Agam's Gecko
Thursday, July 21, 2005

couldn't resist trying out that phrase in the Aceh context. This is the phrase which the Dalai Lama consistently uses, usually several times in every interview or speech, to describe his basic goal for his country and people. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Over the last week in Helsinki, the political leadership of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or GAM) met for the fifth time with representatives of the Indonesian government since the tsunami disaster which killed more than 130,000 of the Aceh population. The Acehnese delegation relinquished GAM's primary goal of independence, while the Indonesian government gave ground on political representation for the movement. The tentative agreement is due to be initialled at the end of the week, but the details will not be made public until the formal signing ceremony set for August 15.

The process of disengagement looks like it will be monitored by a combined EU / ASEAN mission. The next questions will include whether or not the Indonesian government will be able to exert complete control of the military's behaviour in the field during the withdrawal of forces. The example of East Timor in September 1999 shows how weak the central command and control can be, particularly with field commanders who've been very committed to the total annihilation of separatists. Even after the phenomenal destruction of the tsunami seven months ago, and during the entire emergency relief effort until now, the military refused to observe any sort of humanitarian ceasefire.

Another question will be the extent to which factions in the national parliament will endeavour to scuttle the deal. You would think that having this 30 year struggle coming to a possible end with the separatists giving up their demand of independence, would be something all Indonesian citizens could agree was a wonderful accomplishment. Here is another echo of the Tibet - China issue, where the Tibetan leadership has long set aside the goal of independence, in the interests of reaching that elusive mutually agreeable solution. The Indonesian Information Minister Sofyan Djalil, who participated in the Helsinki talks, even called the deal "a middle way" -- the very same words Dalai Lama has used for years to describe his approach to the China problem. It certainly would seem that GAM has come more than halfway across the table, and still had to struggle to get recognition of its right to engage in politics, which looks like it will require a constitutional ammendment. Yet even this concession will be too much for certain political factions in parliament to go along with, and I'm expecting to see a concerted effort from these quarters to reject the deal. President Yudhoyono, who agreed to the terms proposed for political representation of GAM, will need all his skills in countering these obstructionists in the coming months.

In reporting on the Aceh peace deal, some of the mainstream foreign media has been really sloppy -- surprising in that it has absolutely nothing to do with George W. Bush. So it just goes to show that they can often be ignorant just on general principle. I listened to a reporter on BBC World actually say that the issue of GAM forming a political party would present a legal problem, since "political parties are banned"! Absolute claptrap. The constitutional and electoral laws stipulate that parties running candidates for the national parliament must maintain offices and demonstrate a membership in a certain number of provinces. I forget the particulars, but the bar is set quite high to ensure that participating parties are actually national parties with a nation-wide membership. The DPR (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or People's Representative Assembly) will need to change the law to allow GAM to form their Aceh-based party, without having to run candidates in Sulawesi and Papua etc. Then they can compete with all the other parties which campaign in Aceh. Pretty simple really, and President Yudhoyono has already given his approval to this. Now to watch all the posturing and nationalist rhetoric about to emanate from the DPR.

It was interesting to watch the news from Jakarta on Monday, when of course the Aceh deal was the main story. But on the Suara Anda program (Your Voice, which I've written about previously a few times) that evening, the main story prior to the viewers' choice section was about the DPR members giving themselves a giant pay raise. In fact it's more than what one would call a "raise", but something more like doubling their paychecks. The facts and figures were presented on screen, and then we transferred to a lengthy interview in Banda Aceh with two tsunami refugees who continue to live in tents, now seven months after the disaster. They're getting little help from the government, food is inadequate, nobody in officialdom has come to see the situation, and both were very articulate as to why the politicians' doubling of their own salaries is immoral when people are still forced to live in tents and getting no attention after seven months. Once again, bravo to MetroTV for putting these issues together and holding them up before the country.


o get an idea of the apparent neuroses exhibited by much of the mainstream US media, one only needs to look at the Plame/Wilson/Rove kerfuffle. The other day I was watching the joint press conference of President Bush with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. There were numerous important issues discussed by both men in their statements from the podium, and the relationship between the world's two largest democracies is of obvious importance to the world.

And how do the US media behave, when it's time for questions? Well naturally, they start shouting to the President about when he will fire Karl Rove! I'm very sure than Mr. Singh is not the first foreign leader to come away from one of these events thinking, "What a bunch of parochial idiots they have for media in this country."

It might be easy for the opinion-shapers to imply all sorts of shady conspiracies to one evil mastermind genius, but it's also pretty silly. Now they think they have Rove in their crosshairs, and it's the most important issue on the planet for them. The general view of the "left" (and thus, most of the MSM), seems to be that Karl Rove is the embodiment of either Darth Vader or Satan (or both, and then some). Yet when one looks objectively at the facts of the Valerie Plame affair, the truly shady behaviour is apparent when media tells one version of the facts to the public, and a different set of facts is presented by them in court briefs -- while they keep that set of facts from the public.

Valerie Plame worked as an analyst at the CIA headquarters, nothing was covert about her job. Nevertheless, journalists continue the standard mantra that the case is about "the illegal outing of a covert CIA operative." She got a CIA sponsored gig for her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger and check out reports of Saddam Hussein's attempt to buy nuclear fuel there. Wilson later lied about his wife getting him the gig, and even misrepresented his own report in a bombshell partisan attack op-ed in the New York Times. It was all part of the campaign last summer against President Bush's re-election. The whole thing fell flat when it became clear that Wilson was at best, a fact-twisting political hack for John Kerry, and at worst was a bald-faced liar. Now all that's left for the effort, is to try and bring down the evil genius Rove for having "outed a secret agent", even while Wilson admits that she wasn't anything of the sort, and while the prosecutor in the case affirms that Rove, who himself learned about Plame from one of the noble journalists, is not a target of his investigation.

But of course, Rove Rove Rove, Haliburton, Rove, Bush lied, Rove Rove Rove, all the live long day. They should be ashamed to carry on like that in front of an important world leader like Prime Minister Singh.

In another fine piece of writing -- of the genus "Let's get real here, folks, and stop pissing around" -- Mark Steyn writes:
This controversy began, you'll recall, because Wilson objected to a line in the president's State of the Union speech that British intelligence had discovered that Iraq had been trying to acquire ''yellowcake'' -- i.e., weaponized uranium -- from Africa. This assertion made Bush, in Wilson's incisive analysis, a ''liar'' and Cheney a ''lying sonofabitch.''

In fact, the only lying sonafabitch turned out to be Yellowcake Joe. Just about everybody on the face of the earth except Wilson, the White House press corps and the moveon.org crowd accepts that Saddam was indeed trying to acquire uranium from Africa. Don't take my word for it; it's the conclusion of the Senate intelligence report, Lord Butler's report in the United Kingdom, MI6, French intelligence, other European services -- and, come to that, the original CIA report based on Joe Wilson's own briefing to them. Why Yellowcake Joe then wrote an article for the New York Times misrepresenting what he'd been told by senior figures from Major Wanke's regime in Niger is known only to him.
As Steyn reminds us, the flakiness of the "Wilson Report" was well evident a year ago, when he wrote that, "...an ambassador, in Sir Henry Wootton's famous dictum, is a good man sent abroad to lie for his country; this ambassador came home to lie to his." Now, a year later, the Fourth Estate won't let go; they feel they still have a chance to topple somebody. Steyn is brilliant at putting it all in perspective, as always. He reminds us of some of the vastly more important things that could do with a fraction of the focus the media puts on this nonsense.

Andrew C. McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor, and he writes in National Review:
With each passing day, the manufactured "scandal" over the publication of Valerie Plame's relationship with the CIA establishes new depths of mainstream-media hypocrisy. A highly capable special prosecutor is probing the underlying facts, and it is appropriate to withhold legal judgments until he completes the investigation over which speculation runs so rampant. But it is not too early to assess the performance of the press. It's been appalling.
The whole article is well worth reading, to see just how much of this story is being studiously hidden by "reporters". As he concludes,
We'd probably know the answers to these and other questions by now if the media had given a tenth of the effort spent manufacturing a scandal to reporting professionally on the underlying facts. And if they deigned to share with their readers and viewers all the news that's fit to print ... in a brief to a federal court.
And for a very useful timeline of the events at issue, please see Fat Steve's Linkfest; a compilation with dozens of linked citations that show the whole sorry contrived mess for what it is, and the vast gulf between whatever lurks inside the heads of the White House press corps, and reality. As Steve notes at the end of his piece, this whole thing might provide clues as to the reason many of these journalists will continue to rely on unnamed, confidential sources for their rumour mills, and to cover for their sheer inability to get the simplest things right.


t's wonderful to see Stephen Sullivan posting again on his blog, The China Letter, after quite a long hiatus. I've just noticed a couple of short pieces he posted at the end of June, in which he links to the story of an Uyghur writer named Nurmuhemmet Yasin, who wrote a fable called "Wild Pigeon". The work was published late last year by the official Kashgar Literature Journal. The story is described as a "first person narrative of a young pigeon" who is caged by humans, and who finally finds his freedom by eating a poison strawberry. You can read this short work in two parts at the above link, translated into English by Dolkun Kamberi, director of Radio Free Asia's Uyghur service.
This cage is supremely clever in its cruelty, I think, in allowing anyone caught inside ample view of the freedoms denied to him--with no hope of regaining them.
Freedom is as necessary as air or water for the storyteller, and he seeks it finally with his entire being:
The poisons from the strawberry flow through me like the sound of freedom itself, along with gratitude that now, now, finally, I can die freely. I feel as if my soul is on fire--soaring and free.
Chinese authorities apparently understood the allegory in their own inimitable way. Nurmuhemmet Yasin was arrested on November 29, 2004. After a closed trial in February in which he was refused the right to hire a lawyer, Yasin was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by the Kashgar Intermediate Court, for inciting Uyghur separatism. He was transferred in May to Urumchi No. 1 Jail and has been permitted no visitors since his arrest. Nurmuhemmet Yasin is 31 years old, married with two young sons.

Just one more shining example of the childish vindictiveness that runs the Chinese state, where justice is whatever the Chinese Communist Party decides it should be on any given day. Stephen also links to a recent Human Rights Watch report, which can be browsed online or downloaded as a pdf. HRW writes that their report is
based on previously undisclosed Communist Party and government documents, as well as local regulations, official newspaper accounts, and interviews conducted in Xinjiang. It unveils for the first time the complex architecture of law, regulation, and policy in Xinjiang that denies Uighurs religious freedom, and by extension freedom of association, assembly, and expression.
What better example of the stupidity of that system, than the case of Nurmuhemmet Yasin and his story of the Wild Pigeon.


asra Hassan published a very informative article in The Times last week, the best I've seen on the islamist suicide bomber phenomenon. Nasra is a Muslim from Pakistan (and also a long time international relief worker) who has done a lot of research on this, beginning when she was posted to Gaza in the mid 1990's. She has compiled profiles of more than 200 Muslim suicide bombers, and has completed a book on the subject.

Some glimpses now into the minds of jihad-inspired suicidal killers, taken from Nasra's article. On the shortest path to heaven:
"It's as if a very high, impenetrable wall separated you from Paradise or Hell," he said. "Allah has promised one or the other to his creatures. So, by pressing the detonator, you can immediately open the door to Paradise -- it is the shortest path to Heaven."
On the spiritual power of shahid (martyrdom):
"The power of the spirit pulls us upward, while the power of material things pulls us downward," he said. "Someone bent on martyrdom becomes immune to the material pull. Our planner asked, 'What if the operation fails?' We told him, 'In any case, we get to meet the Prophet and his companions, inshallah.'
Producing the ubiquitous pre-martyrdom video:
"Tomorrow, we will be martyrs," he declared, looking straight at the camera. "Only the believers know what this means. I love martyrdom."

The young men and the planner then knelt and placed their right hands on the Koran. The planner said: "Are you ready? Tomorrow, you will be in Paradise."
On when a suicide isn't a suicide:
They were not inclined to argue but they were happy to discuss, far into the night, the issues and the purpose of their activities. One condition of the interviews was that, in our discussions, I not refer to their deeds as "suicide", which is forbidden in Islam. Their preferred term is "sacred explosions".
On the many and varied side benefits for the martyr and his friends:
I met an imam affiliated with Hamas, a youthful, bearded graduate of the prestigious al Azhar University in Cairo. He explained that the first drop of blood shed by a martyr during jihad washes away his sins instantaneously. On the Day of Judgment, he will face no reckoning. On the Day of Resurrection, he can intercede for 70 of his nearest and dearest to enter Heaven; and he will have at his disposal 72 houris, the beautiful virgins of Paradise.
I guess that explains the activities of Mohammed Atta and a few of his cohorts just prior to carrying out the September 11 attacks. They were seen in an exotic dancer club, I presume gearing themselves up for all the hot virgin action awaiting them in heaven -- and secure in the belief that however much they might "sin" that day, it wouldn't matter to Allah later for they will be pure. I hadn't heard about the martyrs' ability to clean the sins of 70 of his friends and relatives, though. And that is certainly a strong incentive, not only for the homicidal-suicidal maniac himself, but for all his acquaintances to give him as much support and encouragement as he can handle. A free ticket to Paradise, on somebody else's dime!

This is a very important and enlightening article, a must read for anyone interested in what makes the enemy tick. For such people are the enemies of civilised societies everywhere, and they ought to be the enemies of every liberal progressive who believes in human rights and freedoms. As Clifford D. May writes in "What's Left? Answer: A Few Liberal Hawks," there are quite a number of people with stature on the Left who are very clear about what's at stake in this war, a war like no other in human history. May cites a new work by Professor Thomas Cushman, who edited a collection of two dozen essays by left/liberal thinkers entitled "A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq." Cushman writes that these individuals represent a 'third view'. "The basic elements of this perspective are a strong liberal commitment to human rights, solidarity with the oppressed, and a firm stand against fascism, totalitarianism and tyranny."

But wait: wasn't the liberation of Iraq completely separate from the struggle against islamist fascism, and a counter productive distraction from same? Ah, then you must have failed to read the Stephen Hayes article I linked you to last week. No matter. For those who might prefer to accept the received wisdom emanating from the trusted mainstream media, rather than people who actually do research, just have a listen to this. It's an ABC news report from 1999, and what it contains may disturb you. Yes, the newsrooms were very certain indeed on the issue of Saddam's links with al Qaeda and terrorism... before George Bush came to office, that is.

Jose Maria Aznar, the former Prime Minister of Spain is also someone who gets it. LGF has an exclusive English translation of an article he wrote for an Italian publication. It's a wonderful synopsis of the current situation, and a powerful piece of writing, even through two translations.

Yet it's an uphill battle even within the societies which are intended for destruction by the enemies of freedom. How can we oppose terrorism, when every day in subtle ways, the media is telling us that terrorism doesn't actually really exist. And I don't just mean examples like the BBC's exhalted "Power of Nightmares" documentary. I mean newsrooms which don't accept its objective existence. Don't believe me? The BBC referred to terrorism in the context of the 7/7 London bombings..... for almost one full day. Then they edited these stories, and changed the text to excise the dreaded "T" word. It's in the BBC handbook, you see, that the word "terrorism" is too judgemental. The Canadian Broadcorping Castration (Canada's very own MotherCorp, the CBC) takes the very same view. Quoted from a memo distributed to CBC staff, on "terrorism" policy:
Avoid labelling any specific bombing or other assault as a "terrorist act" unless it's attributed (in a TV or Radio clip, or in a direct quote on the Web). For instance, we should refer to the deadly blast at that nightclub in Bali in October 2002 as an "attack," not as a "terrorist attack." The same applies to the Madrid train attacks in March 2004, the London bombings in July 2005 and the attacks against the United States in 2001, which the CBC prefers to call "the Sept. 11 attacks" or some similar expression.
So neither July 7 (London), October 12 (Bali), March 11 (Madrid), or September 11 (US) should be attributed as "terrorism". Why?
Terrorism generally implies attacks against unarmed civilians for political, religious or some other ideological reason. But it's a highly controversial term that can leave journalists taking sides in a conflict.
So like, what words should CBC journalists and producers use instead, since they mustn't "take sides"?
Rather than calling assailants "terrorists," we can refer to them as bombers, hijackers, gunmen (if we're sure no women were in the group), militants, extremists, attackers or some other appropriate noun.
All of those words, except for "hijacker", can potentially also be used to describe completely legal and legitimate activities (or merely thoughts, as in "extremist"). The RAF defended England with "bomber" crews, union leaders are often "militant", while "attackers" might be attacking anything for almost any reason, not necessarily an evil one. Wild Bill Hickock was a "gunman". So what's the bottom line, for our betters in the CBC?
The guiding principle should be that we don't judge specific acts as "terrorism" or people as "terrorists."
There is objectively, no such thing as terrorism.

The time has long since come, when men and women everywhere are called upon to answer honestly the question put years ago, in an old American folk song. It was either Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger (most likely both, but Woody first -- who used to say of his instrument that "This guitar kills fascists") who sang, "Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on." They used to talk like that back then, in the old male-dominated militant union years of struggle. Wretchard at Belmont Club notes a new movement called Unite Against Terror, and he writes, "If liberal readers have ever wondered what it was like to have lived in the "Great Days" when men fought against Nazism, shake yourself awake. Those days are come." Perhaps London has triggered an accelerated rate of awakening, I can only hope. Read some of the declarations published on the Unite Against Terror site, or read the selection of them quoted in Wretchard's post (along with some great writing in the comments section too).

Meanwhile, beheadings and slaughter continue in Thailand's deep south on a daily basis. This country has now become one of the frontline states in this strange global war. More bombs this afternoon in London's transportation system. But of course, it isn't terrorism -- perish the thought, and let's not be judgemental about it. Which side are you on, folks, which side are you on?

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