Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wrong prognosis

As a child, I often quarreled with my brother. And when I complained to my father, he always said, "Maya, don't get annoyed over unimportant things. Think of your future! You will grow up, your mother and I will grow old and die, and then you will find much support in your brother and he in you."

Of course, this helped little to cheer me up at the time. Moreover, because of the inherent uncertainty of the future and particularly of individual life spans, my father's prediction eventually turned out to be wrong.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The problem with Orthodox Christianity

Because of the fast and often violent onslaught of Islam, I am understandably preoccupied with criticizing this religion. At the same time, however, I do not forget that the religion of my ancestors, Orthodox Christianity, is also defective. As I recently said to a friend, there is not one decent country dominated by Orthodox Christianity (Greece is the best, but still not good enough) and this cannot be a coincidence. So I knew there was something wrong with this faith, but because it is the traditional religion of my country, I was too much inside it to spot the problem.

Maybe the clue is in the following text, which I found while searching information on Putin's whereabouts:

"This is why it’s impossible for the Kremlin to lie about Putin’s weird disappearance

March 14, Washington Post 

It’s been more than a week now since anybody’s seen Russian President Vladimir Putin. He had a mundane meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on March 5, and then … nothing. Since then, Putin hasn’t been seen in public, and the Russian blogosphere can talk about nothing else...  #PutinIsDead began trending on Russian Twitter, and the Russian blogosphere began to churn out theories of what happened to Dear Shirtless Leader, each version more ludicrous than the next...

You can see why some in Russia are panicking right now—or veiling their discomfort in humor. It certainly doesn’t help that Putin’s disappearance comes at a particularly nervous time for the country. It is at war in Ukraine, its economy is shuddering under sanctions and historically low oil prices, and the opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was recently gunned down steps from the Kremlin. There is a sense in Moscow that the wheels are coming off. To Moscow’s chattering class, Putin’s disappearance confirms that impression.

As for the rest of Russia, if the buzz about Putin’s mysterious absence doesn’t make it on the television screen, it didn’t happen: for 90 percent of the Russian population, TV is the main source of news. And, even if they knew, for a majority of Russians this event would be like most other political events—that is, above their pay grade. When it comes to the intricacies politics, the prevailing attitude outside Moscow’s liberal circles is a semi-religious one, and it comes from Byzantine culture. Just as the Eucharist is prepared behind the wall of icons that separates the altar from the eyes of the laity, so it is with political maneuvers: We are but mere mortals, unable to understand such mysteries. Let the professionals handle it.

The problem is that the professionals aren’t handling it too well anymore..."

(Emphasis mine - M.M.)

Update: Damn it! Putin reappeared today, in apparently good condition!

Where is Putin?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been seen since March 5. Everybody is asking where he is, and Kremlin's display of photos allegedly showing Mr. Putin in good health only ignited tensions after the photos turned out to be old.

Rumors circulate all around the Web: Putin is ill, or is in Switzerland where his stupid girlfriend has given birth to a new baby, or is deposed by a coup d'etat, or is brooding over plans to attack yet other countries, or is simply dead.

As the International Business Times reported, "Twitter got a hold of it next, with Russian users tagging posts with #ПутинУмер, or #PutinIsDead with what were clearly Photoshopped, tongue-in-cheek photos from Putin’s “funeral.”"

View image on Twitter

Shocking footage from Putin’s secret funeral.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The dull culture of safety

"Two fates may bring about my death. If I remain here, continuing the fight against the Trojans’ city, that means I won’t be going home, but my glory will never die. But if I go back home, my fame will die, although my life will last a long time—death will not end it quickly."
Homer, Iliad IX, translated by Ian Johnston

When I was young, I was romantic, seeking an interesting, exciting, full life. I not only enjoyed Exupery's books but agreed with him that if you become a clerk who does dull routine work and cares just about sick family members and financial problems, you have "forgotten your human quality". To be truly human, one had to meet nature, to test himself, to leave leave aside petty routine and safety concerns.

I admit that, as a child and a young adult, I have fairly often asked for trouble. I have climbed trees and rocks, passed improvised bridges, eaten wild mushrooms, swum dangerously long distances into the sea. It was fun, I enjoyed it, and I didn't become statistics because I was lucky. In fact, this was the culture those days, all were more or less doing the same, and most were lucky and grew unharmed. That was the world described in Gerald Durrell's Corfu trilogy and in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine

Now, the culture has changed. Children don't play unsupervised. Moreover, most of them don't seek extreme experiences. They don't want to climb trees and need much persuation to learn swimming or cycling. I am sometimes annoyed to see that my sons have no adventurous blood in their veins and are most interested in video games and movies. Most of the time, however, I am glad about it. You may say many things against video games, but, unlike the pastimes of our youth, they have never done any physical harm to anyone. You may say that sitting in front of the screen shortens life, but I'd object that even if everybody lives 5-10 years less than they could otherwise, this cannot be compared to the tragedy of a few dying young as a result of adventures.

I acquired a phobia of sudden disasters, the things that "just happen". I wish the life to be as risk-free as possible. Of course I still admire those who take risks for the sake of others, in the name of making a better world, but otherwise I wish the dull culture of safety to prevail. I wish the younger generations to stop taking risks just to feel fully alive. They need not test themselves against the invincible and hostile nature - actually just indifferent, but at the end of the day it is all the same.

Yesterday, I attended the farewell ceremony of someone whom I knew. Just a week ago, he was vibrant, strong, loved, with a bright future in front of him. A sudden disaster struck him in the mountain. He had always been happy to be there and died while doing what he liked most. I know I'd honor him best if I say that he sought the beauty of nature, felt one with it, expressed himself fully by facing the elements and had a short but full life. 

And all of this is true. But I wish he hadn't.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Crimean Tatars find refuge in mainland Ukraine

In a recent post, I wrote about the sad fate of Crimean Tatars who remained in their land.

What about those who fled Russian oppression? I am copying below from Quartz' report Photos: One of Ukraine's most nationalistic cities has become a refuge for nearly 2,000 Muslims, by Misha Friedman:

People congregate after Friday prayers. There is no mosque, so they use a space rented by another Muslim diaspora, the Dagestanis.

 Alim Aliev (center), founder of Crimea SOS, a local NGO that helps new arrivals fit in, singing the national anthem on Ukrainian Unity Day.

New army recruits sing the national anthem at a ceremony on Unity Day.

Muslim naming ceremony for a two-week-old baby, born to a Tatar family in Lviv. The man, named Suleiman, is the baby's "godfather". He was a truck driver in Crimea.

Elmaz and her husband Timur Barotov, refugees from Crimea who now live in Lviv.

"Among the million-plus Ukrainians displaced by the fighting in the east are thousands of Jews and Muslims. Life is complicated for both groups. In a previous photo-essay, Misha Friedman documented the Jews of Dnipropetrovsk; in this one, he highlights the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim community who, like the Jews, have a long history of persecution in the region. Thousands have fled Crimea since Russia annexed it last year, and many have gone to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

It’s an unlikely destination. While the city has a long and cosmopolitan history, reflected in its picturesque mix of architecture, its recent past has been less friendly. When Germany invaded in 1941, the city was in Polish hands, and its ethnic Ukrainian residents—at the time outnumbered heavily by Poles and Jews—enthusiastically helped the Nazi forces round up and kill Jews, and later took part in massacres of Poles. Since then the city has been a bastion of Ukrainian nationalism.

Yet one thing unites the Muslim Crimean Tatars and the Orthodox Christian Ukrainians: their enmity towards Russia. And so, for now at least, the Tatars are welcome in Lviv. By the time Friedman visited in January, some 1,700 had made it their home, and more were arriving...

Like the displaced Jews in Dnipropetrovsk, the Tatars who have moved to Lviv have had to find new professions. “I didn’t meet anybody who does what he did back home,” Friedman says.

Lviv wears its nationalism on its sleeve. The people killed during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2014, which led to the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, are martyrs here as much as in the capital.

Unity Day, a government holiday on Jan. 22, is taken especially seriously in Lviv. It marks the unification of eastern and western Ukraine in 1919 and their brief existence as an independent country before the USSR and Poland took over and redivided the country in 1920. Members of the Crimean Tatar community join in the ceremonies.

In Dnipropetrovsk, Friedman had encountered the family of Asher Cherkassky, an Orthodox Jew who fights in one of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions against the pro-Russian separatists. In Lviv, he met Timur Barotov (link in Ukrainian), a former Ukrainian naval officer who joined a volunteer battalion to fight the Russian forces in Crimea. When Russia annexed the peninsula, some members of the Ukrainian military there switched their allegiances to Moscow. Barotov left instead, and has become a minor celebrity, playing a part in a film about Ukrainian history (link in Ukrainian). Barotov’s wife Elmaz (pictured with him at the top of this story) is Crimean Tatar; he himself is part Ukrainian, part Tajik."

While it is good that the author is reporting these events and the photos are beautiful, I am annoyed by his anti-Ukrainian bias. He says that "ethnic Ukrainian residents... enthusiastically helped the Nazi forces round up and kill Jews, and later took part in massacres of Poles." I hate such sweeping generalizations (a similar generalization - that Crimean Tatars allegedly collaborated with the Nazis - was Stalin's lame excuse for deporting them en masse, killing many thousands in the process). Some ethnic Ukrainians did help the Nazis enthusiastically, others presumably followed orders, the majority were bystanders, and a few helped and saved Jews, some paying for this with their lives. Nevertheless, all are painted with the same brush and are found guilty just because they were Ukrainians.

The author links to an outrageous article in the Independent from March 9, 2014, by Patrick Cockburn. It is titled To see what Ukraine's future may be, just look at Lviv's shameful past and tells about killings and persecution of Jews and Poles in Lviv between 1941 and 1944. The implication is that Ukrainians are hopeless genocidal blood-suckers who are best kept under the Russian boot. To understand why this text is beyond disgusting and the Independent should be ashamed of it, just imagine an analogy: a respectable British paper publishes on Sept. 12, 2001 a detailed report of the Wounded Knee Massacre as showing the true and unchanging US psyche, with a lot of crocodile tears for the victims of 1890 and not a word about those killed the previous day.

Misha Friedman also implies that honoring the people killed during the Euromaidan protests as martyrs proves that "Lviv wears its nationalism on its sleeve." This is true only if you use "nationalism" as a synonym of "patriotism". The Euromaidan protesters are chauvinists and neo-Nazis only in the distorted Neverland of Putin's propaganda and in the minds of those gullible enough to believe it. In reality, as Luke Harding wrote in the Guardian on March 13, 2014 quoting Kiev's protesters: Ukraine uprising was no neo-Nazi power grab.

Let me borrow from this article: "On 20 February, as revolution engulfed the centre of Kiev, Joseph Schilling, a 61-year-old builder from western Ukraine, went to the frontline to join the protests against President Viktor Yanukovych's government... The place where Schilling died is now festooned with flowers... Here too are images of other members of the "Heavenly Hundred" – the name given to the 102 protesters who have perished near the Maidan, Kiev's central Independence Square. The Kremlin describes last month's uprising in next-door Ukraine as an illegitimate fascist coup. It says dark rightwing forces have taken over the government, forcing Moscow to "protect" Ukraine's ethnic Russian minority... Schilling, however, was an unlikely fascist... He and his wife Anna had lived in Italy... Moreover, he was Jewish...According to those who took part in it, the uprising was a broad-based grassroots movement, launched by people fed up with Yanukovych and involving all sections of society. Some demonstrators were indeed nationalists. Others were liberals, socialists and libertarians... Its victims were a diverse bunch. The first was an ethnic Armenian; another Russian. The man who began this revolution is Mustafa Nayem, a well-known Ukrainian journalist... investigative reporter born in Afghanistan."

Mustafa Nayem, spelled also Nayyem, has a page in Wikipedia.

So my suggestion is: Let's stick to humanism, nationalistic or otherwise, and when we see a poor European nation under attack, let's not dig for sins of the first half of the 20th century in order to justify today's brutal and unprovoked aggression. Or, if someone really wishes to write about what happened in the first half of the 20th century, I'd advise him to mention the Holodomor as well. Let's ask why Russia got away with starving to death millions of Ukrainians in 1932-33, and is now being allowed to kill Ukrainians again.

Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov assassinated

Photo: Boris Nemtsov's body in the shadow of St. Basil Cathidral (AP/Pavel Golovkin, copied from Quartz).

Last night, Boris Nemtsov (55), opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, was gunned down with 4 bullets in his back as he was walking near Kremlin, in the heart of Moscow. The gunmen had got out of a car and then escaped with it.

Mr. Nemtsov was a fearless opponent of Putin, a supporter of democracy and a friend of Ukraine. He opposed the annexation of Crimea and the current aggressive war. He was to lead a peace rally tomorrow. At the same time, he anticipated his death. On Feb. 10, he wrote that he was afraid Putin would kill him.

The BBC lists previous violent death of Putin's opponents:

"April 2003 - Liberal politician Sergey Yushenkov assassinated near his Moscow home.

July 2003 - Investigative journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin died after 16-day mysterious illness.

July 2004 - Forbes magazine Russian editor Paul Klebnikov shot from moving car on Moscow street, died later in hospital.

October 2006 - Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya shot dead outside her Moscow apartment.

November 2006 - Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died nearly three weeks after drinking tea laced with polonium in London hotel.

March 2013 -Boris Berezovsky, former Kremlin power broker turned Putin critic, found dead in his UK home."

Do you understand now why Putin's approval rating is so high? Because people see what happens to those who disapprove him.

I hesitated whether to include in this post a photo of the crime scene. This matter is controversial, you think of the victim's family members... Finally, as a compromise, I added a diminished version of the image, just because it is so powerful: the violent death in front view, and in the background - the iconic old center of Moscow.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Russia mistreats indigenous Crimeans, as expected

Quoting from today's article Crimean Tatars living in fear in homeland ruled by Russia (by Maria Antonova, AFP):

"Bakhchysaray (AFP) - The day after her husband was arrested, Elvira Ablyalimova woke up to find her home in Crimea surrounded by snipers while a squad of men combed through her belongings for 10 hours, letting nobody in or out.

Russia's takeover of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine a year ago was hailed by many ethnic-Russian locals, but for Ablyalimova and others from the indigenous Crimean Tatar minority, the new rulers have brought little but fear.

Ablyalimova's husband Akhtem Chiygoz is a deputy head of the Tatars' traditional decision-making assembly, the Mejlis.

But he is now under arrest for allegedly organising riots, inciting violence and committing involuntary manslaughter...

A Muslim community that comprises about 13 percent of the province's population, the Crimean Tatars were opposed to Moscow's takeover from Ukraine...

Native to the peninsula, the Crimean Tatars were brutally deported to Central Asia in 1944 by Joseph Stalin for alleged collaboration with the invading Nazis during World War II.

The return of Russian rule has triggered anxiety.

"After the Russian authorities came to Crimea, things that had never happened in Crimea before started to happen," said Mejlis member Ilmi Umerov...

Umerov said four young men remain missing after suspected kidnappings and that four others who disappeared were later found dead...

Crimean Tatar survivors of Stalinist repression were not allowed to return and settle on the peninsula until the 1990s, when they began building fragile cooperation with the post-Soviet Ukrainian authorities.

But now, their homeland doesn't feel much like home anymore. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Tatars have opted to leave, heading to mainland Ukraine, Umerov said.

"In every Crimean Tatar family there is a feeling of fear and lack of security while living in our own homeland," Ablyalimova said, listing "disappearances, sadistic murders... attacks on media, and arrests on trumped-up charges."

The probe against Chiygoz stems from a rally the Mejlis called on February 26 last year near the Crimean parliament, just hours before heavily armed soldiers in unmarked uniforms occupied the building, raised the Russian flag and forced the lawmakers to vote for installing a new pro-Russian government.

Clashes broke out when pro-Russian activists turned up at the same location. Footage shows two groups facing off, ignoring calls for order, yelling "Referendum!" or "Crimea is not Russia!" In the ensuing disorder, two people died.

However, the probe only targets Crimean Tatars and applies Russian law to events that preceded Russia's jurisdiction...

"Most of us are shocked by what happened in Crimea. Those who could not get over the shock have left," said Liliya Budzhurova, deputy director of the Crimean Tatar television channel ATR and also a reporter for AFP.

Those who stayed "made a difficult choice", she said, to live in what is essentially a hostile environment in which the channel must employ self-censorship if it wants to survive...

The channel was openly pro-Ukrainian before, but recent Russian anti-extremism and separatism legislation has forced it to cut potentially compromising terminology from coverage, she said. They even avoid mentioning that Crimea was until a year ago part of Ukraine.

She described the process as having "scissors inside our heads".

"For half a century we didn't have the right to speak, listen and read in our national language and to rob us of that right would be a repeat tragedy," she said, vowing to stay and work in Crimea no matter what.

"I cannot breathe here, but I will not leave, because it is my homeland," she said. "I will not leave, even if they blow up a nuclear bomb.""

I am very sorry for the Crimean Tatars. They do not deserve such a fate.

What should they do now?

To my opinion, they must stay quiet and low. Open resistance of any sort is no good against an enemy as strong and barbaric as Putin's Russia.

Instead, Crimean Tatars must keep their culture and gradually develop it in a direction to the West.

And, above all, they must prevent their numbers from shrinking. Russia can outlaw public rallies and censor local media, but it cannot impose laws banning childbirth.

Make love, not war! In the long run, it always works.

The same is valid for the Chechens, the Ingushs and other oppressed nations in Russia.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hero cult of the Copenhagen Islamist murderer

Below, I am copying Jerry Coyne's Feb. 21 post:

"Hundreds attend funeral of Copenhagen’s murdering terrorist

Okay, maybe Omar El-Hussein, the guy who killed a filmmaker at a cafe and a security guard at a synagogue in Copenhagen, might have had a lot of friends and relatives in Denmark, but I doubt that had he died a natural death, more than 500 people would have turned up for his funeral.
But According to Denmark’s The Local website, and the video below, the funeral was really crowded.  I suspect that many of these people were there not there purely out of grief, but to express solidarity with El-Hussein’s heinous and brutal crime. That’s supported by the description of the funeral:
Friday’s funeral was open to the public but according to a report from wire service Ritzau was mostly attended by young men, who were described as “wearing large black coats with many of them having covered their faces”.
 Copenhagen Police sent out a press release prior to the service urging anyone attending to “show appropriate respect” while Kasem Said Ahmad, who conducted the burial ceremony, told Jyllands-Posten that he would require everyone to “remain silent”.
 Ahmad rejected media suggestions that a large turnout at the funeral would be a sign of support for the alleged killer.
“It is support for the family, not for him,” he said. “I do not think that anyone is coming to pay homage to him.”
Seriously? 500 people turn up for a 22-year-old murderer, most of the “mourners” men, and some with faces covered? Who is Ahmad fooling? I feel no guilt about suggesting that what happened here was a covert show of support for El-Hussein’s terrorism. Although most European Muslims don’t commit violence, I suspect—based on Islamic behavior in the rest of the world, including Australia—that many secretly applaud the kind of murders that El-Hussein committed. Since it’s unseemly in Denmark to celebrate by firing guns, shouting in glee, and handing out sweets (as the Palestinians do when their terrorists kill Israeli citizens), El-Hussein’s supporters “celebrate” by attending his funeral.

There seems to be a bit more dissembling in the further description of the funeral:
22-year-old Omar El-Hussein — identified by police as the shooter behind two fatal shootings last weekend —  was buried at a Muslim cemetery in the Copenhagen suburb of Brøndby despite objections from the Islamic group that owns it.
The group said it had considered denying a request by El-Hussein’s parents of to have him buried in the group’s Muslim cemetery, but that its rules did not allow for it.
“My concern is over extremist attitudes and actions on both sides,” Ahmet Deniz, head of the Islamic Burial Fund’s support group told Jyllands-Posten. “Both from his friends and from young Danish people who perhaps could also riot later.”
Well, I have no objections myself to them burying the murderer anywhere they want, but really, to express concern over “extremist attitudes and actions on both sides”? I haven’t seen Danish citizens murdering Muslims, or even rioting. What I have seen are sad and silent vigils by Danes and other Europeans. Deniz is trying to downplay the murders by equating the potential “extremism” of Danes with the actual extremism of celebrating this crime.
h/t: Jelger"

Friday, February 20, 2015

Abortions in Nigeria banned because women don't want them

As we all know, bad things are happening in Nigeria. The situation wasn't very nice to begin with, but it became disastrous after the Islamist group Boko Haram (the name means "Western education is forbidden") started its reign of terror in 2009, plunging, kidnapping, raping, killing and taking parts of the country under its control.

I hadn't written about this, first, because I don't want and cannot cover every atrocity happening on this unfortunate planet and, second, because I have little sympathy to people who don't even try to stand their ground. It is clear that Nigerians must defend their country, life and freedom while it is still possible, but we don't see any serious efforts in this direction. Instead, we see protests of Nigerian army wives against sending their husbands to fight Boko Haram.

One could ask, don't Nigerians realize that Boko Haram must be confronted and crushed? Of course they do, but too many of them seem to think it is America's job. They apparently feel entitled to US military help. And because this help isn't coming, Nigerians entertain themselves with conspiracy theories. They think that America is always happy to be involved in yet another war and would gladly send its soldiers to die for Nigeria... but Pres. Obama's administration first wants Nigeria to allow abortions and to warm toward homosexuals. As Nigerian bishop Emmanuel Badejo said in an interview: "Recently I was alarmed when I heard Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, say that the United States government was committed to anything that would push the population control agenda. The United States actually said it would help Nigeria with Boko Haram only if we modify our laws concerning homosexuality, family planning, and birth control. It’s very clear that a cultural imperialism exists. In fact, I think that Africa is suffering greatly from a cultural imperialism that threatens to erode our cultural values. And I think, to say the least, it is criminal. Because if the West boasts of being committed to human freedom, mean it. If there are values that the West cherishes, they must not impose those values on Africa. It is part of human freedom. And at least Africa can stand up and say: “These are the values we cherish and these are the values we want to keep.” If the West cherishes freedom for gays and homosexual unions and abortion and contraception, suppose Africans are not wired that way. For the African, life is sacred. And that the world can watch hundreds of people dying in Nigeria every day and look away: it shows that even what we call Western civilization today is sick. What we say about human dignity and human rights is mere hypocrisy. There is a diminishing sense of the respect for the sanctity of life. And all of this is to be imposed on Africa, at whatever cost."

As you see, the good bishop has views very similar to Boko Haram's ideology: the terrorists are against the West and so is he. The quote is typical for the mindset of many millions of people in poor countries - a mindset that is both a product of the Third World misery and the main factor for its perpetuation. However, there are Westerners suffering of white guilt who will take this delusional paranoid rant at face value. See how one of them, Jen Kuznicki, superimposes her own bright thoughts on those of Bishop Badejo:

"With all the crazy pro-aborts screaming for women’s reproductive rights, no one is calling on us to look at the fact that African women want and accept children..."

Got it? African women are good, they want and accept children, unlike us decadent Western bitches who don't want and accept children and get pregnant just to enjoy an abortion. So we know now why abortions are banned in Nigeria: because women would not want them anyway. I bet that even a 15-yr-old girl raped and impregnated by Boko Haram men wouldn't want an abortion. After all, what more impressive proof of the "respect for the sanctity of life" than carrying to term this particular pregnancy?

Oh how much I "love" religious fundamentalists. And not only Islamic ones.