Issue #74 April 2nd - 8th 2004
Who's afraid of a peaceful world?
The beauty in the way that we are living (installment 9)
Why are love stories only about falling in love?
The Federal Food Reserve (part two)
Who's afraid of a peaceful World?
On the 22nd of March, in a scene which sounds more like some science fiction of a horrific future conflict than reality, an unmanned drone fired missiles which blew a 67 year old man in a wheelchair to pieces as he returned from his daily prayers. Sheikh Yassin was the leader of the political wing of Hamas - a Palestinian Islamic movement which provides health care, schools and welfare for Palestinians - 80% of whom live in poverty - while also having a military wing which carries out terrorist attacks against Israeli military forces and civilians many of which are as horrific as the attack which killed Yassin and 5 other Palestinians.
A week later Iraqis in the Iraqi town of Falluja captured 4 Americans then un-necessarily killed them in sickening ways - stoning and beating them before dousing them in petrol and burning them alive - further mutilating the corpses after death. Reports that the Americans were 'civilian contractors' are misleading - at least some of them were armed security forces or mercenaries - employees of Blackwater Security - an American firm which has received contracts from the Pentagon and employs police, intelligence and military veterans. There are now around 10,000 such mercenaries and armed security men in Iraq employed by the occupying forces. This does not make the killings any more justifiable - but the conflict has arisen from the invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq which also continues to involve unjustifiable killings of civilians by occupying forces
The killing of Sheikh Yassin and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict illustrate the utter futility of military responses to terrorism such as President Bush's 'war on terror'. The killings in Falluja, which were just as unjustifiable if not more so, were part of a similar conflict to that in Israel-Palestine.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw rightly condemned the assassination of Sheikh Yassin as 'unacceptable' and 'unlikely to achieve its objectives'. In Blair's words on Northern Ireland violent responses lead to 'a furious cycle of attack and counter-attack...[more]dead bodies and [more intense] hatred'.
It's a pity the British government fail to see that what is true of Israel-Palestine and Northern Ireland is just as true of the 'war on terror' which differs only in having become globalised.
Hamas has gained many new recruits and will be less willing to negotiate than under Yassin - not least because the Israeli government has pledged to assassinate Hamas' entire leadership. Israeli Defence Minister Mofaz has even issued a death threat against the Palestinian Authority's head Yasser Arafat, who, Mofaz claimed, knew his time was drawing near. Sharon claims that Arafat's Fatah party and its rival Hamas are unwilling to negotiate. This is untrue. Even Yassin, an Islamic fundamentalist, was willing to negotiate on the basis of Israel withdrawing to its 1967 frontiers and allowing a Palestinian state to form. The supposedly workable Oslo and Oslo II peace plans which the Palestinians rejected in the 90s offered no Palestinian state - only autonomy in 10 to 40% of the West Bank in towns cut off from one another by Israeli territory and forces. These would have been little better than the 'Homelands' provided to the Zulus and other black tribes in South Africa under Apartheid.
This is not to mention the fact that, as the US ambassador to Israel recently pointed out , Hamas was initially massively funded by Israel in order to strengthen Islamic groups and so weaken Palestinian nationalist movements like Arafat's PLO (now Fatah). The Israeli government still uses Hamas - but now as a protagonist which allows it to maintain a one-sided military conflict
Sharon's withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza is strategic - not part of a plan for negotiating peace with the Palestinians but 'disengagement' from them. As in the Oslo plans the Israeli government wants to occupy the water supplies and agricultural land in the West Bank - but leave the impoverished Palestinians in isolated towns - much like South African apartheid's 'townships'. Under Sharon this is to be done not by Oslo-style negotiation but by force. Key to this is the 'security wall' which will both surround Palestinian towns entirely and annexe Palestinian agricultural land and water supplies into Israel by constructing it miles into the occupied territories. The wall has failed to prevent suicide bombings - the supposed reason for its existence.
Sharon's government does not want Palestinians or non-Jewish Arabs integrated into Israeli society much more than South African apartheid era governments wanted integration between the black majority and the white minority. Sharon's solution is to wall the Palestinians off into untenable reservations while trying to prevent Israeli Jews becoming outnumbered by the faster growing non-Jewish population by trying to attract 1 million Jewish immigrants to Israel in the next decade. Israel was established as a safe haven for Jews facing persecution and death - but Sharon's government is instead seeking wealthy immigrants from safe countries - especially America. Would this be acceptable if it was Northern Irish politicians seeking to attract more Protestants to keep the Catholics down?
Sharon's policy is to keep killing suspected terrorists in the knowledge that Palestinian civilians will die in the process and Palestinian terrorist groups will respond in kind. He aims to prevent his government being outflanked by political parties to his right and divert attention from unemployment, spending cuts, tax rises and privatisation as well as allegations that he took bribes of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While President Bush claimed to be 'deeply troubled' by the killing of Yassin the CIA similarly assassinates suspected Al Qa'ida leaders using unmanned drones. Just like the Israeli government in its conflict with Palestinian terrorists Bush and Blair have tried to destroy Al Qa'ida by invading countries which they claim harbour its members. Like Israeli incursions and occupations in the West Bank and Gaza the 'coalition' invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan involve the continuing killing of civilians in a never-ending hunt for terrorists and 'resistance' members. Each killing provides new recruits and new sympathisers willing to donate money to the same organisations they aim to extinguish. As a result Al Qa'ida, like Hamas, is now stronger than ever - as Blair's security and intelligence coordinator Sir David Omand acknowledges.
So much for military force and tough laws being an effective response to terrorism. Whether it's Northern Ireland, Israel-Palestine, Iraq or the world as a whole these methods are both wrong in themselves and utter failures as a means of reducing or ending terrorism.
The effective way to deal with terrorism is the strategy employed by Blair in Northern Ireland -improved intelligence and policing coupled with negotiation. Laws removing the right not to be imprisoned without a fair trial are totally un-necessary. We have laws already - all we require are enough police and intelligence officers to enforce them effectively. The British police, experienced from the long conflict with the IRA, successfully prevented an apparent bombing plot by Al Qa'ida operatives in London recently.
Instead of focusing on effective measures like this the 'war on terror' in Afghanistan and Iraq wastes lives and money on wars which make the conflict worse while reducing the resources available for policing and foreign aid which could reduce terrorist attacks and reduce the number of recruits they get from countries suffering constant war and mass poverty and unemployment.
Britain still spends only 0.34% of its national wealth on foreign aid. The total foreign aid pledged by the UK and US together for reconstruction in Afghanistan is under $2bn. Even where reconstruction funds are spent - as in Iraq- most of this goes to fat contracts for firms linked to members of the donor governments. Meanwhile Iraqi hospitals still swim with sewage and lack basic medicines.
So why won't Bush and Blair adopt the latter's successful strategy from Northern Ireland and apply it to the global conflict with Al Qa'ida ? While Bin Laden cannot be negotiated with other Islamic fundamentalist groups linked to Al Qa'ida could be - and ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq along with arms sales and aid to Israel would reduce the flow of recruits and funding to Islamic fundamentalist groups.
It seems likely that, like Sharon, Bush and Blair don't really want to end terrorism at all. Ongoing conflict can be used to attempt to unite their electorates behind them against a common enemy and divert attention from the continuing redistribution of wealth to the richest through privatisation and private finance initiatives at home and 'reconstruction' contracts in invaded countries abroad. Like Churchill before them Bush, Blair and Sharon live in fear of the electoral effects of peace.
The beauty in the way that we are living
Note: this is a diary of sorts. The author would like to thank Johan and Stella again - one time didn't feel enough. Oh yes - 'The beauty in the way that we are living' is a song by Club 8.
“I said to her ‘ahhh come on! Ok you want mystery! but you can’t spend you life with reactionary bastards! When some when opens their heart to you that’s a great thing you know?’’”
We laughed and nodded. It was past 5.00 , time to go home and we were all listening to a the philosophy from that self confessed “crazy guy from Pakistan”. He isn’t crazy, he just says everything he thinks.
He turned to me and said:
“I tell this to people who are younger than myself, it takes more brain power and a bigger heart to maintain the same level of intimacy with a single person than to play the same set of cards with different people.”
It made me think. I thought about my grandparents house in the town by the sea. I thought about the smell of the sea, and roses, and the freshly baked pastry. I thought about the dark green carpet, and the garden with shells dotted about and I thought about summer morning when me and my sister would get up before my mum and dad.
We would creep downstairs quietly and into the kitchen where my grandma would be at the sink peeling vegetables, or preparing a cheese cake or cutting jelly into cubes. We would sit at a table that was just high enough for a 7 year old and a 4 year old. My grandma brought her marmite on toast and sugary tea. We wore our nighties and brightly coloured straw hats that my grandma had brought especially for our visit. My sister would do most of the talking and we would sip teas as we enjoyed the ambiance of Rainbow Café.
As we were finishing our tea and toast my Granddad would come down stairs. Each morning without fail, the first thing he would do was to give my grandma a kiss. When I was 7 I don’t think I took much notice of this. Just another one of the strange things grownups did.
I grew older and began to take more notice of this ritual. It wasn’t the kiss itself, anybody can kiss another person. It was the look in both of their eyes. A look of warmth and of love. After all those years their love didn’t weaken or die. It was there bold as brass and as strong as ever.
The crazy guy from Pakistan isn’t at all crazy. He is right it does takes a lot of strength of character to maintain so much warmth over such a long period of time. I just hope that I will find I have enough brainpower and a big enough heart to love someone for the rest of my life. I just hope I’m lucky enough to find someone who will look into my eyes and kiss me gently each morning.
The remains of a large doner with chilli sauce lies disembowelled in the market place where as a child I fell on the cobbled stones fracturing my knee and hobbling me for life. It's paved now, and piss now forms puddles instead of flooding the trenches between the mountainous terrain of stones.
I watch as a tributary of piss forms, born free from its warm puddle, and snakes malevolently in the direction of the roadkill kebab. I need to make this decision and quick. It's thirty two past the witching hour, I'm pissed, hungry, and broke in all senses of the word. God, I'm hungry.
Fuck it, I pick up the still warm death from the piss pool paving. I remove the dead lettuce, mush of a tomato, and rip off a corner of moist pitta that had already started to absorb the piss like bile on a mattress. God, I'm hungry. It's a long walk home and it's never tasted so good.
But I was telling you how I was a short-order cook. Well, I got the hang of it pretty soon - it wasn't much more than slapping some meat on a grilling-plate and waiting for it to go brown, most of the time. And for a while there I sortof liked doing that, and Little Fred would sometimes come in and keep me company, but then he started taking up with this floozy that had a habit of hanging around the place, and I saw him less and less. Then he started taking off with her earlier and earlier, and I had to do more and more around there, and stay later and later, till I got real fed up with it. It's working so hard that I minded though - no, I told you, I never saw nothing wrong with a man being expected to put in a little sweat for his bread. But by nature I'm a sociable guy, and it got to be hard on me, stuck all by myself in that little greasy kitchen allday long, with nothing much more than an occasional cockroach to keep me company. Also, I'm a man of Morals, and I guess I was raised to what's wrong and what is right, and how a man ought to behave and how he oughtn't to... now, I'm not saying they were doing anything, but to me it wasn't right, a bachelor like Little Fred taking up with a floozy like that - not all in public like that! So anyway, I quit that job.
By now you probably think you got me all figured out: you've listened to all these handy jobs I been doing in society and everything, and you probably think I'm more of a practical-minded man and probably not much of the thinking type, but if that's so, then you got me figured all wrong, 'cause I'm actually quite pensive most of the time. Pensive - that means when you're in a mood like you want to think a little. I looked that up one day in a dictionary.
Anyway, so when I quit that job, I got to doing a little bit of thinking. See, though I was right proud of all the different lines of work I'd mastered, I could see clearly that my life wasn't going nowhere fast that way, and I was just entering my prime and I felt like I should really try and make something of myself. Now, I might have thought about that for a right long time, and maybe I would have thought of it too long and gone soft and then maybe taken to drink like I see some do, but just then I was lucky, 'cause just then the war broke out, and suddenly everyone was looking for people to join up in the army. So I gave some thought to that, and I thought - now that's somewhere a person with something about him could really make something of his life, so right then and there I joined up. I mean, lost of famous people used to be in the army first. Just look at Ike (though of course he wasn't famous back then) and even Elvis - he was in the army once. Yessir, I like Elvis. I might look like I'm a little long in the tooth for that, but I keep my ear close to the ground, and I reckon I know what the young folks nowadays like, and I reckon some isn't so bad neither, like Elvis for example.
So I went right up to the recruiting officer, and I signed up right then and there. Now, they took one look at me, and I reckon they decided I was too talented to be sacrificed as cannon-fodder on the front, so after my training was over, they assigned me immediately to the Logistical Corps. You know, the people who organise everything and make sure there's enough food and toilet-tissue and things like that for the boys at the front and everything. It's a very important job. And so it was I gained my experience in administration too. Come to think of it, they might have done that on purpose, to groom me for this job, 'cause they must have known I hadn't no previous administration experience. I mean, they sure knew a lot about the other stuff I done before. Like in training, they obviously knew about my job as sanitation inspector, and even garbage-collector, 'cause almost everyday they sent me to clean the toilets all by myself, as if they knew I was the only one they could trust with that. And I bet they weren't sorry neither - those toilets never shone so bright before, or since neither, I bet!
Well, I spent some years going from unit to unit, working on logistics. I reckon they really appreciated my talents, and they used me to fix problems that came about when other people were trying to jobs they plain weren't fitted for, 'cause they kept moving me from unit to unit, and every single one I came to, there was a horrible mess. Then I'd try my best to fix it up right for them, so that any reasonable man could make head or tail of it, and then they'd send me to the next problem-unit again. So it went for a while. And then came my big break.
You know how it is in war I guess. Somehow there's a lot more industry around and there's always food shortage and stuff. Now, I never knew why that should be - I mean, you still have the same number of people eating stuff don't you? Why is there normally enough food for everyone, but not when there's a war going on? Okay, I guess a lot of the farmers are off fighting and not farming no more, but then I found out there's another reason. Sometime round the end of the war, the army put in this really really huge order for corned beef. I mean like really immense. Much to much in fact, but this turned out to be a good thing, and not just for me, 'cause not long after that the war ended too, and the army was almost disbanded, and there they were stuck with these mountains of corned beef. And so the Federal Food Reserve was born. And I was chosen, out of all the people in the army, to be in charge of it! So I ended up being right after all - joining the army was my way of making a mark in the world.
For weeks and weeks these loads of corned beef was shipped up to the Reserve warehouse, near Fort Knox - though of course I can't tell you exactly where, for security reasons. Now, a lot of people, they want to work at Fort Knox, and guard the gold and everything, and a lot of the young guards that have passed through under me at the Reserve, they just used it as a stepping-stone to get to the Fort, but I reckon they got it all wrong. I mean, you get right down to it, what's more important: food or gold? If you still don't see it quite right, think of it like this: they drop the bomb, what you going to be more grateful for: Fort Knox or the Federal Food Reserve? I reckon that should set you straight on where our priorities lie. But a lot of people ask me, so if the Reserve is so important, how come you only have a rickety old warehouse when the Fort's got all its vaults and everything? And I say, that's 'cause we're a lot smarter than you think - secrecy's our weapon. Now admit it, you never heard of the Reserve before now, have you? That's 'cause its Top Secret and Classified and everything. That's what I think anyway. See, it's so secret, they don't even tell me nothing about it, and I run it! But I still get my cheque every month, so they must know about it. Not a big check mind, 'cause then a lot of people would obviously ask, what's this guy doing that's so important, and then our cover would be blown. No sir, there are some sacrifices a man must be prepared to make to serve his country right. So seriously they take this secrecy in fact, that for the last few years, I haven't even had an assistant here, ever since my last one retired. Seems they can't find anyone they can trust to keep it hush-hush like they know they can trust me!
So that's what I do everyday - I walk around the entire Reserve, and I have to check that none of the can's been spoiled. You know, just a little dent and some air gets in, and the meat'll go right off. Imagine that - disaster strikes, and the whole country's future in my hands, and I let them all die with food-poisoning! But I'm not about to let that happen, no sir, not on my watch. Already I've had to chuck out about a hundred cans. So that, one day, when this great country depends on me, and only me, for it's salvation, they'll all think of me kindly, and think - hell, now there's a guy certainly did his duty, never let nobody down.
I guess I'd be happy with that, if they can say of me one day that I let nobody down. Least I can say is - I sure do try!