Monday, December 23, 2013

Remembering Mandela
Info Post
7:22 AM

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) is a myth. He has become greater than his own life. Every generation gets a few people like him whose contributions are seen as outsize.
Gandhi suffered that same fate. It is as if Gandhi delivered India from the British almost single-handedly, or that Mandela did the same thing for South Africa, saving it from the clutches of apartheid. Such people are raised to the level of deities – incarnations of some higher power sent down to lift the yoke of suffering from ordinary people. It implies that everyday people are not capable of making their own history.

Of course, people like Gandhi and Mandela played an enormous role in history, not as supermen but as galvanic figures whose inspiration drove thousands of people into dangerous missions against the normalcy of life toward a hopeful future. Suffering is aplenty, but suffering alone does not give people courage to stand up against the reasons for that suffering. It takes a myth – either a person or a political vehicle (a party) or indeed the horizon of a new ideology – to enable people to see the time of the present as insufficient and the time of the future as possible. That's the role that Mandela played, sitting vigil in prison for twenty-seven years as ordinary South Africans fought the apartheid regime on the streets outside. No-one can take that achievement of being the myth of the anti-apartheid regime away from Nelson Mandela.

Like Snakes

The most scandalous appropriation of Mandela comes from the Right. There is something unseemly about this seizure given that its main protagonists – the conservatives of Britain and their settler colonial allies (the conservatives of the US, Canada and Australia) – continued to ally with apartheid South Africa and consider Nelson Mandela as a terrorist (the United States had him on the terror list till 2008). Their attempt to claim him was crowned by the presence of George W. Bush and David Cameron at Mandela's memorial service in South Africa. But this attempt is like that of a snake trying to claim a shed skin that is not its own, encouraged to slither into it and preen for a past that is at great remove from the truth.

Along the grain of the Right's attempt to appropriate Mandela comes that of liberalism, which sought as well to banish the crimes of apartheid during its heyday with mealy-mouthed claims for gradualism – reform of such a structure of apartheid South Africa being impossible, such talk meant the defence of the status quo. A good example of the myopia of liberalism is US President Jimmy Carter's State Department Declaration from October 1977, more than a year after the June 1976 Soweto Uprising, which could only call upon South Africa to acknowledge procedural rights – end unlawful detention, for instance, -- but not to begin a process of dialogue to unravel apartheid. Even US liberalism felt the need to acknowledge, against the prison house of racial discrimination, the white minority view taken by John Vorster, South Africa's Prime Minister, that his country would either have apartheid or it would commit racial suicide. To have US President Barack Obama, today's liberal standard-bearer, at Mandela's memorial service lecturing the world about the problems with procedural rights as his government conducts extra-judicial drone strikes and continues to hold prisoners without habeas corpus provisions shows you the nadir of liberalism.

Silver Mercedes

Less offensive than the appropriation by conservatives and by liberals is the no less startling rush to criticise Mandela from the redoubts of an unreflective far reach of the left. The more vulgar attempt comes from the British-Australian journalist John Pilger, whose essay for the New Statesman appeared in July and then was recirculated after Mandela's death. The essay was both obvious and offensive. It was obvious because it is not easy to see that little of the promise of the anti-apartheid movement has come to pass – yes, formal racial discrimination ended, but yes, economic apartheid largely along racial lines continued. This is a point that was made as early as 1996 by the South African Communist Party (SACP) when in one of its challenges to its tripartite alliance with the African National Congress (ANC) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) it called the policy framework of the Mandela government The Class Project.

Rather than tease out the complications of the decade of the 1990s, Pilger resorts to some cheap shots, ending maliciously, with Mandela described by Pilger as getting into a "silver Mercedes." Does this imply that Mandela had sold out because he was enjoying the fruits of power? Was this a silver coloured Mercedes, or a silver-plated one? Was this owned by the new South African government or had Mandela pilfered it? What did Pilger expect him to get into? What car model is acceptable for Mandela? Was Mandela expected to walk the long road to freedom? The article ends with this distasteful innuendo after it seems to hold Mandela responsible for the current state of South Africa.

Was he pushed or did he jump?

There is little question that the condition in South Africa today is miserable for the majority of the population. The statistics of disparity are easy to find and it is not hard to identify as responsible the kind of policies chosen by the government led by the ANC-SACP-COSATU for almost twenty years. Since he took over leadership of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2004, Patrick Bond has helped incubate a serious and empirical critique of ANC policies. Bond came to this post after working in the South African government for the previous decade on its Reconstruction and Development project. Three of Bond's books are serious engagements with the failures of South African development: Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (2000), Against Global Apartheid: South Africa meets the World Bank, IMF and International Finance (2001), and Talk Left, Walk Right: South Africa's Frustrated Global Reforms (2004). These are fine-grained analyses of the failure of the ANC government to break away from the neo-liberal consensus of the 1990s and 2000s.

With Mandela's passing, Bond wrote a strong essay in the Australian journal Links entitled "Nelson Mandela's years in power: Was he pushed or did he jump? (5 December). Unlike Pilger, Bond is not dismissive of Mandela. He appreciates his immense achievements, but does ask the fundamental question – was it under Mandela's watch, as anti-apartheid veteran and ANC government official Ronnie Kasrils suggested, that the inexorable drift toward corporate power took place? If it was under his watch, did Mandela guide it willingly or grudging. That's the meaning of the question, was Mandela pushed or did he jump.

There is no easy method to evaluate this question. To do so requires more than an evaluation of the intentions of Mandela or his ideological views. A crucial factor is to study the context. This is what Bond does not spend too much time on. Why should he? He is immersed in the struggles over South Africa's present, and, as his books demonstrate, he is in command of the details of the debates inside South Africa. There is no need for Bond to explore the context of this or that policy given that his audience inside South Africa is aware of the context neurologically. Nonetheless, in his essay Bond does provide a generous exploration of the context – introducing us, as he does in his 2001 book, to the process by which Pretoria joined the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs in 1994 "as a result of pressure" from the Clinton White House and to the process by which the Rand – South Africa's currency – was whipped into shape by the Mexican currency fiasco in 1995. The nature of the GATT entry meant, Bond notes, the deindustrialization of South Africa, and the financial liberalization narrowed the space for the Reserve Bank to engage with simple tools such as capital controls. The West and financial markets constrained the policy space for South Africa. That kind of context is essential for any evaluation of Mandela's decade as head of government – from 1994 to 1999.

South Africa's liberation came in the wrong decade. If it had come in the 1950s or 1960s – the high points of national liberation and non-alignment – it might have afforded the ANC's left to push for a much more robust people-oriented development strategy. But that was not to be. The ANC came to power in 1994, in a decade desiccated of options. The context needs exploration. Three important elements need to be highlighted in particular:

1) Demise of the Soviet Union and weakening of the Socialist bloc.

Stalwart in its solidarity with the South African national liberation struggle was the socialist bloc, namely the USSR but most importantly the Cubans. It was the Cubans who supported the Angolan national liberation movement, and it was there military presence at Cuito Cuanavale in 1987-88 that weakened the South African military by its successful intervention. The Angolan military defeat of South Africa dampened its confidence.

Mandela had been a member of the South African Communist Party, indeed at the time of his arrest at Rivonia he was on the Party's Central Committee. It was Marxism that allowed Mandela to see beyond Black Nationalism, and it was Marxism that spurred Mandela's views of a post-apartheid future. As he wrote in Long Walk to Freedom, written in prison but published after his release,

"Dialectical materialism seemed to offer both a searchlight illuminating the dark night of racial oppression and a tool that could be used to end it. It helped me to see the situation other than through the prism of black and white relations, for if our struggle was to succeed, we had to transcend black and white. I was attracted to the scientific underpinnings of dialectical materialism, for I am always inclined to trust what I can verify. Its materialistic analysis of economics rang true to me. The idea that the value of goods was based on the amount of labour that went into them seemed particularly appropriate for South Africa. The ruling class paid African labour a subsistence wage and then added value to the cost of the goods, which they retained for themselves."

One of Mandela's early trips after his release was to Cuba, where he thanked the island nation for its support. In Havana, Mandela said in July 1991, "We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious, imperialist-orchestrated campaign. We too want to control our destiny." It is likely, although we have no good evidence for this, that Mandela would have been made aware already of the austerity-driven Special Period which opened up as a result of the end to the special economic links with the USSR and Eastern Europe and as a result of the new stranglehold placed by the US government. This was the worst period in Cuba's history, and it would have been impossible for Mandela not to have been told about it (one of the remarkable things about Fidel Castro was his forthrightness about the economic difficulties of his resolute island nation). It was not clear in 1991 that the Cuban independence and sovereignty would outlast the collapse of the USSR.

2) Demise of Third World Project.

By the end of the 1980s, the Third World Project – the raft of polices of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) bloc – had collapsed under the weight of the debt crisis (for an introduction, see my The Darker Nations, available from LeftWord Books). This induced debt crisis wiped out the policy alternatives – such as nationalization and import-substitution – that had provided a way for the new post-colonial nations to develop their national economies. No longer were such mechanisms possible as the IMF controlled the spigot of commercial and multilateral credit and would only release the tap if the indebted countries agreed to accede to a reform agenda that opened the nations to the "market economy," viz. to international finance capital and to multi-national corporations.

Mandela's first trip out of Africa in the winter of 1990 was to India – where he hastened to West Bengal to a mass rally organized by the Left Front government. In Calcutta, Mandela said he was interested in learning what the Left Front government had been able to do despite the constraints of the Indian federal structure. Having learned about the twin successes of agricultural development (land reforms and operation barga) and grassroots democracy (panchayati raj), Mandela had to absorb the reality that deindustrialization was not an easy problem to undo. Three years later the Left Front government would create a new Industrialization policy that was gripped by the suffocating policy space of the era of globalization. India's central government would go to the IMF in the matter of a few months and inaugurate its own long surrender to neo-liberalism.

Mandela was not unaware of the problem. When he came to India he was asked by the media and by politicians how he planned to move his party from struggle to governance. "The query came from concern, not cynicism," writes Gopalkrishna Gandhi who was then in the President's office. "Mandela did not give elaborate answers but his demeanour showed he was in some tension." How could he not be? Many of his peers, such as Tanzania's Julius Nyerere, had been as confounded by the new reality. Nyerere led the South Commission, whose report from August 1990 found it hard to break away from a discomforting predicament – history had been unkind to Communism and to the Third World Project (for more on the role of the South Commission, please see my The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, LeftWord, 2013).. In 1990, all that seemed to remain was Americanism – free markets and an anaemic liberal democracy. This was the basis of the new period of US primacy.

3) Ascendency of US Primacy.

The United States, by 1991, had asserted itself as the sole manager of the world system. The USSR and the Third World lay prone. The US had the world's largest economy and its largest military. It was culturally confident – with its style of life envied by people across the planet. History had ended, said its intellectuals, and Americanism had come to stay. Even the left-wing journal New Left Review ended its old magazine and in its new series, its editor Perry Anderson signalled the fact of US primacy and then suggested that for the left all that remained was an "uncompromising realism."

One of the developments that I detail in The Poorer Nations is the way US primacy enabled the reconstruction of the IMF and the World Bank to suit the interests of finance capital and multi-national corporations. Their actual agendas were no longer suited to even a nominal commitment to development – the new agenda was to use their leverage to pry open post-colonial states for the exploitation by banks and firms that flourished under the umbrella of US primacy. This is what Bond writes about when he mentions South Africa's December 1993 loan from the IMF "ostensibly for drought relief, although the searing drought had ended 18 months earlier." The seamy side of the deal was the secret condition (leaked in March 1994) that showed that the quid pro quo was the capture of South African economic policy making by the structural adjustment framework. As well, Bond points to the way IMF managing director Michel Camdessus virtually forced ("intense pressure" is the phrase Bond uses) the ANC to reappoint the apartheid era finance minister and central bank governor. This set in motion the surrender of the new South Africa before neo-liberal power blocs and their preferred policy options (finally to appear as the Growth, Employment and Redistribution – GEAR – agenda, which the SACP called the 1996 Class Project).

In this context, Mandela's government had to operate. He did not take power in 1962, when he began his prison term, nor in 2000, when the Latin American breakthrough provided some openings for an alternative. His government took power in the 1990s, the high point of US primacy and of neo-liberal policy making.

Why Didn't Mandela Become the Chavez of Africa?

Because he came to power in the wrong decade

When Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, Edward Said dubbed it the Palestinian Versailles. It was a surrender of the Palestinian national dream rather than its validation. Why did Arafat sign this document? The context is once more important – the USSR, one of Arafat's backers, had vanished; the Third World Project had not only withered, but Arafat's decision to side with the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War undermined him and showed that his fealty to old national liberation nostrums was no longer shared by the NAM bloc. But most importantly, Arafat was said to have lost touch with the Palestinian masses, having been in exile in Tunisia since the ejection by the Israelis of the PLO from Beirut in 1983. In other words, Arafat had been out of touch with the Palestinian refugee camps and its occupied lands for ten years. But this is nothing.

Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison. He was not directly in touch with the masses of the South African poor whose livelihood and political aspirations had crumbled during those decades despite their resolute fight-back. The exiles in Maputo and London had links to the struggles in South Africa, but they too had a highly mediated relationship with the townships and the rural areas. A few leaders had maintained networks that were electric by 1990, first among equals being Chris Hani, one of the brightest lights of the SACP. When Hani was assassinated by the recesses of the apartheid state, it was a blow not only to the ANC and the SACP but to the potential for a popular hold on the new government.

When Mandela spoke at Hani's funeral in Soweto in 1993, he pledged that the "highest priority" for the new government "will be the issues that were closest to the heart of Chris Hani: the reconstruction of South Africa so as to ensure that apartheid is not reformed, but uprooted in its entirely…..We want to build a nation free from hunger, disease and poverty, free from ignorance, homelessness and humiliation, a country in which there is peace, security and jobs." If Hani had been alive, the SACP would perhaps have had the leadership to build an alternative Class Project, a proletarian project, linked to the organized masses of the townships and the rural areas, whose pressure would try to counter that of US primacy. But it was not to be. Hani had been killed, as were other activists whose tentacular reach into the lives of everyday people would have produced a different path for South Africa.

The killing of Hani in 1993 cut away the potential for that counter bloc in an adverse international environment. This is not to say that Hani was the loadstone and the SACP without him was empty; it is to say that the assassination of Hani dampened the ability of that alternative pole to grow not just ideologically but in terms of the production of a mass movement around that alternative ideology. The assassination of Hani defined the emergent ANC – the absence of genuine leadership for the townships lead to the classic politics of clientalism, depriving the zones of endemic poverty with an artery to the higher reaches of power. With people like Hani at his side, and there are more than simply Chris Hani, Mandela might have been able to produce some kind of resistance to pressure from the old apartheid state, its old allies, the emergent neo-liberal power bloc and accommodative sections within the ANC. It was a formidable challenge for anyone in that context.

Through the fortitude of Mandela, who refused to make a deal with the apartheid regime to secure his release from prison, the anti-apartheid movement grew. It is impossible to assess Mandela without his role in that movement as its centre. If we only had Mandela's years in power to judge his legacy, the myth would be tarnished. But even those years need to be set in their larger context. Do we judge him for the adverse pressures that he was not capable of overcoming? Do we make a precise assessment of the kind of pressures he had to deal with? He could certainly have refused to do the deal with the IMF and to go back to his people to deepen the struggle from the national question to the social question. Why that did not happen says as much about the 1990s as it does about the exhaustion of the ANC – with leaders eager for the opportunity to real regardless of the limitations. Mandela is not to be held responsible for those limitations although he cannot be fully absolved from them. 

At the end of Mandela's years in power, in 1998, Hugo Chavez rode the Bolivarian movement to victory in Venezuela. He opened up a new route – the South from Below. South Africa had by then moved in a different direction , a more accommodative policy to international finance and firms, for reasons that include of course that it had less control over its natural resources than the Venezuelans. A few years after Mandela had left office, in 2003, South Africa would seek to move away from US primacy through another route – the South from Above, the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) bloc that would later become the BRICS bloc. Limited by their concessions, India, Brazil and South Africa exemplify states with major disadvantages vis-à-vis the North-South divide that are at the same time aware that they must make policy space for redistributive or at least welfare programmes for their poor. This is where South Africa is today. It is not Venezuela – with its independence intact, and yet it is also not Colombia – with its independence unclear. The US military overreach and its financial troubles have opened space for both the South from Above and Below to take their opportunities where they can. Where South Africa will go is hard to say precisely. But one thing is clear: it is better for having had Nelson Mandela's life as one brick in its edifice.

Vijay Prashad is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Glimpse into Washington’s Barbaric Crimes in Iraq since 2003 Illegal Invasion

A Glimpse into Washington's Barbaric Crimes in Iraq since 2003 Illegal Invasion
US Gen Taguba Unveils Abu Ghraib, Washington's Gulag in Iraq  
Since World War II and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 , the new bully on the international arena , America, with its poodle, instigator and third-rate power, UK and from time to time , with support from other European nations, is responsible for a trail of destruction around the world . In West Asia ,Israel in the background controls the U.S. Congress through Jews and their lobbyists who have the honourable lawmakers by their short hair . In this destruction, especially in West Asia, South West and South Asia, the corrupt and medieval Saudi Princes corporate body with its thousands of Princes has played a very pernicious and anti-Muslim role .Riyadh wants to keep Muslims backwards so that they can continue to rule over them from religious angle.
Since the creation of Pakistan by London and with support from USA, the weakling state was midwifed to keep India out of touch with Central Asia and West Asia,the latter  with Western oil wells. Pakistan provides Jihadis as cannon fodder and has been beholden to the West for arms and armament. Islamabad  was allowed to develop nuclear bombs, so that it could counter India's influence in the region .In the process Pakistan has become a failed state and poses a danger to south-west and  south Asia, apart from itself. There are pressitutes and lobbies of American in Pakistan .There will always be Pakistanis in military and civilian life who will make a fast buck by cooperating with Washington even at the cost of their own country with their thus accrued wealth and second homes in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and London .
The shrieking and shouting brigade of anchors on India's celebrity and trivia obsessed TV channels , whenever there is a crisis with Pakistan ,call in mostly uneducated who shout at Pakistan and; the Pakistanis who are paid handsomely shout back at India. None of these Indian anchors will invite somebody who will say that the India- Pakistan problem has been created and financed to damage and harm both Pakistan and India ,for which America ,England and Israel are responsible and to a maximum extent Saudi Arabia, which supplies petro funds to Pakistan which still continues to finance terrorists, builds mosques and madarsas everywhere to keep Muslims moored in7th century .
To those with eyes and ears open and with some conscience  ,there is a general disgust with the American behaviour everywhere. There is now some awareness in India because of inhuman treatment of its diplomats not for the first time, but for the umpteenth time.
Just look at the barbaric and Mongol like invasion ,destruction and loss of colossal human lives , Human rights and international law violations in Iraq. One Swapan Dasgupta had even suggested that India should join USA in the illegal invasion of Iraq. So much for our so-called popular media pressitutes who crowd the channels. The others are equally illiterate and uneducated.
I've watched right from mid 2002 the shameless lies and military preparations made by USA, UK, and others for their invasion and brutal occupation of Iraq for its oil and strategic location. This has been the tradition of Mother Britannia, wild son America and from the unholy litter, Canada, Australia and others .In July 2003  when Paul Bremer was appointed the Viceroy in Baghdad , I had predicted that his rule will end like that  of Sir Percy Cox in early 20th-century in Mesopotamia .Foreign troops will have to withdraw which has happened  but not completely. From the very beginning, the U.S.-led West ignited sectarian Shia Sunni violence in Iraq by providing addresses  to Shia underground insurgents, of Sunni Bath party officers of Saddam Hussein, so that they could be killed . This  igniting the sectarian war between the two communities  which continues till today is taking a massive toll of human lives . It is like providing the blacks in America ammunition and other information to go after the white people.
I'd also written in January 2 004 that unlike the Western projection that Iraq would be transformed  in to a Germany or Japan , there would be a resistance as it was in Turkey under Ataturk and Algeria under Ben Bella and Boumidienne  
Even before the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and brutal occupation of the land of Mesopotamian civilisation, I've been warning of the consequences and destruction .Much against the prognostications of many I've also maintained that US forces will get caught in Iraqi quagmire and strengthen Iran influence in the region and would not attack it which will ignite WWIII. The crimes committed by US forces, under the leadership of George Bush, Dick Cheney ,Blair and others call for a trial of for the crimes against humanity, like at Nuremberg . They and others should remember Gen Pinochet caught in London.
The Indian leadership led by a Washington consensus members beholden to white people and its so-called English-speaking intelligentsia  , media and think tanks refuse to see the reality. Mr Obama, is a creation of Chicago's Jewish political machine and is no different than earlier presidents. Only stupid Indians  thought that he will be friendly to India because he has brown skin.
I've delivered lectures on US invasion of Iraq . Below is selection of 50 articles in URL from many more written since August ,2002 .
Amb(Retd) K.Gajendra Singh , 22 December ,2013 .Mayur Vihar, Delhi
Gen Taguba Unveils Abu Ghraib, US Gulag 
" The abused are only Iraqis !" A senior US General in Iraq to Gen Taguba

By K Gajendra Singh 27 June,2007
"Christian love and piety was an outcome of fear ,"Leo Strauss , Guru of US Neo-cons.
"Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world :" Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

"From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service. And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values." - US Gen Antonio Taguba.

A senior US General in Iraq to Gen Taguba --" the abused detainees were 'only Iraqis.'" 

"US Soldier Sodomised Female Iraqi Detainee". Former British Ambassador Craig Murray's blog headline. 

"--we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable." Gen Taguba

"It must always be remembered that whatever is happening in Iraq is the responsibility of US which led the illegal invasion of Iraq and continues forced occupation against the will of its people, acquiesced in by an impotent and dying United Nations under Sec Gen –What is his name !"-Author 

Seymour Hersh , the well known US investigative journalist has done it again –methodically chipping away at United State administration's blatant lies and spins to further unveil the torture and abuse of Iraqis at US created 'Gulag' at Abu Ghraib and US Administrations effort to muzzle an honest US voice . 

In an interview with Hersh in New Yorker , Major General Antonio Taguba who led the first military investigation in 2004 into human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has bluntly questioned the integrity of former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, suggesting he misled the US Congress by downplaying his own prior knowledge of what had happened. Gen Taguba also claimed in the interview that President George Bush also "had to be aware" of the atrocities despite saying at the time of the scandal that he had been out of the loop until he saw images in the US media. 

As usual the White House denied it and –"the President said over three years ago that he first saw the pictures of the abuse on the television," added Scott Stanzel, a spokesman.

There has been little reaction in US main line media ie corporate controlled ' be the first ' purveyors of spins and lies .Or among honourable members of the US Congress who had sanctioned the illegal invasion of Iraq opening up the gates of hell on hapless Iraqis .As if the well documented US ugliness belongs to some one else . Even the US electorate's demand last November to bring back US troops home from Iraq has been totally ignored. Some government of the people this! 

Such things were to be expected after an invasion launched to grab Iraqi oil . The men should be impeached and tried for misleading the world and the American people .The naked ugly truth is being slowly but relentlessly being exposed .Libby's conviction , illegal doings of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and a Vice President who even claims immunity from the law of the land . Verily USA has created a lawless jungle abroad and at home too.

The New Yorker interview has only amplified what was partially known .Gen Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, confirms details of the abuse not previously known thus publicly giving them official authority . It also confirms that the torture was sanctioned from the top. 

Not part of the interview , but General Janis Karpinski has testified that she saw a memorandum on "Interrogation techniques" pinned to the wall by military intelligence at Abu Ghraib, signed by Defence Secretary Rumsfeld himself. Karpinski was at the top of the line of command of the guards - the military police - but not the interrogators. Doubtless more of the details of the war crimes at Abu Ghraib, and of extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo, will continue to emerge in the next few months as the war party in Washington becomes totally discredited. 

Sexual aggression is not really about sex or gender, but about power: the powerful humiliating the powerless .

The General's 53-page report, first written in February 2004 , had found Iraqi detainees in a cellblock of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad subjected to "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at the hands of their U.S. jailers. The abuses included sodomizing of prisoners, pouring cold water and chemicals on naked bodies, threatening detainees with rape and dog attacks, hitting them with chairs and broomsticks and locking them in isolation without food, water or a toilet for three days. The report also found a virtual collapse of the command structure in Abu Ghraib with Army reservists being urged by military intelligence and CIA employees to "set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses." 

Chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff Gen Richard Myers had then denied the contents to the media but gave conflicting answers . And when pressed, he acknowledged that he had not even read the report.

Gen Taguba noted that Rumsfeld not only denied advance knowledge, but even denied afterwards having seen Taguba's report or knowing what had happened. Rumsfeld testified before Congress that he had no idea of the extent of the abuse.

"He's trying to acquit himself and a lot of people who are lying to protect themselves," the magazine quoted Taguba as saying, referring to Rumsfeld's May 7, 2004 testimony in the Congress. 

Taguba affirmed , "There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff"—the explicit images—"was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The President had to be aware of this." He said that Rumsfeld, his senior aides, and the high-ranking generals and admirals who stood with him as he misrepresented in the Congress what he( Rumsfeld) knew about Abu Ghraib had failed the nation.

The photographs that became public at the time of enquiry and created worldwide reprehension, revulsion and condemnation - showed US jailers humiliating inmates who were naked, hooded, on leashes or piled into a human pyramid. 

Gen Taguba said that other material not yet public or mentioned in trials included a video showing "a male American soldier in uniform sodomising a female detainee". The first wave of images also included images of sexual humiliation between a father and his son. 

Gen Taguba also added he was ordered to limit his inquiry into the conduct of military police at the jail even as he became convinced they had a green light from higher up. "Somebody was giving them guidance but I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority. I was limited to a box." He declares ,"Even today ... those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable." 

Gen Taguba was victimized for doing his duty as he was subsequently forced to retire early. His conclusion was that he was being punished for honest investigation. "They always shoot the messenger," Gen Taguba told Seymour Hersh. "To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal - that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracised for doing what I was asked to do." And he did that as an honest and upright officer and as a decent human being . 

The politicians in the Congress could not care less. A Quinnipiac University poll this month found Congress with an approval rating of just 23 percent. "People voted for change. But they don't think they got it," said Peter Brown, an assistant director of the poll. A Gallup poll last month had put Congress's approval rating at 29 percent. The number had fallen to 21 percent last December, just when Republicans were sent packing by the electorate. 

Some extracts from the New Yorker interview ;

"Here . . . comes . . . that famous General Taguba—of the Taguba report!" Rumsfeld declared, in a mocking voice. The meeting was attended by Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's deputy; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ( J.C.S.); and General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, along with Craddock and other officials. Taguba, describing the moment nearly three years later, said, sadly, "I thought they wanted to know. I assumed they wanted to know. I was ignorant of the setting." 

In the meeting, the officials professed ignorance about Abu Ghraib. "Could you tell us what happened?" Wolfowitz asked. Someone else asked, "Is it abuse or torture?" At that point, Taguba recalled, "I described a naked detainee lying on the wet floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum, and said, 'That's not abuse. That's torture.' There was quiet." Rumsfeld was particularly concerned about how the classified report had become public. "General," he asked, "who do you think leaked the report?" Taguba responded that perhaps a senior military leader who knew about the investigation had done so. "It was just my speculation," he recalled. "Rumsfeld didn't say anything." 

Rumsfeld also complained about not being given the information he needed. "Here I am," Taguba recalled Rumsfeld saying, "just a Secretary of Defense, and we have not seen a copy of your report. I have not seen the photographs, and I have to testify to Congress tomorrow and talk about this." As Rumsfeld spoke, Taguba said, "He's looking at me. It was a statement." 

At best, Taguba said, "Rumsfeld was in denial." Taguba had submitted more than a dozen copies of his report through several channels at the Pentagon and to the Central Command headquarters, in Tampa, Florida, which ran the war in Iraq. By the time he walked into Rumsfeld's conference room, he had spent weeks briefing senior military leaders on the report, but he received no indication that any of them, with the exception of General Schoomaker, had actually read it. (Schoomaker later sent Taguba a note praising his honesty and leadership.) When Taguba urged one lieutenant general to look at the photographs, he rebuffed him, saying, "I don't want to get involved by looking, because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?"-- 

On January 20th, the chief of staff at Central Command sent another e-mail to Admiral Keating, copied to General Craddock and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the Army commander in Iraq. The chief of staff wrote, "Sir: update on alleged detainee abuse per our discussion. DID IT REALLY HAPPEN? Yes, currently have 4 confessions implicating perhaps 10 soldiers. DO PHOTOS EXIST? Yes. A CD with approx 100 photos and a video—CID has these in their possession." 

In subsequent testimony, General Myers, the J.C.S. chairman, acknowledged, without mentioning the e-mails, that in January information about the photographs had been given "to me and the Secretary up through the chain of command. . . . And the general nature of the photos, about nudity, some mock sexual acts and other abuse, was described." 

Nevertheless, Rumsfeld, in his appearances before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th, claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse. "It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn't say, 'Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something,' " Rumsfeld told the congressmen. "I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn't." 

Rumsfeld told the legislators that, when stories about the Taguba report appeared, "it was not yet in the Pentagon, to my knowledge." As for the photographs, Rumsfeld told the senators, "I say no one in the Pentagon had seen them"; at the House hearing, he said, "I didn't see them until last night at 7:30,"wen asked specifically when he had been made aware of the photographs.

US Army – A veritable Mafia

Taguba got a different message, however, from other officers, among them General John Abizaid, then the head of Central Command. A few weeks after his report became public, Taguba, who was still in Kuwait, was in the back seat of a Mercedes sedan with Abizaid. Abizaid's driver and his interpreter, who also served as a bodyguard, were in front. Abizaid turned to Taguba and issued a quiet warning: "You and your report will be investigated." 

"I wasn't angry about what he said but disappointed that he would say that to me," Taguba said. "I'd been in the Army thirty-two years by then, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia." 

A former high-level Defense Department official said that, when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Senator John Warner, then the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was warned "to back off" on the investigation, because "it would spill over to more important things." A spokesman for Warner acknowledged that there had been pressure on the Senator, but said that Warner had stood up to it—insisting on putting Rumsfeld under oath for his May 7th testimony, for example, to the Secretary's great displeasure.--- 

In January of 2006, Taguba received a telephone call from General Richard Cody, the Army's Vice-Chief of Staff. "This is your Vice," he told Taguba. "I need you to retire by January of 2007." No pleasantries were exchanged, although the two generals had known each other for years, and, Taguba said, "He offered no reason." (A spokesperson for Cody said, "Conversations regarding general officer management are considered private personnel discussions. General Cody has great respect for Major General Taguba as an officer, leader, and American patriot.") 

Richard Armitage, a former Navy counter-insurgency officer who served as Deputy Secretary of State in the first Bush term, recalled meeting Taguba, then a lieutenant colonel, in South Korea in the early nineteen-nineties. "I was told to keep an eye on this young guy—'He's going to be a general,' " Armitage said. "Taguba was discreet and low key—not a sprinter but a marathoner." 

General Taguba is a slight man with a friendly demeanor and an unfailingly polite correctness. "I came from a poor family and had to work hard," he said. "It was always shine the shoes on Saturday morning for church, and wash the car on Saturday for church. And Saturday also for mowing the lawn and doing yard jobs for church." 

The Perfidious Brits are equally guilty in Iraq ;

The Brits too are very much in the business of torture ..The reserve stiff upper lip keeps the ugliness under covers but too much has happened and the world has seen enough . 

Robert Fisk of 'The Independent who "had seen British military brutality in Northern Ireland had hopes that things might have improved but the heart wrenching case of Baha Mousa , who died of abuse and torture , proved that the dark, sinister ways employed by the British in the Irish conflict have continued . He concluded that something had gone terribly wrong in the British Army in southern Iraq. 

British Playing football with human beings 

Fisk went to see Kifah Taha, who was beaten so badly by British troops in the presence of Baha Mousa with terrible wounds in the groin. Baha Mousa, son of a policeman Daoud Mousa in Basra , British area of occupation died from the brutal injuries he received in British custody, was a young, decent man who worked as a receptionist in a Basra hotel. Daoud Mousa and others will carry the grief of their son's killings or rapes of their daughters with them for ever. 

Fisk was told how "the soldiers would call their Iraqi prisoners by the names of football stars - Beckham was one name they used - before kicking them around the detention headquarters in Basra. There were stories of Iraqi prisoners being forced to kneel on sharp stones, of being kicked and punched in the groin, the kidneys, the back, shoulders, forced to sit with their heads down lavatory holes." 

There's an old rule of thumb applied to armies in the field said Fisk. "If you find out about one abuse, you can bet there were a hundred others that will never be revealed. New stories of "forced disappearances", hostage-taking and torture in British custody are emerging from Basra. US troops are still being questioned about unlawful killings and torture in Iraq. If one girl is raped and murdered and her family slaughtered by a US unit south of Baghdad - all of which is true - how many others have died in circumstances we shall never discover?", added Fisk. 

But there would be blow back too. Accounts would be settled.

American detainees in Iran

For Americans, it would be a surprise to see the word "detainee" suddenly appear in a different country, in a different context , this time to a group of Americans. After all, "detainee" is the word the Bush administration coined to deal with suspected terrorist captives who, they argued, should be subjected to extra-legal treatment as part of the Global War on Terrorism. As feared the terminology is, being turned against American citizens under detention in Iran now. 

The Iranian government currently holds in custody Haleh Esfandiari, Kian Tajbakhsh, Parnaz Azima, and Ali Shakeri, Iranian-American scholars and activists accused of being spies and/or employees of the U.S. government intent on fomenting dissent and disruption within Iran. (A fifth American, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent engaged in business of an unknown nature in Iran, disappeared on March 8th.) The four are reportedly behind bars at Tehran's notorious Evin prison, meant for political prisoners including human rights activists. The Americans had abducted 6 Iranian diplomats in Kurdistan from the Irbil Consulate arousing much anger and dismay in the Kurdish regional government.

Any way who carries out US overt and covert policies of regime change inside Iran , for which the Congress regularly apportions many tens of millions of US dollars 

Sexual sadism of Western culture –In peace and war 

At the time of hearings in May 2004 ,Katharine Viner wrote in 'The Guardian' about 'The sexual sadism of our culture, in peace and in war" She had received some horrific photographs from Iraq, depicting " the sexual abuse of women by US servicemen. On some, chadors were hitched up over the women's heads. On others, the women were naked while they were raped by groups of men. ----- They make you sick to your stomach. And they look strangely familiar - like the XXX films in hotel rooms, like those "live rape!" emails sent to internet users, like porn. 

"--We know that such images exist, because a US government report confirmed it. And we know that Iraqi women are being raped throughout the country, because both Amal Kadham Swadi, the Iraqi lawyer, and the US's own internal inquiry say that abuse is systemic and widespread. We also know this because all wars feature the abuse of women as a byproduct, or as a weapon. The ancient Greeks considered rape socially acceptable; the Crusaders raped their way to Constantinople; the English invaders raped Scottish women on Culloden Moor. The first world war, the second world war, Bosnia, Bangladesh, Vietnam - where the gang rape and murder of a peasant woman by US soldiers was photographed in stages by one if its participants.

"The poses, the large numbers of men to one woman, the violence - they have all the hallmarks of contemporary porn. Indeed, there is suspicion that the photos are part of a gruesome new trend There's a difference, of course, between the making of pornography for money and the photographing of pornographic poses as war trophies: the consent of the woman involved? But to the consumer of these images, there's no way of knowing if there's been consent or not. They look the same." 

In February,2004 US soldiers were accused of raping more than 112 colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan --- seem to have to prove that they are one of the guys by sexually humiliating the only people less important than they are: Iraqi prisoners, of whatever sex. It's a chilling lesson, that women can be sexual sadists just as well as men. Just give them the right conditions - and someone weaker to kick. It's proof that sexual aggression is not really about sex or gender, but about power: the powerful humiliating the powerless.? 

==appear on pornographic websites. They will be used for sexual gratification.-- Of course we are horrified by these images. But we should be horrified too by their familiarity, and how much they tell us about our own societies." 

Pornography is worth tens of billions dollars business in USA .Is this the civilization the rest of the world in envious of as US leaders constantly proclaim ie superiority of their civilization . 

Conclusions ;

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche , 19th cent German philosopher , inspired by Plato's Utopia aka Republic , in turn inspired the evil genius and 20th  Cent political philosopher Leo Strauss , at whose feet sat the still influential Neo-Cons and Zeo-cons , stated that Christian love and piety was an outcome of fear. The fear of the strongly built neighbour or the fear of a criminal from a policeman .

Nietzsche believed that it was not possible that a man could genuinely feel universal love, perhaps because of his self-created halo of a 'noble' man . That was perhaps meant for two combatants or knights matching their valour on level ground, not like F-16 bombers against kids armed with slingshots or rudimentary guns . 

Many in the West are not even ashamed describing the US "victory" over Iraq in 2003 an example of military valour when US defence expenditure was S$ 450 billion vs Iraq's 2.5 billion after US-UK implemented sanctions had decayed Iraqi defences .The sanctions also killed half a million children of malnutrition according to UN reports. .

Kemal Ataturk , the great strategician ,would have laughed his head off at this spurious claim. Even Montgomery who believed that 4 to one superiority was enough when attacking .Only ignoble deeds by ignoble men shine in the US led West .The so called western 'noble' is now likely to be a poor American from rural areas, a high tech brute ensconced in his armour afraid to come out of his humvee against motivated bombers with just their body to sacrifice against all odds . Would Nietzsche have called the bombers 'noble'!

The noble martial combat was over after the second siege of Vienna in late 16th century , when high tech killing started taking over from Janissaries valour. The final result now is the complete take over of the US by consumerist Military Industry complex , which gobbles up as much in 'defence ' expenditure as the rest of the world put together ,of which the generals and soldiers are consumers paid for by the people of America and now of the world with an iniquitous economic order where in US just prints greenbacks . US power has morphed into world financed-techno-barbarian brute. 

In his book on what Bertrand Russell calls history of Western Philosophy ( West has generally produced linear thought , its real philosophers are ridiculed ) .
He quotes from Shakespeare's King Lear , on the verge of madness 

"I will do such things – 

What they are yet I know not – but they shall be 

The terror of the earth. 

( Exactly what the top US leadership has achieved in Iraq and threatens doing more of the same. )

This is Nietzsche's philosophy in nutshell. Donald Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns or Bush's all options including tactical weapons when there is no danger of an Iranian nuke in near future .No wonder a worried and wizened El Bardai in Vienna called for a control on 'crazies 'in USA. 

Russell says there are two sorts of saints, saints by nature and saints by fear. The first has spontaneous love of mankind. Because to do so gives him happiness and the second , a frightened man afraid of fear. ( Western leaders like Henry Kissinger , Dick Cheney ,Tony Blair would fit the bill ) 

It is existential fear of Jesus Christ's saying turned devilshly on its head .Do not do unto others what you would not like done unto you . The fear what Iran would do after 5 years or ten years .What Iraqis would do . Would Assassins emerge from the Middle East and Asia or Muslim citizens in Europe and Black Muslims in USA . What north Korea with nukes and missiles threatened to do to stop a menacing US. Humans and the world has now been reduced by USA to lawless jungle . 

Leo Strauss was an admirer of the British Empire and Winston Churchill as an example of the will-driven statesman. Recent Churchill admirers are ; the extinguished poodle Tony Blair and lame duck George Bush . After being part of killing of over 666,000 Iraqis Blair said history will judge him. He has been judged and the Brits would pay the price .If the Brits could not remove Blair early enough ,then why blame poor Iraqis for not removing late President Saddam Hussein of Iraq , and why .Whom , now faced with acute security deficit and instability Iraqis miss , even Shias. And perhaps in their hearts the Americans too. Certainly before March 2003 USA was a hyper power , a phrase rarely used now for a degenerated ogre .

The use of deception and manipulation in current US policies flow directly from the doctrines of the Leo Strauss (1899-1973). His disciples including Paul Wolfowitz and other Neo-conservatives who have driven much of the political agenda of the Bush administration. Wolfowitz, acknowledged that the evidence used to justify the war was "murky" and added that weapons of mass destruction weren't the crucial issue anyway. Grabbing Iraqi oil for nothing was !He had told US Congress that Iraq's development would be financed by Iraq oil revenues ( which US is trying to gift to US multinationals ). Paul also tried to finance his love nest from the World Bank funds and refused to resign when caught with his hand in the till or where ever it should not have been. 

Another Neo-Con Douglas Feith recently told one Wolf Blitzer ( the kind of kid glove questions he poses , he could do with some media tutorials ) on CNN , that US was justified in attacking Iraq over WMDs etc even if the US allegations proved to be untrue .Now listen , Feith added that last year if he had no car accident did not mean that he should not take out car insurance this year .So "operation Iraqi freedom" was an insurance policy ! Some Straussian reasoning . On mere suspicions one could attack another country .Suppose some one is reading a book on fundamentals of nuclear Physics. Attack his country according to Straussian or Feith logic . Even Taimur lung , in those lawless days ,attacked only if sure of a threat building up, not on suspicions alone .Wolf the Blitzer was so easily convinced . These are West's top journalists!

In Plato's Republic the citizens are divided into three classes, the common people, the soldiers and guardians. Only the last have political power and naturally are smaller in number ( Three percent of US population) . For the first time the guardians can be elected by the legislators or voters , then it becomes hereditary ( In India it is now well established – once elected then family dynasties are established .Indians also want dynastic succession for jobs ) In USA the corporate masters , ideologues and hangers on are the guardians. Without a draft now , cannon fodder or soldiers are mostly composed of young men from poor and rural communities , almost without even protective gear as some had complained to Rumsfeld in Iraq . The common people are the rest of US population, Hispanics , the Blacks and other poor folks who continue to live in Katrina ravaged areas. And the rest of the world 

Curiously it was the Ottoman devshirme ( slave household ) system which approximated to the Plato's Utopia .The Sultans recruited non Muslim and hence Christian youths from the empire and beyond extending up to the gates of Vienna ,aged between 12 to 18 years , circumcised them and brought them up as strict Muslims and gave them the best of the education. The most meritorious ,( Indian Foreign and Civil Services in old days ), worked in the Sultan's Topkapi Palace and were later appointed to the highest posts eg grand viziers ( 70% were slaves ), military commanders and governors etc .The rest formed the shock elite corps of Janissaries -terror of Christian Europe .The system started collapsing once the merit system began leaking and Janissaries even maintained contacts with their families and their children started getting into devshirme system ( Dynasty in jobs ).The Janissaries soon became the terror of the Sultans and deposed and even killed some of them . The Ottoman empire which had lasted for six hundred years declined and fell. 

Did the US system reach its zenith of power and now lie exposed an abyss of cheating, chicanery , corruption ,hypocrisy and total lawlessness . 

The current direction of US led Western civilization , if you can call it so, is hurtling along retrograde evolution of human animal ; away from the divine and spiritual moorings and identity as all religions discovered intuitively over millennia to a world of heedless and headless consumerism like an unerring laser to wards self destruction, Nuclear bombs and cold nights or climate catastrophes and apocalypse.

K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian ambassador to Turkey , Azerbaijan, Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. Copy right with the author. E-mail:

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (2004) & Story of Santa Claus

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year  (2004) & Story of Santa Claus
K.Gajendra Singh, December, 2013, Mayur Vihar, Delhi,
Wishing you and your family Merry Christmas and a very healthy, happy and prosperous New Year
(Hopefully without US & Saudi created violence)
Below is a piece on Santa Claus and the evolution of Christmas celebrations around the world. While posted at Ankara (1969-73, 1992-98) I visited as many places as possible associated with Christianity ie Santa Claus, Jesus Christ, St Paul and Mary, supposedly buried in Turkey, known as Asia Minor in history. 
The piece was written for my granddaughter Nain Tara Singh Breuer.
"If one drives from the Turkish city of Fisheye to Antalya, littered with hotels and resorts for millions of tourists who throng its Mediterranean coast, which was known as Lycia in ancient times, after passing innumerable ancient ruins, one reaches the town of Demre, known as Myra in olden days. 

In the center of the town one will come across the Church of St Nicholas, the patron saint of children, sailors and the poor and one of the most popular saints in Christianity now associated with the celebration of Christmas. Many legends have been woven around Nicholas, who was the bishop of this church in the 4th century AD and where he died in 342. He was born in about 280 AD in the town of Patara, which the traveler would have passed about 100 kilometers earlier."
Some of you might have read this piece earlier, so I have added some info about the origins of the New Year celebrations, now almost universal and the greetings in local languages around the world. Basically, the celebrations began from crop harvesting season by our ancestors and the celebration of the life gifted by Mother Earth and the Sun, a dominant god in almost all ancient religions and cultures, and both worshipped in various forms including the fertility cult by all early agricultural societies.
New Year Celebrations around the world
In countries using the Gregorian calendar, the New Year is usually celebrated on January 1. Although by tradition, the Roman calendar began from the first day of March but it was in January (the eleventh month) that the Consuls of ancient Rome assumed the government. Julius Caesar, in 47 BC, created the Julian calendarIt was modified in 44 BC at the time of Mark Antony, then by the emperor Augustus Caesar in 8BC .And finally by Pope Gregory XIII in 1585, the current calendar which begins on January 1.
Subsequently, it acquired a religious significance during the middle Ages and in later centuries. Following the domination of the West and the dissemination of its system to the rest of the world during the twentieth century, January 1 celebrations have become almost universal, even in countries with their own hoary ancient New Year traditions and celebrations (e.g., ChinaIndiaIran etc).
Jamshedi Navroz: Celebration of Life - Jamshedi Navroz  
One of the oldest tradition of new year are those of Iran's Zoroastrians or Parsis in India .Their prophet Zarathushtra accorded as much sanctity to nature as to human existence. The Sun became the celestial emblem of the Fire which was kept burning within the homes and fire-temples on earth as an eternal tribute to the spirit of the Creator, Ahura Mazda. 
A benediction to the spirit of the Sun proclaims: "When the Sun rises, the land created by Ahura Mazda becomes purified. If the Sun were not to rise, evil forces would devastate all that exists.'' During winter the power of the Sun decreases, the nights are long and cold, nature slumbers.
Then on March 21, the Sun enters the sign of Aries and this day is known as the spring or Vernal Equinox. From this day on the power of the Sun waxes, the days get longer and nature rejoices. King Jamshed of the Peshdadian dynasty in ancient Iran introduced the Sun-calendar with the day of the Vernal Equinox as the first day of the year - Naoroz (new day).
Jamshedi Navroz is celebrated not only by the Zoroastrians, but also by Muslims in Iran, Afghanistan, Kurdistan and some parts of the former Soviet Union. Entire families go to the countryside to be close to nature, to celebrate the coming of spring. Iranians prepare a table with seven articles beginning with the letter 'S': Sib (apple), sabzi (vegetable), sirkey (vinegar), soomac (powder), sir (garlic), sikke (coin), senjed (olive).
Both Zoroastrians and Aryans, being of the same stock i.e. Indo- Iranians, worshipped fire. Parsees in India still do so. Hindus also worship Agni (fire); during Hawans for marriages and other religious and social functions. Foreign Minister of Azerbaijannorth of Iran, told me that in ancient times his country was known as Aagban, Aagbaan etc. which could perhaps mean forest of fire or an arrow of fire. Near Azerbaijan's capital Baku is Atishgah, a temple with a burning fire from natural gas seeping out from earth's crevices .It was believed to have many miraculous powers which brought happiness and wellbeing to visitors and devotees .Located on the silk route, a number of Indian traders- Parsees, Punjabis, Gujaratis and others visited it and built rooms for their stay and for their horses.
In south east Turkey , where the Kurds, an Iranian related people are in majority but their language and culture are suppressed, celebrate Nawroz with great fanfare as a mark of defiance  against the unitary Turkish state , whose secular elite celebrates the New Year with European style balls and feasts .
India in its diversity.
A culturally rich and diverse country, India, where different regions follow different traditions and cultures the New Year celebrations also manifold. Like other ancient civilizations, the New Year celebrations are associated with harvesting of crops. Almost every Indian state has its own history and traditions behind the celebrations .So the people celebrate New Year as per their regional calendar with vibrant colors with their own distinctive features .It also provides many lazy Indians in bureaucracy to take another day off from work. 

New Year dates of many religions coincide with each other. Baisakhi falls on April 13 or 14 every year and so does Bihu inAssam, Nabo Barsho in
 Bengal, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu and Pooram Vishu in Kerala. In an agriculturally rich country New Year in different regions of India are usually celebrated to mark the time for harvesting of crops. In some places, the religious minded people celebrate it to honor Lord Brahma, creator of the universe. Whatever be the reason, the day begins with pooja at homes and temples followed by specific customs and rituals. At the time of New Year, every house is adorned with auspicious flowers, leaves and lights. People also present traditional New Year gifts to their dear ones and share rich meals with families and friends to mark the auspicious day.
·        Vishu - Malayalam New Year
·        Diwali - Marwari New Year
·        Baisakhi - Punjabi New Year
·        Puthandu - Tamil New Year
·        Ugadi - Telugu New Year
In north India's agriculturally prominent and prosperous states of Punjab and Haryana, the festival of Lohri "The Bonfire Festival" is celebrated on 13th January every year. The festival marks the solar equinox when the Sun starts moving towards Uttarayan (North). People specially the farming community of Punjab celebrate it with great gusto, zeal and enthusiasm. Bonfires, songs and dance, til Jaggery and peanuts are an essence of Lohri celebrations. In north Indiaespecially in Punjab which prides itself on its food grain production, its most significant festival is Baisakhi (also called Vaisakhi) .This harvest festival is celebrated on the thirteenth day of April according to the solar calendar.
Pongal is a four-days-long harvest festival in Tamil Nadu, in south India. It falls generally on the 14th or the 15th of January and is the quintessential 'Tamil Festival'. It is a festival of thanksgiving to nature for celebrating the life cycles that give us grain. It takes its name from the Tamil word meaning "to boil" .It is held in the month of Thai (January-February) when rice and other cereals, sugar-cane, and turmeric (an essential ingredient in Tamil cooking) are harvested.

Tamilians say
 'Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum', and believe that knotty family problems will be solved with the advent of Thai. This is also traditionally a month of weddings. This is no surprise in a largely agricultural community - the riches gained from a good harvest form the economic basis for expensive family occasions like weddings.

This first day is celebrated as Bhogi festival in honor of Lord Indra, the supreme ruler of clouds that give rains. Homage is paid to Lord Indra for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land. Another ritual observed on this day is Bhogi Mantalu, when useless household articles are thrown into a fire made of wood and cow-dung cakes. Girls dance around the bonfire, singing songs in praise of the gods, the spring and the harvest. The significance of the bonfire, in which is burnt the agricultural wastes and firewood is to keep warm during the last lap of winter.
Chinese New Year or Spring Festival
Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays .It is often called the Lunar New Year, especially by people in mainland China and Taiwan. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month (Chinese: 正月pinyin: zhēng yuè) in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th; this day is called Lantern Festival. Chinese New Year's Eve is known as Chúxī. It literally means "Year-pass Eve". The Lunisolar Chinese calendar determines New Year dates. The calendar is also used in countries that have adopted or have been influenced by Han culture (notably the Koreans, Japanese and Vietnamese) and may have a common ancestry with the similar New Years festivals outside East Asia.
Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year between January 21 and February 20. In the Chinese calendar , winter solstice must happen in the 11th month, so the Chinese New Year usually falls in the second new moon after the winter solstice (rarely in the third ) In traditional Chinese Culture, lichun is a solar term marking the start of spring, which occurs about February 4.
According to legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with a fight against a mythical monster called the Nien (Chinese:pinyin: nián), who would appear on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year believing that a food satisfied Nien would spare them .  Once, people saw that the Nien was scared away by a little child wearing red. So, when the New Year is about to commence the villagers hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. They also use firecrackers to frighten away the Nien. The Nien was eventually captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk and became the latter's mount.
The New Year Greetings around the world
Happy New Year
Saale Nao Mubbarak
Gelukkige nuwe jaar
Gezuar Vitin e Ri
Antum salimoun
Snorhavor Nor Tari
Sheta Brikhta
Yeni Iliniz Mubarek!
Shuvo Nabo Barsho
Soursdey Chhnam Tmei
Chu Shen Tan / Xin Nian Kuai Le
Corsican Language
Pace e Salute
Sretna Nova godina!
Cymraeg (Welsh)
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
Scastny Novy Rok
Godt Nytår
Ufaaveri Aa Aharakah Edhen
Kiortame pivdluaritlo
Felican Novan Jaron
Head uut aastat!
Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
Bonne Annee
Bliadhna mhath ur
Prosit Neujahr
Kenourios Chronos
Nutan Varshbhinandan
Hauoli Makahiki Hou
L'Shannah Tovah
Nav varsh ka shubkamnayein
Hong Kong(Cantonese)
Sun Leen Fai Lok
Boldog Ooy Ayvet
Selamat Tahun Baru
Saleh now mobarak
Sanah Jadidah
Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
Felice anno nuovo
Akimashite Omedetto Gozaimasu
Asegwas Amegaz
Hosa Varushadha Shubhashayagalu
Sua Sdei tfnam tmei
Saehae Bock Mani ba deu sei yo!
Laimingu Naujuju Metu
Sabai dee pee mai
Srekjna Nova Godina
Selamat Tahun Baru
Nveen Varshachy Shubhechcha
Puthuvatsara Aashamsakal
Is-Sena t- Tajba
Nawa Barsha ko Shuvakamana
Godt Nyttår
Papua New Guinea
Nupela yia i go long yu
Nawai Kall Mo Mubarak Shah
Saleh now ra tabrik migouyam
Manigong Bagong Taon
Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Feliz Ano Novo
Nave sal di mubarakan
AN NOU FERICIT also la multsi An
S Novim Godom
Manuia le Tausaga Fou
Sretna nova godina
Nayou Saal Mubbarak Hoje
Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Nawan Saal Shala Mubarak Theevay
A stastlivy Novy Rok
sreèno novo leto
Iyo Sanad Cusub Oo Fiican!
Feliz Ano ~Nuevo
Heri Za Mwaka Mpyaº
GOTT NYTT ÅR! /Gott nytt år!
Warsa Enggal
Eniya Puthandu Nalvazhthukkal
Noothana samvatsara shubhakankshalu
Sawadee Pee Mai
Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
Shchastlyvoho Novoho Roku
Naya Saal Mubbarak Ho
Chuc Mung Tan Nien
Yangi Yil Bilan



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                                                                                                           24 December, 2002
ASIA TIMES online -25 December, 2002
St Nicholas: Turkey's gift to the world
in a journey down the byways of history, K Gajendra Singh travels to Demre, on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, where he finds the Church of St Nicholas, once the domain of Bishop Nicholas, now hailed as the patron saint of children and the poor and everywhere associated with the celebration of Christmas. (Dec 24, '02)-Editor
                                                                     Written for Tara Amelia Singh-Breuer, Brussels
Turkey's gift to the world   By K Gajendra Singh

If one drives from the Turkish city of Fethiye to Antalya, littered with hotels and resorts for millions of tourists who throng its Mediterranean coast, which was known as Lycia in ancient times, after passing innumerable ancient ruins, one reaches the town of Demre, known as Myra in olden days.

In the center of the town one will come across the Church of St Nicholas, the patron saint of children, sailors and the poor and one of the most popular saints in Christianity now associated with the celebration of Christmas. Many legends have been woven around Nicholas, who was the bishop of this church in the 4th century AD and where he died in 342. He was born in about 280 AD in the town of Patara, which the traveler would have passed about 100 kilometers earlier.
As a young man Nicholas traveled to Palestine and Egypt and became the bishop at Myra on his return. He was imprisoned during the persecution of Christians by Roman Emperor Diocletian. The persecution ended when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion and built his capital at Constantinople in 324 AD on the Straits of Bosporus, separating Asia and Europe. When conquered in 1453 by Sultan Fethi Mehmet, Constantinople became the new Ottoman capital, now known as Istanbul.

After his release from prison, St Nicholas attended the first Christian Council in 325 at Nicea. There is definite historical evidence of this in the records of the council. Nicea, now known as Iznik, famous for its Ottoman tiles, is not far from Istanbul on the Asian side of the city that straddles two continents.

The stories of miracles and benevolence associated with St Nicholas and the legends woven around him have identified him as Santa Claus and Father Christmas. The earliest reference to him occurs in a Greek text of the 6th century, according to which three officers condemned to death by Constantine were saved when St Nicholas appeared to the emperor in a dream. In another legend, a merchant fallen on bad times was very much worried about dowry for his three daughters who could not be otherwise married and might have ended up as prostitutes. One evening, while passing by, St Nicholas overheard the unhappy merchant's conversation of with his wife. So the next day, secretly entering by the window, he lobbed three bags of gold coins in the house of the merchant, thus enabling his daughters to marry and live happily ever afterwards.

That story lies behind the three gold balls used as a sign by pawnbrokers. Another legend consists of three boys who had been cut up by mistake by a butcher. St Nicholas restored them to life. There are many other such stories.

A biography of St Nicholas written by a 6th century abbot of a nearby church, also named Nicholas, spread his fame throughout the Christian world, starting with Germany and other countries of reformed Christianity and later to France. St Nicholas was chosen the patron saint of Russia, Greece and various charities and was a popular name for kings and common men alike. Thousands of churches are dedicated to him, the first built in the 6th century AD at Constantinople by Emperor Justinian. His miracles became the subject for medieval artists and liturgical plays.

But Santa Claus' tomb in Myra is of a later date. By the 6th century his shrine was quite well known. Being specially benevolent to sailors and merchants, who had adopted him, his remains were spirited away to Bari in Italy in 1087 by a group of merchants or sailors to save it from desecration by Muslims. His relics are enshrined in the 11th century Basilica of St Nicholas. Its removal on May 9 to Bari is celebrated with fanfare, making it a holy and crowded place of pilgrimage for Christians.

The word Christmas comes from old English cristes maesse, or "Christ's Mass". For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus' birth, although the exact date of birth is not known. However, in 336 AD, Christian leaders set the date to December 25 in an attempt to counter a popular pagan holiday in Rome that celebrated the winter solstice. Originally, Christmas involved a simple mass, but slowly it has subsumed or replaced a number of other holidays in many countries, and a large number of other religious and cultural traditions have been absorbed into the celebrations.

Christmas comes three times each year to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. While the Western Church and the Russian Orthodox Church both celebrate Christmas on December 25, the Russian Church still uses the old Julian calendar which places their (December 25) celebration on January 7, according to our calendar. The Armenian Church celebrates on January 6 by the Julian calendar, which becomes January 19 to us. To add to the confusion, the January 6 celebration of Epiphany overlaps into the Russian Christmas. In addition, the diversity in climate has shaped Christmas festivities all over the world.

Ethnic groups have brought their own traditions, specially in an immigrant society like the United States. Even food varies from country to country. Americans concentrate on Turkey (in Turkey, the bird is called Hindi - anything exotic has to be from India), while dinner on Christmas eve in Germany consists of dishes such as suckling pig, white sausage, macaroni salad and many regional dishes.

The English celebrate Christmas season with hearty feasting and merrymaking with wild abandon. They have been doing so perhaps since King Arthur, as the legend goes, made "merrie" in 521 AD at York surrounded by "minstrels, gleemen, harpers, pipe-players, jugglers and dancers". It appears that celebrations went underground during puritan Cromwellian rule as did sex during another puritan Victorian era.

Apart from Le Pere Joel (Father Christmas), the French have Le Pere Fouettard (Father Spanker) to "reward" bad children with spanking. In the Netherlands, children are told that Santa Claus, known as Sinterklaas, arrives from Spain on a steamer on his feast day, December 6. The night before, children fill their shoes with hay and sugar for his horse. In the morning they find them filled with gifts such as nuts and candy. Sometimes Sinterklaas appears in person in the children's homes, along with his assistant, Black Pete.

The people of Twente, Denenkamp and Ootmarsum in eastern Holland announce the coming of the Christ child by blowing special horns, handcrafted from birch saplings three or four feet in length, which when blown over wells produce a deep-toned sound similar to a foghorn. This tradition goes back to around 2,500 BC when horn blowing was believed to chase evil spirits away. Now horn blowing is relayed from farm to farm to announce the arrival of the Christmas season.

In what is now the US, Christmas was perhaps first celebrated at Tallahassee, Florida, in 1539 in Spanish style by Hernando de Soto and his army. Legends of Santa Claus and the celebration of Christmas as the feast day were taken to New York by Dutch immigrants. In the beginning the Puritans in New England had even suppressed it by law (identifying it with pagan rites and Papist practices), arguing that the New Testament gave no date for Christ's birth.

But it then blossomed into a carnival and became even rowdy and disruptive, almost like "Holi" - the north Indian festival of colors. It was neither a family nor a commercial holiday at the beginning of the 19th century, but become so by its end. The transformation of Santa Claus around the 1820s, into a night visitor bringing gifts for children and the poor, made it pro-plebian and Christmas became an enjoyable festival. But Santa Claus' magical tricks, benevolence and love for children have made Christmas a family festival with gifts for children, perhaps based on Nordic tales of rewarding good children and the exchange of gifts among family members and friends. That is why people from all over the world from other religions also join in.

While New York has its tree, in California thousands flock to Hollywood for the annual Parade of Stars, while others converge on Balboa Park in San Diego for Christmas concerts on the world's largest outdoor pipe organ. Festivities range from a picnic on the beach at Waikiki or Key West to candles in a window during the twilight of a cold day in Alaska. Nowadays consumerism has overtaken simple celebrations, in the US the most, where traders, economists and government look at counter sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas for its likely impact on the US economy. As George Bernard Shaw commented, "Christmas is forced upon a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press; on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred."

To most Americans, St Nicholas is just another name for Santa Claus - plump and rosy-cheeked - whereas for most of Europeans and Asians he is a thin figure dressed in bishop's robes, also so it is shown in Demre town's square in Turkey. As Christmas in Europe and North America falls in mid-winter, the tradition of a white snow Christmas, white bearded Santa Claus and other myths, have emerged. The popular song "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" for the movie "Holiday Inn" (1942) sung by Bing Crosby, perhaps further confirmed this perception.

Myra, though, is not cold. Nor is Patara, his birth place five kilometers from one of the longest sandy beaches in Turkey. When I went there in August 1994, it was impossible to walk on the hot sand, although many north European tourists looking like grilled lobsters were enjoying themselves, some bicycling around in steaming temperatures. But it was quite pleasant in March. Patara is also full of Roman and Byzantine ruins, including a theater, the magnificent Hadrian's Gate and a Christian Basilica.

Myra was an important town in the region. St Paul and St Luke had visited it a few times while going to Ephesus. It was the capital of the Byzantine Lycia until it fell to Caliph Harun al Rashid in 808. Apart from St Nicholas' Church, Myra attracts tourists for its shrines and rock-cut sepulchers on a hill, looking like carved wooden houses. At the foot of the hill is a large Roman theater.

Demre town is located in a swampy flat area full of mosquitoes and its hothouse cultivation of vegetables and fruit with acres of plastic sheets make for an ugly sight. The harbor of Demre, now known as Chayazi, the ancient Andriace on the river Xanthos, has boats to take one to the beaches of Kekova island or Kas, both popular spots with rich yacht owners from Europe and the US. Turkey is now seriously in the business of exploiting its ancient historical and religious sites to attract tourists. It holds a festival every year on December 6 to celebrate St Nicholas Day at Demre, with great fanfare, inviting tourists, clergymen, journalists and others.

Turkey, known as Asia Minor in ancient times, was the cradle of early Christianity. In a grotto near Antakya (Antioch), bordering Syria, St Peter held the first mass. Followers of Jesus Christ were called Christians here for the first time. Christianity spread from here and first blossomed in the east at Edessa, now known as Urfa, from where 500 people went to Malabar Coast in the 4th century AD (and other groups later) to form early distinct Syrian Christian communities.

Nearby in Tur Abdin and Midyat, with old Syrian Christian monasteries and churches, Suryani Christians still speak Syriac, a language akin to what Jesus Christ spoke. St Paul was a native of Tarsus in Cilicia. Seven churches located in Turkey are mentioned in the Revelation of John: Ephesus (nearby the Virgin Mary is reputedly buried), Smyrna, Pergamum, Thiatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Chalcedon is an Asian suburb of Istanbul, known as Kadikoy and not far from it is Nicomedea, now called Izmit, a major industrial center.

With more Greek ruins than Greece and more Roman monuments than Italy, Turkey, with its Mediterranean and Aegean coast resorts, attracts nearly 10 million to 12 million tourists a year and earns over US$8 billion in tourist dollars every year. Even Europeans are amazed to find that places where Greek and hence the earliest European political and religious thought evolved are in Turkey. The spiritual forefathers of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the very first Greek philosophers Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenus, were born and lived in Miletus around the 6th century BC, east of present day Ephesus and Izmir, then known as Smyrna, the birth place of Homer, of Odyssey and Iliad fame.

From Ionia along Turkey's western coast entered the word Yunani for the Greeks in the Eastern lexicon. The historian Herodotus was born in Halicarnassus, now known as Bodrum, a port. The geographer Strabo was born at Amasia, east of Turkey's capital Ankara. Troy, of Helen, Trojan horse and Achilles' heel fame, is located on the Asian side of the Dardanelles. Across at Gallipoli on the European side lie buried thousands of Indian soldiers, with their Australian, New Zealand and British comrades. They were killed (some say foolishly sacrificed) in fierce battles during World War I when the mighty British navy tried to take over the peninsula. Its defense made Kemal Ataturk, a colonel then, a hero among Turks.

It was at Zile, northeast of Ankara, that Julius Caesar proclaimed veni, vidi ,vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) after his unexpected quick victory over Pharnaces II, whose father Mithradates VI had given a tough fight to the Romans.The name Mithridates (gift of Mithra), a popular name in the region, comes from the Vedic and Avestan god Mithra.

The Greek Hellenic world came in contact with the sophisticated religions and philosophy of the East, including Mithraism, after the small town boy Alexander and his hordes cut a swathe of victories across the Achaemenian Empire. They also learnt about state protocol and the divinity of the emperor. Coming into contact with neo-Platonian and other ideas, Mithraism flowered between the 2nd and 4th centuries in the Roman world and became a very popular religion among the Roman aristocracy, military leaders and soldiers, traders and slaves with powerful patrons among Roman emperors, like Commodus, Septimium Severus, Caraculla and others. Diocletian built a temple for Mithra near Vienna on Danube as "the Protector of the Empire".

Along the Rhine, Danube, Euphrates and in Roman north Africa, where Roman legions used to camp, there are ruins of hundreds of underground Mithra temples, with the slaying of the Cosmic Bull symbolizing the creation of the universe and fertility. (Perhaps the Spanish sport of bullfighting originates from it). As the god of Light and Sun, contract, loyalty and justice, Mithraism was organized (but open only to men, being an Aryan patriarchal religion) in a graded hierarchy, with novices ascending up the highest seventh level - something like Buddhist /Hindu sanghas (orders).

Various astronomical symbols, still indecipherable, with their meanings transmitted orally from teacher to pupil in Aryan/Avestan tradition, still remain unknown. One can speculate that they were similar to levels in meditation for final unity with God. Celebrations for Mithra's birthday on December 25, the sun's solstice, was so popular in the East that Christmas had to be shifted to this day from January 6 to make it acceptable among the masses. Christianity also took over many of the rituals and symbols of Mithraism, like baptism, resurrection and prayers in honor of the sun.

The earliest written mention of Mithra, the guarantor of contract, was found on tablets not far from Ankara amid the ruins of Bogazkoy, the capital of the Indo-European Hittites. The Mithra gods (also Indra, Varuna and Natasya) were invoked as the god of oath in the peace treaty between the Hittites and the Indo-Aryan Mitannis, who ruled for three centuries in southeast Turkey and Syria (1,500 BC to 1,200 BC). The Bogazkoy archives also produced a horse-training manual. The technical terms used in horse training and chariotry, like aika wartanna, navartanna (one turn, nine turns) are like ek vartanam, nava vartanam, as in Vedic Sanskrit. Both the treaty and the training manual tablets are displayed from time to time at the Archeological Museum in Istanbul.

Mitannis also signed a peace treaty with the Pharaohs to counteract the Hittite threat from the northwest. This was cemented with Mitanni princesses being married to the Pharaohs. Princess Gilukhepa was married to Amun Hotep III. She went to her husband in style with 317 Mitannian maidens.

Later, the Mitanni king Tushratta (whose chariot wheels rolled the fastest - a la Ferrari nowadays) gave his daughter Tadukhepa to Amun Hotep IV, who also married Gilukhepa, youngest in his father's harem. It is generally believed that Gilukhepa was no other than the beautiful and famous Nefertiti. It is known that Nefertiti fully supported her husband's efforts to bring in monotheism. This upset the vested interests of priests and after their sudden disappearance, old gods and cults came back. It was from Egypt, where Moses was born and brought up, that he led out the Jews with the idea of one god Jehovah.

But for the 312 AD victory at the Milvian Bridge under the banner of the Cross, after which Constantine opted for Christianity, leading to the decline of Mithraism, it is conceivable that Mithraism might have spread and become a world religion. But like most religions, Christianity, which was itself persecuted, did the same to other religions and its own newer sects, with religion, alas, becoming another tool for control and exploitation by the powerful.

Then came Islam with jihads and to counter the Crusades. The concept of crusades and jihad is once again at the forefront, and if pursued could play havoc with earthlings. It's crucial that leaders of all countries forget their short-term interests and ponder what has gone wrong with the human race. They should strive for reconciliation and peaceful solutions to differences.
K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal.

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