Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Kenya's Lunatic Express Two

"It needs to look like it's ours. After all, we're going to pay for it through our noses, aren't we?"
Ken Mugane, Nairobi businessman

"Our work [on original colonial British 'Lunatic Express'] was soon interrupted in a rude and startling manner."
"Two most voracious and insatiable man-eating lions appeared upon the scene and for over nine months waged an intermittent warfare against the railway and all those connected with it in the vicinity of Tsavo."
Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson, overseer, railway bridge construction, Tsavo river, 1898
Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson (pictured with one of the two dead Tsavo Man-Eaters) described how he and his workers became drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with two lions, claiming they ate 135 men before he killed them
Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson (pictured with one of the two dead Tsavo Man-Eaters) described how he and his workers became drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with two lions, claiming they ate 135 men before he killed them - The Field Museum
 
A century ago Britain built a then-modern railroad whose cost was appalling and called a "gigantic folly" by the standards of the British Empire. It was a thousand-kilometer line linking the fabled Lake Victoria with the port of Mombasa, in Kenya. In that era, workers faced harsh working conditions, were stalked by disease, threatened by hostile tribes and lost countless lives to rampaging lions.
 
That was then. And in the present era, that century-old railway became a rusting wreck. It was so slow that it is regularly overtaken by trucks, buses, and even animals that graze on parts of the railway bed. It is a grimy, outdated relic of an earlier era that outlived its usefulness. And now it has been replaced, thanks to Chinese loans and engineering workmanship that has produced its replacement connecting the capital Nairobi to the port of Mombasa.

Kenya Railways train attendants are silhouetted as they walk to their buses after arriving at the Mombasa passenger station with one of the new passenger trains, using the new Mombasa to Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway
Kenya Railways train attendants are silhouetted as they walk to their buses after arriving at the Mombasa passenger station with one of the new passenger trains, using the new Mombasa to Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway

The government of President Uhuru Kenyatta now owes $4-billion for the 480-kilometer railway. China's Eximbank extended 90 percent of the project, placing the Kenyan debt above 50 percent of the country's production output. The materials representing imported Chinese supplies that went into the building of the railway were expensive. That expense makes Kenyans thoughtfully anxious in reflection of their nation's growing trade imbalance with China.

Not to worry, however; according to the Kenyan government the railway stands to increase gross domestic product by 1.5 percent. It gives assurances to the worriers among them that the massive loan will most certainly be repaid in roughly four years' time. If it wasn't for those Chinese loans, alongside the country's reputation of ensuring that projects are built on time, Kenya would never have had the impressive and reliable rail system it now takes charge of.

The Express rail service has cut travel time by half, to five hours from the ten it once took. Some troublesome details emerged as it was proudly inaugurated and people had the privilege of using the new rail system. Pamphlets were printed in Chinese. Some of the rail staff were wearing red and gold uniforms reflecting the colours not of Kenya, but of China's flag. The music heard on the train wasn't of Kenyan origin.

In the Mombasa station stands a sculpture of Zheng He, a Chinese explorer who had sailed to East Africa in the 15th Century. The stupendous achievement that the rail system exemplifies for Kenya's economic future overshadowed by its debt has inspired Kenyans to name it the Lunatic Express Two, in memory of its British-built predecessor whose cost also inspired disbelief.

The new train travels at 120 kilometers an hour, carrying up to 22 million tons of cargo yearly. Yet, "It's madness", according to Samuel Nyandemo, senior lecturer in economics at Nairobi University who points out that it came in at twice as expensive as a project similar to it constructed in Ethiopia, and another in Morocco. "This is another type of lunacy", he iterated.
 
Dancers and a military band entertained passengers and dignitaries from Kenya and China shortly before they, and Mr Kenyatta, were to take the maiden journey from a gleaming new terminal in Mombasa to Nairobi
Dancers and a military band entertained passengers and dignitaries from Kenya and China shortly before they, and Mr Kenyatta, were to take the maiden journey from a gleaming new terminal in Mombasa to Nairobi

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Innovation in China: Counterfeit No Longer

China: Three-D Printed Houses - TechWorld
"America has been dreaming of becoming a cashless society. But China is already there."
"[It has] leapfrogged the rest of the world [and now proceeds on its mobile course in every manner of venture]."
Ya-Qin Zhang, president, Baidu (search engine)

"Just two weeks go I brought in about a dozen green energy start-up companies from Massachusetts [to expose them to potential opportunities in China]."
Walter Fang, executive, iSoftStone

"I slide across the Chinese countryside at 300 kilometers per hour from Beijing to Shanghai. There are nearly 60 trains going from Beijing to Shanghai every day, typically with 16 cars able to carry nearly 1,300 people."
"We glide past endless brand-new factories and immaculate apartment buildings in practically every city along the way, with many more still under construction."
Chinese trade expert
The innovative Chinese digital advertising market is the second largest in the world after the U.S.
Zhang Peng | LightRocket | Getty Images
The innovative Chinese digital advertising market is the second largest in the world after the U.S.

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, gaining preferential access to global markets, China was recognized as a "developing economy", and thus was granted the right to continue protecting portions of its market on the understanding that as the giant country reformed and as its economy strengthened, its trade barriers along with government support of Chinese companies would be diminished.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world that's not exactly what happened. China's capability of producing cheaper consumer goods reflecting its lower-paid workers and state subsidies grew its markets abroad while at the same time having the effect of closing down manufacturing in other countries when it was realized their prices couldn't compete on the world market with China's. And so China's trade grew and so did the imbalance.
China: Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope - FAST  TechWorld

China, now a production giant with trade tentacles and investments worldwide, still protects its own producers from foreign competition by limiting access to Chinese markets or insisting that foreign companies form a partnership with the Chinese, transferring their intellectual property to China as the price for access to that mammoth market. When Chinese companies became sufficiently substantial they entered the foreign market.
China: Floating Solar Power Plant - TechWorld

"Made in China 2025" is an ambitious effort on China's part to see itself as the world leader in electric vehicles, new materials, artificial intelligence, semiconductors, bio-pharmacy, 5G mobile communications and other similar industries. The understanding that China would open its markets seems to have collapsed in the face of reality.

Alibaba can set up its cloud server in the United States, but Amazon or Microsoft are unable to do the same thing in China. Chinese domestic financial services dominate the Chinese market to the extent that foreign companies eager to find the opportunity to invest and grow in the Chinese marketplace find themselves jostling over the dregs.
China: Transit Elevated Bus -- TechWorld

The German company Kuka Robotics, a world leader in industrial robots, was bought by Chinese company Midea. A Chinese mobile website, Meituan.com employs 300,000 people on electric bicycles whose job it is to deliver takeout food and groceries to ten million Chinese mobile Internet users on a daily basis: "We are the largest food delivery company in the world", boasts its founder, Wang Xing.

In China, 700 million people engage in so many daily transactions on the mobile Internet that the country is gathering massive amounts of information to be harvested in the identification of trends to spur new artificial intelligence applications. "Software and new energy" job openings are proliferating in China as it dedicates itself to pulling out of coal. Jobs are available for engineers for electric cars, solar and wind.
China: Schenzen East-to-West Energy Plant - TechWorld

The rate at which a country once known for adapting other nations' blueprint discoveries as its own and thought incapable of original design breakthroughs in new technologies now dominates the mobile Internet. Everyone pays for everything with a mobile cellphone; Chinese newspapers report that beggars living in major cities place a printout of a QR code in their begging bowls enabling passersby to scan it and with the use of mobile payment apps make a handy charitable donation.

China: Quantum Science Satellite - TechWorld

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Humble, Shocked Democratic People's Republic

"The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week after his return to the U.S. in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well."
"To make it clear, we are the biggest victim of this incident."
"Although we had no reason at all to show mercy to such a criminal of the enemy state, we provided him with medical treatments and care with all sincerity on humanitarian basis until his return to the U.S. considering that his health got worse."
"[Washington] totally distorted this truth and dared to clamour about 'retaliation' and 'pressure' on 'dignified' [North Korea]."
"The smear campaign against DPRK staged in the U.S. compels us to make firm determination that humanitarianism and benevolence for the enemy are a taboo and we should further sharpen the blade of law." 
North Korean government spokesman: Korean Central News Agency
In this Feb. 29, 2016, photo, American student Otto Warmbier cries while speaking to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. Warmbier died days after he was returned in a coma to the United States.
In this Feb. 29, 2016, photo, American student Otto Warmbier cries while speaking to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. Warmbier died days after he was returned in a coma to the United States. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

North Korea, innocent and puzzled over all the fuss. Which could have been avoided if they had simply buried Otto Warmbier, issuing a statement that the botulism they claimed had attacked him had stopped his heart, and caused his death. Too bad, so sad. Instead, North Korean doctors did their utmost to restart his heart and it had nothing whatever to do with claims of his having been tortured. After all, what would be the point? He was a spy, had furtively planned to return to the U.S. with a (gasp!) propaganda poster hoping to shame the Peoples' Republic.

And then there was the purported matter of the young man having the unmitigated gall to wrap his shoes while packing to leave North Korea, in North Korean newspapers adorned with the adorable image of Kim Jong-un. What might he have been thinking! After all, his luggage would be scrutinized by airport police before departure. Imagine the horror his arrogantly thoughtless act caused, the unprincipled insult to the image of the leader of North Korea. Impolite and impolitic. For that there is a price.

The simple fact is that former American President Barack Obama was responsible for the prolonged detention of the young American student. It was his adamant refusal to dialogue with Pyongyang that actually promoted detaining Otto Warmbier for the 17 months he was imprisoned. Yes, he had been sentenced to fifteen years of hard labour for his criminal act/s, but some diplomacy would have gone a long way to his release. A polite 'please' and 'thank you', for example, and a promise to send more food and oil and to stop harassing the Republic, for starters.

Above all, to make amends now, and admit that the brain damage that American neurologists spoke of was the result of their own medical malfeasance in treating a patient who was simply tired and needed a good long rest, and some American-style fast-food, because the North Korean nutritious and delicious diet hadn't appealed to him. Just ask Dennis Rodman for the truth, and he will be most happy to supply it; it was his blandishments to his good friend Jong-un that secured the release of the young man who hadn't been sufficiently appreciative of the care he was given in North Korea.

otto warmbier
PACKING: Reports claim Otto Warmbier was arrested for wrapping shoes with newspaper  -- Reuters/Getty

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Stifled and Suffocated in Gaza

"She is beautiful and a widow of a martyr at the same time."
"When I get wealthy, I will marry the third wife."
Majdi Abu Mustafa
USA Newsguide

"Our men fight wars and die. Women stay alive."
"This is why my project supports polygamy."
"Our website encourages them [women] to search for husbands by themselves, to truly choose and say what they like in the man."
"We also fight old traditions that say divorced women should not get married."
Hashem Sheikha, founder, Wesal, Gaza matchmaking website

"Women who lost their men during the last three wars have difficult lives and few options."
"In most cases the husband's family pressures the woman to marry the brother-in-law to control her life."
"This matchmaking service is positive because it encourages these women to choose the potential husband without fear and pressure."
Reham Owda, Gaza women's issues writer
"I felt like I was the happiest man in the world on my wedding day", said Rami Shatali, 38, divorced with four daughters, living together in the Al Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza. He married Majd Shatali 26, divorced as well, and living with her son. They found one another on the website Wesal. "...I found a woman who madly fell in love with me. The one who could make me forget all about my pain", he said.
USA Newsguide

Single woman from Gaza City, Lina Zein, 25, fails to view the website as a positive contribution to women's welfare in Gaza, however. According to her: "This website is disgusting. Women are not a sack of onions". Perhaps not, perhaps they represent something far more prestigious than a sack of onions; say, for example, a status symbol.

For Islam permits Muslim men to marry up to four wives. The more wives a man has the more important he seems to himself, and to the community. Since it is also a matter of affordability. One must have the financial capacity to support each succeeding wife. That nuisance is overcome, it seems, when Muslim men in multiple marriages, seen as illegal in the West, nonetheless emigrate there and have all their wives and children supported on welfare.

Majdi and Ghada Abu Mustafa each were looking for spouses; he for a widow of a man killed in battle against Israel. Preferably without children. Preferably between 25 and 30. She, on the other hand, was looking for a married man so she could become part of his domestic entourage. Islam does not permit the exchange of photographs or online chatting.  So that's a little tricky.

USA Newsguide

Gaza strip residents are religious conservatives, unlike most of the Palestinian population living in the West Bank. In the three wars that Hamas has launched with Israel, roughly 1,400 Hamas fighters have been killed since 2008, leaving behind widows. Tradition makes it difficult for these widows to become married to single men. Abu Mustafa, 34, stated his wish to give "dignity" to a widow.

Mr. Sheikha, the founder of the website, claims 150 weddings thanks to his venture in bringing people together, since March. Over half of those marriage requests related to men looking for a second or third wife. The website services widows, the divorced and those who have never before married. Users must accept the term: "I swear by Allah the Great that all my information is accurate, and that I won't use this website for entertainment".

But this is also a religion, one must remember, that permits men to practise the fiction of "temporary marriages", when they want to have sex with a woman and have no intention of committing to one woman through marriage. In this religion, divorce is simple, with the man required simply to state three times in succession: "I divorce you".

USA Newsguide
"Polуgamу has hit high rates in Gaza over thе few past уears, seeminglу due tо an increase in people’s religious inclination, especiallу after Hamas took power in 2007", explained Amal Seуam, head оf thе nongovernmental Gaza’s Women Affairs Association.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Governing America

"[The Russians] used fake news and propaganda and they also used online amplifiers to spread the information to as many people as possible."
"[The Internet] has allowed Russia to do so much more [than previously, but the] scale and aggressiveness [differed]." 
"I believe the Russians will absolutely try to continue to conduct influence operations in the U.S. [including cyberattacks]."
Bill Priestap, counterintelligence, FBI

"In 2015 the Russian government, at the direction of [President] Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election -- plain and simple."
"Prior to election Day, I also personally reviewed with the CEO of The Associated Press its longstanding election-day reporting process, including the redundancies and safeguards in its systems."
"[Russia did not] through any cyber intrusion alter ballots, ballot counts or reporting of election results. [I am] not in a position to know whether the successful Russian government-directed hacks of the DNC [Democratic National Convention] and elsewhere did in fact alter public opinion and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election."
"The FBI and the DNC had been in contact with each other months before about the intrusion, and the DNC did not feel it needed [Homeland Security assistance]."
Jeh Johnson (former) Homeland Security Secretary
Do they appear thrilled with the company they're in? Apple's Tim Cook, President Donald Trump, Microsoft's Satya Nadella, and Amazon's Jeff Bezos.
CREDIT: Getty Images

These two officials of American Intelligence were testifying before the Senate Intelligence committee in Washington, informing Congress of Moscow's purported involvement in the 2015 presidential election campaign for the purpose of undermining America's politics. The Russians, stated the FBI's top counterintelligence official, had on previous occasions attempted to interfere with elections. This time, stressed Bill Priestap, it was with the intention of advantaging the Republican candidate.

That being said, they also stated that though the intention of the Russian interference was to sow discord among the Democrats and give a leg-up to the eventual winner, Donald Trump, those actions had no real impact on the final results of the election. However, they warn, the effort that Moscow extended on this latest occasion is likely to be ongoing.

It is all rather precious; portraying the United States of America as a helpless pawn of Russian malevolence. As though it is not standard practise for the U.S.A. to interfere, sometimes obviously and more often covertly, in the outcome of other countries' elections. Including, needless to say, that of Russia's. The United States, like all other countries on the world stage, is interested only in manipulating events so that they will reflect favourably upon U.S. interests.

Russia has on this occasion of the 2016 presidential election, acted no differently than on any other occasion. Where the difference lays is that on this occasion the Republican candidate enthused about warmer relations with Russia, speaking with admiration about the Russian President. This U.S. President is one the history books will have an engaging time with; a shallow, misinformed, vain and supremely hubristic man of uncouth cloth. One driven to admire other heads of government with the same credentials as his own.

But this man was elected by the American public. The election campaign, raucous and nastily partisan did represent the democratic order. The misfortune was that both political parties ran unpalatable candidates and the electorate simply chose the one they could best stomach. Neither party is content with the outcome, but the Democrats have indulged in the sour grapes of inciting their supporters to defy the election outcome while they themselves are indulging their penchant for mischief.

The effort to paint Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as partners in a scheme to defraud the electorate and diminish the status of the United States, sending it into a state of chaotic misgovernance does no credit to the Democrats, and even less to those civil servants at every rank who are desperately attempting to criminally discredit an administration that is in its infancy and which may not survive not only as a result of its own obvious incompetence but because of a real conspiracy to unseat it.

The former Homeland Security Secretary spoke of his discussions with state election officials to ensure voting integrity and while 33 states and 36 cities and counties made use of his department's scanning tools to detect potential vulnerabilities, none were found. The Democratic National Committee had chosen to set aside Jeh Johnson's recommendations for security, resulting in their computer systems being hacked.

Voters in America cast ballots in some 185,000 precincts among 9,000 jurisdictions where elections were subject to rigorous and elaborate rules governing what equipment is used and the manner in which they are used. The decentralized system has served the country well over its long history. But this may be the first and only time throughout its history when one political party has balked at accepting the outcome of a presidential election and continues to do its utmost to overturn its legitimacy.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Holocaust Skeletons Rattling in Europe

"I feel personally attacked, but this is for me a much more dangerous and general problem that has to be dealt with. It's a pure and simple attack on basic academic freedoms, which we take for granted here in Canada. I'm dismayed."
"[I will not allow the] campaign of hate [to distract from revealing a piece of history]."
"What I found is huge areas of human misery that have not been reported sufficiently or never. These things are not palatable to Polish nationalists who believe in myths."
"It's [the political climate in Eastern Europe] to an extent aligned with the wishes of the Polish state, which makes it all the more, I would say, appalling [the campaign to delegitimize his research]."
"They [Poles who killed Jews during the Holocaust years] were realizing their own dream of a Jew-free Poland."
"At the same time, they were very ardent opponents of the German occupation. Nothing is simple here."
Professor Jan Grabowski, historian, University of Ottawa
Prof. Jan Grabowski is seen in his office at the University of Ottawa on Thursday, May 21, 2015. The history professor has received death threats for his work on the Holocaust in Poland.
Prof. Jan Grabowski is seen in his office at the University of Ottawa on Thursday, May 21, 2015. The history professor has received death threats for his work on the Holocaust in Poland. (Jan Grabowski/The Canadian Press)
"He falsifies the history of Poland, proclaiming the thesis that Poles are complicit in the extermination of Jews."
"Grabowski fails to adhere to the fundamental rules of researchers' credibility. He uses vivid and exaggerated statements to create propagandistic constructions, rather than to provide an honest picture."
Polish League Against Defamation
German and Polish police, Poland, 1943. Yulia Krasnodembsky, from 'Hunt for the Jews.
"The current attack on Professor Grabowsky by the Polish League Against Defamation, as in a recent public letter signed by more than 100 academics who have no expertise in the subject, is baseless, putting forth a distorted and whitewashed version of the history of Poland during the Holocaust era."
"We are confident that your university [University of Ottawa], which is a bastion of learning and freedom of scholarly inquiry, will give its full support to Professor Grabowski against those who seek to besmirch his reputation and curtail his work, and by extension, ours as well."
"[Professor Grabowski is a scholar of] impeccable personal and professional integrity."
International Holocaust scholars

The Government of Poland is very sensitive about the fact that so many of the most efficient death camps like Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek were located by Nazi Germany in Polish territory. Their establishment as extermination camps in Poland was quite deliberate, with the knowledge that there would be few protests from among the occupied population, so many of whom approved of the Final Solution. But the government is indignant when these death camps are described as "Polish", issuing swift corrections to label them as "German"; simply placed in Poland.

It is indisputable, because it is in the historical record that after the liberation of the death camps, releasing Jewish survivors who had by some miracle of fate escaped death for their value as death camp slaves and because the extermination machinery of the gas chambers and ovens could only process so many at a time, that not much compassion could be found in the Polish population for Jews.

Those Jews incautious enough to return to their home villages to reclaim their property soon discovered that the Poles who had taken possession of that property would not release them to the proper owners. Not only was there a stony reception at the reappearance of former Jewish villagers but violence was directed against them and the aura of deadly hostility was so great that many were slaughtered by Poles furious at their return.

Professor Grabowski knows very well that Poles suffered deprivation during the Nazi occupation of Poland. He also knows of the prevalence of hatred against Jews, that pogroms were commonplace, that anti-Semitism was presented in lock-step with the German dehumanization of European Jewry. As an eminent historian he is determined to peer back into history to discern details that Poland would much prefer to obscure and bury.

He is, however, determined to unearth and reveal for posterity's sake, all the ugly scars on the face of humanity that took place in Poland during the Holocaust years. Through the 25 years he has devoted to studying the Holocaust years in Poland he has concluded from what he has discovered that many Poles were not forced to collaborate with the Nazis. Rather they chose to kill Jews because to do so expressed their deep hatred for these, their fellow Poles.

Formerly, his work in uncovering these inconvenient historical realities had garnered the attention of Polish groups in Poland. What's new, he says, is that the campaign to discredit his professionalism has been imported to Canada. The Polish League Against Defamation has written two collective letters to the University of Ottawa denouncing the quality and veracity of his scholarship. He is being unmercifully hounded in his place of residence and his place of academic scholarship by foreign sources.

His publication Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland was awarded the Yad Vashem International Book Prize in 2014, appalling the league which named it "disturbing". One of the two letters sent to the University of Ottawa, had 130 Polish scholars signatures, none of whom have any connection to Holocaust studies. Professor Grabowski identifies some of the league's founders as ranking members of Poland's government, or ministerial senior advisers.

An estimated 5.5-million Poles were killed during the war. Of that total three million were Jewish Poles. Poland, and its collaboration with the Nazi regime is not alone. Other Eastern European and Western European countries also occupied by Nazi Germany saw fit to aid the Third Reich in its plan to destroy European Jewry, from Lithuania to France.

Canada's current Minister of Foreign (Global) Affairs has an unsavoury link in her own background as an ethnic Ukraine. Her Ukrainian grandfather, situated in Poland throughout the war years, operated a Ukrainian news outlet in complete collaboration with and support of  the Nazis

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Another One Down, More To Go ...

"[I want] to do as much as I can to help the Islamic State, in all ways, financially, physically or dying for them -- whatever they need."
"We [Islamist jihadists] love death like you love life."
Ismael Habib, Canadian citizen, Quebec
Facebook/Files - Ismael Habib found guilty of attempting to travel to Syria to commit terrorism

"Did Ismael Habib intend to participate in or knowingly contribute to a terrorist activity? The entirety of the evidence demonstrates the answer is yes."
"There is no doubt in the present case that the intention to leave Canada is implicitly conceded elsewhere (in the evidence) by the accused."  
"The court concludes that even though he wanted to join his wife and children ... his goal was to go and fight with IS."
Quebec Court Judge Serge Delisle

"My reaction was very, very positive, in fact I was quite thrilled. I thought it showed a few things: First and foremost that the Canadian justice system does take terrorism and the threat of terrorism seriously."
​"The evidence stands the court's test and it can be used to get a conviction."
"You're trying to determine what the person's actual intent and capability are. I think that's a very, very valid police tool ('Mr. Big' sting operation) to use."
"I do know that there are a number of Quebecers that have been identified as expressing an interest in travelling outside of Canada to join groups like the Islamic State [ISIS]. That's not a state secret, that's pretty open."
"I'm not surprised at all that Habib was part of a larger investigation, because open-source information indicates that the problem is much bigger than just him in the province in Quebec."
Phil Gurski, (former) CSIS analyst
Mr. Big Habib
Ismael Habib speaks to an undercover officer during a Mr. Big sting. (Court Evidence)

This is a young Muslim man living in Canada, who saw  his personal stars aligning when he responded to the allure and romance of jihad. The winning ways of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as the brave new world of promise for Islam captured his imagination and he became besotted with the prospect of becoming an ISIL warrior. Dying for Islam ... no problem, for the rewards are ample, from becoming a respected and admired 'martyr', to anticipating the award in Paradise of nubile virgins awaiting his arrival, happy to service him.

He had travelled to Syria in 2013 because, he informed the Montreal court where his case is being heard, he was "curious" and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. When he returned from Syria, the attention of police fell upon the man from Gatineau who felt it incumbent upon himself to travel to an incendiary war zone. That resulted in his Canadian passport being cancelled, to keep him from repeating his curiosity-driven visit once again.

But he was determined to return, to leave Canada and venture once again abroad where the action was taking place, and where his ambitions called him to make that especial effort to relocate himself. Police initiated a luring operation, to convince the man that a criminal organization was interested in helping him by providing him with a false passport. For the right price they could even smuggle him and other prospective jihadis by ship out of Canada to any destination they sought.

He was sufficiently convinced that he was in the company of those capable of aiding him in his goal that his declaration of loyalty to jihad and Islamic State was iterated. He was simply awaiting the time when he was able to settle his debts. If he embarked for Syria and left behind unpaid debts he was convinced that entry would be denied him to Paradise and the 72 virgins awaiting his arrival would be devastated.

Habib indulged in a bit of boasting to the crime syndicate with which he was negotiating the price of a new passport and passage out of Canada, describing for the 'crime boss' that his previous trip along with his brother-in-law had them joining Chechen jihadis. His proof was a photograph of himself in combat gear, clasping the AK-47 assault rifle he had bought.

But during his trial, he spoke to the court describing himself as having accidentally stumbled into the jihadi morass, not intentionally. He heard not a single gunshot, never took part in the fighting. His experience was akin to that of attending a summer camp; completely innocent. As for arranging a return trip in 2016, that was motivated for concern over his wife and two small children left behind there.

Unfortunately for him, Quebec Court Justice Delisle found his testimony less than credible. "Outlandish" was how the judge described Habib's explanation. An explanation that was "destroyed by contradictions and weighed down by elements of dishonesty and lies". And so, he was found guilty of planning to travel to Syria to commit a terrorist act, which in Canada represents a crime whose punishment can be up to a ten-year prison sentence.

Justice Delisle preferred the version of events that an undercover RCMP officer was privy to in February of 2016 when Habib addressed the officer in the belief he was a criminal offering his help for a price. And when the defence attempted to have the Mr. Big operation's evidence tossed on the grounds that the statements elicited from Habib were coerced, the result of a "confession trap", Judge Delisle responded that no violence or coercion had occurred.

Perhaps Habib's downfall began after he had beaten his girlfriend living with him in Gatineau which motivated her to go to police explaining that he had threatened to blow up her car while she and her child were in it, should she think of informing anyone of his travel plans. Habib, she testified, intently watched violent ISIL videos daily, and wanted her to commit to fully veiling herself.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Music For Venezuela

"In its 42 years, El Sistema somehow managed to keep an impartial position. It has stayed that way until today."
"He [violist Armando Canizales] played for the love of it."
"They asked me if the boy [who was shot to death during a May protest in Caracas against the government] was in my orchestra. I felt impotent, like I had lost my son."
Ollantay Velasquez, director, Simon Bolivar Musical Foundation orchestra

"We must stop ignoring the just cry of the people suffocated by an intolerable crisis."
"I raise my voice against violence. I raise my voice against repression."
Guastavo Dudamel, Venezuelan orchestra conductor, Los Angeles Philharmonic

"I remembered my friend Armando. I have spent ages now playing [instrumental music] and living on the streets, and I see that so many talented Venezuelans have had to eat from the trash."
Wuilly Artaga, 23, violinist, Caracas, Venezuela
Musicians of El Sistema, the state-sponsored classical music program in Venezuela, paid tribute in Caracas last month to Armando Cañizales, a viola player who was killed during a protest. Credit Miguel Gutierrez/European Pressphoto Agency

They speak of the tragedy of a young life, sacrificed in a nation's agony of government ineptitude that has led a country rich in oil but poor in administrative capacity that has led the nation to penury and its people to desperate efforts to survive with little access to adequate food, medical supplies and the necessities of everyday living in an economy that the government has allowed to dwindle dangerously close to total collapse.

The political mess that Venezuela has imposed upon its population is wholly untenable. Even those segments of the population who had drawn benefits from the socialist government are now decrying its wholesale incapacity to govern. At public hospitals marches are held by doctors and nurses demanding supplies for their clinics, now void of drugs and elemental bandages and tools to enable them to provide for the needs of the ill.

Food shortages have become so acute that even entitled police officers themselves sharing the experience inherent in empty grocery shelves are increasingly questioning how the government is managing its conflict with the ongoing protests. And now it is Venezuela's classical musicians, who have become involved; music students drawn from the barrios and taught to love and play music in an establishment financed by the state where for four decades hundreds of thousands of talented musicians have emerged.

In better times, national pride rested benevolently on the musicians that came out of the musical foundation that Venezuelans speak of as El Sistema. And then, 18-year-old Armando Canizales, talented violist, set aside his beloved instrument, determining that he too should let his presence be seen, his voice heard, at protests against the government in view of the nation's agonizing descent into poverty.

Among teenagers who had been tossing rocks at soldiers, Armando Canizales suddenly found himself alone; the rock-throwing teens had retreated and he moved forward. "When he fell, I didn't even know it was him", said fellow musician, 19-year-old William Hernandez, of his friend who had been fatally shot to death last month. Since then, orchestra members have been playing memorial concerts for Mr. Canizales, while denouncing government officials.

And other musicians now follow the dead young viola player's example going directly toward the front lines of protesters, instruments in full view. As did Wuilly Artreaga, 23, violin to his shoulder, case strapped to his back, the helmet he wore ablaze with the colours of the Venezuelan flag as he played the national anthem. His reward was to have tear gas canisters exploding toward  him until other protesters dragged him away from the security forces.

Wuilly Arteaga, a friend of Mr. Cañizales’s, played the violin in front of riot police officers during a protest against President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas in late May. Credit Luis Robayo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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Afghanistan's Scholars

"The reason the Taliban resort to such acts [killing of scholars] is that they want to make sure their legitimacy is not questioned by the sermons of these ulema."
"The only thing that undermines their legitimacy is the ability and power of these ulema if they preach and argue against them."
"Only they can challenge the Taliban's ideology, not the liberal scholars or others, and the Taliban understand that."
Mohammad Moheq, Afghan scholar of religion, Togh-Bairdi, Afghanistan

"The reason these ulema are getting targeted is because they tell the truth -- and the truth is that the ongoing fighting is just for power."
Mawlawi Khudai Nazar Mohammedi, head, Ulema council of Helmand

"These are not new enemies."
"The Prophet Muhammad predicted that once the sword bleeds innocent blood, this blood will run until the Day of Judgment."
Mawlawi Abdul Hafiz Mowahed
In this Friday, May 27, 2016 photo, Taliban fighters guard as senior leader of a breakaway faction of the Taliban Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, not pictured, delivers a speech to his fighters, in Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan. In the rugged terrain of the Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan, the fight against Kabul has become a war for control of key stretches of main roads and highways as the insurgents use a new tactic to gain ground. (AP Photos/Allauddin Khan)
AP Photos/Allauddin Khan

How ironic can things get? The Taliban are named in reflection of the fact that they consider themselves students of knowledge, seekers after knowledge, scholars. The knowledge they sought and that they believe in is their brand of Islam, Salafist in origin, original, strict and fundamentalist. But it is still their perspective, and the manner in which they apply their perspective is studiously reflective of how they interpret a religion that permits of no human subscription other than to the firmest tenets of Sharia law.

Any who differ from their role as arbiters of Islamic jurisprudence and the rule they impose on society are heretics and the fate of heretics is to be removed from the living. The legacy of Islam is one of constraints and human restraint, of abiding fealty to a rigid code of conduct and of values that focus strictly on imposing Islamic doctrine and dictates in as wide an all-consuming human tide as possible, one that will sweep all other contending religions into the dustbin of history.

The discipline imposed on the Afghan population under Taliban rule was unremittingly stringent, and any failures to obey that discipline came with instant and harsh punishments. Which didn't stop Taliban leaders from themselves imposing penalties on any who dared defy their edicts, while they themselves were freely entitled to interpret Islamic values to their very personal and intimate advantage. Corrupt to the core.

Religious scholars well respected for their piety and their intellectual prowess in interpreting the sacred scripts in a manner that casts doubt on the Taliban interpretations that have served them so well, place themselves in danger by speaking of their rejection of the conflict inspired and geared to  Taliban conquest and control. They become casualties in the course of the Taliban insurrection, reflective of their influence.

They have the option of supporting the Taliban or of selecting death as a sentence meted out to those who defy the demand to stand behind the Taliban. In sixteen years of unrelenting conflict scholars have lost their lives with the past several years, according to officials, seeing an intensification of the Taliban conflict with the ulema (religious scholars). An estimated 300 religious leaders have been killed in the last dozen years in Kandahar Province alone.

Mawlawi Obaidullah Faizani, head of the Provincial Ulema Council in Kandahar verifies that number. The deputy head of Logar Province's Ulema Council was gunned down while on his way to his home. The intensified focus on killing religious scholars is now being attributed to the Taliban's new leader, himself an ulema and leader of a madrassa. Under Mawlawi Haibatullah's orders, sermons are monitored closely, and any who stray from Taliban Sharia law interpretation are punished "as harshly as possible".

Is there any punishment more harsh than death? One seminary founder, critical of the Taliban, called on them to "join hands with the people of Afghanistan, instead of joining hands with Pakistan and Russia". But it was Pakistan, after all, whose military and intelligence agencies helped found the Taliban, trained and armed them and gave them haven, along with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

Forced from his village, he took refuge in the provincial capital to lead a larger seminary. And a month ago as he settled himself among three dozen of his students, an explosion occurred that cost him his life when a bomb that had been placed under his cushion was detonated.

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