I saw yet another politician in the past week state that attacks on the West are because Daesh/Al-Qaeda and other suchlike groups are deeply envious of Western ways of life.
I really roll my eyes when I see this sort of smug, self-satisfied, superficial and silly comment which is trying to pander to a domestic audience with superficial platitudes.
Because in essence it’s dangerous and misleading.
It totally ignores the real reasons behind terrorist attacks in Britain, the US and Europe which is that people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and so on are fed up to the back teeth with getting the shit bombed out them and, when ordinary people get blown apart or their homes destroyed, hearing that they are “collateral damage”.
When that happens, is it any wonder that people get radicalised and want to retaliate? Don’t we in the West start spouting “search and destroy” when atrocities happen?
And no, I’m not condoning mass murders wherever they occur. I am suggesting that, until we start to try to understand the roots of the massacres which are happening so often in so many European cities, those bombings and shootings will continue.
Look at the situation last week. In Munich, nine people were shot to death. The papers are full of outrage about these murders.
Yes, they are terrible. But what we are suffering in the West is nothing like the slaughter happening in other countries.
At the same time as the mainstream media in the West were filling page upon page with photos and comment about the Munich deaths, 80 Shia Muslims were killed by a Daesh suicide bomber in Kabul, Afghanistan. Muslim deaths merited small mention in the media, perhaps the odd paragraph in the international news section, reinforcing to those alienated by Western interference in their countries that Western lives matter a whole lot more than those who are dying in far great numbers due to the catastrophe unleashed by the illegal invasion of Iraq.
I know it’s hard to know what to do when the world looks in chaos. But it does seem to me that we ordinary folk, people on the street, can take small steps to build solidarity with our friends in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia by posting our sympathy and regrets on social media when atrocities happen in their nation to let them know that we stand in solidarity with them, they are not forgotten.
We need to stop automatically rushing to judgement and blaming Muslims for attacks by organisations like Daesh because they don’t represent Islam. In much the same way as we don’t blame all Christians for the actions of Blair and Bush who claim to be Christians and whose actions have led to the deaths of tens of thousands. We can support organisations which are helping shattered communities rebuild their lives. Or give a helping hand to refugees and asylum seekers – make sure your know the facts and stand up to those who try to spread ignorance, racism and hatred towards people driven out of their homeland by war, poverty, drought, repression, and so on.
And of course, we need to oppose war and fight for peace at every opportunity. Each of us, as individuals, needs to step up to the plate to take responsibility for what happens in our world. You can join organisations like AVAAZ, SumOfUs, Amnesty International, make donations to help causes which offer support for refugees and asylum seekers, support anti-war organisations, let politicians know what you feel and ensure they in turn know their actions are being monitored out in the community.
When we stand silent, we support the status quo and that status quo is in the process of falling apart.
When we speak up, we can make a difference to that status quo and contribute to a world where every life matters.
In the Chilcot report on the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the US and Great Britain, with Australia tagging along, and in all the reams of commentary about the contents of the report, there is a stunning silence about the real reason behind the war.
With attention focused on the then UK prime minister Blair and US president Bush, no-one is mentioning OIL.
It’s a bit like the Fawlty Towers episode where Basil Fawlty enjoins everyone not to mention the war when German holidaymakers stay at the hotel. “Don’t mention the war” he lectures staff while doing completely the opposite himself.
In the Fawlty Towers version of the Iraq War, however, it’s good ol’ whipping boy, Saddam Hussein, who occupies centre stage as the dreadful villain whose dastardly deeds demand that he be removed. And not one mention of OIL. Because that was the motivation, the real driving force behind both wars in Iraq and the subsequent sanctions imposed on Iraq by a US-dominated United Nations: the control of the oil resources of the Iraqi nation.
You can demonise Hussein for all your worth but, until the 1st Gulf War, Iraq was a country with great health services, good education facilities, modern infrastructure and no fundamentalist groups blowing people up left, right and centre. No, I know he was a dictator but the US and its allies have never worried too much about dictators (as in the US-backed right-wing dictatorships in South America or the Shah in Iran), the problem for Saddam-baby was that his country is sitting on top of rich oil resources, resources the US and other Western nations wanted to get their sticky little fingers on.
You could also add that the by-product for the mega-rich armaments industry was huge profits from the bombings on Iraq. Plus, let’s not forget, even more profits as they then had to replenish the arsenal unleashed on Iraq. And let’s also not forget the mega-million profits Halliburton got in Iraq, without due process of bidding for contracts, with its former vice-president Cheney involved in doling out the contracts (not forgetting Halliburton Corporation gave him a $34 million hand-out when he started his run for the US vice-presidency and, by the way, Cheney was opposed to removing Saddam Hussein from power after the first Gulf War!).
So while, yes, Bush, Blair and Howard were instrumental in unleashing the war, let’s not get suckered into a debate about the pros and cons of Saddam Hussein. He was the bait, the excuse for the war to conceal the real aim – control of oil.
In 1995 I had the opportunity to go on a short tour of Beijing and Xi’an. I looked forward very much to seeing the differences between then and my earlier visit in early 1978.
I had an interesting start to my visit when we took off in a quite small China Airlines 747 airliner from Sydney. As soon as the plane had taken off and seat belt signs were off, heaps of Chinese people on board quit their seats, squatted or sat on the floor and started gambling. It was quite chaotic but the flight staff handled the various groups on the floor with aplomb while the gamblers had the time of their lives.
The real drawback was the smoking which wasn’t then banned. The Chinese on the plane were great smokers as well as gamblers and the cabin was soon thick with cigarette smoke which – as a non-smoker – I found very hard to handle. I was feeling quite under the weather by the time we landed in Beijing and, as with my previous visit, the city still looked grey and cold in the mid-winter weather – quite a contrast from the hot weather I’d left behind in Sydney.
I did wonder how commercialised China had become and soon found the answer in the lobby of the hotel our group was staying in. I’m not a fan of Christmas and all the shlock surrounding it – too commercialised, too money-grabbing, too cynical, too many buying too much and getting in debt, and so many people looking unhappy and desperate in the last-minute rush. So I’d boasted to my husband that I’d be leaving the Christmas “festivities” behind, in a rather gloating manner. Silly me. Our tour walked into the hotel to find a dirty great big Christmas tree and the soft, dirge-like sounds of Christmas carols, quite a difference from the last time I’d been in the city when there was no sign of Western Christmas bling at all!
Being realistic, tourism had grown tremendously since my first visit in early 1978 and the Chinese obviously have to cater for visitors and their tastes. Plus the Chinese need the currency exchange tourism brings, so I’m hardly in a position to criticise from the sidelines!
I really noticed the difference when I went for a walk in Beijing. There were far less bikes – they’d crowded the streets in 1978 – and a heck of a lot more cars. In 1978 most cars were for official business but now the streets were choked with all sorts of vehicles – cars, trucks, bikes, motor bikes – it was chaotic and road rules seemed completely non-existent although people seemed to somehow cope with the bikes and cars creating a sort of mad kaleidoscope of movement.
Gone too was the ubiquitous grey and camouflage green clothing that predominated the last time I was there. Now most people were dressed in bright colours, good quality clothing and lots of swish accessories. Young people particularly looked confident, well dressed and bright. The country had obviously made great strides since I’d first visited and it was good to see.
A lot of people would like China to have stayed in the relatively backward state it was in the 1970s as people were less hurried, less sophisticated and, I guess, a bit naive. But that’s like saying our Western civilisation should have stayed stuck in the 1970s too. Change happens and I really don’t have too much patience for those who say how wonderful life was “back then”.
We did go to see the Summer Palace in Beijing and that really was quite amazing. What really takes me aback when I’m in Beijing is the obscene wealth flaunted by the rulers in olden times compared with the poverty and hardship of the great majority of the population. The Summer Palace is composed of lakes, palaces and gardens and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s coverage of the Summer Palace which gives some idea of the size, beauty and history Summer Palace, Beijing. We also admired the Marble Boat, Summer Palace, Beijing, a quite extraordinary construction which really embodies the excesses of the Chinese ruling class.
The Summer Palace was pretty much destroyed twice by Western powers, as explained in Wikipedia:
“In 1860 the British and French burned the palace down at the end of the Second Opium War (the Old Summer Palace also ransacked at the same time). The punitive action was undertaken in response to the torture and killing of a European peace delegation that included Thomas William Bowlby. The destruction of large parts of the palace complex still evokes strong emotions among some in China……
The Summer Palace was slighted a second time in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion when it was seized by the eight allied powers. The garden were burned and mostly destroyed. Many of the Palace’s artifacts were divided among the eight allied nations. These are still retained by various countries – such as France and United Kingdom – much to the annoyance of the modern Chinese government.”
I have referred to this in detail because we in the West like to pontificate on how China should organise itself and what it should do and how it should behave. This completely fails to take into account the way in which foreign, mainly Western, powers have historically interfered in China and caused immense hardship to the Chinese people. Westerners need to study Chinese history in order to understand what goes on in China today and why lectures from Western governments get up the noses of leading officials and the Chinese people.
A bit of modesty and self-restraint wouldn’t go amiss and this was re-affirmed to me when we were in Xi’an. Thankfully, when we took off from Beijing Airport for Xi’an, the fighter pilots who had flow the aircraft when I first visited in 1978 had now been replaced by modern-trained pilots, so we took off at a normal speed instead of rocketing up into what felt like space when we flew in China in 1978!
We visited a museum in Xi’an which hadn’t been open long when I visited the city with its draw card, the Terra Cotta warriors and horses. It had a reconstructed version of a 5,000-year-old village which had been excavated in Shaanxi Province and our tour guides were very proud to inform us that this had a matriarchal social structure.
We looked at the most beautiful artifacts over the 5,000 year old history portrayed in this museum and it reminded me that China had a flourishing culture and creative outlets when nothing like this existed in early Europe or Britain. American Western culture which US leaders are proud to boast about only started up at a comparatively recent past, in 1776. And saying this does not include the extensive history of Native American/First Nations cultures which was ignored for so long and subjected to many attempts to destroy it completely.
Visiting the Terra Cotta warriors and horses is really a quite humbling experience. Here were ranks upon ranks of warriors, each one crafted individually, and designed to protect the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. They were buried with him in 210-209 BCE, with the aim of protecting him in his after life.
The existence of this army was forgotten until 1974 when a peasant digging a well during a time of drought hit one on the head while excavating. It is a quite extraordinary experience when you walk into the great hall housing these terra cotta figures as each one is crafted individually. In the slight haze of dust in the air, you can almost imagine them moving and coming alive. It’s estimated that more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses were buried in the area, with some still being excavated.
As you drive around Xian you see mounds all over the place which denote the burial places of ruling figures including relatives. We asked our guides why they hadn’t been excavated and they told us that, while they knew which figures were interred where, they were in no hurry to open up tombs until they had the expertise and knowledge to do the excavation work properly and efficiently. This went particularly for the tomb of the Emperor Qin which still hasn’t been opened up. They were adamant that Chinese specialists would be in charge of any excavations and it was clear that there is still a great sensitivity to the actions of foreign countries in the past as well as the plunder of Chinese artifacts which are displayed in Western museums, an affront to the dignity and self-respect of the Chinese people.
I left China on my last visit with a profound respect at what had been achieved since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. People who criticise the country forget the devastated country that existed after the end of World War 2 and the way in which the nation has pulled itself up by its bootstraps. We’re fed a diet of constant criticism in the Western media when a bit of self-examination of what’s happening in Western nations wouldn’t go amiss – particularly the huge and growing gap between the super-rich and the rest of the people.
Do I think everything’s hunky-dory in China? No, of course not. I don’t look at the country through rose-coloured glasses. But I do look with respect at what has been achieved and the great strides forward in the well-being of the people. I watch Western governments like the US and UK bang on about human rights in China but, to me, it’s simply an attempt to interfere in China’s affairs. If Western leaders were so concerned about human rights, they could look in their own backyard, take responsibility for the awful carnage that has erupted in the Middle East after the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, criticise the perfectly dreadful human rights situation in Saudi Arabia (but hey, they’ve got oil) or stand up for Palestinian rights to self-determination.
And with that final little rant under my belt, I’ll wind up my series of posts on my visits to China. I still have very good memories of the goodwill of the people I met, the wonderful sense of raucous humour and the patience with curious tourists who really must drive those in the tourist industry right around the twist on many occasions. So I will finish with a toast of “Ganbei” to the achievements of the Chinese people and memories of skulling the Chinese liqueur mao-tai which, quite rightly, was described by CBS’s anchor, Dan Rather, as “liquid razor blades”. He could also have mentioned the smell of burnt rubber!