Friday, February 29, 2008

Death To Heretics

The Iranian Revolution is beginning to outgrow itself. Threatened, it might seem, from within. The younger generation not so inclined as their elders to cast in their lot with the Ayatollahs, with their rigidly doctrinaire fundamentalism. Ah, was it not ever thus? The wise elders knowing full well what is best for their society, forever and always challenged by hot-headed youth, clamouring for freedom from strictures and societal norms.

Decades post-revolution the youth of Iran are proving to be inconveniently misled by matters they know little of. And, since the vast majority of the population now is 30 years of age and below, they represent a post-ideological generation, more pragmatically given to modern ideas and impulses than their theism-stifled elders. They strive for a future that promises economic prosperity, an open society - freedom of thought and discourse and action.

Very unwise in a rigid theocratic dictatorship. The Ayatollahs, and the Ahmadinejads will have none of it; this is their Iran, after all; their vision, their spirituality, their aspirations that the young of the country have been permitted to live under. Reinstated: the hijab. Crackdown: human rights organizations. Reinstated: shariah law in its most fundamental extremes. Crackdown: on apostasy, heretical thought.

Draft legislation is now in place, preparing to be brought into law for the imposition of the death penalty: for men who seek to abandon Islam. The lesser penalty of life imprisonment for women sufficiently rash to attempt a similar abandonment of their faith. The practise of witchcraft will reward its practitioners similarly. As will be those who undertake any heretical stance against Islam.

Pretty straightforward and unequivocal. And not all that different really to what already pertains under shariah; these insults against Islam will become more formalized under the country's criminal code. Of course this does contravene the international human rights convention, and regrettably, Iran, in a moment of forgetfulness did happen to sign on to it, but these are details.

Understandably, these new crack-downs are worrying to the country's already horribly beleaguered Baha'is, since the new legislation prescribes the death penalty for anyone claiming to be a prophet: "any Muslim who invents heresy in the religion and creates a [contrary] sect" - all such individuals of such breakaway groups considered to be apostates; ergo death to them.

But these matters must be taken in context. The purpose is to continue building a society more reflective of Islam's divine purpose. In the words of Iran's redoubtable president Ahmadinejad: "Building a model society and introducing the Islamic Revolution are our nation's missions... The Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic of Iran are both great divine gifts, not only awarded to the Iranian nation, but to the entire mankind.

"The Iranian nation also has two heavy responsibilities, one of which is constructing Iran, since the message of a revolution would be heard and welcomed when it would be accompanied by practical models. Such model making would lead to leading the mankind towards the peak of perfection, and assist the world nations in embracing eternal salvation in the Hereafter, by convincing them that Islam is capable of presenting an ideal model for social life."

Reminiscent in its burden undertaken on behalf of humankind, of the Thousand-Year Reich. Fascism, Nazism, Adolf Hitler and his portentous belief in the ubermensch, the Final Solution, the inevitability of German suzerainty over the world, aided by the Axis powers.

Death to heretics, apostates, witches, infidels, Jews. After which the perfect world will be attainable.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Outrage Repeated

There are a lot of Muslims in the world. The count, in fact, is estimated at some 1.3-billion, roughly equivalent to the massive population of that huge country, China. Of that 1.3-billion Muslims the vast majority consider themselves to be respectfully moderate, although pious and completely submissive to Islam, the Koran and the Hadith.

A very small percentage, relatively minuscule in number, are self-avowedly fundamentalist, edging toward radical. And perhaps not surprisingly, the "moderates" don't represent that proportion of their religion who happen to be wealthy and well educated. Moreover, there are many divisions of Islam, apart from the two major sects, Sunni and Shia.

There is, for example, a largely forward-looking, more inclined to enlightened group, positioning themselves in the world of today, and given to a generosity of spirit toward other religions; the Ahmaddiyya Muslims. Who, like B'hai, suffer grave contempt from other Muslims and are sorely persecuted.

The thing about the hugely moderate majority is that they take their religion very seriously. It is, after all, the single most defining characteristic of their lives. And their lives revolve around Islam, from devoutly praying five times each day, to practising steadfastly all the precepts of Islam, as their Imams exhort them to.

And what all these Muslims appear to share is the inability to treat any aspect of their faith lightly. Informed that they may not countenance a representation of the revered Prophet, Muhammad, they adhere to this proscription, and become outraged to the point of violence toward those who display the arrogant manner of Westerners in taking the seriousness with which Muslims view such displays of careless regard for their faith, too lightly.

The world watched thunderstruck and in fearful awe, as outraged Muslims rampaged against all vestiges of the West after the perceived blasphemous rendering of cartoons depicting the Prophet in slightly amusing, and certainly provocative guises. Meant to convey the West's appreciation of Islam's hypocrisy in accepting the idea of jihad as a practical response to the perception of Western superior attitudes.

We got the message, though. We understood, viewing television, reading the news, listening to our radios, looking in on the Internet, that the world of Islam was anything but amused at Western ideas of poking fun at their most sacred symbol of Islam. So unamused that people were killed, some accidentally, some deliberately. Property was damaged and razed. A country's economy was seriously injured.

And the worldwide Muslim community nursed yet another grievance against the insolent and impious West, driving Muslims to distraction and beyond. Then we breathed a collective sigh of relief, believing that it was all over, done with. Still, a niggling resentment lingered in the apprehension of Western sensibilities too, since our vaunted freedom of expression had been stifled through fear of unrehearsed and unexpected reprisals.

Although Muslims represent a great number of earth's residents, and although they cling fiercely to their faith, they may not, however, dictate to the rest of the world how it must relate to their religion. No other religion demands this of the world at large.

But then, no other religion in this modern world now poses such a grave threat as does Islam with its dream, among its militant jihadists of regaining their lost Caliphate; ready to resort to anything to achieve it.

Shove and you get shoved back. And so, Denmark decided to reprint a few of those dastardly and no longer amusing cartoons. Just to make the point, in case it somehow became lost in all that turmoil. Now, we're just about back to where it all began, with Muslims in Sudan, Pakistan, Turkey, the Middle East and elsewhere in the Islamic world firing up the engines of fanatical anger in response to yet another grievance; a reprise of the original.

Not only Denmark, but Holland too, which suffered its own grievously deadly onslaughts from Islamist jihadists, is set to release yet another film certain to upbraid and bring down the wrath of Islam on the Dutch. The film, said to link Islam to violence, will most certainly lead good Muslims to prove, yet again, the very point being made.

Sudan's kindly president warns he will ban Danes from Sudan for their unmitigated hubris in exposing the Prophet to more ridicule. For his name is sacred and his form may not be represented for view by any.

Sudan makes no apologies for its anger, and may decide not to continue graciously accepting Danish foreign aid, and promises also to oust Danish peacekeepers. There to protect Black Sudanese from further atrocities at the hands of their government.

Moreover, said their president, "We urge all Muslims around the world to boycott Danish commodities, goods, companies, institutions, organizations and personalities". Sitting on their high horse of moral dudgeon, while they slaughter thousands of their countrymen, denouncing the indignity offered to their Divine Messenger, as though mass murder has not mired Muhammad in the sludge of shame.

In fact, it might indeed be seen as a solution if the West were to join forces in solidarity as suggested by German interior minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and encourage all their newspapers to re-print those damn cartoons in the hopes that it might finally penetrate the mindset of Muslims in general that their customs, values and traditions are universal only as they pertain to the Muslim community.

And that respect will be accorded them as is their just due, when they become deserving of respect by behaving civilly and moderately. And raising their voices in protest where and when they should, in outrage that rabidly jihadist Muslims despoil and soil the image of Islam by their terror activities.

And then we will all learn to live together in peace and harmony. Farshteit?

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Generous Spirit Of Islam

Well, there once was a spirit of generosity in Islam. A time when respect was given to religions other than Islam. When a place of honour was still held in recognition of the precursor-religions, of Judaism and Christianity from which Islam took some of its classical ideas, and whose sages and prophets are still held in high esteem by Islamic scholars; certainly through their status by inclusion in the Koran.

A time, long past, when Islam was in its full glory, and exercised its generosity freely, admitting to its teeming commercial, intellectual, political bosom the presence of Jewish and Christian communities within the global Caliphate. During that brilliant time in history when the arts were elevated to a status reflecting the greatness of intellectual and philosophical discourse, scientific discovery and mercantile success, infidels were accorded an element of respect, albeit with qualifications.

How inward-looking and degraded has Islam since become. Never quite recovered from its loss of territorial and spiritual hegemony in Europe; an assault on its Islamic consciousness and collective sense of honour, never to be forgotten, nor forgiven. The outward spread and the flowering of Islam shrivelled, and it turned into itself and ossified. The generosity of spirit dissolved, and the resolve for revenge slowly asserted itself.

In the very birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, both religions, much pre-dating Islam, are now scorned and their former esteem replaced by conscious revulsion. They represent now the antithesis in every conceivable respect of Islam's purpose. Even though Judaism now has its place once again in its historical birthplace, semi-secure in a state of its own, encircled by bitterly resentful Muslim countries.

Christianity is slowly being expunged from its cradle of existence, as one Muslim country after another gradually expresses its disgust over the presence of an "alien" religion, though social and political persecution. In the Palestinian Territories, Christians are slowly departing an atmosphere of threat and assaults. Christians are on the move out of Iraq and Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

If this exodus of an ancient religion's adherents from their original home is distressing to their neighbours it's hard to imagine. People who once lived in peace and mutual respect no longer appear to be inclined to do so. So it's a little surprising and encouraging to read that a Saudi columnist, Hussein Shubakshi, writing in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat has taken it upon himself to warn of the potential ramifications for Arab society in the wake of this ongoing cleansing of Christian and Jews from Arab countries.

For one thing, he laments the validation of the claim that Muslim countries are incapable of religious moderation; by their rigid exclusionism inimical to the acceptance of the 'other'. "The Arab East was once a paragon of peaceful coexistence between different religious groups. Abundant evidence of this model arrangement could be found in school classrooms, trading companies and cultural projects", he wrote.

"This situation existed until the Jews were expelled from the Arab countries for the first time, which took place in the wake of the declaration of the Zionist state. The response to this declaration by the security apparatuses of several Arab governments was inane, in that they came to regard the Jewish communities with suspicion, skepticism, and apprehension, and tormented them in order to force them to emigrate from Arab countries.

"Jewish emigration from Arab countries had a significant negative impact on the material well being of society and on economic diversity in the Arab World. It is obvious that, today another wave of emigration is underway, and that the Arab world is being drained of its Christian residents. The rate of Christian emigration from Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Sudan and Syria has reached astonishing proportions.

"Palestine in particular is facing a plan to eradicate the entire deeply-rooted Christian presence from all its territories. With the spread of extremism and the prevailing lack of understanding of the basic principles of coexistence with the other - which were put into practise by the Prophet Muhammad himself - it comes as no surprise that an extremist vision dominates the religious discourse.

"This forcible expulsion is evidence of the narrow limits of tolerance and acceptance of the other - and the narrowness of these limits is clearly evident from the actual outcome. The fact that Christian Arabs do not feel secure and protected in Arab countries is a very grave problem, which must be dealt with immediately because without a solution, emigration will continue to exact a price that must eventually have to be paid by everyone, without distinction, including the Muslims themselves."

Well said. Now...what?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Public Relations War

Hard to believe that the State of Israel could be so clumsy, so incapable, so unwilling to put in a real effort at launching a reasonable and honest information campaign to alert the world of her untenable position with respect to hanging on to her legal right to statehood against a bitterly avowed enemy sometimes posing as a reasonable partner in a peace process, more often revealing the true identify of an irredentist and implacable enemy.

Yet the Palestinians, in whatever their guise; the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, or the Islamist Hamas terrorists, have developed the ability to counter any feeble attempts at explanation and exculpation by Israel, with damning complaints of oppressor-violence against the State. Effectively down-playing their role in encouraging their recruits in terror to ongoing attacks which Israel must respond to. And in the process of so doing, reaping condemnation from the world.

Israel's lukewarm and too-few attempts to clear her name of charges of "occupier" and "Apartheid regime" fall on frosty ears, and she is condemned by a world now willing to view her in the unkindest light of all; a military bully eager to attain ever more land not belonging to her, and willing to commit the most egregious acts of violence against the poor defenceless Palestinian militias who wreak havoc on her border towns.

It did not, actually, take Palestinians all that long to understand just how malleable are the perceptions of the outside world, how fragile their support for Israel as a tiny state struggling to maintain her existence against the determined rejection of the surrounding Arab nations in the Middle East. They easily, readily and competently perfected their act of defenceless victims, persuading the outside world of a need to protect them from their vicious occupier.

The willing co-operation of a censorious world that simply had no patience nor the inclination to listen to the few weak attempts of Israel to place matters in the perspective of an embattled state attempting to protect its vulnerable population from suicide bombers and Kassam rockets cut no ice with a world which holds Israel to a standard of forbearance no other nation is expected to demonstrate.

What has been lost in the process is the understanding that Jews have always had a presence in the land they now occupy as a nation, apart from their historical, religious, cultural identity there. The world takes no notice of the fact that the real agenda of the Palestinian Authority can be seen in the maps it blatantly displays of a greater Palestine; absent the State of Israel. That its children are taught to hate the "interloper" Jews, and the "illegal" State of Israel, and to commit themselves to sacrifice for their not-yet-existent nation.

What the Palestinians have cleverly set out to do, is to establish in the mindset of a ever-willing portion of any Western population that there is no legitimate Jewish identity possible in the Middle East. And that the current State is there, having "taken" that which is not morally or legally theirs. That the State of Israel is a de facto "occupier", brutal and illegal, of Palestinian land.

Israel felt it had no need to defend itself from such calumnies, that the truth would speak for itself. Jews were, after all, historically entitled through their indelible religious and cultural presence, to return to a land from which invaders had banished them. It was nothing, if not a just solution to return to the land which had birthed the people, given rise to its religion and its culture and its pride in self. People of the Book, yes, but in modern incarnation, a people deserving and in need of a home, a refuge.

And that was how the world saw Jews, post-Holocaust, and Israel; a critically needed state for a historically beleaguered people. Victims of history and circumstance, hate and genocide, brought to their homeland and there the story would end. But it did not; history conspired, as it always does, to move on to introduce additional elements fraught with dangerous complications for Israel's ongoing presence.

And finally, the agreement between the State of Israel and the PLO, brokered by the United States. And the subsequent impossibility of dealing with an untrustworthy antagonist who had no real agenda of bargaining fairly and honestly to attain the portion of the geography initially rejected by the Palestinians which the United Nations had offered in legitimizing the creation of Israel.

Israel, trusting the assurances of the international community that the PLO and Yasser Arafat were to be trusted. As what else could she do other than continue to commit to ongoing warfare? Which, as it happens, is exactly what has concluded, in any event. While Palestinians live openly and freely within Israel with secure and equal entitlements, Jews within Israel must face the reality that the Palestinian Authority has no real intention of accepting peace and two states, side by side.

Israel can no longer afford to shrug off the implacable denunciations of her position by onlookers who accept holus bolus the slanders levelled against her by her enemies. But the reality is that the apprehension now of Israel as the aggressor against the pitifully helpless Palestinian population is seared into the mindsets of the international community, with few exceptions. Aided and abetted by her own moral insecurities, by her free press only too willing to give the acceptance of doubt to her enemies.

The fact is, the Jewish conscience is never still, never complacent, never certain about what its position should be, as a people fairly universally given to justice and peace. Finding itself in an uncommonly uncomfortable position, wondering whether the opinion of the outside world justifies its continued existence on the edge of approbation.

Past time for Israel to restore her sense of certainty and pride in herself. To remind the world that its approval of her existence and her right to exist must be unequivocal, and if it is not, then that's the way it is. But until a more secure certainty is attained, the situation in the round will never be recognized, pressure will never be placed on the Palestinians to remediate their position and accept the need to behave civilly with a mind to geographic partnership.

If such a thing is now at all possible. Something the Palestinians themselves will have to sort out, lest they be forced through their own complicity, to continue living their condition of uncertainty and resentment in defiance of a decent future.

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Hedging Their Condemnations

When is an apology not sincere? When it is spoken in words that leave the listener with the distinct impression that equivocation plays a large part in its utterance. As in an incomplete mea culpa, which expresses regret, with a but, a however, a qualifier. When is a statement of condemnation - long in coming but very much of the moment and needed and appreciated - seen to be equivocation? Why, when it is burdened with doubt, as when the condemnation is accompanied by expression of extenuation which explain the actions of malefactors.

So when one reads that Muslim scholars meeting in Lucknow, India, have issued a statement of condemnation of terrorism one sighs relief and exhales finally! A declaration signed off by no fewer than 20,000 scholars meeting at the Darul-Uloom Deoband madrassa is on its face succinct and definitive: "Islam is a religion of mercy for all humanity. Islam sternly condemns all kinds of oppression, violence and terrorism. Islam prohibits killing of innocent people."

Of India's greater-than-a-billion population roughly 14% is Muslim. During their meeting the Islamic scholars mulled over the distressing facts of Islamist jihadists targeting Muslims as well as infidels. And since the group of 20,000 represented clerics from all the various sects of Islam, their statement is meaningful. But their purpose and their collective declaration also highlighted their concerns with respect to what they see as harassment of Muslims in the cause of isolating terrorists.

So what, one might enquire, was the prime motivator here; the presumed innocence of many Muslims being apprehended by authorities around the world, targeted simply because they are Muslim, or the insidiously pervasive and ever-accelerating incidents of jihadist slaughter of the innocents? Muslim and non-Muslim alike. In all fairness, one would have to admit that the representatives of over 4,000 madrasas along with all prominent Islamic institutions of India are concerned with both, as dire threats to the stability of Islam.

India, like so many other countries of the world, from the Philippines to Indonesia; from Sudan to Egypt; from Israel to Lebanon; from Great Britain to Spain - to name but a handful - has been the scene of Islamist attacks against its citizens. And, in response, Indian security authorities have sought to identify and take suspects into custody for these crimes. Security activities, sometimes proactive, that have earned them censure from among the Muslim community on the basis of discrimination.

"A terrorist should be arrested only on the basis of hard evidence and not on biased conjectures", according to Maulana Rabe Hasan Nadvi, chairman of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a body whose concerns are with Islamic affairs in India. Unfortunately, hard evidence is sometimes difficult to come by, and authorities must sometimes rely upon anecdotal confidences, as well as informed conjecture, with the assurances that the innocent will be released in due course.

The expressed concerns of Muslim clerics and scholars are certainly not ill placed, but the ultimate concern of authorities is the safety of communities, and when Muslim youth are being targeted there is a history which indicates that on hard evidence it is Muslim youth who have been radicalized and committed to jihad that link themselves with terrorism; therein lies the "tendency" to link them with terror acts. There will always be victims in such circumstances; innocents whose appearance at the wrong place at the wrong time wrongly implicate them.

What then, are the public safety and security authorities to do otherwise than to pursue all possible avenues in attempting to track down the jihadists among the innocents? For they do not purposefully bring attention to themselves; rather they prefer to melt into the general atmosphere of the innocents, to further their deadly ambitions, undetected until such time as their suicide or bomb attacks bring firm attention to either the shredded, headless corpse of a suicidist, or the hasty absence of a murderer from the scene of his crime.

While the condemnation by the assembled scholars of terrorism in the name of Islam is welcomed and applauded as vital indication that the bloody assaults in India and Pakistan and Afghanistan bring no glory to Islam, the world at large hopes with bated breath that these scholars and clerics will go further. That, in their madrasas and in their mosques they will now vigorously spare no language to counter the twisted preachings of their fellow clerics who exhort Muslim youth to jihad.

The condemnation of terror activities should be without equivocation, not take equal status with the perceived targeting of Muslims under the guise of anti-terrorism activities. For the simple fact is, incontrovertibly, hordes of Muslim youth have undergone a radicalization process through the very auspices of their neighbourhood mosques and madrasas. It is Islamist jihad that has spread terror throughout the world. It is the venomous disease of Islamist jihad that must be singled out, with no side issues, for full condemnation.

The issue of terror cannot be second to that of perceived injustice against Muslim youth. The statement issued at the conference, that "The objective behind the meet is to not only highlight the injustice being meted out to innocent Muslims invariably booked on pre-determined suspicions, but to also let everyone know that Islam is totally opposed to any kind of violence and terrorism." This is a critical issue that cannot take second place to any other issues, however imperative. Prove it by making it a single, overwhelming issue of concern.

These statements: "Unleashing violence or spreading terror or killing people are not only serious sins but are also heinous crimes. That is why all Islamic clerics attending this anti-terrorism conference not only condemn every type of violence in the severest of terms, but also express their anger and disillusionment over this dangerous situation emerging at both the national and international levels." must be stand-alones - front and centre - full stop.

But they're not, and this dilutes their singularity, the apprehension of their sincerity and their effectiveness. Simply because in the next breath the scholars and clerics sought fit also to condemn the role of Western nations in "oppressing" Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. Thus effectively and most efficiently offering just cause, in their scholarly opinion. What started out as a religiously upright, moral and justified denunciation of terrorism limped lamely into a segue on just cause, and a political statement on cause-and-effect.

Worse than useless. They're literally morally conflicted, and that reflects most adequately in another statement, part of the resolution: "The central government must promptly bring an end to the character assassination of Muslims and madrasas; it must also direct its machinery not to pass the buck in every act of terror to Muslims; but of course it must award the severest punishment to the actual guilty."

How's that for having your cake and eating it, too?

Their resolution should be sent right back at them, slightly amended: "The religious Islamic entities of great authority in the Muslim world must promptly bring an end to the vision of Islamist jihad and their deadly activities against all peoples targeted; infidels, Jews and Muslims; and of course it must itself prosecute the severest punishment to those defiant of its authority."

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Leading The Way...

Canada announced its boycott of the United Nation's "Durban II" Conference a month ago. After which little has been heard of the issue. Now, unsurprisingly, and timely enough, given that it was announced at a conference in Jerusalem on anti-Semitism, Israel too, through its foreign affairs minister, Tzipi Livni has announced Israel is following Canada's lead.

How's that for a turn-about? Canada influencing other countries to examine the morality of attending a conference on anti-racism which promises to be a mirror-image of Durban I, where the attending members were asked to condemn racism, while finger-pointing Israel as the epitome of a racist state.

Israel, needless to say, hardly needed to be influenced by any other country's pre-emption of first-past-the-gate, since she's the target.

"I expect other countries to make the same decision, and I believe that, if anything, Canada's withdrawal has given more leverage to those who are combating the voices of intolerance - voices that once more seem to have hijacked the Durban process", said Canada's multiculturalism secretary of state, Jason Kenney, last month.

Where are they? Not yet lining up to join the moral dissenters, but it's yet early days.

It's morbidly risible that Iran, of all countries sits on an executive planning committee for the 2009 conference. Iran, that bastion of human-rights support, the very country calling time and again for the annihilation of the State of Israel. But then, Iran fits right in with the agenda of the committee whose head is none other than Libya as chair.

In their planning for the 2009 conference the big topic appearing front and centre is scheduled to be "Islamophobia", a favourite with Arab and Islamic countries who state a fervid belief in the dreadful presence of anti-Muslim discrimination around the world.

Equating that discrimination, needless to say, with the West's unfortunate preoccupation with anti-terror efforts, imposed by conditions of jihad-bent terrorists claiming to represent Islam.
Taking the name of their god in vain, launching deadly attacks and shrieking Allahu Akhbar!

As though any god, let alone Allah, the Spirit of peace and good fellowship for a billion devout Muslims around the world, would take credit for their abhorrent misdeeds against humankind. Yet to combat their jihadist spirit is to wage war against Islam, and therefore we have the damnable issue of "Islamophobia" to be reckoned with. Too deliciously ironic for words.

So all right already, there are warnings coming out of Washington that they too will boycott the new conference, as it's shaping up. They somehow find it difficult to accept the Islamic argument that Muslim Semitic peoples have become the new victims of anti-Semitism, while at the same time arguing that the Holocaust wasn't all that notable an occurrence...

Even Germany, upon whose near history hangs the ghastly mantle of genocide, may reconsider, and Great Britain whose current political and social atmosphere reeks of anti-Semitism, may find it prudent to withdraw....

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Morally-Challenged Liberal Left

Always and forever on the search for a victim to champion and for whose cause they may raise their voices in righteous indignation the intellectual left has embraced the Palestinian cause as their newly-beloved. They have deliberately blind-sided themselves to the simple fact that not only is there always two sides to every story, sometimes the story itself has been irretrievably canted toward dissembling and distortion to prove a point, one which is not necessarily reflected in reality.

Support of "the Palestinian cause" has become the new rallying cry of university students in the Western world, from Europe to North America and beyond. Critical historical truths and real events are simply not an issue here, not to be examined in the round in an attempt to fully understand the manner in which events have been played out, leading to the current situation; an impasse between two peoples, revolving around land ownership.

The legality of the presence of the State of Israel is incontrovertible, yet the ardent and closed argument of historically aggrieved Palestinians - for whom nothing has ever seemed to advantage them; before the creation of the State of Israel, when statehood was withheld from them by their religious compatriots; and after Israel's birth when they rejected the UN-directed division of geography - is now universally championed.

The most outrageously false claims of deliberate Israeli human rights abuses against the Palestinians are taken as fact. There seems no need to ever validate these claims; if they're issued as fact, they're taken as solid accusations stemming from reality. The more egregious the claims of Israeli brutality, neglect and discrimination, the more believable, for Jews have become once again, the universal outsider, the despised 'other', capable of the most odious acts.

Characterizing themselves as victims of oppression, of an apartheid state determined to cleanse the geography of their presence - to ensure that they remain forever landless, impoverished - enlistment of support in the leftist West finds a ready and supportive audience.
One university after another accedes to the demand that their auspices be given to a collaborative denunciation of a fascist state.

Yet by any criteria, Israel is anything but. Alone in the Middle East, Israel stands as a beacon of freedom, an economic, cultural, political success. Its health-care facilities and universities are second to none. Its scientists and technological advancements are the envy of the world. Its economy is booming, it has a free judiciary designed to counter any vestiges of moral or ethical slippage, along with a free press instantly on the alert for skulduggery.

There is no questioning of the legitimacy of the positions taken by the Palestinian Authority, that legislative political body purporting to be involved in advancing the interests of Palestinians, but which has, time and again, looted its Western-availed treasury, and which has deliberately failed, time and again, to responsibly and honestly seek a just solution for peace.

Israel cannot be supported, it would appear, by the intellectual left, because she is, quite obviously not in need of support as a pathetic underdog. She has presented, through hard work, integrity and determination, as a success in every yardstick of measurable political, economic and social advancement for her people - all her people, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, equally under the law of the land.

And succumbing to the usual fall-backs of anti-Semitism in response to society's jaundiced vision of a religious, ethnic group for whom failure has never been an option in a largely hostile world, offers the relief of racially-inspired resentment for that success.


Hamas Speaking

The small Negev town of Sderot just across the border from the Gaza Strip has suffered thousands of hits from Kassam rockets in the past year; 200 in the last two months alone. These are roughly-made devices that don't often hit their mark, but when they do, their shrapnel-filled heads are capable of delivering a lot of damage to soft human tissue. They occasionally kill, they maim, they destroy buildings.

And possibly the most telling damage from these constant rockets raining down on the community is the psychological trauma they inflict on the people of Sderot. Enough so that four thousand of the small community of 21,000 souls have left never to return. They've quite simply had more than their fill of living the daily hell of rocket attacks. And most people hesitate to venture too far from their homes, from shelter.

Taking children to school, going out to do the shopping is fraught with difficulties. A red alert, giving people a full fifteen-second heads-up to try to protect themselves from an oncoming rocket keeps nerves on knife's edge. Parents will not leave their children bereft of their presence for an instant even inside their homes, lest that fifteen-second alert come through and they are unable to respond instantly.

Their lives have become a living hell. And this is exactly what Hamas wants. That their rockets can, will and do kill and maim innocent people, including children, is of no moral concern to them, for they don't consider any Israelis to be "innocent". Rather they are all guilty. Guilty of living on Palestinian land, claiming it to be Israeli territory, for to Hamas there is no such reality as Israel.

The IDF has conducted raids into Gaza on an ongoing basis in an attempt to stop the rocket attacks. Israeli soldiers have, time and again, found Palestinians manning rocket sites. Nothing will dissuade Hamas and its members from their holy war of terror against Israel; not the deaths of their members by the IDF, their capture and imprisonment, nor the dire condition redounding to Palestinian civilians within Gaza.

The mayor of Negev, in a last-attempt desperate move to do something positive, has sought a meeting with Hamas. He is quoted in The Guardian as saying "I would say to Hamas, let's have a ceasefire, let's stop the rockets for the next 10 years and we will see what happens." Nothing, nothing will happen in the sense that Eli Moyal, Sderot's mayor indicates for the simple reason that Hamas is disinterested in talking.

The telling thing here is that Mr. Moyal has taken the option of offering to try to talk reason with an implacable enemy, rather than call upon his government to do so because, he has stated, he fears Israel, if pushed further, might risk 'losing the moral high ground', should she mount a massive military operation to make a more determined attempt to eradicate Hamas operations that so dreadfully punish the people of Sderot.

"Maybe one day in the future we will lose our patience and our values and invade", he said. "Imagine 20 kids being killed in a kindergarten by a missile. Then the Israel government would have to act and would lose its morality. If we don't talk we go deeper and deeper into war. If we don't talk we should fight." One supposes that Mr. Moyal speaks here of the opinion of the outside world should a military invasion occur, when he speaks of "losing morality".

There is, in fact, nothing immoral in a country protecting the lives of its citizens. That, in fact, is its moral and existential duty. That "innocent people" would be killed on both sides is a fair statement of fact, but no country can be expected to hold back forever in protecting its own. As expected, the mayor's offer to talk was swiftly rejected.

A Hamas web site responded quite explicitly: "The Zionist colony of Sderot, which steals our occupied land in northern Gaza, will continue to be a legitimate target for the jihad warriors of the Al-Kassam Brigades, as are the other colonies and Zionist positions surrounding Gaza, as a part of the ongoing response of Al-Kassam to the continuing Zionist crimes, which take the form of massacres in Gaza and the West Bank."

Those "Zionist crimes", needless to say, taking the form of hit-backs by the IDF in attempting to root out the Hamas and Fatah-allied militias with their deadly agenda of annihilating any Israeli civilians whom they are able successfully to target. There is the cause, and there the effect. Hamas is clear; it has no intention of negotiation, it will not countenance the potential for peace and the clear demarcation of boundaries through an acceptance of side-by-side nation states.

Simply put, Israel must go. The land occupied by Israel must revert to Palestinian rule, and will become the greater Palestinian state. For Israel there will be no peace, security and stability as long as Hamas remains, to do its duty to itself as it sees its message as a jihad-bent militia assigned by Allah.

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The Jewish Connection

Well, that's really good news. That Muqtada al-Sadr has decided, after all, on an extension of the cease-fire he imposed upon his Mahdi militia. While he remains piously incommunicado, in some unknown place in Iran, continuing his religious studies, intent on arriving at a level of learned scholarship to rival that of his deceased - dispatched-by-Saddam - father.

Another six months of declining to clash with American troops in Iraq. Big relief. Really. Fact is there are more than sufficient militias, eager to battle it out with foreign troops in Iraq, so one less to worry about is one less to worry about. And so, it can be anticipated further than the current situation of low-frequency spear-throwing may continue.

And how's this for high-flown rhetoric; the Iraqi government characterizing this new move, along with the al-Sadr movement - which, if one recalls, is questionable in any event, since Muqtada al-Sadr, once a semi-integral part of the government, chose to step down and go his own way, rejecting the Shia-Sunni coalition in favour of battling American troops - as "a cornerstone of the political process on the path to building a new Iraq".

Some path, that. And the really hilarious, if not downright hideously Machiavellian part of this is that Iraqi government security forces, controlled by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq - a Shia militia - has been waging its own low-profile, but exceedingly provocative war of attrition on Muqtada al-Sadr's faithful, arresting them, harassing their families and overall offering goodwill gestures on behalf of the government.

Sunni malovently against Shia, Shia confronting Sunni, all bitter enemies and not to be placated by the simple fact that they are all Muslims, all ethnically, culturally and socially similar, all human beings with the same needs and aspirations. And now -Shia against Shia , where does it end? The implacable hatred evidenced by one sect of that great religion against the other. If they so much detest one another, how to measure their detestation of Jews?

Funny that: Shias hold the ghostly personage of the 12th imam to the most sacred level of belief; that he will one day return to earth from his present mysterious place of residence to which he departed centuries ago and where he remains in a shroud of mystic revelation. Salvation will arrive with his presence, for it is held that on the day of Judgement he will appear among his followers to lead the way.

And with him at that signal time in the future toward which all pious thought is centred? None other than a learned and wise Jewish man, one whose presence on earth, and whose prescriptions for a life well lived have come down through themillennia to inform countless believers in his divinity of the rightness of his message: Jesus Christ.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Atmospheric Testing Grounds

There was a time when the Pacific atolls were testing grounds for nuclear devices, before they went underground. Underground, above ground, now the upper atmosphere. We just cannot seem to remove ourselves from the fascination of playing with dangerously destructive toys.

Science and engineering and modern technology are wonderful tools, no doubt about it. Humankind's curiosity about anything and everything, forbidden or not, compels us to forge on.

And once a discovery has been made, how to ensure it will remain in trustworthy hands? How to keep a potentially disastrous device from wandering into the realm of danger? How to tame the whirlwind?

Are there capable and trustworthy hands to begin with? Those to whom can be entrusted instruments of catastrophic disaster? Are there responsible governments to whom atomic energy, nuclear-headed missiles can be entrusted?

Say, for example, the most wealthy, most socially progressive, most politically trusted nation on earth? Who, having the means by which they could visit the ultimate disaster on another country, would be trusted not to?

And under the guise of preventing a war from being unduly prolonged, would choose to unleash nuclear death on a scale never before imagined because of sheer curiosity about what would happen, how effective their fearful device would prove to be?

Those immense deadly concussions that left shadows where multitudes of people had been, hushed the world in a frenzy of fear.

But that also marked the beginning of the end for one-state possession of the ultimate weapon as other countries frenziedly set about acquiring the latest status-symbol weapon of mass destruction. Where to go from there?

Why space, of course, the upper atmosphere. From attacking one another from ground-based positions, more effectively wide-spaced destruction could be achieved by launching attacks from the upper atmosphere.

Think of nature and what she can accomplish, in hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, ice storms, tsunamis, thunder, lightning, the world gone weather-mad.

We seek to emulate nature, and then to outdo her. When China amazed the world by destroying an old weather satellite long past its prime, there was equal parts wonder at her technical proficiency and her presumptuousness.

And of course condemnation was swift and uncompromising; in her scientific-technical arrogance, China was threatening world stability; who knew where she would go from there?

A year later the United States found an acceptable reason for repeating China's move, only because it was the U.S. it was all right. This was not a test of the capability of her anti-ballistic missile defence - Star Wars.

The U.S. has joined that very special club that China pioneered, oh good on them. Is this what's being termed the space arms race?

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Please...Don't Leave Us...

The Croats hate the Serbs, the Serbs detest the Albanians, and all have had their opportunity in the past to wreak horrible atrocities one upon the other. They share adjacent geography in the Balkans, an uneasy part of Europe where it seems there is always the anguish of brutality close to the surface.

Suspicion, anger, passions flare and one group sees the other as antagonistic to their well-being, the only acceptable response being to expel the 'others' from one's geographic territory, as the Croats in 1995 did in expelling 250,000 Serbians from their territory, amidst the shedding of blood.

It's just not possible to claim that one is more innocent than the other, that one has been more victimized than the other; they're all guilty of crimes against humanity. That having been said, they've proven more than adequately, that separation becomes necessity.

To give each of the representative peoples the comfort of distance from the other, with clearly indicated barriers which each should respect.

Now, in Serbia, post Kosovo's declaration of independence as an autonomous state, fury has been unleashed and pointedly directed toward the U.S. presence there, as the prime instigator of Kosovo's parliament's unilateral (and fundamentally illegal) separation from Serbia.

Invading the U.S. embassy, flying the Serbian flag from U.S. diplomatic territory, setting the chancery ablaze. Good thing the U.S. anticipated just that, and evacuated their personnel.

They were able to judge just how to respond after hearing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica rally a crowd estimated at a hundred thousand outraged Serbians: "As long as we live, Kosovo is Serbia"; the impassioned call to arms. "Serbia has annulled and will annul every act of the illegal and fictitious state created on its territory by the use of force."

Serbia, of course, knows force when it sees it. It's an expert practitioner of exerting physical domination over its traditional cultural/religious enemies. However, no more so than that practised by those same adversaries against the Serbs.

Serbian anger is weighted not only by the assault against their geographic sovereignty and the U.N.-imposed semi-autonomy of Kosovo under Serbian nationhood, but by the signal loss of a geography sacred to their history as a nation.

For them, this illegal and insulting high-handedness in capturing and removing their prized geographic possession is not to be countenanced with any kind of equanimity. It's a call to war, to violent dissent, and the government has encouraged violence to be expressed, encouraging "demonstrators" to gather, to shout their outrage, to demonstrate their passion.

The Albanians expelled Serbians and appropriated their goods and properties. The Serbians expelled Albanians from majority-held territory and appropriated their good and properties. The Serbians rounded up Albanian men and boys and massacred them. The Albanians did their utmost to visit like atrocities upon the Serbs. And the Croats were happy to dispatch any strays that came their way.

History repeats itself. Serbia insists that Kosovo is its own, its cradle of their nation, since a lost epic war against Muslim rule in the 14th Century. But with a 10% Serbian presence in Kosovo, after the Albanians expelled 200,000 Serbs in 1999, it didn't have many feet on the ground to claim as its own in perpetuity. The Albanians had the upper hand in sheer strength of numbers.

Serbia legitimately can continue to claim that Kosovo is Serbian territory, but unless it is prepared to engineer a vast exodus of Albanians from Kosovo, all the rants and ravings will avail it nothing.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Defenders of the Faith

Spewing hatred is certainly indicative of something, most tellingly, the mind of a dangerous psychopath. Surely, people who profess a belief in a divine presence, one that informs their everyday lives, encouraging them through study of their sacred writings to honour all peoples and in so doing, bring honour to their god.

The simple fact is that most people who subscribe to the way of faith, pay homage to a singularly unknowable spirit, but one that universally exhorts followers to be of pure mind, practise compassionate understanding of others; in the doing of which one must always do unto others as they would have done to them.

The first instance of this obedience to the basic scripture of a belief in the presence and the power of God, is to bring to one's exposure to others a spirit of openness and acceptance, with every right to the understanding that this initial behaviour will be rewarded with reciprocal kindness.

An all-seeing, omniscient god requires nothing less of religious adherents, for in offering kindness to others one honours the most basic precepts of humankind's belief in the purpose of an Almighty. To bring peace and harmony to the world.

To battle (spiritual jihad) the more base instincts with which humankind has been imbued. And in allowing one's finer instincts to emerge and submerge the darker side, becoming what God demands.

Perhaps that can be taken a step farther; those who wish ill to others dishonour their religion and their god. Those whose apprehension of others cause them to be suspicious of others' motivations and purpose, betray their affiliation with their god by responding with belligerent intent toward others.

Tender homilies of quiet understanding issuing from the lips of authority figures in the world of Islam toward those of countries whose religion does not reflect Islam present as a case in point. The world-respected public figure who draws admiring attention from all who hear his plangent tenor singing the praises of his country's neighbours is a case in point.

Addressing an Islamist rally broadcast on Iran's national television President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thrilled his audience with stirring words of regard for other countries of the world, their leaders, and above all, their populations, other than Muslim: "World powers have created a black and dirty microbe named the Zionist regime and have unleashed it like a savage animal on the nations of the region."

Allah, one can imagine, hangs his hoary head in bewildered shame. How can his message of peace and understanding have been so dreadfully subverted? How can it be that the very people whom he so carefully advantaged through his divine mentorship can have fallen to such depraved depths of sinful slander against others?

Threats from Iran against its neighbours, and most spectacularly the neighbour whose ancient religion was the wellspring from which Islam sprang continue to erupt on the landscape, befouling and bespoiling the potential for harmony among the nations living there.

Allah truly is dumbfounded that his message of brotherly love can have been so twisted, so horribly manacled to the message of the Angel of Death.

Where, He wonders, are the Defenders of His Faith?

Ah, not to worry. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described those hateful sentiments as "unbearable", promising he would respond "decisively" to the ravings of the Iranian president.

Allah be praised.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Doing Their Best

The results, when one country interferes with the affairs of another, are rarely pretty. The bitter resentment that invariably results from any such interferences - whether the intent can be defended or not - never redounds to the benefit of the interloper.

When the United States made the decision that it would heed its own impetuous voice, not that of the United Nations, in invading Iraq - ostensibly to save its people from their grotesque oppressor - they convinced themselves they'd be greeted as the saviours of the country.

Or so they said. Well, they did rid the country - and the region, and the world at large - of yet another of its more odiously-compulsive state-murderers, but in the ensuing melee it also unleashed a red tide of sectarian bloodshed that continues to this day.

Under the former dictator a good proportion of the Iraqi citizenry lived in fear, but they were able to go about their normal, daily lives with some assurance of prevailing order.

Now, after years of protective occupation and internecine warfare, there is no peace, no order, no assurances of personal protection. Under the madly egocentric Saddam Hussein certain elements of society were targeted, now all elements of society are targeted - by their opposite religious brethren, by ethnic differences, by foreign terrorists.

Many can be forgiven for wondering exactly what it was they gave up in the name of Western style "freedom", for freedom seems a nasty canard when one's very life and that of their families are tenuously guarded by an incapable and self-serving government, endlessly conducting squabbles between their own representative factions.

Under these circumstances, brutal dictatorship with its guarantee of law and order, despite the occasional lapse into horrific brutality, looks acceptable. That's Iraq. How about Afghanistan, whose future well-being has become the concern of the UN, NATO, the Western world at large?

Foreign military stationed in the country attempting to re-build civic infrastructure is continually threatened by the resolutely jihad-mainlining Taliban. And, as in Iraq, civilians are targeted too, in suicide bombing attacks that successfully explode lives into the atmosphere where bits and pieces can later be scraped up for countless funerals, begging Allah's forgiveness.

Although the government of Afghanistan is fervid in its pleading with NATO-allied countries to remain steadfast in their resolve to assist it, the people of Afghanistan, like those of Iraq, are losing patience, beginning to wonder what exactly has replaced the rigidly authoritarian Mullah-ridden Taliban. For the Taliban, after all, are them, only slightly removed.

And, as did religious leaders and Islamic scholars, along with principals of Pakistan's madrassas issue a denunciation of U.S. and Western-allied attempts to isolate and destroy the Taliban, so too are influential elders in Afghanistan preparing to discuss the state of their country's growing lack of security and utter lawlessness.

Kandahar has been repeatedly assaulted by explosives, killing and injuring civilians, and on occasion, Afghan and Western military personnel. Afghans are beginning to think longingly of the security that was theirs when the dreaded Taliban was in power, despite their rigid authoritarian rule.

"You took away one evil and imposed another evil even worse", lamented a university teacher in Kandahar, addressing Western concerns. "Why should I thank you for that?" So much for winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans, to enlist them in support for their democratic-style government.

For the fact is, hundreds of people are dying in insurgent attacks targeting civilians. They're fodder in the war of attrition. Seen as complicit with the government of Hamid Karzai - as why would they not be - and deserving of death.

"We are fed up with these explosions" cried another. "It is beyond our tolerance. This is disgusting. For God's sake, stop this bloodshed. What can we do?"

What, indeed?

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The New Pakistan

Pakistan's election saw a mere 35% of eligible voters turn out to exercise their mandate. Little wonder, given all the violence that exorcised the intent of the electoral spirit pre-election, in the slaughter of innocent people attending rallies in support of their candidates.

And their fears were realized to an extent when 25 people died due to election-day violence, joining the 90 already dispatched to a far finer place, where rumour has it there is no hunger, no energy shortage, no terror.

The true wonder of this election is not that President Musharraf's party won such a stinging rebuke from his people, but that the radical Islamic parties supportive of the Taliban were denied one single deputy to Pakistan's spanking new national assembly.

As well, discerningly peace-loving voters in the North-West Frontier Province sought fit to elect a secular representation, the Awami National Party. That should be of some comfort, both to the people of Pakistan who want to remain secularly-governed, and politically moderate in character.

It's undeniable that the election struck a blow to President Musharraf's intent to remain as head of his country. He lost not only a huge number of constituencies, but leading ministers, along with small parties with whom his own had been allied and seen support from. Totally.wiped.out. The message being, indelibly, unmistakably: time to decamp.

"Musharraf is completely finished" according to retired general and army chief of staff, once the president's boss, Mirza Beg. "He has no options left. If he tries to do anything, he will be booted out. He has been so ignorant and naive about what was happening in this country." How's that for a statement of confidence?

"This was more than an election. It was a referendum", claimed Hussain Ahmad Piracha, professor of politics at International Islamic University. And, as such, there is no mistaking the mood of the country. "Musharraf did not expect a defeat like this." That being said, he must indeed have confused his personal sense of place with the broader dismissal of his countrymen.

Who sincerely desire their country to return to what they insist is democratic rule. A most peculiar type of democracy, to be sure, since the most popular party, the one the majority of Pakistans have vested their hopes in for the future, reflects a dynastic inheritance, not a democratic process.

It seems to be left to the two successful parties, one the avowed secular and left-of-centre PPP of the Bhutto clan, the other the conservative PML-N whose leader Nawaz Sharif, was as guilty of corruption - and deposed by Pervez Musharraf with that charge levelled against him - as was Asif Ali Zardari, Mrs. Bhutto's widower, whom Nawaz Sharif replaced, happy to be able to incarcerate the very man with whom he may have to haggle with for position now.

And the second order of business - following a process whereby the dismissed judges will be reinstated and enabled to pass judgement on President Musharraf's legal right to remain in power - will be for Pakistan to formally distance itself from the United States. Happily, they believe, giving up the billions of dollars of American support, for the freedom to dissent.

Which is to say, to unequivocally deliver the message that Pakistan will solve its own internal problems with bitterly errant Islamism, without lending any support whatever to the U.S. agenda with respect to Afghanistan. Ceasing all "un-Islamic" activities, as the collective statement of the country's scholars, mullahs and madrassa principals urged.

"It is the first time in a long time that there will be a government that does not do what the U.S. wants, but what Pakistanis want", claimed Mr. Beg, the retired general. "Nor can Pakistan provide the U.S. with any co-operation regarding Afghanistan except to try to bring peace in our border areas.

"We can give no further guarantees because we cannot guard our entire 2,600-kilometre border with Afghanistan." An entirely reasonable statement of fact. The country is concerned with its inter-tribal relationships, the need to make peace with its more remote tribal enclaves, the warlords who are capable of assembling their own militias to do damage in avenging state harassment.

To Pakistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda do not appear to present as problems. They're prepared to let sleeping tigers lie there peacefully, within their borders, even as they roam at will in their neighbour's pasturage, wreaking havoc as they will, to recapture that which was once fiercely theirs.

When and if those tigers turn their predatory aspirations on Pakistan, the country will face them, but not until then. Good, bad or indifferent, that appears to be their strategy.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Choices, Denunciations

Pakistan's 64,000 polling booths closed amidst denunciations of rigged polls. Despite which, it's evident that the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League have taken the majority of votes, leaving a paltry distant third place to President Pervez Musharraf's PML(Q) party. The party's president, a former prime minister defeated, along with several other senior PML(Q) members losing their seats.

The late Benazir Bhutto's husband now nominally leading her party, at her last will and testament demand, holding the cherished position as dynastic chief for their son. Asif Ali Zardari has stated a tentative willingness to negotiate power sharing with President Musharraf and his allies.

It might seem somewhat a difficult pill to swallow to offer to share power with Nawaz Sharif, the very person responsible for putting Benazir Bhutto's widowed husband in jail for a dozen years on corruption charges.

It would, in any event, be a very temporary accommodation. And President Musharraf, despite his abysmally low popularity ranking, would be a hard man to pry out of office. Unless Pakistan's military decides to turn against its former general. Should President Musharraf not be wildly enthusiastic about his options, he does have the legislative power to dismiss parliament.

How difficult would that be for a man who foresaw no problems in dismissing his country's judiciary, and who imposed emergency rule on his outraged country? A country now mired in its own brutally deadly internecine problems, let alone a faltering economy where rising prices, food shortages and power cuts have not endeared him to the electorate.

They've forgotten earlier times that were much worse. Under his rule the country's GDP has doubled, with average annual growth a respectable 7.5%. Yet the general public faces wheat-flour, electrical and gas shortages, along with inflationary costs. And not to be forgotten is the ten-billion dollars of U.S. funds pumped into the country as a gratuity for assisting in the war against terror.

A rather toothless assist, sad to say, given the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda on the border regions of the Hindu Kush mountains. Terrorist attacks and sectarian violence is threatening to further destabilize the tender balance of the country, despite President Musharraf's feeble attempts to control extremism. And he hasn't many allies within the country.

Consider the position taken last month by thirty Islamic scholars and principals of those notorious madrasses in Pakistan, who issued a denunciatory statement widely published in the Pakistan press, claiming to be without a political agenda, but to have considered the problems besetting the country and to have attempted some solutions in a socially neutral manner.

In their considered, collective opinion, Pervez Musharraf has acted against the national interests of the country.

They aver that President Musharraf abandoned his responsibilities to his country by adapting himself to the needs of the United States, post 9-11, making their way Pakistan's as well. They decried the use of Pakistan's military "against our fellow citizens". They denounced his decision to take Pakistan "on an irreligious path in the name of 'moderation' and 'progressive thinking'".

The scholars spoke of unjustified changes made to the education curricula in response to charges of suborning young minds toward jihad made by 'foreigners'; of unjustified amendments in law in the name of women's rights.

They spoke despairingly of the promotion of "vice and nakedness" the mosques that were "martyred in Islamabad" (insurgents of the Red Mosque); cited rising inflation and unemployment; incidents of killing and looting, the breakdown of law and order.

The collective discussed the legality under sharia law of suicide attacks by recalling events that took place between India and Pakistan during the war of 1965 "When the soldiers of Pakistan's army tied bombs to their bodies and crashed into Indian tanks, and as a result of which the advance of the tanks was stopped".

Explaining that "if an individual took such a step [suicide bombing] during a right and justified war, then there is hope that Allah will accept his sacrifice in consideration of the beauty of his intention".

They wrote: "In our opinion, the most important and fundamental point is that the government try to see those who are called 'militants' or 'extremists' through Pakistani eyes, rather than looking at them through American eyes. These people, whether they are in tribal areas or in Swat, or in the Malakand Division or in Baluchistan, are indeed our own brothers, our fellow nationals, and from our own religion"

The scholars recommended that Pakistan sever itself from American affiliation, halt all military operations in the northern and tribal areas, hold talks with tribal chiefs, recognize the Taliban are not terrorists, and address itself to the problems of the people of Baluchistan, taking steps to cease all un-Islamic activities.

They did compliment President Musharraf for his stance on not permitting American troops on Pakistani soil; that he should consolidate politics with the opposition parties to overcome differences for the sake of the nation.

And finally, that President Musharraf should resign his position for the greater good of the country.

And he can take it from there.

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The Unfortunate Jews of Gaza

Welcome to life as a Jew in uneasy accommodation toward life in a Muslim or Eastern European country. Where it is always wise to keep a low profile, where comporting oneself carefully, living tremulously, tentatively, discreetly, may be no guarantee of safety, let alone security.

Anti-Semitism has its way of raising its diseased head at any time. And woe betide the Jew therein present when irritations of one kind or another erupt. Life can be so tenuous, so fleeting.

Jews in Gaza? Well, in a sense. It is, in fact, the diminishing numbers of Christians living within Gaza who are their Jews; scorned, deprecated, slandered and attacked. Their institutions, their schools, libraries, community centres, their places of worship. People abducted, maltreated, fearful of complaint. Properties trashed, burned out, destroyed, be they vehicles, buildings and their furnishings - or books.

The latest, where unidentified gunmen blew up the YMCA library in the Gaza Strip, temporarily abducting two guards, stealing a vehicle, looting the offices, destroying all of the books, was a response to the presence of Christians in the midst of Palestinian Muslims. Actually, a response - attested to by confidential sources - to the reprinting of the Muhammad cartoons in Denmark this past week.

You see, one can never know, as representatives of a detested minority having no social rights, no legal protections in a stronghold of fundamentalist detractors of minorities when you will become the latest target of revenge-at-a-remove. Walk softly and carry a big helping of hope, but nothing will protect you for you are vulnerable. Christian or Jew.

Al-Qaeda-associated terror groups have targeted Christians - largely Greek Orthodox, in Gaza - over the past several years, with the intention of driving them entirely out of the Strip. Their presence, quite simply, is anathema in the opinion of the jihadists, and the Christians can do nothing whatever to protect themselves, other than to remain alert, and to try not to upset anyone by protesting.

Not protest the desecration of a church. The Christian Palestinians subject to fire bombings, property seizures, assaults and death threats have no champions in the Palestinian Territories. When asked by visitors if they are treated well, they respond that they enjoy very good relations with their Muslim brethren. To respond otherwise is to bring further assaults upon themselves.

Eventually they will all leave, as the opportunities arise. As other countries permit them to migrate where their rights will be assured, where they will be able to claim all the assurances of legal protection under a universal law for all citizens within an adopted country.

For the present, those who are left, a mere few thousand, they will persevere. Never able to relax their vigilance, never knowing when the next blow will be struck against them. Not a very nice way to live.

Within a landscape that was once primarily theirs. The crucible of Christianity. What unblessed irony. What torment. The better to test one's faith.

Ask the Jews, they know. It's why the State of Israel exists.

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A New Country - Welcome!

What a furore has erupted over the self-proclamation of statehood for Kosovo. Albanian Kosovars are delirious with joy and triumphant accomplishment. Serbia, Russia, and Serbian Kosovars are apoplectic with anger. Russia and Serbia have been fulminating for months over the intentions of the provisional parliament proclaiming its intent, and seeking an independent seat for nation-recognition in the United Nations.

Both Russia and Serbia have warned, darkly, that this is an illegal act, not to be countenanced, and that were it to be accepted that Kosovo's claim to statehood be seen as a legitimate, sanctioned move, other countries hosting restive ethnic populations could expect to face demands for separation, just as Serbia has. That to give credence and to accept such a unilateral declaration would be tantamount to giving a broader acceptance to the separation aspirations of other groups within sovereign countries.

Well, it's done. Kosovo has declared itself a country, and is busy designing its own flag. It is, after all, comprised of 90% Albanian Muslims, as opposed to a mere 10% Serbian Christians; a sprinkling of others. The European Union had expected its 27-member countries to agree to a blanket welcome to the new country. Oops, there are five dissenting member-countries; unsurprisingly all of them have restively home-grown separatist movements. They agree: illegal.

Is it illegal? Well, it hasn't been authorized by the United Nations for one thing, and therefore is in violation of international law, the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki Final Accords. Additionally, UN resolution 1244 which brought about the end of the NATO-led bombing of Serbia, affirms Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo. Historically and culturally, Kosovo is considered the well-spring of Serbia's past.

The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 clarifies the principles of territorial integrity and state sovereignty alongside that of the inviolability of borders. The clear and concise message being that without the consent of the state involved - in this instance, Serbia - borders cannot be changed - in this case, to suit Kosovo's Albanian population who wish to be independent and sovereign in their own right.

Clearly then, under internationally recognized and agreed-upon legalities, this is an illegal act. But is it an immoral, an unethical act? Clearly not. Seen in the still-simmering hatred evidenced by the former president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic's attempts at ethnic cleansing against his-then Albanian population.

Russia, China, Spain, Romania, Cyprus, Greece and Slovakia, are among many countries of the world facing determined separatist movements at home, not to mention the many in south-east Asia and in African countries - and, of course, in Canada. They'd be shooting themselves in the solar plexus to welcome Kosovo into the fold of sovereign nations.

Yet here's the bulk of the European Union, France, Great Britain and the United States, all rushing to congratulate and defend Kosovo's move. Might there conceivably be another, underlying agenda at play here? Western nations anxious to demonstrate to Muslim countries that they are more than amenable to accepting and working on behalf of Muslims, to the detriment of some Christians.

See? The world is not witnessing an great global, political, social upheaval across religious lines at all. It's not the West against Islam, folks. We love you, truth to tell, but simply cannot abide the ruthless marauding bloodlust of Islamist jihadists.

They'll be the death of us.

Got it?

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Monday, February 18, 2008

More Buzz

Really, the plots sicken, as the proffered options become denser and more opaque. Should that be thicken? Well, that too. Well, which is it to be? Intrigues, there's nothing like them for speculative theorizing about what might be conceivable and what might be practical, and what might actually have occurred. Anything is possible in the witches-brew cauldron of Middle East politics.

What does the U.S. director of National Intelligence know that Israel, for example, doesn't? Or was he fed his information by Israeli intelligence agents? Or agents provocateurs from within Arab countries? Who may or may not know anything, but themselves speculate endlessly? It's an impressive sport - mind-gaming - in the geography; alongside the blood-sports of tribal vengeance and internecine suspicion.

Mike McConnell has expressed his considered opinion, as director of U.S. National Intelligence that the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh may simply have been a matter of internal dissent; alternately, that Syria had taken it upon itself to rid itself of his presence in the most conclusive way possible. The whys and wherefores are imponderables, quite in line with anything happening in that mad-Hatter's paradise of intrigue.

"There's some evidence that it may have been internal Hezbollah. It may have been Syria. We don't know yet, and we're trying to sort that out" according to Mr. McConnell. But Israel is always there, conveniently placed for blame. And the country is braced for retaliation - for something it may - or may not - have done. Mind, given the country's losses, alongside those of other countries' civilian and military nationals, completely justified if ridding oneself of deadly enemies constitutes needful self-defense.

Certainly Israel is playing it awfully close to her chest if she wasn't involved in the Damascus explosion. Defence Minister Ehud Barak going so far as to warn that Iran and Syria may be propelling their terror proxy Hezbollah toward targeting Jews outside Israel, during a cabinet session. Yet with Mughniyeh evaporated into eternity who will now engineer an exquisitely-planned and executed hit?

Time out for replacement operations.

But is this superior master-planner replaceable? Ask Muqtada Al-Sadr who has declared a mourning period for this star performer. Whose expertise was invaluable in training hundreds of the Mahdi Army personnel, aiding and assisting them in planning and carrying out assassinations within Iraq.

And then how about the report in the Kuwaiti newspaper Awan, claiming a knowledgeable source has informed them that Imad Mughniyeh's death was accidental, that he was engaged in preparing a car bomb which providentially exploded, preventing him and his cohorts from providing deadly fireworks at a rally in Lebanon marking the third anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

Little wonder, if true, that Hezbollah is bellicose and tearing its proverbial hair in grief. And desperately trying to save face. And desperate to have the world believe they're not as clumsy as all that, and it's all the result of a Zionist plot.

Fact is, that's what the Arab world would prefer to believe, for it's imaginatively palatable, giving fresh impetus to the hatred directed toward Israel. So eloquently expressed by so many. As, for example, the inspired venom of a Turkish columnist, writing: "Some shahids have their names written in history." The loving term "shahid" expressing the state of honoured martyr for the cause.

"They deserve this honour for being milestones in Islam's struggle and for being the torches shedding light on the path to victory. Imad Mugniyeh, an important military commander of Hezbollah that defeated the army of the Zionist terrorists, has joined the long list of such shahids. This murder documents once again that the occupier Zionist state is a terrorist state."

Perspective is perception. Hated is divine. Revenge is Allah's.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sinfully Crude

Whose mother never cautioned her child that to waste food was a sin? That respect for food, that appreciation for its life-affirming presence in lives that knew the desperation of food shortages, was handed down at the dinner table from parent to child for an awfully long time.

And of course there was also that concomitant soul-shriveling censure delivered from parents' aggrieved mouths when children refused to eat healthy foods at odds with their taste buds, in the form of the demand that their children "think of all the starving children in Africa!".

Well, thanks to criminally irresponsible African regimes with their cruelly totalitarian administrations, there are still children starving in Africa. While at the same time, thanks to scientific innovations to agriculture and the "green revolution" there are yet a good many African children eating better now than ever they were able to.

Although, come to think of it, African children too have been conscripted into slavish devotion to nutrient-deficient quasi-food produced by huge corporations dedicated to the bottom line.
But that's another story. This one is about the growing food shortage in the world today.

While more crops are being grown, successfully, the world store of food is being starkly diminished. There is a definite and growing shortage of food in a world where demand is steadily increasing. And the reason - one of the identified reasons - is that food is being wasted, diverted for use as energy, fuel to run machinery and vehicles.

Could anything be more ill conceived? To divert food production from feeding people, to feeding their machinery.

At this initial stage of ethanol production, the United States is currently using more corn for that purpose, than Canada's entire corn crop. World production of ethanol is clambering upward at a staggering rate, from 20 billion litres in 2000 to 60 billion in 2007.

In the U.S., ethanol plants are frantically under construction; figures projected for 2008 predict 52 billion litres of ethanol being produced in the U.S. alone, and when all the new plants come on stream the increase will be mind-boggling.

That is food being diverted from some peoples' mouths to other peoples' vehicles. Corn is beginning to outstrip the agricultural output of wheat, barley, soybeans, canola - because of demand. And because growing corn is more generously remunerative.

Farmers are beginning to grow less of what people put in their mouths, and because of the high return on corn, turning to planting corn. The additional mind-boggling complication is that corn by-products are a staple in a whole lot of the processed food we eat. Not to speak of corn used to feed livestock and chickens, for example.

With corn being diverted at such a rate for ethanol, and what's left over being used for traditional purposes at ever-increasing costs, food of all kinds becomes more expensive. As the price of corn rises, so does the cost of other finished products using corn, including all manner of processed foods and supermarket-purchased chicken and beef and pork.

Global food supplies are diminishing. How's this for a horror story: The amount of corn it takes to produce 75 litres of ethanol, which represents a tank of fuel, is enough corn to feed one person on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet for a year.

Think that's a good exchange?

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High Alerts!

The truth is sometimes elusive, but it's out there, somewhere. One has but to wait; it will reveal itself. Or so we are led to expect.

Of course the truth can also be subjectively viewed to alter reality. Is it possible, as some have hinted, that Imad Mughniyeh got a little careless, and meant to transport an explosive device that was insufficiently secured?

Well, it has been whispered that this could be one scenario, however improbable, since it's highly unlikely, with all the safety precautions he ordinarily took to ensure his enduring presence; he would have consigned that cargo to some underling.

It's awfully convenient, however, for Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and every second Arab country, along with all the proxy terror groups to handily accuse Israeli agents of dispatching this arch terrorist. He was, undeniably, responsible for much spilled blood, appeared to delight in the carnage his enterprising brain was capable of engineering.

Even some past members Mossad claim to recognize Israel's signature in his timely dispatch. And it's true that Mossad has had an interesting record in precision action aimed at removing threats to Israel's safety and continued existence.

Regardless of who ordered, planned and executed this primary terrorist's demise, more power to them.

But aside from the crocodile tears and ashes being spilled throughout the world of terror, and apart from the elaborately embroidered threats of impending revenge invariably following the righteous condemnations of Israel for playing dirty by mirroring jihadists' own tactics to a fault, everyone is on ... High Alert!

The Lebanese newspaper A-Safir, reports a paltry nervous 50,000 Hezbollah have been stationed on the border alongside Israel, and Lebanon has declared itself to be in a high alert situation.

Hezbollah, while challenging Israel to an all-out, all-for-nothing duel, has taken careful steps to protect itself by evacuating most of its offices and buildings "used for civilian purposes", in fear of "Israeli aggression".

And Palestinian Authority-associated terror groups have also taken precautions, going on high alert status, according to Hezbollah's Al Akhbar newspaper....

Immediately post-dispatch, and most certainly anticipating Hezbollah's Nasrallah's bombastically explosive denunciations, well larded with dark promises for Israel's future, Israel herself issued a worldwide high alert warning to her embassies.

Extending the warning to increase vigilance to world-wide Jewish institutions lest they also be targeted. As they have been, in the past, ensuring that most such groups have already instituted defensive technology.

Expectations are high in Israel that terror groups will step up infiltration attempts. Their already-formidable screening and terror-adversive techniques will now be upgraded to ever more seriously-defensive levels.

"Hezbollah has repeatedly blamed Israel for the death of Imad Mughniyeh, thus increasing the danger of its terrorist threats against Israeli targets abroad," warned the Israeli National Security Council Counter-Terrorism Bureau. Despite Israel having modestly declined to identify herself as the avenging culprit.

Taking due note, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon has its personnel on high alert. Staff members are not to use cellular phones. American citizens to maintain constant contact with their embassy.

An Egyptian researcher, Majdi Kamal, an expert on Imad Mughniyeh's activities, stated his belief that the death was a staged one, for the purpose of continued evasion of the 42 security services representing various nations around the world who would dearly love to have apprehended the terror mastermind.

"Mughniyeh", stated Mr. Kamal," either died a natural death a while ago, or is still alive", he informed Al-Arabiya television, in his expert opinion. For his very own nefarious purposes; seeking to impose upon the world the mistaken apprehension that he really had become invisible, having so long striven to ensure that his presence indeed was invisible to detection.

One might venture an opinion that the man's soul was still-born and in that sense he died long ago. Shortly pre- or post-birth. A living zombie dedicated to the brutal and swift removal of life of hundreds of people he deemed needless to existence.

One might also venture that a "natural death" to one such as he is to have been dispatched through the medium of an explosive, as just desserts for one who lived by explosives, to have died by that same expedient.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Random Derangement

There are no sureties in life. No guarantees that the universe will unfold for one as one would wish it to. People can be inspired and can aspire to achieve their goals, but events can and do intervene to disappoint ambition and life-goals. Nor can parents, wishing the very best for their children, always hope to see their wishes come to fruition. People die.

And in the most ambiguously unanticipated ways. A vehicle slides on an icy bridge, into a frigid body of water below on a dark night when no one else is around. A lone hiker in a wilderness area confronts an angry bear, a cougar, a psychopath. But we don't think of such things. If we did feel that life was fraught with such danger we would be frozen into inaction.

Around every corner, unseen until one turns into the corner, danger lurks. An unspeakable dread would descend upon our psyches, we would be incapable of viewing life and its opportunities as an open book, to be read and acted upon, making choices to enhance our views of ourselves and our futures.

Then, quietly, danger raises its head and no one is prepared, no one could possibly foresee what might occur when a troubled mind is trapped inside its darkly menacing interior and the spirit has no way of rising above the mind's trapped depths. That person becomes a predator, not himself, but someone else entirely.

Drama aside, it is a reality. Another instance where students are assembled in an institute of learning only to have their lives surrendered by forces outside their own ability to control. As happened at Northern Illinois University on Thursday, with the death of five students, the wounding of another 16. And, just coincidentally, the suicide of the murderer.

Murderer. "He was an outstanding student. He was someone who was revered by the faculty and staff and students alike. We had no indication at all that this would be the type of person to engage in this type of activity."

A graduate student in social work.

A wicked joke of natural selection gone awry.

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Plumbing Corruption's Depths

Tribal warlords whose lengendarily blood-soaked hands are known and reviled by Afghan citizens, sit astride the current members in parliament of Hamid Karzai's government, sharing power with other, more unblemished and moderate members of the Afghan parliament. Corruption is endemic to the society, following a long tradition of just that. Clean-up efforts, if they are ever successful, will take a long time.

Countless aid dollars in the millions upon millions showered upon the country by well-wishers, other wealthier, western democracies anxious to see Afghanistan become a functioning state have filtered down to help re-build the country, to ensure that civic institutions of need are built to benefit the people. And, of course, to fatten the pockets of those very accommodating government members and the civil servants who administer the various programs.

Education is vital to the future of an emerging and improving state. Children the lifeblood of any country. The availability of a sound education enabling them to take their place in their country's future as well educated and purposeful citizens is paramount to the growth and advancement of any society. So more schools are being built, and more children encouraged to attend.

Their teachers are no longer murdered by the Taliban for teaching girls alongside boys. Instead, their teachers, committed to their country's future and that of their charges, do their best to instill knowledge and pride into their pupils. It's just so incredibly unfortunate that the country isn't capable of offering them a salary, a living wage. Just as it is dreadfully unfortunate that Afghan police forces are given a pittance as recompense for their vital work.

Leading to corruption plumbing the depths of depraved social conscience.

Where school children are abducted off city streets on their way to and from school. Hustled into waiting vehicles, their cries muffled and then stilled by anaesthetic-soaked cloths, and when they awake, they find themselves in cages, in underground bunkers, fed stale crusts and water. Until their families can muster the demanded ransom to effect their release.

One such child, a 9-year-old whose father, a glassware wholesaler, was successful in ransoming his son, woke underground after his abduction to recognize two other boys in cages alongside his own, boys whom he recognized as those who were missing for months, from his school. Whose parents were unable to amass sufficient funds to buy their child's release. And to whom appeals to the police went unanswered.

The boy related how, when the trap door above his cage was occasionally opened he could glimpse the outside world. And then saw a number of vehicles parked above. Such as late model Toyota Land Cruisers, white with green stripes, with the word "police" on them.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Core Breeding Ground

Where might one seek the safest harbour, the most secure, most remote breeding ground for terror; the territory, geography, geological features, weather-entrapped, known and familiar to only a core population comprised of hardened tribal leaders and their faithful, traditional followers?

Find a contiguous border between two countries forever nursing a grievance against one another, ready to take up arms at the slightest perceived provocation - throw in mountains and passes and valleys for a truly tough terrain, and you have it.

It's in Afghanistan, it's in Pakistan. A swath of beautiful and hostile mountainous terrain, with narrow passages between, replete with caverns and hidden geological features only those born to the geography can decipher, approach and feel comfort within.

One thousand kilometers' worth of tortuous ascent and descent and history-famed places like the Khyber Pass to take caravans of camels, then trucks and cars, through from one country to the other. But in between, on each side, there reside fierce tribal settlements living their fierce medieval lives.

The tribal areas boast fighters of great ferocity. One doesn't like to meddle with them unnecessarily; one hopes for concord, for a state of live-and-let-live, so it is understood by government that they govern themselves.

And woe betide the government that seeks to pacify and to govern those remote areas. For those tribal peoples are a warrior people and they turn easily from pasturage and trade, from illicit smuggling to terror militias.

What a perfectly fortuitous place for the Taliban to melt into, sharing as they do the lethal fundamentalist theology in Islam of the indigent tribes. And move over, there's room aplenty to share, here comes al-Qaeda as well.

Brothers at arms, brothers in jihad, much in common, much to share, much to plan. Including the territory, perfect in a sense, for setting up discrete training camps. What better terrain than this to train and toughen up recruits.

Teach them under these conditions so untender to human flesh and easy living, and they will have experienced through resolve and smouldering theistic totalitarianism in a barbaric setting the toughness needed to aspire to heroic deeds in expunging the lives of countless enemies.

There they are encouraged, given instruction, taught the highest tenets of their shared ideology of fascistic jihad and sent on to their missions around the world.

In Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in Lebanon, oh yes, of course. But also in Great Britain, in Germany, in Spain and elsewhere around the world. Borders, what are they?

They live and they recruit and they ship out and they acquire instruction and are dispatched, from the United States and Canada to the Philippines and back to Pakistan. The world become their oyster.


A Proud And Distinguished Career

Oh dear, here's Hezbollah crying foul. "You killed him outside our natural battleground. Our battleground with you is on Lebanese territory and you have over-stepped the border", thundered Hassan Nasrallah broadcast live, at a safely remote remove from the funeral of Imad Moughniyah. "Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, then let the whole world listen: Let this war be open."

Was it then a secret, all those international bombings of Jewish embassies and social centres, constituting a terror war on Israel, its citizens and Jews wherever they happened to live? Was the world then ignorant of all these happenings? The explosives set in secret, none to know, only the dead as witness?

To follow the logic, Hassan Nasrallah, urging his fellow Hezbollah members to give up their lives for the cause, sequesters himself safely elsewhere than Lebanon.

The green-livered coward. Others may die for the cause, not he. How is it that the world of the Middle East is so rife with the gullible who will drop their lives at the hint of Paradise? Yet those who command them are sufficiently cunning to enlist and entrap the spiritual aspirations of others, while safeguarding their own skins.

Terror great Imad Mughniyev was a terrorist for all seasons. An early encourager of the superiority of the use of a living human as an explosive device.

After all, what well-balanced, socially and politically moderate person would believe that the warm living body standing next to them would willingly, even eagerly, blow himself up to attain to the larger purpose of taking the lives of others? This was Imad Mughniyev's initial influence, clever man.

Yet he avoided public acclaim, disliked drawing attention to himself, withdrew once the action was completed and the deeds done. Caution sometimes is the better part of someone else's witless valour, after all.

He flitted between Lebanon, Syria and Iran, those countries proud of his expertise, anxious to claim him and acclaim him they did. And sheltered him handsomely. He knew enough to hide, and he did it ever so well, for he prized his hide.

To the warranted extent that he would take exquisite care not to commit to anything that might reveal his presence; a telephone, a routine, a single, identifiable vehicle. Trusting only close family and confidantes.

All of which precautions gave him thirty years of freedom to chase the Angel of Death, delivering to its unholy presence one victim, one sacrifice after another. Something, somewhere, gave out. A trusted colleague, a spiteful family member? Nothing is forever.

He spread himself wide, but never too thinly. From the Philippines to the Ivory Coast and Brazil, he got his hand in, training, forging alliances, making valuable contacts. All the better to bite you with: infidels, Jews, crusaders. He made unique cause with Sunni and Shia alike, absorbed the fledgling al-Qaeda, and taught them, too.

He stood as the tallest, most robust and respected terror-inspired-and-dedicated hero, instructing and assisting Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and doing himself and the overall fundamentalist jihadist Islamist movement very proud indeed.

They will most certainly miss him.

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