Friday, 18 October 2013


Sharia law keeps rearing its ugly head from day to day all over Europe, wherever there are communities of Moslems and a mosque. Radical mullahs preach the coming of the next caliphate and the imposition of this primitive and outdated form of law. Look at France, Belgium, Holland and Britain and there are plenty of examples of these communities that are actually practising forms of Sharia, in contravention of the countries laws, and if proof be needed just turn to You Tube, tap in radical Islam and you will, at least, be surprised if not shocked by the number and virulence of examples.

Sharia law comes from the Koran and the Sunnah and these originated with the prophet Mohammed. Because of that, according to Islam, no part of the contents can be changed. Well, this law may have worked in the wild and woolly seventh century deserts of Arabia but try and explain it to your average Westerner living in secular Europe and it will be seen as a medieval form of law that the West jettisoned centuries ago. Unlike modern western laws, to change Sharia would be a sin akin to sacrilege. It can't be updated or made more user friendly or brought into keeping with modern thought, because that is, in the word of the Moslem, 'haram'

Islam, including Sharia law, is, of course, not just a religion but a political system of government too that sits uncomfortably with democracy. In fact, the two don't get on at all. In the West people who speak out against Sharia law are often branded racist, right wing, fascist or even Nazi, and this by their own compatriots. This shows a real lack on understanding of Islam. There is no more right wing or even fascist ideology than Islam and Sharia law. Within this political system there can be no form of democracy whatsoever. The individual has no say as to the way he or she is governed, especially 'she'. The religious men are the keepers and interpreters of the law and what they say cannot be challenged. I have lived under Sharia law and seen this working in person. A man convicted of a murder on Tuesday was taken to the public square in the town I was living in and beheaded on Friday after prayers, protesting his innocence all the way. This is Sharia justice, there is no appeal because the Mullahs are always right. Just look at the best example, Iran, where the population kicked out a brutal dictator in the Shah and welcomed, with open arms, an even more brutal and humourless cleric in Khomeini. The theocracy that has ruled Iran ever since has killed, maimed and imprisoned far more people than the Shah ever did.

Any system of law that subjects its people to having their hands and feet chopped off for an offence, or allows the stoning to death of women (can anyone imagine what a slow and disgusting death that is), beheading, hanging and whipping, is, in the eyes of civilised people, primitive to say the least. Many of the mullahs who administer this sort of justice in countries where it is practised, are not educated men, they have studied the Koran and have probably learnt it off by heart, they may be well up on all the nuances of the religion and its laws but worldly and educated they are not.

Another big problem with Sharia law, as if the above were not enough, is that no translation of it is acceptable by Islamic scholars and judges. Only the version written in Arabic is accepted as correct in any case of argument. So if you don't read Arabic you have to take the judges word for it and, of course, they are not scrupulously consistent. Anything they don't like can be described as 'against Sharia law' and actually you have no way of disproving it. This is also a problem with converts, particularly women. When being instructed in the tenets of Islam, in preparation for conversion, you are not actually told all the nasty bits, one of the worst being that should you change your mind and revert back to what you were, you instantly attract a death sentence. In fact, Islam has the death penalty for more infractions (many of them petty in the eyes of Westerners) of the law than the USA. One would think that if God is so powerful and all seeing you could let him deal with the sinners instead of allowing hard line, unmerciful and uneducated mullahs to make the decision.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


The news of the sinking of a ship full of African immigrants off the island of Lampedusa is tragic and one's mind ties itself in knots trying to figure a way round stopping things like this happening. What makes it more tragic is that most of the people on board were Eritreans. There were some Somalis amongst them and we all understand why they would wish to leave their country which has been a failed state in total turmoil for more than 30 years.

But Eritrea is a different case altogether. Ask most people about Eritrea and you get a blank look. Nobody seems to know anything about Eritrea. To the south of Sudan and the east of Ethiopia it has an eight hundred kilometre coastline on the Red Sea. It is a land of endless possibilities, rich in minerals, with a landscape that reaches from the depths of the Danakil depression, one of the hottest places on earth, to the heights of the plateau, about 3,00 meters, on which the capital, Asmara, stands. With wonderful scenery and wild life it is an ideal spot for tourism. Rains are fitful (as can be seen from my book Dear Chips), but in general they get enough to grow sufficient food for their needs.

In 1941 British forces helped by Ethiopian nationalists, defeated the Italians in Ethiopia and Eritrea which had been an Italian colony, was liberated too. The British Government was given the task of administering Eritrea under a 10 year mandate from the United Nations. My father went there in 1946 as a legal advisor to that administration. In 1951 the UN sent a team to Eritrea to determine whether they wanted independence or federation with Ethiopia. My father was an observer and I accompanied him. He told me, years later, that it was a done deal and that federation had been promised the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie so he could have access to the sea.

My father was asked to stay at his post in Asmara by the Ethiopians when federation was completed. He remained their chief advisor till he retired in July 1973. By then there was a mounting movement for independence. Two groups set up, the ELF and EPLF. The later joined forces with the movement in Ethiopia fighting the dictator Mengistu Haile Miriam and the promise was made to give Eritrea its independence if the coalition won. Well, they did and Eritrea became independent in 1991.

The leader of the EPLF Isaias Afewerki became the first president. He had, during the years of fighting, promised a full democracy in Eritrea. However, like so many African leaders he quickly built up an internal spy system that would make the Stazi proud, started intimidating any opposition and has ended up as a thorough-going Maoist dictator. He imprisons anyone who talks out against him and the democracy he promised and led his followers to believe in has vanished. Before he came to power he spoke out in favour of a free press and immediately after independence Eritrea boasted a number of new and free newspapers. Most of their journalists now languish in prison. Only the state media is allowed and any reader of the official Eritrean web site will instantly recognise simplistic, boring, repetitive praise for the President and various comities.

I still have contacts there and when on the phone I can't ask any questions relating to politics because the phones are tapped. Afawerki has turned a land of promise into the tragedy we see there today, where hundreds of his fellow Eritreans will do anything to escape the country. He is a brutal man and he is brutalising his people. All the deaths over the past ten to fifteen years can be laid squarely at his feet.

My book Dear Chips gives a vivid picture of sleepy Eritrea before the war for independence. A really good factual read on Eritrea during and after the war is I Didn't Do It For You by Michela Wrong, ISBN 0-00-715095-4.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Bashar Hafez al-Assad

Assad has a bad name in the West, why, what has he ever done to the West?

The main reason is that he is a friend of the east, namely Russia and China, not to mention the rogue state, Iran.

However, there is another way of looking at Assad and his family. Before his father came to power in Syria it was a failed state. It gained its independence in 1946 and by 1956 it had had 20 different governments and four constitutions. Army coups were the order of the day and sectarianism was rife. These changes of government were all by the military or security forces, they being the only ones well enough armed and organised to overthrow a government and then keep some semblance of order. During this period Russia was asked to give aid which it gladly did and gained a strategic foot hold in the Arab world although it was already heavily into aiding Egypt following the Suez debacle.

Chaos reigned in the country between 1956 and 1966. The influence of Russia and Egypt's Nasser brought about the political union of Syria with Egypt in what became the United Arab Republic. This was never going to work as one country always tries to dominate the other and the Syrians who felt Egypt was overbearing, broke away after a coup in 1961. The Ba'ath party, which was formed in 1947, one of many, gradually grew in influence until 1963 when it engineered a coup. From then on it was the only party allowed in Syria, all others were banned.

Crises, including arguments with the UN and Israel, and the Black September débâcle with Jordan led to a further coup by the Minister of Defence, Hafez al-Assad in November 1970.

From there to the present outbreak of hostilities resulting in the fully blown civil war, there has been relative peace in Syria. Hafez steadied the ship, brought in reforms, mainly socialist in nature, kept a tight rein on the armed forces and was able to establish peace throughout the country. I drove right round Syria in 1977 visiting Roman ruins and other sites of interest with my wife and two children and we had a great time and were treated very kindly by the local population wherever we were. It was a land of peace where all communities lived cheek by jowl and got on. Yes, Hafez was a hard man but he needed to be because of the diversity of the Syrian population. When he died in 2000 Syria had had its longest period of peace since the Second World War.

Bashar al-Assad, who was Hafez's second son, took over from his father. He is a Western educated, sophisticated and very clever man. However, as the top man in Syria he quickly realised that to rule that country he would have to act like his father. So he did. He is an Arab hard man like Hafez. His military forces are equipped and trained by the Russians as they have been since the 60s. He is a dictator which is why the West does not like him but Arabs and democracy are not happy bedfellows. Look at what has happened to the 'Arab Spring', it has been a catastrophe in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. A smooth and untroubled move from dictatorship to democracy is impossible and these states have proved it. Whilst there are many Arabs who lean towards a secular government there are still more religious fanatics, or jihadists, who want to impose their particular form of Islam and this includes Sharia law which is anathema to all those who don't.

Jihadists have the upper hand in all the Arab spring countries and are heading that way in Syria too. Whilst the West's dislike of Assad forces them to support his opponents they shy away from admitting that, in fact, the jihadists have the upper hand and should the war be lost by Assad it is they that will gain power. Then what we will have is another hard line government but it will be either Sunni or Shia and all others will suffer including and especially the Christian enclaves in Syria which have survived since the time of Christ. Will the West then go to their aid? I don't think so. That would be interfering in the internal affairs of another state – how ironic. The West needs to be careful of what it wishes for.