Saturday, June 30, 2007

Roger Casement: flawed hero

An Irish company has bought out a former English court that has played an important and recurring role in Irish history. Galway-based Edward Holdings has purchased London’s former Bow Street Magistrates Court to turn it into a hotel. Over the years, the notorious former magistrates’ court has tried the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven, Nazi propagandist William “Lord Haw-Haw” Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Roger Casement. While Wilde is probably the most famous Irish homosexual in history, Sir Roger Casement is surely the second. Casement was an Irish patriot, British diplomat,a poet and revolutionary. I've just finished reading two books where he featured prominently; Colm Toibin’s essays on homosexual artists “Love in a Dark Time” (Wilde also features) and “Roger Casement’s Diaries 1910: the Black and the White” edited by Roger Sawyer.

Roger Casement was a Protestant-born Irish patriot who was hanged by the British in 1916 for treason. Casement was arrested in Kerry after trying to smuggle in 20,000 guns from a German U-Boat for the Irish republican cause. Casement got the death sentence despite being a knight of the realm who had served a long and distinguished career in the British Foreign Service. He served 30 years and was British Consul for Mozambique (1895-98), Angola (1898-1900), Congo (1901-04) and Brazil (1906-11). He gained international recognition for fighting slave labour in the Belgian Congo in 1903 and in the Amazon in 1910.

None of this counted in his defence despite Casement becoming a cause celebre in the trial. Many of his famous friends initially leaped to sing his praises. However the prosecution produced a startling document that stopped the campaign to save him, dead in its tracks.

Casement was a fervent diary writer and often stayed up late at night to fill in two and sometimes three different diaries. Firstly there was the official diary for his work as consul; secondly there was his private diary known as the "White Diaries” in which gave a detailed account of his activities against the slave trade in the Congo and the Amazon. However the third diary was the most damaging in the trial and was deliberately leaked by the prosecution. These diaries known as the “Black Diaries” were kept for the years of 1903, 1910 and 1911, during his missions in the Belgian Congo and Brazil. These diaries recounted his sexual conquests and discussed their penis size in great detail. It was the publication of these diaries that hung Roger Casement. The existence of these diaries and whether or not they are forgeries remains controversial to this day.

Roger Casement was born of Ulster Protestant army stock in Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) County Dublin, in 1864. His mother Anne Jephson was Catholic who secretly re-baptised her son when he was three. Both his parents died before he was 13 and he was brought up by an uncle in Magherintemple, Co. Cavan. After leaving school he was sent overseas on a family company ship, the SS Bonny, making three round trips to West Africa.

Casement returned to Africa in 1884 as an employee of the International Association a collection of committees dedicated to “civilising” the Congo, under the chairmanship of Belgium’s King Leopold. Casement returned from this assignment disillusioned with Leopold’s intentions for the Congo. The king was taking the profits from the rubber trade and turning the colony into his personal fiefdom. Casement joined the Consular service in 1892 aged 28. His first job was in the Oil Rivers Protectorate (now Nigeria). He was promoted to Consul in Lorenco Marques, capital of Portuguese Mozambique, in 1895.

In 1903, Casement travelled back to the Congo to report on the slavery situation there. His subsequent report was a damning indictment of King Leopold’s personal kingdom. Casement said Leopold used his agents in Africa to establish a brutal exploitative regime for the extraction of rubber, the profits of which he used to beautify Brussels. Casement visited Lukolela where in the 16 years since he was last there a population of 5,000 was reduced to 600. This catastrophic ddecline was due, said Casement, to “sleeping-sickness, general ill-health, insufficiency of food, and the methods employed to obtain labor from them by local officials”.

Over 40 pages, Casemont proved killings and mutilations were commonplace as well as kidnapping and beatings by soldiers of Leopold’s native force. It was presented to parliament and Britain sent it to Belgium which had signed the Berlin Act in 1885. That act governed European intervention in Africa and specifically suppressed slavery. The Congo administration was forced to investigate the atrocities which led to the arrest and punishment of white officials who had been responsible for the killings, scapegoats for Leopold. Casement returned home a hero. Mevertheless Casement could not ignore what was going on his own backyard and began to find the first stirrings of Irish nationalism.

Nonetheless he diligently applied service to the Empire. He transferred to South America in 1906 and became Consul of Sao Paolo’s port city Santos. He moved to Rio two years later where he began hearing reports of another slave trade. This time the victims were the Putumayo River Indians in the Amazon Basin. The Putumayo is a major river in its own right, 1,900km long and rising in the west coast mountains of Colombia, forming the border with Peru and joins the Amazon in Brazil as the Içá. As in the Congo, the locals were enslaved to service the rubber export trade. The British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC) owned by Peruvian Julio Cesar Arana monopolised trade. PAC enslaved tribal peoples using the local form of debt bondage known as peonage. Reports of rape, murder and torture of the Indian tappers began to filter out.

In May 1910 the Foreign Office asked Casement to draw on his Congo experience and investigate the Amazon claims. Britain was careful not to infringe the Monroe Doctrine and upset American sensibilities. It justified the investigation on the grounds of PAC’s brutality of Barbadian British subjects. Casement made meticulous examinations (pdf) of the area in 1910 and 1911 and he issued the 1,242 page Putumayo Report in 1912. It was another damning indictment of the rubber slave trade. He calculated 30,000 natives had been murdered directly or killed by deliberate starvation brought by crop destruction. A parliamentary enquiry demanded Arana’s imprisonment. Arana fled back to Peru until the First World War put an end to the enquiry.

In 1913 Casement was knighted for his British heroism and eulogised from the pulpit at Westminster Abbey. But Casement himself was quickly dropping his British side. He resigned from the Service in 1913 and launched himself into Irish politics. When the Northern Irish Unionists imported weapons in their fight to avoid Home Rule, Casement was inspired to do the same for the Nationalists. En route to Berlin, he was betrayed by his Norwegian manservant and homosexual lover Adler Christensen who told the British consul in Christiana (renamed Oslo in 1923) the true nature of both their relationship and the mission they were on.

Casement got little help from the Germans who saw him as trouble and who were glad to return him to Ireland on a U-Boat. They also sent 20,000 guns on a German boat disguised as the Norwegian “Aud Norge”. Britain intercepted telegraphic dispatches that announced Casement's return. He was put ashore on Banna Strand near Tralee Co. Kerry. The local volunteers were not there to meet him having expected him to land on a different beach. Casement hid in the nearby abandoned McKenna Fort where he was found and arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Casement was taken to the Tower of London and charged with treason. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang. The Black Diaries of his homosexual encounters in Congo and South America were used to prevent a reprieve. In his famous speech from the dock Casement claimed judicial assassinations were reserved for Irishmen. “The law that I am charged under has no parentage in love, and claims the allegiance of today on the ignorance and blindness of the past," he told the judge.

Casement was buried in quicklime. His body was finally returned to Ireland by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1965. He was re-interred under a simple, dignified slab at Glasnevin National cemetery in a state funeral as an Irish hero. The funeral stepped delicately around the diaries.

The British allowed Michael Collins to see the Black Diaries during the 1921 Treaty negotiations. Fellow negotiator Eamon Duggan said Collins recognised Casement’s handwriting and said it was "disgusting". The British placed the diaries under Official Secrets Act and De Valera, anxious to protect Casement’s reputation, refused to ask for them. The diaries were finally published in Paris in 1959. The Congo diaries made reference to “Agostinho, 17 ½ ‘kissed many times”. The 1910 diary had him ‘deep to the hilt’ and ‘in very deep thrusts’ with Brazilian natives. Penis size was a constant fixation. Mario in Rio was 8 ½ + 6”, the biggest since 1904 and “perfectly huge” while Welsh Will in London was a “splendid 6’ 3 1/2” .

Those anxious to protect Casement’s growing reputation denounced the Black Diaries as forgeries and a British conspiracy. They claimed the diary could be disproved by internal analysis as well as handwriting analysis and was in any case someone else’s diary. The view was most widespread in Ireland where horror of homosexuality remains common. In 2002 the results of the first ever fully independent forensic examination (commissioned by the BBC and RTE) of the Black Diaries were announced at a press conference in London. Dr Audrey Giles, an internationally respected figure in the field of document forensics announced :
“The unequivocal and confident conclusion which the Giles Document Laboratory has reached is that each of the five documents collectively known as the Black Diaries is exclusively the work of Roger Casement's hand, without any reason to suspect either forgery or interpolation by any other hand. The Diaries are genuine throughout and in each instance”.
The jury is in. Roger Casement should be judged on his magnificent human rights record, not his personal life.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Egypt bans female circumcision

Egypt’s health ministry has announced a complete ban on female circumcision in response to the death last week of a 12-year old girl in a botched operation. The move follows a partial ban ten years ago which allowed the practice to continue in exceptional circumstances. The ban will be difficult to enforce as the practice is almost universal among Muslim and Coptic women in Egypt. However there there is no doctrinal basis for this practice in either Islam or Christianity and the new ban has been supported by Egypt's first lady, Susanne Mubarak as well as Islamic and Coptic religious leaders.

Dr. Ismail Salam, Egypt’s Minister of Health and Population, initially banned female circumcision in July 1996. The ban was in response to public outcry over a CNN television broadcast of the procedure performed on a nine year old girl by a barber. The government decision was upheld by a junior administrative court in Cairo. However Muslim fundamentalist Sheik Youssef Badri took the government to court a year later and got the decision overturned on the basis that the practice was “Islamic”. The government then appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court who ruled that female circumcision is not a personal right according to the rules of Sharia Law, and hence not Islamic. The ban was re-instated although could be overridden in “exceptional cases”.

Often performed without anaesthetic by amateurs with little medical knowledge, female circumcision can cause death or permanent health problems as well as severe pain. Its supporters see it as an integral part of their cultural and ethnic identity, and some perceive it as a religious obligation. But its critics say the practice is detrimental to women's health and well-being. Some go so far as to categorise it as a violation of human rights, child abuse and violence against women. Mutilated genitalia also reduce and can even eliminate a woman's pleasure during sex.

More properly known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), female circumcision is a social custom, not a religious practice. Muslim advocates of the practice quote the hadith (traditions associated the life and deeds of Mohammed) which reads “A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her: Do not cut too severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband”. However many Muslims regard this hadith as having little credibility or authenticity and the practice is not mentioned in the Koran.

FGM is most widely practiced in Islamic Africa. Egypt is both the ancestral home of the practice and also has the highest official rate of FGM in Africa. According to a 2005 UNICEF survey an astonishing 97 per cent of Egyptian women aged 15 to 49 have suffered mutilation (however no data was available for Somalia where many believe the practice is just as widely spread).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines FGM as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other nontherapeutic reasons”. It estimates that somewhere between 100 to 140 million girls and women have been subjected to the operation. It also believes that about 3 million girls, the majority under 15 years of age, undergo the procedure every year.

WHO recognise four different types of FGM. Type 1 (clitoridectomy) is excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part or the entire clitoris. Type II (excision) is excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora. Type III (infibulation) is excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora. Type IV (others) has a number of different methods including pricking, piercing or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia; cauterisation of the clitoris; scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice or cutting of the vagina; and introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina.

FGM has been practiced in Africa for centuries usually as a rite of passage preparing young girls for womanhood and marriage. Greek papyrus from the pre-Christian era Greek papyrus mentions girls in Egypt undergoing circumcision. Agatharchides of Cnidus wrote about female circumcision as it occurred among tribes residing on the western coast of the Red Sea. Based on the geographical locations of FGM, scholars accept that it originated in Egypt in pharaonic times and spread outwards from there.

Islam arrived in Egypt in 639 barely seven years after Mohammed’s death. Egypt was then still nominally a part of Constantinople's empire. However its authorities had persecuted, flogged, tortured and executed Monophysite Christians, and the Monophysites saw the Arabs as liberators. By 646 the Muslims conquered all of Egypt, turning Egypt into a colony. Although FGM pre-dates Islam, its presence as an Egyptian tradition made it difficult to dislodge. Even with the latest ban, it remains a universal practice, with most circumcisions occurring at home, out of sight of authorities.

Statistical analysis suggests it will be difficult to eradicate. More that 80 per cent of Egyptian women support the continuation of circumcision. 74 per cent believe that husbands prefer circumcised women and 72 per cent believe circumcision is a religious tradition. Relatively few women recognise the negative consequences of circumcision, such as reduced sexual satisfaction (29 per cent, possible death (24 per cent), and higher risk of problems in childbirth (just 5 per cent). The real challenge remains to change attitudes not laws.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Linden Dollars: money for new rope

The US is currently looking at taxation of virtual communities. Congress's Joint Economic Committee (JEC) senior economist Dan Miller admitted that a congressional report on the move to tax virtual goods will be released in August. The move is likely to have significant effect on the popularity of virtual communities such as Second Life.

JEC have been examining the issue of virtual economies since October 2006. They are aware that “Second Life ‘currency’, Linden Dollars, can be exchanged for what any tax authority would recognise as real currency. The initial advice from the JEC is that if transactions take place entirely within the virtual economy, then it is not considered a ‘taxable event’. However redeeming tangible prizes and awards in the real world may be a different matter.

The British Government is going down similar lines of investigation. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are deciding on whether to charge tax on Second Life ‘inworld’ profits. KPMG’s David Nickson urged the British Treasury last month to take a "proactive approach" to the taxation of profits earned in online games. He argued the government should treat the issue as an entirely new framework and assess the scope for tax planning and fraud, as well as considering the tax implications of virtual businesses. “This kind of activity is so recent a phenomenon that it would be impossible to see how existing taxation frameworks could adequately cope,” he said.

Second Life was launched in 2003 by San Francisco based Linden Research (commonly known as Linden Lab). It now has over 4 million users in a 100 countries. Second Life is a virtual world, thought by many to represent the natural evolution of the web. In the world users explore islands, go to parties, meet people and build property. According to its own website, Second Life’s world is “constantly changing and growing”. New players can create avatars, create entities and use a scripting language to add behaviours to objects. The key point is that users retain the IP rights to their creations which they can then sell in the game. While the game is a social network, there is also a serious economic side to it with a marketplace and its own set of rules.

The virtual currency is Linden dollars (Linden or L$ for short). The L$ is convertible into real dollars if players so choose, in an online market at a fluctuating exchange rate set by players. As of 27 June 2007, that rate was L$270 to US$1. A total of $US 239,000 changed hands yesterday on the LindeX.

In Australia, 12,000 people have created virtual avatars in “Second Life” making it the 11th largest community worldwide. In March, Telstra's BigPond opened its island, The Pond, where users can browse, chat, look around and attend events. Importantly for Telstra they can also buy songs and watch movies. Victorian university RMIT has also got involved, launching its island this month. It features digital sculptures, buildings and art created by RMIT students in the School of Architecture and Design as part of their coursework.

In a 2005 interview Linden Lab’s CEO Philip Rosedale said that the Second Life economy generated US$3.6 million in economic activity during the month of September 2005 from a user population base of 70,000. Rosedale has grand ambitions for his product and wants to offer everyone on the internet a 3-D presence “Second Life is the next evolutionary step after the Web” he said.

But a new software program doing the rounds within Second Life is threatening to render the Linden dollar worthless. The program called 'CopyBot' allows objects to be cloned at no cost. Second Life retailers have protested to Linden Lab to put a stop to the potential 'theft' of their products. However the company has said they cannot prevent this and told “residents” could always invoke the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if their copyright had been violated.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Oaxaca Rising

The Mexican Supreme Court has appointed a second commission this week to investigate over a thousand human rights violations in last year’s uprising in the Southern state of Oaxaca. This commission will examine armed attacks that occurred between May 2006 to January 2007 in which at least two dozen people were killed, 300 people wounded and 575 arbitrarily detained. It will act on the results of the first commission which received 1,352 justified complaints of rights violations, mainly for excessive use of force or improper treatment of suspects by local and federal police.

The uprising started out as a strike by teachers who were later joined by hundreds of social organisations in a mass demonstration against the State’s Governor and his irregular army. Together they formed an alternative government called the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). Demonstrators hijacked and burned buses to create roadblocks and barricades and chased police out of the city. The Oaxaca uprising brought economic and tourist activity virtually to a halt for months.

Oaxaca has been the personal fiefdom of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (also known as “URO”) since he became governor of Oaxaca in 2004. He tried to prevent the commission from being instituted and is now the subject of renewed protests. Hundreds of delegates of social movements in the state have occupied the central square of the state capital (also called Oaxaca) in a week-long vigil, and are now threatening to take more radical actions if their demands are not addressed.

Those demands include URO’s resignation and the release of dozens of activists from the first uprising who remain in jail on charges that include property damage. URO has refused to accede to any demands so far. The latest protests have not appeared to interfere with the slowly recovering tourism trade, the city's lifeblood.

The current protest resembles how the first one started. Back in May 2006, the teachers’ strike began and some of them brought their protest to the central city square which they occupied. URO refused to accede to their demands. Instead he counter-attacked. The protesters were sleeping in the square on the night of 14 June when he sent riot police to smash the protest.

They were accompanied by dogs who viciously attacked the sleeping teachers and supporters. Police tear-gassed everyone in the vicinity, including pregnant women and children; one woman miscarried as a result. Ninety-two people were wounded. Members of the community reacted with outrage, fighting back with anything they could find. They chased the police from the square, and re-established the camp. The incident became the spark for the creation of APPO, which comprised almost 350 different civil organizations working in areas of indigenous issues, sustainable community development, human rights, and social justice.

After 14 June, the protest escalated as did the body count. URO then sent heavily armed police officers dressed as civilians to attack protestors throughout the capital. Video footage identified assailants as municipal police officers and ruling party officials. No-one was charged for any crimes. Among the dead was a 36 year old US journalist and activist named Bradley Roland Will.

Brad Will was an Indymedia filmmaker from New York who was killed while filming a clash between demonstrators and gunmen. Will travelled to Mexico on a tourist visa which violated Mexican law. In October he was videotaping near a pro-strike barricade when gunmen approached shot him and two local protesters Esteban López and Emilio Fabián. Will died while he was being carried away from the area. The Committee to Protect Journalists sent an open letter to the Mexican attorney general calling on the federal government to launch an official investigation into Will's death.

Oaxaca has 3.5 million people and is Mexico’s second poorest state (just ahead of its neighbour Chiapas). According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has poverty levels similar to that of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The state is governed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which ruled the country for most of the last 80 years. Mexican economic development policies have entrenched Oaxacan communities in a cycle of bare subsistence and poverty. Conditions on US bank loans and bailouts have seen drastic cuts in expenditures intended to raise rural incomes. Subsidies were slashed for necessities like electricity, bus fares, tortillas, petrol and milk.

The protests were mostly ended in November when Police (now under Federal control) again went on the offensive, making many arrests and clearing away APPO's last encampment in the city. While the teachers that started the strike are now back at work, their complaints remain. As well as pay and conditions, education in Oaxaca students presents peculiar obstacles for schools. Many natives speak only indigenous languages such as Mixteco and Zapoteco. Schools often rely on students who speak Spanish and a Oaxacan dialect to act as translators.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Indigenous groups suspicious of Howard's emergency response

A group of 90 indigenous and welfare groups have accused Prime Minister John Howard of using the child sex abuse emergency as an excuse for a land grab. The group made the claim in a letter to Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough. They said the move to take control of Aboriginal communities in NT is “totally unworkable” and a “Trojan horse” to take over Aboriginal lands. The letter said the proposals went well beyond an emergency response and solutions must be developed with the communities not prescribed from Canberra.

Howard announced the intervention last week, declaring abuse of children in indigenous communities a national emergency. Howard argued the plight of children overrode concerns of intervention in the territory which he dismissed as “constitutional niceties". He urged the states to co-operate on similar measures and offered to cover any expenses they incur.

The Prime Minister’s announcement came in the wake of the release of the NT Government’s “Little Children are Sacred” report (pdf). The 316 page report was produced by the NT board of inquiry into the protection of Aboriginal children from sexual abuse. The title of the report reflected the traditional law of the Yolngu people which says that “little children are very sacred because they carry the two spring wells of water from our country within them. The eight month inquiry reported to NT chief minister Clare Martin on 30 April and examined the extent, nature and factors contributing to sexual abuse of Aboriginal children, focussing especially on unreported abuse.

The report found that sexual abuse is endemic across the Territory. Its two major findings were that Aboriginal child sexual abuse in NT should be seen as a matter of urgent national importance and that the NT government provide strong leadership on the issue. The inquiry said that sexual assault is no more acceptable in Aboriginal society than it is elsewhere. However due to a major breakdown in Aboriginal culture, Indigenous communities face particular difficulties in dealing with the problem. Consumption of alcohol, other drugs and petrol sniffing have led to excessive violence which in turn have led to sexual abuse of children. Family breakdown, the weakening of traditional values and lack of employment opportunities are all contributing factors. The report said the federal government’s multi-billion dollar surplus should be used to address these problems.

The report’s authors, lawyer Rex Wild, QC, and Aboriginal (Alyawarr) leader Pat Anderson, travelled more than 30,000 kilometres visiting 45 communities in NT, where they were told of rampant child sexual abuse in every community. They recommended changes in 12 key areas: alcoholism, education, poverty, housing, substance abuse, gambling, pornography, unemployment, government agency response, law and justice, and rehabilitation of offenders. Education was identified as the key to solving the problem. Education ought to explain what sexual abuse was, confirm that sexual contact between children and adults was not normal, and insist that attending school be compulsory. It also insists that parents take responsibility for their children in terms of school attendance, cleanliness, care and abiding laws.

The report made 97 specific recommendations after the inquiry found that sexual abuse is rampant in virtually every Indigenous community in the Territory. The recommendations fall across the areas of leadership, government responses, family and children’s services, health – crisis intervention, policing, bail, offender rehabilitation, prevention, family support services, education, community awareness, alcohol, other substance abuse, community justice, the role of communities, employment, housing, pornography, gambling and implementation of the report.

It took two further months for the NT government to release the report after which the Howard Government immediately swung into action. It planned to introduce widespread alcohol restrictions on NT Aboriginal land for six months. This involves banning the sale, possession, transportation, consumption and will also monitor takeaway sales. The Government announced it would bear the cost of medical examinations of all indigenous children under the age of 16 and change welfare payments so that 50% can only be used for the purchase of food and other essentials. The plan links income support and family assistance payments to school attendance.

One of the more controversial proposals is in the area of property rights. The government plans to take control of townships through five year leases to seek improvement in property and public housing. The permit system for common areas and road corridors on Aboriginal lands will be scrapped. X-rated pornography in prescribed areas will be banned and all publicly funded computers will be examined for evidence of pornography.

All states except WA have agreed to provide 10 police officers for immediate deployment. They will be backed by military logistics officers. The Australian Crime Commission will be asked to locate and identify perpetrators of sexual abuse of indigenous children in other areas of Australia. While there is broad-based bi-partisan support for the move, the Howard response has been criticised in some quarters as paternalistic, and a form of apartheid. While the Prime Minister had no control over of the timing of the "Little Children" report, the timing does smack of electoral opportunism and leaves him open to the charge of orchestrating a "Tampa 2". However unlike the Tampa, this is a genuine emergency and deserves the chance to succeed. But unless he gets the indigenous community onside, it will go down in the long litany of failed government initiatives to ease the plight of Aboriginal Australia.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Chemical Ali sentenced to death for genocide

An Iraqi court has sentenced the cousin of Saddam Hussein to death yesterday. His name is Ali Hassan al-Majid but he was better known to the world as “Chemical Ali”. The former head of the Baath Party's Northern Bureau Command was sentenced to death with two other former regime officials for their roles in a 1980s scorched-earth campaign that led to the deaths of 180,000 Kurds in Northern Iraq, known as Operation Anfal.

Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa convicted al-Majid of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Also sentenced to death was Sultan Hashem Ahmed, former Iraqi army commander during the Iranian war and chief-in-charge of the Anfal operation. The third man is Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy general commander of the Iraqi armed force, assistant chief of staff for military operations, and former Republican Guard commander. Two other men received life sentences and all five plan to appeal.

Born in 1941, Al-Majid was a warrant officer and motorcycle messenger in the army before Saddam's Baath party took power in a 1968 coup. The Kurds gave al-Majid the nickname of "Chemical Ali" for using poison gas against them in the Anfal campaign. “Surat al-Anfal” is the eight chapter of the Koran and means spoils of war. It was the culmination of years of effort by Saddam’s regime to suppress the long-running Kurdish rebellion. Launched in early 1988, the campaign lasted about seven months and involved chemical; weapon attacks, the destruction of over 2,000 villages and mass deportations.

Al-Majid served as governor of Kuwait during Iraq's seven-month occupation of the emirate in 1990-1991 and was then linked to the bloody crackdown on Shiites in southern Iraq when they rose against Saddam in 1991 in the aftermath of the first Gulf war. He was promoted to general and served as defence minister from 1991-95, as well as a regional party leader. Al-Majid was governor of Southern Iraq and number 5 on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis at the time of the US-led invasion.

In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, it was mistakenly believed al-Majid was killed. A British officer said his body was found along with that of his bodyguard and the head of Iraqi intelligence services in Basra. British troops entered Basra on 7 April 2003 in the belief that al-Majid’s death would lead to the end of resistance in the city. The British believed Al-Majid was killed two days earlier when coalition aircraft used laser-guided munitions to attack his Basra home.

But by June 2003, Coalition forces were no longer so sure he was dead. The US gathered intelligence from detainees which threw doubt on the earlier British report. His status was changed from ‘confirmed dead’ to ‘unknown’. Two months later, US forces announced his capture but did not divulge details on how it happened. He was held at the same detention centre outside Baghdad as Saddam and 10 other top lieutenants of the Baath regime.

Al-Majid was brought before the Iraq Special Tribunal and charged with genocide in August 2006. He briefly stole the limelight of Saddam’s second trial when which he walked into the court using a cane and wearing a red headscarf and proudly identified himself as "Fighting comrade 1st Maj. Gen. Pilot Ali Hassan al-Majid." He refused to give a plea, and a plea of innocent was entered for him. In sentencing him yesterday, Judge al-Khalifah blew his defence away "You led the killing of Iraqi villagers [and] you restricted them in their areas, burnt their orchards, killed their animals,” he said. “You committed genocide."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hew Griffiths sentenced in US court

Australian software pirate Hew Griffiths will spend over a year in a US prison after he pleaded guilty on Friday on a charge of conspiring to commit a criminal copyright infringement. Judge Claude Hilton of the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, sentenced Griffiths to 51 months jail. However the judge reduced the sentence to 15 months after he took into account three years Griffiths spent at Silverwater detention centre in NSW fighting extradition.

Griffiths is a 44 Briton who came to Australia with his family when he was seven. He has a British passport and never applied for Australian citizenship. Griffiths was controversially extradited to the US in February. He is the first person to be extradited from Australia to the US to face intellectual property charges. Griffiths had never set foot in the US before this time. He faced a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a US$500,000 fine for the charges. His Australian pro bono lawyer, Nicolas Patrick of DLA Phillips Fox, said he would investigate prisoner-exchange options that might allow his client to serve his sentence in Australia. Patrick also claimed the sentence highlighted the "injustice of this process" as Griffiths would have served a much shorter sentence had he been tried in Australia.

Griffiths admits he was the brains behind several counterfeit software rings called DrinkOrDie, Razor1911 and RiSC. DrinkOrDie is a network which copied software, computer games, music and videos worth $50 million. As far back as 2001, the US Customs Service was calling the group “the al-Qaeda of Internet software theft” and "the oldest and most well known" of Internet piracy organisations. Founded in Russia in 1993, it expanded internationally throughout the 1990s until it was broken up by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in December 2001, with more than 70 raids conducted in the US, the UK, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Australia.

DrinkOrDie is a software cracking site known in its own jargon as “warez sitez”. “Warez” (pronounced either like “wares” or like the city of “Juarez”) is software that has been stripped of its copy-protection and made available on the Internet for downloading. They distributed software from computer giants like Microsoft, Adobe Systems and Symantec, as well as smaller software vendors. The group used encryption and other security measures to hide their activities from police. Bob Kruger, of the anti-piracy Business Software Alliance trade organisation said DrinkOrDie was at the forefront of piracy. "They are a notorious elite Internet pirate organization," he said. "I doubt there's much (software) out there that people want that (DrinkOrDie) can't provide."

According to Alice Fisher, a US Department of Justice assistant attorney general, Griffiths became one of the most notorious leaders of the underground Internet piracy community by orchestrating the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in copyrighted material. Griffiths, who used the alias “BanDiDo”, became involved with DrinkOrDie in the 1990s and he himself earned nothing from the piracy.

After 11 members of the group were arrested and charged in the US, they started to chase down Griffiths. They alleged he was one of the few who controlled access to the drop site at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They had Australian police arrest Griffith in August 2003 on copyright charges. He was held in custody for two months until bail was granted. He came to trial in March 2004 however Australian magistrate Daniel Riess threw out the charges saying there was no extraditable offence. The US won an appeal against the decision in July 2004. Justice Peter Jacobson ruled that magistrate Riess had "misdirected" himself, possibly because he held the view that the alleged crimes had been committed in Australia when case law and the indictment showed it was committed in the US.

Griffiths' appeal to the Full Federal Court was turned down in March 2005 and his special leave application to the High Court was refused that September. Griffiths' lawyers at the NSW Legal Aid Commission then wrote Justice Minister Chris Ellison asking him to exercise his power to refuse the US request. After eight months the Attorney-General's Department drafted a submission to the minister refusing the request. Ellison finally issued a warrant for Griffiths' extradition to the US and he was flown out in May this year.

Critics of the Griffiths case have called the Australian government action craven in the face of American pressure. They have pointed out he could have been charged in Australia and that the UK did not hand over any of their DrinkOrDie suspects. Many have likened Griffiths' treatment with that of convicted Guantanamo detainee David Hicks. Others have warned that criminal prosecutions for intellectual property (IP) violations will increase as a result of Australia's Free Trade Agreement with the US. David Vaile of the Cyberlaw and Policy Centre of UNSW believes the "overreach of American power" produced an FTA that was "unbalanced". "It was a partial harmonisation with only those parts of American law that favoured certain interests," he said.

Meanwhile Australian judicial opinion is that while copyright infringement, particularly on a large scale, is clearly wrong, extradition seems disproportionate. Griffiths’ lawyer Nicolas Patrick claimed his client was the real victim. "Effectively my client was sent to face charges in a foreign country where he has no knowledge of the legal system and no friends or family," .he said "He has been surrendered to a country where the penalties for such offences are much harsher." With no Australian citizenship to protect him, it is possible he will be deported from Australia after he completes his sentence.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Uganda child slave trade on the rise

Ugandan police have announced a probe into child trafficking from orphanages. Police Inspector General Kale Kayihura made the announcement during a conference on human trafficking in East Africa. Meanwhile fellow Ugandan Moses Okello, of the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University, told the BBC that a spate of recent cases showed the scale child trafficking in Uganda "could get out of hand". The conference is hoping to develop an action plan to address the lack of information on the problem and find ways to curb it

The discussions are occurring at the “First Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Conference in Eastern Africa” at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala. Held for three days between 20 and 22 June, the conference was organised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). UNODC was established in 1997 and has approximately 500 staff members worldwide. Headquartered in Vienna, it has 20 field offices as well as liaison offices in New York and Brussels. UNODC relies on voluntary contributions, mainly from governments, for 90 per cent of its budget. UNDOC mandate is to assist Member States in their struggle against illicit drugs, crime and terrorism.

However human trafficking is a $32b global industry that is on a similar scale to the drug and arms trafficking industry. UNODC launched the trafficking conference on 20 June with a press conference. UNODC stated that post-conflict societies, such as Uganda appear to be particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. The problems caused by war means that often the infrastructure is not in place to protect the most vulnerable members of society. It also creates an environment ripe for organised criminal organisations, which seek to exploit illegal markets.

The conference brought together authorities from the eleven countries of the Eastern African Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO) region. A subsidiary of Interpol, the 11 member EAPCCO (Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda) was founded in Kampala in 1998 and is now based in Nairobi. The major seven types of crimes investigated by EAPCCO are firearms, narcotic drugs, motor vehicle theft, economic crime and corruption, terrorism, environmental crime and cattle rustling.

However EAPCCO also recognises human trafficking as a major problem. Interpol has been involved in the investigation of offences against children since 1989. It has a specialist group on crimes against children which focuses on four different arenas; commercial exploitation and trafficking; sex offenders; serious violent crimes against children and child pornography. Operationally, it supports member states in carrying out large operations investigating the commercial exploitation of children.

The Kampala conference was told that Asian children mainly from India, Pakistan and China are being trafficked into Uganda. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has released a rapid assessment report on trafficking of children in Uganda. The ILO said the Asian children are trafficked into Uganda disguised as cultural dancers on short- term visits while some Somalis are brought in as refugees. ILO said the trade was organised by “well coordinated networks of individuals and groups” across all stratas of society including pimps, employment bureaus, churches, transport agents, NGOs, peers, and fishermen.

The ILO findings were corroborated by Ugandan Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura. Kayihura said the country was a transit route in the multi-billion dollar human trafficking trade. He said Police are investigating two local orphanages involved in child trafficking. He also said that although the trade looks un-coordinated because of the small numbers moved at a given time, there is a huge worldwide network behind it.

Jeffrey Avina, director for operations at UNODC, told the conference that child trafficking was on the rise in East Africa. Avina cited the conflict in northern Uganda, where Lord's Resistance Army rebels have been widely accused of abducting thousands of children for over two decades which made the country stand out as the state worst affected by trafficking in eastern Africa. 30,000 rebel-recruited children have ended up in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Boys end up working in commercial farms, mines and quarries and girls are forced into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation. “This is not about individuals; we are talking about organised crime," said Avina.

Trafficking in humans is outlawed under the UN Protocol Against Trafficking in Persons, which has been in effect since December 2003. Covered under the protocols are "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation". Like the law itself, human trafficking is a global issue that remains little understood.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Victorian Internet

Next month marks the 150th anniversary of the first attempt to lay an Atlantic telegraph cable. In July 1857, the job of laying 2,500 tons of cable across the ocean began. Though the attempt failed (and it would take another nine years for a properly working telegraphy link between Britain and America to function), the anniversary marks an important milestone in the coming of, what Marshall McLuhan was to call over a hundred years later, “the global village”.

The transatlantic cable is one of the important milestones of telegraphy covered in English author Tom Standage’s 1998 book “The Victorian Internet”. Standage’s thesis in the book is that the way in which the telegraph revolutionised the 19th century world is remarkably similar to how the Internet is doing the same thing 150 years later. Both communication mechanisms have proved immune to regulation while both also annihilated distance, revolutionised business, and gave rise to new forms of vocabulary, crime and romance.

Standage traces the beginning of telegraphy back to a bizarre experiment that zapped Parisian monks in 1746. The French scientist Abbe Jean-Antoine Nollet was dishing out electric shocks to a line of 200 unsuspecting Carthusian monks each carrying 7.5 metres of iron wire. Nollet’s electrotherapy proved that electricity could travel quickly over great distance and held out the promise of high speed signalling between remote places.

But the first practical signalling device didn’t involve electric wires. Fifty years after Nollet, his compatriot Claude Chappe evolved a messaging system out of coded black-and-white panels, synchronised clocks and a telescope. In 1791 he sent a message to his brother 16kms away which read in French “if you succeed, you will be covered in glory”. Chappe called his new invention “le télégraphe” from the Greek words for 'far writer'. Chappe expanded his design to do away with the clocks and used a regulating rotating arm which allowed for 94 code symbols. The new post-revolutionary government quickly saw the potential of the new invention and began to build a network of towers to ferry news between towns.

Napoleon was a firm believer in the telegraph and in 1804 he ordered the construction of a line from Paris to Milan. Not to be outdone, Britain followed suit and by the 1830s telegraph towers were springing up all over Europe. But the optical telegraph was fundamentally flawed. Towers were expensive to build and the process needed clear daylight to work. What was needed was an electric telegraph and the race was on to build the prototype.

In 1820, Danish physicist Hans Oersted discovered that an electric current produces a magnetic field which will deflect a compass needle. That same year the German Johann Schweigger (who also named the element chlorine) invented the galvanometer. In conjunction with the electromagnet and the voltaic battery, the galvanometer was the foundation of a working electric telegraph. Two amateur scientists separated by the Atlantic Ocean and unknown to each other were to make it work: Samuel Morse in New Haven and William Fothergill Cooke in London. Both men patented their work in 1837.

Cooke’s English telegraph was greatly helped by Professor Charles Wheatstone who knew how to get signals to travel long distances. The two formed an uneasy partnership. Wheatstone was first and foremost an experimental scientist while Cooke was a go-getting entrepreneur. But together they successfully designed and patented a five-needle telegraph that could allow for 20 letters (C, J, Q, U, X and Z were the unlucky letters who missed out).

While Cooke and Wheatstone took a few months to perfect the telegraph, Morse spent five years getting his invention up and running. His design was overly complex and he ran into similar issues in getting signals to travel long distances. He was greatly assisted by Alfred Vail who became a partner in his venture. They developed the code that bears Morse’s name based on using long and short bursts of current. They also simplified the design to make a working telegraph. All they had to do now was sell it.

But he had difficulty convincing sceptics they had a useful new device. Morse failed to win over US congress and was equally unsuccessful on a sales trip to Europe. Cooke did marginally better and managed to get the Great Western Railway to run a 21km telegraph link between Paddington and West Drayton stations. But even then, the railway lost interest and Cooke had to front up his own money to extend the line to Slough. By 1841 Cooke thought his new invention was foundering.

Back in the US, Morse eventually won some government funding to build an experimental line. He ran a line alongside the 64km railway track between Washington and Baltimore. Before it was completely finished, Morse used the line to transmit the Whig Party presidential nomination in Baltimore and did so 64 minutes in advance of the news arriving in Washington by train. Three weeks later, on 24 May 1844, Morse officially inaugurated the line from Washington to Vail in Baltimore sending a quote from the Book of Numbers 23:23 “What hath God wrought.”

In Britain, the telegraph took off a year later when it was used to transmit news from Windsor Castle to London. Queen Victoria gave birth to her second son Alfred Ernest on 6 August 1844 and within 40 minutes, “The Times” was announcing the news on the streets of London saying it was “indebted to the extraordinary power of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph”. Having proved its prowess to the press, it was soon impressing the police too. The telegraph was used to apprehend a killer. John Tawell murdered his mistress and he absconded by train from the scene of the crime in Slough. Police sent his description on by telegraph ‘dressed like a Kwaker’ (in the absence of Q’s) and he was easily apprehended at the other end. The telegraph wires were subsequently lauded as “the cords that hung John Tawell”.

Across the Atlantic, the US congress remained apathetic to Morse’s version despite the success of his Washington experiments. He teamed up with Amos Kendall who proposed to set up lines privately. The men set up the Magnetic Telegraph Company and built lines towards Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo and New York. Kendall advertised in the New York newspapers saying the fee for sending a telegraph was 25 cents for 10 words. The business quickly began making profits.

Once established, telegraph growth was explosive. By 1850, there was almost 20,000kms of wire in the US alone. It was used by bankers, merchants, government, police, business, shipping, courts and what one British writer called “messages of every character usually sent by the mail”. The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London had 13 different designs for improvements on the telegraph. By 1852, Prussia had laid 2,400 kms of lines radiating out from Berlin. Austria and Canada nearly had as much and lines were being laid in Italy, Spain, Russia, Holland, Australia, Chile and Cuba. Only France remained obstinate, reluctant to abandon the optical telegraphy they had given to the world 50 years earlier.

Messages were quickly dubbed ‘telegrams’ and sent by central telegraph offices to their destination office before being transcribed onto paper. Telegraph messenger boys would then take the messages to the recipient. Messenger boy was an occupation seen to be a good stepping stone to success; both Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie both started their careers in this way.

As more countries became connected, they soon wanted to talk to each other. Prussia and Austria signed the first interconnection treaty in 1849 and soon spread to the rest of mainland Europe. But until someone could solve the problem of underwater cables due to the deterioration of rubber in water, Britain would remain isolated. The solution was south-east Asian gutta-percha, a kind of rubbery gum that is hard at room temperature but malleable and soft in hot water. The first direct message was sent from London to Paris in 1852. Ireland was linked a year later. But deepwater cable-laying across the Atlantic remained a distant dream.

The independently wealthy Cyrus Field entertained that dream for most of the 1850s. As stated earlier, the first cable was laid in 1857 but snapped as did a replacement cable. A third cable did successfully cross the Atlantic a year later but was very slow and lasted just three weeks before extinguishing forever. Aided by the Scottish scientist William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) an enquiry into the failed cable demonstrated the conducting core was too small and the use of high voltage induction coils destroyed the cables insulation. In July 1866 the two continents were linked by a newer sturdy cable which was quickly duplicated. Cyrus Field was hailed as “the Columbus of our time”.

By the 1850s congestion was a major problem for telegraph offices. Bottlenecks were arising as messages were held up due to the enormous traffic. London solved the problem by using steam-powered pneumatic tubes to carry messages short distances. The idea was copied in other English cities and spread worldwide. In Paris the system was extensive enough to often avoid sending telegraphs at all. In New York the tubes were large enough to carry large parcels and on one occasion a cat was sent from one post office to another by pneumatic tube.

By the 1870s, the Victorian Internet was in place. Cables reached India, China and Japan in 1870, Australia a year later and South America in 1874. The world had over a million kms of wire and 48,000 kms of submarine cable linking 20,000 towns and villages. Messages could go from London to Bombay and back in under 4 minutes. The newspaper named after the invention itself, the Daily Telegraph, proclaimed that “time itself was telegraphed out of existence”.

But newspapers weren’t always so positive about the virtues of the telegraph. In the early days, the press saw it as an ominous development that might put them out of business. But while telegraphs could quickly transport news, it could not easily distribute news to readers. So the newspapers formed networks of reporters who dispatched their news from distant places. These networks became known as news agencies. The New York Associated Press began in 1848 and soon dominated the selling of news to newspapers. In Europe Paul Julius Reuter established his own agency, initially by carrier pigeon and eventually by telegraph.

The Times reporter William Howard Russell was the world’s first war correspondent when he sent his dispatches back to London from the front line of the Crimean war. Russell was not allowed to use the Black Sea cable specifically built by Britain for the war but his otherwise speedy missives highlighted military inefficiencies and made a national hero out of Florence Nightingale.

But by the 1870s the dominant era of the telegraph was about to end. Most offices now had automatic telegraphs capable of up to 400 words a minute - ten times faster than the quickest human operators. First duplex and then quadruplex systems were developed to carry four streams of traffic simultaneously. The technology changed telegraphy into a low-skill occupation. But it was the invention of the ‘harmonic telegraph’ that was to have the greatest effect.

Harmonic telegraphs distinguish notes of different pitch by using reeds vibrating at different frequencies. Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell were both working on variations of harmonic machines which they realised were capable of making more than mere telegraphy. In 1876 Bell filed a patent for a machine to transmit the human voice when he found out that Gray was working on the same goal. By the end of the year, the ‘telephone’ was ready for the world. Initially seen as a speaking telegraph, it became an instant success going from 230 handsets in 1877 to 30,000 three years later.

Samuel Morse died in 1872, aged 81. Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb in 1879 was the final straw for the telegraph. Thanks to Edison, Tesla and others, it was now the electric age and the telegraphic journals began to rename themselves. The Telegraphers’ Advocate became the Electric Age, the Operator became Electrical World, and The Telegraphic Journal became the Electrical Review. By the end of the century, the telephone reigned supreme. The telegraph’s golden age was over.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Nigeria on the MEND?

A top southern militant in Nigeria has declared this week they will halt attacks on the country’s oil installations to give the new government a chance to deal with the region's problems. Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, leader of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF) was freed last week after 18 months in prison on treason-related charges after telling a reporter he would work for the break up of Nigeria. The NDPVF are the second largest rebel group in the area but they are in coalition with the largest, MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) so Dokubo-Asari’s words are likely to have force.

MEND and NDPVF operate in the oil rich Niger Delta. Nigeria has relied on oil exports since independence in 1960. Since then, the Delta terrain has been destroyed by deliberate over-exploitation with no concern for sustainable environmental management. Corrupt governments have allowed oil companies drill 4,000 oil wells so far in the Delta and offshore since 1957. These are complete with drilling wastes, drill cuttings, oil sludge and various toxic hazardous chemicals.

Local opposition was led by activists such as Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa led a non-violent movement for social and ecological justice in the Ogoni region against the government and oil companies. He and eight other activists were executed by the brutal Sani Abacha regime in 1995 after a rigged show trial. Since civilian government was restored in the late 1990s, MEND and the other groups have increased their activities to end the pollution and return some of the oil wealth to the delta.

While little is known about MEND, they have shown an ability to destabilise Nigeria’s oil industry. They are well supported in the local area. In 2006 they managed to reduce Nigeria’s oil output by 25 per cent through a wave of attacks on oil installations and kidnapping of foreign oil workers as well as car bombs in the regional capital Port Harcourt. That bomb represented a change of strategy as most previous operations occurred in the rivers and creeks of the Niger Delta.

The ultimate goal of MEND is to expel foreign oil and non-indigenous people from the region. They support the rights of the local ethnic Ijaw people. While Nigeria and foreign companies has reaped great profits from the oil industry, most people in the region live in poverty, neglected by the government. There are few major roads in the area and fewer hospitals. As a result over 120 different groups, of which MEND are the largest, have risen up claiming to represent the people. MEND has joined forces with Dokubo-Asari’s NDPVF, the Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta, and the Martyrs Brigade to form the strongest anti-foreign oil alliance in the region.

MEND have evolved from their original crude tactics of kidnappings to targeted attacks allied with a carefully co-ordinated public relations campaign. They have invited foreign media into their operations to tell their side of the story. Their military leader Major-General Godswill Tamuno told the BBC in 2006 his group had declared "total war" on all foreign oil interests. They launched a campaign called “"dark February" which involved blowing up two oil pipelines, holding foreign oil workers hostage and sabotaging two major oilfields.

MEND’s apparent invulnerability severely embarrassed Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and the groups also rejected his "Marshall Plan" aid proposal in 2006. But things may be changing in the wake of Obasanjo’s departure from office. Obasanjo’s handpicked successor Umaru Yar'Adua was controversially elected President in April 2007 and took office on 29 May.

Three days later MEND announced a ceasefire for the month of the June and released six foreign oil workers held captive for four weeks. MEND said the move signified its "preparedness to dialogue with a willing government." Yar'adua has also been praised for the release of Dokubo-Asari which was one of the pre-conditions for dialogue. MEND said it hoped the new administration would "ruminate on positive and realistic measures towards a just peace in the Delta”.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Salman Rushdie: Satanic Voices

Iran summoned its British ambassador in Teheran yesterday to protest against the knighthood of author Salman Rushdie. Iran's Foreign Ministry Director for Europe, Ebrahim Rahimpour said it was a suspicious and improper act against Islam and claimed that the award “has seriously wounded the beliefs of 1.5 billion Muslims and followers of other religions." Rushdie’s knighthood has opened old wounds over charges of “blasphemy”.

Ahmed Salman Rushdie, of London WC1B, was knighted on the weekend for “services to literature” in the Queen’s honours list. Rushdie, who turned 60 yesterday, was one of 21 men knighted (women are excluded) and is joined on the list (pdf) by cricketer Ian Botham, as well as civil servants, local politicians, educators, businessmen and a policeman. But none of the other twenty awards are of interest to the world wide Islamic community. Rushdie is an Indian born British novelist whose fourth novel The Satanic Verses catapulted him into the world spotlight when he attracted a fatwa from Iran’s then spiritual and political leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Published in 1988, the book is a dense and difficult but compelling study of Indian Muslims living in contemporary England. It combines typical Rushdie elements of magical realism and dream narratives. However it also has parallels with the story of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Rushdie’s title “The Satanic Verses” was coined by Scottish orientalist and fellow knight Sir William Muir to describe rogue verses which possibly appeared in the Koran over a hundred years after Muhammad’s death. According to Muir, some Muslim tradition has it that Muhammad himself added verses to the Koran accepting three Meccan goddesses as divine beings but then later revoked it as a temptation from the devil.

The Muslim-born Rushdie was immediately in trouble for blasphemy. However while blasphemy officially remains a crime in England, no one has been sent to prison for it since eccentric trouser salesman John William Gott in 1921. Gott got nine months for publishing attacks on Christianity. His mistake was to go for a cheap laugh rather than a reasoned criticism. The Lord Chief Justice upheld the sentence saying “It does not require a person of strong religious feelings to be outraged by a description of Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem ‘like a circus clown on the back of two donkeys’.

But because England didn’t recognise Rushdie’s blasphemy as a crime, Iran decided to act in absentia. On 14 February 1989, the day before the book was to be published in the US, Khomeini announced a fatwa against Rushdie on Teheran radio. In Islamic law, a fatwa is a declaration issued by a legal authority. Khomeini's fatwa said “I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world. . . that the author of the book titled The Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been declared madhur el dam ["those whose blood must be shed"]. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islam again. . . .”

Iran’s Khordad Foundation backed up the fatwa with a $2.8 million dollars bounty calling for Rushdie’s assassination. Rushdie went into hiding, protected by the British police. Meanwhile two London bookshops were firebombed after they received letters warning it to stop selling the book. In 1991 the book’s Japanese translator was stabbed and killed at Tsukuba University northeast of Tokyo. The book’s Italian translator was also stabbed but survived.

Rushdie himself issued a statement expressing his regret for the distress that his book may have caused Muslims. A little over a year later, Rushdie announced that he had returned to Islam. He went on to renounce anything in his novel that insulted Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, or the Koran. But Khomeini refused to cancel the fatwa instead declaring flatly, "It is incumbent on every Muslim to do everything possible to send him to hell."

The fatwa remains in place to this day. It was reaffirmed by the hard-line Revolutionary Guards in 2005 despite a 1998 agreement where Tehran promised the British Government that Iran would do nothing to implement it. Iran struck that deal as a pre-condition to normalise relations with the EU. Now the foreign ministry is saying Rushdie was "one of the most hated figures" in the Islamic world.

And Iran is not alone in the condemnation of Rushdie’s knighthood. Pakistan also hauled in the British ambassador and adopted a parliamentary resolution condemning the act. It said that “conferment of a knighthood on Salman Rushdie shows an utter lack of sensitivity on the part of the British government” while the government's religious affairs minister said Rushdie’s honour could incite suicide bombings.

Supporters of Malaysia's hardline Islamic opposition party Parti Islam se-Malaysia also launched a small protest outside the British embassy today. Chanting "Destroy Salman Rushdie" and "Destroy Britain", about 30 members (outnumbered by 40 police) urged London to retract the honour or risk the consequences. Party treasurer Hatta Ramli said "This has tainted the whole knighthood, the whole hall of fame of the British system."

But Rushdie is not without his supporters in the West. The Guardian said the honour was richly deserved and described Rushdie as “amongst the greats of British literature and “the Dickens of our times”. It also noted the Satanic Verses was as much a hallucinatory satire on Thatcher's Britain as it, notionally, offended Islam. The Guardian also condemned the labelling of his fiction as “blasphemous” saying it surrender “to those pressures on our cultural life which have historically sought to gag all criticism of the status quo”.

But blasphemy may be coming back on the agenda. In the aftermath of the Danish Jyllands-Posten controversy, Norwegian Muslim lawyer Abid Q Raja called for anti-blasphemy regulations to protect minorities against derisive and hateful expression. But Oslo Professor of Public Law Eivind Smith is sceptical. He believes it is important than any future tightening of the law favours human rights rather than religion. "The point is to protect people against insult” he said. “God should be able to take care of himself.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

China builds Everest highway

China has announced it will begin building a highway to Everest Base Camp which is expected to be ready in time for the Olympic torch relay next year. The road will replace a rough 108km track. The new road has attracted controversy due to the decision to include Tibet in the torch relay.

The new road will cost $20 million. The work will commence next week and will take four months to complete. China said the new highway would become a major route for tourists and mountaineers. The road will stretch from the foot of the mountain to a base camp at 17,000 metres. The new road will be a paved "highway fenced by undulating guardrails."

In April, China deported five American tourists after they demonstrated for a free Tibet at the base of Mount Everest. The five unfurled banners at a base camp calling for Tibet’s independence. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the five were detained for "carrying out illegal activities aimed at splitting China" and that they had been expelled according to Chinese law. An official for their group, Students for a Free Tibet, originally said four people were detained, but later said a fifth person who was transporting videotape also had been held. The five were expelled after being held for two days.

The demonstration occurred after China announced its grand plans for the torch relay which will be a 137,000 km event taking 130 days and will cross five continents in its journey from Olympia in Greece to Beijing. The highlight of the event is the plan to scale the world’s highest peak. But in order to reach Everest, the relay must pass through Tibet.

China invaded Tibet in 1950 and the country’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, lives in exile in India having fled his homeland in 1959. The Tibetan government in exile and China disagree over when Tibet became a part of China, and whether this incorporation into China is legitimate. The Chinese date their ownership of the Himalayan region from the time of Kublai Khan in the 13th century.

But Tibet was ruled by secular dynasties for three hundred years after the fall of the Yuan dynasty. The earliest Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup, lived in the 15th century and was officially the head of Tibet’s government. China remained an important presence and exacted tribute from the Lhasa government, backed up by the occasional armed incursion.

A British expeditionary force led by Francis Younghusband invaded in 1904 and fixed the border between Tibet and India. However they also recognised the suzerainty of China over Tibet. The country’s status remained ambiguous until Chairman Mao’s Red Army marched into Lhasa in 1950 and crushed the weak Tibetan Army. The last uprising occurred in 1959 which China crushed forcing the current Dalai Lama into exile.

While the Olympic road may have mostly symbolic meaning, China has a strong course of integration with Tibet encouraging mass immigration of Han Chinese to dilute the Tibetan majority. By October 2005, China had spent $26 billion on a railway linking the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, with the north-western province of Qinghai. China says the line will promote the development of impoverished Tibet.

China is now forcing nomadic Tibetan herders to settle in towns to clear land for development, leaving many unable to earn a living. Herders have been forced to slaughter herds of yaks, sheep and goats without compensation. Chinese authorities claimed the changes were a response to overgrazing by Tibetan herds that was causing erosion and soil loss. But one man affected by the settlement said "they are destroying our Tibetan (herder) communities by not letting us live in our area and thus wiping out our livelihood completely”.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Scotland the Brave

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has begun discussions with the other two Celtic nations with a view towards joint UK governance in his visit to Belfast. The newly elected SNP leader will suggest to Northern Irish leaders that relations could be put on a “proper business-like basis” by resurrecting joint ministerial committees that will also including Wales. “It is not a question of ganging up, it is a question of formulating ideas in a constructive way,” he said. “And on many of these issues it will also be, in my opinion, in the interests of the Westminster Government.”

Salmond is travelling today to address the Northern Ireland Assembly and meet his Stormont government counterparts on his first official engagement outside of Scotland as First Minister. Salmond is attempting to improve the channels of communication between the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and want to re-establish the Joint Ministerial Committees to discuss matters of common interests with colleagues in the devolved administrations which have been in abeyance since 2002.

Salmond flew to Belfast from Dundee in order to discuss with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist First Minister Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness the possibility of their forming a united Celtic front with Rhodri Morgan's administration in Wales. He will also discuss the economic and fishery links between the countries. Salmond will suggest to the joint heads of the Northern Irish Executive that relations could be put on a "proper business-like basis" by resurrecting joint ministerial committees.

Salmond is coming from a position of strength after the nationalist SNP won the election in May 2007 winning the largest number of seats without winning an outright majority. The nationalist SNP beat Labour by 47 votes to 46 on the election held on 3 May. Salmond was forced to form a minority government on a "policy by policy" basis. He was elected as the Scottish Parliament's nominee for First Minister on 16 May 2007, and was sworn in a day later. He is the first nationalist to hold the role following three Labour first Ministers Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell.

Salmond has the reputation of a Nationalist hard man. He is a former civil servant and banker who was expelled from the party in 1982 for being “too socialist” but re-admitted a year later. In 1987 he was elected for the Westminster seat of Banff and Buchan and more than doubled his majority in 1992.

He was elected leader of the SNP in 1990. He served as Leader of the Opposition and Shadow First Minister in the Scots Parliament before suddenly standing down as Party Leader in September 2000. In 2004 he was returned as SNP leader with 75% of the vote. He won the May 1997 election taking an additional 20 seats from the 2003 election. With the Tories winning 17 seats and the Lib Dems winning 16 and the Greens winning 2, the SNP surprisingly entered into an agreement with the Greens (pdf) on “how a new Government in Scotland will be established that pursues a progressive programme and which places addressing climate change at the heart of its agenda”. Nonetheless an alliance of the SNP and the Greens alone are not enough to form government. This is where the neglected Tories come in.

The unspoken agenda in Scotland is full independence. A Scottish Conservative spokesman has publicly backed a referendum on independence yesterday, sparking a major debate within his party which he hopes will lead to a change in Tory policy. Richard Cook, the vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, said he wanted the referendum as soon as possible to "clear the air" over Scotland's constitutional future. Though Cook himself is against full independence, his parties 16 votes plus the SNP and the Greens would be enough to push the policy through parliament.

Though the Ulster Unionists are suspicious of Salmond’s nationalist agenda, the two administrations have much in common including the fact they both want money from the exchequer and increased flexibility to respond to local needs, including regional cuts in Corporation Tax. But some Unionists see Salmond as the enemy. Assembly member David Burnside said "I personally like Alex Salmond but I believe Ian Paisley is falling into a dangerous trap for unionism. He [Salmond] is a nationalist who wants to end the Union between England and Scotland.” He said “that has implications for Wales and Northern Ireland”.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Brits – The war against the IRA

Former head of the British Army Sir Michael Jackson has admitted last month innocent people were killed in Derry’s Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972. Jackson made the admission in an interview with BBC Northern Ireland's flagship current affairs program, Spotlight. However the former army chief, who was a captain with the parachute regiment in Northern Ireland at the time, said people should wait for the outcome of the latest Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday before making judgements.

Bloody Sunday was one of the defining moments of Northern Ireland’s 30 year conflict. British troops shot dead 14 unarmed Catholic civilians (13 died immediately, and one later from injuries) on 30 January 1972 ending any lingering hopes in Nationalist community the British army were anything other than an occupying force. The incident is covered in detail in an excellent book “Brits: the War against the IRA” by British journalist Peter Taylor. Brits is the third book in his trilogy on the war. The first, “Provos”, told the story from the nationalist side, the second “Loyalists” told story of Protestant unionism and Brits takes the army perspective.

The book chronicles its involvement, and most intriguingly, its intelligence operation, during the 30 year conflict. The book tells how the army’s most secret undercover surveillance unit in the province, 14 Intelligence Company, known as the Detachment, or ‘Det’, played a major role in bringing the IRA to the negotiation table. With the help of technology, surveillance and undercover operators, the ‘Det’ almost crippled the IRA by the end of the 1980s and made its leadership see only a political settlement could win the war.

Northern Ireland was created by Westminster’s Government of Ireland Act 1920. Ireland was divided into two partitions each with its own home rule government. The north was to be a Protestant state for a Protestant people. A new boundary was drawn around the ancient province of Ulster but with the three Catholic majority counties (Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan) removed. In the new state of Northern Ireland, discrimination was endemic. Derry council was gerrymandered so 14,000 Catholic voters elected eight councillors while 9,000 Protestant voters elected 12. Harland & Wolff, builders of the Titanic, employed 10,000 workers on its Belfast dockyards but only 400 were Catholic. Northern Ireland had its own Protestant-dominated parliament at Stormont while Westminster devoted just two hours a year discussing Northern Irish issues.

Decades of Catholic resentment blew up in the seminal rebellion year of 1968. A new breed of charismatic leaders like Bernadette Devlin and John Hume demanded change and universal civil rights. The Protestants saw the civil rights movement as an IRA front and treated it with suspicion. In October, TV news brought pictures of a civil rights march baton charged by police. The incident confirmed the Catholic belief the Royal Ulster Constabulary were another sectarian force. Violence grew in Derry and spread to Belfast by the summer of 1969. The Protestant Apprentice Boys march in August caused a full scale riot in Derry that lasted three days and found the RUC ill-prepared to deal with the problem. With the situation deteriorating on the third day, the First Battalion of the Prince of Wales Own Regiment of Yorkshire was drafted in. It was the first deployment of troops on the street.

The troops were welcomed by the Catholics who saw the army was there to stop them from being bashed by police. But just as the situation calmed in Derry, large-scale violence broke out in Belfast along sectarian lines. Vicious street fights broke out between nationalists and police and nationalists and loyalists. The IRA got involved and shot dead a policeman Herbert Roy. The RUC shot dead three Catholics as loyalist mobs torched Catholic houses in streets they shared. After several days, police admitted defeat and called in the army. Troops were flown in and needed to buy maps of Belfast at the airport. Most soldiers saw their mission as stopping Protestants from burning out Catholic homes.

Meanwhile the IRA was in turmoil. While some members fought in the riots, the official line was to steer clear of the trouble having declared a ceasefire. Graffiti appeared saying “IRA – I Ran Away”. Divisions in the IRA hierarchy were formalised and a new group called the Provisional IRA (“Provos” for short) re-affirmed the right to achieve a united Ireland by violent means.

The army enforced an uneasy peace line between the Catholic and Protestant communities. But the marching season would change all that. At Easter 1970 a group of Orangemen began their day out by marching past the Catholic Belfast community of Ballymurphy. The Catholics were waiting for them and a two-hour full scale riot ensued. Confused soldiers stood hapless in the middle. The following day, the army decided on a show of force in expectation of a continuation of the riot. They arrived in armoured cars loaded with rifles, riot shields and CS gas. The Catholics redirected their missiles to this new enemy and the army hit back firing CS gas. With rioting continuing all night, the army baton-charged and the Protestants followed in their wake, confirming suspicions the army was on their side. Army leader General Sir Ian Freeland confirmed there was a ‘get tough’ policy. The Ballymurphy riots were the real starting point of the war. The provisional IRA now had an enemy they could fight.

On 27 June, they sprang into action after another Protestant march in Belfast. Missiles were exchanged and the IRA brought out their guns killing three Protestants. They fought a gun battle later that night in East Belfast and killed two more. They could now claim to be the defenders of Catholic areas. The new Tory government in Westminster demanded strong action and imposed a 35 hour curfew in the Falls area while the army conducted house-to-house searches. While the military objective was successful and discovered a hoard of weapons, the IRA had won the hearts and minds of the occupants who now knew the British Army as the sworn enemy.

The two sides kept up a dialogue despite the violence. In February 1971 Major-General Anthony Farrar-Hockley, the commander of British land forces, went on TV and named the leaders of the IRA as Billy McKee, Frank Card, Leo Martin and Liam and Kevin Hannaway. The “named and shamed” men immediately went into hiding. The day after, the IRA shot its first British soldier in a riot, Gunner Robert Curtis from Newcastle. On the day after, Stormont Premier James Chichester-Clark declared Northern Ireland was at war with the IRA. The IRA soon shot three more soldiers. They were off-duty, wearing civilian clothes and drinking at a bar. They were invited to a party and then shot on a lonely road. It was the end of détente between the army and the community.

By August 1971, ten soldiers were dead and the IRA had launched over 300 explosions. The government began to look at internment as a solution. They found an old army depot used to store Land Rovers and trucks at a place called “Long Kesh” outside Belfast. The place was spruced up and turned into an internment camp. Operation Demetrius was put into place to swoop through Nationalist areas in a dawn raid. Dustbin lids banged through the city as women warned the men the army was coming. The army arrested 341 republican suspects but no loyalists. The last vestige of even-handedness was shattered.

Some of those arrested were subject to torture. They were guinea pigs of what was called the Five Techniques, imported from the Army’s experience in counter-insurgency in the colonies and learned from the North Koreans. The techniques were: making suspects stand against a wall with arms spread-eagled for hours at a time, placing hoods over their heads to produce sensory deprivation, subjecting them to continuous ‘white noise’ to disorientate, and depriving them of sleep and food. But the problem was that although the techniques were successful, internment wasn’t – most of the IRA leadership had evaded the search.

The death toll soared. The IRA killed two people and the army killed 16. The army ended no-go areas in Belfast but they still existed in Derry. The IRA had 29 barricades set up, 16 of which were impassable to one-ton armoured vehicles. Despite Protestant outrage, the army maintained a policy of containment. But a secret army memo was about to change that. The army looked for a way to penetrate hostile areas and restore ‘the rule of law’. The excuse was an anti-internment march planned for Sunday 30 January 1972. 20,000 people marched into the city but was blocked from getting to city council buildings. Marchers threw missiles at the army; an IRA man fired one bullet and the army fought back. By the end of the day 13 unarmed Catholics were dead and another was dying. The soldiers’ actions were exonerated by the whitewashing of the Widgery Report and it wasn’t until 1998 that Tony Blair instituted the Saville Inquiry. That report has yet to be handed down.

Bloody Sunday was the pivotal event of the war. It gave the Provos a huge propaganda victory and a new moral authority to fight their war. It also ended the Protestant regime. In March 1972 Britain suspended Stormont and introduced Direct Rule. That same month, the IRA exploded its first car bomb in Belfast, a 112kg bomb which killed seven people in Donegall Street and injured 150. Yet the two sides also conducted talks. Gerry Adams was released from internment and he and fellow IRA man David O’Connell met two British intelligence officers in June. There followed a second meeting in London between top officers including IRA president Sean MacStiofain (originally an Englishman named John Stephenson), and the newly appointed Northern Ireland secretary Willie Whitelaw. The meeting was an impasse and the IRA re-intensified its campaign.

On 21 July, the IRA planted 22 bombs in Belfast and killed nine people on a day that became known as Bloody Friday. The army began a new campaign in response; an intelligence operation to get under the IRA’s skin. They ran a bogus laundry service known as “Four Square laundry”. Its drivers drove around republican areas and returned washing to its clients. While the laundry was genuine, other activities weren’t. Clothes were tested forensically for traces of explosives. The operation was undone when the IRA ‘turned over’ an informer who spilled the beans. They ambushed the van and killed the driver. The army knew it needed more sophisticated techniques to break the IRA.

The army began recruiting spies. The ‘Det’ was established with a hand-picked elite to staff it. There were three detachments, based in Belfast, Derry and Armagh. The ‘Det’ relies on paid informers from within the Nationalist community. The IRA was in crisis in 1973 as improved relations with Irish police saw the arrest of leaders such as MacStiofain, Martin McGuinness, Martin Meehan and John Kelly. The IRA planted its first bombs in England, exploding two car bombs in London after which one person died from a heart attack. The ‘Det’ had its first major victory when it arrested three leaders; Gerry Adams, Brendan Hughes and Tom Cahill in an IRA safe house. Hughes later escaped from prison wrapped up in a mattress left out for rubbish. He returned incognito to Belfast where he directed IRA operations until ‘Det’ surveillance nabbed him a second time.

There was movement too in the political sphere. The Irish and British governments met in December 1973 in Sunningdale, Berkshire and created a power-sharing executive for the North. The new government came into place in 1974 but was immediately opposed by Protestant hardliners. Workers who ran the province’s economy and public utilities organised a general strike under the banner of the Ulster Workers Council. They manned barricades and intimidated opponents as well as shutting down the power grid. Prime Minister Harold Wilson vilified the strikers on TV which further hardened attitudes. Three days later the executive resigned and Direct Rule was re-introduced. The Sunningdale agreement was destroyed; the UWC had won.

While the strike was in progress, MI6 appointed a new man in Northern Ireland Michael Oatley who would become a key, if unrecognised, figure in the years to come. Oatley's job was to make contact with the IRA leadership. One contact was called a ‘pipe’ which linked with the IRA’s new leader Ruari O’Bradaigh. Through the pipe, the British were getting indications that the Provos wanted to talk.

The pressure was building as the UVF stepped up their anti-republican campaign. On 17 May 1974, they planted car bombs in rush hour in Dublin and Monaghan which exploded without warning. They killed 33 people and injured 160 others. The IRA was also active in England. They bombed two pubs in Guildford, Surrey used by off-duty soldiers. Four soldiers and a civilian were killed. They then bombed two pubs in Birmingham killing 21 and injuring 182. Britain was outraged and introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act under which suspects could be held for seven days and ‘exclusion orders’ could keep people out of mainland Britain.

The IRA Active Service Unit continued to cause havoc in the 12 months that followed, bombing indiscriminate targets in London and causing terror in the population. They killed Guinness Book of Records founder and outspoken IRA critic Ross McWhirter before finally being caught in a siege in Balcombe St which lasted six days before they surrendered. The four members of the Balcombe St gang were released as part of the Good Friday agreement in 1998.

Harold Wilson sent in the SAS in a blaze of publicity in 1976. Their actions were immediately controversial as they followed suspects across the border. They also kept a covert observation post on the Irish side of the border. Eight SAS officers in two cars were arrested by Irish police in what the British authorities called as a “map reading error”. But it was their ‘shoot to kill’ policy which saw the IRA rename them as “Special Assassination Squad”. Among their victims was Patrick Duffy, an unarmed IRA man who was shot dead with a dozen bullets in his own home.

On 27 August 1979, the IRA struck two devastating blows in return. The Queen’s cousin, Earl Mountbatten, was blown up on a boat at his holiday home in Sligo. A few hours later two massive explosions at Warrenpoint, County Down they killed 18 soldiers, 16 of them members of the Parachute Regiment 2nd battalion. It was the regiment’s biggest loss since Arnhem in World War II.

Under Labour in 1976 the political status of IRA prisoners was revoked and they were to be treated as ordinary criminals. They were sent to the newly constructed H Blocks of the Maze Prison at Long Kesh. The prisoners launched a ‘dirty protest’ in response, refusing to wear prison issue clothes or leave their cells. They also smeared the walls of their cells with excrement.

By 1979, Margaret Thatcher was in power. She was disinclined to deal with the demands of the prisoners. The prisoners launched a hunger strike which ended without a deal. They launched a second hunger strike in which ten prisoners died. Bobby Sands, the first of those to die, was elected MP in a sudden by-election on the 40th day of his strike. The result gave the IRA a new political impetus it was to exploit in the decades to follow. 100,000 people attended Sands’ funeral. The IRA called off the strike after it was obvious it was not changing Thatcher’s mind. Within a few years they got all their demands anyway.

In October 1982, three RUC officers were killed in a bomb after they were called to investigate a suspicious hayshed. The shed was under surveillance by M15 but the officers had not spotted the bomb. An informer named the two IRA men responsible and they and another man were shot dead by police who were exonerated by the courts for ‘bringing three IRA men to the final court of justice’. After intelligence forces shot an innocent 16 year old at the same hayshed, John Stalker, deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester was brought in to investigate the shoot to kill policy. He wanted to see a copy of the tape at the hayshed but was denied access. He was removed from the inquiry due to his association with a Manchester businessman Kevin Taylor who was erroneously thought to be a criminal. Though Stalker’s replacement recommended charges be brought, Attorney-General Sir Patrick Mayhew said there would be no prosecutions “in the national interest”. The prospect of MI5 officers in the dock was avoided.

Throughout the eighties, the ‘Det’ continued their stranglehold on the IRA. The IRA was forced to act in Britain where the intelligence network wasn’t as strong. But the IRA needed to acknowledge a change. In 1981, Danny Morrison made a famous speech at a Sinn Fein conference that “with a ballot box in one hand and the Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland”. His speech would define Sinn Fein policy for the next 15 years. Adams, McGuinness and Morrison all won seats in the new Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982 with 10 per cent of the vote. The main nationalist party the SDLP took 18.1 per cent.

In 1984, the IRA had its highest profile hit with the Brighton bombing. The ruling Tories were staying at the Grand Hotel for their annual conference. The IRA planted a 9kg bomb which exploded during the night collapsing four floors of the hotel. Five Tory party members were killed including Sir Anthony Berry MP. But Thatcher survived and received an eight minute ovation at the conference in the morning. The IRA issued a chilling message which read partially “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always”. After an astonishing piece of detective work, the bomb was traced to Patrick Magee who was arrested in Glasgow ten months later. Magee was released as part of the Good Friday Agreement with a doctorate in Irish studies after a dissertation on how Gerald Seymour, Tom Clancy and others fictionalised the conflict.

The SAS continued their operation against the IRA with victories in Loughgall which killed an ASU about to hit a RUC station and then in Gibraltar where three IRA operatives were gunned down. At their funeral in Belfast, a Loyalist gunman Michael Stone opened fire and killed three mourners. British TV investigated the Gibraltar deaths and concluded the three had been shot with their hands up. Thames TV showed the program despite Thatcher’s fury.

The IRA received a boost in the late 1980s, when Libya’s Gaddafy donated four shipments of armaments such as surface-to-air missiles and Semtex high explosive. At Ballygawley village, the IRA detonated a Semtex bomb which killed eight soldiers in 1988. Home Secretary Douglas Hurd announced new restrictions to prevent broadcasters from transmitting voices of members of banned organisations or those that support them. Broadcasters got round this by lip-synching interviews using actors. One double of Gerry Adams made a small fortune during this time. The restrictions were useless and abandoned in 1994.

In any case, by the 1990s, the IRA were beginning to look to peaceful alternatives. Gerry Adams won the seat of West Belfast in 1983 and held it with an increased majority in 1987. In 1988 he held discussions with the SDLP’s John Hume which agreed on a common goal of ‘self determination’. Events elsewhere were also having an impact. The fall of the Berlin Wall gave the impression that Northern Ireland might be the last unsolved problem. While the IRA began to initiate talks, they also kept up the military pressure. During the Gulf War of 1991, they fired three mortars at Downing Street, one of which landed in the backyard of Number Ten while a cabinet meeting was in progress. In 1992, they killed eight Protestant workmen in a landmine explosion.

But the bomb with the largest economic impact was the Baltic exchange in the City of London. Three people were killed including a 15 year old schoolgirl. But the bomb caused £800 million of damage, eclipsing by £200 million the entire damage of the conflict to date since 1969. If repeated, it raised the prospect of devastating the British economy. The British made coded messages to the IRA that if they were prepared to call off the violence, anything might be possible. Through the early 1990s, there were talks and bombs in equal measure. In December 1993, Prime Minister John Major and Irish premier Albert Reynolds agreed the principles of what was called the Downing Street Declaration which insisted Britain had no interest in Northern Ireland but would only agree to a united Ireland if the majority of its citizens so wished.

In August 1994, the IRA announced a ceasefire. The Protestant paramilitaries followed suit. Talks got bogged down on the thorny issue of ‘decommissioning’, the process of what would happen to IRA guns. But it was progress. 1995 was the first year in a quarter of a century where no members of the security forces were killed. In February 1996, the IRA bombed Canary Wharf in London killing two in protest at what it saw as British intransigence in the peace process. They would launch further assaults on the mainland in the run-up to the 1997 election including a threat that caused the cancellation of the Grand National at Aintree.

Tony Blair’s landslide win in that election gave the peace process new impetus. He offered talks once more and the IRA re-established a ceasefire in July 1997. At Easter 1998, Blair forced through the Good Friday Agreement where all parties agreed to share power in a devolved assembly. Extremists within the IRA were unhappy and splintered off. One of the splinter groups called the “Real” IRA exploded a bomb in Omagh that caused the single largest casualty list of the entire conflict. 29 people died and 300 were injured. No one was charged for the bombing.

But Omagh did strengthen the resolve of the Good Friday Agreement participants. Prisoners from both sides were released. The decommissioning argument put the assembly on hold. Worse was to follow for the unionists when an independent commission on policing led by Chris Patten recommended a new police authority to replace the sectarian RUC. Arguments raged back and forth until 9/11 threw a new spanner in the works. Nationalists were worried Bush would put the IRA back on his terror list. Meanwhile three IRA suspects were arrested in Colombia on charges of conspiring with rebel group FARC. The two events caused the Republican movement irreparable damage in the US. Despite this, they were now the leading Nationalist party in Northern Ireland after the June 2001 election. In October 2001, the IRA announced it had started the process to ‘put its weapons beyond commission’.

While the “farewell to arms” was not complete at the time of Taylor’s book, it was mostly complete by 2007. Last month saw a historic moment as bitter enemies Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sat down next to each other to do business in the new Northern Ireland assembly. The hatred continues but the war was officially over.