Monday, April 04, 2005


There are some typos, spelling mistakes and some poor expression below which I am happy to have pointed out - sick of editing and re-editing the thing!

Sorry for not posting for a while: it is not that the thoughts or feelings are not there. Every time I scan the web, it's either been reported or chewed over in a far more comprehensive way than I could. Already mentioned several times before: the desire not to make facile comments about a situation which is far too complicated as it is wthout adding half-formed ideas based on 'facts' in the media.

Everyone seems to have views about Iraq - the number of non-Iraqi weblogs dedicated to Iraq demonstrates this. Although the quagmire is still there, other parts of the world have similar or equivalent disasters, incipient or ongoing: Sudan, and, building up to a crisis, Zimbabwe, where a genocide by starvation will probably happen if this demented Marxist dreamer is not removed from power by fair means or foul. N Korea is written about by
Vaclav Havel in The Washington Post, 6/18/2004, as reported in Laogai Research Foundation. China, the economic success and culture of which everyone is commemorating with such alacrity this year, still has massive laogai, is producing many of the cheap goods we eagerly buy. Slave labour {There three distinct types of camp: not all do slave labour - a subtle argument might be that the people forced to produce goods for the open market are little different than those in the 'free-market' who have to do so for very low wages [determined by the market] to keep bread on the table. The point is that

wiki: entry laogai
Laogai "Reform through labour" in China {American University, Washington College of law}

though the U.S. condemns these activities, it has been systemmatically investing in China for decades - even complicated government schemes which allow companies to use tax payers money to do so - so ensuring the production of goods such as giant hydro-electric dynamos at costs is could never do at home.

So how do we tell the difference between slave-labour goods and paid-labour goods?
There is still a critique of capitalism, which Isam has a great contribution to.

There are many big problems in the world that need tackling as well as Iraq.


Like many expert commentators, I, the amateur, think the focus of the west should remain on Islam. Islam is in evident competition with the west. Political correctness should not get in the way of thrashing the whole thing out. We should be able to rationally discuss - amongst ourselves and with Muslims - the significance of the shifts in the last decade or so, with Islam now skewed towards the undemocratic political over the spiritual in certain quarters.

The first point would be for Muslims (and those trying to understand Islam) to recognise that Islam as set up by the Prophet, was not merely a religion. Over time, the political elements have shifted with events and circumstances in the world. In western countries too, religion was an integral part of the state, later being hived off into its own domain. Though, strangely, in Britain, the Church of England is still established. A way to remove the British Muslims' feelings of being outsiders is to dis-establish.

In Britain we will end up in complete fear of saying anything about a religion many of whose adherents are being persuaded that democracy is unacceptable. Only the other night, a well-educated, fundamentalist-orientated Muslim argued that British Muslims should boycott the up-coming elections. Though everyone has a right not to vote, and voter apathy is a part of most western democracies with apallingly low turn outs in contries like the UK and the US, the fact that certain British Muslims are organising themselves with this in mind is another way of saying that democracy is wrong. And yet they benefit from all the advantages that democracy confers!

In a free country it is permissible to hold views that are anti-democratic, but in order to create the undemocracy desired they either have to vote out the democratic system or remove it by force. Since it is unlikely that the former will happen in a country like Britain, or any well-established democracy, then these Islamic groups and their influence can only disrupt our society, contributing nothing positive. For people who have such strong beliefs, sitting on the sidelines formenting discontent is the wrong way to go.

Did significance minorities of Muslims in the West, in the UK, feel this way in 1950s to 1980s? I spoke to Muslims as a student, and had no hint of this. Certainly no conformist beards! In any case, Islam in the west did not come up much for discussion. The thing then was Arab nationalism. Has the failure of Arab nationalism been the spur to greater Islamic militancy? The very authoritarian and legalisitc nature on Islam makes it an ideal vehicle to persuade people. The thing westerners do not like - and are frightened of - is the way the faithful are willing to kowtow to their leaderships: good for the integrity, unity, of Islam, but worrying for those brought up in a different tradition, where the more opinions the merrier.

Blind conformism can be only be of benefit to people in charge: political or religious. And yet we can end up talking - because of the burgeoning extremism - as if the obviously good points of Islam did not exist. In the West the God money creates the greatest blind conformism of all, the consumer society, which the fundamentalist Mulsima criticise so vociferously. But in the Middle East, consumerism is as rife as anywhere else.


I have been turning back to reading about the great tyrants of the 20 century. Looking at a docu-drama on TV recently about the last day {or days} of Stalin, where it was suggested he might have been murdered by one his entourage, made me mull over the nature of power within dictatorships. One of my conclusions was that the scum will naturally filter to the top in these systems of governace, and that the leader has to be extremely strong to ward off potential rivals. Stalin resorted to abitrary killing of friend and foe alike, as did Saddam. Hitler concentrated more on supposed external threats, although many political prisoners died in the camps.

One thing that came out my reading - a review of the autobiography of the marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn, was the notion amongst the Left intelligencia in the west in the 20s and 30s that what went on inside Soviet Russia - the mass murder in particular - didn't count or could be ignored because it was within the country. Presunmably, if Trotsky had achieved his dream of international revolution, then they would have changed their minds about adhering to the fantastical communist dream if there were massacres of British, French and German citizens as part of the process? The Left would surely have been amongst the first to get the bullet in this scenario, for they would have been deemed not revolutionary enough or suspect in one way or another.

The essence of Communism is the abnegation of individual freedom, as Hobsbawm admits in a chilling passage: "The Party… had the first, or more precisely the only real claim on our lives. Its demands had absolute priority. We accepted its discipline and hierarchy. We accepted the absolute obligation to follow 'the lines' it proposed to us, even when we disagreed with it…We did what it ordered us to do…Whatever it had ordered, we would have obeyed… If the Party ordered you to abandon your lover or spouse, you did so."
What difference is there - apart from the ungodliness of communism - between this and undemocratically minded Islamists? The whole article should be read by any thinking person. Once you understand the fundamental rules, the mechanism, of closed social systems you can predict what will happen in any one system political, religous, politicico-religious.

We in the Christian world have a few motes of our own to cast out as well. The Pope - a fine man obviously - could not have been said to have been leader of a democratic organisation. His decisions, even if based on rationality -were in essence his. Hence codoms were still regarded as anti-life, even in a situation {HIV/AIDS in Africa} where their use would almost certainly have saved it.

This brings to mind Isaiah Berlin's incommensurability of values.


There are many variations of the story covered here by Taiwan Times:

A haircut can bring death to the barber

I prefer the Times story under byline: Close shaves kill Iraqi barbers, by Ali Rifat, which was in my hardcopy, though I can't get the link to it, which included a passage well worth repeating:

Another hairdresser, Yousef al-Janaby, a Sunni Muslim, politely declined a client who had asked for the al-Haff treatment (ed. plucking hair with a thread). According to witnesses, he pointed to a notice on the window, saying he could not run the risk of "the hypocritical salafists coming in later and killing me."
Al-Jalanaby cut the man's hair in the normal Iraqi fashion with scissors. When he had finished, the customer calmly rose, pulled out a pistol and shot him dead. "That's no way to talk about salafists," the killer said - and walked out.

Though it is a serious matter, a major way to counteract such insanity is ridicule. There must be many Iraqis themselves who have said their piece on this madness, but perhaps to encourage the indigenous cartoonists, a suggestion?

4 x 4.

Scene 1. Side by sides: one has a barbers shop with traditional pole, next to it another barbers shop with another pole, but at the bottom of the pole a bushy beard...and at the entrance a stack of AK47s and rocket launchers.

Scene 2 side by side: Iraqi leaves barber with normal haircut and no beard. In other Iraqi with bandana leaves beard intact, except it has been 'modified' into a shape with a large hole through the middle.

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memories of a childhood in Iraq in the 1950s * thoughts on events in the Middle East

Location: United Kingdom

expatriot in Middle East as child, retired teacher.

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