The royal censor gets into the act

THE British royal family, an anachronism in this day and age, has shown its tendency to dictate proceedings in a strange way, totally against the grand British tradition of free speech.

Prince Charles has instructed the BBC to place strict conditions on the feed of the wedding between his son William and Kate Middleton which it provides to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation; these strictures effectively prevent what would have been the best program on the wedding, the view of the Chaser team, from going to air.

What’s outrageous is that the restrictions are specifically aimed at the Chaser – other not-so-straight coverage, such as that planned by Australia’s Channel 10, has no restrictions placed on it.

Charles has laid down the law to the BBC and the organisation has bent over and shown its backside.

The wedding is not a private affair – hundreds of millions of pounds in state funds will be used to provide security. Only the wedding expenses are being borne by the House of Windsor and the Middleton clan – the British taxpayer is forking out by the bucket at a time when the country’s economy and the financial standing of a large percentage of the populace is not exactly what one can describe as healthy.

It is a royal shame to waste public money at a time when most of the rest of the country is struggling to pay its bills. But when did the royals ever give a hoot about the public?

It is far too late for the Chaser folk to organise their own footage of anything remotely close to the wedding; indeed, people would like to watch some part of the official proceedings as they listen to the unique take of the Chaser team who are a class act.

Every country that claims to follow the liberal tradition and have a free press has its own set of satirists – for example, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher in the US, Ricky Gervais and the Little Britain team in the UK and the Chaser and a multitude of others in Australia.

But the cold, clammy hand of censor Charles has clamped down and it’s back to the colonial era again when Britain told Australia what it could and couldn’t do. And Britain wants to spread the democratic tradition to other lands, I’m told.

This is a fine example, right from the top, of the class-ridden British society. Censorship at its brilliant best. One more good reason, if any more were needed, for Australia to cut the apron strings and become a republic.

The migrant problem

AUSTRALIA is a nation of migrants. Apart from the Aborigines, the original inhabitants of this big, brown land, every single resident has come from afar, some on the first convict ships in the 1700s, others more recently.

Migration is thus a central issue in Australian political, social and cultural life. It is easy to get people worked up over issues around migration, and starting from rednecks – who advocate that only white people should migrate here – to the bleeding heart liberals who want all and sundry welcomed, you can find every shade of opinion vented in some forum or the other.

In recent days, people detained at immigration centres in Australia have started protesting, often violently, against being held in these centres. The reason? They feel that their cases are taking too long to resolve. Of course, some of those who are up in arms have had their applications for refugee status rejected and face the prospect of being deported.

Others have a peculiar problem – they are stateless and hence even though their cases have been rejected, they cannot be deported as there is no country that will take them. The problem, as it exists today, is quite serious – detainees burnt down nine buildings at a detention centre in New South Wales. Some of the ringleaders are still up on the roof, refusing to come down.

The protests have spread to other parts of the country and detainees at centres in Victoria and the Northern Territory have also started protesting.

One must bear in mind that it is the poorer class of would-be migrant who comes to Australia in a leaky boat and gets detained. The more affluent come by air and are never part of the public discussion. British backpackers by the thousand overstay here but are never deemed to be part of the problem. They are rarely detained despite being as big, or probably a bigger, drain on the national economy than the detained ones.

The government is reluctant to do anything that could be seen as a throwback to the policies of the Howard government – a coalition of the Liberal and National parties. Additionally, it is dependent on the Greens for its stability so it cannot take steps that are seen as too harsh. Yet something has to be done because the situation as it stands is giving the opposition plenty of ammunition to attack the government.

A part of the problem is down to perception. The Labor party is seen as being soft on migrants – even though the practice of detention was begun by a Labor prime minister, Paul Keating. And though the last Liberal prime minister, John Howard, made lots of near-racist statements about migrants, the level of migration was never higher than under him. He knew well that he had to cater to the business lobby – which supports higher migration quotas – so he quietly increased the numbers while publicly speaking out against migration.

After Labor came to power in 2007, some of harsher policies of the Howard mob were watered down. The offshore processing of migrants was stopped and so was the practice of issuing what are called temporary protection visas.

Since 2007, the numbers coming to Australia in boats to ask for refugee status has increased – but when considered against the total number of refugee applicants worldwide, it is but a drop in the ocean. The immigration department is an inefficient organisation and processing claims takes far too long. The detention centres are run by an inefficient American organisation, Serco, and people in the centres develop mental health problems as they stay longer and longer in crowded centres.

The expressions of frustration are the effects; the cause is an inefficient system. Labor governments are not exactly renowned for their efficiency in anything and the immigration process reflects the government of the day. Not that Howard’s mob did things much better.

The solution? I think Australia should cease being a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. Then nobody can rock up to the Australian border and ask for refugee status.

The myths of Anzac Day

AN ARMY is sent to invade another country to satisfy the ambitions of an imperial power. The army fails miserably in its mission, and ends up being cannon fodder.

Years later, the country which provided the armed forces is uttering pious slogans that this was the defining experience that shaped it as a nation. You would call that country a nation of losers, wouldn’t you?

Yet this is modern Australia. And the military fiasco that is said to define the country is the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops in Gallipoli during World War I. Tomorrow, there will be much talk about the Anzac spirit – as though the spirit in the Australian army ranks at that time was any different to that which pervaded the German and Japanese ranks during World War II.

A lot of this drivel is driven by politicians who strive to find anything behind which they can unite a fractious nation and prevent people from asking questions that will expose the hypocrisy of the political class. People who have no idea of the horrors of war extol its virtues and are ever eager to despatch young men and women to serve as cannon fodder for the imperial power of the day.

Australians are now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as a bulwark for American troops who prefer to bomb from afar and expect Australians to do the dirty work. As indeed they do.

For some time, especially during the era of the Vietnam War, Anzac Day was largely ignored. It has been revived by politicians like John Howard who found a cause behind which they could hide. The Returned Servicemen’s League has cash by the bucket poured into it and statues of soldiers are erected at every street corner to glorify the killing and carnage that is never visible to the populace at large.

Americans have developed this worship of war to a fine art. No-one can question the deployment of troops to any far-flung corner of the world – it is sacrosanct. Many Australian politicians would love to have a similar situation, as a mask for their own shortcomings. Patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels – and Australian politicians squarely fall into that class.

There is also more than a touch of racism in this whole war fetish. As the comedian George Carlin pointed out once, America has invaded only brown and black countries since World War II. Never once have the Yanks gone into a white nation since the Berlin airlift.

Quite often the racism inherent in these adventures is revealed in behaviour by troops. Remember the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib? But that is dismissed as an aberration. After all, the politicians say, boys will be boys, won’t they?

Anzac Day makes me sick.

Brotherly love can often extend too far

IT IS unlikely that there are too many Bahrainis who would look kindly on the intrusion into their internal affairs by the neighbouring Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia. After the recent spate of demonstrations in the little island nation appeared to be getting out of control, the Saudis led a posse across the causeway and began a brutal crackdown.

The Saudis are aware that any flirtation with liberalisation will affect their own country, the most mysterious and shrouded on the Arabian Peninsula. And they have always had a paternalistic attitude towards Bahrain given that Iran, Riyadh’s main rival for power and influence in the region, takes a keen interest in the affairs of the little island which is said, by some, to be the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden.

If that is so, then there is certainly more than a single serpent roaming around. Dissatisfaction over the employment policies of the current ruler – King Hamad, the son of Shaikh Isa bin Sulman Al Khalifa, who elevated the country to a constitutional monarchy in 2002 from a mere emirate – boiled over and, drawing inspiration from protests in other regions of the Middle East, the Bahrainis started their own version of the French revolution.

Protests continue to this day and there now appears to be evidence of the brutality of the Saudi crackdown. Of course, the Saudis know only two methods of quelling opposition – either buy them off with bribes or else kill the whole lot. The first method would not have worked, so now they are taking recourse to the second.

A distance behind the Saudis, and standing tall in support, are our good friends, the men and women from the land of the brave and the free, the United States of America. Bahrain may be just a glob of sand when viewed from a plane, but it is home to the US Fifth Fleet. Hence, Uncle Sam is solidly behind a return to the status quo. After all, we cannot have a gentleman by the name of Mahmoud Ahmedinajed pulling the strings in Bahrain, now can we?

Bad memories are evoked in Bahrain when one talks of liberalisation. In 1973, Shaikh Isa, who had then been in power fo 12 years, decided to liberalise and a constitution was published, guaranteeing freedom of religion, conscience and speech. A parliament was elected by 85 percent of the adult males who were eligible to vote.

Alas, it did not quite work out – the ruling family, the Khalifa clan, expected the right-wing lobby of merchants to gain a majority of seats. They did not; instead, reactionary religious leaders and left-wing elements were voted in in large numbers.

Over the next couple of years, this mob tried to spread their influence – one day their pet cause was preventing women from playing a role in public life, the next day they would try to suggest that the national oil company be taken over.

Finally, in 1975, when they began to oppose detetntion without trial, Shaikh Isa suspended the whole lot and returned to ruling by decree – with the added feature of having his own family in every post of any influence. The Prime Minister. Shaikh Khalifa bin Sulman Al Khalifa, has been holding that post since then.

Though Bahrain is an Arab country, a large number of its citizens are of Iranian origin. The balance of the Shia-Sunni is skewed towards the former – and these two Muslim factions, who owe their genesis to the battle over a successor to the Prophet Muhammad, are generally not the best of neighbours.

However, they are hardly at each others’ throats as painted by the Western media; rather, it is the ruling family which, fearful of agents of Iranian influence, has excluded Shias largely from public life and from public sector employment. This has led to a feeling of injustice and it is, thus, hardly surprising that the majority who are out there protesting are Shias.

The intervention by troops from what is called the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman and the United Arab Emirates – does not find favour with its own members, solely because a defence pact signed by the six was meant to defend against external aggression. Members of the defence forces in the AGCC are not exactly experts at combat – when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the AGCC forces did not exactly show a great deal of alacrity in rushing out to defend their northerly neighbour.

However, Saudi Arabia has always been the big brother of the region and, thus, despite their opposition to getting involved in the affairs of a “brotherly” state – even the AGCC agreement is against interference in each others’ domestic affairs – the others have maintained a stoic silence on this aspect of the troubles in Bahrain.

The island has no oil of its own and is a service centre, with a large number of banks operating in a free climate. There are handouts from the Saudis now and then, and the Americans are keen to see the place quiet. Moving the Fifth would be a massive logistics exercise and upset the economy of Bahrain – not to mention the owners of the better class of brothels on the island. The chances of any protest succeeding are, thus, much less than evens.

In the battle of captains, Dhoni comes out ahead

ON SATURDAY, India won the World Cup cricket tournament, defeating Sri Lanka and becoming the first team to win the competition at home. But the more remarkable aspect of the win was the way it showed how a captain can lead and accept responsibility, even in this day and age when people are loath to do just that.

India was set a target that wasn’t overly intimidating but not easy to get either; batting second and scoring 275 at Bombay’s Wankhede Stadium isn’t a walk in the park. One needs someone to play a long innings, or two or three people to play knocks of about 60 or 70 to get to this kind of target.

India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had batted at number 6 right through this tournament. He hadn’t made any decent scores, his best effort being in the low 30s. But he had led the team with his usual calm approach and the final saw him display his leadership qualities.

When India faced Pakistan in the semi-finals, Yuvraj Singh, a batsman who had been a model of consistency, fell for a first-ball duck. Perhaps the intensity of the occasion overcame him – there is no bigger game for either country, and this was a World Cup semi-final to boot.

Had Yuvraj been sent in during the final – India was 114 for three at the stage when he would normally have come in – and not performed, India would have been under immense pressure. The load on Dhoni would have been that much greater. There was also the matter of retaining a left-right hand combination to make it difficult for the Sri Lankan spinners to control the flow of runs.

But Dhoni was in woeful form. He had made some team changes – pulling in the non-performing Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, and leaving out the capable off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin – and if he had failed, then it is unlikely that anyone would have allowed him to forget his decisions in a hurry.

Dhoni could have sent in Suresh Raina, a capable if young player, to retain the right hand-left hand combination. Raina showed immense maturity in partnering Yuvraj during the quarter-final against Australia, taking the team from 187 for five, a position when things could have come unstuck if a wicket had fallen, to the 261 needed for victory.

But no, Dhoni came out himself. He looked in terrible nick, but kept making ungainly strokes and taking singles and twos here and there. Gradually, he grew in confidence and his form returned. He is never a pretty batsman to watch, but can hit the ball with great power.

One must bear in mind that the two men who were expected to do great things in the final, veterans Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendular, had both fallen by the time the total reached 31. Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli added 83 before the latter fell.

Then Dhoni took over. He and Gambhir took the total to 221 and then Dhoni and Yuvraj took India to victory, with Dhoni hitting a majestic six to seal the win.

One can contrast his actions with those of the Sri Lankan skipper, Kumar Sangakkara, who failed to implement the team’s strategy which has been uniform throughout the tournament – throttle the opposition, and then take wickets when they are trying to increase the scoring rate. Sangakkara left out one of the premier spinners, Ajanta Mendis, based on the logic that India plays spin well. Yet another spinner, Suraj Randiv, was included.

Sangakkara normally bowls his best speedster, Lasith Malinga, in spells of three, three and then four overs. This time, when Malinga was brought back midway through, to obviously try and take a wicket, he was given just the one over. Sangakkara’s other trump card, veteran Muthiah Muralitharan, did not even complete his quota of overs.

And long before the end appeared to be nigh, Sangakkara’s body language told the wrong tale – he looked beaten, his shoulders were hunched, he looked really agitated and in a panic.

I have commented some years ago on the way Dhoni goes about his captaincy; leadership comes naturally to this man who hails from one of the most under-developed regions of the country.

He hasn’t completed a college degree. He doesn’t know the latest buzzwords. He is verbose during TV interviews. He isn’t terribly good-looking. But he shows, time and again, that leadership is a natural trait. You can’t create leaders – they are born, not made.