Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Grotesquely Savage Face of Religion

Human beings are so readily adaptible to the most frightfully savage behaviours. Yes, we have the potential to be decent, caring, responsible and intelligent. So why does this potential evade so many? Opportunity, geography, social environment, cultural traditions, religious adherence. All play a part, obviously. It's troubling to realize that the manner in which Western countries govern, in a socially enlightened and civil manner is not reflected in counterpart societies elsewhere where religious adherence takes precedence to all else.

In the Muslim world we tend to see the worst of what human beings, on a large scale, are capable of. They've no monopoly on inhumane and socially deleterious behaviour by any means. Western countries, with all their advanced theories on human relations and social enlightenment, their values and priorities have proven themselves to be more than capable of visiting misery and death upon their own and others. But it is in the Muslim world that we see a different, more acute, more general malaise of social injustice.

Set aside the differences noted of late between the West and the Muslim world. Just an internal look at internecine struggles, the deep levels of animosity one sect practises against the other, the suspicion, the accusations, the denials of brotherhood, the bloodletting. For the sects, all of which claim to worship the same Allah, hold in highest esteem the same Prophet, to practise physical harm one to the other, in direct contradiction of Koranic precepts is puzzling.

For all of these fractious sectarian groups to target and attempt to destroy those very structures dedicated by one or the other sects to that same Allah without understanding the grave damage they do to their own undying allegiance to Islam is unbelievable. To uphold social customs that require a family or a clan to enact a sentence of death upon a woman as an "honour" killing is savage beyond belief. How can murdering a human being be construed as restoring family honour?

While one sect, the Shia, are celebrating in memory of their belief they become the deathly targets of the Sunni, enraged at what they term the apostate beliefs of their co-religionists. That young Muslim men practise bloody self-flagellation as a sign of their deep loyalty and love for their god is shocking to behold, but these ancient practises are also seen done by Christians in somewhat reduced numbers.

Muslims attacking Islamic shrines, mosques, attaclomg pilgrims, murdering tribal Islamic worshippers of Allah. How to comprehend this?


Penurious Country, Culture of Subjugation

In a poverty-stricken country constantly wracked by wars, historically beset by the armies of imperialist-minded raiders with little in the way of natural resources everyone suffers. Poverty, ill-health, low infant mortality, little-to-no educational and job opportunities are all endemic ills. Men suffer, women suffer, children suffer - if they survive childhood - and then go on to struggle as long-suffering adults with foreshortened lives. Misery, and the universally human determination to forge on prevails.

In countries where the standard of living is so perilously low, where hope is short, where help is nowhere to be found, where religion imposes its own brand of suppression and judgement, women are always to be found at the bottom echelon of survival. Men, as miserable as their condition can be, are still viewed as the family breadwinners, and without men, women left to their own earning devices are in dire straits.

They're viewed either as commodities, potential objects of use if they're young enough, or societal nuisances once they're no longer useful. One of the reasons Canada ostensibly is in Afghanistan is in response to the plight of Afghan women, particularly under the fanatical Taliban rule which imposed their dreadful burden of Sharia law as they interpreted it. Canada wants to believe its presence in that war-torn country has helped and is continuing to help its population.

Particularly the lives of women and children. If there are good news stories, examples of progress to be found they will always be in the cities where transformation, though slow, does occur and where the attention of government and foreign investors and assistance is first directed. So medical clinics have been opened, schools re-built, public civil infrastructure improved, and the formerly Taliban-imposed strictures upon women lifted.

Now we learn that these are mere superficial changes. All the good will in the world won't alter societal practise and cultural tradition in the space of a few short years. Forced marriages, honour killings, extreme poverty linked to slavery, the presence of drug lords and the ills they bring, are among the travails visited upon Afghan women living in the vast countryside of this country.

For girls and women living outside Kabul life remains desperate. Hundreds of thousands of households headed by widows are unable to muster sufficient necessities of life for their children. Girls are considered assets to be bartered to pay off family debts, or offered for marriage at truly young ages; 60% of girls are married before the age of 16.

Yet the first order of business is security. As long as the country remains segmented, one part ruled by a legitimate (albeit corrupt) parliament, the other by war lords and resurgent Taliban, there can be no peace, and no security. "You cannot improve the situation of women without improving the security situation as a whole" cautioned Adeena Niazi of the Afghan Women's Organization.

How to successful infiltrate a vast sometimes geographically-inhospitable country's hinterland to search out militantly theistic aspirants to the governance of the country when its own elected representatives in parliament contain former war lords with bloodied hands, and where governmental corruption is known to be firmly in place?

Does Afghanistan really want to help itself?


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

News of Note

Here we are, yet another day, this 30th day of January in the year 2007. Does the health of the world improve? Not that one might notice. There are times that when to turn the pages of the daily newspaper is guaranteed to induce one gigantic headache. There are too many such days. Simply recounting in brief or at length the improbable-but-likely manner in which people and countries go about their unsettling business to ensure grief and unhappiness be visited upon themselves and others with complete unconcern for the ultimate fall-out seems beyond belief, but is not. Try for some samplings?

Here they are, with a generous sprinkling of comic relief here and there. And we're the better for them.
  • Palestinian Militants Say Attack Meant to End Infighting - A Palestinian who yesterday carried out the first suicide bombing in Israel in 9 months had sneaked into the Jewish state from Egypt, Israeli intelligence sources said. The explosion, triggered by a bomber wearing a heavy belt of explosives, killed him and three Israelies in a small bakery in the first such attack ever in the southern resort town of Eilat.
  • African Union Snubs Sudan - Country denied chairmanship over Darfur bloodshed. The union, which includes all 53 countries on the continent, protested over the bloodshed in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur by rejecting president Omar al-Bashir's bid to assume its rotating chairmanship.
  • Anti-Personnel Weapons Litter Lebanon - In a rare public split with Israel, the United States yesterday said that Israeli forces 'likely' violated arms agreements between the two countries when they dropped American-made cluster bombs on populated areas during the recent war in Lebanon.
  • $4-Billion Airport Begins Sinking Into Swamp - Bangkok's showpiece international airport, opened last year, appears to be sinking into the swamp on which it was built. The old airport will have to be reopened and some flights diverted here. The $4-B Suvarnabhumi airport was opened to great fanfare by then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra shortly before he was ousted by a military coup; it boasts the world's largest hangar and tallest control tower.
  • International Court To Hear First Criminal Trial - Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, accused of sending child soldiers to fight in a vicious tribal conflict, yesterday was ordered to stand trial, becoming the first suspect to face judgement before the International Criminal Court.
  • Elite Troops Use Photos of Slain Spy as Targets - Images of elite "Spetznatz" troops using photographs of murdered former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko for target practice prompted fresh accusations yesterday tha the Kremlin was behind his poisoning. The pictures were taken at a training camp outside Moscow, where 90 troops from the internatiol ministry's Vityaz (Hero) brigade were competing in a special forces exercise.
  • Titanium Girdle to Save Landmark from Collapse - One of Venice's most famous landmarks, the bell tower of St.Mark's, is to be shored up with a 'girdle' of titanium to ensure it does not collapse as it did about 100 years ago. Engineers said there was no immediate danger to the 100-metre structure, which towers above St.Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace at the entrance to the Grand Canal.
  • Oldest-Known Person Dies After Four-day Reign - Emma Faust Tillman, born to former slaves, died at a nursing home just four days after becoming the world's oldest-known living person. She was 114. Mrs. Tillman, who lived independently until she was 110, died in the company of family members.
  • Seven Deadly Sins Bedevil Beijing Games - Officials in charge of preparing next year's Beijing Olympics have been given a severe warning against indulging in the 7 deadly sins. Officials in the capital were guilty of gluttony, avarice and lechery to name but a few, according to the warning handed down by the president of the Olympic Organizing Committee. "After work, officials should not nonchalantly go to entertainment centres to eat, drink and pleasure-seek."
  • Don't Stash your Savings in His Sock - World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, was seen with holes in his socks, as he re-entered his shoes exiting the Ottoman-era Selimiye mosque in Edime, western Turkey on Sunday, during a two-day official visit.
  • "Hobbit" Skeleton is New Species of Human - A tiny skeleton discovered in Indonesia four years ago is definitely that of a new species of human, scientists say. The study by researchers at Florida State University compared the skull of the 3-ft.-tall Homo Floresiensis, discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores and ruled out the possibility of it being an underdeveloped example of Homo sapiens.
And ta-da! That's it folks, the good the bad, the ugly and the improbable for this day.


The Cure To Civil War

Yes, of course, the way to stop bashing one another's brains out (presupposing there are any to begin with) is to turn one's balefully murderous intent on another group infinitely more worthy of death. The leaders of Hamas and Fatah lament that Palestinians are murdering one another - as though they're totally innocent and have nothing whatever to do with this latest exercise in settling old scores. The leaders are irreconcilably pitted against one another, and their followers, happy to unleash their tribal animosities set about cementing the disagreements - in mortal combat.

This geography is, after all, highly representative of that testosterone-loaded culture of violence, greatly amplified by fanatic Islamism which encourages its believers to accept that infidels are responsible for the Palestinians' woes, not their own internal failings. Only reflecting the accepted wisdom of the greater Middle East and beyond, where imams, mullahs and ayatollahs exert themselves to foully misinterpret Koranic passages to bolster their jihadist message of death-dealing.

Things go slightly awry, unfortunately, when the beast that is aggrieved Islam turns its attention to others of the faith singled out as "false" Muslims, honouring the wrong prophet, and as such themselves ripe for attack and murder. In the name of the most holy of course. The same Allah that enjoins Muslims to be brotherly, to respect others of different faiths, seems somehow to also encourage followers to launch deadly assaults on their 'brothers' and others of different faiths. Contradiction? Well....

Still, all those jihadist groups eager to get on with the real mission to destroy Israel and all those nuisance-presence Jews, become impatient with these search-and-destroy digressions. And so it is that Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades celebrate yet another victory; an impressionably disoriented jihadist-beset young man eager to achieve blessed martyrdom is sent off on his own mission to deal death.

"The operation has a clear message to the Palestinian rivals. It is necessary to end the infighting and point the guns toward the occupation that has hurt the Palestinian people" explains an Islamic Jihad website. So the eager murderer and three innocent Jews arrive at the void, and the Islamists are jubilant. Never will they recognize that their tribal hatred and jihadist bloodlust is what has harmed and continues to harm the Palestinian people.

War and bloodshed is a game held dear by these unregenerate terrorists. The cause is not the plight of the Palestinians which has true merit, and which they have successfully built into a cause celebre, but their own enthusiastic love of death. The terrorists don't, of course, believe death will befall them for they are invincible warriors. They deal death, they inspire others to sacrifice themselves to deliver themselves and others into death's hands.

Yet the Palestinians remain staunchly, proudly gullible. The suicidist-murderer's family claim to be proud of the man's enterprising move to enter paradise; he had behaved thusly because he was "despondent over the recent death of his infant daughter and the death of his best friend in an Israeli attack". Clever, the terrorists, are they not? Identify potential suicide-conscripts by their frail state of mind, indoctrinate and convince them and send them out well equipped and lethal.

The bomber's mother even wished him "good luck" in his stated endeavours. She prayed "to Allah that Muhammed will be accepted as a shaheed (martyr)". Later, a crowd of Palestinians appeared at the family home to congratulate them on their son's martyrdom and help them to celebrate the blessed event. Hamas, for its part, said the murder of three innocents in Eilat was "justified". "So long as there is occupation, resistance is legitimate", crowed a spokesman.

But will they lend themselves honestly to resolving the "occupation" by holding talks aimed at finally bringing an end to the situation, by making a sincere attempt to responsibly and responsively represent the needs of their people for security, autonomy and eventual economic renewal? It appears not. Peace for Hamas is a tenuous matter, not to be offered to the infidel. Israel will always be the "occupier" since Hamas will never agree that they have a legal right to be present on what they perceive to be Muslim land in perpetuity.

This is the legislative representation that Palestinians voted for the Palestinian Authority.


Monday, January 29, 2007

The Blame Game Perfected

Saudi King Abdullah is alarmed. So are we all. Terming the internecine warfare in currency between Hamas and Fatah military factions in Gaza and the West Bank "a disgrace", he urges leaders of the factions to meet with him at Mecca's Grand Mosque, the sacred house of God. Has no one explained to these people that God helps those that help themselves? It isn't really God's fault, nor is it his fight, since his word appears to have been taken in vain.

"This great atrocity with all its unjustified and weak reasons has stained the Palestinians' honourable national struggle" and "serves only the enemies of the Islamic and Arab nations" Kind Abdullah is quoted as having said. And that's fascinating. Labelling the Palestinians' ongoing blood feuds and historical hatred for the infidel and particularly Jews as an honourable national struggle reveals a universal mind-set in that geography, aided and abetted by all parties to the "struggle" of removing an alien presence from Muslim soil.

Islam itself is soiled by its lack of vision, its ingrained hostility to reason, responsibility, reconciliation and acceptance of the world at large and its place in it. How can non-Muslims bring themselves to respect the Arab world, the world of Islam when it continually demonstrates its fundamental inability to accept others as equals and their beliefs, values and social systems as being of at least equal quality to their own?

That aside, how can a head of state claiming to be acting in the best interests of the Arab world and Muslims in general on the one hand implore sectarian Muslim combatants to view one another in a more kindly light of brotherhood, and on the other hand, identify a scapegoat toward whom their undying enmity needs to be directed? That, in a nutshell, is the conundrum that is the Middle East, the Arab world and the community of Islamic believers. Xenophobia, suspicion, tribal divisions, blood feuds, hatred toward the "other".

This situation between Hamas and Fatah is a direct result of one faction purporting to attempt peace negotiations with an identified enemy seen as an oppressor, (but which is in reality an internationally-recognized legal entity, not a geographic interloper) while the other clings to its mission of destruction of that entity. Within Gaza and the West Bank Palestinians are being forced to seek refuge inside their homes, while others are being forced to evacuate for their safety and that of their children while the battles rage.

The two militias are targeting, abducting, injuring and murdering one another - and just incidentally innocent bystanders as well. They cannot, as they love to do, shout bloody murder and call on the United Nations to condemn Israel, haul international newspeople into the area to demonstrate the atrocities being visited on innocent Palestinians because they are themselves the perpetrators. Yet even while they are preoccupied in warring with one another they haven't forgotten the existence of Israel.

A suicide-bomber, a martyrdom-and-virgin-seeker blew himself and three innocent Israelis to atomic particles in a small bakery in the resort city of Eilat. So duty to the greater glory of Allah is not forgotten in all of this inner turmoil. King Abdullah seeks to address the issue of brotherly love between two Palestinian factions, to restore a semblance of order within the Palestinian Authority. The better to enable them to continue the Hamas goal of eradicating Israel.

And in fact Kassam rockets continue to be fired from Gaza at Israeli cities. Islamic Jihad is taking up the slack, uninvolved as yet with the Fatah and Hamas battles. Pitch-hitting terrorists. Even they are calling upon on Arabs to advance the "common goal of killing Jews", and are promising to begin launching improved rockets with longer ranges and a more impressive explosives payload.

Witness a functioning democracy where, while embattled on all sides, a parliament of the people, for the people, can reach a reasonable accord and elevate an Arab Member of the Knesset to a cabinet position. MK Ghaleb Majadleh, a veteran Labour party figure and union leader is now a minister in the coalition government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Mr. Majadleh considers his appointment a historic step forward for relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

The question is, in the larger picture, what will it avail Israel to be this beacon of reason and light in the world of darkness and revenge that surrounds it?


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Deal's Off

On again. Off again. They just don't seem to speak the same language. Or they do, but somehow everything comes out garbled. It's not all that complicated, after all. Want peace? Bargain for it. Never mind that hudna stuff, that temporary truce which will be recognized until such time as it becomes inconvenient and then all hell breaks loose again. Temporary peace doesn't create trust and stability, the confidence of the population and economic prosperity. A truce is a truce. Not a cessation of war, but a temporary respite.

If Fatah is prepared to do bargain in good faith on behalf of the Palestinian Authority well and good. If it really means that they can reign in their busy little terror circles and disband them, persuade them to play soccer instead of blood games. Hamas clings to its determined hate-on for Israel, to seek, at a time and place of its choosing to obliterate the State and its population. But for the time, hudna. No deal, Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh. Back to the drawing board.

That is, after you settle more immediate accounts. This is tribalism at its most usual state of anarchy and blood-lust; first things first. So, isn't this dreary? The 'moderate' Mahmoud Abbas and the immoderate Ismail Haniyeh and their respective fanatics at it again. It's a blood sport celebrated widely in the geography. The teams are hardly recognizable one from the other, they have so much in common. Traditions, customs, history, a homogeneous appearance.

But the more they look alike, the more confounding their behaviours toward one another; brethren in appearance, enemies in spirit. And spirited they are, rallying and shouting bellicosity, gearing up for fun and games. All suited up Middle East style, with kaffiyeh, jeans, Kalishnikovs. That their endless war games have the result of further impoverishing their position and their people appears to be beyond them.

But who can blame them, for after all, boys will be boys and in this region that means growing up tough and belligerent and murderous. So the raids and the shootings, the terrorist attacks - aimed at one another, how refreshing - continue unabated. Innocent bystanders injured or killed? That's awful; if it occurred during an IDF raid they'd bring down the wrath of the UN on Israel. This is justifiable homicide.

"How can dialogue go on when there is a bomb underneath the table?" points out Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, blaming Hamas for the violence. Palestinian factions cannot see beyond their rivalries and that appears to be that. Settling of old accounts. This is an ongoing, simmering war game. Just practising for the real thing.

Kidnapping isn't confined to Palestinian versus Israeli; it also works moderately well when it's Palestinian against Palestinian. Bringing with it threats of reprisal, competetive kidnapping. Killings and revenge killings for the original killings. They each describe the activities of the others as "grave crimes". There will be no mercy for the killers - on each side - by each side.

And so the ongoing drama continues. This is the Middle East.


And On The Plus Side...

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing criticism from .. where did you say? Within Iran? Really! Dare we say about time? About time that Iranians sick of the illogically hateful rantings of their president begin demanding change. No, it's not a mass movement of the people? You've got me: who then? Ah, a parliamentary committee's report warning of the potential success in isolation and making the country more vulnerable to economic pressures.

Right. That'll do it every time. That's a highly successful gambit it is; threatening the economic well-being of any entity, individual or country as the case may be. No one likes to have nightmares of economic desolation staring them hard in the face. Comprehensive sanctions, a frightening concept, and most often a successful one. Yes, it's a high-flying form of genteel blackmail, but it's an excellent tool for dissuading someone who has a loaded musket pointed at your soft body parts.

I see: the report estimates sanctions could cost the Iranian economy between US$1.5-billion and US$3-billion a year in lost revenues. Big deal. They can handle it. Just ask Mr. Ahmadinejad. Oops, same report warns the ruling ayatollahs they may have to put their Islamic Revolution on hand because of economic destabilization resulting in impaired spending priorities. Now that really sucks.

"Iran would be forced to change its national priorities and to use most of its resources to prevent any major social unrest, which could lead to a deterioration in the living conditions of a major part of the population" goes the report. I guess that could be translated as a whole lot of ordinary Iranians becoming dreadfully irate over losing future prospects for personal well-being, and the state would then be forced to crack down on civil liberties even harder, and fill up those vile prisons even more and become a true police state, a broke one at that.

Little wonder they're feeling a little queasy. But not their leader, he continues to sneer at UN threats of sanctions. European banks, it would appear have begun severing ties with Iran - ouch! Inflation is beginning to spin out of control with the price of food and fruit jumping a whopping 25% since UN sanctions were announced. Oh, the pain of it!

All of a sudden Iran's reformers and elite conservatives are lashing out, pointing out the unhelpfulness of Ahmadinejad's anti-Western taunts. Supreme Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni's newspaper has published a public admonishment to the president: "Your statements on the nuclear issue, which are so aggressive and include inapropriate words indicate that you have taken an obstinate position on the nuclear conflict." Golly gee.

A petition is being circulated in Iran's parliament calling for Mr. Ahmadinejad to appear before the legislature to defend his nuclear 'diplomacy' and enconomic policies. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has chided Mr. Ahmadinejad: "One has to deal with the enemy with wisdom, not provoke it". Indeed, yes.

Hey ho, Ahmadinejad has got to go!

Damn. Not a word about vile invective threatening a nearby country.


Festering Tribal Blood-Feuds

How is it possible, any intelligent person might ask themselves that one segment of an ancestral society can feel such unmitigated scorn and hatred for another, over a religious disagreement that took place a full six centuries earlier? This kind of mutual spite is fully pathological, a syndrome of an ill society that simply cannot tear itself away from a carefully nurtured primal hatred; the fuel that keeps the fires of enmity burning bright.

Among the Lebanese, of all people. How can that be? The Lebanese with their folk wisdom, their sense of humour, their enterpreneurial spirit, their pride in ancestry. That's on one level. On the other is the suspicion with which they continue to view one another through the lense of sectarian hostility. A suspicion that is one short tread away from full-blown aggression. Wisdom has it that no one is a stranger; come to know the person formerly regarded as a stranger and you see yourself.

Ignorant intolerance demonstrates that if there is an unwillingness to discover commonalities because of a greater urge to nurse age-old grievances there is ample room to demonstrate the urge to submit to blood-feuds of ancient memory. The Lebanese people in the aggregate have much in common; a common ancestry, tradition, social customs and history. It's the divergences in all that make them strangers and enemies toward one another.

If a community of brethren opt to remain strangers and select differences rather than similarities in background and aspirations what hope is there for the success of a state to represent them all in an exercise of valuable communal living? If a community of like-backgrounded groups choose to visit hostility each on the other what chance is there that they will agree to live peaceably among other member-states in the region with whom they share nothing at all but geographic proximity?

A slow-simmering, low-impact civil war is on the horizon in Lebanon, encouraged and stimulated by diverse, antithetical positions on the politics of religion and territorial imperative. History revisited. "The most dangerous thing Lebanon is witnessing is a foreign plot to push it into internal sedition and civil war," according to Sheik Nasrallah, the leader of Islamist Hezbollah. And he's right.

He has allowed himself to become a tool of two external entities, two bordering states, each with their own agenda. That agenda doesn't include autonomous statehood in perpetuity for Lebanon, nor does it include internal peace and prosperity for the country. Just who is it who has sold out their country? The bulk of the Lebanese population who wish to live in peace and solidarity among one another or the fanatical Shia proxy army for Iran and an Alawite Syria?

Lebanese-born Americans wring their hands in despair witnessing the disintegration of their homeland. Living far away from the tribal tradition of ancient grievances they view past and current events through a different lens, that of broad-based civility and communal acceptance of diversity while adhering to valued principles of democratic freedom and equality of opportunity under law for everyone.

But Lebanon is not alone in its fractionalized society, one group at a simmering level of hatred for the other. In the geography of the Middle East that condition appears to be endemic, honouring old traditions of tribalism.


Uncivil War

Isn't it rather absurd to speak of "civil war"? What, after all, is one disparate group battling another for ascendency but incivility to the highest degree? We really do need another label for the kind of civil breakdown in society which pits one community of thought, one religious sect, one philosophy or ethos, one set of ethics or morals, one ethnic or social-cultural group against another to the extent that they take up arms with the intent of killing each other. Isn't that a truly original sin?

There is religious/philosophical thought that in the Almighty's consideration of the fitness of humans exercising free will and in obedience to His will, to deliberately set out to murder another human is the ultimate sin. That one who kills another, it is as though they set out to kill a multitude. The sin is a grave one within the religious context and without, in a strictly ethical/moral/civil context. To extinguish someone's life is not a reversible act of commission. It represents a gravely final and unforgivingly anti-social behaviour.

To kill is to deny our common ancestry and humanity. Wars are the ultimate expression of our inability to transcend our base emotions, to cerebrally transcend the worst we are capable of. Human animals have the capacity and wherewithal to extend themselves in understanding of others, but we rarely exercise that capacity to its full potential. We never learn from the sad history we ourselves create. We are doomed by our very lack of true humanity, our lapses into critically anti-social, anti-life proclivities to embrace war as a solution to incivility-inspired problems.

From ancient times to the present men appear to have selected opportunities to demonstrate their prowess in physical combat. Where once men faced one another in hand-to-hand combat and had the opportunity to see through their fears born of ignorance and draw back from the abyss, it's no longer possible. We are capable now of destroying one another in horrifying numbers, wiping out entire cities at the launch of a single nuclear-tipped missile.

Religious prophets and irreligious philosophers have written of mankind's most critical enemies, identifying the worst among them as oneself. Armageddon as a principle of the end of days was thought to be a colossal event that would be visited upon mankind by a disapproving deity. But belief in a universal deity is a human construct; a ruse, a delusional or poetic allusion to the ascent of man as monster.

It is we who will destroy ourselves.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

What A Friend You Have In Putin

Sad to say that some things never seem to change. Nor do they seem destined to. Those who proclaim undying allegiance to your needs second only to their own will always find others whose blandishments appear at any given moment to be more singularly impressive than your own. In the case of countries claiming support for one another it's always been true that politics makes for strange bedfellows. The reason being of course that whatever happens to be expedient becomes the approved course of action.

While the world community is suffering anxiety over the fact that a seemingly unhinged head of state - whose consummate belief in an ordained apocalyptic event avidly desired as a fullfilment of a deity's design - is seeking nuclear armaments the better to advance the end-of-days event, yet can find support from other heads of state confounds intelligence. Yet there it is; North Korea (yet another mental basket-case for a ruler) and Venezuela (oil-rich soul-brother) and China (just signed an energy deal with Iran) and Russia (selling arms and know-how to Iran) find this big bed very comfortable.

Israel has made formal overtures to both China and Russia for reassurance that they will do nothing to destabilize the delicate position the state is in. Both China and Russia have abstained from joining the other great powers in the United Nations to present a united front in condemning Iran's Ahmadinejad for pursuing the nuclear option against the International Atomic Energy's urgings and denying the IAEA's inspectors access under international nuclear treaties for non-proliferation.

China and Russia, both known for their ability to skirt around issues, one capable of cleverly offering assurances in florid language obscuring true intent, the other generally offering assurances in blatant disagreement with their true intent are committed to pursuing their own agendas and do so with great diligence, opinion of other world leaders be damned.

Just as Russia, during the 19th century in competition with England in empire building throughout the near and far East, assured it had no such aspirations while launching brutal military raids in Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and India, it now assures Israel of its support in that country's constant strife with its neighbours eager to turn the state into a pile of ashes dedicated to Allah.

It will prove interesting to hear how Vladimir Putin will explain to Israel's embattled political elite that one of the reasons the Israeli military may have found itself confounded time and again by the jihadist forces of Hezbollah this past summer was that the terrorists were being supported, surprisingly, not only by Syria and Iran, but also by Russian agents of the state. It would appear that Russia has been tracking IDF movements from Syrian-based listening posts.

Russia, it would seem from a recent Channel w report ou of Israel, has sold advanced weapons to Syria and Iran to be forwarded on to Hezbollah, their terrorist proxy militia. Military information too has been passed from Russia to Hezbollah. The better to support you with, my dear friends. The battle that Russia is committed to in fighting its own version of Islamic terror in Chechnya does not appear to alert Russia to the contradiction inherent in its support for Islamists elsewhere, since those activities aren't being directed at them.

When Israel became aware that Russia was selling anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, and providing nuclear technology to the Islamic republic, along with assisting them in building at least one of their nuclear reactors, Israel's Ehud Olmert visited Vladimir Putin to put Israel's anxiety over this turn of events directly to the source. Upon which Putin exhorted Olmert to believe in Russia's sincere support of the State of Israel.

That Iran's jihad-embracing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joyfully proclaims his intentions at every opportunity to "wipe Israel off the map" and to energetically pursue Iran's uranium enrichment progamme simply does not appear to have registered with China or with Russia, let alone Iran's other supporters. It simply doesn't matter to them. On the other hand, the world is still awaiting direction from the United Nations in taking some kind of initiative to chastise a member-country from threatening another.

But not to worry: we have it on a trustworthy authority, none other than Mr. Ahmadinejad, that Iran's nuclear development activities are truly meant for domestic use. They need the energy source; despite their oil you can never have too much of a good thing in this energy-hungry world. They're intent on stock-piling energy, that's all. They plan to continue selling their oil abroad to any and all takers, and to keep the nuclear-derived energy for their own use. Simple, really.

And the threats against Israel? Just kidding folks.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Cap In Hand

Lebanon, still seething from the aftermath of the Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation is desperately seeking international assistance to re-build its destroyed infrastructure, to regain its confidence, to offer its long-suffering people once more the opportunity to look to the future, to rebuild their expectations and those of their country. Unfortunately, it isn't as though they've survived a war of occupation and the enemy has departed leading to a breathing opportunity for retrenchment, restructuring.

The enemy is still there. Sheik Nasrallah claims that Lebanon remains viable, has not fully erupted yet into a full state of siege and civil war because of "the patriotic feelings of the opposition and its desire to preserve civil peace". How's that for chutzpa? How's that for hypocrisy? How's that for speaking with a forked tongue? Hezbollah, long aspiring to complete control of Lebanon as Iran's proxy, to install a Shia-inspired theocracy, impatient with its former role within the governing council is militarily agitating for the resignation of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Destabilization of the country is Hezbollah's goal. Patriotic feelings? As though they give a damn for the safety and security of the population. The people are mere pawns to a larger agenda. Hezbollah tried it arse-backwards this past summer, challenging Israel to war and bringing the IDF into Lebanon to visit true misery on Lebanon. Then they resorted to assassination of their most visible critic. The tactics now are to unseat the alliance government and take complete power. And the Lebanese will recognize the inevitable, that their secular-ruled country will be utterly transformed.

The Lebanese army has taken a break from observation and is struggling now to contain the casually at-war factions in the streets of Beirut. The well-armed and trained Hezbollah militiamen facing off against the unarmed but equally determined government supporters. There have been many wounded, a handful killed, complete routing of law and order, normal commerce and street life. "They fought Israel and now they have turned their guns on us" stated a street-fighting Sunni. "The Shia are my enemy and I'm prepared to kill them because they are trying to kill us."

How reassuringly comfortable for the average Lebanese citizen in whose memory the ravages of civil war still burns.

And there is Prime Minister Siniora in France pleading for economic assistance to rebuild his country. Saudi Arabia, The U.S., France, Britain, Kuwait and Brazil, along with many other countries and the World Bank have stepped forward to help Lebanon work toward "economic progress and social justice" according to French President Jacques Chirac. It is in everyone's best interests, not only the Lebanese, that this country recover itself and combat its inner enemies.

Yet the Party of God claims it has the political, popular and organizational strenth to bring down the government, according to Sheik Nasrallah - and it intends to do just that. "We have not exhausted our options. The next moves will be stronger and more effective."

Is he considering recommending to his friend Ahmadinejad that Beirut be bombed into submission?


And The Goal Is?

Yes, yes, I know; bear with me. The goal is, as I understand it, as much of the world agrees is a laudable and needed one, both for humanitarian and defusing reasons, sister-states. Humanitarian: the Palestinians require a recognized, autonomous, separate state of their own with defined borders. Defusing the current and long-standing incendiary conditions which may still lead to an all-out war within the Middle East; presumably with the Palestinian question settled militant Islamists will no longer have a 'reason' to claim that Israel is an oppressor of the Palestinian people.

Needless to say, had other Arab community states commiserated humanely with the homeless Palestinians the refugee camps would not have had the long existence they've enjoyed; the refugees, having been made to feel welcome as fellow Arabs by their brethren, where appropriate to their refuge, could have settled comfortably, instead of carefully tending to their cinder-box of aggrievement. But that wasn't on the agenda as we well know; fellow Arabs and their heads of state considered the festering sore of righteous determination to recapture what was once 'theirs' more to the point; of greater utility.

Should the nascent Palestinian State finally come to fruition, what then will the hostile states surrounding Israel descend to in their unending efforts to uproot the state comprised of other-than-Muslims? Total capitulation? The possibility is always there, and there is always room to hope. Meanwhile, the Palestinian legislators are attempting to extract a heavy toll upon agreement to disengage from hostilities leading to a final acceptance of the State of Israel living peacefully alongside its neighbours.

Why not trade off land-for-land determined by the residents currently on the premises? The suggestion has been made before and should be repeated; where majority Palestinians reside, encourage the minority Jewish populations to consider a transfer to areas hosting majority Jewish residents and vice versa. Beats having discrete and oppositional neighbours eyeing one another and continuing to foment mischief as is currently the case. Since the Israeli government has already formed a committee to study the feasibility of removing some hundred-thousand Jewish residents from homes in areas which would be encompassed by the creation of a new Palestinian state, offer a trade.

Both sides, after all, should be prepared to make certain gestures of good will, certain sacrifices, compromises. There are no workable one-sided solutions which is what the Palestinian Authority seems to be arguing for: that a significant part of Jerusalem be given over to the Palestinians, that the West Bank in its entirety be submitted to Palestinian statehood, and the capstone - that "right of return" be agreed upon. All of these three issues are problematical to the utmost degree.

Israel wholeheartedly embraced over three-hundred-thousand Jewish refugees from their various Arab and Muslim countries of origin. A like number of Palestinians fled the confines of the new Jewish state upon its proclamation of legitimacy. That number has swelled over the space of 60 refugee-camp years to well over two million. Israel already has within its midst as legitimate citizens of Israel more than modest numbers of Israeli-Arabs and Kurds; to accept a further unwieldly number would be to spell the end of the Jewish state, as such.

That is the core of the problem. And that, I fear, is the underhanded, petulant and demanding end-game of the Palestinians. These unreasonable demands are meant to accomplish slowly but surely what years of agitation and guerilla war, and insurgent terrorism have been unable to. Out-populate the Jews and voila! no more Jewish state.
At the very best there would come into existence a state set aside specifically for the Palestinian population of the region, and another, adjacent half-Arab, half-Jewish state.

This is called progress in reasonable debate leading to a reasonable solution to an intractable problem? Yes, if you're an insincere, scheming and under-handed adversary posing as an earnest, honest and well-meaning partner seeking a long-overdue solution to a solvable-enough problem. But Israel is bargaining with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, that trustworthy 'moderate' who sees nothing amiss in calling for arms "to be turned against Israel", the PA's "occupying forces".

His bargaining counterpart, MK Livni suggests that PA Arabs living now in the West Bank remain there, rather than aspire to find homes within Israel. Yet Mr. Abbas maintains, while stating his obligation to the negotiating process, that Arabs be resettled within Israel should they so desire, and not within a newly-created Palestinian state. Why then, bargain, why insist on the desperate need for a Palestinian state; only to hide the obvious that in so doing the entire goal is to subsume the Israeli one?

How hypocritical can the situation get, when Mahmoud Abbas continually stresses commitment, urging that the "Palestinian-Israeli conflict requires a workable solution" leading first to peace between the nations, followed by the establishment of the ardently-sought Palestinian state. The atmosphere he bargains in, however is not conducive to concluding a satisfactory conclusion agreeable to both sides.

He speaks the talk, but doesn't walk the talk. The Fatah faction of the PA has done its utmost to continue undermining the sovereignty of the Israeli state, encouraging nomadic tribesmen to illegally intrude on lands owned and occupied legally by Israelis, and to settle there to create instability and insecurity for the legitimate land-owners. Israeli farmers are facing constant disruptions in their daily working lives with cattle being stolen and infrastructures demolished or torched.

The "just solution" of which Mr. Abbas and his bargaining agents speak to settle the "refugee crisis" is an error of perception, for it will never be practical for Israel to permit these hordes of "refugees" to re-settle within Israel. Clever manipulation of process and perception, practised deceit posing as honest debate may express the traditional manner in which adversaries within the region bargain, but it does not represent an honest attempt to solve a critical problem.

The "Arab initiatives" of which Mr. Mahmoud speaks with respect to a viable and acceptable two-state solution reflects Arab demands, as though they are morally superior and in the ascendency as far as strength of determination is concerned. These demands are just that; demands. They are not suggestions, recommendations; they are not put forward as a wish-list; they are adamantly aggressive demands which the PA must know cannot be acceptable to a state which has on its own agenda its long-term survival.

Should, by some miracle, the PA become serious about negotiations, envisioning a true state of peace between two sovereign neighbours, then he can be reasonably assured of shared opportunities with his neighbour, regional cooperation in economic opportunities, scientific and educational advancement, assistance in the medical-health community and sharing of infrastructure advancements to propel the new state toward self-sufficiency.

Judging from the record of past negotiations, it begins to seem like deja vu all over again.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

What Have We Here?

Canadian Arab and Muslim groups threatening to campaign against the Conservative government in Canada during the next election? The new government of Canada has unsettled and annoyed Canada's Arab and Muslim population? That's unfortunate. They're a sizeable and influential minority within the country. They do have influence. Canada is comprised of many such minority groups all of whom have equal rights and a respected presence within the country.

Has the Harper government been rash enough to indicate they are considering a ban on head coverings for Muslim women? Has someone within the new Cabinet been musing aloud that there are too many mosques being built in Canada, and it makes them nervous? Wow, don't tell me that some underhanded sneaks have accused this community of aspiring to bring Sharia law into the order of things in an underhanded attempt to usurp Canadian law...? Hmmm, has the Conservative government been musing about implementing a special tax for Muslims?

No on all counts? What then?

Ah, the Canadian-Islamic Congress and the Canadian Arab Federation claim that Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay's first Middle East tour has been lopsidedly inclined, and unfair to Muslims. Um, a pro-Israel stand. Yes. Well, I'm happy. It made me feel pretty good that our new Prime Minister Harper had the moral courage and the fortitude, and the ethical vision to declare this country's support for another country whose values and democratic systems very closely resemble our own - against deadly incursions by an implacable enemy whose stated purpose is to destroy Israel. Sounds fair enough to me.

Wonder why Mazen Chouaib, executive director of the Ottawa-based National Council on Canada-Arab Relations has informed the news media that he has met with Mr. MacKay twice since last August. Mr. Chouaib claims that he has "seen some progress on the minister's level of understanding" of issues related to the Middle East. What's that all about? Perhaps Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian-Islamic Congress could get together with Mr. Chouaib and they could compare notes, discuss their own disagreements.

Before they go about their stated intent to "punish the Conservatives at the polls". I can, though, understand why they preferred the previous Liberal governments' attitudes and behaviours as expressed through the media and on site at the United Nations. These previous governments fell handily into line with Arab-sponsored UN condemnations of Israel, all the while declaring themselves supporters of Israel.

I wonder too why it is that so much valuable time has been lost in a marathon of festering grievances. Decades upon decades during which Palestinians, having left the confines of the borders of the newly-declared State of Israel might have made a decent life for themselves, either among other Arab states or by settling themselves permanently in the territory allotted to them, rather than agree among themselves to inhabit "refugee camps" which the UN and other member states have unflinchingly supported over the years.

Why aren't these Canadian Arab and Muslim groups angry over the stupidity of clinging to enmity and blame leading inevitably to wars one after another, all of them resulting in more of the same. And the status quo of a miserable life in refugee camps was never identified as life-denying, opportunity-stifling, degrading to those people who clung to their refugee identities, clamouring forever and a day for retribution and return. What a colossal waste of time, energy, funding.

Instead of embarking on opportunities for a new life, embracing the helping hand offered now and again, Palestinians preferred to hunker down on their bedrock of aggrieved anger at their deprived lot in life.

Choices, choices.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Anarchy In Lebanon

Hezbollah knows what it wants and it makes clear to the world what it wants. Complete control of Lebanon for starters. They're feeling pretty good post dust-up with Israel this past summer. Feeling they came out of that encounter looking good having upheld their position as terrorist-in-residence. And despite using their own trusting Shia civilian supporters as decoys-to-the-death, the better to cast blame on an army on the defensive, they came out smelling like roses - they appear to think.

Time to flex muscle. Their masters in Iran are prepared to wait, but only so long, after all. Unable to unseat Prime Minister Fouad Siniora by gentle suasion, (not their usual style, after all) they've resorted to political assassination in response to which the would-be avengers were cautioned to bide their time. Time now to increase the pressure. Peaceful rallies by hordes of Hezbollah supporters availed them little; now it's time for serious clashes.

As a foretaste of more to come, bringing Beirut to a standstill, shutting down commerce, frightening the citizenry, closing off thoroughfares and highways, incinerating cars, building up barricades and uprooting trees. All this sounds a mite familiar in that it eerily reflects an earlier situation Hezbollah fomented when the "IDF invaders" were blamed for this type of civil anarchy, infrastructural damage. But they're busy making their point in the country they profess to love.

This is government opposition Middle East style. The Lebanese army, outmanoeuvered and internally conflicted have in any case been given orders not to intervene unless absolutely necessary. Were they to do so who could guarantee that the Shia-affiliated soldiers won't join Hezbollah, effectively decreasing the numbers of the already-ineffective army? This is termed a "strike"; the closing of shops and schools, emptying of streets to traffic, blocking key roads to the airport and seaport. A strike perhaps in the military sense, not the civil one.

"If it goes on like this, nobody will be able to do anything. The government will have to step down" burbled a Hezbollah conscript, Mohammed Harb, beside a barricade blocking armoured personnel carriers. "And what's beautiful? It's not just Beirut. We've shut down all of Lebanon." Well, who would've thought that vicious military action in a civil setting like this fit the dictionary definition of beauty? Ah, Islamists, that's who.

For his part Prime Minister Siniora promised he would stand firm against "intimidation", that the military should permit "no flexibility or compromise" in keeping the peace. Peace? What peace? When was the last time Lebanon felt at peace with itself? Is he speaking of that very same Lebanese military cautioned not to intervene, rather than turn itself toward ensuring order and stability in the country? Is he truly unaware that neither Syria nor Iran are amenable to a Lebanon living at peace with itself?

The proxy Iranian irregular army that Hezbollah represents is merely yet another of that country's strategems in its arsenal of opportunities directed toward the extinguishment of the State of Israel, at such time when its hegemony extends beyond its borders to encompass both Lebanon and Israel. A Hezbollah-led Lebanon will spell not only the decline in the fortunes fortunes of Lebanon's Christians (those at least unallied with Hezbollah), Sunnis, Kurds and disparate minorities but also whatever meagre peace with its neighbours Israel enjoys.

The question now is how deeply Lebanon will descend into civil chaos and unobstructed lawlessness, before Hezbollah is satisfied it has made its point.


Marketing Deviltry

Canadians are more concerned than ever about the state of their health. We know more about the foods we consume, the habits we acquire, the lifestyles we lead that can be inimical to our health because we are more educated, because news media keep us more informed, because medical science continue vital investigations into how all these elements combine to affect us. We have the knowledge fairly universally now, other than those among us whose brains have been trapped in a vise of ignorant bliss the last few decades.

When it comes to the use of nicotine products; cigarettes, cigars, we know full well that we put our lives at risk somewhere down the road by their habitual use. Adults who have acquired some level of self-awareness and responsibility to self and community exercise free will and determine that they will cease and desist. A determination that does not necessarily come easily, but many things in life present their own particular difficulties. Agreeing with oneself to take responsibility for one's own health and longevity outcome is one of them.

Most people who smoke regularly, who have lost relatives or friends or acquaintances to lung cancer know full well the harmful effects that accrue to one's soft body parts through the continual intake of nicotine. Most people within the smoking community - public censure and lawful public disallowance of smoking in public places aside - bring themselves to that point where they decide they appreciate the prospect of a longer, healthier life than that of the brief pleasure on earth as a confirmed smoker.

That segment of society excludes, however, the fastest-growing segment of new smokers: our impressionable young people who are anxious to be regarded as adults, as cool, as sophisticated. After all, smoking and lifestyle have always been portrayed by advertisers as a glamorous twosome. Teen-agers aren't particularly taken with wholesomeness; they prefer to be noticed, to feel comfortable with their smoking peers, to become progressively "mature" in appearance. To them old age and good health are dim far-away prospects they needn't bother themselves with for they're invulnerable, ageless and cool.

While it may be true that most mature adults have the capacity to take their lifestyles in hand and determine to improve their longevity and health prospects, many doubt themselves, and they're given reason to believe they need help. A conspiracy develops whose purpose it is to convince people they cannot do this on their own (despite convincing statistics to the contrary) and a new industry is born catering to peoples' insecurities, carefully nurtured by the pharmaceutical industry, aided by the medical community.

People are being treated like indecisive idiots and they appear to like it, how about that? The Canadian Cancer Society has allowed its credibility to be suborned by buying into this creation of yet another marketing strategy to part people from their disposable income in convincing them they haven't the inborn fortitude to help themselves. Instead, they're convinced by marketers, advertisers, health authorities and now the Cancer Society that they need a crutch: the nicotine patch.

The drug industry has suddenly embraced the viability to their botton line residing in the campaign against smoking. And the prospect of acquiring an ever greater market share of any kind of drug has pharmaceutical companies salivating. A mere ten years ago a few nicotine replacement "therapy" products were available by prescription; now there's a veritable bounty available over the counter and the pharmaceuticals like Pfizer couldn't be happier. You need help? We'll give you patches, gums, inhalers, lozenges; take your pick.

People who really don't need this assist fall prey to the convincing advertisements tossed their way, cleverly written and portrayed, humorous and enticingly comforting - and another product-consumer is born. And a dependence upon a drug whose use is meant to destroy an earlier dependency enters the picture. An unneeded and counter-productive remedy for a solution that most people are more than capable of successfully pursuing on their own.

While the very real problem of emerging dependencies among the young is being overlooked. Where are the cool advertisements encouraging young women to understand that it isn't cool to endanger their lives in a bid to appear sophisticated? Where are all those creative public relation talents who could produce humourously clever pieces to convince young people that smelling bad, looking awkward, creating yellowing teeth and fingers aren't all that admirable?

Right, there's no money to be made there.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Resolved: Six Million Perished

That an imperishable truth of history is still being contested by historical revisionists, Jew-haters and rabid Islamists is a sad and sorry fact. There will always be special-interest groups and individuals with a huge hate on for the place of Jews on this earth - to spew their hate and sow the seeds of doubt. That a country seeks to isolate itself before other countries of the world by attempting to bring into doubt an irreversible fact of history speaks more for the overall agenda of that country than its selective use of history as a tool to erode the memory of an unspeakable lapse of humanity.

It's questionable what is more worrying; that one country in opposition to another will seek to sully the sacred memory of one of its' peoples most dread experiences, or that the country links the deaths of millions of souls to the perceived illegitimacy of the other country's existence. By any standards it's hard to believe that the human mind could conceive of any nasty devices more guaranteed to elicit almost universal opprobrium upon itself. Yet as great in number are those who decry the lengths to which Iran will go in its wretched attempts to discredit history and defy world opinion it also has its supporters.

While disdain and disgust is expressed by countless world leaders representing their countries' position with respect to honouring the memory of six million dead Jews representing a holocaust of unprecedented intent and proportions, only one country has stepped forward to challenge Iran within the world court of the United Nations. Iran's much-publicized Holocaust-denial conference has finally occasioned a proposal brought forward in draft form by the United States to urge all member states to "reject any denial of the Holocaust" on the grounds that "ignoring the historical fact of these terrible events increases the risk they will be repeated."

Which is exactly the point, it would seem. In going to these great lengths to hold the occurrence of the Holocaust up to ridicule and derision through the medium of scurillous cartoons and the conference held in Tehran attended by neo-Nazis, professional anti-Semites and pseudo-historians, Iran's Ahmedinejad seeks to pave the way for an onslaught on the State of Israel itself, completing the "final solution" hate-driven Nazis began. For in terming the Holocaust a "myth" and boasting it is his intention to deal with Israel by "wiping it off the map", Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has placed the world on notice.

Its now-established nuclear programme is the kind of reality that brings unspeakable nightmares to all responsible world leaders, having also the additional short-range effect of making its Arab-country neighbours exceedingly nervous. If its fellow Muslim leaders feel threatened as they do, how must the small country against which it has launched its hate propaganda feel?

To be deemed to have insulted Allah or his Prophet Mohammad whether innocently or not is considered so unforgivable as to target the perceived transgressors to death. To confront world opinion and the reality of history by denying the existence of an historical event that virtually eliminated an entire people is a matter of little moment.

Even Iran's supporters like Venezuela and Syria and Cuba should feel ashamed of their association of convenience.



What will restrain the pharmaceutical industry? As an industry geared to research into new pharmaceuticals to assist the medical community in treating detrimental human health conditions enabling people to live longer, more healthy lives, they have a fairly spotty record of late. Their reliance on advertising and public relations to entice the medical community and populations at large into believing that lifestyles and health outcomes can be enormously enhanced with the use of their products is shameful at best and of questionable value at the very least, on their record.

Shameless advertising portraying vaunted lifestyles and complete freedom from worry over living with the manifestations of health problems due to the ageing process comes readily to mind with drugs meant to enhance sexual prowess. The portrayal among older women of menopause as a disease rather than an outcome of the natural ageing of the female body is another. Paying researchers in hospitals and academic instititutions to launch research projects whose results are always favourable to the product at hand another. Launching "new and improved" pharmaceuticals little different in content and effect to their predecessor-products is yet another.

One drug after another has come into prominence in the news lately, as independent research pinpoints deleterious side effects of continued use of some of the pharmaceutical industry's best-selling products to the general population. Data which implicates some medications in serious side-effects is often downplayed and minimized, until studies directly link these drugs with complications far more severe than the conditions they are meant to alleviate. Complications often leading directly to death.

Anti-inflammatory drugs have been demonstrated to be critical to ongoing good health, rather than assisting the product-user. Hormone replacement therapeutic medications have been implicated in greater incidents of heart problems, osteoporosis, and cancer while they've been touted as a means to forestall these conditions - and literally forced upon unsuspecting women by the pharmaceutical companies and compliant doctors.

And, while we're at it how about a study by McGill University Health Centre researchers which evaluated the incidence of low-trauma bone fractures for adults over 50 linked to the use of anti-depressants such as Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Celexa and Lexapro. With the use of these wildly popular and over-prescribed medications bone-fracture risk from events as simple as a fall from standing height increased by a factor of 2.1 with the daily use of these selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Now the latest research on statins indicates that these drugs meant to lower cholesterol levels in patients are being over-prescribed to the extent that people who don't require such medications are regularly being informed by their doctors that they should be using them. Other than those who fall into the category of patients whose systems are severely compromised by artery disease, the vast majority of people using statins do so for no purpose whatever, other than to assure that the drugs remain on the best-seller list.

Some three-quarters of people using statins, the bulk of those for whom it is prescribed, are doing so needlessly for the drug has no benefit whatever for them, according to Dr. Jim Wright, medical director of British-Columbia-based Therapeutics Initiative, professor at the University of B.C. In an article published in the medical journal
The Lancet, Dr. Wright and co-author Dr. John Abramson, of Harvard Medical School, pooled data from randomized trials for their recently-published results.

Isn't it past time that medical practitioners stopped allowing themselves to be used as enablers to enrich the already burgeoning coffers of the pharmaceutical community?


Monday, January 22, 2007

Only In Britain?

Seems odd that in a non-Muslim country already blessed with a sufficiency of mosques, another is being planned, this designed as the largest religious structure in Britain, capable of accommodating 70,000 worshippers and costing $700-million, to be located in London. This complex structure will be known as the Markaz mosque. It has the backing of the Islamic separatist movement known as Tabligh-i-Jamaat (Call of the Community). Tabligh is a missionary Sunni sect which came under suspicion after 9/11; its interpretation of Islam is not considered to be mainstream, but is in the tradition of the Saudi-financed Wahabist movement.

Tabligh followers are indoctrinated with practices hostile to other religions and to non-Muslim societies and governments, coming out of a sect of Islam which produced the Taliban and al-Qaeda. New recruits from Europe or North Africa are forwarded to Pakistan for indoctrination; the aim being to unify and segregate "pure" Muslims from all others. The controversial mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is a supporter of the mosque's concept which, in its funding, along with other, private sources, will use taxes collected from non-Muslims to service the Islamic community.

Why care? Well, evidently even moderate British Muslims are concerned at the prospect of this monstrosity becoming reality, claiming it will have the effect of driving a larger wedge beween the Muslim community and their non-Muslim counterparts, and that they have no wish to foster yet other fanatical groups. Yet their protests have been silenced by inter-community threats, and Ken Livingstone has assisted in quieting the protests, having never apparently seen an Islamic enterprise that he would fault, nor one that he would not support.

All the more troubling with recently-revealed realities taking place within currently existing mosques as reported by Channel 4 Dispatches' "Undercover Mosques" which illustrates the manner in which imams in mosques considered to be Britain's most moderate urge their followers to reject British laws for Islamic ones such as Shariah law. The UK Islamic Mission, identified by Prime Minister Tony Blair as "extremely valued by the government for its multi-faith and multicultural activities" is a case in point; at one of their mosques an imam is revealed on film praising the Taliban while another speaker iterates that Muslims cannot accept non-Muslim rule.
"We have to rule ourselves and we have to rule the others", asserted Dr. Ijaz Mian at a meeing held at the mosque.
The year-old investigation recorded a Birmingham-located Islamic high school's deputy headmaster informing a conference at the Sparkbrook mosque that democracy is a misnomer; it should be called kuffrocracy, as indicative of the cancerous aim of 'these people'. The school claims now to have let the headmaster go for teaching views incompatible with the policies of the school, just as the leaders of the mosques in question claim not to have been aware of the alarming views being aired by imams lecturing at their mosques.

"We have instructed all our branches not to allow any more speakers with radical or fundamentalist views." Alarmingly, the documentary also records the immense popularity of DVDs and internet broadcasts produced by extremist imams. At the Regent's Park Mosque's Islamic bookstore DVDs of a preacher called Sheikh Yasin are sold; in one of his DVDs Yasin (who is promoted on the mosque's website) claims missionaries from the World Health Organization and Christian groups deliberately place the 'Aids virus' in medicines meant for use in Africa.

It would seem, even by a casual observer, that Britain has more than sufficient on its plate to ensure that its population remains safe from harm proposed to be visited upon them by radical Islamists - attempting to apprehend what is being propagated as the politics of religious hate and strife as things stand. Why yet another mosque is being planned which can be used to indoctrinate even greater number of impressionable young Muslims into the chronicles of ageless resentment against the West is troubling, alarming.

This exemplifies religious and social/cultural tolerance beyond comprehension.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Why The Purported Surprise?

Why the big surprise - given the circumstances, intolerable to be sure - that an outspoken public figure is murdered for his views. For after all, these are supremely contentious views, that Turkey is guilty of Armenian genocide. It happened oh so very long ago, why not forget and let live, after all? Perhaps because there is no closure without an admission of guilt and concomitant regret. It is no small thing to understand an admit that one's country was responsible for the deliberate killing of thousands of masses of innocent people.

It is a large thing for that country to admit to its guilt, however provoked it felt itself to have been at the time. To express profound regret at that gruesomely inexplicable waste of lives. But of course the country has laws, and fierce nationalists cringe at the mention of genocidal guilt, seeing such accusations as insults to the honour of the Turkish population, and threats to the condition of national unity.

Other countries have not been dreadfully delicate in their condemnation of Turkey for its World War I campaign against its Armenian population. Much as Turkish ambassadors abroad huffed and puffed in indignation at the insult to the nation's dignity, countries like Canada saw fit to classify that ancient tragedy for what it was; a deliberate genocide. Article 301 of Turkey's penal code lists such expressions of internal criticism as a crime - to insult Turkey, its government and the national character is a crime punishable to the full extent of the law.

Journalist Hrant Dink, assassinated January 19th just outside his newspaper's offices by a proud and radical young Turk who took his nationalist pride seriously, was found guilty in October 2005 of attempting to influence the Turkish judiciary when his newspaper ran articles critical of Article 301. He was given a 6-month suspended sentence. He knew his life was in danger, and he wrote in his newspaper column that authorities hadn't responded to his letters listing threats against his life.

Two weeks later he was murdered, and thousands of protesters marched in the streets in protest. There appears to be a sizeable element among the Turkish population who believe their country was indeed guilty as charged; as they marched they chanted: "We are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dink." Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the killing, and promised to bring the matter to justice. He means of course, that the strong arm of the law will be brought against the young assassin.

But that young man is a product of his country and its history, and its current laws. Free speech is certainly not encouraged in Turkey. Over the last 15 years no fewer than eighteen journalists have been killed because of their work; the eighth deadliest country in the world for journalists. This background and the current situation will continue to haunt Turkey and will certainly not assist it in its attempts to be accepted into the European Union.

This man, Hrant Dink, could have left his country and agitated for change from without, in legitimate fear for his safety. He chose to stay in his beloved country, to ensure that free speech becomes a reality, that the government will see its way clear to abolishing its law of treason relating to criticism of the country. Turkey has experienced its own tragedies as a result of its intransigence in this matter. Armenian assassins, seeking revenge for the historical genocide killed Turkish diplomats abroad, including one such event in Ottawa.

Muslim Turkey and Christian Armenia find no love lost between them. A regrettable fact of history stands between them, along with a latter-day antagonism between the two religions which bodes ill for relations on an ongoing basis.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

They Care About Us! They Do? Really!

Well, wow! Here's Canada being mentioned during congressional hearings into the Maher Arar case. Amazing that the U.S.; any American politicians for that matter, recognize the name Maher Arar, know anything about his sad case - but having done so, of course Canada would be mentioned for he is, after all, Canadian. All the more so, one supposes, since his release from incarceration and torture in Syria. One might hope, on an aside, that Mr. Arar has formally set aside his Syrian citizenship in favour now of holding single citizenship; solely Canadian.

For if that had been the case initially, when he had been apprehended by U.S. immigration authorities en route through the States back to Canada from an overseas holiday abroad with his wife he would likely never have been sent to Syria. As an innocent man, though, why would he even suspect in his darkest dreams that his allegiance to his native country would some day land him in a medieval dungeon among foraging rats, to be subjected to daily torment, bouts of physical torture and complete mental disassociation from normalcy.

Of course, post 9/11, with all of its ghastly fears that the equilibrium of normal life would never return - sans the constant fear of terrorist acts committed against countries on high alert - it wasn't that far a stretch of the imagination to see potential threats in every young Arab male whose activities might arouse the dread of having a bomber in our midst. So it was that an over-charged CSIS and RCMP, inexperienced in this new type of threat to the well being of Canada, tentatively identified Mr. Arar by innocent association, with terrorism.

And conveyed their impression, erroneous though it turned out to be, to their counterparts in the United States. Maher Arar was placed on a shared list of possible terrorist agents, friendly to and available for al-Qaeda-inspired carnage, and that was that. Of course, Mr. Arar's good name has since been restored. Slight comfort to a man whose purpose and trust in life has been destroyed. From a happy and good-natured family man whose career was opening toward the heights of personal achievement to a bitter and unforgiving victim.

Mr. Arrar has been vindicated, his innocence affirmed by the Government of Canada and its representatives. He has received an apology from the (then) head of the RCMP, an informal acknowledgement of wrongs done against him by the government whom he is now suing. But the United States government still considers him a threat and an agent of al-Qaeda, and they aren't backing down, remaining steadfastly unapologetic about their decision to hand him over to torture-happy Syria.

"The Canadian government has apologized for its part in this debacle. Why is he on a [U.S.] government watch list if he's been found completely innocent by this Canadian commission?" demanded Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, of the U.S. Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales. Wow, fireworks! And Canada, or at least the naming of Canada, however sniffily, is right up there on public display. Given that election manoueverings are in the offing, the American public is listening...

"We knew damn well if he went back to Canada he wouldn't be tortured. He would be held and he would be investigated," thundered Senator Leahy. "We also knew damn well if he went to Syria, he would be tortured. And it's beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured. It's a black mark on us. It has brought about the condemnation of some of our closest and best allies."

Well, give me a break with all this breast-beating and verbal celebrations of a just America. Under any administration, the Democrats and the Republicans, the United States has amply demonstrated that it has never been averse to plotting some pretty dodgy schemes, invasions and topplings of foreign heads whose agendas do not mesh neatly enough with their own. It's election time, and everyone is giddy with opportunism.

Still, it's nice to think from time to time that someone down there knows we're up here.


Friday, January 19, 2007

The Fulfilment of Purpose; the Bitterness of Envy

Two societies, two populations, two cultures and traditions, two polarized visions. There was the existence of small towns and villages comprised of Palestinians who planted small tracts of land where they could, and who shepherded sheep where practical. There was a respected hierarchy, the traditional and respected head of the village and all other residents honoured and obeyed his instructions. These were people with a large vision of themselves but given scant respect from their neighbours within a society for which intertribal suspicion was the order of their times.

There were sprinklings of Jews living here and there in urban centres where they had always lived, where their religious, cultural and traditional roots spoke of a long history in the region. Joining them, a gradual cadre of European Jews for whom return to Zion was a longing and an aeons-long obligation to their history, their forbears, their sense of their place in the future. These were educated people with a political agenda of return; their vision of the future included a Jewish state and they slowly and methodically embarked on the mission set before them.

The local Arab population, illiterate, uneducated, traditionally tribal, viewed these newcomers as interlopers; with the same kind of suspicion they had for other tribes, but overlaid with an especial loathing for people who were not Arab, decidedly not Muslim. They knew, because the Koran stated it, and other Arabs reminded them of it, that Islam rejected outright the spiritual insult of infidels inhabiting Muslim land other than as supplicants who might be given permission to live among the Arab populations, with certain social and taxed restraints.

But these visionary Jews, committed to a shared promise of the future, went quietly about their business, aided and supported by other Jews, prominent in politics, in social and monied circles abroad who encouraged these pioneers and funded them generously in a communal determination to achieve the return to the homeland. With the funds provided to them they bought up land from absentee Arab and Turkish landowners and amassed for themselves a geography which could house communal farms, kibbutzim, a solid presence in advance of a state.

They set about organizing themselves, transforming the desert through careful planning and irrigation techniques, to plant crops and graze animals, to teach themselves about the land and to make of it what only hard work and total engagement could achieve. While their nervous and curious and envious neighbours looked on in disbelief and resentment, wanting nothing better than a future that would reflect their past in perpetuity. Waiting for the newcomers to abandon their presence where they were not wanted.

The Arab population had no leaders among them whose concern was all-encompassing for the people as a whole, to better their circumstances, to bring them together in harmonious relationship, to encourage them to build schools and hospitals and civil infrastructures. Instead, they all watched and waited as the State of Israel became a reality, and in furious disagreement, launched a war of attrition against the new state, which came to nothing, but which increased the bitterness and left Arab Palestinians in their thousands outside the borders of the new state.

When the Palestine Liberation Organization came to maturity and persuaded itself to veer from its initial aims and become the Palestinian Authority they had the means and the wherewithal to begin serious planning for statehood, including all the needed civil infrastructure that an independent state would require; a judiciary, a health and education institute, policing to ensure law and order prevailed, but none of this really occurred. All the vast sums of money that the United Nations and other supporters of the Palestinians in their refugee camps had provided over the years was used as maintenance, and much of it fled the country for private Swiss bank accounts.

While one group of people prepared themselves for statehood and achieved their dream of a refuge for their people through dedicated hard work and determination, the other allowed itself to sink into a swamp infested with hatred, envy and bitterness. The desert bloomed for the former, the latter sunk deeper into deprivation. Even though the Palestinians are now the most educated among the Arab populations of the area, they haven't been able to haul themselves out of financial dependency on the largesse of the UN, the EU, the US and Canada.

They refuse to accept the reality of life as it is, and instead embrace the idea of their noble past as sole inhabitants of the land perpetually at war with one another, accomplishing little in the way of social and economic advancement. They've stagnated, wallowed in self-pity, blamed everyone else but themselves for their inability to advance their own interests independently of handouts, and to live in a decently co-operative manner with their neighbour whose existence they continue to abhor.

That old saying about cutting off one's nose to spite one's face; never was it more telling.



An interesting backlash has come to public attention through a series of lectures taking place at Campbell Baptist Church in Windsor, Ontario. A man of Lebanese descent portraying himslf as a former Islamist fanatic turned Christian is on a mission to educate as many people as he can reach about the threat of Islam, a "religion of war", to non-Muslim countries. Zachariah Anani claims in his studied explanations that Islam requires the "ambushing, seizing and slaying" of infidels, particularly Jews and Christians.

This Lebanese-Canadian is intent on pursuing his dedication to informing everyone that Muslims are being taught to worship a spiritual figure who encourages his adherents to "fight and kill", to "strike with terror", one who permits of no prisoners in battles against Islam's enemies for they are enemies of Allah. Mr. Anani, who came to Canada as an immigrant in 1997, titles his talk "The Deadly Threat of Islam", and predictably enough, his passionate denunciation of Islam, his description of the manner in which the sacred texts are being interpreted by fanatics is bringing alarm to the Muslim community.

Even members of the Christian community are frightened and taken aback by his claims, arguing that he is himself inciting hatred. But Donald McKay, the church's pastor insists the lectures have merit since they reflect the "absolute truth". He claims it isn't the desire of the church to be offensive or to unnecessarily polarize the community, but to bring Mr. Anani's experience to public light, to inform and to advise. A reasonably tolerant onlooker might venture to wonder why such revelations are taking place in a place of worship to begin with, rather than on more neutral grounds, such as a public arena, but that's another story.

Muslim men who attended the lecture out of curiosity, slammed Mr. Anani's credibility, claiming that he has taken quotes from the Koran 'out of context'. Which is precisely the point. Mr. Anani is citing his own personal experience, growing up in Lebanon, being taught the tenets of the faith through interpretations of the Koran used by fanatical Islamists to gear impressionable young men into line, to adapt themselves to a lifestyle in which bloody jihad against infidels features large.

To make an invalid comparison as was done, to the violence described by warring entities in the Old Testament is to miss the point, for that can be classified as ancient historical documentation; there is no overt or covert invitation to translate the adversarial conditions which were then prevalent to our present time, and no one believing in the Old or New Testaments is making a fierce effort to breed a modern complement to the religious warriors of old.

In fact, Mr. Anani, as distasteful as his message is in conveying to a western audience his own personal oddyssey into hell and beyond, is alerting us, as though we haven't had sufficient such alerts, to the dangers inherent in moderate, peaceful Muslims among us not confronting those in their own community who choose to worship at the alter of a fascist brand of Islam. It is not Mr. Anani who is causing instability, but those Islamists who taught him and countless others to attend to their religious responsibilities by targetting and murdering those whom they consider infidels; insulting to Islam.

Mr. McKay makes an interesting point when he observes that "Islam is the most intolerant religion in the world today", for events playing out every day in every corner of the world consolidate that opinion. And if it is indeed true as Mr. Anani asserts, that he personally delivered death to "hundreds of people in the name of Allah" during the Lebanese civil war before his conversion, then he has himself much to answer for; the act of converting to another religion that does not energetically preach for murder, does nothing to exonerate his personal guilt, for we all have free will, and Mr. Anani chose to believe what he was taught, and to act on it.

The truth as Mr. Anani is delivering it to both willing and unwilling ears is out there for anyone with an interest in world events to identify. Mr. Anani is a living messenger, an example of an impressionable young man who chose to believe what imams in Lebanon took out of the Koran as history and held up as an example for the present day. During the Lebanese civil war Shia Muslims sought out and killed Lebanese Christians and Kurds and fought to the death with Sunni Muslims, exactly the scenario playing out today in places as diverse as Iraq, Sudan, the Palestinian Territories and Somalia.

Although other Arabs are not necessarily the preferred victim/infidels, Jews are not always readily available, nor are other Westerners, considered no better than offal by fanatical Muslims. That such Islamists have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of other Muslims and Arab Christians whose religious affiliations have found profound disfavour in the eyes of these rabidly disaffected clerics condemns by default the religion they seek so bloodthirstily to celebrate.

The condition of tribal and religious secular violence - Sunni upon Shia and vice versa - both turning their deadly attention on Christians and Jews is a critical world problem. Might as well meet the reality head on. Then try to figure how to contain and counteract it.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Connections of War

It really is disheartening. One country after another, poverty-stricken to begin with, further ravished by war. What is it among we humans that we cannot leave one another alone to live our lives as best we can? Why must we forever inveigle ourselves into the business of others and instigate violence? Why must our belief in the divine cause us to interfere with the divine beliefs of others?

Another poor country whose population has been wasted by years of war and invasion: Somalia. And here's Canada's connection. Canada, it would appear has one of the largest expatriate communities of Somalians within its broad borders. Somali-Canadians, that is Somalis who had emigrated to Canada and become Canadian citizens, have returned to be representated in the new interim government in Somalia.

That's on one side. Other Somali-Canadians were exhorted to return to Somalia to be recruited into the now-ousted Islamic Courts militias and were subsequently killed in battles near Baydoa with the Ethiopian invasion two weeks earlier. Others were killed in the south, where the U.S. just last week carried out air strikes in Somalia.

When the Islamic Courts captured Mogadishu last June its leadership portrayed itself as being engaged in a just and holy war. It was supported by al-Qaeda's Ayman Al-Zawahri. The Islamists received munitions and armaments and were trained and funded by Arab staes such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya and Eritrea. Other supporters of the Islamic Courts militia come from Pakistan, Yemen and Kenya as well. They respond to the brotherhood of Islamic jihad.

Abdullahi Mohamed, a Somali-Canadian serving as personal secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Aideed, claims a Toronto mosque had recruited young Somalis to join the Islamic Courts. The mosque is affiliated with an al-Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist group headed by the leader of the Islamic Courts shura council, he further claimed.

Mr. Mohamed said he contacted the Canadian High Commission in Kenya to warn consular officials that Somali-Canadians were being groomed for overseas terrorist missions, along with recruitment for the Islamist shabab militia. "There are a lot of Somali Westerners, from Canada, the U.S., a lot of young Canadians are here that are being brainwashed to fight. Mostly they are in the shabab, the young Canadians."

What is additionally worrying for Canadians right here at home, far from Somalia, is that among the 18 men apprehended in Toronto last June for allegedly belonging to a homegrown terrorist group plotting bomb and shooting attacks in Canada were two Somali-Canadian youths.

An uneasy, nasty connection.


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