My Cape Times (South Africa) articles

8/12/15

 

REMOVE THE MYTH OF ORGANISED TERRORISM

 

IF YOU want to understand what’s really going on in the Middle East, start by removing the myth of organised terrorism.

As British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the House of Commons shortly before his death in 2005: “There is no terrorist group called al-Qaeda. The country behind this propaganda is the US.” “Al-Qaeda” is likely no more than a name applied to any violent attack on Westerners carried out by radicalised Muslims anywhere.

The self-styled Islamic State (IS), meanwhile, bears all the hallmarks of a false flag operation. Their weapons and vehicles are American, their uniforms belong in a martial arts movie and Hollywood studios couldn’t have done a more professional job of their videos. Even if we accept the standard narrative, what purpose would terrorist attacks on foreign soil serve? The powder keg was created when Britain and France drew up the Middle East’s borders after World War I.

This was done irrespective of ethnic and religious boundaries. The major divide runs between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The latter are the majority in only a few countries, notably Iran and Iraq. Syria has a Sunni majority but its leadership is Alawite, a minority sect closer to Shia. This is the basis of the conflict there.

Another fault line runs through the region in terms of secular government and religion.

The US is inclined to back theocracies and dictatorships over democratic governments. In the 1980s, for example, the US backed the Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, helping to bring down a progressive socialist government and create the Taliban. The US returned following the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers. Only, this time they were fighting the Taliban, who they accused of harbouring terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Fourteen years later, the US and the Taliban are still there in spite of the fact that Bin Laden was apparently killed in 2011.

Meanwhile, work is about to begin on a pipeline which will transport gas out of Central Asia to the Indian Ocean – via Afghanistan; which has been on the agenda ever since the break-up of the USSR. The US also tends to side with its Sunni allies against the Shia countries.

The US supported Iraq’s Sunni minority leadership in its vicious eight-year war on Iran in the 1980s. This followed the 1979 Revolution in Iran, which removed the Shah and ended US control. In 1953 the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of Iran’s first democratic government after it nationalised the oil industry. But in 1991, when Saddam Hussein tore up the post-World War I borders to “reclaim” Kuwait, US invaded Iraq. The second invasion 12 years later was based on false intelligence and has led to an estimated one million deaths. This conflict has also yet to reach its conclusion, even though Hussein was hanged nine years ago. A similar fate awaited Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who, during a 42-year-reign as Libya’s leader, had transformed the country into one of the most prosperous on the continent. But he eventually ran foul of the US, his country was invaded, Gaddafi was savagely murdered, and the turmoil has divided Libya and spread to Mali.

Syria does not have the vast oil reserves of Iraq and Libya. But, like Afghanistan, it offers a direct route for a lucrative gas pipeline. President Bassar al-Assad, one of the few Middle East leaders remaining outside US control, has refused to authorise such a project. The US and its allies have created a proxy war in Syria by arming and training anti-government rebels and continuing to do so even when it became apparent some had turned to terrorism. IS, mythical or otherwise, thus served as the pretext for direct military intervention. But efforts to remove Assad have been foiled by Russia which has so far bombed both the rebels and terrorists with far greater efficiency than the Nato cabal combined.

Aside from those wishing to see Sunni majority rule in Syria, Israel has a border dispute with Damascus over the Golan Heights. A large amount of oil has recently been discovered in the area. The Jewish state’s security is paramount to the US. It does not appear to be of much concern that Israel is carrying out periodic massacres of its native Palestinian population. US support for Israel, and its manipulation of religious and political divisions to further its imperial designs, are the basis of these conflicts.

 

3/12/15

 

LANGUAGES BRING OUT THE WORST IN PEOPLE by Quentin Poulsen

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela presumably intended this in the figurative sense, for such was the manner in which he approached his role as South Africa’s first black president. It ought also to be true from a literal perspective, though this is not always the case anymore.

My first experience in a non-English speaking environment was in Paris, where my ‘Parles vouz Anglais?” tended to be met with a blunt “Non!” or “A leetle, a leetle” – followed by almost fluent English.

The French, in particular, get a bad rap when it comes to languages. In fact, I have come to realise they have the right attitude. It would be arrogant and misguided to expect everyone to speak English wherever one traveled. Moreover, it would detract from the adventure and cultural benefits involved.

During my brief stay in Paris I picked up a few useful phrases which remain with me to this day. I am grateful, too, that in Spain I had no choice but to learn the language, so that after five years in that country I had reached an efficient level – as had been my objective from the outset. In this manner I gained a deeper understanding of Spanish society and culture.

As English speakers we have long been derided for our failure to learn other languages. But step outside Western Europe today and as often as not the reverse is the case. We are actually expected to speak English now, and will be derided if we don’t.

Due largely to American domination of international business and entertainment, English has become the new ‘Lingua Franca.’ Everybody almost everywhere really wants to learn it, and they may even become offended if denied their opportunity to practice.

I supposed my experience in other parts of the world would be similar to those in Spain and France. If anything, I had assumed it would be even more necessary to learn the vernacular in a region beyond the EU borders. How mistaken I was.

My first fumbling attempts to speak a local language in the Middle East were invariably responded to in English, as often as not of a rudimentary nature itself. Perhaps they were only trying to be helpful. But as a result my speaking improved at a faster rate than my listening comprehension, which was very slow to develop.

It reached the point where I was able to make fairly complicated sentences yet still received replies in English.  Entire conversations were held in which I spoke nothing but the local language and the locals spoke nothing but English.

Vestiges of the bargaining culture remain in this region. A battle of the wills lies just beneath the surface in many aspects of day to day life. Nothing is conceded without a struggle. I needed to develop a strategy.

I tried telling people I was German, but after encountering a few German-speaking locals, who blew my cover, I changed this to Danish (the mother tongue of my father, though I know only a few words).

Few believed me, however, and my persistence with the local language now tended to be met with a brooding silence and suspicious frown. Sign language and gestures were used, calculators held up to show prices, while some merely continued in English – only louder, as though my problem were hearing. Anything, it seemed, but actually speak their own language.

On one occasion a security guard bellowed a nationalist slogan at me – in English – because I had spoken to him in the local vernacular.

Slowly, painstakingly, I have progressed in spite of it all, and at every step another dimension to this bizarre enigma has presented itself.

Though actually more common in underdeveloped countries, multilingualism may be regarded as an academic quality in first world nations, where it is generally acquired through higher education. For this reason, no doubt, many are keen to show off their linguistic skills – however basic.

But if they are showing off, it is more than likely they will assume you are doing the same, regardless of your reasons for learning another language. This may also apply to English speakers themselves, of course. Jealousy brings out the worst in people, and languages have a tendency to bring out the jealousy.

 

22/11/15

THE IGNORANCE OF THE DUMBED DOWN by Quentin Poulsen

First allow me to apologise. As a youth I supported my country’s sporting ties with South Africa during the Apartheid era. Of course, I never supported Apartheid itself. But as I once told my Ghanaian friend, an exchange student employed at the factory I worked in, I would have supported these ties equally had the black and white roles been reversed. For this he thanked me, explaining he had come to New Zealand to meet ignorant people.

Yes I was ignorant, though not only about Apartheid and the importance of boycotts to bring about change. I was also ignorant about my own country. During my schooling I learnt not one thing about its native people, not one thing about their history and culture, not one word of their language.

I was unaware, for example, that the native population had been reduced by about half soon after the arrival of Europeans. Some estimates put the figure much higher. This was the result of war and disease, mostly, and provides a mirror image of ethnic cleansing in other European colonies, such as North America, where it has come to be regarded as genocide.

Not so in New Zealand. Maori academic Keri Opai was accused of ‘trivializing the Holocaust’ in 2012 for drawing a comparison between the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany and that of the indigenous people during the colonisation of New Zealand. Former Maori party co-leader Tariana Turia had sparked a similar outcry in 2000 by also using the term ‘Holocaust.’

Instead it has become fashionable for the term ‘genocide’ to be be applied to the actions of the native people themselves. But the extent of carnage during the inter-tribal Musket Wars and Chatham Islands massacre owed to the acquisition of modern weapons. And this was entirely strategical, as the British proceeded to settle lands thus made ’empty.’

What does appear certain is a cultural genocide followed and continued through most of the 20th century, with Maori values largely ignored by mainstream media. State television was unrivalled in New Zealand for three decades, from the early 1960s until the end of the 1980s – by which time the average New Zealander was watching more than twenty hours of television per week. Not until the 1980s, when a five minute Maori news segment was introduced, was there any significant native language content.  Meanwhile, speaking Maori had been banned in schools until the mid-1970s, while in 1984 a telephone operator was demoted for her use of the Maori greeting ‘Kia ora.’

Of course, the great post-War migration to the cities had already created a decline in the use of the native language. English was the language of schools and the work place, as well as the media. The Maori had no choice but to adapt to European society, and by the 1980s fewer than 20% were considered to be fluent in their own language. Thus they became alienated from their own culture, and not surprisingly they have remained rooted to the bottom of the socio-economic scale. Maori today comprise 15% of New Zealand’s population yet account for more than half its male prisoners and more than 60% of its female prisoners.

The media and education institutions effectively buried indigenous culture. New Zealanders were ‘dumbed down’ to the same extent as North Americans and Australians on natives issues. They received the same cowboy movies, the same television dramas dominated by sophisticated whites and the same reality crime shows dominated by non-white villains. And there have been the same diversions – sports, celebrity gossip and male-bashing that has nothing to do with feminism.

This was the society I grew up in; a denialist culture obsessed with its own image but which had failed to come to terms with its past. Therein lay the problem. An air of insincerity, or selective morality, accompanied the whole anti-Springbok tour movement, for those pointing their fingers elsewhere were quite contentedly inhabiting a nation with its own unresolved issues. It was this which grated with my juvenile sensitivies,

We may well recall the unprecedented demonstrations against South Africa’s 1981 rugby tour of New Zealand, but will we also remember the packed stadiums and the multitudes watching the games on state television? New Zealand was divided down the middle, the media played both sides of the issue, and clearly there were as many people in favour of the tour as there were against it.

Although the controversy had made me cognizant of the Apartheid issue in the early 1980s, I knew nothing of the genocide being carried out on the much closer island of Timor at the very same time, and neither was I aware of the Lebanon War nor the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees. Meanwhile, New Zealand played FIFA World Cup qualifiers against both Indonesia and Israel without a murmur of protest.

 

17/11/15

 

The Age of Barbarity by Quentin Poulsen

When we look back on the horrors of the past, the genocide of native peoples, the quashing of culture, the colonisation of stolen land, there is a tendancy to attribute such crimes to the ignorance, blind obedience and incapacity of the general populace. In this way we disconnect and render ourselves immune from any real sense of guilt and responsibility. We live in more ‘civilized’ times, we assure ourselves. The age of barbarity is behind us.

But is there really any difference between the crimes of the past and those of today? Multitudes have perished as the result of wars in the Middle East, for example. Countless more have been wounded, displaced, bereaved of loved ones and otherwise traumatised. The American occupation of Afghanistan is the longest foreign war in US history. Conflicts resulting from the invasion of Iraq have endured almost as long. That invasion, in violation of the United Nations Security Council and opposed by most of the world, was proved to be based on a falsity – even before it began.

Is the US not, therefore, behaving in much the same way as the white settlers did following their arrival in the Americas? But still we look on impassively, just as our forebears did two and three centuries ago. This is not the result of ignorance and blind obedience, for all the information is available to us, and if we are incapacitated it is only because we have failed to make a stand.

America’s involvement in the Vietnam war during the sixties and seventies led to one of the biggest anti-war movements in history. Multitudes took part in demonstrations all across the nation, regularly clashing with police. Celebrities got involved, politicians got involved, and finally even the veterans themselves got involved. Why no such reaction to the United States’ actions in the Middle East today? Is it only because the draft has göne, and that far fewer Americans are returning home in body-bags? Or is it simply that the West has become desensitised? Could it be that such conflicts now appear as little more than reality TV shows, brought to us almost daily by the news channels, invariably with our own government’s slant on the issue?

Does Israel’s ongoing colonisation of Palestine not provide a mirror image of the ethnic cleansing which occurred in North America two and three centuries ago? Yet the United States sends Israel billions of dollars in ‘aid’ each year; a substantial portion of which is used for the purchase of weapons. Is the US not, therefore, knowingly and deliberately repeating its crimes against its own native population?

It has taken Americans several generations to come to terms with their past. How many generations more before they come to terms with the present? Probably, only when the last living witness has returned to molecular form, and all possible gain has been extracted by the perpetrator, will society as a whole ever be ready to come to terms with its crimes. By then it will be too late, of course, and those looking back from the future will undoubtedly dismiss it as the result of ignorance, blind obedience and the incapacity of the general populace. They will regard it as having occurred in an age less civilised; an age of barbarity.

America’s junior partner in the ‘Coalition of the Killing’ has never really been held accountable for its many crimes in the past, and for this reason, no doubt, Britain has gone on behaving in much the same way.

The ‘Great War’ was not a battle for ‘freedom and democracy.’ It was the culmination of the European scramble for colonies during the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and in this respect Britain was very much to the fore. It led directly to an even greater catastrophe two decades later, just as soon as a new generation of sacrificial lambs had been raised for the fighting. But the scramble for colonies has continued unabated.

So how is Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq any different to its actions of a century ago – except that it now rides along on America’s coat-tails?  Is Britain not, therefore, knowingly and deliberately repeating its crimes of the imperial age?

And still no bad guys?  We all know the villains of the Nazi regime. Many have been convicted and punished, as have various black African leaders and figures from the Yugoslav Wars. How many Britons have been brought to trial for their crimes? Who has been made accountable for the genocides in Australia and New Zealand, the massacres in India and North Africa, and the concentration camps in South Africa and Kenya?

Some will assure you they know all this, that they learnt it at school – presumably due to the liberal nature of their society and its education system. But they will do so with an air of superiority which is itself a relic of the imperial age. And they may do so with a defensive edge to their tone; warning that, while they themselves are cognizant of such matters, it would be impermissable for others to claim any insight. And they may tell you, also, that it was all due to the ignorance, the blind obedience and the incapacity of the general populace; that these are more civilized times, and the age of barbarity is behind us.

 

7/11/2015

 

DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFT LEADS TO ALL BLACKS’ SUPREMACY

New Zealand’s success in professional rugby owes in large part to its Pacific Island influence, though this is the result not of poaching but of a substantial change in demographics over the past several decades.

Tens of thousands of Samoans and Tongans took advantage of more relaxed immigration policies from the 1960s onward to seek a better life in New Zealand. In rugby terms this came to fruition in the late-80s and early-90s, forming a happy intersection with the advent of the World Cup and the professional age.

The Kiwi rugby landscape had presented a somewhat different view in the amateur era. The Maori influence had been significant from the outset, with Thomas Rangiwahia Ellison captaining New Zealand’s first official rugby team to Australia in 1893, and George Nepia playing every game on the ‘Invincible’ All Blacks’ unbeaten 32-match tour of the Northern Hemisphere in the mid-1920s to earn his place among the game’s ‘immortals.’

Indeed, the sport has been credited with contributing to the integration of native and ‘Pakeha’ (white) New Zealanders. But there were seldom more than a few Maori players in All Blacks teams.

Meanwhile, the All Blacks’ winning average was significantly lower than it has been in the professional era, at about 66%, and it was South Africa, in particular, which posed a problem for the New Zealanders.

The Springboks were unbeaten in a series throughout the entire first half of the twentieth century and maintained superior head-to-head records against allcomers – including the All Blacks.

They won a series in New Zealand in 1937, Danie Craven’s revolutionary dive-passing at halfback catching the Kiwis by surprise, then whitewashed the touring All Blacks 4-0 in 1949, prop Okey Geffin, a former WWII POW, proving the difference with his boot. New Zealand were not to avenge the former ignominy until the professional age, and have yet to redress the latter.

Although the All Blacks won the final series of the amateur era between the two nations in 1981, played in New Zealand, they were somewhat fortunate to do so; Allan Hewson landing the match-winning penalty in stoppage time of the decider, thus bringing to an end one of the most dramatic and controversial contests in sporting history.

Just a few years later a ‘rebel’ team of New Zealanders toured South Africa after a court injunction had prevented the official side from doing so. The ‘Cavaliers’ were well-beaten, not because one or two of their best players had declined to join them, but because they simply had no answer to the brilliance of Naas Botha, Danie Gerber and Carel du Plessis in the Springbok backline.

It is a salient point, for the New Zealand game had long been forward-oriented, evolving in the typically wet and muddy conditions of the nation’s winters. There were a few game-breakers, of course; notably Bryan Williams – one of the first Samoans to play for New Zealand – Stu Wilson and John Kirwan. But by and large the standard was mediocre in comparison to the Springboks,’ and no match either for the dazzling genius of Australia’s David Campese.

South Africa, meanwhile, had posed a problem for New Zealand in more ways than one. Not until the 1970s were non-white players eligible to tour the Republic. George Nepia, among others, was therefore excluded from the All Blacks’ 1928 squad, and neither were Maori players considered in 1949 or 1960.

This affront, combined with the game’s steadfast adherence to the amateur regulations, led to increasing numbers of Polynesians turning to the 13-man code, particularly in the metropolitan centres of Auckland and Wellington. A virtual non-factor prior to the 1980s, rugby league was to emerge as a fierce rival to the ‘national sport’ by the end of that decade. Indeed, league’s poaching raids on rugby union began to decimate the parent code and were undoubtedly a key factor in its belated transition to professionalism in the mid-1990s.

In fact, the amateur ethos had already begun to slip in various parts of the rugby union-playing world, and by the late 1980s it would be realistic to suggest many players were getting ‘looked after.’ Thus the term “Shamateur” entered the sport’s vernacular. Coupled with the increasing isolation of South Africa, this appeared to stem the flow to league somehwat (though not the poaching), and the 15-man game’s popularity received a huge shot in the arm when New Zealand romped to victory at the inaugural World Cup in 1987.

Among the heroes of that World Cup-winning All Blacks squad was Samoan flanker Michael Niko Jones, who scored New Zealand’s first try at the tournament and also touched down in the final. Bruising centre Joe Stanley was another in the team of Samoan extraction.

Just two years later the All Blacks selected a burly Samoan youth by the name of Va’aiga Lealuga Tuigamala. ‘Inga the Winger’ ran his hulking 110kg frame up and down the flanks for New Zealand, pulverising everything in his path on the way to scoring 61 points in 39 games.

The dye was cast: Pacific Islanders began popping up in All Blacks teams with increasing regularity, notably in the back row and outside backs – thereby not only allaying the Kiwis’ shortcomings in the latter department but transforming it into a decisive advantage. No player demonstrated this in more spectacular fashion than giant winger Jonah Lomu, of Tongan extraction, who took the 1995 World Cup by storm as a mere 20-year-old.

The All Blacks were beaten by a determined home-team in the final that year, but have since turned the tables on the Springboks entirely, winning 34 matches to 12 over the past two decades to lead the all-time series 52-33. They have improved their overall winning average to 76% (85% in the pro era) with superior head-to-head records against all opposition.

Today almost a third of the All Blacks’ 31-man squad is of Pacific Island origin, though all but three of them are New Zealand born and raised. That’s not to say poaching of Pacific Island rugby talent is not an issue. By all accounts it does go on, especially at schoolboys level. But it is no longer a significant factor at international level, and far more New Zealand-born players are actually turning out for island teams these days than the other way around.

Ends

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