Sunday, 28 December 2008

2008 - Bloody Awful

What a bloody awful year it's been for the world. It hasn't been the best for me either. At least I found out the reason why I have been feeling generally under the weather all year. Nursing a gut-full of African parasites since April 2007 would tend to take the edge off most people. But I'm clear now so am feeling better on that count.

My troubles are small when compared to the rest of the world however. These past few days have been atrocious. The continued Israeli attacks into Gaza is just creating more suffering. Isaac Hertzog was on the BBC today, asking what else could they do to stop Hamas’ missile attacks into Israel? Not provoking them earlier in the month would have been a good start, with the killing of Hamas personnel within the Gaza border. But that has always been the way. Attack and reprisal. Now Hamas has promised revenge. As if turning a cafĂ© full of Israelis into an abattoir would solve anything. If it’s war both sides want, then things just have to continue in the same vein. The only country who has any sway over Israel is the USA. According the APF news agency, President Elect Obama is “is closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza.” President Bush is speaking not to Israel nor to the Palestinians. Instead he has called the Saudis. Please excuse my cynicism, but I don’t doubt the purpose of the call was to make sure that things are business as usual. And I know about Mr. Obama’s policy of “one president at a time” but his silence on the matter amounts to consent for Israel’s actions.

Perhaps it is time for the USA to review it’s policy of arms trading with Israel? I doubt if you are reading this blog Mr Obama, but if you wanted to do something to gain the trust of the world when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this would be a major step. I’m not advocating leaving Israel defenceless, just not in a position to be so damn aggressive. It looks like that Gaza is now in for the same treatment that Lebanon received in 2006. But with the population so tightly packed in such a small area, the slaughter will be intense.
Oh, and while you are at it, Mr. Obama, perhaps it is also time to review US policy on retaining the capacity on being able to fight two major wars simultaneously? I know there is an old saying about if one wants peace, one should prepare for war, but if one wants war, then it seems to me that the preparations are the same. And given the current economic strength of America, can the USA continue to afford such a policy. It was the arms race that broke the Soviet Union. Is America risking the same fate?

Speaking of wars, Afghanistan and Iraqi have also been weeping sores. I link these two countries because of the military effort that has been required to launch concurrent invasions. As you doubtless remember, the invasion of Afghanistan occurred in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks upon the USA. Many things were promised as justification: the eradication of the Taliban and their regime based upon the culture of the refugee camps, the end to terrorist training camps and, most importantly, the rebuilding of the country after over twenty years of bloodshed. Well, thanks to the second Iraq War and the resources that were diverted into this illegal campaign, none of that happened. In fact the Taliban has regained support again and has spread, now posing a real threat to Pakistan. The radicalisation of Pakistani youth has now spread over to the sixty-year rivalry between Pakistan and it’s larger neighbour India. The terror attack on Mumbai this year is in all probability a direct result of the failure of the Afghanistan campaign.

So what has all this stuff got to do with us? The opinions I have been hearing and reading from friends and colleagues range from support for the Israeli action (“what else are we supposed to do?”), through to apathy (“both sides are just as bad as each other.”). One of my Indian friends has directly linked the Mumbai attacks to Kashmir, saying “Kick the Bastards Out.”

Fortunately there are others who share my horror at what is happening and are vocal in their protests. With the building threat to civil liberties in the West however, it remains to be seen for how long such voices are tolerated by governments. If we are lucky, it may be for another generation. But all the signs are there. It remains to be seen in American whether Barack Obama will continue with the expansion of the so-called Patriot Act. If he does, the only possible hope I see is that the left-wing of US politics will listen to the right-wing as they protest and say “Hey, that is what we were saying a couple of years back.” In Britain, the New Labour Government has already introduced the Identity Card (a misnomer – really it a super-database in which all available information about an individual is accessible in one place). In Australia, moves are afoot to censor the Internet – The Great Australian Firewall. A term chillingly reminiscent of the Great Chinese Firewall – their governments attempt to control access to the Web.

For shear nerve and audacity however, the prize for Scumbag Country of the Year 2008 must go to Russia and it’s attempt to rehabilitate Josef Stalin. The authorities are running a plebiscite for the Greatest Russian Ever, the mass murderer and psychopath old Uncle Joe is tipped to get the vote. I couldn’t finish Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book Stalin, the Court of the Red Tsar. Each page seems to have been written in the blood of thousands.
There are obvious political advantages for the rise of Stalin to official favour. It will signal the way for the return of the cult of personality, and with that the crimes that Stalin and his lieutenants committed will no longer be seen as such, but rather as strict and necessary measures with which Stalin guided the country to survival and through to prosperity. Measures, should the unfortunate need arise, the government, probably with Mr Putin again at it’s head, will not hesitate to enforce.
What I find personally disgusting is that even elements of the Orthodox Church has jumped aboard the bandwagon, with icons of Stalin now hanging in several churches, and even calls for canonisation. I never thought I would ever use this phrase, but the canonisation of Josef Stalin would be a blasphemy against God.

Nikita Khrushchev, one time henchman of Stalin and his successor was probably the only First Secretary to leave the Soviet Union in a better state than how it was when he came to power. The politicians of today would be wise to remember Khrushchev’s words that follow. When in his old age he was asked if there was anything he regretted, Khrushchev answered “Yes, the blood. So much blood.”

Selected Links

US military policy:
AFP reports: US reaction to Gaza
Australian Internet debate:

Picture credits

Gaza: Mohammed Abed, AFP
Stalin: BBC website

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