Sunday, November 30, 2003

Spy Who Came In Fr. Singapura 

Sit well back now, search your memory but hold on to your hard disks.

Have you or your country ever been visited by Singapore born Lau Lok Thye? If so he was probably sent on a spying mission. Undercover Agent Lau Lok Thye. Source: newsreview.com

Evidence filed in court show that Lau, a naturalised US citizen was specially picked by the FBI to do counter-intelligence work abroad soon after he received FBI training. Lau said he did deep undercover work for the FBI on Group 2 assignments, i.e. work taking 6 months or more. Some evidence also show that he had both FBI and CIA handlers and that he'd worked in a 'hostile country...in total chaos.' You may read some of this in Lau's (redacted) Court Declaration, and in the rambling Amicus Curiae document filed by the Hispanic civil rights group, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Not bad you may think, for someone who left Singapore at an early age to become a gum-chewing American. But things aren't good for Lau at the moment. In a civil suit naming John Ashcroft, Attorney General, as defendant, he claims psychological damage from those high risk assignments, that he was badly treated and abandoned by the FBI on his return, racial prejudice even. In 2000 after two "cry for help" shoplifting offences, he was sacked. Reasonable enough complaints considering what happened to Egyptian-born FBI agent Gamal Abdel-Hafiz. [See: News From the World of the FBI]

Lau said that the FBI gave him no 're-entry' help, and that he was so badly stressed after his assignments that he was actually doing things to draw attention. Hell, if it were Singapore it'd have been easy for him to do just that by spitting in the street and expressing loudly a desire for Wrigley's Spearmint; but this was the US, so he did the next best thing. He went to the shops and lifted tooth-paste, bars of soap, paint-brush, things like that. (Moreover, in an interview, Lau said that Singapore is a police state. Tsk. Tsk.)

The FBI says that Lau is a liar and a petty thief and there's no substance to his claim. But later the Government asked for the Court documents to be sealed, and also filed a motion to ask for powers for FBI agents to erase 'classified information' relating to the Lau case from any unauthorised computer hard drives. No substance then? Don't answer the door if you've already downloaded those documents I've just mentioned. The assistant U.S. Attorney defending the FBI against Lau's civil-rights claim is named Kristin S. Door, by the way.

And then FBI agents were sent to Lau's lawyers and LULAC to retrieve documents, and to press the delete button on their hard drives if they'd only allow them. Then, by unhappy coincidence, the office of Dr Bruce Ebert, Lau's psychologist was burgled. Things don't just happen in the U.S. of A but they come down in a torrential rain. Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. recently declined the Government's requests to put a lid on the case as "unsupported by authority", but there's nothing to stop them from appealing. Meantime their application for the case to be summarily dismissed is pending in the District Court in Sacramento, California.

If anything, what did Lau do? From what little we know, he was involved in 'deep' spying for the FBI, and this may have involved penetration into the activities of the Chinese Tong (Triad) activities outside the US. Then there are indications that he was in China at least once, maybe during the Tiananmen 'uprising'. (Did he have a hand in it do you think?). And he probably went to other countries too on spying missions for the FBI or the CIA, or both.

Besides the way he has been treated by the authorities, the latter role raised alarm bells among civil rights people in the US. FBI and CIA...they do make you think of John Ashcroft again, don't they? After the Twin Towers incident he came up with that preposterous Patriot Act which — he said — was necessary to bring down the wall between the two agencies. But what if Lau is right about acting for those agencies even then? Then not for the first time the nose of the Attorney General of the USA will look like it's come straight out of a fairy story. Pinocchio comes to mind.US AG Pinocchio. Source:arca.net/db/pinocchio

Some believe this is the reason why the Government is so keen to block press coverage of the Lau case. In a way they succeeded. Most of the US media ignored the story; it broke only in the relatively obscure San Antonio Business Times.

As they say: watch this space. ß

Spy Who Came In Fr. Singapura

Friday, November 28, 2003

Libido Ergo Spy 

Capt James Yousef Yee, a man previously facing charges of spying for the enemy at Guantanamo Bay was released on Eid day, but he still faces new charges while the original ones are dropped. The new ones include accusations that he is a man with a voracious sexual appetite. Huda Subuh Yee with daughter holding pic of Capt Yousef Yee. Source:theolympian.com From spying to sexing is a long way to travel, but the US army is taking these allegations very seriously. Yee, West Point graduate and convert to Islam, is now said to have had extra-marital relations with an unnamed person while at Guantanamo, and of downloading and storing pornography in his army computer. Previously they said he mishandled classified information and was possession of maps and information about detainess in Guantanamo. Long way to travel, yeah.

So there he was, counselling to the needs of Taliban/Qaeda suspects in between huffing and puffing in the tropical heat with an anonymous paramour; then back to his shack for an eyeful of Miss Sexy Pussy. But who is this red hot lover of Yee? A military personnel too? If so, why isn't she (he?) charged under the US military law which puts such a premium on sexual probity? Well, I ask you now, why didn't they prosecute their Supreme Commander Old Bill Clinton too when he was actually at it? And he was huffing and puffing too as I recall, but not on that Cuban cigar. But then there was a cigar too in there somewhere, wasn't there?.

Guantanamo is a tough place for a Muslim army officer, and even tougher for those detainess who're all cooped up like factory chicken in those containers, made to kneel for hours on end in the sun, and who're facing no charges and are given no access to lawyers. Pressure on them is such that many are driven to the very edge, and there's been many attempts at suicide, we hear.

On 24 October, The Washington Post said this:
[M]ilitary authorities launched an investigation of Army Capt. James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at the Guantanamo Bay prison, after a series of confrontations between him and officials over the treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees there, according to military officials and other informed sources.

No wonder Subuh Huda, Yee's Syrian-born wife is now saying that this is all a frame-up. First you charge the man, then you smear him so. Not only are Muslims concerned about this, American Chinese are too. They say this brings back memories of Dr Wen Ho Lee, a scientist working at the Los Alamo Laboratory who was arrested by the FBI in 1999 on espionage charges, kept in solitary confinement, then freed after being found not guilty. "I smell a rat," says Ling Chi Wang, professor of East Asian Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. Those charges against Yee? "'We can safely regard [them] as propaganda and half-truths," says the Professor.

Another Muslim at Guantanamo, also facing espionage charges, is Air Force interpreter Ahmad al-Halabi. He too complained about the treatement of his co-religionists. Now he is accused of attempting to supply classified information to Syria, which he denies. One of the charges against him in the six-page sheet issued by the Air Force is the accusation that he unlawfully delivered baklava [sic] to detainees.

Now there's a new Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo by the aptly named Capt Shabbaz. As chaplain he will no longer be allowed access to detainees, but will only advise the authorities there on Islam practices, something they could've obtained with minimum hassle from The Complete Idiot's Guide To Understanding Islam.

Read: § Yee's Charge Sheet § Halabi's Charge Sheet [PDF] § CSM Weblog on Guantanamo ß

Libido Ergo Spy

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Growing Up In Trengganu #9513 

One day, at the precise time of the noon prayer, there was a rain of agar-agar on our little community.Life's a beach, then you fly. Courtesy:journeymalaysia.com

This was no ordinary agar-agar but of the finest variety. They were green and red and yellow and blue, crinkly cut in bite-sized diamond shapes. It sent Mother rushing out in her prayer shawl, punctuating her rapid movement to the window with words that I still remember: "My beleda! My beleda!"

This path to disaster began ordinarily enough some hours back when Mother was labouring over her hot stove, peering and stirring in a brass kuali that contained a transparent and bubbly goo. Trapped in it, like a fly in ember, was the long green leaf of the pandan tree. The scented, blessed pandan of the ubiquituous presence in Malay cookery.

When the mixture was ready, with the desired viscosity, she poured the fluid in as many trays as she could pull from the kitchen cupboard (which wasn't many), and into any other tray-like things that'd serve her purpose. These being mainly old Huntley & Palmers biscuit tins, food-trays painted with a smiling nyonya extolling the virtues of some local tea, or the lids of any old tins that could contain her gelatinous stuff in sufficient depth and quantity. Before pouring them out into the various trays she'd mix in just the right amounts of her magic drops as would make the agar-agar glow in transluscent gold, or red or green or blue, filling the whole kitchen with the sweet scent of vanilla.

Early in the morning, just as the sun was rising, I watched her use a serrated cutter to slice the jelly into into inch-long shapes which she arranged neatly in two large food trays to put out in the sun to dry. For the children, the agar-agar kering - the sun dried sweet with the crystallised sugar coating that wrapped the internal translucent jelly - were the colours of the Trengganu Hari Raya, the feast Eid to end the fast, the bulan puasa, (fasting month) of Ramadhan.
Kuih Sellers, Trengganu. Courtesy: trglib.gov.my
A window in our house looked out to one aspect of the local community, especially the surau, the musolla or the prayer hall, that stood cheek by jowl with our house in the huddled way that kampung houses stayed together. Ours was a tall house, much taller than most, that literally looked down on the daily life of the community. In the moonsoon months there peered through the window a menacing sky and the belinjau trees swaying from side to side looked extremely supple. As a child I stood for hours looking out of this window, listening to the roar of waves on the distant shore.

Mother looked out of the window too but with a purview of shorter remit. It was the corrugated iron rooftop of the surau that she was interested in, especially as it was sloping gently past our open window, and within easy reach. When she looked to the sky, her mind was set: it was a right, bright day for putting the agar-agar out to dry. Out went the trays onto the sloping rooftop, held in place only by their tenuous hold on the protruding heads of the roofing nails. The midday heat would crystallise the agar-agar pretty quickly.

But with noon-time also came the call to prayer, and in Trengganu then (as now) it would start with the beating of the beduk, a massive drum of cow hide hung with stout ropes to the lower end of the roof in the back of the surau. Beaten with growing intensity, it preceded the muezzin's call, the boom-boom-booming sound that shook the rafters, awoke the dozy, and sent the trays tumbling down from the rooftop, agar-agar and all.

I happened to be in the back of the surau just when this technicolored rain began to fall, sitting by an old curmudgeon who was a distant blood relation. He was a surau regular who was quick on the draw with acid retorts about the slightest thing that irked him so. When my mother's distressed call was heard between the booms of the beduk, he deigned to give the briefest look at the scene of devastation. Then, without batting an eye, he walked silently back to the inside of the surau to prepare himself for prayer.

It was not the sight and sound of my poor mother in her prayer shawl that became the defining moment for me in this comic episode but the unbemused expression on the old curmudgeon who bothered to even look at all. You needed to have lived on this earth for quite awhile to be able to look at diamond-shaped jellies of many hues showering down from the sky on a clear day and yet be able to dismiss it without so much as a sigh.

§Break The Mold §Agar-Agar Recipes
Beleda=Trengganu-speak for the agar-agar jelly. ß

Growing Up In Trengganu #9513

Monday, November 24, 2003

Eid Mubarak Everyone! 

It seems a long time ago now, in a remote area of Afghanistan when the fields were blood red with poppies in bloom. Footprints in the desertTwo travellers, writer Bruce Chatwin and poet Peter Levi (both now deceased) were asked by a farmer who was quite innocent of the ways of this world, if the aircraft seen in the sky was from this our earth or from yonder heaven.

What days of innocence! Nowadays, we know of course that those skyborne things do deliver a payload from hell. And families, and dwelling houses, and wedding parties have all been devastated by that. The combatants on both sides have their wars to fight, and the opposing warlords all have their blood-curdling battle cries; but the toll on the ordinary people of Afghanistan has been high. Now, in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, a new breed of men are in charge. Some see figures of the Neocons in the valley of the shadow of death - but we don't hear much of that now. Except for occasional news flashes like this:

A US military helicopter crashed on Sunday in Afghanistan killing five service personnel, US Central Command said. The helicopter crashed near Bagram and early reports indicated that seven members of the US military were injured in addition to the dead, a statement said. Cause of crash unknown, but investigations on-going.

This is the week of Eid al-Fitr, a month of recovery, charity and joy to Muslims all over the world. In the month preceding this Shawwal feast of Joy - in the holy month of Ramadhan - bombs exploded in Turkey and Arabia in addition to the usual blasts in Palestine and Iraq. And Afghanistan too. And of Chechnia? And Kashmir? Little has been heard from there, but rest assured bombs have been exploding there too, only that the world media are now experiencing news-fatigue. News is where the spotlight is, but the rest of the world aren't standing still.

And in Aceh (Indonesia), what's left of Somalia, Sudan, Southern Philippines, Eritrea, and in Guantanamo Bay, and God knows where else where the muezzin makes the call? God knows what else is happening there and there.

Peace and Blessings of Eid everyone, wherever you are, where the poppies bloom, where the muezzin makes his plaintive cry. Still.ß

Eid Mubarak Everyone!

Sunday, November 23, 2003

News From The World of Banking 

If you're under the pay of Mossad or Shin Bet. All sayanim working for the State. Please read this carefully:

We are facing serious cash flow problems because the President of our Patron state was recently away on a visit to meet the Queen of England and our bosom pal Tony Blair. Our friend the President left the White House key under the doormat, watered the plants, cancelled all pretzel orders until further notice just before leaving for England, but forgot to sign the monthly order for a massive transfer to our esteemed state. Because of that we are in some hardship and we hope you will understand if your monthly stipend is dishonoured. Please be patient. Fighting for democracy and what is right takes time. We need your understanding and patience.

To: The Wall of Jericho Construction Co.

Dear Builders,

We are this month facing serious financial problems due to unforeseen circumstances. Please keep our cheque to you on hold, but please continue building those walls, as agreed, to keep the Philistines out from our Holy Land. This fight for truth, justice and freedom (from inturders) goes beyond dollars and sense as you will understand. We shall notify you of the time to re-represent our cheque once the situation has cleared.

PS To meet immediate needs, avail yourselves of the olive harvest around the construction sites.

To: The President of the United States.

Dear Mr President: Please make a further allocation over and above the US5 billion that you are already remitting to us in our fight for Peace and Freedom in the Middle East on your behalf. Your help in this our fight for the Turth is much appreciated.

PS Before you make another foreign visit, please make sure that your monthly standing order to us is in place.


* * *

Distraught members of the Hurndall family were hit by another unexpected blow this week. Their son Tom was shot in the head last April while on a peace campaign in the occupied territories and now lies in hospital in a coma without hope of recovery. After months of wrangling, the Israeli government finally agreed to pay them £8,370 to cover his treatment and cost of repatriation. The family had spent £17,000 to fly him home. The Israeli cheque came with a note denying admission or liability by the State of Israel and/or the Ministry of Defence.

Ambassador Zvi Stauber sent the following note with the cheque:

"As agreed, please find attached herewith a check in the amount of 8,370 pounds sterling to cover the repatriation
costs of Mr. Tom Hurndall. The aforementioned sum is paid as an ex gratia payment and without any admission of liability by the State of Israel and/or the Ministry of Defense as to Mr. Hurndall's injury."

As a final insult to injury, the Israeli government's cheque was returned by the National Westminster Bank due to insufficient funds. It bounced. This is what a spokesman for the Hurndall family said:

"It is impossible to describe the anguish felt by the family after the incident with the check, an incident that is only comparable to the behavior of the Israeli government ever since Tom was injured."

§Visit the Tom Hurndall Site §More Home Truths From the Holy Land ß

News From The World of Banking

Thursday, November 20, 2003

You Said It 

In those days of IRA terrorism, I had a friend who believed that the level of security alerts in this here town always coincided with the number of roadworks that suddenly sprang up to slow down the traffic. My friend believed that this was how the security services, in cooperation with the roadwork navvies, co-operated to produce minimal traffic flow to block the quick getaway of troublemakers. Slower traffic meant better control of road-users.

Exit the IRA, enter new security problems. Some days armoured cars and armed security personnel are as numerous as travellers at Heathrow airport. Then, another widely announced alert, filling Londra with visible police presence. One day in Lancaster Gate near Marble Arch in central Londra I saw at least 5 vans packed with police personnel parked on the road side. There's been so many alerts now, and Thank God we're all safe and sound. But an old cynical mind just can't help wondering, but perish the thought, this ain't no time for cynicism. And then someone else voices your thoughts...

The following comment appeared yesterday in Allison Pearson's column in the Evening Standard:

PR Problems?
Al Qaeda will
solve them

HAVE you noticed how, every time the Prime Minister feels his popularity starting to sink, so, by some magical mechanism, the official terrorist threat starts to rise? It happened after Dr David Kelly committed suicide and now it's happened again, just as Tony's mate George makes the most unwelcome arrival on these shores since William the Conqueror popped up for a cuppa. Presumably we can look forward to an unprecedented threat from unidentified baddies in the week before the next election.

Er, ulp, she said it Mr Tony Sir, not me...

Read more Allison Pearson ß

You Said It

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Attaboy, Ken! 

If you're tired of Londra,Ken Livingstone
you're tired of Ken Livingstone.

In these days of control-freakery and political hubris, Ken is the little political light left shining in this naughty world. During the height of Thatcherism Ken was Chairman of the Greater London Council (GLC) which was housed in a magnificent County Hall building at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge on the Thames. The GLC building was within sight of the Houses of Parliament, and Ken took great delight in brandishing a huge banner across his London headquarters to proclaim the number of unemployed people under Thatcher's reign. The Iron Lady must've spluttered over her gin and tonic each morning at the sight of Ken's daily reminder of her policies from the Palace of Westminster. Thatcher returned Ken the favour of course. She abolished the GLC and sold County Hall to some Japanese moneybags.

As Labour councillor (and later MP) Ken portrayed himself as man of the people. He travelled by the Underground, kept newts, and spoke with a Londoner's nasal whine. He still does all those things of course, except that he is no longer MP, no longer chairman of the GLC, but is now Mayor of London (from a new post-modernist City Hall further downstream), and he's been sacked from the Labour party for daring to challenge the official Labour candidate for the Mayoral post. (Ken defeated him to third place).

In his heyday Ken was everybody's Jack the Lad. He introduced the Fare's Fair scheme for London Underground (a move that was scuppered by a court action of an arch-Conservative Borough), and he even boasted of his manhood by saying on television that he sometimes woke up with something like a broomstick in his hand. I once met him with his face unnaturally flushed at a Qawwali concert in a Pakistani community hall and then again recently when I heard him call some people he didn't like 'Stalinists', I reminded him that the satirical magazine Private Eye once called him Ken Leninspart, and he acknowledged that with a weary nod.

Londoners can't help noticing Ken, whether they like him or not. He's been conducting a running battle with the pigeons of Trafalgar Square, and with the Blair government over the running of London Underground. Now that he's gained control of it he has yet to prove that it'll all work out in the end. Even Tony Blair has noticed that this once-Red Ken can be an obstacle to his quiet enjoyment of his office. Blair knows that Ken will once again trounce the official Labour candidate in the next Mayoral election, so now, rather than have Ken outside the tent pissing in, Blair will have Ken inside, pissing out. He has sent overtures for the reinstatement of Ken into the Labour party.

But just as everyone thinks it's safe to go swimming again in the Thames, there comes Battleship Bush looming in the horizon. And Ken doesn't like Bush much, but instead of keeping all that to himself (especially as they're now talking about his re-instatement) Ken has made this ballastic remark:

"Bush is the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen."
—Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London

And tomorrow, while Bush is partying with Tony Blair, he will be holding a Peace Party in City Hall to announce his displeasure at the Presidential visit.

"I don't formally recognise George Bush because he was not officially elected. So we are organising an alternative reception for everybody who is not George Bush." —Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London

All these remarks are made in The Ecologist magazine.

* * *

Bush arrives at a time when the Labour government is about to introduce Identity Cards for inhabitants of this fair Blighty. This is a controversial issue that has split even the Labour party as Brits do not generally like ID cards. It reminds them of Big Brother and all that.

Where Bush comes from - in the US - they're of course used to this token of personal identity. Even the President himself carries one, and we've just been given a glimpse of it:


Attaboy, Ken!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Madness Of George II 

As part of their protection measures for President George Dubya Bush's visit to Britain, the Americans asked of their British hosts special permission to use the 'mini-gun'. What me worry?Now, this 'mini-gun' isn't as innocuous as it sounds. Here's one newspaper's description of its prowess: "It is fired from a tank and can kill dozens of people." Charming.

And here's the manufacturer's description of this awesome weapon: "Due to the small calibre of the round, the mini gun can be used practically anywhere. This is especially helpful during peacekeeping deployments." [My italics]. My, these manufacturers do have a sense of purpose!

But wait, fired from a tank? This is a visit by a President of a friendly nation with that much touted Special Relationship with Britain, for crying out loud. But no, the right to zap dozens of protestors all at once wasn't the only thing these Yanks asked for. Their shopping list included the right to use US Air Force planes (presumably for carpet bombing), Black Hawk helicopters, and battlefield weaponry. They also asked for the closure of tube trains along the route of the President's cavalcade.

Close the tube trains? London Transport is doing that fairly well already, no thanks Mr President.

But most of all, these American Knights of the Bushido demanded of the Brits a privilege equal to James Bond. The right to shoot to kill and the right to have their way with women. I have made up the latter, but what the hell, while they're at it, why not?

And oh, there're 2 more things. They'd also like to block the President's routes from all and sundry, and they also want to do their own policing.

And all for the benefit of the President of the World's greatest democracy. All the above requests, say the Brits, have been turned down.

On 20th Nov, demonstrators plan to topple a statue of George Bush from a pedestal in Trafalgar Square. But you won't be seeing it yourself, Mr President, your security operators won't let you. Shame.

Bushwhacked: §Blair Seen With Little To Gain... §Many Britons Think Bush Is Stupid

Madness Of George II

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Bravura Singapura 

Since its inception as a tiny island Republic at the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia, Singapore has shown an obsession only with itself, living in a little world where they are beseiged by 'hostile' neighbours. Singapore's here, somewhere

Now, from out of the blue, they've discovered Iraq and they're now sending 192 navy and armed forces personnel to do their bit to make this world a better place. Earlier they'd already sent 30 police personnel to train the Iraqi police. Relatives of victims in Halabja may want to remember Singapore in another role during Saddam's rule, when a Singapore company was the largest exporter of chemical weapons precursors. [See link to story, below.]

Defence minister Teo Chee Hean said that Singapore is doing so to further its national interests in oil and to stop the spread of terrorism. Cynics say it's the former that's prompted Singapore to act, and in this it's inspired by the promise of cheap Iraqi oil to Israel, Singapore's staunch Middle Eastern ally and role model.

"It is important that Singapore does our part within our means to help the international community see through the reconstruction of Iraq," Teo said. Noble sentiment.

O what bravura
Our little Singapura
Now our troops are in Babylon

Our mission is for oil
And maybe a little soil
For our land reclamation

But o don't tell them please
That it's all come to this
Our self-interest enlightened

To keep us on the boil
And to burn the midnight oil
In this our pretty nation

Our troops look so glum
They cannot chew no gum
At work or during R&R

Unlike those little A-rabs
Chewing their mouthful of qat
That's the food of their damnation

So move now your fat ass
And fill our ships with your gas
Or we'll do you for terrorism

We're quoted in the Hansard
And toasted by the Mossad
As a friendly friend of the West

So we'll quote you with glee
Our great leader Kim-Il Lee
Who gave us his Kim-Il Son

We're this rugged little plot
We're this brave insular dot
But in our hearts we're the lion

We're from Singapura
Our heart filled with bravura
We're here to give you your freedom.

Singapore Extra: § Escape From Paradise § Singapore Supplied Chemicals to Iraq
Coming Attraction: "Spy Who Came In From Singapura." Watch this space! ß

Bravura Singapura

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Achtung, No Headscarves 

Whatever will they think of next?

In September, Fereshta Ludin, a Muslim woman teacher in Germany won a court action to wear her headscarf at work.

Now, the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg has proposed a law to ban the headscarf from schools because:

• It is political.

• It is a symbol of cultural division and expresses a history of repression of women.

So said the region's education minister Annette Schavan.

That's logic hard to beat. The crux of it is that Muslim women can't think or decide for themselves. And Islam is a political statement.

Who's getting all muddled now? Read Story

Read: § Nobel Laureate on the headscarf §Uncovering A Veil Of Discrimination

Achtung, No Headscarves

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

News From World of Goons III 

Children behind Ataturk masks
Growing up as Kemalists. Cover up your faces young ones, with the masks of righteousness, but cover not your sisters' heads in shame. School children wearing masks of Mustafa Kemal visiting the Ataturk Mausoleum in Ankara on the anniversary of his death, November 10.

Turkey prides itself as a state straddling both Europe and Asia, living in the tradition of Kemalist secularism which bans citizens from being outwardly Muslim. In his heyday, Mustafa Kemal Pasha hanged Muslim leaders, Imams, scholars for good measure, to emphasise his modernism. Nowadays, Kemalism is jealously guarded by the military, the true rulers of Turkey, and every move of the elected government is watched for instances of religious atavism. The Turkish government bans hejab-wearing women from military establishments, government offices, and universities. A recent expression of this was when the wives of Islamist party Deputies were banned from official Republic Day functions. A Prime Minister was once chided for reading poetry that was too 'Islamic' in sentiment.

Every year in Turkey the military goes into an introspective binge to weed out anyone showing the slightest interest in Islam. A serving officer asking for leave to do the Haj is, well, like a turkey asking for Christmas.

More Goonery: [1] [2]

Picture: A page from today's Guardian, with unintended caption.

News From World of Goons III

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Growing Up In Trengganu #3273 

Rose Syrup, sweet since the 1930sBy late afternoon the pavement in front of the pasar was lined with blocks of ice, some covered in saw dust, others wrapped in gunny sacks. The rasping sound of the sharp saw-teeth meeting the shimmering face of ice, cutting deep cuts in parallel rows in the ice block, then another line cutting the rows in half again in a cross-cut. Then a sharp hack with the cleaver down the clefts would break those smaller blocks free, to the delight of street urchins and errand boys sent out to buy this essential balm for the dry rasping throats of adult fasters; and ice too for the milky, syrupy drink that'd quench the thirst from a long day's fast. [See bottles, left]

Children fasted too, but most of them were given special dispensation to break at noon. In our household this was considered infra-dig, so we braved it out in a full day's whine, salivating fiercely as the afternoon drew on, when the aroma of the akok or the bubur lambuk bubbling in mother's kitchen became just too irresisitible.

This was Kuala Trengganu before the 'fridge became the white good for the plebs. Selling ice blocks by the road-side was a source of extra income for the boys for Hari Raya (Id) clothes, for a jaunt after Raya prayers to the Capitol or the Sultana, two local cinematic flea-pits that incessantly rolled out old films from the Shaw Brothers and the Cathay Keris stables.

By those ice-sellers in the Tanjong market as the shadows were lengthening and the sun was turning a different shade of yellow came the kuih sellers. These were womenfolk who worked over their hot stoves since the break of day, incessantly stoking the fire with coconut husks or fire wood, brows dripping in sweat and eyes ever watchful that the products of their labour were not burnt to cinder. By 5 o'clock in the afternoon they'd be ambling out of their domestic workshops, round woven baskets balanced precariously on their heads and filled to their brims with veritable delights, and fancy cakes. There were stalls and stalls for these sellers, all arranged in a row.

This is the roll call of Trengganu comestibles - Nekbat, Apam Sakar, Beronok, Perut Ayam, Wajik, Lompat Tikam, Asam Gumpal, and of course, the Puteri Mandi, the Princess in a bath of shaved coconut and palm sugar. In this age of the fruitcake, who remembers them now? Recently, while sampling the Turkish Imam Biyaldi, so good as to make the Imam (person who leads the prayer in a mosque) faint, I was reminded of the Trengganuesque Encik Abbas Demam a culinary product so good that the eponymous sampler (Encik Abbas) ran hot and cold.

But not everything was sweet and sickly. There was rojak (a Malaysian salad) of green papaya shaved into thin strips, covered with a sauce of fish and chilli and coconut sugar mixed in vinegar, there was of course the famous Trengganu Rojak Kateh, not strictly a salad, but a chilli-hot vinegary preparation of cow's trotters, and the ceranang, a true salad of blanched vegetables (mainly kangkong), bean sprouts and tofu, covered in a thick dollop of peanut sauce.

Just before sunset, before lilting cries of the muezzin came forth from various little prayer halls in the community, before the cannon roared from distant hills, before the Trengganu Bell, the Genta sounded out its doleful chime from the Bukit Putri by-the-harbour to mark the time for iftar, the breaking of the day's fast, the kids would roll up their gunny sacks for the day, stash the day's takings in a Milo tin, and head for home to unravel a fierce weapon, the bedil buluh - the bamboo cannon - that fired volleys of carbide power, much to the consternation of elderly village women who'd be shocked by the booms into a fit of uncontrollable verbal diarrhoea (mostly pertaining to the pudenda).

To melatah is a peculiarly Malay and Eskimo affliction, and is recognised as the Eskimo hysteria. All that ice on the pavement, there must be something there. ß

Growing Up In Trengganu #3273

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Royal Table Talk 

Morning in Highgrove House. HRH Prince Charles dunking soldiers in runny half-boiled egg. Enter Man Servant.

Your Royal Highness...

I'm feeling very low

Er, how's that? To be precise, how do you do?

I didn't.


What they say I did.

Sorry, HRH, let's get this right. You didn't do what?

I didn't do what they say I did.

They say you did what?

What I didn't do.

HRH, have you been reading Wittgenstein?

No, the papers. And the internet. Especially the latter.

Is there a letter too?

Well, er yes, a letter from that woman I once wed. And the butler.

Ah, the butler did it.

No, no I did, but I didn't.

The butler didn't but you did but didn't. Oh this is all so confusing.

Look, let's get this straight. I didn't do it.


What I didn't do.

[To be continued]

Lookback: § Prince Charles Denies Ludicrous Claim § Charles Denies All § The Diana Tape

Royal Table Talk

Friday, November 07, 2003

News From the Land of Goons II 

While in other countries they get all excited about women entering a Guest House fully undressed, Hejab by www.shukronline.comin democratically Kemalist Turkey military investigators are probably this very moment scanning CCTV footage and doing the necessary brain-work to find women who entered a military Guest House in Kayseri on September 29th fully-clothed.

It's the head-scarf they're interested in, the hejab, which the Kemalist goons fear will be their undoing. Too right folks, they're not actually crazy about the head cloth, but it's turning them completely and utterly mad.

Under official decree, no woman in Turkey can enter a university or military or official building under the cover of a headscarf. So guests were invited to the official celebration of the Turkish Republic Day on September 29th under this ludicrous ukase. The invitations actually asked members of their Islamist party deputies to attend the do without their wives in tow. So fragile is the constitution of this modernistic Kemalist state that the powers that be are ever living in dread of being blown off their perch by the humble head dress.

According to a report in the Turkish Daily News today, the General staff has issued a press statement saying that a military guest house had violated this sacred law by allowing two women to attend their Republic Day shindig wearing hejabs. "Some illegal practices," as they put it in their Turkey speak.

But all you Kemalists out there please don't choke on your kebabs. The military have launched an investigation, we have been told. Colonel Clouseau Pasha investigates...

More Turkish Delights: Turkish Generals' Periodic Itch

News From the Land of Goons II

Thursday, November 06, 2003

No More Sandstorms 

Saudi Arabia has banned the export of sand because, let's face it, they're running out of it. This, said Arab News, is the result of heavy growth in the construction industry and the uncontrolled export of sand to neighbouring Bahrain. After burying their heads in it for so long, the Saudis have now decided to take action. Sand smugglers beware.

Sorry, we have to move you
Because we cannot bury you
We're running out of sand

The House of Saud
Is in the rudest of rude
And built entirely on cement

We don't know what to say
The wind's blown it all away
Towards the other end

While our oasis here
That we love so very dear
Is held by rubber band

And that mess on your foot
That powdery thing on your suit
Is no earth but astro turf

O what is to become of us
Where do we plant our grass
Now we've run out of ground

Check the pockets of all men
And every dreaded fellahin
For Saudi dirt in their hem

So hold it right there please
We're the Saudi Police
Looking for sand in your boot

But mostly we'd call again
On those upstarts in Bahrain
To stop buying our sacred earth

We're sad and oh alas
Without sand in the hour glass
Time has run out on us!

No More Sandstorms

Rumsfeld Knew No Mao 

Letter in today's Guardian:

Perhaps the US and British in Iraq could learn from modern history about dealing with defeated ruling parties. During the Chinese civil war, defeated Kuomintang troops were incorporated into Communist ranks as the Red Army advanced. My former husband, a fighter pilot and then a Kuomintang diplomat, became a member of the Communist air force. After the People's Republic was established in 1949, a Kuomintang party was allowed to exist (Soong Ching Ling, sister of the late Madame Chiang Kai-shek, was a member).

There was little resistance by disgruntled elements of the old regime. Only after stabilisation was there a weeding out of 'undesirables'. Similar tactics towards members of the Ba'ath party, many of whom must have joined just to survive under Saddam, would save lives.

Esther Cheo Ying


Rumsfeld Knew No Mao

Monday, November 03, 2003

News From the World of Goons 

It wasn't quite Christmas day last Wednesday in the land of Turkey, just the rabid Kemalists celebrating their Republic Day in case you haven't noticed.

But you can't have a Republic Day without inviting people, right? Yes, sure, so the cards were out from the Presidential Office.

The President of this ultra-modern Kemalist Republic requests the presence of your goodself to a Republic Day do at the Presidential Palace, and your wife's invited too.
PS If you're a member of the Justice and Development Party, please leave your wife at home.

Dress: Don't let it get to your wife's head. Please.

The J&D party is moderately Islamist under the watchful eye of the ultra-modern Turkish army. Turkey, a country of Muslims, forbids Muslim women from covering their heads in universities and public offices.

We're democratically modernistic if you please, so we'll flirt with the skirts but the hejabs do give us the cold Turkey. More...

[That's enough bad puns for now. –Ed.] ß

News From the World of Goons

Saturday, November 01, 2003

News From the World of Travel II 

Some children of Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and Central Asia were thrown off a school bus for allegedly talking too loudly, while non-Muslim students were alllowed to continue their journey home. Other Muslim children on the same bus were ordered off some five miles from thier destination. The children were students of the Ft Caroline Middle School, Jacksonville, Florida.

In a repeat incident of apparent discrimination, another driver allegedly turned away these same children while other non-Muslim children at the same stop were allowed to board the bus to school. The Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-FL) is demanding an explanation from the Duval County School District and the bus company More... ß

News From the World of Travel II

Goodbye Mahathir 

Much has been said already about Dr Mahathir Mohamad. A man difficult not to respect, but a man not easily loved. His going was noted by the whole world: saluted by many, mostly by the developing countries that had looked up to him as their voice, and a mixed farewell from the developed ones. Now that the world has gone quiet in the onslaught of America's imperial diplomacy (or the lack of it), he will be sadly missed.

In his native Malaysia the farewell to Mahathir is pretty mixed. He has left the Malays - his own people - weak and divided, though those who have benefitted most from his policies have sounded out the loudest their final admiration for the man. His policies were grandiose, sometimes over ambitious even to the point of megalomania. His major programmes have been a qualified success, and the wayside is littered with monumental failures. The jury is still out on the measure of Mahathirism as a whole, and the time hasn't come for history to be harsh or kind. For the moment, misty eyed and overcome by the sheer force of the movement that became Mahathir's 'vision', the nation generally is bidding him farewell and - for better or worse - they shall miss him.

Dr M, as he became known, was a Prime Minister unlike any other in Malaysia. The father of Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman was a gentleman and the 'world's happiest PM', Abdul Razak was a man of the people and the father of rural development, Hussein Onn was an honest stickler to the rules and a rigid civil servant, but Mahathir Mohamad was none of those. He broke the old mould of Malaysian politics and cast a new thrusting one, dragging the country sometimes to the door of modernism. But in his modernist views he sometimes lost sight of old values, mistaking them as troublesome things, and a hindrance to his forward thinking. He created wealth but neglected the people, unlike Abdul Razak, who always had the commmon populace at heart. He was in a hurry to gather things, to make Malaysia a showcase. Hence the tallest building in the world, the rush to construct at whatever cost, the money poured aimlessly to influence the price of commodities. And he had a vision called 2020.

It is this vision thing that drove Mahathir more than anything else. And this anything else includes integrity, honesty, and common decency. For all his talk about growth, and development, and modernisation, Mahathir rarely spoke about corruption, about the decline of human values. The price for his Vision is high, and fat-cats abound. He made many people rich, but he did not make them principled. And the nation is the poorer for that. He constructed a new public transport system in Kuala Lumpur, but the tracks do not meet. When the chaos in the capital got too much, he moved it to another place.

As an autocrat in a democracy of compliant followers Mahathir was in a strong position to dictate his ways. But he did not use it to the fullest extent. There are probably more corrupt men now than there ever was in the nation's history, and there are men - too many - who have been bred on the ethos that money speaks. Money politics, favour-buying, money-rules-everything are some of the legacy of Mahathir Mohamad. Every person is a potential customer, every piece of land a real estate. He could have done it better but he wouldn't or couldn't.

The man cannot just be dismissed for all that. Having made powerful people in the country, and powerful enemies, Mahathir still continued to surprise. He stood up against the IMF and the World Bank at perhaps the most crucial time in his career. This one act changed many attitudes towards him, and what he did is generally accepted as a brave thing, a decent thing. The world looked up to Mahathir Mohamad, and many at home too changed their tune. He even advocated the gold dinar, something that has now caught the popular imagination, especially in the Muslim world. It then became easy for him to fill the vacuum, when the developing world was virtually leaderless. As his career came closer to the end he became more vociferous, and said many words that the common people in the world could agree with. His last, made at the OIC meeting in Putrajaya, reverberates even now.

How shall we now judge Mahathir Mohamad? As a strong leader who surrounded himself with weaklings? As a man who built for Malaysia, and destroyed much in the process? His influence is still strong, his work still undone. In a quieter, more distant time, when all the evidence have been sifted and weighed, then perhaps Tun Mahathir Mohamad's period of office will be properly examined.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, became Prime Minister, Malaysia 1981, stepped down 31 October, 2003 ß

Goodbye Mahathir

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