Archive for the ‘countries’ Category


800px-Flag_of_Nigeria.svgNigeria (1960- ), which has more people than any other country in Africa, has a third of all the people of Black Africa. It lies at the western end of the Guinea Coast, where the great Niger River that it was named after flows into the sea.

Like Iraq, Nigeria was created by lines drawn on the map to serve British trade interests. It is divided by both language and religion. In effect Nigeria is a bit of the British Empire that broke free in 1960. So far only military strongmen have been able to hold it together for long. Sometimes Nigeria is a democracy, sometimes it is a banana republic.

Near the mouth of the Niger River is some of the purest oil in the world. But so far this great wealth has gone to Western oil companies, particularly Shell, and the corrupt few at the top, not to the country as a whole. Part of the coast has been destroyed by repeated oil spills.

Nigeria has big cities and towns, which are growing fast, but most Nigerians are still farmers who grow food to feed their families.

Nigeria grew out of a British trade empire set up along the Niger River by Sir George Goldie. In the 1880s and 1890s his company ran much of what is now Nigeria. So at the Berlin Conference in 1885, when the powers of Europe divided Africa among themselves like a birthday cake, setting off the Scramble for Africa, Britain got this bit, among many others.

The British government did not step in to take over till 1900 when it conquered the rest of the country. But by 1945 the British Empire had gone broke fighting Hitler. It could no longer hold on to its empire. Nigeria became independent in 1960.

Religion: In the north nearly everyone is Muslim, but in the south most are Christians, though some still practise traditional religions. This is where obeah, the voodoo of Jamaica, comes from.

Where the Muslim north meets the Christian south thousands have died in religious violence over the past ten years. As in Sudan, many in the Muslim north want to run the country according to sharia or Muslim law.

nigeria_benin_cameroon_languagesLanguage: English, the old imperial tongue, is the only language known all over the country. Like in India, most people in towns and cities know it as a second language. Most films are in English. Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, makes more films than Hollywood.

Apart from English, the three largest languages are:

  • Hausa in the north
  • Yoruba in the south-west
  • Igbo in the south-east

There are about 500 smaller languages. Yoruba and Hausa extend beyond Nigeria.

In 1967 the Igbo south-east, which has most of the country’s oil but sees little benefit from it, broke away and formed their own country of Biafra. A million died in the three years of civil war that followed. Biafra lost, Nigeria held together.

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Australia (1901- ) is either the largest island or the smallest continent. Or both. It is also a country that was once part of
the British Empire. A place of strong beer and good weather.

Aristotle argued for the existence of Australia: there must be unknown land far to the south to balance out the known land in the north. Ptolemy even put it on his map – not as fact, but as theory. The place came to be called Terra Australis Incognita – the Unknown Land of the South.

The theory turned out to be right. Australia is south-east of India and south of China. It is on the opposite side of the world from America, where it is known as “The Land Down Under.”

Because Australia is a world unto itself, it has strange animals you see almost no where else, like kangaroos, koalas, wombats, platypuses and emus.

Australia is as large as America without Alaska yet it has fewer people than California: it is much drier than America.

The middle of the country is flat and dry – too dry – while the south-east is like Europe. In between is a vast land of grass where sheep live. There are more sheep than men in Australia. The north is wet and warm: it lies in the tropics. Australia has no great rivers.

Most Australians live in one of four cities along the sea: Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in the east and Perth in the west. The seat of government is Canberra, which is more an overgrown suburb than a city.

Australia is an English-speaking, largely Christian country. There are more Protestants than Catholics, but less than half the country is Protestant. It has a parliamentary-style democracy. The Queen is the head of state. Some wanted to make Australia into a republic not too long ago, but most wanted to keep the old girl on.

Australian English comes from the streets of London: it is closer to Cockney than the Queen’s English. Because it left Britain later, it is much closer to British English than American English is.

Australia was kept safe by British warships before the Second World War and by American ones since. Australia has fought with both in wars overseas.

Before the Second World War Australia feared British influence. Now they fear American influence.

You see this in a backward way in their spelling: the Labor Party spells its name in the American fashion: it was so spelled in the early 1900s when British influence was high. But now, with American influence high, everyone writes the word in the British fashion as labour.

Like South Africa, much of Australia’s wealth comes from mining.

The British began to settle Australia in 1788. The first settlement became what is now Sydney. At first Britain sent prisoners. Many were people would could not pay their debts – being sent to a land where gold would later be discovered.

The aborigines came to Australia thousands of years before the British. They still live there, though now only one Australian in 40 is an aborigine. They look like the people of south India, but darker. Their hair is black and almost straight.

– Abagond, 2007.

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Sudan (1956- ) is the country south of Egypt. It is the cruellest place on earth. Unlike, say, Rwanda and Cambodia, the violence never seems to stop. It goes on and on. Just when the long war in the south was coming to an end – a war in which millions were killed or made into slaves – war broke out in Darfur in the west.

The north and the south are like two different countries:

  • The north is Arab in language and Muslim by religion, like neighbouring Egypt, but few are Arab by blood.
  • In the south English and Christianity are more common, as in neighbouring Uganda. Few are Muslim, some are Christians, most worship spirits. This is the beginning of black Africa.

Even though you barely heard about it in the West, Sudan is where the greatest jihad of our time has been fought. It ended in a draw in 2005.

Just as that war was winding down, another broke out in Darfur in 2003. The people in Darfur are Muslims but are black, not Arab. Feeling the government had not been fair to them, they took up arms. This led to war which continues to this day In 2006 it spread to neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic.

Unlike the war against the south, Darfur has become a fashionable cause in America and Britain.

Two of the men responsible for the blood of Darfur will likely be brought up on charges before the ICC, the World Court. Sudan says it will not turn them over. The United Nations in turn threatens to cut off trade to Sudan.

The African Union has a force in Darfur, but it is too small to do any good. The United Nations talks of sending a much larger force, but so far it is just talk.

Not only the people, but the land also changes from north to south:

  • The north is like Egypt: mostly dry land with towns and farms along the Nile. At Khartoum, the seat of government, the Nile divides into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.
  • In the middle of the country, the dry land turns to grassland.
  • In the south the grass gives way to trees, to woodland and wetland. Everyone is black. Now you are in the tropics.

Sudan has bad roads and few schools. Most are farmers or herders.

Sudan has oil, most of it in the south. France, India, Malaysia and especially China have sunk money into oil wells in Sudan. China needs the oil badly.

Some of the oil money pays for Russian arms, some goes into putting up tall, glass buildings in Khartoum. Little of it goes to the south, where most children do not even go to school.

As part of the 2005 peace deal, the south will vote in 2011 on whether to become independent. With so much oil there, it is seems unlikely the north will let it go without a fight.

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600px-Flag_of_Afghanistan.svgAfghanistan (1919- ) is eastern Persia, Iran being western Persia. There are Persians living to the east (Pashtuns) and to the north (Tajiks), but it has most of the Persian land east of Iran. The chief difference between Iran and Afghanistan is religion: Iran is Shia Muslim, Afghanistan is mostly Sunni Muslim.

People call it the “graveyard of empires”: both the British and the Russians have come to grief there and now the Americans.

The Americans overthrew the Taliban government in 2001 just months after 9/11. With the help of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and his men had their base of operations there. America closed down his bases but Bin Laden got away.

After being gone for some years, the Taliban is back. They made peace with Pakistan in 2006 and so now they are free to attack Afghanistan and then disappear safely into Pakistan. Afghanistan is back on the boil.

Afghanistan is shockingly poor and backward. Half the men cannot read along with four-fifths of the women. One baby in six never lives to see the age of one; most of the rest will never live to see 52.

It is a land of blue skies and cruel men.

Empires lust after Afghanistan for its position on the map. The British wanted it to keep India safe. The Russians wanted it to be one step closer to the oil in the Persian Gulf. The Americans want it because it is next to Pakistan and Iran, two countries that are causing it serious trouble.

Because it is up in the mountains it is hard to conquer, but not impossible: the Persians, Alexander, the Mongols and Tamerlane have all done it. The city of Kandahar in the south is named after Alexander. Herat in the west was one of the jewels of Tamerlane’s empire.

Warlords rule most of the country. It has been that way for most of the past 30 years. The power of the American-backed government in Kabul does not extend much beyond the city. Only the Taliban were able to bring peace, though their rule was cruel and severe.

Out of every ten Afghans four are Pashtuns, three are Tajiks, one is Uzbek and one is Hazara. They marry among themselves so the line between them is not sharp. All are Persians except for the Uzbeks – they are Turks. It seems the Hazara came from Mongolia long ago. Uzbeks and Tajiks live in the north, Pashtuns in the south and Hazara in the middle. President Karzai is a Pashtun.

The Tajiks and Uzbeks have their own countries to the north. The Pashtuns have no country: For every Pashtun in Afghanistan, two more live in neighbouring Pakistan. When the British drew the Durand Line in 1893 they made sure it went right through the middle of Pashtun land to keep them weak.

Going round the country is a ring road. It passes through each of the four chief cities: Kabul in the east, Kandahar in the south, Herat in the west and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.

Nearly all the heroin in the world comes from red flowers in Afghanistan.

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New Zealand

800px-Flag_of_New_Zealand.svgNew Zealand (1907- ) is on the other side the world from Britain and yet it is the most British place on earth except Britain itself. The British settled the islands in the 1800s, their diseases killing off most of the Maori already living there. Today only one in seven is Maori.

It is a small, rich, English-speaking, Protestant country ruled by a parliamentary democracy. Two things keep it safe: its distance from the rest of the world and the warships of larger English-speaking countries.

Although it has about as much land as Britain, it has only half as many people as London. For every person in New Zealand there are 14 in Britain. Or, to put it another way, it is two-thirds the size of California but only has a bit more people than San Francisco. Sheep outnumber people ten to one!

It was one of the last places on earth to be settled: it was uninhabited till 800. Even today it is largely unsettled compared to the rest of the world.

New Zealand is south-east of Australia across the Tasman Sea. It is as far from Australia as Denver is from New York. Close enough to be influenced by Australia, but far enough to be something different.

Most people came from Australia, so New Zealand English is in effect a branch of Australian English, though one with Scottish and Maori influences. To an American ear it sounds like a British English where the short e’s become something close to short i’s, so that eleven sounds almost like illivin and “NZ” like Inzid.

New Zealand has two large islands: the North Island and the South Island. Most people live on the North Island, where it is warmer. It has two large cities: Wellington, the seat of government, and Auckland, where a fourth of all New Zealanders live. The South Island has one large city, Christchurch, noted for its dirty air.

Because it is so far away, when men got there the only large land animals were birds. One bird, the moa, was taller than a man. It walked but could not fly. The Maori ate them all.

The most famous bird of all is the kiwi. It is a small, brown, wingless bird that comes out at night. Somehow it has come to stand for the whole country, so much so that “Kiwi” often means “New Zealand”, as in “Kiwi English” or “kiwi fruit”.

New Zealand has little industry. It makes money especially from milk, sheep and trees, selling chiefly to Australia, Japan and America. Though it is hardly poor, it is not as rich as, say, America or Japan.

The Maori come from somewhere near Tahiti. They call the Europeans “pakeha” and New Zealand “Aotearoa”, the Land of the Long White Cloud. After a long series of wars in the 1800s the British took most of their land – and then destroyed their culture. The Maori live on but many are poor and few know the Maori tongue. New Zealand is divided by race, though not as deeply as America or South Africa.

New Zealand has the highest suicide rate in the world. Women of marrying age outnumber men.

The “Lord of the Rings” was filmed in New Zealand.

The New Zealand flag looks like the Australian flag but it has red stars not white ones.

Its latitude and longitude is 41 South, 175 East. To get the time there add 12 hours to UTC (11 hours between October and March).

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United Nations

The United Nations (1945- ) or UN is a place where countries send their representatives to discuss threats to the world, especially war. It meets in New York but has offices in Geneva, Paris, Vienna, Rome and elsewhere.

Nearly all generally recognized countries belong to the United Nations. Vatican City, Western Sahara and Taiwan (which lost its seat to communist China) are not members.

The winners of the second world war founded the United Nations to prevent a third world war. They designed it as an improved League of Nations, which was founded after the first world war but failed to prevent the second.

The heart of the United Nations is the Security Council. It can make decisions that are binding on all UN members. It settles disputes to prevent war and make peace.

The Security Council has 15 seats. Five go to these countries:

  • China
  • Russia
  • America
  • Britain
  • France

These are the permanent members. They each have a veto to stop any Security Council decision they do not like. While they were the five top powers when the UN was founded over 60 years ago, the world has changed. Some say India, Germany, Japan or Brazil should be permanent members (with or without a veto).

The other ten seats are divided this way:

  • 3 from Africa
  • 2 from Asia
  • 2 from Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 2 from Western Europe
  • 1 from Eastern Europe
  • 1 Arab country

This comes to 11 because the Arab country will be from either Africa or Asia.

The six languages of the UN are:

  • English
  • French
  • Arabic
  • Spanish
  • Russian
  • Chinese

Most members have one of these as a language of state. (UN English, by the way, follows Oxford spelling.)

The head of the United Nations is the Secretary General. He serves one or two five-year terms. Like the pope he has little real power in the outside world but he does have some moral authority.

Those who became Secretary General:

  • 1946: Trygve Lie (Europe)
  • 1953: Dag Hammarskjold (Europe)
  • 1961: U Thant (Asia)
  • 1972: Kurt Waldheim (Europe)
  • 1982: Javier Perez de Cuellar (Latin America)
  • 1992: Boutros Boutros Gali (Arab, Africa)
  • 1997: Kofi Annan (Africa)
  • 2007: Ban Ki-moon (Asia)

The United Nations has a small army. It does not ordinarily fight wars but keeps the peace in various trouble spots. The army is too weak to stop any power that wants war badly enough.

In the General Assembly every country has one vote. It chooses the Secretary General and the members of the Security Council. Every October the great and the good come to speak, either to shame it or to speak to the world at large.

Some of the better known UN departments:

  • UNESCO: education
  • WFP: hunger
  • FAO: farming
  • ILO: labour
  • WHO: health
  • ICJ: justice
  • IAEA: nuclear power

The UN does not deal with world trade or banking. The WTO, World Bank, IMF and Red Cross are not a part of the UN, though you might think they were.

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320px-Flag_of_North_Korea.svgNorth Korea (1945- ), also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is the north half of Korea that is under communist rule. With Iran and Iraq it is part of President Bush’s “axis of evil”.

North Korea has a bit over half the land but only a third of all Koreans. It is the part of Korea that the Soviet Union (the Russian empire under communist rule) controlled at the end of the second world war. The south is what America controlled. Before then Korea was ruled by Japan.

Civil war broke out in 1950 and ended three years later in a draw. It left Korea divided in two along the 38th parallel, north and south. Even today Korea remains divided with swords drawn. It is one of the few places in the world that could descend into war at any moment.

North Korea has the fifth largest army in the world and in 2006 it built an atom bomb. In 1994 it promised not to build one in return for aid from America. In 2002 it broke that promise and four years later tested its first atom bomb.

In 2007, with even more American aid promised, North Korea has again promised to stop building atom bombs and finally make peace with the south. Since it has a long history of breaking promises, it is hard to say how this will turn out.

In 1953 when the fighting stopped, Korea was as poor as some parts of Africa. By 1980 the two halves had become middling countries. In the 1990s South Korea went on to become one of the richest places on earth. Meanwhile North Korea, with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the loss of its aid, became hell on earth.

Since 1991 over 2 million in the north have died from hunger, about one in ten. Many have fled to China. The leadership cuts the people off from the rest of the world and fills their heads with lies about how bad it is in other countries.

Up to a third of the country’s money goes into the military. It is the one part of North Korea that works. The rest of the country lives in poverty.

The Great Leader, Kim Jong Il, is made into a near god. A picture of him or his father, Kim Il Sung, appear in every house. Those who oppose his rule are put in political prisons.

With the loss of Soviet aid, North Korea has threatened to make an atom bomb to get aid from America, Japan and South Korea.

But it is not just an atom bomb in the unpredictable hands of North Korea that its neighbours fear: they also fear what would happen if North Korea fell apart. War could break out, millions could die. At the least many would flee into China and South Korea. South Korea would have to take on millions of poor Koreans.

To prevent this, then, China, America, South Korea and Japan give it just enough aid to keep it from falling apart outright.

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800px-Flag_of_France.svgFrance (481- ) has long been one of the top countries in the West. The Romans called it Gallia. It fell to the Franks after the fall of Rome and became France. Even though the name had been changed, the country kept its Roman ways which in time became what we think of as French.

France has not always been united under the government in Paris. Parts have broken away for a time, such as Burgundy and Aquitaine.

Till the rise of the British Empire in the 1800s, France was physically and politically at the heart of the West. It stood between all of the other large Western countries: Spain, Britain, Germany and Italy.

Much of what we think of as Western is really just French. Their two great conquerors, Charlemagne in the early 800s and Napoleon in the early 1800s, have both made the French way of doing things the Western way.

France has now fallen to a middle power. It still has a good military but it has lost most of its empire and is no match for America. It is a fate it has not yet fully accepted.

France is friends with America. It helped to free America from Britain in the 1780s, while America helped to free France from Germany in the 1940s. Both have stood as examples of freedom and democracy for the West. France does not always agree with America and will stand up to it, but they remain friends. They have too much in common.

France has been attacked by Germany two times in the past 100 years. To prevent this from happening again, France has bound Germany to itself and the rest of Europe through the common market of the European Union. If Germany has too much of its money in France, the thinking goes, it will dare not attack it.

You see where this is going: France also hopes to make the European Union a counterweight to America.

Time and again France has set the course of religion in the West:

  1. In 496 Clovis I, its first king, became Catholic not Arian.
  2. In 732 at the Battle of Tours it stopped Islam from taking over the rest of Europe.
  3. In 1229 the king overcame the Albigensian heretics in the south of France.
  4. In 1572 on St Bartholomew’s Day the French killed their Protestant countrymen in a horrible bloodbath. This stopped the West from becoming entirely
  5. In 1789 the French Revolution, overthrew the power of the king and the Church. France became the first secular state in Europe: one based not on religion. It became the example for the West.

Now it seems close to a sixth turning point: the rise of Islam in France. Muslims this time have not come as an army but as Arabs moving to France looking for work.

The Arabs wear their religion in public, refuse to become French and have far more children than the French. The fear is that in a hundred years France will no longer be France but North Algeria.

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Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean sea south of America. It is famous to the world at large as the country of singer Bob Marley, reggae music and the Rastafarians. Despite that most Jamaicans are not Rastafarians.

The British took Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655 to grow sugar, making it one of the sugar islands worked by black slaves.

Jamaica now makes a living mainly from the beautiful white sands along the blue sea on the north coast where North Americans, Britons and others come on holiday. Since Jamaica lies in the tropics, it is like summer all year round. The places where visitors come to stay, eat and enjoy themselves charge high North American prices but pay their workers a low Jamaican wage. The owners keep the difference.

Money also comes in from Jamaicans working overseas who send money home to their families.

Since the middle 1900s, many have moved overseas, especially to Britain, America and Canada. Among them are the parents of Colin Powell and Naomi Campbell. Jamaica has good schools but it is still a poor country. Of those with a university degree, three in four have left the island.

In Jamaica the rates of murder and out-of-wedlock births are far higher than in America. Crime in Jamaica has been getting worse over the years. New York City is now safer than Jamaica.

Jamaicans come mainly from the Guinea coast in West Africa, especially from what is now known as Ghana and Nigeria. The British brought them to Jamaica to work as slaves for the sugar planters. Some of the slaves ran away to live as free men in the mountains. They are called the Maroons. In 1838 the British freed all the slaves.

Jamaica was part of the British Empire for over 300 years, from 1655 to 1962. It was one of the islands of the British West Indies, which broke up into separate countries in the 1960s.

Jamaicans speak English, but on the island it comes in two forms:

  • British English – and, increasingly, American English – that everyone learns in school. It is the main form of English used by the rich and well-to-do.
  • Jamaican patois that most people speak. It uses English words (with dropped h’s) with some West African words thrown in, but the word order and ways of putting things is different. To anyone who mainly speaks British or American English, it takes some getting used to, but it is not like learning a whole new language. It is English, just in a different form. It is like what Haitian Creole is to French.

Bob Marley sang in what was mostly British English, but Sean Paul sings in patois, just to give you an idea.

Most Jamaicans are Christians, mainly Protestants. Religion is taken more seriously than it is in North America.

A few practise the old African black magic called obeah, which works through evil spirits. It comes from the Yoruba in Africa and is something like the voodoo of Haiti.

Some Jamaicans, though not many, are Rastafarians. They smoke marijuana, read the Bible, believe in God, do not eat pork, do not comb or cut their hair (but wash it, thus the dreadlocks) and say that Haile Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia in the middle 1900s, was the Second Coming of Christ. Reggae music grew out of Rastafarianism.

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IRAN0001Iran was once known in the West by its Greek name, Persia. “Iran” means the land of the Aryans. Iran has been one of the leading Muslim countries down through history just as France has been a leading country in the West.

Iran is attempting to build the bomb. It says it will use it to kill the Jews in Israel.

It seems that it now seeks to lead the Muslim world against the West. Iran, however, follows Shia Islam – it is the largest such country that does – while most Muslim countries follow Sunni Islam. This makes it hard (but not impossible) for Iran to gain their trust.

From 1980 to 1988 Iran fought Iraq in the largest land war in history. A million men died and the war ended in a draw. Then a few years later in 1991 it saw the American military defeat the same Iraqi army with ease in a matter of months. America did the same thing again in 2003, this time in a matter of weeks.

Iran could conclude only one thing: if Iraq could fall that easily, so could Iran. To protect itself from America it must build the bomb..

America, of course, objects but it has no way to stop it short of war. It can only slow it down. America is unlikely to make war on Iran – it already has its hands full in trying to bring peace to Iraq.

The other arm of Iranian foreign policy is the war in Lebanon. Its dog in that fight is Hezbollah, the state within a state in the south of Lebanon. Iran has been arming Hezbollah, pouring in rockets and missiles. Hezbollah is fighting Israel, which America has been arming. So it becomes in effect a proxy war between Iran and America.

Unlike most countries that try to oppose America, Iran has money. It still has huge reserves of oil, which it threatens to use it as a weapon against America.

The government is an enemy of America, but the people are not. Although they hated the shah that once ruled as a king with American support, they have grown to hate their present pack of rulers – religious scholars who try to bring back the strict old days of Islam that probably never were.

The religious leaders came to power when Ayotallah Khomeini overthrew the shah in 1979. They did not like the shah because he was turning Iran into a kind of France, where money was everything and God was nothing.

Although the people hated the shah, they did not know what to do. With the army on the side of the shah, the religious leaders were the only ones left who had the power to overthrow him. They staged an ever-growing uprising. In the end the uprising became too widespread. The army could not shoot on its own people, so the shah fell.

– Abagond, 2006.

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Lebanon (لبنان)

750px-Flag_of_Lebanon.svgLebanon (1946- ), called  لبنان‎ (Libnān) in Arabic, is a small Arab country north of Israel and west of Syria along the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In ancient times it was known as Phoenicia. Now it is a weak buffer state between Israel and Syria. And Iran.

Beirut, its capital, is by far the most Western city in the Arab world. It has great food, great nightlife (when not being bombed) and beautiful women. France ruled Lebanon from 1920 to 1946. Many still speak French and have ties to France. Many also know English. Half of Lebanon lives in or near Beirut.

Because Lebanon is both Christian and Muslim, it has one foot in the West and one foot in the Muslim world. But for the same reason it is also a divided land.

Lebanon is badly split by religion:

  • 35% Christian
    • 25% Maronite
  • 60% Muslim
    • 35% Shia
    • 25% Sunni
  • 5% Druze

This is not one of those unfortunate accidents of history: it is the fault of the French.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the French got what is now Syria and Lebanon. Only in those days there was no such thing as Lebanon. Lebanon is something France created in 1920 for the Maronite Christians.

Maronite Christians lived mainly in the mountains. But with France on their side, they overreached themselves: they got not just the mountains, but also the cities along the coast and the farmlands to the east. Both were places where they were outnumbered by Muslims. Such a Lebanon was no longer a Christian country, but one that was half Christian and half Muslim.

Worse still, the French set up the government to give the Christians the upper hand.

All this laid the groundwork for civil war, which came in 1958 and again from 1975 to 1990. Civil war in turn led to Syria and Israel sending in their armies. Israel ruled the south, Syria ruled the rest.

Israel pulled out in 2000 and Syria in 2005. This left Hezbollah in control of the south and a weak and divided government in control of the rest.

When Syria pulled out, the United Nations asked Lebanon to get Hezbollah to lay down its arms. It did not. It could not. The Hezbollah army is much bigger and better than the government’s.

Instead of giving up its weapons, Hezbollah has been building up its stocks of rockets and missiles that Iran has been pouring in. Israel now regards this as a grave threat that must be removed.

And so in 2006 Lebanon found itself in the middle of a war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Israel has struck not only Hezbollah itself, but also every bridge and every port (like Tyre and Sidon) and airport and every road that might bring it supplies. For every Israeli killed by a Hezbollah rocket, ten Lebanese have died – mainly Shia Muslims in the southern suburbs of Beirut, many of them children. How this will ever buy Israel any peace is unclear.

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ukBritain is an island off the north-west coast of Europe, north of France. The Romans called it Britannia.


Britain: the large island north of France. It has three kingdoms: England, Wales and Scotland. The English, Welsh and Scottish are all British, because they are from the island of Britain. Only the English are English. Britain is also called Great Britain (same thing).

United Kingdom: UK for short, is made up of Northern Ireland and the three kingdoms of Britain. But people often say Britain when they mean the UK.

The British Isles means the two islands of Britain and Ireland together.

Britain, which was at the edge of the world in Roman times, became the centre of the world in the 1800s when it was the seat of the British Empire.

Through its empire, it has spread its ways of doing things to other countries. Its language, English, is now the most widely known language in the world. Its way of life of big cities and big business in place of farms and small towns has taken over the world.

Its people settled in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. They wiped out the people in North America and Australia and brought African slaves to North America and the Caribbean.

As an island, the warships of its navy are far more important than its army. By the 1700s it had the best navy in the world.

Today Britain is no longer the top power in the world, as it was in the years between Napoleon and Hitler (1815-1939). It still has an excellent military, but no longer the most powerful.

With the rise of the European Union, Britain has divided loyalties between Europe and America. So far it has never had to choose. But if it came to a choice right now, it would probably choose America, a daughter nation which saved its neck in the Second World War.

Britain as an island has been spared the worst of the European wars that have taken place down through the ages. Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Hitler were not able to take over the island. It has not seen a foreign enemy on its soil in almost a thousand years. The last time was in 1066 when William the Conqueror took over England.

Britain has been less war-torn than most of Europe. It has not had civil war or revolution since the 1600s. The government itself has not been successfully overturned since 1485. True, a king was put to death in 1649, but the king’s men won in the end.

Unlike France, Britain has progressed not by killing its kings but by slow, bit-by-bit change down through the years. This might seem too slow for some, but it is faster in the long run because the country is always moving forwards, never back.

Britain was backward in science and invention till the 1500s but then became one of the leading countries, giving us Francis Bacon, Newton, Darwin and the industrial revolution.

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Israel (1948- ), also known as “Israel” (in quotes) or the Zionist entity, is a Jewish country founded on Arab land. It covers part of the ancient Jewish homeland which God had promised them. The Arabs, however, have lived there for over a thousand years. Some of the land was bought from the Arabs but some of it was taken by force.

Israel is in Palestine – the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan river, south of Syria and Lebanon and north-east of Egypt. Palestine has three parts:

  • Israel – in the west along the sea
  • West Bank – the highlands in the east, once part of Jordan
  • Gaza – a small piece of land in the south-west, once part of Egypt.

Jerusalem is split between Israel and the West Bank.

Israel rules the West Bank by force; it pulled out of Gaza in 2005 but it is back there again fighting.

The Romans kicked the Jews out of Palestine in 135. The Jews started to come back in large numbers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The British gained control of the region in 1922 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. They promised half of it to the Jews and half to the Arabs.

Soon after the Second World War, the Arab half became Jordan and the Jewish half became Israel.

The Arabs have tried to drive the Jews into the sea several times. But each war only made Israel stronger, sometimes even bigger.

Israel is not only good on the battlefield, it is also blindly supported by America. More Jews live in America than in Israel.

For every eight Jews that lived in 1930, Hitler killed three, two moved to America, two to Israel and one stayed where he was.

Two things are against Israel: world opinion and children. With Arabs having far more children than Jews, the Jews are slowly becoming outnumbered.

Israel was created by British power and maintained by American power. It faces a very dark future once American power comes to an end, which it will sooner or later. Will India or China or whatever country is the next top power care much for Israel? And what will the numbers be by then – how many Arabs and how many Jews will live in Palestine then?

In this way Israel is like one of the Crusader states that were set up by the West in the same area in the 1100s. This parallel is not lost on the Arabs. The Kingdom of Jerusalem, established in 1099, lasted 88 years. That gives Israel till 2036.

Military rule of the West Bank and Gaza has not worked. Pulling Jews and the military out of Gaza has not worked. Pushing the Arabs out of both by force would set the whole region on fire with war. So what to do?

Israel is building a wall, yes a wall, between itself and the West Bank. The wall, however, takes in choice pieces of the West Bank and goes right across Arab farms. It has not yet reached Jerusalem, which is part Jewish, part Arab but with no nice, clear dividing line between the two.

Israel is widely believed to have the atom bomb. This weakens America’s hand in trying to keep other countries in the region from building their own atom bombs.

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800px-Flag_of_Iraq.svgIraq is the land once known as Mesopotamia – the land of the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. For years it was ruled by the cruel Saddam Hussein, who oddly enough looked like his hero Stalin. In 2003 American forces landed in Iraq and overthrew him, but now the country is ever at the edge of civil war.

Hundreds are killed every week in the almost senseless violence.

America is trying to make Iraq into a democracy, hoping that will make it a friendly country. But Iraq has never been a working democracy. And it has not been for want of trying: The British tried it in the 1920s but failed. In the end the British were driven out by the endless guerrilla fighting.

Iraq is divided by religion and language: most are Arabs but some are Kurds; most are Shia Muslims, but some are Sunni Muslims. About three in five are Shia Arabs.

But for all that, the Americans and most Iraqis do not want to see the country break apart: it will only make it weaker in the face of Iran, which fought a long and terrible war against Iraq in the 1980s.

No surprise that the Shia Arabs by and large favour democracy. The Sunni Arabs, who ran the country under Saddam Hussein, would lose power under a democracy. So most of the fighting has come from them. It is directed as much against the Americans (a foreign power) as against the government and the Shiites.

A small part of the fighting comes from Al Qaeda. It was led by al-Zarqawi till he was killed by the Americans in 2006. He was a Sunni Arab, but not Iraqi. His purpose was not to save Iraq, but to start a great holy war against both the West and, especially, the Shiites. The same Shiites who, by the way, handed the country over to the Mongols in the 1200s. (The Arabs have a much longer memory than the Americans, who are new in history).

Al-Zarqawi did not succeed but his men fight on.

Al Qaeda had hoped to break the back of American power in Afghanistan, but maybe Iraq will do just as well.

The American forces are too small to keep the all of Iraq at peace all at the same time. It is like a bedsheet that is too short.

To put in a larger force, the American government would have to draft men into the military. The war already divides the American public, a draft would make it far worse. It could well bring a president to power who would pull America out of Iraq altogether.

But America cannot simply let Iraq fall apart, as it did with Somalia: it is too close to too much oil. It needs a friendly country in the Persian Gulf that is strong enough to stand up to Iran.

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320px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svgThe United States of America (1776- ) – also known as 

  • America,
  • United States,
  • US,
  • U.S.,
  • USA,
  • the States,
  • the Great Satan,

It is the country in the middle  of North America, south of Canada and north of Mexico. It has good roads, good music and the largest military in history. It is the largest Western country.

Although the word “America” can mean the continents of North and South America seen as one, in English it is almost always short for the “United States of America”.

It is the land of the white star. Its war machines have a white star. Its flag has 50 white stars for each of the 50 states, like Florida, Texas and California. Each state is an America in the small.

America was built on the red man’s land with black slave labour using white Enlightenment philosophy. The racism from those days lives on, still screwing up the country, creating a culture of fear and a wasting of human capital.

America is mostly English-speaking and Christian. But unlike many other countries, it is less a creature of language and religion and more a system of laws and political beliefs based on the philosophy of John Locke and Adam Smith.

As The Economist once put it, America could become completely Mexican and it would still be America, not Mexico.

There are only two countries larger than America: India and China. They are much poorer, so America remains on top. For now.  India and China each turn out far more engineers every year than America, so America’s days on top are numbered.

The government was set up in the late 1700s with all the latest Western ideas. Even so, it was founded by and for rich white men – and to this day still works best for them. Most Black and Native Americans were not citizens. Women could not vote, nor could at least 80% of white men. Slavery remained.

The government is divided into three branches, each with limited, separate and balanced powers:

  1. The President rules America, not a king. The country votes for a new president every four years. He (not yet a she) has the power of the state, but he does not have the right to change laws, break them or even interpret them. He commands the military but cannot declare war.
  2. Congress is made up of two houses, Senate and the House of Representatives. It makes the laws, declares war, raises and spends taxes.
  3. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. It interprets the law but cannot make it. Some of its rulings, however, have the effect of making new laws and so some say it is becoming too powerful.

Its huge weakness is its terrible protection of minority rights, whether of race or region, as later events proved (civil war, civil rights).

Since the late 1800s the government has more or less done the bidding of big banks and big business, with just enough reforms and government handouts to prevent outright revolution.

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