Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jon Faine visits Syria

Decent insight into a voyage to Syria from a Western perspective. Jon Faine is a prominent political journalist/radio host at the ABC in Australia.

From The Age

Back to the beginning

August 18, 2007

Jon Faine ignores the warnings and embarks on the road to Damascus.

It is as if I am rubbing shoulders with all of humanity. Our path is paved with ancient stones that hosted the Crusaders and little has changed since. We can see the humble tomb of the Islamic warrior Saladin to the side. Before us stand the soaring minarets of the Omayyad mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites.

But the pilgrims capture your attention as much as the building. One ancient woman, who barely reaches my elbows, is bent almost double, walking on cloth-bound feet and leaning heavily on a walking stick carved from a tree branch. Her entire body is cloaked in dark shrouds but she does not wear a burqa. Many do but she has a different arrangement.

Her hair is covered but she allows most of her face to be seen. She has tattoos on her lips. Her eyes burn into mine as she refuses my polite, but misguided, efforts to help her across the knee-high threshold into the mosque. The cultural gap is obvious. To take a helping hand from a male stranger would be unthinkable. My clumsiness is exposed; a simple polite gesture - unremarkable at home - is here in Damascus an affront.

We remove our shoes and squeeze through the crowd. An elderly man seems mesmerised, his toothless mouth agape at the emotion of entering one of the holiest sites in his religion. He carries his slippers across the vast floor and his head sports a variant of a turban of cotton cloth, his trousers joining below the knee in a baggy crotch.

He stoops to kiss the brass fittings on every door. Maybe it is the shrine, the crush of his fellow pilgrims or the sight of Western tourists - he is clearly overwhelmed by it all. So are we.

Standing nearby, just to confound the stereotype, is a tall young local man, baseball cap sitting backwards on his head. He wears a Michael Jordan T-shirt and carries his Nike runners in his hand. His long hair covers his shoulders and even in the mosque he answers his mobile phone.

The domed roof is high above us. The sun filters through thousands of tiny windows set high into the cupola. The floor is flooded with lush carpets and on the opposite wall, kneeling in prayer, long rows of men and boys touch their heads to the floor and chant in unison.

Visiting any place of worship as a tourist is intrusive, walking around a mosque during prayers more so than most. But we are invited to make our way to the ornate gilded cage that entombs John the Baptist. What is a Christian saint's tomb doing in a mosque?

We discover John the Baptist is also revered in Islam. This mosque, as with so many religious buildings around the world, is built on the ruins of a church and, before that, a Roman shrine.

A mesh screen keeps men and women apart and inadequately covered tourists must hire a full length cloak with pointy hood to avoid offence. Looking like a tall Jawa from Star Wars is a small price to pay to join the worshipping crowds.

We have come to Damascus despite many warnings. Syria has a special reputation. Iraq is just over the mountains and the country is often named as a source of terrorism. We shrug off the concerns of well-meaning friends and relatives, treated the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warning as a guide only and fly via Dubai to Amman in Jordan.

A few days in Amman leave us unenthusiastic for more. In this mostly modern city with few attractions, accommodation is either Western chains at ridiculous prices or, at the other extreme, grubby, noisy holes. The car horns do stop - about three in the morning. Then they start again about four. Sleepless nights and dodgy plumbing make for a bad start to any holiday.

Huge military cargo planes fly every half hour over the city, landing at a big US base on the outskirts of town. It is not until we are leaving that I buy an English-language paper and read about a Muslim fanatic charged with the stabbing murder of a British tourist at the Roman amphitheatre we had visited the day before.

So we haggle for a driver to take us to Damascus, stopping en route at the wonderfully intact ruins in Jerash, where we pretend we are in our own Ben Hur. Earthquakes over the centuries have taken their toll but huge triumphal arches and row upon row of colonnaded streets still stand. Our next stop is the border.

Our driver assures us he knows how to work the system and we

will want to reward him well for avoiding long delays. Visas had to be obtained before leaving Australia and I had insisted on declaring my occupation as journalist, a spanner in the works he had not anticipated. The crossing takes hours and tests our patience to the limit but eventually we enter Syria.

The change in surrounds is immediate. What had seemed impoverished in Jordan now looks luxurious. Syria is visibly poorer, cars and trucks are decrepit and exhaust fumes are stifling. The houses are smaller, older and in greater disrepair. The little infrastructure that is visible suffers from neglect. Light poles are toppling and wires are entangled. Roads have potholes, drains are non-existent and pollution is everywhere.

Our driver dodges motorbikes, donkeys, buses and trucks until he reaches the bus station in Damascus. He explains we need to change taxis to get to our hotel - a Jordanian taxi is not allowed within the Syrian capital. He drops us at the side of the road on a busy intersection. We stand bewildered in this cyclone of activity. But like a seagull spying a stray chip, a local taxi swoops and scoops us up. He has never heard of the hotel we booked over the internet, so we dread what awaits us.

He crawls through ever-narrowing alleyways, one hand on the horn. Any moment I expect casualties. The walls are so close the door handles need new chrome. Pedestrians have to flatten themselves within doorways for us to pass. Upper stories of houses extend over the street forming a roof over the cobbles.

Shops spill onto the street through open fronts. Pastries, felafels, sweets, juices, clothes, phones, barbers, chemists, spices and other foods compete for our senses as young Damascenes perform a Syrian passeggiata.

Dusk approaching, exhausted, we stop outside the hammam - the public baths. Our driver mimes for us to get out and to pay. Panic threatening, we have no idea where to turn. Out of the staring crowd a young woman steps forward and welcomes us in perfect English. We are ushered around a corner to a gigantic wooden double door big enough for a chariot to pass through - and a few probably have. Inside we enter another world.

A fountain splashes on a mosaic floor, cushioned benches and chairs invite us. Mint tea is offered on a brass tray. The noise from the street is replaced by the trickle of water and the foul fumes of the alley by the perfumed cloves pressed in oranges in the fountain. The courtyard of Beit Al Mamlouka is a sanctuary, a touch of Middle Eastern luxury. Beautifully and authentically restored but equipped with the very latest in European bathrooms, this mansion serves as a boutique hotel. We feel the tension flow from our bodies.

We are staying in the Christian quarter of supposedly the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. Biblical sites abound and we spend days just wandering, following walks suggested by the hotel's enthusiastic staff.

Breakfast is a highlight - honey-pickled walnuts, almond- and cinnamon-laced semolina pudding, fresh chocolate bread and homemade jams. Wherever we go, the food is fabulous, regardless of whether it comes from a roadside grill or swish city restaurant. We amuse locals in a club as we try the hubble-bubble water-pipe with strawberry flavour. Wandering the streets of the old city at night, we feel as safe as we would in an Australian city.

We are told that hotel occupancy rates in central Damascus can fall as low as 20 per cent and "why are you not afraid?" is a common question. Souvenirs include magnificent tablecloths, scarves and, of course, damask bed covers.

Almost every shop is adorned with a flag, poster or portrait of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, often brandishing a machine gun. Many posters also show the president in tandem with Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah. Most shopkeepers quietly tell us it is a display that is required, a kind of protection racket to keep "them" happy. Or are they placating a puzzled western tourist?

Each day we find a new way to get lost in the souk, the old city's main market with its bullet-holed roof, shot through by invaders and locals, celebrating victory or defeat in various conflicts. Despite our best efforts, large sections of the souk remain unexplored. The sweets shops, glazed fruits and the spice markets overwhelm the senses and wherever we go we are offered tastings and advice on which sack of produce is fresher, cheaper or better than others.

There are some peculiarities to get used to when travelling in an Arab nation. We giggle watching Arab TV chat shows, where a burqa-clad host interviews a burqa-clad guest, testing TV's role as a visual medium.

In public, men vastly outnumber women, yet some girls wear tight jeans, sprout piercings and wear close-fitting Western tops, which no one seems to mind. G-strings and flimsy underwear are sold alongside scarves and burqas in the market. In restaurants, a menu is offered to my wife without prices. Despite the widespread poverty, there is no shortage of German luxury limousines zipping along the potholed streets.

On the Al Jazeera TV network, we see US President Bush and then British prime minister Tony Blair talking about tackling the isolationism of Syria. We feel like sending them a postcard from Damascus.

Night driving is to be avoided, as lights for local cars, trucks and motorbikes seem to be optional. In the pitch black, goats, donkeys with carts and three boys on a minibike all just appear in the illuminated patch in front of our minibus. And when we think it could not get worse, an old ute appears driving towards us in the divided highway's emergency lane.

We spend two days on side-trips, visiting empty tourist attractions that in any other country would be crowded. Palmyra is nearly three hours' drive from Damascus. The Iraq border is just across the ridge, so we share the road with convoys of new, heavily laden Chevrolets, without number plates and filled to the brim with consumer goods and electronic gadgetry new in boxes. Smugglers, no doubt, and a booming trade.

The overwhelming Palmyra is an entire Roman city that is still to be excavated. A Japanese expedition had discovered a new site the month before our visit - for once, grave robbers had failed to deny the archaeologists their prize.

A few days later, we head north towards the Lebanese border, a trip to the Crusader castle that enthralled T.E. Lawrence as a student and helped shape his Lawrence of Arabia persona. Krak des Chevaliers does not disappoint. It guards the valley that gave traders from time immemorial the best path from the Mediterranean to the Silk Road.

Lunch at the family restaurant that overlooks the amazingly intact castle remains memorable. The mezze platters consist of 16 different dips and nibbles, then comes the chicken, then the lamb. Hatem, our host, is relieved to see a tour van. His father started the business years ago but now he has few customers. "No one comes since 9/11," he laments.

We stop off in the village at the Monastery of St George, where the very tall albino caretaker unlocks the huge door to a long passage carved from rock. It leads to a deep underground chapel and a 900-year-old ornate wooden carved church partition and frescos that adorn an even older Roman site of worship. It could be straight from the Da Vinci Code.

We prepare to leave Damascus after a thoroughly memorable trip. We hail a taxi to Amman - "the capital of boredom" our driver tells us. On the way out, someone asks our impression of Syria. I confess to earlier anxieties and admit to worrying about terrorism. "But no, we have no terrorism in Syria," says this local. "We only export terrorism."


Damascus, Syria


There are a numerous ways to get to Damascus. Emirates flies to Damascus or Amman from $2084 via Dubai. They also allow you to fly into Amman and out of Damascus and vice versa. Royal Jordanian has a fare with Thai Airlines for $1843, but not great connections. If you fly Turkish Airlines and partner airlines you can combine Syria and Jordan with a visit to Turkey.

Visas are required for Syria and Jordan. You can get a Jordanian visa here or on arrival in Amman but this takes time. Note DFAT's advice on Syria: "We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Syria because of the high threat of terrorist attack and volatile security environment."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

US Israel Policy Harms Both Countries

Good feature article from

August 16, 2007
US Israel Policy Harms Both Countries
by Paul Craig Roberts

"No American President can stand up to Israel."

These words came from feisty Admiral Thomas Moorer, Chief of Naval Operations (1967-1970) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1970-1974). Moorer was, perhaps, the last independent-minded American military leader.

Admiral Moorer knew what he was talking about. On June 8, 1967, Israel attacked the American intelligence ship, USS Liberty, killing 34 American sailors and wounding 173. The Israelis even strafed the life rafts, machine-gunning the American sailors leaving the stricken ship.

Apparently, the USS Liberty had picked up Israeli communications that revealed Israel's responsibility for the Seven Day War. Even today, history books and the majority of Americans blame the conflict on the Arabs.

The United States Navy knew the truth, but the President of the United States took Israel's side against the American military and ordered the United States Navy to shut its mouth. President Lyndon Johnson said it was all just a mistake. Later in life, Admiral Moorer formed a commission and presented the unvarnished truth to Americans.

The power of the Israel Lobby over American foreign policy is considerable. In March 2006, two distinguished American scholars, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, expressed concern in the London Review of Books that the power of the Israel Lobby was bending US foreign policy in directions that serve neither US nor Israeli interests. The two experts were hoping to start a debate that might rescue the US and Israel from unsuccessful policies of coercion that are intensifying Muslim hatred of Israel and America. The Israel lobby was opposed to any such reassessment, and attempted to close it off with epithets: "Jew-baiter," "anti-semitic," and even "anti-American." Today Israeli citizens who oppose Zionist plans for greater Israel are denounced as "anti-Semites."

Many Americans are unaware of the influence of the Israel lobby. Instead they think of the US as "the world's sole superpower," a macho new Roman Empire whose orders are obeyed without question or the insolent nonentity is "bombed back to the stone age." Many Americans are convinced that military coercion serves our interest. They cite Libya, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now they are ready to bring Iran and Pakistan to heel with bombs.

This arrogance results in the murder of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of men, women and children, a fate that many Americans seem to believe is appropriate for countries that do not accept US hegemony.

Coercion is what American foreign policy has become. Macho superpatriots love it. Many of these superpatriots derive vicarious pleasure from their delusions that America is "kicking those sand niggers' asses."

This is the America of the Bush Regime. If some of these superpatriots had their way every "unpatriotic, terrorist supporter" who dares to criticize the war against "the Islamofacists" would be sent to Gitmo, if not shot on the spot.

These Bush supporters have morphed the Republican Party into the Brownshirt Party. They cannot wait to attack Iran, preferably with nuclear weapons. Impatient for Armageddon, some are so full of hubris and self-righteousness that they actually believe that their support for evil means they will be "wafted up to heaven."

It has come as a crippling blow to Democrats that "their" political party is comfortable with Bush's America, and will do nothing to stop the Bush regime's aggression against the Iraqi people or to prevent the Bush regime's attack on Iran.

The Democrats could easily impeach both Bush and Cheney in the House, as impeachment only requires a majority vote. They could not convict in the Senate without Republican support, as conviction requires ratification by two-thirds of Senators present. Nevertheless, a House vote for impeachment would take the wind out of the sails of war, save countless lives and perhaps even save humanity from nuclear holocaust.

Various rationales or excuses have been constructed for the Democrats' complicity in aggression that does not serve America. Perhaps the most popular rationale is that the Democrats are letting the Republicans have all the rope they want with which to produce such a high disapproval rating that the Democrats will sweep the 2008 election.

It is doubtful that the Democrats would assume that men as cunning as Karl Rove and Dick Cheney do not understand the electoral consequences of a low public approval rating and are walking blindly into an electoral wipeout. Rove's departure does not mean that no strategy is in place.

So what does explain the complicity of the Democratic Party in a policy that the American public, and especially Democratic constituencies, reject? Perhaps a clue is offered from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune news report (August 1, 2007) that Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison will spend a week in Israel on "a privately funded trip sponsored by the American Israel Education Federation. The AIEF – the charitable arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – is sending 19 members of Congress to meet with Israeli leaders. The group, made up mostly of freshman Democrats, has plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and [puppet] Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The senior Democratic member on the trip is House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who has gone three times.... The trip to Israel is Ellison's second as a congressman."

According to the Star-Tribune, a Republican group, which includes Rep. Michele Bachmann (R, Minn), led by Rep. Eric Cantor (R, Va) is already in Israel. According to news reports, another 40 are following these two groups during the August recess, and "by the time the year is out every single member of Congress will have made their rounds in Israel." This claim is probably overstated, but it does show careful Israeli management of US policy in the Middle East.

Elsewhere on earth and especially among Muslims, the suspicion is rife that the reason the war against Iraq cannot end, and the reason Iran and Syria must be attacked, is that the US must destroy all Muslim opposition to Israel's theft of Palestine, turning an entire people into refugees driven from their homes and from the lands on which they have lived for many centuries. Americans might think that they are merely grabbing control over oil, keeping it out of the hands of terrorists, but that is not the way the rest of the world views the conflict.

Jimmy Carter was the last American president who stood up to Israel and demanded that US diplomacy be, at least officially if not in practice, even-handed in its approach to Israel and Palestine. Since Carter's presidency, even-handedness has slowly drained from US policy in the Middle East. The neoconservative Bush/Cheney regime has abandoned even the pretense of even-handedness.

This is unfortunate, because military coercion has proven to be unsuccessful. Exhausted from the conflict, the US military, according to former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, is "nearly broken." Demoralized elite West Point graduates are leaving the army at the fastest clip in 30 years. Desertions are rapidly rising. A friend, a US Marine officer who served in combat in Vietnam, recently wrote to me that his son's Marine unit, currently training for its third deployment to Iraq in September, is short 12-16 men in every platoon and expects to be hit with more AWOLs prior to deployment.

Instead of reevaluating a failed policy, Bush's "War Czar," General Douglas Lute, has called for the reinstitution of the draft. Gen. Lute doesn't see why Americans should not be returned to military servitude in order to save the Bush administration the embarrassment of having to correct a mistaken Middle East policy that commits the US to more aggression and to debilitating long-term military conflict in the Middle East.

It is difficult to see how this policy serves any interest other than the very narrow one of the armaments industry. Apparently, nothing can be done to change this disastrous policy until the Israel Lobby comes to the realization that Israel's interest is not being served by the current policy of military coercion.

What's Hizballah's "big surprise"?

As usual, Nasrallah's speech on Tuesday left many pondering and guessing. Whilst he played down the prospect of a new war with Israel, he did deliver a solid threat warning the Israelis not to attack Lebanon again.

"Oh Zionists, if you think of launching a war on Lebanon, and I don't advise to do it. ... I promise you a big surprise that could change the fate of war and the fate of the region," he declared at a mass rally commemorating Lebanon's "divine victory" against Israel last year.

What surprise could he have stored for the Israelis?

Indeed, Israeli Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer seems to have taken the hint from Nasrallah. "Nasrallah has never lied. He is cocky, he is arrogant, but at least from our experience with him, to my regret, what he has said, he has done. And when he says 'I have 20,000 missiles' I believe him," he said.

Israel and the UN have been complaining of continued arms shipments to Hizballah, perhaps from Syria, since the signing of the UN Resolution 1701, which ended the war last year and called for the disarmament of Hizballah.

Hizballah have stated that its weapons are required to defend Lebanon against Israeli attacks. The Shi'ite group appears to have a valid case considering the state of the country and the incompetence of the government. During last year's conflict, the Prime Minister Siniora ordered the army to stand down as it was being attacked by Israeli forces. Many soldiers lost their lives. The pro-American Government has also withheld funds to rebuild the areas damaged by the war, leaving much of the project to Hizballah and donations from Iran and Qatar. I wonder where the US$7 billion pledged to reconstruction at the Paris III conference disappeared to.

The decision by the government to not aid in reconstruction efforts has only boosted Hizballah's popularity among the Shi'ites, and cemented their claim that they are a required force as the Lebanese Government absolves itself of any responsibility to its citizens. If the Government isn't going to look after its people, who will?

Nasrallah reiterated that the Lebanese Army and Hizballah's militant forces are united and support each other in providing a security network for the country. There hasn't been any confrontation between Hizballah and the Lebanese Army, so we can be rest assured that ties between the two remain strong.

Former Lebanese General Elias Hanna believes that the Islamic party may have sophisticated weaponry among its arms stock. He states that Israel's air superiority has prompted Hizballah to increase its anti-aircraft capacity. Hanna also raised the possibility of there being sleeper cells within Israel awaiting Nasrallah's orders to wreak havoc within the country.

As always, Nasrallah's comments leave us guessing. True estimations of its capabilities remain below the radar, perhaps one reason why Israel finds it so difficult to eliminate them. One thing is for certain, as Ben-Eliezer pointed out, Hizballah are to be taken very seriously.

Link to IHT article.

Iran to join China and Russia at the Kyrgyzstan Summit

It's the second time Ahmedinijad is attending the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) summit. As you'll read below, the SCO is becoming a platform of major Asian powers to counter US influence. China and Russia are leading the charge, and Iran obviously sees a key interest in remaining close to a regional grouping that may protect it from American threats.

The SCO will continue to deny Iran membership of the organisation so as to not challenge the US directly, but the close SCO-Iran ties still raise a few eyebrows in Washington.

Also of concern to Washington is Russia and China's attempt to expand their influence in the Central Asian region in order to push the US out. Russia views the region as its traditional sphere of influence, and China has expressed a keen interest in Central Asia for its lucrative energy resources, as well as its desire to play a more prominent role in regional and world affairs.

The hot topic of energy is also at the centre of the SCO as they gather some of the world's major energy producers, another worry for the US.

The US said its keeping a close eye on the summit. I'd recommend everyone to keep a close eye on the emergence of the SCO on the world's political and economic scene. The energy factor gives it great leverage.

Read the AP article below, plucked from the IHT, for the full story.

The Associated Press

Published: August 15, 2007

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived Wednesday in Kyrgyzstan to join the leaders of Russia and China for a summit of a regional group seen as a platform for countering U.S. interests in strategic, energy-rich Central Asia.

The United States, which maintains an air base in the host country, is keeping a close eye on Thursday's gathering of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also includes four ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia.

The SCO emerged 11 years ago to address religious extremism and border security issues in Central Asia. China and Russia have been pushing for strengthening the group since the U.S. military set up air bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to support the anti-terror campaign in nearby Afghanistan.

In recent years, with Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia signing on as observers, the group has been emerging as potentially a broader and more powerful bloc aimed at resisting U.S. domination in world affairs. Ahmadinejad is attending the annual summit for the second year in a row.

At last year's summit in Shanghai, the Iranian president called on the SCO to become "a strong, influential economic, political and trading institution" that could act to "prevent the threats of domineering powers and their aggressive interference in global affairs."

Although the SCO has welcomed Ahmadinejad, accepting Iran as a full member will not be on the table any time soon, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia in Global Affairs journal. "Making Iran a member would be seen as an open challenge to the United States, a call for confrontation," he said.

The organization, whose members are some of the world's biggest energy producers and consumers, also has begun to embrace economic cooperation. At Thursday's summit, the leaders plan to discuss the creation of an SCO Energy Club, a Kremlin official said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

A further sign of the group's intention to influence energy markets is the participation in the Bishkek summit of Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, whose country is the second-largest producer of gas in the former Soviet Union after Russia. Turkmenistan is not a member of SCO; the president is attending as a guest.

Ahmadinejad stopped in Turkmenistan on his way to Bishkek to meet with Berdymukhamedov.

The Turkmen president also received a visit this week from Daniel Sullivan, U.S. assistant secretary of state for economic, energy and business affairs. The United States wants Turkmenistan's support for an undersea Caspian gas pipeline, which would circumvent Russian-controlled export routes.

For Washington, a more immediate worry is the fate of its military base in Bishkek. Neighboring Uzbekistan kicked U.S. troops out in 2005 after the SCO called on the United States to set a deadline for withdrawing its troops from the Kyrgyz and Uzbek bases.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said the organization's opposition to a prolonged U.S. military presence in Central Asia has not changed. "It is still in force," he said in an interview published Wednesday in the Vremya Novostei newspaper.

Denisov also warned against attempts to pull the Central Asian countries away from Russia.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said during a visit to Bishkek in June that the U.S. air base there was a bilateral issue and "not an issue for discussion between the Shanghai Cooperation Organization."

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ednan Karabayev has signaled in the run-up to the summit that his country is not seeking closure of the U.S. base, saying that it is important for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Russia also maintains a military base in Kyrgyzstan.

After the summit, the leaders of all six member countries — Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Tajik President Emoamli Rakhmon and Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev — will head to Russia to watch joint war games.

The anti-terrorism drill Friday in the Chelyabinsk region in western Siberia will involve some 6,000 troops and several dozen Russian and Chinese aircraft.

Also participating in the summit will be Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khusheed Kasuri and Indian Oil and Gas Minister Murli Deora. Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be attending the meeting as a guest.

For Kyrgyzstan — an impoverished mountainous nation of 5 million — the summit will be one of the largest international events it has ever hosted. More than 5,000 policemen were deployed to ensure security, some of them, wearing festive white-top uniforms were lining main streets that were decorated with the SCO leaders' portraits.

Israel lobby attacks new book condemning US' Israel policy

When John J. Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University, published their book "The Israel lobby and US Foreign Policy", they knew they were in for a tough ride.

The accusations of anti-Semitism (an ironic term considering the majority of today's Semites are actually Arabs) and attacks by academics flooded in as the book condemning the Israel lobby's stranglehold on US foreign policy was put on the shelves.

Institutions, organisations and universities around the country cancelled events hosting the authors as the uproar rose to boiling temperature. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs stated the issue was "so hot" it too had to cancel on the authors, whom were regular speakers at the council.

Such reaction is typical of any American who publicly attempts to discredit Israel, let alone attack America's powerful Israel lobby itself. The two academics deeply criticised the pro-Israel lobby's influence on US foreign policy, which they claim is harming the interests of both Israel and the US. They also write that Israel has become a "strategic liability" since the end of the Cold War, but the lobby is preventing any US politician from speaking up.

In a country where criticism of Israel is taboo, domestic criticism of the Jewish state has become more apparent in recent years. US failure in Iraq, failure in cementing a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and failure to criticise Israel in its war with Lebanon last year has pushed the limits of censorship to the edge. Former President Jimmy Carter didn't hold back when he openly declared his dissatisfaction with Israel in his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid".

Successive, transparent failures in US Middle Eastern policy has prompted American thinkers to publicly denounce the pro-Israel lobby. Although it may seem that these thinkers are facing the daunting task of bringing awareness to the destructive power of the Israel lobby, it's quite the contrary. Never in recent years has America's Israeli lobby been forced to publicly defend itself on the domestic front for the consequences of its behaviour, and the negative impact it is having on US foreign policy.

The taboo of criticising Israel on the domestic arena in the US has been broken. Critics who have long kept their views silent will become more bold in publicly defying the Jewish lobby. Whilst this lobby remains incredibly powerful, the voice of dissent to this power appears to be rising.

Link to NY Times article.

Don't expect change in Israel policy any time soon

From Haaretz:

AIPAC's Kohr sixth most powerful Washingtonian

In the new GQ ranking of the most powerful men and women in Washington, State Secretary Rice came up first, and Howard Kohr, Executive Director of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC is number six (not alone, but with three other powerful lobbyists).

GQ says: "don't expect any big changes to our Israel or prescription-drug policies in coming years".

Friday, August 10, 2007

Rewriting history

The Israeli Education Ministry has approved a history textbook for Arab third-graders detailing the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948. Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, will have his book "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" sourced as a reference in history classes for Israeli Arab pupils.

The decision hasn't caught much media attention, to Israel's relief, as the state has in the past vigorously rejected claims of systematically cleansing the land of Palestinians in 1948. Although the Israeli Government has only approved telling a story to children who are more than likely aware of what occurred, and thus unlikely to change much on the ground, it is an important step by the Israeli leadership in finally acknowledging the horror inflicted upon Palestinians before the state of Israel was declared.

The book reveals in-depth the deliberate and systematic plan of Jewish leaders to rid Palestine of its native Arab inhabitants whilst under the British mandate to make way for a new Jewish state. The result was a series of massacres, village-sackings, terrorist attacks against the native Arab population and British security forces, and the eventual expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians. Dozens of villages were razed to the ground, thousands were killed, and hundreds of thousands more fled the invading Jewish militias. Currently, over three million Palestinians reside in inhumane refugee camps in the 'Palestinian territories' and neighbouring Arab countries awaiting their return. The incident of 1948 marked the beginning of a conflict that has torn the Western and Islamic worlds apart.

Knowledge is power, and education is the key in bringing peace to this raging region. Since 1948, ordinary Israelis have been sheltered from discovering the truth by the Israeli Government and local media, who instead propagate their own version of events, completely discarding the consequences endured by the Palestinian people. The latest decision to disallow Pappe's book from being taught to Jewish pupils highlights the Israeli Government's campaign to keep their people in the dark. But all that may be beginning to change.

One of the interesting elements of this development is that it was an Israeli historian, and lecturer at Haifa University, who was behind the works on the Palestinian Catastrophe (Al Nakba). Pressure to allow transparency of the 1948 events may come from within Israeli society as leading academics, such as Ilan Pappe, attempt to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinians.

Indeed such a league of people have great powers within the country to compete against, including Israel's extremist religious-right who wield immense influence. However, unlike the left-wing Israeli, peace corps groups who are generally shunned by the mainstream population, a similar discourse from leading academics may be received with greater credibility.

Ignorance hasn't proven to be blissful in the Middle East. In fact, it is the main protagonist of the region's woes. Israelis blinded by ignorance and false knowledge of their conflict with the Palestinians will remain entrenched in their fear of being the helpless, innocent victim in a sea of hell. Fear is generally the symptom that follows ignorance, which in turn leads to extremist policies. It is an endless cycle of fear, hate and war. The cycle will stop once ignorance is rooted out, and truth is made transparent for all.

Once there is a sincere and genuine understanding among Israelis that the land in which they dwell was confiscated from a people now sprawling in rat-infested refugee camps, I am convinced that that sincerity will flow onto the state's policies and behaviour. One can only hope.

Link to UPI article on the subject.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hizballah providing a telephone network for Lebanon's Shi'ites

All of a sudden, Lebanon's war-torn and impoverished southern and eastern regions are now looking rather attractive.

In a country that functions as a pseudo-anarchist state where government presence is barely felt at any level of social life, it's been revealed that Hizballah (the supposed state-within-a-state) has extended its management of its Shi'ite regions.

Not only does Hizballah provide free health care, free education and security, the apparent Lebanese Government 'accidentally' stumbled on a telephone cable network the militant/welfare organisation has established for its community.

Whereas the Lebanese under Government authority are being forced to pay in the thousands of dollars for an education, health and telecommunications, Hizballah is offering a sweeter deal for the constituents under its heads.

Such a revelation should only come as an embarrassment to the Lebanese Government who's inefficiency and mismanagement of the country can be attributed to its high levels of corruption. Unfortunately the Siniora Government didn't see it that way, and pressed ahead to label Hizballah's effectiveness in governing parts of the country as a "breach of Lebanon's sovereignty". Quite a humorous response considering Lebanon has one of the highest telecommunication rates in the world, and the state refuses to fully privatise the industry and entice foreign capital and investment because of corrupt ministers who wish to keep the cash flowing into their pockets.

Many criticise Hizballah for acting without consulting its fellow Lebanese, which is true at times, but I must say, the Lebanese Government should consider itself extremely lucky that Hizballah limits itself to the Shi'ite community.

If the state-within-a-state module can be applied to Lebanon, it'd seem the inadequate and corrupt March 14, Siniora ensemble would be the lesser entity within the more efficient and disciplined Hizballah outfit.

An organisation that gives back to its constituents, now that's the kind of organisation I'd like to see in power.

US attacks free media in Lebanon

News that began emanating from Angry Arab's blog of the US using its political humanitarian tool, USAID, to coerce Lebanon's English newspaper The Daily Star into writing pro-government articles is a crucial topic worthy of greater discussion and transparency.

The Daily Star published a damning, investigative report by Lysandra Ohstrom on Hariri's gigantic real-estate group, Solidere, which can still be accessed on their website by clicking here.

Solidere is Rafik al-Hariri's legacy. A company that rebuilt one section of Beirut (the predominantly Sunni Downtown Beirut, leaving Beirut's Christian and Shi'ite quarters to rot) through monopoly, extortion, illegal confiscation of private property, exploitation of workers (underpaid Syrian labour), to name a few on a very long list of sins by Solidere. Ohstrom's article explores Solidere's unscrupulous deals in order to enlarge the pockets of Hariri. I urge all to read Lysandra's article while it still stands.

Today, Saad Hariri (son of Rafik) finds himself the leader of Lebanon's governing pro-American March 14 alliance. The Bush administration have been quite passionate about victory in Lebanon and is pursuing every possible policy - under and over the table - to ensure Bush's man in Hariri stays on top.

Bush's stubbornness to hold onto the March 14 alliance was conspicuously reiterated a fortnight ago when he declared that he would target anyone that tried to undermine the Siniora Government. So when The Daily Star published an article damaging Hariri's Solidere, the US was quick to respond. AngryArab quotes the USAID as stating the following:

"the USAID funders have requested that the coming pages (of Daily Star examiner section) all have their writers submit synopses of their pieces for vetting ... the political agenda of the donors is not to undermine the Fouad Siniora government".

This presents a serious issue in another episode of American hypocrisy. We can safely conclude after seven years of erratic rule by George W. Bush that the American agenda in the world was never about freedom or democracy. It baffles me that there are still Lebanese and Arabs out there who continue to delude themselves of a fictional Hollywood version of American imperialism in the Middle East. The US may seem rosy upon landing at JFK Airport, but its grandiose skyscrapers, efficient organisation techniques and neo-liberal values are not necessarily qualities it intends to share with us, inferior civilisations.

There can be no grander evidence of that than its attempt to eliminate free media and investigative journalism in Lebanon in order to protect its interests. The actions of the White House are in complete breach of the US Constitution, which is designed to uphold the freedom of the press. It seems the implementation of the US Constitution is not exactly universal.

Another distressing issue to point out is that the Bush administration is manipulating and interfering in the internal affairs of other countries by using government humanitarian agencies, such as USAID in this case. Reports emerged last year of the US bypassing Congress by dumping funds into so-called humanitarian groups that would then directly interfere in foreign countries, Ukraine and now Lebanon clear case scenarios.

Of course, The Daily Star caved in to pressure from the US by subsequently publishing this article praising USAID humanitarian projects in Lebanon.

Never-ending hypocrisy from the American part, but nothing we are not accustomed to in Lebanon. The US continues to work against democracy in Lebanon and the greater region, whilst the world remains oblivious.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Russia's navy base in Syria confirmed

The Russian daily, Kommersant, revealed a rumour in 2006 that Russia is planning to re-erect a naval base on Syria's Mediterranean coast in Tartus and Latakia. At the time, Russian officials denied the rumour, but they have a habit of denying most things that are in fact true.

The news was swept under the carpet for a period, but has now resurfaced as Israeli online media confirmed the report a few days ago. Russia has now officially announced it is rebuilding its abandoned Soviet naval base in Syria as part of a major weapons deal signed last year between the two countries.

The base will become Russia's first outside a neighbouring country, and ensure a permanent presence in the Mediterranean to shoulder the US' Sixth Fleet. Such a move will have major implications for the struggle for Middle East supremacy. At a time when the United States' status as the regional powerhouse is diminishing, in come the Russians attempting to put their foot directly in the midst of the conflict.

Ynet asserts that any Russian presence on the Syrian coast will prevent Israel from behaving unilaterally in combat against its neighbours in Lebanon and Syria. It will no longer have the luxury of freely using the Lebanese and Syrian coasts to bombard land positions, and any ambition of attacking Syria directly will be put into serious doubt. The Russian juggernaut is back, and the Israelis will be forced to consider its potent presence in the region.

However, the Ynet article proposed that a Russian presence in the region might be the stabilising force required to prevent future reckless warfare between Israel and Syria or Iran. As the Americans are struggling to juggle the Middle Eastern conflict, the protagonists of the regional conflict may look to Moscow to keep the calm.

Indeed, it would be a great showcase for the Kremlin if it is able to stabilise a region the Americans and Europeans have long failed to tame. No doubt its military presence will have to be backed up with a serious diplomatic initiative for the region. One can't simply waltz into the Middle East with a force and not get dragged into its chaotic vortex.

Although we probably can't predict what benefits, if any, a Russian presence will bring to the region, we are certain that any Mid East policy would be directly reactionary to any move the Americans make. It can be wisely assumed that the US is the main reason why Russia has made the move back to the Middle East. Moscow is still seething over American plans to build parts of it missile defence shield in what Russia considers its 'sphere of influence' in Poland and the Czech Republic. Perhaps this is Russia's retaliation of striking at the region that has been at the heart of US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War ... the Middle East.

I would not be as optimistic as Ynet in assuming that the Russians are here to make things rosy. After all, Moscow's anger at the US has prompted it to build Iran its nuclear facilities and sell both it and Syria advanced weapon systems. The naval base in Syria is only the next phase at intensifying the relationship, making the Baath regime Russia's closest ally in the region. At a time when Damascus appeared cornered and isolated, the Russians have thrown them a tangible lifeline.

It was only a few years ago that talk was high of a possible US/Israeli invasion of Syria. The hope of crushing the Syrians now appears further from reality than ever before, and much of that can be owed to Russia. If a Russian military presence is going to have any restraining effect in the region, it will be the restraint of Israeli and American military action.

Of course, the Russians are keen not to see its only trusted ally in the region collapse as a result of American and Israeli pressure. Moscow has a key interest in keeping Assad afloat. There is a one-way street in regaining Russian influence in the Middle East, and its through Damascus.

Syria and Iran hope the Russian naval base will put an end to Israeli/American military arrogance in the Middle East. As far as Syria is concerned, it may be the extra card required to get Israel back on the negotiating table. Israel has been rejecting overtures from Damascus for some years, and Syria has been struggling to force Israel to talk. The Syrians will be hoping a Russian military presence on its doorstep will be enough to twist Olmert's arm and sit him on the table.

Undoubtedly, Syria will become more confident and confronting in its dealings with Israel and the US, knowing full well that a possible military strike on the country will be shelved with the Russians planted in force on their soil. Whether that translates into a more aggressive policy in Lebanon is still unknown, but the fear lingers. The Russian base will give the Syrians a great sense of security it has not felt in decades. The Israelis, as demonstrated by Ynet, would hope that the Russians will use their military presence to restrain Syria, but there are no guarantees. Any move Syria makes in the region will harm US interests, and harming American interests is exactly what Russia aims to do. It is highly plausible that Russia intends to secure Syria with its naval base to enable the Syrians to aggressively pursue its anti-American agenda in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq.

The Russians enjoy their current alliance with Iran no doubt, but both Moscow and Damascus discreetly share common reservations of Iran's emerging religious power. Both Russia and Syria have a harsh distaste for Islamic fanaticism, a key export of Tehran. Syria is indeed Russia's preferred choice of ally, and its shared interests run deep. The Russians obviously are not reluctant in giving Damascus a freer hand in its struggle in the Middle East. The navy base might just deliver the free hand Syria have long sought.

Link to Ynet article

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Buying votes?

Courtesy of, the following are pictures of Lebanese Forces and Phalangist members buying votes during Sunday's elections.

This is Bush's version of democracy. Cheated in 2000 in the US, cheating again in Lebanon in 2007. Only this time, he didn't win.

Opposition election victory a major blow to Bush

As FPM supporters were cheering in the streets of Lebanon, concern was mounting in Washington. The US' chosen candidate to win the Metn by-election has failed to knock-out a key Hizballah ally.

Michel Aoun's FPM has proven to be the unexpected thorn to US plans for Lebanon in their quest for regional domination. Everything the Americans have thrown at Hizballah seems to have bounced back. The US had hoped the people-power reaction to Rafik Hariri's assassination in 2005 would've been enough to end Hizballah's power in Lebanon. Indeed, the FPM were on the streets in full voice with America's current Lebanese allies demanding Syria's departure and Hizballah's disarmament two-years ago.

However, American failed attempts to include Michel Aoun in their assortment of Lebanese puppets led the FPM to do the unthinkable. In late 2005, the FPM - which commanded the greatest support among Lebanon's Christian community - forged an alliance with the pro-Iranian/Syrian Hizballah.

This alliance has become a complete nightmare for the US in Lebanon. The FPM's memorandum of understanding with the Shi'ite movement has given Hizballah enough popular power to contend US influence in the country. Following its success against Israel last summer, the new Christian-Shi'ite alliance turned to internal affairs and went on the offensive to remove Lebanon's pro-American leadership from power. A wave of mass demonstrations (the largest demonstrations ever witnessed by the country) and strikes brought the country to the brink of civil war, and the Americans on the back-pedal.

Lebanon has remained paralysed since, with both camps refusing to budge an inch. The Syrians and Iranians are propping up the Opposition on the one hand, and at the other end of the spectrum the Americans and Saudis are pulling every string possible to avoid a Hizballah takeover of Lebanon.

Sunday's by-election was one of those strings. The Americans swung their full support behind March 14 candidate and former president Amine Gemayel in the hope that the victory will break Aoun's standing among the Christians. Again, the US has failed.

Michel Aoun can now state he has the majority of the Christians behind him. The US are running out of options. It finds itself in an alliance with the Sunnis in Lebanon (despite the fact that the Americans are battling Sunni insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan), and at complete odds with Lebanon's Christians, who have favoured a partnership with Hizballah, a proxy arm of America's arch-nemesis, Iran.

The next crucial battle will be the presidential elections in a few months. The president is elected by the parliament, which has been en panne for more than 8 months. Hizballah have threatened to create a 2nd government if the ruling coalition chooses a president without their consent. What will occur remains unforeseen. The stakes are very high, and the by-elections are only a warm up to the much anticipated presidential elections.

The Americans have lost another round in its struggle with Iran and Syria over domination in Lebanon, but no doubt they are back at the drawing boards preparing for the next battle.

Is it the end of the Gemayel dynasty?

Once Lebanon's most powerful political family, the Gemayel family finds itself on the sidelines of Lebanese politics. A bitterly fought by-election in the Christian heartland of Metn has ended in misery for former president and Phalange Party leader Amine Gemayel.

The seat was left vacant by Gemayel's son, Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated last November. The Phalange leader was counting on a sympathy vote from the Christian electorate to win on Sunday, but alas the locals had thought and voted otherwise.

The victor, Camille Khoury, of Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) officially won the contest by a narrow 418 votes. On election day, both camps had accused the other of fraud, which isn't quite uncommon in Lebanon. Whether the true result reflects how votes went on the day is another question, but we are certain that the Opposition has dealt a massive blow to the US-backed ruling coalition.

Gemayel, a key member of the ruling coalition, finds himself without a political voice. How the mighty have fallen. The repercussions will be felt throughout the country, as the chapter on one of Lebanon's infamous and powerful dynasties comes to an end. The Gemayel clan were there with the French from the get-go as the colonialists were carving out the new entity at the end of World War I. The French empowered the Gemayel family, bringing only a reign of war and destruction to the country.

Upon returning from a trip to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Pierre Gemayel (Amine's father - pictured left) was inspired by the discipline of the Nazis and formed his own fascist movement in Lebanon - the Phalange Party. Named after the Spanish dictator Franco's fascist party, the Phalangists - backed by the French and the US - remained Lebanon's most powerful political party until the onset of Lebanon's civil war in 1975.

Known as the "Kataeb" in Arabic, the party was the heavyweight in the country's influential Maronite Catholic community. Dominating Lebanon's Christian scene, the party entered the war on behalf of the Maronites. The movement began to fall apart after Pierre Gemayel's son, Bashir (pictured right), led the party to attack fellow Maronite clans in order to make the Gemayel house the undisputed leader in the Christian community. By this time, the Israelis had invaded in an alliance with Bashir Gemayel, a controversial relationship that has tainted the powerful family since. Bashir was assassinated as President-elect in 1982, and his younger brother, Amine, ascended to the helm in his stead.

Amine Gemayel appointed Michel Aoun as his prime minister during the latter stages of the 1980s. As the war came to a close, Amine Gemayel fled to France, and the Lebanese Government split. The former president was accused of robbing the treasury of its money before he departed, which consequently caused a massive devaluation in the Lebanese pound.

Michel Aoun joined Gemayel in France soon after, following his defeat to the Syrians in 1990. The relationship between the two remained strained during their 15 years of exile in France. Amine Gemayel's son, Pierre (named after his grandfather), carried on his father's politics in Lebanon during Syria's 15-year domination of Lebanese affairs. The civil war, however, severely weakened the Phalange Party and the Gemayel clan. Pierre Gemayel succeeded in becoming a parliamentarian in the 2005 elections following Syria's withdrawal. By then Amine had returned and resumed leadership of the Phalangists.

The Gemayel clan had opted to join the March 14 coalition in 2005 following the bitter estrangement between Michel Aoun's FPM and the pro-American grouping. In November of last year, Pierre Gemayel (pictured left) was assassinated.

The death of Amine's son had left a crucial seat vacant at a pivotal time. As the country is deadlocked between the Sunni-led government and the Shiite-led opposition, gaining Christian support was essential in order to tilt the balance. On the weekend, the former president and his prime minister found themselves on opposing sides. Gemayel, backed by the Americans, lost to Hizballah's ally in Aoun, and had lost the place of his family in the Christian community.

It signals an end of an era, and perhaps the beginning of a new chapter for Lebanon's Christians. After long domination by tribal-like clans, the Christians on Sunday loudly rejected the past and endorsed the future. When only 30 years ago the Gemayel clan was leading the Christians into ferocious battles with their Muslim compatriots, today the Christian community has embraced Michel Aoun's trust-building relationship with the Shi'ite Muslim community. The lessons of the war seem to have sunk in.

The age of mistrust, fear and sectarianism must come to an end for the country to prevail and stability to ensue. The Christians, based on the weekend's results, seem to agree. The Gemayel mafia-like rule of the Maronite community is over.

Gemayel racist tirade against Armenians unsurprising

Amine Gemayel's racist assault on Lebanon's large Armenian community shouldn't be a shock to anyone. After all, he is the leader of the almighty Maronite fascist movement, the Phalange Party.

The entire 71 year existence of this party has been based upon the hatred of others while basking in the delusion of "Maronite superiority". Despite the Armenians having been settled in Lebanon since the Ottoman genocide of the Armenian people in World War I, Gemayel still insisted on the weekend that these people were "intruders upon Lebanon's realities" and "ghetto dwellers"

Of course, racism and sectarianism is an offshoot of deep anger. Yes, on the weekend, Amine Gemayel was a very angry man as he confronted his imminent defeat. Lunacy tends to be a symptom of fascism, so when the former president launched his racist tirade, laughter was the only response.

Gemayel would have good reason to be upset with the Armenian community. The ethnic group is largely concentrated in the Metn region (scene of the by-election), and its leading party, the Tashnag, is a loyal ally of Michel Aoun's FPM and a participant in the Opposition led by Hizballah. The Armenians, as expected, voted en masse on Sunday for the FPM candidate Camille Khoury against our angry fascist, Amine Gemayel.

Whilst he reserved his greatest attack for the Armenians, Gemayel also swung a few punches at the Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities, attempting to highlight the inferiority of such Christians to the 'far superior' Maronite Catholics.

After 71 years of Gemayel dynastic fascism, the Lebanese have grown accustomed to the racism and sectarian remarks of the Phalangist leaders. Hopefully their monumental defeat on Sunday will bring a long-awaited soothing silence to our ears.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Murdochisation of the global media

Out of the few years in my journalism degree, there was one important piece of knowledge that did not escape my memory. The idea that the media was to symbolise the "Fourth Institution" in Western society. The role that the media was to play in our society has its origins in the drafting of the US constitution over 200 years ago.

The US constitution engulfed three institutions of power to govern the country. The Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial. Three independent organs to hold each other in check to enable free democracy to prevail. The First Amendment declared the freedom of press, thus highlighting the important and delicate role of the media.

The media composed another vital organ of the nation that would be independent of the three institutions, ensure that information was transparent to the public and that leaders were held accountable for their actions. Recognised for its importance in society, the media was unofficially dubbed as the 'Fourth Institution'. This gave precedence to the notion of the "free media" as we know it in the Western world.

Of course, in real terms, the conflicts of business interests, political interests and journalistic integrity have always tested the boundaries of the media. Everyone would love to get their hands on one of the most powerful organs in society. The media was responsible for the knowledge of the average layman. It held the key to information. Whoever controlled the media, had access to that key. Therefore, throughout the decades, it has been to the consent of media moguls and politicians to control the flow of information to public to avoid French revolution-like dissent and questioning of authority and elitism. A system was in place in Western society, and those who held the seats of power were not interested in having that change.

The explosion of the internet radically changed those conventions. The Information Revolution accurately reflected the change in the role of the media. Yes, new technologies were always introduced and the media was always forced to adapt to the changes (such as radio and then television). However, the internet proved far more potent. The WorldWideWeb was the technology that finally snapped the media's monopoly on information. Now, any individual can hop online, produce their own content as well as explore information beyond the limits of a TV box or radio. The public was to become more engaged with the information that flows throughout the world, and for the first time, the media could do little to stop it.

The media has adapted to the internet well, with many corporations "converging" their various streams to form a "synergy". There's no more a newspaper, a radio station, a TV channel, it's all become one big happy family under the name of "synergy". Of course, this has come as a result of extreme pressures on business interests. As the internet grew, print media was losing out. The only way to salvage reputable and large corporations was to invest in a complete overhaul, which they have done. This has meant a total reformation of how news is produced, and how it is distributed. To cut things short, journalism has suffered immensely as the need for profit has taken urgent precedence. Since the internet's introduction, an orgy of corporate merges and takeovers have taken place, Time Warner and AOL just to name one. Journalists are facing a losing battle to remain independent and ethical in their work as the convergence of media technologies has placed many household names under a single roof (or hand in Murdoch's case).

Most media analysts have asserted that the critical mind of a journalist will always be required, even with the abundance of information now available. The professionalism to dissect news is a quality a journalist has, and that will always be sought after. In the long run, most predictions are positive.

However, such assertions are forced to be questioned when media moguls like Rupert Murdoch continue to threaten the principles of the "Fourth Institution". Does a "Fourth Institution" still remain? A single man has created an empire that has destroyed the freedom the US constitution was supposed to guarantee journalists. As the internet gave us hope that we were free of the chains of elitism, one man attempts to reimpose the monopoly on information. What is a free media when the world is viewed through the eyes of one?

The revered Wall Street Journal will lose much of its integrity as its independent reporting becomes greatly undermined in the latest wave of Murdochisation. The article below demonstrates the hostile reaction by readers and reporters alike to the news that journalism just suffered another major blow.

The conflict between business, politics and journalism in today's media has just become more brutal. From the journalists' point of view, one can only mourn the loss of an important figure in Dow Jones. But the war will go on.

Read below for a good response to the Murdoch takeover by The Independent:

Planet Murdoch: is nothing out of his reach?

Rupert Murdoch’s spectacular $5bn takeover of America’s revered ‘Wall Street Journal’ is the crowning moment of half a century’s deal-making and empire-building. Is anything out of his reach? Stephen Foley reports

Published: 02 August 2007

"Rupert is my boss. Rupert Murdoch has bought Dow Jones. Dow Jones owns my paper. So I am now an underling in the world's most evil corporate empire."

This anonymous blog entry from a Wall Street Journal reporter just about summed up the sense of misery as the news sank in. At the paper's newsrooms across the US, journalists held impromptu wakes. "We stood around a pile of Journals and drank whisky," one told a reporter from a rival paper.

"The readers' comments on really got to people," another Journal veteran lamented. On the paper's website, reader after reader threatened to cancel their subscriptions. "This news is like hearing from an old friend that he has a debilitating, fatal disease," said one, in an unconscious echo of the late British playwright Dennis Potter, who called his cancer "Rupert".

"Murdoch will defile it and turn it into another example of his legendarily low-brow offerings," predicted one reader, and throughout the discussion, wags were coming up with tabloid-style headlines for the media business coup of the decade. The best: "D'oh! Simpsons boss Homers in on Journal".

It has taken Rupert Murdoch many years to become as hated in the US as he has been in the UK for more than two decades, and in his native Australia for longer still. But he has sealed that status thanks to his takeover of The Wall Street Journal – pious organ of the American financial establishment for over a century. Its previous owners, the Bancroft family, agonised about their duty to protect a national icon handed down through generations, but they could not turn down $5bn (£2.5bn), nearly twice what the paper was worth.

His success proves what his detractors fear most: he is rich enough, powerful enough and audacious enough to get anything – anything – that he wants. Now that his News Corp empire is absorbing the second best-selling newspaper in the US (one of its two or three most politically influential) he is more powerful than almost anybody without access to a nuclear button.

And the most extraordinary thing of all is that Rupert Murdoch is 76. What of rumours last year that he was starting to slow down, take more of an interest in consolidating the legacy for his children, retire from the daily grind and the nightly party circuit? Blown out of the water. The people with him throughout his four-month chess game with the Bancrofts say he has been as alive as ever, as vigorous and immersed in the detail and the plotting – indeed more so, since this is a trophy he has coveted personally for more than a decade rather than something News Corp is likely to make a large return on.

"This is what he likes to do, this is what keeps him going," says Michael Wolff, Vanity Fair's media commentator. "He thrives on this sort of confrontation, this insistence on his primacy. It is part of the Rupert Murdoch brand. That's the real value of spending $5bn: he gets to look once again as if he is unstoppable."

The Journal is the missing piece of the puzzle in the US, where his influence on the news is limited – if limited is the right word – to the country's newest and already most watched news channel, Fox News. Its unabashedly unfair and unbalanced right-wing outpourings, plus its mix of trashy personality stories, has utterly changed the landscape of television news, pushing CNN into second place and forcing the established channel to react in ways that critics allege have blurred the boundaries between news and comment. He also owns the New York Post, a trashy tabloid and a guilty pleasure for many New Yorkers, keen to see which misbehaving celebrities and politicians are being terrorised in its famous gossip column, Page Six. It is through the Post – which he rescued from bankruptcy, thanks to a waiver of media ownership restrictions – that Murdoch has waged feuds with the judge who imprisoned his business associate Michael Milken, politicians such as Teddy Kennedy ("Fat Boy", the Post calls him) who have opposed liberalised media laws, and business rivals such as Ted Turner.

And it is therefore in New York that Murdoch is concentrating his time, lounging in the 8,000 sq ft apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side that once belonged to the mighty Rockefellers – another trophy asset that he coveted for decades and only finally got the opportunity to buy in 2004.

With his wife, Wendi Deng, 38 years his junior, whom he first wooed when she was an executive at Star TV in Hong Kong, Murdoch has been extending his dynasty, with two daughters aged five and four. His renewed vigour may have much to do with the confused state of any succession plans – Lachlan, his eldest son, flounced out of News Corp in 2005 in a dispute over inheritance plans for the new daughters, leaving Murdoch without an obvious successor. The younger James is running the outpost BSkyB in the UK, and was brought in to help reassure the Bancrofts that the Murdoch family can be good stewards of the Journal, but he is not deemed experienced enough yet to take the torch from his father.

Not that he ever will. "Rupert will never have completed his task by the time he leaves this earth. He's a huge restless spirit," Kelvin Mackenzie, his editor at The Sun once memorably said. Murdoch himself jokes that he had planned to retire at 100, but has had to postpone it. Instead, through his ownership of the MySpace social networking site, he is having to do a whole lot of getting down with the kids, learning about the internet and new ways to distribute the media content being churned out by the Fox television studio, maker of The Simpsons and American Idol, and movie lots, which have just spawned another Die Hard. One of his most recent parties, covered in the West Coast gossip rags, saw MySpace founder Tom Anderson rubbing shoulders with Tom Cruise and American Idol judge Simon Cowell on the roof of Murdoch's Beverly Hills condo.

His East Coast pad plays host to more heavyweight guests from politics and business – Murdoch never fails to mix the two. He is a dramatic convert to the cause of Hillary Clinton's campaign for the White House, hosting a fund-raiser for the former First Lady and burying the hatchet after years when his papers castigated her and her husband. Since she was elected Senator for New York, he has been burying more than just the hatchet – stories on her marriage, too, if insiders at the New York Post are right.

It was ever thus, in Murdoch's giant empire, where the news is tweaked in ways that suit his interests and keep his friends sweet.

He does it in little ways. A Saudi businessman friend of Murdoch, the billionaire Prince al-Walid bin Talal, who owns shares in News Corp, took umbridge at Fox News' coverage of the riots in the Paris suburbs in 2005. He phoned Murdoch to complain specifically about a caption describing them as "Muslim riots", and within half an hour the mogul had stepped in to get the caption changed to "Civil unrest".

And he does it in big ways. The BBC was thrown off Star TV in Asia, broadcasting into China, after the Communist regime complained about its critical coverage. Murdoch was unapologetic: "Primarily a financial consideration. But it might have occurred to me – this might have not hurt relations with Beijing," he told The Wall Street Journal, even as he was promising he would not interfere in the paper's editorial line if he took it over. "At that stage, I had not been received by a single [Chinese] minister or anyone. They had a report from Xinhua that when I had the South China Morning Post I was a member of MI6 or MI5. So no one was allowed to see me. We just had a total blackout for five years."

Power and influence are melded together through Murdoch's long career in the news business. Last month – thanks to a Freedom of Information request by The Independent – we discovered that Murdoch had a hotline to Tony Blair at crucial moments during his premiership, and that the pair spoke three times in nine days in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. The war was strongly supported by Murdoch-owned newspapers around the world. On two occasions, the day after a call with Blair, The Sun launched vitriolic attacks on the anti-war French President Jacques Chirac.

But Michael Wolff says Murdoch's motivation is not power so much as just an interest in the news. That is why buying the Journal is quite a quaint move. "In this day and age, no rational media person likes newspapers except old people. Young people are not interested in newspapers, advertisers are not interested in the news. But Murdoch still loves getting his hands dirty at a newspaper. He is buying a present for himself."