Friday, April 30, 2004

Anatomy Of A Train Ride 

Yesterday in the underground train I sat opposite a man whom I immediately recognised as Anthony Sampson, chronicler of change in British society, reading what looked to me like the Times newspaper. I couldn't pay too much attention to what he was reading as he was glaring at my Guardian the moment I produced it to continue looking at Bush gesturing at Dick Cheney. Besides, it's rude to stare back as you all know:

Bush & Dick
"And some of 'em have it this big in Iraq, it makes Kimmitt very angry."

But what really diverted my attention was his tie-of-the-day which was in direct contrast to his grey overcoat (well, it's end of April, but it'd been pouring all day). It had a blue background as I can remember, but this was really what caught my eye: On it was a great, big portrait of Nelson Mandela. We got off together at Charing Cross station, Sampson walking purposefully forward, and I taking the rear. It was not until we emerged in Trafalgar Square that I realised where he was heading for. On Wednesday there was loud celebration in the Square for the tenth anniversary of South Africa's freedom. As I walked past the South African embassy I saw many important looking people going hither and thither, so I guessed that Sampson was an invitee to an indoor shindig for South Africa for all the movers and shakers here.

Sampson, now a sprightly 77, has just published yet another Anatomy of Blighty, this time called The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century. In it he says:

"Revisiting some of the seats of power after 40 years, I have felt like a Rip Van Winkle waking up after a revolution. No one now talks about the ruling class. The dukes and earls have been sent packing from the House of Lords. The royals are presented as a soap opera about dysfunctional divorcees and the garden of Buckingham Palace is a venue for pop groups. The language of deference and protocol has lost its spell: the Sun calls the Queen 'Her Maj'; the Mirror reveals that she watches EastEnders. Our local pub has changed its name from the Princess Royal to the Slug and Lettuce.

"The ideal of the English gentleman has evaporated. No one talks about what's 'not done': now anything goes, with enough aggression. There are still two doors to success, marked Pull and Push, but Push is quicker and more effective. If anyone practises the old English understatement - 'I've done nothing much, really '- they are taken literally. No one follows the old imperial rule: 'Never ask for a job, never refuse one.' If you want a peerage, you do not wait for the Queen to offer one - you fill in a form to ask for it.

"The English seem to have been defeated in their own country..."

After spotting Sampson I met a friend who told me about a function he'd attended in the Prime Minister's residence, Downing Street, the previous Saturday which brought home to me what Sampson says above about changes in English society: that understatement is dead, and if you say that you're not really doing much, people might take you literally.

The friend told me that there he heard someone say to Cherie Blair, as an opening line, that he'd seen her portrait in a place that they both knew. "Oh, I'm a Bencher there," Mrs Blair replied sniffily. An old fashioned Englishman or woman would have been all embarrassed and would've come back with, "Oh, goodness, am I still there?" or something like that, I said, and he agreed.

Sampson wrote his first Anatomy in 1962, when being English meant something, when there was hypocrisy, yes, but brashness? No. Then, "Push" was just a sign on the door, but never a way of life; and The Times was the Thunderer and house magazine of the ruling class.

Maybe that's why he glared so hard at my daily rag of a newspaper.


Anatomy Of A Train Ride

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Catching the Wind 

Entry for 1976, from the Journals of poet Stephen Spender, published 1985:
"Some weeks ago in London I walked along Long Acre from Covent Garden where I had seen Gotterdammerung — alone as I thought, along the street I farted. It was much louder, after five hours of Wagner, than I had dreamed it could possibly be! Some boys and girls, rather charming, whom I had scarcely noticed, overheard me, or it, and started cheering. In the darkness I was more amused than embarrassed. Then a self important thought came in my mind. Supposing they knew that this old man walking along Long Acre and farting was Stephen Spender? What would they think?"

* * *

Among aid items requested by North Korea after the recent train blasts are:
15 Colour televisions.


Catching the Wind

Catalogue of Magic 

Long before coming to Blighty I was already enthralled by its magic.

Old Ellisdon's CatalogueWhen I finally made it to these shores one September a long time ago, my mind was busily pondering the meaning of gabardine wear (as recommended by a little booklet from the British Council), but my heart was set elsewhere. In the meantime I settled for a car coat, bought from a roadside stall just a short walk from the Earls Court Road. Car coats were all the rage then, so, suitably attired, I made my journey east, to stand on the pavement on the northern side of High Holborn, my eyes transfixed to an imposing building. It was from there I chewed my first sliver of bitter disappointment under a signboard which spelt in big letters: GAMAGES, a storehouse of little charm and an even greater paucity of magic.

What took me to High Holborn in the West Central district was a catalogue of things from long ago which I'd examined with head-spinning wonder, often alone, but sometimes with friends in a place that seemed like a distant planet from the pavement where I was standing now. The storehouse I was looking for was Ellisdon's, whose building I'd examined many a time on the front cover of its wonderful catalogue of 'novelties, magic and tricks'. Between its slim covers were a collection of true delight, power and fun to a little boy growing up in the sleepy backwater of Kuala Trengganu.

Ellisdon's had touched me in many ways. I had itched for its tricks, longed for its magic, and saved for its gadgetry that promised untold powers. They were all explained in little, boxed pictures which must've been drawn by Ellisdon's own catalogue makers with unreserved glee. There was a little boy standing on the roadside, feigning innocence, while a worker, huffing and puffing with a trunk on his back was bewildered by sounds coming from within. "Throw your voice", the caption urged. There was the Seebackroscope which let you peer at the antics of a courting couple sitting on a park bench behind you. There was the magic soot for throwing on your friend's freshly laundered white shirt, and then of course the wonderful Magic Skeleton; I still remember that. "It obeys your command", the catalogue said.

Old Ellisdon's catalogue"But how can?" a Chinese friend I'd shown the catalogue to asked. Then, looking accusingly at me, he said: "You Malays do it with bomohs, but this!" Such was the lure of Ellisdon's that we were sent in a tizz by its copywriting magic, and the lure of its pictures. Bird warbler, black eye patch, itching powder, black dye soap, were all grist to Ellisdon's magical mill.

I sent in for Ellisdon's catalogue once or twice, and the request — written in a primary schoolboy's scrawl and always ending with a plea for understanding for "my poor English" was always fulfilled by return, in an A4 envelope. Ellisdon's was a forgiving company in the days when the word of a little boy in Trengganu was bond. (I sent in requests for stamps on approval too, from a company called Broadway Approvals in South London, and the stamps always arrived by airmail in a little booklet, sealed in a gentlemen's bond of understanding that I'd pay for my selection by return postal order together with those stamps that were not wanted. I always did.)

Seeing how Ellisdon's the magical store had turned into mundane Gamages was to me like Camelot transformed into a travelling circus. It broke my heart, but it reminded me of the transience of magic, the ending of dreams. I wish I'd kept those precious catalogues, I wish I'd availed myself of more of its secrets when it was still an electrifying store in another place — but alas, my schoolboy's income on the windswept shore of Kuala Trengganu allowed me nothing more than a plastic membrane stretched across a semi-circular gadget called 'bird warbler' by Ellisdon's catalogue. It cost just a little under 6d as I remember, and when it arrived, I blew on it as instructed, and it made noises like no bird I knew; but that was one of Ellisdon's little secrets.

It's been a long time since I last set foot in High Holborn, once so full of magic and lawyers, but now with the added glitz of dealers, bankers and hustlers of this privatised world. Ellisdon's long gone now, with its magic and its tricks, its itching powder and Pharaonic snakes; even my Chinese friend, I hear, has moved on to another place, to Australia, with me banished forever from his thought. But someday perhaps, while sitting under a billabong, he'll start thinking of Ellisdon's again, and the shamanic magic of the Malay bomoh too.

ENDNOTE: While looking for surviving pictures from Ellisdon's catalogue I was fortunate to have made the acquaintance Joel Biroco who, I gather, is a man of magic and magick, and an artist to boot. He keeps an elegant site of weblogs and other fascinating pursuits. In his reply to my mail Joel reminded me of something else from Ellisdon's that I'd completely forgotten:

I have a clear picture in my mind's eye of those illustrations you mention, let's not forget the X-ray spex and the curious time machine, which I gather from the ad copy that you wrapped in your handkerchief and it did its time travel sight unseen and then when you unwrapped it it had returned back just in time for you to see it again. Amazing, but alas my credulity wasn't sufficient to buy that one, wish I had, always wondered about the idea of buying a time machine for 2/6d mail-order. Maybe those old catalogues would be valuable now.

The catalogue of Ellisdons selections shown here is prehistoric. I don't know if they contained the items advertised in the latter day ones. I am unable to find any of those, perhaps they're all now in time's handkerchief, sight unseen, until it is ready to unfold.


Catalogue of Magic

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Safe Pair of Hands 

wandering hands

On the David Letterman show, when the cameras were not rolling. What's happening? Whose hands?

His Mum said this:

"Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it's going to happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Oh, I mean, it's, not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

Click HERE for a revealing experience.


Safe Pair of Hands

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

New Flag of Freedom 

Iraq has a new flag, white and blue and a strip of yellow to represent the Kurds.

They even have a crescent in a different shade of blue on a white background, presumably to represent Islam, whose colour is green. But there isn't a drop of green in the banner of the new, democratic, free Iraq. There's not a tinge of the old red either, nor the black stripe that ran across the bottom of the old one. The three green stars are of course out, as is the inscription "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Great") put in by Saddam Hussain in the 1980s, some say in his own handwriting.

"This is a new era," said Iraqi Council spokesman Hameed al-Kafaei. "We cannot continue with Saddam's flag."
So now true blue Iraqis will have to look at the stripes in their flag and think of another that flies in a country close to them.

§ Aquacool § Je Blog § Subzero Blue


New Flag of Freedom

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Anti-American, Moi? 

You may do your thing, hula the hoop, fall off your blog; if that's what you like, that's fine by me, it's all right. Then something caught my attention: some rhetorical spiel by someone called Rachel just as I'd about cleared my head from the after-effects of the mysterious bug.

It's a portentous study our Rachel's done, an International Weblog Study-1, and if the film Death Wish and the proclitivities of Michael Winner provide any hints of how things grow, I can safely assume that there'll be one or two more of that. So bully for her, and I welcome that.

But what particularly caught my attention in Rachel's study was this:

Well, leaving aside the slightly skewered translation of Jalan-Jalan for the time being, what amused me was her very perceptive remark about Malaysia where "some people aren't letting the information age pass them by". This before letting out her true purport, how she wishes that some of us would just give it a miss. She gave me the honour of a special mention (Thanks, Rachel!), which you may or may not want to re-read above.

I'm not anti-anyone Rachel, not even Americans, but it riles me to see acts of injustice done against my co-religionists, against anyone in fact; and it riles me even more if such acts go unremarked. No, I don't think — as you seem to suggest — that I should show my respect and keep quiet, just because it's rude to point. What you've said, that you've never heard an Asian speak too much against their own leadership is patently false, and contardicts even what you've just said yourself, but we'll leave it there to rest.

As it happens, it's not Malaysia but the United States that's showering the earth with depleted uranium and bombarding and sniping at women and children in Iraq and doing other things too besides. So I'm at this moment deeply critical of the US not because I have a rabid hatred for them but because I've tried to put myself in the position of that old man who was shot in the back in front of his own house in Falluja and left there to rot because family members couldn't leave the house to pull him back; that old lady, shot in the head by US snipers, still clutching to her white flag; the little innocent ones who're in the makeshift hospital (because the Americans closed the main one and sniped at those attempting to go to the other). I tried to be in their position, but of course I couldn't. But what I think I know is that they don't enjoy being shot at, being beseiged and bombed by the mightest army on earth.

And this morning I heard that Foreign Secretary of Blighty Jack Straw hemming and hawing, giving his nos about this, but, his technically yes but not yets, and his seminal but not quite kind of talk regarding the handing of power back to the Iraqis on the breakfast radio; and what barefaced cheek, I thought.

Thanks for dropping in Rachel, I enjoyed the pictures on your blog. Jumpa lagi!

PS All this has made me long even more for my good friend Dr John Azelvandre, whom I urge you to visit. How're you John, you alright? And oh, I enjoyed your photos too, of spring, especially the flowering crab apple which we once had in our little garden, but it died. Nothing to do with me John, promise, oh how I miss it now!


Anti-American, Moi?

Blast From the Past 

Almost two months ago, in Past in the Present I wrote about a friend who accused the West of having plundered our heritage. My comment was that maybe we in Malaysia should thank them too for having preserved the bulk of our literary heritage for us. I then wandered off — as usual — in many directions, stopping briefly at the Parthenon in Athens where I said in passing that it was used as a Muslim prayer hall during Turkish rule.

The ParthenonThis brought a quick and stiff riposte from Azlan Adnan whose note I quoted in a subsequent Betablog, Bringing it all back home. Azlan said: "[I]t was the blasted Turks who used it as an ammunition dump and blew it up to prevent their enemies from getting hold of the ammo." It sounded pretty much like what I'd heard myself, so I left it at that and thanked Azlan so. I was and will always be grateful to people who take the time to right my wrongs or to illuminate further anything I've said here.

Last week, while confined to bed for a couple of days by some mysterious bugs, my head feeling like weights of stone, what sprang to mind but those Parthenon marbles. Thus confined, I decided to travel. In his Traveller's History of Athens, Richard Stoneham made me realise how unjust I'd been to those Usmanli Turks who, under Sultan Mehmet II, captured Athens on 4th June 1456 after having already won a large part of Greece at the Battle of Varna in 1444, under another Sultan, Murat.

The incident Azlan referred to happened in September, 1687. The Parthenon, which started as a Temple, then became a Catholic cathedral under Frankish rule, was by then a mosque and a powder magazine. But contrary to what we thought, it wasn't the Turks who fired at the Parthenon to keep the enemies away from the gunpowder. This dubious honour belongs to a sixty-six year old Venetian named Francesco Morosini, then in command of a combined army of Venice, Rome, Austria and Poland set up in 1686 in a holy alliance against the Ottoman Empire.

Armed with cannons on the Hill of Philopappus on 24th September 1687, Morosini ordered his men to fire towards the Acropolis. On the 26th they hit the roof of the Parthenon, causing a mighty bang which dislodged the central columns, bringing down almost everything - roof, cella walls, "the pronaos and the metopes and frieze slabs in the centre of the north and south walls."

A member of the combined army named Cristoforo Ivanovich later wrote:

"...that famous temple of Minerva, which so many centuries and so many wars had not been able to destroy, was ruined."

Shocked by the power of the blast, and alarmed by the weight of masonry tumbling down on them, the Turks were forced to surrender to the Venetian general, but returned later when things moved once again moved in their favour, to stay until well into the first two decades of the 19th century.

Morosini in victory did not stay long in Athens though, he found difficult to defend. By the end of December he was already packing to go but not without one final thought on the Acropolis which had been severely blasted by his gunfire. He thought of destroying the walls of the Acropolis fortress, but then thought better of it. Stoneman continues the story:

"However, he did try to remove some sculptures from the Parthenon pediment, which fell to the ground during the operation and were smashed (16 March 1688); so they were left where they were. Morosini was more successful with the huge marble lion that had stood for centuries on the shore at Piraeus and given the port its name of Porto Leone; he removed this to Venice (with three others), where it still stands by the Arsenal."

Back in Venice the vandal was not reprimanded but elected to high office. So it wasn't the Turks that did it, it was the Doge Morosini.


Blast From the Past

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

News From the Mad House 

Cheney deranged.

The North Koreans have made an important discovery in advanced psychiatry. AFP reports:

North Korea slammed US Vice President Dick Cheney as "mentally deranged" and accused him of using his recent Asian tour to incite bitterness toward the communist country.

"It considered Cheney as a mentally deranged person steeped in the inveterate enmity towards the system in the DPRK (North Korea) long ago as he is the boss of the neo-conservative forces in the US," a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said. Read More...

COMING NEXT: "I'm taking the tablets, I feel a lot better now." — D. Rumsfeld

§ Bush is unstable, says Nader § ...Sharon is a criminal, says another § ...And Bush and Sharon will fry in hell, says Rabbi


News From the Mad House

Right of Return 

Bush's new revolutionary plan for peace endorses all that's claimed by Sharon: unilateral right to determine Israel's borders, annexation of Palestinian land, acceptance of illegal settlements, then this: no right of return for Palestinians. Of the 9 million Palestinians, 7 million are in exile, waiting, longing for the homeland they were forced to leave in 1948. All hopes dashed now because Bush — like Sharon — says it's unreasonable to ask for return. It was so long ago.

But compare that to what's in this news report which appeared in the Independent newspaper of 20th October 2002.

Sephardic Jews call for right of return to Spain

By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid

Sephardic Jews from around the world assembled in Barcelona last week to campaign for the right to return to their Spanish homeland — which they call Sefarad — from which their ancestors were expelled by Catholic monarchs in 1492.

"I hope Spain will take up the challenge and restore nationality to those Spaniards who were expelled, and I hope this will take months, rather than years," said Giaco Ventura, president of the World Sephardic Congress Foundation and a Barcelona businessman.

"We want to recover our nationality by right: our people did not leave because they wanted to, but because they were forced," said Albert Levy Oved, head of the Latin American Sephardic community.

1948 is distant, but 1492 ain't further by far.


Right of Return

Friday, April 16, 2004

Inside the White House 

We've obtained a transcript of the Bush-Sharon discussions in the White House that led to Bush's full endorsement of Sharon's policy of annexation.

Afternoon, White House. Sharon waddles into the Oval office.

BUSH: Sharom Mr Shalon. Colin [Powell] still remembers his Yiddish from his grocery days in Brooklyn. He says to you — I have it written down here — lockshen pudding and a packet of matzot to you sir, and much gefilte fish.
Sharon giving Bush his list. Source:politicalhumor.com

SHARON: Good afternoon to you my little Goy!

BUSH: We are two of a kind Mr Prime Minister, sir. God spoke to your people, and God spoke to me soon after I got elected. I wish your people hale and hearty, may our God deliver you from the clutches of the Philistines.

SHARON: May G*d bless you too sir, and may He bless America. I have here a piece of paper which you must read for the press later. The gist of it is...

BUSH: The gist of it is the Philistines have no claim to the holy land of Israel or Philadelphia. They're Ay-rabs with towels on their heads. Har, har, now you've got them all cowering behind a wall. We must drive them back to the land of Ay-rabs. All this talk of right of return, it's ridiculous —

SHARON: Yes, Mr President of all the American parts and the land Eretz Israel. Ridiculous. They left so long ago, 19..

BUSH: I know, I know, 1948 that was. So long ago. Too long a time. Ridiculous that they now want to go home. Let them go to the land of that short man whatsisname in Jordan, I say. Ey-raq's too near for them, let them go to Yay-men, I say. Let them tend their patch in this little place they call Pay-lestine. Remind me now Ariel Mr Prime sir, what is the basis of your people's claim so I can tell my people.

SHARON: In the Bible O President of the Goyim people, it is said: two thousand years ago, yes siree, we were there. Now we all, from Brooklyn, from Newark, New Jersey and Germany, and Poland and everywhere all want to go back. We long for a plot for our people.

BUSH: But these Philistines, we have to deal with them. They're throwing stones and things at y'all.

SHARON: "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people," said Golda Meir.

BUSH: Old Testament, ok! I read that too at Sunday school.

SHARON: Old Prime Minister. Close.

BUSH: Condoleeza!

SHARON: Bless you Mr Presdient, G*d bless your sir!

BUSH: Condoleeza!

SHARON: Maazel Tov, sir!

[Enter, Condoleeza Rice, formerly a ship, presently the National Security Adviser]

SHARON: Ah, it's Condie my precious! I thought you were unwell Mr President, sir.

RICE: Is there anything else you'd like me put into this joint statement for the press O wise Prime Minister?

SHARON: Tell them Israel has to be strong to fight those religious bigots, those fundamentalist people who are against all secular ideals and democracy, who want to rule by the Kor-aaan.

RICE: Got that, excuse me while I type it out for you.

BUSH: Er, what's this again about the right of Israel to exist in this text here. It's all in joined up writing, see.

SHARON: It says there, Mr President sir, that Israel is a holy land for the Jews and for no other people. That it's in the Bible, New Testament and Old, at the end of time Israel shall be glorious; and we cannot go against the words of G*d, can we sir?

BUSH: Hallelujah!

SHARON: [winks] And my Goy, I like your joke about looking for WMDs here, looking for WMDs there. Wonderful! You're becoming as good as some of our own Jewish comedians.

BUSH:Haar, haar! I like that too. You know, I've been readin' the Bible, maybe I can add a little joke too to lighen your people. You people sold ice cream there right from the beginning of time, the company of Walls of Jericho; it's in the Bible.

SHARON: Haaar, haar! Yes, we people have been there a long time now.

[Next instalment: Condie Rice mentions the Khazar people.]

§ The Bush Declaration: from Deir Yassin to Fallujah § Sharon's triumph is Blair's defeat §Mr Sharon's Coup §Bush Press Conference Again Scripted Beforehand


Inside the White House

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Funny Man Talking 

A Palestinian farmer in the West Bank village of Bidou enjoying an IDF soldier's joke when he said he was going to cut down dozens of his olive trees and build a huge wall on his land last Wednesday 7th April.

Ex Rabbi, ex-comedian Jackie Mason is a laugh and a bigot. He refused to appear on stage with another comedian, Ray Hanania, because he was Palestinian. He co-wrote a piece in the Jewish World Review in January 2003 in which he wrote these gems:

"We will never win this war unless we immediately threaten to drive every Arab out of Israel."

"Why are we obligated to care where they go?"

So, as you can see, Mason is a very funny guy indeed. Almost as funny as a man named Heilbrun, who was chairman of the Committee for the Re-election of General Shlomo Lahat, Mayor of Tel Aviv, last October. He, another budding Israeli comedian, said then:

"We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves."

So, if you happen to be in Chicago anytime between 13th and 18th April, and if you prefer your comedians to be funny, not bigots, go to the Auditorium Theatre between 6.30 and 7.30 pm each night to express your disgust at this ex-Rabbi, ex-comedian Jackie Mason. This one hour demonstration is organised nightly by Chicagoan Arabs and Jews.

And oh, this is what Mason's agent said when he refused to appear with Chicagoan Arab comedian and writer Ray Hanania:
"It's not exactly like he's just an Arab-American...This guy's a Palestinian. We were not told about it ahead of time. Jackie does not feel comfortable having a Palestinian open for him. Right now it's a very sensitive thing."

§What the Green Line means


Funny Man Talking

Sunday, April 11, 2004

The Things They Say 

"They think power in Iraq should come out of the barrel of a gun...that is intolerable."
Paul Bremer, on the insurrection

Click for bigger image
Cartoon Comment by Steve Bell of the Guardian

§ Iraqi Battalion Refuses to 'Fight Iraqis'


The Things They Say

Whirling Dervishes 

Easter Sunday Special.

Book of Hours. Been dancin' a long time.The devil may have the best tunes, but now, in a change of heart, they're taking the tunes to the devil.

They are the evangelical christians, whose most prominent son the Rev. Franklin Graham (son of the famous Billy), called Islam an "evil" religion. Another of their famous sons, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention Jerry Vines, put the boot in too by calling the Prophet Muhammad a "paedophile".

Now they've decided maybe it's time for a more respectful dialogue with these evil people. Let's sing, they now say. Let's dance in their honour. Hallelujah!

And so now, for the benefit of you evil bastar...er, Muslims, we present the all-singing, all-dancing, all soaked-up perpetual Baptists in a Christian music festival in Morocco. Then they're into humanitarian relief projects, and then, when they're all sobered up and looking pretty, a theological conference too.

"We have stereotypes of Muslims, and they certainly do of conservative Christians. They're both caricatures we need to dispense with," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for government affairs at the Washington-based National Association of Evangelicals.

Now, now, what will all those Muslims in Morocco think of all this then?

"We don't want the whole Islamic world to think that a couple of spokesmen, though well-intentioned perhaps, speak for everyone. We're taught to love people," said the Rev. Harry L. Thomas, a Medford, N.J., producer of Christian concerts. "I don't know anyone who has been won over by hate talk. We prefer to reach out and build some bridges."

Love, as they say, thy Berber.

§ Evangelical Christians reach out to Muslims.


Whirling Dervishes

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Good Morning Fallujah 

This is a day of shame for the world, not for rejoicing because one year ago Saddam was overthrown.

Today it's on TV all over again, that fake toppling of Saddam's statue staged by the US in Ferdows Square for the benefit of the world. Americans so love these iconic moments, but this one's just as fake as those marines strugging to uphold the flag in Iwo Jima. And today they even brought out that Rageh Omar once again to repeat the moment.

A gaggle of Muslim scholars also came out condemning the assault on Fallujah. What a load of tripe our scholars can offer us on a platter. Why don't they call for a boycott of Coke, US goods, fashion houses, Starbuck cafe throughout the Muslim world? Why can't they appeal directly to the ummah to wake up their leaders from slumber? That is the least they can do to show solidarity with their suffering brothers and sisters in Fallujah.

I have Shi'ah friends whose relatives, now in Najaf for the pilgrimage, are constantly texting them distress messages. This is the reality of Iraq now under Paul Bremer: sweet revenge for the death of those four contractors killed by "foreign fighters" who mutilated their bodies. Foreign fighters? Why are the ordinary people of Falluijah punished now? No, shameful as it is, the people who perpetrated the deed were the ordinary people in the street who were sick and fed up with strangers in their midst who'd overstayed their welcome. It was a bad thing to do, a wrong thing to do, but the Americans should have read that they did it in anger.

Today Sunnis and Shi'ah are marching together, and in Basra they prayed together in solidarity. All this harks back to 1920 when both Sunnis and Shi'ahs joined hands against the British invaders. History appears to be repeating itself, but what now?

In the puppet governing Council Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar tells Al Jazeera television that he is considering resignation because what they are seeing is the liquidation of a whole city. Another Council member, Abdul Karim al-Mohammadawi, has suspended his membership. Maybe the prediction of people like Naomi Klein is beginning to take shape with the so-called Ruling Council in disarray and the country in turmoil: "Look," Bremer will say, "this country is ungovernable. We can't be leaving, we must stay. No handing over of power just now."

It is a sad thing when your homes are being blown apart, your family killed by the firepower of the very people who are there to teach you the ideas of democracy and to save you from an evil dictator. But what the world's turned to is that people who are supposedly decent are now possessed by the Sharonist evil. So look who's cheering now.

This month also marks the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide when 800,000 Tutsis were massacred in ten days. The US lifted not a finger then, nor the UN where Kofi Annan was then working as head of peacekeeping. The Tutsis died then as the Iraqis are dying now, but there's a difference: the Tutsis died while they were being deprived of democratic rights, the Iraqis are dying now while they're being given democracy.

§ U.S. Forces Want Al-Jazeera Out Of Fallujah § Israel supports US troops in Iraq § Anger Grows on Iraqi Governing Council


Good Morning Fallujah

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Iraq Lit By Fire 

Last night as I was deep in thought about the number of women Body count in Fallujah. Source: aljazeera.comthat have been bedded by David Beckham and the many more who're coming out to say they've been rogered too by our most prolific goal-scorer, His Smugness Donald Rumsfeld (Bush's comical Ali) popped up on the TV decrying this sudden rise in "terrorism" in Iraq.

Fallujah is under siege, worshippers are blasted in a mosque, and Baghdad is burning. Then an American army chap appeared from somewhere in Iraq to proclaim to a TV reporter that these "foreign fighters" must be driven out. So, leaving Beckham aside for now, I had this picture of things as they were unfurling in Iraq: foreign fighters [please tick one or more as you wish: al-Qaida, Taliban, Sendero Luminoso, the Bee Bop Preservation Society] running wild, terrorists (presumably the local disgruntled) galore, and maybe even remnants of the Ba'athists too standing in the way of reconstruction by the Americans and their allies.

Then came Rumsfeld again. There are people there who do not want us to introduce democracy in Iraq, there are people who're stopping children going to school. So in addition to assorted foreigners who're standing the way of these Americans' good intentions there are also anti-democrats and well, obscurantists who want kids to stay home as part of their political ideology.

That apart, the rest of the Iraqi population — from Ahmad Chalabi downwards — are solidly behind Bush and America now.

So one year on what have the Americans done for Iraq? Not a lot from what I've read. Power supply still unrestored, unemployment still running very high, and depleted uranium still blowing in the wind. Why aren't the Americans doing anything about this lethal dust that's contaminating the air and the sands of Iraq? Because they're too busy building pipelines to transport oil well beyond the Iraqi border, handing out communication contracts to Israeli companies, and making Halliburton and their ilk rich from the spoils of war.

Oh, the hand-wringing of Donald Rumsfeld. We warned them about the Pilgrimage (to Karbala) he said, we told them it'd be dangerous. So who did the Ashura bombing in Karbala? We don't know. Presumably they were Sunnis, the Shi'ah hating al-Qaeda. This Shi'ah-Sunni divide is a big thing in Iraq; how they love the schisms of war. It's hard to read any report coming out of Iraq that doesn't also remind us about the favoured Sunnis and the downtrodden Shi'ahs, and how disgruntled the Sunnis are now. Perhaps it's a prelude to breaking up Iraq into three parts, Sunni, Shi'ah, and Kurds (the Kurds are Sunnis too, but they deserve special favour). Perhaps it's the only thing they can find to explain why after sending Saddam to a hole, after sending his statue toppling in that stunt in the Square, the Iraqis are still an unhappy lot.

What's heartening is that the population of Iraq — Sunnis and Shi'ahs — have largely ignored this divisive propaganda that's been hurled at them. Yesterday, as Iraq was imploding, I couldn't help noticing a little item implanted into a report coming from there that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of the al-Qaeda had issued a tape urging the Sunnis to continue battle and — wait for it — to continue attacking the treacherous Shi'ahs. Where do these tapes come from? I wonder.

Shi'ah-Sunni humanitarian convoy to FallujahSo it was heartening to see a mixed humanitarian convoy of Sunnis and Shi'ahs march to beseiged Fallujah where, it's reported, dead bodies are rotting and the living are facing hell because the American forces are preventing people from entering or leaving. They convoy was fired upon by US soldiers who did not want them to be there. Maybe they did not like what the convoy members were chantring: "No Sunnis, no Shi'ahs, yes for Islamic unity. We are Sunni and Shi'ah brothers and will never sell our country".

The Iraqis are among the best educated people in the Middle East. They can make their power stations work again, and their oil wells flow without Bush, Rumsfeld or Bremmer breathing down their necks. Time then for them to go.

§ A Year of US Occupation Bears Strange Fruit § 130 US soldiers killed? § Statement by the Muslim Council of Britain § Cartoonist Steve Bell on the escalating violence


Iraq Lit By Fire

Saying It Like Ken 

I must remember to add Londra mayor Ken Livingstone to my shortlist for the most Blogworthy Person Award 2004. Ken's been blogged about at least twice here, and today I have to mention him again for saying:

"I'd like to see him locked up in the next cell to the former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic."

"I just long for the day I wake up and find that the Saudi Royal family are swinging from the lamp-posts and they've got a proper government that represents the people of Saudi Arabia."

"I'm not even sure he was aware there were any Palestinians before he was elected, any more than he knew the name of the President of Pakistan."

"[There will be no peace until] the West shows it is taking on board the injustice of what's happening to Palestinians, and looks at the financial network of corruption between some of the oil sheikhdoms , the oil companies and the White House."

Recently, on the eve of the Dubya tour of Londra he said that the President was the biggest threat to world peace. He was in the wilderness then, having been kicked out of the ruling Labour party. Now, back in the fold, he's saying much the same thing, again.

Will he ever learn? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: "Attaboy, Ken!"

§ Red Ken enters his purple patch § Rivals round on mayor's 'rant'


Saying It Like Ken

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Children Under Siege 

Ali Kashmar before detention Kashmar, after release

Two weeks after Ali Kashmar [picture, left] had this photograph taken of him he was taken away by the Israeli army. He was fourteen when they took him to the notorious Khiam prison for reasons unknown. "Maybe it was some anti-Israel remark I made in the playground," he said.

From her home in Khiam her mother Sobiyeh would go to the rooftop for a view of the notorious prison where she knew Ali was being held. She'd talk to him, and ask: "My son, what are they doing to you?" Ten years later in 1998, she was looking at him, but didn't know who he was. After years of detention, interrogation, torture, Ali was among 99 people released by Israel in an exchange with Lebanon. Of those released, 44 were bodies of the dead; Ali was lucky to be alive.

"Mum, look at me...it's me!" he shouted to the mother who didn't even know her son [picture above, right] any more. That was how long he'd been gone.

In prison you're no longer a person. Ali said on his release that when he caught sight of himself in a mirror in Khiam prison he looked back to see who was standing behind him. He couldn't recognise himself. Many Palestinian children came out of Khiam prison maimed, injured, disoriented, walking like the living dead.

In Palestine now children are living in one big prison, sleeping to the rumble of cannons, awoken by the clanking of tanks of the occupying forces. Then, one mighty crash or two, as homes are demolished, families are thrown out into the streets, their former home just a pile of rubble now.

It's scary enough for the adults. For the children it's a life of pain, trauma, death. The psychological strains they face are expressed in many ways: disturbed sleep, bed-wetting, stress, and poor concentration. According to one estimate, 60 percent of Palestinian childrern are in need of psychological help. Imagine having to live life not only fearing for yourself, but also for your parents and loved ones. Imagine living under constant harrassment, seeing the parents that you hold in high esteem being frisked, beaten, injured and humiliated before your eyes.

And imagine how Mohammad al-Durra felt when he was caught between gunfire, being protected by a father who was helpless but could only scream, "Don't shoot!" Mohammad al-Durra died, as did other Palestinian children who were killed in their beds, in the playground, on their way to school. In much of the reporting that you read they're to blame of course, for being there. Perhaps the Palestinians are to blame for being Palestinians, for being there.

It is a shame when children are made the pawns of war. It's a shame when children are made to suffer or are killed — black, white, Arab or Jew — but Palestinian children are in a terrible plight; their education is constantly interrupted, their parents deprived of livelihood, their lives and their homes under constant threat.

In the forty-two months of the second Intifada 651 Palestinian children (all below 18) were murdered by the Israeli army, more than 30 new born babies died at military checkpoints in Gaza and the West Bank because the occupying forces wouldn't let them through.

An estimated 10,000 children were wounded during that period.

Is there a Convention prohibiting this act of terrorism against people so young? Yes there is, but I can't remember which because there're so many of them. And the world has forgotten it too, so what the heck!

Is there a Convention against the demolition of civilian homes in an occupied land? Yes there is, but don't ask the world because they've forgotten that too.

Yesterday 5th April was the International Day of the Palestinian child: but s/he was too busy trying to live to remember that.

§ Children Under Occupation § The Torture of Palestinian Children Under Israeli Occupation § Palestinian Children and the second Intifada § The notorious Khiam prison (and read what prison and torture did to Ali)

Children Under Siege

Monday, April 05, 2004

Thinking Blair 

The Parish of St Albion makes more sense of what's happening in Blairite Blighty than real life.

St Albion is a parody of Blair in government as seen through the satirical magazine Private Eye. From his parish the Reverend T. Blair sends out fortnightly missives in his parish newsletter, saying buenos dias to his new found friend Brother Zapatero, reporting on the progress of his one-time spin doctor Mr Campbell who recently did a one man travelling show, or delivering a sharp aside against the parish treasurer Mr G. Brown who is said to be too eager to defrock the upstanding Vicar. Everything's hunky dory then under the incumbent Rev. A.R.P.Blair M.A. (Oxon).

In real life things are very strange indeed: the Prime Minister gets all muddled up about WMDs, uncertain about the beginning of the war on Iraq, and things are falling apart in his own party for want of credibility. The latest to fall is the ambitious immigration minister Beverley Hughes over a muddle about illegal Romanian immigrants, though I'm myself unsure what this is all about because it seems so strange. The gist of it is that Hughes denied knowing anything about some deal to let in as many illegal Romanian immigrants as possible into Blighty so long as the number of asylum seekers from that country is kept down. I found the idea so fantastic that I head to read it twice, and then before I could read it again the third time Hughes had already resigned because it all turned out to be true. We do not yet know who initiated this or how exactly, but all everyone's saying now is that it's the government that'll be reaping the benefit from this reduction in asylum figures. They'll be able to turn to the electorates and say: "Look, as promised, we've cut down the number of asylum seekers."

How much stranger than fiction is fact, so Hughes had to resign, but still she couldn't put the matter to rest. People are now asking how much did the Reverend Blair know?

Judging from what he's been saying, not much. For instance he'd been saying that the attack on Iraq hadn't been pre-planned but it was something he and Bush had to resort to because Saddam had this capability to launch weapons of undescribable horror withing 45 minutes. Never mind the truth or falsehood of this 45 minutes of impending doom, now a former British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, has come out saying that as Blair was cosying up to Bush in the White House nine days after the 9-11 attack Bush was already talking about attacking Iraq.

It's that perennial question about the goldfish again, isn't it? How long can a goldfish's remember? How long can a prime minister remember living as he does in his glodfish bowl?Private Eye cover. Source:private-eye.co.uk

There's something definitely fishy about Blair, right from the time news first leaked out that he and his wife are a pretty New Age couple. The wife employs a strange woman who advises her on New Age things, like the need to wear a special pendant to ward off bad vibes, or how best to clarify her aura, what things to wear for the best feng-shui, and probably even on how to awaken her kundalini. It also turned out that this New Age guru Carol Caplin also had a say on what type of smalls Blair ought to wear. But let's be charitable about this, he's a busy man with little time to nip down to the local Marks & Sparks. Then news came, though not connected directly to Caplin this time but to her conman boyfriend who helped the Blairs to buy not one but two flats in the town where their son goes to university. But again, let's face it, how many Prime Ministers do have the time to nip down to his local estate agent to discuss matters of leaseholds and pepeprcorn rents in respect of a flat or two? And how many estate agents do you know that haven't also turned out to be unreformed conmen or pretty close to that?

Oh yes, Blair has told a few fibs in his time, like the time he said that he as a young boy went out to see a famous footballer. Smart Aleck observers with too much time at hand of course got out their calculators and concluded that it was a very young Blair in his nappies indeed who'd gone to meet this particular player. Then recently he said that in his younger days he'd slept rough after having to sing for his supper to the accompaniment of his guitar.

The best moment for me was to see the look on his face when, in one of his earlier meet the people sessions, he was asked by the interviewer Jeremy Paxman if he, a prayerful man, ever prayed together with Bush in the White House. You should've seen the look of disbelief on the Blair face!

Well, the Reverend Blair is a God-fearing man who goes to Church regularly, though unlike his friend Bush he hasn't admitted to hearing any orders yet from God on the conduct of world affairs. All we know is that the last time he made a prediction about the world coming to an end in 45 minutes he got it so very wrong that by the time we resurfaced from our bunkers Iraq was already under fire, and it was months before they could pull out our former ally Saddam Hussein from his which was cleverly concealed under some date palms in the suburbs of Tikrit or somewhere. And how he was longing for a barber!

Meanwhile, in a tent somewhere in a desert outside Tripoli, Blair sipped camel's milk and shook the hand of a reformed Colonel. All part of his keep-the-world-safe venture, of course. The late Anwar Sadat told an English journalist that he once lent a submarine to this amiable Colonel Gaddafi but had to ask for its return because our man of the Green Book was firing shots at the British cruise liner the QEII. Later, when this journalist met Gaddafi, he asked him why. "It was such a good idea," replied the Colonel.

"But you can't do that to a ship named after my Queen," said the journalist.

"Ah, right you are," replied Gaddafi, now seeing the error of his ways.

Maybe it was this story that made Blair see the reasonableness of the man to make the now famous visit to his desert tent. I once mentioned here that an anti-Gaddafi Libyan grocer I once knew in West Londra was brutally murdered one morning as he was about to open his shop, and the murderers were believed to have been the Colonel's men. London isn't of course the only capital in Europe where these G-men men were known to operate against the enemies of the Green Revolution. There are many Libyan widows and orphans now in European capitals, thanks to the Colonel's far-reaching tentacles.

Maybe Blair's intelligence people didn't tell him about this, maybe he simply frogot to ask the amiable Colonel about it when they met in the fancy tent. Just before Blair left for Libya, Shell the oil giant had disclosed some terrible news about dwindling supplies; but soon after Blair left Tripoli, Shell was cock-a-hoop with new contracts in — surprise, surprise — Libya.

So at least the tireless, justice-seeking Vicar, like other leaders of the Western world, knew where the priorities were, even as he was sipping milk in a tent with the dreaded Colonel.


Thinking Blair

Friday, April 02, 2004

Reading the Past 

Sejarah MelayuIt's eerie isn't it when you read a book and feel connected with the past, when the story began to unfold. No, I don't mean books of our time that retell the past or are set in times long ago, but I'm talking about literature of long ago that are still speaking to us.

Recently Z mentioned to me that in the Sejarah Melayu, the Malay Annals, that sacred body of the Malay volksgeist, there's an interesting insight into the reading (and here I use the word loosely) habit of the Malays in Melaka when it was still glorious. Just before they went to war, those Melaka warriors asked to be read the Hikayat Muhamad Hanafiyyah, probably to give them spirit before meeting the Feringgi, or probably because they just loved tales of courage and chivalry. I find this an extremely moving insight into an aspect of life in Melaka of the Sultanate, to know that a particular Hikayat — which they must've read or had it read to them many, many times — was the reading material of choice before they went to war.

After going through the Hikayat myself I can now understand how it moved them so. Muhammad Hanafiyyah was the half brother of Hassan and Hussain, the grandchildren of the Prophet, and in the Hikayat, as you would expect, there's factionalism aplenty and men constantly coming to blows on the battlefield. And as you'd also expect form a story woven around the Prophet's grandchildren, there's also this necessity to sift facts from fiction, the need to distinguish between what really happened on the ground and what's merely Shi'ii embellishment. In one part of the Hikayat Ali was said to have met Mu'awiyah in battle wielding the mast of Noah's Ark that was topped with a piece of iron. Now it's historically dubious if 'Ali and Mu'awiyah — who later initiated the Umayyad dynasty — actually met in battle, but I feel slightly uncomfortable when even Abu Hurairah (a great narrator of the hadith, the Prophet's traditions) is labelled a turncoat and Mu'awiyah reviled for things he didn't do. Mu'awiyah, in my humble opinion, is a much misunderstood figure in Islam and deserves a better press, and as for Abu Hurairah, well, he was fond of cats and probably just decided to turn tail at the prospect of this internecine strife.

Gilgamesh tabletIt's interesting nevertheless to know that those foot soldiers of old Melaka were read a story so steeped in Sh'ii tradition before going into a journey from which many never returned.

Well such is the grip of books and the enchantment of history that I know now how wrong I was when, at school, I thought that history was dead. I should've known better that it wasn't history but the teachers who were dead because history is still very much alive with us.

It's that eeriness once again that gives me the tingle. It's something I felt as I stood in the afternoon light before the catacombs in Siracusa, looking at what was claimed to be the burial place of Archimedes. It's something that I sensed when reading Richard Zimler's The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, which though fictitious, gave a realistic feel of life under the shadow of the Inquisition. It's that sense of connectedness with the ghosts of the past.

The feel of history, especially when you know that you're directly linked to it somehow, either through a book or through some threads of tales that are still read now, or through a place that still bears traces of the past, can be easily imagined but difficult to describe. We are thankful that there's much from the past that we can still read and feel and enjoy, and that we know the authors of some of those books that offer us a glimpse into the past that's now long gone, whose books we now cherish and read. We know for instance that the Gilgamesh stories may have started some 4000 years ago, and that its 1,600 BC recension was by a Babylonian priest-exorcist named Sin-leqi-unninni. He's given us, among other things, one of the oldest by-lines in the world!

And recently, from my trip to that splendid library in the university town of Leiden I discovered something else which is also quite amazing: that the longest epic poem in the world is La Galigo, not some fancy French work but poetic inheritance of the Bugis. The earliest texts of La Galigo — which tells the story of, among others, the Bugis cultural hero Sawerigading, a grandson of Batara Guru — date back to the 14th century. We in Malaysia tend to regard the Bugis as fierce seafarers who came in their longboats to interfere in the affairs of our people, but how wrong we are. The Bugis were not at all the bogeymen that we feared but were highly cultured folk who, all those years ago, had time to sit and write, and write the longest poetic yarn of the world in their own native script.La Galigo in Bugis script

How fortunate for us that they did that, and how much do we owe to the past!

* * *

A couple of days ago I've been responding with tongue in cheek to a comment on my Luddite credentials by John Azelvandre in his enjoyable blogsite Hominy Grits which I urge you to read, [Smashing the machine, one blog at a time] and also his latest, [Luddism, revisited,] yesterday. But no John, you've not struck a nerve, I actually enjoyed our little contretemps and I wish you power to your elbow.


Reading the Past

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Mindless Act of Arboreal Luddism 

Tuesday as I was sitting at my desk, came a knock on the door.

"I'm ready," he said. "But first I must have my tea."

"I'm ready too," I said. "See you out there, later."

When I saw him later, out there, he had two amazingly sharp long-handled secateurs, and a saw that looked pretty menacing. "Just bought this today, not bad for £7 eh?"

And it was goodbye to our pussy-willow tree.

Stumps of the Pussy Willow
It began when spring began this week and my fancy turning to the tree. I was standing out there, tentatively, with tenon saw in hand, to do a task that had been unfulfilled since oh so many summers ago. I was finally out there in the garden to lop branches off that tree that had been reaching out relentlessly, spreading a canopy over our lives and darkness over the spirits of neighbours.

The pussy willow was a gift from the wind, or a bird that came aflying by, many many years now, and I'd left it there to grow as I've always believed in the blessing of trees. Over the years it sprouted out furiously, and shed many furry buds, which is the business of pussy willows, over all and sundry. I tolerated the early growth — loved it even — because I wasn't sure if the pussy willow was shrub or bush. Then years taught me that the salix caprea pussy willow is a big tree.

As I was trimming the long branches and piling them high last Monday, the neighbour appeared from the other side, rested his arms on the fence, and asked: "Are you cutting down the whole tree?"

"Er no," I said, "just lopping it a little."

Pussy staring at fallen Willow tree
"You want the whole tree down," he said, "I'll help you do it tomorrow."

The pussy willow tree, I haven't told you, gets out of hand very easily, and can reach a height of twenty to thirty feet quite easily, spreading out every which way. Ours was probably fifteen feet high, arms reaching out into the roof, into every available space. When a tree grows like that it isn't a particularly lovely tree. Our neighbour summed it up as he descended from the stratosphere the following day Tuesday, with saw in hand and stomach still full of tea (the English, as you know, eat their tea): "It's a rubbish tree," he said.

By that time the rubbish tree was already mostly stacked up in a huge pile on the ground, still without leaves but in full bud in expectation of spring this year. They can be beautiful, I must concede, but these buds clog up guttering and leave a mess on the ground, and neighbours hate it. So in a strange, sad way I was glad that it was lying there in logs and parts, reaching as high as my chest, on the ground.

Perhaps this act of destruction will restore me now in the eyes of Dr Azelvandre [see Ned the Lad] as a proper Luddite who'd smashed the outreaching frame of a tree because it'd become a threat to me. Perhaps he'll say not yet my Ludd, you've been cutting up, barking up, the wrong tree.


Mindless Act of Arboreal Luddism

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