Sep 132022
 

from Harold Pinter’s “Nobel Lecture”
on his acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2005

Source: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2005/pinter/lecture/

….

… that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States’ actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America’s favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as ‘low intensity conflict’. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing – and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America’s view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: ‘Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.’

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.’ There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: ‘But in this case “innocent people” were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?’

Seitz was imperturbable. ‘I don’t agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,’ he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: ‘The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.’

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren’t perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about ‘a tapestry of lies’ which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a ‘totalitarian dungeon’. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. ‘Democracy’ had prevailed.

But this ‘policy’ was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.’

It’s a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what’s called the ‘international community’. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be ‘the leader of the free world’. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man’s land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You’re either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they’re interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. ‘We don’t do body counts,’ said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. ‘A grateful child,’ said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. ‘When do I get my arms back?’ he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn’t holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you’re making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm’s way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

.…

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as ‘full spectrum dominance’. That is not my term, it is theirs. ‘Full spectrum dominance’ means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government’s actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

….

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.


Aug 242021
 

A few hours ago the Israeli military butchered a fifteen year old unarmed Palestinian. This is the 12th child on the West Bank killed by Israeli soldiers so far this year.

On 13 August the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) (OHCHR), wrote:

From the start of the year until the end of July 2021, Israeli military forces have killed 11 Palestinian children in the West Bank. This is more than the recorded deaths of Palestinian children under the occupation in all of 2020. As well, a reported 67 Palestinian children were killed in Gaza during the violence of May 2021.

Moreover, the OHCHR substantiates that the Israeli authorities will balk at nothing in order to prevent the truth from being known, even to its own citizens:

UN human rights experts have called on the Government of Israel to immediately return confidential documents and office equipment that its military seized from the offices of Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) in Al-Bireh, in the occupied West Bank.

In recent years, DCIP has critically and reliably reported on the patterns of arrests, maiming and killings of Palestinian children by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. The silencing or hindering of these activities violates the fundamental human rights of expression and association, which Israel has committed itself to uphold through its ratification of the two 1966 International Covenants.

It is high time that the governments of the EU, the EEA, the UK and the US make it clear that no country that so blatantly disregards human rights can be considered an ally. By failing to do so the said governments will have been accessories before, during and after the facts, to heinous crimes against humanity that have been going on for decades. By failing to do so, they are, in fact, no better than the non-Western countries they so love to ridicule and denounce.

Mar 272021
 

Here he is, General Min. It’s tempting to call him a monster, but we don’t really know, do we. Nobody seems to know much about him. Maybe he is his wife’s or his mother’s puppet; women can be as vile as men, you know, as greedy and as manipulative. Maybe he is the puppet of his fabulously rich children. Or of some other general. All we can say with absolute certainty is that he is contemptible; the kind of creature you would want to crush under your boot, if you had a boot, that is, and if you lacked self-restraint. What a civilised person does, however, is to hand him over to an international criminal court, where he will undoubtedly be convicted. He will then spend the rest of his life in a clean prison cell, with a TV screen showing, again and again, year after year and in colour, the atrocities his troops commited against the population of Myanmar. Even in prison, he will be lucky to evade the fate of Libya’s handsome erstwhile President Muammar Gaddafi.

They say he was a retiring sort of fellow. Some sources use the word “taciturn. According to Reuters, he made annual applications to join the country’s military university, the Defence Services Academy (DSA), succeeding only at his third attempt in 1974. Reuters adds that according to a member of his DSA class, he was “not an outstanding student. Not a driven person, (but) not a lazy person…. He was promoted regularly and slowly”. The classmate said he had been surprised he had risen beyond the officer corps’ middle ranks.

Nikkei Asia quotes Nicholas Coppel, Australia’s former ambassador to Myanmar: “The senior general is not a listener – he talks and others listen.” Mr Coppel holds that the general’s “big-man management style” is due to “ignorance and arrogance…. the isolation that comes from being at the top.”

So how come this mediocre character reached the top? Who paved the way for him and why? You will not find the answer in this post, because I don’t know. Let me be quite frank: I know little about Myanmar. Never been there. Never intended to go there. You don’t visit countries that are committing genocide. So I must rely heavily on what I find on the net, not least on the insight of Mr David Scott Mathieson, a Senior Researcher in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.

What I do know is that the general and his family are filthy rich, cf. Justice for Myanmar and Amnesty International.

Below is a long quote from Japan Times which explains the wealth in less legalese terms:

Through two highly secretive military-controlled behemoths — Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) — at least 133 companies in the country are wholly or partially overseen by generals, according to a report by Justice For Myanmar (JFM).

The opaque groups have their tentacles in industries as diverse as beer, tobacco, transportation, textiles, tourism and banking.

Much of the lucrative — and largely unregulated — jade and ruby trade is controlled by military-owned businesses.

Although Myanmar is the world’s largest producer of jade, and the trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year, only a very small part of the financial windfall ends up in state coffers — with most high-quality stones believed to be smuggled over the border into China.

Since 2011, the disaster-prone jade industry has remained “controlled by a network of military elites, drug lords and their cronies”, according to NGO Global Witness.

An MEHL subsidiary reportedly holds the largest number of jade mining licenses.

The company, Myanmar Imperial Jade Co. Ltd., was among the three gems entities slapped with U.S. sanctions Thursday.

MEHL has partnerships with companies in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, among others.

It has enriched its shareholders in Myanmar, who — according to the conglomerate’s government filings — are all current or retired military officials.

I recommend reading the entire above-linked article from Japan Times. You might also want to take a look at the Asia Times expose of the assets belonging the general’s family members.

There is nothing like a Count Dracula to attract attention to a small corner of the earth. While Myanmar’s ethnic majority have not seemed very preoccupied by the fate of the Rohingyan minority, you cannot but admire the pluck of protesters’ peacefully going out to defy the soldiers that shoot them in the head by the tens every day.

And what about the soldiers, sons and brothers of the very protesters they are shooting. Wow! That country is really fucked up. So General Min has at least earned his country a lot of attention. When General Min and and his fellow generals, at some point in the inevitable future, sit in their prison cells or languish underground in their coffins, we, tourists of the world, will flock to Myanmar to honour the thousands and thousands of demonstrators and Rohingyans who lost their lives to the “ignorance and arrogance” and, allow me to add, the barbarity of the generals who have governed Myanmar ever since it gained its so-called independence in 1962.

Meanwhile I put it to you that what triggered the recent coup, was not electoral irregularities, not even, perhaps, that General Min resented the little lady with flowers in her hair. I suspect that when she won 83 – eighty-three – per cent of the vote, he and his ilk panicked. What happens now? they asked themselves. According to CNN, Mr David Scott Matieson suggests they thought “she has a mandate now to dilute our economic power and our constitutional power, and our immunity from prosecution. There is no way that we’re going to allow ourselves to be that vulnerable.”

Mar 092021
 

At a time when news outlets are preoccupied by the fate of imprisoned princesses and fleeing princes and duchesses, I feel called upon to bring to your attention another piece of news about royalty.

In light of the fact that US authorities seem reluctant to take punitive action against the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (usually referred to as MBS), the non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has taken a somewhat unusual step.

RSF is trying to take MBS to court, no less, and to have him convicted of crimes that are routinely referred to as “heinous”, i.e. crimes against humanity.

The official phrasing of RSF’s actions so far is that they have:

filed a criminal complaint with the German Public Prosecutor General against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and [4] other high-ranking Saudi officials for crimes against humanity. The complaint concerns the widespread and systematic persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, more specifically the imprisonment of 34 journalists and the assassination of Jamal Kashoggi.

The principle of universal jurisdiction with respect to crimes against humanity is enshrined in German Law. RSF may have chosen to request prosecution in Germany because a German court recently convicted a former Syrian secret police officer for his role in the torture of protesters. Anybody who has ever heard or read detailed accounts of protesters’ prison life in Syria will have wept for joy to hear the verdict. RSF has heard and read many, many such accounts.

The problem is, of course, that in most countries, even the judiciary is subject to political pressure. What would be the fallout for Germany of challenging MBS? Does the German prosecuting authority have the guts to go through with this?

There is every reason to cross our fingers here. These days, deluded “generals” are stampeding all over the place in Myanmar like rabid bulls, killing left, right and centre. The idea that some court might one day convict and sentence the generals may not comfort the victims, but it could discourage megalomaniacs from choosing killing sprees as a strategy. Even MBS has generally used more sophisticated means of repression.

(While you’re here, you might take a look at RSF’s country ranking index.)

Feb 122021
 

There isn’t much good news going around, but when a prominent Israeli humanitarian organisation uses the word, maybe people will finally listen.

No need to expound. BTSELEM explains it all very clearly here:
https://www.btselem.org/publications/fulltext/202101_this_is_apartheid

Please do read the entire report. It’s important to understand on what grounds the word is found to be applicable.

Here is a shorter, animated version.

For the record: In case BTSELEM is ordered to take down the report, I have downloaded a copy of it and will upload it here.

Sep 062020
 

My dog’s health is declining. I won’t go into detail, but the latest development is that she has started to limp, on alternating paws. One of these days, I shall have to take her to the vet’s for the final solution. She has had 12 good years and will have a painless death. I will be heartbroken.

Not everybody dies painlessly. People in concentration camps, for instance… In Finland there was a terrible civil war in 1918. All I knew about it, until I read Kjell Westö’s novel The Wednesday Club, was that the “Whites” beat the “Reds” and saved the country (for the Germans, except that the Germans lost everything after WWI). Frankly, my ignorance was more due to lack of interest than to anything else. I mean, who cares about Finland? (Until I read the Wednesday Club, that is.)

But before I continue about the Wednesday Club, I would like to draw your attention once again to Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Don’t read about the book, just go get it. I mean, what are pandemics for if not for enlightenment?

In Finland, after the 1918 civil war, there appear to have been concentration camps in which thousands of people died, not from wounds but from maltreatment.

Kjell Westö’s novel is not about the concentration camps as such, but about how the winners of the war told their story. He describes the crippling shame felt, still in 1938, by women who had been raped in concentration camps in 1919. The author seems to be suggesting that since, in 1938, Finnish society had not yet started to understand what crimes had been committed by the winners in 1918, they were already busy excusing Nazi crimes, endorsing fascism and overlooking the ghastly moral consequences of easy fixes. I find the narrative very compelling, because I recognise it. I recognise the pattern.

My personal history links me to South America and to Palestine, where so much injustice has been inflicted and endured that I am almost in favour of endorsing euthanasia for entire populations to spare the victims more misery. After all, to quote Jane Fonda, “they shoot horses, don’t they?”

Your personal history might link you to Algeria or Egypt; or Iran; or India. At the moment, everything seems to indicate that in Russia, murdering Putin’s political opponents is just a cup of tea. Navalnyj, whatever else he might be, is nothing if not astoundingly brave, a hero and a martyr. In the West, we also have martyrs, Julian Assange, for instance.

But what about the rest of us? How did our governments react to Operation Condor and the vicious and systematic slaughter of anyone vaguely “leftist” in most of Latin America (not least in Central America). How did we react here, for that matter, to the emergence of Nazi Germany in the 1930-s and the pogroms and subsequent extermination of Jews? How did our governments react to the Vietnam war? In retrospect, have Bush Jr. or Tony Blair or José Aznar expressed any shame about the war on Iraq and its aftermath? On the contrary, it would seem that the US and the UK are hell-bent on preventing crimes committed by the state from being exposed, cf. the Julian Assange case, which in reality is about defence of a free press. I quote the N.Y. Times:

From the start, the charges against Mr. Assange have raised profound First Amendment issues because his actions are difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from those of traditional news organizations. It would be unprecedented in American law for such activity to result in criminal convictions, so press freedom advocates have denounced the charges against him and have been watching the case closely.

The winner is always the one to tell the story. But even after a winner has had to leave the scene, he or she will rarely express shame. Shame is felt primarily by a perpretrator’s victims, who have often had to do things they, the victims, feel are indefensible.

The Latin American dictators and their henchmen (and their far from innocent wives) have shown no regret, no shame when questioned by the press or by judges. Not a jot of it. On the other hand, those who survived torture and many years’ imprisonment …, well, you can imagine.

On this cheerful note, I can recommend a whole stack of very good novels. Tonight I particularly wish to direct your attention to José Saramago. Any of his novels will probably astound you. I love his elegant irony and humour, as well as his penetrating insight. I believe the man must have been extraordinarily intelligent. His most important work may have been Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira). I would also recommend, for the sake of the reader’s sanity, the somewhat more cheerful follow-up Seeing (Ensaio sobre a Lucidez). If you cannot read them in Portuguese, read them in Spanish, if you can, because most of them were beautifully translated by his Spanish wife.

Dec 012019
 

Though I do not devote much negative attention to Russia or China or, for that matter, the so-called “Democratic” Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Nigeria or Iran, I’m very glad I do not live in any of those countries. Had I done so, I would have been honour-bound to direct my darts at them, at great risk. Of course, had I lived in Africa, I may not even have had an internet connection. Had I lived in Iran, well … I would have known what most Iranians, but all too few Westerners, know: USA was the country that killed Iranian democracy (see Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilization or at least some of his articles in the Independent.)

I live in the so-called “Democratic” part of the world, where countries consider themselves like-minded, developed, advanced, humane, etc., etc., and where populations are mostly Christian. No doubt we who live here have much to be grateful for. Nevertheless, I see no reason to harangue the diamond-rich DRC, which is universally considered one of the global epicentres of corruption, cruelty and human rights abuse. And I see no reason to harangue Russia, which is already being flogged with sanctions and threatened by the US/NATO missile defence shield.

As for China… well, they are turning out to be better than us at our own game (capitalism), but they are taking climate change seriously, and they are showing admirable restraint about Hong kong.

All the above countries are regularly derided by the media. Human rights abuses in our own back yard, however, do not always earn the attention they deserve. True, the self-defined “deeply religious” president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte shocked the world on his accession to power, by allowing the immediate liquidation of anybody suspected of being involved in the drug business (dealer or consumer).

Since then, it is becoming increasingly clear that values on our side of the table are not quite up to scratch:

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, came to power (with you know who’s warm support) not least thanks to votes from the country’s enormous evangelical community, which he earned by promising to loyally defend “traditional Christian values” (as opposed to e.g. abortion, homosexuality, etc.). One of his most important allies during the presidential campaign was the fabulously rich “Pastor” Silas Malafaia.

The ostensibly God-fearing president says he hopes ‘criminals will “die in the streets like cockroaches”, as a result of the hard-line legislation he is pushing, to shield security forces and citizens who shoot alleged offenders from prosecution.’ You will find very little in the media about this unholy alliance between an evangelical billionaire and a fascist president, and only defenceless human rights groups bother to plead the case of some of the victims.

Then there is Bolivia. After the Coup d’état, on declaring that she would be Bolivia’s interim head of state, Jeanine Añes held up a bible proclaiming something to the effect that “he” (God) was back in power. Since then, “indigenous” Bolivians have been shot at without impunity. See Amnesty International:

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/bolivia-derogar-norma-

Israel’s ghastly human rights record is certainly no better than China’s, and now the US has given its blessing to the task of wiping out the Palestinian population (nearly 10% of whom were Christian in 1922)

To compound this very incomplete list of self-denominated “Democratic” and mostly Christian countries that are deviating ever more from the principles they pretend to adhere to, among them rigorous separation of powers, look at the UK: The Tories plan to “update” the Human Rights Act in order to put an “end to prosecutions of veterans over killings during The Troubles, in an attempt to protect the armed forces from vexatious prosecutions” in Northern Ireland.

Beware! Killing or maiming demonstrators and suspects is not – I repeat, NOT – commensurate with “Democratic” or even “Christian” values. Killing or maiming protesters has nothing to do with progress. It’s asking for civil war. Give them decent minimum wages, proper education and proper health care instead. That should do the trick.

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.