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 more things change ...
The Great Crusade Part 3

8 December 2001

Day after day, Kabul's dusty streets shook from bombing and the rumble of artillery crept closer.

My obsession with finding my old business partner had become dangerously mad, I reflected. Since arriving with the aid convoy from Tajikistan I'd taken a room in a backpackers hostel that had seen better decades and spent weeks shuffling around a crazy city under siege, visiting tea houses and half-deserted government offices asking after Bruce.

Eventually, one evening, a nervous Taliban in threadbare cleric's garb came to the hostel and told me I must follow him to the office of the security police. "By yourself only", he said, ominously.

The offices were guarded by a clutch of jittery fighters draped about with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades. In the courtyard others were burning documents and loading boxes of ammunition into a fleet of battered trucks. The smell of retreat was in the air.

The young mullah into whose half-ransacked office I was escorted spoke English with a London accent. He offered me a chair and a bottle of mineral water.

"You have not found the possum you are looking for", he observed. He had the security apparatchik's cold, sly smile.

"No, I've asked after Bruce all over town. I was wondering why you hadn't called me in earlier. You must think I'm stone crazy coming here at a time like this. I'm surprised I haven't been arrested as a spy."

"Oh, there's no mystery. We know you're not a spy. In fact, we know all about you -- our cause has many ears, and they are bigger than yours, furry one. We also are looking for Bruce because he double-crossed us. For years, while we were fighting the Northern Alliance, he was arranging to sell our opium crop abroad. Then we took the Americans' money to end the opium trade. We stopped the farmers growing poppies and gave your friend a million US dollars to leave Afghanistan and go away. But then we find he is selling opium for the Northern Alliance. Also, he knows a lot about us and we think he has come back to Kabul undercover, to work for that dog Rabbani. We thought perhaps he would seek you out, and we could catch him, but he didn't, and now it's too late ... we're leaving Kabul tonight, to go to the hills."

I wasn't surprised. It made a lot of sense. Why sit in trenches where the Americans can bomb you to dust. Much better to split up, go back to the mountains and villages and bide your time.

"What will you do with Bruce when you find him?" he asked.

"Oh, I'll probably just ask him where he's been for all these years. I only want to understand why he's turned out the way he has. And you, what would you have done with him?" A smart bomb thumped in not more than a couple of kilometres away. We both flinched, the building shook.

"Probably we would have just, ah, persuaded him to tell who his accomplices were, then hung him, out in the courtyard there, where we have hung many others", he said distractedly.

"Do you have a file on Bruce?" I asked.

"It's been sent to Kandahar already. Perhaps, insha Allah, if it, and I, survive all this, I will send it you a copy."

I handed him my business card. "I have something else here you might like to take', he said. He swung open the door of an ancient safe behind his desk and took out a faded shoebox.

It was full of old Cat Stevens tapes and CDs.

"Yours?" I asked, astonished. "I thought your mob was against music".

"Ah well, it made sense at the time. But Stevens was a brother I mean, it wasn't as if I'd been a Lou Reed fan."
"And why the burqa? the way you treated women? why all that?"

"It's somewhere in the Koran, I think. But don't ask me. I'm just a technical mullah. I do confessions, I don't do theology."

"Where do you think Osama bin Laden has gone?" I asked, pushing my luck too far.

"He died of kidney failure, here in Kabul, a week ago. In July, when he checked into the American Hospital in Dubai, it was his last hurrah. He has gone to meet Allah."

• • •

And in the morning the Taliban were indeed gone. I heard the clanking of tank tracks in the street below, and men shouting and cheering. I walked to the hostel door and pushed my way past a cheering crowd of Uzbeks and Hazaras lining the side of the road.

A CNN news crew in the back of a pickup truck were driving ahead of the crowd filming it as it surged alongside a small party of Northern Alliance soldiers with an old Russian tank. A lone young woman who had thrown off her burqua was striding along with the men and boys.

"This is a great day for us, stranger", a man in dark glasses and a black leather jacket said to me.

"Yes indeed, it's nice to see a woman without the burqa", I said.

"That is just for the reporters of CNN", he replied "We know who she is. We will kill her later".

• • •

Now click here for the final part of The Great Crusade