31 July 2005

Murder at Stockwell

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Nearly 50 years ago, in 1956, a British prime minister came to Jamaica to rest and recuperate after a very trying experience. Sir Anthony Eden, the debonair long-time understudy to Winston Churchill, had decided to undertake what must have seemed to him a Churchillian adventure: in concert with the French and the Israelis, he had invaded Egypt with the stated aim of recovering British property - the Suez Canal and, incidentally, to overthrow the Egyptian dictator, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Nasser, Eden said, had his fingers clamped on Europe's jugular. Unfortunately for Eden the Americans refused to support him and forced the 'Allies' to withdraw. Eden, never a very robust man, suffered a nervous breakdown and came to Jamaica on his doctor's orders.

He stayed at a cottage on the north coast where he was guarded by Jamaican policemen and the British Secret Service. As an old soldier - who had won the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry - Eden always slept with a revolver in his bed.

The night after he got to Jamaica the Secret Service began an elaborate hoax. They reloaded his pistol with blank cartridges armed with bullets carved from soap. The reason: Eden had taken it into his head that the "fuzzy-wuzzies", as he called them, were after him, and almost every night he would awake, dash out into the garden and loose off a few shots to scare the rascals away. The neighbours were understanding.

When he went back to Britain it was to resign and hand over his office to Harold MacMillan, made of considerably sterner stuff. Mr Blair, Britain's current PM, is going on holiday soon, and while I don't think he is in the same case as Eden, I believe his doctors should advise him to take a rest. A really long holiday.

According to Mr Blair just a year ago, intervention in Iraq was necessary to prevent Islamist terrorists and the authoritarian Saddam regime armed with weapons of mass destruction from bringing down nuclear 'Armageddon' on all our heads.

Two Tuesdays ago, Mr Blair was asked at a press conference whether the British-backed and US-led invasion of Iraq had fueled terrorist attacks around the world and in London? Blair said "there is no excuse or justification" for the actions of the bombers.

"Whatever excuse or justification these people use, I do not believe we should give one inch to them, not in this country and the way we live our lives here, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in our support for two states, Israel and Palestine, not in our support for the alliances we choose, including with America.

Not one inch should we give to these people." He went even further - anyone who believes that Britain's role in Iraq has any connection to the London bombings is a "fellow traveller of terrorism".

To make such a connection was obscene, he said. Clearly he has forgotten what he himself said last year. The pollsters have news for Mr Blair. According to a Daily Mirror/GMTV poll, fully 85 per cent of Mr Blair's constituents are "fellow travellers of terrorism" because they believe that Blair's decision to join the US-led war in Iraq was one of the causes of the London terror bombings

As Andrew Murray said in Wednesday's Guardian, "Tony Blair appears to be on the brink of a Brechtian moment, in which he will need to dissolve the people who have lost his confidence and elect another."

The problem for Blair is that most of us knew, well before it happened, that the invasion could not be justified on any grounds other than as support for George Bush in his grudge fight on behalf of his father and other oil-men against Saddam Hussein.

Hans Blix, former head of the UN inspection team in Iraq, was scathing in his comments about Bush and Blair. The unemotional and very correct Scandinavian diplomat was unequivocal. He told BBC Television last year: "The intention was to dramatise it [the intelligence] just as the vendors of some merchandise are trying to exaggerate the importance of what they have. From politicians, our leaders in the Western world, I think we expect more than that, a bit more sincerity." "Honesty", I believe, was the word Blix was looking for.

Mr Blair's recent vaporings about a "terrorist ideology" apparently "deeply rooted in Islam" has caused the resurgence - with a vengeance - of predictable animus against Muslims and darker skinned people. One in five British Muslims reports harassment of varying degrees within the last three weeks.

They, and other darker skinned people are even more discomfited (and discomforted) by the statement by Blair's namesake, Ian Blair, head of the London Metropolitan police, who has said that the shoot-to-kill policy will remain in place even after the murder of the Brazilian electrician at Stockwell.

Under the law, the police are permitted to use deadly force in defence of life, their own or others' and they must use no more force than is required. Anything else is murder.

So, I was not the only person horrified to watch on the BBC as a very rational Briton described the last moments of Jean Charles de Menezes. He said de Menezes fell into the train under the weight of four or five policemen, and then, when he was immobilised, incapable of action, obviously terrified, in the hands and at the mercy of the police, a left-handed policeman fired his Glock pistol five or six times into the boy's head.

It has transpired that many things the police said then were untrue: de Menezes was not connected to the bombing conspiracy, he was not clad in a bulky coat which could have concealed weapons.

But he had been followed for nearly two miles by several of more than 200 policemen on duty in the immediate area, and he had been followed on foot, on a bus, on foot again and into the underground station before somebody decided that he needed to die.

He was shot eight times, seven times in the head and once in the shoulder. It was the concatenation of institutionalised racism and Mr Blair's institutional hysteria.

I mourn de Menezes, not only because he could have been my son or your brother, but because his death was so totally unnecessary and cruel.

The Brazilians mourn him and the British government paid for his body to be returned to his birthplace in Brazil and are expecting to pay even more for damages for his unlawful killing.

But there is more to mourn: Paul Myers, a reporter for the Guardian, a British-born man of Jamaican parentage, writes eloquently of the new and additional threats to people who wear the uniform of underprivilege.

In a piece entitled 'Black men can't run', Myers writes: "De Menezes acted suspiciously by running" is one line that's wheeled out to abrogate responsibility for a catastrophe. But if you're in an ethnic minority the errors seem to hit you thick and fast throughout your life. It really doesn't take that much for a police officer to be 'suspicious'.

"Like countless other law-abiding black men in the capital, I've been stopped, questioned and searched by police professing to be doing their utmost to protect the community. When I owned a Golf convertible I'd be tailed or pulled over for driving what they suspected to be a stolen car."

Reg Phillips, who some said was my double, was deputy high commissioner for Jamaica in London during the sixties. He was pulled over several times while driving his own car by police who could not believe that someone like him had the right to be driving the car he owned. In the US these days, black people have a word for it - DWB, they call it - Driving While Black.

More than a hundred years ago, W.E.B. du Bois predicted "the problem of the 20th Century will be the problem of the Colour Line". He could have no idea that his prediction would be valid for another century.

Third World Error

The Brazilians, as may be expected, are traumatised by the murder in London of one of their own. According to the Associated Press, President Luis Ignácio Lula da Silva's representative at the funeral, Human Rights Secretary Mario Mamede, told Agencia Estado news: "We cannot tolerate the violation of human rights in the name of combating terrorism."

On Wednesday, President Lula called de Menezes' family in Gonzaga to express his condolences. "The police committed a gross, stupid, third world error," says Maria do Socorro Alves, a cousin of the dead man.

And another relative of de Menezes said it was strange that while in Brazil de Menezes was regarded as white, in Britain he was Black. The colour line in Brazil is as convoluted as it is in North America or Britain.

In a country with a majority black population, most people consider themselves white - part of the vicious legacy of slavery and racism. The situation is similar to Haiti, where an elite boasting a spectrum of skin tones considers itself different from, and superior to, those 'officially black' who make up more than 90 per cent of the population.

So it is perhaps understandable that while Brazil's President Ignácio Lula da Silva can send his foreign minister to question the British foreign secretary over the death one young Brazilian electrician, a Brazilian general in Haiti can lead Brazilian and other troops in the UN "peacekeeping mission" in support of the elite power structure and of the assassins and rapists now ruling Haiti in their name.

The Brazilian human rights secretary can piously intone that "We cannot tolerate the violation of human rights in the name of combating terrorism", but this same minister cannot find the time to give audience to emissaries from Brazilian trade unions and from others who want to discuss with the Brazilian government its complicity in the continuing slaughter of innocent Haitians in the name of combating terrorism on behalf of the Haitian elite, the Americans, the Canadians and the French.

Meanwhile, the clichés and platitudes ooze like toothpaste from a poisoned tube: "We are desperately sorry," says Mr Blair of the death of de Menezes, but he won't allow his soldiers to conduct a body count of the Iraqis they kill.

And of course, to make these points is to incite the fuzzy-wuzzies, to make the natives restless, to be a fellow traveller of terrorism. Except that we are not alone.

All those millions who marched to denounce the war, all those bloggers, journalists and newspaper editors and ordinary people of all races, religions, ages and colours who lent their voices to the protests all over the world against injustice are still here and quite obviously, are still not convinced by Bush, Blair and Co.
It seems there may still be hope for humanity.

24 July 2005

'Extremism in Defence of Freedom'

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Some of my Jamaican readers want to know why I have recently written so much about events outside of Jamaica instead of paying more attention to what's happening here. The reason is quite simple: the developments I write about are having or will soon have momentous effects inside Jamaica, and we need to be prepared for that.

Shortly after 9/11, I wrote a column titled "Bin Laden's Bees" in which I forecast how I thought al Qaeda terrorism would develop. In that column I compared Al Qaeda to a colony of bees. If the Queen is killed the worker bees simply transfer a few of the late Queen's most recent eggs to Queen cells, where, instead of developing into worker bees, they develop into queens. The first emerging new queen - or the most vigorous - then kills the remaining queens manqué and the hive goes on.

A forensic officer examines a car near to where a suspected terrorist bomb exploded on a bus in Woburn Place and Tavistock Square in London 07 July 2005. Explosions ripped through three underground trains and a bus in London, killing at least 56 people and injuring more than 700 in a wave of 'terrorist attacks' a day after the capital won its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games and as G8 leaders met in Scotland. (Photo: AP)

In the same way, I said, Al Qaeda could not be defeated by killing Bin Laden. Terrorism would continue as long as there was enough fuel for its anger. It was my thesis that terrorists are driven not so much by ideology as by a sense of grievance, a perception of hopelessness and helplessness in the face of injustice.

So, I am perhaps one of the few who has not been surprised that two Jamaicans are among the Al Qaeda terrorists. One, Richard Reid, tried to blow up himself and a planeload of people shortly after 9/11. The other, Germaine Lindsay, was among the assassins of 7/7 in London.

Last week the British Home secretary, Charles Clarke, announced that Britain was establishing a global list of extremists who would face automatic vetting before being allowed into Britain. Clarke said the database would list "unacceptable behaviour" such as radical preaching, websites and writing articles intended to foment terrorism.

Presence on the list means that people would face exclusion from the UK. Mr Clarke also said he planned a new offence of "indirect incitement to terrorism", to add to the current offence of direct incitement. The new offence "targets those who, while not directly inciting, glorify and condone terrorist acts knowing full well that the effect on their listeners will be to encourage them to turn to terrorism".

This would seem to be a recipe to exclude from Britain anyone the government considered to be opposed to its policies.
If Clare Short, a former member of Mr Blair's Cabinet, were a foreigner, she would no doubt be excluded by Mr Clarke's list.

Last week she said: "Some of the voices that have been coming from the government that talk as though this is all evil, and that everything we do is fine, when in fact we are implicated in the slaughter of large numbers of civilians in Iraq and supporting a Middle East policy that for the Palestinians creates this sense of double standards - that feeds anger."

Mr Clarke's list would also probably include me, since I believe that the British and American policies on terrorism are not only wrong, but totally foolish, hypocritical and unrealistic. In Mr Clarke's view, that probably amounts to condonation of terrorism.

While Mr Clarke's list would probably catch Ms Short and me, it would certainly not have caught any of the 9/11 bombers nor any of those whose bombs spread carnage and terror in London two weeks ago. Indeed, Mr Clarke told the House of Commons that the four London bombers were "cleanskins" - with no convictions or known terrorist involvement.

As I pointed out shortly after 9/11, those terrorists were apparently clean, decent, upstanding young men, some with young families, who had never been in any kind of trouble. They were all or mostly all, middle class types - bourgeois - if you like, whose very conventionality or ordinariness was what allowed them to bypass US airline security with such ease.

In a speech to a Labour Party conference on Saturday, July 16, Prime Minister Blair said "What we are confronting here is an evil ideology. It is not a clash of civilisations. All civilised people, Muslim or other, feel revulsion at it. But it is a global struggle and it is a battle of ideas, hearts and minds, both within Islam and outside it.

"The extremist propaganda is cleverly aimed at their target audience. It plays on our tolerance and good nature; it exploits the tendency to guilt of the developed world; as if it is our behaviour that should change; that if we only tried to work out and act on their grievances, we could lift this evil; that if we changed our behaviour, they would change theirs. This is a misunderstanding of a catastrophic order.

"Their cause is not founded on an injustice. It is founded on a belief, one whose fanaticism is such it can't be moderated. It can't be remedied. It has to be stood up to. And, of course, they will use any issue that is a matter of dissent within our democracy. But we should lay bare the almost-devilish logic behind such manipulation.

"If it is the plight of the Palestinians that drives them, why, every time it looks as if Israel and Palestine are making progress, does the same ideology perpetrate an outrage that turns hope back into despair?"

Mr Blair conflates the doctrines of Al Qaeda with the beliefs of those who may or may not be acting on its behalf. For this he was rebuked by John McDonnell, chairman of the 500-strong Labour Representation Committee, at which Mr Blair spoke. McDonnell said "Please do not try to tell us that the war in Iraq played no part.

This assertion is simply intellectually unsustainable. Now is the time to prevent further violence by renouncing violent solutions ourselves. "For as long as Britain remains in occupation of Iraq, the terrorist recruiters will have the argument they seek to attract more susceptible young recruits to bomb teams. Britain must withdraw now."

The problem is much more complicated than Blair appears to imagine. It seems to me likely that the terrorist cause depends not so much on Al Qaeda as on the perception of injustice on which Al Qaeda feeds.

Like bees, potential assassins do not have to be told how to think. And what is even more terrifying is the paradox that it is from among the most westernised young men that terrorism will draw its recruits. Muslim youth in madrassahs in Pakistan may be imbued with the most insensate hatred of western civilisation, but they are unlikely to be able to do much about it.

The people who are really dangerous are the young, idealistic men who live in societies which preach human rights, justice and civilisation while practicing racism, injustice and contempt for the rights of the powerless.

Tony Blair asks: "If it is the plight of the Palestinians that drives them, why, every time it looks as if Israel and Palestine are making progress, does the same ideology perpetrate an outrage that turns hope back into despair?"

The answer is simple. The world has watched Israel's total defiance of UN resolutions for 60 years. And while Israel was supposedly negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians last week it was also announcing plans to build a wall across Jerusalem.

As the Independent reported on July 12: "Israel's decision to press ahead with a barrier that will separate 55,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from the rest of the city has provoked a storm of criticism, prompting the Palestinian prime minister to state that the fence will make "a farce" of Ariel Sharon's peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia said the move was "theft in broad daylight" of land Palestinians hope will form part of their future capital."

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, arriving for the talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, said: "We think that Israel has the right to defend itself, but we think the fence which will stand outside the territory of Israel is not legally proper and it creates also humanitarian problems." In situations like these, the hypocrisy is blatant, the injustice patent. No one needs Al Qaeda to point that out.

American Justice in Haiti

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the most important man is the American ambassador, Mr Thomas Foley. It was he, accompanied by a detachment of US Marines, who arrived before dawn in February last year, to 'assist' the lawfully elected President of the country to leave. The president called it a kidnapping, and it is hard to see how else it could be described.

Now, Mr Foley has done a good deed. He has apparently arranged that the Catholic priest, Fr Gerard Jean Juste, will not be summarily executed by the assassins who now rule Haiti. Fr Jean Juste went to Haiti on a visit last week and was arrested and beaten up by goons working for the government.

Fr Jean Juste has been living in Miami since his release from prison in October last year. He went back to Haiti to visit his flock after the UN mission - MINUSTAH - attacked and slaughtered an uncounted number of poor slum dwellers two weeks ago.

He was then arrested, charged with something that happened in Haiti while he was in Miami, released, then beaten up when he attended a funeral, re-arrested and thrown into prison, this time, allegedly, for the murder of the journalist whose funeral he was attending.

Also arrested was his friend, Professor Bill Quigley, an American professor of law. Action by Haitian activists in the United States has apparently gained the priest some security in his prison cell, but no one, except Ambassador Foley, can say whether he lives or dies within the next few days.

Extremism in Defence of Freedom

Forty years ago I wrote an editorial in Public Opinion, (of which I was then Editor) titled "Lyndon Goldwater." In the 1964 presidential election, Lyndon Johnson had just wiped Senator Barry Goldwater off the political map, ridiculing his statement that "Extremism in defence of Freedom is no vice". And then, as soon as he had been safely inaugurated, Johnson decided to bomb Vietnam, just what Goldwater had argued for.

Anyone for tennis?

17 July 2005

Terror and Justice

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Many people believe that writing a column is duck soup. You just think of something that intrigues, concerns or provokes you in some way, sit down and blast off. It isn't that simple; and it can be a horribly frustrating job.

For instance, I had this week intended to review a new book by the Caribbean scholar Clinton Hutton, entitled The Cosmological roots of Haitian freedom: the logic and historical significance of the Haitian revolution.

Dr Hutton's book is no less than a bold and, in my opinion, entirely successful guerrilla attack on the premises of modern historiography, an overwhelmingly racist enterprise whose major purpose has been to relegate Africa and all its children to an enclosure of historical curiosae, a kind of intellectual zoo.

Hutton quotes Toussaint's reply to Napoleon Bonaparte, who had attempted to impose conditions on Haiti's sense of self, after the Haitians had already thrown out one Napoleonic army and were on the point of defeating a second.

"It is not a circumstantial liberty conceded to us that we wish, but the unequivocal adoption of the principle that no man, whether he be born red, black or white, can become the property of his fellowmen."

As Hutton says: "Toussaint's incisive reply to Bonaparte must be counted philosophically and politically as one of the most radical, most important epistemological and ontological statements on justice in human intercourse, not only of the modern age, but of any age.

Soon the revolution would combine abolition with self-determination, thereby transforming it from an anti-slavery revolution to a national liberation/anticolonial revolution: the first such revolution in the modern world."

The Haitians spoke of and demanded the recognition of universal human rights, and insisted that civilisation demanded justice for all, no matter the colour of the skin or any other characteristic. It is a principle not recognised by the world until 1948 after the second war to entrench freedom in the world.

Hutton points out that while there has never been mainstream recognition of these key tenets of political philosophy as Haitian cum universal, they have, however, been colonised by, and/or subsumed in the western philosophical tradition, reinforcing the epistemology of silence on the one hand, and perpetuating the myth of the West as the cognitive basis for defining, knowing and certifying things on the other hand.

Hutton argues persuasively that the voodoo religion - misinterpreted, libeled and denigrated by western scholars - was the magma in which was syncretised the whole "thinking and knowing of the enslaved, the cosmological bases and context of the meanings they created, inherited, recreated, adopted, adapted, weaved and quilted to explain the nature of their being, their existential reality, their hopes and aspirations, and to guide their action to mediate, manipulate, neutralise and overcome the encumbrances imposed on their lives" by the European 'soul-thieves'.

Hutton concludes by noting that the Haitian elites, in the process of their own identity construction, were purposeful agents in the "silencing and marginalisation of the centrality of Africa and the African Diaspora in the making of the Haitian revolution" so that "the retracing of Haitian freedom, identity and certitude to French knowing and being became a modus operandi of elite agency in the social, political, cultural and economic development of Haiti".

The Haitian elite are once again riding high, backed by the United States, France, Canada and the United Nations itself in what must surely be the greatest betrayal of human rights in history. Last week, Mr Jack Straw apologised to the Bosnian Muslims for the neglect which caused the deaths of 3,000 in Srebenicza.

The forces of evil have already killed more than that in Haiti. And last week the United Nations troops in Haiti, under the command of a Brazilian general, massacred uncounted numbers of Haitians in a successful attempt to assassinate the leader of the poor people of the Cite Soleil, a slum as big as Kingston, and the natural product of American and French interference and exploitation of Haiti over two centuries.

American spokesmen are still as vulgar and stupid as William Jennings Bryan, American secretary of state who, in 1915, was dumbstruck at the idea of 'Niggers speaking French!' Mr Bush must be scandalised.

Bryan's modern day equivalent, Luigi Einaudi, the (American) assistant secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS), retired two weeks ago, to the hypocritical encomiums of such as the black Caribbean's spokesperson for the occasion, a lady named Mrs Sonia Johnny, from St Lucia. She said Einaudi was a "facilitator in the ongoing quest for consensus".

She, poor soul, was probably not aware of Mr Einaudi's real claim to fame, his statement in Haiti, a year ago, that the only thing wrong with Haiti was that it was being run by Haitians. And the OAS and UN speak of the inalienable right to self-determination.

But these days, vulgar racist ignoramuses like Einaudi are thick on the ground. It must have something to do with global warming which allows lower forms of life to flourish.

Belgian Roulette

The Belgian Government has thrown a spanner in the works of the debt forgiveness charade which the G8 so proudly hailed two weeks ago as a new dawn for Africa.

The Belgians, ever mindful of the civilised niceties, think that forgiving Third World debt will set a bad example and encourage 'moral hazard'.

As far as they are concerned, Third World debt resulted from spending sprees embarked upon by the feckless borrowers of the Third World, and not, as some of us see it, the inevitable consequence of the starvation wages we got from producing ever more at ever cheaper rates to satisfy the inexhaustible hunger of the First World for our diamonds, uranium, bananas, sugar and aluminium.

We are irresponsible children, in need of moral guidance. Oh! for a King Leopold to set the world to rights!

Or, perhaps, a Bernie Ebbers, sentenced to 25 years imprisonment last week for defrauding his shareholders of $75 billion, a tad more than the West is offering in debt forgiveness and aid to the entire developing world, beset by AIDS, global warming and, of course, hurricanes.

In search of an honest statesman

Real sportsmen are rare - as the West indies Cricket Board continues to prove. Real sportsmen do, however, exist. One of them is a golfer called David Toms, who on Thursday disqualified himself from the British Open because he had signed an incorrect score card.

No one but Toms saw when he hit a moving ball, an infraction of the rules which should have cost him two penalty strokes. He could easily have got away with it. His conscience wouldn't let him.

Conscience is not a quality on display in the more important chancelleries of the world. The British prime minister, in his first statement after the London bombings, declared that it was the work of Muslim extremists.

No one had yet discovered the identity of the bombers. And Mr Blair kept repeating his slogan while, at the same time, promising his Muslim audience and everybody else that he did not wish to divide the society, he didn't want to stir up hatred.
It seems clear to me that if he was so sure that the assassins were

Muslim extremists before anyone had told him so, there could only be one reason - a bad conscience. Why should they be Muslim extremists?

Because, it would seem, Mr Blair recognises that Muslims have very real reasons to be angry with Britain. Palestine may be one reason; Iraq may be another; Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo represent collateral damage, like Falluja.

The newspaper of the Jamaican diocese of the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church recently quoted something I wrote nine years ago. "We have sat silently by for years, watching judges and policemen trample on the human rights of poor people.

We have endured without protest the worst tyrannies of incompetent public and private bureaucracies as they brutalised our children.prisoners in jails, helpers, common-law wives, workers and consumers. .

We can no longer avoid a confrontation with the truth. If we, as a community do not rearrange our society to suit all of us, some of us will rearrange it to suit themselves, and it will not matter then who is of good or bad reputation."

I was talking about Jamaica, but I was also talking about the world. With all the uproar about the bombings, few people have noticed that Israel has quietly built an illegal wall across Jerusalem, separating some Palestinians from their own front yards.

As I and many others remarked immediately after 9/11, terrorism cannot be defeated by war. There is no central government of terrorism.

Terrorism is born in the hearts of those who have no other way to protest the injustices done to them, to express their hopelessness and their sense of futility.

In his novel, "The Leopard", my late friend and mentor, Vic Reid, used a ghastly metaphor to express the feeling of the hunted Kikuyu warrior in the Mau Mau struggle. To kill his enemy, the warrior thought, was to "make him beautiful".

It is a horrific image, but I believe it probably expresses the mindset of those who have been so long oppressed and brutalised that the road to darkness and death seems like the only route to the promised land.

Do people like Tony Blair ever try to imagine what goes on in the minds of those he describes as motivated by evil?

10 July 2005

Terror and Civilisation

Common Sense
John Maxwell

My first horror-struck reaction was to grab the phone. Were any of my children on the trains or on that bus? Two of my three children live in England, and although they do not live in London, it was entirely possible that they might have been there on some kind of business.

I phoned and discovered that they were safe. I was lucky. There are thousands of people who are not so lucky: those who died, those who lost daughters, sons, husbands wives and other loved ones, those who were maimed, their grieving friends, and people everywhere who know that we are cannon fodder in the world war now in progress.

Mr Blair made it explicit. He was shocked, disappointed that the terrorists had not taken note of his and Mr Bush's grand intentions to alleviate poverty in Africa and hopefully, to make some palliative statement about global warming. For him it was clear: the barbarians against the civilised world. I couldn't believe my ears.

I grieve, because, as John Donne said 500 years ago, any man's death diminishes me. I am a part of the human race and any damage, any loss anywhere, disfigures me, reduces my humanity, my variousness.

Global warming was here last week in the shape of Hurricane Dennis. It will be visiting us again and again in the shape of more frequent, more destructive hurricanes.

Hurricanes used to be acts of God. Now they are, to a measurable extent, acts of man. Melting glaciers, icecaps, melting continents, sea level rise, hotter seas and more violent and unpredictable weather are the products of global warming, warming caused by the greed, selfishness and waste of a minority of human beings.

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow your children and grandchildren will pay for it.

When Mr Bush repeated the riff about civilisation, I thought about the strange coincidences in this life: about the fact that September 11 represents not one but two horrific anniversaries - one in New York, another, 30 years before in Chile. While that thought was making its way through my head, it was announced that 37 people had been killed in London by the agents of barbarism.

The figure 37 was immediately transposed in my head into 73, the number of innocents blown out of the Caribbean sky 29 years ago because they happened to have been passengers in a Cuban aeroplane.

As in London, the selection was random: men, women and children, Christians and non-Christians.
And I wondered, would Messrs Bush and Blair now be able to pay proper attention to their latest charity agenda? What panacea would they be able to offer to Africa after their concentration had been so brutally distracted?

In the Guardian a few days ago, John Vidal gave a learned disquisition on the 'kleptocracy' which had impoverished Africa. He was in the noble tradition of Englishmen since Sir Francis Drake, who have found viable excuses for the enslavement of Africans.

In the old days, wicked Africans offered their kin for sale, and the poor, Christian English, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch had no option but to buy them to prevent them becoming 'bush-meat'. In the process somebody, no doubt the Africans themselves, destroyed countless nations, civilisations and cultures and even a university or two.

And Columbus, Pizarro and their brethren were clearly on a civilising mission when they destroyed the Aztec, Maya and Inca civilisations in the cause of returning South American gold to its rightful European owners.

And when American geographers discovered in Mexico, 10-ton monolithic sculptures of African heads, they were in no doubt that these heads could not have been carved by people who had invented a calendar more accurate than any available in the "West" for another 2,000 years.

So that I want to know, for instance, why it is not reckoned as a crime the fact that the United Nations, under the influence of the United States, Britain and France, should have presided over the starvation deaths of a million Iraqis, half of them children, during a 13-year 'Sanctions regime"? Or why nobody knows how many Iraqis or Palestinians have been killed in the War Against Terror?

Mr Blair and Mr Bush in their civilising mission in Africa were given a fine launching pad by the combined forces of pop music and public relations in the Live 8 concerts. The cannon fodder of the north coming to the aid of the cannon fodder of the south.

Now, the Lords of the Earth would step in and show that they meant business. Africa would get some money, far less than it needed, far less than has been extorted from its people, far less than it repays in usurious loans. But Africa would get money, would get AID to fight AIDS and Malaria; get AID if they behaved themselves, if they pledged to become civilised adults.

The First Globalisation

The history of the Congo is the most explicit demonstration of African haplessness and irremediable wickedness.
Five hundred years ago, Affonso Mani-Kongo (King of the Kongo) had, in tribute to his Christian proselytisation, changed his name from Nzinga Mbemba. It did him no good.

In the year 1526 AD, the Mani-Kongo wrote King John of Portugal as one Christian monarch to another. He complained that his Kingdom was being corrupted by the agents of King John, who had abused the trading concessions given to them, corrupting his subjects and buying their loyalty.

Worse, wrote the Mani-Kongo, "the merchants are taking every day our natives, sons of the lands and some of noblemen and vassals and our relatives, because the thieves and men of bad conscience grab them. and get them to be sold; and so great is the corruption and licentiousness that our country is being completely depopulated, and you, Highness, should not agree with this nor accept it as in your service".

King John turned a deaf ear to Affonso. The Portuguese tried to assassinate him, deposed him and took over his kingdom and began the mass export of slaves to the New World.

The Portuguese never fulfilled their promises of foreign aid and technical assistance - never supplied the artisans and teachers they had promised Affonso as their part of the bargain which allowed them to trade in his Kingdom. Later the Portuguese killed another Mani-Kongo, Antonio I, and his kingdom broke up into a number of small states, parts of what are present day Angola and the Congo.

The extinction of civilisations on both sides of the Atlantic provided the capital on which capitalism itself and the European Empires of the 19th and 20th centuries were erected.

Over the years, various European traders penetrated the Congo in search of gold and slaves, but the vast area once ruled by the Mani-Kongo was under the jurisdiction of no one power.

So enter King Leopold of the Belgians, just over a century ago. He asked for and was awarded the Congo by the British, Americans, French and Germans at the Berlin Conference of 1886.

According to King Leopold, his International Association of the Congo was a sort of "Society of the Red Cross .formed with the noble aim of rendering lasting and disinterested service to the cause of progress" as he wrote in an article published by the Times of London.

The noble cause was so effective that, according to demographers, it reduced the population of the Congo by 10 million between 1880 and 1920. Jan Vansina, professor emeritus of history and anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, said the Congo lost one-half of its population in those 40 years.

The Belgian Government, in response to worldwide disgust at the excesses of Leopold, took over the management of the Congo and ruled it so well that Antwerp became the centre of the world's trade in diamonds, and Belgium, bereft of natural resources, became a respectable European power.

In the 40 years between 1920 and 1960, the population of the Congo grew by about three million; In the 33 years after Independence, it more than tripled.

The Congo had been civilised: In a country one-third the size of the United States, the Belgians left behind five Congolese doctors. When the Congolese decided they had had enough of the Belgians, in 1960, the Belgians, terrified, ran away, leaving behind chaos and confusion. The United States stepped in behind the skirts of the United Nations.

The US National Security Council decided that the answer to the democratic turmoil was to cut off the head of the agitation. The NSC ordered the death of Patrice Lumumba. Their stooge, Joseph Mobutu, carried out the assassination on the instructions of Frank Carlucci, first secretary of the US Embassy, later a patron of Colin Powell.

Mobutu was always the Americans' darling. As Newsweek said in 1997: "It was mainly the United States, France and Belgium that put Mobutu in power and helped to keep him there as a bulwark against cold war rivals.

He was a 'useful tyrant' and as the West protected him. it tolerated his corruption and autocracy. Mobutu earned his keep. In his last great service to Washington, he allowed his territory to be used for the CIA's paramilitary operations in support of anti-Marxist rebel Jonas Savimbi in Angola."

President Reagan often welcomed Savimbi to the White House, praising him as a "voice of good sense and good will". Savimbi led a 40-year war against his own people, and in the process left most of the country dangerously littered with land mines, which are still killing innocent people.

It is obviously a myth that an African king ruled not only the Congo and Angola five centuries ago. And, when the British finally conquered Nigeria just over 100 years ago, it is a myth that they found functioning systems of government. Obviously, the Kings and Chiefs they found were incompetent poseurs, incapable of ruling anything and, probably, figments of their own perfervid imaginations.

The French made the point forcefully when they abandoned ship in Guinea in 1958. They took every filing cabinet, every telephone and every desk from every government office. Guinea did not deserve a government.

So when Messrs Bush and Blair announce this weekend their assistance for Africa, we of the dark corners of the world, we lesser breeds without the law, should be properly grateful.

And it is, of course, no use contending - as some of us are wont to do - that it was in Haiti, 200 years ago, that the world first experienced the concept of universal human rights. Like the Olmec/Aztec/Mayan calendar, that too is a myth - which we will discuss next week.

03 July 2005

Inside Their Heads

Common Sense
John Maxwell

About three weeks ago, there were news stories to the effect that one in four Americans was afflicted by mental illness and that fully a quarter of those were so seriously affected that their illnesses disrupted their ability to live normal lives.

These stories were based on the first results of a worldwide study carried out by a team led by the Harvard professor of mental health, Ronald Kessler.

Kessler says that the United States leads the world in mental ill-health: "We lead the world in a lot of good things, but we're also leaders in this one particular domain where we'd rather not be."

The survey did not include some of the most serious mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism, so that the actual results understate the degree to which Americans suffer from mental health problems.

About one in two Americans will develop a mental disorder at some time in their lives, the survey of nearly 10,000 US adults found. Younger sufferers tended to be overlooked, even though mental illness is typically a disease of youth. "Half of those who will ever be diagnosed with mental illness show signs of the disorder by age 14, and three-quarters by age 24."

"Mental disorders are really the most important chronic conditions of youth in America," said Professor Kessler, "Sadly ... these early onset disorders very seldom come to the attention of the treatment system unless they're very severe."

Less than half of those in need of treatment ever get help. Those typically get treatment after a decade or more of trying to cope on their own - during which time they are likely to have developed additional problems. About a third of those affected relied on non-professional assistance.

Part of the problem is the stigma of mental illness, the lack of medical insurance and the fact that most people ignore the early warning signs of mental disability.

I must confess that as I read the report I could not help wondering whether much of the bizarre behaviour of US troops abroad may not be due to mental illness.

Right after the Americans entered Baghdad, I remember reading a New York Times story by Dexter Filkins quoting a young American soldier who told him that he had shot a young woman because she happened to be standing in the wrong place.

Barbarous assaults on civilians, the shooting up of cars loaded with children and similar actions begin to be explicable if one understands that much of the US army consists of frightened young men who joined the army to get a job or an education, not to go abroad to kill people.

Their training, particularly in the Marines, conditions them to believe that every civilian is a terrorist determined to kill. If they are suffering from antecedent states of pathological anxiety and depression, their behaviour becomes easier to understand, if not to forgive.

It also helps to explain why the Army finds it so easy to make scapegoats out of such as Lyndie England and the other poor, underprivileged young people involved in the tortures at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. They are like Henry II's knights, needing the merest hint to go off and commit mayhem. And their superiors, knowing this, are generous with their hints.

Remember the American general who explained why the first detainees were transported to Guantanamo, manacled, shackled to the floor of the plane, blindfolded and gagged? They were the sort of folks "who will chew through the hydraulic lines of an aircraft. These are the Hannibal Lecters of south-west Asia".

If you identify the enemy in this way, as insensate robots, human piranhas with no appetite except for blood and death, it isn't too hard to imagine how impressionable young recruits with no great hold on reality will interpret their mandate. It's simply "Nightmare on Elm Street" made flesh.

And they will have heard and observed how casually their elders and betters dismissed the black holes and the massacres of Kunduz and Mazar al-Sharif. Falluja then becomes not a city of people to be pacified, but a nest of vipers to be exterminated and obliterated.

So, when a group of American soldiers - military police - were told in a training drill at Guantanamo Bay that a man in a yellow jump suit was a recalcitrant prisoner, they beat him to a pulp.

Sergeant Sean Baker, a military policeman, said that as he was being choked and beaten he screamed a code word, "RED!!!" and shouted: "I'm a US soldier! I'm a US soldier!"

But the beating continued until his jumpsuit was yanked down during the struggle, revealing his military uniform. Baker is suing the Department of Defence for $15 million for multiple injuries, including a fractured skull and a traumatic brain injury.

Baker's lawsuit charges: "Armed with the highly inflammatory, false, incendiary and misleading information that had been loaded into their psyches by their platoon leader, these perceptions and fears ... became their operative reality, and they acted upon these fears, all to the detriment of Sean Baker."

It can hardly have surprised thinking Americans when it was revealed two weeks ago just how unpopular they are around the world. In Canada and Britain, a majority - sadly diminished since 2002, but still a majority - have favourable opinions of the US.

In most of the rest of the world, most people do not have a good opinion of the US. Outside of the United States itself, only India and Indonesia believe that the foreign policy of the US considers anything but its own interests.

Strange Fruit

In the sixties, that fabled time so many aeons ago, Black Power, Vietnam and Flower Power coexisted in the hearts and minds of the so-called Baby Boomers and lots of other people around the world.

I was in London, where being tear-gassed or baton-charged and arrested were par for the course when you were defending human rights, assailing L B J for the Vietnam war and making love, not war.

One of our anthems then was a song by folk singer Tom Paxton entitled Goodman and Schwerner and Chaney, part of the true parable of three young men, a Jew, a Gentile and a Black, three of the idealistic youth who invaded the southern states of the US trying to get black people registered to vote, trying to tear down the walls of American Apartheid.

Two weeks ago, 40 years almost to the day after the three young men were murdered and buried under 15 feet of farmyard soil, the man who planned their killings was finally sentenced to pay for his crime. But Edgar Ray

Killen, a classic know-nothing fundamentalist part-time preacher was not the real author of the killings. He was simply the excrescential expression of an American sub-culture which then was respectable and is once again becoming fashionable.

American fascism has never been far below the surface of American life, and before it came to be called fascism it was part of the slave-owning plantation ethos which depended upon parasitising other kinds of people and other nations for its opulent existence.

It was only three years ago that one of its main ideologists, Jesse Helms, withdrew his objection to the provision by the United States of foreign aid to fight HIV/AIDS abroad, which is killing millions of people, mostly Black, around the world.

But he maintained his opposition to federal spending on HIV-AIDS inside the US, maintaining that AIDS would disappear if only people would give up their homosexual 'lifestyles'.

Helms was no doubt aware that AIDS was extremely efficient at killing Blacks and that the pandemic is spreading fastest among women.

Two weeks ago, there was an important development of interest in the area of HIV/AIDS. It did not appear to concern HIV/AIDS at all, but it did. This development was the licencing by the Food and Drug Administration of a drug to treat a particular ethnic group, African Americans with certain kinds of heart disease.

Scientists cannot explain why one drug should be so much more effective in people of one ethnic background than in others. But there was a clue in 2003 when a vaccine designed to immunise against HIV/AIDS turned out to be several times more effective among Blacks than among any other ethnic group.

Reporting the story two years ago, the New York Times headline was "Large Trial Finds AIDS Vaccine Fails to Stop Infection" - which was why most people missed it. The lead paragraph read: "The first AIDS vaccine ever to be tested in a large number of people has failed, overall, to protect them from infection with the virus that causes the disease, the company that makes it, VaxGen, said today."

The real news was in the second paragraph: "The vaccine did, however, seem to significantly lower the infection rate among African-Americans and other non-Hispanic minorities participating in the trial, the company said."

But after the headline and the first paragraph, who would have read further? Researchers called the finding totally unexpected and said they were at a loss to explain why there would be ethnic differences in response to the vaccine. One would have expected that the scientists would immediately have tried more ambitious testing among Blacks, who are the most at risk of AIDS.

Poverty and prison records tend to be among the major risk factors for HIV/AIDS in the US, and Blacks are overwhelmingly poor and form a disproportionate component of the prison population. Perhaps the vaccine could be tested in prisons?

But no. The scientists have gone back to study the 'problem'. Dr Anthony Fauci, the famous director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the trial statistics seemed impressive, but scientists would need to determine whether the protective benefits were due to a statistical fluke or some unexplained biological or behavioural factor.

Meanwhile, according to UNAIDS, in 2002 only 30,000 people out of almost 30 million living with HIV/Aids in sub-Saharan Africa were being given the drugs that in the West keep infected men and women alive, well and working for years. In Botswana, 40 per cent of the population is sero-positive and every second pregnant woman is infected.

Meanwhile, it should please cat fanciers everywhere to know that a working vaccine against FIV - feline immunodeficiency virus - has been developed and was licenced for veterinary use three years ago.

The FIV virus is similar to the HIV virus and has similar effects on infected cats.

I kid you not.