May 102019
 

I assume we have all heard exclamations such as “He treats her like an animal!”. I have even read somewhere that Amazon treats its workers “like animals”. However, more and more often, I find that this sort of juxtaposition of animals and humans is not quite to the point. I suggest substituting the word “animal” with “cockroach”. After all, we live in the age of “animal rights” and treating a person like an animal may not be such a bad thing.

Personally, I am all for “animal rights”. I believe that the expression usually refers to merciful treatment and humane living conditions, as it were, for – well yes, for animals. The expression “human rights”, however, basically means the right to vote, for those of us who believe that voting makes a difference, and the right to publicly state one’s opinions (admittedly a right I am making use of at this very moment).

True, in many countries, beating people is a crime, except when the police or soldiers are the ones doing the beating. Besides, in some countries, you are allowed to beat children or women, while in others this is, strictly speaking, not allowed, though the authorities turn a blind eye on such practices.

Animal rights movements, however, unequivically condemn the beating of animals. I doubt that animal rights also extend to cockroaches, which is why I made the suggestion in the first paragraph. They do not extend to humans either.

Spain is a country where not one of the executioners or torturers of the Franco administration has ever been brought to justice, and the Franco administration’s post-war heinous crimes are ignored by members of the population that have not had a parent or other relative tortured and/or killed by Franco’s henchmen. In Spain an average of 4 women a month were killed by their partners or X-partners in 2018. Yet, in Spain, the beating of dogs is no longer tolerated. If you strike your dog in a public place, you will surely be rebuked or at least frowned at by whoever sees you doing so.

Spanish cockroaches, however, are furiously stamped upon. I therefore draw the conclusion that in Spain, women enjoy a lower standing than men and dogs, while their situation compares favourably to that of cockroaches. I shall not for the present dwell upon the status of separatist Catalonians who, I fear, might ere long find themselves in the gutter, figuratively speaking, of course.

And take Israel. Animal rights enjoy a higher status there than just about anywhere else in the world. According to a monthly, conservative, Zionist magazine devoted to Middle-East issues, “a nation-wide ban on possession of fur is even moving through the Knesset—such a law would be the first of its kind in the world.” Yes, that was possession, not farming. The same article explains in detail and with references to ancient texts, that animal welfare is rooted in Jewish law.

This might to some extent explain the ultra-post-modern attitude of the best-selling Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari, who questions the moral supremacy of man over animals. Moreover, he questions the value of ranking animals as good or bad (e.g. we like elephants but not cockroaches).

A brief look at Times of Israel reveals that animal rights is a popular and beloved topic. Animal rights activists obviously enjoy a different status in Israel than do human rights activists.

According to the British site VEGANLife, “Israel has one of the biggest vegan populations in the world with an estimated five percent of the population (about 400,000) following a plant-based diet and/or advocating veganism. The Israeli Tourism Ministry has started to promote Israel as a Vegan Nation,”

However, for inmates of Israel’s concentration camp in Gaza, life does not compare favourably even to that of cockoaches:

To be brief let me quote the UN OCHA fact sheet

The Gaza blockade (through the land, air and sea) is a denial of basic human rights in contravention of international law and amounts to collective punishment. It severely restricts imports and exports, as well as the movement of people in and out of Gaza, and access to agricultural land and fishing waters. Gazans are unable to provide for their families and the quality of infrastructure and vital services has deteriorated.

  • The average wage declined by over 20% in the past six years.
  • 54% of Gazans are food insecure and over 75% are aid recipients.
  • 35% of Gaza’s farmland and 85% of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures.
  • 50-80 million litres of partially treated sewage are dumped in the sea each day.
  • Over 90% of the water from the Gaza aquifer is undrinkable.
  • 85% of schools in Gaza run on double shifts.
  • About one-third of the items in the essential drug list are out of stock.

How would you feel if you lived in a place like that?

Let me be clear: Outside Israel, Israeli treatment of Palestinian human beings – I repeat: human beings, not cockroaches – is condoned and applauded not by non-Israeli Jews, but by crackpot evangelicals and alt-right fundamentalists all over the world including in my own country.

SHAME

Feb 272019
 

Not so very long ago, there was a country where most of the people were very poor, and some were very well off. By dint of solidarity, self-sacrifice and organisation, the people who were very poor were able to elect a president who was actually willing do to his very best for them, even to die for them. During his presidency, things changed for the better for the vast majority of the country’s population.

You will no doubt have heard of the country, its people and their president, as it was was a democratic country which was killed, as it were, together with its democratically elected president, by a barbarous, US-supported coup d’etat on 11 September 1973.

We tend to think of ugly dictatorships in terms of ugly presidents wearing sunglasses. Pinochet was no doubt ugly and he did indeed wear sunglasses, but I do not believe that he killed Chile. It takes more than a man or two to kill a democracy, and Pinochet was anything but charismatic, far less brilliant.

I would like to recommend an interesting documentary about the run-up to the coup. It tells us a great deal about the mechanisms behind the political scene in a country split between the wealthy few and the innumerable poor. As at today, the film can be found on Youtube. It is called The Battle of Chile Part I (IMDb gives it 8.3)

I believe that Chile never really recovered from the trauma of dictatorship. I fear that the lesson they learnt there was that democracy only applies if it favours those who already have more than enough. For Chileans, what has been happening in Venezuela is sadly deja vue.

Jan 212019
 

There are those who would disagree with me. In a ZDF documentary series about the history of Europe, Cristopher Clark, “Cambridge historian” (that is how he boldly presents himself), more than implies that what propels change is competition.

I am being a little unfair to Mr Clark, as he does admit that what he values, what he believes was achieved through competition (almost synonymous with greed), has often been won at a terrible price.

There are those who believe that the price has already been paid by past generations and is thus no longer worth grieving about. Again, in all fairness, I do not think that Mr Clark is that foolish. In fact, he makes it clear that he is not.

There are others who believe that the price is insignificant, given what has been achieved. I put it to them that either they have been grievously misinformed, in which case they should consider taking action, together with all their fellow-victims, against whatever news outlet they have relied on, or they have committed auto-lobotomy.

There are reasons for committing suicide (for instance that of being subjected to torture) and even more reasons for committing auto-lobotomy. The world is a cruel place. Admittedly, films shown during the Christmas season tend to present kind people, people with laughing children and adoring spouses. Most of us, however, are neither adoring nor all that kind. Where Dickens found models for his self-effacing heroes in Tale of Two Cities is truly a mystery to me. I don’t believe people like Doctor Manette and his daughter Lucie exist (though I consider Dickens one of the greatest and most effective authors of all time). But we want to believe in them, and we don’t want to know too much about torture, which is being practised more widely than we wish to know.

Torture is a distant concept for most of us, until we for some reason or other have to witness it. I happen to have some knowledge of the matter, although I myself have never been tortured. From time to time I am reminded of what I know and – well, let me put it this way … on second thought, I won’t.

In the event, then, that you refuse to admit to yourself

  1. that torture is not an exception, and
  2. that the price, in hours of torture, having been paid, currently being paid, and yet to be paid is unspeakably grim, or
  3. that you have committed auto-lobotomy;

I suggest you read an excellent book called “Mistakes were made but not by me” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Most torture victims are unable or unwilling to “talk about it”. Simple as that. So we don’t know much about torture, except that at a certain point, which varies from person to person, all tortured persons will admit to anything under the sun, including crimes they never committed, unless they faint or are killed. And the subsequent shame they suffer is indescribable.

The United States of America have perfected scientific torture methods aimed at keeping the victim alive and without visible scars, that have been and are still being used, not only in USA’s backyard – Central and South America – but all over the world. The USA is a world leader in almost all fields, including torture. My reference from the NY Times is old, but valid.

In the US backyard, state-sponsored killings and torture were the rule rather than the exception during the second half of the twentieth century, a period during which the population of the US felt particularly pleased with itself. In Central America, where democracy has been rubbished completely by bog brother USA, human rights activism, for instance, is a fatal occupation to this day. I suspect that if the US wanted the practice of state-condoned torture to end in Central America, it would end. There are those who believe that the US still actively (if unofficially) supports torture in all of Latin America.

But USA did not invent torture in the Middle East. Certainly not. Running a country by means of torture is addictive. I suppose rulers argue that “what worked well for Alexander the Great surely cannot be all that bad. And after all, I don’t torture people – I have officers to do it for me.”

The problem is, however, that torture generates nothing (certainly not truth!) except hate, shame and evil. It is contagious; if others do it, you will probably be induced to do it, too, confer the Milgram experiments. Moreover, it is addictive. Once you start, you find it hard to stop, cf. the Stanford Prison Experiment. You’ve become a monster. Can we really afford to produce monsters? Don’t we have enough murderers and sadists without adding to the number?

Wars tend to mass-produce monsters. Almost all of us react with fury and hate if our loved ones are killed or mauled. I certainly cannot vouch for myself if anybody hurts my children or even my dog. Would I turn into a monster? I really couldn’t say.

Actually, it is all the more surprising and wonderful that there are so many nations that unequivocally prohibit torture both officially and unofficially. Think about that for a moment, please. You may laugh at me, but I actually think that good old Dickens had something to do with our newly-gained abhorrence of torture.

Mr Clark, though very aware of mankind’s capacity for cruelty, probably does not share my gloomy general outlook, and I assume that he and I would disagree on a number of issues. Nonetheless, I warmly recommend his series “The Story of Europe” because he makes an almost impassioned appeal to us Europeans to keep our hats on, to not degenerate into a pack of sectarian, squalling, pre-war howler monkeys. The route from strife to war is short. War is not heroic! It is merely instrumentalised torture on a grand scale. It’s sick.

Aug 072018
 

The Gaza Strip is populated by nearly two million people and is often referred to as a “prison”, as it has been subjected to a brutal Israeli blockade for 12 years. The blockade is in contravention of international law.

The humanitarian situation for the inhabitants of Gaza is nothing if not desperate. I know of no source that can better convey a picture of it than Al Jazeera. After all, their journalists are there on a day-to-day basis, risking their lives to cover the news there and elsewhere in Middle Eastern infernos. The rest of us including American evangelists, Prins Salman and US presidents past and present are not.

Moreover, NATO states (not least my own country) are so pusillanimous versus USA, that there is total impunity for Israeli crimes against humanity in Palestine which, in my view, include the crime of genocide.

So every once in a while, people from various countries (including my own) try to express their deep-felt concern and sympathy for the long-suffering people of Palestine. Recently a Norwegian fishing vessel, manned by sympathisers and carrying medical supplies, sailed to Gaza, or attempted to do so. The vessel was intercepted by the Israeli authorities 54 nautical miles off the coast and its crew and passengers were subsequently brutally arrested and incarcerated. True, they have since been released.

In today’s Klassekampen , the ship’s engineer writes that what the Israeli Embassy in Oslo has told the press about the incident has prompted a sense of outrage “in those of us who were on-board”. The following is my translation:

First of all, our purpose was to bring medical equipment to Gaza. The [Israelis] hijacked the ship 40 nautical miles off the coast of Egypt, in international waters. Hijacking a civilian ship engaged in a civilian mission in international waters is obviously in flagrant contravention of anything that has to do with maritime law. If Israeli authorities maintain they have a right to do so, they should provide documentation to the effect.

Furthermore, Israel maintains that unnecessary violence was not exerted. Briefly narrated, the incident occurred in the following manner: When the vessel was boarded by soldiers, an attempt was made to stand between them and the wheel house. Using their electroshock weapons,  beating and kicking, they broke through into the wheel house, so the captain stopped the machine. At the time, I was down in the engine room. When I clambered up, I was forced into the wheel house by two gun-toting soldiers. One of them demanded my wrist watch and put it into his pocket.

Several soldiers were with the captain in the wheel house. The atmosphere was charged. They were ordering the captain to start the engine again, but that was something he could not do from there. One of the soldiers struck me in the face (I’m 70 years old) and told me to go down and restart the engine. However, I only take orders from my captain. Then one of the soldiers shouted (verbatim) “If you do not start that fucking engine your captain will suffer a lot.” So I got the engine going. Nonetheless, the captain was subjected to considerable violence. They also threatened they could  “turn him into a martyr as they did with Palestinians”. A soldier went to the mast, tore down the Norwegian flag (vessels are, as we all know, required to carry the national flag – it was not hanging there for decorative purposes), hurled it onto the deck and stamped on it.

When we were ordered to go ashore, we were told that our luggage would be returned to us when we left. It turned out that the watch episode was not an isolated one: When we were released, we received basically empty pieces of luggage. Mobile phones, cameras, tablets, wallets, money, satellite phones, clothes, watches … everything, worth hundreds of thousands of NOK, was gone. Obviously we were incensed, but the guards just laughed at us. One of them sniggered, dangling one of my two remaining (soiled) underpants in front of me.

What is the ambassador’s view on this? I also direct this question to my government. They have asked for an “explanation” from the Israeli authorities. Our Foreign Ministry should invite us who were on board to thoroughly walk through the entire incident with them, but we have not heard from them.”

So much for Israeli observance of international codes of conduct. As for my own government… I say no more.

May 142018
 

… and still counting.

The emperor and his henchmen seem determined to unleash a new world war. I am not, for the moment, referring to the latest insults against Iran (though the gods above know there is reason to). I am asking myself: Where does he want all the Palestinians to go? Does he expect Palestinians whose homes on the west bank get demolished by occupant settlers and those who get evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem to go quietly?  And where should they go? Or does it seem ok to just continue killing them?

Meanwhile, it has come to my attention that people are hearing two very different versions of the Palestine story. Two stories, in fact. You might think they were about two very different issues. In one of the stories there is no mention of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 adopted on December 11, 1948, which reads:

…that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

There are also a lot of other pretty important details that are left out of the story told in the US and Israel. Obviously, in the heat of the day, people will exaggerate, will be tempted to distort facts, and listeners will innocently repeat the fallacies they hear, so misconceptions are bound to get spread to a large public.

But in this, as in a number of other issues, there is more afoot than what can be explained as overly enthusiastic storytelling: One side is deliberately and systematically doctoring the story, and I am not only  referring to hawkish Israelis, but to the born-again Christians that make up much of the Zionist Lobby in the US. To many fundamentalist Christians, the “Holy Land” appears to mean as much as to fundamentalist Jews; for them human Law, not to mention international law, appears not to apply to the Holy Land. It must at all costs be saved from the “infidels”. (Nevermind that many Palestinians are Christian, too.)

I am not sufficiently well informed about the sway of born-again Christians in the US, but I understand that they were largely to blame for the rise to presidency of the remarkably ignorant and incompetent George W. Bush. To manage such a feat they must have very great power, I reason.

The fact that Israeli hawkish politicians spread all kinds of untruths about the “enemy” is understandable. So would leading politicians of any country at war. What is interesting, though, is that the majority of the Israeli public want peace. So they must be told that the enemy is a serious threat to national security. Because the hawks do not, repeat – not – want peace. They want more land.

The majority of the Palestinians also want peace, but not at any cost. Yet, the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities are not, as you see, eagerly negotiating peace, and we are told that the Palestinians are to blame for this. Yet there have been serious efforts in the past, and if Israel had not had the undivided support of the US, there would probably have been a peace accord.

This is where the Zionist Lobby comes in. The Lobby has sway on US foreign policy. The US has sway over NATO, and NATO defines my country’s foreign policy.

Any peace agreement would have to be on Israel’s terms, you see, and Israel wants the West Bank (preferably without Palestinians in it). The US supports Israel, in all conceivable shapes and forms, not least financially, and a large part of the world cannot afford to challenge the US on this score, or for that matter on any other score, as we have seen since the mad hatter came to power. The outcome of a peace agreement on Israel’s terms would, for Palestine, be nill, the end.

Nill. We are not talking about compromise here. We are talking about extermination. Extermination of Palestine. I suspect that Palestinians living on the West Bank would be given the option of leaving (they would certainly not be welcomes as refugees to Europe) or of becoming second degree citizens of Israel, without the same rights as Jews.

This is the story as I understand it: The options are pretty bleak for Palestinians and Israel would go down in history as being guilty of genocide.

Today I stumbled across a site that seemed interesting. I am, after all accusing the US of enabling Israel to continue occupying neighbouring territories and ultimately of genocide. The site is not updated anymore, but exploring its innumerable pages, I found much historically interesting material. I have not explored it at length, so I cannot vouch for it, but I found its Mission Statement attactive. http://ifamericaknew.org/about_us/

 

 

Dec 062017
 

The website of El Pais had an unusual headline this morning, one that seemed to suggest an alliance between the Pope and Iran: “El Papa e Irán se unen al intento de evitar que Trump lleve la Embajada a Jerusalén“. Later in the day, El País changed the headline, but the fact remains that Iran and the Pope agree on one score, at least.

This is a memorable day. Not only did the Pope and Iran appear to join forces, if only for a brief moment, but Finland is celebrating the centenary of its independence, and Trump ended, presumably once and for all, any US pretence of being an honest broker in the affairs of the Middle East. Trump’s announcement today, when he declared that henceforward the US embassy in Israel will be in Jerusalem, paved the way for a great leap in terms of Russian and Chinese hegemony, something you may or may not welcome.

For my part I doubt there is less injustice and poverty in Russia and China than in the US. Moreover, much as I criticise the US, this much must be said for the country: I am absolutely sure that it treats political opponents far more leniently than Russia and China.

However, outside the country, the record of disastrous US interventions all over the world knows no parallel. I put to you that accumulated US crimes against humanity, or complicity in such crimes, outnumber even those of WWII Germany.

Moreover, there is every indication that human impact on the climate will see dramatic consequences within a very short space of time. The US has turned its back on the Paris accord, whereas China seems determined to make a tremendous effort to help save the climate, and that may perhaps be worth more than political freedom. We shall see. All indicators appear to suggest that saving the climate may be worth considerable sacrifice.

Back to Jerusalem: The speech held today by the Emperor could have been written by one of Netanyahu’s script writers. It was not so much about America and American interests as about Israel, which it lauded at length as a successful democracy.

Now I assume that what is usually implied when we speak of “democracies” is not merely the right to drop a piece of paper in a ballot box. I have never been to Israel, so I must ask: Is Israel a democracy?

In Israel, are all permanent residents, regardless of race, gender or religion,

  • equal in every way before the law?
  • equally allowed to purchase and keep property and to keep inherited property?
  • equally entitled to education, health care, employment and social services?
  • equally entitled to the protection of the courts and law enforcement?

If the answer to all of these question is “yes”, well, then Israel has made, unbeknownst to me, a very good start and merely faces the challenge of upholding the law. There are some other industrialised  countries that also find this difficult, most notably the USA, where blacks need to remind the public that “black lives matter”. Racism is not theoretically condoned in the USA, so I suspect that discrimination of blacks is also a consequence of a political  system that systematically favours the wealthy and chastises the poor.

But if the answer to any of these questions is “no”, the country is not a democracy, but something rather more systemically antediluvian, governed by rules that are alien to the industrialised world, though still, perhaps common in some primitive societies.

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, I repeat, Israel is pursuing a path that is alien to the common good, I’m afraid,  one that is similar to and as ignoble as that of systemic anti-Semitism.

 

Nov 182017
 

In my previous post I spoke about sanctimonious know-alls. Well, after yesterday’s admissions, watch me now: I intend to be as sanctimonious today as I darn-well please.

Remember the war on Korea? No, you wouldn’t, because it’s rarely talked about and certainly nothing to be proud of. All we ever see of it are replays of the comedy Mash. Those who were naive enough – and most of us, then, were very naive, indeed – to take note of Foxy News probably swallowed the bait and believed the war was being waged in defence of democracy. But US defence of democracy can most kindly be compared to a series of raids of army ants. The purpose of the war was to limit the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, which may be fine and dandy – depending on how you look at it – except that Korea belonged by rights to the Koreans.

At least we can be grateful that Truman explicitly forbade MacArthur to use the atomic bomb, and effectively sacked (or “recalled”) him in the end. Korea had to be permanently divided.

Source: Britannica

You will, however, remember Vietnam. Not because Foxy News finally owned up to the facts, but because so many US soldiers came back in coffins, if at all. Students protested against the draft, parents protested against loss of their sons, and footage and snapshots of US war crimes found their way to international news channels.

Did Foxy News admit that in South Vietnam, the US was supporting a nest of Frankensteins, a vicious dictator and his ghoulish wife and collaborators? Still, the dictator’s acts were not as embarrassing as the Buddhist monks setting fire to themselves in protest. (See the famous Malcolm Browne photo here.) Even McNamara was appalled, and the US eventually decided to allow a military coup against him – so much for “democracy”.

Now the war on Korea was probably no better. As in Vietnam, the US started by playing its cards through a puppet. In fact, they were the ones who installed the extremely brutal dictator Syngman Rhee in the first place.

The press is currently hounding the North Korean dictator. I can’t say I like him either. But had I been born in a country that had been destroyed almost down to the last blade of grass due to the hubris of a bully from the other side of the Pacific, I would have dreamt of revenge too.

Yes, I know I sound horrible. But think of how little North Korea must feel with a Trump riding his gilded horse into battle against the entire world, against the planet, no less. Mind you, it’s not just Trump, nor even Bush or Reagan or even Foxy News; it’s a narrative, a particularly dangerous narrative: Always the biggest, the best, the greatest, almost at any cost. Ordinary US Americans gain no benefit from that venomous narrative, which is fed to them from the day they learn to say “ma-ma”. No benefit at all.

There are those who do, though.

Jun 172017
 

My mission is not to tell you that you-know-who is fabulously ignorant, since I’m sure that whoever reads these pages will be more than aware of that. Nor is it a matter of honour for me to convince you that his ignorance is his most endearing quality.

My mission is, rather, to point out that due to his ignorance, he repeatedly puts his foot in the mouth and exposes the rest of us, for which I am grateful, since we all have an awful lot dirty linen lying around.

Yes, ignorance can create the most embarrassing situations. When the US president went to visit Saudi Arabia, a country notoriously known for human rights abuses (e.g. the war on Yemen, the torturing of political dissidents and the suppression of women and alien workers) he virtually genuflected to his Saudi counterpart, according to Washington Post, without apparently realising that Wahhabi Saudi Arabia is suspected of being the principle financier of Islamic extremism in Europe. I quote Washington Post:

Almost every terrorist attack in the West has had some connection to Saudi Arabia. Virtually none has been linked to Iran.

Wahhabism is named after the eighteenth century activist Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, whose teachings inspire the official, state-sponsored form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia, and also – please note – the ideology of ISIL/ISIS.

With the help of funding from Saudi petroleum exports, the movement underwent explosive growth beginning in the 1970s and now has worldwide influence. The US State Department has estimated that over the past four decades the capital Riyadh has invested more than $10bn (£6bn) into charitable foundations in an attempt to replace mainstream Sunni Islam with the harsh intolerance of its Wahhabism. (Source: Wikipedia as at 17/6/17).

What puzzles me is why we all need to be such buddies with Saudi Arabia. For instance, according to the Guardian, the UK recently found, when the laundry was taken out of the washing machine, that every piece was grey. There the press is getting restless about UK-Saudi relations in the wake of the recent massacres of civilians on the streets and in concert halls, the genocidal war on Yemen, and by a strange and apparently irrational boycott of Qatar, a tiny country with an important, global news outlet, Al Jazeera.

Now, Qatar is also a Wahhabi state, just like its neighbour Saudi Arabia. But unlike the Saudis, Qatar is on civilised terms with Iran and the country’s stance on the Moslem Brotherhood and Hamas is nuanced. What’s worse, from a Saudi perspective, is that Qatar is doing extremely well, whereas Saudi Arabia is amassing colossal debts and will soon run out of funds. Is there reason to suspect that Saudi Arabia hopes to annex Qatar?

The US president suffers from a visceral loathing of Iran and played right into the hands of the Saudis. Qatar, they told him, is supporting Iranian terrorism. The president was more than willing to believe them. He signed the largest arms deal in American history on 20/5/2017, claiming that this would create “jobs” for Americans. Amazingly, attempts to block the deal in the Senate failed on 13/6/2017. Just imagine what the Saudis can do, not only with tanks and weaponry but also with the radar, communications and cybersecurity technology they have been promised! Truly, the thought should make your hair stand on end.

While many analysts tend to focus exclusively on Saudi oil and the country’s leading position in OPEC when explaining the West’s shameful relationship with Saudi Arabia, I believe we need to take a closer look at Saudi Arabia’s fascinating consumption of arms. Why is the country so obsessed with weaponry? I find that Newsweek has an interesting take on the matter. Here are a few tidbits:

Additionally, … religious restrictions within Saudi Arabia make it nearly impossible for the kingdom to diversify or grow its non-oil economy. … Thus, as discussed in “Why the Saudis May Be Preparing for a Real War”, due to … a steady decline in the relative importance of oil in the world economy, …. hawks within Saudi Arabia’s political establishment may have decided to grow their economy not internally but externally, through conquest and violent expansion. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia has dedicated 13 percent of its gross domestic product to its military for six years and has become the largest per capita purchaser of weapons in the world.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Teresa May is embarrassed in more ways than one. Not only is Saudi Arabia probably grooming potential terrorists among marginalised British citizens (e.g. the victims of the recent ghastly fire and their friends and relatives), but the UK economy depends on that distant medieval country. I quote the Economist:

The war in Yemen has certainly been lucrative. Since the bombardment began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has spent £2.8 billion on British arms, making it Britain’s largest arms market, according to government figures analysed by Campaign Against Arms Trade. America supplies even more.

Let’s face it, however, the US and the UK are not the only countries who depend on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Mar 122017
 

Never mind the definition of terrorism (let alone the definition of poverty). As the Guardian wrote in 2001:

While most people agree that terrorism exists, few can agree on what it is. A recent book discussing attempts by the UN and other international bodies to define terrorism runs to three volumes and 1,866 pages without reaching any firm conclusion.

Let us for this particular exercise say that terrorism is the deliberate taking of civilian (i.e non-combatant) lives for ideological purposes.

Some scholars have come to the conclusion that there is no link between poverty and terrorism. Indeed, there is absolutely no denying that the world’s have-nots far outnumber the haves, and that most have-nots are anything but terrorists. Nor can it be denied that ISIS, to take an example, is headed by a man with a university doctorate. I quote Wikipedia (12/03/2017):

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, contemporaries of al-Baghdadi describe him in his youth as being shy, unimpressive, a religious scholar, and a man who eschewed violence. For more than a decade, until 2004, he lived in a room attached to a small local mosque in Tobchi, a poor neighbourhood on the western fringes of Baghdad, inhabited by both Shia and Sunni Muslims.

With a doctorate, he would at least not have been destitute. Whether he lived in relative poverty because he had no choice, or out of solidarity with the poor, or for tactical reasons must be a matter of speculation, judging from the above cited Wikipedia article.

At any rate he did live in relative poverty and he was detained at Abu Ghraib for 10 months. I have never been to Abu Ghraib, but I have been given to understand that detention there was no tea party.

Have you, dear reader, ever felt that you or somebody you cared for had been subjected to gross injustice? Now if you, as I, enjoy a reasonably comfortable living standard, your anger will probably have abated somewhat after a few days. You would certainly not seriously contemplate terrorism. Those of us who have jobs to tend, and family and loved ones to inspire with hope and love of life, cannot allow our minds to be poisoned by bitterness and hate.

But if even the simplest chores of survival were a minute by minute uphill battle and if any of your loved ones had been killed or tortured, believe me: You would be a potential terrorist. You would perhaps not be willing to kill, but you might be willing to harbour a killers, feed him and refuse to give him away, etc. That would make you an accomplice in terrorism, which in many countries is as serious an offence as active terrorism.

I fear the methods that have been employed in the studies referred to above are seriously flawed.

Poverty alone may not be enough to drive a man or woman off the cliff, and successful terrorist groups (whether white-supremacist or religious) are contingent on having leaders who are moneyed and/or educated and who are probably, more often than not, psychopaths. But the foot soldiers who make up their armies are as much victims as their victims, cf. BBC outline of terrorist groups in Africa:

They are given the feeling that they are a very important person and that martyrdom is something to aspire to – the anger over their deprivation is lowered to a feeling of comfort, to a point where the only thing they aspire to is a collective action.

Whether that action leads to their survival or death doesn’t really matter any more.

 

 

Oct 122016
 

And now for all the good things, the things for which those who believe in a God have reason to offer thanks. Such a list, my friends, is called for, to prevent us from weeping all day and all night over Aleppo and all the little dead children there; an energetic list, to the accompaniment of drum rolls and waving flags, while happy children prance around dressed in their Sunday best.

We hear items from the list every day. In the lift on my way up to work, for instance:

– At least it’s not snowing.
– Better than in Aleppo, for sure.

Or in the lift on my way from work:

– Weekend at last! My wife is away with some friends, and I’m going to get drunk with mine.
– My children are away, so I’m going to read that book, at last.

No, that won’t do. If there is no rain in Aleppo, humanity’s tears will drown the place unless we can do better. So let’s pull our socks up, shall we!

– My begonia is still blossoming, in October, would you believe it? It’s so very beautiful; a hybrid of course. It reminds me that though species in the wild are dying, one by one, due to drought or whatever, we – humans, I mean – will always be able to create new and wonderful hybrids.
– … which will be available to those that can afford to keep a gardener, or something.
– Well, I’m sure there’ll be botanical gardens here and there, at least in big cities.
– Yes, and zoos. You know, in theory we can probably clone any of the popular mammals before they become extinct: lions and whales and tigers and stuff.
– … and we would not have to clone those horrible snails…
– I’m afraid they’ll be among the last to go.
– Oh dear. Well, at least there are still a few birds left in the country, and I’m off to the country for the weekend.
– Leaving your beautiful begonia?
– I’ll have something to look forward to coming back to, won’t I? Have a nice weekend.
– You too.

But I, the furry whale, have a better candidate than begonias to promote as a generator of happiness: Violin quartets. Violin quartets do not need rain or for that matter sun or fertile earth or even concert halls. Violin quartets only need violins and sheet music and a room that can accommodate four people, and me of course, who wants to listen.

But when the forests die and when almost all violins have been burnt in towns like Aleppo (compare Warsaw under WWII – a topic of many films) there will be neither violins nor paper on which to print the notes to be played … Aleppo again!

Why – in heaven’s name! – why Aleppo, again and again? What about Niger? What about all the countries of the Sahel, where death by drought and starvation is the order of the day, where sub-human Bocoharamists put people out of their misery when poverty has finished doing it’s business.

– Your dog had puppies? Why congratulations!!
– Wait, I’ll show you. Hold on, I’m a bit slow with this mobile phone stuff… oh yes, here they are.
– Oh my goodness! How unbelievably adorable!