North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Monday, September 24, 2012

al Qaeda-Islamist attack on 9/11/12 - just a "bump in the road"?

On September 11, 2012, eleven years after the twin towers attack in New York City, Muslim protests erupted in two Arab countries Egypt and Libya, and nearly two weeks later, had been seen in Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Gaza, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Lebanon, Greece, and Turkey.

Western Embassies targeted by Muslim protests

The first protests, while genuine and against what the crowds had been told was a film insulting the Prophet Mohammed, were initially described as "spontaneous" though that description quickly lost credibility over the next few days. The remaining protests became more and more clearly understood as being the work of Islamists or governments intent on whipping up anti-Western sentiment in broad terms.

In particular, Lebanon's Hezbollah Islamist leader, Sheikh Nasrallah, was delighted with the opportunity. He called for a week of protests not only against American embassies, but also to press Muslim governments to express their own anger to the US. He branded the video an "unprecedented" insult to Islam - worse, he said, than Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses and the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which were published in a Danish newspaper in 2005.

Most sobering, the death toll itself began climbing immediately on September 11 with the killing of the US Ambassador to Libya along with three other American diplomatic staff who had been trapped in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Through today, 30 more have been reported dead: four NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, 15 Pakistanis involved in the protests in that country, and 11 Libyans.

The unrest seems to be subsiding, though Monday, September 24th, a Pakistani lawmaker placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the alleged filmmaker from California, even as Pakistan's government distanced itself from that lawmaker's call.

The most shocking incident occurred in Libya, where US Ambassador Chris Stevens - a strong supporter of the promises possible within the "Arab Spring" and fluent in Arabic - along with three other of his diplomatic staff were hunted down and killed.

Even in Greece, riot police had to be called out to contain Muslim protests. French and German embassies were also targeted in various countries in the past dozen days.

The fundamental details in this spasm of violence remain disputed

* The US Embassy in Egypt, which had been breached for hours by protestors on September 11, quickly apologized to the crowds for the film. That apology however, was later disputed by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and later rescinded or "clarified" differently by the White House.

* The "film" was described as being produced by a variety of culprits. One after another, names surfaced as to who was responsible. First, there were reports that it was the work of the infamous Koran-burning pastor from Florida Terry Jones, next by a Coptic Christian, then a Californian named Steve Klein and finally along came another mysterious consultant called Sam Bacile. As a week passed, there were accusations of others being involved, characterized interestingly as a "Jew" or an "evangelical Christian" each increasingly appearing as continuing attempts to provide the right labels to keep the outrage alive.

* Reports after the first few days, however, showed up backing down slightly from the film. For example, the film was described as "a crude effort", then alternatively a homemade video, (which incidentally had been on you-tube for over two months). After a full week since the killings in Libya, and after the media had generated stories by the hundreds accepting the "film" label, the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor both published articles noting that the word Muhammed was dubbed over in post-production, as were essentially all other offensive references to Islam. Each article questioned whether this film/video with the intent to insult the Prophet was genuine, or had someone doctored it with religious terms for their own purposes.

Nevertheless, the organizers of the protests have carried the day, and the dominant media narrative remains "an insulting film."

US stumbles on reaction

* The White House stuck to the story for several days that the US ambassador was killed by protestors, in spite of numerous claims, including by the Libyan government itself, that the killers were either Islamist militias or an al-Qaeda affiliate - Ansar al-Sharia or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb - taking advantage of the protests.

* After the evidence grew overwhelming, President Obama vowed that the killers would be brought to justice and that Marines were being sent to bolster security in a number of embassies. Two destroyers were moved towards the Libyan coast.

* Yet after a week of relative silence in the search for those responsible, Libyans themselves took it upon themselves to rush known Islamist militia strongholds in Benghazi and other cities and chased them out at the cost of another eleven dead. Apparently the US, with all its military and intelligence assets could not ferret out what the locals knew, or did not calculate that it was worth the effort to bring them to said justice.

What is next?

The challenge is on for most Arab governments (Iran and Gaza probably the exceptions) to balance the anger whipped up over the film or video, with the responsibility to provide security for Western embassies. For example, Egypt's new President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist who is Egypt’s first freely elected president said "Expressing opinion, freedom to protest and announcing positions is guaranteed but without assaulting private or public property, diplomatic missions or embassies.”

Protests okay (staged and encouraged) in Muslim countries, along with fatwas, but not free speech in Western countries?

The US administration is under pressure with questions of why more security was not being provided for staff at embassies in volatile nations - reports are that Marines at the Egyptian embassy were not allowed to carry live ammunition.

President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, White House spokesman Jay Carney, have yet to agree on the timetable of events, their policy position, and the importance of future actions

President Obama was under scrutiny by a growing number of journalists for his low-key, and unclear stance regarding the US ambassador killing and response as well as his statement just today. "In the interview itself, Obama was responding when asked if recent events in the Middle East gave him pause for supporting governments that came to power following a wave of regime changes known as the Arab Spring.

He said he has long noted that events were going to be rocky, adding that the question itself ‘‘presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change.’’

‘‘I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights. ... But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because — you know, in a lot of these places — the one organizing principle has been Islam.’

In the next few days, a UN gathering of world leaders in New York City will provide plenty of opportunity for inflaming rhetoric, vague contradictory platitudes, and one might only hope a few more courageous and wise observations of leadership.

Iran's president anticipating his remarks on the world stage ...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

More Pacific island tensions - this time between China and Japan

Lots of issues out there - the ongoing Yemen conflict, a new President elected in Somalia, Syria's continued bloodletting, the newest projection of when Iran might get a nuclear bomb, etc.

But a trend perhaps more newsworthy is the growing series of tensions over islands between Asian neighbors. Most, but not all have to do with China and its robust claims to a variety of island chains. The latest is a spat between Japan and China.

The Christian Science Monitor seems to be covering the story quite comprehensively, so much of the following comes from that news source.

The dispute, the article begins, between China and Japan is over the Senkaku Islands, five islets and three rocky outcroppings, and revolves around who got there first. China calls them the Diaoyu Islands and dates its authority there to the 14th century. Japan annexed them in 1895 after finding them uninhabited.

Japan's foreign ministry cites surveys in 1885 confirming they were "uninhabited" with "no trace of having been under the control of China." The government of Japan in January 1895 decided to incorporate the islands and to place a marker on one of them declaring them to be part of Japan. On the other hand, the Chinese claim that the islands appear on Ming Dynasty maps.

Click on image for full picture
The Senkaku islands - as Japan names them, or the Diaoyu islands according to the Chinese - are at the center of this latest tension.

We might first jump back to the aftermath of World War II when Japan was a defeated nation, and China was in the latter stages of a civil war between Mao's forces and those of the Nationalist government. US forces had driven the Japanese from the island prefecture of Okinawa in June 1945 in one of the last Pacific island battles of World War II. The islands, 220 miles southwest of Okinawa, had been governed by Okinawa under the Japanese.

As de facto holders of a variety of islands and territories after the end of the war, apparently neither the Communist government on the mainland nor the "Nationalist" Chinese government having retreating to the island province of Taiwan, objected when the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 placed the islands under US administrative control.

The two Chinese governments - in Beijing and Taiwan - got interested in 1970 after a United Nations study showed there might be oil and gas in the seabed around the islands. The island cluster is 76 miles from Taiwan, 92 miles from the closest Japanese island, and 100 miles from the coast of China.

Oil and gas fields that are becoming increasingly viable for drilling may have something to do with the current escalation of tensions

Japan regained governing control in 1972 under the "reversion" of Okinawa to Japan. Since then, Japanese Coast Guard boats have been on regular patrol to prevent intrusion, mostly by Chinese fishing boats.

The original official "owner" was a Japanese man who set up a fish plant in the late 1800s, employing about 200 workers in the factory. The business survived for 50 years but finally failed in 1940 while Japanese forces were reigning supreme over much of China, the Korean Peninsula, and Southeast Asia more than a year before bombing Pearl Harbor. His family sold the islands to another Japanese family, and up to the present time, this new Kurihara family has been leasing the islands to the Japanese government.

Jumping forward to today, the islands are covered by jungle. There are no rivers, and fresh water from rainfall is at a premium. Certain wildlife exists, including rare species of moles and ants, however small goats, introduced more than 30 years ago, have multiplied and become a threat to vegetation.

Not much on these islands themselves

Apparently a proposal from Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara to buy the islands from the Kurihara family for the capital city's ownership was made - a gesture that not only upset the Chinese, but the Japanese government as well. And it is not just mainland China in this case who has its hackles raised. China and Taiwan are equally adamant about the Chinese claim to the islands. Nevertheless, the Japanese government on Tuesday, in order to clarify ownership - NOT to end disputed claims of sovereignty - signed a contract with the Kurihara family, the private owner of the islands.

While in this case, it appears Japan has brought forward an action that has upset an uneasy but quiet status quo, China has much of South Asia in a buzz over its own expansive claims of ownership further to the south. And China's anger over the Japanese purchase has resulted in Chinese patrol ships being sent to the islands waters - not exactly a cooling-of-tensions type of move.

Click on image for full picture

For further reading the Christian Science Monitor has an article titled, "Top 5 East Asia island disputes" at

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And so passes on Sun Myung Moon, the Korean-born founder of the Unification Church and self-proclaimed messiah

"Sun Myung Moon, the Korean-born founder of the Unification Church and self-proclaimed messiah who built a secretive global business empire that sells cars, guns, newspapers and sushi, has died. He was 92." So reports the San Francisco Chronicle, which goes on to note, "To thousands of followers, Moon was the benevolent “True Father” who was asked by Jesus to complete his unfinished mission on Earth. To detractors, he was a megalomaniacal cult leader who exploited disciples though brainwashing, separated them from their families and used their labor to amass a personal fortune."

Moon and his wife Han Hak Ja, attending a mass wedding event, which will be noted later. Han Hak Ja,known to followers as the “True Mother,” gave birth to 14 children.

Reverend Moon and the Unification Church is an interesting story, but probably without global importance. He was nonetheless a personality in South Korean history as well as a presence in the US - perhaps at the very least a figure that should give us pause as to what we believe in and who we follow.

Reverend Moon - the person

Moon was born in a province of what is now North Korea in 1920, which at that time was under military control of an aggressive, expansive Japanese government. Somehow, Moon is found to have worked past his status as an individual in a conquered nation, and attended Waseda University in Tokyo itself from April 1941 to September 1943 (during the beginning war years), when he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. According to the Brittanica (yes, the famous encyclopedia makers), early on, " at the age of 16 he had a vision of Jesus Christ in which he was told to carry out Christ’s unfinished task. Moon believed that God chose him to save mankind from Satanism, and he regarded communists as Satan’s representatives in the world.

The young Moon at the beginning of his religious rise

After the end of WW II, Moon began to preach his doctrines in Korea in 1946. Two years later he was excommunicated by the Korean Presbyterian Church, and shortly thereafter he was imprisoned by the North Korean authorities for reasons that are not entirely clear. In 1950 he escaped—or was released—and fled to South Korea, where he founded what was to become the Unification Church. This was, of course, the year when the Korean conflict erupted...

Korea and Japan, home to Sun Myung Moon from birth into his 50's when he moved to the US

In the early 1970s he began full-scale missionary operations in the United States. As young people were drawn into the movement, Moon incurred widespread hostility from the parents of followers, who believed that their children had been unfairly indoctrinated. Other controversies also mounted over the movement’s fund-raising techniques, as well as over immigration issues and tax manipulation.

Moon and his wife (second wife) were respectively addressed as “Father” and “Mother” by disciples, for whom the two epitomized God’s ideal family. In 1973 the Moons moved their headquarters to Tarrytown, New York, operating from there an international network of businesses. Bullet points follow from a variety of sources:

* In 1975, Moon sponsored one of the largest peaceful gatherings in history (1.2 million people) in Yoido, South Korea. That same year, he sponsored a rally of 300,000 by the Washington Monument in Washington D.C..

From the Unification church website, "During a Day of Hope tour, ... a rally at Yoido Island near Seoul was attended by 1.2 million people. Reverend Moon spoke a message of determination to stand against communism in South Korea and establish a world centered on God, at the height of the Cold War during a time of great tension between North and South Korea."

* Diversifying into media in 1982, Moon sponsored the US$50 million movie "Inchon" about the Korean War, and founded a newspaper, The Washington Times. (That year he was also convicted of tax evasion, sentenced to 18 months in prison, and fined $25,000; he went to prison in 1984.)

*In 2000, Moon sponsored a United Nations conference which proposed the formation of "a religious assembly, or council of religious representatives, within the structure of the United Nations." In the same year, he joined with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in sponsoring the Million Family March in Washington D.C., a follow-up event to the Million Man March held in 1995. He also launched activities in China and opened an office in the Health Ministry of China in Beijing that same year.

* In 2005, at the age of 85, Moon inaugurated the Universal Peace Federation with a 120-city world speaking tour. At each city, Moon delivered his speech titled "God's Ideal Family – the Model for World Peace".

*In April 2008, Moon appointed his youngest son Hyung Jin Moon to be the new leader of the Unification Church and the worldwide Unification Movement, saying, "I hope everyone helps him so that he may fulfill his duty as the successor of the True Parents."

Hyung-jin Moon, youngest son of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon preaches to believers during a 2009 service at a Unification Church in Seoul, South Korea. Moon's U.S.-born youngest son, Hyung-jin Moon, was named the church's top religious director in 2008. Other children run the church's businesses and charitable activities

*In 2009, Moon's autobiography, As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, was published in South Korea which became a best-seller in Korea and Japan.

The Unification Church

Officially called "The Holy Spirit(ual) Association for the Unification of World Christianity," the church has 5-7 million adherents worldwide according to its public relations office (or had), but by most accounts the numbers are much smaller.

Members of the Unification Church believe that Moon is the Messiah and claim that there is "no room to challenging Moon...history will answer whether Moon is the new messiah". Moon himself gave the following answer to the question of whether he is the messiah or not: "Yes I am. But so are you." Then he pointed to each person around him: "And so are you, and you, and you."

The Unification Church is well known for its wedding or marriage re-dedication ceremonies, given to married (or engaged) couples. Through it, members of the Unification Church believe, the couple is removed from the lineage of sinful humanity and engrafted into God's sinless lineage.

An iconic mass wedding, something close and dear to the Unification church.

Well, enough of this - Unification Church doctrine can be looked up if one wishes to review its framework of belief. This quite energetic man himself has now passed on, and reports are already surfacing that his children will have their hands full in continuing the religious and business empire. One can only point out how quickly people seek out leaders, and there is no shortage of would-be leaders willing to accept that role.