July 31, 2007

Unholy Alliance: Islam & Socialists in NZ: May 07 issue

caption: this 15 year old Indonesian girl was almost beheaded by Islamic extremists. Her crime: being a Christian


Muslims, Marxists and NZ Migration

There’s more controversy over Investigate’s 18 page special report on Islamic terrorist sympathisers in New Zealand. IAN WISHART analyses the impact of the story, and the latest developments

One of the extremist Islamic preachers of hate who featured in the March issue of Investigate has been banned from entering Australia, despite being allowed to tour New Zealand giving lectures and inspiration to hundreds of New Zealand Muslims.

Bilal Philips, who was named as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the plot to blow up a range of New York landmarks, including the World Trade Centre, in 1993, was able to slip into and out of New Zealand because the Minister in charge of the Security Intelligence Service, Helen Clark, has failed to activate a border protection watch list of individuals with known links to terrorism.

Although the legislation was passed in 2002, following requests from the United Nations, New Zealand has not named a single individual for Customs and Immigration officers to watch for. As Investigate reported in March (see online at www.thebriefingroom.com) , that oversight has meant dozens of radical extremists, some of them – like Philips – with known links to terrorist organisations, have been able to come and go at will without the New Zealand government evening realising.

Over the past few weeks, Investigate has received a series of, largely, form letters, a selection of which you can read in our Letters pages, accusing us essentially of whipping up ‘Islamophobia’ and endangering local Muslims.

The allegations are false. Additionally, we were surprised to discover the fingerprints of diehard left-wing Marxists on the whinge campaign, as this extract from a Socialist Worker blog this month reveals:

“Our members in the Residents Action Movement (RAM) are currently working with the Muslim community to respond against the despicable Islamophobia of Ian Wishart's Investigate magazine. We have marched together for Palestine , Lebanon and Iraq, and will be united on the streets if there are any attacks on Iran. We do not look on our Muslim comrades as victims, tokens, demons or others, but our brothers and sisters in the fight for peace and global justice.”

Keep taking the pills, boys. Maybe you’ll wake up from your own self-inflicted Matrix one day. Or perhaps you should read my new book, Eve’s Bite. Then you’ll really have something to whinge about.

If you read the Socialist Worker post in full, however (http://unityaotearoa.blogspot.com/2007/04/marxist-muslim-alliance-response-to.html), you’ll find they were responding in faux indignation at suggestions from a local Muslim that Marxists are using Muslims as stooges to foment unrest in New Zealand. I say the indignation is “faux”, because socialism is blatantly atheistic in nature and hostile to religion, so it is obvious to most rational people that socialists are indeed taking Muslims for a ride, and probably having a right old laugh at their expense.

However, allow me to explain in greater detail why the Investigate scoop in March is the biggest unreported story of the year so far (although it was picked up by the Christchurch Press and Newstalk ZB’s Larry Williams):

We are told local Muslims are “moderate”. Indeed, they self-identify as “moderate” and, as one Islamic acquaintance – Imran - told me this month, the moderateness reflects the fact that New Zealand is not “joining with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan”. The local community, he says, doesn’t feel any inclination to take to the streets because it knows most New Zealanders feel equally dubious about America’s adventures.

But here’s the rub – if that is the only reason for moderation, what happens if the wider New Zealand community at some point believe a war against radical Islam is justified?

Then there’s the definition of “moderate”. People make the mistake of trying to understand Islam the same way many understand Christianity. In the West, we are familiar with the debates about whether the Bible is fundamentally true (the conservative wing of Christianity) or fundamentally mythical (the liberal wing of Christianity). In Islam, there is no such polarity: you will not find a “moderate” Muslim willing to suggest that the Qu’ran is mythical. All practicing Muslims, whether extremist or “moderate”, believe the Qu’ran is true down to its last letter. They may disagree on how the Qu’ran and its edicts can be implemented in Dar al Harb (all the countries ruled by non-Islamic governments, literally translated from Arabic as “House of War”), but there is no dispute that the Qu’ran calls for the eventual unification of the entire planet under one Islamic ruler, the new Khalifah (Caliph).

As a Christian, I share many concerns that are similar to those of Muslims. Christians and Muslims are generally socially conservative. However, as I told Imran, New Zealand’s tolerance of moderate Islam hinges to a large extent on Islam doing a much better job at self-policing against radicals. Investigate magazine praised Christchurch moderates several years ago who blew the whistle on a move by Saudi terrorist fundraisers Al Haramain group to take over the Christchurch mosque. We saw that whistleblowing as self-policing in action.

But it was stunning to find out this year that extremist clerics, bearing large wads of money from extremist Saudi Arabia, have been intimately involved in guiding and helping the New Zealand Islamic community. Extremist preachers have DVDs and books on sale here, and local mosques are working for the introduction of shari’a principles in New Zealand.

Saudi Arabia is the home of Wahhabism, the most extreme form of radical Islam and the faction that Osama bin Laden belongs to. We should be very concerned about Saudi Arabia’s influence with NZ mosques, because here’s what the Saudis teach their children in school.

Year One (Five year olds):
“Every religion other than Islam is false”
“Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ________.”

Now, if it stopped there, I’d have little to object to. You can go into any number of Christian churches of a Sunday and hear a message about Christianity being the only true religion. I have no problems with Islam making its absolute truth claim, even if I disagree with their faith in it. However, it doesn’t stop there, and Islam’s indoctrination of children in Islamic schools gets much worse:

Year Four:
“True belief means...that you hate the polytheists and infidels but do not treat them unjustly.”

Year Five:
“Whoever obeys the Prophet and accepts the oneness of Allah cannot maintain a loyal friendship with those who oppose Allah and his Prophet, even if they are his closest relatives.”

“It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in Allah and his Prophet, or someone who fights the religion of Islam.”

“A Muslim, even if he lives far away, is your brother in religion. Someone who opposes Allah, even if he is your brother by family tie, is your enemy in religion.”

Year Six (Ten year olds):
“Just as Muslims were successful in the past when they came together in a sincere endeavour to evict the Christian crusaders from Palestine, so will the Arabs and Muslims emerge victorious, Allah willing, against the Jews and their allies if they stand together and fight a true jihad for Allah, for this is within Allah’s power.”

Year Eight:
“The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus.”

Year Nine (13 year olds):
“The clash between this [Muslim] community (umma) and the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as Allah wills.”

“It is part of Allah’s wisdom that the struggle between the Muslim and the Jews should continue until the hour [of judgement].”

“Muslims will triumph because they are right. He who is right is always victorious, even if most people are against him.”

Year Ten:

[Note: at the age of 14, Muslim students are required to start learning shari’a principles in more detail. These particular textbook quotes deal with “blood money”, which is the fine payable to a victim or their surviving heirs for murder or injury]

“Blood money for a free infidel...is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, whether or not he is ‘of the book’ [Christian or Jewish] or not ‘of the book’ [pagan, atheist, etc]”

“Blood money for a woman: Half of the blood money for a man, in accordance with his religion. The blood money for a Muslim woman is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, and the blood money for an infidel woman is half of the blood money for a male infidel.”

Year Eleven (15 year olds):
“The greeting ‘Peace be upon you’ is specifically for believers. It cannot be said to others.”

“If one comes to a place where there is a mixture of Muslims and infidels, one should offer a greeting intended for the Muslims.”

“Do not yield to them [Christians and Jews] on a narrow road, out of honour and respect.”

Year Twelve:
“Jihad in the path of Allah – which consists of battling against unbelief, oppression, injustice, and those who perpetrate it – is the summit of Islam. This religion arose through jihad and through jihad was its banner raised high. It is one of the noblest acts, which brings one closer to Allah, and one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to Allah.”

Pretty grim reading, huh? Those quotes are all taken from current school textbooks in Saudi Arabia as part of the compulsory “Islamic studies” curriculum, books smuggled out by families with children in Saudi schools and provided to the Institute of Gulf Affairs, a Washington DC think-tank headed by Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmed. He in turn gave the textbooks to the Washington Post newspaper, to illustrate how millions of Arab children are being indoctrinated to hate the West and prepare for jihad and Armageddon.
The textbooks represent Wahhabi doctrine, and the chilling aspect of some of the emails Investigate received from NZ “moderates” was phrases like this one where they criticised us for using the phrase “Wahhabism (supposedly an "extreme" form of Islam) 20 times.”
What do they mean, “supposedly”?

If New Zealand Islamic “moderates” are questioning our suggestion that Wahhabism is “extreme” – you should be very afraid for your country.

Thankfully, the offending phrase is in a chain letter presumably drafted with the help of the communist insurgents over at Socialist Worker, so it may not yet have widespread support within NZ Islam. But that doesn’t negate the reality that it was moderates who invited the Wahhabi hatemongers here in the first place.

So here’s my take on the Islamic issue for NZ.

I believe you should have freedom to worship. I believe you should have the freedom to dress conservatively, including the hijab if you so choose. I believe you should have the right to preach Islam. I believe you should have the same individual rights as other members of the NZ community. I believe you should be free from discrimination and not treated as second class citizens.

BUT...there are some particular limits in regard to your religion. Islam is not just a religion – properly understood, it is a complete system of government and a political system that does not tolerate democracy. In that sense, I suspect I speak for many non-Muslim New Zealanders when I say that this country shall never be part of Dar al Islam [an Islamic nation under shari’a law]. If you nurse such fantasies, pack your bags and return whence you came, because you are the problem.

You have emigrated to a country which – regardless of the prattle from the New Zealand government – is founded on the Judeo-Christian democratic tradition, not an Islamic theocratic one.

If you can live with this reality, then you are welcome here as fellow New Zealanders. And if you can start policing the extremists out of your mosques and lecture halls and bookshops, then the rest of us won’t have to do it and we’ll respect you all the more for your stand.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 09:46 PM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2007

Wolves in Sheikh's Clothing: May 07 issue


Jonathan Last takes a troubling look inside moderate Islam

When I first met Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, he was a young counterterrorism expert just breaking into print. I had edited some of his work. He seemed like a normal fellow. But as we spoke, he told me a remarkable story.

Gartenstein-Ross grew up in Ashland, Oregon, one of the West Coast's hippie enclaves. His parents were liberal, ecumenical Jews who raised him to believe in the beauty of all faiths. There were pictures of Jesus in his living room and a statue of the Buddha in the backyard. Young Daveed was attracted to various liberal causes and concerned with social justice. He went to college in North Carolina, where he converted to Islam. Upon graduation, Gartenstein-Ross went to work for a religious charity, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which was run by a group of radicals.

After a year at Al-Haramain, he went to law school, where he eventually left Islam. In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, Gartenstein-Ross learned that the FBI was investigating Al-Haramain for ties to terrorism. He reached out to the bureau and helped build its case.

Gartenstein-Ross has now told his story in a book, "My Year Inside Radical Islam." It is an important resource for understanding Islam in America.

There are two deep insights in "My Year Inside Radical Islam." The first is an illumination of one of the pathways to radicalism. When Gartenstein-Ross first converted, he embraced Sufism, a spiritual, moderate sect. He wasn't looking to become an anti-Western fundamentalist. But the more he interacted with other Muslims, the more he was pushed, in a form of groupthink, to embrace an increasingly restrictive faith. He learned that in Islam, all sorts of things are haram (forbidden). Alcohol, of course. And listening to music. And wearing shorts that expose the thigh. And wearing necklaces. Or gold. Or silk. Or using credit cards. Or shaving. Or shaking hands with women.

As Gartenstein-Ross explains, Islam has commandments for every aspect of life, from how to dress to how to wipe yourself after going to the bathroom. And once he joined the Muslim community, he found that the group was self-policing. Members were eager to report and reprimand one another for infractions. It is not hard to imagine how a well-adjusted, intelligent person might get caught up in such a social dynamic.

The book also illustrates the troubling state of Islamic organizations in the United States. Nearly every discussion of Islamic radicalism and terrorism is prefaced by a disclaimer that of course the vast majority of Muslims are morally opposed to both. This may well be true.

But the problem in the current struggle against Islamic fascism is that the radicals often find succor from moderate Muslims - even "moderates" aren't always as liberal as one might hope. While Gartenstein-Ross never came into contact with actual terrorists, he was surrounded by people - normal Muslim citizens - whose worldviews were unsettling.

Before 9/11, Al-Haramain's headquarters in Ashland was seen as a bastion of moderate, friendly Islam. Pete Seda, who ran the office, was publicly chummy with the local rabbi. The group encouraged public schools to bring children to their offices on field trips. All of this was for public consumption. In private, things were somewhat different.

One of Gartenstein-Ross' co-workers, for instance, often complained about the Nation of Islam, whose members he believed were deviants. He said, "Let them choose true Islam or cut off their heads."

Al-Haramain hosted a number of visitors, one of whom was a Saudi cleric named Abdul-Qaadir. He preached that those who leave Islam should be put to death. In defending the execution of apostates, he mused that "religion and politics aren't separable in Islam the way they are in the West. ... Leaving Islam isn't just converting from one faith to another. It's more properly understood as treason."

In warning Gartenstein-Ross about his engagement to a Christian, Abdul-Qaadir said, "As long as your wife isn't a Muslim, as far as we're concerned, she is 100 percent evil."

One night at services, a visiting member of the Egyptian branch of Al-Haramain declared that the Torah was "The Jews' plan to ruin everything." He continued, "Why is it that Henry Kissinger was the president of the international soccer federation while he was president of the United States? How did he have time to do both? It is because part of the Jews' plan is to get people throughout the world to play soccer so that they'll wear shorts that show off the skin of their thighs." (Former Secretary of State Kissinger was never president of either the United States or FIFA.)

The reaction of Seda - the "moderate" who cultivated a public friendship with the local rabbi - was, "Wow, bro, this is amazing. You come to us with this incredible information."

Such discourse seems less than rare at American Islamic organizations. A recent New Yorker profile of another homegrown radical, Adam Gadahn (a.k.a. "Azzam the American" and one of the FBI's most-wanted terrorists), recounted Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman's visit to the Islamic Society in Orange County, Calif. In his lecture, Rahman, later indicted for helping to plot the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, ridiculed the notion that jihad could be nonviolent and exhorted Muslims to take up fighting against the enemies of Allah. Sitting next to him and translating for the congregation was the local "moderate" imam. The New Yorker reports that "videotapes of the lecture were later offered for sale at the society's bookstore."

This would likely not surprise Gartenstein-Ross, some of whose Muslim acquaintances even disapproved of his decision to go to law school. Their objection was that, as a lawyer, Gartenstein-Ross would have to swear an oath to defend the Constitution. As one Muslim told him, "There are some things in the Constitution I like, but a lot of things in the Constitution are completely against Islamic principles."

This sentiment - not from an al-Qaeda fighter or a fire-breathing radical, but from a normal, devout Muslim - is important. The challenge Islam poses to the West goes beyond mere terrorism.

Jonathan V. Last is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

The Doomsday Prophet: May 07 issue

UPI Intelligence Analysis

From Muslim hordes to atom bomb...Joshua Brilliant tracks the disturbing endgame of radical Islam

For the third time in its history, Islam is trying to bring the true faith to the rest of the world. However, this time is particularly dangerous, according to one of the world's leading authorities on Muslim history.

In a series of lectures at Israeli academic institutions, Princeton University Professor Bernard Lewis talked of the widespread Muslim-Shiite belief that time has come for a final global struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

“The fact that some of the societies are acquiring, or will soon acquire ... weapons of destructive power beyond Hitler's wildest dreams ... is something that we should be very concerned about,” he said.

Muslim believers consider themselves “the fortunate recipients of God's final message to humanity and it is their duty not to keep is selfishly to themselves ... (but) to bring it to the rest of mankind,” Lewis noted.

“In their first attempt to do so, they emerged from the Arabian Peninsula and conquered vast territories from Iran across North Africa to Spain, Portugal and parts of Italy. Converts conquered Russian lands and established an Islamic regime in Eastern Europe. There are even reports of an Arab raid into Switzerland. But that attempt to conquer Europe failed, and the Crusaders recovered the Christian holy places in Jerusalem.

“In the second round, the Ottoman Turks crossed southeastern Europe and reached Vienna. Twice they tried to capture it and failed. Western imperialism halted and reversed the Ottoman push.

“The current, third invasion, is not done by armed conquest or with migrating hordes, but by a combination of migration, demography, self denigration and self abasement, totally apologetic,” Lewis said.
Nevertheless, it arouses a fair and very alarming possibility that it could lead to a long, dreary race war between different communities in Europe.

“Signs of it are already visible in the form of neo-Fascist racist movements. If that is going to be the only response of Europe, apart from self-abasement, the outlook is grim,” he predicted.
Meanwhile, among Muslims there is a competition over who should lead their cause. This is one of the keys to understand the present situation, Lewis continued.

“On the one hand stand Osama bin Laden and his movement. He is a Saudi-Wahabi; in other words an ultra-conservative puritan Sunni-Muslim. The Saudi establishment considers him a rebel but they all belong to the same branch of Islam.
And then there are Muslim Shiites. They assumed a modern form and new vigor since the Iranian Islamic revolution of 1978.
Past friction, for example between the Ottoman Empire and Iran, was due to a rivalry over influence, not over religion.

“The current rivalry has acquired, a new acuteness ... It became more violent than in any time in the recorded history of Islam,” Lewis said.

“The Iranian revolution is resonating far and wide. It represents a major threat to the West but also to the Sunni establishment. It has led some Sunni leaders to re-evaluate the situation in the Middle East and their attitude towards Israel.

“Those leaders may dislike Israel and disapprove of it. However, they consider an uninterrupted line from Shiite Iran, across Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, and the large and growing Shiite populations around the coast of Arabia, to be a truly major threat.

“There are signs of ... a willingness on the part of many in the Sunni world to put aside their hostilities to Israelis ... in order to deal with the greater, more immediate and more intimate danger,” he said.

“We may see shifts in the policies of some Arab governments at least comparable with the great shift in Egyptian policy, when President Anwar Sadat opted for peace with Israel.

“The leaders contemplating such a change are very cautious. One reason is that their populations have been indoctrinated with hatred of Israel for so long that it is difficult to change tunes.”
There is another reason: Some uncertainty over how far they can trust the Israelis, Lewis said.

“During the summer's war against the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon, many Sunni Muslim governments discreetly cheered the Israelis, hoping they would finish the job. Some of them could hardly conceal their disappointment that Israel failed to do so,” he said.
Western-style anti-Semitism of the crudest type, meanwhile, is spreading and occupying a central role in many Muslim countries. One finds it in textbooks, schoolbooks, and in university doctoral dissertations, he noted.

Lewis said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “really believes ... (in) the apocalyptic message that he is bringing. (Israeli experts noted that Ahmadinejad prepared a wide boulevard in Tehran for the return of the Mahdi who disappeared some 1,000 years ago.)

“Islam has a scenario for the end of time, a final global struggle between the forces of good, God, and his anointed, and the forces of evil,” Lewis argued.

With such beliefs, the strategy that prevented a nuclear war between the West and the Communist blocs, during the Cold War era, may not apply.

“Mutually assured destruction, which kept the peace during the Cold War, though both sides had nuclear weapons ... doesn't work. It is not a deterrent. It is an inducement,” Lewis said.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2007

Book Reviews: May 07 issue

In association with The Nile

What Males A Woman Tick...

And other stories...Michael Morrissey’s autumn discoveries


THE FEMALE BRAIN by Louann Brizendine, Bantam Press, $37.99
This book is strongly reminiscent in design to an earlier book entitled Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps. It has crystal-clear almost baby talk language text much in the style you might read in women's magazines, but at the back of the book is an encyclopaedic follow up in the form of almost line by line references and a bibliography of mammoth proportions. As much of the references are very recent, it seems childish or stubborn to occasionally resist their conclusions, though it is well to remember that however up to date the research is now, it will be revised in the future.

The former book had a distinctly patronisingly anti-male tone while The Female Brain deals principally with the female perspective, so has a cast-iron excuse for any seeming “bias”. In the main, both books tend to reinforce a lot of the time-honoured perceptions about the differences between men and women and militate strongly against the view which peaked in the 1970s that the principal differences between men and women were all socially and environmentally produced. The Blank Slate approach is gone and the Previously Coloured Slate is back. Actually, it's not that simple because the current view - which makes perfect sense to the reviewer, is “that the fundamentally misconceived nature versus nurture debate should be abandoned: child development is inextricably both”.

One of the important areas that Brizendine clarifies is why fewer women succeed in the sciences - it is not due to lack of mathematical ability but because at the crucial stage of adolescence, estrogen floods the girl's body compelling her to focus on emotions and communication whereas boys find it easier to withdraw and be alone. Curiously, I still find myself at odds with the characterisation of the reluctant-to-talk male either in adolescence or in adulthood. I was a non-stop talker throughout and all the truly marathon talkers I know are male. Maybe there is a special geek/intellectual hormone as yet undetected?

The general impression gained from Brizendine's writing is that we are as hormone-driven as surely as a motor car is driven by fuel. On page 55 it is admitted, “a hormone alone does not cause a behaviour”. Nonetheless, it is the former rather than the latter view that comes through most strongly. Thus, for women, talking or telephoning brings up pleasure-reinforcing amounts of dopamine and oxytocin – the latter being especially stimulated by intimacy. Men on the other hand seek independence rather than intimacy. Though she doesn't say so, I would assume what is labeled bonding is often more important to men – bonding with each other. I also find it hard to square off the assertion that women will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid conflict against the sassy feminists and women I know.

Despite my resistance to some of its points, this book is crammed with revelation and affirmation of traditional gender different perceptions. Chapter three informs us that only 5 per cent of mammals are monogamous – and so you must be wondering are humans (and in particular males) part of that five per cent? The answer seems to be kind of. From observations of prairie and montane voles, the critical factor (so we are told) is the length of one's vasopressin receptor. The prairie voles with the longer version are more faithful. So in future women may be in quest of mates with long vasopressin receptors. This is of course if men are like voles.

My general take on this book is that everyone should read it - for it rings a lot of bells at the biological level. And yet curiously I find some of its assertions contradicted by my own experiences. Also, if all its views are accepted as stated, it seems to deny human beings the capacity to make decisions contrary to their hormonal promptings - in other words it denies us free will. Which one of my hormones, I wonder, prompted that remark?

THINGS I DIDN'T KNOW by Robert Hughes, Knopf, $65

More than a generation ago, I saw a picture of Robert Hughes that aroused deep envy. He was young (relatively), good looking, had a powerful-looking motorcycle and was Time magazine's new art critic - presumably at a princely salary. I was a little published writer mail-sorting in the Sydney Post Office and did not own a motorcycle - and was not earning all that much. Now, some thirty years down the track, I have published a fair amount but still have no motorcycle - and no princely salary. Hughes is moderately famous and I am relatively unknown. Apart from that, what else is in common?

Surprisingly, quite a bit. Irish background, both raised as Catholics, destined for the law (but dropping the bench for more literary pursuits) plus jaffas, Minties, harbour ferries, trams, flying boats, the strap, Dad & Dave and Mandrake the dapper Magician gesturing hypnotically. And both were maturing as young men when our respective countries had scant confidence in local art – when the only way to view the grand masterpieces of European art was to go to Europe and see them - and there was little informed art criticism or art history. But since that time (1950s/1960s), both have developed enormously and large scale exhibitions from overseas are relatively common. Despite having five times the population, Australia had much the same colonial cringe as its smaller younger brother across the Tasman.

Hughes slid rather casually into the role of art critic in a way that is hard to imagine now. “I've just fired the art critic,” announced the Observer's editor Donald Horne, “Anyone know anything about art?” Hughes, the cartoonist, became an overnight art critic. Since that fortuitous beginning, Hughes has done his homework. Over the ensuing decades, it is clear from his richly detailed account that he has made himself at home with western art throughout England, Europe and America - the range of references is impressive. Included among his cultural formative icons are George Orwell, drama critic Kenneth Tynan, Kenneth (“Civilisation”) Clark; heavyweight Australian painters like Sydney Nolan and Arthur Streeton and writer Alan Moorehead.

Reading of Hughes' cultural life – the major part of the book – is in stark contrast to the opening sequences where the unlucky art critic was recently involved in a hellish car crash and wound up having dream-hallucinations that suggested the pins needed to hold the shattered bones of his arm together were a medieval torture device. Born into a rich and privileged family, Hughes has made good use of the flying start his background gave him.

At times, Hughes is in almost in danger of overdoing the litany of great art that has subsequently kissed his privileged eyeballs but what saves his account from any nuance of showing off or the tedium of experiencing unrelenting excellence, is his marvelously rich essayist's style which - despite its arcane vocabulary - remains lucid. Orwell crossed with Ruskin, one might say.

The still sneakingly conservative Hughes has little time for hippies and New Age goofiness,
though he likes the outrageous satirist Robert Crumb whose art he acutely analyses. If one imagines the life of an art critic as an endless browse through art galleries clutching a glass of wine – surely not too distant from the truth - Hughes was fortunate enough (so to speak) to be sent over to capture the great flood of Florence in 1966 which damaged countless works of art. Here Hughes's prose rises to fresh heights of descriptive power and leads him to this startling conclusion: “What the Florence flood drowned in me was a belief in the potency of the avant garde”. I would have thought the destruction wrought would have hammered home the fact that all art is vulnerable. Surprisingly, I find myself increasingly in agreement with him – whether creeping middle-aged conservatism or due respect for the past, I leave readers to decide.


THE SMELL OF POWDER: A History of Dueling in New Zealand by Donald Kerr, Random House New Zealand, $ 29.99

The time is dawn. The place a little visited locale. Two gentlemen stand sideways to each other and fire pistols at one another. Assistants called seconds hover, making sure that everything is run according to the “rules”.

Rules? Believe it or not dueling has rules. Twenty six commandments were drawn up by an interested group of fellows at Clommel, Ireland in 1777. However, in the heat of the moment – though dueling is by nature generally a “cool” practice ie one done after the moment of provocation – sometimes seconds and the rules are forgotten.

Dueling was and is an illegal activity indulged in by “gentlemen” (though one or two women have tried it) who should be of equal social status. Kerr notes that in the forty plus one years of George 111's reign (1760-1801), there were 172 reported duels and 91 deaths. In New Zealand, on the other hand, there were but 31 duels from 1809 to 1935 with only two deaths. Since, prior to reading Kerr's beautifully produced book, I didn't know there had been any, the unexpected number is sufficient to merit the period-charming history that Kerr has compiled.

My surmise is that New Zealand’s “Jack is good as his master” attitude – the desire to create a democratic rather than a tiered society with a small number of “gentlemen” – has helped work against the importation of this practice to Aotearoa. Possibly the rise of boxing as a sport and meeting behind the shed for a punch up as a way of settling differences has also played a part.

Kerr's elegantly written accounts are an intriguing visit to a bygone era. Remarks that seemed provocative back then have lost their sting by now. Dudley Sinclair called Bendigo Mack an “adventurer” resulting in a thrashing with a pickled whip and a challenge to duel which, like several listed here, was called off at the last minute. Another insult that aroused ire was “ranker” i.e. someone who had risen up through the ranks of the army. Another gent was hit by “a rebounding orange”, and demanded satisfaction. Accusations of cheating at cards and impugning a lady's reputation were also prominent among the causes to call for pistols at dawn.

On occasion, swords were the order of the day - such was the case in the last recorded duel in New Zealand in 1935 when an insult launched at King George V by a Russian officer resulted in a stabbing by an outraged loyalist. One can't imagine any sleight upon a royal provoking such a reaction today.

Failure to respond to challenge could result in the passive party being “posted'' - being publicly denounced as a dastardly coward, unprincipled villain, black guard, scoundrel etc. Reading between the lines, I can't help wondering if wounded pride demanded the challenge and speculate there was relief when the injured parties were talked out of it - in one case by their own mothers arriving at the scene of pending combat. If only, one might wish, all occasions of violence were so easily defused, what a peaceful place the world would be.

This is a delightful and elegantly produced book which would make an ideal gift especially for a “gentleman” who presumably now will not “call one out” even for a sleight. And it appears that very soon even the smack across the cheek, that Hollywood has taught us is a prelude to a challenge, will also itself be illegal.

Around NZ.jpg

FROM THE WRITER'S NOTEBOOK by Lydia Monin, Reed Publishing, $29.99

Not so long ago when prominent overseas visitors arrived in New Zealand, they were anxiously approached for their impressions of New Zealand. If the often almost forcibly solicited response was favourable, well and good, and if not – well, that was something to worry and fret about. In other words, we had a bad case of colonial cringe and were eager for approval – especially from the Overseas Expert - an attitude satirised in Allen Curnow's play of the same name.

At this time in our history, such writers as Trollope, Twain, Conan Doyle and Shaw were to some extent world cultural gurus and their visitations to these shores were hugely prominent events. Hence, the terrific attention paid to their observations. Nowadays – thanks to writers' festivals – famous writers have become more commonplace. Besides, in the pre-war and Victorian era - when psychology, sociology and anthropology were infant sciences – writers were expected to have opinions on everything under heaven. In the case of Twain and Shaw, in particular, this was a role in which they appeared to cheerfully revel. Twain had good reason to be publicly loquacious – he was in debt and his world tour was a way of making badly needed cash.

J.B. Priestley, who visited in 1973, was probably the last writer to be feted as a general guru of our culture and society – thereafter, we have haltingly inched our way to a greater sophistication though we have lapses into “Overseasure” and colonial cringe from time to time. Like Kerr's account on dueling, Monin's book is chaptered in accordance with New Zealand geography – from north to south - and the book's inner front and back pages offer a charming map of these noted literary travellers' itineraries.

The scenic reputation which New Zealand justifiably enjoys to this day was in no small measure due to the praise heaped on our Pink and White Terraces (now sadly destroyed), Bay of Island fishing, Waitomo glow worm caves, Rotorua thermal area, Lake Taupo and Milford Sound and walk, by these visiting literary giants. We all appreciate praise and when a tough and sardonic critic like Shaw described the Waitomo glow worm caves as “sufficient to blot out all memories of ordinary scenery”, the whole country must have blushed with pride.

Shaw was to prove a most prescient observer. Whereas Trollope ventured to suggest Auckland might one day rival London (we are still awaiting this eventuality), Shaw accurately predicted that we would one day harness geysers for power. He also suggested that we should found our own film industry to help develop national identity, distribute milk freely, and cut the economic strings with mother England – and all of these ideas came to pass.

Among the past writer-celebrities, Monin has sprinkled a goodly number of more contemporary visiting scribes eg Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Robert Creeley and the sad case of Chinese poet Gu Cheng who murdered his wife on Waiheke Island in 1993, then committed suicide.

For the reader who may not even be aware that such eminences as D.H Lawrence, Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling, John Galsworthy, and Noel Coward touched down on our shores however briefly, this book is a goldmine of critical comment, whether for or against. Wellington, Lawrence declared, was “a cold, snobbish, middle-class colony of pretentious nobodies” which makes me wonder if he spent his time in parliament. And the last word - and a surprisingly sweet utterance from so trenchant a critic - quoted by Monin, is from redoubtable old sage Shaw, who said on his departure, “If I showed my true feelings I would cry. It's the best country I've been in.” The carpet laid out before the old cynic must have been very red and very thick indeed. But now, who's being cynical?


WHYKICKAMOOCOW by Nicola McCloy, Random House, $19.99

The title is the English phonetic version of an imaginary Maori language-named town called Waikikamukau. I guess the intended pun is more humorous for English readers than Maori ones.

The interesting thing about this anthology of explanations for the origins of town or location names is how often the obvious notion proves not to be the historically accurate one. Bombay, for instance, just south of Auckland, is not named after the ancient city but the ship Bombay which brought settlers to the area in the 1860s. Interestingly enough the great Indian city has recently returned to its original Hindu name of Mumbai but Bombay, New Zealand, is sticking to its nomenclature. Dagg town is not named after sheep poo or comedian Fred Dagg but Captain Dagg, a whaler who made a massive haul of seal skins from there in the early 1800s. Other towns that have possible naughty nuances to their names such as Waipu and Pigroot are also noted.

Bulls does not come from the district sustaining a plenitude of male bovines, but from James Bull, a woodworker and carver, who funded a store which wound up providing everything from a beer to a bed for the night. The energetic Bull also established a carrying and sawmilling company. Soon locals said they could go to Bull's for anything and everything.
Hence the town became Bulls - apostrophe omitted. Hinds in Canterbury has nothing to with the proliferation of deer farms but is named after Captain Hinds, an ardent Anglican and supporter of Edward Gibbon Wakefield.

Thankfully humour can sometimes have a place in history. Take Nightcaps, a town so humble that at one stage it was possible to buy a house there for one dollar (plus installation expenses). One can't imagine a committee of civic-minded burghers coming up with such a moniker and such proves the case. A Captain Howell, a retired whaler who had 19 children (two by the first wife, 17 by the second) was gazing at the tops of the Takitimu mountains one typically misty night, and reportedly said, “They have their nightcaps on”. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since McCloy's aim in part is to look for humour, quirkiness and oddity, she finds more of these in European names and the book as a whole has a European flavour. However, some. Maori names fit the brief. Taumata is the abbreviation for the longest place name in the world. Kumara in the South Island is not named after the delicious sweet potato and the town was originally called Kohimara. Ngatimoti, in the Motueka district, is misnomer – there is no tribe called Moti. The explanation is that Timoti is Maori translation of Timothy who carved into a tree “Na Timoti” – “belonging to Timoti”.

However, much of the time things are what they might seem – Auckland is named after the Earl of Auckland, Wellington after the Duke of Wellington, and Christchurch after Christ Church at Oxford. The humorous, the quirky and the odd, it seems, tend to gravitate toward the smaller towns. The larger metropoles take themselves more seriously.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 11:52 PM | Comments (0)

Beautiful Dubrovnik: May 07 issue


Back to the Balkans

Historic Dubrovnik plays to the crowds, as Robert Cross discovers

DUBROVNIK, Croatia - On my first day, thunderstorms exposed the town's true nature.
In good warm weather, Dubrovnik can feel like a museum specimen, filled with visitors eager to experience its beauty and marvel at the intricacy of its historic buildings.

Trouble is, the admirers obscure some vistas and crowd through interiors that otherwise would transport them back through the centuries. All those flip-flops, cruise-ship caps and digital cameras play havoc with the imagination and keep reminding us that the Renaissance has come and gone.

And yet here I am spending more ink on the place, drawing more attention to it. Obviously, this no longer can be considered one of Europe's delicious secrets. But it should be on everyone's must-see list, throngs or no throngs. Ideally, Dubrovnik is absorbed, savored over many days. Still, even a glimpse is better than nothing. No other city on the Continent quite compares.

The frequent whump of seaside thunder and the bouts of heavy rain made umbrellas blossom on the main street - the Stradun, or Placa. Its marble surface turned slippery, while the sudden bath revealed it as a handsome, glistening pedestrian thoroughfare with the famous Onofrio Fountain on its western end and the 15th century Orlando's Column on the east - and a handsome clock tower for punctuation.

Only a few strollers braved the downpour. Clusters of visitors found shelter under the 15th Century portico of the Rector's Palace, where the rector and his staff once reviewed parades. Now the spectators could see fellow visitors running for cover, joining them under the portico or ducking into the baroque embrace of St. Blaise Church.

Dubrovnik is an al fresco sort of town in the warm seasons and during the dry days, so the storm provided an occasion to see the interior of the Gradska Kavana, a cafe where townspeople gather for coffee early in the morning. Most customers choose to sit outside on the terrace facing Luza Square and Orlando's Column, or take a table on the harbor-side veranda, where the armory used to be.

Inside, the cafe boasts two floors of tables surrounded by handsome Art Deco paneling and murals. It's a good place to get one's bearings after a stroll from Pile (PEE la) Gate, the western opening in the massive wall that surrounds the old city, or Stari Grad.

When the weather clears, the wall is a wonderful place to gain an overall impression of Dubrovnik, no matter how thick the crowds on the streets below. Built between the 13th and 15th Centuries to repel enemy sieges, it's a wide and lofty barricade, 80 feet tall and fully intact.

It has all the turrets, forts, towers and casemates with cannons that a Hollywood scenic designer could wish for.

The wall covers slightly more than a mile, uninterrupted, with fine views - sea, harbor, the orange-tiled rooftops of dwellings within the old city and modern Dubrovnik clinging to the foothills just outside the gates.

Strolling the Dubrovnik wall has to be one of the best walks in Europe.

The wall bridges the two most distinct aspects of Stari Grad. Visitors typically come for the wonderfully preserved or restored historic sites, most of them at ground level. That's where the tour guides hold up their umbrellas and explain the palaces, the Franciscan and Dominican monasteries (built for further protection), the churches and the odd artifacts like Orlando's Column. (Sculpted in 1417, its statue of Roland, the legendary medieval knight, is a symbol denoting benevolent powers protecting the city.)

The guides never fail to mention St. Blaise, the city's patron, usually depicted holding a model of Dubrovnik as it looked before the devastating earthquake of 1667.

Up on the wall, down along its base and along the sides of V-shaped Stari Grad, visitors with time can get a look at homes and the villagers who occupy them. They represent only a small percentage of Dubrovnik's 45,000 citizens, but they serve as excellent ambassadors for all the rest. It's fascinating to see children at play and adults going about their daily chores in a place so thoroughly tied to its long history that even the satellite dishes appear ready to grow moss. No wonder the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared the Stari Grad a World Heritage site.

Tourism is the main engine driving the Dalmatian Coast economy these days, so visitors receive welcoming smiles. One morning, a member of the wait staff at the Orlando Cafe had me pegged immediately as an American. She brought me, unbidden, an International Herald Tribune someone had discarded on another table. "Something to read with your cappuccino," she said.

I was trying to build some energy for the climbing required for a walk around the wall followed by more climbing up the residential tiers on either side of the main streets.

When I did reach the wall, I heard somebody remark, "Not a lot of privacy here. I don't think I'd like thousands of people walking above my house." But residents of Stari Grad apparently have learned to humor the visitors, entertain them or make a few kuna - the Croatian dollar - by selling them things.

Atop the wall, strollers find refreshment stands and women selling their crochet work and souvenirs. Down below, pots of flowers decorate scores of front stoops, as if to enhance the enjoyment of anyone peering down at them.

Along the wall's base - which stands on a steep bluff - I saw a wooden sign, in English: "Cold Drinks With The Most Beautiful View." An arrow on the sign pointed toward an opening in the wall. I entered to find a drink stand called Cafe Buza and several tiny umbrella-shaded tables clustered on stone ledges.

The beautiful view took in blue Adriatic Sea, the greenery of Lokrum Island and passing pleasure boats. Italy was out there beyond the horizon, but on a day like that, in a place like this, the boot lost some of its allure.

Frank Sinatra serenaded the Cafe Buza patrons. As I sipped a Coke and listened to Sinatra's rendition of "The Summer Wind," it occurred to me that all over Dubrovnik and neighboring Lapad I had been hearing music from the Cold War America songbook. Sinatra in this charming little cafe, Bob Dylan in a souvenir shop, Frankie Laine at a pizza place, even the McGuire sisters in a resort-area shopping mall.

It appeared as if I'd be listening to these familiar refrains all through my stay. But then, farther along the wall, I heard a beautiful contralto coming from a church school, where someone was rehearsing for a recital or a solo in the choir.

On the Stradun one afternoon, men and women in costume paraded toward Pile Gate. Some of the men played guitars and mandolins - even a full-size bass viol. And everyone sang. The parade drew scores of spectators, of course. They squinted into their digital camera screens and at one point formed a circle around a group of singing women - all in costume.

Not everyone was a tourist. Here and there, I could see lips moving in the crowd and hear the voices of other women, softly joining in.

It wasn't clear to me which period of Dubrovnik's and Croatia's history the marchers represented. Clearly they were dressed as country folk, courtiers and wandering troubadours, not the nobility and traders of the 14th and 15th centuries, when the town still was called Ragusa.

Through the centuries the city endured many shifts in power and allegiance: Romans, Turks, Venetians, the Croatian-Hungarian kingdom, all had their moments. The 1667 earthquake leveled the city-state, which had been an important seat of Renaissance enlightenment. Citizens rebuilt, but trade declined. The artistic treasures and cultural riches were destroyed.

At the turn of the 19th century, Napoleon's forces ruled. Then came the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire. Croatia tried and failed to break away from its Austrian rulers. In 1867, Hungary ruled Croatia but Dalmatia, including Ragusa, stayed in Austria's grip.

Fast-forward to post World War I when an uneasy bundle of Croats, Serbs and Slovenes were gathered together as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (i.e. southern - yugo - Slav).

Around that time, Ragusa became Dubrovnik, named after the dubrava, the holm oaks, or holly trees, that grew on the hillsides. The area fell under fascist rule during most of World War II. Afterward, it was part of Tito's Yugoslavia and his independent-minded Communist regime. Tito forcefully rejected Croatia's bid for independence, but his break with Stalin in 1948 did allow for more tourism and a slightly freer spirit than in most parts of the Soviet sphere.

When Communism collapsed in the late 1980s, Croatia again declared independence and its leaders removed Serbs from public office. The Yugoslavian army stepped in, beginning in June of 1991. That fall, the city and all of the southern Dalmatian coast fell under attack by the Yugoslav army, navy and Montenegrin militia. On Dec. 6 shells pounded Dubrovnik's old town, killing 19 people and wrecking several buildings.

With the help of a shocked world community, especially the European Union, Croatia did gain its independence and gathered the strength to repair and rebuild after the siege finally ended in 1992.

The work has been done so skillfully and with such an eye for authenticity that it's hard to comprehend how extensive the damage really was.

In the Sponza Palace, which survived both the recent war and the 1667 earthquake, a room on the ground floor is devoted to the events of 1991 and `92. Walls hold photographs of the men who died resisting the attacks. A continuous film shows collapsing rooftops, doorways belching flames, plumes of smoke rising from broken windows, people running for their lives.

"So many of our friends died," a tour guide told a group just outside the door. "There was so much damage 15 years ago."

Sponza Palace once served as a customs house, a bonded warehouse and a bank. Now it holds state archives, including manuscripts dating back centuries. Most visitors prize its exquisitely carved and be-columned Renaissance-era portico and its graceful Gothic and Renaissance windows.

The Rector's Palace - the only other building to survive the earthquake - is equally ornate. Those two structures hint at what an artistic and handsome city Ragusa/Dubrovnik was.

Of course, the artisans and engineers of post-Renaissance years filled the sturdy walls with delights of their own. The exteriors along the Stradun display a sort of baroque uniformity, an eye-pleasing arrangement that's anything but austere. Just past Pile Gate, the domed, 15th century Onofrio Fountain greets visitors with a ring of water-spouting sculpted faces. A few yards away, the Church of the Holy Redeemer is a favorite venue for evening concerts.

A doorway cut into a virtually blank wall leads to the beautiful cloister of the Franciscan monastery, where a small group of monks prayed and lived even during the Communist era. The complex includes a working pharmacy founded in 1317, an apothecary museum, and galleries of religious artifacts and paintings.

There are other churches, a cathedral and a Dominican monastery, which stands near the eastern Ploce Gate. People tour those, too, for the fine ecclesiastical art and that ephemeral thrill of supposing how it was to live in another time.

But it's satisfying just to experience Dubrovnik simply as a community with a design for living. That climb to the tightly condensed neighborhoods on the northern side reveals cozy streets - alleys, really - lined with restaurant tables, little shops selling everyday things and baubles the visitors might like.

A hike up the terraces is rewarded with close looks at tucked-in apartments and the cozy Hotel Stari Grad, one of only two hotels within the walls. The other, the exclusive Pucic Palace, shares a terrace with the morning market, where farmers and artisans sell their goods.

The Ethnographic Museum up in the south side residential sector sits atop a former granary. Mannequins wear clothing similar to those I saw on the paraders. Artfully mounted housewares, tools and farm implements grace the rooms.

I looked out a window at the rooftops of the Stari Grad, a bowl of small wonders, and it hit me that I had scheduled far too little time.

Back down at harbor level, I walked past the Pucic Palace behind a couple taking in the sights. The woman said to the man, "You're in Dubrovnik. Why do you always have to be somewhere else? Be where you are."

When I saw her mild rebuke in my notes, I felt a blush coming on. I do that so often: "This place reminds me of ..." Just the other day, I compared Dubrovnik to a town in Tuscany.

A mistake. Dubrovnik is Dubrovnik, and that's all it needs to be.

A bus is all you really need to get from an outlying hotel to the old city. Within the walls, it's walking or bicycling only; no vehicles allowed. And biking is impractical there because of the crowds. Bus fares are 8 kuna if purchased at a kiosk or newsstand and 10 kuna when paying on the bus. The kuna at this writing is equivalent to about 17 cents U.S.

SLEEPING THERE: Only two hotels operate within the old city. At the small (eight rooms) but charming Hotel Stari Grad (Od Sigurate 4; 00-385-20-322-244; www.hotelstarigrad.com), doubles start at US$238 in summer, including breakfast. The 19-unit Pucic Palace (Ulica Od Puca 1; 00-385-20-326-222; www.thepucicpalace.com) overlooks Gundulic Square and charges for its elegance, comfort and central location with rates that start at more than $550 a night in high season.
Outside the walls, the city and its suburbs offer a wide choice of hotels and resorts. To stay within walking distance, you could book a room at the Hilton Imperial (Marijana Blazica 2; 00-385-20-320320; www.hilton.com), a totally refurbished 1897 landmark just a short walk from Pile Gate. Rates start at about $300.
In Lapad, I stayed at the plain but modern and comfortable Hotel Kompas (Setaliste Kralja Zvonimira 56; 00-385 20 352 000; www.hotel-kompas.hr), one of many resorts in the area with superb Adriatic views. Doubles start at about $240.
Also, it might be worthwhile to consider apartments and rooms rented out by families. Look for signs that say "Sobe," which indicates accommodations are available. Or ask at one of the tourist offices.
Prices quoted are subject to change and do not include tax. Always ask about discounts and specials.

EATING THERE: My personal culinary highlight was a lingering afternoon repast at Proto (00-385-020-323-234; www.esculap-teo.hr) in the heart of the old town. I chose to sit on the terrace upstairs, instead of at a street-level table. It was the perfect tranquil setting for a meal of seafood salad, fresh and lightly seasoned. It went well with the local white wine, Posip. The bill: US$28.
A sister restaurant of Proto, Atlas Club Nautika (00-385-020-442-526; www.esculap-teo.hr) has a fine reputation, but the salad I ordered there couldn't match Proto's. I was told the gourmet treasures are in the dining rooms - rather formal and dressy compared to the seaside terrace. But outside, selecting from a very limited menu, you still get to pay gourmet prices (cash only). With a glass of red wine, my tab came to US$30.
In general, seafood is almost a sure bet anywhere along the Dalmatian Coast. But the beef and pork dishes I tried in Dubrovnik tended to have sauces and gravies laid on with a heavy hand. Italian cooking is widespread - including pizza, of course - and most of it meets the Italian standard.

INFORMATION: The Dubrovnik Tourist Board, www.tzdubrovnik.hr. Republic of Croatia, www.hr/index.en.shtml. www.croatia.hr
Useful guidebooks include Frommer's Croatia by Karen Torme Olson and Sanja Bazulic Olson; Lonely Planet's Croatia by Jeanne Oliver; and the Berlitz Dubrovnik Pocket Guide by Roger Williams.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 10:59 PM | Comments (0)