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					10      Monday 23rd October, 2006

by Gwynne Dyer                                          region was in precipitous decline, and needed a             British and French power was in 1956. It was in
                                                        successful war to shore it up.                              slow decline, just as British and French power


I
    f you’re an imperial power, your troops often          Fast-forward fifty years to Iraq, and the script         had been in the 1950s. In 1956 the revolt against
    end up in places that most of your citizens         has hardly changed. The great power facing                  France in Algeria had barely begun, and Britain
    cannot even find on the map: Mesopotamia for        demotion now is the United States (as new great             still effectively controlled Jordan, Iraq and the
Roman soldiers, for example, or Afghanistan             powers emerge in Asia), and the target is another           Gulf states. The Suez invasion was an unpro-
(three times) for the British. It looks foolish,        Arab country: Iraq. The rhetoric that justifies the         voked attack intended to destroy Gamal Abdul
viewed with the long perspective of history, and        invasion follows an American rather than a                  Nasser, the charismatic Egyptian leader whom
yet lots of people fall for it in the short run.        European model, so there is more emphasis on                the British and French feared would rally the
    The coming week marks the 50th anniversary          apocalyptic threats (Saddam Hussein has weapons             Arabs against their domination of the region —
of the Suez crisis of 1956, when Britain, France        of mass destruction that he will give to terrorists)        and it ended by destroying their domination of




                                                                         Suez II
and Israel conspired to invade Egypt. That opera-       and on moral considerations (he tortures and kills          the region.
tion took much less time to fall apart than the
current Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, which
has already lasted more than three years, but the
parallels are irresistible.
    The British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt
was an instant military success, because at that
point Egypt had just emerged from centuries of
colonial rule by the Turks and the British. Egypt
was utterly incapable of defending itself against
countries that had long-range bombers, aircraft
carriers and amphibious forces. But what was
striking, even then, was the sheer helplessness of
the Anglo-French invasion forces once they had
won their military victory.
    It was one of those “wars of choice” that great
powers in decline sometimes fight just to show
that they are still top dog. Britain and France had
both suffered a sudden, severe demotion in their
great-power status after the Second World War, as
it became clear that the principal players in the                                                                                                                            success. It was another “war of choice” — in
next round of the game were the United States                                                                                                                                cheerleader-journalist Tom Friedman’s famous
and the Soviet Union, countries of continental                                                                                                                               phrase — and it is coming to the same grim con-
scale with which they could not hope to compete.                                                                                                                             clusion.
So the declining powers had chosen a war against                                                                                                                                 It is taking much longer to reach that conclu-
Egypt as a way of demonstrating that they were                                                                                                                               sion because America, the sole superpower, has
still serious players.                                                                                                                                                       nobody else to tell it to stop. US President
    It is unlikely that anybody in power in London                                                                                                                           Dwight Eisenhower did that service for the
or in Paris ever put it quite that way at the time.                                                                                                                          British and French in 1956, telling them to stop
Even in the innermost circles of power, things are                                                                                                                           the nonsense at once, and they obeyed. If they
rarely called by their proper names, and the lies                                                                                                                            had been allowed to continue, as Michael Foot
are layered. Thus the British and French secretly                                                                                                                            (later a contender for the leadership of the
agreed with the Israelis that the latter should                                                                                                                              Labour Party in Britain) and Mervyn Jones noted
invade Egypt, whereupon Britain and France                                                                                                                                   in a book published in 1957, Britain and France
would “intervene” to separate the Israeli and                                                                                                                                would have faced guerilla war in Egypt, and in
Egyptian combatants and “protect” the Suez                                                                                                                                   the end “we would have had to get out again,
Canal.                                                                                                                                                                       expelled by the gun of the terrorist.”
    Behind that was a story about how Egypt’s                                                                                                                                    There was nobody who could tell the US gov-
nationalisation of the Suez Canal was threatening                                                          Suez Canal                                                        ernment to stop when the Bush administration
world trade (though Egyptians were running the                                                                                                                               decided to invade Iraq, and so American troops in
canal perfectly well), and another story about how      people) than in the Suez episode. But behind all                The analogy with the current American inva-          Iraq are living through (or dying in) the same
the shareholders in the Anglo-French company            that the motive is the same: the need to shore up           sion of Iraq is striking. The United States gov-         sort of guerilla war that Eisenhower spared the
that had previously run the canal were being vic-       American power in the Middle East by a success-             ernment offered the same blizzard of lies to justi-      British and French in Egypt fifty years ago by
timised (partly true, but hardly a cause for war).      ful war against a defiant local ruler.                      fy its invasion of Iraq, and its fundamental goal        ordering them to stop and go home.
And behind all that was the real reason: the exis-          American power wasn’t actually in rapid                 was identical: to shore up a slowly deteriorating            There must be a moral here somewhere, but
tential angst that British and French power in the      decline in the Middle East in 2003, any more than           domination of the region by a striking military          I’m damned if I know what it is.



Book Review


Infusing destinations with an
effusion of poetic elegance
Destinies Destinations                                    My own stanzas not smooth or perfect                      generating a new reality. Her mind sees beneath            Formed looping ropes over plateau, valleys,
by Jean Solomons-Arasanayagam                             Yet the images I create with their                        the transitory surface of the material, giving us a      desert
Writers’ Workshop, Kolkata, India, 2006                   Imperfections and edgy unevenness                         new and intense faith in the imagination.                  Crossings, reaching the shores of Antioch and
                                                          Will be strung together in a necklace of                     To put it as neatly as I can, I would say with        Tyre,
-Pp. 116
                                                          Memories, reminding me of the stones                      conviction that Jean sees, reconciles, combines            Creating new legends out of marts of trade,
                                                          And segments of rock my daughter once                     and penetrates beneath the surface of the old to           New metaphors for the colour of the ocean...
by Carl Muller                                            Cupped in her palms, rough, unpolished,                   disengage the truth that sleeps there; then builds
                                                          Jagged, yet with that inner radiance                      afresh a fairer form of artistic power and beauty.         In 1955, The Sunburnt Country - A Profile of


P
       oetry carries with it a voluntary power. To        Lying concealed within its hidden heart.                     Her Italian destinations take her to stand            Australia was edited and released by Ian Bevan.
       Jean Solomons- Arasanayagam, this could                                                                      before “Da Vinci’s Marble Girl” [p. 43] with her           In it there are these melodious lines by Dorothy
       mean an act of volition - a spontaneity                                   [‘Hyderabadi Pearls’ - pp. 2 26]   softly contoured cheeks suffused by the prismatic/       Mackellar:
determined by an unconstrained necessitation to                                                                                        glow of the sun... to “Lago di
design her thoughts. The Romans called it Labor           Do manners go with textures,                                                  Como” [p. 4 5] - The spirit soul       I love a sunburnt country,
ipse voluntas: a labour of love, but, considering         the vari-coloured fibres spinning                                             of water, / aeons and aeons of         A land of sweeping plains,
the quite monumental collections Jean has                 whole tapestries of leg-                                                       silent currents / moving with         Of ragged mountain ranges,
unpacked so far, I don’t see much of “labour”.          ends, epics,                                                                     time into lime and then,              Of drought and flooding rains.
Rather, I see a spiritedness to nail her own            sagas                                                                             /Eventual timelessness.              I love her far horizons,
colours to the mast, so to say, and her lines flow                                                                                                                             I love her jewel-sea,
with ease.                                                 Find them                                                                        Take these fines:                  Her beauty and her terror -
   As she says in her acknowledgement, the theme        mouldering in odd                                                                                                      The wide brown land for me!
of this collection is Journeys - both literal and       places,                                                                               I have left behind a world
metaphorical; and that her own world was                   in old villas, cas-                                                             where my                             To Jean, Australia must always remain the
coloured by her many explorations. Three desti-         tles, museums,                                                                         Being was cracked apart,      wide-open land. In “The Paper-Bark Tree’ [pp. 103-
nations figure [call them transcursions?] and be it        tracing the histo-                                                               fragmented, spilling out         104] she seeks a mumina loci - spirits of the place
India, Bellagio or Australia, she becomes a gather-     ry of vanished                                                                          Or prised open, those        that dwell in each natural object. Her tree, with
er of her own prismatic view and gives us vistas,       epochs...                                                                            slivers of nutflesh, some       huge swaths of bark peeling off has its
as she describes them, as seen from her own men-                                                                                                 Morsels still embedded      Dreamtime name of the ancient Dreamtime peo-
tal watchtower.                                           [‘Borrowed Plumes’                                                                  in the shell,                  ple, and she says:
   To her, history may dessicate or crumble down                       - p. 28]                                                                   Its edges jagged
the trundling centuries [‘Historic Journeys’ - p. II]                                                                                           against my palm                I began to write my poems
but the courtyards are filled with the sun and the         Why write poems                                                                         To draw a faint trac-       On these tattered seamless pages,
pillars sleep, and in the Kailasa caves, the gods       that become caged                                                                        ery of blood                  Leave them behind for the wind to read
sleep too, undisturbed by the furies that torch the     birds,                                                                                                                 Fragmented stanzas, fractured phrases.
world.                                                     Let us give ourselves                                                                            [‘At the Villa
   I have found India quite a sprawling, elusive,       the freedom of silence                                                                      Serbelloni - Lines to       Yes, Australia is “A Different Landscape” [pp.
exasperating, preposterous and wondrous country.           Until the full-throated                                                                 Her Serene Highness       108-109] and It’s a lonely search ill a land / that
It can shock and enthral. Jean looks on the gods        song bursts out from the                                                                       Ella, Principessa     conceals its secrets... although wide-open to the vis-
of Kailasa - Siva Nataraj; Parvathi, his consort;       bird                                                                                       della Torre e Tasso -     itor who simply skims the sunburnt surface.
Vishnu, Krishna, and Kali, and knows full well             Perching on a tree-                                                                                  pp. 50-54]
that the worship of these deities is one of the old-    branch in an unravaged,                                                                                                 What does it all add up to? A collection that
est living faiths of      mankind. How does a              Unravished forest.                                               This is not a landscape that belongs to my       echoes and re-echoes the wonder of new sights,
poet from Sri Lanka enter this Hindu firmament                                                                        World but it is one I want to remember as              new realisations, new understandings; of making
where the gods have a thousand names? Jean may               [‘Imprisoned Birds’ - pp.                                I do the endless stories that spill out of the lips    a heady mixture of souls.
tell you that she has to drink of the well of cos-                                                         29-3 1     Of strangers.                                             In Venice Preserv’d, Thomas Ottway sang of
mic energy herself. She sings of Hyderabad, of                                                                                                                               lutes, lobsters, seas of milk and ships of amber.
the strings of the sitar and the notes of a love           I may be oversteeped in praise for this truly                           [‘Writing our Narratives’ -pp. 55-57]     Jean gives us as much and more, blending, fusing,
raga on the green lawn of the Taj Banjara, of           romantic poet of our times, but even as I write,                                                                     giving unity and tone and spirit.
Tughluquabad and Delhi. Let me give you some            lines from The Prelude by Wordsworth nag me.                   She takes us to the villas of Tuscany - thinking         As Biographia Literaria says in Chapter 14:
excerpts:                                               Madly enough, I ask myself: was Wordsworth                  of the pastoral idylls of Virgil’s Eclogues -
                                                        telling Jean of the tremendous power of percep-             Florence, Bergamo; views “The Gobelin                      ... she abstracts their forms
   We are all making journeys...                        tion? As he wrote -                                         Tapestries” [p. 77-89], and the lines dazzle:              and draws a kind of quintessence from things;
   drowning in someone’s tears of finding revela-                                                                                                                              which to her proper nature she transforms
tions                                                     An auxiliary light                                          Within these walls are many worlds that have             to bear them light on her celestial wing.
   within the red heart of the fiery ruby                 Came from my mind which on the setting sun                  Impinged from both silk roads and trade routes
   in someone’s poems...                                  Bestowed new splendour...                                   All along the way...                                      ...Which then re-clothed in divers names and
   clinging to the cords and threads that spin                                                                                                                               fates
   our fate.                                               This is how I see Jean’s creations. She modifies            Forgotten routes? Beginning -where? A road that          Steal access through our senses to our minds.
                      [‘Images’ - pp. 12-18].           and combines both perceiver and the things per-                Sourced from Chang-an diverged, trails, wind-            Need I say more? Read this collection and ask
                                                        ceived, and presents an original union of both,             ing,                                                     yourself: Is every destination a step to destiny?

				
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