Posts Tagged ‘Balkans’

Donald Trump Predicted in Stephen Baxter’s 1995 Novel ‘Titan’

July 16, 2017

I’ve been making my way through Stephen Baxter’s SF novel, Titan, these last few weeks. Baxter’s a British SF writer, with degrees in maths and engineering. He applied to be an astronaut on the Anglo-Soviet mission to Mir in the 1980s, which went to Helen Sharman. He’s probably best known for his Xelee-sequence books. These are set in a universe dominated by the extremely advanced, but mysterious Xelee, who are engaged in a war across the entire universe with the Photino Birds, dark matter creatures determined to age and extinguish the universe of ordinary matter. He has also written other novels about a variety of parthenogenic humans, descended from a lost troop of Romans, a catastrophic flood in the Bronze Age, and the books The Long Earth and The Long War, about parallel worlds, with the late, great Terry Pratchett. His novel, Voyage, an alternative history in which NASA launches a final manned expedition to Mars, was adapted for Radio 4 by Audio Movies in the 1990s. He was also the scientific advisor for the 1990s BBC SF series, Invasion Earth, about aliens from the higher physical dimensions invading the planet.

Titan is also about a last, crewed NASA mission. This time its put together by a team of astronauts, space scientists and ground control crew as the Agency’s last, great space expedition before it is closed down following a shuttle disaster. It’s set in what was then the near future – 2004 onwards – in America increasingly falling into right-wing extremism, irrationalism and Christian fundamentalism. The leading politician and subsequent president, is Xavier Maclachlan, a Texan with standing on an aggressively anti-science platform. Here’s the description of the man and his policies on pages 284-5.

Hadamard was in Washington during the inauguration of Xavier Maclachlan, after his wafer-thin win in the 2008 election.

Maclachlan called it a ‘liberation of the capital’.

Armed militia bands came in from Idaho and Arizona and Oklahoma and Montana, to fire off black-powder salutes to the nationalist-populist who promised to repeal all gun control laws. In the crowd, Hadamard saw a couple of Ku Klux Klan constumes, a sight he though had gone into an unholy past. Come to that, there was a rumour that a former Klan leader was being made ready to become a future White House chief of staff. And in his speech Maclachlan appealed to the people to end what he called the ‘Israeli occupation of Congress’…

And so on.

As soon as Maclachlan lifted his hand from the Bible, US peacekeeping troops in the Balkans and Africa started to board their planes to leave. Foreign aid stopped. The UN was being thrown out of New York, and there was a rumour that Maclachlan was planning some military adventure to take back the canal from Panama.

Army engineers – set in place during the handover from the last Administration – started to build a wall, two thousand miles of it, along the Mexican border, to exclude illegal immigrants. White it was being built, troops brought home from peacekeeping abroad were operating a shoot-to-kill policy.

There was chaos in the financial markets. Machlachlan had withdrawn the US from the North American Free Trade Treaty, from the World Trade Organisation, from GATT. Reviews of the country’s membership of the World Bank and the IMF had started – arms of an incipient world government, Maclachlan said, designed to let in the Russians. He had raised tariffs – ten per cent against Japan, fifty per cent against the Chinese – and world trade collapsed.

The Chinese, particularly, screamed. And so Maclachlan sent the Seventh Fleet to a new station just off the coast of Taiwan.

Meanwhile all the strategic arms treaties with Russia were torn up, as Maclachlan orderd his technicians to dig out the blueprints for Reagan’s old dream of SDI. In fact, Maclachlan wanted to go further. He was inviting ideas for what he called his ‘da Vinci brains trust’. The press was full of schemes for fantastic new weapons: smart remote sensors; dream mines that could shoot at passing traffic; smart armour that would use explosive tiles to deflect incoming projectiles; maybe even an electrical battlefield in which electricity-propelled shells would be zapped in by low-flying aircraft.

And back home, Machlachlan had cut off any remaining programs which benefited blacks and other minorities, and any funding that appeared to support abortion, which had been made illegal in any form.

Xavier Maclachlan was a busy man, and he was fulfilling his campaign promises.

Clearly, much of this is an extrapolation from the policies and attitudes of the Republican party and the American extreme Right in the 1980s and 1990s. Reagan had brought right-wing Christian fundamentalists into the Republican party, who had previously stood aloof from politics as part of a corrupt, fallen secular order. He had also begun to wind up government welfare programmes, particularly those aimed at benefiting minorities, such as Black Americans. Fears of an imminent apocalypse, social breakdown and Russian invasion, even after the collapse of Communism, had resulted in the emergence of the survivalist and then Militia movements, armed right-wing paramilitary groups. These had a bitter resentment of the federal government, which culminated in McViegh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma. They also tended to be bitterly racist and anti-Semitic. They believed and still believe in stupid Nazi conspiracy theories that claim that the Jews are trying to destroy the White race through racial intermixing and that America is covertly controlled by the Jews through the ‘Zionist Occupation Government’, or ZOG. These groups and right-wing American fundamentalist organisations also believed that there was a secret, Illuminati conspiracy to create a one world Satanic superstate centred on the UN. Phyllis Schlafly, who was actually a Democrat, regularly denounced the UN as well as women’s rights. And one leading figure in the militias – I think it may have been Bo Gritz, who supposedly served as the model for ‘Rambo’ – stated that the way they would clear America’s international debt would be by minting a single coin with the legend ‘1 Trillion Dollars’. As for the Klan, there were a series of scandals in which senior Republican politicos were revealed as having links to or membership in the White racist terrorist group. The most notorious of these was David Duke in Louisiana, who is unfortunately still around and blaming the Jews for everything even today.

And political scientists and economists were predicting the rise of China and the other ‘tiger economies’, which would dominate the ‘Pacific Century’ even then.

Of course, there are things Baxter failed to predict, like 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also takes the conventional view that the various free trade agreements and UN organisations, like the IMF and the World Bank, are nice, liberal, benefificial institutions, rather than the way corporate America imposes its own neoliberal policies on the rest of the world, particularly the developing nations.

Not that the Democrats have been much different. Counterpunch has reported that Obama was considering removing the ‘No first strike’ policy towards a nuclear confrontation, and Killary has been every bit as aggressive in her stance towards Russia and China as the Republicans, perhaps even more so.

As for the White extremist and racist groups supporting the new president, all that’s different is that the Klan has been largely replaced, or subsumed, into the internet-based Alt Right. But the hysterical fear of gun legislation, promoted and lavishly funded by the gun manufacturers and the NRA, against the desires of the majority of Americans, and even the NRA’s own rank and file membership, remains strong.

It shows how long the attitudes held by the American right, and which led to the election of Donald Trump, have been around. Since his election, left-wing news sites such as The Young Turks, Secular Talk and the David Pakman Show have reported that Americans have become increasingly dissatisfied with Trump. Sixty per cent of the American public want him impeached. This dissatisfaction even extends to Republican voters.

Trump, however, in his racism, his isolationism, aggressive nationalism and hatred of the welfare state and women’s rights, is very much in line with the general political stance of post-Reaganite right-wing American politicians. Indeed, he’s so much a part of this political trend that, with caveats, his election – or rather, the election of someone like him – was predicted by Baxter over two decades ago.

No wonder an increasing number of young Americans are looking to progressive politicos like Bernie Sanders for leadership and the redemption of their country against a corrupt political elite and the military-industrial complex. And I fervently hope they win, and that humanity will continue to reach out to the cosmos in a spirit of genuine exploration and wonder, and not as another arena for warfare.

The Bad Man Blog: Q & A with Comics Legend Pat Mills

October 3, 2016

Borag Thungg again, Earthlets! Pat Mills, one of the Britain’s leading comics creators, and the script robot behind the Nemesis the Warlock, ABC Warriors, DeFoe, and Slaine strips in 2000 AD, and the classic Charley’s War in Battle, as well as Marshal Law, is featured in The Bad Man Blog in an entry for the 5th April this year, in which he answers 10 questions. The Bad Man introduces him with the words

If you want to know where the edge in modern comic books comes from, whether that be the inception of DC’s 80’s Vertigo line, the Image creator evolution of the 90’s, right on up to the Indie Artist ripe market-place, vying for a spot amongst the giants in modernity, then perhaps turn your head back to the late 70’s and the birth of 2000AD.

2000 AD Creator Pat Mills wanted to write working class comic books that shook the establishment and reached out to an angry youth with a subversive message that spoke to them through sci-fantasy. He succeeded with a revolution in British comic book storytelling that’s been oft imitated but never replicated.

Mills talks about the difficulty of writing for a disenfranchised generation, both then and now, without sounding too preachy or ‘David Icke’, and his regret that he couldn’t hit the establishment harder. He talks about how his opposition to the establishment was a product of his upbringing, and particularly his experience with the Roman Catholic Church and the Masons. He gives advice to budding comic creators, and lists the writers, who have been the biggest influence on his writing. Among literary giants like Wilkie Collins, Graham Greene, Dennis Wheatley and Rider Haggard, and modern crusading journalists and polemicists like John Pilger, he also includes Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle for the Molesworth Books, and for Searle’s St. Trinian’s cartoons. In answer to the question of what motivates him to write, he states that it’s a kind of catharsis and a way through strips like Slaine to explore his own psychology. And he also states that its a way of paying tribute to his heroes, like the Levellers. He continues

Defoe is a Leveller – they were great men who schools deliberately do not teach kids about because they stood for freedom. If the Levellers had won it wouldn’t be Charles 1 alone on the scaffold. They’d have got rid of all privilege. And there’d be no Charles 111. How our country allows an idiot with a disturbing, troubled and suspicious private life to take the throne of Britain is beyond me.

He also urges aspiring comics artists and writers to take up social activism and issues in their work, saying

Challenge society, change society, widen perspectives outside the mental straitjacket the media would put us in. E.G. By acknowledging Britain was probably one of the most evil Empires the world has ever known (and it’s still pretty dirty when you look at Iraq and Syria,) it sets us free. It’s not self-flagellation, it’s actually taking pride in the true Britain of characters like Defoe and the Levellers, soldiers like Charley in Charley’s War, wild Celts like Slaine and so on.

He discusses more history you don’t and won’t read about in answer to the Bad Man’s question of what he would do if he could go back in time. Mills’ answer is straightforward: Shoot Lord Milner. He explains that Milner was part of a conspiracy that started the First World War. He states that Belgium was in a secret alliance with Britain and France at the time, and it’s only in Britain that we’ve been taught otherwise. Mills goes on to explain that E. Morel, who exposed the Congo atrocities, also revealed Milner’s role in igniting the War, but his work is simply dismissed as ‘wrong’ by historians today. He recommends that for further information people should read McGregor’s Hidden History, which is available online, Milner’s Second War, and E. Morel’s pamphlets. He explains

If Milner had been assassinated, in 1912, it could have just stopped Armageddon and opportunist characters like Churchill and Lloyd George might never have come to power with the terrible consequences for the people of 1914 – 1918 and beyond. With some areas of history, I’m still a student, but I’ve been studying WW1 since I was a kid and there is no doubt Britain was responsible.

Not something you’re likely to read about in school books or the mainstream media where Max Hastings and Paxman reign supreme, alas. As you can see, I feel strongly about this because we owe it to our ancestors that the truth gets out there. Not the ‘noble sacrifice’ bullshit of Cameron and co. The WW1 generation of young soldiers were murdered by the British establishment in conjunction with other forces, notably the bankers and merchants of death.

He ends the session by talking about the strips he’s working on at the moment.

See: https://therealbadman.wordpress.com/tag/nemesis-the-warlock/

Mills clearly has some very controversial opinions, especially about the Roman Catholic church, and that Britain is occupying Northern Ireland. That clearly isn’t the way the Loyalist community see it. Nevertheless, regardless of his views on the legitimacy of British rule in Northern Ireland, he is absolutely right about there having been a ‘dirty war’ there. Lobster has published a series of articles discussing the collaboration of the British state with loyalist paramilitaries in containing the IRA, and how secret SAS units were embedded in regular army units to assassinate leading Nationalists.

As for the Roman Catholic church, unfortunately he is right in that there is a problem with corruption in Vatican and the Church hierarchy, and this has left many Roman Catholics feeling betrayed. The many scandals around the world about child abuse by priests and clergy has led to many believers leaving the Church, particularly in Ireland and in Germany. Many German Roman Catholics left because of the last pope’s perceived reluctance or inability to tackle the issue and make proper reparations.

Mills also makes a very good statement about the misuse of power in local communities, when he says that in the small town where he grew up, everyone in power knew everyone else, and used their power in very negative ways. Dad and others had the same experience of the power of the local business community in Taunton, and the same abuse of social and economic position and authority still continues in Britain today.

It would be very interesting indeed to read and hear more about Britain’s responsibility for causing the First World War. This is not a view I’ve ever heard before. Quite the opposite. Just about all the historians I’ve ever read have blamed the Germans and Austrians. German historians argue in contrast that the War broke out almost as an inevitable accident, brought about through the web of alliances and the extremely volatile nature of the Balkans. Together, these caused the nations of Europe to ‘drift to war’. The German view, from what I’ve read, is not only rejected by British historians, but seen as something peculiar to Germany. It seems to me that it’s implied in British historians’ criticism of the German view of the origins of the War that the Germans are somehow trying to exculpate themselves from their responsibility for starting it. After reading Mills’ brief statements about the issue, the conventional historical view of German culpability no longer seems at all certain.

His is an extreme view, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. And he’s right about contemporary historiography of the war, at least at the popular level, being dominated by establishment figures like Max Hastings, the former editor of the Telegraph, and Jeremy Paxman. I like Paxo, and think he did a good job when he was on Newsnight, at least of irritating the Tories. But that doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth as an historian. Indeed, Private Eye a few weeks ago pointed out the many mistakes he was making in his latest excursion into literary history. He was trying to argue that a number of literary genres were in fact the creation of British writers in the 19th century. One of these was detective fiction. In fact, the first detective novel is usually considered to be Edgar Allan Poe’s The Mysteries of the Rue Morgue. Mind you, as with so many things, it can also be argued that the Chinese got there first. The Chinese also independently developed the novel, including tales of detection featuring Judge Dee. A number of these were translated by Van Lustgarten, who also wrote a story of his own using the character. So perhaps Paxo probably isn’t the most reliable guide either to literary history, or that of the Great War.

And as extreme as his view is, I don’t think it should be immediately dismissed because of the care Mills took in researching his stories. Charley’s War is a classic because it movingly portrays the reality of the War for the ordinary Tommy, and I’ve no doubt Mills did considerable research when writing the strip and subsequently after. He has said in another interview, a few years ago, how he broke with the traditional, very low view of comic writing when he started on 2000 AD. It was an SF comic, so he bought four books on science to research the subject, and invoiced IPC for expenses. Which left them shocked with the idea that anyone should do something as basic as that. Clearly, 2000 AD and its characters are Science Fiction and Fantasy, not fact, and in many cases very obviously are far from conventional scientific or historical fact. But the fact that Mills is prepared to research carefully the background of the strips he writes does make me wonder whether he’s right about this issue as well. But go and read what he says for yourselves, and make your own minds up.

Splundig Vur Thrigg!, as Old Green Bonce would say.

European Democracy in Retreat: Austria Elects Nazi President

May 23, 2016

Today’s Mirror reported that Norbert Hofer, the candidate for Austria’s FPO party, managed to win the presidential election with a fraction over 51% of the vote. I gather that the presidency in Austria is largely ceremonial. Nevertheless, the Mirror was worried in case it showed that the party was going to win a majority in the country’s forthcoming parliamentary elections.

The FPO is the Freiheits Partei Osterreichs, or Freedom Party of Austria. It’s an avowedly far-Right, Neo-Nazi, anti-immigration outfit. It was founded in 1956 by the former Nazi minister and SS officer, Anton Reinthaller.

I was also sent a Channel 4 News report on Hofer and his party from one of the great commenters on this blog. Hofer is a former aeronautical engineer and supporter of gun rights. He walks with a stick, having damaged his leg in a paragliding accident. The reporter notes that the mainstream parties simply don’t feature in this presidential debate. The Social Democrats and Conservatives, who have governed the country for decades, are completely absent, and Hofer’s opponent was a member of the Greens. In a brief interview with the reporter, Hofer states that Austria should offer genuine protection to the real refugees that need it, but the problem is the vast scale of immigration to Austria. The reporter states that the party’s success is a reaction to the increasing number of immigrants from Syria, as well as violent confrontations between the police and pro-immigrant groups on the Italian border. The report shows footage of just such a confrontation between Austria’s rozzers and a crowd holding placards with signs like ‘Immigrants Welcome’. He talks to a family of Syrian refugees in a house established by a former investment banker. She says she put it up to give refugees a safe place to stay. The family are all learning German, and all want to stay. Except for one man, who fears that he has no one to protect him, and so will not be able to.

The reporter also talks to Haller, a Jewish artist living in one of Vienna’s most sumptuous palaces. Herr Haller is a celebrated artist and intellectual, who believes that the current resurgence of the far Right in his homeland is merely another version of anti-Semitism, which has simply metamorphosed into islamophobia. He states that as a Jew, despite his surroundings, nothing feels more natural than to have a suitcase packed ready to be moved on.

The reporter also talks to some of the people about Hofer and the FPO during the Corpus Christi celebrations in Vienna. There, surrounding by dancing people, music and firecrackers, several young guys tell him they support Hofer and his party. In response to the question about which British politician they like, they say ‘Nigel Farage’, as they think he would be good for us. One woman also tells the reporter in German that she voted for Hofer because with all the immigrants coming in taking jobs and so on, she felt like a stranger in her own country.

The reporter in the above video notes how slick Hofer is and his sharp suit. His comments about Austria needing to provide a safe haven for genuine refugees sounds like any discussion of the subject from a mainstream politician. It seems to be part of the way the European extreme Right has become more mainstream by apparently adopting a more mainstream, less openly Nazi attitude, like Marine Le Pens’ Front National across le Manche. I am also not surprised that Hofer’s a gun nut. Quite apart from the notorious militarism of the Far Right anyway, Alex Jones’ bonkers conspiracy site, Infowars, reported that Austrian women were buying guns to protect themselves from Arab/ Muslim rapists during the mass influx of Middle Eastern immigrants from Syria through the Balkans earlier this year. The pro-gun stance seems to be symptomatic of the generally fearful situation in the country, where many feel they need firearms to protect themselves from the physical threat presented by immigrants.

The anti-racist, anti-religious extremist organisation, Hope Not Hate also have a piece about Austria on their website. This gives a brief summary of the Far Right in Austria and the various extreme Right-wing parties and splinter groups, including Hofer’s FPO. The article states that Nazism and pro-Nazi sentiments were allowed to survive in Austria because of the myth that the country was Hitler’s first victim during the Anschluss, despite the fact that many Austrians welcomed their country’s annexation by Germany. The article also notes that from the 1970s the state would not investigate Austrian citizens, who had been leading Nazis, and the controversy in 1986 when it was revealed that Kurt Waldheim, the country’s president, was a former Wehrmacht officer. In fact there was rather more to the scandal than just his membership in the wartime German army: Waldheim was also implicated in a possible war crime against a group of British squaddies during the War. It was only in 1995 that Austria also started paying full compensation to the victims of the Nazis. The FPO was in a coalition with the Conservative Austrian People’s Party – OVP – between 2000 and 2005, and so the country became the only European nation suffering diplomatic sanctions by the EU because of a Nazi government. The party has also been complicit in a series of corruption scandals.

The article also notes that the FPO appears to have infiltrated and manipulated the parts of the civil service and intelligence agencies, including the Office for Protection of the Constitution and Counter-Terrorism (the BVT). No official report on the extreme Right in Austria has been produced since 2002, and the ultra-Conservative student associations, from which many Nazis are recruited, has been removed from the list of suspect organisations. It also appears from a court case involving the Nazi Alpen-Donau.info site that Austrian Neo-Nazis have supporters within the police, the BVT and the Ministry of the Interior.

http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/country-in-focus/austria/

This is how it begins. Hitler started formulating his far-Right ideas when he was young in Austria. He states that he first became an anti-Semite when he moved to Vienna. Going through a back street, he saw one of the Jews from the Austrian Empire’s eastern provinces, probably the Ukraine, in a long kaftan, and recalled how he felt a stranger in his own country. He was also impressed by the mayor of Vienna, Karl von Lugerer and his viciously anti-Semitic Christian Social Party. In fact, Hitler had probably imbibed anti-Semitic and far-Right views before that. Many schoolchildren at the time were pan-German, wanting their country to unite with Germany, and despising the polyglot, multi-ethnic Austrian Empire, and particularly its Slavs and Jews.

Looking at Hitler’s career, and the origins of the Nazi party, it’s hard not to be struck by the impression that history is repeating itself, with islamophobia replacing anti-Semitism as the artist, Haller, said. It has to be stopped, before the West is submerged yet again in brutality, genocide and barbarism.

What’s the Real Reason We’re Bombing Syria?

December 9, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that Britain had bombed a Syrian army base, apparently in retaliation for criticism by Assad. See the article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/08/cameron-orders-attack-on-syrian-army-retaliation-for-assad-statements-veterans-today/. This has provoked a storm of protest. Amongst those criticising the attacks are veteran broadcaster and naturalist, David Attenborough, (See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/09/david-attenborough-laments-dreadful-uk-bombing-campaign/). Most movingly, a group of British veterans have thrown their medals on the ground outside 10 Downing Street as their protest against the bombings. (See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/09/syria-air-strike-protest-ex-soldiers-throw-their-medals-away/). This must surely show how iniquitous many feel the bombs are, when some of Britain’s bravest and most gallant squaddies and ossifers feel that this act has disgraced them, so that they feel they cannot wear the medals they have won with the pride they deserve.

I’m left wondering why we really bombed the Syrian army, and whose side we’re really on. Criticism by the country’s dictator, but not actual military aggression, seems a flimsy excuse to start bombing his country and killing his armed forces. If we did that every time a foreign head of state criticised us, we’d have to start bombing just some of our closest allies and collaborators in the EU, like France, Germany and Spain, long before we got to the really verbally hostile nations, like Iran or North Korea.

So why did we do it?

It could just be that Dave Cameron has decided that he just wants to bomb Assad. He wanted to start bombing him after the Arab Spring broke out, and it looked like democracy was finally going to sweep away all the dictators, absolute monarchs, theocrats and other tyrants throughout the Middle East. That dream, unfortunately, went unrealised. Years later it looks very much like we were better off not toppling Assad, because if he had gone, it’s likely that Syria would be in the hands of ISIS or al-Qaeda by now.

And for all that Assad is a genuinely nasty piece of work, the Syrian Ba’ath regime is like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – a secular state with some degree of genuine religious pluralism. Christians, for example, could serve in the Syrian government, in sharp distinction to the theocratic autocracy in Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states, which are absolute monarchies. These nations reserve power, and in the case of Saudi Arabia, refuse to tolerate, any other religions, including different Islamic sects. Only Wahhabi Islam is tolerated.

I blogged today about a piece in the New Eastern Outlook that argued that ISIS was really the Saudi army in disguise. Shorn of its religious trappings, ISIS was a tool by which the Saudis hope to annex and control the oil wealth of the other Middle Eastern nations. This seems to me to be exactly right. As I wrote before, Greg Palast points out in his book, Armed Madhouse, that the Saudis wanted Iraq invaded so that they and the Americans, their partners in Amerco, the Saudi oil combine, could seize that country’s vast oil reserves, the second largest in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia itself. And it was one of the reasons why the West invaded Iraq twenty five years ago, after George Bush snr told Saddam Hussein that there would be no opposition to his annexation of Kuwait.

The anti-War protesters shouting ‘Gosh, No! We won’t Go! We won’t die for Texaco!’ were right. Absolutely and unequivocally.

So what’s the reason we’re going into Syria now? Cui bono? Apart from the Saudis.

Years ago I read a book by an other with a very Islamic name, which claimed that the 7/7 bombings were another false flag operation. It claimed that they were set up by Britain’s intelligence forces in order to provide further spurious justification for Britain’s military involvement in the Middle East. This was part of a broader strategy of misinformation and staged enemy actions which included the war in Bosnia in the 1990s and the invasion of Afghanistan. The real reason for all these invasions was to permit NATO to seize control of the vital oil pipelines running from Afghanistan, across the Middle East, and into the Balkans. Interestingly for a book written by some of Islamic heritage, it argued that some of the atrocities committed by the Serbs in Bosnia, such as the mass murder of Bosnian civilians in a concentration camp, did not occur, but were manufactured by the Allies. I am extremely sceptical of this claim, as it sounds too close to Holocaust denial and the type of stories retailed by the anti-Islamic extreme Right.

The book sounds like a British version of the American ‘Troofer’ conspiracy theories, which allege that the American intelligence agencies, or in some of the nasty anti-Semitic versions going the round, Israel’s Mossad, were really responsible for the destruction of the Twin Towers back in 2001. I find that extremely unlikely. It’s part of the American Conspiracist fringe and its Islamic counterparts. Such theorising is very common in parts of the Islamic world. John Timpson in his book on Iran noted how common it was over there. It’s not hard to see why. Conspiracy theories, like those about 9/11, Jewish bankers or secret deals with alien beings, are created by the powerless and disenfranchised to explain bewildering and apparently inexplicable events. They flourish in states where government is closed and autocratic. Like the Middle East and other parts of the developing world, dominated by powerful factions, and where government may be absolute, secretive and extremely repressive.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a kernel of truth in their somewhere, hidden amongst the paranoia. The invasion of Iraq did have nothing to do with combating al-Qaeda. It was mainly an attempt to seize their oil, as well as prevent Saddam Hussein supplying arms and aid to the Palestinians. As well as a giant experiment in free market economics and massive corporate pilfering by the Neo-Cons. Now it seems that the Saudis are also funding, supplying and controlling ISIS as a way to seize more nation’s oil industries. It looks very much like the War on Terror really is just a War for Oil, just as the Greens was back in the 1990s told us the first Gulf War was when they lambasted it as a ‘resource war.’

So, after bombing Assad’s army, is Cameron going to urge us, perhaps a few weeks, months or a year or so from now, that we now need to put ‘boots on the ground’ to join the 70,000 ‘moderates’ everyone else says isn’t there, in order to save the Syrian people from Islamist tyranny? Unfortunately, I can see that happening, just as I think that if he does, the real reason will be to seize, sorry, protect the Syrian oil wells, refineries and pipelines.

I may well be wrong, but this is the way I can see this war developing. And I’m already sick of it.

Commemorating Christian Martyrdom: The Armenian Genocide

April 24, 2015

Armenian Gospels

Armenian Gospel Book from the Monastery of Gladjor, c. 1321

Today is the centenary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. This was a series of massacres carried out by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian people. The Armenians had risen up, like the other, majority Christians subject nations in the Balkans across the Black Sea to gain their freedom from the decaying Turkish empire. To counter this, the last Turkish sultan, Talat Pasha issued a firman ordering that the Armenians should be rounded up and slaughtered. 1.5 million Armenians, men, women and children were butchered.

The Pope caused controversy earlier this week when he marked the massacres, calling it the first genocide of the 20th century. I’m not sure if this is quite true, as I think about ten years or so previously the German colonial authorities in East Africa had also organised a genocide of the indigenous Herrero people. The occasion has a wider, European significance than just its attempt to exterminate the Armenians. Hitler noted the way the other European powers remained silent and did not act to stop it. This convinced him that they also wouldn’t act to save the Jews when the Nazi state began to persecute and murder them in turn. As he said ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’

Denial of Genocide by Turkish Authorities

Unfortunately, the genocide is still controversial. Robert Fisk in his article in Monday’s Independent discussed the Turkish government’s refusal to recognise the massacres as a genocide. Pope Francis’ comments sparked outrage amongst the Turkish authorities, and the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey was summoned to meet the prime minister. Fisk himself recalled the abuse he had received from Turks outraged by his discussion of the genocide. He stated he began receiving mail about the issue when he personally dug the bones of some of the Armenians out of the sands of the Syrian desert in 1992. He stated that some of the letters were supportive. Most were, in his words, ‘little short of pernicious’.

In Turkey any discussion or depiction of the Armenian genocide as genocide was brutally suppressed. A few years ago, the Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, was killed for writing about them. Liberal Turks, who wish their nation face up to this dark episode of their history, have been imprisoned. The great Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, was sent to jail a few years ago. His writing on the genocide was judged to be ‘insulting to Turkish nationhood’, a criminal offence.

Fatih Arkin, Turkish Director, on Movie about Genocide

Dink’s assassination has, however, acted to promote a greater discussion and awareness of the genocide, and a large number of both Armenians and Turks are now pressing for the Turkish government to recognise it as such. Indeed, the Turkish-German film director, Fatih Arkin, made a film about the genocide, The Cut which premiered in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in January.

In the interview below, Mr Arkin talks about he was moved to make the film following Dink’s assassination, and the number of Turks, who also join with the Armenians in demanding their government officially recognise the atrocity. Among those is the grandson of one of the leading perpetrators. What is interesting is that the film received a wide release in Turkey with no opposition or move to ban it.

Fisk on Turks Who Saved Armenians

This seems to show a new openness amongst the Turkish people as a whole about the genocide. And Fisk in his article notes that there many courageous and humane Turks, who refused to comply with Sultan’s orders, and saved Armenians. He stated in his article that these included at least one provincial governor, as well as lesser Turkish soldiers and policemen. Fisk felt that the Armenians should compile a list of these heroes, not least because it would make it harder for politicians like Erdogan, the country’s prime minister, not to sign a book of condolences, which included their names.

And these men were courageous: they risked their lives to save others from the carnage. There is absolutely no reason why they should not also be commemorated. In Judaism, I understand that righteous gentiles, who save Jews from persecution, are commemorated and believed to have a part in the olam ha-ba, the world to come. There is a section of the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, which displays the names of such righteous gentiles, who saved Jews during the Third Reich.

Syriac Evangelistary

The Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda, from a Syriac Evangelistary

Massacre of Syriac Christians as Part of Wider Pattern of Massacres

The massacre of the Empire’s Christian minorities was not confined to the Armenians, although they are the best known victims. Other Christian peoples, including the Syriac-speaking churches in what is now Iraq and Syria, were also attacked and massacred, in what has become known as ‘the Day of the Sword’. The massacres also spread into Iran, where the Christian communities there also suffered massacres. They too deserve commemoration.

Peaceful Relations between Christians and Muslims Normal in Ottoman Empire

Historians of the Turkish Empire have pointed out that the Armenian genocide, and similar massacres committed by the Ottoman forces in the Balkans during the nationalist wars of the 19th century, were largely the exception. For most of the time Christian and Muslim lived peacefully side by side. Quite often Muslims and Christians shared the same cemeteries. And in one part of Bosnia, at least, the local Roman Catholic church stood bang right next to the local mosque. There were even a small group of worshippers, who seem not to have differentiated between Christianity and Islam.

There’s a story that one orthodox priest, while officiating mass at his church, noticed a group of people at the back wearing Muslim dress. He went and asked them why they were attending a Christian church, if they were Muslims. The people replied that they didn’t really make much difference between the two faiths. On Friday, they prayed at the mosque, and on Sunday they went to church.

Historical Bias and Nationalist Violence by Christians in 19th century Balkans

Historians of the Balkans have also pointed out the dangers of religious bias when discussing the various nationalist wars in the 19th century. In the 1870s the Ottoman Turks committed a series of atrocities suppressing a nationalist uprising in Bulgaria. This outraged public opinion in England, and provoked the Liberal prime minister, Gladstone, to demand that the Turks be ‘thrown out of Europe, bag and baggage’. Other British and American observers noted that atrocities were hardly one sided. Christians also committed them, but these were ignored by the West. One author of a book on the Balkans I read back in the 1990s argued that the various atrocities committed in this period were caused not so much by religious differences, but from nationalism, and so were no different from other atrocities committed by other countries across the world, and in western Europe today as part of ethnic and nationalist conflicts, such as Northern Ireland.

British Empire and Atrocities in Kenya

Other decaying empires have also committed horrific atrocities, and attempted to cover them up. It was only after a very long legal campaign, for example, that the British government admitted the existence and complicity in the regimes of mass murder, torture, mutilation and internment in Kenya to suppress the Mao Mao rebellion. See the book, Africa’s Secret Gulags, for a complete history of this.

ISIS and the Massacre of Christians

The commemoration of the genocide of the Armenians, and by extension the other Christian subject peoples of the Ottoman and Persian Empires at the time, has become pressing relevant because the persecution today of Christians in the region by the resurgent Islamist movements, like ISIS, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Yet these groups differ in their attitude to the massacre of non-Muslim civilians from that of the Turkish government. The official Turkish attitude has been silence and an attempt to suppress or rebut the genocide’s existence. This points to an attitude of shame towards them. ISIS, which last Monday murdered 30 Ethiopian Coptic Christians, shows absolutely no shame whatsoever. Far from it: they actually boast about their murder and enslavement of innocent civilians.

Conversion of Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians by Force, and Murder of Civilians Contrary to Muslim Law

I was taught at College that their actions contravene sharia law. Islamic law also has a set of regulations for the conduct of warfare, which rule out the conversion of the ‘Peoples of the Book’ – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians – by force. Nor may women, children and non-combatants be harmed. And this has been invoked by the ulema in the past to protect Christian and other minorities in the Ottoman Empire. In the 17th century one of the Turkish sultans decided he was going to use military force to make the Christians in the Balkans convert to Islam. He sought approval for his course of action from the majlis, the governing assembly of leading Muslim clerics, who issued legal opinions on questions of Muslim law and practice. They refused, on the grounds that it was un-Islamic. The sultan backed down, and his planned campaigns against his Christian subjects were abandoned.

ISIS Also Butcher Muslims and Yezidis

Nor do ISIS, and similar Islamist movements limit themselves to attacking Christians. We’ve also seen them butcher and enslave the Yezidis, as well as other Muslims, simply for being the ‘wrong’ type of Muslim. For ISIS, they, and only they, represent true Islam. The rest are part of the ‘juhailiyya’, the world of darkness and ignorance, who must be fought and conquered.

Need to Commemorate All Victims of Atrocities

The Armenian genocide and its victims should rightly be remembered, as should so many other holocausts since then. Not only is this owed to the victims and history itself, but also to stop similar massacres occurring. And we need to remember that the capacity for such evil is not confined to particular nations, but can be found throughout history and humanity.

ISIS’ Destruction of Muslim Cultural Treasures in Timbuktu

March 17, 2015

Yesterday I put up a number of pieces on ISIS’ destruction of irreplaceable cultural treasures, seen in the smashing of ancient Assyrian artefacts in a museum in Mosul and the destruction of an Islamic shrine of Adam’s son Seth, revered in Islam as the prophet Sheth. The Islamist terror group hasn’t confined its destruction of items and monuments of immense cultural heritage to Iraq.

This is a report from Euronews from 29th January 2013, reporting how, when they were expelled from Timbuktu, they smashed one of the important local graves, and set fire to the local library, in the hope of destroying the priceless books and manuscripts within.

ISIS’ Attack on the Graves of the Sufi Saints

This was a calculated attempted to destroy Mali’s peculiar Islamic culture, and its rich intellectual heritage that is only just beginning to be discovered and truly appreciated by Western scholars. And it shows clearly what ISIS would like to do to other Muslim nations and their cultures, including those in the West, simply for not following what they consider to be the correct interpretation of Islam.

The desecration of the ancient grave looks to me like an attempt to destroy an aspect of Sufi worship, which is strongly rejected in Wahhabi Islam. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism, in which the practitioner attempts to achieve union with the Almighty through a series of spiritual exercises. These can include singing and dancing. There are a number of different Sufi orders, some of whom may differ widely from orthodox Islam. The famous whirling dervishes of Turkey are one Sufi order. These orders are under the guidance of a sheikh, the term given to their spiritual head. The orders’ founders are revered as saints, their graves are frequently the sites of veneration and special ceremonies.

I was taught at College that most Muslims in fact belong to a Sufi order. Sufi mysticism was practised not only in the Near East, but also amongst European Muslim communities in the former Ottoman Empire. Many of these communities were converted to Islam through their preaching, and in particular that of the Bektashi order, who served as the chaplains to the Ottoman forces. Unfortunately, this aspect of the traditional Islamic heritage of the Balkan nations has been under attack, not only from Non-Muslim nationalists, but also from Islamic fundamentalists from elsewhere in the Dar al-Islam. I can remember reading years ago in the Independent how graves in Muslim cemeteries in some of the Balkan countries had been destroyed as part of a fundamentalist attack on monuments and practices they considered non-Muslim.

There are British Muslims, who perform religious rites to venerate the graves of religious leaders in this country. If ISIS had their way, the worshippers and mystics at these shrines, who follow the traditions of their orders, would find their beliefs and practices banned and suppressed. Just as ISIS would kill and maim their non-Muslim friends and fellow citizens.

Timbuktu’s Ancient Heritage of Learning

As for the destruction of the library, Timbuktu was one of the richest towns in West Africa during the Middle Ages because of its position on the major gold trading route. So rich was the country, that when the ruler of Mali went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, in the 12th century, he took so much gold with him that it sent Egypt into recession.

Mali was not only rich, but cultured. Timbuktu was a university town, where the Islamic texts and doctrines were studied and copied. Not only that, but its scholars were also interest in the secular sciences that were pursued by Muslim scientists during the Middle Ages. One of the books shown to the Beeb’s Aminatta Forna in her programme on Timbuktu’s lost library was a scientific text arguing for a heliocentric model of the solar system. That’s the same model as proposed independently in Europe by Copernicus, in which the Earth goes round the Sun, rather than the usual medieval notion of the Sun and the planets going round the Earth.

Forna’s programme was a fascinating documentary on the sheer wealth of the city’s and Mali’s medieval culture and learning. It’s also on Youtube. Here it is below. It’s nearly an hour, so not short, but well worth watching.

The modern Arabic word for literature is adabiyyat, which I understand is derived from adab, meaning manners, but also ‘culture’. ISIS in their destruction of the world’s cultural heritage and learning have shown themselves to be its enemies, both those of Muslims and non-Muslims. And if they continue, the world will be a much poorer place.