Thursday, 30 April 2009
This was written in Oct.2003, after a summer of swimming amongst the scholars of Damascus, it is one of a collection of essays to be published insha Allah.
by Asra Bukhari
In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Beneficent. From Him alone we come and to Him alone we return. Peace and Blessings on His beloved, our Prophet, the Elect, ere and anon.
Five years and a split second brought me into Damascus, Syria. Five years of waiting and within a second I was transported there. After one realizes how little one knows about his Lord, and spends some time next to those who know more, something gnaws inside to seek and be around those who have spent most of their lives in that sole pursuit. As Edward Hall, the anthropologist said, �The drive to learn is more basic than the drive to reproduce.� One hopes to either receive some of the knowledge the erudite attained or at least to be in their company for the boon felt beyond the bone in their midst.
This is what led me on the road to Damascus. It was a fortuitous bounty from heaven that the scholar and sage hailing from Syria, Sheikh Muhammad al Yaqoubi, frequented my country, my town, my heart. I sought the Sunnah and found it in his country, his town, his heart. As one studies the Sunnah, one prays to implement everything learned and pines to see its traces on the bodies of brethren. After years of such studies, I was aglow to find that the Damascene scholar is drowned in the Sunnah, his walk, his talk, and the way he doles and delivers, with every instance and interaction. One sees a strain of the way of our beloved prophet, peace be upon him, on many a scholar in Syria who has spent years of study, inhaling his hadith and exhaling his aura afterwards. I realized the wonder of sheikh Muhammad�s exhortation for students in the West to plan the best vacation and �visit the �ulema of the Muslim world.�
The late sheikh Mekki al Kattani [d. 1974] May Allah have mercy on him, was one of the recent scholars who brought his brimming love of the Prophet, peace be upon him, [from his native Morocco] and filled the oasis of Damascus with its fragrance. The great wali, Sheikh Ahmad al Habbal one of the foremost elderly scholars of today, glorifies Allah and doles several odes and salutations on the Prophet, peace be upon him, almost every morning after fajr, enrapturing the worshippers, many who come from oceans away to satisfy the necessary desire of loving the prophet, more than one loves his or herself or anything else except his Lord. As the Algerian sage, Sheikh Ahmad al Alawi, May Allah have mercy on him, had remarked, �Chanting is not crippled with the dry bones of words, liquid and flowing like a stream, it carries us into the presence of God.�
One of the Grand Sheikhs of this city, Abdur Rahman al Shagouri, though a bit weak from his old age, may Allah preserve him, whose Dimishq musk lingers on many students throughout the world, still heads his regular sessions glorifying Allah, Most High and singing salutations on the prophet and his family. Truth be told, he is one of the main reasons I landed in Damascus. I had heard about him for years and wanted to quench the two ponds, my pupils, with his presence. My fondest scenes of Syria are of watching the Hadra Sunday nights after �Isha from the balcony of Masjid al Warid al Kabir(which stands at the end of a maze consisting of some of the narrowest alleys in the world) and watching all the great men of Allah of this fair city, led by Sheikh Abdur Rahman, taking those present, to the presence of their Lord.
My first attendance at this session, I went alone, and could not rely on a soul to point him out to me, yet I needed no introduction, as five years of waiting intensified my introduction and when he was brought in the musalla, [in a wheelchair] I knew it was he. Allah. I was privy to meet him thrice during my trip (in his private chambers twice), wal Hamdulilah. He delighted me and my friends with his charm and humor and most tearfully, with his concern for seekers of Truth throughout the world. He asked us, �Who is ahead in their efforts for their Lord, the students in America or those in England?� I, the American, said resolutely, �The English,� much to the dismay of a dear friend, also an American (Californian) and the glee of my English friends whom were present. Hopefully, I provoked more of his pity to be directed westward, thus securing more du�as for us!
Of course, I did mention to him that our beloved Master the great 'Alamah, Shaykh Muhammad al Yaqoubi al Hassani, who strode into our lands with the wheel of knowledge and the weal of wisdom, has been spreading the sanctified Syrian soil and making great leaps in America and throughout the world, taking us on the chariot that leads to our Lord. May Allah preserve and protect him and all of our shuyukh. To this he smiled proudly from ear to ear and nodded, acknowledging he knew this. We asked him to pray for all of our teachers including, Shaykh Nuh Keller, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Sheikh Imam Zaid, Shaykh Jamal al Zahabi, and all those we know and those we don't.
Also in that attempt, I asked him to bless a few bags of sweets so that I can return with them to spread some of his barakah to these lands. As it happened, one of those bags was sent to India via my aunt and the others distributed to students in the East Coast and a few blessed friends still have to this day, some of those choicest candies. This city, as all Muslim lands, is known for her hospitality and the homes of the scholars are the actual �open universities� as they all have revolving doors making way for the seekers of knowledge and wisdom. Damascus is a denizen of voices making music elocuting their love for the prophet, peace be upon him, at every interval between prayer and party.
My trip started off with two weddings to attend, one of a friend and the other, of the daughter of noble, notable parents, Umm Sa�eed and Sheikh Adnan Al Majd, teachers of sacred knowledge, paisleys that adorn this city of silk. Upon entering their home one is caught in a waft of surreal love for the prophet, peace be upon him. Both gatherings beheld the majesty of our Maker, both were cascading with love for our Master Muhammad, peace be upon him. It occurred to me that these are the real princes and princesses, the true repositories of regality that most of the world lives, unawares. The bride, the sheikh�s daughter, was aglow in her wedding dress as she dressed her spirit with the remembrance of her Lord. She was indeed a precious princess, filled with decorum and Divine Grace that glided her every move. Her every exhalation filled the chambers with pristine love for the prophet, peace be upon him. Even the dancing was divine, as the women [celebrating separately from the men] moved only their torsos, arms above making an angular �U� all the while sending salutations on the prophet, peace be upon him. Guests were served with luxurious vanilla ice cream, embedded with emeralds, no less. Syria is known for both its heavenly ice cream, which even the �Culture Shock� guidebook, calls the best in the world, and its jewel of a nut, the pistachio. And while we are on its epicurean attractions, one must not forget that chapter 95, Surah �Al Tin� in the holy Qur�an, according to most scholars, refers to Syria, as this fair city is resplendent with this divine delight, the fig, as well.  My heart was captured, my soul enraptured, my body and mind fractured, in fana, [annihilation]. These were the most marvelous wedding parties I ever walked into, insha Allah, they were a portent of paradise for all in attendance.
This ancient land, ubiquitously known as the oldest inhabited city in the world, glistens for not just those seeking the sublime. It holds a magical mist for the historian, the architect, the scientist and general explorer as well. This mist is not missed by those seeking meaning in a world of mayhem growing more and more minute by the minute. The archaeologist and the adventurer is drawn here by the ancient amphitheaters, ruined castles and citadels, towers, and tablets [some dating back to the third millennium BC]. My traveler�s guidebook to Syria, quotes Kahlil Gibrain, �You are not enclosed within your bodies, nor confined to houses or fields. That which is you dwells above the mountain and roves with the wind.�  Indeed, you may find that you dwell in Damascus. The Kahlilian quote befits my name, �Asra�, which is taken from the first verse of chapter 17, the Surah �Isra� in the holy Quran, about the ascension the prophet, peace be upon him, took in the night to Jerusalem and then further on into the presence of Providence. Understood from this context my name actually means to be taken to Sham [the Arabic name for the greater Levant region] in the night, indeed I was. Those from the subcontinent will be familiar with the refrain from elders, �We are all a portion of our names, so be careful of the names you choose for your children.� My Arab friends love to jest that my name is a verb, I was happy to finally �do� my name nonetheless.
It is no wonder that this is the oldest capital city in the world, everything is fine and fabulous here, thus it is kept as it is. Even its weather, though seemingly difficult and dry, is rewarding for the patient and grateful. Every evening is visited by an elegant breeze. The rain of Damascus is its breeze. Dimash al Qadeemah, as the old city is called in Arabic, hides unscathed behind the scrim of the seventeenth century, minus a few cars making way here and there, making themselves anachronisms.
The city�s children are affable, respected as springs of knowledge in themselves, endeared by all, and embraced even by the bustling city streets. They run under its protective care, as they proudly head off for errands to the corner shops bringing back forgotten provisions or treats for themselves, commissioned by their tender parents. It is as if the psychologist, Alice Miller was speaking of children in Sham upon writing the following:
We will come to regard our children not as creatures to manipulate or change, but rather as messengers from a world we once deeply knew, which we have long since forgotten, who can reveal to us more about the secrets of life, and also our own lives...
The older inhabitants of this elderly part of the earth, like its children, exude with curiosity of everything under and around the sun.
I was even privy to glance a time times two, out of the window of my taxi ride, a security guard, standing sentinel, building by his side, yet with his own glance tucked in a book. This city is indeed following the axiom, �Knowledge is gained, from cradle to grave.�
The word education is taken from the Latin, �educare� which means to lead out from within. In Damascus, the laity and the lofty is led out of ignorance into gnosis. Almost everyone I met in Damascus, from my exuberant taxi driver, Abu Ayham, who filled enthusiasm en route to my morning Arabic class at the university, my exotic Arabic teacher, Dima, whose authentic Arab yet subtle subcontinent looks could get her in a Bollywood movie without a screening, to my mysterious cleaning lady and cook, and my newfound effusive friend, Nur, was enigmatic if not eccentric, all genetically encoded with a gift of gab. A Hollywood writer could pick anyone at random off the streets of Damascus and run with a dynamic story on him or her. Abu Ayham if �discovered� would have a screenplay and his own program within a fortnight. But then again, precisely because life is lived to the fullest here, the old fashioned way, of knowing everyone in detail in ones round of daily life, cinema is superfluous. Thus, sans cinema, everyone here has character and charisma, which, incidentally, means, a gift from God.
If it wasn�t for the Arabic that abounds here one might think one is in Dublin as opinions are exerted into the air like a shaken carbonated drink, opened. The
art of dialogue is alive in Damascus and speakers of the Classical Arabic, called �Fus-ha� are especially adept, and the teachers of it, meticulous, in enunciating every letter with its rightful sound and respective characteristic such as length of stay on the tongue and most crucially, the point of exit from the mouth.
Many western singers, in fact, study this art called tajweed, which is mainly studied to recite the Qur�an properly. Upon reciting with the precision of tajweed, the Qari (reciter} inevitably pierces himself and the listener into another plane. Whatever it is that one studies in Damascus, the aim is closest to perfection as ones faculties allow. Thus, the sounds, the sights [including the beauty of its people whom inherited the original Arabic look], after one peels the opaque layer of dust observable at the outset, and the senses, are all exquisite, leaving only rarefied onion layers, transparent and transcendent. It seems, as well, as a reward for their righteous endeavors, for such cities, abuzz with His Glory, God has expanded ten minutes into two hours, all the more time to struggle and celebrate, as those on the road to Damascus do, leading them out to Him.
For the religious set, it is enough to know that the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, blessed Syria with his breath and his body. We know he visited the lands at least twice, once as a young lad on a business trip with his uncle whence the monk Bahira recognized him as the last prophet foretold in the Bible, and another time after prophecy was granted to him. In addition there are sound hadith which record his mention to move to this blessed land when things in the world looked bleak, in addition, numerous hadith contain his extolment for the people of Sham. 
Even before the arrival of Islam into al Sham, this part of the earth was already ethereal. Damascus was referred to then, as �the mother of the universe.� Indeed she, Eve, was known to have lived here. It was and has been the sacred abode of countless prophets and saints. Gibril Haddad cites scholars who count around 1700 graves of prophets in the Sham region [including the prophets Adam, Abel, Sheth, Nuh, Lut, Job, Hud, Zakariyya] and 500 tombs in Dimishq itself. Prophet Ibrahim passed through here and the cave wherein he meditated is preserved.
Besides the prophets and saints, and a multitude of scholars from the Ummah, such as Shaykh al Akbar, may Allah have mercy on him, scores of Sahaba, companions of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, are also buried in the belly of this great city, including the venerable Bilal, may Allah be pleased with him, the first muezzin of Medina, who rests in the cemetery, called Bab as Sagheer, not far from the Ummayyad mosque. Having never visited a graveyard prior to this one, I truly felt like the living dead while paying my respects to the Sahabah and other great sages of the Muslim world that sleep in this Syrian soil. As Rumi masterfully provoked, �Go to the graveyard and behold those silent eloquent ones.� Their legends live on in the world, and upon visiting them, one senses that their limbs are more alive than ones own. Each one of their lives is better than a millionfold of my kind. One is swathed in barakah by visiting these foremost from our Ummah. I would return to the cemetery many times during my summer sojourn in Syria, swaddled in its immense serenity. Therein lay the souls as the prophet had said, that knew the secrets of living, but were in no position to do anything about it, while those who visit them were without such wisdom, though they were in a position to do something about it, if only they knew.
One of the bounties I am eternally grateful for on this trip was how I chanced upon the site wherein sheikh Muhammad�s father and teacher, the venerable Imam of the recent past of the Grand Ummayad mosque, Sheikh Ibrahim al Yaqoubi, may Allah have mercy on him, is interred. Any student who has ever sat in a class with sheikh Muhammad is bound to hear mention of his father in his eternal gratitude to him for the immense knowledge he imparted into his young son, our teacher Sheikh Muhammad al Yaqoubi. Thus, it was that one afternoon soon after arriving in Damascus and not wanting to wait any longer to pay my respects to our teacher�s teacher, I set off in a taxi not even knowing the whereabouts of the cemetery at that time, let alone where his blessed body was laid to rest, yet ending the evening standing at his gravesite at the stroke of the call for the maghrib prayer, and the strike of the evening breeze, just as I was about to head back before the cemetery gates closed.
One ostensible shrine is contained within the Grand Ummayyad mosque in the old city. John the Baptist, peace be upon him, rests within this grand, historic mosque, with a roofless [though roofed perpetually by a congregation of birds] rectangular courtyard, clad with white marble slabs all around its 50 m by 120 m of expansive open space. At one time this was a church, in fact, after the spread of Islam into Damascus during the reign of the second Caliph �Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, this serene place of worship was divided in half, Muslims and Christians each using their portion to pray to the same God, the One. This tradition of Muslims spreading their wings, welcoming people of other faiths and protecting them as the Qur�an exhorts them to, continues today in Sham and throughout the Muslim world. Only, to verify this great secret, one must not turn to newspapers for information on Islam and Muslims, but hear accounts of those who have been to these lands from ones circle of friends, else, read real literature. As Oscar Wilde said, journalism is unreadable, and literature unread. The prayer hall in the Umayyad is covered with mosaics, the roof held up by long paneled arms, lined with green and gold motif work, and besot with three domes and three minarets. The southeastern minaret, the tallest of the three, is the one wherein the prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, is expected to alight and rain upon the earth with his reign of peace.
To flock to Mecca is a must for every Muslim to renew his faith and rehearse for the parting from this world. Here, La ila ha illa Allah is cemented in his soul. To visit Medina, where is encased the one concerned for all of the created, the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is demanded by the heart. Here, one hears the cry of the other half of the creed, �Muhammad ar Rasul Allah.� While Mecca and Medina are mandates, Damascus is a desire, at least for those that come to know of its significance in the realm of all religions. Damascus beckons to the believer. �All those come here who feel haunted by the thought of God.� 
1] Lings, Martin. �A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century: Ahmad Al Alawi.� Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, U.K., 1993.
2] Haddad, Gibril. �The Excellence of Syro-Palestine, Al Sham, and its People.� Maktabat al Ahbab, Damascus, 2002.
3] Mannheim, Ivan. �Syria and Lebanon handbook.� Footprint Handbooks, Ltd., Bath, England, 2001.
4] Markowa, Dawna. �How Your Child is Smart.� Conari Press, Berkeley, Ca, 1992.
5] Haddad, Gibril.
7] Lings, Martin. p.21, quoted by sheikh Ahmad al Alawi to a Westerner who asked him how his disciples find him.
� Asra Bukhari, 2003 - 2004
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Kenneth Honerkamp, a religion professor at the University of Georgia who spent years in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Morocco, recently spoke with Athens Banner-Herald reporter Lee Shearer about his experiences in the area. This is the text of that interview.
Q. What initially attracted you to the study of Islam?
When I went there I was attracted to the sense of objective reality that was presented and I felt by staying there, learning the language and getting to know those people, possibly ... I went there seeking a vision of the world that somehow concorded with reality, a vision of what life was about. They do have a sense of this is right, this is wrong, this is permitted, this is not permitted. That almost diametrically goes against our sort of idea of freedom of choice. We're much more rationalistic.
Q. What is the Northwest Frontier, which is the area that you first studied in?
Basically the area in Pakistan that is north of Peshawar. I was basically up in the mountains, the Hindu Kush, but I also lived in the plains.
Q. Where did you grow up?
Los Angeles, California, the San Fernando Valley. My father was an engineer. Airplanes. He worked for Boeing. I went to what was called at the time San Fernando State College. Now it's become University of California-Northridge. I graduated from high school in 1967, went to college for a year. I studied philosophy, and I was asking the great questions that people ask -- that's why I'm a religion teacher. Why am I here? What am I doing? What's this about? I thought if I studied philosophy I would find out, but I realized after a year of studying philosophy that I wasn't going to find that out, so I actually began studying religion then, Buddhism, Hinduism, Eastern traditions, and that's why I wanted to go east, like a lot of other people in those days.
Q. The first place you went to was Morocco?
Yes. Then I came home after six months in Morocco and worked for a while and decided that I had to go farther than Morocco. I came back and worked as a draftsman for a couple of years, made enough money to take a trip to Yugoslavia. In those days you could go from New York to Yugoslavia round trip for $125, 25 days on a ship.
Q. Including meals?
Yes. Very basic food. It was a working freighter, and they had extra rooms, six rooms below and six rooms above, and each one had two people.
Q. And from there?
Overland to Turkey and Iran through Afghanistan, but I basically traveled straight across.
Q. And this was 1968?
Q. And you were in Afghanistan the next 10 years?
Well, I traveled in Afghanistan. I stayed in Kabul for a long time, stayed in Herat, Kandahar. But in those days there were lots and lots of Europeans and Americans in Afghanistan and going east toward India, and the government of Afghanistan controlled visas quite seriously, so when my visa expired I went to Pakistan. In Pakistan you could get a three-month visa, and also, I just didn't like all of the foreigners that were also traveling. Lots of people using drugs. They were hippie days, and it was just the kind of people I wanted to get away from, and in Afghanistan it was very difficult to do that, in a sense. People stayed in the same hotels. But when I went to Pakistan I heard about some villages up in the northwest at the end of road, away from everything. And I just took buses and slowly went up there to a place called Kalam.
Q. Why there?
It was the end of the road. You couldn't go anyplace else after that. You could go into Afghanistan walking through the mountains, but it was the end of public transportation. And the people there were extremely welcoming. There were even a few people that spoke English. A lot of Afghanis as well. I decided to invest time in learning the language so I could speak to people, and through living there I got to know the culture and the people and their values, and I found these were admirable human beings. And while I was there I started learning Arabic as well.
Q. What language was spoken there?
In Kalam they spoke a mixture of six or seven dialects, but Pushtu was sort of the lingua franca that everybody spoke. Kalam is in an area they call Kohistan. It means the place of the mountains. Up in the mountains of the Hindu Kush almost every valley has its own dialect.
Q. Who was speaking Arabic?
The scholars, because that is the language of Islam.
Q.What is a scholar?
They have a firm foundation in the foundational texts of Islam and they are trained to make rulings that help people in living their everyday lives. These scholars that I'm talking about study for a long time, and they become extremely educated people, and they also usually study Islamic mysticism or Sufism. So they have a deep insight into Islamic spirituality. These are the kind of scholars, at least that I studied with.
Q. Can you talk a little about what it means for a Muslim to be a Muslim?
The most important part of a Muslim's life is basically to live according to their religion because by doing that they will have achieved their goal in life. If a Muslim looks at the Quran, the Quran says ''I have only created you to worship me,'' but the word worship means to serve. Other scholars say this also means to know -- ''I have created human beings to serve and to know.'' If you believe that, and Muslims do, and you think, ''That's my goal in life,'' well, my life is going to be centered around the religion. Your job is supposed to be a service to other people, you're supposed to be able to serve other people, take care of your family, educate your children. The Muslim believes your whole life is for God, and that doesn't exclude anything. Eating -- when Muslims eat, they say ''In the name of God,'' and then they start eating. When they go out of the house to go to work in the morning, they say, ''In name of God, let me work'' -- so I can take care of my family, if I have extra money I can give it to the poor, I can serve and participate in society. Therefore, any secular vision ... Islam seems to me almost the last bastion against rationalism and secularism. I'm not saying one is better or the other.
Q. Are the teachings of the Taliban, the rulers of most of Afghanistan -- do they represent the teachings of Islam? Banning things like musical instruments, even kite flying?
Another aspect of Islam and all these madrassas (religious schools) is that Islam also has the legal aspect, and Islamic law has the ability to change and to fit with modern times, with the times that it finds itself in. This is the Taliban's major mistake, that they want to go back to what they call pure Islam.
Q. A pure Islam that never existed?
That may have existed 1,400 years ago, among a very small group of people in a very, very simple society -- maybe. It's hard to say never. But on some issues, they're just totally off the wall. Legally speaking, they have no support on those. They're kind of like very, very strict Puritans. Within different religious traditions you get that. But music (for example), you have books on music. The prophet Mohammed, there was music in his house, dancing in his house. There's a basic tenet of Islamic law that says all things are according to intention. So the scholars say, if your intention with music is to have a drunken party with dancing girls and illicit sex, that music is forbidden. If your intention in music is just to relax, spend good times with your friends, or to remember God and lift some of the weight of the daily burden of life, that's fine. Islam has almost no law saying something is absolutely one way or the other. The prophet Mohammed said, ''This religion is easy, and if anyone tries to make it difficult, it will overcome them'' -- if anyone tries to make it too astringent, too difficult. This is the Islam of the traditional Islamic world. That is why the Taliban are so odious to the majority of Muslims.
Q. Some of us in the West think of Muslims as pretty alien from us.
When I look at reports from Pakistan, when I look at small boys reading the Quran in the madrassas, you get the idea that ''Wow, all of these people are fanatics,'' that's what it looks like. All the women have scarves, all the men have beards, all the kids are reading the Quran, wow, look, it's just a bunch of fanatics. It's just a totally different lifestyle. Their goal in life is basically to live an Islamic kind of life.
Q. We have seen media reports that seem to portray madrassas (religious schools) as something like a training ground for terrorists, but I've read that these religious schools are actually the basis for modern universities.
Most of the madrassas in Pakistan teach math, science, social studies, history, and Islam. This tradition is probably a good 1,400 years old. Islam began about 1,400 years ago. In the time of Mohammed the first building that he built was a mosque, and people would come to learn from him. He would sit in a mosque and people would listen to him. He was basically a teacher. Then, as Islam spread in the early days, as Islam spread very quickly through the world, every mosque was a center of worship and a center of study, and very quickly, even within the first generation of Muslims, when Islam moved into Persian-speaking areas, and when it moved into Syria where there was a Byzantine (Greek Orthodox Christian) church and sort of the end of the Hellenist world, when it moved into Egypt, it encountered other cultures. They used Greek as their language and they had the texts of the Greek philosophers. These texts were quickly translated into Arabic, because the Arabs were extremely into learning and knowledge, and within the first century, you had attached within the mosque, circles of learning where people were starting to study Arabic, because many non-Arabs were becoming Muslim. Some of the first books written were written on Arabic grammar and linguistics and structure. At the same time philosophy, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, all of these things became Islamic sciences -- a continuation of the Greek learning. As knowledge expanded and as scholars from other places started coming together, there started actual schools. These schools provided prestige for the king, that's true. Two, they had to in a sense, certain ideas the government thought were important, but in general they were secular institutions. Scholars from other places would come, and students would come, and students would be provided with food and clothing. These were the first universities in the world.
Q. There was something in the news about something called a loya jirga. What is that?
That's something that bothers me. The newspaper talked about this loya jirga, and said these people were ''unlettered clerics.'' The terms loya is Pushtu, it means big. And jirga means assembly of the tribes. Afghanistan ... there's so much (to explain). Afghanistan had a very high level of civil society before the Russians entered. That's why you could have a king, and a very, very minor governmental infrastructure. You didn't need a big army, a lot of police, because people basically took care of their own affairs in one way or another. One of these ways of taking care of tribal disputes was called a jirga, where the heads of several tribes would get together to discuss something and they would figure out what was going to be best. And the loya jirga would bring all of the tribes together. So you didn't need a Congress or a representative form of government sitting in Kabul all the time, disputing and debating and fighting about minor issues, but you would call people together from time to time when necessary. So people took care of their own affairs and there was a minimum of government intervention. I think people still think that's the way to be.
Q. The part of the world where you were is a region that is part of Pakistan, but it's culturally close to Afghanistan?
Between Afghanistan and Pakistan there's a large belt that's called Tribal Territories. It's on the Pakistani side of the border, but the Pakistanis don't really rule there. They leave it up to the tribes. So the Pakistani government relates to the elders of the tribes and the tribes inside Tribal Territories take care of their own affairs.
Q. The village you were in for the first three years, Kalam, is that in the Tribal Territories?
No. Kalam is in the Swat Valley, a region called Kohistan.
Q. How long were you in Kalam?
I went there in 1969. And people said, ''Oh, you have to meet this man, if you want to learn more about us and our way of life you should study with this man.'' By this time I had spent six months on my language skills and was getting a little bit better. So I used to meet with him on a daily basis, and he said if you want to understand our way of life you should first study the Quran, so I started with him, learning to read the Quran and through that also learning to read Arabic. And Pushtu is a written language, and the characters are Arabic. So as I learned to read and write Pushtu, I also leaned how to read and write Arabic, because the way of teaching is to read a small amount of the Arabic text and then talk about it in Pushtu. At the same time people offered me food and places to live. It's the tradition for the people of Pakistan to bring food to the mosque. But I was looking for a profession. Another professor I was learning Pushtu from was a tailor. He taught me tailoring. I used to study during the day and then I'd go back and work as a tailor in the afternoons. In that there was a lot of interaction with people, using my language. On a day-to-day basis only speak about certain things. What are the animals like, how is the water, how are the crops doing, the weather's nice, the weather's not nice, what's happening ... but when you start studying the Quran and books your vocabulary starts jumping up into what is not standard, so my vocabulary and my ability in Pushtu started increasing greatly.
Q. A speaker the other night was talking about the need in Afghanistan for schools and other public-works infrastructure types of projects, because there's no one left who knows how to do those things. Could you amplify that?
They have refugee status in the United States. It was quite easy for an Afghani to get a visa to come to the United States (during the 1979-1989 occupation by the Soviet Union). Many of the people with professional backgrounds came to the United States. Unfortunately, anybody, all of their engineers, professors, administrators, anybody who had the means to get out basically just evacuated the country. In a country like that there's sort of a balance between a ruling class, an urban class who sort of run the country, the technocrats, and then you have this huge ocean of rural people. And nowadays, it's the old story, you hear it again and again, there are no engineers, there's nobody. There are people who have lived their whole life in a village, and then when the Taliban took over the government, they would make somebody who had spent his whole life in the village the head of water and power. Of the country! All of the infrastructure that needs engineers, technocrats and experienced people, Afghanistan doesn't have that. That's why we have to bring people in to build roads, get water running, electricity running, schools, because Afghanistan has just been turned into the Middle Ages again, basically. The Middle Ages with Western weaponry. Running water is rare. In most places there's no electricity.
Q. Why did they leave after the Russians began to be a presence in the country?
There came to be a great lack of security. The mujahadin were already beginning to fight the Russians, and there was a very heavy police state. But they could still bring in Russian engineers and technicians, but when the Russians left they took everyone with them. And the people that were left in Kabul when the Russians left could see what would happen when the mujahadin came to Kabul. The people who were in power and the technocrats would be seen as collaborators with the Russians and they would have to leave. And I think it's going to be very difficult to get those people to come back. If you were an engineer with an education and you could come to the United States, go to England, Germany, Pakistan and pick up your life, live in a secure situation, have a family, have your kids in school, live a well-off kind of life, you would have to be a real patriot to want to go back and rebuild a country.
Q. What do you try to accomplish when you teach Arabic at UGA?
If I teach German, Germany and the United States, there's not a great deal of difference. But when I teach Arabic, it's like opening a window to the student onto a whole other world. We're able to read newspaper articles and sort of see what Arabic journalism looks like and seeing the construction, the rhetoric and attitudes. And it opens people's minds to a whole other culture. To me that's all I feel responsible for, and let people make their own decisions.
Q. Why did you leave Kalam?
My teacher's cousin was murdered, my teacher's brother's son. That wasn't good. But a few days after that, my teacher's brother killed the person who had killed my teacher's cousin. Shot him. And this started a blood feud between my teacher's family and the family of the person who had killed my teacher's cousin. My teacher thought, ''I've got to leave and go down to the Swat region and just live in a small madrassa down there.'' He took all of us with him as his students and didn't tell anyone where he was going and lived incognito -- because my teacher was not into killing anybody, but the two families had now fortified their houses and went everywhere with weapons and were always very careful.
Q. Pushtun people?
Pushtun, yes. That's the unknown element of life there. Death was always very close. When I left there in '79, that was basically the reason -- so many of my friends had been killed, or people that I knew had killed other people. It just became very oppressive for me. But that's when I stopped being a tailor and I started going basically from one madrassa to another to another in the Peshawar region. This would be probably '74 to '79.
Q. Are you still in touch with your teacher?
No, I'm not. I've written some letters. I sent a message to one of my professors. Someone from Pakistan was here that knew him, and he hand-carried it, and then he came back, and he gave me my teacher's response. These letters say, ''How are you, I'm fine, we're fine, what are you doing, what are you studying,'' but he also says, ''Please don't write to me because I don't want any letters coming to me with American stamps on them.'' This is in Pakistan. There is tension. And that's why, if I went there now, you know, people would doubt very seriously what I was doing there. Because unfortunately the balance, that gentle balance has been upset because there's a lot of doubt, to the point that someone wouldn't even want a letter from the United States delivered to their house because it would attract attention to them, by the government, the police, and what is your relationship to the United States -- especially scholars, people who in Pakistani society have high profiles, and this particular Pakistani teacher has a very high profile. Another source of tension in Pakistan are the Afghanis who are living there. Even though they fit totally in, the government is not happy to have too many Afghans. There are probably 2 million Afghanis that have sort of fit in society with jobs and things and another 2 million sitting in refugee camps. That's a large number of people, and there's no way to differentiate an Afghani from a Pakistani Pushtun, same language, same dress, same everything, there may be a slightly different accent.
Q. No birth card, national identity card?
I used to go to Afghanistan and I'd go to a place where they control passports on the other side of the Khyber Pass, and I'd go up and I'd say, would you please stamp my passports, and they would say, ''Just go!'' I'm an American. They thought I was an Afghani because I look like one. In Afghanistan there are very tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed people in a region called Nuristan, and I looked like a Nuristani, and I spoke the language, I was fluent, I mean no one ever thought I was a foreigner after several years of living there. And then I said, ''Here's my passport, please, I'm an American,'' and they'd say, ''What! Come in here,'' and I'd end up being interrogated for three or four hours. And then finally when they didn't find anything and there was no real reason to arrest me or not let me go, they just let me go. But after that I just stopped showing my passport. It just caused too many problems. You just walk through and you walk back. And that's on the border. And just think about all the people that cross over through valleys and over mountains. It's a very, very fluid border.
Q. Did your first teacher's blood feud ever end?
Finally, my teacher's situation got alleviated. The two families intermarried. That's one of the ways out of a blood feud. You and I have a blood feud, your sister marries my brother and my sister marries your brother, we're family now. My teacher went back but by this time I had met other teachers, and I had also met and studied with the Deobandis.
Q. What are Deobandis?
Deoband is a town in India up near Delhi. It (also refers to) a madrassa, but a modern madrassa that was trying to teach a sort of modernized version of Islam on the one hand, and a purified version of Islam on the other hand. Modernized meaning updating Islamic laws so that they would be functional in modern society, banking, business practices, more complex kinds of business affairs, tax issues. But on the other hand -- in what was India then, now Pakistan and India, there were Hindus and Muslims living together. Sometimes Muslims borrowed, or there's cross-cultural influence, so there might have been certain things Muslims were doing that they had borrowed from Hindis, certain rites. Maybe like a stone where a Muslim saint had once sat. People would spread oil on that stone as an act of reverence for the saint. This is not really an Islamic kind of thing. Or a cave, for example a Muslim saint spent years in this cave meditating so now we come to this cave and tie a piece of string there, make a prayer there, and go away, or light a candle, make a prayer, and go away. The Deobandis were very against these kinds of practices. They considered them to be very polytheistic. The Taliban are Deobandis, all their teachers were.
Q. The Deoband school is a famous one?
It was known in its day as an important school because Pakistan was the first Muslim country. The Deoband School which was going to be a restatement of Islamic studies or law. The wanted to modernize and adapt Islamic law to fit modern life but on the other hand they wanted to take away a lot of what they considered superstitious aspects of Islam from the practice of the people in the subcontinent.
Q. So the Deoband taught the principles followed by the Taliban?
The Deobandi wouldn't really recognize the Taliban anymore because they sort of took half of it, the purification side, but they didn't take the modernizing side. It's a bad borrowing.
Q. Ray Peppers, a former American diplomat to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said at a forum the other night that the Taliban have shamed Islam, in a sense.
They're a perversion in a sense, but in the new Afghanistan, if there's going to be a new Afghanistan, the issues of the Taliban cannot be just swept under the carpet. They still have to be dealt with. It's (Taliban teaching) a misstatement, it's putting too much concentration on some particulars of Islam and forgetting others. Islam is a balanced system. But we can't just say, well, that's not real Islam. Unfortunately, everything they do is not un-Islamic. They're not heretics, I wouldn't say, they're not totally outside the pale. That's why any new government, because they are Pushtuns (the largest ethnic grouping in Afghanistan, to which the Taliban belong) and they have particular ethnic ideas as well and Islamic ideas as well.
Q. Why can't the United States or someone just go in an set up a new government -- as the Soviet Union tried?
Any real government is going to have to be an Islamic government. Does the United States want to set up that? Can we even do it? Do we have a mandate to set up an Islamic government in another country? On the other hand we have to find within the Taliban the people who are liberal. I tend to think that's going to be the majority, but unfortunately the leaders are just concentrating so hard on getting control hold of the whole country and maintaining a whole population for years on end in jihad mode, I believe that they have outworn their welcome.
Q. What responsibility does the United States have for what has befallen Afghanistan in the last 20 years?
There are so many people who are much more well versed in that than I am. Again, I just say what everybody else says. It's well-known that the mujahadin were supported by the United States against their enemy Russia, and that we sided with everybody. We knew there were different groups, and I think the United States tends to hedge its bets. They'll give money to two or three groups that are against each other hoping that whichever one wins, they'll be their friend. That is odious. That means you really have no standpoint, it's a purely pragmatic view. In those times, all of those groups -- this wasn't a religious war, this wasn't a nationalistic war, people weren't fighting Russia for Afghanistan, they were fight to get Russia out of their countries. That was one of the problems, people would fight the Russians in their own area but not too motivated to go up and fight in somebody else's area. We supported different groups of people, and we armed them, and then once the Russians were gone, we said goodbye. We left armed groups, heavily armed groups with tanks, Stingers, helicopters and sort of left them to their own. It should have been fairly obvious that they would start fighting each other, which is what they started to do.
Q. What might we have done?
We could have more been more instrumental and supportive of the original government (set up after the Soviets left). Could have taken more of an interest, could have done more humanitarian things, could have been more supportive of establishing a government and supporting the government. Maybe we thought that would get us into a war with the factions that we'd already armed. What brought the Taliban into power, why the Americans actually supported the Taliban, was because when the United States left, there was kind of a void, so you had all these warlords, these armed groups, and the Taliban attacked these warlords one by one, disarmed them, and at least the people were relatively sort of satisfied that peace had come. But then the Taliban through their lack of experience and lack of understanding started conscripting people, forcing them to fight for them and they have outworn their welcome. The United States supported them because I think the United States believed that they would be able to take the whole country and then consolidate it. They're not attractive to anybody.
Q. What has happened since the Russians left?
Everybody was united against the Russians and now it's become ethnic. There's bitterness and hatred now. Within Afghanistan, people never had a nationalistic feeling, trying to unite Afghanistan into one country. (But after the Soviets left), one ethnic group, sometimes the Taliban, sometimes the Northern Alliance, would go into another region of an ethnic group and fight them. They kill you, you kill them, and then if you are able to overcome them, generally there are massacres that follow, just out of anger and just pure spite, and just the mentality that has been bred there. All of these stories of mass graves. Locking 200 people into a canister until they die and then dumping it out into a well and them bulldozing it over. Inhuman. Inhuman.
Q. But yet you say these are wonderful people.
That's why Mr. Peppers said, the Pathans (or Pushtun, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan,) and many other people in Afghanistan -- they are the best, and they can be the worst. They're your friends, and they're your friends for life. They're honest, truthful, straightforward, and they're good Muslims. And on the other hand, they can also be liars, extremely devious, clever and totally forget Islam. When I lived in Pakistan and then in Morocco, people would say, what's the difference between Morocco and Pakistan? Moroccans have white hearts, and that's the Islamic way, really. There's a famous saying that you're not a Muslim if you don't talk to your brother Muslim for more than three days when you're angry. Then you've got to work it out. Moroccans are like that. The Afghans, the Pathans, never forget. I've known people who have taken revenge 30 years later on someone who had insulted them or done something toward their family. Thirty years later! When they got the chance. Never, never forget.
Q. How does Osama bin Laden fit in to all of this?
I hate to say it, but it looks like he's one of our creations.
Q. And an honored guest in Afghanistan?
Part of the Pushtun honor code -- you're my guest, if your enemies come, I will give my life for you. The guest is a sacred institution. And also, he (bin Laden) was a brother in arms, he fought with them, and I'm also quite sure, I believe that he also has some intermarital relationships with (a Taliban leader) and I believe that he's also financially able to help.
Q. What do we Americans most need to know about the people of Afghanistan?
I think we really need to know that essentially, the people of Afghanistan -- all people are the same. They're like us. They like to be with their families, they want to educate their children, and they want to have a reasonable life. And they have a culture and a religious tradition that we should also learn to understand and respect and not believe their religion is something that is detrimental to them achieving a reasonable life or a reasonable standard. We can't say, they could be like us if they weren't doing this. Let them be Muslims in their way of following Islam and let's realize also that they are like us and want to have a reasonable life. That's why I really firmly believe that raising the standard of living of the people that we have to call extremists is the only solution to really ensure our own security. I don't think Fortress America is going to give me any safety.
Q. Morocco was another Muslim country, but your experience there was very different, wasn't it?
Morocco's a poor country. But still people go to school, the government spends money on school. I can go to a hospital and get treated. There are private hospitals, I can probably get better treatment if I have money, but at least I'm not out on the street. But you have a very good-size middle class. You have professors, you have shopkeepers, you have mechanics, carpenters, all kinds of things. Morocco is not a wealthy country, there's no oil there. They have droughts, they have all sorts of problems, but still, you don't find extremist Muslims at all. The government doesn't like extremism, but it's not a kind of extremely oppressive police state.
Q. Why is there so much anti-American sentiment among many Muslims?
I'm afraid some of it is because of our own policies.
Q. Such as?
That we support dictators in some of these countries, like in Egypt, that are repressive, and we think that's in our interests. You take exception when you read in Western newspapers that there is a link between madrassas and terrorism. Will you explain that? When we look at the people who supposedly took these planes and actually perpetrated these acts, a lot of them were engineers or trained, relatively secularly educated people. Another aspect of the people who come out of the madrassas, they're technically totally untrained to do anything. They don't have a foreign language. They couldn't come to America, they don't speak English in the first place. They do train them, okay, to be Taliban and fight, but that was a 19th century kind of war -- not like Sept. 11. Most of these guys (accused in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States) had degrees. They spoke English and Arabic. To do terrorist acts in the West you have to have a certain amount of technical skill. You get the impression that madrassas are teaching people to make bombs. That's not true. Possibly in Osama bin Laden's camps they are teaching people to make bombs. But the madrassas turn out a very, very simple kind of indoctrinated Muslim with a very limited view on what is Islam. But I think it's kind of an error to say they are terrorists. If you didn't have all of this discontent and a lot of suffering, you wouldn't find this hatred certain individuals generate. Everybody knows this. In the same way in South America we were supporting all the right-wing people and then we were surprised when there were more and more communists. We support people who just push people into extremist situations.
Q. What happened when you went to Morocco?
I enrolled in the university there (Al-Qarunwiyyin University's branch in Fez). In Pakistan you don't really get degrees, but when I came to Morocco I needed paper, I was 30 by this time. I needed a job. I got a degree in Arabic literature, and then they asked me to teach there. My 10 years in Pakistan and Afghanistan had given me a large body of knowledge, and now I had a degree as well, so I taught at the university for about five years.
Q. Were you in Morocco during the Gulf War in 1990?
I was teaching at the University of Marrakesh. I knew that Desert Storm was on the way. And at the university there is this huge open area with kind of a wall around it, and I got to the university, there are all these flags being waved, huge pictures of Saddam Hussein, and ''Down with America! Down With America!'' and SCUD missiles made out of cardboard. And I got to the door and I see all these students, and I was afraid, and then I thought, if I turn around, it will show that I have no confidence in my own students. So I just walk through. They saw me and said, ''Give some room. Let the professor by.'' They said, ''We're not coming to class today. We're on strike.'' I told them, ''I can understand that, but I have to sit in my class for half an hour, and if nobody comes, then I can go home.'' So I went in, sat there for 20 minutes, and I left. I was very glad I didn't turn around.
Thursday, 23 April 2009
The flame of french resistance was a speech broadcasted in London courtesy of the BBC by the french General, Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle mesmerising oratory later helped the junior general of 1940 to become the political leader who towered over his country's destiny.The German invasion of France, which began in May 1940, proved devastating. De Gaulle's 4th Armoured Division, was advancing bravely into battle near Laon on May 17, was decimated by Stukas and forced to withdraw. After countless brave and successful attack, he was summoned to Paris, where he saw the Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud.The Prime Minister Reynaud offered Charles de Gaulle post in the government, but he had also invited Marshal Philippe Pétain, the hero of Verdun, to join the cabinet as vice-president.However,Pétain led the faction of capitulards who wanted to come to terms with the Nazis. Due to this De Gaulle, had now fallen out with him. With the Germans becoming stronger and eventually taking Paris on June 10 1940. France needed a hero then ever before.Amid chaos and demoralisation, the government retreated along roads swarming with refugees all the way to Bordeaux. On June 16, Reynaud was outmanoeuvred at the council of ministers and resigned. De Gaulle, who had flown to England with the English Prime Minster Winston Churchill in London, flew back to Bordeaux that night and heard that Pétain would seek an armistice. He too was now in the wilderness and at risk of arrest for wanting to fight on. De Gaulle,went to see Reynaud, who in spite of his resignation, provided him with passports and money.Early next morning, June 17, De Gaulle fled France in a biplane with Churchill's representative, General Edward Spears.They landed at Heston aerodrome soon after midday, unaware that Marshal Pétain was announcing the armistice to the French nation at that moment.For the majority of his listeners, refugees and demoralised soldiers alike, this was what they desperately wanted to hear. Spears took De Gaulle to see Churchill in the garden at Downing Street there, in the afternoon sunshine, De Gaulle's throught of the idea of addressing his nation via the BBC.Churchill agreed without hesitation. De Gaulle set to work that evening to draft his speech. The speechs main objective was to persuade the French government in Bordeaux to refuse to hand over the French fleet to the Germans. Later that evening De Gaulle, starts addressing the French people over radio via the BBC, although the speech was short it was rich in the rhetoric of defiance, it also proves extraordinarily prophetic. It urged the French people to have hope and not give in and famously became titled "the flame of French resistance".It is probably one of the most famous speeches in the 20th century.The Speech is as follows :
The leaders who, for many years past, have been at the head of the French armed forces have set up a government.
Alleging the defeat of our armies, this government has entered into negotiations with the enemy with a view to bringing about a cessation of hostilities.
It is quite true that we were, and still are, overwhelmed by enemy mechanised forces, both on the ground and in the air. It was the tanks, the planes, and the tactics of the Germans, far more than the fact that we were outnumbered, that forced our armies to retreat. It was the German tanks, planes, and tactics that provided the element of surprise which brought our leaders to their present plight.
But has the last word been said? Must we abandon all hope? Is our defeat final and irremediable? To those questions I answer - No!
Speaking in full knowledge of the facts, I ask you to believe me when I say that the cause of France is not lost. The very factors that brought about our defeat may one day lead us to victory.
For, remember this, France does not stand alone. She is not isolated. Behind her is a vast empire, and she can make common cause with the British empire, which commands the seas and is continuing the struggle. Like England, she can draw unreservedly on the immense industrial resources of the United States.
This war is not limited to our unfortunate country. The outcome of the struggle has not been decided by the battle of France. This is a world war. Mistakes have been made, there have been delays and untold suffering, but the fact remains that there still exists in the world everything we need to crush our enemies some day.
Today we are crushed by the sheer weight of mechanised force hurled against us, but we can still look to a future in which even greater mechanised force will bring us victory. The destiny of the world is at stake.
I, General de Gaulle, now in London, call on all French officers and men who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, with or without their arms; I call on all engineers and skilled workmen from the armaments factories who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, to get in touch with me.
Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not and shall not die.
Tomorrow I shall broadcast again from London.
June 19 1940
Frenchmen must now be fully aware that all ordinary forms of authority have disappeared.
Faced by the bewilderment of my countrymen, by the disintegration of a government in thrall to the enemy, by the fact that the institutions of my country are incapable, at the moment, of functioning, I, General de Gaulle, a French soldier and military leader, realise that I now speak for France. I n the name of France, I make the following solemn declaration: It is the bounden duty of all Frenchmen who still bear arms to continue the struggle. For them to lay down their arms, to evacuate any position of military importance, or agree to hand over any part of French territory, however small, to enemy control, would be a crime against our country. For the moment I refer particularly to French North Africa - to the integrity of French North Africa.
The Italian armistice is nothing but a clumsy trap. In the Africa of Clauzel, Bugeaud, Lyautey, and Noguès, honour and duty strictly enjoin that the French should refuse to carry out the conditions imposed by the enemy.
The thought that the panic of Bordeaux could make itself felt across the sea is not to be borne.
Soldiers of France, wherever you may be, arise!
June 22 1940
The French government, after having asked for an armistice, now knows the conditions dictated by the enemy.
The result of these conditions would be the complete demobilisation of the French land, sea, and air forces, the surrender of our weapons and the total occupation of French territory. The French government would come under German and Italian tutelage.
It may therefore be said that this armistice would not only be a capitulation, but that it would also reduce the country to slavery. Now, a great many Frenchmen refuse to accept either capitulation or slavery, for reasons which are called: honour, common sense, and the higher interests of the country.
I say honour, for France has undertaken not to lay down arms save in agreement with her allies. As long as the allies continue the war, her government has no right to surrender to the enemy. The Polish, Norwegian, Belgian, Netherlands, and Luxemburg governments, though driven from their territories, have thus interpreted their duty. I say common sense, for it is absurd to consider the struggle as lost. True, we have suffered a major defeat. We lost the battle of France through a faulty military system, mistakes in the conduct of operations, and the defeatist spirit shown by the government during recent battles. But we still have a vast empire, our fleet is intact, and we possess large sums in gold. We still have the gigantic potentialities of American industry. The same war conditions which caused us to be beaten by 5,000 planes and 6,000 tanks can tomorrow bring victory by means of 20,000 tanks and 20,000 planes.
I say the higher interests of the country, for this is not a Franco-German war to be decided by a single battle. This is a world war. No one can foresee whether the neutral countries of today will not be at war tomorrow, or whether Germany's allies will always remain her allies. If the powers of freedom ultimately triumph over those of servitude, what will be the fate of a France which has submitted to the enemy?
Honour, common sense, and the interests of the country require that all free Frenchmen, wherever they be, should continue the fight as best they may.
It is therefore necessary to group the largest possible French force wherever this can be done. Everything which can be collected by way of French military elements and potentialities for armaments production must be organised wherever such elements exist.
I, General de Gaulle, am undertaking this national task here in England.
I call upon all French servicemen of the land, sea, and air forces; I call upon French engineers and skilled armaments workers who are on British soil, or have the means of getting here, to come and join me.
I call upon the leaders, together with all soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the French land, sea, and air forces, wherever they may now be, to get in touch with me.
I call upon all Frenchmen who want to remain free to listen to my voice and follow me.
Long live free France in honour and independence!
BBC reporter for Newsnight, Paxman grills the UK Ambassador on the walk-out. This video wasn't available for anyone outside the UK, and after a few hours, even they couldn't watch it anymore! It is an incredibly important excerpt of a document on the nature of what the journalist clearly recognises as a "stunt" and the Ambassador insists upon calling a "protest", fallling all over his own rhetoric in the process.
Jeremy Paxman: What is the difference between Zionism and racism?
Peter Gooderham: Well we see the two as being quite distinct…
Jeremy Paxman: Yeah what’s the difference?
Peter Gooderham: Well Zionism is a political movement related to the establishment of a homeland…
Jeremy Paxman [quietly]: So are some forms of racism.
Peter Gooderham:…a Jewish homeland, in the er…in what is now Israel and racism is something else. I mean racism is, I think we all know it when we see it and it’s not, it’s not that, and we have fought long and hard at the United Nations to keep that, to maintain that distinction.
To see the video please follow the link
Sunday, 19 April 2009
Mr Obama has banned the use of controversial interrogation techniques
US President Barack Obama's decision not to prosecute CIA agents who used torture tactics is a violation of international law, a UN expert says.
The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, says the US is bound under the UN Convention against Torture to prosecute those who engage in it.
Mr Obama released four "torture memos" outlining harsh interrogation methods sanctioned by the Bush administration.
Mr Nowak has called for an independent review and compensation for victims.
"The United States, like all other states that are part of the UN convention against torture, is committed to conducting criminal investigations of torture and to bringing all persons against whom there is sound evidence to court," Mr Nowak told the Austrian daily Der Standard.
The memos approved techniques including simulated drowning, week-long sleep deprivation, forced nudity, and the use of painful positions.
Mr Obama on Thursday said he would not prosecute under anti-torture laws CIA personnel who relied in good faith on Bush administration legal opinions issued after the 11 September attacks.
Waterboarding: Aimed at simulating sensation of drowning. Used on alleged 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Insect: Harmless insect to be placed with suspect in 'confinement box', suspect to be told the insect would sting. Approved for Abu Zubaydah, but not used
Walling: Detainee slammed repeatedly into false wall to create sound and shock
Sleep deprivation: Detainee shackled stading up. Used often, once for 180 hours
Mr Nowak - who is due to travel to Washington to meet with officials - said that could be a mitigating factor, but does not absolve those involved.
"The fact that you carried out an order doesn't relieve you of your responsibility," he was quoted as saying by AP news agency.
Mr Nowak, an Austrian law professor, said US courts could still try those suspected of carrying out torture, as Mr Obama has not sought an amnesty law for affected CIA personnel.
He called for an investigation by an independent commission before suspects were tried and said it was important that all victims receive compensation.
Human rights groups have criticised President Obama's decision to protect CIA interrogators, saying charges were necessary to prevent future abuses and hold people accountable.
President Obama banned the use of the controversial interrogation techniques in his first week in office.