Saturday, October 10, 2009

Carnivore and Caterpillar

I had the pleasure last night of visiting "Africa's greatest dining experience"...on a riverboat in Giza. Carnivore is a theme restaurant whose theme, as you might imagine, is meat. The interior of the restaurant is meant to recall the original location in Nairobi, Kenya. Though Egypt's English-language restaurant review site, Yallabina, assures you that you can ingest "every type of meat imaginable", pork products are glaringly absent. Furthermore, you can't get zebra or crocodile like you can in Nairobi; about the only thing beyond the usual lamb and beef that you'll find is ostrich. But why am I complaining? I am a vegetarian (or rather a pescetarian who eats the occasional entrecôte or steak tartare when my convictions about the social and environmental impacts of meat fail me once every year or two). On that level, I wasn't bothered by the "Masai swords" and skewers full of animal flesh in various forms, it was rather the bizarre spectacle of pseudo-African culture that didn't sit well with me. Living in this land of re-created "Pharaonic" villages and ancient Egypt-inspired kitsch, I understand the idea of trying to get the bang for one's buck by caricaturing one's storied heritage. And yet, I could only cringe watching a bunch of Egyptians sing a song whose most prominent lyrics were "happy bersday" and "hakuna matata" (apparently Carnivore is the birthday destination: they sang to nearly every table in the joint at one point or another). Watching one set of former British colonial subjects dress up as another to perform for upper class Egyptians and Western expats and tourists made me feel like I should've been wearing a pith helmet and a monocle, smoking a pipe, and making derisive observations about "the natives".

In an entirely unrelated vein, I followed a link a CMRS colleague of mine posted to a site purporting to reveal connections that various multinational corporations have to Israel's occupation of Palestine. Remembering that I'd heard Caterpillar had been in the wrong for their dealings in the Middle East, I typed the company's name into the search box and found this. Seeing the name of my hometown on the sidebar of such a webpage was disheartening. Like many Peorians, I have many friends and relatives that work for Cat. As a Bradley alum I realize the direct and positive impact Cat has both on Bradley and the rest of the community and I really want to believe Cat is an upstanding corporate citizen. According to an old article, when confronted with the realities of what its earth-moving and demolition equipment was being used for, Caterpillar responded essentially with a "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument. You can find both sides of the debate over a shareholder proposal in 2005 to reassess Cat's dealings with Israel on their website (pages 28-29). I can understand that policing the sales of equipment can be difficult, but clearly given the effectiveness of divestment campaigns in South Africa it's not impossible. And furthermore, when I read that D-9s and D-10s are "specially modified", I'd like to know by whom. If it's by Caterpillar, then that's active participation in the goals of the Israeli occupation.
With all of the groups calling for a boycott of Cat, it's funny that countries like Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, to name a few, continue to import and use Caterpillar equipment. According to the Wall Street Journal, even Iran is happy to import Caterpillar equipment via a European subsidiary.
It's a complex situation and I'm conflicted about it, but I think that at the very least, Caterpillar should look more seriously into the matter in a public and transparent way.


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