The Rape of Bangla Desh

The Book of the Week is “The Rape of Bangla Desh” by Anthony Mascarenhas, published in 1971.

In March 1969, Pakistan got a new leader named Khan. The reason was that dissatisfaction with Khan’s predecessor had reached critical mass among various parties that were keeping him in power, including the military.

Khan made the following campaign promises: “drain the swamp” in the government, and hold elections that would establish parliamentary (representative, civilian rather than military) government, pursuant to a constitution. The sovereignty of Pakistan had not held elections since its 1947 inception via the partition of India (amid excessive bloodshed, religious hatreds and a caste system that retarded the country’s economic, cultural and social growth for decades; see this blog’s post, “Freedom At Midnight”).

In November 1969, Khan claimed he was still working on the new constitution. He made other announcements on other issues that made it pretty obvious to politically astute people that he was turning out to be yet another dictator. He declared that Sind, Punjab, Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier (in West Pakistan) would become separate states again, and changed how votes would be tabulated, territorially.

Khan set dates for steps that helped Pakistan prepare for its elections, which would allegedly be held in October 1970. But they weren’t. In early November 1970, a tidal wave and cyclone hit the coastal areas of East Bengal. Khan then had a great excuse to postpone the elections until December.

Khan wrote the new constitution, which contained “small print”– a Legal Framework Order– that basically gave Khan unlimited powers; plus murky language that would cause endless arguments over the application and jurisdiction of laws between the provinces and Pakistan’s federal government.

However, in his evil scheme to become Pakistan’s supreme ruler through “divide and conquer” Khan’s new vote-tabulation method allowed Bengalis (of East Pakistan) to obtain too much representation in the national assembly, in the elections (when they were finally held). West Pakistanis became resentful, although they had previously enjoyed the lion’s share of control of governmental affairs for decades.

By February 1971, Khan had been executing various political machinations, including dissolving his civilian Cabinet. He said that he couldn’t let civilians rule Pakistan’s government just yet, as there was a national-security emergency– conflicts among East and West Pakistan, and India. The military had to handle them.

Unsurprisingly, in the first week of March 1971, there began more than three weeks’ worth of violence, rioting and looting, with Bengalis’ agitating to become an independent Bangladesh. To sum it up, “Pakistanis are intensely patriotic people and could not for one moment believe that their government was deliberately misinforming them so terribly.”

Read the book to learn the details of this “textbook example” of how actions taken by an alpha male with hubris syndrome (whose actions backfired!) led to circumstances that resulted in independence for a specific group of people in a particular territory (not without: serious sacrifices of human lives, the usual ethnic, tribal and religious warfare– including what some have defined as genocide; plus linguistic and other issues, and millions of refugees).

The Foreigner’s Gift – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Foreigner’s Gift, The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq” by Fouad Ajami, published in 2006. This was a repetitive, non-chronological mishmash of the author’s observations about the history of the Middle East intertwined with goings-on in Iraq up until the book’s writing.


The author, an American citizen, grew up in a Shia family in Lebanon. He interviewed all kinds individuals– soldiers, students, government officials, academics, etc.– of different religions, different sects, during his visits to different regions of Iraq in 2003, 2004 and 2005. There were conflicting reports of whether ordinary Iraqis viewed the Americans as “occupiers” or “liberators.”

The author argued that American president George W. Bush wanted to spark a pan-Arab reform movement in the Middle East by attacking Iraq. However, clearly, the American vice president’s motive was profiteering. Yet– anyone who has read his or her history and has basic knowledge about human nature, would know that centuries-old hostilities and hatreds between the Sunnis and Shias is never going to be resolved; not even by someone like Mahatma Gandhi!

Gandhi stopped the fighting between Hindus and Muslims only momentarily. Even he had a crack public relations team who got him featured prominently in the history books, as someone who was more powerful than he actually was. Suffice to say, the American presence in Iraq in the past thirty years has been yet another instance of too many alpha males with hubris syndrome who won their propaganda war. For decades, they have refused to take lessons from seeing military conflicts ranging from: the 1950’s end of French colonialism in Indochina to the 1947 partition of India to the 1980’s civil war in Lebanon, and many others.

Of course, oil threw a wrench in the works. Now, almost twenty years later, the current American government is making a much more aggressive push to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. This, by constantly reminding its citizens that they can assist with energy-related initiatives that arguably slow the changing of planet earth’s atmospheric conditions, that adversely affect humans; changing that has allegedly been caused by humans. So the energy-related issue is a whole other ball of wax now.

But human nature doesn’t change. In America (never mind Iraq), there are still racial tensions and cancel culture. Plus, there is an incidental ideological aspect to the masking order of the COVID crisis: that of forcing Westernized, yet religious Muslim males to empathize with their female relatives. The males now know how it feels to be required to cover their faces.

Read the book to learn of the good consequences and bad consequences of removing Saddam Hussein from power, as seen through many interviewees’ eyes, and the author’s take on the situation, given his knowledge of Middle East history.

Daughter of Destiny / Getting Away With Murder

The first Book of the Week is “Daughter of Destiny, An Autobiography” by Benazir Bhutto, published in 1989.

“If you do not appoint me president along with my team, then I’m afraid I’ll have to explore other options. I may even have to start my own party. I will be your biggest opposition.”

-said to Benazir in late 1984 by one of the Old Guard PPP members in exile in London

Upon the initial sovereignty of Pakistan in 1947, there was an egalitarian climate in terms of gender– women could join the country’s National Guard. Born the oldest of four siblings in June 1953 in Karachi, Benazir Bhutto began studying at Radcliffe College (the sister school to Harvard) in 1969. There, she made many friends who achieved high positions in the world, affording her political assistance through the years.

The Bhuttos were something akin to a royal family in Pakistan in the second half of the twentieth century. They were one of the largest tribes in Sindh. They were Muslim, and most of their members lived in Larkana where they had plantations of rice, sugar cane, cotton and guava. Females inherited land when their relatives died, but their marriages were arranged.

Benazir’s grandfather was progressive in permitting his female descendants to get an education. Ironically, many families didn’t educate their sons because the sons were almost guaranteed a living from supervising servants who worked the land.

Benazir’s father– Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a Sunni, studied abroad at the University of California at Berkeley, and then Oxford University’s law school in England. Benazir’s mother, a Shiite, was: a second-generation Iranian, allowed to forgo covering herself up with clothing, and allowed to drive a car.

As is well known, through the centuries, there has been almost non-stop tribal and religious warfare in the territory that has become Pakistan. In the 1960’s, the major sites of bloodshed included the Kashmir, the Punjab and Sindh. In 1967, Zulfikar (Benazir’s father), a wildly popular government minister experienced in various political areas, helped form the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In 1974, Zulfikar, as a master diplomatic negotiator, participated in talks over the territory that was to become Bangladesh.

In March 1976, Zulfikar was elected president of Pakistan. He nationalized major corporations, re-allocated land to peasants and outlawed gender discrimination in employment and government. Pairs of groups engaged in constant conflict: separatists in certain regions of Pakistan fought with those who believed the people would be better served by a federal government; rich opposed poor; landowners tangled with the educated, etc. Surprisingly, most of Pakistan’s population was still illiterate.

In the first half of the 1970’s, Zulfikar and his ilk continued to anger the United States with their actions. The leader spoke out against the Vietnam War, made friendly overtures to China, and took the Arab side in the Yom Kippur War.

Beginning around the middle of 1976, the French were teaching the Pakistanis how to make nuclear weapons. The latter were having a little spat with India besides. So the following year, the newly elected president Jimmy Carter secretly sicced the CIA on Zulfikar. It collaborated with the PPP’s rival party, the PNA (comprised of thugs, arsonists and sociopathic sadists with weaponry) to commit black-market currency manipulation to lower the value of the American dollar. Predictably, there were ugly consequences.

Carter and Ronald Reagan after him, like all American presidents, had to decide the kinds and amounts of aid to give to, or withhold from nations such as Pakistan, with its human rights abuses and temptation from the Soviets to adopt Communist policies in exchange for financial aid and weaponry.

As is well known, Pakistan borders on Afghanistan, in which the Soviets militarily insinuated themselves in late 1979. There were complicated economic, trade and geopolitical considerations– including a huge number of Afghan refugees– which as usual, were favored over stemming abusive treatment of ordinary Pakistanis by their government.

In July 1977, Zia ul-Haq, a general, had finally gained sufficient sway over Pakistan’s military to arrest and jail Zulfikar. Zia canceled the elections and declared Martial Law when he saw that there was still huge support among common Pakistanis for the Party (PPP). In October 1979, the Bhutto family’s newspaper was shuttered. The remaining media outlets of course, were censored by dictator Zia. Political parties were outlawed.

Dissidents, including Benazir and her mother (who, for some years stayed and fought, and other years, fled the country until there was less danger of assassination) were subjected to the usual Third-World-country human-rights abuses.

There was the vicious cycle of arrests on false charges, jailings with horrible conditions, arbitrary releases and re-arrests on different, absurd charges; firing on protesters– killing hundreds or thousands (accurate documentation was hard to come by, as foreign journalists were censored or banned from the country during the worst years of the oppression). For, the government controlled the courts, the army, and the media.

By the 1980’s, Pakistan was making a transition from military dictatorship to theocracy, as Zia supported the Wahhabis. However, on and off through the years, Zia must have still cared about world opinion because international complaints prompted him to, among making other concessions, allow Benazir and her mother at different times to be released from jail to receive
treatment abroad for serious medical conditions.

Anne Fadiman, a writer for Life magazine recounted an interesting experience riding in a car with Benazir going to a political rally in August 1986. Benazir stood on the seat with her head through the open sunroof (or emergency exit) when police officers started spraying tear gas. Incidentally, that tear gas was made in America, by Smith & Wesson.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Pakistan’s political history from the 1970’s up until the book’s writing as seen through Benazir’s eyes and personal experiences (Hint– it involved the usual, repetitive dictatorial shenanigans), and how she portrayed herself as the new Mahatma Gandhi toward the end of the story, in the spring of 1986, amid riots in Karachi over identity politics, and identity cards for voting).

The second Book of the Week is “Getting Away With Murder, Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan” by Heraldo Munoz, published in 2014.

The author wrote, “The commission soon encountered a country deeply skeptical of authority and the justice system because of widespread corruption , abundant behind-the-scenes political deal making, and the regular impunity that had met previous unsolved political assassinations [which included Benazir Bhutto’s brother; her father’s was a death sentence but an assassination nevertheless].”

From its founding in 1947 through the first decade of the twenty-first century, Pakistan has had a European-style / military / theocratic government, each of which has waxed and waned with the vicissitudes of geopolitical shenanigans.

In mid-2004, the United States persuaded Pakistan’s leader Pervez Musharraf (who was turning into a dictator) to plan to give up his generalship in the Pakistani military and exile himself at some future date at U.S. taxpayer expense (because he knew the tide was turning against him), rather than the alternative. Benazir was considering returning to Pakistan to run for the top leadership position in an election, when Musharraf’s latest term was supposedly going to expire.

Talks also dragged on for three years between Musharraf and Benazir over a proposed power-sharing arrangement. Always a bad idea. For, a co-prime-ministership would certainly have failed. In the vast majority of cases, with a more-or-less democratic government, there can be only one leader.

Two very different people such as they, unrelated by marriage or blood are highly unlikely to have enough common vision, complementary talents and skills, and strategic interests to cooperate enough of the time to make it work.

Elections to governing bodies and top leaders in Pakistan were scheduled for January 2008. Benazir Bhutto had, in the past, been at various times– top leader, party leader, jailed, in exile, and physically present– mentored by her father who led Pakistan before her in the 1970’s.

Conspiracy theories abounded surrounding the circumstances of Benazir’s December 2007 assassination in Rawalpindi. A few bullets allegedly penetrated her head (or not– she allegedly bumped her head on the lever controlling the sunroof / emergency exit of the vehicle in which she was standing up with her head exposed to rally-supporters / protesters / political enemies), plus a suicide bomber’s explosives detonated near her vehicle that might have contributed to her death.

However, the fact that she was killed should have come as no surprise. She knew she was at risk for harm, considering that all political leaders are surrounded by security at all times, even those from democratic countries. Ones from Third World countries like Benazir, are especially vulnerable to physical danger from political rivals.

Just one day prior, terror attacks against her supporters in the form of two explosions in Karachi left hundreds wounded and dead. The then-leader of Pakistan’s military dictatorship who had grabbed power in a 1999 coup– the aforementioned Musharraf– refused to allow the FBI or Scotland Yard to investigate, not wanting to appear to be a puppet of the West (though he so obviously was).

A year and half later (!!) (rather than the next day), in February 2009, the United Nations (UN) began an inquiry into Benazir’s death. It wasn’t meant to result in any trial or punishment, but was simply a way for the investigators to remain relevant, and counter the Pakistan government’s historical revisionism with their own.

The author was named to the UN Commission of Inquiry, which traveled three times to Pakistan. Read the book to learn much more about the history of Pakistan and his experiences in trying to get the facts on the events that led to Benazir’s death.

The Edge of Terror

The Book of the Week is “The Edge of Terror, The Heroic Story of American Families Trapped in the Japanese-Occupied Philippines” by Scott Walker, published in 2009.

This was a suspenseful story that focused mostly on a few lucky survivors of a war ordeal, but “American military losses in the Philippines are staggering and have never been fully realized by the American people.” For the reason of brevity, the author obviously could not cover all aspects of the historical backdrop that came together to determine which people in the story survived or died.

Anyway, in 1898, the Philippine islands became a protectorate of the United States. After WWI, Baptist medical missionaries settled in the city of Capiz on the island of Panay there. They established a nursing school and teaching-hospital, treating patients in a province comprised of approximately three hundred thousand people.

American expatriates in the Philippines fell largely into two categories: missionaries and mining-industry employees. They interacted socially– playing bridge and volleyball, attending beach parties and dances. The islands had mineral resources, and were strategically located on major trade routes.

In the first half of 1941, General Douglas MacArthur was appointed the supreme leader of American troops in the Philippines. But he wasn’t physically present for the rest of the war. That summer, some expatriate and military families sent wives and children back to the United States because they knew America would be entering WWII at some point. Up until the last week of December, others were evacuated from Manila to Bataan or Dumalag.

A week after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in early December 1941, they attacked Luzon. American and Filipino troops retreated, leaving large quantities of ammunition, supplies and food. MacArthur, already suffering from a bad case of hubris syndrome, incompetently waited a few weeks too long before deploying American troops to deter an attack on Manila Harbor; that Japanese attack came in the first week of January 1942. Many American lives were lost, and much American military hardware was destroyed. Mining engineers would no longer receive shipments of food, currency and supplies from the harbor.

By February 1942, what with all the bloodshed and disease, about 17,000 Japanese men died on Bataan alone. A couple of months later, the vast majority of 10,000 Americans commanded by 62,000 Japanese men, marched to their deaths there. In certain regions, the American military used scorched-earth tactics. They burned a hospital and sabotaged electricity and water supplies so that the Japanese couldn’t avail themselves of the benefits when they took over.

After several more aggressive attacks in the Philippines in the next several months, the Japanese demanded that the Allies surrender by June 6, 1942 so that they could occupy all of the islands, or they would kill every last person on them.

One particular group of American miners and missionaries decided to defy the Japanese order, and fled into the foothills to hide outside of Katipunan on Panay. They built a community called Hopevale. A few thousand Filipino troops also refused to surrender, and cobbled together a ragtag guerrilla army to fight the Japanese. At any time, the Japanese could have bribed a disloyal individual to tell them were the enemy was hiding. By then, the Japanese had a reputation for barbarism, and didn’t hesitate to massacre, torture, bayonet, rape or behead people, burn villages, etc.

The Japanese aimed to occupy the strategic location of Port Moresby near Australia, but the Americans bested them with air power in the Battle of the Coral Sea. In early 1942, about 3,200 people who didn’t flee for whatever reason, were interned in Manila.

By summer, that number had grown to 7,000. About three quarters of them were American. They organized themselves to fulfill their basic needs, and even educated the young. The living conditions were primitive of course: lack of food and other necessities, poor sanitation, vermin, and limited activities. However, the Japanese were sufficiently liberal to allow dancing, poker playing and touch-football.

Read the book to learn of additional ways war brings out the best in human beings– in terms of cooperating to survive; and the worst in human beings– how they have learned war-crime techniques from previous combatants; and the fates of the Hopevale expatriates, their families and others in the Philippines (Hint– even the survivors’ stories never have an entirely happy ending.)

Guatemala

The Book of the Week is “Guatemala, A Cry From the Heart” by V. David Schwantes, published in 1990.

In November 1988, the author, a businessman, traveled to Guatemala with others from the Center for Global Education. The author described a little of the political history that led to Guatemala’s sorry state of affairs in the 1980’s. For the reason of brevity, the author obviously could not cover all aspects of the historical backdrop that came together to create that decade’s spate of violence and oppression. However, he did know Geopolitics 101.

The reason Guatemala (and so many other countries in the world) have been unable to escape their vicious dictatorship cycle is that [drumroll, please!]:

Foreign interventionists and the nation’s leadership made investments in:

the tools of WARFARE (military weapons and divide-and-conquer political, cultural and social infiltrators that caused instability)

rather than

tools of modernity (education, infrastructure, healthcare and communications)!

It was like a George Carlin joke. Two previous Guatemalan presidents (Arevalo and Arbenz) had successful land-reform programs that spurred JFK to develop the Alliance for Progress. But prior to the Kennedy administration, those programs devolved into ugly political goings-on, thanks to two previous American presidents.

Beginning with the Nixon administration (on the recommendations of Nelson Rockefeller): “Stability was to be our first priority in foreign relations… Thus in 1972, when the average Guatemalan peasant earned just over $80 per year, the U.S. sent almost $7 million in weapons to that country… The U.S. had sent a billion dollars to Guatemala so far this decade, but I saw few signs that the money was making much difference.” Plus, in the late 1980’s, it sold the Guatemalans M-16 rifles. Then again, the Reagan administration cut back on providing financial aid when Guatemala was found to have one of the worst human-rights-abuse records in the world.

To push the above point about stability (or accidentally-on-purpose elimination of), the State Department encouraged fundamentalist Christian and Catholic missionaries to evangelize to the peasants to make them more accepting of their fate (starving). The peasants were led to believe their fate was in the hands of a supreme being. Other ideas pushed on them were: “turn the other cheek” and “money-changing is evil” and “sharing is a virtue” to get them to collectivize (and be smeared as Communists– more on this in a little while).

The author visited the government district of Guatemala City. “In front of the palace were dozens of heavily armed, crisp, polished soldiers. In front of the cathedral were beggars.”

The author spoke with a Catholic minister, various of whose politically active family members had been murdered in previous years. He was an activist pushing for redistribution of land. Roughly 70% of Guatemala’s land was owned by 1% of the people. The peasants had a religious, cultural, emotional attachment to the land, especially with regard to corn, their staple food. However, they were unskilled, uneducated, and scattered.

In 1986, the minister managed to help peasants (who had previously worked individually) to acquire a little land and work collectively, but in 1987, an arsonist burned it. The one percenters launched a smear campaign against the minister, calling him a Communist. In reality, he was pushing the economic system of socialism, as the peasants owned the means of production (the land). If the government had owned the land, that would have been the political system of Communism.

By the early 1980’s, the elites were acquiring farms in volume. And corn could be imported less expensively than it could be grown. Peasants had to borrow money to purchase fertilizer and pesticides, which made them indebted forever. They were less likely to starve if they grew sugar, coffee, sorghum or soybeans.

The author interviewed a worker at a healthcare clinic funded by UNICEF and humanitarian groups in the Netherlands and Canada. A U.S. embassy representative told the author that 40% of Guatemalan children died before the age of 5. The author had heard higher figures from other sources.

The clinic worker– as had the others who had risked their lives to talk with the author– played music during their conversation, just in case spies were present. His residence consisted of eleven family members in two huts, with no plumbing or electricity. They had a wood-burning stove whose smoke gave the women tuberculosis. He was proud that his mother was still alive at 54 years old (a ripe old age in Guatemala). Further, he considered himself wealthy compared to other peasants, as he had access to coffee trees, chickens, ducks, avocados and bananas.

The government began to crack down on males who expressed displeasure with the government. The males were abducted, conscripted, or recruited for hard manual labor, burned, arrested, tortured, or killed if they had Marxist / Leninist books in their homes, or said or wrote anything unpatriotic. Snitches were paid a small sum to spy on peasants and report back to the hierarchy of military leaders of which the government was comprised, up to the federal level.

In 1984, victims of Guatemala’s “dirty little war” formed a political group to help others similarly situated. The group gave bus fare and medical care to women searching for their missing male relatives. They risked their own lives by participating in demonstrations, and searching for their husbands, brothers and sons at detention centers, morgues, and cemeteries. Guatemalan culture dictated that males were the sole breadwinners for their families. But starving women were forced to make and sell tortillas in order to feed their families.

Read the book to learn the wealth of additional details on Guatemalan history and culture that the author learned from personal experience, interviews and documents.

The Bookseller of Kabul / The Bin Ladens

The First Book of the Week is “The Bookseller of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad, translated by Ingrid Christophersen, originally published in 2002.

“To him, power is more important than peace. He’s mad enough to jeopardize the lives of thousands just so he can be in charge. I can’t imagine why the Americans want to cooperate with a man like that.”

-Said of the Afghan warlord Padsha Khan, who took over Central Asia after the Taliban left in 2002.

The Americans hired Khan to look for members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. The warlord used the American-provided money, weapons (such as B-52’s and F-16 fighter planes), communications devices (such as a satellite phone) and intelligence devices (all of which were also provided to the warlord’s enemies) to kill his enemies in a local conflict in the provinces– instead of seeking America’s enemies.

This paperback tersely yet effectively described the culture of strict Muslim households as seen through the lifestyle (as dictated by its eventual patriarch, Sultan, the oldest son– the favorite child) of a few generations and branches of the Khan family tree. Crazy about books, in the early 1970’s, Sultan opened his first bookshop in Kabul. With his obsessively hard work, his business grew to three shops in a few decades.

As is well known, in September 1996, Afghanistan became a theocracy under the Taliban. Sultan’s behavior and attitudes was typical for a man of his generation and entrepreneurial bent. He traveled to Tehran, Tashkent and Moscow to acquire all kinds of books to sell. He did jail time for offering subversive ones. In Afghanistan, there was actually book-burning in November 1999.

Sultan decreed that his sons quit high school to manage his stores, and his wife performed the administrative work. During the most politically oppressive times, he, his wife and four children lived in Pakistan. After the Taliban were driven out of his native land of Afghanistan in 2002, his family returned. War was the order of the day for his son’s entire seventeen-year lifetime, as the country then devolved into civil war among warlords.

Against the wishes of his extended family and his first wife, Sultan married a sixteen-year old girl. The girl’s family needed the customary gifts bestowed on them, including supplies, food and animals.

Sultan risked his life, paying people-smugglers in order to go to Pakistan primarily to visit business contacts (and his family), as, after 9/11, the country closed its border with Afghanistan. Lahore in Pakistan had no regard for intellectual property laws, so Sultan could get two to three thousand percent profit margins on stolen texts of books he had printed there. The kind of lawlessness that existed on the Afghan side of the Khyber pass included a free-for-all on hashish and weaponry.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional characteristics about Sultan’s culture, such as wedding rituals, pilgrimages, and about the draconian segregation of the sexes and enforced inferiority of the females.

The Second Book of the Week is “The Bin Ladens, An Arabian Family in the American Century” by Steve Coll, published in 2008.

This large volume described the culture of what Americans would consider to be a huge family of Middle Easterners with the last name Bin Laden, whose households ranged from the strictly Muslim to the very Westernized, over a few generations and branches of its family tree.

Born around the dawn of the twentieth century, one of the family’s major patriarchs was the entrepreneurial Mohamed, a construction contractor who played well with others, and joined the Hadhrami community in Yemen. He kissed up to the Saudi Arabian government in order to build his business.

In the mid-1930’s, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud began to reap riches from oil. This led to various developments in terms of the evolution of the country’s infrastructure and acquisition of Western aid.

During WWII, Great Britain and the United States lavished copious monetary assistance on Saudi Arabia to keep it away from Communist temptations. The Saudis opted to pave roads instead of building railway lines, as automobiles would allow them to prosper by selling oil. Aramco, the jointly owned American and Saudi oil company, did business with Mohamed, too.

Strictly Muslim, Mohamed– a polygamist, was a typical man for his time and place. Of his 54 children, his oldest son, Salem, was born in the mid-1940’s. As such, Salem grew up to become chair of several multi-national corporations his father eventually grew, that built mosques, dams and reservoirs, and renovated the buildings and grounds of pilgrimage regions and military installations.

At the dawn of the 1950’s, the Bin Ladens’ companies were awarded business by the Saudi government partly because American contractors couldn’t deal with the Saudis, as the Saudis were too corrupt. Even so, the Saudi government’s officials, who were big spenders living high on the hog, went deep into debt, and turned out to be bad payers.

About a decade later, Mohamed’s businesses, which were developing structurally complicated kinds of shell companies– acquired a reputation for inexperienced laborers, doing shoddy work and missing deadlines.

President John F. Kennedy initially supported Egypt’s leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1962, but the latter sent guerrilla soldiers to Yemen to agitate for a new government there, and exchanged hostile words with Saudi Arabia’s government. In 1963, the United States changed its mind, probably for various secret geopolitical reasons.

In order to protect Saudi Arabia’s southern frontier from Nasser’s imperialist aspirations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cooperated with Great Britain to provide the Saudis with missiles and military infrastructure there. Mohamed’s contribution was to build roads.

Osama was one of Mohamed’s biological sons, born in January 1958, when his mother was about fifteen years old. His parents divorced in his early childhood. His mother remarried. Mohamed died when he was nine years old. During (what would be equivalent to) junior high school, he joined an after-school Islamic study group. He was later recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood; an anti-Nasser, Koran-purist group approved of by Saudi Arabia’s king in the early 1970’s.

That was a time of foreign-policy contradictions for the Saudis and the West. In 1973, the former imposed an oil embargo meant to harm the Americans (for helping the Israelis), Egyptians and Syrians. At the same time, the Saudis accepted financial aid from the Americans, as the former supplied oil to the latter’s troops in Vietnam. The Saudis also purchased vast quantities of U.S. Treasury Bonds.

Salem became the leader of a few of the most Westernized branches of the family (his younger siblings), encouraging the education of females. He purchased properties in the United States, and began to collect private jets. His relatives had identity crises, caught between two cultures.

At seventeen years old, Osama married a fourteen-year old. She bore him a son, and pursuant to the Koran, he obeyed a laundry list of prohibitions: didn’t covet his neighbor’s wife, and banned photography, music, gambling and alcohol from his life. He did, however, teach his children hunting and shooting, and seemed to have no problem with violating certain religious laws. He quit college and entered the family business.

In early 1985, Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd and Salem met with American president Ronald Reagan. The king secretly funneled money to a Cayman Islands account to fund the Contras (of the infamous Iran-Contra affair).

Read the book to learn how numerous other historical events shaped the activities of Salem and Osama and vice versa through the second half of the twentieth century into the new millennium.

ENDNOTE: Even with all the information the author was able to glean– the story was like Swiss cheese. The United States has suffered the usual in terms of intelligence-gathering in recent decades: incompetence, hubris and inter-agency rivalry, not to mention political and economic inter-dependence between the Arabs and the United States. Other wrenches in the works include the complex web of Bin Laden business dealings and entities, many of which are offshore. Enough said.

Call Me American

The Book of the Week is “Call Me American, A Memoir” by Abdi Nor Iftin with Max Alexander, published in 2018.

“There were more guns in the city than people. There was more ammunition than food. It became a thing to own a gun to save your life. Most people slept with a loaded AK-47 sitting next to them.”

The above was the author’s description of lawless Somalia (not the future United States) during the 1990’s.

Somalia, formerly two different colonies– of Britain and Italy, became a sovereign territory in 1960. Born around 1985 in Somalia (where birthdays aren’t important), the author had an older brother and later, younger sisters. Years before, his father’s side of the Muslim family, the Rahanweyn clan (farmers and nomads) was forced, due to drought, to give up herding as their livelihood. Fortunately, the father was able to become a professional basketball player. The mother was a traditional female of Islam– expected to bear and raise the children, and do all the chores and housework.

At the dawn of the 1990’s in Somalia, tensions boiled over between two of the five clans who desired to run the government. Warlords took to fighting that involved looting of shops, bullets and rocket fire. Rebels ousted the “president.” Former government employees fled to America, Canada or the United Kingdom.

Common people like the author’s family who were forced to evacuate their Mogadishu homes were caught in the crossfire of the anarchy, and died anonymously and were left in mass graves in droves from the usual causes– bullets or other weaponry, disease and starvation.

The family had no car, so like thousands of others, they walked miles and miles along unpaved roads with cows, donkeys, dogs and chickens, trying not to get arbitrarily shot by sadistic child-soldiers for being in the wrong tribe, or blown up by rockets (supplied to the anti-government Somali rebels by Ethiopia, sworn enemy of Somalia). Occasionally, they got an extremely crowded truck ride from a driver who had no beef against their tribe. Word-of-mouth rumors led them to believe that the city of Baidoa was a less dangerous place to be than Mogadishu. But that was a relative assessment.

In October 1993, sixteen American soldiers were killed in a Black Hawk helicopter attack at the hands of Soviet weaponry supplied to Somali soldiers. In March 1994, the Americans left Somalia. Ethiopia and Kenya supplied qat to Somali soldiers.

Beginning in the late 1990’s, the United States government paid the warlords (as though they were bounty hunters) to catch radical and foreign Islamists. In the single-digit 2000’s, the warlords assassinated the chairman of one of the five merged Islamic Courts that resolved local legal disputes in Somalia. The merging set the stage for a radical Islamic takeover, but ordinary Somalis were angry at the Western-backed warlords.

As a way to escape the trauma and wreckage around him, in the late 1990’s, the author got caught up in the American pop-cultural scene at local storefronts that: sold boom boxes and cassette tapes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, reggae and hip-hop music; and screened American movies such as Terminator. He passionately learned English and hip-hop dancing from them.

When the author’s family’s circumstances improved, his horrified parents administered the usual beatings when he put up posters of American cultural icons on his bedroom wall, including one of Madonna in a bikini. His mother thought of the United States as a Christian (evil) country.

However, the author was sufficiently street-smart to complete his seven-year education of memorizing the Koran in Arabic, all 114 chapters, 6,266 verses of it, even though the headmaster of his madrassa was a corporal-punishment tyrant.

Read the book to learn further details of the major ironies, among others, that graced the author’s incredible story: 1) the combination of his (sinful) passions and (highly praised) education that provided him with survival skills in a country where life was cheap and any minute could be one’s last; and 2) “Pictures and names associated with America were crimes, not counting the pictures and names on the American dollar bills that they had in their pockets.”

Revolution 2.0 – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Revolution 2.0, The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power, a Memoir” by Wael Ghonim, published in 2012.

Born in 1980, the author attended high school in Egypt. The country had a rote education system, and cheating was rampant. The underpaid teachers derived the bulk of their income from private tutoring.

The 1980’s had seen the government of Egypt start to change for the worse. There was increasing poverty, brain drain, and oppression of religious groups. In 1987, Hosni Mubarak first came to power. He initially promised to serve only the two-term limit as president. But as he acquired more power, he acquired more ownership. And more power. And broke his promise. Every presidential “election” every six years thereafter, was rigged to allow Mubarak’s reelection three more times. There was only one political party. His.

While attending university in 1998, the author launched an Islamic website that featured audio tracks of the Qur’an. He was a technology geek, and became especially well-versed in Web communications. In 2004, a group of dissidents formed a group called Kefaya, meaning “enough” in Arabic. In 2006, ordinary Egyptians began protesting against the corruption of the regime.

In 2008, after eight months of numerous interviews, the author got a job with Google. In January 2010, in order to escape Mubarak’s oppressive regime, he and his wife and children moved to Dubai. It was around then that the author became politically vocal about Egypt’s rotten government. He wrote, “Out of hopelessness came anger.”

The author and a friend launched a Facebook page to promote an opposition candidate to Mubarak, as another “election” was coming up in 2011. The regime’s public relations machine was a master at smearing its political enemies; so it did, early and often.

In June 2010, the author created a Facebook page to tell the world about how the Egyptian government tortured and killed a dissident, and he posted a gruesome photo of the said dissident. Users commented on it in droves. In the coming months, the author and others used social media to plan peaceful protests to bring down the Mubarak government.

The author helped spark a movement that experienced growing-pains typical for such a movement. For a while, it became a victim of its own success: when a movement grows significantly in a short time– due to the increasing number of people in it– members begin to form factions and disagree, and go off and do their own thing. So some disgruntled members sabotage the original group’s goals.

Also, the political enemies of the movement see it growing, so they send infiltrators to divide and conquer it. That is why progress has been so slow for so many seemingly large political movements, such as civil rights and feminism.

In autumn 2010, the author was starting to get emotionally burnt out. He mistakenly used his personal account that revealed his true identity. Up to then, he had been super-careful to use false identities in his social media accounts, so as to avoid being arrested, jailed, interrogated, tortured and possibly murdered.

Egyptians were encouraged by Tunisia’s street protests, which were going on around the same time. But Egypt’s problems were worse. The author took the plunge to call Egypt’s movement “Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment.” He helped shape the protest messaging that convinced the public to peacefully take to the streets on Egyptian Police Day, January 25, 2011. He explained that he opposed only human rights abuses committed by law enforcement officials, not the respectful maintenance of order.

The author learned that: his contacts and access to communications were more important than plans, because best-laid plans always go awry– conditions on the ground change rapidly, and “People’s attachment to ideas is much stronger than their attachment to individuals, who can be doubted and defamed.”

Read the book to learn the details of the backstory, and what happened next.

Panama, The Whole Story

The Book of the Week is “Panama, The Whole Story” by Kevin Buckley, published in 1991.

“Weapons cost money, and selling, or helping in the sale of, cocaine produced the enormous revenues that produced the weapons.”

As is well known, democracy is not usually a “thing” in countries that have extensive black markets in weapons and drugs. So by the mid-1980’s, Panama had become a military dictatorship.

Over the course of two decades, Manuel Noriega, a general in the Panamanian army, became the king of trade in illicit weapons and cocaine. He was cozy with president Ronald Reagan, vice president George H.W. Bush, CIA head William Casey, secretary of state George Shultz, colonel Oliver North and a few other top American officials, plus the Drug Enforcement Agency and Fidel Castro.

Noriega controlled Panama’s ports, customs and railroads. The U.S. State Department was well aware of his drug trafficking, money laundering and human rights abuses. President Reagan loved him because he provided training facilities for the Contras– the militia who were fighting supposed Communists in Nicaragua. A major goal of the Reagan administration was to provide funding, weapons and military assistance for the Contras so that Central American countries wouldn’t fall to the Communists like dominoes. Assistance by any means necessary. Even via adolescent-boy spy, secret, treasonous means.

Anyway, through the 1980’s, Noriega engaged in various actions that angered common Panamanians– including ordering a hit on one of his Panamanian political enemies. He had one major American political enemy– Senator Jesse Helms. When the senator’s assistant visited Panama on a fact-finding mission, the American press (was told to) spread smears and lies about her. In June 1986, New York Times journalist Seymour Hersh finally outed Noriega as the detestable creature that he was, revealing details of his wickedness. But the U.S. was still not ready to oust Noriega.

In June 1987, patience among ordinary Panamanians was running short. Panama’s true fearless leader Noriega had crashed the economy (never the mind the figurehead Panamanian “president”) with his dictatorial shenanigans in collaboration with the United States. A minority of Americans were also fed up. They helped form the National Civic Crusade at Panama’s Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Their goal was to oust Noriega and bring ethical behavior back to Panama’s government.

The U.S. Senate even voted to suspend Noriega’s leadership while it investigated charges that he fixed his country’s “presidential” election in 1984. February 1988 saw Noriega indicted in absentia on drug charges in Miami– which indicated that Americans finally viewed drug trafficking as more anathema than Communism(!).

In spring 1988, as per usual for a non-democratic country, government troops fired at civilian protesters in Panama City streets, killing tens or thousands (no source was able to verify its own estimate). However, a U.S. Army memo admitted that the U.S. Defense Department wanted to deny compensation to the deserving victims’ families who asserted that the U.S. was legally liable for the harm done, as there might be too huge a number of such claims.

Read the book to learn of wrenches in the works that kept Noriega in power way longer than otherwise (hint: the Panama Canal Treaties, the 1988 U.S. presidential election, Elliott Abrams’ misleading pronouncements, etc., etc., etc.) and the events that finally forced matters to come to a head (hint: 23 Americans died in the fighting.)