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January 21, 2009

The One seizes control in messianic style

Inaugural images designed to emphasize Obama's theme of populist social renewal


By Mike Dorning

Chicago Tribune


    WASHINGTON - From lines of flag-waving Americans along the railroad tracks to a statue of Abraham Lincoln gazing down on a huge outdoor concert and hundreds of thousands filling the Mall for the inauguration, Barack Obama is projecting images designed to reinforce themes of his candidacy - and build his political strength in the Oval Office.

    Along with a sense of historic moment and the possibility of renewed national unity, Obama's aides have sought to convey above all one idea: His presidency is not the triumph of an individual politician but the embodiment of a huge, bottom-up social movement.

    Whether or not the choreography achieves its goal and Obama succeeds with his ambitious policy agenda remain to be seen. But throughout the inauguration, his aides have tried to build his political strength by shaping the pictures that will linger in the minds of millions of Americans.

    In effect, they have seen the occasion as an opportunity to encourage viewers' sense of identification with the new president and his goals, and at the same time subtly warn potential opponents: Opposing Obama is to oppose a vast popular movement.


From the outset of his long-shot candidacy, Obama's political team has shown a clear understanding of the value of crowds in generating excitement and defining Obama in the public mind.

Nowhere will that understanding be more apparent than when the 47-year-old president-elect becomes the first black man to raise his hand to take the oath of office as president on Tuesday. The vista before him may be as striking as the one on the platform.

Amid the stone and marble monuments of the National Mall, authorities expect the largest-ever gathering of the American people, a populist moment in a hallowed place that will be broadcast around the world. Two million people may be present.

The size of the inaugural crowd is not serendipitous. Almost as soon as Obama was elected, his aides announced that the entire Mall would be opened to the public for the inauguration. They arranged for Jumbotron TVs and encouraged supporters to converge on Washington.

Thousands of chartered buses from around the country are bringing people to the capital.

And the days leading up to the inauguration buttressed the image of a broad-based movement. A train ride to Washington produced scenes of supporters along the right of way reminiscent of Robert Kennedy's funeral train in 1968, as well as Lincoln's journey to the Capital in 1861.

Similarly, several hundred thousand attended the outdoor concert at the Lincoln memorial that officially opened the three-day celebration. The stage was set up so that the giant statue of the Great Emancipator would dominate the background on millions of television screens.

Here the imagery sent a subtle mix of messages.

It connected Obama to one of his most revered predecessors. And it underscored with minimal racial overtones the historic nature of a president whose election can be viewed as the fulfillment of the long struggle for racial equality than began with Lincoln granting freedom to slaves.

Yet the venue also spoke subtly to those who saw his rise to the White House in terms of the civil rights legacy, evoking the Rev. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech."

For members of the committed Left, the memorial also recalled the massive protests there against the Vietnam War.

In both cases, the event offered memorable images of fellowship around the Reflecting Pool.

An inauguration presents a rare moment to shape public perceptions of a new president at the outset of his administration. Three out of four Americans plan to watch the event, according to an ABC News poll released Monday.

But a mass showing at the inauguration also serves as a demonstration of support that delivers a warning to those in Washington who would thwart Obama's agenda.

And with an eye to the future, the Obama team, which effectively used big events as organizing tools during the campaign, has used the weekend to gather e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers from supporters for updates on events. The contact information can be used later for other purposes.

Likewise, the Obama team has stressed events that could nurture its grass-roots organization and stir participation among those not in Washington by incorporating locally driven satellite events.

That included the National Day of Service that included events around the country and a "Neighborhood Ball" broadcast by ABC which the inaugural committee encouraged supporters to replicate with celebrations in their hometowns.

Synchronized with the train trip Saturday that began the inaugural festivities, Obama sent out an e-mail message to supporters asking them to join him in an organization that will work to "bring about the changes we proposed during the campaign."

That organization, which advisers have said will include paid staff in congressional districts around the country and will work on behalf of his legislative program, is a potential stick.

But the inaugural events have focused on promoting hope for unity.

Obama marked the eve of his presidency with a series of bipartisan dinners, including one honoring his campaign rival, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

In commemorating King's birthday, Obama marked King's legacy through the broad theme of national service rather than recalling the conflict of the civil rights movement.

In a nod to the environmental movement, planners promoted Obama's inaugural as "the greenest inauguration," boasting of valet bicycle parking, hybrid Lexuses, invitations printed on recycled paper and even one ball that will feature a green carpet made of recycled products.

In all these details, the scenes on the Mall echo signature Obama images of mass gatherings rare in American politics.

He accepted the Democratic nomination before 84,000 people at Invesco Field in Denver. He capped a tour of foreign capitals with a speech to 200,000 in Berlin.

And rock concert-like arena rallies characterized his campaign.


(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 02:07 AM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2009

Breaking Story: full details in tonight’s TGIF Edition

In tonight's TGIF Edition … caught on videotape…the story police never wanted you to hear…see or read about…

It's the first TGIF of 2009, and this is one story you really don't want to miss…

TGIF is New Zealand's first fully digital newspaper, 20 pages of news from here and around the world delivered direct to your email inbox, but first you have to register on our website.

Caught on videotape. Police tried to keep it hidden, but we found out, and tonight so will you…but only if you subscribe.

http://www.tgifedition.com for details

listen to the radio ad here

Posted by Ian Wishart at 02:19 AM | Comments (0)

Breaking Story: full details in tonight’s TGIF Edition

In tonight's TGIF Edition … caught on videotape…the story police never wanted you to hear…see or read about…

It's the first TGIF of 2009, and this is one story you really don't want to miss…

TGIF is New Zealand's first fully digital newspaper, 20 pages of news from here and around the world delivered direct to your email inbox, but first you have to register on our website.

Caught on videotape. Police tried to keep it hidden, but we found out, and tonight so will you…but only if you subscribe.

http://www.tgifedition.com for details

Posted by Ian Wishart at 02:17 AM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2009

Unholy War: May 02 issue

The roots of today’s Middle East conflict may have more to do with Hitler’s Nazi holocaust than many in the west realise. As Israeli forces pound Palestinian and Hezbollah positions on a sporadic basis, and suicide bombers wreak havoc in Jerusalem, it is difficult to reconstruct history’s divergent strands and work out where the conflict has its origins. Difficult, perhaps. But not impossible. IAN WISHART traces the background

As tank shells and machine gun rounds rip holes in buildings and people alike, it is easy to point the finger in the Palestine conflict and make moral judgements. But where did the battle really begin? Why is there such enmity between both sides?

Western news reports usually focus on the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 as the catalyst, but increasingly experts are dusting off old news clippings and government reports dating back to the First World War to get a handle on the problem. Why? Because it seems the popular view of heavily-armed Jewish settler/terrorists kicking Palestinians out of their homes in the late 1940s may be only half the story.

It actually traces back to the emergence of two men – one the uncle of current Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the other regarded as the father of modern Israel.

In 1893, in a dusty stone abode in what was then Turkish-controlled Palestinian Jerusalem, a baby boy named Haj Amin el-Husseini entered the world, oblivious to the course his life would take. That course was already being determined thanks to the work of Theodore Herzl, a Zionist who envisioned the return of the world’s Jews – scattered since the Roman times – to Israel.

Herzl was organising the return of Jews to the area, admittedly in small groups at first.

As a teenager El-Husseini began to resent the Jewish immigrants, but put his personal feelings on hold to fight in World War One as part of the Ottoman Imperial Army against the British. When the Turkish were defeated, Britain took control of the Palestinian area under a League of Nations mandate and, in accordance with its own stated policies, announced the creation of a Jewish National Homeland in Palestine (the Balfour Declaration).

The problem was, British officials governing neighbouring Egypt who sympathised with the Palestinians had previously indicated Britain would favour Arab interests above the Jews.

Although Jewish immigrants were at this point buying land and businesses, not seizing them, the immigration wave and growing political and economic power of the Jews was causing societal tensions, in much the same way but on a much larger scale to the Asian immigration wave to New Zealand of the nineties.

By 1920 tensions on the ground had risen to boiling point, and British officials on the ground gave 27 year old Haj Amin tacit approval to attack Jewish settlers. It came in the form of a meeting between British Colonel Waters Taylor and Haj Amin just a few days before Easter 1920.

According to official British records of what followed, the Colonel told him “he had a great opportunity at Easter to show the world…that Zionism was unpopular not only with the Palestine Administration but in Whitehall and if disturbances of sufficient violence occurred in Jerusalem at Easter, both General Bols [Chief Administrator in Palestine] and General Allenby [Commander of Egyptian Force] would advocate the abandonment of the Jewish Home. Waters-Taylor explained that freedom could only be attained through violence.”

Haj Amin took it on board, but rather than adopting the traditional British technique of subtlety, he openly led the riot that followed. As part of what was supposed to be the secret arrangement, British soldiers and police were withdrawn from Jerusalem over Easter, which allowed Arab mobs to attack Jews and loot their shops without interference.

When Jewish settlers regrouped and counter-attacked, they were arrested by the British and received up to 15 years’ jail. Haj Amin, because of his public role, was also arrested but escaped, and was sentenced to 10 years’ jail in absentia.

It was a token punishment. Just one year later Haj Amin’s allies in the British administration had arranged for him to be pardoned, and promoted to Grand Mufti – the official Muslim leader of the territory. Within three weeks, forces loyal to Haj Amin massacred 43 Jews in riots, the first of many attacks. Again, Jews who fought back were often arrested as part of the nudge and wink agreement between the British authorities and Mufti Haj Amin.

In 1929, rumours were spread by Haj Amin’s forces that Jewish religious ceremonies at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount would be used as a pretense by the Jews to attack Islam’s Dome of Rock. The huge Arab population were incensed and attacked the Jews, killing 133 and injuring 399.

An official investigation by British officials determined that the riots were caused by Arab fears about increased Jewish immigration, and the inquiry determined that Jewish immigration and land purchases should be restricted.

The Mufti, meanwhile, consolidated his status with the Palestinians by fundraising internationally for a refit of the Dome of the Rock, raising enough money to plate it in gold, but he was forced to flee Palestine after fomenting a rebellion in 1936 that finally put him offside with Britain.

Ironically, Haj Amin’s agenda was not the creation of a Palestinian state: he firmly believed Palestine was part of Jordan and Syria.

Haj Amin el-Husseini resurfaced in 1941 in Hitler’s Germany, meeting with the Fuhrer on a number of occasions and urging him to step up his ethnic cleansing against Jews, not just in Europe but in the Middle East.

The Grand Mufti formulated 15 drafts of declarations he wanted Germany and Italy to adopt, including declaring the Jewish homeland in Palestine illegal and giving Arabs free rein to adopt holocaust methods against the Palestinian Jews, by according “to Palestine and to other Arab countries the right to solve the problem of the Jewish elements in Palestine and other Arab countries, in accordance with the interests of the Arabs, and by the same method, that the question is now being settled in the Axis countries.”

Haj Amin knew the methods Hitler was using, having toured Auschwitz and, according to Nazi records, urging the gas chamber guards to work more “diligently” in wiping out Jews.

During his time in Germany, according to testimony to the Nuremberg Trials, the Palestinian leader was also instrumental in sinking a deal being brokered between Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann and the British that would have seen German POWs in Britain freed in exchange for the Nazis agreeing to release 5,000 Jewish children from concentration camps.

Haj Amin managed to torpedo the prisoner exchange, convincing the Nazi party to instead transfer the children from holding camps in Bulgaria to the main camps at Auschwitz and Belsen. Most are believed to have perished.

Speaking on Radio Berlin in 1943, Haj Amin el Husseini urged Muslims in Europe to join the Nazis in exterminating the Jews, “Kill the Jews wherever you find them – this is pleasing to Allah.”

The Palestinian leader also travelled to Bosnia in 1943, personally recruiting Bosnian Muslims to a special division of Hitler’s Waffen SS troops. The Bosnian division slaughtered more than 9,000 Bosnian Jews, and destroyed Serbian churches and villages. The seeds of much of the recent Serbian aggression against Bosnian Muslims were sown here.

Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler was so impressed with the Bosnian SS that he established a “Mullah Military School” in Dresden.

When Germany ultimately lost the war, Haj Amin was captured by French forces and indicted as a Nazi war criminal, but again managed to escape and fled to Egypt to continue his battle against Israeli Jews.

The creation of Israel was mandated by the United Nations in 1947. It split the region in half. Ironically, had the Palestinians accepted this settlement they would have been far better off than they currently are.

Instead, the Grand Mufti and the Arab nations decided to wage war for a reclamation of 100% of the Palestinian region and a desire, particularly on Haj Amin’s part, to finish the job that Hitler started. He didn’t want Jewish settlers captured. He wanted them dead.

What followed at the urging of Haj Amin can be directly blamed for the Palestinian refugee problem. On May 15, 1948, he appealed to the Arabs of Palestine to leave their homes and leave the country, because Arab armies were about to come in to drive out the Jews. The Palestinians did leave, but their liberators didn’t bother to show up, as a Jordanian newspaper noted in February 1949:

“The Arab states, which had encouraged the Palestinian Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies, have failed to keep their promises to return.”

As another displaced Palestinian lamented: “The Arab governments told us ‘Get out, so that we can get in’. So we got out, but they did not get in.”

One of the Grand Mufti’s most enthusiastic recruits was his nephew, Abd al-Rahman abd al-Bauf Arafat al-Qud al-Husseini, who set up the Palestinian resistance movement el-Fatah in response to the huge boost in Jewish immigration to the territory. Abd al-Rahman’s first troops initially greeted him and Haj Amin with the infamous Nazi salute.

Today, Abd al-Rahman is better known to the West as Yasser Arafat.

In 1956, after Egypt nationalised the Suez canal and Palestinian resistance groups stepped up attacks on Israeli settlements, Israel lashed out by invading Egypt, capturing the Sinai desert on the east bank of the canal. When the dust settled, a United Nations peacekeeping force was installed to act as a buffer and prevent further attacks on Israel from Egyptian insurgents.

By 1967, however, after months of sabre-rattling on both sides, Egypt signed a military treaty with Syria and Jordan, re-invaded the Sinai desert and closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. Israel responded with a devastating pre-emptive strike, shattering the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies in just six days and capturing huge tracts of new territory, including much of the now disputed West Bank.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise counter-attack on the eve of a Jewish religious holiday. It was only through American intervention in the form of weapon supplies that Israel survived and was able to defeat the invasion forces.

Why did America become involved? A primary reason was the involvement of the Soviet Union behind the scenes in supplying Egypt and Syria with weaponry. In fact, Russia was preparing to send its own troops into the region to help finish Israel off, and was only deterred when the United States placed its armed forces on “full nuclear alert”.

At the end of the war, the US insisted that Egypt and Israel thrash out a workable peace deal. That peace process continued throughout the eighties and nineties, resulting in the creation of Yasser Arafat’s self-governing Palestinian Authority in 1993.

But always just under the surface have been competing agendas – from the Palestinian side the growing allegiance to Islamic fundamentalism based on the Koran’s instruction to “kill the infidels where you find them”, and from the Israeli side by right-wing governments continuing to allow Jewish settlers to build homes on captured Palestinian land.

The problem with modern journalism is that much of the past is being ignored. The new book by New Zealander Lloyd Geering, Who Owns The Holy Land?, for example, fails to mention the extensive Nazism of Grand Mufti Haj Amin, leaving readers with an arguably unbalanced picture of the passions at the heart of this conflict.

And Geering’s glaring omissions are typical, rather than the exception. One peace group, the MidEast Web for Coexistence, a joint Islamic/Jewish friendship organisation, has recently fired a number of bullets at zealots who deliberately hide the truth:

“What is not told is as important as what is told. The pen of the Jewish extremist makes the massacre of Deir Yassin disappear – over a hundred dead people are banished to nowhere. The pen of the Palestinian partisan erases the siege of Jerusalem and the Arab invasion of 1948. A writer in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, waves his magic pen and the Holocaust disappears. None of it happened. The Jewish extremist erases the Palestinian refugees. Reality is rearranged for convenience.

“Time and again, words create reality and programme actions. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic forgery of the Czarist secret police, is enshrined in the charter of the Hamas and propels Muslim extremists to their death. Osama Bin Laden wrote his Fatwas against America, and the words toppled mighty buildings. The Mufti of Jerusalem said ‘the Jews are destroying the holy Mosque of Al Aqsa’ and the riots of 1929 began. The same rumour started bloodier riots in 1997 and again in September 2000 [the start of the current uprising].

“At this moment, as is usual in our area, a battle is raging. The words are fighting alongside the tanks and bombs. Partisans are busy rewriting history. Suicide bombers are being written out by one side, civilian casualties are being written out by the other.

“Words are changing history, and people are being programmed to act on the words, never mind what happened. So the words help to create reality.”

Among the “words” being bandied around is the figure of 590,000 displaced Palestinians, turned into refugees by the creation of Israel in 1948. But a lesser known figure is the 850,000 Arab Jews who were forced to flee from their homelands in ten Arab states when the fighting broke out, also leaving behind homes and belongings, businesses, land and flocks. Those Jews were taken in by Israel. None has been compensated by the Arab states for the money and property they left behind.

In other words, it cuts both ways.

Strip away the rhetoric, and you are left with two men: Yasser Arafat, the one-time protégé of a self-confessed Nazi collaborator whose wish was to see all Jews gassed, and Ariel Sharon, holocaust survivor, Israeli terrorist turned military leader.

While you could point to Sharon’s involvement in the Deir Yassin massacre of Palestinian women and children in 1948, you could also point to Arafat’s uncle personally ensuring the deaths of thousands of Jews in Europe. You could point to the wave of Jewish immigration in the early 1900s, but you could also point to the Palestinian massacres of those same Jewish settlers.

Neither side is innocent in this conflict, but commonsense shows that had the Arab states accepted the UN fifty-fifty carve-up of Palestine in 1947, the Palestinians would have owned a lot more land than the 22% they currently occupy as a result of Israel capturing territory during failed Arab invasions. Having taken a gamble on the “might is right” option and lost, the Palestinians now seek to recover the territory they gave to the victors through a diplomatic solution.

Whilst there is an overwhelming pragmatism to such a solution, any Palestinian claim to occupy the moral high-ground is looking increasingly dubious.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 07:42 PM | Comments (0)