From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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The Great Crusade
Part 1

8 October 2001

I was lucky to get a room at the Hotel Tajikistan in downtown Dushanbe. Since George W. Bush announced the Great Crusade it's been hard to get a room anywhere in Central Asia. The US State Department, the CIA, the British Foreign Office and various "adventure travel" companies operating as fronts for everything from the SAS to the New York Police are block-booking anything with running water and even B-grade backpacker hostels.

"You are most lucky we have a cancellation", the young Tajik man remarked as he carried my pack to 6th floor. "Osama bin Laden himself stayed in this very room in 1992 during the troubles, when we are fighting the Leninabaders".

"So where is Osama now?" I asked casually.

"I have reliably heard he is in Malaysia with Dr Mathahir".

I tipped him a few Tajik rubl and wondered if my quest for Bruce Possum was as futile the hunt for bin Laden, or the war on Afghanistan, or whatever it was that the West was doing.

Over the years, more rumours of Bruce have come out of Central Asia than anywhere else, so when Sergi, my well-placed contact in St Petersburg, emailed me with a new lead, I was drawn to Tajikistan as if by marsupial instinct.

I am talking to officer I know from our 201st Armoured Division in Tajikistan who are patrolling border Afghanistan. He met Australian possum who is in some way connected with anti-Taliban of Northern Alliance, he thinks perhaps as drug-runner or supply guns. After the attacks on America there are now many Americans there and also British commando forces. Perhaps is not a good time to go.

I took Bruce's last note out of my wallet. It was grubby and faded now. I found it in '88 after he vanished, taped to the lid of the tin box in which he kept his 9 mm Browning: So long partner, Have gone to Afghanistan. Sorry, will make it up to you. Keep the gat. I knew the words by heart, they looked like they always did.

The downstairs bar was full of Russian soldiers, CIA operatives, British SAS types, French spooks posing as archaeologists and Pakistani spooks posing as journalists. The ceiling was still pock-marked with bullet holes from the last time the boys from the 201st Division let off steam.

I was ordering a cider from an impassive barman when a Russian officer weaved towards me. "Afstraliya, da? Kak vas zavut? Your name? I am Evgeny. I have cousin in Bondi. What brings you to yis place."

Evgeny looked as good a place as any to start. "Nick, Nick Possum. I'm looking for my business partner, Bruce Possum. He disappeared in 1988. I think he might be here, or in Afghanistan". I thought I saw a flicker of interest cross the barman's face.

"Possum? Dushanabe? Nyet". Evgeny slapped me on the back and laughed uproariously. "I am only knowing you are possum from Afstraliya because picture book my cousin send. Perhaps you will have more luck near the border, but there yis much danger.

"The Americans are welcome to Afghanistan. Yis pipple all crazy, you know. We give Americans air base, whatever. Our President Putin says he will give arms to Northern Alliance but you know this: we have been giving them for years! So nothink change. Except now you fight our war to secure Russian border here! And you give us, how you say, free hand, in Chechenya, so your Chechen freedom fighters of yesterday become now our terrorists today, da?"

A middle-aged man who looked like a process-server sat gloomily over a whiskey. I asked him if he had a role in the Great Crusade.

"Yeah, I'm a process-server. Gotta FBI warrant for Mr bin Laden. Don't happen to know where I can find him, do you?" A weak smile crossed his face.

"The bell boy says he's in Malaysia. You've got a bummer of a job. How did you get it?" I asked.

"Oh, I volunteered. See, I know bin Laden. Met him a few years back when his brother, Salem, was George W. Bush's partner in George's failed Persian Gulf oil venture."

"It's a small world isn't it? Get any leads from the other brothers? The ones that lived in Boston?"

"No luck. They complained that he never keeps in touch these days; not even a postcard."

"I buy everybody drink in yonour of Great American Crusade against Yislam!" roared Evgeny.

• • •

Now click here for for Part 2 of The Great Crusade

Rumours of Bruce, the story of our hero's search for his long lost business partner, can be downloaded in PDF.