Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Ramblings

Hooray its Friday! Am going for a Balinese Spa tomorrow. Its been so hectic at work that I felt I need to relax at a spa. Am also looking forward to going to Cherating at the end of the month.

I have posted a new chapter of Chapati Moments in Navel Gazing. Here's the link:

This one is very different from the other chapters. Though its done in my usual tongue in cheek, irreverent style, the information in it is extensively researched. Sources are The Times, the Guardian, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, JUST, John Pilger's website, Seymour Hersh's articles in the New Yorker, Global Research, Michel Chossudovsky's book "America's War on Terrorism", Matthias Chang's book "Future Fast Forward" and various other human rights websites. Do try to read it and post your comments there or here.

Yawn, am soooo tired. Ciao people! Have a great weekend.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Had a lovely weekend after the Hammam. Lunch with Daef & Art on Friday was excellent - didn't notice the food as the company was great fun.

Then I set out for my mini adventure at the Hammam. What I described earlier (last week) was pretty much what happened there. I was in this hot bathroom with this Moroccan woman giving me a bath and a good scrub. There was a communication problem at first - ie there was no communication because I don't speak Arabic and she doesn't speak English. At one point I desperately wanted to ask her something about my hair treatment (some rose mask they massage into the hair) and to tell her to be careful about massaging my head as I had cracked my skull in a horse riding injury when I was a kid.

Sign language led to a lot of confusion. Then a thought struck me ... countries in the Middle East and Africa were either colonies of the British or the French. So I asked her in French whether she spoke French. There was a look of delight on her face. Sigh... that was the first hurdle I got past. Thereafter I had to dig deep into my memory bank to recall my French lessons at boarding school in England with Madame Currie (my French teacher, not the scientist!) scolding me in French. Oddly, French was compulsory in an English boarding school despite the fact that les Francais tres deteste les Anglais and vice versa. The Moroccan lady asked me whether I went to school in France so I replied "Non, l'Angleterre" ie England or better known by the French as "the land of people who don't bathe very much". Then I proceeded to ask her about my hair treatment and to explain to her that I had fallen of my horse and hurt my head. That led to a lot of confusion as the word for "hair" and "horse" is quite similar in French. I can't for the life of me understand how I remembered those words in the first place. Cheveux (hair) and Chevaux (horses). She thought I pronounced hair incorrectly as she did not expect me to talk about horses whilst pointing to my head. After five minutes of excitement in the steaming hot bathroom with me gestulating furiously to make myself understood whilst in a state of near nudity (apart from the protection of a flimsy paper panty provided by them), she finally understood what I was trying to say. Then we burst out laughing - in relief. Thereafter, we managed further conversation on her life in Morocco, her family and sister and her marital status and mine. I was quite amazed at myself. I guess the heat in there brought out all French I thought I had forgotten.

Quite some time later after lying down on those hot tiles for what seemed like ages and feeling like (and probably looking like) a hot freshly steamed dim sum ... just when I thought I was going to pass out from the heat, she came back in to splash some hot water on me. Then after being towelled dry, I went off to another room for a massage. Oh, whilst waiting in this cozy waiting area, drinking Samarkand tea and eating baklavas before my massage, I sat opposite this woman who reminded me of my roommate at boarding school. She said I looked familiar too. But we realised we didn't know each other after introducing ourselves. She is English. Married to an Malaysian Indian and she was complaining about her in laws.... haahhhaa, wait till I tell my friends... my Indian girl friends that is ... who are always warning me about the perils of getting involved with an Indian man who are always Mummie's boys for the rest of their lives!!

All in all it was an absolutely lovely self indulgent afternoon/evening.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Hooray, its Friday and I have taken the afternoon off!! Am going to have a long leisurely lunch with fellow bloggers from Navel Gazing at Cilantro. Apparently they have a set lunch with free flowing wine. Well, since I don't drink I'm just there to enjoy the company of these witty friends.

Its been a really hectic 2 weeks at work, rushing for a signing and new projects coming in. Its also been a trying month or two. One of my closest friends in the Firm left - She Who Should Be Blonde. Just as I was getting used to not having her around here, another very close friend resigns ... 2 days ago.... She Who Is Already Blonde. Here I am, alone again. The last of the Renegades. I was just sooo tired, crawling home at night after work that I decided that I needed to go to a spa of some sort. That's why I have taken the afternoon off. In fact, I have been rather self indulgent this week. She Who Is Already Blonde and I are making the most of our time together. We have been working in 2 firms together - gosh I guess, its over 10 years of our working lives together! This week we had lunch at Zipangu (Japanese) and then on Wednesday when she tendered her resignation, we went out to celebrate at Lafite. Both restaurants at the Shang. Today I'm having lunch at Cilantro with Daef and Art, who are always good fun to be with. After that comes my self indulgent afternoon. I am going to a Hammam. Its a Moroccan bathhouse. She Who Should Be Blonder set out earlier this week to check it out as she is made of sterner stuff than me and not likely to break when being tossed about and pummelled at a bathhouse. She came back glowing and with glowing report of her experience. You enter this hot room (bathroom) with literally no clothes on (maybe a paper panty is allowed) and this Moroccan woman with bathe you, scrub and polish you. Then you are made to lie on some hot stones or a hot tiled surface. After that you will be splashed with hot and cold water. (Geez... why don't I just check into Abu Ghraib for such treatment and I don't even have to pay them for it!). Ooops, I have to go for my lunch appointment now. Will tell you all about my Hammam experience next week. Hey, Tempias! I'm sure you would love to come to the Hammam with me. When you are in KL next we will go together. Ciao! Have a beautiful weekend everyone!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Toade News

Anyone of you who are still not convinced how dumb the Americans are, please read this article from the Guardian. Note the intelligent comment by the FBI Agent that Arabic writing are full of squiggles and can thus easily hide messages..... errr ....??? I rest my case. Should these dumb people be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction?

Saturday, the Guardian
"No Fairy Tales Allowed

Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith has 36 clients in Guantánamo and has visited many times. In this powerful extract from a new book he argues that secrecy in the camp is a disease. I had visited several times and there was something nagging at me. I could not work out what left me uniquely unsettled about the place. It was not the depressing environment; few prisons are inspirational. It was not the occasional intimidation. Eventually it came to me: I could not remember being lied to so often and so consistently. In Guantánamo, lying was a disease that had reached pandemic proportions. Former "detainee" Binyam Mohamed [British resident arrested in Pakistan] viewed the whole military commission process as a con, a lie that was meant to deceive the world. In June 2006 the supreme court said the same, in more temperate terms, and struck down the commissions as illegal. It rejected Donald Rumsfeld's assurance that the trials would be fair, accusing the administration of "jettisoning" legal rights. In Guantánamo, the military began with smaller lies and worked upwards. I was visiting Camp Echo one day and they had messed up the visitation schedule. The client I was meant to see was not there, although I had sent the schedule for my visits several weeks before. I thought I might as well go ahead and see Shaker Aamer [British resident captured in Afghanistan], whom I was not meant to meet until later in the week. So I asked the SOG (the sergeant of the guard, in charge of the camp) whether Shaker was in his normal cell. "No, he's not here," the SOG replied. I settled down for another wasted hour, waiting for the military to bring over someone I could see. It was hot even under the umbrella at the "picnic table" - the area behind one of the cells in Camp Echo where they made lawyers wait. I watched a lizard crawling up the green mesh on the wire fence. I thought about the spider in Robert the Bruce's cave, continually battling to spin its web and teaching patience to the early Scottish nationalists.

The next day I saw Shaker. "Were you here yesterday?" I asked. "Yeah, ofcourse. I've been here for weeks," he replied. So why did the SOG lie to me? He could have said, "Sorry, sir. I am not permitted to speak about that," or "Yes, sir, he is here, but I am afraid we cannot deviate from the schedule." Instead he looked me in the eye and lied. It was unsettling. He had seemed a clean-cut, well-mannered sort of person. The dissembling disease got worse as time passed. First there was the effort to suppress the truth, with censorship or silence rather than any overt falsehood. Then there was the lie by semantics, where the US military redefined the language to provide plausible deniability. Finally, there was the bare-faced lie. This kind of culture does not germinate in a vacuum. Rumsfeld is responsible for a reconstitution of the English language. I set about compiling a glossary of the Gitmo-speak. The language was so deceptive that I found it appalling and amusing in equal measure. In a December 2004 press conference, the US navy secretary Gordon England tried to defend conditions in Guantánamo by producing the novel argument that the camp was rehabilitative: "People have learned to read and have learned to write, and so it's not just being incarcerated. We do try to get people prepared for a better life." Prisoners had some difficulty exercising their new-found abilities. Indeed, contrary to England's statement, prisoners in Guantánamo were certainly not considered "people" and the guards were not even allowed to call them "prisoners". One of the escorts told me that, on pain of punishment, soldiers are required to call them "detainees". He wouldn't even say the word "prisoner" out loud. The Pentagon had come to the conclusion that it sounds better for us to "detain" someone for several years, given that he has not been offered atrial. Naturally I set about avoiding the word "detainee". Meanwhile the authorities exercised rigid control over any information that the prisoners received. Each time I went to visit, I would take a suitcase full of reading materials. I maintained a log reflecting the fate of each publication. Magazines awarded the stamp DENIED included National Geographic, Scientific American and Runner's World. On one occasion it seemed justified, since that month's National Geographic had a story about building an atomic bomb, but the editions about whales and African tribes hardly seemed a threat to national security. One soldier explained the censorship of Scientific American to me: the prisoner might learn about some hi-tech weapons system. Banning Runner's World was less obvious, given the naval base was surrounded on one side by a Cuban minefield and on the other three by ocean. I was surprised - and Shaker Aamer was incensed - that they would not let in The African-American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Uncle Tom's Cabin was also barred. I dropped off an anthology of first world war poetry for Omar Deghayes that included Wilfred Owen's poem Futility, about the ghastly violence of war. It was returned DENIED. Omar was born in 1969 and was a British refugee from Libya. His father was tortured and killed by Muammar Gadafy in 1980, and as a teenager Omar moved with his family to Brighton and studied law. He had not completed his law exams, so I brought his books so he could study, ready for his release. Law books, though, were not permitted, least of all a subversive to me about thelegal rights of prisoners. The Save Omar campaign auctioned off an autographed copy of John Pilger's book Hidden Agendas to raise funds. The highest bidder donated it back, soI could try to get it in to Omar. It was written in 1998 and the index hadno references to Islamic extremism. The most controversial statement I could see in the book was Pilger's comment that most of the victims of terrorism were Muslims. It never got through. At this point British political authors began to vie for the status of having a book banned. The New Statesman editor John Kampfner gave me a signed copy of his book Blair's Wars for Omar. Clare Short signed a copy of An Honourable Deception? New Labour, Iraq and the Misuse of Power with a dedication: "Hope you will be back with us soon, Omar.". An inverted snobbery began to develop: if your book slipped through the censors, perhaps that would cast doubt on the credibility of your opinions. I worried that Jeremy Paxman would be disappointed that his book The English was allowed in.

The only Australian left in Guantánamo, David Hicks, was facing a military con-mission, like Binyam, and his lawyer was banned from giving him Scott Turow's legal thriller Presumed Innocent. The basis for censoring The New Dinkum Aussie Dictionary was less clear. Perhaps the strangest decision involved four books returned with the notation: "These Items were not Cleared for Delivery to the Detainee(s)." They were Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Beauty and the Beast - all in Arabic translation. As one FBI agent admonished me: "You know that Arabic script is full of squiggles, and it can easily hide messages to the prisoners." Could it be, I wondered, that Cinderella was secretly an enemy combatant? Eventually the military barred us from bringing books for our clients altogether. So much for education.

Next there was the senseless secrecy. Every word that my Guantánamo clients said to me was deemed classified and I had to get permission from censors to reveal it. To violate them would be a criminal offence and I could end up in jail. Whenever I met with a client I would take notes, but I could not take them with me when I left. I was obliged to put them into an envelope, seal them with SECRET stickers and give them to the military escort to mail to Washington. The notes went by normal mail, which seemed far from secure. Indeed, the first time I visited the military lost my notes for weeks. This procedure prevented the lawyers from revealing the truth about Guantánamo for a long time after any visit. This meant that I would visit Guantánamo, fly back to England, then return to Washington three weeks later to review my own notes. Meanwhile I was forbidden from saying anything to anyone about what my clients had said. Once the notes arrived in Washington, I would get notice that I could come to the "secure facility" to review them and submit facts for classification review. Even today I cannot repeat some of what my clients told me, but nothing I learned in Guantánamo would be classified in a sane world. I never saw anything that was relevant to US national security, unless it would make the US less secure to admit the truth about torture committed by American personnel. All this was to control the flow of bad news out of Guantánamo. From the beginning Joe Margulies, the other civilian lawyer working for Binyam Mohamed, encapsulated the proper response to this: if we could open up the prison to public inspection, the government would close it down. The awkward truth about what was happening there would outweigh any perceived benefit of keeping the prison open. Meanwhile, the government wrote the rules. The military censor was dogged in defence. It was not his fault; he was merely applying the rules and trying to do it as politely as possible when we met in the secret Washington facility. In November 2004, I met Moazzam Begg in Camp Echo. Moazzam was from Birmingham, and we talked for hours and he poured out his desperate experiences. He impressed me from the beginning with his understated eloquence. He had been with his family in Afghanistan, working on a charitable project that involved schools and water wells. When he and his family fled the war to Pakistan, he became one of hundreds sold for bounties to the Americans. Later, he ended up in Guantánamo, tarred as amajor terrorist. When my notes got back to Washington, in January 2005, I wrote a 40-page memo about how Moazzam had been abused by the US military in Afghanistan. Every word was censored. The way the military had pretended to torture his wife in the next room, even information about American soldiers murdering two prisoners in front of Moazzam, was considered a "method of interrogation" that could not be revealed. I was not allowed to reveal how my clients' mental health was crumbling either. Moazzam had been tortured, then held in solitary confinement for 18 months; he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder; he had nightmares, flashbacks, all the symptoms. But this, the military said, was a privacy issue. The effort to suppress this backfired. Had they come out immediately, the facts of Moazzam's abuse would have soon have slipped into obscurity. The cover-up ran and ran. I wrote one letter to Tony Blair which began with a title, Re: Torture and Abuse of British Citizens in Guantánamo Bay. The next two pages were the highlights of the torture committed against Moazzam and other British citizens. I put in a paragraph saying, "Anything that has been censored or blacked out in this letter, your close allies in the United States don't think you should be allowed to hear." I then attached the 40-page memo detailing Moazzam's abuse. What I got back from the censorwas extraordinary. Every word about torture was declared to be classified, except the title, but the last sentence made it past the hovering blackmarker. By now there were perhaps a dozen on our team of volunteer lawyers and eachone was running into similar problems with the censorship regulations. We tried to press the issues systematically, and eventually the government was persuaded to relax the rules. At last we could get information out to provehow the clients had been mistreated, and the memos about Moazzam's mistreatment were cleared. Indeed, with the threat of this evidence of torture making it into the public eye, the pressure on the Bush administration increased, and at the end of January, Moazzam and the three British prisoners who remained in the prison (Feroz Abbasi, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga) were set free. Moazzam and Feroz had been among the six prisoners originally charged in the military commissions, supposedly the very worst terrorists on the base. Their release, and the fact that the British government found no charges to bring against them, illustrated the extent of the US military's delusion.

Gaining trust is not easy. When we won the right to visit the prisoners the military tried to outflank us. They began by sending in interrogators pretending to be lawyers. They said all the lawyers were Jewish, relying on perceived Muslim prejudices to drive a wedge. The next gambit was arguably even sillier. "They have been saying ..." Usama Abu Kabir hesitates, not wanting to go on. "They say ... " By this time Usama is scarlet. He is a courteous man. "Well ... that you like having sex with men!" I want to say that it should make no difference to him. I can't afford to, as so many of my clients here have been brought up in conservative Islamic countries, and we don't have time for a debate. I have to wave my wedding ring about and issue a denial. There are valid reasons for mistrust. What is to distinguish the lawyer from an interrogator after years of deception? To represent a prisoner here you must be an American citizen. "Hi! I'm from America and I'm here to help you." When a prisoner has a legal visit it is called a "reservation", the euphemism used for interrogation. Some lawyers say the meetings are confidential. The prisoners laugh. Everyone knows that there are cameras in the cell and microphones by the door. There are other problems. One saw a client for the first time with a translator whom the prisoner had previously seen working with US military intelligence."
Extracted from Bad Men by Clive Stafford Smith, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson on April 26th priced £16.99.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sheikh Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi: 1165 - 1240 AD
'Mystic, philosopher, poet, sage, Muhammad b. 'Ali Ibn 'Arabi is one of the world's great spiritual teachers. Known as Muhyiddin (the Revivifier of Religion) and the Shaykh al-Akbar (the Greatest Master), he was born in 1165 AD into the Moorish culture of Andalusian Spain, the centre of an extraordinary flourishing and cross-fertilization of Jewish, Christian and Islamic thought, through which the major scientific and philosophical works of antiquity were transmitted to Northern Europe.' (excerpts taken from Ibn Arabi Society's website)
The Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society
"The movement which is the existence
of the universe is the movement of love. "
Ibn 'Arabi, Fusûs al-Hikam

"It is He who is revealed in every face,
sought in every sign,
gazed upon by every eye,
worshipped in every object of worship,
and pursued in the unseen and the visible.
Not a single one of His creatures
can fail to find Him in its primordial
and original nature."
Ibn 'Arabi, Futûhât al-Makkiyya
"If the believer understood the meaning of the saying
'the colour of the water is the colour of the receptacle',
he would admit the validity of all beliefs
and he would recognise God
in every form and every object of faith."
Ibn 'Arabi, Fusûs al-Hikam
And this has to be my all time favourite of Ibn Arabi's works....
"O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles
and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Kaa'ba,
and the tables of the Torah
and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love:
whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith."
'Tarjuman al-Ashwaq'. Theosophical Publishing House, 1911. Poem XI.
'We are given a key to understanding, however, in the triple vision of the three great prophets of the Western world - for to Ibn 'Arabi these three bring the same message,the same essential religion of love. He considers all prophets and saints to be explainers of this primordial religion: There is no knowledge except that taken from God, for He alone is the Knower... the prophets, in spite of their great number and the long periods of time which separate them, had no disagreement in knowledge of God, since they took it from God. We are given a key to understanding, however, in the triple vision of the three great prophets of the Western world - for to Ibn 'Arabi these three bring the same message, the same essential religion of love. He considers all prophets and saints to be explainers of this primordial religion:
"There is no knowledge except that taken from God,
for He alone is the Knower...
the prophets, in spite of their great number
and the long periods of time which separate them,
had no disagreement in knowledge of God,
since they took it from God. "
'Futuhat al Makkiyah' II. 290. Trans. W. Chittick, 'The Sufi Path of Knowledge'.
"A thin veil separated me
and him in such a way
that I was able to see him
while he was unable to see me
and ignorant of my presence.
He was so absorbed that
he paid me no attention
and I said to myself
'He is not destined
to follow the same path as me'."
Futuhat I. 154. Trans. C. Addas, 'La Quete pour la Soufre Rouge'
"The Most Merciful looked down upon me
with a look of Benevolence and sent
Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses
to me while I slept.
Jesus encouraged me toward asceticism
and ridding myself of unnecessary belongings;
Moses gave me the 'disk of the sun'
and predicted that I would obtain 'ilm ladunnî
from among the sciences of the tawhîd;
and Muhammad commanded:
'Hang on to me, you will be safe!' "