Cuba Story

January 26, 2017

Cuba is one of those places that beguiles because of its “stuck in time” reputation. Admirers and detractors alike mention the vintage automobiles that have been kept running with duck tape and wire clothes hangers, colonial buildings that haven’t seen upkeep or renovation in ages, and wonderful people full of love and music. Admired, too, is the resilience of the Cubans who have been defying an American embargo for decades. This plays especially well for critics of US foreign policy and America-haters worldwide. Communist-run Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean islands, is a curiosity, and an icon of resistance against the boogeyman of global Capitalism. Or so it is presented. When one actually visits the island, one finds a slightly different reality, especially on the cultural front.

“Here, everyone takes what they can,” says a character in a film made in Cuba, suggesting a degree of desperation, which is exactly my impression when I spend a week in Old Havana. My first impression on waking in my casa particulare, located on a pot-holed street dotted with roaming dogs, just north of the Bario Chino, is of roosters crowing and people calling out to each other: “Hey Julio. Get the hell off the shit pot and let Claudia use the can!”

I put away my earplugs and head for breakfast to meet the middle-aged couple I came to Cuba with, Doug and his wife Annie. As part of the deal, we are served by our hostess, Mercedes, mother of a teenaged girl, wife of an electrician working in Miami, or so we are told. Breakfast consists of fruit, strong coffee, a couple of white buns, and scrambled eggs — every day.  The bed and breakfast costs $35 US Dollars per room, paid in convertible pesos (CUC) which foreigners are obligated to buy so that the government can accumulate foreign cash. We are satisfied with both the breakfast and the accomodation although the apartment is dark and desperately needs rennovation.

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On the streets outside, there are few foreigners in sight, but many Cubans are on the way to work or just hanging around, seemingly recovering from a night of partying. Idle men lurk in doorways or sit on benches, or line up with housewives outside filthy department store windows, waiting to be allowed in. There are similar lines outside grocery-depots where you ask for products on the shelves behind the counters. No self-service here. I note that people buy small quantities, and prices are not cheap unless you manage to work in the tourist trade as a guide, driver, hotelier, or prostitute. And, I was told that — except for the last option — you often have to buy such jobs from an employer. That says a lot about the socialist economy.

“Hi. Where are you from? First time in Cuba?” The familiar opening lines of a jintero. These are hustlers who work the streets, hoping to engage you in conversation at the end of which they will offer you “cheap” cigars (supposedly provided by cigar factory workers at great discounts). Jinteros also offer you girls, boys – anything goes, as long as it reeks of money. And, when it’s not a taut flaunting something in your face, you may well hear: “Oh, lovely dress. Do you have one to give me?” This request, outrageous as it seems, is for products in a country where certain (quality) goods are not available, unless smuggled in. Such goods include mobile phones and outdated computers or, as in this case, coveted clothing that makes the wearer unique. So much for the new Socialist Man and Woman. Whether its taxistas, tour guides, sellers of whatever, in Cuba everyone is out to make a buck, and you are considered the sucker.

 

On the Melecon, a long stretch of highway that follows the Havana coastline from Old Havana to New Havana, ideal for carefree wandering under a blue sky and even bluer ocean, we come across a taut who offers us a horse and buggy tour of essential Havana. “One and a half hours, only thirty Dollars. Cheap,” he says. (Fifty USD per month are a good wage in Cuba.) OK, we say and hop into the carriage. The man claims to be a former chef, now boxing instructor and tour guide who lived in Australia for seven years, although I detect no Aussie accent in his poor command of English. Seven years?

We travel along the Malecon, then turn up one of the streets leading into the belly of the old city. It is still morning, people are going to work, busses spew out volumes of black exhaust. Taxis (collectivos) suck up passengers until full, before emitting grey clouds of dirt. The street hasn’t been repaved in sixty years; there are potholes here and there, and there’s crap that no one has swept up. Bottles from last night’s parties litter stained sidewalks where pigeons, cats, and dogs shit, and old men smoke cigars. It all provides atmosphere. The sun climbs into the sky, and the heat increases accordingly. But, it is winter, thus bearable.

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“Ola Carlos!” shouts our guide. “Hey, Francisco!” He seems to know a lot of street types along the route. “You wan’ cigars?” he asks us in a conspiratorial voice. “I can get. Cheap.” Doug’s ears pick up. Cigars are one of his coveted items to bring back from Cuba. He assents, too eagerly in my estimation, but what the hell. The jintero gives instructions to the carriage driver, and we shoot down a side street crammed with people, taxis, more potholes, clothes hanging from balconies of crumbling buildings that seem to have barely escaped a war. The street is dark in the shade and somewhat claustrophobic, but typical of the old town.

We stop in front of a nondescript building, are told to wait on the sidewalk while our guide enters a doorway. Then we find ourselves in a living room with a TV set, some odd pieces of furniture, and a shiny, expensive-looking motorbike. A muscular, tattooed mulatto comes from an adjacent kitchen to greet us. “Welcome. Welcome. We have cigars…,” he says. We shake hands all around, entering an air of conspiracy, for we believe we are going to buy “high-quality” cigars at “discount prices” (as promised), provided by employees who make a bit of cash on the side. “Of course, all legal,” the seller assures us, but locks the front door and closes the windows, just in case.

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The deal for the cigars, involving several hundred dollars, is completed, and we want to leave. But, that’s not so simple, for now there is a police car parked just a few meters from the door. Our guide looks out the window, indicating we need to wait a while before leaving. So we sit, commenting on how wonderful the premises look, which they do, given that the whole street looks disastrous. Clearly, this fellow knows how to make money in the underground economy. Our guide looks around too and says his place is not as nice. Apparently, he has a ways to go before becoming a Somebody in socialist Cuba.

For a moment, I think If this were Mexico, this would all be a setup, with the cops raiding the place, taking any cash we had on us, then splitting it with the guide and cigar seller. But, happily, we get to resume our tour after sneaking out of the house and crossing the road where the horse and carriage are waiting. The tour, however, doesn’t go as planned. We are taken from one unimpressive place (like the Plaza de la Revolucion) to another, and finally to a restaurant in the fixed-up harbor district of Old Havana.

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Eager to get rid of our guide, we ask how much we owe him and are shocked at the answer. Sixty Dollars! I protest, saying we negotiated an hour and a half for thirty. But, he says, our tour added up to three hours, and so it’s sixty. He grins in triumph. We give him fifty, and are satisfied to be rid of him, although not without a sour taste in our mouths for we have been ripped of on our first day in Cuba. And it doesn’t end there. When the bill for our mundane meal arrives, we are taken for an additional sixty dollars. (Ten dollars per person for lunch is normal in Havana.) We pay, reluctantly. On the way out, the owner of the place offers us a “40% discount” if we return for lunch tomorrow. Welcome to Cuba. Here, everyone takes what they can.

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We spend the rest of the afternoon negotiating holes in the old streets, past idle men leaning up against ruined buildings, some without window panes, doorways falling apart, walls cracked. The men seem stunned, as though waiting for someone to wake them out of their coma. But that opportunity comes only from ripping off tourists, or from selling sex, of which there seems to be plenty. I get inviting glances from well-dressed, young mulatto women lounging on benches on the Paseo del Prado, a shaded promenade flanked by one-way streets and four-star hotels like the Inglaterra and the Telegrafo. This is where the nocturnal action is. The Gran Teatro and Capitol are just up the street, as are bars once frequented by American gangsters and Hollywood stars, casino goers, and men out for a wicked time. The area still has some of that flavour, although everything seems subdued – fraught with desperation. It’s as though someone is watching, somewhat tolerantly, as the city falls into sinfulness, but there is little choice for lack of a viable economy.

Many of the elderly citizens of Habana look prematurely aged, as they drag their modest purchases home for lunch, but the younger ones seem healthy enough. Many are well-dressed, carry cell-phones provided, we are told, by relatives from Miami. These can be used in public “hot spots” to access the Internet, at a price, of course. The young people seem ready to embrace the wider world whereas their grandparents may just be satisfied to have survived.

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I note a couple of middle-aged men stuffing mattress springs on the sidewalk of the Old City. They use some vile-looking, stringy material that may be coconut “hair.” They wear surgical masks while doing this. Another elderly man is fiddling with a microwave oven, presumably repairing it. These become typical street-scenes because homes are too dark and crammed for workshops. There are stores and small shops with grimy windows. We enter one that seems to be a beauty shop, but on looking around, it is just someone’s living room where a woman is having her hair braided.

Annie wants her hair done and enters a negotiation with the hairdresser, but then a dark, tattooed thug enters the place from the street. His bulk blocks the entryway. He glowers at us and asks what we want. The hairdresser, a young black woman, seems a touch rattled by his sudden appearance. She explains the place belongs to him, el patron. We become wary as he looks like an underworld character. We explain we’ll come back “manana,” but he does not seem to want to move from the exit. It is getting dark outside, and I wonder how this will play out. No longer friendly, the hairdresser demands “Un dollar. Dame un dollar!” perhaps under pressure from el patron. Indignantly, we say No and manage to get out to the street. We will have to be more careful.

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To be sure, the beaches are gorgeous, even close to Havana, but some of the resort buildings are dilapidated. You can access the beaches by bus from the Inglaterra Hotel. You can also take a hop-on, hop-off tour bus to Nuevo Habana, which is interesting for its 1950s architecture, reflecting the heydays of the city under mafia occupation. But even here, you notice the lack of paint and plaster. Buildings look like they are being eaten away by sea salt or torrential storms. Wear and tear is obvious. Inside the ex-Hilton, now the Habana Libre, where Castro and his revolutionaries once occupied the top floor, everything is neat and tidy and, more importantly, air-conditioned. You can get a coffee, without breaking your budget and wait out the heat of the day. You might want to see the university up the hill, but it’s a walk, and may not be worth it. There are several empire-style buildings worth a quick look-see, but student life is not much in evidence as many faculties are located elsewhere. Still, from the grand staircase to the entrance, there is a great view of Havana city, the ocean in the distance.

But, back to our exploration of Havana. We took the bus through the tunnel to the north end of the city where the citadels are located. These fortresses, in the Gran Parque Morro-Cabana, are imposingly positioned over the entrance to Havana harbor so that canon could blast any intruding navies to bits. When we visited, we had to wait well over an hour because, as was explained, the lady who was in charge of selling tickets at the entrance had not shown up for work that morning. Why someone else couldn’t just have collected our money, and be done with it, was a mystery. Several tour buses full of foreigners were turned away, and we soon wandered off to the less popular Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana, a bit further down the hill. By noon, we were exhausted.

Cruise ships (American included) now dock at the terminales where the old city has been made presentable. There are large halls of artwork on sale, paintings and prints, all very commercial kitsch of the highest order, but occasionally you’ll spot something unique. Then it’s pricey. Still, you are in the shade at the hottest time of day. There are many cafes and restaurants, a bit overpriced considering you can get the same meals much cheaper a few hundred meters further inland. But then you’d have to walk too far from your cruise ship.

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After a three-hour taxi ride (cost $120 USD), we arrived in Cienfuegos. En route, we were impressed by how scarcely populated the land was, and how uncutivated. It seemed to be wild wherever we looked, with only momentary patches of arable land or grazing fields stocked with a few cattle. There were sugar cane plantations, but little else. The highway was barely travelled although in good condition. The only other thing I can recall of the journey was getting annoyed by my friend’s incessant commentary: “There’s a cow. Two cows. There’s small trees. I guess that’s ’cause of the climate. I don’t see any houses. No farms. No towns. Looks like sugar cane. Can you ask the driver if that’s sugar cane? I think it’s sugar cane. How do you say sugar cane in Spanish? Water towers look like UFOs….” I pretended to have fallen asleep, thinking: God-deliver-me.

Cienfuegos is cheaper, not matters of accommodation, but in terms of food. There are state-run shops containing booze and water, cosmetics, toiletries – everything. But, again, it’s all behind the counters. You line up to get into the stores, and you line up at the single cashier to get out. And it all takes time. But then, you have time. And you appreciate eating for half the price you paid in Havana. Rooms in casas particulares are, again, $35 Dollars; thirty for the room and five for breakfast, which vary according to the house you’re at. Compared to Havana, buildings in Cienfuegos have their windows washed, and people are well-dressed, and healthy-looking. By way of explanation, I was told the province has industries. Still, I met a stevedore who took great lengths to tell me he made eight Dollars per month (and then expected me to make up his pay package), so it can’t be all roses for everyone.

As in Havana, Cienfuegos seems to have a lot of idlers hanging around public spaces. As usual, there was a hot spot for internet reception in the local plaza where touts will sell WiFi cards for an extra 50% or so. It seems quite an industry, and I wondered how they get hold of so many cards. Interesting too, in Cienfuegos I noted placards denouncing wife and child abuse, suggesting paradise has its dark side.

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The situation in Cienfuegos bus station was confusing, to say the least. I couldn’t make out what people were telling me, so we took a taxi to Trinidad. The trip took an hour and cost thirty Dollars (or CUC). Trinidad is considerably smaller and older, with most streets cobble-stoned, making it sometimes difficult to walk. It’s also a tourist mecca. Some visitors seemed ready to expire from heat stroke as they were shepherded from church to Plaza Major, to souvenir street, and back to the bus. In Trinidad I had one of my rare epiphanies, thinking Tourism is absurd. We invade cathedrals like bats swoop into caves, we buy junk, we get on the bus, and we leave. And tomorrow it’s another band of Visigoths who do the same thing. 

From most people we spoke to, we learned that they all love Fidel — sort of like a family grandfather — and they all value the benefits of the revolution, but prices of commodities have been climbing, wages are frozen, life is harder than ever, so maybe it’s time for a change. This sounds like East Germany before the Wall came down. We learned that the police are well paid, so they’re supposedly honest. They aren’t much in evidence, hence I assumed they are not needed as much say, as in Mexico, where they are armed like shock troops. That could all change with more money coming into the island. Where wealth goes, drugs and crime follow.

I checked out some “modern” artwork in a town square: Che Guevara making eyes at Marilyn Monroe. OK…. (But they don’t dare do that with Fidel.) Old men smoking cigars (for now). Lined campesino faces testifying to hard work, suffering, perseverance: the Old Man and the Sea, the quintessential Cuban male. A dead Jean-Paul Marat with a Vermeer woman, all out of context. When I told a saleswoman who these figures were, she seemed surprised. I suppose, to most people, these are lots of images that say absolutely nothing. But, what the hell. It’s all art. There were also lots of carvings which looked like they were made in Africa, perhaps on sale in Cuba out of socialist solidarity. Who knows. As a tourist you come, you look, but you seldom see.

We also visited Santa Clara where there’s a huge monument to the revolution, a mandatory shrine for all school children and patriotic citizens. I didn’t bother going to it. By this time, my sinuses were so inflamed I could barely go out into traffic. I longed for clean air. I vowed, if there were a next time for Cuba, it would be an all-inclusive, seaside retreat with all the comforts of the first world. Enough of slumming.

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Centro Viejo, Taxco

December 19, 2016

Early sleepers lounge,
Eyes in the past,
Legs on ancestral stones,
Birds chirp and sing
Praises to the Motherland,
But it’s only recorded,
Magnified for the deaf
And dead soon to be.
An ancient couple
Making the beggars’ round,
A sad tale told.
Chirp, Chirp – translation:
You’re fuckd, you’re fuckd.
There’s free Nescafe
In the bus depot
But the machine aint working,
Like the rest of the country.
The attendant shrugs.

Bellas Artes at Noon

December 19, 2016

Old man
Sitting in park,
Spittle on his Stalin mustache,
Picks his nose
In tune with a harmonica
Playing in the distance.
Thousands wander by;
A noon day gun salutes,
Women’s heels click,
A bird shrieks, cars honk;
There is a workers’ demo,
Red flags flapping,
Costumed indigenous
Women eating tamales,
Knitting the time away,
A speaker drones on.
Bellas Artes at noon.

Trotsky Agonistes

December 19, 2016

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“Mexico is where foreigners come to die.” – A Mexican speaking to me

Everywhere you looked there were armoured police: knee and leg pads, bullet proof vests, machine guns slung casually over large plastic shields as though the cops were getting ready to enter an arena to battle lions and tigers. But they were just waiting for the shops, banks, and jewelry stores to open. Mexico today can be a dangerous place, albeit for gangsters and police officers, politicians and the rich more so than tourists who, like me, wander about, ignorant of all this. Yet, Mexico has always been a place of human sacrifice, an idea that struck me as I got ready to head to Leon Trotsky’s house.

Oblivious to the massive police presence, office workers, shop keepers and lesser beings are drifting out of the Metro to their jobs, coffee cups in hand. A suited, pot-bellied businessman exits my hotel elevator, along with his secretary, a briefcase riveted to her bosom as though concealing what happened last night — but maybe they did have separate rooms.

My nose catches whiffs of fumes from large buses idling outside. They are bringing hundreds of political delegates from around Mexico for a conference in the capital. Major roads have been sealed off for the occasion, and an air of the unusual abounds in the morning sunlight. But, none of this concerns me for I dive into the Metro and to Leon Trotsky’s house in Coyoacan, south of the great metropolis.

It is smaller than I remember it from years ago, and it is not frequented by the kinds of pilgrims that flock to Fried Kahlo’s place a few blocks away. Maybe people don’t know who Leon Trotsky was.

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The fortress, an ugly Coyoacan home turned into a tomb, is next to a modern freeway that did not exist during his four years in Mexico when he was guarded day and night by Communist Party volunteers (mostly Americans) who had little idea of what they were doing. One can imagine Trotsky, by then impoverished, dispirited, and his time running out, waiting for the inevitable as Stalin had put a price on his head. How did he swallow his fear of death each day? Perhaps he secretly welcomed it when it came, as it must come for all. Who knows.

I went from room to room in the walled fortress, wondering how he tolerated the confined spaces, the small, narrow washroom with bathtub, the little study, a kitchen and toilet, all crammed at times with visitors or just his wife Natalia and grandson, both of whom survived an earlier assassination attempt with machine gun fire. But then a lone assassin’s ice pick found its mark and the great revolutionary’s suffering came to a close, ignobly so. Trotsky did not die immediately, but wrestled with his killer and expired in a hospital some time later.

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The assassin, a friend of one of Trotsky’s female assistants, had infiltrated Trotsky’s circle, had ostensibly come to have a manuscript looked at by Trotsky, and had struck the great man down on Stalin’s orders. The murderer served twenty years in a Mexican prison and, on his release, was welcomed as a Communist hero by Fidel Castro in Cuba.

REF.
http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/leon-trotsky-assassinated-mexico

Estapona in the Morning

November 17, 2016

The spindly-legged girl comes bouncing into the hostal lobby,
Through a swirl of mosquitos lingering in the entrance way.
Perhaps they love the scent of the flowers inside.
“Oh,” she says: “Fifity Euros a night. Lovely. Thanks so much,”
And she flits outside where
Her Mum sits waiting, anxiously.

The Concierge is busy rummaging in a drawer.
“Tirador. Tirado. Where’s the corkscrew?”
A clock strikes somewhere upstairs in the hotel corridor.
The sun is high and the shops have closed.
The town goes to sleep.

In the distant mist,
Gilbraltar hovers like a ship’s ghost…
Waiting.

The wind rises in the palms,
Tosses branches like sea kelp,
Sends skirts flurrying,
Tossing rafted refugees
Bent on ruining one’s vacation.

Morning cats and tobacco smoke
In the airwaves,
Trash litters marble-esque walkways.
Dog poo, too, and women out shopping,
Old men loitering in cafes;
Cafe con leche en vaso, por favor.

Mongrol, beat up faces
On short bodies…
Consorted with Moors
And riff-raff of the Med’
Didnt’ ya?
Women walking their perverted dogs
Have forgotten the rules of history.

Storm clouds from Africa,
Palms quiver in anticipation;
There’s more rain coming,
And the carceles are brimming.

The Eclipse

October 17, 2016

The white man is your friend, thinks Mr. Weiss, smiling to himself, as he surveys the tin shack roofs from atop the British Council building. He takes a sip of his coffee and puckers his lips. The coffee is bitter and there is no sugar on hand. Damn war! mutters Mr. Weiss.

Over the dust-layered, corrugated tin sea below, a whiff of decade-old human excrement and urine rises on waves of heat, momentarily catching Mr. Weiss off-guard. But, he recovers immediately for he has been living in Ethiopia for some time, and the odors of humanity no longer touch him, or so he says. Smoke from thousands of morning cooking fires mingle with sour scents to produce a powerful air that (now admittedly) has Mr. Weiss’ eyes burning. But, this, too, is part of what he says he has become accustomed to.

After a few minutes surveying the shantytown from on high, Mr. Weiss admits to himself that he feels slightly nauseous, especially now that the sun is climbing over the hills, with not a cloud in sight. The coffee doesn’t taste right either, Mr. Weiss tells his companions, visitors from a far away country. So let’s go.

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With Mr. Weiss leading the way, they troop down the stairwell, pausing here and there to admire an etching or to remark on a lithograph displayed on the walls. The fine lines, someone notes. The pure forms – remarkably realistic. Art presents the possibility of perfection, even in Africa, notes Mr. Weiss.

The four white people manage to get to the car without being hassled, and they are secretly relieved, although they say nothing. After tipping a boy for watching the Land Rover, Mr. Weiss guns it downhill into the city. They pass a monument to the fraternal Soviets — a kitsch monstrosity. Long live the People, blah, blah, blah, thinks Mr. Weiss. Socialism has turned out badly here. On the sidewalks, everywhere, sit idle men and women in cast-off clothes donated by foreigners generous or sympathetic, and by others who just want to toss out old stuff. Sooner or later, it all lands here, ruminates Mr. Weiss.

Nearing the bottom of the hill, the Landrover flashes by an Orthodox church, seemingly a cue for Mr. Weiss to announce: Here we are at the grocery store! Trailing a cloud of dust, Mr. Weiss masterfully pulls into a pot-holed parking lot, swerving around beggars who seem to be keenly awaiting the Savior.

The four white people descend from the Land Rover, carefully covering their complexions against the sun, and quickly make their way into the shade of the colonnade. Something the Italians left behind, says Mr. Weiss offhandedly. But, the beggars have spotted their benefactor. In a moment, a half dozen of them zero in on their prey, hands outstretched like to an old, returning friend. Their mouths are down-turned, eyes squinting and grim.

One beggar stands out for he is smiling. He is the Pretzel Man, as Mr. Weiss affectionately refers to a youngish fellow whose skeletal legs are twisted into a pretzel, forcing him to pull himself on his hands through the dust. The Pretzel Man laughs: You money!…You money!… He knows he needn’t be grim-faced to arouse Mr. Weiss’ pity, for the Master will gladly give a coin or two to a friendly beggar. And Mr. Weiss does. He always makes a point to feed the poor. I even give away my clothes, he confesses jokingly to his friends.

Mr. Weiss wonders whether it would be safe to visit the bar next to the grocery. The coffee is tolerable there, he reports, but there’s always the danger of a shooting, especially if you go downstairs into the bordello. No. Too risky, he mutters: Can’t get tourist killed. Instead, the party heads directly into the grocery where Mr. Weiss gets busy pulling bottles of imported liquor from the shelves, saying to the grocer: Don’t you have any Beaujolais? I thought I’d asked you to order some Beaujolais. Remember?

Outside, a weathered old man, in a make-believe cop’s uniform, prods a beggar who is getting too close to the Land Rover. Keep fingers off the man’s car, he yawns. All part of the job. Suddenly, yellow cab shoots into the car park, raising a cloud of hot dust. Beggars begin to converge. A fellow who is hawking the Economist and Time is already planting his fingerprints on the windows. Inside the taxi, a wide-eyed white woman instinctively shrinks into the arms of a white man. Jesus. Who are they? she squeals.

A novice, no doubt, concludes Mr. Weiss, who has observed. Stupid! But, the man, her companion, seems to have the situation in hand, instructing the taxi driver to scatter the beggars. Not a country for a woman, thinks Mr. Weiss as the bill is being tallied, and the groceries are being carried to the car.

But, where are the guests? Mr. Weiss squints into the noonday glare to spot one of his females in the parking lot, several meters too far from the Rover. The beggars have spotted her too and are being drawn, as it were, into her whiteness. Like hovering planets, they are all around her, a good dozen of them, obscuring her from view. Nuts! says Mr. Weiss. Can’t let my eye off her for a second.

This way Marge! Just leave them. Come this way, he calls authoritatively. The black mass parts, and Marge emerges somewhat frazzled but dazzling in her skin. She skips over potholes to the car and gets in with an embarrassed smile. Silly me. So sorry….

His party safely installed behind tin and glass, Mr. Weiss is secretly pleased at the leadership he has shown. Managed that all right, he thinks as he wheels the car onto the main road, then up, up, up hill into more respectable surroundings. He decides to stop and show his guests the zoo, a place he himself has never been.

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In a moment, they are there. They walk around a structure of smallish cages arranged in a circle, one adjacent to the other. In each, a shabby-looking lion is flopped as though expired, old eyes barely focusing on an assortment of local visitors. The African spectators seem to be waiting for any indication the former old Emperor’s animals are not merely stuffed skin and bone. Everyone seems disappointed. The whites make their way past the African spectators like inspectors from another world, uttering disapproving Tsk, Tsks as though in reprimand to any and everyone. Wildlife Conservation would have a field day with this, observes one of the guests. The Africans are quiet, but their eyes surreptitiously follow the strangers, not sure of what to make of them. Tourists are rare since the war.

Well, that was a disappointment, that was! says Mr. Weiss, noting that he wouldn’t be bringing any more guests to the zoo. Let’s get back home.

Home is a splendid, multi-roomed house high on the hills of Addis Ababa, overlooking shanties and office blocks in the distance, with a few thin, towering trees dotting a landscape veiled most of the day by the smoke of cooking fires. Many of the slopes in the distance have been razed for firewood, and so the soil has massively eroded into the dusty valley below. Mr. Weiss mentions the problem to his visitors who Tsk! Tsk! the results of human imprudence.

The guests are having cocktails. More whiskey Alice? George? How about you Marge? Ever the good host, Mr. Weiss pours drinks before they have been accepted. Food will be ready in a minute. The girls are working on it as we speak.

And, indeed, they are. The aroma of lamb and vegetables wafts up from the kitchen below. More drinks are poured and a bottle of wine is opened. Two Ethiopian women bring the dishes into the dining room as appreciative Yummms! go up from the guests.

Ladies, you’ve outdone yourselves again, says Mr. Weiss to the arriving cooks. They smile. The Master is pleased, says the one to the other with satisfaction. The job pays well, and the Master doesn’t complain when some of the sugar goes missing.

Next day, Mr. Weiss and company decide to drive to a lake in the south. It’s a volcanic lake, as you’ll see, says Mr. Weiss to his friends. The drive is slow. There are numerous trucks in a shroud of gray diesel smoke on the poorly surfaced road, and it takes an hour just to clear the city. Once in the country, though, the air is clean and dry. Yellowed grazing land is everywhere. In the distance, there is a line of hills fringing a vast plain. Volcanoes, Mr. Weiss points out as the car bumps along under the screaming sun.

Two hours later, the group is standing in the shade of a respectable motel they’ve chosen for the night. Looking out of a panoramic picture window, they see the green waters of a volcanic lake below — like undisturbed grass on a golf course with some seagulls circling lazily above. The motel is on the brink of a deep volcanic crater.

Extinct, we hope, says one of the guests, feigning nervousness.

Mr. Weiss has his own room. George and Alice are married and have theirs, while Marge, a single woman, has hers some distance from the others. All very proper. Sitting at a table outside his room, sipping whiskey, Mr. Weiss thinks of the Africans. They just get a woman to come along, all expenses paid, and they have a good time. Mr. Weiss has spotted a pretty African maid of the motel. She gives him a glance. She is changing the sheets in the unit next door and will be in his room presently. Uhmmmm, purrs Mr. Weiss, thinking of the possibilities.

Another moment, and the maid is stripping — the sheets of Mr. Weiss’ bed. He fumbles with his glass and tries to read her look. He attempts conversation, but the girl speaks no English. She smiles as though she knows a secret. Maybe she is used to this.

But what would the others think? They’d notice. Besides, you can’t tell what these girls expect. Reluctantly, Mr. Weiss turns his attention to his drink. The girl regards him for another moment, then she pounds a pillow into shape. She pouts a little as she leaves, wiggling her hips.

After dinner (not up to Mr. Weiss’ standards), George and Alice turn in early. Mr. Weiss and Marge stay on the patio to finish a bottle of whiskey. An African stranger comes wobbling towards them out of the darkness, saying: Hello people. I notice you speakin’ Inglish. How you do? I speak Italian, Germany and Inglish. The man mentions his quickly-forgotten name and shakes hands all around. He produces his own bottle of whiskey and, uninvited, takes a seat. Then he jumps into a monologue: I HATE Americans and Germans! Want to know why? Mr. Weiss and Marge are too astounded to respond.

The man proceeds to relate how the Americans have destroyed the economy of the country out of pure malice, and how the Germans, in their meddling ways, have cheated the dominant tribe out of aid money in favor of some obscure tribe that deserves to be exterminated. Always meddlin’ in Africa! he says with a slur of contempt. YOU always keepin’ us down.

Mr. Weiss keeps his opinions to himself, but Marge offers quick apologies on behalf of the Americans, and the Germans who, after all, are distant ancestors of her own tribe, the Anglo-Saxons — all tainted with guilt. The African seems satisfied at the discomfort he has caused but still glares at the whites. The next day, the party leaves for Addis.

Back in his villa, Mr. Weiss hears appreciation from his visitors. They had a wonderful two days, although things did get a bit rough at one point. Ha. Ha. Ha. They refer, of course, to the side-trip Mr. Weiss decided to take. What happened was this. Mr. Weiss had a colleague who had sworn that you could drive up to the top of a particular volcanic plateau where there was a monastery that took in guests. The colleague had given vague directions that Mr. Weiss had decided were good enough to go on. So, on the return journey to Addis, the happy group acquiesced to a side trip.

The volcanic plateau was visible across an expanse of dry plain, but the route there wasn’t apparent, even from an elevation. As usual in such terrain, distances were deceiving, and it took hours just to get within proximity of the mountain. After bumping along, backing up, turning this way and that, all amidst great swirls of dust, the group found itself at the end of a deeply corrugated gully. They stopped, not able to go any further. And then they saw them.

drought-ethiopia

From the gully ahead, a dozen Giacometti-type figures, many supported by walking sticks, came drifting in the direction of the Land Rover. In their midst, men carried a small coffin, perhaps that of a child, possibly a victim of starvation, for the country was again in a drought. Quietly, almost as if in a dream, the mourners flowed forwards, then parted in a stream around the car. No one regarded the white people; no one made eye contact; no one spoke. Their steps made no sound.

Once they had passed, Mr. Weiss checked in the rear view mirror to see that they were actually going over the nearby horizon. By the time he had reversed the Land Rover back up the gully, the procession was nowhere in sight.

************************************************************

Today is the day, the butcher is on his way, says a tall Ethiopian who acts as gardener and driver for Mr. Weiss. Yes, thinks Mr. Weiss, Now he’s going to get his comeuppance. In the soft morning light, Goliath the goat is happily munching on grass, oblivious to Nemesis stalking towards the house, in the form of the butcher.

Good morning, calls Mr. Weiss, Glad you could come. The men shake hands, then the butcher unpacks his instruments from a bundle of cloth he has been carrying. Mr. Weiss goes up to Goliath for one last contest. He presents the goat with the bottom of his foot. Excited by whatever instinct drives him, Goliath blindly charges the sole of the shoe and almost sets Mr. Weiss off balanced. Little does he know, thinks Mr. Weiss with smug satisfaction. I’m going to win this contest.

The gardener clamps Goliath between his legs as, with a graceful slit of a curved knife, the butcher severs the goat’s head and throat. As blood squirts, the gardener steps aside. The ram collapses on his forelegs, then he tips over sideways, blood shooting as though from a water pistol. The goat’s eyes are solidly in shock. What happened? they seem to say. The Africans look on, unaffected. Mr. Weiss is pleased he has finally won his ramming bouts.

The Africans hang the carcass from a low tree branch, then the butcher begins expertly removing the skin as though unwrapping a package. The head lies on the grass, left for the birds. The innards will be given to the maids to take home. The skin will be sold in town the very same day. Everything will be used. Goat for dinner tomorrow, Mr. Weiss says to Marge who has been looking on in horror. Mr. Weiss smiles broadly.

This day, the group has been invited to dinner. The hosts are East Germans who have stayed on in Addis after the regime fell, and most foreigners left for home. He is a professor of chemistry while she is a Hausfrau of the traditional sort. Fortunately, they speak English.

When Mr. Weiss and his friends arrive at the gray, Soviet-built apartment block, there is an additional guest, an elderly African professor, also a chemist. Perhaps out of nervousness at being the only African at the dinner table, or perhaps because he is by nature talkative, the old professor tells the story of how, as a bright young man, he had been one of a group selected by the Emperor for the new intelligentsia of the country. As such, he and the others were privileged to attend school at the royal summer house, a palace on a volcanic lake now totally neglected. He recalls seeing Haile Selassie being rowed across the lake in the misty evening, as though the great man wanted to get away from his many guests. The professor had watched in awe, certain that the Emperor possessed God-granted powers. The professor was grateful for having been witness to the scene.

haile-selassie

Once the overthrow came, of course, all of the privileges ended. The Marxists took over, and the economy went downhill where it had stayed ever since. The supporters of the old regime ended up in concentration camps, many others fled into exile. The professor says with a sense of inevitability: I was lucky to have escaped punishment, but I will never again be promoted to anything in my lifetime. Now that democracy has returned, the country will be exploited by the rich and powerful until there is nothing left to sell. Addis itself will become a bordello for those with cash, and the rest of the place will fall into starvation as it always has done. On that note, he chuckles and ends his tale. Outside, the sun has gone down and a somberness has come over the streets below.

The next morning, bright and early, Mr. Weiss walks in his garden fingering the roses. He wonders: How do you get more out of life when satisfaction always alludes you? There’s always something missing… Always something. Such dark thoughts often visit Mr. Weiss. He carefully fingers a new rose blossom. That’s what I like about Addis: things still grow so well here, he ruminates as he sniffs the morning mist.

The notion of growth brings the masses of Ethiopia to mind. Safely encapsulated in his automobile, he sees them every day on the way to work as the car avoids potholes and goats on the road into town. Stick-thin natives come down the muddy roads leading from the hills. They carry firewood and vegetables to market or lug tins of water back up to their shacks. Children go to school in surprisingly clean uniforms. But there are few opportunities as long as the border war continues to drain the country’s resources. Maybe it doesn’t really matter, ponders Mr. Weiss as he crushes a dried-out rose bud between a finger and thumb. The starving season is upon us in the East. There’s been no rain there for over a year. Soon we’ll be very busy, he thinks.

Coffee! calls a maid from the house. He abandons his garden. The image of the Pretzel Man surfaces for a moment, then fades away.

At breakfast, pleased with the way the visit has been going, Mr. Weiss recounts to his guests an incident that happened to him early in Ethiopia. He had gone to a store in the city where someone picked his wallet out of his back pocket. His money gone, Mr. Weiss had given up hope of finding it, but then the thief actually called Mr. Weiss at the office. The man wanted a reward for returning the white man’s credit cards and identity papers. Instead of haggling with the crook, Mr. Weiss handed the phone to an African colleague who told the thief he ought to be ashamed of himself, stealing from the very people who were there to help. The colleague lambasted the thief for being a disgrace to the country and a parasite on society, a low-down ingrate. What should people think of the likes of him?

After some minutes of this, the thief ashamedly agreed to return the wallet, the money, and the credit cards. He was sorry he had offended such good people and wanted personally to apologize for his disgraceful act. The colleague and the delinquent agreed to meet at a certain place for the hand-over. What the thief didn’t know, however, was that the colleague, who hated thieves, had connections with the police. He arranged to have some cops meet him at the designated place. The thief was foolish enough to show up. In short order, he was set upon by the cops who beat him to a pulp and dragged him off to jail. There was no trial, of course. But, Mr. Weiss got his wallet back. He chuckles at the little adventure.

Mr. Weiss also tells of how he recently drove to one of the airline hangars that his agency rented from the local government. Grain and dry foodstuffs had been coming in courtesy of the US Air Force, and distribution had been going smoothly even though tons of material had already been illegally redirected to the Ethiopian military on the northern frontier. This was the price of doing good in the Third World. The fighting wouldn’t stop despite the starvation, for in Ethiopia fighting was an honorable occupation, and the silly whites had a compulsion to feed the world anyway, so where was the harm?

Mr. Weiss tells how, on the outskirts of Addis, are hundreds of people, all with their skinny hands outstretched to passing motorists who, themselves, don’t know how much longer there will be food available, even though money is at hand. Prices are going up by the day; soon it will by the hour. If there is no relief, anything can happen.

********************************************
An eclipse has been predicted for today. Although Ethiopia won’t experience it directly, everyone is expecting something significant to happen. Many are awaiting the End of the World, the Second Coming, an end to suffering. Nothing is a coincidence. Every entrail of every goat has a message for those who can read the signs.

Mr. Weiss glances at his watch. The time for the solar eclipse is at hand. Megaphones are calling people to prayer in the churches. School has been canceled for the day. There is the usual haze over the city, but an eerie stillness of expectancy prevails.

Mr. Weiss pours drinks for his guests and suggests they go out onto the balcony to watch the last eclipse of the millennium. Maybe it’ll all end here and now, he thinks. With that, Mr. Weiss raises his glass to toast his guests. Let’s go with a drink!

A shadow slowly encroaches the sun; the air has become chillingly still.

To Rimini: a Cultural Tour

October 12, 2016

After an hour-and-a-half on the hydrofoil from Malta to Pozollo, Sicily, then four hours on a bus through orderly, rolling-hilled countryside, I get to the big city of Palermo. At first glance, it reminds me of the Third World, Mexico City thirty years ago, perhaps, but without those magnificent Mexican avenidas. As the bus pulls into town amidst rush-hour exhaust, it begins to rain. Lightning flashes and thunders as rain pounds the pavement. I hang around the train station until the downpour dies. Then, in the light of the falling evening, I anxiously look for a hotel. As usual, I slip by the first offerings to go down a side street where I discover a one-star, walk-up, affair in a very ancient building. Price, about $ 20 US. It will do.

My room, thankfully, faces into a back courtyard, overlooking fungus covered rooftops. All the walls in sight are a sandy-gray, with worn shutters on the windows, and hardly a smudge of recent paint anywhere. Some of the walls are cracked as though entire blocks will soon crumble. Roofs, although shingled, look like they haven’t seen red in ages. And everywhere, old-fashioned TV antennae give the impression that cable and satellite dishes are here unknown. I kind of like it, but I also feel ill at ease.

Out in the foyer, where the day clerk is just surrendering his responsibilities to the night man, a sad-looking computer sits with a sign on it saying “15 minutes internet free.” Unfortunately, the cables that may one day connect it to the greater world are hanging in shreds from the chassis. I point this out to the clerk who scrunches up his unshaven face, smiles and shrugs: “This is Sicily!”

palermo
I decide to skip the E-mail and head down the staircase to the streets. In the rain, I find a trattoria around the corner, minutes from the hotel. It has an English sign on the door, “tourists welcome,” along with VISA and MASTERCARD stickers, as you would expect in better restaurants. I go in and, with a touch of self-consciousness, pass by tables of old-timers watching TV. They are also watching me. Mafia territory, I imagine.

They sit seven or eight to a long table — rough-looking working men with large bottles of beer and dirty plates in front of them. Smoke almost obscures the TV show — some perversion of “Wheel of Fortune.” Fascinated, I watch, too, while waiting for my meal. Every few minutes, the TV show’s host stops the raucous activities to go over to a piano and pound out a tune to the applause of a dozen smiling goddesses clad in micro-minis. Then, when an epidemic of yawning threatens the live studio audience, the girls put on a demonstration of acrobatics with lots of panties showing and legs flying.

Next, a clown strolls on stage to make a commercial for a brand of cake. The big wheel of Fortuna spins again. The prize is a billion Liras. How anyone wins it is beyond me. I give up and concentrate on an equally disappointing meal, some shit masquerading as steak, shriveled beans and carrots, a wilted piece of lettuce. Welcome to Sicily. This is how the mafia really makes its money.

As I make my way past sidewalk puddles, now barely visible in the darkness, I note a group of young men loitering in a shop. The men stare at me as though at some strange bug they can’t quite identify. The scene reminds me of a famous photo by Ruth Orkin. But that was Florence in the 1950s. The men regard me unsmilingly. I am not at ease. That night my sleep is disturbed by several gunshots in the streets below. I tell myself, “This is Sicily; what else would you expect?” and go back to sleep.

The next day I go to the train station, purchase a ticket to Roma, and prepare to depart. I go into a cheese shop nearby to purchase some oranges and water for my trip. As I leave, the fat, elderly man behind the counter seems to enter into a sudden fit of rage as he begins shouting at a youngish employee. As if to make a point, he picks up a huge triangle of cheese and hurls it across the shop, missing the fellow by an inch. The young man might be embarrassed for, with a smile as I am going out the door, he asks: “Amerika?”

“Praego billetti,” the conductor asks. He looks intently at my ticket then clicks it. He is the fourth conductor to do so since the train left the ferry to the mainland. I am now alone in the second-class compartment, a non-smoker. A badly dressed elderly couple and a very plain daughter enter and politely ask whether they might join me. I nod, and everyone lugs old suitcases into the compartment. It takes minutes to stash everything on overhead racks and under feet, but not before taking out buns and sausages, cheese and fruit, bottles of water, and a couple of bottles of beer. They graciously offer to include me in their feast. The daughter figures she is qualified to translate between her father and me. In “a leetel eengleesh,” she introduces herself as a “secretary” at some-place-I-didn’t-catch. Not speaking any Italian, I try to communicate in Spanish, which works after a fashion.

At one point, I try to tell them I am going to make a circular route, beginning in Rome and ending in Florence. This necessitates my extracting a very large road map from my luggage, and spreading it out over all of our laps. Everyone holds a corner of it and gives suggestions where I ought to go, what I ought to see. The senora has a cousin here, and the senor has a brother there, although no one suggests my looking anyone up.

The daughter says I should go to San Marino, famous for its postage stamps and not much bigger than one. Finding it on the map becomes something of a contest, with the father insisting it is “Here. Here. It used to be here,” and the daughter madly insisting “No. No. Not there.” The mother sits in blank silence as if used to this sort of bickering. Father looks up at me, appealing for help, but the daughter wins out. She finds it after no one cares anymore where San Marino is. She has scored some kind of victory I am not privy to. However, I ask about Rimini. I heard Rimini has good beaches. Yes, they agree, Rimini will be nice. It’s an ideal place for sunshine and beaches.

Later, after the oldsters have begun to snooze off, I find the daughter regarding me intently, with a benign, knowing smile on her face. Is she suggesting something? A little snuggle, perhaps? As I have nothing to say, I try to ignore her. But again and again she attempts to draw me into conversation. I just feign fatigue and incomprehension. I yawn and yawn to indicate “sleepy” which, Thankfully!, soon puts her to sleep. I feel relieved.

The same evening, I am in Rome in a hotel that is undergoing renovation, at a snail’s pace from the look of things. Bare light bulbs are dangling from the ceiling in the hallway, and well-worn plastic sheets force guests to step over them carefully lest they trip and plunge into someone’s door. The hotel is listed as a three-star establishment, but I’m happy to be getting it at a two-star rate because of the mess. The room is nice, with a modern washroom, German-style shower, no CNN though, and on TV nothing in any language I recognize.

rome-terminal

In Rome I conclude that the very things Europeans are so fond of — old churches, ruined alleyways, dark and dank cemeteries — now annoy me most. People seem to be proud of these antiquities as though they themselves were responsible for their creation. Perhaps this is because nothing much has been accomplished since. The Coliseum, for instance, which I see the next day, seems ugly to me. It is huge, but incomplete, expensive to enter, and crawling with tourists.

My tour guide, Claudia, now standing before me, along with a rag-tag multi-national tourist horde, tries to generate interest in the monuments. We follow her like sixty sheep, sneaking a photo here and there as she takes us up a steep incline. She carries a car aerial with a yellow pom-pom on top to distinguish our group from dozens of others, equally intent on gawking and clicking without understanding anything. I find I am bored.

At the Coliseum we strain to hear Claudia explain how the structure was dismantled brick-by-brick to build other buildings in Rome, once Christianity had decided it wasn’t fond of gladiators being torn to bits by lions and tigers. By now I am less fascinated by the tour, but increasingly entranced by Claudia’s well-rounded ass under a long, tight skirt. But is she trying to hide a pair of unflattering legs?

In the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the walls, there are many delegations of people on crutches and in wheel chairs; some are mentally retarded, but all are herded by overseers into the building through one of the special “Holy Doors” opened recently by the Pope himself. They are on their way to celebrate a mass.

The sight of these faithful people has a strange effect on me. I am momentarily chocked up with emotion. The faith of others has that effect on me, the outcast from the flock who could not bring his hand to touch the garment of Mother Theresa as she passed in a cathedral, years before. Perhaps it is a latent “need to believe,” repressed time and again — a fear of all that is medieval: Roman Catholicism, conformism, collectivism, fascism; the surrender of the self to Authority. Something makes me feel faint, and I leave the Basilica to sit on a wall to wait. Rome nauseates me. I resolve to leave for Rimini tomorrow. The old couple in the train had recommended it.

It is gray and rainy en route to Rimini, and nothing about the train ride from Rome to the seaside town is worth recording. Tourists come here for the beaches, which, in comparison to Australia, California, or even the North Sea, hardly deserve the name of beach at all. The beach umbrellas are carefully folded up like so many pine trees in a forest, waiting for the sun to emerge from behind an overcast sky. A few people walk their dogs along the sand. Others ride bicycles on a path parallel to the shore. An air of expectancy hangs over the scene. Then it rains.

I am in a two-star hotel that costs as much as a three-star in the USA. Breakfast is not included. After a bottle of wine on a near-empty stomach, I happily begin to ruminate, as is often the case. I recall the armies of young people in Europe (Italy is full of them), so self-consciously hanging onto their cell phones. Wearing expensive, dark sunglasses, they walk and talk, making sure they are being overheard. You are what you seem to be here: the glasses, the thoroughbred dogs, the cars, the cell phones. The purpose of such display is to be seen to be “in.”

This must be what it is to be a member of a lost civilization. To me it is another sign of a has-been world — the world of the ancient Italians who did accomplish things on a grand scale. They were big cheeses then, two thousand years ago, but haven’t amounted to much since. The other Old World countries aren’t any better. They’re all “make-believe” places out of which nothing of great significance comes but which, nonetheless, want to appear to be “progressive”. They are the Old Europe, as someone says some months later.

I am in the ancient town of Rimini, in search of food. There are dozens of clothing stores, mainly for the tourist chic aria. At six in the evening, people are still walking and shouting into their cell phones. Maybe telephoning is all they can afford, the place is so expensive. As though he were miming how I feel, I note an old man standing on a corner. He is grinding his teeth; his eyes are shut tight as though the world had become too much to take. I want to puke but enter a restaurant instead.

The next day I take a train to Bologna. In the carriage are dozens of school kids, boys and girls with book bags. Some are studying for exams as they hang onto rails to steady themselves. Others are babbling into cell phones. Across from me sits a woman in her 30s, her eyes hidden behind dark glasses. She wears several gaudy rings and lousy pseudo-jewelry around her neck. Her long, tie-die skirt has a slit up to the thigh so that one leg is exposed enough to be interesting. If I were to move my knee, my leg would be between hers. So I sit uncomfortably, wondering if she is aware of this stupendous fact. I don’t think she is aware of me, but I flatter myself thinking she is secretly enjoying this hot proximity. But, life here is so crowded; this is commonplace, and I don’t know the Italians at all.

rimini-italy-beach

I am reminded of what a Russian girl said to me in Sicily: “The people are so superficial here. They don’t know anything; there’s no depth. They make a great effort to appear important.” Over the last week I’ve come to see what she meant, but I wonder if the Russians are any different.

The other thing I note in Italy is the preponderance of police. The train station in Rome was full of them, and now that I am in Bologna, they seem to be everywhere. In the train station, the police look like SWAT teams in berets and extra-wide belts holding big, fat revolvers. They strut around in twos, smoking on the job. Some haven’t shaved in days. Some sport ascots, even in the oppressive humidity. How do they stand it? I suppose it looks macho to look as threatening as mafia gangsters. Bologna is dark and dumpy, and I’m soon glad to be on a train headed to Switzerland.

On the Bologna-Milano-Basel train, I am in an open compartment, first-class, with two women, a mother and daughter from Buenos Aires. They tell me they have been traveling for several days and are going to Lago Lugano. The mother seems very Spanish, in a pseudo upper-class way. We speak in Spanish. She comments on the pros and cons of places they’d seen, but she totally lambastes her native Argentina. She says the government is useless, the middle-class is in decline, the country is going to the dogs, and so on. Initially, I think the daughter cute, but then I note they are of a type, and I long to be alone. As the train pulls into Milano, I help them with a gigantic, battered suitcase and sigh with relief as they get off the train.

After over-nighting in an expensive hotel in Basel, I am in Freiburg, Germany, where I have old friends. She (A) is a buoyant redhead in her early 60s, still full of humor and goodwill. O is less so. He often throws temper tantrums and is happy only when he is in Poland standing knee-deep in a lake with a fishing pole in his hand and a worm on the other end. From what A tells me this morning over coffee, which she has ready by the time I get up, she doesn’t love him as much as he loves her. In the same breath she says how good it is to see me.

freiburg-germany

“When you come to visit, I can get things off my chest,” she says. I am glad, even though at first I am a bit uncomfortable hearing this. But then A tells me she has never been that affectionate with O. She says that when they married, he said he would bring enough love for both of them. In turn, A got a hard-working man who gave her a big house and two girls, now grown up, with lives of their own.

She seems dissatisfied, as if wanting more from life. “But what more can I want?” she asks. “I have everything. And still the human being is never satisfied.”  I know what she is talking about, because I feel the same way, but I don’t tell her that. Next thing you know, she’ll want to run away with me.

A is the compulsive caregiver, the constant mother. Her younger daughter, already in her 30s, still brings her laundry home for A to do, and her father-in-law comes for lunch almost daily. He usually has a pensioner friend in tow. As she tells me this, the doorbell rings, and, speak of the devil, there is M, the father-in-law.

I met him years before and recognize him immediately. “Maximilian!” he says, introducing himself, extending his hand to me. (The friend grins shyly but is ready to be served as a bottle of wine and a casserole are produced from the kitchen.) A has been expecting them. We chat, eat, and drink. I think this is as life should be. It is a rarity for me, this family feeling. But A seems to have had enough of serving others over the many years.

One of A’s little quirks is that she likes to take a shower outside in the yard, by her small pool. She does this naked, saying I ought to try it. It’s so refreshing. Not with my body, I think but, with a grimace, I tell her I’m too shy. I did not grow up in Europe where such things are more easily accepted. She assures me the neighbors don’t look anymore. They’ve gotten used to it.

That evening, A takes me and a female cousin of hers to an open-air concert to celebrate the Equinox. The event is on the grounds of a ruined 13 th century castle overlooking the Rhine, a place that non-locals would never find. A expresses disappointment that the gastronomy promised in the advertisements turns out to be wine, champagne, and wieners. She says this is another sign of how things are deteriorating from what they used to be. She tells me how escargot are no longer available. The demand now is for pizza.

“There are so many foreigners these days. There’s no demand anymore,” she says. Her cousin agrees. By “foreigners,” what is meant is those Germans who have moved to Freiburg from other parts of Germany. “They don’t even appreciate our wine. They’re beer drinkers.” You can tell these interlopers by their accents. I strain my ears, but I can’t make anything out of the general din. Instead, I observe the crowd.

People are correctly dressed, as I had expected. Still, you can tell from the look of them that it’s the professional class who has showed up, and many of them seem to know each other. I note that no one is under forty, except the musicians. People quietly stand around in little groups, with glasses in hand, and the concert begins un-Germanically late.

The big band plays “Hello Dolly,” then Gershwin, but I find it too technical, too mechanical. It lacks soul. But that’s Germany in a nutshell today. Musicians play things which aren’t part of themselves because Germans no longer know who they are. They call themselves “Europeans” as though in apology for being born in a land called Deutschland, something they had no control over. They would have preferred to be English or French, people with a less disgraceful history. So, no German tunes this evening. Just cultural imports played in cramped fashion.

As we drive home in the dark, in a luxury car of German make, I think of how nothing is satisfying anymore. Europe used to be so charming and interesting. Every ancient church used to be a revelation; every strange face was a mark of some tribe or other, a type I had never seen before. Nowadays, it is all rather annoying. I swear I will stop traveling altogether and settle down in some small town somewhere. But then, for the life of me, I can’t imagine where. It rained all the time I was in Rimini, and Rimini was supposed to be stupendous.

 

The End of Sorry

February 13, 2016

It’s time the West stopped apologizing. Let’s drop the pretense of being sorry for perceived crimes and omissions, sorry for bringing modernity to the world. Stop apologizing for colonization, stop apologizing for slavery. Stop apologizing for raising standards of health, standards of living, bringing literacy, secularism, and rational science to people who were stuck in the quagmire of tradition. Stop being sorry for what history has thrown at the world. Do not apologize for the so-called “sins” of our ancestors for history is not as some present it. History knows no morality. It just proceeds, reduces empires to garbage dumps, and raises others to undreamed of heights. It’s beyond good or evil. It just is.

The current mania of apologizing for what we-who-are-alive-at-the-present-time did not do is a very unhealthy attempt at soliciting love from a world that resents and envies us even while (ironically) it looks to us for guidance. No matter if it’s the Chinese, the Arabs, the native Americans, gays, gypsies, Jews, Muslims who have recognized a milk-cow when it wandered into their yards. Minorities and ex-colonials realize they have been dealt a good hand (the joker in the pack), and they are using Guilt to manipulate the developed world.

The Disrespected love to hear us apologize because it signifies a shift of power in their direction, as though we owed them something — endless foreign aid, cheap loans, free technology transfers, political and military support, open borders to immigration. All handouts. Handouts, without meeting corresponding demands for democratization, political reform, human rights or even due respect.

Oz sorry

Consider the countless numbers of Africans (mostly women) who were enslaved by Arab slave-traders for service in Muslim kingdoms, or the millions of white women, taken from what today is Central and Eastern Europe, enslaved by the Ottoman Turks;  Have you ever heard any of them apologize? Why not?

The answer is simple: They have no sense of responsibility for what happens historically. (It’s all the work of Allah.) Similarly, no Mongol has ever apologized for slaughtering humans from Russia, Iraq, India, Persia, to China. Certainly, at some point everyone was enslaving everyone else. Vikings had slaves, as did Romans. Africans enslaved each other. Slavery in China was the norm among landless peasants working for just enough to eat. Injustice is written all over history, but so far it has been only the (white) Christian tribe that has felt a need to be “forgiven” by those it has dragged into the modern age.

american-arrogance-00-the-obama-apology-tour

The mania to apologize is not shared equally among Westerners. It remains the bizarre policy of the left-leaning liberal and Christian who have become disenchanted with the historic process. Political guilt is an expression of hatred of science, technology, modern capitalism, and a culture that is not as “kind” as some would have it be. For the liberal “humanist,” flesh and blood and emotion are paramount to the definition of humanity. But modernity does not conform to this. The world has not turned out to be as “humane” as had been anticipated. Hence the disenchantment and self-loathing, the need to abase oneself in front of the perceived “wronged.”

Liberals are romantics who want to get “back to nature,” but without the manure; without i-phones and the Internet. They want security, but not the hard measures that are required. They want universal inclusion, but would not want to be the hapless minority in a political sense. In short, they want to remain relevant in a system in which everyone is “equal.” And, since reality can’t meet such expectations, they feel guilty for living in a (relatively) safe, clean environment – what their ancestors fought for but which has not even occurred to much of the world to strive on their own to attain. 

Most of the world lives in the dirt — a dirt from which their ancestors never strove to extricate themselves. Ask the tribal people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa. Who wants the “better life” of Europe? A life where you have to work for material goods, confusing education, lack of traditional respect? A life in which you have to decide things for yourself, in which there is no one to tell you what to do.

Many in the Third World have no such ambitions. They want things to remain traditional and familiar, and they see the West only as opportunity to enrich themselves without the hard work. And those who do have aspirations find society so entrenched that only violence can shake it to concessions.

Guilt is what we have inherited along our Judeo-Christian path. We, God’s creatures, crucified our Savior, or so it goes. We are guilty. We disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden; we wanted too much and so we incurred His punishment. We feel we owe God. We feel in debt to everyone. We turn our backs on our cultural heritage, on values that have stood by  us over the centuries. Wir schaffen uns ab, as one German commentator put it. We are dooming ourselves, wallowing masochistically in our misconceived idea of History.

But it’s time to end the game. Time to stop apologizing and get on with the future. We have unfinished business to attend to. The process begun by the Greeks is not finished yet. The great project is in progress and all harking for the past is futile. As is self-doubt. Forget the apologies. Get on with the future. Get on with civilization.

Will Against Reason in Islam

January 12, 2016

A review of Robert R. Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind. How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis.

The Western world has become inundated with Muslim migration from some of the most failed of states, places where dictatorships, oppression, and under-developed economies are the norm. We ask ourselves why these states have not managed to develop despite oil resources, despite access to a world of science and high-technology, despite home-grown talent that has remained unused. Why have these states not developed secular governments, democratic institutions, and market economies? We should also ask what lack of modernization has to do with Islam, of which there are some 72 varieties. So, for the purpose of discussing Reilly’s book, this article refers to the most conservative shades of the ideology, to Sunni offshoots like the Taliban and Wahhabis, the Salafists, and the Islamic State, all of which are retrogressive, greatly intolerant, and anti-intellectual as far as rational enquiry is concerned. (As Reilly notes, Sunni Islam has more of a problem with rationality than does Shiia [Iran], which seems more capable of making strides in science.)

At the heart of the matter lies the Sunni view of God/Allah as being unknowable, as remote from human nature, “God as pure will and power…,” a deity that demands “submission, not interrogation.” In this interpretation, mankind is not made in his “image,” since humans are too lowly to have any of the properties of the all-powerful “creator” of the universe. God is not particularly “loving” towards mankind either. His will or intentions cannot be deduced. He controls humans like a puppeteer, according to no perceivable logic. All natural events, all human misfortunes (or luck), disasters, eclipses, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the like, are due to his divine will, and any attempts to “explain” these is heresy, punishable by death.

Islamic rally

In the Islamist conception, humans have no “free will” as they do in Judaism and Christian traditions; hence, humans cannot make choices; God does, all the time and in everything. Everything a human does and says or thinks is determined by Allah. Every action is enshallah – God willing. And there is no human “conscience.” (There is no word for conscience in Arabic, as Reilly notes.) According to Reilly, “If a man feels he is acting freely, it is only because Allah has placed that feeling in him.” Good and evil are “foreordained;” mankind’s actions are completely dependent on the supreme overlord; even morality is unpredictable: “What is forbidden today could be permitted tomorrow without inconsistency.” Life is so full of uncertainty that it’s no wonder Muslims pray five times per day.

It is surmised that, if to survive, humans can only obey Allah, Believers must also remain passive in the face of powers of other sorts (as long as the powerful do not transgress against Islam’s doctrines, the Qur’an and Hadiths; Sharia laws). This “reasoning” has resulted in any and every type of dictatorship in Muslim society. As Reilly explains: “If man lives in a world of which he can make no sense, an irrational world without causality, he can choose only to surrender to fate or to despair. Reason and freedom become irrelevant.” Consequently, people come to see themselves as “victims” of their governments or of global “conspiracies” (commonly involving Jews and the USA). Muslims have no political agency, and “power becomes self-legitimizing,” so people are plagued by a sense of sheer helplessness. It follows that the only avenue to social change is violence, the type which we see throughout Arab domains on a daily basis.

According to this ideology, rational attempts to understand Creation are transgressions of “the boundaries God had set for mankind….” Hence, rational analysis is haram. Causality, the chain of cause and effect, is non-existent. There are no “laws” of physics or nature in conservative Islam; only God’s unpredictable, incomprehensible will exists. From such a perspective, how can a modern civilization, informed by science and modern technology, dedicated to the development and fulfilment of human potential, ever develop? It cannot, and it has not. One look at the statistics from Islamic nations will prove the point.

AgonyCensored image, Saudi Arabia

Put together by Arabs themselves, the United Nations’ Arab Human Development Reports note the low levels of productivity, high rates of unemployment, high levels of illiteracy, lack of personal freedom, lack of spending on education (despite rising numbers of young people), and lack of book publishing in the Muslim world. In all areas of human development, Muslims have resisted progress, and this conflicts with the supremacist view they are repeatedly given (by the clergy) of themselves: as followers of the only true religion, as people who once had a vast empire, only to lose it to inferior, cursed infidels because Allah must have deemed Muslims unworthy! Hence the fanatical need, on part of Islamists, to get back to a literal interpretation of the Qur’an and Hadiths, and to impose their will through violence. (This is a theme we find in V.S. Naipaul’s master work, Among the Believers.)

Was Islam always characterized by will rather than reason? Not so, according to Reilly. There were rational Islamic scholars who translated ancient Greek texts by the likes of Aristotle and Plato. These works were stored in the great libraries of Cordoba and Baghdad, and eventually made their way into European cultures. (Hence the routine claim by apologists for Islam that the religion contributed greatly to Western development). However, such works were never disseminated into Islamic society to become part of the intellectual fabric, so once sponsorship for scholarship was withdrawn, circa the 12 century AD, classical Greek philosophy was tossed into bonfires, and superstition reasserted itself. (There is no guarantee for civilization anywhere.) The results of this loss are summarized by Reilly, citing an authority on medieval Islam: “’The deadening effects…included the loss of human initiative, activity, and imagination….’” Hence, today “the only thing worth knowing is whether a specific action is, according to Shari’a: obligatory, recommended, permitted, discouraged, or forbidden. The rest is irrelevant.” Not exactly a hopeful prognosis, is it?

Reilly concludes that Islamism cannot be fought on the economic level as it is not a product of poverty but of “a theological deformation that has produced a dysfunctional culture.” Poor economic conditions are a result of that mentality, devoid as it is of rational reflection. Today, even progressive Muslims fear that Islam is leaving rationality further behind, regressing “to a new Dark Age for Muslims.” Reilly ends on a worrying note, in tune with events in Africa, Europe, and the Far East. As for my own take on this subject, Islam can either modernize or drag much of the world down into chaos. Given the self-loathing of many of its 2.1 billion adherents, Muslim majorities in 48 countries, I wish the situation were more hopeful.

References:
Robert R. Reilly (2011) The Closing of the Muslim Mind. How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
United Nations. Arab Human Development Reports, http://www.arab-hdr.org/about/intro.aspx

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35341256 (How can we have a dialogue with such a medieval mentality?)

A Chaos Invited: the Migrant Crisis

September 27, 2015

“Hell is paved with good intentions.” — Samuel Johnson

While many Europeans remain willing to help migrants out of a sense of humanitarian virtue, more sober minds should be asking themselves What will come of all this? What will the results be of millions of non-Christian men, women, and children, old and young – primarily males – flooding into Western Europe? The assumption by the well-intentioned is that migrants will adapt to European behaviors, assume Western secular values, adopt Western political culture, and live in peace and mutual respect with local populations. Is this possible? It may be, but the odds are against it. More than likely, Europe will experience historical, catastrophic convulsions along ideological lines with values clashing literally in the streets. There will be violence, and lots of it.

welcome

The assumptions of the well-meaning is that We are all the same. Well, biologically this may be so, but culturally it is not. To ignore the role of culture in adaptation to societies operating on different values and expectations is foolish. The more similar the cultural background, the easier it is to transition from your homeland to a new country, but in the case of Muslim migration we are dealing with value systems diametrically opposed to the secular and the Judeo-Christian.

For someone from the West to move, for instance, to Japan or China, or the Middle East, with the expectation of smooth integration, being able to function like a local, being accepted into society, is a grand illusion. You can move to Japan or China but you will never be Japanese or Chinese, or Arab, even if you speak the language. On the contrary, you will always be considered an “outsider.” This is true of foreigners in European societies as well, so to pretend otherwise is to stick your head in the sand – which is exactly what many people are doing. Cultural values conflict more often than they blend where cultural conservatism is the norm. This is nowhere more profound than the conflict in traditional values of Islamic versus Christian or secular cultures. Like oil and water, they have never mixed, and will not mix in the future.

These complexes of values, the backbones of cultures, have been at war for well over a thousand years, and now they are being poured into one cauldron as though history did not matter. Well, it does matter, and we have already seen the explosive results in France, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia…. Nowhere has “integration” of Muslims been successful, not even in America where you would expect transitions to be easier than elsewhere.

Rather, the results of Islamic mass-migration have been the formation of “parallel societies,” ghettos, no-go areas, localized fiefdoms run by all-male gangs as in Sweden and France. In exceptional cases, there have been successes in integration, but these cases involved secularized Muslims who were willing and able to compromise their values, for we cannot have our cake and eat it too, which is what too many migrants have wanted so far.

What are the likely consequences of waves of Muslim immigration to Europe? Already you find Eastern European cultures who, having recently ridden themselves of Communist domination, and are transitioning to capitalism under their own national banners, are now being told by the EU to accept migrants who will add to the existing chaos. Countries like Hungary, which was subjected to humiliation under Muslim (Turkish) dominance, are being told to take in thousands of Muslims who most likely will never leave, never integrate, never adopt Hungarian behaviors and secular values. What such countries have to look forward to are years of cultural conflict, massive increases in national debt, raised taxes, increased costs of living, competition with refugees for jobs and homes, and violence rampaging in their cities. Hungarians have already had the problems associated with integrating gypsies into society (unsuccessfully so) and now are to be burdened with migrants expecting to be taken care of. Well, expect trouble. Lots of it.

Another consequence of mass-migration into Europe will be the resentment citizens already feel towards Germany, the land that most “welcomes” migrants, indiscriminately, and without prior international consultation. Certainly, the situation has been critical and decisions had to be made on the spot. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s unilateral declaration of “welcome” to millions of migrants has only created fear and chaos in the EU. Germany plans to take up to a million migrants but wants the expense shared among member states that are experiencing their own economic setbacks. This adds to the anger.

There is no control of who has been allowed into the Schengen border-free zone, hence it will be difficult to determine countries of origin for the purpose of forced repatriation of those who have “lost” or destroyed their identity papers and passports. Lacking proper screening, we can expect criminals, political activists, terrorists, and worse. As the majority of migrants are male, we can also expect anger and frustration which we have seen in the the burning automobiles in Strasbourg and other European cities. Once the crimes begin, expect increased resentment towards Germany, the country that opened the floodgates to begin with.

And where is the money needed to house, feed, clothe, provide with medical care, educate, and train millions of migrants? Ms Merkel claims there is no need to raise taxes. But taxes went up when the Wall came down, and millions of East Germans had to be incorporated into West Germany. That process is still ongoing. Many East Germans have been on welfare  for years, some for decades, being unable to find work, or too old to adapt to the capitalist system. Now we add hundreds of thousands who will be in competition for tax dollars, in competition with Germans who already regret the demise of socialist East Germany and its more secure way of life. There will be political consequences.

Germany and other Euro countries already have new, right-wing, nationalistic movements afoot. Parties like The Finns party, the Danish People’s Party, Sweden Democrats, the Front National in France, the Progress party in Norway, the Lega Nord in Italy, Freedom Party in Austria, the Swiss People’s Party, British National Party, the Freedom Party in Holland, Golden Dawn in Greece, and National Democratic Party in Germany have emerged out of popular resentment against governments that have been deaf to segments of their populations. Too many nation-loving people in Europe feel disenfranchised from the “democratic” process by know-it-all leaders who make decisions without consultation with their constituents. People who feel humiliated, ignored, or tarnished with labels like “Islamophobe,” “racist,” “Nazi,” etc., are taking to the streets in support of nationalist ideals. Expect greater divisions in the social fabric of  European societies and many more demonstrations. And, in response, expect more police, more security surveillance, distrust of governments, and open conflict.

nonalislamism

Most immediately, there will be a housing crisis. Where are over a million and more migrants to be housed this year and in years to come? We are looking at waves of millions, not thousands, of bodies that need shelter, schools, and clinics. Today there are emergency shelters in gymnasiums, military barracks, schools, halls of all kinds, tent cities, and apartments where they can be found. This puts a strain on Europeans looking for accommodation, not to mention the migrants themselves who expect better than emergency shelters now that the winter is coming. Expect angry protests in refugee camps and shelters, and an increase in popular resentment in all of Europe.

Apartment blocks are being planned. However, going on past experience, these new suburbs will turn into high-rise slums within decades of construction, warehousing disenchanted men and women feeling cheated of their dreamed of, prosperous future in countries where their presence is resented. This has been the case of Turks in Germany and Switzerland, and it will be even worse with Arabs who seem to expect even more than their predecessors.

Saudi Arabia has stepped forward to offer to construct two hundred new mosques in Germany – a dream for the Saudi Wahhabi who have been busy spreading their virulent form of militant Islam with the proceeds of oil wealth. Europe already has thousands of mosques that serve as centers of  ideas hostile to Western democracy and Christianity. Well, now we have a new threat and, quite naively, we are opening the doors to a complex ideology that has twice launched wars of aggression in Europe.

No wonder radical Islamists are euphoric. Their god has blinded European leaders and do-gooders to the reality of their intentions. The door to Vienna has been opened, and the masses are flooding in. Expect more demands for Islamic schools, demands for Sharia law courts, demands for exemptions from secular laws. And when such demands are not met, expect  terror, because terror has been the most effective way of spreading Islam. ISIS knows this, as does everyone who has read the Qur’an.

There is the myth, hopeful as it is, of sending people who “are not true refugees” back to their countries of origin. But how will this be possible given that many migrants have no papers? Or they come from countries where they will be punished if they return? And, even when police attempt to deport illegals by force, the press will be there to film migrants kicking and screaming as they are hauled aboard planes. This happened when France attempted to eject migrant gypsies and others. The liberal press is the migrant’s best friend, be the migrant illegal or qualified for refugee status. Add to the cost of repatriation the costs involved in first housing migrants pending a judicial hearing that often takes three or more years to take place. The fact is that most migrants will remain. They will not want to “go home,” and wont be able to make an independent, prosperous life for themselves in Europe either. Whether their offspring do any better is another question. Given the experience of Turks in Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland, the prospects of additional migrants are no cause for optimism.

There is some talk of training Arabs to fight for democracy back in their homelands, especially in Syria. The idea is to offer military training to patriotic young men who will return to the Middle East to fight against ISIS, and then, presumably remain there to rebuild the country. An additional hope is that once peace is established, many migrants will return to their countries of origin, voluntarily. But, how many Turks who came to Europe as “guest workers” returned to Anatolia, back to their peaceful villages among the green hills dotted with sheep? Why go back when you can live on welfare, old age pensions, receive children’s allowances and other benefits in Europe?

Some 70% of Turkish children living in Germany have not finished high school. Some 80% of Muslims in Germany are on welfare, and statistics for those in the UK and other countries of Europe don’t look any better. Turks have a birth rate 5%, far greater than that of Germans, and will form the majority in the country by 2050. The resulting social decline is something to look forward to.

angry-muslims

 

There are many people in Europe, especially in Germany, who wish to atone for the sins of their ancestors who were involved in wars of aggression against neighbors. These people want a world without borders, a European identity based on humanism and altruism which will supplant a self-image that they loathe. This is all fine and good. However, opening their arms to millions of migrants irrespective of their adaptability, or genuine necessity to seek refuge, will cause more harm than good. The trouble begins with religions and ethnicities that don’t get along in their homelands carrying their hostilities to Europe. We have seen this in the attacks of Arabs against French Jews. Then comes an inability to comprehend or tolerate the ways of post-modern society that migrants can only interpret as “decadent” and “immoral,” incompatible with their conservative values and codes of behavior. This creates not only hostile attitudes, but motives for creating “parallel societies” sealed off in ethnic and religious ghettos. Again, there are numerous European and other examples to illustrate this point. So what we end up with is a form of apartheid which the West sought to eliminate but will soon be saddled with – ironically, all out of the best of intentions.

See my review of Tears of the White Man (1983) by Pascal Bruckner (below)

PART II

I tell you, they will come again.” – Charles Martel, at the defeat of Muslim troops attempting the conquest of France, 723 AD.

The situation regarding Islam and the West today is more complicated than ever before. On the one hand, our humanistic impulse is to extend shelter to Muslims fleeing war and persecution even as radical Islam is attacking the capitals of Europe. We have our hospitable, sympathetic impulses in conflict with our anxieties over massive immigration, the desire to be helpful versus the instinct for self-preservation. Those most in favor of opening the doors to what will amount to millions of migrants (or “refugees”) believe that once in our countries, Muslims will moderate, will accommodate themselves to multicultural, diversely religious, and democratic values, embrace our humanistic attitudes that include a belief in reason, human rights, tolerance of gender and sexual differences, etc, etc, etc. And, conversely, we will learn about Islam’s spiritual side, extend our understanding and tolerance, and we will all get along splendidly.

Conversely, those favoring limited access to our largess, or even exclusion of Islamic migration into Western countries, point out that we cannot control the attitudes and values of those being allowed in, cannot predict how Islam will develop within our borders, and therefore cannot guarantee the safety of our citizens now or in the future. We don’t see the benefit of allowing a rival ideology into our midst.

In the background of the debate, we have muftis and imams assuring us of the peacefulness of Islam, the desire to share our countries amiably, and the compatibility of their religion with democratic values. Many people want to believe this as it would allow us to remain charitable while remaining in control of our way of life, our future, and feel good about our decisions. But no one really addresses the social and cultural consequences of what can only be an Islamization of western countries, step by step, generation after generation.

Islam did not spread across a quarter of the world by accommodating itself to local cultures. It took over by force, buried existing institutions like the pyramids were entombed under the sands, wiped out local languages and belief systems, transformed everything into its own image. There used to be a Persia, culturally rich in its own right. Now it’s the (Shiite) Islamic state of Iran. North African states were once tribal entities; now they are an extension of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf fiefdoms, dominated by Islam, wracked by civil war. The Middle East was once Christian and Jewish, along with smaller belief systems, now it’s predominantly Muslim and violently sectarian. Malaysia and Indonesia had rich cultures of their own, now drowned out by prayer calls five times a day. How any of these territories benefited from being colonized by an ideology stemming from the deserts of Arabia is debatable. Today, civilizations threatened with Islamization include Europe, China, India, Russia, and generally what we call the secular West. So, how do we decide the migration question?

I do not believe in the rhetoric stemming from either apologists for Islam or from the muftis and imams trying to placate our anxieties. The intention inherent in Islam as an ideology, self-professed, is global expansion. This is the purpose at its core. Not cohabitation, not peace-and-love-for- all in some hippydom of hearts and minds as the naive would like us to believe. Islam has a life of its own no matter what individual Muslims and other well-meaning people intend. If it’s peaceful today, it can become violent tomorrow. Having said all that, we are still left undecided how far to extend our helping hand to refugees who may never return to their homes in the Middle East. Our hearts continue to contest our heads while the world burns. That their presence in our countries will have an effect is certain but just how much of this will be acceptable remains to be seen. 

Reference:

The article, immediately below, about the role Saudi Arabia plays in the current wave of terror world-wide is right on the problem — our myopia:

A good site for general information about Islam and its global reach:

http://www.citizenwarrior.com/search/label/Islamic%20invasion%20of%20the%20West

https://duaat.wordpress.com/2008/03/10/how-islam-will-dominate-the-world/

For an example of ghettoization in  Western countries, see:

http://www.france24.com/en/20151116-belgium-molenbeek-paris-attacks-islamist-investigation

http://churchandstate.org.uk/2013/03/confronting-sharia-law-in-belgium/

Police: Yes, there ARE No-Go Zones in Sweden

http://churchandstate.org.uk/2013/03/confronting-sharia-law-in-belgium/

Sweden’s problem expelling migrants:

http://www.thelocal.se/20151127/14000-illegal-immigrants-disappear-without-trace

Honor killing in UK, persistence of old habits:

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/banaz-love-story/