Friday, October 31, 2003

Conspiracy of Dunces 

blinking eyeLove all those anti-conspiracy theorists out there because, in a world of all pervading rationality, they've all gone stark raving mad.

The basis for an anti-conspiracy theory is one of stark simplicity. There can't be any plots, any ganging-up of wild-eyed moronic people, of men (or even women) stoking up a comfortable fire in the backroom of a cavernous mansion and whispering plots to take over the world while they quaff some exceedingly good Bakewell tarts. Conspiracy theorists bake some exceedingly good tales, they all say, in a way that looks all pretty, and all smug.

Looking at C-theorists like David Icke, I don't blame them. Imagine, the Queen of England squeaking of 'My husband and I' from the throne of Parliament, and Poor ol' Phil the Greek, looking all gaga and one hundred percent naff, as if he himself's the product of some eugenics conspiracy gone mad. Imagine our Liz and Phil being Lizard People all dressed up as homo saps, directing and plotting the way of this earth, while their lizard tongues flash in and out, drooling lizard spit all over their model globe. Nah Dave, I can't buy that.

But consider the problems of those anti-conspiracry theorists. They want to be open-minded and all rationalistic and smart, but when it comes to examining all the evidence, they keep their minds tightly shut. Plot to Kill Princess Diana? Pah, boo, what a lot of rot. Dr David Kelly killed by some intelligence operatives? Go and tell that to your grandma and your grand dad! The Neo-Cons out to grab hold of this world? Neh-neh, not on your jolly Saddam's dad!

Well, why not? If they - some of them - are now saying that that sad man Kelly who was at the centre of the WMDs in Iraq storm, was murdered and couldn't possibly have killed himself, why not examine the evidence instead of just saying no, these things don't happen in Merrie England? And Diana's murder a convoluted plot? Well, why not a commission of enquiry, or at least an inquest, why not? And something dark and ominous behind that 9-11 cloud? Ok, let's look at everything and not leave a stone unturned. And once the evidence is wanting in all of that, then we can all pooh-pooh those conspiracy theorists with relish for all that.

Let's examine the evidence and see if those anti-conspiracy theorists aren't themselves all part of a great, big one. A conspiracy I mean. An Illuminati of the Red Herring. Doesn't that sound attractive enough?

Perhaps we should look again at Chesterton who said, if I recall correctly, that the genius of the devil in the 20th century (well, he was speaking a good few years now) is in making people believe that the devil himself doesn't exist. If you make people believe that conspiracies don't exist, no matter what the evidence before you, then that's a spin in itself, isn't it? Ah well, the devil himself spinneth pretty finely, you see...

And then there's Sherlock Holmes himself, who urged us all to be brave. After you've looked at all the facts, and thrown out the impossibilities, what you have before you, however unlikely, is the truth. Or something like that. And that's a very healthy attitude to take, and something far more scientific than the one taken by those knee-jerk anti-conspiracy sod-off-you-inferior-people theorists. After all, if you can have conspiracies in the court of law, why can't you have it in the world at large?

Conspiracy theories? Pah boo to some of them (on the evidence of it). But if you have another coming, show me the evidence and I'll come back to you on it.

Eyeblink by Sketchpad with thanks. ß

Conspiracy of Dunces

Thursday, October 30, 2003

News From the World of the FBI 

Gamal Abdel-Hafiz was considered one of the best agents working for the FBI. As his name shows, he's Muslim and Egyptian-born, two rare qualities for an FBI agent, and in this age of terrorism=Islam, he was an invaluable asset for the agency in their undercover work. Last year, as deputy legal attache in Riyadh, he obtained evidence which led to the arrest of six people in then Buffalo area of N.Y. Indeed he was praised by FBI spokesman in Buffalo Paul Moskal for that.

Now Abdel-Hafiz has problems. He's just been fired for an alleged insurance fraud which happened long ago. He is now taking a lawsuit against the FBI, arguing that he's been sacked for being Muslim. It all started when fellow agent Bob Wright from Chicago from Chicago allegd that he had hindered another counter-terror probe against Hamas fund-raising in 1999. He refused to wear a hidden microphone when meeting a key suspect, Wright said, quoting him as saying: "A Muslim does not record another Muslim."

"This is all presposterous," Abdel-Hafiz now says."All my subjects were Muslims." This is backed by his then FBI boss Danny Defenbaugh who said that Abdel-Hafiz was merely explaining that secret taping wouldn't have gone down very well with the Muslim community, and it would've been too risky for him to do so anyway.

But still his Riyadh office was put under heavy scrutiny and, to put a twist in the tail, a complaint was made against him in Washington just when Abdel-Hafiz and his boss were both on a pilgrimage to Makkah. The latter was named Wilfred Rattigan, and he'd converted to Islam...Read... ß

News From the World of the FBI

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Growing Up In Trengganu, #306 

Hedgehog of a Fruit: The DurianAt some point in her life, my mother must've looked up to the rafters and decided that something was amiss. She ordered the best lempok that ever was stirred on this planet earth, put the whole big clump in a metal pot, and hung it up there from a beam. This was a traditional Trengganu house which we lived in, and like other traditional Malay houses, did not have a ceiling. So a view of the rafters, with the strutting beams, and the Singgora tiles that made the roof was clearly visible to a child lying below on a mengkuang mat. In some houses, a few tiles would be taken and replaced by a sheet of clear glass so that a beam of light would shine through into the house at any time of day. I remember waking up at night to the silvery glow of the moon shining through the skylight, an eerie thought considering what we we'd been regaled daily with stories of ghostly forms emerging in the night with legs straddling from beam to beam.

This encapsulates for me the essence of my Trengganu childhood: lempok in the pot, pane in the sky. Sweetness and light.

This is light from the past, sweetness of old. The lempok was stirring stuff, made from fresh durians thrown in a thick mass in a Trengganu brass pot, flesh and stone, and stirred and stirred with bonding and sweetening ingredients, and coconut milk perhaps - to a beautiful crust. The resulting paste bore the thread of dreams, unlike the erstaz goo wrapped in cellophane, now masquerading as 'durian cake'.

Mother had neither the patience, nor the skill nor the manpower to make sweetmeat herself. She'd order her lempok from Batu Rakit, then the world centre for duriany cococtions, and her Rokok Arab from a lady living behind the walls of the Istana Maziah, this dream so perfect its maker had to be confined within the walls of a royal palace. The Istana Maziah was an istana like in olden times, with an imposing front, and a colony of royals, and servers and hangers on living in the back, on the foot of an old Bukit - the Bukit Puteri - Hill of the Princess. It was - and still is, probably - a ceremonial palace, entered through an arch of old Malay design - the Pintu Gerbang - which, as word had it, had a little apparition straddling its legs from one side of the arch to the other, long after the sun had sunk below the horizon. Trengganu apparitions had a predilection for things like that.

Our Nasi Dagang came from only one woman called Mak Som who plied her trade at the crack of dawn and was already packing up to go by 7 o'clock, when her rivals were just about to break even.

I'm reminded now of the Bukit Puteri as it's Ramadhan, a time when some Trengganuers will wax lyrical about its purpose; the Hill I mean. Atop this hill is an old bell, cast by Trengganu makers from sturdiest brass. It hangs on a strut in a shelter-house made from bricks, a mysterious place built perhaps by some old Sultans as a spot to while away an afternoon while watching the Perahu Besar, the Trengganu junks, sailing in, laden with salt, and Singgora tiles, and exotica from old Siam. Beneath this brickwork is a dark, deep cellar, from which has emerged many legends. But back to the bell - the Trengganu Genta - which was struck every day during Ramadhan at iftar time, the breaking of fast. And then again and again just before dawn in a fit of boisterous chimes to mark the beginning of a day of fast.

My father used to take me to the Masjid Abidin - the White Mosque - after iftar, a little boy lining up in the back row with other little boys for the tarawih prayer of many raka'ats performed only during Ramadhan. The repetitive movements of the prayer was exhausting for a little boy, but the atmosphere was bewildering, and a valuable experience for imbibing the spirit of Ramadhan.

One night, after prayers, I met the man who struck the genta in the jama'ah (congregation), who insisted that my friends and I should see his place of work, an offer that was both cruel and kind. The footpath up the hill was unlit, and it cut through many wild bushes from which lurked many dark creatures of our imagination, and the quiet places of repose of people who died in the distant past. When we finally reached the 'bell' and the brickwork resting place with legends emerging from its darkest pit, Kuala Trengganu glowed brightly in the distant and there we stood, silently, apprehensively in the dark. The ringer shone his torch at the bell and then looked over to the other side. "That's an old arch to the Istana," he said, "and from beneath it hangs, every night..."

"Oh do shut up!" we all said.

Far below at the foot of the hill, behind the istana, I saw a tiny light flickering from the window of a little house. And I was sure it was Mak Nah, making her famous Rokok Arab and other scrumptious native cakes.

Dunno Whether to Laugh or Cry Dept.: Malaysia's Longest Durian Cake

Growing Up In Trengganu, #306

News From the World of Travel 

A local Muslim religious leader has sued Dallas-based Greyhound Lines, claiming that a driver for the bus carrier discriminated against him at a Nashville bus station and denied him access to the bus due to his traditional Islamic garb and appearance.

Imam Mohammad, an Islamic religious leader who heads Muslim communities in Nashville and Jackson, Tenn., filed a federal lawsuit seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages, as well as unspecified punitive damages, as a result of an experience in December 2002 which, he claims, barred him from boarding a Greyhound bus and caused him to miss religious activities that he was scheduled to lead. Read more...

News From the World of Travel

Monday, October 27, 2003

News From the World of Books 

Received from CAIR. Published without comment:

Medical students say they were targeted due to religion, ethnicity. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today reported that two Muslim medical students have filed a discrimination complaint against a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Illinois over a June incident in which the students say they were kicked out of the store because of their religion and ethnicity.

The complaint, filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, alleges that the Muslim medical students were studying for an exam at a table inside a Chicago-area Barnes & Noble when they were asked to leave by the store manager. That request came after the students, who spoke Arabic to each other while they were studying, observed the manager "repeatedly walking past them and staring at them." Other store patrons in that same area were not asked to leave.

When the students asked that store manager why they had to leave, since others had been studying at tables for longer periods of time, and there were empty tables and chairs in the store café, the manager said they had 10 minutes to take their "garbage," which included books purchased at Barnes & Noble, and get out or she would call the police.

The complaint alleges unlawful national origin and religious discrimination in a place of public accommodation. CAIR is America's largest civil liberties group. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 25 regional offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada.

ACTION REQUESTED: (AS ALWAYS, BE POLITE.) CONTACT Barnes & Noble to ask that they investigate this incident at the national level and resolve it to the satisfaction of the Muslim customers.
E-MAIL: mkeating@bn.com , cbrown@bn.com COPY TO: cair@cair-net.org


News From the World of Books

'Allo, 'Allo, 'Allo... 

When the BBC - through undercover journalistic tactics - exposed the racism of British police recruits, what did the British Home Secretary David Blunkett do?

But first things first. Just what did those police recruits do in the BBC exposé?

The recruits expressed all sorts of racist sentiments, some directed at a coloured recruit among them. But to cap it all was one Rob Pulling, who donned a mock Ku Klux Klan hood and showed how he would kill a 'Paki'. And then he said that Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager recently murdered by racists (and which investigation was made a hash of by the police) 'deserved' his death while also calling his parents 'spongers'.

Well, what did the home secretary David Blunkett do?

The Home Secretary took a swipe at the BBC by saying that it was a 'covert stunt to get attention'.

Ok, granted that the BBC has been in for a lot of stick lately, ever since its reporter blasted the government with accusation of sexing up the weapons dossier that led to the invasion of Iraq, and then the Hutton enquiry that followed it. But to call this, an exposé of blatant racists aspiring to be upholders of the law as a 'stunt' is a bit like ignoring evidence of bloody murder because the informer had filled in the wrong forms, Mr Home Secretary if you please.

And oh of course, he did recant. As things began to hot up and when a senior police officer was saying that watching the programme had made him want to puke (well, he said he felt physically sick), Mr Home Secretary came all cute and pretty and began to say something like why of course this is something godawful that must be stopped at once. "What's been revealed is horrendous," he went on, changing his tune.

That notwithstanding, this racism in the force comes as no surprise to many, especially those who've suffered at the hands of those colour-conscious police. A coloured man is more likely to be stopped by the police than a white man, as is well-known. And God knows what else they do by way of their daily shenanigans. Recently, a Muslim youth in police custody was beaten to death when the police chose to put him in the same cell as a violent racist. In recent times there's been the case of a black (i.e. not white) police officer being accused of sending hate, racist mails to everyone in the station (including himself), and another one accused of matters that later collapsed in court. Cases which prompted the association of black policemen itself to sound out a warning to potential coloured rercurits not to join the police.

Things must surely have come to a pretty pass when it's come to this.

But of course, this racism thing isn't new and everyone knows that. When Jack the Ripper started taking his victims all those years ago, the first suspect they caught was a poor Malay seaman who happened to be lodging in the East End. Then again, more recently, in the fifties, when there was a murder in Cardiff, the most obvious suspect was a Somali seaman who was taken, tried and hanged. Poor man, but they did admit the mistake much later on if that provides a crumb of comfort.

The thing that's dangerous about racism like that is when someone responsible, such as the Home Secretary, starts to take a knee-jerk action and then changes his tune when the wind blows in another place. There's been statistics to show that non-white offenders are treated less leniently than white offenders in the legal system, that non-white offenders are more likely to get a custodial sentence, that the prisons are filled with both white and non-white offenders, with the latter taking their places far in excess of their proportion to the general population.

And oh, by the way, one of those racist policemen caught on the BBC's secret camera did say that he didn't mind blacks at all. It's the Pakis, really, that beat the truncheons to his head. ß

'Allo, 'Allo, 'Allo...

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Self-Hating Self 

Perhaps we should call novelist Will Self an anti-semite, but it will not stick. He's a Jew himself.

But they have another name for Jews who criticise Israel, they're self-hating Jews. And he's aware of that too.

Last Friday 24th Will Self wrote in his column in the Evening Standard that he'd received tons of mail after he said that what the Israeli government is doing on the West Bank and the Gaza strip is tantamount to building enormous concentration camps for the Palestinian population. He has also criticised the US government for subsidising Israel to the tune of US$5 billion a year. The latter "has called forth hysterical denunciations", he said.

"How can I fail to understand – they screech – that all that lies between despotic destruction and civilised values in the region is the democratic bastion of the Knesset?"

Self-hating Jew? Back to Self:

"A self hating Jew, eh, what a hideous and reductive concept this is. For the chauvinistic Zionists, who supports Israel's right to exist within ever-expanding boundaries, the self-hating Jew is the essential bogeyman, more requisite even than the feared and despised Arab. For without the idea that Israel represents an entirely legitimate response to gentle anti-Semitism, and a steely repudiation of the Jew-as-victim, it becomes that much harder to justify its government's actions."

Self-hating Jew is, in fact, a noxious concept, invented to throw the critic into the throes of guilt, and more.

Self again:

"For the zealous Zionists, any Jew who dissents from their project is a throwback to the ghetto and shtetl mentality that preceded the Holocaust, when – so they would have us believe – the Jews acquiesced like self-hating sheep as they were herded into the gas chambers. To object to modern Israel's policies is therefore to, at some level, give succour to the Nazis and their sympathisers. But I say this is the twisted and bogus reasoning of the true bigot. Far from it being us Jewish critics of Israel who defame the memories of those who died in Treblinka and Sobibor, it's the extremist Zionists themselves. To justify any excess of violence by recourse to a violent past is to demean the very status of morality itself. To assert that your critics really hate themselves is to engage in Stalinist doublethink, always the accompaniment of tyranny."

But there are Jews he hates, Self says. No, not Jews at whose brith ceremony he was that morning where the mohel performed the circumcision "next to bookshelves bearing books by Edward Said and Malcolm X," but –

"...the ones ordering the rocket attacks which kill Palestinian civilians. The Jews I hate are the ones who unleashed the Phalangist militias on the Chatila refugee camp. The Jews I hate are the ones who are pursuing a nakedly racist agenda in their 'bastion of democracy'. Step forward Ariel Sharon because, yes, I do hate you..."

There will be no end to this evil go-round of persecution until the majority of Israelis learn to hate him too, he said.

More Will Self in §Will Self, unofficial web page; §The Guardian Book Page
Responses to what Mahathir's stirred up in his OIC speech: §Mahathir Knows Best §Listening to Mahathir §It Is Forbidden To Say Such Things
Look Back: §Smoke From A Burning Bush §Nakba and After

Self-Hating Self

Friday, October 24, 2003

Sacked From Labour 

You may not have heard of George Galloway MP, but their vilification of him may be the siren song for Tony Blair's Labour.

Yesterday Galloway was sacked from the party, after a period of suspension, for allegedly inciting Iraqis to murder British soldiers. Galloway said he'd done no such thing; he'd merely warned that the Arabs would resist an invasion just as any Brit would in similar circumstances. George Galloway at an anti-war rally in London

They also charged him - and found him guilty - of calling on British soldiers to disobey illegal orders. Galloway said that this was a long-standing principle established at the Nuremberg trial of the Nazis.

His supporters say that the Labour party is using him as an example because he is vociferously anti-war.

Galloway has always been seen as a lone, maverick figure in the Labour party; a man with many eccentricities, passionate views, and teetering always near the controversial. He has always been pro-Palestine, but has avoided going there lately because, he said, the Isreelis are just waiting to kill him. Then he diverted his attention to Iraq where he made one glaring mistake, he was seen to be eulogising Saddam Hussein after the Ba'athist monster had given him some certificate of recognition. But this was after the first Iraqi invasion, and, Galloway said, he was working very hard to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people.

Until yesterday Galloway was Labour MP for a constituency in Glasgow, Scotland, and once worked for the charity War on Want, during which time he earned himself the nickname "Gorgeous George" for his amorous forays while on a WoW assignment in Greece. George was all that and more, he had many supporters, doubters, friends and foes. But what made him grow in stature was his role as one of the leaders in the recent anti-war movement which successfully brought out nearly 400,000 people in an anti-war march in London. The campaign against the invasion of Iraq is still the biggest mass movement in Britain, and George Galloway figures prominently in that.

Even before this they'd already tried to discredit George Galloway. Soon after the invasion, while Iraq was still burning and charred files were strewn all over the floors of government offices (except, by a strange fluke, the petroleum ministry), the file on George Galloway lay intact by charred filing cabinets, waiting to be discovered by a correspondent of the right-wing Daily Telegraph. In it was a letter recording a £375,000 annual payment by Saddam Hussein to George Galloway. Galloway of course denied this strongly, and threatened legal action, and the document was later found to be fake. Of the 2 newspapers that carried the story, The Christian Science Monitor apologised, while the Telegraph argued that they published because the public had the right to know, even if it wasn't true, presumably.

This smear came as no surprise to many. When the troublesome union leader Arthur Scargill ran rings round the Thatcher government during the 1980s miners' strikes, a newspaper ran a prominent story saying that Libya's Colonel Gaddafi had paid him a huge sum of money which he used for his mortgage payment. Then, much later, when US investigative journalist Greg Pallast ran troublesome stories about the Labour party, the same newspaper ran a story claiming that he'd tried to seduce one of their female journalists. All these stories were later found to be unfounded of course, but the damage was done.

Galloway himself said that while he was away, unknown people had visited his holiday home in Spain and turned everything upside down, but they took nothing.

The sacking of Galloway from the labour party will have repercussions. He has wide support among those who're against the war, and he's highly regarded by Britain's 2 million Muslims. Labour recently lost a by-election in a 'safe' London constituency because the Muslims got together and made themselves heard. But it would be a mistake to think that only Muslims delivered a protest vote in that traditionally Labour constituency.

Galloway has accepted that he is no longer a Labour MP but he may still cause problems by resigning and forcing his former party to fight a costly and potentially humiliating by-election. In his 'martyrdom' Galloway has the support of at least two Labour grandees, Michael Foot, former firebrand and party leader, and Tony Benn, former cabinet minister and prominent anti-war campaigner. ß

Sacked From Labour

Free On Bail 

Aljazeera correspondent Taysir Alouni has been released on bail from a Spanish prison.
Before he went home to be reunited with his family, the respected journalist paid tribute to all of his supporters around the world.
"I would like to thank all the people who stood by my side and defended my position in every way. it gave me the power to stand firm and refuse to give up," he said. More...

Free On Bail

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Underground Noises 

The train now standing on Platform [1] [2] [3]
Isn't going where you're heading for
Because of:
Earlier incident in South Kensington
Passenger Action in Notting Hill Gate
Person Under Train earlier in the day.

Maintenance work in progress,
For the next twenty-four months or so,
Lift Maintenance in Queensway
Derailment in Hammersmith
Derailment in Camden Town
Engineering work going on now.

The train's non-stopping next station
Because of an unattended bag
While the security staff rummage
For the source of this suspect package
We'll go ahead and come back on bus 24
Detail, 'Lure of the Underground', by Oliver Green
Hello this is your driver speaking:
There's congestion at the next stop
Looks like we'll be here for a bit now
Excuse the dim light while we're shunted aside
I haven't another coin for the friggin' meter

Stand clear the door now
We've now got the go-ahead
But is that a thud, or a moving part
That's fallen off somewhere in the rear?

All change now, all change
Mind the gap while you clear
Your butt off this blasted train
You poor soddin' sufferin' customer

London Transport apologises
London Transport apologises
For not transporting London now.

Underground Noises

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Hello, people... 

An apology, and some cheer.

Lately many kind visitors to this page have complained about the non-scrolling page. I'm sorry about that. I tried everything I could (including Tiger Balm), they didn't work.

But good news folks. Blogger has found the bug which seems to lie in their XHTML page. We're now back to plain old HTML. God bless her and all who sail in her.

I'll be back... ß

Hello, people...

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Alija Izetbegovic, 1925-2003 

Alija Izetbegovic, the man most responsible for the survival of Bosnia as a state, died in Sarajevo's main hospital Sunday, aged 78. He developed complications after a fall in his home in September.

He was a man with quiet authority, whose inexperience in politics made him indecisive in some of his dealings. But he was reluctantly pulled into the arena and served the frayed nation as its first president, a post he left in 2000 after ten years of leadership. He was vilifed by enemies for the one quality that made him a formidable man. He was a Muslim who practised his faith. It was this faith that made him stand up against attacks from the Serbs and occasionally the Croats. Under heavy fire he'd continue undaunted to work in his office, believing that under God's protection he could be in no danger. He led the Muslims, but also believed in a multi-racial Bosnia. Izetbegovic was Bosnia, and the Muslims he led were the cohesive force that held the nation together.
Izetbegovic, who took a law degree from Sarajevo University in 1956, was never a member of the Communist party. He spent nearly nine years in jail for his religion in Yugoslavia under Tito. The Muslims of Bosnia have lost a father figure and the man who gave them the courage to face enemies with greater firepower.al-Fatihah.

Alija Izetbegovic, b. 8th August, 1925, d. 19th October, 2003:
Inescapable Questions: Autobiographical Notes

Alija Izetbegovic, 1925-2003

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Pants On Fire 

Television viewers here in Blighty will remember that look on Tony Blair's face when he was asked by a journalist if he had anything to do with the naming of Dr David Kelly. http://beta-pix.textamerica.com Kelly, an expert on biological warfare, had just died in the wood near his house. He'd apparently taken his own life. Blair received the news when on an aircraft, en route to Hong Kong. He told the journalist that he had nothing to do with the decision to throw Kelly into the lion's den of the media. "Emphatically not," he said.

Blair's government was then in open warfare with the BBC, particularly its early morning Radio 4 current affairs programme, "Today". On air, Today's defence journalist Andrew Gilligan had said, citing an important unnamed person, that the government had made up the fiction of Saddam Hussein's ability to deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Kelly was outed as the source of the story, but not without help from media handlers in the Ministry of Defence (MOD). So Kelly was the leaker, and the buck stopped at the MOD. Blair escaped blame, maintaining his reputation as Teflon Man.

Last Thursday, the Hutton inquiry (set up to examine events that led to Kelly's death) heard Sir Kevin Tebbit, one of the top mandarins at the MOD, say that Blair had chaired a key meeting on July 8, and it was there that the decision to 'out' Kelly was made. According to Tebbit, everything else flowed from there, including concurrence by the MOD.

So what is it that kids say about pants on fire? ß

Pants On Fire

Remember, remember... 


Remember, remember...

Friday, October 17, 2003

Spy Who'd Love To Love Me 

In those days when spies - CIA, KGB or whatever - took their work more seriously, they went abroad posing as agricultural advisers (CIA) or trade unionists or journalists for Izvestia. But as the world's getting more complex, our spooks are getting more laid-back, and rely mostly on 1) informers, or 2) Mossad, an organisation that wallows in its own myths and regularly plants stories in the Western media. You don't need great intelligence to spot the latter. Those stories have the tell-tale mark of "according to Intelligence sources".

You cannot blame Mossad for feeding the hands that come to them with such eagerness, of course. After all, deception is their way of life, and the press are ever looking for cloak and dagger in their copy. But it's their source No.1 that's intrigued me because, while it is their business to look for intelligence, it's the one quality that those spookmesiters seem to be singularly lacking in. Take this attack on Iraq, for instance, and forget all those spin by their political masters who've been raiding old Ph.D theses and some such sources. The greatest democracy in the world, when it came to intelligence on Saddam H and the activities of his men have relied, not on intelligence on the ground, but on Iraqi dissenters living abroad. And some stuff they've been telling them for bags of money. Let's have more of that yellowcake uranium from that state of Niger folks, we can do with a bit of cheering up down here.

Enter Manucher Ghorbanifar from the distant past. Some of you will remember him from the Iran-Contra affair, that rich seam of skulduggery that is even now still throwing up surprising nuggets, including large sums of money from an Eastern potentate (for CIA operations in Nicaragua) landing in a wrong account, the intriguing case of that strange bank called BCCI, and some shady deals between Iran and Israel for arms supply from America. The 'midwife' for this deal was none other than Ghorbanifar, a double agent for a Middle Eastern state, and a man with links with Mossad, including David Kimche, Israel's urbane, aristocratic journalist-cum-Mr Fixit, who was responsible for spreading Mossad's wings from deepest Africa to faraway Singapore.

Now Mr Ghorbanifar is back, between light and darkness, and is causing a split between the Pentagon and the CIA. Why? Over reports about the smuggling of Iraqi uranium to Iran. Sounds familiar? Never mind the quality, but feel the width. A story has emerged that some Iraqis - Iranian agents - had smuggled Iraqi uranium to Iran, and they're now willing to talk from their sick-beds presumably, as they're now said to be suffering from radiation sickness. The source for this is of course the resilient Mr Ghorbanifar, a man who once failed a CIA lie-detector test.

The CIA naturally disbelieved him, but the Pentagon were keen, and they succeeded in forcing the CIA to arrange a meeting with the Iraqi informants, with one condition from the CIA: that they did not have to meet that – grrrrrr! – Mr Ghorbanifar. Sad to say, the meeting failed. On one occasion the CIA agent's mobile telephone didn't work (forgot to charge the battery, possibly), and on another, the Iraqi official didn't turn up (had to go home to charge his battery, ditto).

But, as I said, a rich seam of stories. Watch this space. ß

Spy Who'd Love To Love Me

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Lost Puddings of Old Trengganu 

I was going to title this the Lost Tarts of Trengganu, but thought better of it. What prompted this was a mail I received following yesterday's Beta-Blog, Spinning A Long Tale. The e-Mailer, calling himself Maazel Tov, said I'd missed a very important trail in trying to link Trengganu laksam to its supposed Iranian origin (or vice versa). Didn't I see it glaring before me that it's closer to the Jewish lockshen? he asked. Well, I never, the Trengganu branch of the lost travellers...

But what also sent me along the track of my opening sentence was something started by fellow blogger Sharizal about home-cooking and grandma's food in his excellent Blog-site. I suddenly remembered pastries, sweets and dishes of Trengganu that I'd not seen for a long time, though, to my utter delight, the tepung pelita is back after a fashion. I say this because I've yet to come across tepung pelita with consistency so fine as stuck in the teeth of memory from way back when. You know what I mean, a layer of rice flour so white and so light, with yet enough oomph to keep it just below the syrup line in that punnet of banana leaf. And recently, I also met a not so old Trengganu man in Kuala Lumpur who'd revived the art of the asam gumpal. Now, the asam gumpal is sago dumplings filled with some mashed leguminuous thing, and are born to float in a concoction of coconut milk and the angst of the Trengganu monsoon season.

I speak with nostalgia of other things - beluda, and rokok arab for instance. I doubt if many Trengganuers now still know what the beluda is or was, but I am fortunate enough to remember them being baked in those cigarette tins, and rows of them arranged on a tray, pulled out piping hot from the wood oven. The beluda if you need to know, is light and spongy and is a kind of Trengganu scone. And as for the rokok arab ("Arabic cigarettes"), they were simply grand! A real rokok arab is home made, and rolled and stuffed by a lady called Mak Nah, or Mak Som. It's very much like what's nowadays known as Love Letters (or apit-apit in Trengganu), but the rokok arab is apit-apit with college education. It isn't hollow but packed with some long forgotten ingredients, love maybe, and devotion; but I remember that it was drenched in ghee, and fried to moist perfection. When arranged on a plate they look as enticing as the best Cuban cigars (which, I'm told, are rolled on the thighs of virgins).

All this talk of food and things, that's because there's something in the air. And that's Ramadhan. ß

Lost Puddings of Old Trengganu

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Spinning A Long Tale 

Last night, for a bit of adventure, we made a meal of some new spaghetti that we've discovered, called chitarra, from 'guitar' because the spaghetti looked like guitar strings. The raw chitarra looked and felt quite unlike its more ordinary counterpart. It is paler to start with, and is boosted with eggs –all'uovo– five to evey kilo of flour the label says. I presume it's the ordinary durum wheat that is used for the purpose. I like my spaghetti chewy - al dente - not over-cooked and mushy, so, after a few minutes on the heat we drained it out and sat down for a meal. It was a different taste, not like ordinary spaghetti at all. In fact, it reminded me of noodles.

Received wisdom does in fact say that spaghetti actually originated from noodles, introduced from China by that great traveller Marco Polo. But did it

A version I once read was that spaghetti did not originate from China, but from Iran via Sicily. Apparently In Iran there's a version of noodles called laksem or loksem, the name now eludes me, but which struck a chord when I read it (from a source that I didn't bother to note down) because, being a Trengganu boy, I instantly thought of Laksam, a Trengganu fare that aren't noodles at all but close to it. When I tried to retrace the source (in a bookshop of course) I couldn't find the book that gave that information, but some Iranian friends tell me that they do have a form of noodles there but it's called reshteh, not laksem or loksem or even laksam. In Jewish cookery there's also something similar to noodles, called lockshen, as in lockshen pudding which I used to enjoy in a restaurant called Ruben's, now closed.

But how did Marco Polo get involved in this tangle of noodles? Well, he travelled to China, remember? But did he?

There's a school of thought which is of the view that he never did go there. They've concluded that Marco Polo actually narrated his travels to another person he was sharing a prison cell with in Venice, a person who's probably best described as the Venetian precursor to our modern day Jeffery Archer. So it was this man who compiled the famous Travels now known to every school child around the world. You can read about this 'debunking' of Marco Polo, if you wish, in the book which started it all, Did Marco Polo Go To China? by Frances Wood, who's in charge of the Chinese Section of the British Library here in Londra. So there goes perhaps, another traveller's tale.

The fact is of course, that many, many travellers did go to China. Ibn Battutah was one. But long before him China had already been visited by black-skinned people from the fertile African crescent by way of Iran. These people in fact founded the first two major dynasties of China, the Xia dynasty (circa2205-1766 B.C.) and the Shang dynasty (circa1700-1050 B.C.). The Shangs were overthrown by the Chou people who were themselves without strong culture or philosophy. So the influence of these 'black' conquerors of China survived until about 200 B.C. The Shangs even went as far as Cambodia, but they were eventually driven out from there by the Chams with help from the Chinese. Beautiful sculptures still exist in China showing these Shang people, with African features.

The Shangs also started writing in China and left many records on bones, mostly to do with their activities with the oracles. And beyond that, a Chinese academic in the US now believes that when the Chous arrived, the Shans fled to a land across the ocean now called America, where many stone carvings are found bearing inscriptions similar to those found in China.

Now, as I was sitting there chewing my spaghetti I did wonder if these Shang people (whoever they were) did take with them some stringy, floury bits in their leather pouches while crossing Iran before going on to China.

If so, it was a bold step for all those men, and a long march for the heroic noodle. ß

Spinning A Long Tale

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Scratching The Old Record 

One of the plus points of living in a city like Londra is accessibility to information - books, records, archives - that are kept in warehouses and storage rooms around town.

The British Library (now in its new building in King's Cross) has a vast collection of books going back to the early age of Printing (but sadly, some of the books I've called for there are recorded as missing); the Public Record Office has fascinating documents that have survived the traumas of time in fairly good shape, and the Colindale Newspaper Library is always fascinating for someone curious about about things that happened on the day he was born. And then there's the Royal Asiatic Society with its own collection of Malay Hikayats and other forms of Malaysiana, and who knows what lies concealed still in the dimly lit basement of London University's SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies. (While rummaging there recently, a Professor friend stumbled upon a collection of letters written by Francis Light to the Sultans.) And God knows what treasures await discovery in some dusty vaults or battered old chests in the nooks and crannies of other learned institutions or private attics of the land. As I've mentioned in an earlier Beta-Blog, Z recently travelled to Kent to reclaim an old letter written by the citizens of Johor to the departing Lieutenant Governor Sir Andrew Clarke. Not a very old document, but fascinating nevertheless.

I write this with sadness because when I was in Malaysia recently I had great problems looking for old P.Ramlee records, or reprints of old Hikayats that I'd like to read once again for the sheer beauty of their language. Two Hikayats I was looking for especially were the Hikayat Awang Sulong Merah Muda, and the Hikayat Malim Deman, but unfortunately, not even the Dewan Bahasa had bothered to do reprints. Even enquiries about the two Za'aba classics, the Pelita Bahasa Melayu and the Ilmu Mengarang Melayu drew looks of confusion among book-sellers. As a collector (but admirer mostly, because of my limited means) of Malaysiana in the written form I'm afraid I shall have to look beyond our sunny shores for results, to Blighty or to the Netherlands, or to Berlin even, to the Museum für Völkerkunde, where there's a most beautiful illuminated Letter of Sultan Ahmad of Trengganu to Baron van der Capellen, a man I met again recently – quand il exerçait les fonctions de gouverneur général dans la Malaisie – in a dusty, musty old book, "Quinze Ans de Séjour a Java" which I picked up in the remote book village of Redu in Belgium.

In Holland, a dear friend collects some fascinating things from the flea markets. At the moment he's got an awesome collection of old krises, one so perfectly balanced that it stands on its tip without support, and Malay records from the scratchy twenties and thirties, including one of someone singing the Terang Bulan later to become the haunting Negaraku, our national anthem. We once sat in an old colonial house in Ampang while Encik Mat Belanda (as we now call him) played the record on his wind-up gramophone, and I couldn't be sure if the haze in my sight was the mist of time or some tears of longing.

These are old things, precious things that we cannot ignore for the light they shed on us. But what light do they shed on themselves? Written words carry with them the human propensity to embellish of course, by decoration, or by spin. It falls on historians to check and cross-check their veracity and truth, that elusive thing, and this caveat emptor must be writ large on the very walls of research houses. But sometimes records themselves urge this circumspection so we'd be wary of the written word, for the here and now, and for the future. This week, in a Guardian newspaper interview with Frank Dobson, former Health Secretary in the Blair cabinet, were these interesting words:

Curiously, Dobson does suggest that back when he was health secretary, Tony Blair or his officials used to smuggle such questions into minutes of meetings. "Certainly on a number of occasions when I went to see the prime minister, the notes of the meeting that came back would say, 'Question of increased private sector involvement in the NHS,' and my officials would say, 'What shall we do about this?' And I would say, 'We won't do anything about it, because he [the prime minister] never actually said it'."
Is he really saying that minutes of meetings between the prime minister and a member of his cabinet included subjects that weren't actually discussed?
"Yes. It's usually at the end." But it wasn't necessarily Blair himself, or his inner circle: "Some of the civil servants have opinions of their own."

A fascinating insight into the workings of the Blair government, and a worrisome thought for future examiners of Downing Street records.

There's a great story in The Atlantic magazine set in the Round Reading Room of the old British Library just before it disappered. ß

Scratching The Old Record

Monday, October 13, 2003

Spy Who Loved Me 

An Israeli government minister is due to arrive in Cairo Sunday for a visit to convicted Israeli spy Azzam Azzam who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for spying for the Zionist state. The Israeli media reported that Health Minister Danny Naveh would hand Azzam a letter from Zionist Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Azzam and Naveh have met three times before. Azzam, who has requested the visit, is reportedly trying to press the Israeli government to include him in the prisoner swap with Hizbullah. However, the Egyptian authorities have repeatedly refused to release Azzam. Azzam in 1996 was accused of gathering and sending information on Egypt to Israel using invisible ink on lingerie made in the Egyptian factory in which he worked. — IAP news report.

Domestic Scene. Tel Aviv suburb. Wife opens parcel received in the morning post.

Wife: Oi vay, what you up to Moshe you playing games or what?

Moshe: What game I'm playing you tell me, here we are on way to son's Bar Mitzvah you become a kvetcher Yiddisher Mom.

Wife: Kvetcher my underwearer, you gone funny or what? You gone soft in the head? What's this here huh? [waves kinickers in the air]

Moshe: Er, ulp, that's no underwear my wife dear, that's my work.

Wife: Work? You work with woman's underwear? What you do with it Moshe, you put it on your head?

Moshe: Actually, er, now you've said that, I do actually, been on my head a lot lately.

Wife: Oi vay, on his head he says. Aiyya-yah. What am I to do, am I supposed to sneeze at that?

Moshe: Gesundheit! Bless your soul, my dear. Lately I've been weighed down by work...

Wife: What, you have fat wench in it sitting atop your head Moshe, you schlemeil, you closet pervert!

Moshe: No, no, please lower your voice dear, I can explain. That came to me from Egypt.

Wife: You have a couscous in Egypt sending you knickers in the post? What's wrong with you Moshe, you gone over to the other side? Our people came out from there sweetheart, you wanna go back for a bint in the desert?

Moshe: Please, please, dear, this is no pleasure but work.I got it sent over, I look at it pretty close...

Wife: You're a sick man Moshe, go see a shrink pretty quick. My husband the top civil servant sniffing at some undergarments of an Egyptian tart.

Moshe: O shush you yenta, please, don't rouse the neighbours. I can explain all that.

Wife: You're the sick man Moshe, remember, you cannot explain all that. Leave it to the man Freud, thank God he's on our side.You're going down the tube, you're a sick man needing help. [chucks knickers into bin]

Moshe: Oi, oi, sweetheart, don't do that. That's my whole life's work you've chucked in the bin, and it'll all be on my head.

Wife: You do what you like, ay, ay, I'm off to my Momma. Here, you have that!

Exeunt omnes. Wife into waiting cab. Egyptain spy handler - 100% Egyptian cotton apparel on his head - to hot line to Mossad.

Spy Who Loved Me

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Autumnal Sigh 

Summer's end hanging on the thorny branches of the brambles, a sad time of year. End of hazy, lazy days, back to thicker clothes, kids reluctantly to school for another year.

September was time for blackberry picking, they grew wild on hedges, in our overgrown garden with its snarly, thorny disposition throughout the year. This year's been one of neglect, Not in our garden, but Hyde Park! when we've dumped fridges, old computers, bits of old carpet, broken furniture into this backyard space. Our spring-clean of the year, still lying under leaves now gradually piling, making life more hazardous for those who dare venture out into this uncertain territory. There're thorns on creepers that lay in wait under those leaves, for the blackberry bush is actually the bramble, and brambles have a snarly disposition any time of year. They grab at clothes, puncturing bare feet, sound of cussing waking cats sleeping under the pussy willow.

Don't pick blackberries after the 1st of October they say because by then they'd have been spat upon by the devil. School-children more like, mewling and puking their way to school. Blackberry season always marks the beginning of another school term, and a quick slide into the gloomiest, coldest, dreariest time of year.

I make mention of the pussy willow, the tall structure that blocks light from most of our garden. Yet it hasn't been there for long. A bird perhaps, flew past one day and dropped a seed that grew into a little tree. Seeing this as a good omen, I let it grow and grow it did. It's now a hefty, mighty tree, shedding endless clumps of wooly bits onto all beneath its branches, the all-conquering salix caprea willow tree.

Branches shedding their past, baring frames to the gloomy sky. Folks looking glum, carrying unsheddable history, baring souls to the start of life for – perhaps – another term. Almighty Creator who makes all and disposes all: make spring the start of a better year. ß

Autumnal Sigh

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Prisoners of the Neocons 

Pray shed a tear for Azmat Begg (below) now that Ramadhan's near; pray for his son Moazzam.

In Birmingham, England. Azmat waits and ponders the fate of his son. In November last year he got this in a letter from him:

"To Dad, today is the first day of Ramadan and it is going as well as can be expected. Our meals are all arranged, now, to the dark hours. As the weather has become quite cold, now we have been issued with warm thermal underclothes. Boredom here is extreme. I have not seen the sun for over seven months except once, for around two minutes. I wish you all the best for the blessed month of Ramadan and a happy Eid!!! Your son, Moazzam" —Moazzam Begg to his father, November 2002

What the letter did not say was the harsh conditons the son and others were in: sensory deprivation, room sealed from sunlight and, if allowed into the sunlight, inmates were made to kneel for hours on end, until they fall over from stress, exhaustion. And there's torture too, the falaka - the beating technique on the sole of the feet once used to great effect by Savak (secret police of the Shah of Iran) is one favourite. So horrendous are conditions there that some prisoners have been driven to the fringes of sanity and have even attempted suicide. This is Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, showcase of the very people who're now hard at work trying to establish democracy, decency, and the spirit of free enterprise in Iraq.
Moazzam Begg was arrested in February last year. He is among many, many others now detained there without benefit of legal assistance, rights of visit. Letters sent out are of course heavily censored, and we can only read between the lines to know what is really in the mind of the writer.

"Dear Mum and Dad, I have done a lot of reading in the past few months (45 books or so), just having read about the United States' war of independence and Civil War. I had a discussion recently with someone about the US's major contribution to civilisation (after talking about Ancient Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China etc). I pondered for many hours and then came up with the answer - peanut butter (both smooth and crunchy). My co-debater was not amused with the results of my hours of research. I have that every now and then and it tastes fairly good! My salaam and love to you all" —Moazzaam Begg to his family; January 2003.

When asked about the prisoners, US War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld replied gleefully that they're there to enjoy "beautiful Guantanamo Bay." Not surprising coming from a man once described by Henry Kissinger, that carpet-bomber of Cambodia, as: " The most ruthless man I've ever known."

Moazzam was arrested in Pakistan in February last year. He is a British citizern, but the Biritsh government has done little to ease his plight. Perhaps his being Muslim and non-white doesn't help. Moazzam says that his son is not an al-Qaeda member, a family man, and he went to Afghanistan to do humanitarian work. When the US started bombing Afghansitan after 9-11 he and his family fled to safety in Pakistan where he was arrested. He is innocent, says Begg.

The US have not laid charges against Begg or his fellow inmates. They claim that they are fighters from Afghanistan, but they've been denied prisoner-of-war status, and are classed as 'unlawful combatants', a category unheard of before, without any rights or privileges under the Geneva Convention. Moazzam, like his fellow captives, is now held in Camp Delta under appalling conditions, humiliation, and recieves no better treatment than factory chicken. Soon he and fellow inmates will enjoy another Ramadhan in Rumsfled's beautiful heaven.

The US say they're guilty men, and that we're wrong in asking for fairness or even in speaking out for them. Even if, as they say, we're wrong, we're still right in our presumption. Those men are innocent until proven otherwise in a fair court of law, not some military tribunals of some jumped-up kangaroos in fanatsy land.

Now a performance art group in Manchaster is re-enacting life in Camp Delta on waste land in Hulme, a mile from Manchester city centre, miles away from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It looks like the world - the Muslim world definitely - has forgotten about Camp Delta, so let's give this brave group loud praise because, if anything, they still remember what's right, what's civilised behaviour and what's humanly decent.

"Dear Dad, I am doing OK and trying as patiently as possible to overcome despair. These days I have found things getting easier and occupy my time with much of the same activities - exercise, conversation, prayer and sleep. Your son, Moazzam" —Letter from Moazzam to his family, March 2003

The Red Cross has made open criticism of the US over Guantanamo Bay. Until the prisoners are given a fair trial we'll not know if they're guilty or not, but for as long as they're there those Neocons now in power in that most democratic nation on earth will be judged.

Excerpts of letters and pics from the BBC, with thanks.

Prisoners of the Neocons

Friday, October 10, 2003

Nakba and After 

Yesterday's Beta-Blog on illusions, facts and factoid ("Smoke From A Burning Bush", 9th Sept) stirred a hornet's nest. Well, two hornets came my way with (im)pertinent questions. I still maintain that the West (and some in the East) can be Nelson-like when it comes to Israel, you know, putting the telescope to the wrong eye, standing on a high pedestal and all that. And of course accusations will fly, of anti-semitism and worse, forgetting for a while that Arabs and Palestinians too are semitic people. Unless of course you've read Koestler, and have a slightly different view on that. But I don't want to go into details as there're facts legion for all to see if you're prepared to turn an unbiased eye.

The two names I gave yesterday, Dershowitz and Finkelstein are of course Jews, one anti- and one pro-Palestine. Or maybe I should say that they're both pro-Israel, but in different ways. Thankfully, not all Jewish people (or Goyims) are pro-Israel in that rabid way that is so extant, but then of course they're called names too. Self-hating Jew is one of them. I have in my files photographs of Neturei Karta orthodox Jews walking their walk on the Jewish Sabbath to demonstrate against Israel alongside Palestinians and people of many other races and creeds in Trafalgar Square. They do so for religious reasons, they say, but we don't hear too much of that in the media.

However, to know more about the other side, I'd invite detractors to go to these two non-Arab sources. One is Finkelstein, of course, and the other is Jews for Justice. You can download a copy of the History of the Arab-Israel Conflict from the latter. To listen to/read the full Dershowitz-Finkelstein debate on MSNBC radio, go to Democracy Now.

Good luck. Salaam! Shalom! Peace!ß

Nakba and After

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Smoke From A Burning Bush 

A few days ago there appeared a man eager to prove that pulling a gun to your head was a fun thing to do. He'd get a man to load a live bullet into a gun, he said, and then, by some elaborate form of psychology that he'd devised, he'd be able to tell from the man's answers to his questions which chamber carried the fatal shot. He'd prove this by firing the gun to his head in the manner of a Russian roulette, he said. This feat he carried out before a tense audience, but as he was basking in the warm applause, the police spoilt it all for him by revealing that the 'fatal' shot was a blank anyway. There's no way the fuzz would've allowed him to play the trick with a live bullet in the first place. Exit one disillusioned man in a cloud of smoke.

Now, as I've written before, there's another man in this fair city who's lying in a box hoist over the Tower Bridge who's trying to break the world record for something to do with a perspex box and the art of pissing through a hose. He, as you may expect, is another illusionist, and I say good luck to them all for attempting an honest trick.

But what's this here we have that's ambling between illusion and fact and is really in the business of getting my goat? It's a little book called The Case for Israel, written by a man calling himself Alan Dershowitz. Professor Alan Dershowitz if you please, holder of the Frankfurter Chair of Jurisprudence in some place called Harvard. Some of you long enough in the tooth may remember him as the stout defender of O.J.Simpson in that infamous case, and the rest of you who've been following the antics of the lobby for Israel's Might and Right will have recognised him as one of their leading lights.

As chance would have it, a few weeks ago I mentioned another book, From Time Immemorial by one Joan Peters as another work of daring fiction to prove that Palestine was a land without people for a people without land (i.e. Jewsih immigrants). Needless to say the book was on the best-sellers list and acclaimed by many people, including the late Barbara Tuchmann. I mentioned that the book was well and truly trashed by Edward Said (who sadly died soon after he was mentioned), but in doing that I overlooked the fact that it was another professor, Norman Finkelstein, who'd done a more extensive job of demolition of this fictitious work.

In these days we're living in, where fictions and factions, facts and factoid are all heaped in one promiscuous mess, there's only one thing that's certain. And that is, it's not always the man in the box or the one with the gun to the head who's going to pull the trick. Illusionists abound in many guises, and Professor Finkelstein has shown just that.

It is now beginning to emerge that this book by Dershowitz is just another Peters by another name. Much of it is taken from Peters for a start, although Dershowitz has denied that. He'd inflated numbers to show that more Arabs fled their homes than actually did. In a heated debate with Dershowitz on NSBC radio hosted by Amy Goldman, Finkelstein said:

"There's only one conclusion one can reach having read the book. Mr Dershowitz has concocted a fraud, which amazingly in large parts he plagiarised from another fraud. I found that pretty shocking, coming from a Harvard professor. I found it shocking coming from any professor."

You may want to read more about this fraud in the words of that fine commentator Alexander Cockburn.

Meantime, what has Dershowitz got to say about this? Here's what he said to Finkelstein in the radio debate:

"Tell you what I will give $10,000 to the P.L.O. in your name if you can find historical fact in my book that you can prove to be false. I issue that challenge, I issue it to you, I issue it to the Palestinian Authority, I issue it to Noam Chomsky to Edward Said, every word in my book is accurate and you can't just simply say it's false without documenting it. Tell me one thing in the book now that is false?"

Finkelstein said he'd accept the cheque in the name of the Jenin fund. But don't hold your breath, folks. ß

Smoke From A Burning Bush

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

A Journey At Dusk 

We met quite by chance, in a shopping arcade, and he gave me his pale smile of greeting, of resignation. He spent his days in the coffee shop, sitting and brooding and having little to do with the world outside his head. Over a period of time I got to know him a little better, but only just. And then he went, and I've been looking for him ever since.

F.H. and I were in a car at dusk one day in January last year. I was in the front seat, and the man from a Shia Welfare Association in North London was driving us silently to his final destination. F.H. was between us, in a body bag. All the familiar sights of London were hurtling past, Buckingham Palace, Green Park, Hyde Park Corner, Wellington's House. They were all moving on, fleetingly so, all thoroughly meaningless now, in this final journey of life.

I felt like reciting some short surahs but the driver started his small talk. I was thinking of mortality and ignoring all that I could see, but he, the driver, was clutching on to dear life, to little things to keep himself from going over the edge in his daily job. Where was I living, what did I do, how long was the wait in the mortuary, he was asking me. I was thinking of my freind F.H. lying there in the bag between us, and was looking very inward. It was the living who spoke, but it was the dead who triggered the questions within myself, things that nag you at anyone's death. How have I lived? What have I done? How have I fared in this waiting room of life? For, as Galbraith once famously said: in the long term we'll all be dead.

F.H. died at 72 - so his passport said - in his little flat that had little more than an old aluminium saucepan and a little bed on which he slept and sat.

Memories of F.H. came back to me - not that he was ever out of mind - but they came back after Iraq. There's a scrap of the past that I've kept, a piece torn from his claendar, in fact. On it is my handwritten note in Arabic, of a phone number and an address in Basra as dictated to me by F.H. from his bed. I remember it as a sunny day when I dropped in to say hello, and F.H. gave his sad smile, and shrugged away his tragic life. Since his death I tried to call again the number he gave, and even wrote a note to that address, but the phone was dead, and the note was never acknowledged.

The bus was going and F.H. had little time for talk. So he boarded it with a huff - he was always short of breath - and waved me goodbye. His last. The second week of last January a policeman knocked on our door and asked, "Are you a friend of Mr F.H?" I was the only name they found among his things.

F.H. rarely spoke of his past, but of the little that I know, he had a good life in Beirut and came to London when it turned bad. He made socks that sold to the world, he had been to many countries and had met many heads of state, he had a knitting factory in Lebanon which he locked up one day and never returned. That was after he went home to find his entire family - wife, son, father - murdered. He buried them in his garden, obtained a refugee passport, and left the country for good. He left the country with some money, he said, but lost it all in some bad deals. When I got to know him he was already living on welfare benefits.

One day, while I was drinking tea with him (he was proud to the last, always turned down offers to buy him food or drink), he smiled and returned briefly to his sunny side. "You know," he said,"everyday in Beirut we had a whole sheep for lunch with our workers." Another time he told me, "I bought my son a Cadillac." Most of the time he was sparing with his past for reasons which I understood. But all along I knew he was telling the truth. He was also a learned man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Qur'an, and he knew many Prophetic traditions, the hadith.

After he died, after I'd done the paperwork and buried him according to Shi'ii rites, I visited his Housing Association flat before they cleared it for another tenant. The police had taken away his passport, all photographs from his family life, all papers that I'd wanted to keep in case someone - a family member - came looking for him. There was an old Qur'an by his bed, and in his battered luggage was the only thing that shone a bit more light into his past. He told me once that that he'd studied in Najaf, and maybe even Qom if I remember it right. In the luggage was a robe as worn by the shi'ii cleric, but l never saw him dressed in that. There was little else worthy of note, except for a yellowing newspaper from Iraq of 1982, the Jumhuriyyah, with an article that he'd clearly marked out, and which I've kept. F.H. was anti-Saddam even before the invading powers got into the act. The rest of his life are probably still in West London, in the police vaults.

It'll be one year soon since F.H. died yet I'm still looking for his life. I shall think of him today at dusk; I shall read for him the Fatihah. ß

A Journey At Dusk

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

La Guerre en Frigidaire 

It was during the last Gulf War, lest we forget, that a young girl appeared on television in the US of A, telling horror stories of Iraqi soldiers unplugging the life-support for babies in Kuwaiti hospitals and eating children generally, dipped in foul medames. I've made up that last bit, but what the heck, it was a good heart-rending story anyway except for one inconvenient fact. The brave girl turned out to be the young daughter of some Kuwaiti official in the US and she was telling a fib. Well, you know Kuwait, that little pocket of democracy in the Gulf whose Amir or someone big like that spoke out during the last Iraqi invasion that what Iraq needed most was democracy, and the invading powers were going to see to that. A worthy sentiment of course, except for one inconvenient fact, that the Amir himself wasn't elected.

And so it goes on in this business of Iraq. Sexed-up intelligence documents partly plagiarised from a Ph.D thesis, weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed in 45 minutes but could not, offer letters for uranium from Niger which turned out to be fake, and a test tube of botulsim hidden in the back of a fridge. This last one is of particular interest to me as I've just been examining the back of my fridge and have found many interesting things - tubs of live yogurt that are ready to walk out, and myriad life forms whose provenance can only be explained by the long dead theory of spontaneous generation which, I'm pleased to report, I've revived.

Well, do you see a pattern here? Or, if the intelligence agencies of the civilised world have had to resort to all or some of the above to prove their case, then things must have come to a pretty pass have they not? They've reportedly spent millions of dollars to prove what the UN weapons inspectors had found on a shoe-string, that Iraq no longer had WMDs. Not that I'm well-disposed towards UN weapons inspectors as I believe they were used to prepare the grounds for war in Iraq. You may interpret that any way you like, but still, they worked and worked until there was nowt.

But the story doesn't end just there, and this is where the fridge comes in. Now London and Washington are all excited about a test-tube of botulism found in the butter and jam compartment of an Iraqi scientist. You may think this a spurious thought, but if you had botulism to hide where would you place it in your fridge? Surely not with the frozen chicken and the makdous and tub of hummous.

In fact this was exactly what the Iraqi scientist told them: that he had been entrusted with more stuff than that, including anthrax, but had to give them all back. "They were too dangerous. I had small children in the house," he said. And I'm putting this right, in the past tense, because all this happened 10 years ago, and there's a thought. Ten years ago weren't Saddam and the West friends who'd just fallen out? This hapless scientist could've gone on to say, I suppose, that he'd "still got the receipts for all these germs and things we'd bought from Harrods and Marks & Sparks." But that'd only bring back painful memories, and we don't want any of that.

So what about this tube of botulism in the fridge? As I told you, there may be a pattern here, so we may have to be more than just circumspect. CIA expert David Kay told a congressional committee last week that this could be used to "covertly surge production of deadly weapons". Bush of course clutched at it, but not literally of course. Please. Then our very own Jack Straw of the Foreign Office said that it's further "conclusive and incontrovertible" evidence that Saddam was up to no good.

There's still one or two things that have to be tidied up, though. One is we're still unclear how this test tube was found, beyond the story of the Iraqi scientist and his fridge. The other is that the germ found was the B strain, not the more lethal A. And yet another is, if the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the people themselves who found the tube, said that there was no evidence of WMDs, why is Mr Kay now getting so all excited?

To be fair, he himself did say "We have not yet found shiny, pointy things that I would call a weapon," (and dontcha like his turn of phrase) but he did conclude that there was plenty of evidence of Saddam's intention to produce weapons of mass destruction.

And that's a gargantuan leap. From deployment in 45 minutes it's now down to an intention. And so that's where it's at. ß

La Guerre en Frigidaire

Monday, October 06, 2003

Genie From A Lamp 

Now that some intelligence agencies are doing what many in the Muslim community have long suspected them of, i.e. placing sympathetic Imams in strategic locations to keep us all in line, this picture on the left is worth resurrecting if only to remind us how fraught is our daily life. Mad Mullahs to the left of us urging fiery Jihad, cool Imams to the right of us, nibbling McDonalds and taking sound-bites (with hidden microphones, of course). What a time of great fitnah as they're now saying in knowing circles. The demonstration in the picture, by the way, took place after the arrest in Germany earlier in the year of the respected Sheikh Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Mouyad of the Al Ehsan Mosque and Community Centre in Sana'a, Yemen.

The Sheikh, whose charity work brought food to about 9,000 families a day, was also leader of the opposition Al-Islah party. The poor man was also asthmatic and diabetic, but fear not, help was at hand.

From out of the blue, well, the States actually, came young Yusuf, a new convert to Islam who arrived in Yemen in search of Truth; but if the truth be told it was actually in line of work. Yusuf quickly became the Shiekh's assistant and confidante, and his medical adviser too when the Sheikh was wheezing and puffing about. "Let's go to Germany," young Yusuf said one day, " we'll get you the best doctors in the business."

So off they went, Sheikh and acolyte, to Frankfurt in Deutchland where young Yusuf had arranged not only the Sheikh's room at the airport Sheraton, but also a black Mercedes for his master to travel in to and from his appointments. Then he pulled another trick from up his Islamic sleeve. " I can help you raise funds, " young Yusuf began to say, now sounding like the genie from the magic lamp. From out of thin air Yusuf produced an 'investor' with funds for the Sheikh, and true to his nature, Yusuf the genie was wired like a lamp. Every conversation between the Imam and the potential financier was monitored, and then the Shaikh was arrested by German authortities on information given by the Americans.

There followed a tussle about the Imam. Germany said evidence given by the Americans was inconclusive. In fact, as the Christian Science Monitor then reported, "while on a visit to the US, Germany's Intelligence Chief admonished US Attorney General John Ashcroft to come up with better evidence." The Yemeni ambassador to the US said it had sent wrong signals to people in Yemen, where the Sheikh was a well-loved figure and a prominent person. Yemen wanted the man returned home for their own interrogation. And while this was going on, young Yusuf the acolyte disappeared in a puff of stars and stripes. So much for evidence gained on the scam.

It's difficult to say where this whole business will end once this fad for planted Imams and eager acolytes becomes more widespread. What life now for the ordinary Muslim when he can't trust any more his venerable Imam? What brotherhood for succour when our kin's all wired up?

Let's just ask this Imam who's all moderate and learned: "Er, excuse me sir, Imam, is that a mike you're concealing on your person, or are you just really glad to see us?" ß

Genie From A Lamp

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Je Ne Regrette Rien - Part 362 

So our great leader of Blighty, that knight of the Bushido Tony Blair has returned triumphant from his Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth, leaving behind sweet memories of a record standing ovation, a well-disciplined party, and his wannabe Prime Minister side-kick Gordon Brown pushed back into the bottle.

There he also expressed his no regrets over the invasion of Iraq, and even read mail from grieving parents of soldiers who died there to prove his case, that he was right all along. Iraq had to be invaded to make the world safe for democracy, yee-ha!

It could have been just a wet dream, of course, a euphoric moment of premature ejaculation before the report of the Hutton Inquiry. The latter had been dogging Blair's government in the build-up to the Conference, threatening his position in the party. But Blair's nothing if not a consummate spinner, even if his top spinmeisters Mandelson and Campbell are now gone. At the Conference, all potential trouble-makers were herded into the 'overspill' room, leaving the main hall the preserve of just Baliristas and party stalwarts who aren't averse to a long, orchestrated standing ovation. While the party faithful were herded, friends one way, and potential foes another, music was lilting in the air, some daft song by a mood-music singer, to soften the crowd and warm the cockles of their hearts of Labour. There were 'students' too outside the Conference hall, handing out leaflets urging the faithful to be on their feet for one hour after the Blair speech so that he'd forever be in the record books as the most standingly-ovated great leader of New Labour. Ok, I've exaggerated about the proposed duration, but they did give him a prolonged clap, or maybe his last hurrah. Old Labour, creaking under the weight of ideology and memories of Keir Hardie has well and truly re-emerged as New Labour, a party that washes whiter than white, and bluer than the blue-rinsed Conservative Party.

And so it passed. Blair unscathed, the threatened debate on the Iraqi invasion spluttering into a well-balanced proceeding of a school debating society. New Labour type school of course, a joint pool of public and private money.

But trouble looms ahead still over this business of war and WMDs. And haven't you noticed how the cost of that un-ending search for the latter is becoming as high as the cost of manufacturing WMDs themselves? Saddam, with his mobile laboratories (as alleged in the build-up to the war) could've manufactured them for a lot less, I'm sure. Which brings to mind the absurdities of war as beautifully spelt-out in that classic of another time, "Catch-22". You bomb your side, I'll bomb mine, then we'll split the profits among ourselves without this unnecessary loss of lives. Looking at the ridiculous extent that this whole Iraq business is now taking us, I'm sure there's a way that the Catch-22 solution can be applied out there with happiness for all. So hold your fire for now please gentlemen while while I work out the details.

As for our troubled Mr Bushido knight I fear there's not much I can do for him for now at short notice. He thinks that he should be at this Remembrance service for the British war dead at St Paul's next Friday, but some parents of the deceased are already saying things to the effect that maybe it'd be best for him to stay home and watch it on TV. "He shouldn't be there because he's the one that killed them, " is the mildest I can quote for the moment. Read it for yourself in The Independent on Sunday. ß

Je Ne Regrette Rien - Part 362

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Blogging On The Trot 

As I do most of my blogs on the trot, when things just keep rolling off the top of my head, I often omit details of what I've mentioned for readers to follow up, simply because I do not have them handy at the moment. So, apologies to those who wrote in to give me a knuckle rap for leaving out follow-up links to "The Metal Men" by A. Craig Copetas. I've since looked it up on Amazon though, and they have it, even second-hand copies at lower prices. And if I may add a word for our sponsor, there's still Google to try out.

This way of blogging works best for me, as I blog whenever an idea hits my head like a dead lamp post. But it has disadvantages too as you now know. I cannot lay in references and links for you to follow, and I'm constrained by those terrible twins of time and resource. But happily, on looking back, I found that most of my mistakes have been minor, and I do correct them whenever I should. But some have to stay, if only as testimony to my bone-headedness. In my blog about the mis-addressed Financial Times, for instance, the one which started with that " late comic genius Spike Milligan" I mentioned what I then thought was a character of his, The Phantom Custard Thrower of Bexley Heath. Yesterday, while in a bookshop with a friend, I looked into a collection of Milligan's work and found to my dismay that there was no custard thrower in Bexley Heath, phantom or no. He (he?) was in fact the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town. So there you are, humble apologies proferred to Milligna's fans so long as you don't ask me where Bexley Heath is.

Which brings me to another thing. Recently we've had to turn our house upside down for some long overdue work. Furniture had to be re-arranged or thrown out, books had to be unshelved and re-shelved, and there was a general air of chaos. We got the books re-shelved again, of course, but in another arrangement. But in my head I still have this picture of shelves of books in the old order, my Alexandria Library of the mind. The disdavantage is that whenever I need to look up a book I still go to that place on the shelf which corresponds with my mental map, and of course the book isn't there any more. Another reason why I still haven't found my copy of Craig Copetas.

There is an advantage here though. I know now what Neuro Linguistic Programmers (NLPers) mean when they say (quoting Korzybski) that the map is not the territory, because here I am still, living where I am, in this map in my mind. ß

Blogging On The Trot
Of Mice And Men

You can all rest in peace now, if you're not a mouse that is. My man in Bangkok tells me that the meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries will be held there soon, and will be attended by George Dubya Bush, among others. Security will be a problem of course now that the world has become an unstable place, you know, invasion of Iraq, impending visits by our boys in battle fatigues to Iran, Syria, Somalia, etc. and men in turbans all over the place. Food will be the main item of concern, but the Thais have come up with a brilliant idea. All items to be proferred to the Great Leader of the Free World will be tested first, on mice, via intravenous injection. And then, if the mice live for more than the allotted time, bon apetit Mr President! So if, while traipsing in Bangkok in the next few months, you stumble upon used needles marked "Pretzels" or "Tom Yam", spare a thought for those little mice and all their sacrifices to make this world a better place. ß

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Tales Of The Rich, Part 3965 

Marc Rich is very, indeed. Some of you Malaysians may not have heard of him, but in the 1980s he did some work for us.

Now he is very rich still, and a very controversial figure. So who is he? He was a racketeer, a very powertful man in oil and commodities, a refugee from justice, and then a man pardoned by President Clinton in one of his last acts before leaving office. He is all of those, and more. He was also agent for Mossad, and for Israel through the Rich Foundation which he set up for money-laundering activities.Some say that the Foundation is Israel.

When Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, he did so under pressure from Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and former Mossad chief Shabatai Shavit. Rich's former wife Denise also gave in excess of US$1 million to the Democratic National Committee and to Hilary Clinton's campaign for her senate seat. It is said that so keen was Barak to get Rich pardoned that he called Clinton twice, and even said that he'd favour the pardon of Rich over that of Jonathan Pollard, another top Mossad agent who was convicted for espionage in the United States.

Now they say that having Rich as a friend and his Mossad/Israeli connections may blight Hilary Clinton's quest for the Presidency. But who knows? Things just don't work like that in these United States.

In his book "The Metal Men", published in 1986, A Craig Copetas told how Rich, who started life as a commodity trader, raked in US $10 billion in a commodities scam which involved the bribing of officials, making false market rumours, and doing dirty tricks on other traders. During that time Malaysia was an agressive little country embarked in Dawn Raids in the London Stock Exchange and in the manipulation of the price of commodities. Rich was hired to help manipulate the tin market so that prices would remain high, but it all ended in tears, with Malaysia losing some US$200 million and the winding down of the International Tin Council. There were scams, mayhem, mystery and murder in this Rich story.

It is still the same today, of course. There are still very rich men going about doing dirty deals; you don't have to be extra vigilant to know that. Just take a good look around on a sunny day.

In Londra, another story from the past is now being hurled once again into the present, and maybe into the future too. Maybe. And this concerns Roberto Calvi, Italian stalwart of the P2 Masonic Lodge which was deeply involved in the Banco Ambrosiano scandal which rocked the Vatican in the rolling 1980s. Calvi was found hanging under Blackfriar Bridge in Londra one morning as city gents were going to work. He had bricks stuffed in his pockets, and there he was, dangling in the air laden with symbols. A pronouncement of suicide was quickly made despite protestations from his family.

But now they're saying officially that it wasn't suicide at all. So brace yourselves y'all for a good story. ß

Tales Of The Rich, Part 3965
A Word Of Thanks

A short pause to pay my due.

My thanks to Pak Adib, Abedib, Ir Adib, Encik Adib (he's many things to many people), otherwise known as The Reader who got me started on this blogging thing, and to My Sanctuaire for encouraging me to use photos, and for useful pointers. It was a long time ago when I pulled MalaysiaNet from the web, but it's all coming back now, slowly! And thanks too to my brother blogger Mohsan in Paris, whose Je Blog is quintessential to me and whose ideas I've sometimes purloined unashamedly. Merci beaucoup mon frère!

Now things have gone beyond control. I've started to put out my pictures at Beta-Pix, The Eyes of Beta-Blogger, which I hope you'll take time to visit. I promise you there'll be nothing there of me, but just people and things I see in my everyday world.

There's only a small band of people who visit me each day. To them my sincere thanks too. May you all be blessed with good wit and good health always. And to all those good bloggers who've linked up to me, my sincere thanks to you. I'm indeed humbled and very grateful.

Congratulations to Z for being a student again, and thanks to Blogspot and Moblog for being good hosts to me. ß

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

A World Apart 

One day, at a loose end, I walked into the public library near Leicester Square in Central Londra and made for the shelf containing the phone directories of the world. I got the one I was looking for, under B for Belize, and in it, found what I thought was the name and telephone number of a friend I hadn't seen nor heard from for many years. Minutes later, from a public telephone outside the Library I was speaking not to my long lost friend, but to a kindly lady of the same surname who listened to my apologies very patiently and said yes, of course she knew this friend of mine, and proceeded to give me his phone number. And they don't make countries like Belize any more, I began to know.

I finally reached my friend of course, and got nattering about old times and hilarious pranks that we pulled together against unsuspecting people in our students' hostel who today are probably living in relative comfort in little pockets of suburbia from St Kitts & Nevis in the Caribbean to the Horn of Africa but who're still mentally scarred from the experience. Har-har. So the weather in Belize was fine, work a chore, and J, er, J...I've split from her.

Then more recently I met a lady from Singapore who happened to know two friends I'd also not seen nor heard from for many years, funny how time goes past so very quickly, and how are they? Well, they're fine. And their wives X and Y, are they fine too? Well, no, er I think they went their separate ways long time ago.

And then to tea in a Malaysian hotel where I met a friend who'd just come back from Malaysia and met a mutual friend who once worked in Londra. He's not doing very well, you know, personal problems, and his wife Y how's she taking all that? Well, you know...

From this snap-shot of my little world it looks like its splitting apart pretty quickly, with one half going in one direction, and the other half claiming alimony.ß

A World Apart

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