What to know about Press Freedom in Denmark

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Kim Wall and Peter Madsen – It’s actually the non-Muslim murderers you have to watch out for. They’re not to easy to identify.

I’m sure you saw the news that the body of a 30 year-old woman journalist had been found in the sea near the Danish capital Copenhagen. Actually it took some time before police were able to identify the body because its head, arms and legs had been cut off. News items I have read don’t say whether the amputated body parts have been found. Apparently identification was carried out using DNA samples from her hairbrush and toothbrush.

Kim Wall was a real journalist, a freelancer who wrote for The New York Times, Vice and Time, among other publications.

She wasn’t murdered by a crazed Islamic fundamentalist. The most likely suspect seems to be a Danish engineer inventor, Peter Madsen.

A spokesperson for Reporters without Borders issued a statement noting that no journalists in Turkey have yet been slain, mutilated, dismembered and thrown into the Bosporus or any other sea to the best of their knowledge. She went on to say that as a result of this attack on press freedom, Denmark has been moved up to second place on their latest list of dangerous places for journalists, threatening to overtake Syria, where reporters tend to be dressed up in orange overalls before having their throats cut.

Well, actually I have to confess it’s not true. The last time I wrote something like that some people believed me. Denmark is ranked 4th on that Press Freedom Index,  and Turkey 155th, but I’m watching out with interest for an update.

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The Mind of a Terrorist – Not that complicated really

First I want to talk about tourism. I’m not a big fan. I did feel sorry for Turkey last year when the Russian government got the pip and told their citizens to stay on local icy beaches for the summer. I know hotels have been closing because governments in Europe (and New Zealand) have been scaring their people off visiting Turkey. Falling visitor numbers impacts on the local economy, and innocent people find themselves out of work.

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Getting away from it all in NZ

On the other hand, everything has a price – and floods of tourists undoubtedly have a negative effect on natural beauties and historical wonders. The ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey’s Aegean region suffers from the trampling feet of millions of visitors. New Zealand’s main attraction for tourists is its clean, green, unspoiled nature. Tourist numbers, however, are multiplying spectacularly, and now it seems, forest trails a tramper might once have trekked in peaceful solitude must now be shared with thousands of others.

So I have mixed feelings on the subject. It does, however, annoy me when I receive yet another email from our Foreign Affairs people at the embassy in Ankara warning me of the terrorism danger in Turkey, and advising me to avoid unnecessary visits to the capital or Istanbul (where I happen to live). I would be interested to know what proportion of visitors to Turkey have been killed or injured in recent years, and to compare it with similar figures for New Zealand.

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Truck driver killed taking selfie on bridge

I read an article recently citing statistics showing that more people died in the last year while taking a “selfie” than were killed by sharks. Just last year two old friends from New Zealand visited us and spent three weeks in the country. In the morning of 28 June we picked up a hire car from Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport – where that afternoon forty people died in a bomb attack. They flew out of the country on 14 July – the day before military officers staged an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow by force the elected government.

What am I trying to say here? There are many ways to die, and most of them are less spectacular than a terrorist bombing. And whether it’s your day to go depends a lot on whether you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. A young woman from Turkey died in New Zealand’s Christchurch earthquake in 2010 – one of 185 people from twenty countries who were certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nevertheless, tourists are flooding to New Zealand, and I never heard that Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was advising citizens to avoid my country. I have read several articles warning about the dangers of taking selfies – but people carry on regardless.

So I guess life will go on in Paris, Manchester and London. Locals will go to work and school, and tourists will still flock to the Louvre, Westminster Abbey and Etihad Stadium (home of Manchester City Football Club). The big problems, in my opinion, are the chattering news media, and governments playing political games.

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Sorry, Mr Harkin – It’s not about her

After the Manchester nightclub attack, my hometown daily, The New Zealand Herald, published an opinion piece by one James Harkin, said to be director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism and a reporter on Syria and the rise of Islamic State. Well, the article was originally printed in the UK’s Daily Mail, so that possibly leaves room for doubt about his actual commitment to “investigative journalism”. After serious investigation, Mr Harkin apparently arrived at the insightful conclusion that the bombers were targeting Ariana Grande’s “revealing stage outfits, her stockings, pink bunny ears and unabashed sexual confidence”. From his work in Syria and his studies of the Koran, Harkin has decided that Islamic extremists have no problem with western governments – their target is “Godless Western decadence” and “the values we all live by.” Do they include pink bunny ears, I wonder?

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Creating terrorists

Well, I’m sorry, Mr Harkin, but you’re wrong. If you haven’t learned the term Asymmetric warfare it’s time you did. It is defined as “war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly. This is typically a war between a standing, professional army and an insurgency or resistance movement.” In other words, George W Bush (and Margaret Thatcher before him) conclusively proved to all the world that confronting the military might of a technologically advanced Western power could only ever have one result. The Boers in South Africa, the Irish republicans, and a hundred other aggrieved, embattled but fiercely determined minority groups have shown that, in their desperation, they can inflict terrible damage. I don’t believe those Manchester bombers really wanted to “slaughter innocent little girls clutching pink balloons on a night out with their mothers at a pop concert”. They would prefer to hit the true war criminals who are hiding safely behind impenetrable layers of security. Unable to get at the political leaders, they commit random acts of terror with the aim of persuading ordinary citizens to pressure their own governments to stop the state terror they are inflicting on innocent people in faraway lands.

Which brings me to the question of cowardice. Another article in my beloved NZ Herald rightly took issue with British politicians calling the Manchester attack an act of cowardice. No one who condones the murdering of innocent civilians in distant countries using unmanned drones or mother-f**king MOABs can claim the moral high ground and call anyone else a coward. Where I part company with the writer is when she says, I don’t believe that’s an act of cowardice. It’s an utterly terrifying and fearless act of self-destruction fuelled by a desire to kill as many as possible, and all in the name of spreading this warped, brutal and extremist ideology.”

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Taking on the British Empire, 1865 – What odds would you give?

Rachel the journalist just doesn’t get it. These people are not out to spread an ideology, though they must surely be fearless and desirous of killing as many as possible. They are fearless because they have lost hope. In the 1860s in New Zealand, a kind of religion emerged among Maori people on the East Coast. Known as Pai Marire, or sometimes Hauhauism, it was a mixture of Christian and traditional spiritual beliefs. Atrocities were certainly committed against white settlers by its adherents. When they ran into hopeless battle against government forces, warriors chanted a kind of prayer, Hapa, hapa, paimarire hau, which they believed gave them immunity from bullets.

Did they really believe that? Were they really fearless? Did they really want to eat the eyeballs of their victims, as some reportedly did? I suspect not. They had lost their land; they were losing their culture, their language and their pride. In their own minds, what was there to live for? But they were angry too, and wanted to vent that anger. So they would take as many others with them as possible when they journeyed to the next world.

Maori novelist Witi Ihımaera, in a short story exploring the issue of Maori pride and sense of loss, ended with the words “No wai te he?” “Who is to blame?” The old man in the story didn’t know the answer – but we, if we are honest, certainly do. More MOABs and drone strikes in the Middle East won’t end the terror.

Some Thoughts on Terrorism

We had visitors from New Zealand last summer. An old friend from university and his wife spent a few days in Istanbul, then we drove together down the Aegean coast to Bodrum via the towns of Çanakkale and Selçuk. On the way we stopped over to see the killing fields and cemeteries of Gallipoli, the ruins of ancient Ephesus, and the nearby house where, according to some, God’s virginal mother, Mary, spent her declining years.

dscf0105It’s always good to catch up with old friends, but I was especially delighted on this occasion because this couple came in defiance of dire warnings from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the dangers of traveling to Turkey.

We picked up our rental car from Atatürk Airport on Tuesday morning, 28 June, missing by a few hours the bomb attack that killed 45 people and injured 230 more. Blissfully unaware of our near miss, our friends went on to enjoy a fortnight of sightseeing and sailing before returning to Istanbul and flying out of the country on Friday 15 July. That evening, as we got ready for bed in our Bodrum retreat, Dilek’s daughter called from the USA to inform us that a military coup was under way in Istanbul and Ankara.

Infantrymen in First World War trenches believed that an incoming artillery shell would, or would not, have your number on it. If it did, your number was up, your name would be inscribed on a war memorial and your mortal remains, if they could be found, interred with appropriate military ceremony. As the years go by, I find myself increasingly willing to adopt that fatalistic view of life and death.

On 22 February 2011 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake caused widespread damage to the city of Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island. 185 people lost their lives, 115 of them in the collapsing six-storey Canterbury Television building. Among the victims was a young woman from Çanakkale in Turkey. Didem was on a post-graduate scholarship to study international relations at Otago University. That weekend she visited a friend in Christchurch and while in the city, saw a doctor at his surgery in the CTV building. What can you say? Avoid visiting New Zealand, and in particular, stay away from Christchurch?

Dilek and I have just returned from a trip to visit family in New Zealand and Australia. We had a marvellous time with my sisters, children and grandchildren. The weather was delightful, and a welcome break from the cold of a northern winter. The last stage of our journey took us to Melbourne where my daughter lives with her partner and two small sons. On Thursday, 19 January we took a tram to the central city, alighting in Bourke Street and strolling down to the Yarra River. We spent some time munching hamburgers, watching tennis in Federation Square and wandering along the riverbank, enjoying some free entertainment with the little ones. The next day, as we were packing for our return home, a young man drove his Holden Commodore at speed into a crowd of pedestrians in the Bourke St mall, killing five and injuring twenty others. Stay away from Melbourne? Where can you go these days, I ask you?

Still, one comforting thought did come out of the Melbourne tragedy. Police spokespersons were quick to assure us that the killer was not a terrorist. Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said the man “had no links to terrorism”. Acting Commander Stuart Bateson was able to “confirm that this is not a counter terrorism-related incident.” Whatever that means. The best reason I could come up with was that the guy seems to have been of Greek extraction, and therefore, we gather, not a Muslim. Which makes it better, I guess. It was just a random act of gratuitous violence, rather than another manifestation of the global Islamic assault on Christendom.

Then again, I don’t know. I’m not in any way justifying the slaughter of innocent people by fanatics pursuing a political or religious agenda – but I can at least understand where they are coming from. They believe in something greater than themselves, and they are prepared to die for it.

One of my all-time favourite movies is the 1996 historical biopic, “Michael Collins”, starring Liam Neeson as the Irish revolutionary hero who brought the British Government to the negotiating table and paved the way for the foundation of the modern independent Republic of Ireland. According to his Wikipedia entry, Collins “directed a guerrilla war against the British”, creating “a special assassination unit called ‘The Squad’ expressly to kill British agents and informers”. Collins ironically died at the hands of Irish nationalist assassins during a bloody civil war fought over the conditions of independence from Britain. The first president of the Irish republic, Eamon de Valera, is on record as saying “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins; and it will be recorded at my expense.” Without Collins and his campaign of violence, Irish independence might never have been realised. Conventional history, however, prefers to remember de Valera, and play down the role of Michael Collins.

Am I making a case for violent rebellion against one’s lawful government here? By no means! But an important question arises here. To what extent was the British Government in the early 20th century the lawful government of the Irish people? Even peaceful protestors campaigning for Irish independence could be convicted as traitors and executed, or taken out in extrajudicial killings reminiscent of today’s US drone strikes. Proponents of Irish independence had found that peaceful protest got them nowhere, and confronting head on the might of the British Armed forces led inevitably to bloody defeat. They turned to asymmetrical guerrilla tactics, and their cause was successful.

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Muslim “detainees” at Guantanamo prison

One might argue there are parallels here with the plight of Muslim countries in the Middle East. Ever since oil emerged as the world’s most important energy source, Britain and the United States have been forcibly interfering in the internal affairs of countries with large reserves of the black gold. Regimes friendly to Western interests have been installed and supported while others choosing to pursue their own national interests have been overthrown, their leaders ousted or killed. George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq massacred tens of thousands, and left a power vacuum where chaos reigns thirteen years after the execution of bad guy Saddam Hussein.

That other bad guy, Muammar Gaddafi was killed and his regime toppled by NATO forces in 2011. Since then, Libya too has descended into political and social chaos. Nevertheless, Nobel Peace laureate, Barack Obama, authorized B-2 bombing strikes on Libya last week, just days before his term in office ended. Are you surprised to learn that Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, and ranks 9th in the world?

Again, I’m not supporting Daesh operatives beheading innocent Western journalists – but where do you think they got the idea for those bright orange overalls?

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So who’s representing that bottom 50%? And are we surprised that most of them don’t even bother to vote?

But getting back to Melbourne and that non-terrorist tragedy in Bourke St mall . . . I can’t help feeling that there is more to these “random acts of violence” in the West than that that label suggests. Fanatical Muslims may be fighting a losing battle – but at least they have organisations they can belong to that give them a coherent identity, and which they feel are fighting for their rights and beliefs. What about the downtrodden 50% in the United States that share a mere one per cent of their nation’s wealth, while the richest 400 have a minimum annual income of $100 million? Do Hilary Clinton and her armchair liberal supporters give a brass nickel for their disenfranchised poor fellow citizens? The Labour Party in New Zealand celebrated its centenary in 2016. Its founding fathers (and mothers, probably turning in their graves) were socialists fighting for the rights of the working poor. In the 21st century, as George Orwell wrote in “Animal Farm”, “The creatures outside looked from pig (Labour Party) to man (Conservative/National Party), and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

The left wing revolution in the West has been bought and sold – but those “random acts of violence” carry an underlying message those countries’ leaders would do well to heed. And their privileged citizens should beware of the complacent self-righteousness that allows them to ignore levels of anger in other lands.

Warning for Tourists and Travellers

I keep getting warnings from my compatriots at the NZ Embassy in Ankara advising me to avoid traveling to Istanbul if it’s not absolutely necessary – Well actually I live here, what can I do?

So I want to thank the Canadian Government for putting things in perspective with their assessment of places around the world that might be risky for tourists:

“From the terror attacks in Nice, France to the ongoing spread of the Zika virus, the past year has been a dizzying one in terms of violence and disease outbreaks throughout the world. These factors, among others, increase the likelihood travelers will be required to stay up to date on travel safety advisories. Using 2016 data from the Canadian government and The Global Health Data Exchange, HealthGrove, a health visualization site by Graphiq, created an ascending list of the most dangerous countries to travel to.

unnamed“The Canadian Travel Advice and Advisories data comprises four major categories — “exercise normal security precautions,” “exercise a high degree of caution,” “avoid nonessential travel” and “avoid all travel.” HealthGrove’s list includes countries with at least an “exercise a high degree of caution” rating or higher and nations are ranked by worsening travel advisories. Ties were broken by using the Travel Mortality Index, which provides an aggregate score representing the likelihood of death caused by traveling to a given country. The higher the index, the higher the probability of traveler death. The causes of death in the Index vary from diseases like Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS to causes like “interpersonal violence,” “exposure to forces of nature,” “collective violence” and “legal intervention.” The variation in causes explains why you’ll see France, for example, with a score (116.2), which is separated from that of Honduras (120.4) by only a few points.”

Here are some extracts from their list, starting with the most dangerous:

  1. Qatar
  2. Jordan
  3. Kuwait
  4. Bahrain
  5. Maldives
  6. UAE (ie Dubai)
  7. Iran
  8. Israel
  9. Tunisia
  10. China
  11. Armenia
  12. Costa Rica
  13. Saudi Arabia

and, coming in at No.33 . . .  France – Interesting!

43. Belgium – Likewise!

94. Turkey – See? Not so bad, huh?

And they don’t mention earthquakes in New Zealand or police violence in the United States.