For Chrissake: Stop Mentioning The War!

It’s that time of year again: Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List and Der Untergang (The Downfall) have all been trotted out on TV once more, last night the Dutch remembered their dead with lots of bugle calls, pealing bells, minutes of silence, black outfits, bowed heads and faces set in masks of noble, earnest grief. 

Today, though, it’s party time in Holland. Liberation Day is being celebrated in a blaze of orange, red-white-and-blue. The country is littered with bandstands, bouncy castles, portable beer pumps and Canadians who can’t get enough of Dutch gratitude. The problem is: to remember May 5th 1945 with any clarity at all you’d have to be at least 70 years old. Like me, in fact. So how many of those oldies are there? The vast majority of the population here either knows about World War II and Dutch suffering second hand or, seeing as many come from places like Turkey, Morocco, Ethiopia, Somalia, Ghana and Iraq, don’t know anything at all and probably don’t care either. All this means that, in another ten years or so, there’ll be no one left in this country who has ever heard the menacing roar of overflying Stukas or harsh German voices barking orders during a razzia in their street. And who will remember the sickly taste of sugar beet bread, sugar beet soup, sugar beet mash and the, by comparison, exquisite flavour of tulip bulbs and potato peel? Yes, the Netherlands is ready to leave it all in the past and move on. In any case, all these national holidays are bad for the economy. People should work  their butts off and pay taxes, not dance in the park and get drunk.

The end of World War II is now 65 years behind us and the need to remember is no longer urgent. Other wars and holocausts have vied for our attention since and let’s face it: man has learned nothing at all from them. Identifying an enemy and then blasting the bejezus out of  them has always been a good way to unite a country and never more so now we’ve all gone multicultural.

Actually, the only country that really seems to have learned from past events is Germany itself. The way the German people -even the under sixty-fives who could not possible have been involved in any way- have donned their hairshirts and atoned for the  crimes of the Nazis to an extent unparallelled in human history. Not only has Germany paid billions upon billions in reparations to its former victims, it has made certain that nothing like the Holocaust will ever again be the result of German actions by passing anti-Nazi legislation so draconian that the question “isn’t that going a bit over the top?” seems entirely justified. A strong vein of anti-militarism now runs through German society where previously there was none.

But most of all Germany has redeemed itself through hard work and iron self-discipline. While the British wasted time revelling in their victory, queueing patiently for their rations and looking forward to the 1966 World Cup, the Germans worked. The French also took their time giving up their four- hour al fresco lunches and their barefoot grape treading, but the Germans worked at their lathes, in their foundries and on their autobahn system, creating an economic powerhouse unrivalled in Europe. The Italians, once the guns fell silent, went back to what they do best: get a haircut and ogle the girls at the Scala di Spagna. OK, they have woken up since and now build jolly fine cars when they’re not on strike. The Germans, though, worked. And worked. And worked. As a result, they are now the dominant economic force in Europe and the ones who sign most of the cheques. To cut a long story short: from the hideous aberration and the murderous excesses of the Thirties and Forties Germany has gone on to be a powerful force for good. Long may it last. It deserves much better from us than constant reminders of a tainted past and modern jibes at the occasional poolside dispute over a sunbed in Majorca.

Shame, then, on the British who (in the words of Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg and -mark!- the only man worth voting for tomorrow) are still stuck in the lazy anti-German “who won the war then, sonny?’ groove. Ask yourselves who won the peace. Shame also on Israel. It has every reason and right to remember the Holocaust as a brutal attempt at the eradication of their race. What it hasn’t got is the right to tar with the anti-semitic Holocaust brush everyone who dares disagree with the way the Jewish State operates in the Middle East.

And most recently, shame on Greece which, after a past filled with economic mismanagement, dictatorship, tax-dodging shipping billionnaires and civil unrest, managed to lie its way into the eurozone. Well, the chickens have come home to roost and Greece needs a massive bale-out. Guess who’s doing most of the baleing? Right: Germany. A reason for profound gratitude, you would think. But no. The Greeks are up in arms. Not only must the loan be repaid, there’s also interest due on it. This is, for Athens, too much to bear. Let’s call this German reparation for their wartime occupation of Greece, they say. I hope Angela Merkel will tell them where to go. I know a German phrase she could use, but it’s not printable.

That said: glad to be back.

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I’M STILL HERE

No technical difficulties can keep a man like myself down for long. What’s eleven months between friends? So here we are: May 5th 2010 will see the return of opinions that no sensible person could be remotely interested in. Still, should you want to become reacquainted, have a go. And whatever you do in the UK, don’t vote New Labour. Pity Mickey Mouse is disqualified from standing in that election.

stay well,

Rob Greene

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APOLOGIES!

A long silence, I agree. But here’s the good news: I’ll be back shortly, technology permitting. Not medical technology, fortunately; merely the electronic kind.

see you all soon,

Greene

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Compassion: Either You’ve Got It Or You Haven’t

meSo here we are: the truth is out. The Westminster government had absolutely nothing to do with the release of Abdulbaset Ali Mohmet Al-Megrahi. It was -and always had been- a matter for the Scottish authorities and them alone. Rumours of an oil-for-Megrahi deal a few years ago are, in spite of the copious evidence to support them, untrue. Believe us, London says, when Kenny McAskill announced that this odious mass murderer was getting compassionate release because he was suffering from prostate cancer you could have knocked us over with a feather. How do I know this? How can I be sure that all the reports of a 2007 lucrative contract for the British oil company BP in exchange for a prisoner transfer scheme that would explicitly include Al-Megrahi are at best a mistake and at worst a fabrication? Because Jack Straw tells me so. I am not aware of the UK holding any other Libyans than Al-Megrahi or of UK nationals languishing in Libyan prison cells, but there you are. Libya now has its native son back and BP can drill for oil off the Libyan coast. Pure coincidence, nothing to do with us, mate.Labour+Holds+Annual+Party+Conference+oVmV6BOESNfl

I have a high regard for Jack Straw. Here is a man who, in spite of tremendous difficulties (such as having been born without a backbone, a set of immutable principles and a moral compass) has risen through the ranks of the Labour Party to hold a succession of exalted posts. They are, in order: Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Lord Privy Seal, leader of the House of Commons and, most recently, Lord Chancellor and the relatively new invention Secretary of State for Justice. Not bad for a barrister who read law at Leeds University. The absence of a spine allowed him to complete  the contortion that turned him from a left wing rabble rouser into the man who won praise from Margaret Thatcher for his draconian anti-terrorism policies, including a plan to reduce, in certain cases, the right to trial by jury. His double-jointedness made it possible to express misgivings about the Iraq war and his great confidence in the Iraqi judicial system while still remaining a loyal vassal of whoever was leading the Labour Party and becoming uncomfortably close to then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Where others who were opposed to the war either quit right away (Robin Cook) or after a period of examining the lie of the land (Clare Short), Jacko kept his nose clean. Why walk out in a fit of principle when there was still so much good work to be done? (A similar ability to ‘go with the flow’ has been perceived in the once ubiquitous Margaret Beckett).

Had the release of Al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds not been a matter for Scotland and Scotland only (just joking; is there still anybody who believes that?) there is every chance that Jack Straw would have joined Kenny McAskill in his passionate defence of certain humanitarian principles held sacred in the UK but sadly alien to the rest of the world. For in the arena of soft-hearted mercy when dealing with suffering miscreants the Secretary of State for Justice yields to no man. Who doesn’t remember his outpouring of compassion in 2000 when, ignoring a spate of international requests for extradion and criminal prosecution, he allowed the Chilean dictator, mass-murderer and close personal friend of Margaret Thatcher Augusto Pinochet, who was said to be too ill to stand trial, to return to Chile? Pinochet cheeckily chucked aside his walking stick on arrival at Santiago airport and lived on for another six years. What chance of Al-Megrahi doing the same? None, I think.

Lockerbie+Bomber+Abdelbaset+Al+Megrahi+Released+SpoisLhTZYrlPersonally I don’t give a monkey’s about the murky goings-on that led to Al-Megrahi’s repatriation. No one emerges from this tale with any credit, except the man himself. The Scots use the cover of compassion to hide their anxiety at what might have become public in the course of Megrahi’s now dropped appeal; Westminster plays dumb in a matter in which it exercised full control; Americans bluster and cry blue murder without caring whether the guy they want to rot in jail is actually guilty or not. Khadaffi prances on the international stage as if nothing untoward ever happened. The Libyan is now at home and I hope that, like Pinochet, he lives on for a good spell.

Meanwhile, the real murky deal that needs light shed on it is the one that led to Al-Megrahi’s appearance before a politically manipulated court in Camp Zeist. The details of that bear direct relevance to his guilt or, as I am convinced, innocence. This latest kerfuffle over his release isn’t really worth the candle.

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Al-Megrahi: An Innocent Man, Left To Rot

meWhen, as latest news reports suggest, Lockerbie convict Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi will sometime this week be set free from a Scottish jail, an administrative end will have come to one of the worst, most shameful miscarriages of justice the world has seen in recent years, or possibly ever. I say ‘administrative’ because, with al-Megrahi’s health effectively ruined through medical neglect (not many prison inmates under constant obervation  nowadays face death from untreated prostate cancer) the injustice will follow him right into his unnecessarily early grave. Forget any bullshit about this being an act of compassion: sending him home to Libya now that his demise seems imminent will save the Scottish authorities further unwanted expense and a flurry of equally unwanted bad publicity.

What angers me most about this hideous affair is that, at the time of the ridiculous show trial in Holland’s Camp Zeist, it was already clear that there was no evidence available that would stand up in any normal western court. What clinched the case against al-Megrahi was the testimony of a dodgy Maltese shopkeeper with a tenuous grip on the truth and a poor recollection of facts. (The shopkeeper’s name, by the way, was Gauci, which just happens to be the surname of a hot operatic favourite of mine, soprano Miriam Gauci. I hope fervently that they’re not related, but Malta is a small country.) The ‘evidence’ that sent al-Megrahi to his doom, under examination, wouldn’t have convicted a jaywalker. Not surprising, because everything, absolutely everything, to do with the case militates against al-Megrahi’s guilt.al-Megrahi

I am aware that, in the wake of the terrible act of terrorism against the PanAm airliner -270 innocent dead is a ghastly toll- emotions ran high, both in the UK and the United States. Acts like that, I fully agree, must not go unpunished and the sooner the guilty are collared, the easier it is for the relatives of the victims to find closure and get on with their lives. Even at the time, rumours were buzzing around the world of western intelligence that Iran was most likely involved. After all, five months earlier a US warship in the Gulf had shot down an Iranian civilian airliner; by mistake, as Washington insisted. That might -some say ‘should’- have fulfilled the prime requirement in proving a criminal’s guilt: establishing a motive. The other requirement, opportunity, did not enter the equation at all for, as we all know, in the world of international terrorism there’s always a way where there’s a will. Trouble was: Iran is rich in oil and militarily powerful. Any retribution for Lockerbie would inevitably be costly, dangerous and time-consuming. Somebody mentioned Syria as a possibility: no good, same story, except the oil. An easier, quicker fix was obviously needed.

I have no idea who it was that hit on the Libyan variant (dammit, I can’t know everything) but what’s certain is that it had, from a western point of view, obvious merits. Libya had oil, its leader Khadaffi, after exchanging a series of blows with the United States, seemed keen to come in from the cold and become a respectable world leader and car designer, there was a deal on there. All the west needed was some names, preferably names of people professionally involved in international skulduggery. Where better to look than the Libyan intelligence service? We all know what happened next. Two names were produced, Khadaffi -after some hemming and hawing for public consumption- handed them over and justice was on its way. Next came the Camp Zeist trial, where a bunch of superannuated Scottish dodderers sat in judgement as western (read: American) prosecutors pulled the wool over their eyes. So there we were, in rural Holland: two defendants, a battery of international journalists, a prosecution that knew what it was after, a bench that was half asleep most of the time and not a shred of serious evidence. Sorry, I take that back. There was serious evidence that Iran was involved, but it was not admitted in court. (The fact that, only recently, al-Megrahi had instructed is legal team to publish the evidence may well have caused the sudden upsurge of ‘compassion’ that has come over the Scottish authorities.)

al-MegrahiIt didn’t matter, of course. The two men in the dock, in the absence of support from their own government (which had sold them down the river) didn’t stand a chance of justice. After all, who was going to complain? Not Khadaffi, who had international respectability on his mind. Not anyone, in fact, except a few independent minds around the world who saw the whole thing as an exercise in cynicism, a convenient stitch-up of a couple of nameless, unlamented patsies. Their views appeared, in print and on the internet, but they were not heeded. I was one of those and still am.

al-MegrahiIn the most bizarre twist of all, al-Megrahi’s co-defendant was found not guilty and allowed to return home. That left the ultimate, familiar outcome: the world was told that the bombing of the PanAm airliner over Lockerbie in 1988 was the work of a single man, one with no previous record of terrorist activity or intent, a man with no accomplices, not doing his government’s bidding; a man with no discernible personal motive, a man implicated by no solid evidence of any kind: forensic, circumstantial or even testimonial. He had no reason for doing it, yet he did it; that’s what we’re supposed to believe. Do they think we are all stark raving mad?

Abdelhaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, you don’t know me but I want you to know that I am your friend. Hilary Clinton may want you to rot in jail (there are votes to be had in America for those who take that position), but I know you are innocent. My most fervent hope right now is that, insh’Allah, you will still somehow recover from your illness and live out your life in the bosom of your family.

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Maddie McCann: She Won’t Want To Be Found

meGood to see that the Find Maddie Campaign is ticking over nicely. New suspects pop up with some regularity -most recently a British paedophile being treated for cancer in Germany, a Portuguese market trader of  “gipsy appearance”  and another British man in jail in the UK-, adverts calling on the public to keep looking (“she might be next to you”) continue to appear regularly in the British tabloid press and presumably financial contributions to the capaign fund keep flowing in. I say this (about the money) because little has recently been heard of the McCanns’ plan -first mooted in april 2008-  to write a book about their ordeal. At the time, a deal possibly worth two million pounds was mentioned, at a time when the existing Find Maddie campaign coffers were running disturbingly low.

maddie twiceStill, with their unerring talent for raising doubts in the minds of even the most sympathetic members of the public, Gerry and Kate McCann have decided to embellish the newspaper advertisement not just with the familiar picture of Maddie aged 3  but also with a computer generated image of what she might look like at the age of six. And what a lovely girl it is! Beautiful eyes, with the tell-tale mark of course, shiny hair combed back behind her ears: a picture of health and happiness. A girl that is obviously being well looked after. Every bit the Maddie we might have known today….if she hadn’t disappeared over two years ago and suffered an as yet unknown fate.

I remain unwavering in my personal conviction that little Maddie is no longer alive. How she died and at whose hands I cannot say; no theory, however outlandish, can be entirely discounted. Identifying a guilty party is well-nigh impossible in the absence of a body or a shred of forensic evidence. Any remains found could always be identified via DNA, but evidence pointing at a killer (or killers) will inevitably degenerate with the passing of time. How much time I don’t know, you’d need a trained medic to tell you that. But let’s not dwell on this, the McCanns believe Maddie is alive and that’s all we have to go on. If she is, though, then what? If indeed she was abducted by some hideous paedophile and subjected to unspeakable horror and abuse she’d be a hollow-eyed waif by now, possibly on drugs, underfed and in ill health. A far cry from the girl with the cheeky grin that the McCanns would have us believe could be Maddie as a six-year old.

So, assuming that Gerry and Kate aren’t stupid, what’s the point of the photographic update? I see two possibilities. Either the McCanns have an inkling that Maddie is indeed dead but, for their own reasons, want to keep the campaign going (you can get used to receiving big cheques in the post) or they believe that she may have been stolen to order, possibly for resale to a well-to-do childless couple. Only in a case like that is there any likelihood that she would look as hale and hearty as she obviously does in the newly concocted picture. It’s a long shot, admittedly, but stranger things have happened.Picture 035

But finding Maddie alive and well, happily living with a new family is probably the worst case scenario for the McCanns. A girl of six, who has just spent two happy years with a new identity, new family, new friends will be entirely different from the toddler left on her own in a holiday apartment in the Algarve in May 2007. At such an early age, the process of learning new things, adapting to new situations and forgetting what was takes place at breakneck speed. By now she may have no recollection of ever being called Maddie. I know what I’m talking about: when I was nine I went into hospital, I came out again nearly two years later. Older than Maddie is now, with the contact with my family intact, I still had enormous problems readjusting to life at home, fitting in and getting on with my next of kin. Not to put too fine a point on it: for a long time I felt closer to the man who, for the past eight months, had been lying in the bed next to mine than I did to my own mother. Imagine a young, impressionable child, entirely at ease in her new life, reacting to a family she hasn’t seen for over two years! Or much longer, depending on when she would be found. Gerry and Kate would be strangers to her; and disruptive, unwanted strangers at that. Claiming Maddie back in such circumstances would be a recipe for disaster.

But as I said, this is probably a fantasy scenario. Maddie McCann is dead. But until her remains are found and identified, the circus will continue. Not with my money, though.

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Bibi Tries To Slip Obama A Wooden Nickel

meDid Benyamin Netanyahu really take an important step forward by committing himself (sort of) to a two-state settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians? Don’t be silly. A Palestinian state that meets the conditions Bibi set -demilitarized, recognising Israel as a Jewish state and abandoning its claim on Jerusalem as its capital- would be a bantustan, not a truly independent entity. Still, so used have we become to hardline, ruthless Israeli behaviour that even this con trick is now being hailed in some western quarters as an encouraging sign that the peace process is once again a going concern. Don’t believe it; the Palestinians themselves aren’t fooled.

bibiWhat Netanyahu aimed to do was play for time. The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States must have sent a ripple of disquiet through Israel’s nationalist camp. Would the days of limitless, unquestioning American economic, political and military support come to an end? If so, what then? And there was Obama, quick off the mark, dropping all sorts of heavy hints about the desirability of a halt to the construction of further settlements and -from Israel’s point of view- hobnobbing far too chummily with the Arabs. After all, no guy with the middle name Hussein had ever been taken seriously by Netanyahu and suddenly there was one he couldn’t possibly ignore. Hell, this US administration might even stop routinely vetoing anti-Israel resolutions at the Security Council! Other anxieties surfaced: America’s concern at Iran’s nuclear programme might, in time, be matched by a similar unease about Israel’s fully developed and ready-for-use nuclear arsenal. Face it: when the mushroom clouds billow upwards and humans die in their tens of thousands in the blinking of an eye, does it really matter whether the guy who dropped the bombs was wearing a white or a black hat?200px-OenEReuters

So Netanyahu’s subtext consisted of a message to Obama (‘seriously Mr. President, we want nothing more than to live in peace and security with our neighbours, but you’ll understand that we have legitimate concerns, the buggers want to kill us in our beds’) and one to his own political friends (‘don’t worry boys, we’ll drag this out for as long as we can -four years, or even eight- and hope for better times and a new George W. Bush’). His less subtle message to the Palestinians -unchanged from before- was: ‘up yours buddy’. 

So  if Barack Obama doesn’t want to become the next in a long line of US Presidents to be defeated by the sheer intractability of the Middle East problem, here’s what I think he should do. To the Palestinians he should pledge his full, unwavering support for a fully fledged independent state, with all the trappings of proud nationhood. These must include full territorial integrity, control of their borders, a viable econonomy and a modern national defence force. Equally full and unwavering should be his support of the Iraelis’ right to a state where they can live safely without fear of attack, where they can prosper and start the process of digesting, and ultimately filing away as history, the horrors of the past. The Holocaust lies 65 years behind us and, for that reason, should no longer play a part in driving Israeli policy. Whatever dangers Israel may face in the future, annihilation isn’t one of them.

But words are cheap and pledges of support in themselves will not bring a settlement an inch closer. Without an extra something from Washington, the immovable object and the irresistible force in the Middle East will continue to grind against each other and, at regular intervals, shed each other’s blood. That extra something should be a stern warning to both sides that, from now on, America’s support no longer comes without strings attached. Actually the Palestinians know this already, they’ve been given short shrift on many occasions; it’s Israel that has so far benefited from Washington’s blank cheques.  I feel that if Obama were to make clear to the protagonists that unreasonable intransigence and resorting to violence will forfeit US support and even lead to sanctions things might start moving in earnest. The removal of the word ‘unconditional’ from the language of Obama’s Middle East rhetoric will work wonders.

Something similar, of course, can be expected from this side of the Atlantic. The powerhouse that is the European Union has strong economic tools at its disposal. If the Palestinians won’t play ball, if the Israelis keep stalling, we’ll set Tony Blair on them. To you he may be a greedy, self-serving, sanctimonious squirt and utterly useless with it (I know he is to me) but in Jerusalem and Ramallah he commands great respect. Something to do with him being a recent convert to Catholicism, I believe.    Blair--29082

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