of the bay weren’t good for swimming and because of this they were going to close it down to the public. I had just had one day in office and I told him this wasn’t possible only after being mayor for only one day.

PATERSON: The bay wasn’t closed, and subsequent meetings between officials from three levels of government, all representing different political parties, netted an agreement to invest money toward the bay’s cleanup. Campos says the local government is doing its part, but that funding from the state and federal governments is slow in coming.

MAYOR CAMPOS: [via a translator] We have given a degree of efficiency to our wastewater treatment plants. About $150,000 has been invested in them, which is a lot of money for us, since we really have to get along on a very restricted budget. Nevertheless, we have to first of all ensure that the sewage treatment plants work the best they can.

[The sound of Octavio Klimex speaking in Spanish]

PATERSON: Octavio Klimek heads up the Federal Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources in Guerrero state—Semarnat—which is Profepa’s parent agency. After the press earlier this year reported that Profepa had identified pollution problems at 16 Mexican beaches, including Zihuatanejo and Acapulco, some local politicians and tourist industry leaders accused Semarnat of sabotaging their economy. The ensuing political storm forced the Profepa chief in Guerrero to be reassigned to another job, and hotel operators in neighboring Oaxaca state threatened to sue national Semarnat chief Victor Lichtinger. Klimek defends his department, saying it is replacing decades of official denial with useful information for tourists, who might develop skin infections and other ailments from swimming in waters contaminated with sewage.

OCTAVIO KLIMEK: [via a translator] We don’t hide that there are beaches which have problems, and that for some reason they are polluted by wastewater discharges. What we’ve managed to achieve with this type of information is to draw in the authorities who are responsible for the treatment and disposal of water. Normally it’s the local authorities who are involved in resolving these problems.

[The sound of Enrique Rodriguez speaking in Spanish]

PATERSON: Semarnat has drawn fire from other quarters. Enrique Rodriguez is an activist with the Zihuatanejo-based environmental group SOS BAHIA. Rodriguez and other members of his group fault Semarnat and Profepa for not earlier responding to citizen demands to dismantle a stone jetty blamed for blocking the bay’s currents and trapping the contamination. They also criticize federal and local officials for not stopping the destruction of a mangrove swamp. A potentially landmark agreement between Semarnat and SOS BAHIA to launch a government-citizen initiative to rescue the bay was recently scuttled. Enrique Rodriguez.

ENRIQUE RODRIGUEZ: [via a translator] We continue insisting that the government should act, whether or not there is a coordination with the nongovernmental organizations. They should not wait and employ as a pretext that there is no agreement. SOS BAHIA, which brings together more than 20 organizations, has many years in all of this and has the proposals and timely solutions for each of the problems facing Zihuatanejo.

PATERSON: Zihuatanejo is like other Mexican coastal communities where uncontrolled population growth, the loss of plant and forest cover, and inadequately treated wastewater jeopardize the environment and human health.

[The sound of musicians playing on the beach]

PATERSON: At the Barra de Potosi lagoon just down the coast from Zihuatanejo, musicians serenade sun seekers at this seemingly idyllic spot of mangrove trees and lazy waters. The lagoon is supposed to connect with the ocean which recharges its waters, but environmental changes have made this less common in recent years. Like other places, untreated wastewater enters the lagoon. Upon closer inspection discarded plastic containers are visible. Wibke Langhost of Sos Bahia.

WIBKE LANGHOST: So actually what we’re looking at is highly contaminated water and very stagnant water. So it is probably full of bacteria and all kinds of other things. It’s not very pretty.

PATERSON: [directly interviewing Ms. Langhost] But right in front of us there are children swimming.

LANGHOST: Yeah, it’s part lack of knowledge or awareness, really. This is also being promoted by the local tourist authorities as an ecological paradise for ecotourism, bird watching.

[The sound of children splashing in the water]

PATERSON: As children play the foothills and peaks of the Sierra Madres crawl in the background. There rampant tree cutting and fires are whittling down the forest and contributing to reduced amounts of rainfall, according to both activists and environmental authorities. Langhost says Semarnat and Profepa need more manpower and resources to enforce environmental laws, and a wide-ranging campaign is needed.

LANGHOST: The best thing obviously would be to start looking at these kids right now, to start with a massive program of education to really make them aware of where they live, how they themselves affect the environment, how they are being affected by the environment. And then just try to get a handle on this, so that the destruction and pollution doesn’t continue like this. And immediately, of course, to make sure that measures are taken to stop the influx of sewage into waters like this and to stop the burning of vegetation all around that keeps the rain from falling around here.

[The sound of heavy construction vehicles]

PATERSON: Meanwhile, in Zihuatanejo and Acapulco authorities say they’ll invest more than $20 million this year to upgrade wastewater infrastructures. But some estimates for a thorough cleanup of Zihuatanejo Bay alone run as high as $100 million. That will be hard to obtain at a time of fiscal austerity. For its part, Semarnat will continue posting the results of water quality sampling at Mexican beaches on its Internet site. For Common Ground, I’m Kent Paterson reporting from Mexico.

MCHUGH: Coming up next, lessons on the Middle East. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Summer Institute

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MCHUGH: As events in Iraq and the Middle East continue to unfold, American students returning to the classroom this fall will likely find new emphasis on the Middle East in their classes. This past summer a group of Midwestern educators converged at the University of Iowa to learn more about the culture, values, and traditions of one of the world’s oldest and most volatile regions. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman spent a day at the International Programs Summer Institute for Teachers, and files this report.

JUDY STEVENS WILSON: I had the pleasure of being tutored by a marabout, which is a Muslim teacher and a holy person. And then when I became a ruler I adapted a lot of the Islamic ways kind of into the needs of the West Africans.

BROCKMAN: Judy Stevens Wilson is pretending she’s a West African ruler who’s introducing Islam to her kingdom. It’s part of a role-playing exercise these educators are participating in to learn more about Middle Eastern culture.

JUDY STEVENS WILSON: Although I had a short rule of only four years, it’s kind of the beginning of a…

BROCKMAN: Wilson teaches her high school freshman students about the Middle East every year.

JUDY STEVENS WILSON: As a geography teacher I really feel that the Middle East has roots of issues that are very global. It’s a piece of what I like to call, “global literacy.” If a person is an educated person they must know what’s going on there, what the countries are, what the roots of the issue are. And particularly to understand the complexities of the issue because I think freshman tend to say, “There must be a right answer.” And our world I don’t believe is as simple as that any more. There may be a solution but it may not be anybody’s right or wrong answer. It just may be a compromise that people are going to have to live with.

BROCKMAN: Wilson teaches at an all freshman high school in West Des Moines, Iowa. She is one of about 25 teachers attending the International Program’s Summer Institute. The teachers pay tuition and receive academic credit for the week long program at the University of Iowa. The Summer Institute has been held for many years but it’s the first time it’s focused on the Middle East. Organizers decided the Middle East would be a good subject following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.

AUDREY SHABBAZ: [lecturing] Before I get to that last one that I said I wanted to talk about, I want to…

BROCKMAN: Chad Van Kleve teaches Global Issues and US History at a Dubuque, Iowa high school. Van Kleve says his students have a basic knowledge of world affairs. But he says they don’t understand the historical roots of the Middle East. And he says the knowledge is both practical and important for their education.

CHAD VAN KLEVE: The United States has a lot of interactions with the different countries that are in this region. Not all of them are positive. And these students may be there, you know, for a military purpose or for a diplomatic purpose. The recent war and what happened on September 11th stem from events in this region and how the United States has interacted with this region.

SHABBAZ: [lecturing] He told the Egyptians that his predecessor had sent 200 ships, sailed west, into what we would call the Atlantic…

BROCKMAN: This day Audrey Shabbaz, a former teacher who is sponsored by the Middle East Policy Council, leads the class.

AUDREY SHABBAZ: [lecturing] …outfitted 2,000 ships….

BROCKMAN: Shabbaz says there are at least three reasons why educators need to include the Middle East in their curriculum.

SHABBAZ: [now speaking with Mr. Brockman] The United States is going to be linked and is going to continue to be linked with the Middle East and with the wider world of Islam. So it’s important that we be knowledgeable about our own future and our own policy decisions. Secondly, teachers serve Muslim youngsters in their classroom. And it doesn’t matter whether I’m in Paris, Texas or Casper, Wyoming, I’ve got teachers who know they have Muslim youngsters in their classroom. And they want to do a good job serving those students and their parents. And then thirdly, just the esoteric reason, is we all want to be more knowledgeable about the world, whether or not, you know, it’s going to immediately affect us or our family personally. We want to be well-educated people and we want our knowledge to serve a function, which is to understand.

VALERIE SMITH: …and the key sounds that you’re going to need to make to put together a rhythm are a deep sound…

[A rhythmic, thunking, hollow sound, like hitting a drum]

BROCKMAN: The teachers wrap up their day with a lesson in Middle Eastern music.

[A rhythmic, thunking, hollow sound, like hitting a drum]

BROCKMAN: Leader Valerie Smith says the music is built on a different set of assumptions than Western music, giving it a different sound. Smith teaches them to beat out basic rhythms on a drum.

SMITH: The drum would practically always be used. In fact, in some cases you may end up having just a drum and a singer or a drum and a dancer. Usually in a typical folk ensemble you’d have a drum or two, a tambourine or two, a large wooden-frame drum, and ude, or some other sort of stringed instrument.

BROCKMAN: What’s an ude?

SMITH: An ude is the Arabic precursor of the European lute.

BROCKMAN: While the Institute focuses on the Arab culture on this particular day, the week-long curriculum also included a trip to the University’s Jewish Center, as well as lectures on the Arab-Israeli conflict and US-Israel relations.

[The sound of Arabic music]

BROCKMAN: Several of the educators say they plan to incorporate lessons they’ve learned on the Middle East into their curriculum back home. For example, teacher Judy Wilson says she’s learned a new way, using a set of circles, to explain how ethnicity and religion are interrelated yet different in the Middle East. And Chad Van Kleve says what he’s learning will allow his students to, as he puts it, “sift through information and make their own decisions.” Perhaps, he says, if students understand the Middle East it may somehow help bring peace to that region.

[The sound of Arabic music]

BROCKMAN: For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

[The sound of Arabic music]

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Tunisian Artist

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: During the recent months of US-Arab relations and the war with Iraq, many non-Arab Americans have experienced a variety of emotions with respect to our many citizens who have emigrated here from the Middle-East and North Africa. As the curiosity about music from different parts of the world continues to develop here, it is quite natural that top musicians who have found their way to the States are now able to continue performing and teaching in their newly adopted home. Ed Hoke has the following report on one such Tunisian artist-immigrant, who has established his niche in a major metropolitan area.

[The sound of fast-paced Tunisian music]

ED HOKE: On a blustery night in a recently-gentrified, former German neighborhood on Chicago’s north side, an energetic immigrant from Tunisia, is teaching a class in centuries-old frame drumming. The heat generated from the dancing and drumming belies the whistling wind and subfreezing temperatures that are attempting to penetrate the space. Shaking his mane of curly dark hair, the teacher encourages his students to feel the rhythms. Najib Barhri, singer, percussionist, dancer, multi-linguist, bandleader, educator, and entrepreneur is doing okay in America, now. Mr. Bahri is used to following the road all over the world bringing his talents and energies as an emissary of Tunisian and Moroccan folk music, which has roots stretching back over 2,000 years.

NAJIB BARHRI: I’m from Tunis. Many people, they don’t know Tunis, where Tunis is. I used to like go do outreaches with the Old Town School of Folk Music, tell them about the instruments that I play, play with them, teach them some stuff and tell them, teach them about my country. Where it is actually located geographically there. It’s like between Algeria and Libya, on the Mediterranean Sea. I played there when I was kid and with my uncles and even my father. Like we had like a stage. And those people like from radio—it wasn’t TV at that time, I remember I was like four, five years old. It’s like every night was going on, something going on. I couldn’t believe. And I even, myself, I said my Mom, “Why they are doing all this noise every night?” She said, “Oh, shh, don’t talk. Your father and your uncles will be upset. They are making music. If you are not happy go to your room and sleep.”

[The sound of fast-paced Tunisian music]

HOKE: Najib walks me to the back of the store to demonstrate some of his unique instruments. There’s a small carpeted stage, replete with beautiful fabrics and wall hangings. Surrounding the stage are the usual keyboards, amps, sound board, and microphones you might find at a club, but stationed around for easy access is his private collection of hand drums and melody makers, each with it’s own secret. He delights in demonstrating some of them for me: such as the bendir, a frame drum approximately 16 inches in diameter, with a taut goatskin head on it and thin animal gut snares underneath. This gives the instrument its distinctive eerie character. In some Middle Eastern cultures, only the women play frame drums, one of the world’s oldest instruments. Mr. Bahri glows as he expertly caresses the instrument, and makes it talk.

[The sound of Mr. Barhri playing the bendir]

NAJIB BARHRI: To make that vibration, you know.

[The sound of Mr. Barhri playing the bendir]

NAJIB BARHRI: And it’s so spiritual.

[The sound of Mr. Barhri playing another instrument, the hajooj]

HOKE: In settling in Chicago—and using the term loosely—Najib believes that he would like to pass on his craft and musical knowledge to students who are the hungriest.

NAJIB BARHRI: I love teaching. I have many students. I love playing music. It gives me, you know, what I have in secret. Some people like they say, like they are musicians, but they don’t want to give secrets. Why? You have, what big secrets you give? I’m not gonna live forever. So if you want to study with me, you know, I give you, I make you, I make you musician.

HOKE: Sharing his knowledge and being a proponent of the healing powers of drumming, allows Najib Bahri the opportunity to reach many people with his music. As such, He has been influential in the lives of at-risk youth by giving them a sense of purpose and discipline and keeping them off the streets.

[The sound of fast-paced Tunisian music, with a rap twist]

NAJIB BARHRI: The students, that they were crooks, they come here, they be straight. They be good. Instead of staying in the streets and staying with gangs and all this crap, excuse my expression. In here I never said bad words to tell you. And even my students, I started with them.—”You said bad words you pay $5.”

[The sound of Mr. Barhri playing the bendir]

NAJIB BARHRI: Actually, music is peace. [laughing] I’m trying my best to effect this to people.

HOKE: For Common Ground Radio, I’m Edward Hoke.

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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