Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Any ideas?

I've been gift shopping for my impending trip to Palestine. I figure if I'm going to stay with people, the least I could do is bring them something from Australia. I've ruled out heavy objects, for obvious reasons. I've also ruled out taking the numerous clocks and watches medical companies have given my dad for fear the Israeli immigration folk think I'm smuggling parts for a bomb or something! I've bought some mini-footies for the little ones* and am thinking of taking some Australian chocolate. Any other suggestions?

* whilst I was in the shopping centre today, I swear I was followed by no less than three security guards. Mind you, I was unshaven and had an afro (aka morning hair) to die for. Still...

Finders, looters

Telltaleheart just sent me this...

A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Flood waters continue to rise in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina did extensive damage when it made landfall on Monday.

Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina came through the area in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Young lawyers advised how to dress for success

By Markus Mannheim

HOW do leaders park their cars? And when they mix with country folk, what should they wear? The sober young lawyers at the Attorney-General’s Department may well be pondering these tough questions as they drive to work this week. In the latest issue of Up Front, the Department’s occasional internal newsletter, secretary Robert Cornall provided his staff with a range of helpful pointers to prime them for bureaucratic success. In an article titled How does a leader look?,Mr Cornall warned staff to pay close attention to how they are perceived — no matter how small the detail.

‘‘[It’s] not just what you say but how you dress, how you look, your mood in the lift, even how you park the car,’’ he wrote, quoting the chief executive officer of National Mutual, Geoff Tomlinson. ‘‘Look at the attention political leaders pay to the way they dress. Prime Minister [John] Howard knows the value of an Akubra in rural Australia and the need for an open-necked shirt in a country pub.’’

Like their minister, Philip Ruddock, staff at the Attorney-General’s office have a reputation in public service circles for dressing conservatively. Perhaps to polish this image, Mr Cornall added some useful dressing tips for male staff — though sartorial advice for female leadership prospects was strangely omitted.

‘‘For men, avoid wearing a dark suit with a dark shirt and a dull tie . . . A white shirt and a light-coloured tie photograph better with a dark suit.’’

Whoever said lawyers were no fun?

(Source: The Canberra Times)

Monday, August 29, 2005

You better watch out

My father's surgery is in Blacktown in greater Western Sydney. This places it in the heartland of the Hill Song Church community (although it operates more like a company). Hill Song is the Australian equivalent of the messianic Churches that are one of the key planks of George Bush’s popular support. This means that occasionally my father’s waiting room has copies of American Christian magazines. One of these is The Philadelphia Trumpet. The September/October 2005 edition of this magazine has a special report on '7/7', the London underground train bombings that occurred in 7 July. It makes for comical, if vaguely alarming reading.

The ‘7/7’ edition is basically a collection of paranoid, alarmist essays which argue that the shining beacon of the free world, the United States, (which is described as “the greatest single nation on Earth”) is under threat from ‘the Moslems’ (Iran), ‘the Continentals’ (the European Union), and ‘the Asians’ (China and Russia). Of course the subtext of this is that Satan is pulling the strings from above this axis of evil, and the US has been put on notice.

The problem with this scenario, as The Trumpet sees it, is that the United States and the United Kingdom trace their ancestry to the original Israelites, so if they get trumped by the evil three we’re basically all screwed. As one writer convincingly explains…

The modern history of American and British greatness is rooted in ancient history… Chapters 12 through 50 in Genesis detail this family history.

In Genesis 12:1-2, God rewarded the unerring obedience of Abraham by promising that He would “make of thee a great nation.” In Genesis 17, God promised Abraham again that He would “multiply thee exceedingly” (verse 2) and that Abraham would be “a father of many nations” (verse 4).

No matter what’s making this water taste metallic, that argument gets my vote!

Reading this glossy magazine reminds me of similar publications which claim that the Koran prophesized everything from the collapse of the Soviet Union to Britney Spear’s short marriage to a high school friend in Las Vegas.* Or the Hindu pamphlet I read some years ago which claimed that a vast Hindu empire controlled most of the Middle East many thousands of years ago.

The irony of ironies is that most theists have the capacity to find humour in the absurdity of other religious belief systems, yet cannot identify similar absurdity in their own. Which is why I worship grapefruit. It’s round, it’s sour, but if you add sugar it’s very nice. Think about it.

* If you doubt my claim you are clearly under the influence of the Devil. Pray to God for forgiveness!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Chicken and egg

It's only been two nights since I left the Pilbara and already I'm missing the place. Or is it merely that I've begun to dislike Sydney? When I was 12, it took around 20 minutes to get home to my parents' place. On Friday, it took around 40, and it often felt like we were driving through an obstacle course or a construction work theme park. I guess spending your time in Canberra and Hedland over the past 3 years makes you less immune to large concentrations of cars and roadworks… No, there’s more to it than that.

The Pilbara was a taste of life based more on principle and conviction than money and expedience, real or imagined (the expedience part… ok, maybe the money too!). And yet I still struggle to sleep at night. My conscience hasn’t yet been satiated.

I’ve been offered a job back in Canberra. And although it will help fatten the experience column on my CV, I really don’t want to return. Canberra is a dreadful place. It is a dreadfully peaceful, comfortable, circularly straight place.

Last night on the dance floor, I kind of realised that I’ve deliberately avoided doing what I really feel like doing.* Which, at this stage in my life, is merely freewheeling through life, venturing out of my comfort zone, and trying to comprehend what I ‘see’. Intense socialisation has convinced me to maintain a connection with the status quo through my career choices, so as to ensure that I keep up with the Joneses. In short, I’m too caught up in treating life like one big set of assessments which requires measured, if uninspired planning akin to the eugenics programs that would no doubt have dominated European societies had Adolf Hitler decided not to invade the Soviet Union. But I digress.

I really don’t want to return to Canberra. And, for the time being, I really don’t want to work. Unless, of course, work allows me to retain my independence.

Tonight I went to a family friend's wedding. Thankfully, this one was a pretty quiet affair. I hadn't seen the groom, or his sister who has turned into something of a goddess, in nearly 15 years. My parents hit the dance floor as soon as the banghara got going which was nice to see. No doubt tonight will be all the more surreal for the fact that next week I’ll be on a plane at some god forsaken time, on some cramped economy class seat, heading towards Cairo and thence Tel Aviv.

* To make matters worse, whilst I was deep in my thoughts I managed to completely ignore this cute girl who was strutting her stuff right next to me.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The World's Hottest Detainees

Reading about yet another sweet young thing being caught in the deleterious circle of drug smuggling/use/possession, I thought it useful to spark a debate on The World’s Hottest DetaineesTM

No 1 Aung San Suu Kyi

Despite her age and emaciated appearance, it’s difficult to argue with the famous Burmese activist’s standing as the world’s hottest detainee.

No 2 Michele Leslie

Michele isn’t just the latest face of Aussie drug peddling. She also happens to be a professional model. And with looks as stunning as this it’s not difficult to see why. Um, yes, and my pro-brunette bias.

No 3. Mumia Abu Jamal

Is it the dreadlocks that scream out for justice? Or is it just a shower? Either way, Mumia’s all dat!

No 4.
Generic Guantanamo Bay inmate

The bright orange jumpsuits are what does it for me.

No 5. Schapelle Corby

See comment at No 2.

Okay, at this point I discovered that my mind was blank. Any other suggestions?

Get dem values inya

You really have to laugh at the most recent attempt to showcase Australia’s good Muslims. Two days ago, John Howard met with representatives of Australia's 'moderate' Muslim community in scenes reminiscent of JFK's meeting with 'moderate' Negro leaders during the heady days of the civil rights struggle.

Somewhat uncoincidentally, Treasurer Peter Costello felt compelled to outline ‘Australian Values’, viz the de facto requirements of living in Australia

If you can't agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to another country which practises it, perhaps then that's a better option.

Um, which one of these requirements, assuming we hold to them for argument’s sake, don’t Muslims accept? Remember of course, that an extremist doesn’t represent an entire community. Exactly in the same way that the drunk yobbo who took a piss outside my unit last Saturday doesn’t represent every white Australian.

Today it gets even more ridiculous, thanks to this pearl of wisdom from Federal Education Minister Brendan ‘now where did my earring go?’ Nelson…

We want [‘people who come to Australia’ aka Muslims] to understand our history and our culture, the extent to which we believe in mateship and giving another person a hand up and a fair go.

As part of this understanding, the Government says it will teach Muslim kids ‘the Anzac story of Simpson and his donkey’. Hmmm, I wonder whether they’ll also be taught about the British invasion of Turkey which allowed Simpson to drag his donkey across Gallipoli in the first place?

These comments from the Howard Government have an obvious insinuation. Muslims are a threat to Australian society because they refuse to accept fundamental elements of it. This from a Government which has routinely bemoaned ‘judicial activism’ (a euphemism for Judges thinking independently of dominant legal or social paradigms) and has promoted the least rights-based interpretations of the Australian Constitution on most issues. A Government which has consistently refused to acknowledge the crimes committed by white Australia against the Aboriginal population over the past three centuries. Not to forget the indefinite detention of asylum seekers, including new born babies, nor the forced deportation of Australian citizens who, perhaps, did not pass the ‘Australian values’ test.

Today Prime Minister John Howard is reported as saying…

Australia would have no problem with extremism if it only amounted to a few people occasionally declaring their religion was best… But when it comes to praising people who are clearly terrorists, if it comes to justifying terrorism and murder in pursuit of a political cause, [t]hat is not OK.

I doubt he realizes how ironic that statement is.

What we have here is a monumental distraction. Muslims have every right to feel under siege. For those of us who desperately seek reform within the religion, there can be no greater obstacle than a Government peddling the lowest grade of racism that a liberal democracy can provide.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

New blog

My good friend Sameer has finally started his own blog. Expect a lot of insightful, beautiful writing, and a tonne of dark, dark humour. Welcome on board brother!

Depleted uranium is a WMD

Depleted uranium is uranium which has had most of its radioactive isotopes removed. It is widely used in a range of ordinance used by the United States Armed Forces for its armour-piercing abilities. It also happens to be highly radioactive, and has been extensively used in Iraq, Serbia and Kosovo. According to Leuren Moret, an international expert on the substance, depleted uranium is a weapon of mass destruction as defined under American law.

Sydney Social Forum

I'm going to the Sydney Social Forum at Petersham Town Hall this weekend. That's right, I'm back on the east coast! A friend is doing a presentation on the present situation in Palestine and its significance to the global geopolitical situation.

Details of the Forum are available here. If you'd like to join me for a drink or two afterwards, chuck us an e-mail (go to 'View my complete profile' for the address).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I’ve been living in a hotel room for the past three days and it has to be said that the novelty factor is wearing thin. One of these novelties is the movie channel, which repeats the same 20 movies ad nauseum. Thus far I’ve seen Hotel Rwanda (again), Alexander, and Blade Trinity. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many American movies in quick succession.

Another movie that caught my attention was In Good Company. Apart from some vaguely socialist comments by Dennis Quaid’s character, what really caught my attention was Scarlet Johansson. She has an incredible smile, the type that makes you hear Jimmy Hendrix playing in your head. In fact she reminds me of a crush I briefly had on this girl in Sydney a few years back (although Scarlet is considerably hotter). Mind you, Scarlet reminds me of most of the white girls I’ve had crushes on. Um, you should probably ignore that last sentence.

Mental note to self – make sure to rent Lost in Translation on your return to Sydney and pay particular attention to the opening sequence.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Australia's tsunami aid to Aceh

According to the World Bank, the Australian Government has failed to ensure that aid money meant for Acehnese victims of the Asian tsunami receive it. Only one eighth of the billion dollars Australia promised the region has been contributed.

As a represenative of the World Bank explained to the ABC:

It'd be good to look at the Australian contribution, and maybe ask where it's going, because the initial public impression was oh it's a billion dollars for Aceh. When you dissect that, half of it is soft loans that the Government may or may not take up, but they certainly don’t need for Aceh, and then the $500-million in grants – only less than a quarter of that will go to Aceh, and the remainder will go to pursue broader strategic interests of the Indonesian and Australian Governments, throughout Indonesia.

Aid/Watch, an Australian non-governmental organisation that tracks Australian foreign aid activities, says the figure is only $50 million. Much less than even one eighth of a billion dollars. An Aid/Watch representative told the ABC:

...the primary concern is accountability and transparency, and the Australian Government haven't been very transparent or accountable in the regard to how much money has been allocated to this point, or how much of this money is actually for tsunami funds.

The Government response, courtesy of Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Bruce Bilson, is this:

Some of the assistance and a large proportion of that funding is going directly into the immediate Banda Aceh area, but other areas of assistance is designed to benefit Banda Aceh but would have broader positive outcomes for Indonesia as a whole.

Not exactly the most insightful response.

Is Iran next?

Here’s a classically realist assessment of the prospects for an American/Israeli invasion of Iran. Cold shower time!

It’s oil ‘tupid

What does oil have to do with the atrocities being committed in the Sudan? Find out in this excellent analysis by TomDispatch‘s David Morse.

Water streams

Water streams,
The leaves are green.
Far too distracting,
For thoughts unclean.

The day is blue,
Crystal even.
Yet still somehow,
Things aren't clearer

Friday or Monday.
We end or begin.
I can't keep up.
As usual, I’m behind.

Thrust the pages,
Compiled like wires.
So rests my soul,
On stacks of tyres.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The mix from hell

If the Devil ever appeared in my dreams, told me to mix a liveset for my soul, this is what I'd come up with. Given it would be in the context of a dream, and I could choose pretty much all the details, here's what they'd be...

Siachen Glacier, Himalayas. Presently surrounded by close to a million Indian and Pakistani troops. If I held the rave here, there'd be a 'strictly no M-16s' policy.

Set time:


Dress code:

Track list:

It ain't gonna be me by CJ Bolland
The funk hits the fan by Plump DJs versus Clocks by Coldplay
Monkey Forest by Midway versus You're Gonna Get Yours by Public Enemy
Emit/Collect (Rennie Pilgrem’s Agatha Stomp) by Zero
Deep by Sam Sharp versus It’s like that by Run DMC
Adagio for strings (Ferry Corsten remix) by William Orbit
Eye of Horus (Ronski Speed mix) by Aly Fila versus Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child
Rapture (Armin van Buuren remix) by Iio
Traffic by DJ Tiesto
Ancient Space (Fred Baker remix) versus Dirt by Death in Vegas
My immortal (unknown remix) by Evanescence*
Born Slippy Nuxx (Paul van Dyk remix) by Underworld
Satellite (Above & Beyond progressive mix) by Oceanlab
Café Del Mar (Marco V remix) by Energy 52 versus Saltwater by Chicane
As the rush comes (Armin van Buuren Universal Religion Mix) by Motorcycle
Urban train (Cosmic Gate remix) by DJ Tiesto
Southern Sun (DJ Tiesto remix) by Paul Oakenfold
Where the streets have no name (Nu NRG remix) by U2*
7 Cities (Armin van Buuren vocal mix) by Solar Stone

* I’ve only heard this magical remix live. I don’t think it’s ever been released as a studio production.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Rules of the game

Human Rights Watch's London Director notes...

[Blair] Government presents the latest proposal to deport [alleged terrorists and national security suspects] with supposed guarantees that they will not be tortured as though it were a new idea, devised as an emergency response to the bombings. In reality, it is a mendacious old idea. A year ago the Human Rights Watch report Empty Promises demonstrated clearly and in detail that diplomatic assurances are no guarantee against torture. Four months ago, a 90-page report Still at Risk, confirmed the point, with yet more evidence. Human Rights Watch and Liberty wrote to the Prime Minister, pressing the point...

The evidence shows clearly how flawed such agreements can be. Sweden sent two men back to Egypt in 2001, after receiving assurances that they would not be tortured. They were, of course, tortured. Bizarrely, the United States even claimed to believe Syria (a paid-up member, after all, of George Bush"s "axis of evil") when Washington received what it called "appropriate assurances" that Damascus would not torture Maher Arar, a Canadian-Syrian handed over in 2002. (Arar, too, was tortured.)

Read on.

Some movies to look out for

The Take and Turtles Can Fly.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Some definitions...


pn : a mountain in the
Bavarian Alps in Germany, close to the Austrian Alps.

n : slang term for masturbation.

v : get sexual gratification through self-stimulation.

v : a post on a web log which purports to explain everything.

Gaza withdrawal

Dear Consul General,

Today Israel is expected to begin its much-publicised unilateral withdrawal – known as “Disengagement” – from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank. Although the international community has generally perceived the withdrawal plan as an Israeli step towards peace and the respect of international law, it is in fact very doubtful that either of these goals will be met. The only certain result of the withdrawal plan to date is that it has muted the international community’s criticisms of Israeli violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and persistent obstruction of a just and durable solution to the Israeli - Palestinian conflict. Such obstructions include the continued building of the Annexation Wall, construction and expansion of settlements, and sustained efforts to formalise the de facto annexation of East Jerusalem.

The withdrawal plan, as it currently stands, will not lead to an end of the Israeli occupation of the OPT. Under international law, occupation ends when the Occupying Power no longer exercises effective control over a territory. The official Israeli withdrawal plan outlines the removal of settlers and permanent military presence from all of the Gaza Strip and four Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but reserves the option for Israel to militarily re-enter, at any given time, the areas from which it has withdrawn. Throughout the rest of the West Bank, settlements and permanent military presence will remain. As for Gaza, Israel will guard and monitor the external land perimeter of the Gaza Strip, will continue to maintain exclusive authority in Gaza air space, and will continue to exercise security activity in the sea off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

This falls short of ending the occupation, as Israeli forces remain in effective control of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Consequently, Israel’s duties and responsibilities as the Occupying Power in the OPT will continue until Israel effectively ends the occupation.

Consequently, the Occupying Power is under an obligation to effectively address the already rising levels of settler violence against Palestinians which Al-Haq anticipates will further increase during the operative phase of the withdrawal. Al-Haq also expresses its alarm over how the plan will be implemented. Senior Israeli officials have warned that any fire directed towards Israelis while carrying out the withdrawal will be met with a strong use of force that may escalate to a war-like situation. Al-Haq is deeply concerned that some Israeli opponents to the withdrawal may seek to obstruct it by causing confrontations that would trigger such a military response, which, in light of prior experience, is likely to include forms of collective punishment of the Palestinians. What should have been a withdrawal may then become a renewed invasion with further deterioration of the human rights situation.

Even if such a scenario is avoided, internal closures of the affected areas will accompany the withdrawal plan, entailing further deterioration of the social and economical situation of the already impoverished Palestinian population. After years of Israel obstructing or destroying the emergence of essential Palestinian infrastructure in the OPT, the systematic policy of closures must come to an end. Israel’s sealing off of the borders surrounding Gaza would have disastrous consequences for an economy that is already in a dire state.

Last but not least, Al-Haq is concerned that members of the international community have muted their criticisms or adapted their policies toward Israeli violations in the OPT in the name of what they perceive as the positive development of the unilateral withdrawal plan. Al-Haq emphatically draws the attention of the international community to a number of truths either forgotten or ignored:

The withdrawal would amount to evacuating approximately 8,500 out of a total of 425,000 Israeli settlers, corresponding to only 2 percent of the total settler population currently living in the OPT, including East Jerusalem. Since the plan was announced, the total number of settlers who have come to live in the West Bank exceeds that of the settlers expected to be evacuated under the plan.

The withdrawal plan promises that “Israel will continue building the Security Fence.” Israeli authorities thus continue to blatantly ignore the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on the Wall, which reflects Israel’s obligations under international law.

The withdrawal plan explicitly states that some areas of the West Bank “will be part of the State of Israel.” Consequently, the plan not only fails to end the occupation of the affected areas, it also does not even begin to address the occupation of the remaining and greater part of the OPT.

The evacuation of all settlements, the removal of the Wall and the end of the occupation of the OPT cannot be traded away in exchange for the withdrawal. A just and durable solution to the conflict cannot be achieved without the firm implementation and enforcement of international law, including the relevant UN resolutions. The more prolonged the occupation, the harder it will be to achieve such a solution. While the international community remains inactive, the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people are steadily chipped away.

As both High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions and UN member states, Al-Haq urges you to act in accordance with your obligations under international law by monitoring the respect of international law in the Gaza Strip and in the northern parts of the West Bank during the withdrawal. Al-Haq also urges you to exercise your duty of vigilance regarding the remainder of the OPT where massive violations are taking place in the shadow of the “Disengagement Plan.”

Best regards,

Randa Siniora
General Director
Al Haq
Ramallah, West Bank

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Reform, Islam and spare time

A fundamental problem with discussing the 'reform' of Islam is the refusal by ideologues, whether 'Western', 'Muslim', or other, to place Islam in an historical and anthropological context. What do I mean by this? There's a lot of talk about the Muslim world, the Ummah, etc as though it was the defining characteristic of those people who demographically make up the said Muslim world. Unfortunately the reality is a little different. This is not to say Muslims the world over don't feel a common bond. Many do. Only to say that one's religion is but one 'feature' of any community or individual. Now that's a truism, not an argument. Only an ideologue would refuse to accept that (cf Wahabbism in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan). Go into any expatriate mosque. Most of these mosques are divided on ethnic/national lines. Separate mosques for Turks, Indonesians, South Asians, and so on. Yes there are 'common' mosques too. Remember, I am not saying Islam does not provide any links, only that it is not the only thread that binds people.

Historically, Islam hasn't provided the type of cohesion between different ethnic groups that other social phenomena, like nationalism, tribalism, communalism or necessity, have. The reasons for this are complex, but far from sinister. To understand this, I think you have to look at Islam in an historical and anthropological context. The movement founded by Muhammed established itself politically well before it established itself theology. In fact, the historical record quite clearly indicates that theologically Islam as we presently know it* developed several years after Muhammed's death. Even the Koran, which is considered static and immutable, had many different versions and source 'documents'.** Remember also that Islam began as an oral tradition. Ask any anthropology major and they will tell you how dynamic and variable oral traditions are as a source of objective truth. Anthropologically, Islam has been very dynamic, having been transformed and adapted into the local traditions of myriad different peoples. In parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, animist beliefs have been adopted into Islam. In South Asia, Sufi Islam undeniably incorporated very Hindu concepts. Sadly these strands of Islam are in decline. With it is lost a great deal of wisdom and understanding of our ancestors.

Of course a lot of what I've said above would be considered blasphemy. There are several Muslim countries where I could be punished quite severely for stating what I have. Many will think that my aim is to discredit Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth. But, like everything, if you really want to appreciate something, you must immerse yourself in it warts and all. That doesn't automatically mean, however, that you accept or rationalise everything attributed to Islam. I think people have the capacity and even duty to use their common sense, rational capacity to appreciate the world. That means questioning those aspects of Islam, its theology or practices which are antithetical to what our rational faculties tells us ought to be or not to be so.

People who often lament the failings of Islam (referred to variously as Islamofascism on one extreme, to an inability to follow the 'real' Islam on the more sympathetic side) expect of the religion something it cannot deliver. It cannot of itself deliver sociopolitical reform because the religion, any religion, isn't 'designed' for this purpose. There's a very good, simple reason for this. Matters of this world usually require responses 'from this world'. Matters of religion and spiritually are relatively ineffective in this regard. To put it crudely, to build a car you don't require an understanding of the Bhagavat Gita.

Yes, there has been a growth in 'political Islam' over the past century or so. But I would argue in every instance it has degraded into something quite different from the original derivative. So take the use of Sharia in some tribal regions of Pakistan. Once you investigate its administration you very quickly notice that the theological link is quite tenuous, but the tribal one is quite strong. Islam may be invoked, but authority in these societies is derived from tribal 'social contracts' (cf the infamous Zina Law).

One of the more troubling byproducts of this situation is an inability amongst many Muslims to confront Islam's limitations or deficiencies. Now I should stress this is not a uniquely Muslim phenomenon. Every community, howsoever defined, suffers from the same problem. But that mere fact doesn't justify us Muslims exhibiting this failing; even if we are under particularly harsh pressure to 'prove' to the world that we are civilised and civil and nice. Something needs to be done to address this issue, something in the way of honest, tolerant and pluralist debate. Ok, I'll shut up now.

* Hear I speak principally of Islam's dominant streams - Sunni and Shia Islam. No doubt this is an exclusionist take. But I suppose many Muslims would consider members of one of the smaller sects Kaffirs, so for present purposes the exclusion can suffice, albeit uncomfortably.

** The 'documents' were often bones and skins. Remember this was before the internet or the printing press.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Yet another 60th anniversary, yet more amnesia

Today marks the 60th anniversary of Japan's surrender to Allied forces in the Pacific. Thus ended Japan's brief flirtation with direct, imperial hegemony over the Pacific region. An 'experiment' that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions, likely a far greater number than died in Europe. In Australia, the Prime Minister has wasted no time displaying his war time credentials, making this comparison between the defeat of Japan and the defeat of terrorism:

We're dealing with a borderless war where the enemy is not an army and therefore many of the conventional understandings about surrender and hostilities and who's a combatant ... all of those things are different now," Mr Howard said.

It's very different and that makes it harder in some respects, it's sporadic and you'll never quite know when its [sic] over.

Endless war for a peace that will never quite be reached.

In light of that, I thought I might reflect on some of the lesser known aspects of the Pacific War and the period immediately proceeding it. Bear in mind the difficulty of encapsulating a complex period of human history into a blog entry!

Japan’s treatment of prisoners of war is well documented in Western nations, and with good reason. John Wyatt, a British POW who was taken to Japan to work as a slave factory worker, described POWs’ living conditions thusly:

We had to lay side-by-side, head-to-toe, plus all your bits of sacking and mess tins. We were squashed like ants; no room to turn or stretch; stinking feet in your face; the smell of wet clothing drying on bodies; urine from beri-beri patients; and dysentery was still rife. The Benjo (Jap word for lavatory) was outside. In the freezing temperatures men with dysentery had to trample over you to get to the ladder; some couldn't make it, leaving excreta everywhere. Eventually, all dysentery cases were put on the lower platform. To all that was added the misery of bed bugs and lice. After a hard day's work, you could get no rest or sleep.

An aspect of the POW situation during the Pacific War rarely mentioned is the fact that the largest number of casualties were amongst Indian soldiers fighting for Great Britain. According to Dr Peter Stanley, an historian with the Australian War Memorial, about six in ten of the Indian prisoners of war died, a death rate almost double that of European prisoners.

Over 60,000 Indian troops were captured by the Japanese. Of this number, 40,000 chose to fight with the pro-Japanese Indian National Army. The INA was led by Subhas Bose, a militant nationalist leader who traveled the Third Reich recruiting captured Indian soldiers to his nationalist cause.* In India Bose is considered one of the great linchpins of the struggle for independence, and not without some merit.

During the War, Japanese scientists and doctors conducted a range of experiments on live human subjects. This included the use of ‘germ bombs’ on Chinese villages to test their viability as a weapon of war. But that was not all. In 1995, the New York Times published an article by journalist Nicholas Kristof in which he noted that Japanese doctors performed vivisections without anesthetic and even a three-day old baby was used for experimentation.

British and American intelligence were made aware of these experiments by their Chinese allies well before the war ended. Once the United States had defeated Japan, its response was to protect the key Japanese scientists and doctors from prosecution for war crimes in exchange for their data and expertise gleaned from the experiments undertaken. Such are the ways of powerful states in a cynical world.

Until recently, the Chinese Government’s response was to bury the story, for fear of damaging relations with Japan. Only more recently, as China has grown in geopolitical stature, has official Chinese resentment of Japan’s war crimes grown more overt. And, of course, there is the none-too-small matter of collective amnesia on the part of the Japanese with regards to Imperial Japan’s war crimes.

None of this commentary should be considered academic. It is neither a slight matter, nor an interesting morsel of trivia, to note that the consequences of many of the crimes that ended 60 years ago today have yet to be addressed.

* It should be noted that, although Bose was an avowed fascist (in the non-pejorative sense), his interest in Hitler was likely born principally out of opportunism not ideology, much in the same way asthe Mufti of Jerusalem during the same period. The enemy of my enemy is my friend was, no doubt, the flawed reasoning.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Who killed the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister?

On Friday, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister and an outspoken critic of the Tamil Tigers, was killed by snipers. The Tamil Tigers said they are not responsible for the assassination, but the Sri Lankan Government has rejected the denial.

By way of background, for most of the past two decades, Sri Lanka has been gripped in a brutal civil war between the predominantly Sinhalese Sri Lankan Government* and the separatist Tamil Tigers. After several attempts, a comprehensive peace agreement was reached between the two antagonists in 2002. Despite the agreement, tensions have remained high. Some clashes had continued following the agreement, but they had avoided reaching the same scale as was occurring at the height of the civil war. Until, perhaps, now.

Most reports of the assassination have noted that it bears the "hallmark" of the Tamil Tigers, and one can't readily ignore that conclusion. Still, you have to wonder who exactly benefits from the present situation. There's always a chance that a rogue element within the Tigers was behind the attack. But that is really just conjecture on my part.

A spokesperson from the Tigers said...

There are several forces opposed to the ceasefire agreement in the South [ie: amongst the Sinhalese population]. We also know that there are sections within the Sri Lankan armed forces operating with a hidden agenda to sabotage the agreement.

For those of us who have waited anxiously for long term peace on the island, it's time to have a stiff drink. Whoever is behind the attack, there is no doubt the assassination is a major setback to the peace process. Here's hoping it isn't also a set back for democracy in Sri Lanka. In response to the assassination, President Kumaratunga has placed the country under a State of Emergency.

* Although note that Kadirgamar was himself Tamil.

UPDATE: here's a few interesting entries on the assassination from some Lankans.

Oh the dilemmas of occupation

An enlightened commentary from the New York Times on Israel's Gaza withdrawal:

...for those, like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who created and nurtured the settlements, the move to dismantle them is something very different. It is an admission not of error but of failure. Their cherished goal - the resettlement of the full biblical land of Israel by contemporary Jews - is not to be. The reason: not enough of them came.

What an astonishingly racist little aside! And what of the indigenous inhabitants of Gaza, the Palestinians? Israel's Consul General in New York has this to say about them, at least implicitly...

We have had to come to terms with certain unanticipated realities.

The remainder of the article pins the problem squarely on logistics - the inability to draft enough Jews to live in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and "that the Palestinian population has grown far more rapidly." - and the Palestinians' armed resistence to the colonisation of their lands (although, of course, those aren't the words used by the NYT report).

Saturday, August 13, 2005

It flows like water, ancient and wise

Whilst I was chilling out by the river, I was reminded of a Langston Hughes poem.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went
down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn
all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

There's a soothful rendition of the poem by Hughes, along with a brief commentary, here.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Fight cancer, not Iraq

The biggest downside to a war in Iraq is what you could do with that money. What does a war in Iraq cost a week? A billion? Maybe a billion a day? The budget for the National Cancer Institute is four billion. That has to change. It needs to become a priority again.

Polls say people are much more afraid of cancer than of a plane flying into their house or a bomb or any other form of terrorism. It is a priority for the American public.

Lance Armstrong, quoted in USA Today.

What the changes to the Migration Act seem to mean in practice

The changes to the Migration Act following the Palmer Inquiry have one thing in common. The changes are all at the Minister’s discretion and there is no guarantee the Minister will act in the same way in the future. Prime Minister John Howard has solved his political problem without making any substantial changes to mandatory detention policy.

  1. Children, with their parents, have been allowed out of detention with their families and are still subject to reporting and other restrictions. Conditions are at the Minister’s discretion.
  2. Some detainees have been allowed to apply for Removal Pending Bridging Visas and have been let out with work rights until such time as their cases are finally decided and they are deported or given a visa.
  3. Those who have been allowed to apply for permanent visas after three years on temporary visas will now have their appeals attended to within three months. This three month period only begins after the three years, so there is no change to the three year temporary visas. Currently anyone out after 27 August 2004 is not allowed to apply for permanent visas anyway, so they are still condemned to indefinite temporary visas beyond the 3 years or to deportation.
  4. The Ombudsman will review cases of those in detention over two years and will make recommendations and report to the Minister and such reports must be tabled in parliament. These recommendations do not in any way bind the Minister. There can be no appeal regarding the Ombudsman or the Minister’s responses.
  5. Appeals and reviews will be processed within three months, except where there are matters outside the RRT and DIMIA’s control- such as security and ID checks.
  6. The Government has established a high level Immigration IDC chaired by the Secretary of PM&C to oversee the implementation of all changes. Other agencies involved will include the DIMIA, the Attorney-General’s Department, DFAT, ASIO and the Department of Family and Community Services. The Minister for Immigration and the Chairman of the IDC will meet regularly with interested members of the Government to discuss progress on implementation of the changes.
(Source: Refugee Action Committee, Canberra)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Shock Horror!

A Howard Government Senator insists on making decisions for himself. The fact that this ‘story’ is making news belies the contempt for democracy inherent in our political system. Somehow we must trust that it is plausible and right to expect that the hopes and aspirations of a complex society can be reduced into support for one banner, be it Howard's Coalition Government, Beazley's Labor Government, or some other.

All the present circumstance proves is that we don't really live in a democracy. We live in a society dominated by special interest groups which do not tolerate independent voices.

Isolating the Iranian nuclear threat

With breathtaking moral relativism, the media reports that Australia is considering selling uranium to China with one breath, whilst condemning possible nuclear-weapons stirrings in Iran. This is the type of analysis only the corporate media could undertake. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s worth noting again how consistently issues are decontextualised.

It would be far from surprising if Iran is considering the development of nuclear weapons. The most obvious explanation for this, from the perspective of the mainstream narrative at least, is the fact that Iran’s new President has strong support from Iran’s hardliners. And, of course, Iran’s hardliners favour the development of the bomb.

But that is far from the end of the story. Over the past few days, Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been a headline news item. Yet none of the reports have considered these ambitions in light of the actions of outside antagonists. For instance, no mention of well publicized allegations that American war planners are considering an invasion of Iran (see also this excellent post on Antony Loewenstein’s blog). Whether these allegations are correct, surely they bear more than fleeting relevance to the present situation?

There isn’t even a mention of the fact that Israel, a nation that has the most robust record of belligerency in the region, has nuclear weapons. Based on information leaked by Mordechai Vanunu in the 1980s, experts estimated that Israel had around 200 nukes. That was 20 years ago. There is a very good chance the arsenal is even bigger now.

Apart from its nuclear arsenal, the Israeli Defence Force has considered military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The IDF may never actually do that, but Iran’s leaders have to take the threat seriously.

None of these factors are reckoned in the analysis of present Iranian interest in nuclear weapons.

No sane individual can doubt the importance of refraining from developing nuclear weapons, regardless of whether other nations also possess them. In short, there is no excuse for Iran to be embarking down the road towards nuclear weaponry. Notwithstanding that, serious analysis of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is impossible without an equally serious appraisal of the external influences on that country. Otherwise, Iran’s contemplation of nuclear weapons comes across as the actions of a gratuitously belligerent nation.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Exmouth, Western Australia 29 July to 1 August

As mentioned previously, I went to Exmouth last week. Exmouth is a town and peninsula on the northern coast of Western Australia. It is a place to go snorkling, surfing, fishing, barbecuing and to express other manly virtues.

This is Justin and Jo. They hired a flat at Exmouth where we stayed and were all round awesome hosts. Forget about the cliches, these two are the real deal travelling couple. They're slowly driving back down to Perth (see map above). Safe journey guys!

The beach adjacent to Ningaloo Reef. Not the best place to go swimming (read - too many pointy rocks, ouch, ouch, ouch!) but how's the serenity??

Posing with my rod. I caught four... tangles in the fishing line. Cam (Jo's brother and keen fisherman) said he'd never seen anything like it before. I think he was really impressed... Ok, maybe not.

One of the beaches at Ningaloo Reef. Check out that water.

A light(house) on a hill.

This plant (don't know its name) is said to have several healing qualities. It definitely clears blocked noses! Unfortunately, it's not an aphrodisiac.

Sunset from the top of the Cape Range.

Welcome to the intensive bulimia therapy exercise. Aka, travelling in a boat on choppy waters. This photo was taken before it got windy.

A porcupine caught jaywalking. Believe it or not, the spikes aren't that hard. They're more like nails.

Late afternoon in the Cape Range.

A gorge in the Cape Range. Breathtaking.

Jesus of Exmouth.

Picture perfect Fortescue River on the drive out of Exmouth.

The way the music moves

Ever hear a song hit you like the sweet flow of love, causing ripples of insight and satisfaction to course through your body, make the hair on your neck stand up? I just listened to Pink Floyd’s Wish you were here for the first time in years and that is exactly what happened. What a magical song. Check these lyrics out…

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
Blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade
Your heros for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in a war,
For a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.


Monday, August 08, 2005

It's Palestine Stupid!

[Sorry for the long post. A friend just sent this excellent letter to me. It's not available online, as far as I know. Thought I'd share it with you! Peace.]

The London bombings have resulted in a plethora of articles about us and them, the terrorists, that is. Journalists and commentators have had a field day in addressing the war on terror. Some have even been so brave as to question why it is that Islam is turning against us, the benign West. Few, if any, from what I have read, have considered that Palestine might just have a role to play.

Why do young British people, of Arab and Muslim extraction, with everything to live for, become suicide bombers? Let me tell you. It is not because they are upset over poverty in Africa, nor that they have concerns over globalisation. And neither are they radicalised by greenhouse gases, global warming, or even the reliance by the West upon oil, and the determination of the West to have access to oil, oil situated below Arab countries. From my reading of history, nor does it appear to me that militant Islamists are intent on converting Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists or whoever, to Islam. Islam has in fact been a religion of tolerance throughout its thirteen centuries, unlike, at particular times, what might be said of others.

Some of these issues might get the odd Muslim excited, even angry. They do not cause an 18 year old Leeds boy to blow himself up and hope in doing so that he will take as many of his fellow citizens with him as he can.

No, it is none of these things. It is something far more personal than that. It is racism practiced against his fellow Arabs and Muslims, if not himself. It is injustice on a mammoth scale. It is humiliation daily thrust upon his brothers – a humiliation of ninety years standing which continues today as strongly as it commenced during the British Mandate. It is Palestine.

That is not to say that it is only Palestine. There is Chechnya. There is Kashmir. There is the arrogance of the West in Iraq, and Iran, and Syria. But Palestine is where it started. And Palestine is where it continues, and is at its heart.

This article is not a history lesson. I will leave people who do not know it to turn to any serious and unbiased history of Palestine in the last 125 years. Those readers who do not know it should ensure that before they live much longer that they do know it. It affects their lives in so many ways. They must learn how Zionism set about the ethnic cleansing of the Holy Land and succeeded – succeeded with the assistance of the West as embodied firstly in the British Empire (Balfour Declaration, Mandate), and then the United States (banker, military supplier, co-belligerent).

Peter Mansfield in his book The Arabs (Pelican, 1978), when speaking of the Treaty of Versailles and its granting of a Mandate to Britain to implement the Balfour Declaration and create a home for Jewish people in Palestine notes:

It is scarcely necessary to go any further than this to find justification for the Arab’s sense of betrayal by the West and their special bitterness over Palestine. If the West has a feeling today that the Arabs are taking their revenge it should be easy to understand the reasons.

And that in 1978, pre the 1988 Intifada Meeting of the Palestinian National Council whereby the Palestinians agreed to accept the Israeli State within the ’67 borders; pre Oslo, where the Palestinians re-committed to that idea; and pre another 27 years of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the face of UN Resolution 242.

This is an occupation designed to result in the expulsion of all Arabs from West of the Jordan River. In the words of the Koenig Memorandum of 1976 (Israeli Ministry of the Interior): “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation; and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.”

There can be no doubt that that has in fact been the nature of the occupation. A new settlement is started. Jewish settlers from the Bronx, or Melbourne, come on to the Palestinians’ land and uproot the olive trees that the local men tended with their fathers and grandfathers as children. Alternatively the Jewish settlers simply confiscate the trees to themselves. They are needed for security. Arabs might hide behind them as snipers.

The Israeli government justifies such action on the basis that the land is required for security purposes. The same government never discusses what is to happen to the land when it is no longer needed for security. But there can be little doubt as to what will happen to the land. It will become a “fact on the ground”, the phrase used by George W Bush to explain why Israel could not be expected to withdraw to the internationally recognised pre ’67 borders.

The settlers do not behave thus in a meek way. They act with the arrogance of the racially superior. When asked, they scream “This is our land”, and totally disregard the fact that the Palestinians’ ancestors have lived in the Holy Land from time immemorial. The basis of the claim is a ridiculous Biblical promise to Abraham, who was the father of all Arabs, Christians and Muslims, as well as Jews.

If the Palestinians resist the actions of the settlers, they are labelled terrorists. Not only do the settlers and Israeli government so label them, but the West, and the West’s media take up the cry. The Palestinians’ brother Arabs, and brother Muslims see this. And they feel the same pain, the same humiliation. They have felt the same pain, and the same humiliation for sixty years. That pain and humiliation does not dissipate, because the injustice continues. The injustice has never been addressed. The parents and grandparents of many Arabs were expelled from their homes, and the homes of their ancestors, in Israel in 1948 and never compensated. They lived their miserable lives in refugee camps in Lebanon and Gaza, Jordan and the West Bank. They died without compensation. Their children remember them, and dream of revenge.

May I quote Peter Mansfield again. In his book The Arabs he records a conversation in the 1970s with an intelligent and sensitive Palestinian who worked for the Arab League and was therefore familiar with all the Arab states. The usual US-Israeli thesis that Arab governments only use the Palestinians as a convenient diversion from their own domestic problems was put to him. Mansfield records:

His reply was categorical. Palestine was in the heart and mind of every Arab wherever he was living. It was the first thing he thought about in the morning and the last thing at night.

As I have indicated, it is not only Palestine. But Iraq is a convenient extension. The West needs Iraq’s oil. It cannot afford there to be non-access. And so a war is necessary. It is made the easier because the inhabitants of Iraq are Arab and hence inferior. And who implements the war? The answer is the usual suspects – Britain and the U.S. They are aided by their Anglo-Saxon cousin, Australia. These are the rulers, and the Iraqis, like the 1917 and 1947 Palestinians, are the ruled.

As if it is not bad enough that these rulers invade and occupy, but they must praise themselves as bringing democracy to the Iraqi people. Whilst patting himself on the back, the U.S. President visits Iraq, but he does not speak to the Arab street. He avoids Iraqis. It would be beneath him to speak to them. If readers believe that these views might exaggerate the position, consider that young Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Saudis, Egyptians and Iraqis may not think so. Their Muslim brothers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia might just agree with them. They might just have a feeling that history might be repeating itself. They are aware of one occupation that has been continuing now for nearly forty years – that in the West Bank and Gaza. They may not want another. And when they hear Bush and Blair and Howard assert that the insurgents are foreign terrorists, they really hear them saying: “These people are of such an inferior culture and state of development that they simply couldn’t actually want to just have their own country back”. In other words, they recognise inherent racism when they see it.

Let me return to the theme of this paper. The phrase “war on terror” is virtually meaningless, like a war on fear, or a war on stupidity. The war on terror commenced on 11 September 2001. It has been rather convenient. Putin has used it in Chechnya. And of course Sharon has used it in Gaza. But we are not allowed to ask what might be the causes of terrorism. Any policeman confronted by any crime looks for a motive. George W Bush does not like to ask what may be the motive. He puts no motives forward. He does not want people to question whether what Israel is doing in the Occupied Territories might just be a root cause of terrorism. If that were allowed the World might demand that the occupation ends.

Oh yes, look to Palestine. Terrorism will thrive wherever there is injustice and illegitimate occupation. And it will thrive all the more the longer that injustice and occupation continue.

Paul A. Heywood-Smith QC
Australian Friends of Palestine, South Australia

Track of the moment

Nothing ancient about Ancient Space (Fred Baker remix) by Liquid Overdose. 'Oh my God, it's full of stars!' hehehehe

The threat of nuclear attack

60 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Noam Chomsky reflects on the prospects for a nuclear attack today:

McNamara regards "current US nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary and dreadfully dangerous", creating "unacceptable risks to other nations and to our own", both the risk of "accidental or inadvertent nuclear launch", which is "unacceptably high", and of nuclear attack by terrorists. McNamara endorses the judgment of William Perry, President Bill Clinton's defense secretary, that "there is a greater than 50 per cent probability of a nuclear strike on US targets within a decade".

Similar judgments are commonly expressed by prominent strategic analysts. In his book Nuclear Terrorism, the Harvard international relations specialist Graham Allison reports the "consensus in the national security community" (of which he has been a part) that a "dirty bomb" attack is "inevitable", and an attack with a nuclear weapon highly likely, if fissionable materials - the essential ingredient - are not retrieved and secured.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

England by two runs!

Finally, a real contest! Maybe England are the real article??

Joe Sacco's Palestine

Just been reading a friend's copy of Palestine, a graphic novel on life under the Occupation by comic book journalist Joe Sacco. At last, an avenue to vent my interest in serious geopolitical situations through a childhood passion! Apparently he's done another graphic novel on the infamous UN 'Safe Haven' at Grozade in Bosnia Herzegovina which was overrun by the Bosnian Serb Army in 1995. Definitely going to buy both when I get a chance.

PS: if anyone who loves me is reading this post, my birthday is a mere 3 months away! (hint, hint...)



You gave me my 'L's.
You took my virginity.
Then came that road,
In Hedland's vicinity.

Alas you have crashed,
Without any remedy.
Rest well my friend,
Thanks for the memories.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

60 years on the shadow of the first cloud remains

The flash of light. The flash of light was like nothing I had ever seen before. Or since.

Hiroshima Survivor

Today marks the 60th anniversary of one of the great war crimes of human history. At 8:15am on a beautiful Summer day, the Enola Gay dropped 'Little Boy', an atom bomb, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, another atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. American war planners chose these two cities because they had remained relatively undamaged by the intense aerial bombardment meted on most of Japan's major cities.

Mainstream history tells us that dropping those two bombs was a military necessity, that it ended the war. Were it not for the two atom bombs, Japan would have refused the Allies' unconditional surrender and the Americans would have had to mount a bloody land invasion of Japan. This interpretation has sat uncomfortably with many for a long time.

Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University Washington DC, argues that Truman authorized the use of the bomb not to bring a quicker end to the Pacific War, but to limit Soviet expansion into Asia.

Others argue that the intention behind the use of the bomb is too complex to distill into either an essentially aggressive or passive motivation.

Two certainties seem clear. The two atom bombs killed 100,000s of Japanese civilians at a time when Japan was incapable of resisting its antagonists.

The second is that the Pacific War was a conventional war between belligerent states, not a war of liberation. There is no doubt that Imperial Japan was a fascist, militarist enterprise to its core. But it was also the product of centuries of Western colonialism in the greater Pacific region. Prior to the attack on
Pearl Harbour, Japan found itself in a desperate geopolitical situation, surrounded in all corners by openly antagonistic rival great powers and with an uncertain supply of resources. Whereas the Western powers had sought to control the Pacific over centuries of colonialism, Japan’s colonial ambitions were relatively new. Most of Japan’s political and military elite, although not all, were eager to close the gap between Japan and the other great powers sooner rather than later.*

Japanese war planners knew they could not defeat the United States decisively. Their best chance, so they believed, was to knock out the Western navies in the Pacific long enough to establish a stable Japanese presence throughout the Pacific which would compel the Western Powers to agree to a truce. Unfortunately, for Japan’s war planners, the attack on Pearl Harbour, Manila, Singapore and throughout the initial phase of the Pacific War did not achieve this end. Eventually, the US counterattacked spectacularly. Before long, what had begun as an attempt by the Japanese to expand its influence over the Pacific ended as an American exercise in geo-strategic expedience. The Pearl Harbour attack gave the United States the perfect pretext to defang a serious regional rival and assert its dominance over the region.

In this light, how anyone can consider the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki merely as tactical manuevers is perplexing.

Two months after the bombing of Hiroshima, one of only two Western journalists who visited the devastated city commented:

Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller has passed over it and squashed it out of existence. I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world.

After the war, the Tokyo Tribunal was established to prosecute Japan's leaders for war crimes. One of the Tribunal’s Judges, Justice Radhabinod Pal of India, refused to acknowledge the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. Justice Pal noted:

The so-called trial held according to the definition of crime now given by the victors obliterates the centuries of civilization which stretch between us and the summary slaying of the defeated in war. A trial with law thus prescribed will only be a sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge. It does not correspond to any idea of justice. Such a trial may justly create the feeling that the setting up of a tribunal like the present is much more a political than a legal affair, an essentially political objective having thus been cloaked by a juridical appearance.

There is a clear allusion in that statement to the use of the two atom bombs.

The machine that murdered so many on this day still exists. Today reminds us how little progress has been made towards dismantling it.

Those who died this day, may you rest in peace.

*For further information on the origins of the Pacific War, see this excellent piece from Noam Chomsky, written in 1967.