Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sectarianism Returns

Evelyn McDaid, wife of Kevin McDaid, who was beaten to death by a sectarian mob in Coleraine, Co Derry at the weekend.

I detest sectarianism. I detest Celtic Football Club. I detest Rangers Football Club. Because on Sunday last Rangers won the Scottish Premier league over their Celtic rivals and to celebrate, 50 loyalist animals stormed into a Catholic estate in Coleraine and beat 49 year old father of four Kevin McDaid to death. His wife Eveyln (above) was also beaten as she came to the aid of her husband. And just to add some irony to the whole episode, it was a mixed marriage, Eveylyn is a Protestant. Allow me to elaborate for my non Irish readers. A flash point in the Northern Ireland conflict has always been the Scottish football league where Catholics support Glasgow Celtic and Protestants support Glasgow Rangers. I am a Catholic and also a fanatic football fan which means I should support Celtic. But frankly I can't stand either. I have never quite understood how Catholic Celtic fans (who can be equally as sectarian as their sworn enemy) display their Irishness by supporting what in fact is, a British soccer team. If anybody can shed any light on this anomaly I would appreciate it. In the meantime 11 men ranging in age between 18 and 50, including a father and son have been charged with the murder Of Kevin McDaid. Good to see the PSNI doing their job effectively. Zero tolerance toward sectarianism is what we need.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thanks Kim

Thanks Kim Jong Il you crazy bastard. That's just what the world needs right now, a nuclear stand off on the Korean peninsula. Since Mondays underground nuclear test in North Korea the communist state has fired at least three test missiles. This despite a rare unified and firm condemnation from the international community. The latest this morning is that South Korea and the US have agreed to stop and search any ships headed for the north that are suspected of carrying nuclear material. Does this amount to an effective blockade ? I will investigate. The North however has threatened to attack the south if the stop and search policy goes ahead. In any case this might prove to be the first real test for Barack Obama in the international arena. Every President is tested by an international incident early on in their presidency. We thought Obama already had his with the Taliban offensive in Pakistan. But if the Korean peninsula destabilises it will be the global event that dominates the rest of the year. I have always followed events in Korea closely ever since I visited the South in 2002. The events of the last few days is not the standard rhetoric. It is very worrying. Unless it is diffused shortly we could see a military clash between north and south and if that happens, who knows where it will stop.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Greatest War Movies No 7, The Killing Fields

Made in 1984 The Killing Fields depicts the nightmarish events in Cambodia during the horrifically brutal and bizarre rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. The basic plot revolves around the true story of New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg, who is in Cambodia to cover the conflict, and his efforts to protect his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran from the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. As the Khmer Rouge come to power following a bloody power struggle in 1975 all westerners are preparing to leave the country. Schanberg, played by Sam Waterson and fellow journalist Al Rockoff, played by John Malkovich are held up along with Dith Pran in the American and later French embassies in Phnom Penh. It soon becomes clear however that it will not be possible to evacuate Pran along with the rest of the journalists he has befriended and that he will have to be left behind to take his chances with the Khmer Rouge. The second half of the film then goes on to depict the unimaginable horrors Pran witnesses as he tries to survive life under one of histories most tyrannical regimes.

Dith Pran, played by Cambodian actor and actual survivor of the killing fields Dr. Haing Ngor

Year Zero
After Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR, Pol Pot's Cambodia was probably the most brutal regime of the 20th century. The Khmer Rouge had the strictest interpretation of communist doctrine ever conceived and surpassed even the North Koreans in their ruthlessness in implementing it. Once in power Paul Pot began the process of agrarian collectivisation. He did this by evacuating the entire urban population of civilians and putting them to work in the fields on massive collective farms. In what became known as year zero the dictator began to "re educate" the population on the evils of the past. Anybody who failed to adequately break from the past was executed in the killing fields. This could mean displaying any signs of materialism, individuality or intellectualism. During the four year reign of the Khmer Rouge malnutrition, poor medical care, and executions resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people, approximately 26% of the Cambodian population. This is an almost unbelievable statistic. But for some reason the utter madness of it all is not particularly well known or understood in the west. The brutality of other cruel but less tyrannical regimes such as Chile, China and Serbia appear to be much better documented. I believe I know why this is.

In 1969 the Soviet Union and red China had a series of military clashes along the Ussuri river. This was the climax of a deterioration in relations between the two former communist allies. One result of the Moscow Beijing split was that the two counties began to fight wars by proxy in the same way that the US and USSR did throughout the entire cold war. One such war was the Cambodian Vietnamese war that lasted the duration of Khmer Rouge rule. In this war the Soviets backed the Vietnamese where as the Chinese weighed in behind Pol Pot's Cambodia. This is illustrated in one scene in the film when we see the Khmer Rouge aggressively expelling the staff of the Soviet embassy.

The map above shows how the communist world was divided into Soviet (red) and Chinese (yellow) allies.

In the wake of the communist split the United States had to decide how best to handle this dramatic geopolitical shift. President Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger concluded that the USSR was the greater enemy and that it was in Americas interest to generally favour China in all disputes between the two. This culminated in a policy where the US would in war back a Chinese ally over a Soviet one. Therefor in the 1975 to 1979 war between Vietnam and Cambodia, the US wanted China's ally to defeat Moscow's. A side effect of this cold and mechanical foreign policy was that the sheer evil of the Khmer Rouge and the horror of the killing fields was played down in the west.

This is one of the reasons that The Killing Fields is such a brave and powerful film. It was made merely five years after the fall of Pol Pot's regime. In fact in 1984 the Khmer Rouge were still in control of some parts of Cambodia. But it is also worth noting that 1984 was an election year in the United States and at the time many were criticising President Reagan's support for dictatorial regimes around the world. The United Sates did not support the Khmer Rouge as such but Washington did in some ways protect the regime in the international arena. When a movie causes controversy and makes powerful people feel uncomfortable you know its doing something right.

Movie Myth
I want to briefly address a widely believed myth I heard involving the story of Dith Pran. When I first saw the movie the person watching it with me told me that Dith Pran who eventually escapes from the killing fields and makes it to America would later die in a bungled street robbery in Los Angelas. When I was told this it was utterly gut wrenching to think that a man could survive such horror only to later die so pointlessly. It is however untrue. Dith Pran died last year of natural causes. However the actor who played him, Dr. Haing Ngor, who won an Oscar for best supporting actor was in fact murdered in a mugging. Apparently he handed over his Rolex but refused to do so with a locket which contained a picture of his family who had died in the killing fields. The thieves then shot him dead.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Relax, its not a coup

I took this picture yesterday with my mobile phone while walking down infirmary road near the department of defence. It was one of three Mowag Piranha IIIH 8x8 Armoured Personnel Carriers stopped at traffic lights. Strange thing to see so close to the city center. Thought it worth putting up.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who is right on Iran ?

One thing is clear after this weeks meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama and that is that the Israeli leader unlike the new President does not view the peace process as a priority. All Netanyahu sees is Iran. While in opposition he crossed the the globe warning of the threat from Persia. To be fair I do understand where he is coming from. The entire concept of an Israeli state is for Jews to protect themselves and to prevent the events of the second World War from ever happening again to the Jewish people. "Never again" is pretty much the nations motto. You are probably thinking, but Jews could never again be rounded up and herded into gas chambers on mass. True, but a Muslim nation could develop a nuclear weapon, smuggle that weapon to terrorist organisations operating on Israels borders who could make use of it and there you are, the Jewish people would be suffering their second holocaust in 65 years except this time it would be a nuclear one. Non Jews probably will never understand the utter determination to make sure that if that threat comes, they will face up to it themselves. They will not be helpless and they will not rely on others to stand up for and rescue them. They tried that once. It didn't work and six million perished.

Iran announced today that it successfully tested and is now mass producing a new long range missile

So to what extent does this put Netanyahu at odds with the Obama administration. The way I see it, not that much. The truth is both men have the same agenda. Unlike most pro Israeli commentators I cannot possibly see why Netenyahu would be angered by Obama's olive branch to Iran. He hopes it will work. The reality is the Israelis have not restrained themselves from bombing Iran due to any sense of respect for international law. They are willing to bomb Iran. They are just not able to do so as the location and quantity of Iran's nuclear facilities are not known accurately. If they were it would have happened by now. Netanyahu knows that the military approach is extremely undesirable particularly in the current global economic climate. Iran has the capacity to significantly worsen the global recession by blockading the strait of Hormuz and causing general mayhem in the Persian Gulf resulting in oil prices skyrocketing in the process. I'm sure Obama made that clear to the Prime Minister and I'm sure the PM replied with something like, keep trying your way, best of luck with it, but in the meantime we are continuing our efforts to perfect an air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities and if we succeed in doing so, we are taking that chance. Obama's response I suspect would be, fair enough but for Gods sake let us know in advance so we can prepare for the turbulent aftermath.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Netenyahu meets Obama

Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu met Barack Obama at the White House yesterday. There has been much speculation as to how the two men, who appear to view the Israeli Palestinian conflict in different terms, would get on. Well they met yesterday and it was entirely civil. It Kinda reminded me of that scene from The Simpons when Lisa's future Hugh Grant type husband introduces Homer to his parents. Remember: After an awkward silences Homer says, "You know whats great about you English, Octopussy, I must have seen that movie twice". Lisa's fiance replies "yes, good, that wasn't so bad". Its not quite as bad between the two new leaders however both men not only differ on how to move forward in the peace process but also view the Iranian threat contrastingly leading many to fear that a rift between America and its most loyal ally might not be too far away. Below is the AP summary.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Endgame Sri Lanka

The war in Sri Lanka is reaching its terrible conclusion after 25 years of brutal civil war between the Tamil minority and the majority Sinhalese. The tiny remaining enclave in the North East of the country where the Tamil Tigers are holding out has been described by British foreign secretary David Miliband as the closest thing to hell on earth. The area has been reduced in size to one square mile yet according to the UN there are still 50,000 civilians trapped in it. The Tigers are refusing to allow them to leave and apparently shooting those who try to escape. And in the meantime the Sri Lankan military are relentless shelling the zone with heavy artillery. Such a nightmarish situation one cannot possibly imagine. This conflict is completely unconnected with the war on terror yet President Obama felt it necessary to add his voice to the calls that the final phase of the war be conducted with regard for civilians. I suppose calling for a ceasefire is pointless. There is no way that the Sri Lankan government would accept a ceasefire after 25 years of fighting when they appear to be about one week away from total victory. Watch Obama below.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Roxana Saberi Released

Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi was released from Tehran's Evin prison yesterday. Saberi, pictured here with former moderate Iranian President Mohamed Khatami (who is running again in this summers presidential election) was sentenced to eight years recently on charges of spying for the US. Her conviction by many was seen as a kick in the teeth to President Obama who recently expressed his desire to improve relations with Iran in a televised address to the Iranian nation. However the Iranian courts decision to reduce the 8 year sentence to two years suspended could be interpreted as a more favorable response to Obama's conciliatory speech. Obama has come under increasing pressure from the American right who claim that his "speak softly" approach is not producing results. He apologized for American arrogance in Europe yet got few extra troops for Afghanistan, he spoke of nuclear disarmament and the North Koreans launched a missile and he reached out to Iran who responded by locking up an American Journalist. These are the claims being hurled at Obama by the right wing media and blogs in particular. Comparisons to how the Soviets ran rings around Kennedy during his first two years in office and how Ayatollah Khomeini humiliated President Carter are frequently made. Might this latest incident be the first example of Obama's strategy producing results. Maybe, maybe not, I don't know. What do you want from me ?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Presidential comedy

Some love him, some despise him . Some think he is trying to convert the United States into a European style socialist state (treasonous apparently). Others think he is the second coming. Either way, surely all can agree, the man has class. Watch him performing below at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington DC on Saturday night last.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

UAE Royal Torture Case

I lived in the United Arab Emirates for 18 months in 2005 and 2006. I liked the country but I always had reservations. It always appeared magnificent on the surface and many expats had no problem ignoring the undemocratic nature of the state. In fact many used to argue that life in an Arab emirate was better and even safer than life in the west. In some ways this was true. The UAE has very little conventional crime and the young and old can walk the streets day and night without any fear. I often heard expats claim that the UAE was a safer environment to raise children than Britain or Ireland. However, if anybody ever made the effort to dig a little deeper they began to see the darker side to life in the UAE. Institutional racism toward Asians, zero workers rights and an utterly undemocratic system are all present in the UAE. In the last two weeks a horrific example of this has come to the attention of the world media.

A member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan (pictured) who is a younger half brother of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and son of the revered late Sheikh Zayed who founded the modern UAE has been caught on tape engaging in particularly sadistic torture. The tape was smuggled out of the UAE by American citizen Bassam Nabulsi whom fled the UAE after he fell out with Sheikh Issa whom he had business dealings with. In the graphic tape the Sheikh is seen mercilessly torturing the man who is an Afghan grain salesman that apparently overcharged the Sheikh for a delivery to his ranch. The Sheikh is clearly seen Whipping the man, beating him with a board with a nail in it, rubbing salt in his wounds, using a cattle prod against his genitals, burning his genitals and finally running over him several times in his Mercedes.

Secret Dubai Diary describe the reaction of the UAE authorities
In a statement to ABC News, the UAE Ministry of the Interior said it had reviewed the tape and acknowledged the involvement of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed.

"The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior," the Interior Ministry's statement declared.

The Minister of the Interior is also one of Sheikh Issa's brother.

The government statement said its review found "all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department."

Below is the ABC report on the incident. It contains some of the graphic images from the torture video

For the record, I am glad I live in a western democratic state. Our leaders may have clumsily blundered us into a recession but they are not above the law. I'll take my chances with the street crime. I would prefer to be mugged by a junkie than bundled into a van by secret police. On the surface the UAE is a wonderful place but underneath, where it counts it is rotten. Sometimes on the surface, a country like Ireland may seem decadent and materialistic but underneath, where it counts, it is solid.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Berlin Pictures

After I finished my previous post on the Movie "Downfall" I started to get nostalgic about the last time I was in Berlin which was for the 2006 World Cup. So I decided to root out some of the pictures I took on that trip and post them on Gubu World . I took most of these photos one morning as my mates were all recovering in the hostel after a wild night out. I had a wander around the city by myself and later went on an official tour. Below is a sample of my favourite snaps.

War Damage

It amazed me walking around Berlin how much war damage was so clearly visible, 61 years after the end of the war. The above picture shows a spot along the Spree river where an intense exchange of fire obviously occurred.

Every building or structure in Berlin that is older than 64 years is riddled with bullets

Berlin's Victory Column

On closer inspection it too is bullet ridden

Interesting Snaps

A view from the top of the victory column, taken as German fans watch a world cup match below

A Soviet Tank

Above is a monument erected in Bebelplatz Square where during the 1930s, Jewish books were burned in Nazi rallies.

A view of the Brandenburg Gate, taken from the roof of the Reichstag

The Reichstag roof, between the two pillars is where the famous photo was taken of the two Soviet soldiers raising the Hammer and Sickle at the end of the battle of Berlin

Yours truly outside the famous Olympic Stadium in Berlin

The stadium, built by Hitler for the 1936 Olympics has changed little over the last 70 years

The above picture marks the spot where the Fuher bunker once was. It is barely marked in a banal apartment complex car park

Berlin's Holocaust memorial

And now for my Israeli friends, While at the Iran V Angola match I took this interesting snap of a particular fan in the Angolan section

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Greatest war movies, No 8 "Downfall"

Downfall or "Der Untergang" is the 2004 German made masterpiece about the final two weeks of Adolf Hitlers life in the Fuhrer bunker. In a truly magnificent performance by Bruno Ganz (above) as Hitler we see the dictator descend into near madness as he gives orders to non existent divisions to defend the city. The movie begins with the inhabitants of the bunker being woken by the sound of artillery fire landing on the city which obviously means that the Russians are close. Hitler is furious with his staff on learning that the Red Army is only 12 Kilometers away. Before long we are witnessing near apocalyptic scenes amid the rubble of Berlin as savage and desperate street fighting ensues. We also see the desperate plight of German civilians that Hitler refuses to allow be evacuated. He callously declares that "Germany's best have already fallen, what happens to the rest is inconsequential". As somebody who has read Antony Beevor's Battle of Berlin and also toured the battle sites in the German capital I was fascinated how this movie depicted the utter horror of the second world wars final battle in Europe. However it is in the Fuhrer bunker itself where the most memorable scenes take place.

We see Josef and Magda Goebels, Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann and Hermann Goering and others as they all try to come to terms with the end. Some accept it, others do not. Many in the bunker shoot themselves. But the most sickening story is that of the utterly psychotic Magda Goebels who decides to murder her six children rather than let them live in a world without a third Reich. In a chilling scene we see her drug and poison her own children. Incidentally the murders are witnessed by Rochus Misch (pictured at the modern day site of the bunker), the only man who was in the bunker that is still living today. The 91 year old is the last living witness to one of the most pivotal moments in world history.

The Germans don't make many movies about World War Two for obvious reasons but this one is spot on. It is an absolute must for any war movie fan or history buff. Historically accurate in a military sense it also does a brilliant job of portraying the madness of Nazism and the evil personalities that lay behind it.