Wednesday, June 02, 2004
I've just finished watching what appeared to me to be a fairly historic event for the long suffering Iraqi people. Surprisingly soon after a decision concluded the Governing Council's wrangling over the presidency, BBC suddenly goes live to a ceremony in Baghdad. All the players are there - the new Prime Minister (whom the IGC named unanimously without waiting for either the Americans or the UN envoy Brahimi), the new President (whom the IGC wanted, and stubbornly held out for him without regard to American preference, and again without waiting for Brahimi to approve), the two Vice Presidents (one of whom I'm sure is a Kurdish figure), and a whole raft of incoming ministers. Proceedings are opened with sung verses of the Koran, the ceremonial host introduces the President, Vice Presidents and Prime Minister individually to come forward and join the assembled ministers on stage. BBC is well equipped to have translation in place, having extensive non-English language services, so we can follow very well what is going on.
Evidently the new President prefers wearing traditional dress, which is nice to see, but he's the only one. There are three women ministers visible among the approximately 25 by my count, and none of them are wearing head coverings. They look like a relatively young group on average. President Yawer makes a short address, then UN envoy Lakdar Brahimi comes forward to speak to the assembly. And then the silly BBC anchor breaks in and says that's all we get! Stay tuned for a repeat of Business Report!
What the heck is it with these people? All day long it had been Caroline Hawley at her perch on her hotel roof where she's been for weeks without fail, today going on and on and on and on about the "bitter row" between the IGC and the Americans over the Presidential appointment. No evidence or examples are given to illustrate, just "bitter row bitter row bitter row". Now they're too busy with screening repeats of Business Report to properly show the most historic event since the end of the Saddam regime! Is it because this event can't be spun into a bitter row, or it doesn't fit with the Americans as evil imperialist invaders theme? When Rumsfeld was called on the carpet before the Senate committee, BBC stayed with it for hours without a break. And well they should have, it was important. But breaking away from this important event just as it was getting started, seemed really petty to me. And they did the same thing last night, breaking away from normal news to go live to Arlingon Cemetary where Rumsfeld was speaking for Memorial Day. Maybe they were hoping he'd resign or something - after a very short few minutes he introduced President Bush. And by the crowd reaction it seemed to me that this was an unexpected appearance, they seemed quite surprised. Bush started speaking, and about 3 minutes later the BBC broke away so that we could watch instead..... wait for it...... a rerun of that day's Hard Talk with Tim Frickin' Sebastian!
Well now, thanks to satellites and such, I saw the Bush speech replayed this afternoon on Worldnet. It was only about 15 minutes, it sure wouldn't have killed the BBC to stay with it last night. And tonight when they broke away from Baghdad, I checked some of the Middle East sat channels and found the event on Kuwait TV, and even with English translation. Very worthwhile to watch and very interesting, no thanks to the Mother Corporation. Brahimi spoke for quite a while, both Vice Presidents spoke, and the Prime Minister Alawi gave an encouraging address and as well as presented all his new cabinet ministers individually. There will be among them, a Minister for Human Rights. He spoke of gratitude for the community of nations which had sacrificed so much to give Iraqis a chance to build their free, democratic society. He switched briefly to English to express thanks to the foreigners present. He wants to move swiftly on many fronts, not least the ability to stand sovereign and independent and secure.
Prior to this ceremonial event, the Iraqi Governing Council dissolved itself, to everyone's surprise, and the new heads of the ministries will begin their work immediately. Or at least to the BBC's suprise, and especially to Caroline Hawley's surprise, still on her roof every hour on the hour, "bitter row bitter row bitter row...."
I'll give it a little time, and then check what our Iraqi brothers and sisters are blogging about it all. This would be a good time to check any of the Iraqi blogger links on the sidebar, for a ground level view. Even the BBC says the man-in-the-street appears "reasonably satisfied" today, so applying the standard reality correction to that - or mentally removing the BBC-speak filter as I've started to perceive it - may very well mean they'll be partying at Omar's house tonight. Really, I can't remember the last time the BBC showed anyone in that country with even a vaguely positive attitude about anything.
This Friday marks the 15th anniversary of the communist Chinese government's merciless crushing of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing. This past weekend, tens of thousands marched in Hong Kong to remember the struggle, and to assert their continuing commitment to it. Freedom lovers in that city are not having an easy time of it, learning to live under the jurisdiction of a freedom hating government. They do still have some space, but it seems they are having to fight constantly just to hold onto what they've got. A number of voices of democratic advocacy have been initimidated there, and the intimidation seems to be originating quite openly from the mainland government. A popular radio program host, who had been representing the territory at the National Peoples Convention, quit his position and his radio job, saying that he couldn't take the intimidation and threats. Other pro democracy figures have been similarly threatened, and have gone into hiding. The Beijing Bullies might be a new generation, but they seem to have learned no lessons from their elders' mistakes.
The same attitude can be seen in Beijing's responses to developments in Taiwan. Following the narrow victory of President Chen Shwe Bien, Beijing launched extremely aggressive verbal missiles ahead of his inauguration speech. Blunt warnings about moving toward independence, or away from the "motherland" in any way, laced with explosive expressions portraying vivid pictures of utter destruction. The heightened rhetoric surprised everyone, but the Taiwanese just played it cool. Chen was calm and concilliatory, assuring he would stay away from any word or action likely to infuriate Beijing. Of course this was not enough for the tyrants, nothing is ever enough on that score.
Stories have emerged since the election of the extent the mainland had tried to influence democracy on the island. This time they didn't go in for big shows of missile tests as in past attempts to intimidate, but rather went for more behind-the-scenes techniques. Extensive citizen registration systems, and large and well staffed secret security apparatus combine to make an effective cross-straits tool now that many Taiwanese people have family and business relationships on the mainland. Many many stories have come to light in which mainlanders were intimidated and threatened with all sorts of dire consequences unless they could ensure that relatives in Taiwan would vote the correct way. People with business relationships were demanded to list up to 100 people that they could so influence. Pro-China business owners in Taiwan instructed their employees to vote a particular way, or else mainland relatives could be adversely affected. And in a cynical but brilliant use of technology, some of these tyrant-loving bosses (many of whom are actually mainlanders themselves, running mainland companies in Taiwan) had instructed their workers to take miniature camera equipped cellphones into the polling place, and snap their own picture with their ballot properly marked as proof! Who says communists don't know how democracy works?
Anyway, as I say, Friday is June 4. Fifteen years since the massacre in the streets around Tiananmen Square. Apologists for the regime will always say, "Hardly anyone died in Tiananmen Square." That's because most of the killing was done in the streets around it, a minor technical escape for them to spin the truth. Anyway the people in Hong Kong will be holding a peaceful candle light vigil that evening, as they have done every June 4 for the past 15 years. Never forget. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Indonesians still hold remembrance for their fallen heroes of May 1998, the Thais who continue to remember their lost loved ones also gathered just a few weeks ago for their victims of Black May 1992 (and the many still "missing"), and Hong Kongers are the only people in the PRC who are allowed to remember the victims of June 4. I really hope the Chinese community in Vancouver are still remembering and marking the day in some way. They were certainly out in force on June 4, 1989, mostly in a state of shock and high emotion, as I remember.
It's a good time to remember that there were figures even in the Communist Party who tried to avert the disaster. Zhao Ziyang was then General Secretary of the Party, and he openly visited and conferred with the students in the square. He opposed bringing the Liberation Army into the city to disperse them, and he was purged from the Party leadership for his position. He is still alive - he has lived isolated and under house arrest in Beijing ever since the event. I don't think he's been able to communicate with anyone in all that time.
However, Zhao's executive secretary, his top aide in those days who also held several high positions in the heirarchy, continues to cause some waves. Bao Tong may or may not have been a democratic reformer, but he also opposed the violent crushing of the peaceful students. Stephen Sullivan, who writes The China Letter, has written an interesting essay about Bao Tong. Bao endured some years in prison on trumped up charges, and has lived under rather stringent constant surveillance ever since. He has however, not been cowed and has managed to occasionally communicate to the current rulers of his country and to the outside world. Stephen has helpfully assembled some references, including his letter to the Politburo on the 10th anniversary of TAM, as well as a more recent letter which was apparently sent in March of this year. The first letter is themed as "A Call to the Leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the Government: Reverse the Wrongful Assessment of the 1989 Student Demonstrations." It's a very well written statement and argument for corrective action, very inspiring. And the second letter, from just a few months ago, is extremely interesting. He indulges in some sarcasm and almost black humour in reflecting on his own situation, during the period - he seems to tease the leaders - it has been affirmed by the Party leadership, "when China's human rights condition is at its best..." :
This is a blessing for the Chinese people. I wish this were true. I hope all my compatriots have human rights: the right to know light and darkness, falsehoods and truths and the right to think with their own minds and speak with their own mouths.It's a very, very fine letter indeed. Dr. Jiang Yanyong is the elderly physician who finally blew the whistle on the government's coverup of the SARS epidemic last spring.
At this moment, it is Dr. Jiang Yanyong that comes to my mind. I want to say a loud thank-you to him, for putting forward an extremely weighty and extraordinary recommendation to the National People's Congress [NPC] and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference [CPPCC]. But I could not get through to him by phone, maybe because I have no right to make telephone calls or because Dr. Jiang has no right to answer my call. That I do not know.
At this moment, I also think of the chairman and vice chairmen of the NPC Standing Committee and the chairman and vice chairmen of the CPPCC National Committee. I do not know whether or not they are enjoying full human rights themselves and which of them are entitled to read the original text of Dr. Jiang's letter to them. I do not know which of them has the right to use his pen and write a reply to Dr. Jiang, to either concur with him or to disagree with him.
Stephen also provides links to a short radio interview transcript, with Bao speaking on a San Francisco radio program this past March, in which he makes very sensible comments on the ridiculously stupid, yet unbelievably brutal measures taken against the Falun Gong meditation practitioners in China. There is also a very interesting document in three parts residing on the CNN site, which is Bao Tong's official report to the Party in response to the charges against him, dating from just over two months following the massacre itself.
AL QA'EDA - JEMA'AH ISLAMIYA DOWN UNDER
Just completed the other day, is the trial of former AQ-JI operative Jack Roche in Australia. Jack is an Englishman who converted to Islam, was fluent in Indonesian, and penetrated the network so far as to have actually met bin Laden in Afghanistan. The interesting parts of this story were the apparent struggle within the network - some had wanted to proceed with an operation against Israeli interests in Oz, and others had different plans for him. This case also fits with AQ's strategy to try and get operatives into the structure who don't fit the stereotype of an Arab fanatic. Roche apparently also wanted to bail out and went to the authorities, and was rebuffed and ignored for some time before being taken seriously. Anyway the case fairly well implicates the old smiling cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir in both AQ and JI - the latter which he has always smilingly asserted does not even exist.
He said Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir called off the plot that summer because of squabbling between Australian-based militants and an Indonesian known as Hambali, who was then Jemaah Islamiyah's operations chief.Hambali, as we remember, was arrested in Ayutthaya just north of Bangkok last year, during the time when there were still (officially) no terrorists in Thailand. After Hambali was spirited out of the country by American operatives - with the Thai government's blessing and thanks - there was a lot of talk about what his fate might be. The main link between bin Laden's network and the South East Asian branches in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Abu Sayaf in the Philippines, this was a valuable catch. He was so central to operations here, with so much information which could really break open the network in these parts, and I don't recall anyone really expressing much reservation about using every means necessary to get it out of him. After Bali, and the JW Marriott bombings, I sure didn't have much sympathy for him. I think pretty much everyone in the countries affected by this animal and his droogs, expected him to get whatever treatment it took to get useful information to save lives.
Roche described Bashir as the head of Jemaah Islamiyah, a charge repeatedly denied by the cleric, who is being held in Indonesia on suspicion of terrorist links.
Roche's weeklong testimony, in taped interviews with investigators and under cross-examination, painted Bashir as a major link between al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah. He said Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, was subordinate to Bashir and that one of Roche's main al-Qaida contacts in Pakistan was Bashir's son.
He said the Australian activities, operations and funding of al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah overlapped. And he said he was given $8,000 to pay for the embassy attack by Hambali and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a planner of the Sept. 11 attacks. Both are now in U.S. custody.
Andrew Sullivan finds an incident which is apparently a regular practice by some people, but evidently not very newsworthy for most of our media watch dogs. It's short, so I reproduce the whole thing:
MORE ABUSE PICTURES: From Fallujah, a grisly scene:Nor have I.On Sunday, for example, scores of masked mujahedeen, shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great," paraded four men stripped down to their underpants atop the back of a pickup truck that drove through the city. Their bare backs were bleeding from 80 lashes they had received as punishment for selling alcohol. They were taken to a hospital where they were treated and released. Residents said a man found intoxicated last week was flogged, held overnight and released the next day.Funny. I haven't seen those photos in the media anywhere.
Saudi police launch attack against a kidnapping gang holding hostages. Twenty-two hostages are killed, 3 out of the 4 kidnappers escape throught the tight security cordon. A manhunt for the slippery murderers is underway. The operation is hailed by the authorities as a great success.
Something is wrong with this picture. Recall not long ago I linked to a story which had pretty convincing information that some elements of the National Guard had left their posts and possibly also helped the terrorists attack a mainly western housing compound about one year ago in Riyadh. Now this fiasco that they call a stunning success. I'm sure more will be known soon, but actually I think nothing about the Saudi "authorities" will surprise me anymore. For I have lately stumbled upon a Saudi blogger who calls himself "The Religious Policeman".
So how common is this kind of highly effective Saudi police work? Let's have a listen to some recent tales. End of April, a gang of "militants" is on the run. Our informant writes:
The saga goes on. Three (or four) terrorists holed up north of Riyadh. They were surrounded, then completely surrounded. They were invited to repent. Still they are there. I lose track. This must be getting for two weeks.But a clue: an Indian man escapes, providing important clues and pinpointing their location. He had been forced to carry ammunition and grenades for them.
That's the clincher. They must be Saudis. How do I know?It sounds like that's just the way things are done in the kingdom. Remember the resident of the secure compound telling of being awoken by automatic gunfire one night? The guard had fallen asleep and leaned against his weapon.......
1) They used a Third World National to do all their physical labour.
2) They haven't paid him yet.
How is it that, after two weeks, three or four (yes, single digit, not hundreds or thousands) terrorists, who have now been pinpointed by an Indian gentleman to a precise location within an area a few kilometers square, have still not been captured? This is not some huge area on the Afghan frontier. This is an area where we go for picnics on Fridays, where the Bedu drive around in their Toyota trucks with goats in the back. The police are obviously reluctant to take their nice shiny cars in there. But we have a whole Saudi Arabia army, and it's not doing anything else at the moment. Then we have the National Guard, that's even bigger, and better equipped. They have tanks, and Armoured Personnel Carriers, and helicopters. Why are they not being deployed there? Everyone I talk to believes that it's some big squabble going on at the top, all playing for different teams, nobody able (or willing) to do anything. If it lasts any longer, I'm going to have to send in my old Grandmother with her walking stick, she'll sort them out. Until then, it's the worst Saudi joke I've heard for years.
Internal security is obviously the responsibility of the Interior Minister, who happens to be one of the royal princes. Early in May, our Religious Policeman noted part of an article in Arab News:
Speaking to top military and civilian officials in Jeddah last Saturday when four terrorists went on a shooting spree in Yanbu killing five Westerners and a National Guard officer, the crown prince said he believed Zionists were behind most terrorist attacks in the Kingdom. But in a press statement after the attack, Prince Naif blamed Al-Qaeda.Well that sure explains everything, then. It's all the fault of the Jews.
"I don't see any contradiction in the two statements, because Al-Qaeda is backed by Israel and Zionism," he said.
This writer has a wicked sense of humour, but he writes for a serious purpose also. His page has a dedication reads as follows:
In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.It will be interesting to see if he's written anything following this latest fiasco.
BAD BAD THINGS IN THE SOUTH
The terror group(s) in the south just don't want to be forgotten. There are moves underway to get people together and discuss things like normal people, and then out of the blue some of them have to go and separate an innocent old man at the neck. Do these animals think such behaviour is going to give them what they want? An elderly rubber tapper in his sixties, a Buddhist man naturally, was attacked and beheaded on his way to work this week in Narathiwat province. The animals, surprisingly able to write, left a note warning that if "innocent Melayu" people were wronged anymore, then more Buddhists would also have their heads up on poles. The man's poor wife was hysterical, pleading for someone to please sew her husband back together again.
THAT JUST WON'T DO
Yes, I cannot possibly let that previous one be the closing item today. So although I haven't read it myself yet, I pass along this link to Conan O'Brien's address to Harvard's class of 2000. There should be one or two laughs there.