Friday, August 31, 2007

Malaysia turns 50 today, mostly

Thousands celebrated today in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, as the country marks 50 years of nationhood. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi used an anniversary speech to urge people to unify as a nation. "We must ensure that no region or community is left behind," he said. "We will hold true to the concept of justice and fairness for all citizens." The celebrations mask a debate which is growing about what it means to be Malaysian in the ethnically diverse nation.

Ethnic Malays make up slightly more than half of the 27 million population but control less than 20 per cent of the economy. There is significant resentment of the 24 percent Chinese minority who control 40 percent of the economy. There is simmering resentment under the surface that occasionally manifests as race riots. However a now prosperous Malaysia is hoping the anniversary will usher in a new era of tolerance

The anniversary is not a true commemoration of the federation of Malaysia – that did not occur until 1963. The 1957 event was the independence of peninsular Malaysia only or Malaya as it was then known. The nation had a torrid birth occurring as it did before the Malaya Emergency had come to an end. The emergency lasted from 1948 to 1960 and was a war between an Anglo-Malay force and a Chinese backed Communist insurgency. The Communist force was made up overwhelmingly of Malaya’s Chinese population, a matter that still causes resentment today.

Despite the emergency, Britain handed over power to Kuala Lumpur on 31 August 1957 on a night of pomp and circumstance to first Prime Minister Tengku (Prince) Abdul Rahman. Amid shouts of “merdeka” (freedom) Rahman pledged to defeat the Communists. The British withdrawal proved a shrewd move as the insurgency lost much of its motivation with the colonial power out of the picture. The last serious resistance from the Communist guerrillas ended with a surrender at Telok Anson marsh in 1958. The remaining rebel forces fled to the Thai border and further east.

In 1963 the Malayan federation was renamed Malaysia with the admission of the then-British crown colonies of Singapore, Sabah (British North Borneo) and Sarawak. Brunei was also due to enter the federation but withdrew after a revolt in December 1962. The Brunei revolt caused Indonesian president Sukarno to announce his opposition and he called on the Indonesian people to adopt a policy of Konfrontasi against the proposed new state. Indonesian volunteers infiltrated Sarawak and Sabah and engaged in raids and sabotage and spread propaganda. They also attacked the Malay peninsula which was defended by the British navy. The attacks went on until 1966 when Sukarno lost power in a coup d’etat.

While Malaysia successfully held on to Sarawak and Sabah, they lost Singapore. The island state was expelled in 1965 after a heated ideological conflict between the state's government and the federal Kuala Lumpur government. The more racially diverse Singapore objected to the new Malay policy of “bumiputra” - racial discrimination in favour of the native Malays. Now constitutionally enshrined and supported by the New Economic Policy, Bumiputra means “sons of the soil” and was seen as a necessary policy of affirmative action for Malays who were supposedly disadvantaged by the heavy presence of immigrants in the Malay Archipelago during colonial rule.

The legacy of bumiputra affects Malaysia today. The government does not impose any restrictions on minority races, who are free to practice their own culture, religion and education. Nevertheless, the races that make up its multicultural population remain poles apart. They have separate friends and lead separate social lives. Most Chinese and Indians send their children to Mandarin and Tamil language schools while the Malays attend national institutions. Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim now proposes to reform the political landscape to promote national harmony. "We need to appeal to the Malays, Chinese and the Indians and the rest that we need to go beyond race-based politics,” he said. “If you continue to harp and support this racial equation, you will never be able to overcome racial divisions”.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Rolling Stones: reputation or retirement?

Keith Richards has demanded an apology from two Swedish newspapers who printed bad reviews of recent Rolling Stones concerts including a comment that he appeared "very drunk". The newspaper Aftonbladet claimed the guitarist looked "a bit confused", while the Expressen review gave Richards zero stars for his performance. Richards retorted by saying the press had abused its power. "How dare you cheapen the experience for …the hundreds of thousands of other people across Sweden who weren't at Ullevi and have only your review to go on?" He said. "Write the truth: It was a good show."

Richards' thin-skinned anger came as rumours persist the Stones will finally retire from live performance. The band wrapped up their “Bigger Bang” world tour in London last weekend. However guitarist Ronnie Wood has contradicted claims the band would be unlikely to tour any new album due to the time-scales involved. Yet Wood also said they have no plans to stop touring, and will probably be playing live until they drop dead. With band members Mick Jagger now 64, Keith Richards at 63, Charlie Watts at 66, and Wood at 60, it is likely they may be approaching their 70s by the time the next tour comes round. "We need a rest, but of course we will tour again,” said Wood. “We'll never stop."

Wood will release his autobiography called “Ronnie” in October this year. It is the first to be released by any members of the band and will tell how he went from a working class council estate in London to becoming one of the most famous musicians in the world. The memoir includes tales of the band's legendary sex, drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle and reveals Wood and Richards held loaded guns to each other's heads during a bitter row and also claims Richards once held a knife to his throat during another bust-up.

While his relationship with Woods was sometimes thorny, Richards was always a close friend of Mick Jagger. The pair grew up in Dartford, Kent where they went to the same school. Though they lost touch, they met again in 1960 when both were students in London. They formed a band called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys (named for a DC comics superhero). The third member of the band was a mutual friend named Dick Taylor, who was later to form the group The Pretty Things. Mick sung and played the harmonica while the other two played guitars.

Mick and Keith drank regularly at a pub called the Bricklayer's Arms in Soho. Here they met Brian Jones who played slide guitar with a session band at the pub. The four decided to create a new band they called 'the Rolling Stones' taken from a track from a Muddy Waters album. In the summer of 1962, the new band got their first break after deputising at the Marquee Club and then winning a regular slot. There were a couple of further personnel changes. Taylor left the band to concentrate on his studies. Bassist Bill Wyman joined in December 1962 and drummer Charlie Watts joined a month later.

The band began to develop their R&B sound in 1963. They got a regular gig at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey. The Crawdaddy had the reputation of being a top R&B venue and London’s answer to Liverpool’s Cavern. It was here the Beatles first heard the band play live. As a result, George Harrison tipped off Decca's Dick Rowe to sign the Stones.

It was here also where Andrew Loog Oldham also heard the Stones. Oldham was a publicist who had worked for the Beatles but his head was turned by the Stones. Oldham and the Stones hit it off and he became the band’s manager. "I'd never seen anything like it," he recalls. "They came on to me. All my preparations, ambitions and desires had just met their purpose."

Oldham was a massive influence on the band. He insisted the band claim ownership of their master tapes and he created the bands “bad boy” image in deliberate contrast to the squeaky clean Beatles. It was also Oldham who convinced the Beatles to allow the Stones record their song “I Wanna Be Your Man” which was their first major hit single. The Stones followed it up quickly with Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”. Both songs hit the top of the British charts.

But Oldham realised that the Stones couldn't sustain their popularity if they continued to perform other people's songs. One night he locked Jagger and Richards in his kitchen with orders not to come out until they had written something. But it would be another year or more before they would succeed with any of their own compositions. In the meantime the band toured the US in June 1964 where they were an instant hit. The band achieved notoriety after their version of the Willie Dixon-penned Blues classic “Little Red Rooster” was banned by US radio stations for its sexual content.

In 1965, “The Last Time” became the first Jagger/Richards original to crack the US top ten. But it was their next song that really cemented their worldwide appeal. Keith Richards woke up in the middle of the night in a Florida hotel room with a tune in his head based on a five-note guitar riff. Jagger added the lyrics “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction” and the song landed at the top of the US and UK charts.

The band quickly rose to the top with a string of smash hits. "Get Off of My Cloud" and "19th Nervous Breakdown" were followed by the Indian influenced Paint It Black". By now also, the band was beginning to be hounded by authorities for its drug use. In 1967 Jones was arrested for cannabis possession. That same year, the News Of The World tabloid newspaper tipped off Sussex police to raid a party at Keith Richards' home. The police found eight men with one woman who was wearing only a fur coat. She was Marianne Faithful, Mick Jagger’s girlfriend. Both Jagger and Richards were charged with amphetamine and cannabis offences. Jagger’s home was also raided in 1969 when police seized cannabis. Police also denied Jagger’s claim that they tried to plant some "white powder" on him.

Beyond the drugs, the Stones continued to make great music including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Street Fightin’ Man, and a song based on Bulgakov’s the Master and Margarita “Sympathy for the Devil”. Brian Jones’s involvement with the band lessened as his drug dependency increased. Frustrated by his unreliability he was sacked from the band in June 1969. A month later Jones drowned in a swimming pool at his Sussex home after a night of drinking wine and taking downers.

Jones's death was not the only disaster to befall the band in 1969. In November the band finished their US tour at Altamont near San Francisco. The Stones headlined a stellar bill that included Santana, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The Stones hired the Hells Angels to provide security for the concert. The Grateful Dead had a long-standing relationship with the Angels and had used them for security on several occasions without incident. The Angels were drunk and drugged by the time violence broke out in the crowd. The Angels retaliated with pool cues and full beer cans. When the Stones began to play, security staff beat an 18 year old black man, Meredith Hunter, to death. Three others also died that day. Two people died sleeping as they got run over in their sleeping bags and a third person drowned.

Despite the traumas the band remained at the height of their artistic powers with songs such as “Gimme Shelter”, “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”. Mick Taylor was drafted in to replace Jones and he in turn gave way to former Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood in 1974. The band became tax exiles in the south of France after the UK Inland Revenue hounded them for unpaid income tax. Although the Rolling Stones remained popular through the 1970s, music critics had grown increasingly critical of the band's output, and record sales went down. Richards’ heroin addiction was also a big problem at the time. In 2002 Richards described the impact of the drugs. “There was a lot of stuff happening, and it [heroin] gave me a sense of space,” he said. “Eventually, I was so far in space, I was almost in the atmosphere”.

But the band finished the decade on a commercial high with the successful album “Some Girls”. The album revitalised the band's career upon its release and re-established the Stones' credentials in a new era of punk and disco. The band continued to stage massive and successful tours through the 1980s and 1990s with each one threatening to be the farewell tour. After years of agonising and unwillingness to travel, Bill Wyman left the band after the 1991 world tour. The band survived his departure as it has done for many others.

The band continues to play with energy and conviction of people half their age. On 10 June 10 this year 2007, the surviving members Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie performed their first festival gig in 30 years, at the Isle of Wight Festival, to a crowd of 50,000. According to newspaper reports they blew away the newcomers also headlining at the festival. The Belfast Telegraph said the Stones gave a “masterclass of rock’n’roll” while Mick Jagger “strode out at a pace which would have left most 20-somethings wheezing, before ripping into an exuberant set”.

Meanwhile the Swedish newspapers are unrepentant about the latest bad reviews. Aftonbladet's Markus Larsson wrote on their website, "he can forget it. I am not going to apologise. It is Keith who should apologise. After all, it costs around $145 to see a rock star who can hardly handle the riff to Brown Sugar any more." Expressen's entertainment editor, Dan Panas, was more phlegmatic, "our reviewer had one opinion of the quality of the show and Keith Richards has another."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Greeks refuse Macedonia's help on wildfires

Despite wildfires which devastated the countryside and caused over sixty deaths, Greece has turned down an offer of help from its neighbour Macedonia. Macedonia offered 3 vehicles, 26 firefighters and a back-up crew of 60 at their southern border with Greece. However despite a fire death toll which has now risen to over sixty people as of 27 August, the Macedonian request to enter the country was ignored by the Greek Civil Protection Directorate and the firefighters went home. The incident is the latest salvo in a long and sordid battle over naming rights to both the region and the former Yugoslav republic.

The dispute between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia is based on the Greek contention that the Macedonians have plagiarised an important part of Greek history as a first step towards claiming part of Greek territory. The modern Slav Macedonia is unrelated to the ancient Macedon of Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. The modern term did not emerge until the end of the 19th century when a group in Thessaloniki formed a secret society dedicated to Macedonian independence from the Ottoman Empire. The Balkan wars of 1912-13 destroyed Ottoman power in Europe and led to lasting partition of Macedonia between Greece and Serbia.

After World War I, Woodrow Wilson’s 14 point plan proposed an independent Macedonia but Serbia supported by France prevented it from happening. The Serbs also re-badged the province as Southern Serbia in their new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (which became Yugoslavia in 1929). They were opposed by an insurgent group called the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (IMRO). IMRO operated out of Bulgaria and sought an independent Macedonian state until they were outlawed in 1934.

Before World War II Macedonia was known as “Vardarska Banovina” (Province of the Vardar river). Yugoslavia fell to the Nazis in 1941 and their harsh rule led to the rise of the Yugoslav Communist Party. When the Nazis were finally kicked out in 1944, newly installed Communist leader Marshal Tito named Yugoslavia's southernmost republic as the "Socialist Republic of Macedonia". Greece contends that Tito used the name Macedonia deliberately in order both to lay claim to the northern province of Greece of the same name, and more particularly, the city of Thessaloniki with its Aegean port. But Tito did not act out that threat. Instead he turned his back on Greece and closed the border causing great dislocation among Macedonian families.

Tito’s death in 1980 eventually led to the ethnic divisions and fractious break-up of Yugoslavia at the end of the decade. In 1991 Macedonia was the only former Yugoslav republic to gain its independence without bloodshed. Greece immediately objected to many aspects of independent Macedonia's state symbols and laws including its constitution and its contentious 16-ray Vergina Sun flag. Macedonia acceded to all these demands after a damaging Greek trade embargo which ended in 1995. The only remaining unresolved issue is the name.

Due to sustained Greek objections, Macedonia took its seat in the UN in 1993 under the provisional name of FYROM – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The UN stressed this was a temporary measure “pending settlement of the difference that has arisen over the name of the State”.

The two parties are no closer to that settlement 14 years later. In July Greece ruled out any move that the country could join NATO as the “Republic of Macedonia.” The need for a solution is supported by the European Union, while at a meeting in Washington with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, FYROM Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki was urged to assist efforts to resolve the name issue. Greece had earlier agreed it might be known with its capital city Macedonia-Skopje (similar to Congo-Brazzaville) but Macedonia has rejected this.

The most recent development on the issue came on 31 July when Greek PM Costas Karamanlis sent a message to the Macedonian authorities that Athens is waiting for an adequate response on "the concession it made". Karamanlis addressed the issue of differences over the name of Macedonia during talks with French President Sarkozy, focusing on the European perspective of the Western Balkan's countries.

According to the International Crisis Group, (ICG) the best prospects for agreement lie in a triangular solution with the following three elements coming into effect simultaneously:
- a bilateral treaty between Skopje and Athens involving Macedonian concessions to Greek concerns, including allowing Greece to have its own name for Macedonia
- acknowledging Macedonia’s name as ‘Republika Makedonija’ (in Macedonian language only)
- adoption and use for working purposes by the United Nations and other intergovernmental organisations of the Macedonian-language name ‘Republika Makedonija’.

However that may be wishful thinking on the ICG's part as well as Greece's. For simplicity, everyone else in the world without a dog in this fight will call the country "Macedonia".

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pulp Friction: Turnbull under the Gunns

After earlier indicating the Government would not oppose a controversial Tasmanian pulp mill development, federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull now appears to have had a change of heart. Yesterday Turnbull reiterated he had not yet granted approval for the $2 billion project slated for development in the Tamar Valley winegrowing and tourism region in northwest Tasmania. Turnbull said he was “not unsympathetic” to calls to shift the mill to an alternative site at Hampshire, near Burnie, about 100km west.

The proposal has been the subject of a high-profile campaign to stop the project altogether. The campaign is led by prominent businessman and close friend of John Howard, Geoffrey Cousins. At a cost of $100,000, Cousins has sent 50,000 copies of a critical magazine article to households in the electorates of Turnbull and his Labor counterpart Peter Garrett. The 8500 word article is Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan’s Out of Control: The Tragedy of Tasmania's Forests, an assessment of the destruction of old-growth forests and the influence of the logging company and builder of the proposed mill, Gunns Ltd, on the state Government.

A report by Sweco Pic (pdf) on the massive chemical pulp mill assessed the project as meeting 92 per cent of the Tasmanian Government environment emission limit guidelines. Non-compliances were found in six areas: nitrous oxide emissions, the lack of a plan for managing spills and leakages, the use of unacceptable technology in the production of bleached chemicals, the TRS level in the ambient air will exceed design criteria, an incorrect ratio of the stack to the recovery boiler, and the water quality may not meet standards.

Despite the report, the Federal Government last week gave a “heavily conditional” draft environmental approval for the mill. Turnbull said at the time it could receive formal approval as soon as September. He also invited public comment until the end of August. "I have an open mind, I have not made a final decision, in fact I have not made any decisions," Turnbull told reporters last Monday.

Environmental groups have strongly opposed the proposal. The Wilderness Society gave three reasons for their opposition. They say full consideration of the impacts on Tasmania's native forests and wildlife habitat has not been carried out; an independent hydrographical assessment of the flow and dispersal of effluent in Bass Strait is yet to be undertaken; and no approval should be given that allows discharge of these poisonous chemicals such as dioxins and other persistent organic pollutants into Bass Strait. Vica Bayley, Forest Campaigner for The Wilderness Society Tasmania said there is a “sweetheart deal” between Gunns and the government to fast-track approval.

The Tasmanian government has been accused of attempting to bypass state environmental approval processes to ensure the project gets the nod. The proposal still needs to go through both Tasmanian houses of parliament as well as getting federal approval. Gunns’ CEO John Gay told the Hobart Mercury yesterday he is "95 per cent certain" construction will begin in the Tamar Valley next week.

Gunns Ltd
is Australia’s largest native forest logging company and the biggest hardwood-chip company in the world. It owns 185,000 hectares of freehold land and manages in excess of 110,000 hectares of plantations. The company employs about 1700 people and has a turnover of approximately $700 million. The company was founded in 1875 by the brothers John and Thomas Gunn and now operates four woodchip export ports in Tasmania.

In 2005, former federal Labor leader Mark Latham claimed Tasmanian Labor premier Paul Lennon was in the pocket of the forestry industry. Latham’s forestry policy was widely blamed for the loss of the Tasmanian Labor seats of Bass and Braddon at the 2004 election. Latham was unequivocal in blaming Lennon. "I think the issue down there is that the company, the timber industry, there runs the state," he said. "They run the state Labor Government, they run Lennon, and the industry brokered all these things and old Lennon there, he wouldn't scratch himself unless the guy who heads up Gunns told him to."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rolling out Rohlilahla: London unveils Nelson Mandela statue

Nelson Mandela will attend an unveiling of his statue opposite the British houses of parliaments on Wednesday this week. The 89-year-old Nobel laureate’s statue will stand alongside the figures of former British Prime ministers Winston Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli. Announcing Mandela’s presence, London mayor Ken Livingstone said Friday that putting the statue in Parliament Square reflected Mandela's place as a world statesman and as "one of the key political figures of our time". "There can be no better way for this statue to be unveiled than with Nelson Mandela himself present," he said.

Nelson Mandela was born Rohlilahla Mandela in the small village of Mvezo, on the Mbashe River on 18 July 1918. The village was near the city of Umtata (now Mthatha) in the Eastern Cape province of Transkei. Rohlilalha means "to pull a branch of a tree", and also colloquially, "troublemaker". Mandela was minor royalty. His father was the principal councillor to the Acting Paramount Chief of Thembuland.

Rohlilahla was sent to an English school, aged 7 and found a teacher who could not pronounce his name. Instead he called him Nelson in honour of the hero of Trafalgar. After his father’s death 2 years later, young Mandela was sent away to become the Paramount Chief’s ward. He was to be groomed to assume high office. From the regent, Mandela said, he learned "a leader ... is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go on ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind."

However, influenced by the cases that came before the Chief s court, he became determined to become a lawyer, not a leader. Mandela went to a Wesleyan secondary school called Healdtown and then enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare where he was elected onto the Student's Representative Council. But he was soon suspended for joining in a protest boycott. He went to Johannesburg where he completed his BA by correspondence. Mandela became a legal clerk and commenced study for his law degree. While studying for this degree in Johannesburg he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942.

The ANC advocated a political settlement to the dispossession of the blacks. Their plight was made worse in 1948 when the National Party won power on a platform of opposition to support for Britain in World War II. Once in power they outlined their system of separateness. That election institutionalised racism in South Africa as the newly elected government began to enact its apartheid laws. Apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning apartness or separateness. Race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites, and the sanctioning of ``white-only'' jobs, preferment and public spaces. In 1950, they went one step further with the Population Registration Act which required all South Africans be racially classified into one of three categories: white, black (African), or coloured (of mixed decent or Asian).

In response the ANC launched its Defiance Campaign of non-violent resistance with Mandela as its volunteer-in-chief. Mandela was arrested for violating the Suppression of Communism Act. He was found guilty but got a sentence of nine months imprisonment suspended for two years. The National Party government banned him from all public appearances in 1952 and again from 1953 to 1955. In 1953, the Nationals passed the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act which empowered the government to declare states of emergency and increased penalties for protesting against or supporting the repeal of a law.

In 1960, a large group of blacks in Sharpeville near Vereeniging in Transvaal began a protest and refused to carry their passes. The government declared a state of emergency. On 21 March, ANC’s rivals the Pan African Congress organised a protest march. Vereeniging was the march’s emotive choice: it was the site of the treaty which ended the Anglo-Boer War in 1902. After a hostile protest, nervous police opened fire on the crowd. Somewhere between 50 and 75 of the police opened fire. With emergency services slow to arrive, 69 people were killed and another 187 people were wounded.

Though it wasn’t their march, Sharpeville was a profound influence on the ANC and Mandela. They both lost their pacifism and formed the military wing of the ANC known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation” and abbreviated as MK) in 1961. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment with hard labour. In 1963 Mandela was brought back to stand trial for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. His statement from the dock received considerable international publicity.

On 12 June 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1964 to 1982, he was held at the forbidding Robben Island Prison, 12kms off Cape Town with the party’s leadership. In 1982 he was moved to the low security prison at Pollsmoor on the mainland. Mandela’s ability to make friends with prisoners and jailers alike became legendary. Despite the greater comfort of Pollsmoor, the transition distressed Mandela because of the loss of camaraderie and vibrant intellectual and cultural life the party’s leaders established on the island.

As the years of his sentence grew, so did his international reputation. “Free Nelson Mandela” became a catchcry. In 1983, the British ska band The Special’s Jerry Dammer turned catchcry into a hit single “Nelson Mandela”. The lyrics “I say Free Nelson Mandela/
I'm begging you/Free Nelson Mandela” sunk into the Western public conscience as a guilty meme. In February 1985 National Party President P.W. Botha offered Mandela conditional release in return for renouncing armed struggle. Mandela responded "What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts”. New President F.W. de Klerk finally released him unconditionally on 11 February 1990 after 28 years of imprisonment.

After his release from prison, Mandela emerged as the world's most significant moral leader since Mahatma Gandhi. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with de Klerk in 1993. A year later, Mandela won outright power with the ANC winning the election with 63 percent of the vote. Mandela orchestrated a successful transition to black rule with the much-feared right-wing white rebellion never coming to fruition. Mandela endeared himself to the white population by encouraging the nation to get behind the Springboks in the 1995 World Cup. It didn’t hurt his cause that South Africa won the tournament. Mandela retired to world acclaim in 1999 and has since been a prestigious ambassador for South Africa, black Africa, black and humanitarian causes.

In the year he won election in 1994, he also published his much anticipated autobiography "A Long Walk to Freedom". In one episode of the book Mandela recalled a visit to London with his fellow anti-Apartheid campaigner Oliver Tambo. "When we saw the statue of General Smuts near Westminster Abbey, Oliver and I joked that perhaps someday there would be a statue of us in its stead," he wrote. Instead he now stands unveiled next to Smuts in the pantheon of British-endorsed greats.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Nazarbayev moves closer towards dictatorship in Kazakhstan

After parliamentary elections last weekend, Kazakhstan has become a one-party state. President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s governing Nur Otan (“Ray of Light-Fatherland”) party has won all 98 seats parliament’s lower house with 88 percent of the vote. None of the other parties reached the parliamentary threshold of 7 percent. Nazarbayev called the snap election two years early to allow him to implement constitutional changes to give him unlimited terms of office.

Kazakhstan's two main opposition parties Ak Zhol (Bright Path) who took 3.27 percent and Nationwide Social-Democratic Party who polled 4.62 percent have announced they do not recognise preliminary returns of last Saturday's elections. Ualikhan Kaisarov, the Nationwide Social-Democratic Party's representative in the Central Elections Commission described the elections as "utter profanation". Ak Zhol were equally unimpressed. "They absolutely do not reflect the actual alignment of political forces or the social support they draw,” said Burikhan Nurmukhamedov, a party leader in the Kazakh capital Astana. “These elections are neither a step forward, nor even remaining at standstill.”

The result confirms the power base of 67 year old President Nursultan Nazarbayev who has ruled the country for 16 years since independence. Nazarbayev claims credit for an annual economic growth of almost 10 percent since 2001 and is credited with ensuring the country’s stability. However his critics say he has concentrated power in his family, suppressed the opposition and has failed to deliver free and fair elections.

Kazakhstan was one of the five central Asian nations along with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan that gained independence in 1991 after the break-up of the Soviet Union. All five countries had central planned economies and had no experience of nationhood before being incorporated into the Russian Empire in the 18th and 19th century. The Kazakh economy was based on primary products and the country suffered severe disruption in the immediate aftermath of independence. Efforts to keep the ruble as a common currency with the other four nations caused hyper-inflation. It was abandoned at the end of 1993 and replaced by the tenge (the Kazakh word for ‘set of scales’). Kazakhstan initially appeared to take a liberal western path but the president became more autocratic as the decade progressed and the economy took on the look of “crony capitalism” based on favours and influence. Privatisation transferred valuable public assets to a small group and health care declined.

Matters have improved greatly since the turn of the century. Much of this improvement is due to the profits generated by the massive Tengiz oilfield. Formed in 1993, Tengiz is operated by TengizChevroil a joint venture between the Kazakh government oil company and Chevron. The Tengiz field is one of the largest in the world, with 6 to 9 billion barrels of reserves. The field produces 180,000 barrels a day, most of which is exported through the Russian pipeline system to Novorossiysk. Exports from Tengiz are expected to increase to 1.3 million barrels per day by 2010.

Nazarbayev is now aiming to make Kazakhstan one of the world's top 10 oil exporters in the next seven years and wants to lift his country's international profile. He is pushing for Kazakhstan to chair the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2009. His call has met with opposition from Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The RSF has condemned Kazakh media's coverage of the elections as biased and heavily influenced by the authorities." The Paris-based group said there were many cases of "pressure, self-censorship, violations of electoral legislation, and bias" in favour of Nur Otan. The RSF said a country where "press freedom stops whenever the authority of the president and his party is challenged is not fit to head an organization such as the OSCE."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Another threat to Ambon's fragile peace

The Dutch Moluccan community have issued a press release complaining of Indonesian torture on the island of Ambon. They claim 31 Moluccan activists were arrested on 29 June after they waved the banned Moluccan separatist flag in front of the Indonesian president. They claim the 31 were denied jail visits and other arrests have followed taking the total number to 44. The Indonesians may be coming down hard to avoid a repeat of the violent scenes that marred the island between 1999 to 2002 and again in 2004.

The island of Ambon is part of the Moluccas group (west of Papua) now an Indonesian province known as Maluku. Ambon is half Christian and half Muslim. The island and other parts of the Malukus were ravaged by three years of Muslim-Christian clashes that killed more than 5,000 people before a February 2002 peace pact took effect. Sporadic violence has continued and tension between the two communities remains high in Ambon and several surrounding small islands.

Ambon has an illustrious history. From ancient times, the Moluccas were a renowned source of cloves and nutmeg for the world market. The Portuguese were first Europeans to establish a settlement on Ambon in 1521. The first Dutch sailors arrived in the Spice Islands in 1599. In the 17th century the Dutch United East Indies Company, Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie, obtained a monopoly on the export of cloves. The VOC brought almost the entire Indonesian archipelago under its control by the 18th century. They folded in 1789 and passed control of the territories to the Dutch government. As a result of international interest in the islands, the Moluccas were left with a diverse mixture of religions - Muslim, Catholic and Protestant, all blended with local customs.

Ambon was a major battlefield in World War Two. The island was defended by 2,500 Netherlands East Indies troops who were joined in December 1941 by a 1100 strong “gull force” of the 2/21st Battalion, from the 8th Australian Division together with anti-tank, engineer, medical and other detachments. The Japanese were eager to acquire the Dutch oilfields and attacked from the air. They landed on the island on 30 January 1942. After four days of bitter fighting, they overwhelmed the under-equipped and poorly prepared Australian and Dutch. Over 300 men defending Laha airfield were summarily executed and buried in mass graves. Ambon remained in Japanese hands until the end of the war and the island’s POWs were subjected to some of the most brutal treatment of the war. Three-quarters of the Australian prisoners died in captivity and 694 members of Gull Force are buried on the island.

After the war, Indonesia rushed to declare its independence from the Netherlands. A 'War of Decolonization' pitted Indonesia nationalists, mainly from Java against the Dutch supported by the Moluccans. In 1950 the south Moluccan islands declared independence as the Republik Maluku Selatan but was quickly defeated by Indonesian troops. The RMS retreated into an irregular guerrilla war until its leaders were caught and executed in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the Moluccans began a terror campaign in the Netherlands killing a policeman, occupying the Indonesian embassy and hijacking trains.

The islands themselves remained quiet until the end of the century. The problems began with a revival of Islamic radicalism after Suharto’s downfall in 1998. The Moluccas, more than 2,500kms from Jakarta became a huge training camp for Islamic hardline groups, the biggest of which was Laskar Jihad, which had links to Al Qaeda. Ambon's reputation for religious tolerance began to fragment as more Muslims migrated and took jobs in the local bureaucracy. By 1999, tensions had turned to violence. Churches and mosques were destroyed, thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands became refugees.

On 12 February 2002, the eleven point Malino Peace Accord was signed by 80 delegates from the Muslim and the Christian communities of Maluku. The US State Department hailed the agreement as the “key to resolving the conflict in the Moluccas and…an important step in Indonesia's efforts to end violence, re-establish the rule of law and provide for reconstruction in the troubled province". Laskar Jihad, however, refused to attend the peace talks and rejected the Accord as treason.

The peace lasted two years until a Christian hardline group raised their independence flag and marched through Ambon city in 2004. The parade sparked Christian-Muslim clashes, bombings and brought out snipers who took random potshots at police as well as Christians and Muslims causing 40 deaths. The police and military commanders blamed the violence on the Christian separatists. Mainstream Christians argued the separatists were barely 200 to 300 strong and not representative of their community. Although quiet for the last three years, Ambon remains a precarious faultline in the Indonesian religious divide and a possible candidate for another troublesome war of rebellion.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Britain backs out of Basra

Britain is about to remove its last 500 troops from Basra city in Southern Iraq. The Iraqis expect to make an announcement about British withdrawal in the next few days. After the troops based in Basra Palace depart, Britain will only have 5,000 troops left in the country stationed at Basra airport. Gordon Brown will then make a decision on total withdrawal following a forthcoming report by US General David Petraeus.

American forces are deeply unhappy about the British withdrawal. Retired General Jack Keane, one of the architects of the American troop surge, said the policy was helping to turn Basra into a city of "gangland warfare". Keane said the situation had deteriorated to the point where military commanders had considered using US forces to reinforce the rapidly diminishing British presence. He said the insurgents “know British numbers are going down and see the character of operations is changing.”

The British Ministry of Defence (MOD) claimed their plans are not inconsistent with those of the US. However they admitted there are security problems in Basra. A MOD spokesman claimed that the Iraqi government’s ability to face the challenges is growing and it is appropriate that they take on more responsibility. “We remain united in our strategy of handing over provinces to Iraqi control as and when conditions allow,” he said. “The situation in Baghdad is very different to that in Basra and, as such, different responses are required.”

Britain initially sent 45,000 troops to support the war in Iraq but that number is now down to just 5,500. As of 20 August 2007, Britain had suffered 168 military fatalities since the war started. The highest death toll occurred in the invasion year 2003 when 53 soldiers died. But the death toll has been rising every year since 2004. Already 41 people have died so far this year and 2007 is threatening to overtaken 2003 as the most deadly year yet for British troops.

The situation represents a significant reverse in fortune for the British in Basra. In the days after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, British forces could walk around Basra safely wearing berets rather than helmets. The security situation was secure enough for Tony Blair to hold a press conference in the palace. Now military commanders are feeling frustrated by the time taken to train an effective Iraqi army and by the problems forming a police force, many of whom have links with Shia militia. Now US Gen Keane claims the city has descended into gangland warfare.

Basra is Iraq’s largest port and second largest city with a population of 1.7 million. Located on the Shatt-al-arab waterway, it is 55km north of the Persian Gulf and almost 550km south of Baghdad. Basra’s economy is based on refining and exporting of oil and chemicals, and the city is also the centre of an agricultural area that produces wool, grain and dates. The majority population are Shi’ites.

The city was founded in 637 after the battle of Qadisyah when 10,000 Arab Muslims reinforced with 6,000 Syrian warriors defeated an army of 80,000 Persians. Their leader Rustam was killed, and the sacred standard of Persia was captured. The Arabs also lost a third of their men but obtained spoils and the fertile Sawad of Iraq. In celebration the Arab leader Umar al-Khattab (the successor to Mohammed) had a city called Basra founded where the Euphrates and Tigris flow into the Persian Gulf.

The city was destroyed by Mongol hordes in the 14th century. In Ottoman times Iraq was divided in to three provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. In the First World War the British built a modern harbour in the city after it sent a convoy from Bombay to protect the oil refineries tanks and pipeline at Abadan. They defeated the Turks in Battle of Basra in November 1914. The city became newly independent Iraq’s second city in 1932 and remained an import port for the Allies in the Second World War.

Despite the uncertainty of the latest war, Basra remains a boomtown. The boom is driven by a massive reduction in taxes has allowed the consumer market to blossom. The petty corruption and 100 per cent import duties of Ba'athist days are gone and trade is coming in freely from United Arab Emirates and Kuwait via Umm Qasr port. High tech products are selling particularly well. In Saddam’s era it was a crime to possess a satellite dish. Now dishes and TVs are popular in a country with few television channels, no cable, and limited nightlife. Staying home to watch movies is preferable to travelling around a dark city with sporadic gunfire. Political analyst Robert Wilson, hopes for Basra's continued development. "Basra may go from a backwater of Iraq, second to Baghdad, as it has been for the last forty years, to its natural position as the largest city in the Gulf,” he said.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Nation Review: a study of an Australian alternative newspaper (1972-1981)

This essay examines the independent 1970s weekly Australian newspaper, the Nation Review. While almost unheard of today, the newspaper was an influential force in its day with an estimated readership of 150,000 and an important outlet for alternative mostly left-of-centre journalism. The essay will begin with a history of how the newspaper began and the social factors that influenced it. It will examine how it covered the Whitlam era and its controversial dismissal. The essay will also look at the Nation Review’s coverage of international affairs and its thorny relationship with Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. It will then discuss its cartoonists and its reputation for investigation journalism and will conclude with an exploration of the newspaper’s eventual demise. It is the contention of this article that while broadly supportive of Whitlam’s agenda, the Nation Review kept a fierce independence that consistently gave it journalistic credibility during its decade of existence.

The Nation Review was an Australian newspaper which published weekly for almost ten years from 1972 to 1981. It was a merger between two newspapers with differing approaches to journalism. These were the Nation and the Sunday Review. The Nation began in 1958 as a serious and independent fortnightly magazine dedicated to fresh ideas and new voices. Schultz called the Nation “a major turning point in the development of contemporary Australian journalism”. The more irreverent Sunday Review began in October 1970 in an era of “sexual revolution and hippiedom". The merger newspaper first published on 29 July 1972. In Tom Fitzgerald’s final editorial for the Nation, he hailed its successor as heralding “the prospect of a new dimension in resources, energy and organisation for independent journalism in a setting where the qualities are desperately needed” (Nation 22 July 1972). Windschuttle described the new merged newspaper as very important to Australian journalism in the 1970s by allowing new talented writers and cartoonists to get started in the business. The Nation Review specialised in cynical political writing and thanks to the likes of Mungo MacCallum, John Hepworth and Bob Ellis, the newspaper was attracting a considerable reputation by 1972. Some of that reputation remained alive in June 2007 when The Sydney Morning Herald described the Nation Review as “a not insignificant weekly newspaper”.

The hybrid Nation Review was born of new ideas and excitement of the late 1960s. Australian culture was beginning to emerge from what Martin Hirst called a “Menzian time warp” with imperial influences shifting to the US. But the mainstream press were distressed to find themselves in the baffling upheaval of the political and social changes revolving around the Vietnam War, women’s revolt and the siege of authority. One man who did sense a mood for change was wealthy and eccentric businessman Gordon Barton who launched the Sunday Review as an anti-establishment paper in October 1970. Hirst mistakenly identified this newspaper as the Nation Review in his article (it did not start until two years later) but it is fair to say that the Nation Review inherited many of its characteristics from Barton’s earlier publication.

One of those characteristics the Sunday Review passed on was its propensity towards new journalism. New journalism began to emerge at the end of the 1960s under the influence of such writers as Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe. Wolfe himself defined new journalism as novelistic non-fiction. The Nation Review had plenty of talent capable of writing this way. Bob Ellis could turn a court judgement into a novella as he described “Justice Collins presiding, a goggled pink faced enigma with a mouth like a letterbox” (Nation Review, 28 October 1972). Another of new journalism’s hallmarks is that its point of view is both obvious and subjective. The Nation Review often wore its heart on its subjective sleeve. In Richard Beckett’s review of 1973, he opined how Australia “showed as little inclination as ever to control its own destiny” (29 December 1973). He also complained that the 1973 oil crisis “hasn’t forced people to re-evaluate basic necessities because yesterday’s unthinkables are today’s needs” (29 December 1973).

If the newspaper was born out of the ideas of the 1960s, it was the Whitlam era that defined it. According to Curran, the Whitlam era was of crucial significance in understanding Australia’s changing attitude to nationalism. The Nation Review had a mostly positive view of Labor’s first Prime Minister in 23 years but could also be critical. On the first anniversary of Labor’s election win McCallum wrote “Whitlam could perhaps end up being the man of destiny and achievement which he appears to believe he already is” (7 December 1973). Under Whitlam, Australia gradually shed its idea of being a homogenous British nation and began to positively identify with the country’s ethnic diversity. The Nation Review was at the forefront of these changing priorities. According to former editor Richard Walsh, its aim was to take part in the creation of a “more stimulating, more sophisticated and more passionate Australia”.

A central theme in this new Australia was the growing prominence of indigenous issues. In his 1972 policy speech, Whitlam connected the treatment of Aboriginals directly to the national image and the theme of national self-respect. The Nation Review wrote many articles about Aboriginal conditions and was determined to hold Whitlam to his promises. In 1974 the newspaper regularly complained of inaction saying “the old policies towards blacks at home are still alive and kicking” (18 February 1974) and “there is no doubt the average native child spends a lot of time in prison (24 May 1974). The Nation Review was there to remind its readers that Whitlam’s feel-good message left much to be desired at the coalface.

Nonetheless they did not wish his government’s demise. There are few more passionate political talking points than the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam Labor Government and the Nation Review covered it in partisan detail. When Whitlam opened his campaign for the double dissolution election, his theme was the end of parliamentary democracy as we know it. The Nation Review agreed. In A.R. Blackshield’s article “How John Kerr exceeded his powers”, he wrote “[Kerr] shattered constitutional monarchy into fragments that might never stick again” (Nation Review, 14 November 1975). As the election approached, the Nation Review maintained the rage – laced with its biting satire. MacCallum had taken to calling the Fraser administration as the “kerrtaker” government (12 December 1975).

The Nation Review was not afraid to apportion blame to the media, particularly to Rupert Murdoch. Although Murdoch had helped elect Whitlam in 1972, he was capable of being critical to the Labor regime. In the “dismissal” edition, Mungo MacCallum’s article “Lady Kerr’s Weekend Indiscretion” linked Rupert Murdoch to the Whitlam sacking discussing “Murdoch’s conversation with Fraser that Kerr had told him to hold out” (14 November 1975). A week later they went further. George Munster named Murdoch as “the third man in the coup” and his papers “played a major part in the campaign to get rid of Whitlam…with 11 pro-Fraser front page leads to 2 pro-Whitlam” (21 November 1975). This was not merely Nation Review paranoia; its concerns were shared by the former Labor Government. Earlier that year deputy Prime Minister Jim Cairns admitted he did not think it was possible to win office if opposed by the media.

But the Nation Review was no mere mouthpiece for Labor. When Indonesia invaded Portuguese East Timor in 1975 in violation of international law, it received subtle encouragement to claim sovereignty from Australian Prime Ministers on both sides of politics. The Nation Review remained a voice for an independent Timor. In a prescient interview with East Timorese Fretelin leader Jose Ramos Horta in Darwin, Bill Green noted that “Indonesia plans to annex the territory” (12 December 1975). He quoted Ramos Horta as saying “the Australian government has blood on its hands…we cannot count on support from Australia” (12 December 1975). While Fraser’s caretaker government was in power at the time of the interview (and caretaker foreign minister Andrew Peacock had refused to meet with Ramos Horta), this was also a barb at the recently dismissed Labor government. In 1974 Whitlam had rejected Portuguese requests to establish an Australian consulate in Dili and he also gave Suharto a “green light” to occupy East Timor.

Back home, the Nation Review was a fierce opponent of autocratic long-term Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Bjelke-Petersen was the personal embodiment about all that was different about Queensland in the 1970s. Sir Joh described dealing with the press as “feeding his chooks" but the Nation Review was just as disparaging about him. Reporting in 1978 after a banned Brisbane street demonstration, the newspaper said of him “Petersen talks of legal marches in the same way as Hitler announced he had no further territorial claims” (3 November 1978). In the same edition Paul Lemuel wrote “by now every visitor to the deep north expects Queensland to provide a third rate imitation of Alabama without (as yet) the lynchings”.

As well as its fine stable of writers, the Nation Review was also known for encouraging young and talented cartoonists such as Michael Leunig, Patrick Cook and Peter Nicholson. Leunig was the creator of the newspaper’s symbol (while it was still the Sunday Review), a lean and nosy dog that editor Richard Walsh mistook for a ferret. Because the cartoonists had free rein, they sometimes ruffled official feathers. In September 1973 the newspaper reported it was fined $150 and held to be an indecent publication in Victoria due to two cartoons of penises by Patrick Cook and Laszlo Toth (Nation Review, 28 September 1973). The cartoons were printed a year earlier in what was then the Sunday Review. The 1973 edition helpfully reprinted the cartoons and noted acidly that “the prosecution was not initiated by a member of the public but by the Chief Secretary’s office”.

According to Ricketson, weekly newspapers such Nation Review and The National Times ran literary journalism as did the magazines Australian Society and Independent Monthly. However none of these publications had the money to support the research time literary journalists needed or the know-how to train journalists in the form. Ricketson defined literary journalism to have the following elements: documentable subject matter, exhaustive research, novelistic techniques, freedom of voice, literary prose style and underlying meaning. It is arguable that Nation Review did succeed in having many of these elements in its stories. Tanner argues that the newspaper “championed” investigative journalism along with The National Times and Times on Sunday.

However what all these newspapers and magazines mentioned by Ricketson and Tanner have in common is that they are now defunct. Some post-mortems attempted to blame the demise of Nation Review on changing political tastes after the torrid political events of 1975. Keith Windschuttle offers an alternative reason for its demise. He claims that in the mid-1970s the paper was badly edited and lost touch with its audience. Most likely it was the dissipation of political activity towards the end of the 1970s that killed it off. In August 1979 it admitted “we may be moribund…but we are not dead” (16 August 1979) and apologised for the non-arrival of the 12 June and 9 August editions. The newspaper dragged on for two more years publishing as a monthly near the end. By the time it folded in 1981 most of the Australian counter-culture publications of the 1960s and 1970s had died with it.

But while it lived, the Nation Review covered a lot of ground. It was a prestigious newspaper with many excellent writers and cartoonists. It gave wide coverage and a new fresh voice to the political issues of the day. While it was a left of centre publication, it was never a Labor stooge. The newspaper more than lived up to Walsh’s claim of helping to create a stimulating, sophisticated and passionate Australia during its ten eventful years.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Truth and the war in Iraq

This essay examines the 2003 war in Iraq and looks at how the nature of truth was manipulated to gain an outcome. The essay will provide a historical context for the way truth is used in war. It will then examine the case for fighting the war and how it was sold to the American public. The essay will examine the Western mass media complicity in the selling of the message and contrast it with oppositional readings from the Muslim world. The essay will touch on the matter of truth in the conduct of the war itself and will conclude with the unspoken truth of oil. It is the position of this essay that truth never stood a chance against the powerful twin weapons of government deception and media spin.

The 2003 US led invasion of Iraq polarised western opinion mainly along the left-right political divide. The British newspaper The Independent conveyed a typical left position when it condemned the conflict as an “illegal, immoral, meretricious war” while Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer touted the right wing warning when he said that failure to act against Saddam Hussein would result in a 21st century dominated by “dangerous and unaccountable dictators armed with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons”. Here clearly was a war whose truth was not obvious. But this is not new. There has long been a link between war and disinformation. 2,500 years ago, the Chinese military treatise, Sun Tzu's The Art of War, offered a fundamental maxim for laying war plans: “all warfare is based on deception".

Isolationist Senator Hiram Johnson (R-Cal) was aware of this maxim when cautioned against the US entry into the First World War in 1917. On the floor of the senate, he was the one to exclaim “the first casualty when war comes is truth”. Journalist Walter Lippmann saw that war’s propaganda at first hand. He knew how editorial conferences were a regular part of the business of war and how the generals met and argued over “the nouns, adjectives and verbs that were to be printed in the newspapers the next morning”. These were just as important matters for the decision makers as the battles themselves.

After the Second World War, Orwell’s dystopic satire 1984 defined a more sinister type of propaganda. He called it doublethink. Doublethink defined the mutability of history; a system of thought which demanded a continuous alteration of the past to safeguard the infallibility of the ruling party. Then in the 1980s Herman and Chomsky added a new layer of sophistication. They outlined a propaganda model for US mass media based on five factors: the concentrated ownership of media, advertising as the media’s primary source of income, over-reliance on sources from agents of power, negative responses to criticism, and anti-communism as a control mechanism (Herman & Chomsky 1994, p.2). While anti-communism has declined since the fall of the Soviet Union, anti-terrorism now roughly fills the same gap since the events of 11 September 2001 (9/11).

The push for regime change in Iraq predates 9/11 and can be traced to the formation of a group called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in 1997. The PNAC lobbied the Clinton administration for a harder line on Iraq and increased military spending. Many of the PNAC founders would end up with key roles in the Bush administration elected in 2000. In the wake of 9/11, the PNAC used the US media to dissemination their pro-Iraqi invasion views and their determination to bend the rules to make it happen. On 16 September 2001, US Vice President and PNAC member Dick Cheney went on to the US talk show Meet the Press. Although Cheney explicitly stated there was no evidence to link Iraq to 9/11, he outlined a future policy direction move to what he called “the dark side”. He told the reporter that “a lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods available to our intelligence agencies”. The administration waited until after the invasion of Afghanistan to build a case for an invasion of Iraq.

In December 2001, Cheney went on Meet the Press again. This time he was no longer as explicit about Iraq’s non-involvement. He began the casus belli by stating that Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attacks, met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. The story was investigated and found false by both the Czechs and the CIA who found that Atta was in the US at the time. But these results were dismissed by Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz who told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in April 2002 that “we cannot afford to wait for proof beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Other elements of the plan came into play. The CIA produced a “National Intelligence Estimate” (NIE) on Iraq for a US Congress vote on the war in 2002. This white paper was a cautious statement of support for the war. While the document was classified, the CIA produced a second declassified version for public consumption in which many of the caveats and alternative viewpoints were removed. Bush quoted the NIE in detail in his critical January 2003 “State of the Union” speech saying “Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction”. Bush’s speech also made a controversial assertion that would become known as "the 16 words”. The words were “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”. However the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded the documents Bush’s allegation was based on were fakes.

Despite the thinness of Bush’s case, the American people by and large supported it. An October 2002 Pew Research poll reported that 66 per cent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks and a January 2003 Knight-Ridder poll reported that half those surveyed incorrectly thought that one or more of the highjackers were Iraqis. These poll results show the success of the narrow range of discourse pursued by the US. It also supports the second layer of propaganda in Arthur Siegel’s model which says “it doesn’t have to be the truth as long as it’s plausible. It also questions Irby’s argument that the American media’s principle is that citizens make their own best choices when armed with honest information.

The reality was that were very few official voices of dissent in the west prepared to provide honest information. While Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie resigned in protest, the British scientists Kelly and Jones did not voice their concerns until after the war and any American dissent was swamped by those “in the team”. In any case, the official view was always likely to be more accepted by the media. The practical pressures of news production and professional demands of objectivity combine to produce a systematic over-accessing to the media of those in powerful institutions. The result was that the official pro-war message drowned out the opposition. The way to war was clear.

The strict media management of the truth continued in the war itself. The US military “embedded” journalists within army units on the condition that reports could be delayed and modified for reasons of “operational security” (Rampton & Stauber 2003, p.185). Some correspondents believed these safety concerns would act as a form of censorship but the real impact was to encourage reporters to identify with the units they were covering.

Fortunately worldwide audiences and journalists don’t necessarily support the theories of western news values. The US could not embed journalists from Qatar’s Al Jazeera TV station. During the war, the station’s website tripled its traffic. Al Jazeera received much American criticism when it broadcast footage of dead and bloodied coalition soldiers. The station responded by saying it had a responsibility to show the world casualties on both sides. The independence of Al Jazeera is a welcome counterpoint to the concentration of media ownership into the hands of transnational corporations which threatens the integrity of journalism.

News is a selective view of the world filtered through a mediating ideology. The biased nature of the prevailing ideology on both sides of the conflict caused many to turn to unofficial sources for information. Salam Pax was the pseudonym of a young Baghdad architect whose blog came to international attention during the war. His online diary captured the frightening reality of invasion and struck a dramatic emotional chord with tens of thousands of peoplearound the world with entries like this:
“4/4 4:30pm (Day 16) no sleep last night. If it is true that the US army is in the Saddam International Airport they would be a 30 minutes drive fro [sic] where Raed lives. No phones, and I am a bit too scared about driving down to his house.”

Here was a raw unmediated story dramatically different from the official “embedded” accounts. While the notion of authenticity of blogging is contested, the medium’s ‘everydayness’ grounds the practice in the world of the writer and legitimises it in terms of purchase. Here is hope that truth is not always lost in the midst of war.

But voices like Salam’s were isolated ones. The mainstream media mostly toed the official line. None of Rupert Murdoch’s 174 newspapers worldwide editorially opposed the war. Two major American newspapers The New York Times and The Washington Post were forced to issue retrospective apologies for biased aspects of their coverage of the war which favoured the official view and supported the invasion. Such bias is not necessarily indicative of downright lies however as Allan Bell as found, problems with the truth in media are more likely to occur as inaccuracies, misquotations, omissions, exaggerations and distortions.

Why is truth important? One definition of truth is “that paradigm which conforms best with reality”. However the truth of situations is difficult to ascertain in a world of information overload, competing ideologies and vested interests. The representation of any event involves choices of many different kinds. One choice about the representation of the Iraq War was to avoid the rationale of oil. Yet the secure flow of Persian Gulf oil has been American policy since the 1980 Carter Doctrine designated it a “vital interest” of the US. And a fundamental theme of the George W. Bush administration’s energy policy is a 33 per cent increase in US oil consumption in the next twenty years. As of 2002, Iraq was the world’s second largest oil producer with 10.7% of the world’s total but its industry was hamstrung by the sanctions imposed since the first Gulf War.

Clearly the need to secure access to Iraqi oilfields and increase production was an important truth to a resource-hungry US economy. The strong links between the oil industry and senior members of the Bush administration, including the president and vice-president, are well documented. Yet this truth could never be uttered. The American Government has continuously denied that oil was one of the reasons they were pushing for regime change. Donald Rumsfeld went on 60 Minutes in December 2002 to state categorically “it has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with it”. The sensitive nature about this truth about oil was vividly captured this year by the worldwide media attention afforded to Australian defence minister Brendan Nelson. Nelson’s error was to publicly admit securing oilfields was a key factor behind the Australian military presence in Iraq. This led to the strenuous and speedy denials by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer this was the case. This truth about “literally nothing” remains a long-term casualty of the war.

In conclusion, the war on Iraq was successfully sold to the public in the US as a just overthrow of a dangerous tyrant with designs against America. Although many of the manipulative arguments for war were exposed as false after the war, it was by then too late to change the outcome. The mainstream media has played a major role in the successful promotion of the deceptions that led to the invasion. The preparation for war has shown that truth is indeed the first casualty and the major media are as culpable as government agencies in leading to its early demise.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Muslims and the West

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. There are over 1.25 billion adherents - one in five of the world’s population is Muslim. It is also the most misunderstood religion in the world and is at the forefront of an apparent conflict with Western values. Yet Islam has interacted with the western world for more than 1,400 years. Some of today’s areas of conflict are rooted in events that took place hundreds of years ago. An examination of that history is useful in understanding present events.

In the centre of Mecca lies an old square building known as the Kaaba, It is Islam’s holiest site. According to Islamic tradition, the Kaaba was built by biblical Adam as a place of worship. Abraham then built a second building on the site after the first was destroyed. It has been renovated many times since. In the wall of the Kaaba lies a sacred black stone which experts believe to be a meteorite. About 1,400 years ago storms had damaged the Kaaba. A dispute arose between the four tribes of Mecca as to who would have the honour of replacing the black stone. A local trader solved the dispute by placing the stone in a cloth which was lifted by members of all four tribes. That trader’s name was Muhammad.

Muhammad ibn Abdullah was a native of Mecca, born there in 570 CE. Muhammad’s father died before he was born and his mother died shortly afterwards. Muhammad was raised by an uncle and helped the family by tending sheep. When he was 25 he travelled to Syria to sell the goods of a rich businesswoman named Khadija. Muhammad impressed her by the profit he made and she proposed to him. They had four daughters who lived and two sons who died young.

While Muhammad quickly gained the reputation of a wise and honest man, the same could not be said of Mecca. The traditional Arab care of the disadvantaged was waning in what was then a rich polytheistic international trading post. Women were brutally oppressed and some parents killed their daughters for fear of bring bad luck. Meanwhile Muhammad was about to receive an epiphany. According to the Koran, Muhammad was transported one night to Jerusalem where he ascended into Heaven and spoke to Abraham, Moses and Jesus. This became known as Muhammad’s Night Journey and it affirmed his belief that God (Allah) required him to preach for a monotheistic faith.
Muhammad preached submission to the will of Allah and the new religion became known as Islam from the Arabic verb ‘aslama’ meaning surrender or submission. He began publicly preaching in 612 CE and developed the Five Pillars of Islam, the five required duties of all Muslims. These were: a profession of faith in one God (Allah), prayer at five times each day, alms to the poor (zakat), fasting during the holy month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar) until the festival of Eid al-Fitr (the breaking of the feast) and finally the Haj – at least one pilgrimage to Mecca during a Muslim’s lifetime.

The new religion appealed to the poor, the oppressed, and the women. The rich and powerful leaders of Mecca were suspicious of Muhammad’s message of social justice. His monotheism also threatened the tourist trade of idol worshippers to the Kaaba. So they passed laws anti-Muslim laws that banned trade and social relations with Muslims. Muhammad and his followers were forced to abandon their native city ahead of a plot to assassinate him. This flight known as the “hijra” took place in 622. They went to Yathrib about 400kms north where they were warmly greeted after they helped tribal leaders sort out ancient differences. The city was quickly Islamised and its name was changed to Medina “the prophet’s city”.

The base of Islamic life is the “ummah” or Muslim community. The ummah is a tighter social bond than a family or a tribe. Ummah members must protect and defend each other at all costs. A key to the ummah’s success was that it applied to the entire community – not just its Muslim members. This concept replaced the traditional Arab notion of obligation based on blood relationships. Acceptance of this new social ideal was a key to Medina’s success.

After several years of war with Mecca, Medina finally triumphed in 630 when Muhammad led a 10,000 strong army to the city of his birth. Mecca surrendered without a fight. After the conquest many people living there decided to become Muslims. Muhammad and his followers then began to quickly spread the new message throughout the Arabian peninsula. By the time of Muhammad’s death two years later in 632, most of Arabia was united and Muslim.

The biggest question after Muhammad’s death was who would succeed him as leader or caliph (from the Arabic word for deputy or successor) of the ummah? Some wanted Ali ibn Ali Talib, Muhammad’s son-in-law and closest living male relative, to succeed himself. However after much discussion, a man named Abu Bakr was chosen as the first caliph. He was one of Islam’s earliest converts, a close friend of Muhammad and the father of Muhammad’s second wife. Bakr had to deal immediately with the Apostasy Wars against Arab tribes that believed their responsibilities to pay zakat ended when Muhammad died. The rebellions were quickly suppressed. By the time Bakr died after another two years in 634, the Islamic kingdom was twice as large again.

The second caliph Umar al-Khattab reigned for ten years during which Islam spread rapidly through the Middle East. Muslim armies conquered Syria and Egypt from the Byzantine Empire and also took Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) from the Persian empire. Non-Muslims (dhimmi) in these areas who did not wish to convert were forced to pay a protection tax called jizya which was equivalent to the Muslim zakat. These taxes were an important source of funds for the expanding empire. After al-Khattab was murdered by a Persian slave, the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan reigned for another 12 years. He was assassinated by followers of the still disgruntled Ali Talib who was proclaimed the fourth caliph.

Ali’s appointment caused a civil war and a major schism in Islam. He was assassinated by his enemies in 658 and his murder brought to end what was known as the era of the “rightly guided caliphs”. Ali’s supporters accepted his son as caliph however the majority rallied behind Ali’s opponent Abi Sufyan, a kinsman of Uthman, the third caliph. This group of Muslims became known as the Sunni (“the path”) which comes from the example of the “Sunna”, Muhammad. The followers of Ali and his son became known as Shiites from the Arabic “Shiat Ali” (party of Ali). Today more than 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunnis and a further 15 per cent are Shiites.

Despite decades of turmoil, the growth of Islam continued in the early years. By 718 Muslim armies ruled North Africa, the Middle East, Persia, Afghanistan and Iberia. A group known as the Abbasids gained control in 750 and created a new dynasty that would rule for several centuries from their new capital in Baghdad. A rival Umayyad dynasty ruled the Moorish state of Andalusia in Southern Spain which became the most enlightened European civilisation of the eight and ninth century. Cordoba was a famed and tolerant city of learning while most of Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages. Muslims advanced ancient knowledge in geography, astronomy, mathematics, science, medicine and philosophy.

Despite the Arab enlightenment, the Abbasids found it difficult to manage their unwieldy empire. Independent Muslim kingdoms emerged to claim local lands in India, Iran, Arabia and Turkey. The Moors were finally expelled from Granada in 1492, the year of Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas. But it was an earlier series of events starting in the 11th century that was to define Christendom’s complex relationship with Islam: the Crusades.

In 1095 Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Kemnenos asked the pope for help in fighting Turkish Muslims. The pope saw this as an opportunity to increase his power in the orthodox Eastern empire and called on European Christians to fight a holy war or crusade against the Muslims. A 60,000 strong army from England, France and Germany was charged to eliminate the Turkish threat from Byzantine and to also capture the holy city of Jerusalem. The crusading armies robbed and pillaged from all countries along their route, massacring German Jews and fighting Hungarian peasants. Although they failed in their ill-equipped mission, a second group of 100,000 captured Nicea, the Seljuk Turk capital and sacked the walled city of Jerusalem in 1099.

The Crusaders established four small Christian kingdoms in the areas of modern-day Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. They were surrounded by hostile Muslims whose lands they had taken. After Muslim forces retook Edessa in Syria in 1144, Bernard of Clairvaux called for a Second Crusade. French King Louis led his forces into the Middle East where they were routed leaving the Crusader states more vulnerable than before. The great Kurdish Muslim leader Saladin began to recapture cities including Jerusalem and a Third Crusade led by England’s King Richard was sent to stop him. After initial successes the two armies were locked in stalemate. The two sides negotiated a truce that kept Jerusalem in Saladin’s hands. Several more crusades were launched, each weaker than the last. Although Frederick II’s sixth Crusade temporary recaptured Jerusalem, the Crusader states finally collapsed in 1291 after 200 tragic and wasteful years.

While the crusade is still a positive concept in modern Christian countries, it is a pejorative word in Muslim countries allied to invasion, aggression and brutality. George W Bush’s description of the “war on terror” as a crusade offended many Muslims because of these historical connotations. In the Crusades, Christians fought a Holy War and the Muslims responded with “jihad”. The word jihad means struggle and in law means a struggle to maintain the balance of justice by an equitable distribution of rights and duties.

The next danger to Muslim hegemony came from the East. The Mongols began invading Muslim countries in 1220. Genghis Khan led a worldwide empire which obliterated cities, burned libraries and killed thousands. But the Muslims had their own cultural victories and by 1313 the Mongols made Islam their official religion. By now Islam’s reach was prodigious stretching through India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia in the East and the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa in the west. This is roughly analogous to Islam’s current sphere of influence.

A new Muslim empire grew in the early 14th century. Under the leadership of Osman I, the Ottoman Turks removed the Seljuks from power and began to grow in strength. They chipped away at the Byzantine Empire and finally took Constantinople in 1453. They renamed the city Istanbul meaning “city of Islam”. The fall of Constantinople caused a mass exodus of scholars and artists to Italy and would be a direct cause of the Italian Renaissance.

The Ottomans would prove tolerant rulers allowing Christians and Jews to live in their empire. They were great lawmakers and build complex legal institutions and tax structures. The empire flourished due to its good governance aided by a well-trained army and an effective network of spies. The Ottoman sultan was not only the head of the Government; he was also the caliph and therefore religious leader of Islam. The greatest of these sultans was Suleiman who ruled between 1520 and 1566. He was a poet and lawmaker and scholarship and fine architecture flourished under his rule. In 1529 his armies arrived at the gates of Vienna but were repulsed. Nonetheless Austria and Russia would fear the Ottoman Empire for the next two centuries.

The beginning of the Ottoman downfall came with the rise of European colonialism. Until the 16th century, the Ottomans controlled the overland routes to Asia and Africa and they charged high taxes to travelling merchants. Portuguese explorers led the way in discovering new sea routes to Africa and India while first Spanish and then British sailors led the way across the Atlantic. The Europeans quickly dominated the culture of the new hemisphere and then began to look east for new spoils.

They forced weaker Muslim potentates into preferential trade deals which began to shift the balance of power. When the Industrial Revolution started in the 18th century, Europe had the advantage it needed to dominate international commerce. The Portuguese arrived first capturing the seaports before they passed the baton onto the commercial seafaring nations of Britain and the Netherlands. In 1765 the British East India Company forced the weak Islamic Moghul emperor of India to yield his authority. The Dutch conquered the East Indies while the French took large swathes of north and west Africa.

As Muslims and Westerners came into closer contact, Islamic society was forced to adapt. Some Muslims wanted the best of both worlds by adopting Western technology while remaining faithful to their own heritage. Others tried to merge Islamic ideas with Communism or harness a growing nationalism. The idea of a nation state was imported from Europe and was taken up by Arabs who wanted freedom from the Ottomans. The empire became embroiled in the first world war and British envoys such as T.E. Lawrence went to the peninsula to encourage an Arab rebellion. In 1916 Hussein bin Ali fought with the British to take Damascus.

But Britain was two-timing the Arabs. While encouraging Ali’s revolt, they also sat down with the French to carve out the Sykes-Picot agreement which divided Ottoman territories between them after the war. Another complication was the Balfour Declaration by the Britain’s foreign secretary which supported the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. After the war, the British and French divided the territories into new mandates such as Transjordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, which Palestine aside, all achieved independence after the Second World War.

The end of that war also saw independence to India. However tensions between India’s Hindu majority and its Muslim minority led Britain to divide the colony into India and Pakistan. Muslim Kashmir remained in Indian hands and 250,000 people were killed in the violence that followed. Another 12 million people were made refugees by the partition. Pakistan’s unwieldy nature, two sides 1,800 kms apart, could not be sustained and the East broke away as Bangladesh after another war in 1971.

While Europe was intimately involved with Islam, the US had so far kept at arms length. However its influence in Muslim countries grew after the break-up of the British and French empires in the 1940s and 50s. The US was initially widely admired in Muslim countries because it didn’t appear to practice the suppression of nationalist and religious movements so beloved of the Europeans. However as the Cold War grew, the US became more active in Muslim countries, and its CIA active engineered Suharto’s military coup in 1965, Indonesia’s Year of Living Dangerously.

But it was oil that would define the US’s relationship with the Arab world. In the 1950s, the US enlisted the support of oil-rich Arab states ruling families in exchange for financial and military assistance. They signed a mutual defence pact with Saudi Arabia in 1951. Two years later, the CIA launched a coup in Iran to overthrow a reform-minded Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh who threatened to nationalise the country’s oil industry. He was replaced by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi who supported Iran’s westernisation until he was overthrown during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Also in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The new Communist regime did not permit Muslims to freely practice their religion. Resistance fighters known as mujahideen from all around the Islamic world took up the fight against the Soviets. They were supported by the CIA who provided $3 billion in weapons and military training. One of the lessons the mujahideen learned from the US was the concept of “strategic sabotage”, a lesson that former mujahideen Osama bin Laden would apply with devastating effect against the US in 2001. After a ten year war in Afghanistan, the Soviets withdrew. This defeat contributed greatly to the break-up of the USSR in 1991 and the end of the Cold War. The US also pulled its resources out of Afghanistan and left a power vacuum behind. Out of the different groups of mujahideen emerged a group called the Taliban which established a religious government in Kabul in 1996.

Meanwhile the US continued to invest in its long partnership with Israel. Although the US was the first country to recognise Israel’s independence in 1948, the two countries did not become close until after the Suez Crisis. The US supported Nasser in that crisis but Eisenhower’s fear of Egypt’s close ties with the USSR led to a new role for Israel as a bulwark against the spread of Communism. Israel used mostly French weapons up to the 1967 Six Day War but after the Israeli victory, the US became its leading arms supplier. The capture of East Jerusalem in that war and the loss of Islam’s second holiest shrine deeply offended Muslims throughout the world. 40 years later, it remains contested territory with Israel refusing to compromise on its return to a Palestinian state. The other vexed issue is the issue of land grants to Jewish settlers in annexed territories on land formerly owned by over a half million Palestinian Arabs.

After the 1967 war Palestinian opposition groups became more radical. The PLO began terrorist attacks against Israeli targets, most notably at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Israel retaliated by bombing PLO bases and assassinating their leaders. In 1982 Israel, supported by the US, invaded southern Lebanon to drive out the PLO. Israel would occupy a “buffer zone” until 2000. Meanwhile the US attempted to keep the peace. Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy” ultimately led to a thawing of relationships with Egypt and a historic peace treaty with Israel. But the rest of the Arab world were outraged by Egypt’s treachery and a Muslim extremist assassinated President Sadat in 1981. Nonetheless the treaty called for Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai and the Palestinian enclaves in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel withdrew from the Sinai but reneged on the vague wording about the Palestinian territories.

Angered by continued delays and crushing poverty, the Palestinians launched a series of protests in 1987 that became known as the Intifada (Arabic “shaking off”). Israel met the protests with force and over a thousand Palestinians died as the violence continued over the next six years. Bill Clinton negotiated a new agreement in 1993 that led to the formation of a provisional government known as the Palestinian Authority a year later. But yet again one of the architects of a peace agreement was assassinated by an extremist. This time it was Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rubin who was shot by a Jewish militant in 1995. Rabin’s hawkish replacement Benjamin Netanyahu antagonised Muslims by authorising an archaeological dig under Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque.

The peace process dragged on through the 1990s with no sign of a lasting settlement. Positions hardened. In 2000 the Palestinians launched a second intifada which included suicide attacks and the Israelis responded by military force and martial law. The West blamed PLO chairman Arafat for not being committed to peace while the Muslim world believed that Israel could do what they pleased while it was supported by the US. Although some progress has since been made in Palestinian statehood, albeit complicated by the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the issue of Israel remains the fulcrum of disagreements between Muslims and the West.

But the Palestinian question is beginning to be overtaken by events to the east. In 1979 a popular revolution overthrew the US-backed Shah of Iran. The new government was an Islamic theocracy based on Shiite principles. Iran broke off diplomatic relations with the US and began to eliminate Western influences from Iranian society. A year later its neighbour Iraq seized on the perceived weakness of the new regime to invade Iran. In the gruelling eight year war that followed, the officially neutral US supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with weapons and aid. The war ended in stalemate and sent Iraq broke.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rejected Saddam’s call to forgive his debts. Saddam decided to invade Kuwait and seize its massive oil fields with 20 per cent of the world’s known reserves. The invasion rattled Saudi Arabia. The ruling Al Saud family feared their kingdom might be next to fall to Saddam’s armies. The Saudis requested help and the US sent in thousands of troops to support Operation Desert Shield. Saddam defied UN demands to withdraw. Finally a coalition of 30 countries (many of them Muslim) attacked starting the 1991 Gulf War. This quick and brutal war was hopelessly one-sided. 400 Iraqi soldiers died (150,000 in all) for every coalition casualty (just 370 dead).

Iraq was plunged in turmoil after the war. Minority groups rebelled against Saddam expecting outside support. But the US armies did not intervene and the Iraqi army put down the revolts. The UN Security Council set a resolution for the end of the war. Iraq was to renounce its claim to Kuwait and destroy its weapons of mass destruction. The US maintained economic sanctions throughout the 1990s as it sought Iraqi compliance. The sanctions hurt the poor but did little to upset Saddam. Finally the 9/11 attacks gave the new Bush administration the excuse it needed to effect regime change. The eventually war in 2003 and Saddam’s overthrow have opened up a new Pandora’s Box whose contents have not yet entirely spilled out.

But the Middle East is not the only place where the West meets Islam. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw many new countries emerge in Central Asia. Many of these nations - Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – have majority Muslim populations. All are struggling to establish political, economic and social stability. Azerbaijan has lost control of a fifth of its territory to Christian neighbour Armenia in a border dispute. Another Muslim enclave Chechnya has twice gone to war with Russia in a so far vain attempt to win independence from Moscow. Bosnia and Herzegovina has also struggled with religious tensions and ethnic cleansing after a bitter war of independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

In all of these troubled regions, some Muslims have taken extremist positions to defend their rights. Those that want to use a strict interpretation of Islamic (Sharia) law as the basis for the government and society are known as fundamentalists in West. However contemporary scholars prefer the term Islamists as the term fundamentalism was invented to describe conservative Christian belief. Islamists usually have a commitment to help poorer members of society and also reject some aspects of Western culture.

Sometimes more extreme Islamist groups interpret the concept of jihad (a complex term meaning struggle against cultural and social corruption) to justify acts of violence. Because these groups are small and have limited resources, their most effective weapon is terrorism. Terrorism is violence carried out for political purposes. While most in the West equate “terrorist” with “Muslim”, the idea has been around for centuries and used by various minority groups to achieve their aims. Meanwhile the majority of Muslims condemn terrorism and scholars say it has no place in Islam.

However Islamist political parties are on the rise. The Muslim Brotherhood has renounced terrorism in Egypt and Jordan and have joined the political process with some success. In secular Turkey, the moderate Islamist Justice and Progress Party (AKP) gained power in 2002. However when the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won power in Algeria in 1992 it was banned by the military and led to a vicious civil war. Other Islamist organisations have combined social activism with terrorist activities. Hezbollah (“Party of God”) was founded in 1982 to combat the Israel occupation of Lebanon. Hezbollah have engaged in with military actions against Israeli and US targets. Their goal is to found a fundamentalist state along Iranian lines. Hamas have similar goals in Gaza.

In Indonesia Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) have been responsible for a series of bombings including the two attacks on Bali. Their goals is to set up a Muslim super-state encompassing Malaysia, Indonesia and southern Philippines. JI have links to the most infamous Islamist group of all – al Qaeda. Bin Laden’s group has carried out massive attacks including 9/11, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the USS Cole bombing.

However it is important to realise that the reason groups like al Qaeda resort to terrorism is that they have very little real power. Terrorists are afraid that the powerful will never address their concerns unless they can get their attention by dramatic acts. It is important that the West does not demonise Islam as a whole for the actions of its radical elements. The Islamic World itself is as varied as the Western world. But cultural difference doesn’t mean Muslims and Westerners cannot co-exist peacefully. The west needs to be aware of the political, economic and social circumstances that hinder Muslim development. The west cannot solve these problems but can help. But they must respect Muslim ways of thinking and allow them to devise solutions to their problems that conform to the religious beliefs of their people.

note: this essay is based on the ideas in Evelyn Sears's book Muslim and the West.