Tag Archives: West Africa

QUEEN ELIZABETH LONGEST REIGNING MONARCH

Westminster Abbey's bells will peal, a flotilla will sail down the River Thames and a gun salute will ring out on Wednesday as Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history.
Westminster Abbey’s bells will peal, a flotilla will sail down the River Thames and a gun salute will ring out on Wednesday as Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history.

Today at 5.30pm British Summer Time, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British history, overtaking the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.

She still has some way to go to pass the longest reigning European monarchs,   Austrian Emperor Franz Josef (1848-1916) and France’s Louis XIV (1643-1715).   However, the latter doesn’t really count as he was only five when he became “king,” meaning that his mother and Cardinal Mazarin ruled in his place.

Thailand’s current king was crowned in May 1950 so he’s been around even longer than the British monarch.

A PBS documentary on the queen aired last week.   The one-hour documentary is available on DVD.   It’s part of the “In their own words” occasional series.   There was one mistake in the program when a BBC broadcast announcing that “the king’s life draws peacefully to a close” was applied to her father, King George VI, who died in 1952.   The recording dates to January 1936 when his father, George V, was dying.   The queen’s father was found dead in bed on February 6th, 1952.   He had been out hunting the previous day. Elizabeth and her husband were in Kenya, on a tour of the empire, when he died.

The monarchy goes back over one thousand years.  It has evolved through the centuries into today’s constitutional monarchy.   The system has worked very well, giving Britain and the other Commonwealth realms (which include Canada, Australia and New Zealand) an unparalleled period of political stability, without which economic progress is difficult to achieve.

The very complimentary documentary highlighted Elizabeth’s role as constitutional monarch, using her influence rather than authority in chaperoning the country for over sixty years.   It’s been a time of unprecedented change, as was Victoria’s in the nineteenth century.

The program began with then Princess Elizabeth’s 21st birthday broadcast from Cape Town, South Africa.   In her own words she pledged herself to serve “the great imperial family to which we all belong,” a reference to the Empire and Commonwealth, which included South Africa.

Immediately after these words were shown on the documentary, a royal expert then added a comment about her lifelong service to Britain.

There’s a blind spot here, which obscures Britain’s incredible decline during her reign.   As she is a constitutional monarch, the blame for this decline rests with the politicians, especially the twelve British prime ministers who have served under her.   Her Canadian, Australian and New Zealand prime ministers can also share some of that responsibility.

The fact is that the British Empire has gone and its successor, the Commonwealth (the “British” was dropped 50 years ago) is no more than a shadow of what it was.   It may not even survive the queen’s passing.   The queen remains Head of State of 16 countries and has 138 million subjects.   She is also titular Head of the Commonwealth, an organization of 54 former colonies.   It remains to be seen if Prince Charles will be able to hold it all together after he succeeds his mother.

Sir John Major, her ninth British prime minister, said in the documentary that throughout all the changes of the last six decades, the queen has been the one “constant” in the country, giving a sense of continuity and stability during monumental and significant changes.   This is true, but it hides some painful realities.

The loss of empire saw a rapid decline in global power.   The country’s military capability is about one-twelfth of what it was at the beginning of her reign – and continues to decline even under a Conservative administration.   The queen’s international role remains at the core of British “soft power,” along with the BBC World Service and British aid.   This soft power has replaced the strong military power it used to have.

With the empire gone, Britain entered the European Common Market (now the European Union), which has progressively taken away the UK’s independence.   Under the EU’s freedom of movement rules, millions of people from other European countries have been able to move to Britain, changing the composition of the nation’s population.

Added to this has been mass immigration from Commonwealth countries like India and Pakistan.

The changes are so significant, it’s fair to say that the Great Britain she inherited in 1952 and the Great Britain of today are two very different countries.   It’s amusing to remember that in 1949, when she was Princess Elizabeth, she spoke out against the evils of divorce.   The nation would not take kindly to such comments today and the queen would not be qualified to speak on the subject anyway as her own family has seen a few divorces.

None of this detracts from the great accomplishments of Elizabeth II.   She has set an incredible example of service.   Her sense of duty is unsurpassed by anybody in any field.   In her own personal private life she has set a fine example, never putting a foot wrong.

In many ways, the world was a better place when the Queen ascended the throne on February 6th, 1952 (the Coronation was in June the following year).   At that time, she presided over the greatest empire in history.   As countries were given independence, all too often they were taken over by self-serving bad leaders who destroyed much of what Britain had accomplished, enriching themselves by stealing from their own people.   They were often from the lowest echelons of society, suddenly receiving absolute power, which they abused in every way.

I remember an incident 35 years ago at a time when Ghana, in West Africa, was going through a long period of political instability and economic chaos, I stopped to buy some food at the side of the road. When I opened my wallet, the lady who was selling me the items, saw a British bank note with the portrait of the queen on it.   The lady sighed and said:   “Ah, Queen Elizabeth.   She used to be our queen.   Now we have so many presidents, we cannot count them all. And we are in such a mess.   And England still has the queen.”   Stability is so important.

Two verses in the Book of Ecclesiastes illustrate this so well:

“Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
And your princes feast in the morning!
Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles,
And your princes feast at the proper time —
For strength and not for drunkenness!”   (Eccl. 10:16-17.)

Britain has been greatly blessed with Elizabeth II as Queen.

As many are saying today:    “Long may she reign!”

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DID A DYING PRINCE ALBERT SAVE A DYING UNITED STATES?

Our Man in Charleston

I’m currently reading a new non-fiction book that may interest some of you.   It tells the story of the British Consul in Charleston, South Carolina, in the years leading up to and into the US Civil War (1861 to 1865).

When southern states seceded from the United States, the hope across the Confederacy was that they would receive support from the British government.   Britain was the greatest power in the world at the time and had the most powerful military.   They had a great deal of support in the British press.   British commercial interests strongly suggested the United Kingdom would support the South – the UK was the biggest importer of southern cotton, which was needed to feed the clothing factories in the North of England.

The British government’s Consul in Charleston was Robert Bunch, who lived in the city with his wife and children.   His instructions were to ingratiate himself with prominent citizens and report to London.   His reports to the British government, via the Ambassador in Washington, Lord Lyons, were highly influential in determining Britain’s attitude toward the breakaway republic.

Great Britain had abolished the slave trade in 1807, the first major power to do so.   With the world’s most powerful navy, the British took it upon themselves to stop vessels on the high seas and free any slaves they found.   The US followed one year later, but American vessels continued to transport slaves from West Africa, where African leaders continued the practice.   These slave ships transported people in the most horrible conditions, many dying en route.   The Royal Navy’s ships were kept busy along the West African coast throughout the nineteenth century.

Bunch was repulsed by slavery and by those who kept slaves. But he hid his feelings extremely well, as he mixed with leading Charlestonians in the 1850’s.   The people around him thought that he sympathized with them and their “peculiar custom” of slavery and would support the South when it broke away from the North.   But he was, in fact, sending back to London reports on the brutality of slavery, reports that made it impossible for London to show any support for the Confederacy.

He did his job so well that the US Secretary of State, William Seward, pressured the British government to remove Bunch from Charleston as he was a “known” secessionist!

In late 1861, there was a major crisis between Washington and London that almost brought the two countries to war.   If that had happened, the UK would likely have recognized the South and the Confederacy would still exist.

The crisis was triggered when an American navy steamer, the USS San Jacinto, under Captain Charles Wilkes, boarded a British mail ship, the Trent, and arrested two prominent Southerners who were on their way to London to appeal for recognition and help.   The British protested volubly.   The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, wrote a seriously threatening note, which would have placed Abraham Lincoln’s Administration in a difficult position and would almost certainly have led to another war between the two great English speaking nations.

Then something interesting happened.

“Before the ultimatum could be sent, however, it had to be read and approved by the palace.   On other occasions this might have been largely a formality, and, indeed, in this case Queen Victoria had other priorities.   She was giving a dinner party and did not want it interrupted.   But Prince Albert, her beloved consort, begged off from the dinner, saying he felt ill.   Feverish with the first symptoms of the typhoid that would kill him a few days later, Albert sat down at his desk to look at the ultimatum, and he did not like what he saw. Palmerston and Russell (British Foreign Minister) were giving Lincoln and Seward no way out. They would have to bend to Britain’s will, release Slidell and Mason (the two Southern gentlemen), and apologize abjectly or face the greatest military power on earth.

“For twenty years Albert had made the fight against slavery, and especially the slave trade, one of his important causes.   He did not want to see the Crown tarnished by a war that might guarantee the continuation of slavery for generations to come.   He deeply mistrusted Palmerston’s bellicosity and thought of Russell as something of a lightweight.   He wanted the brashness in the official note to be softened:   “Her Majesty’s Government are unwilling to believe that the United States Government intended wantonly to put an insult upon this country…..”   The new wording left a way open for Seward to explain the incident as an accident, if only he would take it.”   (“Our Man in Charleston”, by Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey, pages 297-8, Crown Publishers.)

“The language offered by Prince Albert had left room for a face-saving response in Seward’s reply:   Charles Wilkes had not been acting under orders.   Three days after Christmas the correspondence of Seward and the British and French foreign ministers was published, announcing the release of the Confederate emissaries.”

War between the US and Britain had been averted, thanks to a German prince’s careful editing of a diplomatic note, written in English!   If the more strident note had resulted in war between Britain and America, London would have supported the Confederacy and the United States would have been permanently divided.   If Prince Albert had not been seriously ill, the outcome of the Civil War could have been very different.

The book is an interesting read and gives some fresh insight into the Civil War.

YEMENI CONFLICT WIDENS SHIA-SUNNI DIVIDE

Shia Sunni

Fill up with gas – the price of oil has been “surging overnight”!

That’s the likely international outcome of the latest development in the Middle East.

Early Thursday morning (late Wednesday in the US), a coalition of ten countries, led by Saudi Arabia, started bombing Shi’ite rebels in Yemen, aiming to restore the “legitimate” (Sunni) government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is in hiding somewhere.

The conflict widens the Shia-Sunni conflict, which is the root cause of the never-ending conflicts in Iraq and Syria.   The latest war pits Saudi Arabia and Iran against each other.

Yemen is not a big oil producer.   But it’s strategically located, controlling the 25-mile wide Gulf of Aden, through which a great deal of the world’s oil is shipped.   The British controlled the Gulf from 1839 until 1967.

Illustrative of the volatility in the oil market is the fact that, less than 24 hours ago, hopes were high that a deal between Iran and the western coalition would lead to a glut of oil, driving the price down.   The deal may still happen, but the benefits will likely be more than offset by the Yemeni conflict and the increasing Sunni-Shia struggle throughout the Middle East.

This is the basis for the ongoing battle over Tikrit in Iraq.   Over a week ago, the Iraqi military was claiming victory over ISIS forces controlling the city.   But ISIS, the most militant group within Sunni Islam, is holding its own against a combined force of Shi’ite Iraqi troops, Shia militias and Iranians, who are also Shi’ites.

Interestingly, the US supports the Saudi-led action to restore the President of Yemen, at the same time as supporting the Iraqi and Iranian action to defeat ISIS.   It’s doubtful this difficult balancing act will last.

Another question is what it will take for western intervention in the region.   An article on the widening conflict in the Middle East in the latest issue of Time Magazine ended with the following paragraph.

“It’s impossible to predict when and where the next extremist attack on a Western target may occur.   But it seems all to likely that it would require a mass casualty terrorist strike in a Western country to build the public support needed for the sustained military effort that could actually eliminate these growing threats.”   (The New Caliphates, TIME Magazine, Volume 185, Issue #11).

Certainly, such an attack cannot be far off.   This could certainly fulfill the prophecy in Daniel 11:40, which states:   “At the time of the end the King of the South shall attack him.”   The King of the North then retaliates.

As this global crisis worsens and spreads, another recent development shows ISIS, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram “troops” training together in Mauretania, a Moslem country not directly affected by terrorism until now.   With ISIS now operating in Tunisia and Libya and Boko Haram in alliance with ISIS, operating in Nigeria, Niger and Chad, the whole of West Africa is vulnerable.

At the same time, the Taliban, which operate in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, has pledged support to the new Caliphate.

The spreading Caliphate is well on its way to achieving its avowed goal of an Islamic State stretching from the Atlantic through the Middle East and on to Indonesia.   The plan is a five year plan, which means conflicts are set to increase and spread.

Meanwhile, the “mass casualty terrorist strike” Time warned about, may already have happened. It has been disclosed that the pilot was locked out of the cockpit of the “Germanwings” flight that crashed into the Alps two days ago.   When the pilot went to the bathroom, his co-pilot locked the door behind him and then immediately set the controls for a rapid descent and the final, fatal crash.   The Marseille prosecutor has just declared that the “co-pilot was not known as a wanted terrorist.”   The question remains as to why he would deliberately fly the plane into the mountains.   Terrorism was quickly denied but terrorist websites constantly inspire “lone wolf” violent attacks as part of their cause.

Spain and Germany lost the most people in the crash.   Spain is one of the countries that ISIS wants in its Caliphate, having been ruled by Muslims for over 700 years.

It’s too early to tell if this was a factor in the plane crash but a criminal investigation is now underway.   It seems certain the loss of 150 lives was no accident.

 

 

 

 

YET ANOTHER BEHEADING

Peter Kassig

Sadly, ISIS has chosen to behead Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old man from Indianapolis. Peter, who converted to Islam while in captivity and changed his name to Abdul Rahman, was a humanitarian. He went to Syria to help people suffering in the Civil War there and was captured by ISIS.

It seems his captors cannot understand the concept of humanitarianism, even though charity and charitable works is one of the five pillars of Islam.

I am reminded again of our experience in Ghana, where we lived for seven years. Frequently, people would accuse me of working for the CIA, in spite of my protestations to the contrary. At the time, I had never even lived in the United States, let alone worked for the American government. I came to the conclusion that they could not comprehend why any westerner would live in West Africa when they didn’t have to; that trying to serve people was an alien concept to them.

We in the West can be quite naïve when it comes to other cultures. We cannot understand how different the thinking is. Another victim of this failure to understand was a British taxi driver who was beheaded a few weeks ago. Again, like Peter Kassig, he had gone to Syria to help alleviate suffering.

A further example of the incredible gulf between west and east lies in history. In the West most people are not interested in history. This is especially true of the United States.   It comes as quite a shock to find that in the Middle East, history really matters. When Peter Kassig’s executioner referred to Coalition soldiers as “Crusaders,” he was referring to the crusades that began in 1095 and continued for two centuries. Frequent references to the crusades show that, to many in the Middle East, it’s as if they were a recent event. Israel is often referred to as “the Crusader State,” thereby avoiding the use of the word “Israel.” Westerners in the Middle East are seen as the modern equivalent of the Crusaders, out to conquer the region at the earliest opportunity.

The author Salman Rushdie, who came from a Muslim background, explained in a speech some years ago, that when a Muslim from the Middle East comes to Detroit, he is not looking for an opportunity to better himself, to take advantage of the American way of life. Rather, he sees himself as part of the advance guard that will spread Islam to the United States. With this intent in mind, perhaps it’s not surprising they cannot understand why Americans go to their part of the world.

A third lesson from this tragic incident is that the West is going through a prolonged period of religious confusion. After decades of anti-Christian propaganda in schools, it’s not surprising that so many of our young people, like Peter Kassig, convert to Islam, which is a simpler religion. Islam is even propagated in schools in an attempt to promote multiculturalism. However, converting to Islam, as some captives have done, does not gain any mercy from ISIS captors.

There will no doubt be more beheadings. American troops are still in the area. If any of them are captured, they can expect the same fate, along with any other aid workers from western countries still hoping to make a difference.

WESTERN EDUCATION IS FORBIDDEN

 

Boko Haram

“Western education is forbidden.” Roughly translated that’s the meaning of Boko Haram, words in the Hausa language, which refer to the Nigerian Islamist terror group.

A few months ago, the group kidnapped over 200 teenage girls from one school. They have not been seen since. A leader of the group stated last week that the girls have all been married off. ISIS was selling kidnapped women in Iraq for $1,000 each. It seems likely Boko Haram gave the girls away to terrorists fighting in their group.

Yesterday came news that 46 teenage boys have been killed in another school in Nigeria by Boko Haram.

The number 46 reminded me of a community where we once lived, the city of Bath, in Michigan, just outside of Lansing.

In the spring of 1927 the local school was blown up and 46 people, mostly youngsters at the school, eventually died as a result of that day’s carnage. It remained the worst terrorist attack in US history until Oklahoma City in April 1995, which also claimed many young lives in a daycare facility.

On a website devoted to the Bath disaster are the following introductory words:

“On a cool Spring morning in May of 1927 the Treasurer of the Bath, Michigan, Consolidated School District fire/dynamite bombed his home and farm and collapsed the North half of the school building (having intended to destroy all of it). Within the hour he had committed additional murders in the middle of the village by the suicidal detonation of shrapnel-shrouded explosives that he had packed into his vehicle. Over the following year a total of 46 people would be dead as a result of that day’s mayhem and many, many more would be counted among the injured & maimed. After 86 years this incident still ranks as the worst instance of school violence in U.S. history.”

Like Oklahoma City, this particular incident was an example of homegrown terrorism.

We lived in Bath when 9/11 happened, the worst terror attack in American history. So far. I fear others lie ahead that will be worse in terms of numbers of deaths. 9/11 was perpetrated by Islamist terrorists who hated the West. ISIS is made up of people who feel the same way. Boko Haram reflects a great deal of anger directed at Western education.

Hatred of the West is not going away.

Will ISIS or Boko Haram be defeated? Not likely. Certainly not in the short-term.

Nigeria’s police and military are a joke. That is true right across West Africa. The police are less a force to capture criminals, than people who extort money out of innocent members of the public. The military in most countries is not well disciplined and will run away when confronted by armed insurgents, such as Boko Haram.

Terrorism threatens all of us, even children in school. It’s the scourge of the age. Although the vast majority of terror attacks are perpetrated by Islamists, adherents of all religions are capable of extremely violent acts.

These awful acts should inspire Christians to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come” (Matt 6:10). Only when Jesus Christ returns and it’s clear which religion really is the truth will terrorism come to an end.

NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

News

“Based on current trends China’s economy will overtake America’s in purchasing power terms within the next few years . . . The US is now no longer the world’s sole economic superpower and indeed its share of world output . . . has slipped below the 20% level which we have seen was a useful sign historically of a single dominant economic superpower.” (“America is very close to losing its place in the world as #1.” Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid is quoted.)

Rapidly gaining on the US is China. “Reid offered this prescient quote from Napoleon Bonaparte: ‘Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world.’”

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Turkey is key to dealing with ISIS.

This Middle Eastern nation is the second biggest military power in NATO and is a long-term US ally.   But its new president, former prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not the secularist his predecessors have been.   Rather, he’s a more religious Sunni Muslim. As ISIS is Sunni, Erdogan’s loyalty to the US is now in doubt. This is serious for the United States – American nuclear missiles are based in the country.

Turkey was also a long time friend of Israel. Erdogan is now comparing Israel to Hitler.

CBS’s security expert, Michael Morrell, said Monday that there are four Islamic terrorist groups that seriously threaten the West. He said that ISIS is not the greatest threat. That accolade goes to ‘Al-Qaeda in the Yemen.’

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Scotland votes tomorrow on breaking away from the United Kingdom. According to opinion polls, the two sides are running neck and neck. If the “Yes” vote wins, there will likely be a financial upheaval.   Already, the Royal Bank of Scotland, once the world’s biggest bank, is saying it will move its HQ from Scotland to London. Other big companies have also said they will head south.

Scotland depends on London for roughly 10% of its spending, money that will no longer be forthcoming. Additionally, breaking away from the UK will leave Scotland with no currency – it will have to join the eurozone, giving Germany effective control over government spending.

Assuming a “yes” vote, there will be eighteen months of discussions aimed at a manageable divorce, before the new country receives its independence.

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The Obama Administration is sending 3,000 US troops to West Africa, mainly Liberia.

The same administration reluctantly agreed to send 500 military advisers to Iraq to train Iraqis to fight ISIS.

Which poses the greatest threat to the United States, ISIS or Ebola?

SYRIA AND JOHN WAYNE

assad_damascus_2011_3_29                john-wayne

Over thirty years ago, my wife and I lived in West Africa.  We travelled extensively in that part of the world.  Cameroon is one of the countries we frequently visited.  

We had American friends there, based in the capital, Yaounde.  The husband worked for the US Embassy.

On one of our visits he was telling us how his current job was to recommend which side the US should take in the Chadian civil war, which was raging in neighboring Chad.  The war lasted three decades before there was a semblance of peace.

My logical response was to ask why take any side?  My friend replied that the US always has to take sides.

Why?  What’s the compulsion that drives the United States to take sides in every conflict?  In reality, it comes down to the John Wayne Syndrome.

I never did like John Wayne movies, so I can’t claim to be an expert on them.  But it seemed to me that the tried and tested formula was there always had to be a clear good guy (white hat) and a clear bad guy (black hat).  This wasn’t just true of John Wayne movies – most Hollywood movies are that way – always have been and likely always will be.

That’s the way Americans like their movies to be – and their foreign policy.  The US must always support the good guys against the bad.

This goes right back to the beginning.

The American Revolution is often depicted as a conflict between the Americans and the British.  But that oversimplifies the reality.  The reality was that the Revolution, like all revolutions, seriously divided the country.  Revolutions typically divide a country three ways – one faction is the revolutionaries, another is those who want to maintain the status quo, and a third faction are those who just want to stay alive through the chaos.

This was the case during the American Revolution.  The vast majority of incidents involving fighting were between Americans, not Americans and the British.  Loyalists and Patriots battled it out.  Both wanted freedom – they just had different ideas of what freedom meant.

Syria also has three factions, those loyal to President Assad (the Alawites), the rebels (amongst whom is al-Qaeda), and those who are just trying to stay alive and feed their families.

What side should the US take?

Options are to support the thug/murderer Assad, or the thugs and murderers who comprise Al-Qaeda.  There is no prospect of democracy coming out of this.  Surely, we’ve learned that lesson during the past decade in the Middle East?

As regards chemical weapons, there is little doubt Assad has used them but so would the rebels if they took control.

It’s frequently said that Assad has used chemical weapons “against his own people,” but that’s not really correct.  His own people are the Alawite clan, who are only 12% of the Syrian population.  They were at the bottom of the social pile prior to World War One and owe their elevated status to the period of French colonial rule between the two world wars.  Perhaps this is why France supports US action against Assad, which gives them an opportunity to at least partially rectify the mistakes of the past.

In Assad’s mind, killing non-Alawites is perfectly acceptable.  This is the way tribal politics works all across the Middle East and, indeed, Africa.  Assad will never give up using chemical weapons if that’s the only way for him and his clan to retain power.

It’s hard for the US to understand this because it’s so alien to the American experience, simplified by Hollywood.  There are no good guys in this conflict.  There are only bad guys.

Complicating the matter further is that the US is increasingly seen as one of the bad guys right across the Middle East, especially after the way the Administration has handled Egypt and Syria during the last few weeks.

Washington is in a no-win situation with this one.