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Western Press Review: Commentary Looks Into World's Far Corners

  • Don Hill

Prague, 21 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- What is unusual about today's RFE/RL survey of Western press commentary is the large variety of issues examined. They range from Islam's new relevance in world affairs, through the doomed life of a boy marked before birth by Chornobyl, to what it is like to be a member of the execution team of the Texas prison system's death house.


In a commentary, Roula Khalaf writes in Britain's Financial Times: "The future and fortunes of Islamism are coming under renewed scrutiny. The Al Aqsa Intifada, the Palestinian uprising named after the east Jerusalem mosque in territory occupied by Israel, has galvanized emotions in the region. And its religious underpinnings have provided movements that strive to establish Islamic states with a unique opportunity." He adds: "After the recent failures of the peace process, the Islamists' anti-peace agenda and their opposition to normalization of Arab relations with Israel appear ever more relevant."


In the International Herald Tribune, Geneive Abdo argues that the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, is increasing his control over political life. She says that his order last week to President Mohammed Khatami to discharge the minister of Islamic culture and guidance, Ayatollah Mohajerani, was only one obvious example. Abdo comments: "[Ayatollah Khamenei] thus has weakened the power of the president, a moderate. Analysts say one change that has prompted Ayatollah Khamenei's new role in politics is his solid alliance with conservatives in Iran. Once Ayatollah Khamenei expresses his will in speeches, loyalists in institutions like the judiciary carry out his desires. This alliance with a political faction did not exist under [the late] Ayatollah Khomeini, even though at times he ruled by decree."


The British House of Commons moved this week to expand the nation's law on therapeutic cloning, which has prompted Roman Catholic Cardinal Thomas Winning to accuse the British government and scientists of thoughtlessly continuing down a path they had embarked on without looking for alternatives. Frank Schirrmacher comments in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Rarely has one seen the two cultures -- morality and science -- clash as they do in this dispute."

Schirrmacher quotes the cardinal: "The easiest way to hell is the direct and gradual one, without signs, without sudden U-turns, without bends." Then the writer cites the response of a member of Parliament: "That, my dear cardinal, is the precise description of Parkinson's disease."

Schirrmacher continues: "We are entering an age that, for the first time, looks as it were no longer leaving evolution to coincidence. That is to say, after centuries of being stripped of more and more of its power, nature now decides ever less for humans. We are almost at the point where we make the start of life itself into a chain of our decision-making -- from hereditary disease to a person's looks." He concludes: "We think we know what health means. We are gradually learning what life does not mean."


Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen visits with members of the Texas "tie-down team." Those are the people who strap people to gurneys for execution by fatal injection. Cohen writes:

"The echoes persist. Huntsville's death workers -- can we call them killers? -- talk of the emotional toll their work takes, and they are troubled, too, by moral questions. 'All of us wonder if it is right,' Kenneth Dean, the head of the tie-down team [said]. They don't, however, wonder to the extent that they seek other work.'"

The commentator goes on: "The most profound similarity between what happens in Huntsville [Alabama] -- 40 executions this year alone -- and what was happening in [Nazi SS Commander Heinrich] Himmler's day is the insistence of the government that it has the authority to take lives. The circumstances are vastly different and so, of course, are the numbers. But the fundamental rationale remains unchanged."

The writer sums up: "The language of executions is bound to be similar. I do not hold them all equally morally culpable. But the echo from earlier days is uncanny, unsettling and tells us something about what is being done. The authorities are killing people. As always, they have their reasons."


Today's Financial Times also says in an editorial that the single-currency nations of Europe may be approaching their growth's speed limit, but possibly are settling merely into a steady cruising pace. "The euro zone, according to [the European Central Bank], is bumping up against capacity constraints, because of long-standing structural rigidities in its product and labor markets. The OECD's estimate of the region's structural unemployment rate, defined as that which is consistent with stable inflation, is the same now as it was a decade ago."

The newspaper says, "It is still possible that the euro-zone could act as the engine of world growth as the U.S. economy slows over the coming years. Continued structural reform by Europe's governments is the best way to maximize the chances of this happy outcome."


Hugo Young comments in British daily Guardian that the ship of the long British-U.S. special relationship may be about to founder on the shoals of the U.S. insistence on National Missile Defense, or NMD. The writer says, "Most official British opinion is strongly, if discreetly, opposed to NMD." He writes, "Not far over the horizon, the ground is opening up for the most awkward struggle in the modern history of Anglo-American relations. General [Colin] Powell upped the ante on Monday, his first outing as Bush's secretary of state-designate."

Young quotes Powell as saying, "We're going to go forward [with NMD]. " The commentator then says: "Powell firmly said there would be tough negotiations with those countries that -- quoting Powell again -- 'do not yet understand our thinking with respect to NMD.'"

Young concludes: "A moment of truth almost certainly beckons. Will NMD become a pretext that requires one more affirmation of the old special relationship? Or the project that at last obliges Britain to recognize she can not continue as the compliant poodle? Without doubt it will be the issue that shatters the Blair axiom that there's no choice to be made."


German commentator Thomas Urban, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, tells the tale of Dima, a small boy born after the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, who is one of the cancer victims of the affected nearby area. The boy, Urban says, is lucky to be in Ukraine's model clinic in Kyiv, but unlucky in that the hospital has virtually no money to operate. He is lucky to believe he is going to get well, but unlucky because in fact he almost certainly will not.

Urban writes: "Dima knows exactly where he wants to go when he is better again, when they let him out of hospital: "'I want to go to Egypt where the pyramids and the funny wild boar are.'" Dima croaks and wheezes as he speaks and is often difficult to understand. He has cancer, esophageal cancer in its latter stages. He has spent the last six months in Kyiv, mainly in the hospital on Shevchenko Square in one of the city's peripheral districts.

"Dima's parents," Urban continues, "live in a village which is three hours by bus from the large town of Lutsk in north-western Ukraine. It will take his mother more than a day to travel the 600 km by bus and rail to the capital. If you draw a line between Kyiv and Lutsk, it would pass directly through Chernobyl."

The writer talked to health workers who say that most Chornobyl child victims will get little, if any, medical care, and certainly not of the quality of the Kyiv clinic. Corruption, they say, has siphoned off thousands of millions of dollars in aid contributed to help the victims of Chornobyl.

Urban writes further: "On the outside, [the doctors and nurses in the Kyiv Children's Hospital] are energetic and hard, but inside they share the children's suffering. Many of them are also furious. One doctor from the hospital on Shevchenko Square holds a newspaper aloft and calls, 'Read how many reports there are of corruption!' Politicians are embezzling money, he says, leaving nothing for the children. This doctor," Urban notes, "who has 18 years of professional practice under his belt, earns the equivalent of just over $32 a month."