Friday, June 29, 2007

So They Have Written

Among many others, well not many exactly, but a representative number. Think Salmon Rushdie and fatwas; oops, Sir...! Think Tarek Fatah and covert threats. Irshad Manji?

How about Oriana Fallaci: "Rome fell not because of its enemies outside; it was destroyed from within." The West had abandoned its principles. She called the complicit elements of the West, the politically correct intellectuals, the leftists, the journalists, "cicadas". That they see tyranny only if it comes from the right.

Ayan Hirsi Ali: "I'm not intimidated by the threats and the attempts to make me shut my mouth, because living in a rich western European country like this one, I have protection that I otherwise would not have in Somalia or in Africa or in any other Islamic country."

The words that come to mind: courageous, intrepid, honest, determined, outraged by what they see about them, the Western world capitulating to the belligerent demands of a religion gone rampantly militaristic through the interpretation of a holy script that became a bloody screed, drenched with the intent to mobilize all the rabidly fanatic discontents in the Muslim world against "outsiders", those of other religions, those labelled infidels and Jews; the West.

For heaven knows they have much to screech their indignant blame and discontent at; the humiliations visited upon the world of Islam through the auspices of Christianity, the Crusaders; Jews and the Holy Bible; Western corporate interests that seek successfully to drain the resource-inheritance of the Middle East through pipelines to the West; the ongoing attempts by Europe and North America to visit insults and degrading edicts against Islam.

And the final insult, for a world body representing the countries of this earth to find common cause in the stealth-removal of a portion of land consecrated to Allah and hand it over to Jews. The Arab world speaks loud and with outraged purpose, and over time their message has been conveyed; that Jews had no place in Islam's Holy Lands. Never mind their presence in the Middle East much pre-dating Islam itself.

She has written, this 74-year-old Jew from Egypt, of her family forced to leave their native Egypt. They represented a minuscule portion of the million Jews living for millennia in Arab lands, Muslim states which tolerated their presence, pre-State of Israel, with certain conditions, but whose presence there became intolerable with the creation of the Jewish State.

Bat Ye'or, (Daughter of the Nile): Gisele Orebi, has written that their numbers were greater than those of the Palestinian refugees, yet the world knows nothing of the outcast Jews, wants to know nothing of them. For after all, while Israel has embraced her own, the Arab world has viewed the presence of their supposedly malodorous brethren distastefully, eschewing the need to integrate them into their own societies.
"Most of Palestine is in Jordan but we do not hear cries for Jordan to return land. This is not about the rights of the Palestinians but about the refusal to accept a non-Muslim state in the region. Palestine has become the fashion of the West; without them understanding the deeper issues of the conflict."
The need to channel internal discontent throughout the Arab world elsewhere than on their own oppressors feeds handily into the turning of their anger outwardly, toward foreign elements, imbuing the general discontent with a theistic purpose, a nationalist rite of passage to the future that awaits their triumphant success.

In 1999, Abdel Sattar Kassam, a professor of political science in the Palestinian city of Nablus, put his name to the "petition of the 20", written to "stand against [Arafat's] tyranny and corruption". For his troubles, he was imprisoned and the world took no notice.

Chairman Arafat, his PLO cronies and his supporters in the wider Arab world embraced the teaching of "martyrdom" to their impressionable youth.

And Yasser Arafat, blessed be his name said: "O Haifa, O Jerusalem, you are returning. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. With blood and spirit we will redeem you, Palestine."

So have they written. So it is.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Persian Protests

How about that! Iranians are angry, and they aren't going to take it any more. Referring to what - kindly explicate....?

Their isolation internationally, the censure brought upon them by the United Nations in retaliation for their government's determination to proceed in attaining nuclear sufficiency, not for energy, but for the purpose of amassing nuclear armaments? Not that?

Well, let's see... Anger over the declaration by their nutbar President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government of its intent to annihilate another neighbour-state? No? Hmmm, how about acute annoyance over the growing strength of fanatical literalists who appear to govern behind the scenes? No.

The crack-downs on university students protesting the limits to questioning a theistic regime's strictures? No.

Protests against the constraints placed on women's human rights? No?

Well, give me a break, what's it all about? Oh, wait a minute; I'll guess again. Iranians aren't thrilled at the deleterious regional role their political masters are playing in setting off sectarian violence. Um, no?

All right: their lack of freedom of assembly, of speech, of religious choice, of mode of dress, of protest, of female attendance at and participation in sports events?

WHAT!!? Oh, they're annoyed. They're fed up. They've been inconvenienced. Their bottom line has been affected. Hey, you're putting me on.

One of the largest extractors of fossil fuels, the fourth-largest oil exporter in the world is imposing fuel rationing? In a bid to become more self-reliant? WOT!!?

Uh, they have never developed adequate refining capacity. Well, that's foresight for you. You've got the raw resources, but then you ship it out for refining elsewhere, and re-import it for domestic use. Dumb. Really dumb.

So, you're saying that Iranians have paid for heavily state-subsidized oil and gas up until now? A fraction of its actual cost; the cheapest in the world at $.11.5 per litre. Wow. And demand for energy is on the upswing.

What an incredible formula for economic disaster. So they're introducing rationing and price rises to curb demand. That'll do it. Spoon-feed people the necessities of pedestrian life for long enough and they become accustomed to it.

Long-term planning in this case appears to be that drivers will henceforth purchase daily gasoline allocations four months in advance. Private vehicles to get 100 litres of gasoline a month. Paid for with electronic smart cards. Sounds cool, very technologically advanced. Very responsible, in a civic manner.

In response to which Iranians have been doing what? Torching gasoline stations and shouting invective at the government? No kidding!

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Canada's National Disgrace

Another summer of discontent looms. Canadians are bracing for inconvenience. Although most native groups plan to mark a planned national day of action by attempting, through public interaction and publicity to raise awareness in the greater population with respect to ongoing issues relating to native communities, there are some, like the Tyendinaga Mohawk reserve in eastern Ontario which have made plans to disrupt traffic on Highway 401, Ontario's major vehicular transit route, and along the main CN rail line running between Toronto and Montreal.

Canadians wait with bated breath. And no little amount of trepidation. We are, after all, approaching our national holiday, Canada Day, on the first of July. What a pain. Who needs the interruption in service, the pain of it all? Distracting from much more important things, like celebrating Canada Day. Like enjoying lazy summer week-ends. What's the matter with those Indians, anyway? Why can't they resort to the courts to settle their problems with the government? Why bring on the potential violence of confrontation through that kind of civil disobedience?

Good questions all. And setting aside the burning issues of broad dysfunction in too many native communities, the undeniable fact that those communities and above all, their leaders need to confront and manage the intractable problems that beset and bedevil their communities, there are other problems that fester. Yes, there is the dysfunction caused by disinterest, indolence, alcoholism, drug trafficking, neglect and abuse of children, destruction of public property corrupting the native community.

But then there is the canker of a long succession of Canadian governments ignoring many of the problems they're responsible for incurring, like the plight of native children forcibly removed from their homes to attend residential schools, and the dreadful abuse suffered there. There is the not-to-be-overlooked problem of native claims not addressed, allowed to languish through a court system unprepared to bring them to closure. We have failed, spectacularly, to aid and assist our native brothers and sisters.

Prime territory in the Fraser River Valley in B.C. once formally granted to the Douglas Reserve of the Sto:lo First Nations in Chilliwack in the 19th century was later taken from the reserve, and in its stead, while other valuable Crown properties were available as substitutes, the reserve was offered alternately, swampland and an abandoned Defence department rocket range crowded with unexploded munitions. That's a horror story, but it seems to be typical of the duplicitous manner in which government approaches it's responsibility in this area.

The Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine has called for a day of peaceful demonstration to take place june 29, to highlight the grievances of his people, and enlighten Canadians about the lax attitude taken by government to native rights. But they're not monolithic and some native chiefs propose instead action of a more dramatic nature, like the installation of illegal blockades of highways and rail lines. Nothing quite draws the attention, even if it's in the form of ire, than inconvenience.

Although all of this is meant to alert Canadians and the government to the fact that Canada's aboriginal population is well and truly fed up with the lack of progress on long-unsettled land claims, all too often these vigorous protests turn violent and it is the protesters themselves who pay the piper. Kanesatake, and Caledonia and Ipperwash Park bring to mind the tragedies that followed and the racism that took the lives of Neil Stonechild (drunk and frightened and left in an isolated winter area to freeze to death) and Dudley George.

First Nations, Metis and Innu people are still awaiting recognition of their place in Canadian society, still waiting for the promises given to their ancestors to be honoured, still waiting for unsettled land claims to be properly resolved. Instead, the lands in question have been taken for public use; railways, tunnels, hydro lines and 'sold' for use by land developers and housing developments. Who wouldn't be bitter. Who wouldn't protest? And when that avails nothing, who wouldn't mount muscular opposition?

Taking the 'lawful' course through the courts now takes over a decade for most claims to see resolution, let alone the years needed for federal bureaucrats to research each claim, then report whether the government is willing to proceed with negotiations. The outdated and antiquated Indian Act badly needs overhauling - if not to be handed over entirely for native administration - with due accountability.

And yes, the band chiefs need to be accountable for the use of billions of dollars that have gone their way, despite which one-third of on-reserve aboriginal communities are in financial duress, assistance and services to their charges are lacking and so is an explanation for the puzzle that no one seems able to answer: where has that money gone?

Canada is left, in the meantime, in a state of national shame.

We need to know why the current $8-billion-plus spent by Canadians on aboriginal programmes and services has had such a negligible effect on providing the necessities of life for aboriginal populations. Why their living conditions, rather than improving, are continuing to decline.

We need to know that our government is really serious about solving this implacable impasse. Lives hang on the outcome. So does the pride of Canadians in a country that boasts its inclusiveness and egalitarian values.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

To What Avail?

The fabled road map to MidEast peace. Is there such a road map? Might there be such an event as peace reigning finally in that agonized geography? Much depends upon peace. Yes indeed it does. But is it achievable? What other geography of the world is as tormented by its inhabitants' inability to bring accord to human relations other than the Middle East? Well, yes, there is always the sad and ever-failing example of Africa.

But then, much of Africa too is embroiled in conflict brought forward by the seeming incapacity of Islam and those who practise a particularly malignant form of Islam, to succumb to peaceful relations with their neighbours, near or far. Clan structure and tribal conditioning are much to fault in both, to a good degree. Militantly aggressive societies with a long cultural tradition of war and conquest.

One looks in vain throughout the Middle East for examples of governments or those who purport to govern, practising the Golden Mean. Instead, the spectre of gross violations of human rights in its most pedestrian guise comes to the fore. In a society that refuses to move itself away from its Bedouin past of tribal hostilities linked to competitive advantage and the scarcity of resources, both land and water.

Alliances are made for the convenience of hanging on to the status quo, but those very alliances are readily shifted when they become an encumbrance toward momentum of achieving goals favourable to advantaging one signatory over the other. Once an enemy, always an enemy, and enemies are not singular in nature but rather tribal and clan in character. The worship of clan cliques is second only to that accorded Allah.

Not much has changed over the centuries in the Arab/Muslim world of hegemony, power politics and the eternal blaming of external sources for disadvantaging the Arab/Muslim world, of the external world interfering and hobbling progress in Allah's domain. Thus we have the interloper presence of Israel charged with the responsibility and the risks inherent in that responsibility, to take it onto itself to make peace with an avowed enemy that refuses peace.

The just-convened meeting between Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah, Israel's Ehud Olmert and that champion of Palestinian rights, Mahmoud Abbas, adjourned with little sign of progress. Mostly because Mr. Olmert refused to bow under pressure from the other three to assume full responsibility for settling the "crisis" that has seen Hamas take Gaza, and Fatah left with the West Bank.

The Sunday prior to the Monday meeting of the quartet had Jordan's King Abdullah II berate, cajole, bully and implore Israel's Prime Minister to see his way clear to commit unequivocally for negotiations leading to a final settlement on the peace front. It was necessary, he warned, for Israel to accept that Gaza and the West Bank be re-united, for Abbas and Haniyeh to speak as one in the peace accords.

For Israel to free up funds, ease travel restrictions, remove security checkpoints and roadblocks, and accept the 2002 Arab League settlement proposal for peace which Saudi Arabia grandly re-introduced to the Middle East agenda. Israel, the point they stress, has peace to gain out of these concessions. Israel, knowing the cesspool in which their state resides, understands differently.

That she cannot in good faith bargain for peace with an adamantly-terrorist organization dedicated as a first principle, to her destruction. That to free up border crossings is to invite further suicide and bombing attacks. That to accept the Arab League proposal is to accept a self-suicidal mission; to give up Jerusalem to the Palestinian determination to make that city its capital; to accept Palestinian demands for "return" would be to dilute the Jewish presence of Israel to an intolerable-leading-to-dysfunctional degree.

What the Arabs could not accomplish through the determined medium of armed might, they seek to accomplish through the crafty diversion of population diminishment of the Jewish presence, completely engulfed by a Palestinian "return" of original refugees and their children and their grandchildren, to swallow the Jewish presence and present a fait accompli - yet another Arab state.

But the premise also behind all of this is that Israel has no one else to bargain with, other than the tolerantly "moderate" Abbas. Who has not been averse in the recent past to declaring that he will not make any attempts to police his population, to rein in his armed militia, as they have a right to "resist" (equating resistance with suicide missions). Even if a tentative, hopeful peace accord was somehow to be reached with Abbas, even extended to Haniyeh, who would then be responsible for controlling the extra-governmental militias?

Those who, even while Fatah and Hamas had agreed to a cease-fire with Israel, continued to rain down rockets upon Israel and its inhabitants? The Palestinian Authority, whether controlled by Mahmoud Abbas or Ismail Haniyeh would have no intention of militating to their more "extreme" brethren that they cease and desist, even beyond the eventual creation of a Palestinian State.

There has been no Palestinian State in the past for many reasons, not the least of which was that Egypt and Jordan deemed the land theirs, to be disposed of and used as they wished, the Palestinians being but those who lived on the land, not owners of it. In the many decades since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Palestinian population made no effort to represent itself, to establish a governable presence, to bring into existence the building blocks of statehood.

This fabled, elusive goal that the Palestinians themselves have dislodged from potential time and again through intransigence, suspicion, greed, envy and passionate resentment, aided by an unwillingness to assume responsibility for themselves and their future, choosing instead to remain an existential basket case, the world's premium international welfare target. They have never attempted to lift themselves out of the refugee label, nor to function capably, nor to invest in needed civil infrastructure.

Should they eventually attain to autonomous statehood, the world stands ready to continue its investment in this state welfare model of indolent disability and constant complaints against their unfortunate lot in life.

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The Glory That Was Rome

Does history reflect a more glorious era than that of fabled Rome of yore? Its leaders were men of great vision and great enterprise, bringing Rome to the status of world power at a time in world history when other countries hosted tribes of roaming adversarial populations whose lives were rudimentary and brutal. Romulus and Remus had a vision, imparted to them by a she-wolf who promised them world dominance.

Which was exactly what Rome aspired to and succeeded in achieving, during that faint historical time: dominance over much of the-then-known world. Her engineering feats in building towns, roads, bridges and armies were unsurpassed by any others in the ancient world. Her engineering techniques remain the marvel of modern technology. She introduced hygienic living conditions in her towns and cities, with a form of domestic plumbing far in advance of her times.

Her great amphitheatres and communal steam baths, the public infrastructure, the civic administrations of great renown and function, set her apart from any other known authority of the time. Rome had grand ambitions and she strove to extend her dominion, and then to control the results of her conquests, against the primitive hordes outside her borders.

Her legions of conscripts and generals, their war strategies and techniques which made them invincible through the use of projectiles and the storied phalanx, battering rams, siege machines and armour, the assembled throngs of endless shields to protect her troops, ensured she was the military scourge of her time. Rome advanced her agenda to grasp ever greater territories, to conquer her neighbours, and she ruled with an iron fist.

Where is Rome today? Her manifest destiny achieved, it was but a blink of time, and she went into swift decline, leaving the world evidence of her vast achievements; no one dwells too much on the corruption that beset her, the loosening of moral conviction and succumbing to an ongoing series of regicide, and the dissolving of the world power state of Rome.

She has her counterpart in the Middle East, when in the mists of history Persia and Phoenicia, and above all Egypt, displayed themselves as shining examples of human progress, paving the way for artistic endeavour par excellence: philosophy, engineering; the building of the enigmatic Sphinx, the burial places of the Pharoahs, the preservation of mummies, the Pyramids, the establishment of trade routes, and finally, the great advance of deicide in favour of monotheism.

Where is that geography today? Evaporated, lost in antiquity. Left behind is the pride in the memory of an accomplishment now denied its modern denizens. The vision and the talent, the ambitiously-capable functioning of state and enterprise - all of it dissolved into nothingness. What is left is the dross of mankind's worst nightmares of incapacity, inaction, mired in the swamp of resentment, disinclination, envy, anger and predilection to visit punishment upon one's perceived enemies.

Where the population that was once Rome has declined, they have yet metamorphized into a pacific people, generous and good-hearted, embracing their land as agronomists, farmers, grape growers, cheese makers. Their parliaments are fractious, short-lived and self-disabling. They gave birth to a different type of clan, a mafia of powerful cliques seeking control and personal enrichment with their inbred sense of honour and pacts among thieves.

Where the population that was once Egypt has declined, it is ruled by a despotic functionary class, the people humbled by their circumstances, fractious and complaining among themselves, yet given to hospitality and kindness as long as one is not identified as foreign or an enemy, and then they are relentless in their pursuit of revenge, befitting an Arab tradition of Bedouin existence living long past practicality.

In Italy, children are blessings and valued for the goodness that is inherent in mankind. They represent the hopes for the future, the culmination of marriages, the belief in the Catholic Church to be fruitful and multiply. They seem not to be destined ever again to produce the Renaissance genius of artistry that once they gifted the world with, nor one such as Leonardo da Vinci. But anything is possible, who knows what the future may bring?

Back to the Middle East, there is a large disgruntled, unhappy and dissatisfied population that also has many children, for Allah too encourages His flock to be fruitful and to multiply. There too mothers love their children. And a 2002 Palestinian Authority schoolbook written under the auspices of Fatah, leading the Palestinian Authority teaches tender young minds thusly:

"O heroes, Allah has promised you victory.... Do not talk yourselves into flight.... Your enemies seek life while you seek death. They seek spoils to fill their empty stomachs while you seek a Garden [Paradise] as wide as are the heavens and the earth. Do not be anxious to meet them [enemies], for death is not bitter in the mouth of the believers. These drops of blood that gush from your bodies will be transformed tomorrow into blazing red meteors that will fall down upon the heads of your enemies." (Reading and Texts Part II, Grade 8 (2002), p. 16)
The Director of the Palestinian Children's Aid Association admitted on PA television that PA schools indoctrinate children to love self-immolation in order to "meet...God". "The concept of shahada for the child means belonging to the homeland, from a religious point of view. Sacrifice for the homeland. Achieving shahada in order to reach Paradise and to meet God. This is the best. We also teach our children to protect the homeland, belonging and to reach shahada."
Can there be much of a future for children taught the glories of suicide to favour a demanding God? Malleable, searching minds should be taught to question and to look for reasonable answers to what puzzles them; how to make their way in the world, to attain a future for themselves, to bring comfort and satisfaction to themselves and their societies, to reach for the meaning of life, not find meaning in death.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

First There Was The Word

Not word exactly; blistering rhetoric more likely. You always know when the Arab world is aggrieved. They don't simmer in silence. They bellow their anger, inform the world that enemies conspire to undo them and they will not have it. Nor should they. No one likes to be disadvantaged, and some people actually believe the world and all its inhabitants are out to destroy them. We usually lock such people away for their own protection, let alone that of others.

Yet in some societies, so heavily weighted with psychotic dementia many of these blighted souls advance themselves to positions of power and prestige and eventually dominate, leaving the more amenable and humanly-socialized among them to cower in fear. Take Iran. Now wouldn't that be nice, if somehow someone did - far, far away, into the stratosphere. Not the country as a whole, merely its theistically-depraved rulers.

Who have convinced themselves that they have the support of the entire nation for their enterprise in creating a nuclear programme that has become the baneful fear of neighbours and the international community. Iran has a population comprised of ethnic Persian (51%), Turks (24%), and other minorities accounting for the remaining quarter of the population of 70 million. There is no clear cohesion in the population for nationalistic purposes.

The Turks would dearly love to revolt against Persian cultural imperialism; Kurds have begun an insurgency; Arab minorities detonate bombs, and Baluch tribespeople attack police and revolutionary guards. Besides which many of the Persian majority detest the theocratic rule imposed upon them for its prohibitions, or because they are part of a persecuted minority like the Sufis or the Baha'i.

Yet we see a dangerously complicit population in a potential nuclear threat capable of destabilizing the world order. That's the power of neurotically incendiary rhetoric, of the capability of instilling fear in an international community not itself known to dissemble and threaten and promise hallucinatory Armageddon.

Yet it's common currency in the Middle East. These are people with an ancient, fabled and highly respected heritage. Where did all the enterprise, the social brilliance, the forward-looking discoveries and economic advancement expressed in world trade in the mists of history disappear to? What is left appears to be human dross; unenterprising, disinterested in any manner of human advancement.

Yet fervidly embracing the idea of somehow having been cheated out of their Islamic geographic inheritance. Violent language and violent actions are the order of this modern day. We cannot say we haven't been warned, since the methodology is clear; first the shrill accusations, then the threats, followed by suicide missions - the better to serve Islam.

It is the first order of Islamists to battle the transgressive foreigners intent on invading their countries, on depriving them of their heritage. These backward societies, incapable and unwilling to order their own futures. A region that has the second lowest adult literacy rate in the world; whose dependence on oil translates as an utter disinterest in manufacturing or trade.

The entire Middle East generated under 4% of global GDP in 2006, less than Germany. These are populations that are backward in social evolution, but who excel in mounting insurgencies.

The conflicts in the Middle East that range from Algeria to Iraq, those occurring elsewhere in the world, from Muslim-Hindu violence in Kashmir, Muslim-Christian violence in Indonesia and the Philippines, Muslim-Buddhist violence in Thailand, Muslim-animist violence in Sudan, Muslim-Igbo violence in Nigeria, Muslim-Muscovite violence in Chechnya; between Sunni and Shi-ite, all bespeak a broad level of hostility and aversion to social evolution.

What they all have in common is their proud adherence to the grand and humane moral principles extolled in the Koran. Mangled beyond recognition by useful interpretation by willing mullahs, ayatollahs and other religious.

Despite the overall dissent, misery, murder and mayhem, the Islamic world remains fond of blaming the West for all its problems. And no symbol of the West is more emblematic than Israel and its geographic location within a scorpion-infested geography. The local wisdom would have it that if only Israel were ousted, were no more, and the needful Palestinian population finally achieved their autonomous state, there would be no more fighting.

What has Israel, after all, to do with Sudan and Darfur? With Chechnya? With Nigeria? With the enmity between traditionalists and Islamists?

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Social Primitivism

How to understand a wide geographic demographic that lacks social empathy, a state that we normally attribute to advanced societies. All the more puzzling when great swaths of that demographic were once among the most societally advanced in the globe at a time of early social evolution.

I speak, needless to say, of the Middle East. A number of great and noble civilizations once resided there, from the great dynasties of Egypt to the seafaring Phoenicians, to the Sultanates of Persia and even earlier incarnations of Middle East populations.

They left the world a proud legacy of achievement in the boldness of their social enterprise, their literature, art, architecture, methods of governance and their military domination of the geography. Later, when Islam spread so did a flowering of philosophy and literature, art and architecture, building upon the heritage that went before.

Under early Islamic rule countries at a far remove from the Middle East prospered socially, economically and intellectually under Islamic hegemony. Now, the people who populate the various emirates, territories, theocracies and dictatorships still reek with pride, and bank on the dim historical glory of their past.

But the interest rate is so low, modern Islam can barely muster a collective deposit of intellectual acumen, reasonableness, humility, creativity, industry, economic determinism, social-scientific advancement, let alone a new philosophy appropriate to the currency of of a new world.

Who, in their right minds, would invest in such a poor return? Ah well, geography intervenes and offers opportunities to rest on the laurels of nature's deposits and investments from foreign interests there are plenty. Enabling the home-grown to disperse resources for great steaming sums of lucre, and spend exquisitely, bringing over labour from abroad, themselves investing in service opportunities that require no great cerebral functioning.

That's on one side of the ledger. On the other is the aggravated philosophy of belligerence, bellicosity, a carefully nurtured aggrievement with their state in the world about them, an inherited and never left-behind clan worship that extended only sufficiently to embrace Islam. This is a wide population dedicated to a code of honour, much pre-dating Islam. A code mired in a primitive social order unwilling to submit to evolving toward social enlightenment.

Honour is construed as allegiance to one's clan or tribe, and by extension to the tribe's strongman, or leading family. Honour is avenging perceived slights. Honour is revenge incarnate, the bloodier the more effectively pursued and consecrated. Honour is amending stains on the family or clan or tribal reputation. Honour is the family murder of a son who disdains tribal function or a daughter who demeans the family by going her own way.

Where, in this stew, is altruism? The Koran exhorts its followers to charity and forgiveness. Very little of which is actually seen in the world of Islam, but then the world has become of late, accustomed to a violently jihadist Islam, and we're informed it is not representative of the true nature of Islam and all the pious and worthy Muslims who practise it worldwide.
True, it is the noisy ones who grab one's attention.

The noise precedes the action. The noise is determinedly loud and meaningfully aggressive. And the action, when it erupts is mind-bogglingly revolting in its abrogation of human values. It is as though psychotically unruly adolescents who were never subject to discipline, never given instruction on the sensitive nature of human interaction were suddenly let loose on an unwary world.

These precocious adolescents see the world through a dark lense of hostility, suspicion, entitlement and grievance. They spew an extravagant language denoting nothing but their righteous demands, a robust anger and hatred, a defensive, collective whine of entitlement. Give them the attention they crave and they respond by accusations and threats. Give them the opportunistic exposure to aversive events and they take up weapons and run berserk.

Consumed with the pleasure of destroying any symbols of what they perceive to be their enemies. Enemies close at hand belonging to other tribes for whom they share contempt, or enemies from abroad whom they attribute with the desire to wreak havoc in their world, to upend the order of what they perceive as normal and right.

They are not amenable to reason. For reasonableness eludes them, it is not a part of their social make-up.

Anthropologists, social behaviourists are only now beginning to fully appreciate that social altruism may have existed in the social life of primitive apes, before evolution led to humans and chimpanzees. Studies illustrate that young chimpanzees are capable of spontaneously responding to a recognized need, and doing so in a manner that will not enrich them in any way, purely as an impulse to assist others.

How did this impulse elude the psychological make-up of an entire human geographic population? It is as though the larger Arab world became an evolutionary sink hole, with attributes heavily in favour of discord, suspicion, hatred and bloodshed imprinted in their genetic code. Violence begets violence, begets ongoing violence.

There are time lapses, when anger builds up again, and weapons caches deemed sufficient to resume attacks and violence resumes.

How to reason with such people?

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Coasting Along

The news unfolds, as it will. For events continue to present themselves. To be dutifully reported upon. The good, the bad and the ugly. Human nature being what it is, we remark far less upon the good than upon the bad, the ugly in human events. For indeed there is much to be remarked upon. Such is, after all, the nature of humanity. We are quietly accepting of the good, and proud ourselves to be good.

And look on in horror at what human relations can conspire toward in unsettling the affairs of the world. But we must know, and we will know, of all the events, minor and major, inspied by natural cataclysms, and by mankind - close at hand, and at a remove - which describe the disorder of the day. And so we look to the day's news. Not to entertain, but to educate and remind ourselves that much is required of us.
  • Iraq - Saddam Hussein's cousin, "Chemical Ali", was sentenced to death yesterday for a campaign of genocide that included bombings, mass deportations and gas attacks in which an estimated 182,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed and 4,000 villages wiped out. Two other defendants, Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, Saddam's defence minister, and Hussein Ashid Mohammed, an army commander, were also ordered to face the gallows. Two military intelligence officials were jailed for life. "Thousands of people were killed, displaced and disappeared," the Iraqi high tribunal chief judge, Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifah said. "They were civilians with no weapons and nothing to do with war". Kurdish leaders described the conviction as a historic ruling that had finally brought justice for the dead.
  • Lebanon - Six UN peacekeepers were killed by a car bomb in southern Lebanon yesterday, the UN mission said, further rattling security as another 11 people died in fighting with Islamists in the north. A 19-year-old soldier from the Spanish city of Seville died in hospital. The other five dead, three Colombian nationals serving in the Spanish army and two Spanish citizens were identified by the Spanish defence ministry in Madrid.
  • Iran - Iran is deploying missiles in Syria in preparation for military action if it is attacked over its controversial nuclear program, say UN officials in the region. Under a mutual defence pact signed between Damascus and Tehran in 2005, Syria agreed to the deployment of sophisticated weaponry on its territory. The Iranians have now decided to implement the agreement following a meeting last month of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. Most of the missiles can be fired from mobile launchers and are capable of hitting targets right across Israel.
  • Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert flies to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt's Sinai Desert today for a crisis summit with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to discuss the havoc caused by Hamas's military victory over Fatah in Gaza. He is expected to declare a tentative commitment to transfer frozen tax and customs revenues to PA President Abbas's shaky Fatah regime. Mr. Olmert explained his government has "concerns that Abu Mazen (Abbas) will be tempted to...enter into a new unity government alongside Hamas."
  • Gaza - BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, 45, appeared in a video posted on the Internet yesterday wearing what he said was an explosive belt that his captors have threatened to blow up if force was used to free him. "The situation now is very serious. As you can see, I have been dressed in what is an explosive belt, which the kidnappers say will be detonated if there was any attempt to storm this area," Mr. Johnston said in the video, posted by the Army of Islam on a website used by militants. He said negotiations to seek his release were thwarted by what his captors told him was a plan by Britain and Hamas to use force to secure his release.
  • Pakistan - More than 200 people were killed as torrential rain and thunderstorms lashed Karachi, destroying hundreds of homes and causing widespread power outages yesterday. Karachi was deluged by 17.2 millimetres in just one hour on Saturday, while gale-force winds uprooted trees and power pylons and blew down roofs and walls, crushing and electrocuting scores of victims.
  • Nepal - Police in Nepal have detained a self-styled holy man who sowed panic across much of the country by prophesying that a massive earthquake would kill 300,000 people in South Asia last week. Bishweshwor Chauhari, a former builder, had his followers distribute thousands of pamphlets last month forecasting the earthquake. When Friday came and went without the slightest tremor, angry residents of the city rushed to Mr. Chaudhari's house and beat him up, declaring him a charlatan and demanding that he be punished. Police intervened and detained him for disturbing the peace.
  • Pakistan - The NATO-led force in Afghanistan admitted yesterday to killing more civilians, this time in Pakistan, a day after harsh criticism from Afghan President Hamid Karzi about military operations. A weapon fired by the International Security Assistance Force hit a building in Pakistan as warplanes were chasing down insurgents preparing to attack a base across the Afghan border, a spokesman said. Pakistani military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad yesterday put the toll at 20 dead and 14 wounded.
  • Canada - a deeply divided Anglican Church of Canada opted not to let its priests bless the partnerships of same-sex couples. At the same time - in a move described as puzzling by advocates on both sides of the debate - the church voted that such blessings would be compatible with the "core doctrine" of the church. That "doctrine" vote, some conservatives say, makes it only a matter of time before the blessings become a reality across the country.


Faint Hope Solves Nothing

Ah, the meeting. Of supposedly like minds. There is no mistaking Egypt's and Jordan's anxiety, as border states to the Palestinian Territories, to solve the seemingly insolvable. They have no wish to enable Islamist terrorists to gain more of a foothold on their countries than already exists. Egypt has been struggling for a long time with the foul presence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which itself has spawned offshoots to bedevil the Middle East.

It had been outlawed after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, then later given legal status, but its malignancy continues to fester and to encourage and join with other lethally-inspired terrorist Islamic groups. Jordan has experienced its own anguished decisions in the past, battling insurgent Palestinians whose presence in the country threatened to swamp it into divisive submission to the Palestinian 'cause'.

And both Egypt and Jordan had de facto political and military control as overseers of the Palestinian Territories before the creation of the State of Israel, and post creation, when the assembled armies of the Middle East made their bold move to eradicate the presence of Israel in the 1967 war, only to leave it strengthened and enlarged by Israel's conquest of those same assembled armies in a historic routing.

Odd how the historical reflects the current, and we come full circle. Israel, truth told, would eagerly give up oversight ('occupation') of both the West Bank and Gaza, handing them gladly back to Jordan and Egypt to assume responsibility for the territories until such time as an agreement for full peace results in the creation of the autonomous State of Palestine. Trouble is, no one wants to assume responsibility for that vipers nest.

So here we have the two countries of the Middle East that have signed peace agreements with the State of Israel, ever hopeful, doing their best to encourage, cajole, tempt, threaten the protagonists in a prolonged and bloody and frustrating stalemate to reach the point of return - to peace talks, leading to an amicably-difficult conclusion and finally a cessation of bloody conflict.

The United States is attempting to bully Israel to ease restrictions on travel, close down border check points and roadblocks and other major barriers. Israel, realistically is looking for guarantees, that perennially elusive element in the equation, that the Palestinian Authority, under Mahmoud Abbas will undertake full responsibility to control its militias.

"We want to be realistic. The security posts are a risk for us. We live in the Middle East. We can respect the ideal of democracy but we live in reality.... One suicide bombing and we're back to square one." There is also always the not unimaginable scenario that Mr. Abbas will, in the near future, return to a unity government with Hamas. Which would delight in more open borders to further enable its end-game of a vanquished and vanished Israel.

Much depends upon Mahmoud Abbas's own decision making. Hard pressed by his own Fatah brigands who enjoy the prospect of nothing more than to continue executing terrorist attacks against Israel, and who view his accommodation with the U.S. and Israel as verging on consorting with the enemy, caution becomes his byword. So, will he or won't he?

He's had ample opportunity in the past to make good on his promises to begin controlling Fatah-affiliated terrorist groups, and has accomplished nothing whatever in that regard. He talks a good line about recognizing the reality of the existence of the State of Israel, without any supporting statements to the effect that Israel has a right to existence. Some of his speeches verge on incitement to further violence on behalf of the Palestinian cause.

He's the head of a political group which has proven itself adept at milking the humanitarian funds handed over to the PA by a trusting world community for the purpose of ameliorating and assisting progress in the condition of the Palestinian refugee population. A massive clean-up is required before the PA can even begin to exert the authority required to do its duty in the governance of its affairs and that of the population it represents.

It's action that's required, not the double-ended, poison-tipped words of cagily-careful responsibility dodgers.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

In Thee We Trust

The rank and file of Fatah, the non-officer rank, the well armed rabble loyal to Mahmoud Abbas the inherited head of the Palestinian Authority, remained loyal to their president, to their ideology, their movement for the 'liberation of Palestine', and were prepared to fight to the death. "We will not surrender. They will execute us."

'They' being the Hamas rank and file, even more determinedly blood-thirsty than Fatah, since they have the vision of Islamist-inspired jihad for motivation. And the promise inherent in the first sentence is the resignation of Fatah first-line soldiery to fight to the death. Both Fatah and Hamas prepared to deal death toward one another, but to embrace their personal salvation from this earthly coil as gifts to Allah, whose demand it is to his flock that they surrender all to His greater purpose.

And, needless to say, the greater purpose that has been divined by the fanatic interpreters of His intent is to expunge the State of Israel from the map of the Middle East. Pity that tribal enmity just happened to get in the way and complicate an already complicated situation.

The last stand in Gaza, where courageously determined Fatah militants held their own against the slavering attack by Hamas militants - and succeeded in fighting them back, routing them, just kind of evaporated, never happened, a hopeful mirage that refused to materialize.

The outside world had read something to the effect that high-level Fatah military members were assisted in their flight from the anticipated carnage. That the brave Fatah elite abandoned their militias, boarding Israeli gunboats off the coast of Gaza. Alternately that they commandeered fishing boats, or just silently and swiftly slicked their way down the beach. On the run. What an inspirational move.

The foot soldiers, looking about, finding no authority figures, no support, no orders, no motivation. They laid down their arms and fled for their lives. Panic ensued. If all was lost, as surely it must be, since their leaders decamped, what need was there for them to stand at the ready and defend that which was theirs? From their boastful promises to repel Hamas with the impressive quantity and quality of their fighters, to the humiliation of abandonment.

Rumours later erupted, silently, blisteringly, accusingly. Some began to speak out: "We felt like there was a conspiracy to hand over Gaza to Hamas." A deliberate ploy on the part of Mr. Abbas to permit the Gaza Strip to fall into the hands of Hamas? So one terror group of lesser dread than its partner terror group could accuse the other of murderous treachery?

A handle with which to open the gate of speedy departure and severance of co-operation? A quasi-diplomatic cessation of partnership, where the militia-inspired violence of one maiming and murdering the other brought no vestige of success?

But there are conflicting views, those of individuals who eschew conspiracy theories of that stripe, who claim that they had warned the Fatah ruling elite that Hamas was preparing to execute a coup, and their warning had been spurned by a Fatah which chose to have faith in Hamas's 'good intentions'.

So the presidential compound fell and a victorious Hamas swarmed it, looted it, took valuable incriminating documents against Fatah, and burned the hated president's desk, since they had been unsuccessful in blasting him into eternity.

Did he or didn't he? Betray his own, that is. "There was a political game and we paid the price of it. We were betrayed by Fatah and the Palestinian Authority", claim some who insist that the Fatah forces, had they been better armed, would indeed have fought to the death. But, they claim, the weapons they needed had been deliberately withheld.

Bitter thoughts for loyal Fatah members, listening in the distance to the celebratory Hamas gunfire as the sounds of battle ceased.

And now that Ismail Haniyeh has had second thoughts and has appealed for a resumption of the dysfunctional unity government, it has been yet again rejected by his Fatah counterpart which claims there can be no dialogue with an entity that intrigued to foment a severance of unity, and which succeeded in brutalizing the Fatah militia.

And Mr. Abbas is setting up a commission of enquiry into the defeat of his security forces, even as he has condemned and let go several of his commanders for dereliction of duty.

The new emergency government is considering calling new elections. And democratically changing the rules to ensure that Hamas is excluded from standing for office in the PA. Since their popularity among the Palestinian electorate still poses a problem with the still-unpopular Fatah, their putative presence as a competitor yet again for full representation in the PA poses a true conundrum for Fatah.

Hamas, understandably, is not appreciative at all of this move, condemning its potential as a gross violation of the democratic principle, insisting that the PLO central council has no legitimacy.

As for Israel, and her relations with her near neighbours, it's business as usual. Dealing with the mildly terrorist Fatah factions, and with the seriously Islamist Hamas factions.

Salah Mahmoud Suliman El-Arouri was arrested north of Ramallah; an IDF statement explaining that he is considered to be the founder of Hamas's Izz a-Din al-Kassam Brigades; one of Hamas's senior commanders in Judea and Samaria.

To balance things out, two Fatah terror commanders and a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist were arrested attempting to flee a building in which they had barricaded themselves in the Shechem region.

One of the Tanzim terrorists had received explosives training from Hezbollah and was producing bomb-belts in Shechem. Of the others, one represented membership in Fatah-Tanzim, the other the PFLP.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Crisis Upon Crisis

The blistering murder and mayhem unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the unseating of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein has resulted in other, less obvious, but entirely predictable problems. People are desperate to escape the violence. They're very well aware of their vulnerability in a country where utter lawlessness reigns, where terrorist militias value nothing but their opportunity to wreak ever more havoc.

Human life is expendable in their view, and entire populations are regularly treated to the heart-stopping punctuation of night-time assaults on their neighbourhoods. They know, through sad experience, that other families are suffering grievous losses. They well understand that there but for the grace of another time, go they. And so they go, desperate to escape the inevitable.

Their worry about leaving behind their native land, their possessions, their community and all that people coming from an ancient tradition and culture hold dear, entirely eclipsed by the inescapable need to flee. They may have felt, throughout the years of their former president's long rule that their lives might be improved without his totalitarian presence, but what took its place was as a crucible of hellfire is to a blistering frypan.

Nearly two million people have been made homeless within Iraq, and another 2.2 million have sought refuge in neighbouring states. Syria alone has taken in 1.2 million and Jordan is struggling to accommodate 750,000 Iraqis. Neither they nor the Gulf States, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Turkey, which have taken in declining, yet significant numbers of Iraqis, offer the comfort of long-term residence. Iraqis there live in squalid refugee camps.

These are Iraqi refugees, many of whom are looking for a permanent alternative to call home, and some of them have found that alternative in countries which have accepted them as refugee-immigrants; countries like Germany, which has absorbed 52,900, and the United Kingdom and Netherlands, each of which has taken in 22,300, and on a declining scale, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Some others have found a home in Australia, to the tune of some 11,100 refugees. Even Canada has taken in 1,860 Iraqis. While the United States, that very country at whose insistence on invading the world watched, irresolute and condemning the hasty rashness of
the invasion, has taken in a paltry 770. Last year, Iraqis represented the leading national group seeking asylum in industrialized countries.

Those Iraqis left behind are those, for the most part, who lack the financial wherewithal to remove themselves and their families from harm's way. The professional strata, the wealthy and educated demographic have long since fled. The country's physicians also decamped, so that hospitals are now desperately short of medical staff. The country's already-damaged infrastructure is crumbling.

As before the invasion, when the U.S.-sponsored embargo was in place against Iraq, children are suffering from chronic malnutrition. A large majority of the country's people doesn't have access to adequate water and sanitation services. A third of the population lives in abject poverty, many regularly going without food. Fully 40,00 to 50,000 people a month continue to stream out of the country. In lock-step with the spiral of violence.

About one hundred Iraqis a day are murdered. Before the most recent few years of undiluted sectarian violence, refugees ironically, who fled Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign of terror, began to return from Iran to their homes in Iraq, some three hundred thousand of them. That trend was reversed once sectarian killing became widespread, and accelerated with the bombing of the Shi'ite Golden Mosque in Samarra.

The situation has only grown more untenable, more unbelievably dysfunctional, more horrendously violent. Ordinary Iraqis no longer have any hope for the future of their country. The uneasy peace between Shia and Sunni, between Kurds and Christians under Saddam's iron rule has been irremediably shattered.

In its wake is the shards of community, shared custom and history, not soon to be mended. The religious, political, ideological, cultural divisions between a formerly semi-cohesive whole have created an impassable divide. This, one imagines, is what the 15th century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch visualized when he painted his visions of hell.

This doesn't quite reflect the blatantly short-sighted, uninformed, assurances of the Bush administration when they pledged to convert a perceived backward society they little understood nor cared about, to the enlightenment of democratic rule.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

The Cost of the Cause

China's rampantly growing prosperity, and the West's source of inexpensively-produced goods has come at a predictable cost. A newly-released study demonstrates that China's power as the new world producer of goods par excellence has led it to assume the post of the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide. China has overtaken the United States on the emissions front far sooner than anticipated.

Its boom-times economy and increasing demand for electricity have released emissions into the stratosphere, from its power stations and cement works. China now enjoys an 8% lead on the U.S. in emissions, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The country is unstoppable in its determination to wrest production in all sectors from all other countries' capabilities.

And to do it cheaper, more efficiently, more copiously than any others would dare attempt. Its huge population base, low wages, lack of environmental concerns (despite statements to the contrary) place it in its (un)enviable position of leaving all other producing countries in its emissions-wake. China is in the process of building two new power stations each week; twice as many as previously envisioned.

Yet Western industrial powers are handing both the opportunity and the fall-out to China on a silver salver. By letting China produce all that waste and in the process providing a source of reliably inexpensive goods, they can rest on their laurels with lower emissions from, for example, the European Union. That doesn't completely let the West, the developed economies off the hook of responsibility, since most of the carbons already in the atmosphere were provided by us. China is merely catching up.

And in so doing, polluting her rivers and lakes, her groundwater. China's great metropolises with her great populations has traditionally had a problem with urban air pollution. That problem is accelerating; the quality of life for the population is improving as they become more wealthy thanks to increased production and employment opportunities and they become more fervent consumers of goods, but decreasing lamentably in terms of clean air and water.

Factory run-off of chemicals into lakes and rivers have caused incalculable damage and Chinese citizens are faced with the dilemma time and again of their domestic water supply so aggravatedly contaminated as to make it a sure formula for sickness and disease. Contaminated water makes for contaminated agriculture. And then there is the lack of accountability in both food and pharmaceuticals production, additionally claiming the lives of Chinese as well as hapless consumers abroad.

China's health ministry reported almost 34,000 serious outbreaks of food-related illness, with spoiled food in the forefront of the incidents. China's 450,000 food production companies have a large percentage of unlicensed producers; most don't conduct safety tests, let alone have the ability to do so. There is lamentably poor-to-no government agency oversight. Factories that deliberately leach chemicals into lakes and rivers do so against laws which China has enacted for the ostensible protection of its citizens.

Yet most factory owners flaunt the laws, even to putting up signs on their property indicating that no government inspectors are permitted entry. The problem of slave labour is endemic and ongoing, despite recent revelations. An attitude of utter lack of responsibility for outcome prevails in manufacturing throughout the country, despite the official wringing of hands in despair and determination expressed by the government (for consumption abroad) to bring order to the chaos of production techniques and lack of safety mechanisms.

The world is on notice. The real cost of cheap goods hasn't yet been fully revealed. We, like the Chinese people who are suffering the fall-out of a government determined to continue its unprincipled and environmentally costly growth potential, receive shocking little reminders from time to time, with the errant discovery of harmful additions to prepared foods and consumer products. Melamine in pet food and human products; lead in children's toys and jewellery; harmful elements in pharmaceuticals.

China claims to be stepping up its inspection process to ensure food and goods meet international standards. The U.S. recently refused entry to huge numbers of foodstuffs from China, deeming it to be "filthy". It's incumbent on our own governments to disallow entry to potentially harmful goods (say for example, diethylene glycol used as a cheaper substitute for glycerin in various products) entering Canada from China.

There is no price too high to pay for food and pharmaceutical safety. Cheap production is no substitute for reliable products. In this age of worries over environmental degradation, it's pretty incredible that we would import so many foodstuffs and other products that huge distance from Asia to Europe and North America, and even taking into account the price of shipping, goods are still cheaper than what we can produce.

We can readily pay for our goods in a manner more reflective of their production closer to home, doing ourselves a great favour in reliability of substance use, and the environment in shipping abuse.

We need a reality check for our priorities and values.

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Oops! Another Jab In The Eye

Salmon Rushdie decided, after all, to re-embrace Islam. Despite his contempt for its hypocritical and radical face, its fanatical interpreters, its theistic charlatans. He decided after all, that Islam embraces his soul. "When I am described as an apostate Muslim, I feel as if I have been concealed behind a false self, as if a shadow has become substance while I have been relegated to the shadows." He does not gainsay the importance of Muslim culture to himself personally; it has shaped who he is.

But his earthy, sacrilegious view of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad has tainted him forever in the wider Muslim world : "I knew that stories of Muhammad's doubts, uncertainties, errors, fondness for women abound in and around Muslim tradition....I never doubted Muhammad's greatness nor, I believe, is the 'Mahound' of my novel belittled by being portrayed as human....I knew much about Islam that I admired, and still admire, immensely; I also knew that Islam, like all the world's great religions, had seen terrible things done in its name."

Bless the man, he walketh on upended tacks in bare feet, half drunk. Terrible things done in the name of Islam, in the past tense? But then, he has lived in extremely tense, personal times. But his reward, as a Muslim writer of Indian descent plying his trade in Great Britain has finally descended with great honour. He survived the deadly fatwah issued against him by the great Ayatollah Komenei 18 frantic years ago, to be knighted by Buckingham Palace on the celebration of the Queen's birthday.

Hip, hip, hurrah!

And oops! There we go again. Pakistan is outraged. Iran is beside itself with disbelief at this
signal insult to Islam and the Prophet. Other Islamic countries are lining up behind these two to express their disgust and anger at Western insensibilities to their feelings. It's Danish cartoons redux. "If a blasphemer can be given the title Sir by the West despite the fact he's hurt the feelings of Muslims, then a mujahid who has been fighting for Islam against the Russians, Americans and British must be given the lofty title of Islam, Saifullah," roared Tahir Ashrafi of the Pakistan Ulema Council.

Henceforth, Osama bin Laden is to be acknowledged with the lofty designation of "sword of Allah". Did we ever doubt it?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Reporter's Life

Those intrepidly fearless reporters drawn to scenes of carnage and mass unrest must have their news coups. The adrenalin rush, there's nothing quite like it. On the other hand, there's the determination to tell the story as it is, unvarnished and often ugly. As well as the pledge of news craftsmanship to which so many have engaged themselves.

A cadre of courageous news-gatherers who deem it their personal responsibility to ensure that the world knows the unvarnished truth. All right, occasionally the truth is varnished with a personal perspective, occasionally goes awry with a political bent, an apprehension of matters not being quite what they purport to be.

Reporters, being as human as anyone else, are occasionally led astray. Overall, their function in society cannot be underestimated. We depend upon them to give us the information we cannot procure any other way. The public wishes to be informed. We have a right to be informed. Reporters have a duty to perform, and they relish it, while we value their contribution.

Particularly as they fall prey so often, so troublingly often, to that malignancy of killing the messenger. Abductions and warnings. Kidnappings and murders. Settling a score. Silencing the curious. Setting an example. Somehow, those intrepid reporters continue to feel it their duty to society to probe and question and report on their findings.

Yet they're often inclined, singly and as a group to reaching inconclusive findings. Or corrupted reportage; they're as gullible as anyone. And look at news reportage from certain areas, from certain countries and you see ugly bias. That's life. We all have our inner discriminations that alter the thought process.

But the fact is, one news reporter lost to war and revenge and abduction and murder is one too many. They're vulnerable in pursuit of their craft. Society owes them much. But like soldiers in a battlefield society is incapable of protecting them.

And there is the sad example of so many reporters whose lives have been forfeit by their adherence to their craft. The outrage that viewers felt of the video glorying in the murder of Daniel Pearl, for example, is an indelible reminder of the reality facing dedicated reporters. Now there is the British journalist Alan Johnston, whom Hamas keeps promising to have freed.

He was spirited away from his base in Gaza three months ago by the Army of Islam, demanding for his release that of a Palestinian-born cleric, considered to be al-Qaeda's European-based spiritual leader. They have a cause, these terrorists, bent on jihad and will not be dissuaded. Reason over passion? Not likely.

"If we do not reach an agreement and the situation worsens for us, we will have to turn to God and have no choice but to slit the throat of the journalist", promised a masked spokesman.

The god of Islamic terrorism demands no less.

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"Murderous Terrorists"

It must sting to know that a group with whom you had a fairly close working association in a common cause thought so little of you that they conspired to murder you. Tension among rivals, suspicions and attempts at one-upsmanship is one thing, but the planning of an elaborate scheme to blow up a cavalcade of politicians, among them the president of the PA? Well, business as usual in the Palestinian Territories.

But President Mahmoud Abbas is livid. And he isn't going to take it any longer. He has denounced Hamas and former prime minister of the PA, Ismail Haniyeh as "murderous terrorists". Having said which, is there any going back? Bearing in mind that there were scores of other attempts against Fatah members which enjoyed greater success in their execution?

Israel is now enabling greater numbers of Palestinians fleeing from Gaza's madhouse to cross over to enter the West Bank; on their way seeking medical attention at Israeli hospitals. For their trouble, Islamic Jihad took the initiative to remind Israel that Hamas isn't their only worry and Israeli warplanes have struck at their rocket launching sites in Gaza.

Just one great big happy war game, and everyone's invited.

And dissension, and recrimination! "It was a premeditated plan agreed between Hamas leaders in Gaza and abroad, with foreign elements from the region", grumped Mr. Abbas, accusing Hamas of deliberately splitting the two Palestinian territories. "It was a plan to divide Gaza from the West Bank and to establish a state within a state, that will be controlled by one group, its fanatics and its terrorists".

Well, certainly. Yes indeed.

Meanwhile, Sami Abu Zuhri, an official Hamas spokesperson accused Mr. Abbas of being part of an Israeli and Western "plot" to cut up the Palestinian state-potential by separating Gaza from the occupied West Bank. Right, right. We get the picture. Confusing, though, considering that Hamas took the initiative and ran with it, grabbing Gaza for its very own, along with its bitterly downtrodden and destitute population.

Now Hamas is sugar-coating its willingness to let bygones be bygones and re-establish a 'unity' government with Fatah. Is Fatah eager and willing to once again embrace Hamas? - no, they're dreadfully stand-offish, issuing such puzzling statements as: "No dialogue with putschists, murderers and terrorists!"

A comedy of terrors.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Malignant Obsession

Odd how the world obsesses over the Palestinians. Which is not to deny their plight. Which, in turn, is not to overlook their complicity in their plight. Still, human beings often select an injudicious course. No reason, since we're all human, to deny them the opportunity to learn from the errors of their choice and select alternatively. And no reason to withhold aid.

But an aid process that knows no end? When does a group of people become sufficiently mature and reasonable to take possession of its own destiny? How long must it take before the normal human wish to become responsible for oneself kicks in? Yes, there are 1.4 million refugee Palestinians living in a tiny sliver of land alongside Israel. As crowded as they are, there are areas in the world infinitely more crowded.

As hapless as they've been in determining their advancement and failing to account for themselves, it's time and long past time that they become sufficiently independent minded and determined to make something reasonable of themselves and to ensure a decent future for their children. The international community has supported them for far too long. Taking away incentive to support themselves.

The Gaza strip is full of 'refugee camps', many of which resemble small cities. The rough infrastructure is there, so why isn't there a responsible and reliable civil authority to ensure law and order and incentives for economic renewal and social progression? This is the natural order of things for most societies.

In sub-Saharan Africa is where we see true poverty, and truly squalid refugee camps. It's where great hordes of innocent people have been murdered throughout the years, for political and economic gain. In central Africa over four million people have died as a result of wars in the last 15 years. On that continent refugee camps consist of dilapidated tents.

Gaza is not a desert, it can produce, it can feed its inhabitants. The unlawful Jewish settlements removed by order of the Israeli government last year were adequate reminders that people had the potential to live well there. Agriculture thrived under the care of the Jewish settlers; they found markets for their produce and the settlements were profitable.

If Jews could accomplish this, why not Palestinians? Greenhouses left intact for an incipient Palestinian enterprise were looted and destroyed by Palestinians who chose to do that rather than work at producing food. Why don't the Palestinians wish to be gainfully employed, to make a decent life for themselves and their offspring, rather than produce a melancholy face of denial to the world?

Per capita patent production of countries in the Middle East is one-fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the Middle East are unproductively engaged, a huge proportion not in the labour force. According to recent figures, even accounting for oil revenues, the entire Middle East generated a lower GDP in 2006 than Germany.

According to UN human development reports more books are translated annually into Greek than Arabic. The Middle East has the lowest level of Internet usage, well behind sub-Saharan Africa. It is foreign labourers imported to do work that Arabs deign beneath them that build the infrastructure in oil-rich principalities. They exert themselves in extravagant resentment of the outside world.

Talk about misplaced sympathies. Why are there such low expectations from the world at large of the ability of Palestinians to do something worthwhile for themselves? Why do Palestinians continue to feel so entitled to receive ongoing and endless financial support when they should be putting themselves forward to support their own needs?

They are needful because they allow themselves to be stagnantly unproductive. They look to the future only for restoration of what they say was once theirs. Historically not much was theirs but their fantasies of autonomy, ruled by neighbouring Arab states. Under Palestinian 'autonomy' and land ownership the land did not flourish; most managed only to eke out a bare livelihood.

They were not well-managing stewards of the land they were allowed by their overseers to look after. Nothing has since changed.

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Band Aid

Wounded Palestinians from Gaza were picked up at the Erez Crossing by Israeli ambulances and spirited away to Israeli hospitals for treatment. The International Committee of the Red Cross successfully brokered this humanitarian gesture, the rescue of victims of the supremacy-fought battle between Hamas and Fatah factions.

Hamas gunmen armed with assault weapons and grenades, disguised in civilian garb, let loose a surprise attack on Fatah gunmen close to the Crossing, in an effort to halt them from seeking refuge through Israel into the West Bank. Hence those injured Palestinians now being treated by Israeli medicos. It's been quietly speculated that Israeli physicians are also treating Hamas wounded.

Still, some hundreds of Palestinians remain in wait in the pedestrian tunnel at the Erez Crossing for permission from Israeli authorities to cross into Israel to make their way to the West Bank and safety from their Hamas persecuters. Among them some senior Fatah members. Can we be more specific about their identity?

Members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, after all, are senior Fatah members. They who so love to brandish their weapons, threaten Israel, and happily lob Kassam rockets over the border. It is sad, it is dreadful, to witness, even at such a geographic remove, the miserable plight of people under incredible duress, in fear for their very lives.

Yet Israeli army officers consider some of those attempting to reach the West Bank are potentially dangerous to the State of Israel and therefore the conditions in the West Bank, as they've been implicated in previous attacks against the Jewish state. So - merely Fatah sympathizers or members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade - speak up, please!

Hamas, a listed terrorist organization in much of the West, and Fatah, whose offspring are only mildly terrorist in nature?


From The Mosques To The Markets

The news from Baghdad is relentless and heavily canted toward hopelessness. Yet another al-Qaeda-inspired suicide-driving bomber. This time 78 peoples' lives destroyed. A Shia mosque was the target. Al-Qaeda appears to have tightly embraced the utility of car-bomb networking. They're so immoderately successful in the scope of the carnage they perform.

A witness described the bomber ramming his truck into the Khilani mosque in Baghdad, destroying one wall, wrecking part of the building's interior. Rescuers pulled bodies from the mosque. Charred remnants of other once-living humans could be seen in burned-out minibuses at a traffic circle nearby the mosque. The wounded numbered 224.

Sunni militias spreading the word of Allah. God is Great, they claim. Greatest, they maintain, when with their inestimable faith and assistance the carnage is the greatest. Holy places in Islam where Sunnis worship are exempt, only the Shia mosques targeted. Is this not as it should be, as Allah has ordained?

Still, the damage was not quite as severe as an earlier and very successful bombing in April near a Baghdad market that killed 140 people. The search for perfection in execution is ongoing, relentless, God-inspired.

This explosion evidently closely followed a quiet period after a brief curfew. One that was imposed after an attack on a revered Shi'ite shrine in the city of Samarra. Also the work of the indefatigable al-Qaeda, in its holy quest.

Yet all is not Sunni upon Shia, Shia upon Sunni. For it happens also that militias loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fought police linked to a rival Shia faction in the city of Nassiriya. Hospital spokespersons informed that 35 people had been killed over the past two days.

In the name of the Almighty, He on high, the Most Perfect, the Illustrious One: Allah.

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Drive Nice

The Vatican, it would appear, is sufficiently concerned about the manner in which those who drive vehicles complicate the simple act of moving mechanically with the assistance of a gas-powered engine from one geographic point to another. The simple fact is, as many know but simply don't acknowledge, a passenger vehicle (or any other, for that matter) is a potential accident-waiting-to-happen when it's being driven irresponsibly.

Speed kills. Driving-while-under-the-influence kills. Road rage kills. Drag racing kills. Inattention kills.

The Vatican has taken concrete steps to ensure its parishioners know that the Great Eye In the Sky is watching and He is mightily displeased. To which I say, right on. The Vatican has taken upon itself the civic duty of attempting to civilize and inspire people, particularly those of the Catholic persuasion, over whom it has great sway, to embrace a new set of Commandments.
  • Thou shalt not drive under the influence of alcohol.
  • Thou shalt respect speed limits.
  • Thou shalt not consider a car an object of personal glorification.
  • Thou shalt not use a car as a place of sin.
What child, after all, would be thrilled at the knowledge that it was carelessly conceived in the back of a car?

The newly-released pastoral document titled "
Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road" contains in all ten commandments accounting for: respect of pedestrians, maintaining a vehicle in reliable working order, and eschewing rude gestures behind the wheel. It urges motorists to struggle against the lack of self control.

"Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin." Do not, the Vatican urges, behave in an "unsatisfactory" manner when driving. Lack of civility, cursing, blasphemy are not pleasing to God.

Take that, all you aggressive vehicle-driving oafs.


Academics, Free To Condemn

In every society whose totalitarian rule set out to subdue dissent, the first target was always the academics, the institutes of higher learning, to either shut them down, or have them agree to fashion their modus operandi and priorities after that of the state, eschewing free thought and debate in the search for excellence in education. Currently, Hugo Chavez is having his go at Venezuela's institutes of higher learning, and he's discovering it's a goal that keeps eluding him.

Universities, institutes of higher education, value their freedom to do research, to validate mankind's higher cerebral aspirations, to pick and probe and search in the name of science. If freedom of speech and association is held in high esteem anywhere, it is in the halls of academe.

All social revolutions appear to target their institutions of higher education; traditionally the opportunities to attain greater educational opportunities was the precinct of the enabled class. The aristocracy, the nobility, those whose great good fortune it was to inherit wealth so they hadn't a need to labour physically to keep body and soul together.

When social or cultural revolutions occurred, from the mighty French Revolution, to the upheavals of Communism in Stalin's Russia and Mao Tse Tung's China, it was the educated, the intelligentsia who were handily sacrificed; those who would question and demand logical responses.

Counter-intuitively, or perhaps just to prove how adept mankind is at dissimulation and contrariness, it seemed always to be those who benefited from advanced institutionalized education that gave their unqualified support to the goals of those who championed and authorized these great social revolutionary events in recent human history.

While scholars in Russia and China were swept away in a deadly flood of cleansing, their Western counterparts cheered on the revolutionary fervour and ideals.

Which brings us to the current issue of British academics critical of what they deem Israel's "occupation" and treatment of Palestinians, campaigning to boycott Israeli academics in a brave show of solidarity for the maltreated Palestinians. No scientific exchanges, nor guest speakers, no welcome within Britain for Israeli scientists, academics or university students.

Academics in France and Australia are not far behind their British counterparts in condemning the State of Israel and targeting its academics to ensure the message is understood. The principles of global and free intellectual exchange manifest in our institutes of higher learning are set aside in the interests of taking a stand.

Where intellectuals align themselves with the lethally deluded left to politicize knowledge.

On May 30, British academics represented by the Union of Colleges and Universities voted in favour of boycotting their professional peers in Israel. A sad malignancy, this affront to freedom of intellectual exchange. Even during the Cold War when the USSR was at odds with the West, their scientists were free to exchange data for the betterment of human understanding.

The bitterly recalcitrant left will have its way. And deny there is any element of anti-Semitism involved; merely a well-deserved censure of the State of Israel. And here's a turn-about: The British House of Lords has denounced the motion..."Academic freedom is the first target of tyrannies, and those who ignore attacks on academic pursuits are co-operating with tyranny."

Columbia University's president, Lee C. Bollinger declared the boycott "utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy", adding "...if the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list...for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education."

A spokesperson for the University of Toronto has no comment on the situation, other than to insist it values academic freedom. University of British Columbia president Stephen Toope considers the situation "an affront to modern society, [which] must be condemned". Fearfully diluted responses, contrasting with the American Association of University Professors who pull no punches.

McGill University in Montreal had plenty to say: "The boycott of Israeli universities which is being considered by the United Kingdom's University and College Union should be thoroughly condemned. We live in a world in which universities and their faculty members should seek to promote scholarly understanding and to remove barriers to academic exchange and expression.

"It would be a gross violation of the values which form the foundation, and progressive evolution, of civil society if the UCU endorsed this action. We urge our British university colleagues to reject the boycott proposal.

"We join in solidarity with president Lee Bollinger of Columbia University and chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau of the University of California, Berkeley, in support of unfettered interaction with Israeli scholars and institutions and in saying to those members of the UCU who would pursue this deplorable action: If you choose to isolate Israeli universities, you should add McGill to your boycott list. We will stand steadfast against those who seek to undermine academic freedom."

The Canadian Association for University Teachers has been silent on the issue. However, the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship has been the only Canadian organization to unequivocally protest the British campaign, calling it as they see it: "academic cannibalism".


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Women in Afghanistan, Post-Taliban

There have been improvements. Virtually any change in the situation where women were forbidden to be out in public, even fully garbed, without a male relative present, where girls were not allowed to attend schools, and widows permitted to starve rather than earn a living, would be an improvement for the women of Afghanistan.

Schools have been re-built and new ones have appeared as a result of foreign intervention and the determination of the new government. Medical clinics have been opened, women and children can now seek treatment hitherto denied them for illnesses. Women can appear in the public sphere unescorted and without wearing the stifling burka.

But the all-powerful and highly respected mullahs, those who interpret the Koran, and whom the populace infer know everything there is to know and observe about Islamic rule, are relentlessly anti-woman. Forced marriages, domestic abuse and restrictive dress codes remain the order of the day.

It is one thing for the government to assure its female population that things have changed. Instructions coming from the mosques say otherwise. Women have been elected to the legislature; young, forward-looking, intelligent and courageous women who understand full well that their lives are easily forfeit. But who, nonetheless, speak out and speak up.

Some have been assassinated, others expect that they too may become victims of assassination but their pride in their womanhood and hope for the future prevails and they continue with their mission to promote female rights. Since the ouster of the Taliban, girls have been attending schools and jobs have been available for women - in some areas.

There have been great advances in the emancipation of Afghanistan's women. Kandahar's largest hospital has a female surgeon as its director. That's the good news in urban Afghanistan. Somewhat different, and lagging dreadfully in rural parts of the country where parents remain to be convinced that their girl children can benefit from an education and where women continue to be considered second-class.

In the rural areas cultural practices which promote the marrying off of young women to old men continues. Women are kept isolated from their families, often refused medical treatment, and wife-beating is the norm, approved by Sharia law.

According to Runa Tareen, Kandahar province's director of women's affairs, the traditional culture of the country treats females like "a piece of meat". Her life may soon be forfeit.

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Busy, Busy Hamas

Now they've got it they hardly know what to do with it. It's leaking. They're trying to plug the leaks. They've got this truly God-forsaken piece of geography with its highly dysfunctional social order, inherited a state of high unemployment, where even those business who could offer employment are doing their best to pull out of the sinking ship.

And to begin with, it isn't the ship they really wanted, the one with the cargo that would give them a good return on their investment. They envisioned the fleet of two ships; Gaza and the West Bank.

But there you have it. The Islamist jihadist entity that proudly proclaimed itself the ruling authority for Palestinians, duly and democratically elected by Palestinians, terrorists-cum-politicos, somehow transformed themselves in the blink of an eye from politicians back into terrorists. The better to oust you with, dear Fatah.

And Fatah, whose militia was the recipient of new arms thanks to the U.S. and Israel pulling for the best of a bad bargain, proved themselves incapable of resisting the religious ardour of Hamas, and handed over this spanking new weaponry to their nemesis.

They've been busy, busy. Hatch one plot, if it doesn't work sufficiently well, ditch it, hatch another. Interventions by worried bystanding Arab states could do just so much to relieve tensions, to bring Hamas and Fatah back to wary togetherness. It's just too difficult to take the culture of hatred and violence out of the equation.

Just too tough to be political, forward-looking, responsible, accommodating, co-operative. Even for a supposedly shared goal.

Just too easy to revert to type. Once a terrorist, always a terrorist. So Gazans with a Fatah allegiance are desperate to leave that dessicated, hopeless geography where they know they'll be hunted down and sent to their reward. Whole families desperately await the elusive opportunity to leave that friendless enclave. Hamas isn't thrilled with the leakage and targets the would-be double-refugees.

Hamas militia are firing grenades and automatic weapons on those desperate to flee Gaza to find refuge in the West Bank. Although Israel has permitted some ranking Gazans to make that transition, they've balked over permitting all those hopefuls to pass through. Despite Israeli humanitarian organizations calling on the state to permit these Palestinians passage to the West Bank. A disappointing decision by "political echelons" to refuse passage. For shame.

The usual chaotic anarchy of Gaza was inordinately difficult, but yet livable. Adding a blood-thirsty revenge-seeking Hamas militia to the situation makes it truly unlivable, a place of furious desperation. If you're a Palestinian Christian, you're yet another target. Hamas militias looted Fatah government offices and private homes, but they also targeted a Roman Catholic Church and Christian schools, destroying bibles and other religious profanities to Islam.

Official Hamas disclaims responsibility, blames these atrocities on criminal gangs. How disingenuously unkind to name one's own in such a manner.

Hamas is busy on many fronts. They've taken time out from hunting down the cowering Fatah loyalists to fire Qassam rockets into Israel.

A taste of the future.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Our Development, Their Decline

Who doesn't love to hear birdsong? To view birds in flight. To share this earth with those graceful and wonderful creatures in all their various manifestations, in their multifarious plumage, their geographies and vocalizing. They add so much to our existence. Yet what we continue to do in degrading our environment threatens their very existence on our shared planet.

A new census just revealed by the National Audubon Society, of common birdlife in North America gives us shocking results of the state of species most prevalent in our experience and geography. It tells us that of the most common twenty species of birds over the past 40 years, there has been an average 54% decline. Some, in fact, have declined to the point of outright endangerment.

These are formerly robust populations of birds such as chickadees, terns, grackles, evening grosbeaks, American bittern, field-, grasshopper- and lark-sparrows, loggerhead shrikes, northern pintails, whippoorwill, horned larks, eastern meadowlarks, rufous hummingbirds, ruffed grouse, greater scaups, snow buntings and northern bobwhites.

Simply put, their right to life on this planet has been endangered by habitat loss, invasions of alien plants and animals (much caused by human commerce) and ecological changes of a wider nature caused by global warming. Urban sprawl has been implicated in habitat loss, as well as agricultural expansion and "plantation-style" forestry.

Birds once considered to be common in their ubiquitous presence, are becoming rare to sight. The common terns' population declined by 70%, while a quail, the bobwhite, ordinarily found throughout the eastern United States and Southern Ontario has recorded a precipitous decline of 82%. Domestic cat populations have had an inordinately deleterious effect on songbirds, and their presence is allied with a larger spread of human populations.

The report gives us a ray of hope. What is now seen as critical to the survival of declining bird populations is the preservation of breeding and feeding grounds in Canada's vast boreal forest, a huge expanse of land comprised of the geography between the U.S. border and the Arctic. Yet even there, problems arise as a result of logging, mining and roadbuilding encroachments which have the effect of fragmenting swaths of the boreal environment.

We're not doing such an upscale job of our environmental stewardship for the other animals on our planet. Nothing to be proud of at all.

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Extremism's Destructive Course

Extremism, rigid ideologies or religious fundamentalism take the humanity out of human beings, leaving them devoid of all the humane impulses buried deep in our subconscious and which make us human. Simply because the surety of belief requires the sublimation of those very human characteristics that would lead us to sympathy, empathy, compassion toward others unconstrained by that deep and ingrained belief there there is one certain way and all else is dross.

With a strident ideology that pushes and shoves and insists its adherents sacrifice all toward an end no sacrifice is too great to accomplish. In the instance of the kind of Utopian communality that led to Communism which became a dystopian political ideology, the cudgels of rigid compulsion led to the Gulag, elsewhere to killing fields, and certainly to the sacrifice of millions of lives to achieve the desired, yet elusive purpose.

Communism's aim was to obliterate the evil stench of Capitalism, for the gentler and kinder egalitarian state where each was expected to deliver unto the state that which he was capable of producing, and in turn would be guaranteed an equality of existence based on the state's output and income. The doctor would receive an income commensurate with that of the truck driver, each equal to the other. One as purposeful and valuable to society as the other.

There was a nobility of purpose in purporting to 'free' people from the shackles of religion, but then its proponents became intolerant of religion. It made some kind of good sense to attempt to produce a society where all would be cared for and valued equally for what they were able, individually and collectively (although the individual was subsumed by the collective) to produce to enhance the community at large.

But then dissent and dissatisfaction growing out of rigidly enforced collaboration brought its anti-human punishments. People don't often work well collectively, they lack incentive when there is no personal reward at the end of their work shift. Those individuals whose personal acumen, intelligence and ambition lead them to excellence in production will invariably resent those who lack all the attributes that that they possess, and whose production is drone-like and inadequate but whose recompense equals theirs.

When the collective agrarian reform failed, the inevitable result was the state incapacity to feed its hungry hordes. Millions of peasants were casually relegated to the condition of slow starvation. When those among the population who were considered middle class in origin and intellectual in class became an irritant to the ruling Communist elite they became expendable as living creatures and another sacrifice to the great experiment.

Those who criticize and who opt for a different way of life are set aside as bad examples for the larger community, ostracized, exiled and forced to labour under inhumane conditions in a life-sapping environment. That's the Gulag. Killing camps such as those that existed in Cambodia just extinguish dissent summarily. In Cuba dissent is not tolerated, and truth is subverted to the greater cause; the advance of peoples' ambitions denied.

Some portions of the great experiment succeed in producing larger numbers of educated professionals, which avails them nothing personally, for they become nothing less than functionaries of society. This kind of society cannot advance economically because it deliberately turns its back on free-market economics and anything remotely resembling capitalism and free-will.

China experienced its great social and cultural revolution by turning its citizens against and then upon one another, cherishing nothing but the great cultural revolution, handily sacrificing everything to its attainment. From a society that revered ancient wisdom and a culture of ancestor worship, it turned into a revolutionary intellectual and cultural desert, leaving millions of corpses in its wake.

In Germany's era of the National Socialist Party the ideology's foundation of fascism was based on the nationalistic dream of superiority, exceptionality, entitlement and world conquest based on all of those imagined traits. Dissenters were speedily rounded up, sent to concentration camps and either held in impoverished conditions or murdered.

The Nazis developed ghettoes for sub-human creatures among them; Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally and developmentally retarded, political and religious dissenters. The assemblages of those in concentration camps made it more easeful to continue on to that society's solution for the removal of sub-humans from a point of tolerated existence to total obliteration.

This was merely a tributary, a side-issue to the greater purpose of gifting the world with a race of uber-mentchen, supermen whose physiognomies and intelligence set them apart and above those of other races. Superiority in arms and warfare and purposeful military might would fill in the other blanks and enable Germany to country-by-country establish itself as the Master Race.

Leaving ideology and going on to religious fundamentalism, it becomes an unspeakable affront to a divine presence to permit the existence of a corrupting influence of other, lesser religions, and alternately of secularism. Anything that would lead to a reasoned and accepting existence, devoid of theist-inspired extremism was anathema to the believer who demands abject surrender to the ineffable presence of the Godhead. A total life-dedication to divine worship, eschewing all the temptations that life offers.

Each truncates opportunities for intellectual and social advancement, denies enlightenment and harmony among people. Each derives from a deadly acceptance of limitations to development, social and economic, in favour of a total obligation to worship an unworkable ideology or a consumptive religion. Totalitarianism, whatever the end envisioned.

In their fanatical determinism that brooks no compromise, each delivers a deprivation of the human essence for compassion and human practicality. Each diminishes the opportunity to achieve personal growth and the fostering of group dynamics leading to prosperity. Gulags and excommunications result from dissent where once torture, exile and auto-da-fees were a prevailing method of dealing with outcasts and outsiders.

Mankind does respond well to a kinder guidance leaving him free to worship, receive spiritual guidance, or not, and yet to better himself and his condition. To flounder, or to excel. The natural order of uncorrupted human development. The ancient Greeks knew this well, as did discerning minds before and after, all espousing in their own words the Golden Rule of moderation.

The compelling dysfunction of the consequences of extremism is its own lesson in failure to heed mankind's most basic need. Of freedom to choose. To become an intelligent and choice-discriminating individual. Or not. It is given to us, through our human inheritance to become what we will.

Extremism breeds contempt for humanity and its needs. It insists upon compulsion and compliance, promising dire consequences for doubters. Humankind finds comfort in acceptance and conformity, but it also chafes under the unbearable duress of unrelieved demands that stunt opportunities to advance curiosity, knowledge and hope for the future.

And then there are the religious fundamentalists of the present who view with suspicion and outright hostility any who can not, will not or desire not to share their cultural and social limitations, their hatred of inclusivity and mutual respect and their hateful 'racial' stereotyping.

Moving right along to the current Islamists with their fixation on jihad and suicide attacks and tribal warfare and assassins masked as martyrs and their fervent death squads and their incessantly triumphant "Allah Akbar". All in the name of God.

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