I finally got to writing my Memoirs. In the process, I remembered my many cultural shocks. If you traveled the world over as I did, you may recognize some of your own experiences.
THE “WEST” AND “SORT OF WEST”
- USA: Americans think only they are sane. The rest of the world thinks Americans are insane and they are sane. And everything in America looks and tastes the same, and their girls are xenophobic.
- Russia: Taking a bath is against the rules unless you do it in vodka.
- Holland: Bikers don’t look right or left and run you over, yelling YOU are stupid. Plus ample dog poop and the only place where I got robbed three times over the years by the same people. Guess once: Starts with an “M”, Holland’s most popular ethnic Moroccan invaders.
- Belgium: Toilet paper cut from old newspapers and no sinks to wash your hands. Language either Flemish or Walloon, either way unintelligible. Breakfast: French fries, mussels, and beer (or “rouge”, red wine). Lots of smokers.
- France: Toilets with black holes, no seats, and pissed-over footsteps and no sinks to wash your hands. Plus subway stink is the world’s worst. And heaps of dog and pigeon poop. Food is way too expensive and waiters are rude. And French love is a myth. Americans in Paris made that up because they don’t know what love is either, only in the movies. But I made some very good friends and had lovely moments.
- Spain: Males can’t leave a girl alone. Females are locked up 24/7. And I can’t sing serenades in Spanish.
- Portugal: As many windmills as in Holland. They look spooky. Don Quixote traveled from Spain to Portugal to fight them.
- Italy: Males can’t leave a girl alone. And females eat too much pasta. And there’s too much pigeon poop, too.
- Germany: One menu only: bier, wurst, und sauerkraut. And too much hoompa hoompa.
- England: no menu at all, only rain, and after joining the EU they still drive on the wrong side of the road. Maybe that will change after Brexit.
- Ireland: All Irish have gone to New York to join the Democratic Party. Only Poles and Romanian pickpockets are left.
- Scotland: Rain, cold weather, smoking chimneys, and nobody speaks English.
- Switzerland: Swiss-French unintelligible; Swiss-German unintelligible, Swiss Italian, well, who knows; I don’t speak Italian. Traffic priority signs for frogs, cows, and turtles. The Swiss put holes in their cheese to attract American off-shore money. Raclette sits in your stomach for two weeks and causes terrible farts that kill your co-worker in seconds.
- Rwanda: Twice destroyed in thirty years with old colonial help.
- Burundi: Twice destroyed in twenty years with old colonial help.
- Central African Republic: snakes in and/or under your bed, wasps in your toilet, and pygmies running between your legs.
- Cameroon: The food looks great but you can’t eat it.
- Congo-Kinshasa: Everybody cheats.
- Congo-Brazaville: Nobody cheats. It’s forbidden by law.
- South Africa: Go visit a shopping mall to get shot at and run for your life.
- Tanzania: Dar es Salaam has too many SUVs and nobody knows how they were paid for.
- Kenya: Wildlife is for tourists and the airport road is to kill the tourists.
- Ethiopia: The table cloth is edible but you wouldn’t think that when you go to bed.
- Mali: That’s where Timbuktu is and when I got there I finally understood why everybody says it’s nowhere.
- Guinea: Why for heaven’s sake did the colonialists put that country on the map?
- Ivory Coast: Must be called Côte d’Ivoire to show it was once French and that’s why it is what it is.
- Ghana: The only place in Africa on the West Coast that seemed to work because it had a direct KLM flight from Amsterdam.
- Nigeria: The one place in Africa that should work but doesn’t. Night flight out to safety.
- Bangladesh: Delicacy: cockroached curry. Eating with your fingers; spit reservoirs in every corner of every corridor; toilets are bastions of urine, providing the main perfume in office buildings; and beware of the Dhaka “run” if you want to survive.
- India: more of the same, but a little bit more sophisticated and the best food in the world. And heavenly Kashmir should be declared neutral territory for everyone to enjoy, not just Islamists, not just Hindus, not just Pakistanis. Just let it be.
- Malaysia: A mushroom garden with millions of multicolored edible mushrooms and a McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur. What a place to live.
- Singapore: The country that everyone wants to ape but only Singaporeans know how to run.
- Taiwan: The only place where China is not China but everyone speaks Chinese and a tree you can slide through to become rich if you don’t fear getting stuck in the middle for the rest of your life.
- Philippines: Manila TV is like American TV – just as awful. In the countryside you find its beauty, but you may get struck by a typhoon.
- Indonesia and Bali: Djakarta is like Lagos, but outside the city, Java is a jewel. And on Bali, they serve the best suckling pig on earth. Go visit Bali’s interior to see the real Indonesia and its terraced rice fields. Heaven on earth. But the hotel bills are hellish.
- Hong Kong: British geniality mixed with Chinese Confucianism. Foremost a good cuisine, especially on the street, but everyone wondered how long the good life of one country two systems would last when the Brits handed it over to Communist China. The day of reckoning has come.
- China: More bikers than in Holland, and I never had real Chinese food before, not even in Amsterdam or NY China Town.
- Macao: Beware! Bought my wife a sapphire ring that turned out a piece of colored glass.
- Japan: Plastic food in the window is for show and not for eating. You must bow when meeting people in the elevator. And even a GPS can’t find where you’re going.
- Hawaii: advertised as little Asia but no, it’s pure America.
- Saudi-Arabia: The place where beautiful women are kept in hiding and your head gets cut off if you dare looking at them when they come strolling out after 11 p.m., or for saying something about their beauty.
- Lebanon: A Falafel tastes as good as a bomb.
- Jordan: An oasis in the desert and the only place in the Middle-East where I could ride a horse, have dinner in the open with a lovely woman, and feel at home, and where I might have stayed if she had said “yes.”
- Guyana: Loud. Loud dogs, loud crickets, loud vehicles, loud music, loud people but great curry and the best rum in the world. Drives on the wrong side of the road because the British stole Guyana from the Dutch in the 100-year European wars. Beautiful and savvy women, always showing a pleasant smile; and everything stays the same.
- Surinam: Neighbor of Guyana and awfully isolated but Surinamers don’t mind. People speak fluent Dutch (the only country outside Holland and Flemish Belgium that does) as Surinam was a Dutch colony until 1975. My greatest shock was that while speaking Dutch they are not Dutch at all, and their beautiful women bite.
- Curacao: The place to live but too expensive to retire.
- Bonaire: For scuba divers and iguana lovers only.
- Jamaica: The place where I spent my Millennial and tore both of my shoulder tendons when climbing back into my capsized sailing boat, leaving me burdened with lifelong Jamaicanitis.
Still on the beach at St. Maarten, Mars Man sits with his dear Kathryn, Dr. Kisshanger and Lu drinking rum punch and munching on their Dutch oil balls, watching a multi-colored balloon drifting through the blue sky with a foolish overweight American dangling from a rope.
Kathryn: Look who’s coming, Mars! Aaron and Taher of the Israeli parliament! Remember we last met them in June 2010 at that Florida Beach? What are they doing here?
Aaron and Taher almost simultaneously: Hello you guys. What a coincidence! And hello, Dr. Kisshanger and Lu, what fun to see you all together!
Kathryn: Have an oil ball, fresh from Holland. No pork.
Mars Man: What brings you here?
Aaron: On our way to Washington D.C. to prepare Netanyahu’s visit to Congress. We thought we could get some ideas here, and low and behold, we stumble onto the most knowledgeable people on earth and beyond.
Kathryn: We were just talking about Washington. As you know, the President is holed up on Hawai after the military take-over. They only let him say prayers.
Taher: Foolish thing to do. Even at prayer he’s out of bounds. As a Muslim and Arab representative in the Israeli parliament, I can imagine that he, whose name is Hussein, does not want to call ISIS Islamic, but that’s what they call themselves. But then to compare them with what Christians did during the crusade 1000 years ago, or even refer to the Spanish Inquisition 6 centuries ago burning infidels on stakes, and then not naming ISIS Islamic, is fastidious to me.
Aaron: It’s topsy-turvy talk. They’d better get rid of his teleprompter.
Dr. Kisshanger: I’m afraid that wouldn’t make much difference. He must have listened to your TV show the other day, Kathryn. As you said, the Islamic year according to their calendar is 1435 so they are six hundred years behind us. But the President in absentia forgot to explain what you said, that religions seem to pass through the same evolutionary development span. These barbarians believe in their mission as much as those Spanish Inquisitioners did in their time. You see what they did to that brave Jordanian fighter pilot. Reminds you of the Nazis. That’s the issue and the danger.
Kathryn: Right, these people are willing to commit heinous crimes and die for it, like these Saudis on 9/11, but I’m not sure if the Spanish Inquisitors had the same obsession. You must confront it with utmost force right in the butt and not wait until they carry out more dreadful executions and come to the USA with another 9/11. Five centuries ago, Protestants Luther and Calvin stood up against the Catholic Inquisitors, but you don’t have those leaders yet in the Middle East. Only the US can lead, and they don’t. They’re only downplaying the danger to excuse themselves for not acting forcefully. Obama went golfing after an American was beheaded.
Mars Man: King Hussein of Jordan, Obama’s namesake, took brave actions and put the US on the spot. We should support the Jordanians forthwith. The US and whatever allies they have should put immediately twenty thousand troops at the Jordanian border with Syria. You imagine what could happen if they don’t? Jordan’s peaceful people and their beautiful treasures? Lu, you as the colonial master of the US, can’t you get these American guys to act like men?
Lu: We get oil from Iran. They are Shiite. ISIS is Sunni and they are based in Syria, where Assad, who is Shiite, is still holding out in part of the country. Maybe ISIS is in collusion with Iran? If you want to fight ISIS, you’d have to fight in Syria to get their rebels to join you. That would mean removing Shiite Assad first. Obama, his friends, Russia and we don’t like that because we don’t want Shiite Iran to get upset in the ongoing nuclear negotiations. Above all, we don’t want them to cut off their oil from us.
Dr. Kisshanger: We negotiated nuclear détente with the USSR at the time. It worked.
Aaron: The USSR didn’t have a plan to wipe Israel of the map. Iran has. They say it openly, Lu, and you know it. You guys and Obama won’t give a damn if we go to pieces, but we do.
Dr. Kisshanger: History has a tendency to repeat itself, although never on the same path. World War I started with the murder of the Emperor of Austria-Hungary by a terrorist Serb. It took some four years before the USA, with a Democrat President, Wilson, got involved, only when the Germans torpedoed American ships creating national uproar. World War II began with Hitler coming to power and invading Austria, Hungary then Poland. Europe acted far too late, with that British Nevil Chamberlain at the helm. By then Hitler had swallowed Europe’s continent. The unwilling USA, again with a Democrat President, Roosevelt, was forced into it by Pearl Harbour. Before that, Roosevelt had promised US soldiers they wouldn’t fight in European wars again. In my view, again with a Democrat President, the US has not been doing now what it should be doing.
Kathryn: But that same Democrat President and his Hillary went to war in Libya without Congressional approval and under false pretenses as the recent tapes disclosed. Nobody liked Gadhafi but look what we got in return. That’s why Petraeus took over.
Dr. Kisshanger: the grounds for World War III are already laid: Russia, Iran, ISIS, maybe you, dear Lu, against Europe, the USA, and Israel.
Kathryn: Iran and ISIS together?
Lu: Don’t they say ‘me and my brother against my cousins, me, my brother and my cousins against the stranger?’
Taher: People should make a difference between good Arabs and bad. ISIS is bad. Jordan is good, but they have many problems, refugees and ISIS hiding among them. They are very vulnerable. Iran doesn’t mind if Sunnis battle among themselves for political power. But to let a strident ISIS conquer the Islamic world is a life and death threat to the Middle-East, us and the West. What if Saudi Arabia goes? What about Egypt? Nigeria? Both ISIS and Iran must be dealt with now. ISIS with decisive military force, and Iran with the strongest sanctions to keep them on a tight leash, and to keep their proxies Hezbollah and Hamas off our back.
Kathryn: And that’s Netanyahu’s message to Congress?
Aaron and Taher at the same time: Yes, exactly. To kill the beast at infancy and not wait until we are forced into another World War.
Mars Man: Now we understand why the former President does not want to see him. His party doesn’t want to spent money on the military in lieu of his social programs to buy votes. Maybe you should ask that other former President, Carter. He looks a lot better now in comparison, and he seems very happy about that.
Aaron: Carter is a friend of Hamas because he still does not realize that Hamas is not the Palestinians, but a terrorist group. Palestinians tell us all the time how much they fear them.
Kathryn: I wouldn’t even try. The man is peanuts now. I also hear that Democrats want to boycott Netanyahu’s speech before Congress, only because the Republicans invited him. Boycott an ally and above all an allied Head of State? Only for party politics?
Mars Man: There are moments I’m glad I’m not American. They’re shameful. American democracy is in dire shape. But Alex de Tocqueville predicted that already.
Lu: The world will be a lot better when China controls it all. You can always come to China, Mars.
Mars Man: I keep telling you, Lu, you are too confuciused. You may be glad if you can keep selling your fortune cookies and American Wal Markt goods made in China with a deflated Chinese Yuan or Renminbi if you want.
Kathryn: Have another oil ball, Lu. I’ll get some more. Waiter! Get us another round of rum punch, we really need it here!
Looking at Iraq’s history, it’s amazing what difference one hundred years make in a span of 6000 years. Going back to Sumer, the region of city-states in ancient Mesopotamia, may be asking too much, but 1920, when the three Ottoman Empire Mesopotamian provinces, Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, became part of the British “Protectorate”, may be a good starting point. The following is drawn from various sources (Wikipedia, British, French,US journals, personal knowledge).
The Ottomans ruled their Caliphate from Turkish Constantinople for 600 years! The word “Ottoman” is a historical Anglicisation of the name of Osman I, the founder of the Empire in 1299 and of the ruling House of Osman (Oghuz Turks, also known as the Ottoman dynasty). Osman’s name in turn was derived from the Persian form of the name ʿUṯmān (Source: Wikipedia). The Sultan represented the Caliphate.
The Ottomans considered the Mesopotamian territories “backwater”. In 1918, the League of Nations handed them to Britain after the demise of the Ottoman empire, which had sided with the Germans during World War I, with the intention the territories should eventually become independent.
But Mesopotamia consisted of a manifold spectrum of religious sects and tribal sheiks, which became a fundamental problem for the British from the outset to mold Iraq into a functioning state.
All what followed since then until todate, just shows how little the populace of the “West” and the “Middle East” understand each other and how little the various sects in Iraq could collaborate. Every single stage in the evolving history reads like a horror thriller and is the basis for the Iraqi situation today. In hindsight, making a country out of Iraq with artificial borders crossing through sects and different peoples and their tribes (Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds) and various religions conflicting with a majority islamic population (Assyrians, Yazidis, Christians, Jews) never was a viable undertaking.
The British Empire, before it started dwindling down, founded monarchies in the Middle East, including Egypt, starting in 1921, with the common structure of prime ministers, ministers and administrators in ministries. This because the political format of monarchy seemed to work rather well in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Oman, Qatar). Thus, from a “backwater”, Iraq suddenly became a monarchy. Britain elected descendants of the Prophet of Mohammed (the Saudi Hashemite family) to lend it the true image of Arab and Islamic heritage.
The Hashemite dynasty originates in the Hejaz, a region which is now part of Saudi Arabia. It had battled the revolutionary military “Young Turks” of the Ottoman empire of which it was part, with tacit British support.
A secular movement, the Young Turks wanted abolition of absolute monarchies. They sided with Germany in World War I and were responsible for the genocide of the Armenians (Catholics and Protestants), mostly living in eastern Turkey, bordering on Russia, because they were accused of siding with the enemy Russia. They murdered about 1.5 million Armenians in the most abhorrent manner, a genocide Turkey denies till todate, demonstrating the intolerance of Islam toward other religions. A courageous medic took clandestine pictures of it that exposed the horrors of the Turkish genocide.
The Koran is often cited for spurring this violence for all Muslims to fight and kill nonbelievers: “When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives” (Surah XLVII.4). (Source: Islam Review.com). We are reminded of that again today.
Hashemite King Faisal 1 became King of Iraq in 1921 after a national referendum, and ruled till 1933, supported by British and Saudi administrators, largely foreign to the Iraqi population. In 1932, Iraq became an independent state.
In the same year, the British appointed his brother, Abdullah I, the Emir of Transjordan. When Transjordan was granted independence in 1946, it became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Abdullah became its first King.
The Hashemites, being of Sunni origin, were unpopular with Iraqi Shiites and Kurds, as administrators were mostly Sunni. King Ghazi 1, Faisal’s son, rose to the throne after his father’s death in 1933. A playboyish King, he was accused of Nazi sympathies and a strong supporter of panarab nationalism.
In 1936, he allowed Bakr Sidqi, a Kurd, then Acting Commander of the Iraqi army, to take over government. This is being described as the first Arab coup in the Middle East. Bakr Sidqi, who had acquired solid credentials in the British army, was among others responsible for the massacre of 3000 Assyrians (adherents to the Assyrian Church of the East, a Christian sect dating from 400 AD that wanted autonomy) in Mosul and Simele in 1933.
This is how Mar Shimun, a Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, described it: “Girls were raped and made to march naked before Iraqi commanders. Children were run over by military cars. Pregnant women were bayonetted. Children were flung in the air and pierced on to the points of bayonets. Holy books were used for the burning of the massacred. ” (source: www.assyrianenterprise.com). Think about ISIS today. A never ending cruel humanity
Adoring fast cars, and desiring to annex Kuwait (which the British opposed), King Ghazi 1 died in a car accident in 1939, which was suspected to have been engineered by Nuri as Said, a “repeat” prime minister in Iraqi Governments and sort of an eternal “Rasputin” behind the scenes, who was strongly supportive of relations with Britain. He was the only minister who did not accept Bakr Sidqi’s military overthrow and was exiled to Egypt. His life story, which ended with him being murdered at the end of the monarchy in 1958, reads like a political thriller as well.
Ghazi’s son, Faisal II, was 4 years old and Abdul Ilah, the son of Faisal I’s brother, Ali, and brother of Faisal’s mother, Queen Aliya, became regent.
During World War II, Iraq was on the British side, but did not take part in the war. When in 1941, an Iraqi nationalistic military coup sympathetic to the Nazis removed regent Abdul Ilah, a brief Anglo-Iraqi war broke out. Faisal’s mother, Queen Aliya, then divorced from King Ghazi, fled with young Faisal II to Abdullah I in Jordan.
The British restored order with the help of Jordanian forces, and Abdul Ilah was put back in power. Faisal II and his mother returned, but the Queen died in 1950. Faisal II went to school in England, together with his second cousin Hussein of Jordan and they became close friends.
When Faisal II turned 18 in 1953, he became the official ruling King, but Abdul Ilah’s influence, very unpopular in Iraq because of his support of British influence in Iraq and denial of growing panarab socialist sympathies, remained unshaken. Even though under King Faisal II Iraq underwent substantial economic progress, local unrest, influenced by communist sympathizers in politics and the army, kept growing.
King Faisal intrigued me because I was of the same age. He lost his father at four, and his mother when he was just 15. I remember collecting pictures of him at high school and seeing pictures of him on TV, which had just become a new medium, during his visit to Queen Elisabeth in 1956.
In July 1952, The Free Officers Movement of Gamal Abdel Nasser had overthrown the Egyptian monarchy (King Farouk), which had deteriorated into complete decadence, and this was widely supported in Iraq. Nasser became President in 1956.
Interestingly, he also booted out The Brotherhood after they tried to assassinate him. Faisal’s pro-British inclination and the influence of Abdul Ilah in his Iraqi rule, as well as the pro-British position of Prime Minister Nuri al-Said conflicted with Egypt’s popular panarab nationalism.
Prince Abdul Ilah and Nuri as Said
Faisal II chose to support the British -French invasion in Egypt when Nasser nationalized the Suez canal. He and his administrators disregarded the Iraqi people’s support of Egypt’s and Nasser’s panarab nationalism, and broad action of reforms and economic development.
This and the growing local inequalities between landowners, the elite, and poor peasants and workers, led to a popular revolt on July 14, 1958 (seems a favorable month for French and Arab revolutions). As the army had become increasingly supportive of the Arab nationalist movement, despite Faisal’s generous pay, General Abdal-Karim Qasim took power, inspired by Nasser’s July 1952 revolt. Using the request for help from Faisal’s cousin Hussein in Jordan against an escalating crisis of civil war in neighboring Lebanon as a ruse, he took to Baghdad and surrounded the palace with tanks.
Aref and Qasem
Faisal apparently ordered the palatial guard not to resist and hoist the white flag, but the royal family was chased into the palace garden and summarily executed. Faisal, only 23, apparently died in a van on the way to the hospital. Abdul Ilah’s body was mutilated, paraded around and hung on a balcony. Nuri as Said tried to flee as a woman, but got recognized, was shot, and after burial they mutilated his body in the streets. The news and pictures shocked me deeply that time. It was the end of the British dream of holding on to monarchy in Iraq. Faisal II never married, despite several match-making efforts, and at the time of his death was engaged to Princess Sabiha Sultan, the only daughter of Prince Muhammad Ali Ibrahim Beyefendi of Egypt and Princess Zahra Hanzade Sultan. Faisal was buried in a tomb in the Royal Mausoleum at Adamiyah
Interspersed by palatial coups, proving that military rule was no better than the monarchy, several military rulers assumed power of the Republic of Iraq.
In 1979, General Sadam Hussain took the scepter, supported by the Revolutionary Command Council and the socialist-communist Baath party (founded in 1947 by three intellectual Syians, one Christian, one Sunni, and one Alawite!) We all know what happened since then (also see previous blog “Don’t Cry for Me, Iraq”).
Michael Thornton, in an article in Mail Online (August 2008) reports that Saddam was haunted by Faisal’s brutal murder. He would secretly visit Faisal’s tomb to meditate and even upgraded it. He had seen him parading through Baghdad as a young boy and King. Perhaps a feeling of bad foreboding?
Today, Iraq is a crumbling fragile state and the US-imposed democracy after the 2003 invasion is hanging by a thread. Iraq had never known democracy and the Ottoman Empire was far from that. The monarchies were unfit for democratic rule. Democracy grows from within, but Iraq’s sectarian divides, which starkly increased as a result of the 2003 invasion, have made it even more difficult. ISIL saw its chance when it was unchallenged in Syria and found open terrain left by the Allies in Iraq. Caliphates are old but enticing ideas in the Muslim world and the Ottoman Empire was the last. We are seeing a repeat of the past cruelties that we had briefly forgotten about.
In Jordan, King Abdullah II is the last Hashemite King remaining in Power. This beautiful Kingdom has strong Western and moderate Middle-Eastern ties, a strong army and modern leadership, keeping a keen eye on the welfare of its small population (7 million).
King Abdullah II –
Treasury Petra (JS Enchanté)
It is deprived of natural fossil resources but exports phosphates and potash. It has been able to manage energy import wisely. Nonetheless, in the remote desert town Man’an, suffering from poverty and unemployment, ISIS has been able to start unrest. So far, this has been mildly but firmly suppressed by Jordan’s security forces. On the other hand, this trend confirms that the growing ISIS cancer must be stopped now to avoid that the whole area goes up in flames.
Only strong Western and Middle Eastern leadership can eliminate the cancer. Stories on the internet are circulating about secret slaughterhouses in Syria where ISIS rebels systematically behead Christians, Jews and other minorities, and hang their bodies like cattle in a meat factory. Had journalist James Foley and other captured journalists seen too much? Is Assad the bad guy or is it the Islamist terrorists, as he claimed in his interview with Kucinich in September 2013? Why did they agree so quickly to handover WMD? Out of fear that it would fall in the hands of the rebels? Why do we know so little about it all? Maybe James Foley could have told us.
Strategic action is needed soon, including in Syria (finally). Unfortunately for us, nor in the West, nor in the Middle East, do we seem to have strong leadership that appears able to bring it about. Let’s hope they wake up. 9/11 2014 is coming soon. Are we prepared?
Next Time: Iraq, A Frugal Effort of Economic Development and Governance.