Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Peace in Iraq?

I´ve been asked to write an article about the prospects of peace in Iraq for a Finnish pacifist publication. While this may seem like a very difficult task, I have some ideas, and they should not be discarded immediately.

I personally think that the occupation troops should leave now. The counter-argument is that they should stay there until things get more peaceful. This is the old imperialist argument: we´ll go, once we´ve sorted out everything. Unfortunately (or perhaps naturally) no occupation force in any country has ever been able to pacify the country, no matter how much they might have wanted it. It may seem appealing that the Western troops will sort out the "extreme" elements in the Iraqi society, and when everything has become OK, they will just go off. But this will never happen; things have been getting worse by the day ever since the Western troops arrived in Iraq.

My proposition is this: If we want peace in Iraq, it is crucial that the Western troops leave now. After that, the different sides of the conflict can start negotiating (the Association of Muslim Scholars, which pretty much represents the Sunni resistance, has repeatedly said they will start to negotiate the minute Americans are out of the country). It is very plausible that, after the withdrawal of foreign soldiers, different Iraqi groups will want to make peace, because nobody will gain anything from a prolonged conflict.

I believe that, as in so many other conflicts, it will be useful to have outsiders in the negotiation. In the case of Iraq, it is actually very obvious, that Iran and Saudi Arabia could lead the negotiations between the Shiite and the Sunni; the Shiite definitely trust Iran, and the Sunni can trust Saudi Arabia as well. It is also obvious that neither Iran or Saudi Arabia has anything to gain from a prolonged conflict (and Western occupation) in Iraq. Since these two countries are diplomatically friends anyway, why wouldn´t they do their best to achieve peace in Iraq as well? As a matter of fact, they could even show the West that they can sort out the kind of stuff the West never could...

Then there is one more problem: the Kurds. They could be represented with some important Europeans, for instance, so that they would have their fair share of Iraq´s wealth without looking like foreign agents. I don´t actually believe it would be an insurmountable proble for the Arabs and the Kurds to come to an agreement, if there were a peace agreement.

This is an outsider´s view; please let me know what you think!

Monday, September 26, 2005

What went wrong?

No, this post is not about Iraq, or any other political issue I have normally written about. This is about... wait for it... TV! Hooray!

In recent days I have been so fortunate as to be exposed to some quality TV: I´ve spent hours on end watching old Monty Python stuff, and I´ve also enjoyed watching numerous episodes of the 1967 British classic, The Prisoner. I must say nothing that has been produced in recent years comes even close to the brilliance of these two classics.

To prove my point, I´ll just remind you of one of the funniest sketches in TV history, and a classic Monty Python´s Flying Circus piece. It´s about the funniest joke in the world. Now the person who comes up with it writes it down, and then he dies laughing, the joke having been just way too funny. People who discover his body also find the piece of paper with the joke written on it, they read it, and they also die laughing. After numerous people have died laughing, the Government decides to explore the military potential of the joke (which they, naturally, do not know; after all, nobody has lived to tell the joke to anybody...). The joke is translated into German, with each translator concentrating on just one word; it is revealed that one of the translators accidentally found out a second word and died laughing. After the joke has been translated into German, British soldiers are taught to recite the German version of the joke, naturally without understanding it themselves. Then, when they engage in a battle, they just start shouting out the joke in German, and all the German troops die laughing!

Now this may not sound incredibly funny, but the way the whole thing was done is truly amazing, and I laughed all through the sketch. When I watch contemporary comedy, some of it can be moderately funny, like South Park was at the beginning (or Ali G, I did like his early stuff), but I don´t think anything as funny as Monty Python has been made for ages. Now we just mostly get sitcoms like Friends, Dharma and Greg, Will and Grace and so on (there must be hundreds of them), and while they can be OK if you´re just looking to pass time, they´re not really that funny.

The difference is much like between Old Comedy (Aristophanes) and New Comedy (Menander et al.) in ancient Greece: Old Comedy was produced when the Athenian democracy was at its pinnacle, and it was very political and indeed part of the political discourse of those days. Then the democracy became increasingly corrupt, which meant that the average citizen had less and less say over public matters, and this is when Old Comedy, absurd, political and disrespectful towards all powerful figures, was replaced by New Comedy, which was very much like today´s sitcoms. Indeed when I was a student, I passionately hated Greek New Comedy and Roman Comedy, because they were completely apolitical and mainly tried to make fun of unrealistic and overdone characters (sound familiar to anybody?). Fortunately I got to study two brilliant and hilarious plays by Aristophanes (Clouds and Birds) for my final exams; I got the impression our professor wasn´t very keen on New Comedy either (Roman Comedy I completely avoided by choosing to do only Greek in my final year, apart from some Latin lyric poetry).

Now my point is that aside from some stuff that can be characterised as at least mildly political (such as South Park), most of the entertainment today is completely apolitical and indeed just tries to make fun of ridiculous and unrealistic character-stereotypes (try Friends, for instance). While Monty Python may not seem very political to the modern viewer, it certainly did offend a lot of people in the 70´s and many of the sketches are based on issues that were hot topics in those day. It should also be remembered that Monty Python always made fun of Anglo-German relations, and it was only thirty years after a devastating war.

Perhaps we do live in an age that discourages public political discourse. If one randomly looks at different blogs, for example, very few of them are overtly political; most are just personal musings, more or less. While it can be said that most people are perhaps not very interested in writing about politics, this is probably a symptom rather than a cause. I ithink the current lack of interest in political issues reflects the fact that an invidual is actually quite powerless in today´s society; what´s the point making a big fuss, when it will make no difference anyway? While one may think it has always been like that, I would venture to propose that in Athens, in the 5th century BC it wasn´t; everybody was interested in public matters, and those who were not were considered, and called, idiots (the etymology suggesting that the person is private, with no interested in the common interests, so to speak).

As for the Prisoner, it´s probably the best TV drama series ever produced. I will probably write a lot about it later, but now I will just say that it also happens to be profoundly political, in a way Orwellian, in another way almost Jungian. It keeps puzzling the minds of its fans (who are many), and each episode is well worth watching almost forty years after it first came out on ITV in Britain.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Ignore it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


To those of us who love strange literature, Rukhnama is doubtless a gem. It is the sequel to the Bible and the Qur´an written by the dictator of Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" (the leader of all Turkmens) Niyazov. Available in various different languages at the website of the government of Turkmenistan, it must be one of the most bizarre pieces of literature written in the past few hundred years. While I do not wish to dwell on the contents of this extraordinary book, there are a few things I should like to point out.

As the Ruhnama is supposed to be the sequel to both the Bible and the Qur´an, the chances of blasphemy are understandably rather significant. I would sincerely like to know how many things Mr Niyazov has just invented himself and then alleged them to have been said by Jesus, Muhammad, or some other prophet. While this kind of research remains to be published, I am sure this piece would, by any normal standards, be considered blasphemous by Christians and Muslims, and perhaps Jews as well. Now the question is, has the Ayatollah Khamenei, the Grand Mufti Abdel-Aziz ash-Shaykh, or any other prominent Islamic scholar issued a fatwa condemning Mr Niyazov (who has undergone no religious education; he was trained to be an engineer in Leningrad, if I´m not mistaken) and calling for action against him? I´m sure some Turkmen Islamists have, but that´s not the point; the point is whether Islamic scholars have any sort of integrity with regard to "blasphemers".

What I am tentatively suggesting is that perhaps Islamic scholars find it easy to condemn an author such as Salman Rushdie, but when it comes to a Head of State whose state just happens to be an important producer of oil and natural gas (and the state is at least nominally Muslim), they will shut up, just like the western pro-democracy fanatics will shut up in similar circumstances. So is there any meaningful difference between the two, as far as integrity and principle is concerned? I would venture to say no.

I shall certainly write about these things more, when I have the time, but for now I just hope I´ve raised an interesting question.

I must add, however, that even if Khamenei or Abdel-Aziz ash-Shaykh had issued a fatwa against Niyazov, what are the odds we would have heard about it in the western media? Very slim, if I may answer as well...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Where does oil come from?

I´ve studied several aspects regarding oil in recent years, and I have come to believe that the Peak Oil theory is, to a certain extent at least, a necessary part of explaining what is happening in the world today. Today I have, however, read articles that cast significant doubt on the whole Peak Oil idea, as well as much more.

According to the Texan Gas Resources Coproration´s website, the whole idea that oil is a fossil fuel has been proven wrong a long time ago, and the Russians, who are the largest oil producer and exporter in the world right now, have known the truth about the origins of oil for more than fifty years, while in the West the Russian theories have been ignored.

While I personally need to do a lot of research on this question (a degree in physics and chemistry would help, but even I don´t have that much time) before I can make up my mind about who is right and who is wrong, I urge all scientifically minded people to have a look at what is said to be just a tiny fraction of the evidence to support "the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins".

Plenty of reading to be done here!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

On Blair

By popular request, I shall devote more time to exposing the incompetence of Blair and his cabinet. No 10`s former spin doctor, Mr Lance Price (who remains a supporter of the government) has written a book called The Spin Doctor's Diary, and the Mail on Sunday has now published some interesting revelations from the book. According to the Mail, these revelations include:

# That Blair appeared privately to "relish" sending British troops to war in Iraq as his "first blooding", while publicly claiming he did it "with a heavy heart".
# That the Government promised media mogul Rupert Murdoch it would not change its policy on Europe without telling him first.
# That the Prime Minister repeatedly bawled out in rage 'f****** Welsh' when an election in the principality was going against Labour.


Astonishingly, Downing Street hit back last night by launching a campaign to smear Price, who remains a staunch New Labour supporter.

One senior civil servant told The Mail on Sunday: "Officials in No10 met last week and decided to go for Price's jugular by claiming he is a liar and fantasist. They know he isn't, but they have read the book and are horrified at what people will think."

In a bitter irony, the dirty tricks targeted at Price are almost identical to those he exposes in his book.


The media is bullied, browbeaten and bribed with favours to report Labour favourably and the BBC is cowed into revealing its questions in advance to Blair at Press conferences in return for having the chance to pose them first.

In another article we are told that

Lance Price's account of life in Downing Street is a devastating insight into New Labour at its worst. The deliberate lying, the casual trashing of Ministers deemed 'off message', the attempts to hide inept governance behind meaningless soundbites dreamt up simply to protect Blair's image.

And what of the man who once insisted he was a regular sort of guy?

Price portrays Blair as a spiteful individual, launching into a foul-mouthed tirade against a senior Catholic cleric who dares question his wisdom. And Blair, Price makes clear, is at the very heart of a mendacious culture of deception and spin.

As for Blair´s foreign policy, The Downing Street Memo shows how Blair has never been interested in being honest about his objectives. While I don´t think many governments are honest, even when it doesn´t really suit them, it is possible Blair is intent on breaking the world record, or at least the European record, in mendacity.

I will not refrain from calling Blair dishonest, and many other things, just because it might hurt somebody with little knowledge of the man´s track record.

Ice-cream Jihad

The Saudi Alhamedi, one of the funniest and most prolific bloggers I know, has written a hilarious article about the muttawa spreading their fundamentalist tentacles to Britain.

Accordin to the Eastern Eye,

Burger King is to withdraw thousands of ice-cream cones because the design on the packaging resembles the Arab word for Allah.
The company has acted after the coincidence was spotted by a Muslim customer, Rashad Akhtar, at its Park Royal outlet last week , who later telephoned its head office to say that the packaging was sacrilegious.

OK, I can sort of understand where he might be coming from; it´s just that the design can hardly be seen to read "Allah" in Arabic. This is why Alhamedi treats Mr Akhtar in a rather merciless manner:

Mr Akhtar is clearly ideal muttawa material, and not surprisingly the Muslim Council of Britain, the Wahabbi Muslim Government-in-Waiting for the UK, has already recognized his great muttawa potential as demonstrated by his religious ignorance combined with his enormous stupidity.

According to the Eastern Eye,

The US fast-food giant said it would withdraw the packaging in ‘the near future’ once an alternative has been designed.
But the action has failed to satisfy Akhtar, who wants the designer sacked and is calling on Muslims to boycott the fast-food company.
...."These people who have designed this think they can get away with this again and again. This is my jihad".

This is where I wholeheartedly agree with Alhamedi:

So the poor designer, who is probably some dreamy commercial artist, lives for his Mac PC's graphic software, has zero interest in the outside world, and if pushed for an answer would guess that Allah is a central defender for West Ham United, should be sacked? Merciful indeed. Not only that, but it's Mr Akhtar's Jihad! Holy War, Akhtar, get a life! And some eyeglasses.

While I dislike Burger King as much as McDonald´s and would never step inside one (this sort of fundamentalism I admit being guilty of; but I´d like to think my personal food-fundamentalism is rather benign), I would never call it my holy war; I´d like to think of it as a lifestyle choice, and perhaps a courageous act of personal rebellion (when I´m feeling silly). I will not cry if more and more people start boycotting companies that want people to eat unwholesome and foul-tasting food from cradle to grave. But this muttawa-type Mr Akhtar´s problem with BK is their ice-cream lid, nothing else at all.

I suppose we should be grateful; when daft people concentrate on daft issues, intelligent people and intelligent issues tend to be left alone.

Blair says what Murdoch tells him

In this morning´s Observer (or the Guardian; Observer is the Sunday Guardian),

Tony Blair has denounced the BBC's coverage of Hurricane Katrina as 'full of hatred of America' and 'gloating' at the country's plight, it was reported yesterday.

Blair allegedly made the remarks privately to Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, which owns the rival Sky News.

I wonder how far this could go; Blair is obviously only after money and power (and glory, probably) and doesn´t give a damn about any sort of principle. He is simply not interested in the well-being of people, and he will do whatever is required of him to support the Master, High Priest George W. Bush. Just consider this:

Charles Wheeler, the veteran former US correspondent for the BBC, said:

"The coverage I saw was extremely good and got better and better. Matt Frei was very good. He got quite angry, which is what might have annoyed people.I don't see why people should be unemotional; I never was. You have to tell people what you feel and what you hate - that's part of legitimate reporting."

Edit: The Independent features this story as well, so anybody interested will do well to check their version.

Edit again: The Independent has a good article with regard to Mr Blair and Mr Murdoch.

Liar, liar, your pants are on fire

I have just come across an essay I hope everybody will read. Here´s just the beginning:

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. It is a very good evening for me. I am still an obscenely wealthy and powerful autocratic leader of a nation of sheeple who falsely believe they are free. While I am surrounded by misery and suffering, I make this presentation of shameless propaganda from a comfortable, beautiful stage set while surrounded by an entourage of thugs who assure my safety. I am speaking to you from what is left of the city of New Orleans, a gem of an American city which was gutted by a powerful force of nature, and by the insidious social experiment undertaken by my malevolent administration. Millions of lives were destroyed by a cruel and wasteful storm, and by a cruel and wasteful federal government over which I zealously preside.

In the aftermath of Katrina, the haves of this nation have gleefully watched the have-nots dispersed to the four corners of this great nation. As the victims search for loved ones and grieve for the dead, America's attention is diverted from my nomination of a Supreme Court Justice who will strengthen the tyranny I have created, Karl Rove's criminal behavior, and my administration's numerous war crimes related to Iraq. The lies and exaggerations of my media lap-dogs have persuaded many Americans that blacks are undisciplined animals who live off of government hand-outs, feeding my agenda to end social welfare programs and perpetuating the lucrative prison-industrial complex. With their persistent cries for civil rights, blacks have been a thorn in the side of the American aristocracy long enough.

Just read the whole thing, Mr Jason Miller has written a truly fantastic piece here!

Saturday, September 17, 2005


The Oregon Register-Guard´s editorial writer is becoming a celebrity because of this brave stand against US desire to start a nuclear war (OK, I´m being damn provocative now, but sometimes it has to be done!).

Let's review. The new policy would allow the United States to launch a pre-emptive, first-strike nuclear attack against any target its intelligence agencies determine has weapons of mass destruction. People who've forgotten the catastrophic failure of those same intelligence agencies with regard to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq should read that last sentence again.

As a side note, I should just like to add that I´m sitting here about 400 km from St. Petersburg (the original one in Russia, not the copycat in Florida) and we all know there are hundreds of nuclear warheads standing by in the Leningrad oblast (the names of the provinces were not changed when the names of the cities were). So I´m allowed to be just a wee bit worried, aren´t I?

Anything goes

One thing most anti-war people tend not to dwell on is the terrifying lack of professionalism among the US military. While we´ve all read hundreds of stories about how American soldiers ruthlessly target civilians and get away scot-free (most of the time), I don´t remember reading any articles about how the US military has become so unprofessional (if you know such articles, please let me know!). The fact is that the British military in the south of Iraq has done so much better than the Americans in and around Baghdad and, more generally, northern and central Iraq. The British have even said that the way the Americans are handling things contributes significantly to the overall deterioration of the situation in Iraq. By no means do I suggest that all American soldiers are murderous thugs; it is just impossible not to conclude that a number of them are, and they are generally not held responsible for their actions. For instance, look at this story:

US forces shot and killed a 56-year-old Iraqi woman when they invaded her home to search it Thursday morning.

The correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam in Hit reported the chilcren of al-Hajjah Umm Khattab as saying that US forces on Thursday morning raided their neighborhood as they habitually do on their searches every week or so. “They stormed our family home,” Umm Khattab’s sons said, “when the three of us were off at work.”

“Our mother asked the officer to wait a second before entering so that the women in the house could put on their veils and scarves,” the sons said. “But the officer refused, and he and his troops just burst into the house by force, pushing our mother, al-Hajjah Umm Khattab, aside. She responded by spitting in the officer’s face and insulting him and he shot her four times in the chest, killing her instantly.”

A good friend of mine served in the French Foreign Legion for many years and he has often pointed out to me that American soldiers seem to be badly trained, unintelligent and generally out of order. He himself was trained to be a member of the toughest killing squad in Europe (aside from the Gurkha in Britain, I think), but he´s told me he was also trained to respect and protect all civilians, no matter how hostile they may seem. After all, if you want to win a war, you don´t want to turn the civilian population against you. That´s just common sense. But many American soldiers seem to lack even that!

(I do understand that a lot of the American soldiers [I just dislike the word "troop", ok?] are very young, almost children, and their training has been brief. But if the US government cared about them, or the Iraqis, wouldn´t they want to train them better and make sure outrageous behaviour is always punished?)

Mysterious Islam

I would never claim to be an expert on Islam, but I have read quite a lot of literature that explains all the main ideas behind Islam, and since I´ve been particularly interested in Shiite Islam, I´ve definitely studied enough to have some understanding of the religion. Such is not the case among the general population here in Finland.

Tonight I went out for a beer with an acquaintance who happens to be a boss at YLE,the Finnish Broadcasting Company. At some point we started talking about religion, and he was saying that Islam was a horrible remnant from the Middle Ages. When I tried to argue against him, he got quite angry and accused me, more or less, of being an apologist for the terrorists. I am quite used to hearing this sort of thing, so I wasn´t particularly offended but rather wanted to carry on with the conversation. I told him that in Islam, Jesus is also a prophet, he´s just not the final prophet like Muhammad. Having heard that, this person started shouting that I was an ignorant bastard and that in Islam, Muhammad was the only prophet! I tried and tried to explain that in fact, in Islam, the biblical prophets are very much appreciated, but he wouldn´t have any of it. He even asked me what the five pillars of Islam were, and when I started with the Shahada, he just said "I´ve proven my point"!

My only point here is to show how little people, even the ones who are in managerial and important positions, know about Islam in a country like Finland, where the Muslim minority has always been small and quiet. To these people, any sort of propaganda will sink in, because they know absolutely nothing about Islam and therefore consider it a threat.

Stopping Muslim extremism

According to the Guardian,

"A royal commission to investigate how and why the London bombings happened and a media unit to rebut negative stories about Muslims and counter propaganda from Islamist extremists should be set up, according to proposals to be sent to Tony Blair by government-appointed taskforces on tackling Islamist extremism."

It´s just swell! As soon as the western media start reporting the genocide in Iraq in the sort of way that doesn´t offend Muslims any more, all terrorism will stop! Hooray!

Now I don´t want anybody to misunderstand me; I am against all violence, always. I just don´t think Islamist terrorism can be stopped by changing the way things are reported. I do believe a good start in reducing Islamist terrorism would be for the US and the UK to withdraw their troops from Iraq and stop supporting Israel building more settlements on the West Bank. But since that is unthinkable, we´ll just have to make do with useless propaganda efforts.

One thing we could do, as Christian Europeans, would be just to pray for an end to Evil. It wouldn´t be any less effective than the propaganda efforts, I´m sure!

Edit: I mean no disrespect to anybody religious.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Zarqawi is dead?

According to a Shiite imam from Baghdad, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi died a long time ago, and the occupation forces use his name to divide the Iraqi people and to have a justification for the continuing occupation, reports Le Monde.

Shaykh Jawad al-Khalessi (sorry if I mistranscribed the name from French into English) thinks that the name of Zarqawi is used in order that the Shiites may rally behind the occupation forces and turn against the Sunnis (these two branches of Islam have traditionally been very tolerant of each other in Iraq). This imam also says that he´s calling for a boycott of the referendum on the new constitution, but if people want to go and vote against it, he doesn´t have a problem with that.

What is truly surprising in this interview, however, is that, according to al-Khalessi,

"Ibrahim al-Jaafari [a fellow Shiite] is a bad prime minister, just as he is a bad doctor. It´s not like with your Pétain, who was a good general before becoming a bad politician."

(Should you be ignorant of French history, Pétain ran the French government under the Nazi occupation; this comparison is not insignificant to anybody knowledgeable about Iraq...)

Neoconservatism as a branch of Trotskyism

Justin Raimondo has, once again, written an excellent article, this time on the neoconservative ideology. The roots of the ideology are in early American communism, and Trotskyism in particular, so it´s no wonder that the leading neoconservatives and their apologists are old Trotskyites. According to Raimondo, the ideology slowly developed from anti-stalinism to anti-communism and ultimately a fanatical belief in Democracy and the Free Market. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the neoconservatives were at a loss, their existence having been defined by an obsession about the Soviet, and communist, danger. Then they found a new holy cause: spreading democracy around the world, and, in particular, fighting Islam which they consider anti-democratic and anti-modernist.

But why should I write any more about this, when Raimondo has done such a good job? Just go and read his essay and be enlightened!

Galloway vs. Hitchens

I´ve just watched the recent debate between George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens (available at http://www.democracynow.org/). I must say I´m somewhat disappointed; the debate could almost be described as "ad hominem ad nauseam". Hitchens and Galloway devote much of the time to discussing their personal positions regarding issues not related to Iraq (which I thought was supposed to be the subject) and they´re not very good at listening to each other´s arguments. While I sympathise with Galloway, this was certainly not one of his best performances, although he obviously makes a lot of good points.

As for Hitchens, he´s a pompous popinjay who seems to think he knows everything so much better than others, and he goes on and on repeating the arguments that even the US government has pretty much abandoned (for instance, that the resistance is made up of foreign terrorists, things are getting nice and rosy in Iraq, etc. ). He even has the nerve to claim that Juan Cole "has never set foot in the region" (the Middle East), although "he claims to speak Farsi and various other languages". (See Mr Cole´s blog for his defence...)

By the way, if you watch the debate, pay attention at about 19 minutes and 20 seconds: Mr Hitchens actually refers to Mr Galloway as "Mr Qaddafi"! I certainly cracked up, this was a Freudian slip if I´ve ever heard one! Or, I suppose it´s also possible he was just being facetious, you can never know with these kinds of people...

Israel and the Palestinians

1. "There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed." Golda Maier Israeli Prime Minister June 15, 1969

2. "The thesis that the danger of genocide was hanging over us in June 1967 and that Israel was fighting for its physical existence is only bluff, which was born and developed after the war." Israeli General Matityahu Peled, Ha'aretz, 19 March 1972.

3. David Ben Gurion (the first Israeli Prime Minister): "If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti - Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault ? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?" Quoted by Nahum Goldmann in Le Paraddoxe Juif (The Jewish Paradox), pp121.