Friday, December 31, 2004

a country run by pulling strings Posted by Hello

134: Tsunami

Nollaig Shona

For days, even weeks, we had all been complaining about Christmas. Some of our friends had been resigned to it, and others were simply trying to tune out the dogged incessant commercialization that now characterizes the most important feast day of the Christian world. Those with children put up trees, delivered presents, and basked in the joy of their offspring as they tore the wrappings apart ("Oh, be careful", says mother, but the kids never listen).

Christmas always brings to mind memories of my own family. Friends and relatives would be sure to drop by and there was always a good load of booze laid in to take care of them, especially Uncle P who was partial to a drop, and Uncle O who wouldn't say no to another. Their wives, as I remember, drank dry sherry by the gallon. The Christmas Dinner, when it came, would be the best meal of the year with lashings of turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, stuffing, carrots, peas -- and more where that came from. Then we'd all sit down in front of the telly and doze off, half-drunk and replete, while the ladies did the clearing off and washing up in the kitchen. Round about six (opening time was 5.30 in those days) the gentlemen would rouse themselves and suggest a walk. The walk would take them all of 500 yards to the local pub. Ah well, say what you like, that's the way it was when my Daddy was big and I wasn't.

Here's a letter I got from a pal the other day:

Todays Telegraph had this letter, which just about sums up the day:

Sir - Your correspondent seeks seasonal words. One that may be of interest is the word "sennatuct", as used by my late father. The meaning, he advised me, was "the feeling you get when you have had far too much to eat and a little too much to drink and are sitting in front of an open fire, with the end of your slippers smouldering but not enough energy to move your feet".

Ah, Christmas! Good food and lots of it. Wine, beer, brandy, and whatever you like and lots of that, too. It's the one time of the year when we all think it's OK to get stuffed and drunk and stupid.

Stuffed and stupid, perhaps, but within a few hours, aghast, we were witness to one of the worst natural disasters to hit the planet in the last half-century. The timing couldn't have been more apposite, precise, and frightening.

What are we to think of a God who will allow such things? This was Voltaire's complaint in the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake in Lisbon in 1755. Voltaire was holding the Catholic Church to blame because he disliked the Catholic Church (they disliked him in return) and reasoned that if there had to be a God it would probably be a Catholic God who spoke French, a perfectly reasonable supposition for those times. So why did God allow it? Why did this "merciful" God allow the heavy masonry of the Lisbon churches to fall down and crush the innocent faithful who were praying to Him at the time? Not to mention the people opening their shops and hanging out their washing? God, even if French, was a cold unfeeling bastard.

Our thinking has moved on a bit since then. But not much. Since ancient times there has always been a readiness to see the hand of God involved whenever plagues, famines, or natural disasters overtake ourselves or, better yet, our enemies. The Bible is full of gleeful hand-rubbings over the misfortunes of others, as even the most casual visitor to its pages must reluctantly agree. God is on Our Side. Gott Mit Uns.

What, then, are we to make of the recent disaster in Southeast Asia if these be our terms of reference? God spares no-one: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Christian, … no-one. Martin Kettle tries to address this problem.

But, of course, these are not our terms of reference at all. We are modern post-Christian, post-religious people. We don't believe in this stuff any more. The churches are empty and we don't care. The Islamic guys are -- what? -- 500 years behind the times. Faith is a joke. It's a ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Right?

What we believe in is Science. Science tells us that what took place was the inevitable physical result of natural forces at work. Two tectonic plates collided (why?) and the level of the ocean waters was displaced upwards. The water at the surface rushed along at a speed of - 500-750 kph - so that the resulting waves hit land masses on both rims of the Indian Ocean -- from Africa to Indonesia -- at mathematically predictable rates. So, who knew this was happening (scientists in Hawaii, for one) and why didn't they post a warning?

Just one of those things. It's over now, Jack, just one of those things. He lit a cigarette and glanced over at me. He smiled and the smile spread into his warm brown eyes. At that moment I wanted to strangle him.

Death and the Raven

Just one of those things

Well, it was certainly not one of those things for the people who were close to the shoreline. So far (Dec 31) 125,000 are believed missing or dead and a further 400,000 are at risk of disease, starvation, or the total collapse of their livelihood (which amounts to the same thing.)

Not to mention the tourists.

What can we say about the tourists? We're really really sorry about you and your families? We're shocked, sympathetic and horrified?

That's the accepted reaction, the official line. The "unofficial" line, the opinions you will hear expressed in pubs and diners and across the breakfast table is that somehow these people "deserved" it -- IT being death. They had no right to escape from the cold and darkness of Europe in winter which most of the hard-pressed families left behind could not even dream about. There is a secret, unexpressed sense of righteous delight that the privileged few, those who could afford to fly away in jet planes to the far ends of the earth for sunlight and lazy living, ended up dead.

Don't tell me it is not there. It's a matter of quiet satisfaction among the thousands of families that "know their place". One gets a whiff of 19th century Biblical sulphur.

Some people (those that wear the cloak of the centuries lightly) will say it was a matter of bad luck and bad timing. I don't believe that. Everything that happens to YOU yourself could be excused for exactly the same reason, including premature death -- not that you'd be around to complain.

In a word, contingency.

This is the actuarial, percentage approach to the mystery of human existence. So many people per 100,000 will develop cancer, so many will be murdered, so many will die from lightning, so many will die from shark attacks (a TV highlight in the summer of 2001 -- along with the missing intern -- when the mass media had no idea what was coming down on September 11).

There is something very comforting about statistics. It seems that the people at risk are always such a small percentage that it couldn't possibly be YOU. The statistics bury your personal vulnerability among the huge number of people to whom these things do NOT happen. So it couldn't possibly happen to you.

But that's what happened to the tourists when the tsunami hit. There's a warm glow involved with survival (no matter how far away from the danger area one might be) but it changes nothing. Even battle survivors are liable to car accidents and the sometimes fatal incidents of daily life. Airplane accidents are few and far between, but so are Lottery winners. In all areas, every year, we have a crop of innocent Lottery losers. Look around you. You can probably name 10-15 people who died before they should have.

I am certainly not indifferent to the fate of the tourists whose casual decision to transport themselves to the far side of the planet resulted, in so many cases, in the loss of children, wives, and husbands. This is a hard thing to bear and the ghosts of what might have been will never be silent for the rest of their lives. Over and above this there are the tens of thousands of local people whose lives have been disrupted by this disaster, in many cases beyond repair.

I see these events, clearly, as a natural tragedy. There will be others.

My purpose in writing this article is very simple, and if there must be a point it is this: death needs no reason. In the midst of life, a life we need to feel is capable of being projected into the future (appointments, schedules, commitments) death is never more than an instant away.

It sits on our shoulders like a patient (invisible) crow. Today is OK. Tomorrow is OK. Then, for no apparent reason, a decision is made and that's it. No explanations, no apologies, no reasons, no appeal. Time is up. The crow flaps his wings and flies away.

That said, donations are still needed. Most of us can afford a few Euro, Dollars or Yen. Many sites on the Internet are accepting donations, including the Irish Red Cross.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

133. The War in Iraq

Now the USA is involved in a full-time foreign adventure which is turning out to be a lot more than what the government bargained for. A Pandora's Box has been opened in the Middle East, a non-winnable development of political and military circumstances which the American public has slowly begun to comprehend, but which the current administration is determined to overlook in its thrust for Final Victory, whatever that means. To do otherwise, for them, is not a realistic political option.

In the meantime people die, often horribly. Americans take note of their own casualties and worry far less, if at all, about the toll on the local people. In the end, as always, it will be the mounting number of American casualties that will turn the people at home against this war.

Iraq is not Vietnam. We have heard this so many times, it has become like a mantra -- say it often enough and you might even start to believe it. Perhaps the reason we hear it so often is because the government and the trained puppies of the media (occasionally frisky but aware of who's boss) don't want us to look at the parallels with what happened 30-40 years ago, when a previous government made a similar disastrous mistake.

Who suffers when the US sends in the military? First of all the local civilians in the unfortunate target area, then the soldiers themselves (mostly poor kids from deprived backgrounds), then the middle class at home who have to pay for all these fun and games with increased taxes. The rich and connected seem to come out of these affairs with even more money.

Iraq is Vietnam all over again, don't believe otherwise -- the same old nightmares revived after a quarter century. Just enough time to forget them, one would think, which is exactly what happened. People forgot. The young soldiers today weren't even born at that time and the war in Vietnam is as distant to them as World War One. Now we are ready to make the same old mistakes all over again, in the delusional belief that this time it will be different. It is never different. Ignore the lessons of the past at your peril.

The bottom line for any occupying force (however well-equipped, however well-meaning, however brutal) is that your days are numbered once the locals turn against you. From that time on you are on the defensive, you have lost the initiative, and you will come under constant attack and harassment. For the troops, the general reaction is to treat all the locals as enemies and to take out their fear and resentment on the people around them. This happened in Vietnam and it is happening in Iraq.

If it is any consolation, the same phenomenon took place in other armies at other times when they found themselves operating among hostile locals: a general massacre from time to time made the grunts feel good starting with the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans and moving through to more recent times with the European Powers machine-gunning natives in various parts of Africa. It's an old military tradition.

It was the Brits, don't forget, that put down a serious revolt in Iraq in 1920-21, when the country had been handed over to them as part of the spoils of World War One. Fallujah, Najaf, Kerbala, Basra -- all these familiar city names crop up again in the archives. Aerial bombing of "disaffected areas" started with the fledgling Royal Air Force in Iraq, a form of early training for the carpet-bombing of Germany in World War Two, and it was Winston Churchill himself who advocated using poison gas on the insurgents. These assertions are little-known but true, and can be documented.

Why are the Iraqis so ungrateful to the Americans? I think it is because the Americans came in without a plan and made things even worse than they were before. That's about as simple as I can put it.

Toppling Saddam was popular, but there were not enough troops to establish an organised handover of power. So what happened? The wholesale looting of museums, hospitals, and public buildings happened, and a general atmosphere of lawlessness prevailed. The middle-class backbone of the country (pro and anti Saddam professionals alike) were paralysed by fear and uncertainty. The Army was dissolved -- under American orders -- and hundreds of thousands of unemployed soldiers went home to form the foot soldiers of the anti-American resistance.

Added to the collapse of the Saddam regime and its hangers on (one strand of the growing resistance) were the frustrated hopes of the majority Shia population who had been suppressed under Saddam Hussein. Natural allies to any opponent of Saddam, they were soon at loggerheads with the heavy-handed tactics of the Americans and this found popular expression with the support for the young cleric al-Sadr in Najaf. The more senior Shia cleric Sistani put him on the long finger (he checked into a hospital in London) until he could see which way the wind was blowing. Now Sistani is back and al-Sadr has been reined in for the moment. Sistani is all for the January elections because he knows the Shia groups will win big.

The resistance (mostly Sunni, but the Shia are not always patient guys waiting for election results) are going all out to prevent the election going forward. They are killing election workers and targeting candidates as well as intimidating people from going to the polls. Nobody in his or her right mind wants to line up in public on a street in Iraq to cast a vote for very obvious reasons. Voting is fine, but surviving is better.

The American administration is putting a lot of weight on the forthcoming elections. It's the only way it can justify its continuing armed presence to the voters at home. We've introduced democracy, see? But the elections are not going to solve any problems at all. In fact, they are just going to create new problems, and, if anything, help delineate the sides for the upcoming civil war. That there will be an Iraqi Civil War is pretty much a foregone conclusion. The bombs in Shia areas this week were an introduction to the dance. Everyone is simply waiting for the Americans to go away.

But will the Americans go away? Not anytime soon, I wouldn't think. Bush and his crowd are going to use the military to throw their weight around even when things get more hopeless than they are already. Eventually -- depending on the next presidential election, depending on public opinion in the States -- the Americans will pull out, just as they did from Vietnam. It could take about ten years. There is no way Bush can pull out of Iraq without admitting the war was a mistake. According to Bush himself, he doesn't make mistakes, so this means some other president is going to have to do it -- like Gorbachev pulling the Russians out of Afghanistan after Bhrezhnev (who died) refused to consider it. Not much fun for Iraqi civilians for the next few years; not much fun for American kids getting sent over there, either.

This is a ridiculous war. It is a ridiculous war for two very straightforward reasons:
1. The real enemy _ Al Quaida _ is still out there
2. Iraq was never a threat to the United States.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Saturday, December 18, 2004

131. The Two Toms

Tom Englehardt

Tom E is a former book editor based in NYC who writes one of the best news blogs on the Internet. Tom's method is to search out informative and penetrating articles from an impressive range of well-known writers, often before they are published in the print media, and to preface each article with an introductory essay of his own which is occasionally equal, and often superior, to the featured article itself. If you have not done so already, please check out Tom's regular postings at Tomdispatch.

Tom Feeley

Tom F compiles a daily news summary on Information Clearing House which consists of links to various sources all over the Net. ICH is a labour of love (or, at the very least, gritty determination) and it is a one-man operation. E-mail subscriptions are free, but Tom asks his subscribers for voluntary support through Paypal contributions from $5 up. This seems only fair, considering his server costs and the sheer amount of time Tom spends putting his compilations together.

I have been subscribing for about a year and ICH is the first - and sometimes the only - e-mail I will open on any given day.

Tom gave us all a scare a couple of months ago when he suffered an apparent heart attack while busily at work. The emergency services had to be called and they rushed him off to hospital. In spite of a load of concerned messages from his many subscribers urging him to take things easy for a while, Tom was back at his keyboard within days and continues to send out his invaluable links from a wide number of direct sources.

Tom is a passionate opponent of the Adventure in Iraq and believes (not without reason) that the American public is being bamboozled by the present administration. He thinks the current government has gone to war for purposes of its own under the cloak of the "War against Terror" and is severely curtailing traditional civil liberties in the process.

I wouldn't disagree.

One of the appealing features of the ICH website is that Tom begins each newsletter with a collection of 4-5 short quotations which set the tone for the news which follows. I have got into the habit of copy/pasting these quotations into an ongoing Word document that now runs to 25 pages.

I was looking over these quotations today and decided to do two things: first, I was going to offer a public tribute to these two hardworking guys, the Two Toms; and, second, I was going to organize Tom Feeley's quotations into several broad categories and share them with the casual visitors and the hardline regular readers of this Blog … all 7 of you, including Robert the Reading Rabbit.


He who dares not offend cannot be honest: Thomas Paine

The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience: Albert Camus

"For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.": Paul Wolfowitz, USA Deputy Defence Secretary in an interview in the July 2003 issue of magazine Vanity Fair

We first fought the heathens in the name of religion, then Communism, and now in the name of drugs and terrorism. Our excuses for global domination always change: Serj Tankian

What our leaders and pundits never let slip is that the terrorists -- whatever else they might be -- might also be rational human beings ; which is to say that in their own minds they have a rational justification for their actions. Most terrorists are people deeply concerned by what they see as social, political, or religious injustice and hypocrisy, and the immediate grounds for their terrorism is often retaliation for an action of the United States . . .: William Blum

Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind: George Orwell

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them: George Orwell

"The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.": Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister

Like the effect of advertising upon the customer, the methods of political propaganda tend to increase the feeling of insignificance of the individual voter: Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst and social philosopher, 1900-1980

An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it: Mohandas Gandhi

Half a truth is often a great lie: Benjamin Franklin

"The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims while incidentally capturing their markets, to civilise savage and senile and paranoid peoples while blundering accidentally into their oil wells.": John Flynn, 1944

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge -- even to ourselves -- that we've been so credulous: Carl Sagan

I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe is right. George W. Bush: 43rd President of the United States

"Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false." - Bertrand Russell

"One of the world's greatest problems is the impossibilty of any person searching for the truth on any subject when they believe they already have it." --Dave Wilbur

"It's not a matter of what is true that counts but a matter of what is perceived to be true." --Henry Kissinger

Those in possession of absolute power can not only prophesy and make their prophecies come true, but they can also lie and make their lies come true: Eric Hoffer

"Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self- deception." : Mark Twain 1916

"Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.": Albert Einstein

We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men: George Orwell


It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable: Eric Hoffer

Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear: Albert Camus

Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear -– kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervour -– with the cry of grave national emergency. Always, there has been some terrible evil at home, or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it: General Douglas MacArthur

"In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.": Thich Nhat Hanh - Vietnamese monk, activist and writer.

Misunderstanding arising from ignorance breeds fear, and fear remains the greatest enemy of peace. : Lester B. Pearson

The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance: Thomas Paine

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear: Harry S Truman

You see what power is -- holding someone else's fear in your hand and showing it to them!: Amy Tan


Our whole practical government is grounded in mob psychology and.. the Boobus Americanus will follow any command that promises to make him safer." --H. L. Menchen -- 1956.

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and corporate power." : Benito Mussolini

Find out just what the people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress: Frederick Douglass

" ... the United States, for generations, has sustained two parallel but opposed states of mind about military atrocities and human rights: one of U.S. benevolence, generally held by the public, and the other of ends-justify-the-means brutality sponsored by counterinsurgency specialists. Normally the specialists carry out their actions in remote locations with little notice in the national press. That allows the public to sustain its faith in a just America, while hard-nosed security and economic interests are still protected in secret. ": Robert Parry, investigative reporter and author

"An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the replacement of the radical Baathist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States would put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe even the Romans.": David Frum, speachwriter for USA president, George W Bush:

Conquered states that have been accustomed to liberty and the government of their own laws can be held by the conqueror in three different ways. The first is to ruin them; the second, for the conqueror to go and reside there in person; and the third is to allow them to continue to live under their own laws, subject to a regular tribute, and to create in them a government of a few, who will keep the country friendly to the conqueror: Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side: Aristotle

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal.": Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons: Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Russian novelist, 1821-1881

The greatness of every mighty organization embodying an idea in this world lies in the religious fanaticism and intolerance with which, fanatically convinced of its own right, it intolerantly imposes its will against all others: Adolf Hitler (German chancellor, leader of the Nazi party, 1889-1945)

"Force is the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism.": Thomas Jefferson

"The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent and labour power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its‚ citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased. There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen. There is none that disperses its control more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media; none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty.": Howard Zinn, from "A People's History of the United States", first published 1981

"The next time someone tells you America has a two-party system...demand a recount.": Mickey Z - "DebateThis"

"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action." : George Washington

"Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws." -John Adams

International law? I better call my lawyer; he didn't bring that up to me; George W. Bush, 12 December 2003

"Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem - in my opinion - to characterize our age: Albert Einstein 1879 - 1955

"Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.": Thomas Jefferson


If a war be undertaken for the most righteous end, before the resources of peace have been tried and proved vain to secure it, that war has no defense, it is a national crime: Charles Eliot Norton

"The only place you and I disagree . . . is with regard to the bombing. You're so goddamned concerned about the civilians, and I (in contrast) don't give a damn. I don't care.". . . "I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. . . Does that bother you? I just want you to think big." : Richard Nixon to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on the Watergate tapes

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity: George Bernard Shaw

"This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"War paralyzes your courage and deadens the spirit of true manhood. It degrades and stupefies with the sense that you are not responsible, that 'tis not yours to think and reason why, but to do and die,' like the hundred thousand others doomed like yourself. War means blind obedience, unthinking stupidity, brutish callousness, wanton destruction, and irresponsible murder." : Alexander Berkman

When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. War settles nothing: Dwight David Eisenhower - 34th president of the United States, 1890-1969

I find war detestable but those who praise it without participating in it even more so: Romain Rolland

The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings, and that these individual beings are condemned by the monstrous conventions of politics to murder or be murdered in quarrels not their own: Aldous Huxley - English novelist and critic, 1894-1963

"War: a massacre of people who don't know each other for the profit of people who know each other but don't massacre each other" Paul Valery quotes (French poet, essayist and critic, 1871-1945)

"War is like a big machine that no one really knows how to run and when it gets out of control it ends up destroying the things you thought you were fighting for, and a lot of other things you kinda forgot you had." : Anonymous

Youth is the first victim of war; the first fruit of peace. It takes 20 years or more of peace to make a man; it takes only 20 seconds of war to destroy him. : -King Baudouin I: King of Belgium

I don't believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen, otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged: Anne Frank: Jewish girl author of a diary of her family's two years in hiding during World War Two, 1929-1945

They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people: Eugene Debs

Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime: Ernest Hemingway

If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war: Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War

Naturally, the common people don't want war ... but after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country. : Hermann Goering

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure. If today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us' but he will say to you, 'Be silent; I see it, if you don't.'" : Abraham Lincoln.

All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it: Alexis de Tocqueville

War Is A Racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes: Major General Smedley Butler. 1881 - 1940

Throughout the history of the United States, war has been the primary impetus behind the growth and development of the central state. It has been the lever by which presidents and other national officials have bolstered the power of the state in the face of tenacious popular resistance: Bruce D. Porter

The War Prayer : by Mark Twain

O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it--

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, strain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Only the winners decide what were war crimes.: Gary Wills - Author


"The vested interests - if we explain the situation by their influence - can only get the public to act as they wish by manipulating public opinion, by playing either upon the public's indifference, confusions, prejudices, pugnacities or fears. And the only way in which the power of the interests can be undermined and their maneuvers defeated is by bringing home to the public the danger of its indifference, the absurdity of its prejudices, or the hollowness of its fears; by showing that it is indifferent to danger where real danger exists; frightened by dangers which are nonexistent." Sir Norman Angell 1872 - 1967

Whenever a people... entrust the defence of their country to a regular, standing army, composed of mercenaries, the power of that country will remain under the direction of the most wealthy citizens.": A Framer

"For in every city these two opposite parties [people vs aristocracy] are to be found, arising from the desire of the populace to avoid oppression of the great, and the desire of the great to command and oppress the people....For when the nobility see that they are unable to resist the people, they unite in exalting one of their number and creating him prince, so as to be able to carry out their own designs under the shadow of his authority." (Machiavelli, The Prince, ch. IX)

"The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life ... A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors... Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same.": George Orwell, 1984

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed." : Abraham Lincoln

"The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson." : Franklin D. Roosevelt

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." : John Kenneth Galbraith


"So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men" : Voltaire.

The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men: Plato

"The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves." William Hazlitt

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding: Louis D. Brandeis

The Framers of the Bill of Rights did not purport to "create" rights. Rather, they designed the Bill of Rights to prohibit our Government from infringing rights and liberties presumed to be preexisting: Justice William J. Brennan, 1982

Be not intimidated... nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice: John Adams

"that until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; that until there is no longer any first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; that until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race -- until that day, the dreams of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained: Speech by H.I.M. HAILE SELASSIE I - California 28th February 1968

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group or any controlling private power.": President Franklin D. Roosevelt

As I watch government at all levels daily eat away at our freedom, I keep thinking how prosperity and government largesse have combined to make most of us fat and lazy and indifferent to, or actually in favor of, the limits being placed on that freedom: Lyn Nofziger

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me...It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride and superiority. The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too."

They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" The old Cherokee simply replied..."The one I feed."

My kind of loyalty was to one's country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death: Mark Twain

The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles: Mahatma Gandhi: Indian leader, 1869-1948


The voice of protest, of warning, of appeal is never more needed than when the clamor of fife and drum, echoed by the press and too often by the pulpit, is bidding all men fall in and keep step and obey in silence the tyrannous word of command. Then, more than ever, it is the duty of the good citizen not to be silent: Charles Eliot Norton

To change masters is not to be free: Jose Marti y Perez

What country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms: Thomas Jefferson

If the author of the Declaration of Independence were to utter such a sentiment today, the Post Office Department could exclude him from the mail, grand juries could indict him for sedition and criminal syndicalism, legislative committees could seize his private papers ... and United States Senators would be clamoring for his deportation that he... should be sent back to live with the rest of the terrorists: Frank I. Cobb

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little: Edmund Burke

Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it: Albert Einstein

As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever: Clarence Darrow

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men: Abraham Lincoln: 16th U.S. president, 1809-1865

"I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." - Elie Weisel

"Protest that moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence." Wendell Berry

Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular- but one must take it simply because it is right. : Martin Luther King Jr. 1929-1968

First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me. -Pastor Martin Neimoller: Concentration camp Survivor

Thursday, December 16, 2004

130. Teenage Blue

I was browsing news sites and favourite blogs this afternoon (Riverbend has a new posting from Baghdad; she seems to be posting only once a month recently) and I came across an article that knocked my socks off on the "Real Clear Politics" site - not a site I care for all that much since it is generally full of blathering columnists, but my exams had been corrected and the scores sent in (nobody failed: you have to work hard to fail my exams, but some of the kids do just that) so it was a slow afternoon. Between this afternoon and now, the article has been taken down. Why? What's going on? This article took over the rest of my day, as you'll see. Suddenly things started to fall into place ….

Eminem Is Right

By Mary Eberstadt

Mary Eberstadt is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, consulting editor to Policy Review, and author of Home-Alone America, from which this essay is drawn. Reprinted by arrangement with Sentinel, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. from Home-Alone America by Mary Eberstadt. Copyright © 2004 by Mary Eberstadt.

If there is one subject on which the parents of America passionately agree, it is that contemporary adolescent popular music, especially the subgenres of heavy metal and hip-hop/rap, is uniquely degraded — and degrading — by the standards of previous generations. At first blush this seems slightly ironic. After all, most of today’s baby-boom parents were themselves molded by rock and roll, bumping and grinding their way through adolescence and adulthood with legendary abandon. Even so, the parents are correct: Much of today’s music is darker and coarser than yesterday’s rock. Misogyny, violence, suicide, sexual exploitation, child abuse — these and other themes, formerly rare and illicit, are now as common as the surfboards, drive-ins, and sock hops of yesteryear.

In a nutshell, the ongoing adult preoccupation with current music goes something like this: What is the overall influence of this deafening, foul, and often vicious-sounding stuff on children and teenagers? This is a genuinely important question, and serious studies and articles, some concerned particularly with current music’s possible link to violence, have lately been devoted to it. In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry all weighed in against contemporary lyrics and other forms of violent entertainment before Congress with a first-ever "Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children."

Nonetheless, this is not my focus here. Instead, I would like to turn that logic about influence upside down and ask this question: What is it about today’s music, violent and disgusting though it may be, that resonates with so many American kids?

As the reader can see, this is a very different way of inquiring about the relationship between today’s teenagers and their music. The first question asks what the music does to adolescents; the second asks what it tells us about them. To answer that second question is necessarily to enter the roiling emotional waters in which that music is created and consumed — in other words, actually to listen to some of it and read the lyrics.

Read the rest of the article

The first thing I did after reading this thing (twice!) was to go to the iTunes Music Store and start looking for the songs Mary Eberstadt mentions. I downloaded about 20 different songs - curiosity can be expensive - and put them into more or less the order they were mentioned in the article. (OK, I admit I threw in a couple more songs by the same bands that I liked after listening to the 30 second clips). Then I burned a CD and just sat back and listened to it. Wow.

Some of the songs Mary E mentions were not available, notably "Family Portrait" by Pink and "Little Things" by Good Charlotte. Hey, super funky iTunes, paragon of cool, pardon the transatlantic metaphors but get the finger out and put your ass in gear!

Still, the playlist was pretty overwhelming, especially if you listen to it in one session:

1. Revenge/Papa Roach
2. Broken Home/Papa Roach
3. Father of Mine/Everclear
4. Wonderful/Everclear
5. Stay Together/Blink-182
6. Adam's Song/Blink-182
7. Missundaztood/Pink
8. Is It Love/Pink
9. Dear Diary/Pink
10. Hold On/Good Charlotte
11. Emotionless/Good Charlotte
12. Sliver/Nirvana
13. Serve the Servants/Nirvana
14. About a Girl/Nirvana
15. Ode to Kurt Cobain/Gigi Love
16. Better Man (Live)/Pearl Jam
17. You Are (Live)/Pearl Jam
18. Sing for the Moment/Eminem
19. Who Knew/Eminem

Tomorrow I have to go back and expand my researches, specifically into Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Jay-Z, and Korn's "Kill You".

This is an amazing, enlightening discovery. Thank you, Mary Eberstadt, for some really useful scholarship (not the usual boring kind) which sheds the light of understanding on previously very dark places.

I had no idea that the huge number of Baby Boomer divorces - well, it was a pretty self-indulgent generation raised on sex and drugs and rock'n'roll (your parents, by the way, if you are 25 or younger) - was setting the scene for the boiling anger in contemporary music. And that divorce had actually become the focus for teenage rebellion.

To a lot of young kids today "Pleasantville" is a place they wouldn't have minded growing up in, if only to revolt against it when they were a little bit older. They were never given that chance.

Unlike most of their parents, they didn't have a mother and father living together and providing a relatively stable (if occasionally stifling) home life to rebel against in their teens. The two-parent family was taken away from them when they were 3 or 5 or 7 or 10 years old and they are still very very angry about it. That comes through clearly in the music.

For all their pain and anger, I wonder if this new generation will do any better in their courting, mating, and settling-down rituals. I'm curious to know how they are going to deal with kids of their own. That they will have kids (are bears Catholics, does the Pope poop in the woods?) is fairly certain. Just what kind of music will THEIR kids be listening to twenty years down the road?


cobain shot himself,
thought it was all over,
his music getting darker, his wife
something out of a magazine

have you noticed
how many of your friends,
maybe you yourself, come
from broken families?

the baby boomers
were in love with love;
sex, drugs and rock'n'roll,
no place for little kids

now the little kids
are not little any more,
nor are they happy little campers
but angry, totally pissed off

so where is daddy
since the last telephone
call, and the twenty-dollar bill
stuck in a belated birthday card?

daddy has moved out of town
daddy has a new daughter
called stephanie, he's thinking
of marrying what's-her-name

mom says she is serious
about bill or jim
or whatever the f--- he
calls himself, the smiling nerd

when i get married
i will stay married, i will
take care of my kids, i will
love them forever ...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

129. PJ (Daddy)

My father died in October, 2002. He had been dead to his family for many years before, since he had been struck down by Alzheimer's in the early 90s. I remember him in his prime. He could be irascible and quick-tempered but he was a very fair man. He took us away from Ireland when we were a very young family in order to make a better life for us in England and then in Germany where he worked for the Americans. He came out of a background of poverty and resignation and he refused to accept it. In that sense, and in other ways, I will always be my father's son.

Today we come to pay our last respects to Paddy, as an old friend or ex-colleague, perhaps as an ex-patient – but also as a husband, father, and grandfather. The voice behind these words is what his eldest son, myself, would wish to say to you at this service.

Although far away in Japan and unable to join you in today’s gathering, I feel very much present with the other members of my family – my mother, my sisters Caitriona and Patricia, my brother Des, and my niece Elizabeth. We have always been a very close-knit family, and particularly so at this time as we lay our father to rest.
This was a man whose life spanned eight decades of the 20th century. In 1915, when Dad was born, Woodrow Wilson was in the White House. George V was the King of Great Britain and Emperor of India; his cousin Nicky was the Czar of Russia, and another cousin Willy was the Kaiser of Germany. The aging Franz Joseph still reigned over the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Motor cars were an expensive plaything of the rich and airplanes were still in their infancy. This world has completely disappeared.

Dad was born in the West of Ireland, in County Clare, the only son of a gardener on the estate of Ballyalla, just outside the town of Ennis. Ireland then was still under British rule, but like so many other things, this too was to change over the first ten years of his life. This was the Ireland of Yeats and O’Casey, of the 1916 Easter Rebellion, of the British Viceroy in Dublin Castle, and of DeValera and Michael Collins.

One of Dad’s early memories, as he told me once, was walking home from school along a narrow country road when he heard the rumble of an armoured car rounding the bend behind him. British soldiers!! Tall hedges lined the roadside, and there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. He made himself as small as he could and prayed to God they would keep going and ignore him. They didn’t. They stopped and these dreadful Black and Tans, renowned for their ferocity, offered him chocolate and candy.

He was a bright kid and by dint of a scholarship or some outside help (the family history is unclear on this point) he became the first of his family to attend university. He went up to University College in Dublin and took a degree in Economics. He was encouraged to study abroad for his master’s degree and by some forgotten train of events ended up as a student in Cologne in the late 1930s. So there he was as a young man in Nazi Germany.

I remember there were two stories he told me about this period in his life. The first was about his visit to Nuremberg to see the annual Nazi Party rally. It was difficult to travel in Germany at the time and it took him weeks to assemble all the necessary permits. When he finally got there the place was packed to the rafters with the party faithful. He wanted to see this fellow Hitler that everyone was making such a fuss about, so he went along one evening to a huge stadium in a torchlight procession. The walls of the stadium were lined with anti-aircraft searchlights and they beamed thousands of feet upwards into the night sky, like pillars of light. The opening acts were Goebbels and Hermann Goering and they whipped the crowd into a rising frenzy. Suddenly the spotlights went out and there was a roll of drums. The lights came on again directed at the main podium, and there was Hitler. And the crowd went wild, for 5, 10, 15 minutes. Dad said this was amazing, just calculated mass hysteria. He also said (this was much later) he could understand a Rolling Stones concert .

The other story was about helping – well, not getting in the way of – another Irishman who beat the hell out of two Gestapo thugs who were hassling an elderly Jewish couple in a restaurant. It was funny when he told it. I don’t think it was all that funny when it happened.

The Embassy advised him to get out in 1939 and he did. In early September that year, while on a Sunday cycling tour, he dropped into a pub in County Wicklow for lunch and heard Neville Chamberlain on the radio – they called it the wireless in those days – announcing that Britain was now at war with Germany. Ireland remained neutral. There wasn’t much sympathy for the Nazis, but nobody wanted to allow the British back in for ANY reason. Churchill got upset about this and threatened to take over the Irish ports by force if the Irish wouldn’t allow his navy to use them. DeValera, the Irish prime minister, responded to him in a famous wireless/radio address and overnight 100,000 young Irishmen joined the army, including my father. The plan was to shoot at whoever came first, the Germans or the Brits. In the event, nobody came and that was my father’s war. As a coastal battery commander, he said he had more trouble during the war with the local parish priest than anybody else: his men were getting too friendly with the local girls.

If this is beginning to sound like a history lesson, that’s because it is. It’s the history of my father as a young man and his contact with the events of his time. It’s easy to forget that Dad was not always a victim of Alzheimer’s, not always an elderly or middle-aged man. He was a young man once and dreamed a young man’s dreams. One of these dreams, shortly after the War, was my mother – he courted young Lily McCarthy of Glandore Road in the face of some pretty tough opposition from her parents. This is where mom can take up the story much better than me. They were married on September 1, 1947 at the Marino Parish Church on Dublin’s Griffith Avenue, a church that looks remarkably the same today as it does in the wedding photographs.

A year later, on November the 9th, I came along. Three years later my sister Caitriona was born and Dad took his young family over to England where his CPA qualifications offered him a better job than anything going in Ireland at the time. Contacts in England persuaded him to join AFEX, the American Forces Exchange, and that brought us to Wiesbaden, Germany. In 1958 Patricia was born and Des followed on, completing the family in 1960. From that point, others can take up the tale.
I’ve talked about Dad as a young guy, because it’s important not to forget that part of his life. Now that his life has reached its natural end most of us, including me, remember him in his middle age or older, and our most recent memories are of the terrible years of his final decline. This is not the full picture. We need to see him as he was in his entirety, from youth to old age.

Dad and I had some powerful differences when I was growing up, but I knew I could always depend on him, always. He could be stubborn, ornery and cantankerous, but those were the very traits that provided strength when he was young and pulled him out of the background he was born into. I learned a lot just by watching him. He had a strong sense of what was right and what was wrong, and his colleagues spoke very highly of him. He put his neck on the line more than once for the people who worked for him. He never mentioned it at home, but I heard about it from them.

I always loved him as a little boy. Later on, I began to understand him, not just as a father but as a man, and I really got to like him because of who he was and what he’d done. I’ll miss him. Unfortunately, because of this terrible disease that robs people of their minds, I began to miss him long before he actually passed away. Our last real opportunity to talk to one another as father and son was during a tour of Ireland in the summer of 1991.

The crumbling walls of the Ballyalla estate are still there to be seen, just a few minutes walk up the road from the cottage where Dad’s sister Kitty lived with her husband Jim and their four children, our cousins, who are grieving now in County Clare where it all began, and in London and Africa, just as we are in Dallas and in Japan today. I still remember that 1991 journey, and I will keep those other moments close to my heart as well.

Ave, Pater, Atque Vale … I salute you, Father, and say Farewell.
And as we say in Ireland, may you sit at the right hand of God!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

128. Two Families (poem)


for about four hours,
no water, my brother
missing, Aunt Salah
dead, the same bomb
killing all three children.

Mark joined the Marines
in June, just after
high school graduation;
he got sent to Iraq
last March, got killed
in Fallujah.

my uncle,
after the funeral,
moved in with us, no longer
noisy and cheerful,
prone to bursts of sobbing,
said he'd join the new police.

Mark played tight end
on the football team;
he took Courtney Phillips,
the most popular girl in school,
to the senior Prom, gave her his ring,
she thought he was so cool.


my father
wouldn't let us go to school,
my sister and I, the kidnappings:
he pretended it was all a joke,
said he couldn't afford the ransom
for a pair of princesses.

Courtney says Mark
told her about joining up,
said he was afraid to tell
his folks, his mom would
just worry, and his dad,
he said, would kill him.

a car bomb
(we could hear the blast at home)
killed the police recruits
lined up on the sidewalk,
and at first we thought
my uncle was among them.

Mark's dad, Mr Kenneally,
had served in the 7th Cav
in Vietnam, he ran
a real-estate company in town;
his wife worked at Wal-Mart, they both
broke down when he told them.


for several days
we asked everywhere for news
and there was no news;
finally, three weeks later
a scribbled message arrived,
my uncle was with the resistance.

Mark did well at Basic,
got his sharpshooter's badge
and came home on furlough;
we went out to the Stagecoach,
got drunk, he said his parents
were OK, but Courtney was cold.

my poor father
puts on a necktie every morning,
kisses my mother, says good bye
to us girls, takes up his briefcase
and goes out to a job
we all know no longer exists.

Mark used to send e-mails
after he first got to Iraq;
at first the letters were full
of funny stories, after a while
they got harder to read,
a lot of strange religious stuff.


my friend Farah
is dead, killed with her father
by machine-gun fire;
they were driving behind
an American convoy, a bomb went off,
the soldiers shot them dead.

after the election
there's going to be a big attack
on a town called Fallujah;
we're gearing up, wrote Mark,
and if I don't make it, tell Courtney
I love her: she won't answer my e-mails.

we are frantic,
my father has been missing
for two days: my mother
has asked everybody, nobody
can tell us anything; also,
my uncle was killed in Fallujah.

a car came to the door,
two Marines in dress blues:
Mark's mom refused to see them,
his dad, in tears, let them in.
Mark is gone: now Courtney Phillips
says she always loved him.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

126. The New Marlboro Man

James Blake Miller in Fallujah Posted by Hello

This iconic photo has appeared in more than 100 US publications and you could almost predict the reaction -- mass slaughter can be overlooked but smoking is a no-no ...

( See Naomi Klein: Smoking while Iraq burns : the idolisation of 'the face of Falluja' shows how numb the US is to everyone's pain but its own.)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

124. Across the Water (poem)

The relationship
has always been uneasy:
a combination
of "showing off" and
bitter disappointment,
worse than sex.

Our people were
never united, always
quarrelling, raiding
for cattle and women;
partial to drink
and slow sad songs.

Years of war,
lands stolen, hauled back,
stolen again; a stony
growth of castles
in every field, a refuge now
for rain-drenched cattle.

Two kingdoms
go their separate ways,
"Old English" become Irish,
intermarry, speak Gaelic,
support harpers, send
children to the neighbours.

"More Irish than the Irish"
this influx of Norman blood,
along with the "O"s and the "Mac"s
continues: Fitzgeralds, Barrys,
Doyles, Joyces, Butlers,
intertwined, indivisible,


The real trouble
begins with Fat Henry's
testicular problems:the simple
inability to father a son
undermines a throne, brings
grief to a distant people.

When relationships go
bad, things start slowly,
then quickly a whole world
collapses: Drogheda,
the Croppies, the Famine --
cold sharp hatred.

What the English can't remember
the Irish can't forget ...

Modern Ireland,
a Celtic Tiger, pounding
out the euros, shouldn't exist.
Just imagine the Indians,
an archaic tribal people
reclaiming the USA.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

123. A New Take on the 2004 Election

Focus on the red and the beige .... Posted by Hello

... and compare them with this. Posted by Hello

Well, this is interesting (in fact, very interesting) but it is no more conclusive than the red county maps the Bush people are flogging. A more accurate assessment is a map showing relative percentages of votes per county and state -- a Purple America.

Tom Englehardt of Tomdispatch has some fun with maps in his most recent post:

As soon as you consider the vote county by county, the look of the red/blue configurations begins to change dramatically -- even more so, if counties are essentially not awarded in toto to either candidate. Then you end up with a "purple America" map that begins to take into account the Bush voters in New York City andthe Kerry voters in deepest Texas. If you're really curious, scroll down two maps and try your luck at matching the purple electoral map against a dark-sky snapshot of electricity-use nationwide or simply check out a basic red-and-blue map rescaled for population (scroll down).

The population cartograms are marvellously weird - almost psychedelic!!

Monday, November 15, 2004

122. Great Hatred, Little Room: Jerusalem 2000

With the recent death of Yassir Arafat, the focus of the world is once more on the plight of the Palestinian people and the hope - not overly optimistic - of reviving a nearly moribund peace process. In addition, events in Iraq are continuing to cause grave concern as American troops mount a full assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. Instability in the Middle East has been a constant factor in world politics for the last half-century. Many observers contend that the unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is one of the primary causes for this instability and for its wider global consequences, most notably the September 11 attack on the United States by Islamic fundamentalists.

The article which follows is an expanded version of a piece which first appeared in the (Tokyo) "New Observer" in May, 2001.

Map of Israel/Palestine Posted by Hello

The Israelis have a fixation with security. They insisted on examining every man woman and child on the ship, even the people who didn't plan to go ashore. When you do go ashore they have a tent erected at the foot of the gangplank and you have to walk between two rows of tables with machine-gun toting guards on each side. Every bag is emptied completely and every item is searched. If you have a camera or a tape recorder you have to turn it on or display the batteries. Absolutely nothing is left unsearched. The guards are impatient rather than impolite and raise their voices when people are slow to follow their demands. You get the sense immediately that Israel is a suspicious country living on its nerves. The Israelis have good reason to be nervous.

The tour buses were lined up. We were in Ashdod, a relatively new port in the south of the country. Our guide was a lean sunburned man in his early 50s called Rafi, an Army veteran by the look of him, who was old enough to have taken part in the wars of 1967 and 1973. He was an Ashkenazi (European background) and a Sabra (born in Israel). Rafi was very smooth and friendly and warmed us up with a lot of dry little jokes in the self-deprecating Jewish style. We began to like him because he was such an amusing fellow. Gradually he began to play on our acceptance and started to introduce a number of political opinions. The 'Arabs' were lazy, the 'Arabs' were emotional, the 'Arabs' often behaved like children, etc., etc. Like nearly all Israelis he never referred to the local non-Jewish population as 'Palestinians'. They were always called 'Arabs' which put them in this large non-defined category of people who could live anywhere from Syria to Morocco. The implication was that they had no business living in Israel.

The first thing that strikes you about Israel is how small it is. It has an American feel, at least superficially, because all the highway signs and roadside barriers are straight out of the USA. The land is under intense cultivation and control of water rights is one of the unspoken reasons for Israeli reluctance to return lands to Syria (the Golan Heights) or to the Palestinians on the West Bank. Everywhere you see young people in uniform carrying automatic weapons. Israel has a conscript army and everyone, girls as well as boys, has to serve for three years. In Japan you will come across many young Israelis selling jewellery from stalls in downtown areas . Most of them have just come out of the Army and this is their familiar work-travel arrangement before they settle back into the society.

We arrived in Bethlehem where Christ was born. There is a church which has been built over the stable, the humble but famous little structure that we all sing hymns about every Christmas. The stable was a cave in a hillside because the herders didn't bother building stables when there were so many of these convenient caves about. Jesus was born in one of these caves. After you go into the church (jealously claimed by three different Christian sects: Armenian, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox) you have to climb down a very narrow stairway to get to it. The space is very small and usually there are too many people jostling to get down the steps. Most of them are just curious people with cameras. Some of them, on the other hand, are religious pilgrims. For them it is a very emotional occasion. Perhaps they have been saving money and waiting for years for this moment.

Church of the Nativity, tourists descending to the birthplace of Christ. Posted by Hello

Religious feeling can be a dangerous thing when carried to its logical extremes and this is one of the main reasons that Israel, and the Holy City of Jerusalem in particular, remains such an unstable place. The political situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians is extremely volatile, punctuated by a constant stream of inflammatory rhetoric and frequent murderous episodes. A political settlement involving compromise remains difficult but not impossible in spite of the huge gulf of distrust that separates the two communities; and one must also bear in mind the wide differences of belief and opinion that exist within each community. A political settlement generally depends upon patterns of thought which are pragmatic, logical and rational. For many of the religious sects (some nominally within the same religion), and indeed several of the political parties, such patterns of thought are repudiated as a sign of weakness. There can be no compromise because God has made his wishes known to them and that’s that, no need for further discussion. Not surprisingly, each sect or political movement tends to become antagonistic and intolerant towards other sects and movements, as each tries constantly to shoulder the others aside in a space that is much too small.

Palestinian Arabs, Bethlehem Posted by Hello


Our next stop was Jerusalem, Hebrew YERUSHALAYIM, Arabic AL-KUDS, one of the most ancient cities of the Middle East and one of the principal holy places of the three great monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan but the Israelis took over the whole city after the Six-Day War of 1967 and named it their new capital. The Israeli KNESSET (Parliament) meets in Jerusalem but the United Nations does not recognize the Israeli claim and most foreign embassies are still located in Tel Aviv. Politics and religion are intertwined in this city to such an extent that it has become one of the most contentious 42 square kilometres on the face of the earth.

Jerusalem, with the Dome of the Rock dominating the Old City Posted by Hello

The city is nestled on a series of valleys and low hilltops and presents an attractive uniform appearance since there are restrictions on the height of new buildings and all buildings both old and new are constructed from the same shade of limestone. The English writer Ludovic Kennedy described it as 'biscuity-beige' but it seemed lighter and whiter to me: it depends what time of the day you look at it. Dominating the city skyline are the raised walls of the Old City topped by the Muslim Dome of the Rock which flashes golden in the sunlight. The dome and the neighbouring Al Aksa mosque were built on the site of Solomon's Temple between 688-91 after the Arabs had taken Jerusalem from the Byzantines in 637. A deranged Christian tourist set fire to these buildings in 1969 causing extensive damage, and in the early 1990s there was a serious attempt to blow them up on the part of a extremist Jewish group who wanted to restore the original Jewish temple on the site. The Old City is a constant setting for religious feuds and rioting which have been exacerbated by recent attempts on the part of Jewish groups to force their way into traditionally Arab neighbourhoods. Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli Army commander and present head of the right-wing Likud party, has offended Palestinian Arabs by occupying a prominent building in the Old Town and draping it with a huge Israeli banner.

Our guide Rafi was nervous as we entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate. He had already warned us to leave all our valuables on the bus because of Arab pickpockets and thieves and now he begged us to stay close together and speak to nobody. The older people in the group were suitably intimidated by all this War Zone rhetoric but the younger ones were sceptical, and rightly so. In the event, this place was nothing to worry about compared to parts of Belfast. The walled enclosure of the Old City was divided into Armenian, Christian, Arab and Jewish quarters. We were headed from the southwestern Armenian section to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in the northwestern Christian quarter. Our path took us through the narrow crowded alleyways of the Suq with its open shops on both sides, reminiscent of the teeming 'galis' of Benares. A sharp left turn took us to the entrance to the Christian church which had been built over the Hill of Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion of Christ.

Rafi attends to his flock in the Old City Posted by Hello

This church faces a courtyard with a mosque built by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I (the Magnificent). The church, or rather, churches (there are several different altars somewhat mashed together) marks the end of the Via Dolorosa or the path taken by Jesus on his way to execution. He was condemned by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate who agreed to the sentence in an attempt to mollify the Jews and prevent religious riots (the ancient history of Jerusalem sounds a great deal like the present history) and so Jesus was forced to carry his cross through the streets. This passage to his execution is marked in the Catholic Church by the 14 Stations of the Cross, each station marking a different incident along this final journey. It came as a matter of surprise to discover that the last five of these events (Stations 10-14) all occurred within the area now enclosed by this church. In fact, some of these events happened on the same spot or within a few steps of each other. As you enter the church you are faced with a steep stairway to the right which brings you to Station Ten: Jesus stripped of His garments, followed immediately by Station Eleven: Jesus is nailed to the cross and Station Twelve: Jesus dies on the cross. This is followed by Station Thirteen: Jesus is taken down from the cross. This whole area is marked by a Greek Orthodox altar with many small candles. A few steps forward and a turn to the left brings you to Station Fourteen: Jesus is buried in the tomb. This came as a bit of a surprise. For some reason I had always imagined that the tomb was some distance away and that the body had been carried in a procession by his disciples. Apparently not. The guide (not Rafi) gave a sensible explanation. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath and the burial had to take place before nightfall on Friday. Since Jesus was executed on a Friday (Good Friday) his followers had to work fast. They took down his body as soon as they were allowed and washed it on a large stone (still there) just in front of a cave in which they hurriedly interred it as evening fell.

Armenian priest, Church of the Holy Sepulchre Posted by Hello

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is occupied by six different Christian sects: they are the Catholic Franciscans -- the least objectionable of the various Catholic orders from the point of view of the Arabs after the Crusades, the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians; lesser privileges are afforded to the Syrian Orthodox, the Egyptian Copts and the Ethiopian Copts. The doors are opened every morning and shut every evening by an Arab Muslim family who were given the keys by Salah-uh-din (Saladin) after he drove out the Christian Crusaders in 1187. Each sect has to agree on any changes, no matter how small, that are made within the church. Rafi (back in control) directed our attention to a ladder that stood on a ledge over the main entrance. This ladder has stood there for forty years, he told us gleefully, because they can't agree where to move it. That ladder is a good metaphor for Jerusalem as a whole.


Great hatred, little room
Maimed us from the start;
I carry from my mother's womb
A fanatic heart.

The poet Yeats was discussing another divided country, my own, but he could just as easily have been talking about Jerusalem. For the next 11 numbered paragraphs you are about to be subjected to a quick survey and commentary on the history of Jerusalem. I would not inflict this upon you unless I thought it necessary and I promise you I have left out as much as I could. Without some comprehension of the historical background, however, it is nearly impossible to understand what is going on here in the year 2000. The past controls the present to a greater extent in this city than in any other place on earth.

1. Jerusalem has existed for at least 4000 years, perhaps longer. It was controlled by the Egyptians when we first hear of it in the 15th century BC and was then conquered by the Hebrews under Joshua in about 1250 BC. Two hundred years later David was anointed King of Israel. David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and his son and successor Solomon built the First Temple, great walls and a palace. In 586 BC the city and Temple were completely destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Captivity of the Jews began, as recorded in the Bible. It ended in 538 BC when the Persians, who had overcome Babylon, permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem. The Temple was restored (515 BC) and the city became the centre of a new Jewish state. But with the coming of Alexander the Great and his victory at Issus in 333 BC, Jerusalem was drawn for the first time into the orbit of Western power politics.

2. The Jews succeeded in expelling the Greeks in 167 BC, and Jerusalem regained its position as the capital of an independent state ruled by the priestly Hasmonean dynasty. Rome had for some time been expanding its authority in Asia, and in 63 BC Pompey captured Jerusalem. A clash with Jewish nationalism was averted for some time by the political skill of a remarkable family, whose most illustrious member was Herod the Great, who was appointed "client" king of Judaea by the Roman Senate in 40 BC. Herod was king for the next 36 years, during which period Jerusalem reached its peak of greatness, growing in richness and expanding even beyond the new double line of walls. The Temple Mount esplanade was artificially enlarged with supporting walls (including the Western Wall) to house Herod's greatest creation, the splendid new Temple, which took more than a generation to build. Jerusalem became a great metropolis. Herod died in 4 BC and was succeeded by his son who was subsequently deposed by the Romans in AD 6 and replaced by the first of a series of Roman procurators. It was under the fifth procurator, Pontius Pilate, that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death. In the New Testament, Herod is depicted as a villain who ordered the death of all newborn male children in an attempt to prevent the birth of Christ. In any event, if he died in 4 BC, Jesus had yet to be born. Alternatively, Jesus was indeed born during the reign of Herod which means we have celebrated the Millenium four years too late and our whole system of dating is incorrect.

The Romans were the superpower of their day Posted by Hello

3. The subsequent history of Jerusalem is equally violent and distressing. In 66 the Jews rebelled against Rome, and in 70 the city was besieged and almost wholly destroyed by Roman forces under Titus. The Temple, Herod's greatest creation, was completely destroyed and has never been rebuilt. For this reason, the Western (or 'Wailing') Wall, the only remains of the Temple foundations, remain a sacred place of worship for all Jewish people. The Roman Emperor Hadrian decided to plant a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, on the site in 135 and the Jews were expelled. The general layout of Hadrian's city has lasted to the present day.

4. Christian pilgrims early found their way to Jerusalem. It was, however, the conversion to Christianity of Constantine the Great and the famous pilgrimage (326) of his mother, Empress Helena, who found "the True Cross," that made possible the building of the famous shrines in Jerusalem, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and inaugurated one of the city's most splendid and prosperous epochs. The Christian glorification was carried on into the 6th century until this golden age was brought to an end by the Persian invasion in 614, in which the inhabitants of Jerusalem were massacred and the churches destroyed.

5. The Byzantines -- the Eastern Roman Empire based in Constantinople -- returned for a short time (628) but in 638 the Arab Muslims entered Jerusalem, and in 688-691 built the Dome of the Rock on the site of Herod's destroyed Jewish Temple. It remains today as the most prominent landmark in the city. The Arabs were tolerant towards Jews and Christians but in 1071 new Muslim rulers cut the Christian pilgrim routes from the West and this decision (plus the destruction of Christian shrines) became the rallying cry of the Crusades.

6. The Crusades remain a fascinating period of European history. In one sense it was an attempt by a vigorous and belligerent priest (Bernard of Clairvaux) to defend the holy places associated with the life and ministry of Christ but it was combined with a more general political need to stop many proud and violent local aristocrats from attacking each other's castles, laying waste to the lands of their neighbours and indulging in wholesale massacre of the local peasantry. It was displacement activity on a large scale and sorely needed. It caught the imagination of the time, much as the First World War was to engender a similar enthusiasm at a later period. The various kings, knights and nobles of Europe thought it was a brilliant idea, locked up their wives, and set off for Jerusalem in a glow of high language and dreams of plunder.

Crusaders take on the locals Posted by Hello

7. In the beginning they were successful. They killed for Christ on an alarming scale: Arabs, Jews, local Christians, it didn't matter. The crusader state took its name from the city, as the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The great Muslim sanctuaries became Christian churches, and in 1149 the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it exists today was consecrated. Muslims and Jews were barred from living in the city. The kingdom in Jerusalem lasted from 1099 to 1187, when it was overthrown by Saladin (who gave the keys of the Church to the present landlords). Jerusalem was again in Christian hands from 1229 to 1247 when the Holy City fell to the Egyptians. The great sanctuaries became Muslim again, and the only Christians who remained were the Greek Orthodox and other Oriental groups. In the 14th century the Franciscans began to represent the Roman Catholic interests (that's why they are still in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). The Jews, who had been barred by the crusaders, returned and from the mid-13th century inhabited their own quarter. The layout of the quarters was fixed in that period.

8. In 1517 the Ottoman Turk sultan Selim I took the city and inaugurated a Turkish regime that lasted 400 years. The 16th century was a period of great urban development and his son and successor Suleiman (the “Magnificent”) built the new walls, which still encompass the Old City, and erected the mosque which now stands across the courtyard from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But by the end of the century the city began to decline, a process that lasted for the next 300 years.

9. By any reading of this history so far the Jews had been shunted aside by Hadrian (135) during the Roman period. Their temple had been destroyed and they were forced into exile. They wandered back piecemeal in time to be massacred by the Christian Crusaders and were banned again. They began to return after the Crusaders left but only under the Ottoman Turks were they able to return in large numbers. They were subject to a special tax but they were tolerated. In the late 19th century as Ottoman power declined more and more European Jews from the Diaspora (the scattering of Jews throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa) began to buy land and settle in what was now called Palestine. A movement called Zionism took root which preached a return to the heartland of the religion.

10. The defeat of Turkey in the First World War (1914-18) put Britain in charge of Palestine and the British tried unsuccessfully to balance the conflicting demands of Jewish immigrants -- then about a third of the population -- and local Palestinian Arabs. The Second World War (1939-45) and the discovery of the full horror of the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe created a great deal of sympathy for the idea of a Jewish homeland in Israel. Jewish refugees from Europe streamed towards Israel and the British were incapable of stemming the flow. Jewish militants began a terrorist campaign against British troops in Palestine and in 1947 the British pulled out. The surrounding Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, Syria) immediately attacked the Jews in Palestine and were soundly defeated. The new state of Israel was declared in 1948. Surrounded by Arab enemies it joined France and Britain in an attack on the Suez Canal in 1956; it wrested East Jerusalem from Jordanian control in 1967 and also the Golan Heights from Syria; in 1973 it pushed its western borders with Egypt as far as the Suez Canal (it later withdrew as part of a peace settlement brokered by the United States). Israel was triumphant.

King David Hotel bombed by Jewish insurgents, 1946 Posted by Hello

11. The new state flourished and was supported by Western governments, in particular the USA. One of its policies was to offer citizenship to any Jew from anywhere in the world who wanted to come live in Israel. This has created huge social problems. It began with the introduction of 'Sephardi' or Syrian, Iraqi and North African Jews (the latter were descendants of Spanish Jews ejected by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella -- sponsors of Christopher Columbus -- in the 1490s). They were 'Oriental' and the Ashkenazi, the European Jews, viewed them with contempt. The immigrants were sprayed with DDT as they disembarked from the ships that bore them to the Promised Land in the 1950s and 1960s and this is an insult that has never been forgotten. They have consistently voted against the Labour Party that was in power at the time. In recent years there has been a huge influx of Russian and Eastern European Jews who were unable to emigrate during Soviet times. The policy of Israeli governments of whatever political persuasion is clear: increase the Jewish population at whatever cost, never mind the ability to absorb them and give them jobs. The main thing is to outnumber the Palestinian Arabs.

I tried several times to talk to Palestinian Arabs but they just looked at me and smiled. No way were they going to get involved in a political discussion with a stranger. They were quite friendly and not without a sense of humour. I went into a music shop to search out some local music. I got into a discussion with the young Palestinian guy behind the counter and he asked me where I was from:
-- Ireland, I said (expecting cautious comments about the IRA, the PLO, and points of similarity)
-- Oh, yes, I've heard of Ireland, he said.
-- You have? says I, anticipating.
-- Yeah, you people drink too much!

Collapse, disillusion, laughter … unfortunately, the music he recommended was crap. The best Arabic music comes from Lebanon and Egypt, apparently.

Trouble flared up again between the Israelis and Palestinians shortly after my visit in July 2000. Now known as the Second Intifada (uprising) the trouble began in Jerusalem. Go back to the history of Jerusalem above and the causes of the present violence will begin to come into focus. The Temple Mount (Haram-al-Sharif in Arabic) dominates the Old City. It was the site of Solomon's temple 3000 years ago (destroyed by the Babylonians) and the Second Temple of Herod 2000 years ago (destroyed by the Romans). The victorious Arabs built the Dome of the Rock on the site in 688-691 and also the nearby Al-Aksa mosque, both of which structures still exist. For Muslims Jerusalem is a Holy City because they believe that the prophet Mohammed flew here on the night of his death and ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount (this is a matter of faith, not reason: Christians and Jews have a number of beliefs which could also be said to stretch credulity) . Only the Western Wall of Herod's temple remains and it has become a sacred site to Jews.

The Western Wall

The fears of our guide Rafi were unfounded. The only dangers we encountered in our tour of the Old City were large numbers of people trying to sell us bottled water, camera film and cheap souvenirs. We came down a series of steps and alleyways and there before us in an open space was the Western Wall. The surrounding streets and houses had been demolished after 1967 to create this open space. In order to get in you had to go through gates and a checkpoint.

The Western ("Wailing") Wall Posted by Hello

The Wall itself was divided into two sections by temporary barriers, men on the left and women on the right. At the entrance you were given a paper covering to place over your head (Jews are always supposed to wear a little skullcap called a yarmulke when they go to prayer) which was all right except they would keep blowing off in the breeze. A couple of hairpins would have come in handy. The Wall itself is a honey-coloured limestone with lots of cracks and fissures. People write prayers on slips of paper and stick them into the cracks, even quite high up. I was wondering how they managed to do that as I laid my own hands on the wall and felt its warmth. Next to me were some people at prayer, some of them bending rapidly from the waist up-and-down in a way that seems unique to Jews. They even have a name for it, they call it 'devenning'. It was 40 degrees in the shade and we were not in the shade. All around were these people wearing three-piece black woolen suits with black hats clamped over their heads. These were the 'Hassidim' who had come from Eastern Europe three or four generations ago and who had been making no concessions ever since to the change in climate.

Hassidim at the Western Wall Posted by Hello

Over on the left was an opening which proved to be a small synagogue. I went in. There were a lot of Hassidim bending over scrolls and there was one young fellow I can still see clearly when I shut my eyes. He was about 23 or 24 in the usual black suit and black hat with long ringlets dangling in front of his ears. He was in front of an open book at a pedestal but he was not reading from it since it was quite obvious he had the whole text memorized. He was reciting prayers at a tremendous speed with no pauses at all and bobbing up and down from the waist like a piston. He was surrounded by a group of about a dozen older men who would growl a few words at intervals, apparently in response to the prayers. The young fellow had two bright splotches of red on his cheeks, whether from excitement or fervour it was hard to tell. I watched him, fascinated. The whole performance reminded me of some youthful musical prodigy playing the pipes in a pub in the West of Ireland and being watched like hawks by older men gathered round and following his every move, growling in approval when he met their high standards. Viewed objectively (and I use the term as in ‘seen as an object’) people who are deeply immersed in an inner world are very hard to distinguish from one another: mystics, drug addicts, saints, fanatics. Some politicians could be added to this list.

Sacred Space and Present Conflict

One of them might be Ariel Sharon. We have met Mr. Sharon briefly already. He was the gentleman who draped an Israeli flag over a building in the Old City. Sharon is responsible for these October riots.

Ariel Sharon Posted by Hello

The Temple Mount, as we have seen, is sacred to two religions. Sacred space is a delicate matter. We have seen already how six different Christian sects mount guard over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the modern state of Israel the Christians of whatever persuasion are a minority. The main religious and political conflict exists between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Muslims. We have also read above of an attempt by a Jewish extremist group to blow up the Dome of the Rock which was foiled by the Israeli government. The present government has now allowed the same thing to happen in symbolic terms. The reaction has been immediate and explosive and large numbers of people have been killed or injured as a result. The government (that of Ehud Barak at the time of my visit) is to blame, whether through foreknowledge or negligence makes no difference.

This man Ariel Sharon, under armed protection, went up to the Temple Mount in the heart of the Arab Old City to say prayers at the site of the Jewish Temple. It was a typical confrontational tactic and its symbolic meaning was not lost on the Palestinians. We will drive you out and rebuild the Temple. You people are living on borrowed time.

I could go on at great length. There is a great deal more to say, and hundreds if not thousands of books and articles have already been written about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. These people share the same space but since the 1930s just cannot seem to get along. Violence, murder, discrimination and plain old-fashioned bullying takes place now on a daily basis. In a way this reminds me of Ireland under the British before we managed finally to get rid of them in the south and reach an accommodation of sorts in the north. Our problems seemed intractable at one time, incapable of solution. Now at least there is hope. I see no similar hope in Israel/ Palestine. The differences go too deep and the distrust is palpable. I sympathize with the Jews because of the Holocaust but it is entirely unreasonable for them to try to sweep the Palestinians aside as if they were a people of no account. The Jewish people have historical roots in the land – this is undeniable -- but they were swept out by the Romans and were never more than a minority among the local population for the next 18 centuries. They cannot realistically expect to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. The more I observe Israeli actions and attitudes the more I begin to suspect that this may be exactly what they have in mind.

Another article on this blog entitled Zionists looks at some of the public pronouncements of the leaders who created modern Israel.

(For readers interested in a possible two-state solution to the conflict, have a look at this 20-minute slide presentation and narration entitled Palestine-Israel 101 produced by a group calling itself the American Task Force on Palestine.)