Monday, April 30, 2007

Conscience-Ridden Self Destruction

That seems to be the course that social democratic nations appear embarked upon; conscience-ridden self destruction. We are so utterly wedded to the concepts of social equality, an egalitarian and safe background situation for all that any hint of accepting anything less than equal social opportunities for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, cultural heritage, ideology or religion places a stranglehold on our conscience; we cannot endure the very thought of inequality or physical harm visited upon even those who espouse a murderous antipathy toward us.

When faced with an obdurately fanatical adversary whose barbarism and fealty to death and destruction knows no bounds, the civilized world hardly knows how to react in its own defence. Any actions it seeks to take, meeting barbarity with the resolve to react in a manner acceptable to those with robust social consciences makes for an unequal joust. Resorting to any means reflective of those which the barbarians use is met with outright censure by the conscience-driven social democracies.

Led, needless to say, by the ultra-socialist intelligentsia who take it upon themselves to steer their compatriots in the correct social direction. Otherwise, government agencies are met with shrill condemnation in an unequivocal show of self-loathing that they have descended to the level of the barbarian hordes clamouring at the gates of civilization. Those who govern, who feel their backs against the wall in this unequal battle between enlightenment and darkness act in a conspiracy of covert underhandedness.

They betray the values, the morals and ethics of their civilized parliaments in a secretive attempt to meet the violence of the barbarians with a protective violence of their own devising in an attempt to ensure that the wall between the barbarians and the civilized world does not collapse. Outwardly self-inhibiting, the secret response is not unnoticed by those unburdened by the constraints of civil and moral order.

Examples abound of the lack of moral constraints from extreme cruelties visited one upon the other through sectarian butchery in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority; in the generally repressive authoritarian rule of most Muslim societies. It is an altogether other value system, one of complete abnegation, or 'surrender' to the perceived will of a higher power, one whose admonition to his followers is to be true to Islam.

But there have been many Islamic rules over the last one and a half millennia, some of them outright delinquent in the observation of basic human rights and others whose paternalistic rule has been fair and open, leading to a great inflorescence of culture, art, science and philosophy. The world at large owes a great debt to the artistic flowering and cultural awakening of the Arab and Muslim world through its insights in agriculture, pottery, textile and carpet production and maritime trade. Alas, the modern era has the great ill fortune to be living in a time of militantly jihadist Islamic rule.

Where fanatical Islamists like al Qaeda see justice in murderous rampages targeting their religious/cultural adversaries to advantage themselves in a positioning of global ascendancy. A world where religious fundamentalists sit in judgement of other religions, judging their very existence an insult to their own, and seeing nothing amiss in destroying ancient and revered religious talismans and statuary of other faiths, as the Taliban have done.

Where religious fanatical militias like Hezbollah and Hamas successfully challenge the rights of existence of other followers of Muhammad because they are insufficiently steeped in Sharia laws of universality and Koranic precepts. Where both of these militias can state their intent to exterminate their enemies rather than attain a peaceable accord for co-existence. Where the Islamist theocracy of Iran can threaten the existence of a sovereign country and the world at large, seeking Allah-sanctioned nuclear dominance.

Hezbollah, in service to Syria and Iran, waging terrorist war on a neighbour and using civilian populations to protect themselves, then decrying the retaliatory actions of the state militia which they initially targeted, in returning fire resulting in the deaths of those very civilians behind whom Hezbollah protected themselves. And their denunciations of the state militia finding resonance in the eagerly condemnatory opinions of Western media.

Hamas, for whom any game is fair as long as they attain their end game, instructing impressionable young people in their religious responsibility to Islam, by submitting to its will entirely, to the extent that the sacrifice of their young lives in extinguishing lives of the enemy is a requirement placed upon them by Allah. Now it is not only the young men and women whose lives require sacrifice, but those of mere children who are now receiving instruction in the glory of the ultimate sacrifice.

In Iraq, Shia and Sunni militants target one another in large-scale bloody conflict, but also go the extra mile to target innocent civilians; men, woman and children going about their daily lives. Young men seeking employment, women and children shopping in public markets are all fuel in the incendiary war between sectarian Islamists. Bodies are found mutilated beyond recognition in the savagery of their deaths, scattered everywhere in the Baghdad landscape.

The Taliban seem to think nothing amiss in torturing and murdering those who disobey their edicts. Afghan civilians caught practising behaviours unacceptable to the fundamentalist mullahs are not allowed to repeat their offences; their lives are summarily taken. Teachers have been mutilated and murdered, for the unspeakable offence of offering education to young Afghan girls. These values bespeak a total abdication of humanity.

Yet those Islamists practising their inhumanity seem not to be able to recognize the offence against humanity and against all concepts of the goodness of religious offerings to mankind. And to their great astonishment and bemusement, Islamists have discovered the barbarity-averse nature, the tender sensibilities of the West; their Achilles heel. They have learned to make good use of this conscience-ridden society; to mobilize the guilt in their favour.

They have learned to successfully manipulate that socially-enlightened sensitivity against causing harm or undue hurt to their advantage. While they engage in ongoing primitive acts of unspeakable barbarity toward their adversaries, visiting torture and murder by means guaranteed to cause the most anguished and mortal pain, they invoke the guise of a misunderstood and brutally put-upon innocent when it serves their purpose.

This newfound and cherished weapon of Islamofascists has resulted in the West second-guessing itself, recoiling in horror at the very thought that their forces might conceivably be employing some kind of torture against captured Islamists - if not themselves outright, then by rendering them into the care of fellow Muslims whose consciences when dealing with those who murder them are not impaired as ours are by social niceties of civil behaviour.

So the fanatical murderers when isolated and retained learn how to complain convincingly, alleging torture most foul at the hands of their enlightened captors. And the home audience in the West recoils in moral revulsion that the military representing their enlightened countries' conscience could descend to such tactics.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Unspeakable

Mommy, what are you carrying in your arms instead of me?
A toy or a present for me?...
Mommy Reem! Why did you put on your veil?
Are you going out, Mommy?...
Come back quickly, Mommy
I can't sleep without you, unless you tell me and Ubaydah a bedtime story.
My mother, my mother,
Me and Ubaydah are awake and waiting for you to come to put us to sleep.
Me and Ubaydah, oh Mommy, still need you to wipe our tears...
Instead of me you carried a bomb in your hands.
Only now, I know what was more precious than us...
May your steps be blessed, and may you be flawless for Jerusalem.
Me and Ubaydah wish we were there with you.
Send greetings to our Messenger [Muhammad] and tell him: 'Duha loves you'.
My love will not be [merely] words.
I am following Mommy in her steps.
Oh Mommy, oh Mommy.
What, after all, can be said about an organization whose primary purpose is to extinguish another organized group through violent means, visiting death and destruction on that group for the purpose of elevating the destroying organization's position? Can any self-interest be excused from civilized behaviour because it feels its own position can only be attained through the destruction of another? To be sure, primitive life-forms which feed on other, more complex life-forms do gain their purpose in this manner, much as deadly bacteria can invade a living body and destroy its physical functions.

We're not talking single-cell amoebas or epiphytes whose function is to live in a symbiotic relationship with a host body, but rather an evolved animal, homo sapiens, capable of complex thought and great achievements. Yet here is an organized group of human beings, fanatically determined to achieve their purpose through glorifying murderous acts and acting out inhuman waves of bloody strife on a grand scale, to eliminate what they perceive as an enemy.

These are human beings ostensibly gifted with the same instincts and needs, with similar physical characteristics and bodily requirements, endowed with a like mental process and intellectual capacity as all other human beings on this earth. Yet their interpretation of human dialogue and interaction for the purpose of achieving their end is rife with vilification of an adversary for the purpose of accounting for their determination to exterminate that adversary.

This is savage tribalism restored to the modern era in a form hitherto not envisaged. This demonstrates a murderously seething resentment that is not amenable to reason. The passion to enact revenge of the bloodiest kind against any and all who would forestall their purpose is undeniable. It would take a brave individual, a well-balanced mind, and an equally-determined intelligence to make an effort to counteract the deadly effects of tribal vengeance in favour of civilized intercourse.

The Islamist Hamas no longer feels it sufficient to radicalize and subvert normal human instinct in the young and impressionable young men and women who make up their prey in Palestinian population and who have been successfully primed to sacrifice themselves through willingly undertaking suicide missions for the purpose of murdering as many Israelis as they can manage. Hamas, through the media of a populist new television channel now seeks to fatally indoctrinate impressionable children toward a life of triumphant jihad.

At al-Aqsa TV, popularly named "Hamas TV", an avid and ever-growing population of Palestinians nursing a deadly grievance against Israel is receptively accepting of this new version of righting past wrongs. Not for them to question the morality of besmirching young lives and dragging children into deadly conflict with a neighbouring state. Just as it appears to be beyond the intellectual capacity of most Palestinians to question why it is that they are still awaiting the birth of their long-awaited Palestinian state and holding their legislators to some kind of partial responsibility for failing their aspirations to statehood thus far.

Rather than embracing the concept of embroiling pre-adolescent children in a viciously unremitting war against a country which could be a peaceful and helpful neighbour, Palestinians could rise against the tide of death-dealing that is Hamas's concept of the future and demand of their leaders a cessation of conflict and killing. Deprived Palestinians, weary and hopeless of the future could take a stand and assert their unwillingness to lend themselves to this continuing travesty, and demand instead that the normal human instinct to find solutions leading to compromise and acceptance be waged on their behalf.

Islamic extremism is a poisonous venom that conspires to exterminate all those who reject radical Islam. The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has more than sufficient backing to bankroll this new and grotesquely mind-corrupting technique of persuading children that their duty lies in the kind of Islam that demands of them the ultimate sacrifice; their lives, their physical presence to be used as a human bomb to eradicate other human beings, portrayed as their enemies.

"We want to send a message of people under occupation to the world. And we want to do it in a professional manner", said Mohammed Shtaiwi, director of al-Aqsa's West Bank office. What can these people be thinking? This goes beyond delusional criminality; it is an offence against humanity, an unspeakable crime against young lives, to groom them to believe they owe it to Allah to become human incendiaries to be launched against innocent bystanders simply because they are not Muslim, but Jews.

The "occupying" Jews, those who represent the government of Israel which has seen fit to try to control the deadly activities of jihadists, anti-life, pro-death defamers of the Jewish right of existence, of statehood in the Middle East. A video portraying the deadly intent of a young mother, putting her two toddlers to bed for the night, then slipping away with an explosive device to blow herself and a handful of Israeli victims into nothingness. The six-year-old daughter, realizing it is her mother who has not returned, who is being shown on a newscast as a bomber, understands her mother's sacrifice and vows to follow in her footsteps.

This vile, volatile and unspeakable corruption of childhood and all the promises inherent in a young life has found favour in the eyes of its faithful viewers. "It talks about us. It talks about our suffering", said Hala Adwani, 40, a housewife who watches al-Aqsa every evening and most afternoons. This, then, is a mature woman who cannot find it in herself to find fault with the deliberate suborning of a child's mind, the determined structuring of a future jihadist, the unspeakable abduction of a child's future.

Yet there is hope. Iyad Barghouti, director of the Ramallah Human Rights Centre recognizes this tragedy for what it is: "It provides information and coverage in a religious and racist manner. Its message addresses emotions and most Palestinians are ready to listen to such a message", he said. The good news is his labelling the project for what it is; the bad news is his admission that the project can conceivably be accepted and found worthwhile by a broad segment of the Palestinian population.

That matters could come to such a hopelessly deviant turn within any population is beyond tragic.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Heroes Amongst Mere Mortals

Surely those who react with courage in the face of extreme daunting circumstances have just as much a sense of their mortality as those among us whose first and foremost thought is self-preservation. Yet, despite that instinctual aversion to placing oneself in the kind of danger inimical to survival there are those among the common population whose reaction to dire circumstances is to face the danger head on when it is clear that someone must demonstrate courage and they feel it might as well be them, in the hopes of averting a larger tragedy.

We admire such staunchly courageous individuals who illuminate our existence by their selflessness. We stand them upon metaphorical pedestals as rare examples of humankind who are able to rise above their own self interests in the larger interests of the commonality of humankind. They seem to signal an awareness of their personal responsibility toward those of us, on balance, who appear incapable of acting with bold resolution to defuse danger.

To them we owe a great burden of debt, for they prove by their instinctive actions that we are indeed capable of being far better human beings than we mostly demonstrate. They are the shining heroes among us whose bravery, courage and insightfulness into the human condition allow us to forge on in our ordinariness, recalling their sacrifice on our behalf. These are the individuals whose bold actions on a battlefield may serve to save countless others.

These are also those individuals whose devotion to an inner sense of duty and kindness toward others throughout the course of extraordinary events which take place within society from time to time give us hope for the future. In just one week two such heroes have surfaced through two events, each of which represents a disaster; one on a relatively large scale taking the lives of 33 people through an unforeseen lapse of social order, the other a singular natural disaster taking the lives of two people through an accident of fate.

Much of the world is now aware of the stalwartness of heart of a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor, Liviu Librescue, a professor of aeronautical and mechanical engineering who fatefully taught a course in engineering at Virginia Tech. This was a man who loved science and scientific enquiry, who celebrated his life to the fullest, insisting on his love of teaching, passing his knowledge on to eager young people whose own wish to make their way in the universe of knowledge complemented his purpose.

That he took his responsibility as an instructor of the young in the complex and practical science of aeronautical engineering was beyond doubt - his willingness to be separated from his beloved family in another country - to achieve that purpose opportunity took him to the Virginia Tech campus because of the opportunities for research and teaching which that transplantation afforded him. But he went well beyond the transference of knowledge, to the willing sacrifice of his own safety in his perceived need to protect his students from the depredations of a fatally conflicted soul.

The world mourns his senseless death as it does the wasted lives of others, students and staff alike, at the university in Virginia. Professor Librescu's former students will remember his devotion to their well being for the rest of their lives, and pass their obligations to this noble man's actions on to their children, their grandchildren. The parents and family members of the surviving students will remember, always, that their loved ones might have been lost but for the actions of this man.

While news media throughout much of the world still linger in horror at the lunatic premeditation of a vengeful, thoroughly alienated human being whose end purpose in life was to destroy others' lives, in the capital city of Canada we learned of yet another hero, this time a young woman whose selfless action in trying to save the life of a boy cost her her own life. This young woman, a master seaman with the Canadian Navy, with experience in water rescue, in perfect physical condition, made an attempt to save a drowning boy of 15.

The rushing and winter-swollen waters of the Rideau River near Merrickville, Ontario swept her along in its wake as she attempted to find and secure the boy she had seen being swept along in the mad current. The freezing water and fierce current washed her to the opposite side of the river as the boy she tried to save was rushed further downstream. There were two men also attempting to rescue the boy, one of whom was her boyfriend, Mike Barr.

He was finally able to swim over to her, her limp body frontally immersed, her eyes half open. Firefighters and paramedics began CPR, and she was rushed to hospital. The two men continued the search for the boy, driving an ATV on a downstream path, exchanging it for a rowboat, paddling furiously before they found the boy, swept more than 500 metres downstream. They performed CPR, with no vital signs, and he was pronounced dead at the district hospital.

Several hours later the family of Master Seaman Lalonde was informed their daughter was on life support, her condition rapidly deteriorating. "She was courageous," said her mother, "she just wanted to save that little boy."


Sunday, April 22, 2007

You Spy, I Spy, We All Spy!

It hasn't been that long since Canada accused China of industrial spying and expelled one of their 'diplomats', thus cementing good relations between the two countries. Of course, there's nothing dreadfully unique about the finding, the results and the expulsion, since it hasn't been all that long since several Russian 'diplomats' were also expelled from Canada for similar reasons. Something about robustly emerging economies with a spectacularly (C)ommunist past finding it hard to pass on old techniques and remedies for insufficiencies.

But no, it's what friends and neighbour-countries also do. Humans are curious about one another, and so are governments curious about other governments and the countries, the economies, the military structure and acquired armaments, the social structures, the scientific advantages, the corporate advances, the foreign investments and diplomatic relations maintained by other countries. Not only for a leg-up informationally, but out of human curiosity do all countries engage in psychoanalyzing their counterparts.

Oh yes, there are other types of espionage, those engaged in by countries at adversarial odds with one another, those who challenge the legitimacy and intent of others. So there's lots of finger-pointing and accusations and expulsions and challenges, and detentions and tribunals and extractions of 'information' leading to charges of guilty as assumed, and thanks for all that data, it'll come in right handy, and too bad you're spending the next generation in our foul dungeons.

There's an oblique, almost non-objective kind of espionage that people are persuaded to engage in, under threat of reprisal with dissent. And there are those who instantly sign on in the hopes their situations will be bettered through preferential treatment, including the transfer of sums of money. Let's not forget the incredible number of people in East Germany and in Poland who through personal spite or personal fear, implicated their nearest and dearest for the files of the state police.

Now here's Israeli security officials revealing that Shin Bet agents have detained Israelis returning from visits to family resident in Iran who weren't able to resist overtures from Iranian intelligence operatives to help them by spying on Israel. Imagine, Jews recruited by Iran, that very country which loudly and passionately celebrates its intent to obliterate the Jewish state. Over a hundred thousand Israeli Jews have their origin in Iran.

But the kind of information revealed seems limited; Iranian intelligence officers posing as consular officials in Turkey where Iranian passports can be obtained querying the applicants about their military service, about the general economic and security climate in Israel. A clever passport applicant could swiftly turn the tide on the questioner, delivering responses whose usefulness would be questionable, and in seeming innocence still acquire the passport to visit family.

On the other hand, Egypt has accused one of its own, an engineer with its nuclear agency of having taken documents to hand over to Israel's Mossad intelligence service in exchange for a $17,000 emolument. Mohammed Sayed Saber was arrested on February 18 after returning from Hong Kong and stands accused of stealing "important documents" from the Atomic Energy Agency, handing them over to Mossad agents while in Hong Kong.

"These sorts of charges unfortunately appear all too often in the Egyptian media and they always prove to be baseless" is the dismissive response from Mark Regev of Israel's foreign ministry.

Well, look here: A Cairo court has now sentenced an Egyptian who holds Canadian citizenship to 15 years in jail for spying for Israel. They know this man, Mohammed el-Attar, is guilty because a confession was extracted from the man under torture. Three Israelis, not in custody in Egypt, were tried in absentia along with the unfortunate Mr. Attar, each receiving 15 years and fines of $2,000 each.

Memory dimly recalls the recent similar sentence meted out to another young Egyptian for the unforgivable sin of criticizing his repressively backward country, his president and its corrupt religious institutions through his Internet blog.

In the case of Mr. Attar, the prosecution claimed he was trained by Mossad officers to gather information from Arabs living in Turkey and in Canada, where he immigrated and obtained citizenship. He was also, it was claimed, recruiting Christian Egyptian immigrants in Canada, using money and sex. Money and sex? Wot's this? Why Mr. Attar, formerly a student at Cairo's Islamic Al-Azhar University was described in the Egyptian press as a homosexual.

Homosexuality is an unforgivably carnal sin of the first order in Islam and in some Islamic countries a guaranteed passage to eternity - eternally dwelling in hell, that is. He's also charged with having converted to Christianity, another life-surrendering charge under Islam - which second charge Mr. Attar strenuously denies. He also revealed that the intelligence service had tortured him to invent a confession to their liking.

"There was no proof or evidence, and from all the facts in the case, as I saw it, he should have been acquitted," according to his lawyer, Ibrahim el Basyuni, describing the judge's verdict as harsh. "I'm shocked...the media's involvement and the hype surrounding his case definitely had an impact on this trial", he added. "The judge is only human after all and it may have influenced his decision."

According to Canada's minister of foreign affairs, Peter MacKay, "Under international human rights law, evidence obtained under torture is inadmissible and cannot be the basis for a conviction. We request that Egypt address these concerns and ensure that Mr. Attar's legal and human rights are respected." How about confessions obtained under conditions of torture? "We have raised the issue of torture repeatedly with Egyptian authorities," Mr. MacKay said.

Last word goes to Mark Regev again, who states that "Israel categorically denies any involvement in the case."


Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Psychology of Religion's Abuse

It seems humanity requires oversight. At every level. Individuals and groups appear incapable of governing themselves rationally, intelligently, cautiously and lovingly. Were we deliberately created with this in mind? Or, rationally, did a gradual process produce a flawed product, fearful and grim, disastrously immune to moderation, given to dissent, suspicion, illogicality, greed. With, however, the rare individual with sufficient insight to realize that without a governing essence of great power and prestige, the blighted mass of humanity would never be restrained in its mass psychosis of hate and distrust.

And so was born the concept, the human construct of the spiritual adviser, the constant and wise overseer, the blessed one who would teach human beings love and kindness and compassion and moderation in all things. And it would seem that religion, whether pagan with its specific-purpose gods and goddesses or modern in its monotheistic belief in one powerful, all-seeing, multipurpose godhead gave structure and meaning and discipline to the lives of people, ensuring they would learn to discipline the animal within.

Our modern communities where people live in harmony and goodwill are a compelling outcome of that initiative by some brilliant souls who recognized the need and created the means by which mankind could be governed by conscience and fear of the unknown through simple faith in the goodness of that very unknown. So what is it within us that invokes that unspeakably primeval savagery revealed by tribal blood-feuds?

How can it yet be that fervent theists who yet display all the blood curdling murderous impulses of tribal survivalism have married their love of god to their love of carnage? That callous murder can be passed off and accepted as doing god's will? What manner of people are these who seek to exalt their image of the spiritual by the blood sacrifice of human lives? Obviously moderation and balance and compassion has passed them by. How is it that this deadly synthesis is expressed most often by worshippers of Islam?
In the twenty years that followed the death of 'Al a number of minor Kharijit outbreaks took place in Iraq, culminating in a revolt in force on the death of Yazid. The Khawarij failed because of the fissiparous character of the movement and its tendency to internal conflict and disorder. Under 'Abd al-Malik the Khawarij were crushed in Iraq and gradually driven into Persia. They were pretty well eliminated by the beginning of the eighth century. They represent the pre-Islamic Arab doctrine of government by consent and the supremacy of private judgement in extreme form. Their tenets have been well described as "the natural insubordination of the Arabs, rationalized, systematised, exacerbated, and fanaticised by religious teaching". The Arabs in History - Bernard Lewis
From Cairo, Egypt, a Sunni insurgent coalition has posted videos on the Internet naming the head of "al-Qaeda in Iraq" as "minister of war" and showing the execution of 20 men it said were members of the Iraqi military and security forces. The announcement of an "Islamic cabinet" demonstrates the determination of the Islamic State of Iraq coalition in Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq is a coalition of 8 insurgent groups. "It is the duty at our present stage to form this cabinet, the first Islamic cabinet, which has faith in God."

This "duty" to god, this obligation to attain power and hegemony and spread the sacred word of god and in the process annihilate any and all who stand in the way of achieving that goal, all in the name of Allah, has a long and glorious history in the antecedents of the history of Islam. The divine will of Allah has it through his divine messenger, the Prophet Muhammad, that Islam will spread its doctrine, its way of life, its deterministic will, its all-life-encompassing religion far and wide - a vast religious empire. The means by which this vast embrace of continents and peoples is achieved is through terror and conquest.

A video circulating now in Pakistan illustrates the horrible death visited upon a Pakistani, Ghulam Nabi who stood accused of betraying a top Taliban official. A young boy whose age was estimated at 12, was given the great honour of dispatching the offender. Mr. Nabi is seen in the video as being blindfolded, lying on his side, while one man holds him by his beard.

The boy, in a military jacket, cuts into Mr. Nabi's throat. Men standing about shouting with the boy, "Allahu akbar!" (God is great!) as Mr. Nabi's blood spurts from his deadly wound. The 3-1/2 minute film with Pashto-language voice-over shows the boy hacking and slashing at the man's neck until the head is severed, upon which the boy hoists the severed head in triumph by its hair. And the mantra is repeated, glory be to god.

And a small group of courageously determined human rights activists marched through Pakistani cities calling on the government to rein in fanatical clerics who have launched an anti-vice campaign in the capital. "We reject Talibanization, we reject Mullah-ism", Asma Jehangir, a Pakistani rights activist told the rally.

Good luck. For all our sakes.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Beyond Chaos, Beyond Hell, Beyond Belief

The deaths keep piling up. Internecine strife, tribal and religious-motivated sectarian violence goes on without abatement. Those whose financial situation permitted them to flee have long since done so. The refugee-absorbing capabilities of neighbouring countries, however temporarily, are in a state of crisis. While some parts of Iraq are still relatively safe, beyond the attention of the deadly assaults of Shia on Sunni and Sunni upon Shia, much of Baghdad itself in in a state of siege long beyond critical.

Just a few days earlier world attention was focused on the United States where a crazed gunman massacred 32 people before finally killing himself. It was a tragedy, a loss of bright students and their educators in a land which celebrates life, not death. A land which traditionally has offered the best to its citizens that life has to offer for those who live in a free society with abundant opportunities for social and educational, professional and economic advancement for those who strive to find fulfilment in quality of life.

Yet here, in Iraq, which was invaded by that most materially superior of powerful countries, life itself has been humbled to the point of dim existence for most of its inhabitants. Bitterly unrelenting struggles between militants reflecting religious sectarianism appears to be immune to the pleadings of their own religious clerics, their own elected parliamentarians, their own desperate people. Insurgents triumphantly flood over unprotected borders, well armed and well determined to ensure the country falls under the weight of its imposed anarchy.

Al-Qaeda now announces itself to be well ensconced within the country and meaning to stay there for good, to translate what once was a begrudging, but livable tolerance between the Shia and the Sunnis to Islamofascism with strict adherence to a fundamentalist Islam and the complete eschewing of any instances of Western thought or social influence must be the order of the day. Of course, neighbouring Iran feels she has something to say about this conversion and it's entirely possible that a complete conflagration and ensuing carnage may yet obtain.

In its absence, however, the Islamists are performing a fill-in position with daily bloody carnage bringing the civilian population to a state well beyond desperate. Where it is possible to exact murderous tolls on a frightened population to the tune of hundreds a day, in the most unspeakably vicious manner, and where no one feels safe, and everyone worries about their ability to transcend the present, never mind the future, human hope lies dead and buried.

No one is safe, nowhere appears to be a refuge from violence, from the Iraqi parliament buildings located within an ostensible 'safe zone' to bazaars and public markets, to job placement agencies, to local streets, schools and hospitals. How is it possible, sane people ask, that there exists human beings so devoid of compassion as to explode devices with the intent to blow apart people worshipping in their mosques, mothers and children shopping, riding to and fro on public transportation?

Who is possessed of the patience and the wisdom and the influence to bring sanity to bear, to bring a halt to the carnage? If we are to wait for the appearance of Allah in person to lecture his devout followers we are doomed.


Ramblings of a Dark Soul

Chilling evidence reveals itself time and again that human society is incredibly multi-faceted and there are times when a potent mix of arrested personality complex comes head-to-head with a society not knowing how to deal with those critically alienated failures of the human soul to develop normally. Behaviour that transcends the norm, that moves illogically but inexorably toward blind hostility that strikes out in frustration against society appalls and frightens people. While psychotic mannerisms with their inherent threats are observed with fascinated horror we draw back, uncertain how to react.

When dark musings and obvious failures to connect are aligned with a complete withdrawal, the signals sent to strangers are that one should withdraw, we're unable to cope. But when these symptoms of psychosis and neurosis are presented to those closest to the person and remain unacknowledged, what then? What was the role of the parents, the sibling in this young man's psychic disintegration into petulant malevolence? This young man, Cho Seung Hui, an American product of a society that offers unequalled opportunities under a veneer of discrimination.

He was only too aware of his failings, although he obviously interpreted them differently than most would. It was not his fault that society failed to absorb him, to recognize his superiority; it was that of the very society that he so obviously disowned and scorned and, post murder-rampage lectured and hectored and mocked, knowing he would finally obtain the celebrity notoriety he craved. It's just not possible for most ordinary people with normal impulses and behaviour patterns to absorb the extent of self-hatred and outward-directed hatred this man exhibited.

We can't understand or rationalize this kind of deep and deliberate detestation for others on an individual scale, little wonder our minds can't wrap around the depth of hatred evinced for others on a larger scale, when we're aware that in this world we inhabit there exists large groups of people affiliated by ideology, religion, militantism and determination to extinguish the lives of untold numbers of people in their deadly outreach for revenge and domination. Primitive tribalism which presents as modern-day Islamofascism has just been presented on a minor scale.

All the signs were there to read and to interpret in the years previous to Cho Seung Hui's final exhibition of revenge against the society he felt excluded and failed to appreciate his qualities. This spoiled, self-absorbed vengeful child planned and executed a drama he knew would arrest everyone's attention, and finally his malevolent powers would draw the recognition he craved. In the photographs the media displayed he presented with facial contortions resembling those of a disobedient child defying authority, blaming the world for denying him.

The deadly carnage he brought to Virginia Tech needn't have come as such a complete surprise. Mr. Cho's frail connection to normalcy, his outright rejection of innocent connection to the society he moved within, his troublingly malignant classroom prose, his unwillingness to be seen as just another body in a faceless world of academic excellence, his acting out to bring attention to himself served to prove to him that none of these devices held the key to the lock that held brightness from his soul.

All the evidence of his illogical mind, his resentful demeanor, his unsettling and unwanted overtures, should have alerted those in authority at the university. Mental health authorities clearly felt his bizarre anti-social manner posed a threat, and they said as much. Going so far as to claim in one document that he was: "mentally ill and in need of hospitalization and presents an imminent danger to self or others". This is a statement so clear in its judgement it is simply not open to any dissembling interpretations.

Mr. Cho's troubling existence weighed sufficiently heavily on one of his instructors that she took steps to document her concerns and bring them to the attention of the institute's authorities as well as its policing contingent. An acquaintance of the man had informed campus police that it was his opinion Mr. Cho was suicidal. All the concerning and danger flags were there, and all appeared to have been received with unconcern.

Yet there were others on campus who claimed he couldn't, on the basis of his manner, be singled out, ostensibly because within the student body there were others whose behaviour might have been similarly hostile and alienated. "If we had known, we would have gotten rid of him...but it wasn't obvious...he got under the radar." Thus, according to one of the educators at Virginia Tech, all was not as it seemed. How obvious must things be before they are understood to pose a high risk?

But this is also news, and news of a type that people happen to be fascinated with. Out of the blue, like a strike of lightening a rare occurrence which has an individual become frighteningly other than what he appears; a deadly risk to all those among whom he moves. He cold bloodedly and with full intent murders 32 people. One of those murders, that of an elderly Holocaust survivor provides the only sweet note of grace in the entire tragedy, in his sacrifice of self in the defence of his students.

Otherwise it was a free-for-all of news gathering and dissemination, knowing few boundaries of decency. All the news anchors at CBS and NBC were jettisoning pre-prepared plans for the night in favour of live commentary on the shootings and the news spread like wildfire in short order across the world. Seeking to position themselves as number one for the latest revelations on the event, large news organizations paid Internet search firms to boost traffic heading to their websites. An orgy of conspicuous tragedy consumption and distribution.

And the politicians? All rushing to the podium to express their deep regret and sorrow for the victims' families. All denouncing the senseless loss of life. None venturing into the minefield of gun control, for none wish to draw unwanted attention of that type to themselves during this critical time leading up to federal elections. Someone else beside the demented murderer got his 15 seconds of fame, an on-line temporary imposter unwilling to shed light on his not actually being the guilty party involved until he'd received sufficient ego-boosting 'hits'.

When things began to turn ugly, he admitted he wasn't involved, was just personally gun-happy and happy to demonstrate his love for firearms on his web site. But his brief fling with infamy has brought him attention and he affirms for many the Second Amendment right to bear arms within the United States, asserting that had students in general been permitted to wear unconcealed weapons the death toll at the Institute would have been fewer.

The breathtaking lack of intelligent appraisal, the arrogant stance of those who support the right to bear arms is beyond contempt. As is the walking-on-eggshells stance of American politicians. They all deserve applause for exercising their rights as proud Americans.

May they proudly mourn.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Massive Security Failure

What exactly is it about schools and their environs that appear to attract such malignant attention from warped minds? People dealing with the demons that torture their apprehension of themselves as apart from the greater society seem to want to inflict as much damage as possible on healthy young people, those of their peers and contemporaries determined to secure their futures with the acquisition of knowledge. From attacks on elementary and high schools, to institutes of higher education we are continually being shocked out of the complacence of ordinary existence.

That there is a notable segment of any society that can be classified as sociopaths is beyond dispute. That within that segment many slip into the further and more dangerous classification of psychopaths is evident from the scale of violent crime we witness through the daily news. The United States is often described as a violent society. Which is peculiar, given the fact that it is also an extremely religious society as a whole. Recent studies, however, indicate that religion or lack of it plays no part in moral behaviour and in any event someone described as a socio- or psychopath simply can't connect to human compassion.

In a society that is considered to be at odds with itself over so many issues; race, gender, ideological and religious inequities of historical proportions, it is also a proudly self-reliant nation whose memory of early settlement and a constant push westward to populate a vast territory commits it to some core values that really don't have a place in a modern society. Gun ownership is common and overwhelming within the population, seen as a 'right', not a privilege to be legally conferred, rarely and carefully.

In the State of Virgina there is no waiting period, no safety training requirement, no background checks on firearms acquired at gun shows, no restrictions on sale or possession of military-style semi-automatic assault weapons, no restriction on the sale or possession of rapid-fire ammunition magazines. Gun owners have no legal obligation to register their firearms. Moreover, there is no state system for the purpose of identifying and disarming felons, and anyone is able to obtain a permit to carry a concealed loaded handgun in public.

On the good news side, no more than one handgun may be purchased by any one person within a 30-day period. And while the State of Virginia maintains records of sales by licensed dealers, there are no records on shotgun and assault rifle sales, or handguns sold through private individuals. As a result, needless to say, firearms figure largely in accidents leading to death, in murders, in the commission of robberies and assaults.

Give someone a reason to nurse a grudge and you become a potential target. If you're among a target group for discrimination and attack because of race or religious or political issues, the matter of gun ownership may be a very large impediment to full security of person. Granted, there are other means available by which determined individuals can wreak havoc on society but with the relatively easeful acquisition of a handful of lethal steel-and-projectiles the job just gets easier.

All of which doesn't answer to the vexing question of why it took the administrators of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia so long to alert the students under their care that there was a singular problem playing out in the institution they trusted to protect and inform them. Even if there hadn't been a critical follow-up to the deadly assault on two people at one end of the University campus two hours earlier, it should have been the responsibility of the administration to advise students on campus of the situation and to temporarily lock down the institute.

That might have taken care of the 9,000 students in residence, while other means, through email or news sources could have been utilized to inform the university's remaining tens of thousands of students and staff that they should bypass the grounds for the remainder of the day. As things stood, the decision-making process was obviously flawed, for fear of disrupting normal activities during a normal day without the realization that there was nothing normal about the unfolding of that particular day.

In total, an immense and irredeemably dreadful security failure, one that will haunt the venerable institute for the rest of its days, and torment the survivors while granting a bleak prospect of the future to the families of the 33 who were killed and the 15 wounded. There will be further revelations that will indicate that all the warning signs were there. It's generally accepted that the month of April brings out the copy-instinct in malfunctioning brains. It seems the killer's unstable state of mind was already well known to some members of the faculty.

Failures to protect a vulnerable population can be laid to blame at the national, state, county and institute level.


Monday, April 16, 2007

The Many and Undying Expressions of Hatred

Canada is a wonderful country. The opportunities for human and social advancement it offers its citizens and the many immigrants who continue to flood the country are unparalleled. There is firm protection for all under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those fundamental rights include freedom of expression, mobility and democratic, legal and equality rights. Those rights also extend to the protection of Canada's multicultural 'heritage' its commitment to those whose national extraction, culture, tradition is other than that of one born within the country.

There are many who increasingly insist that Canada has not been sufficiently responsive to her own traditions, culture and social mores to ensure that immigrants understand that they too have an obligation - to fit themselves into the country, to accept its laws and social universality, its egalitarian respect of others. Yet we've seen over the past few decades that whereas earlier waves of immigrants respected the traditions and the culture which welcomed them to their new country by absorbing new expectations and assimilating into the general stream while retaining vestiges of their original cultures, later waves of immigrants felt less disposed to do so.

And in so doing, they brought with them social and cultural animosities and burdened their new country with their unambiguous rancour against other segments of society. Canada is yet fortunate that most of her population, whether home-born or first-generation from abroad, do appreciate the freedoms and opportunities available to them and live in harmony with others. Yet Canada has not been free of the shackles of humanity's penchant for nurturing grievances against perceived enemies. We've had our own shocking episodes of terrorism.

Canada has dealt successfully with issues of discrimination against vulnerable groups. Gays in Canada have assured rights to equal those of any other group, and laws enacted to protect those rights. Discrimination in the workplace, in housing, in the social sphere once directed against people of colour are legislated against, and to practise such discrimination is unlawful. The pernicious age-old practise of anti-Semitism had, we thought, been laid to rest as generations of Jews found their comfortable place in Canada.

Yet lately, along with an upsurge of virulently active anti-Semitism seen elsewhere in the world, it has raised its ugly head in Canada as well, with a series of violent acts directed against Jews and Jewish institutions. Canada has always had home-grown proponents of racial division, has been internally and externally embarrassed by incidents such as a well-regarded native chief publicly expressing the most odious condemnation of Jews, echoing Nazi Germany's extermination intent.

We've had incidents of well-liked and regarded educators actively teaching their students the basic tenets of anti-Semitism. We've had imported products from abroad come to live in this country bringing with them incendiary anti-Semitic tracts and founding movements with eager followers. But it is only lately that explosively violent physical attacks on Jewish schools and community centres have occurred in the expression of dire hatred of Jews.

"Most Muslims would never even think of doing something like that. It's horrible." According to Sarah Elgazzar, of the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations, expressing her personal dismay that the accused in two high profile attacks on Montreal's Jewish community. "Religiously speaking, Jews and Muslims should be so close," she said. "Sure there are differences, and there are problems in other parts of the world, but that doesn't justify these kinds of attacks."

And right she most certainly is. Omar Bulphred, 21, and Azim Ibragimov, 23, both Muslims, born in Canada to immigrants from Russia have been charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery, conspiracy to kidnap and conspiracy to forcibly confine someone. Other charges listed are possession of explosives in connection with the fire-bombing of the Skver-Toldos Orthodox Jewish Boys school and community centre in Outremont, and an explosion at the Snowdon Y.

So, one must ask, what is it exactly that would inform two young Canadian-born Muslims that the Jews in their midst represent an object of hatred? A hatred so intense that they would conspire to carry out acts of deliberate sabotage of private Jewish property. Theirs, needless to say, is not the first incident of this type where Muslim youth have seen fit to attack Jews and Jewish property. These acts that so terrify the Jewish community, and horrify the Muslim community must act as a warning.

This should be a catalyst to inform the Muslim community that they have a good deal of remedial work before them. It is their obligation as Canadians, as neighbours, as good citizens, as Muslims.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Final Solution

Behold they will be confounded and ashamed,
all who rage against you.
They will be as nothing, and perish,
all who dispute against you.
You will seek for them and not find them,
those who contend with you.
They will be brought to nothing at all,
those who war against you...
(Is 41:11-12)

This world can be such an unbelievably ugly place, and only because some of those who inhabit it take strenuous steps to make it so. Humankind is brought to attention and despair in the aftermath of horrendous events which one set of humans bring to bear upon another group. We can appreciate that in primeval times when mankind was evolving from a creature of the wild toward a thinking and consequential animal whose evolution gradually included a realization of events and their consequences, the knowledge of right and wrong much was written into the collective human memory relating to the struggle for survival.

Those not of the tribe whose presence was interpreted as a direct threat in a common geography where the ongoing search for adequate food and water, shelter and security were an ongoing and very present issue. When the determination by nature of the survival by the fittest, those most able to take advantage of their surroundings and the opportunities afforded them, also included a need to deny advantage in those areas leading to survival to others not of one's tribe, the message was writ deep into memory.

The stranger, one not of one's tribe, is one's enemy. Limited resources created distinct adversarial situations. It wasn't live and let live, but the struggle to live at a time when mankind was most vulnerable as an emerging life force, just learning to manipulate his environment. An environment which could not be shared due to its life-sustaining limitations. With the gradual emergence of primitive technology and the gathering component added to the hunting equation of existence man learned to become more lethal to his opponents' aspirational struggles to grasp opportunities for survival.

Like the vestigial tail bone still evident in man's vertebrae, signalling his distant past as just another ape, that inherited memory buried deep in the elemental animal brain becomes resurgent from time to time, from circumstance to circumstance and we revert to the pure animal we once were, to the detriment of the intelligent, responsible beings we consider ourselves to be. That's when the vestigial need to wage war, to protect or attain territory, kicks in and it's those events which describe the nightmares which mankind visits upon itself.

Although history doesn't lack in great sweeping events of widespread brutal blood-letting, ransacking of communities and destruction of their inhabitants from the time of recorded history, it was the horrendous intent and unique character of the Holocaust during World War II that caused the world to feel due shame, to insist collectively that this could never, would never be permitted to happen again. As though wishing could make it so. And so, we've seen successors to that genocidal attack by Nazi Germany and her willing Axis allies against the Jews of Europe.

The breathtakingly evil conception and monumental execution, in its carefully crafted intent leading to an industry devoted solely to the extermination of an entire group of people linked by a common ancestry, religion, social order and ethos brought the world to its knees in horror. An odious little man whose brazen sense of cultural, social, racial superiority caught the attention and sympathies of a war-depressed nation brought the Jews of Europe to the brink of total annihilation through a carefully planned sequence of sequestration and destruction.

Century after century of historical apartness by Jews admonished by their vision of a Supreme Being whose insistence upon ritual and adoration and obedience by his chosen folk held them in the eyes and opinions of others to be the exemplification of the stranger among them. The community of Jews in any society in any country in the diaspora were suspect, deliberately deprived f human dignity, hated, hunted, tortured. Through residence in one country after another, some of which engaged in forced religious conversions, incarcerations, banishments, pograms, Jews understood their place in the world without comprehending why.

These historical oppositions to the existence of Jewish populations were but a prelude. The long suffering but determined people who had pledged allegiance to Yahweh fiercely defended their faith and their right of existence. Because assimilation was denied as a life-saving gesture they would pay time and again for their sins of existence as the 'other', as the Stranger. And then came Nazi Germany whose unrelenting pursuit of Jews proved to be utterly destructive to the resilience of Jewish determination.

For it was in Germany itself that so many of its Jewish citizens became so firmly entrenched in the German world, the lifestyle, the culture, the tradition, the business world, the world of its art and popular culture that they began to eschew their Jewishness in favour of undiluted German-ness. When these proudly acculturated Germans of Jewish heritage found themselves as much targets of the Nazi plan for extermination of the Jews as any others, they could hardly comprehend the situation.

No amount of distillation of the Jewish essence was acceptable. The very existence of some element of Jewish background was a violation of German pride, exclusivity, probity, piety. The Final Solution was the solution of finality to expunge the insult to German orderliness and fitness. There was no lack of help and support in their insistence on the destruction of the presence of the pestilence the Jewish presence represented to these rabid Jew-haters. Eastern and Central Europe gave itself over handily to the exercise.

The exceptions were notable by their very scarcity. That there were some Germans, Poles, Ukraines, Italians, French, and Hungarians who deplored the Nazi plan and brought their common humanity to bear in attempting to shelter Jews gave a human face to the tragedy. That the world at large, once knowledge of the full extent of the Nazi plan of extermination became known, did not rise in anger and defence of the Jews is the greater human tragedy, one they and we Jews will have to live with.

And living with it, humankind is still not prepared to roust ourselves collectively when we are faced with similar situations which threaten others with the dire reality of genocide. What, truly, are we?


Friday, April 13, 2007

Our World of Plenty

Was a time, not all that long ago, when concerned parents implored their young children to eat the food placed before them, telling them how fortunate they were to have that food. That in other places of the world food was scarce and the choice even scarcer and children in China and Africa go to bed hungry. This scolding enticement likely never was a successful ploy, as children forked unappetizing-tasting vegetables around on their plates hoping to make it look as though by scattering them it would appear a good portion had been eaten.

Haven't we come a long way since then, where most families don't sit down to a shared meal that has been thoughtfully and lovingly prepared by a housewife/mother having the time and the inclination to ensure her family eats healthfully. Now easy access to inexpensive pre-prepared meals make meal presentation one whole lot simpler and the products placed before one's family are almost guaranteed to ensure that every last bit is eaten. The nutritional value may be questionable, but the taste-test has been passed with foods whose composition is high in salt, sugar and fat, all taste-bud palatable.

In fact the problem of children unwilling to eat what has been placed before them has been solved in a way that has turned out to be inimical to their health with the introduction of fast food availability and the downturn in home-fashioned meals. Children are presenting with Type-2 diabetes whose onset was once restricted to overweight, sedentary adults. Medical internists and endocrinologists are now seeing children with fat deposits on their internal organs, a truly alarming signal that something is really wrong with our diets.

Because their parents don't practise the discipline of portion control, the children don't either since it's a concept completely foreign to them. As the parents gradually gain more weight than their frames can healthfully accommodate, so do the children emulating their parents in all ways, including dietary and activity-less behaviours. And since everyone does this, since fast-food outlets are everywhere, and the availability of sugared fizzy drinks and fat-and-sugar-laden treats are even available in school environments this has become the norm.

All right, it's true that children in China - an emerging economic giant - no longer face starvation. But the same cannot be said for other countries of the world, even a country like India whose economy, like China's is booming but where millions of children are said to suffer from malnutrition. Children throughout Africa - most particularly the poorest countries in Africa - suffer stark deprivation, to the point where officials with the World Food Program inform us one child dies every five seconds, of hunger and disease.

While countries in the Western Hemisphere bemoan a burgeoning epidemic of obesity and all the health problems that result from that condition, hunger and malnutrition remain the largest threats to health worldwide. Hunger claims more lives than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. There was a time when the much-vaunted Green Revolution was supposed to represent a solution to this deplorable world problem, yet hunger remains the world's single most lethal killer of children.

Tribal warfare, changing climates resulting in drought and uncontrollable insect infestation, corrupt governments and a generally uncaring world attitude are all attributable to the situation whereby 850 million people worldwide suffer chronic hunger. It's a dreadful, lethal disease, curable by the simple expedient of the provision of sufficient energy through the consumption of food. Food which is simply in short supply or not available in marginally producing countries of the world, for those portions of their populations on the lowest rung of human social existence.

James Morris, recently retired after five years as executive director of the World Food Program, has written about the comparison between neighbours, where the children of plenty develop into robust individuals, while the children of want languish in a slow decline toward death. Divided Korea was the example used, where a Korean boy from the North and one from the South presented at age 7 as stark opposites. The boy from the South was 8 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than his North Korean counterpart.

The world of plenty that we inhabit and which we permit to debilitate us because we seem incapable of disciplining ourselves to take what we need, not what we desire, stands out in stark contrast to the world of want where people face the spectre of death as a result of inadequate food provision. It's certainly true that countries in the developed world whose economic plenty permits them to be generous to their underdeveloped counterparts have a conscience and have attempted to provide support.

It would be wonderful if through the support to third-world countries the leg-up necessary to have them join the world of plenty could become reality. Each country whose economy and society lags drearily behind those grasping opportunities for their future must struggle with the corruption endemic to most of these societies.

We can encourage and point the way; they must be determined and find their own way.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Think Again

We do after all, collectively exercise a certain conscience of perceived responsibility toward others when we appreciate our freedoms, our security of person under the laws of our land, the bounty of food available to us, the comfort of decent housing and medical treatment, our education system, our plenitude of clean water and air. We understand just how fortunate we are when our attention is drawn to the plight of countless populations living in substandard human conditions, where there is no security of person, where laws are deficient and not enacted to protect all equally, where sufficient nutrition and potable water is denied the bulk of the population who are prey to all manner of diseases, many of which owe their prevalence to a lack of hygienic state infrastructure.

And when we are faced with the need to fling ourselves into action, we respond in whatever ways are available to us, from urging our nation's government to act on our behalf to send much needed supplies of food and medicines to counteract the immediate after-effects of natural disasters. To ourselves giving generously to the aid coffers of NGOs. Sometimes those natural disasters take on the guise of political/religious fundamentalism that preys on a nation's most vulnerable, the poor, the women and their children. Now Canada finds itself mired in a dreadful holding situation in Afghanistan, a poor, beleaguered country which turmoil, political unrest and war has historically tainted.

Canada joined her NATO colleagues in a determination to arrest and wipe out religious fundamentalists whose agenda in Afghanistan under the Taliban brought the country to a state of medieval brutality. And since the Taliban took it upon itself to give aid and assistance to another group of militantly religious fundamentalists, al-Qaeda, there was a double mission, to eradicate the capabilities of both groups of wreaking havoc in the world. The United Nations recognized the dangers inherent in these fundamentalist groups' intent on fomenting terrorism and taking states back to the stone age of existence and made common cause with NATO in attempts at eradication.

But there is a living social, traditional, religious, political polarization not easily breached by good intentions. Countries and their administrations which have historically lived in a certain manner with their own religion-based social mores and values which run directly counter to those in the West with advanced economies and a political social order that owes no allegiance to a theocratic underpinning simply do not understand one another. Western counties have a wish to 'gift' countries with no history of social democracy with their way of politics, of administration, and of justice. But countries not accustomed to this manner of living are simply incapable of absorbing and accepting this new world order in short order.

People desperate for personal security of life and limb, an end to lawlessness, understand that this is their first practical need. Civic infrastructure, public utilities, health and education services can only click in when law and order has been established. And even once all of those needs have been satisfied, the mode of social interaction and shared values that have traditionally expressed the country's character will fall back into place, not the kind of fair and egalitarian social network that the West demands for itself. In countries whose administrations have been largely built on corruption, that will continue until and unless the germ of Western-style democracy asserts itself locally, through a country's own deterministic need.

Where extortion and graft is the order of the day, and local authorities do nothing to disrupt corrupt practises, this is seen as a normal mode of civic life. Bureaucracies thrive on their recognized entitlements and aren't amenable to dislodging them to satisfy a conception of fairness and lawfulness practised elsewhere. When NATO invaded Afghanistan to root out the Taliban and bring a legal, elected and democratic-style government to the suffering Afghan people, they envisaged the transformation of the entire society, without understanding or having any knowledge of the traditional way of life. It's simply human to recognize one's own successful mode of political and social governance as transferable.

Yet in helping the new government of Afghanistan incorporate into their governing body the old tribal chieftans, always jostling for power and themselves guilty of dreadful human rights abuses against the population, NATO assured the continuation of the corrupt status quo. Power is essentially back in the hands of the old local thugs with blood on their hands. President Hamid Karzai may exemplify honesty and integrity personally, and remain desperately determined to bring order to his country, but his parliament is comprised of too many blood-stained warlords out to ensure their own agenda is first and foremost.

One-time British diplomat and writer, Rory Stewart, who wrote of his experiences travelling through and across Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Afghanistan knows the area and its traditions. In his newly-published book,
The Places in Between, he asserts that the West's notions of democracy, human rights and emancipation of women, along with other ideals common to western societies are simply foreign to the traditions of the area and cannot be imposed: a 'utopian fantasy'.

In the end, it is the Afghan people themselves who will have to determine their own destiny. The fact is, Afghanistan is one of those unfortunate countries which has suffered one invasion after another throughout the ages by other nations seeking to dominate and subjugate it. The nation will have to resolve its internal problems and supply its own solutions in a manner that best reflects the needs of its people. As a Muslim society it may be impossible for militantly fanatic groups like the Taliban to be ever fully defeated. At least by Western intervention.

Afghans themselves, along with their parliament will have to be determined to cleanse their own slate, to create their own living state to best reflect their traditions and future needs.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Next On The Block

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, an ally of the West, a strongman who although a devoted Muslim himself would like his country to be more democratic than theistic, and a long-time stronghold of orthodox madrassas;a man who skilfully plays both ends against the middle constantly faces the reality of stringent Islamist threats against his rule. He faces criticism from the West who accuse his administration of not doing enough to defeat its internal Muslim fanatics, and along with them the training of new Islamist recruits flooding Afghanistan.

Now, among other internal dissents he faces a small but growing contingent of hardline Islamists who decry the relaxation of Islamic morals and insist on the necessity to bring Pakistan to the purity of Islam with the formal installation of shariah law and all that this implies. Pakistan faces dissent from a rebellious mullah, a Taliban starting-force of their own in waiting who has given due warning: "I announce the setting up of a shariah court from today. I hereby declare the start of Islamic law from this mosque".

This promise challenging the authority of Pervez Musharraf's administration comes from cleric Abdul Aziz of Islamabad's Red Mosque, and he has sent students from his madrassa out into the community to warn and punish those who do not strictly observe Islamic law by purportedly accepting Western values and commercial interests. Abdul Aziz has forewarned the government not to storm his mosque filled with women in burkas and male students defiant of the government and prepared to do whatever their leader exhorts them to.

Thus far they have kidnapped a woman accused of operating a brothel, and threatened shop owners who sell music videos and DVDs. They mount regular morality patrols to target these commercial establishments whose business offends their code of morality. "If [storming the mosque] is the government's last option, then our last option can be suicide attacks. We have tens of thousands of people who can shake the government with
fidayeen [suicide] attacks" promised Aziz.

There is real fear that the republic of Pakistan with its 160 million people has the potential to fall under the thrall of Talibanization, leaving moderates like General Musharraf a vague memory of what the country used to be. Because of this fear 600 human rights activists marched in Islamabad last week, urging the government to put a stop to the mosque's activities and the harassment and terrorizing tactics of its students against ordinary Pakistanis.

Now Nilofar Bakhtiar, Pakistan's tourism minister has been targeted by the radical cleric who has accused her of a "great sin" under Islam. Ms. Bakhtiar, taking part in a charity parachute jump in France last month to raise funds for victims of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, hugged her elderly French instructor in an excess of gratitude after her jump. "This was 'an illegitimate and forbidden act,' the clerics declared and issued a fatwa against Ms. Bakhtiar, essentially threatening her life.

"Without any doubt, she has committed a great sin", say her accusers, demanding she be fired, given another, unspecified punishment and that her family "force her to ask for forgiveness so that she does not repeat this un-Islamic act." The Red Mosque's clerics and followers are feeling particularly empowered, since the government has not yet acted in any manner to remove them as a threat to the population at large.

Their anti-vice, pro-Shariah activities in this moderate country promise more trouble for the future.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Vimy Ridge

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
When I was a child it was my habit, when I walked past a plaque memorializing the two World Wars with this poem of John McRae's, to stop briefly where it stood beyond a wrought-iron fence in front of Harbord Collegiate Institute, and refresh my memory, making certain I had all the words right. As a Jewish child, knowing what I did of the war that ended when I was 9 years old and how horribly it impacted on the Jewish people, the poem had an especial resonance with me. I wanted to remember it, always, so I would forget, never. The sad resignation and determination I took from the poem resonated with me, recalling all the horrors that a child knew could be visited upon human beings.

When I was that child my father assured me that when I reached the age he was then there would be no more wars, that the world, in silent and horrified witness to what had occurred in the two wars just past, and more memorably, he thought, through the Holocaust, would never, ever permit such dread carnage to come to pass again. And how wrong he was. While those words of my father comforted me and uplifted me in hopes for the future, I now know at an age much in advance of his at that time, that human beings simply are not designed to avert such catastrophes. There is something deeply dark within us that consigns us to repeat and repeat that which becomes truly our hell on earth.

Still, we memorialize and glorify that which horrifies us. There is nothing ennobling about war, but we can take refuge in the thought that there are times when the gallant decision to take to the battlefield is justified when to do otherwise is to remain complicit when dark forces threaten the existence of innocent people. We say we will never permit such wholesale slaughter of human beings to occur, ever again. Even while we bear witness time and again to the occurrence of human slaughter on a scale to defy the very existence of humanity and our purpose on this earth. Africa now is deep in the depths of human depravity where tribal, political, social and religious wars are waged on a genocidal level and we despair and do naught.

But we do remember. We remember, as Canadians, sending our undaunted youth into the adventures of their lives. And that so many did not return. These were mere children venturing into adulthood for the most part, and they did their best to live up to the expectations of those left behind, as well as their own expectations of themselves put to the test. Valour did not challenge them nor did the fear they must have felt hurtling themselves directly into the kind of danger that for so many spelled an end to life. Their mothers and fathers, wives and children, brothers and sisters would forever after mourn their passing.

Canada remembers its soldiers at the re-unveiling of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France. During the Great War Canada sent nearly one hundred thousand of its men, many barely out of their teen years to face the enemy. "We stood there in mud to our waists all night waiting for the eventful hour. After fifteen minutes before the time set, I took two water bottles of rum and gave each of the men a good swallow, for I was bitter cold standing in the mud all night" according to Lieut. Kirkland from Dutton, Ontario. "When the time finally arrived, it fell to the gunners like Private Ives, manning their massive howitzers and field guns, to rally their fellow artillerymen to begin the crescendo of explosives and steel."

The Germans had captured the ridge during their initial drive into France at the start of the war and since then, they had spent three years improving its formidable natural defences. Three separate networks of trenches criss-crossed the field, each of them up to 500 metres deep with concrete machine-gun posts and bastions interconnected by a labyrinth of deep trenches and tunnels. Each line was protected by belts of barbed wire more than 100 metres wide and included deep shelters large enough to hold hundreds of German soldiers. This then was what the Canadians were facing, a well-established enemy post which had already tossed back onslaughts by the French and the British forces.

Moreover, when Captain Walter Moorhouse, serving with the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, toured the old French lines as the Canadians took over the sector in late 1916 he was shocked to find the trenches full of decomposing bodies from a battle which had taken place a year and a half earlier. "They had never been cleared and were still well [reinforced] and in fair condition", he remarked "but with many corpses lying around." The Canadian plan of attack on Vimy Ridge involved a combination of firepower - 1,097 howitzers, mortars and field guns assembled - an assault tactic called "the creeping barrage" where artillery fires about 100 metres ahead of advancing soldiers, gradually raising aim as infantry moves forward, one trench at a time.

The soldiers wrote letters home when they could and sometimes these were the last and only effects their families had to remember them by:
  • Dear Mother - Well I guess it is about time I wrote you a few lines to let you know I am still alive and kicking. We are out of the trenches, training to go over the top, but we'll be doing the real thing in a couple of days... William Henry Bell, April 7, 1917.
  • Dear Mary and Kiddies - It is a wet night so will try to write a line. We came out last evening and the moon was shining good for once and Fritz did not hit anyone coming out. There were more hits going in...I was out in No Man's Land on the edge of an old crater some place about a lake of water in it...The big thing is next time. I hope I can write to you when it is over, will write if I can soon as it is allowed. Well pray for the best. Will write a little to the children. Your old man, Roy. William Roy Gullen, April 7, 1917.
  • Dear Sister - I received your letter and thought I would answer it. So here goes. It's raining here as usual and the cannons are roaring on all sides. It stops raining here whenever the guns stop firing, so you can imagine how much good weather there is. You people all seem to think I am sorry I enlisted, well I hate to say I am not but I ain't 'cause I would never of been contented at home if I hadn't. William Henry Bell, April 3, 1917.
  • Dear Lillian - You will probably have heard by the time this reaches you that I got what I came to France for. It's only a little wound in the foot and not serious, but enough for a good rest before I go back. I shall write a long letter soon and also one to Dad, when I get settled. Clarence Reginald Gass, April 15, 1917.
  • My Dear Sister Olga - I am sitting on my bed writing this epistle looking out of the tent door. There are eight others sleeping besides me in this tent, with straw on the floor to keep the mud from oozing through into our blankets. Well, we are situated on a side hill, halfway up. There are plenty of trees growing to shield us from enemy aeroplanes' sight...Across the ravine is the battle-scarred country and a cavalry camp. Letter from Jack Malcolm Brown, April 8, 1917.
Ninety years later, we remember, we pay homage to the supreme sacrifices of Canada's fighting men, fighting for justice, liberty, freedom on behalf of all of us. Nations go to war, the nefariously brutal occupation that compels the mindsets of brutal dictators and corrupt political elites who can always find good reason why they should call upon the youth of their time to march on another nation - and other nations mass troops in defence and determination to halt those plans to dominate and defeat and conquer other nations.

But there is no glory in war. There can be a morally legitimate reason to respond, to answer the call to defend that which is held dear in a moral, enlightened, egalitarian society. And we human beings, beyond our dreadful faults do embody some uplifting traits, such as hope. Hope induces us to look to a better, a fairer, a brighter future. Despite ourselves.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

A New World Order?

So here's the story: Islamists, militant Muslim fanatics don't, it is true, represent Islam in its entirety. But they certainly represent a certain type of Islam, one most practising Muslims wouldn't even recognize, in its transposition from medievalism to the present and back again. Religions of the world were, as an intelligent and reasonable human construct, designed to connect people, to teach great congregations of geographic groups how to get along, to live together under a single canopy of peace and understanding, to practise certain morals integral to humane life, and the unifying principle was the recognition and praise and obedience to a higher order, a distinctly unhuman but all-powerful Guiding Spirit.

Adherence to the religious ideology and worship of the God-figure was paramount to producing a unified and governable society. And then human pride and audacity being what it is, there is a wish among the religion's elite to throw a wider net, to capture the imaginations and loyalties of greater geographic groups; to exponentially spread the theocratic empire. The religion taught a way of life, social, cultural, religious, political; birth-to-death. Some world religions made small alterations in interpretations of the original holy texts to better fit with an emerging and ever-changing societal construct and as times changed so did the religion adjust, for a better fit.

Islam, the kind of Islam practised by millions of people world-wide, did the same, and many countries whose religious tradition came to be signified by Islamic rule accepted a modified model which fit well with their evolving situation, and which was also amenable to practise under a secular form of political governance. But in the cradle of Islam, orthodoxy demanded otherwise and an increasing movement toward a more 'pure' interpretation of Islam arose. Its adherents took to it so zealously that they began to reject all later, more futurist-amenable interpretations seen as disloyal to the original intent expressed in the Koran. The conflicting messages of charity and trust, peace and compassion expressed alongside that of military jihad and geographical conquest to spread Islam underwent a sea change.

Back to the original drawing board. The tribal-based, vengeful, bloodthirsty elements of the religion that reflected a time in history and landscape has been resurrected. The new surge of Islamofascists concern themselves with the idealization of jihad and conquest, the expendibility and slaughter of all those unwilling to accept the faith demanded by Allah in its purest, and very original forms. An ideology-driven, theocratic-political end-game. Puzzling in its purpose and intent to most practising Muslims, and threatening to them as it is to all others, considered infidels.

There is no appeasing fanatics, there are no half-way measures, no counter-measures, no reasonable discourse possible, nor accommodation other than like meeting like determination.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Predators of the Deep

Mankind's frightening and sometimes delicious fear of them aside, the predators of the deep are in dreadful decline. The reasons are various but mostly can be placed squarely in the area of peoples' acquisitive ignorance. Just as elephants have to be protected because people see great value in the ivory of their tusks, and leopards and tigers have extraordinary appeal to humans because of their animal nobility and we wish to preserve them as wonderful animal specimens, yet come up against the illegitimate harvesting of them for their parts, it seems we have to enact laws for the same protective purposes for sharks.

Throughout much of Asia, shark fin soup is seen as a symbol of wealth, served to eminent elites of society as a sign of respect. A pound of shark fin can be had for as much as $300 U.S. And since the entire shark is seen to have little value as a food source, the bodies are discarded and only the fins taken; 95% of the animal is considered waste. One hundred million sharks are killed every year, and this tragedy of the ocean deep is little observed or recognized for the environmental upset that it represents.

Sharks, unlike baby seals are not cute. Their presence evokes fear and revulsion. Photographs of sharks invoke instinctive visions of their great teeth tearing hapless human swimmers apart. No humane societies and animal-rights activists have as yet undertaken the wholesale rescue of sharks. They are seen by humankind as pure predators, dangers to unwary humans. But all those various species of shark are also beautiful works of nature and their removal from the world's oceans will result in a serious imbalance of ecosystems.

Studies by the recently-deceased Ransom Myers and Boris Worm, biologists out of Dalhousie University in Halifax point to a stupendous decline in the population of Atlantic sharks - by as much as 89% since 1972. Great white, hammerhead and bull shark populations have also declined in dramatic numbers. Overall, oceanic predator populations are estimated to have declined by 90% in the past 50 years. There is some international recognition of the dissonance between such harvesting and the natural imbalance of ecosystems as evidenced by the ban on shark-finning by 17 countries.

But the demand for shark fins is increasing, not diminishing. Chinese drugs, medications and special foods often call for exotic bits and pieces of animals for which whole animals are relinquished in the harvest of particular portions. Furthermore wholesale fishing techniques where fishing lines with baited hooks extending 80 to 90 kilometres in the ocean, target species indiscriminately. We waste an estimated 54 billion pounds of fish annually which handily explains why fisheries worldwide are expected to collapse by 2048.

Studies out of Dalhousie University suggest the removal of large sharks and predators from the ecosystems result in early warning signs of ecosystem collapse. The phenomenon is labeled a "top down" effect, where the removal of one element in the chain has an inexorable effect on the entire chain of the ecosystem until total collapse has been achieved.

The example of the diminishing presence of Sea otters hunted for their pelts resulting in an explosion of urchins, their main food source, is a case in point. The urchins in their turn fed omnivorously on the kelp forests, the breeding grounds of Pacific herring. The resulting scarcity of herring meant that populations of whales, dolphins, sea lions, sharks and other large fish were nearly eliminated. Cause and effect; a total upset of nature's balance.

The study by Ransom Myers (Science, March 2007) and Julia Baum demonstrated that the absence of sharks from the Atlantic coast has caused some of their food populations such as smaller sharks, skates and rays to proliferate in such numbers that they destroyed the population of mollusks - in the process wiping out centuries-old fisheries.

All to say that we've been responsible for wiping out the top predator from every ocean, one that has balanced the ocean ecosystems for over 400 million years. As a result the entire food system has been knocked a-kilter. This effects not only aquatic species of all types and sizes and functions, but also impacts on human fisheries.

Yet another way in which humankind has profligately used, misused and spoiled ecosystems, creating a major imbalance where aquatic life-systems formerly well balanced by nature's design are now fatally imperilled. We have to design a system whereby we don't continue exploiting and despoiling those very ecosystems that support animals who share this planet with us.

We can most certainly do a whole lot better as a species among species than we have up until now. The signs of imminent collapse are there, the ultimate destruction of viable life-forms all of which are intertwined in nature's holistic steady state are yet another signpost in the kind of environmental decay our arrogant and thoughtless waste has brought us to.

There is a new film recently released which documents the plight of our ocean predators, a Canadian documentary produced by biologist/filmmaker Rob Stewart: Sharkwater. (


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