Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The places I haven’t surfed…

Photo of Wadi Naga, Libya, copyright Anthony Colas.
In over four decades of surfing (is it that long?) I’ve really been blessed; I’ve ridden waves in Reunion, Indonesia, Morocco, Namibia, Namaqualand and the Wild Coast, and a host of uncrowded spots that now feature in magazines.

Looking back, I could say that “those were the days”, but I won’t – not yet. There are still plenty of waves to be ridden, even if in slow motion.  

Admittedly for the past decade or so I haven’t done a lot of surf trips. Yet, somehow, I’ve still managed to fill my passport visiting places where there is surf. Gaza, Libya, Lebanon and Somalia may have their challenges, but I can assure you, there are waves there.

The problem is that I’ve never been able to surf them. My missions (as a journalist) have been work-related, so loading a surfboard on to the cargo plane amongst the satellite dishes, flak jackets and survival gear has never been an option.

But bet your bottom dollar, there’s a time on these kinds of assignments when, amidst the chaos, you will find waves. Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now, has got one of the most classic surf scenes because it’s so unexpected.

It’s also called Murphy’s Law – travel without a board, and the swell will follow you. This first happened to me along the Mediterranean in March 1997 in Tripoli, Libya, where I’d been covering a conference.

It was the era of the Lockerbie sanctions, and as no flights could land in Libya, I had to catch a ferry to Malta. A storm had brewed for several days, and my departure had been delayed.

From my beachfront hotel I could see surfable waves pitching and crashing on to a beach. I’d driven along the coast – some of it the most unspoilt in the Med – and seen Roman ruins and really promising headlands. With this swell running, who knew what lay around the corner?

I wondered whether I could find a surfboard. The trouble was that I did not know what the Arabic for “surfboard” was. The closest I got to “surfboard” was “ship”.  And even in translation, the surfing conversation died in tangle of confusion. There were obviously no surfboards in Libya in 1997.

I went back to Libya in March last year at the height of the Arab Spring. On the internet I’d learnt that 130 kms east of Tripoli was the Med’s longest left, Wadi Naga. I was sure I’d seen it in 1997. Ras Lanuf (the word “ras” means “point”) further east than Wadi Naga also popped up on the screen as being surfable.

Because of the war, I never did get to Wada Naga because Gaddafi’s son, Hannibal, was shelling from the sea, cutting off the Tripoli highway. I did sneak into Ras Lanuf, though, one evening.

Ras Lanuf was deserted, but there were swell lines. Then the message came through that Gaddafi’s mercenaries were on their way, and so we had to beat a hasty retreat. But don’t let anybody tell you there’s no surf in Libya. There is.

In the Gaza Strip – a thin Palestinian slice of land cut off from the world – there are some fine beaches. In 2006 whilst covering the Palestinian elections I woke up one January morning to see a big swell.

Israelis from the disbanded Gush Katif settlement had surfed the coast, and now, a group of young Palestinians had become the locals. The Los Angeles Times had featured a story of them sharing a surfboard at Al-Deira beach.

The father of Israeli surfing, Dr Dorian Paskowitz (who’d taken six longboards to Tel Aviv in 1956 and given the first one to an Arab lifeguard) saw the story and collected 12 or so boards – one reportedly donated by multiple world champ Kelly Slater, who is of Lebanese descent.

Then 86 years-old, Paskowitz flew from California to the Erez checkpoint – and with the help of a group called Surfers for Peace – blustered his way past the soldiers to hand over the boards.

In nearby Lebanon there are two surfing spots I know of: Jonas Beach (apparently named after Jonah in the bible) and Batroun. Both spots are south of Beirut, and on one of my earlier trips, used to travel down the coast to Sidon where a billboard featured an unidentified surfer at Waimea Bay.

In the 2006 conflict I can remember being awoken every dawn by the deafening crump of Israeli shelling. It was summer, and the Med was calm, even if everything else wasn’t.

One day, our Lebanese host decided to take us for ice-cream. After detouring into the mountains outside Beirut (the coastal highway was monitored by drones) we descended into a seaside town. It was Batroun, and in a rocky bay there were two body-boarders flopping about in a flaccid shore-break.

It was the same kind of surprise I got in Karachi, a throbbing Pakistan city best described as Durban overdosed on steroids, poverty and grime. In a crumbly shore-break I saw a body-boarder duck-diving under a brown wave whose faecal ecoli count was probably higher than my hotel toilet bowl. 

But the most productive trip (surf-wise) of all was Somalia last year. Somalia is on the eastern horn of Africa, and abuts into the Indian Ocean where there are powerful swells, especially during the monsoon.

En-route to Mogadishu our chartered plane stopped in Mombasa, Kenya, to refuel. We then flew up the Pirate Coast towards Mogadishu. I had a window seat. Looking out I could not believe my eyes. Below me were lagooned beaches and coral reefs. I saw V after V marked by white water, the unmistakeable sign of surf zones.

If anybody tells you there’s no surf in northern Kenya and southern Somalia, they’re lying. From about 20,000 feet up – and out of the range of rocket launchers – I saw uncharted waves.

Mogadishu’s runway requires that the plane come in from the sea – something like Bali – and as we skimmed over the swells, I could see that this once beautiful “jewel of the Horn” had great potential.

In fact, close to the airport and near to the “Pink Building” – according to locals a CIA listening post and an Al-Qaeda holding station – there was a headland and a small bay of some promise.

Unfortunately, our movement was governed by the security situation. Every night we could hear Al-Shabab and African Union forces exchanging mortar fire near the beach. We could not move anywhere without being accompanied by our “technicals” – half a dozen heavily-armed  militias in a battered 4X4.

But let me tell you one thing: the moment peace descends upon this beautiful, but tormented land brutally scarred by war and piracy, I’ll be back. There’s unfinished business.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

South African Zionism = Apartheid Squared

South Africa, 1987.
RECENTLY there has been a determined, if not desperate flurry of letter writing to the press by the South African Zionist Federation. Strong sentiments on Israel at the African National Congress policy conference at Gallagher Estate near Johannesburg earlier this year has got the lobby in a flutter.

Trade Minister Rob Davie’s proposal – now adopted by Cabinet – that goods manufactured in West Bank settlements (deemed illegal by international law) should state “made in Palestine” instead of “made in Israel”, has caused protest. 

The statement by Deputy International Relations Minister, Ebrahim Ebrahim, that trade visits to Israel should be discouraged, has angered the lobby, who now have the former activist lined up in their sights.

Ebrahim has become the victim of an insidious campaign. The tactic is to play the phobia card. The claim is that the South African Muslim community is being pandered to (on the Palestinian issue) to buy ANC votes.

The suggestion that the South African Jewish community is being “sacrificed” in the process – or to put it more bluntly, is a victim of ANC anti-Semitism – is as mischievous as it is misleading. One of the SAZF’s most vilified pro-Palestinian organisations, Open Shuhada Street, has local Jewish human rights activists in its ranks.

The other manufactured perception, that Israel is being especially targeted by the ANC after its policy conference, is laughable. The foreign policy report also mentions the Congo, Egypt, Libya, Haiti, Cuba, Syria and Iran. South African foreign policy, as skewed as it may seem to the SAZF or anyone else, is not just focused on one country.

So when I’m told in reply – after mentioning some of these things in an op-ed in a local newspaper – that I should be grateful that Israel invented the USB memory stick, I can only sigh. This is from the same source that glibly suggested South Africa needed Israel to solve its post-apartheid challenges.

Of course, this has not been the first – and nor will it be the last – example of gobbledegook emanating from the Zionist camp; a camp whose desperate spinning – or hasbara – becomes less credible the more threatened it becomes. Admittedly, it must be a tough job when nobody believes you.

This is because the Mearsheimer Report, and other related research in the US on Jewish opinion, is indicating clearly that Israel is slipping significantly down the ladder of importance amongst Diaspora communities.  

In an attempt to engender sympathy, Israel complains garrulously that Islamic fundamentalism is banging at its gates and threatening Jewish identity, but neglects to mention the rise of religious fundamentalism in Israel itself, or that some of the most vociferous anti-Zionist voices in the world are Jewish.

But, no, the largely secular SAZF – like most of its sister bodies around the globe – will spuriously claim to be the authentic voice of Judaism. Jews of conscience (and there are many) will either be ignored or deemed “self-loathing”.

The South African Zionist Federation (one of the most proactive of the Zionist federations) has historically hidden behind two skirts –the first one being contrived victimisation (not the topic here) and the second one apartheid.

I was reminded of it the other day by human rights campaigner, Zackie Achmat, in an interview about the “made in Israel” cabinet decision. When talking about Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim becoming the bête-noire of the Zionist lobby, he suggested that members of the SAZF were being self-righteous.

Their allegations of victimhood with regards to the ANC were hypocritical. During the sanctions era they had co-operated with Israel who broke the rules, and furthermore as whites, had benefitted from apartheid’s preferential decrees.

Indeed, it is the apartheid memory that begins to explain why the SAZF says what it does on Israel in such a spirit of denial, and why former Rand Daily Mail journalist, Benjamin Progrund, was sent to South Africa to explain to us that there was oppression, but no apartheid in Israel. 

To see Progrund, an eloquent and respected journalist familiar with South African apartheid, trying to justify this was a low point in my career; it was like watching an elderly uncle getting lost in Wonderland.

The point is that Israel practices apartheid, which in its case is systemic discrimination against Palestinians. Apartheid has been codified as a crime against humanity by the international community. And so in terms of generic definition, its practice is not a carbon copy of South Africa.

This is a cute debating trick used by some protagonists, who say that Israel is not South Africa. The statement is true, yes, but the premise that follows is a fig leaf.

As South Africans, the SAZF should know better. Much better. But when it comes to Israel, we have to ask why a South African organisation in 2012 will still suffer from the same delusional denial that most whites did under apartheid in 1976.  

No sensible person, God forbid, is propagating the extinction of Israelis. The liberation movements in South Africa never espoused the extinction of whites. The Palestinian liberation struggle has exactly the same outlook.  Those with a human rights conscience are merely asking for Israel to negotiate a just and enduring peace.

However, it has to be remembered peace is hardly ever negotiated between people who like each other. But, at the same time, it cannot become an international stunt to buy another five years of apartheid domination for Israel.

Apartheid builds all kinds of artificial barriers between peoples, and one has to ask whether members of the SAZF on their visits to Israel have ever met Palestinians, or even travelled to the West Bank.

In the same vein, we have to ask how many have spent time in a township – or even inter-acted on a meaningful level with fellow South Africans who suffered under apartheid. And if they have, why haven’t they connected the dotted lines?

Sadly, judging by its knee-jerk petitioning it is evident that the SAZF – which insists on defending the indefensible – has not moved on since 1994. I’m afraid that the apartheid era virus is still very much alive in the South African body. In fact, I would venture that mathematically and ideologically, the South African Zionist Federation equals apartheid squared.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Tomb demolitions - the footprints of Saudi Arabia are everywhere

Even in Cape Town the Wahhabi
footprint is evident.
WHEN Ibn Sa’ud’s illiterate tribesmen, the half-naked Bedouin ikhwan, butchered 4,000 inhabitants of Taif in the 18th century and ransacked its libraries, they used the leather covers of the vandalised holy books to make sandals.

Whipped up by the angry theology of the Najdi cleric, Ibn ‘Abd ul-Wahhab, Ibn Sa’ud’s warriors had been brainwashed into thinking that the fellow Muslims they were fighting were infidels and polytheists.

They would also try to dynamite the tomb of Ibn ‘Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet [SAW]. It is related that when a smell of musk emanated from the grave, and the explosives refused to ignite, the superstitious tribesmen scattered in terror.

Ibn Sa’ud’s men would then march on Karbala in Iraq. There they would smash the tomb of Sayyidina Hussein – the nephew of the Prophet [SAW] – and slaughter thousands of the Shi’ah; a sect whom they’d been told were unbelievers, and whose blood it was halal to shed.

After the Wahhabis had swarmed into Syria and Yemen and prevented people from performing the Hajj, the alarmed Ottoman Caliph, Mahmud II, sent troops from Egypt in 1811 to quell them.

In 1923 the Wahhabis would be emboldened by the demise of the Ottoman Caliphate, and under Abd ul-‘Aziz ibn Sa’ud would besiege the Prophet’s city of Madinah.

They would destroy Jannat ul-Baqi’, Islam’s most historic burial site, and demolish the tomb of the Prophet’s uncle, Hamzah, at Uhud – the graveyard the Prophet [SAW] used to visit annually, and where he’d told his Companions that they could visit the dead.

Moving on to Makkah, Islam’s most sacred city, the Wahhabis would set the Ka’bah alight. They would flatten the Jannat ul-Mu’ala housing the mausoleum of Khadijah, the wife of the Prophet [SAW]. The Makkan Sharifs, descendants of the Prophet [SAW] who’d ruled Hijaz for centuries, would be deposed.

By 1925 the Wahhabis had conquered most of the Arabian Peninsula, most history books omitting to mention that it took 40,000 beheadings and 350,000 amputations to stamp their authority. Saudi Arabia (formerly the Hijaz) became a self-declared monarchy. The kingdom aligned itself with Britain and then after the discovery of oil, the USA.

Saudi Arabia’s toxic faith, as Time Magazine called it, was tolerated almost unquestioningly by the major powers because of the country’s oil wealth until 9/11 – and the sober realisation that the al-Qaedah-Salafi phenomenon haunting the west was, in fact, a Saudi Arabian export.

This export – flat-earth extremism – is seen today in the Middle East and North Africa where posses of religious gangsters have been destroying centuries’ old tombs and madrasahs from Misrata to Mali.

The Saudi footprint is everywhere. Sources in Tripoli have confirmed that Saudi clerics have been egging on their Libyan protégés to break down the Sufi shrines and – in a move unprecedented in the history of Islam – to dispose of the bodies.

This shocking development is made even more shocking by the Salafi-Wahhabi’s disrespect for Hadith. Prophetic tradition states that the dead should be accorded the same honour as the living.

As I’ve already said, these grave bashers have either been brainwashed at Saudi seminaries, or have been seduced by the missionary work of the Saudi establishment, an establishment that has lavished billions of petro-dollars on the project of “Wahhabising” the Muslim world.

That the young vandals call themselves “Salafis” – in deference to the pious era after the death of the Prophet [SAW] – is richly ironical and an insult to the name. Many of the graves destroyed by these armed groups are, in fact, of the true Salafis.

Admittedly, the Salafi-Wahhabis – as I prefer to call these people – might be sincere. But surely that should not mean we have to condone their misguided devoutness and compounded ignorance?

“Tacitire et consente” goes the Latin maxim that says “silence is consent”. And by keeping quiet as it appears to do, our community not only reinforces all the unpleasant stereotypes of mainstream Sunni Islam, but also gives undeserving credibility to the fanatical fringes of the Muslim world.

There’s a baffling lack of perspective on the issue. For if a Zionist swats an Arab fly there’s an uproar, but let a Salafi-Wahhabi blow up an Islamic historical monument, and there’s hardly a whisper. Indeed, why have our leading organisations been so mum?

Somebody needs to speak out. For how much longer can we allow ourselves to be held to ransom by an extremist fringe acting in our name? For how much longer can we tolerate our heritage being smashed to pieces?

The Salafi-Wahhabis, who deceitfully claim to be the Sunni mainstream, have a historical pedigree that leads directly to the bloodthirsty mischief of the hyper-literalist Khawarij. This is a 7th century extremist sect that broke away from Sayyidina ‘Ali (the fourth Righteous Caliph) and murdered him.

There also needs to be some honesty about that the fact that the Prophet [SAW] expressly refused to bless the Najd, the region where Wahhabism originated, saying that from it would emerge great tribulation.

We have to remember that the false prophet, Musailimah al-Kadhab, who tried to institute a rival Shari’ah to the Prophet [SAW], hailed from the Najd – as did Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab, who felt that the Islam of his era was so wayward it needed “reforming”.

He was obsessed with tawhid – the theological oneness of Allah – in spite of the Prophet [SAW] having said that polytheism would never trouble the Muslims. Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab even wrote a manifesto on the topic, which was littered with allusions to unbelief and, of course, polytheism.

He felt that Islam had to go back to its roots. But his “reform” of Islam did not see an enrichment of it, but rather a clumsy literalistic reduction, as well as the high-handed discarding of classical views that did not suit his own. He even declared intellectual giants such as Imam al-Ghazali and Ibn Arabi as being kafir.

Apart from spurning the four schools of legal thought (or madh-haib) he declared, in stark contradiction to mainstream Sunni thought, that visiting graves was polytheistic. This is where today’s cultural genocide in Somalia, Libya and Egypt – as well as many other parts of the Muslim world – stems from.

It reflects an arrogance that is breathtaking in its scope – the patronising assumption that our faith is as weak as the Wahhabis, who so abjectly fear that they’ll become polytheists if they say Fatihah over the dead, or commemorate birthdays.

But Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab’s most sinister contribution to Islam was his notion of takfir, declaring unbelief on others not agreeing with him, and mischievously deeming that they were infidels who could be punished if they did so.

Space does not permit further elaboration on the theological innovations of Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab, a specious fraud, who has poisoned the vein of the Islamic world for the past 200 years. Suffice it to say that when he started preaching his obscurantist ideas, Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab’s teacher Shaikh Suleiman al-Kurdi, and his own father and brother, condemned him.

He was even chased out of his home by angry villagers. Only when Ibn Sa’ud took him under his wing, did the Najdi cleric prosper. For the wily and ambitious tribal chieftain there were huge political benefits in declaring unbelief against those who disagreed with him.
In this way he could justify bloody and vengeful “jihad” against his rivals. Furthermore, Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab’s simplistic canons could be harnessed to create unity amongst the fractious Bedouin tribes. This ideological pact – Ibn Sa’ud looking after power and Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab faith – was sealed with the marriage of Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab to Ibn Sa’ud’s daughter.

To this day, the mufti of Saudi Arabia hails from the line of Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab. It is this “agreement” that all society needs to know about. Salafi-Wahhabism has as little to do with faith as Zionism has to do with Orthodox Judaism. It is a subterfuge for a crude totalitarian political agenda that is consuming all of us, from the Cape to Cairo, like a cancer.