Sunday 29 July 2018

Project Balkanisation: Oded Yinon and an Enduring Plank of Israeli Foreign Policy

Poster displaying the emblem of Irgun, the Jewish terror group of Mandate-era Palestine

Oded Yinon, whose 1982 paper for Kivunim (Directions) entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s”, is often used as a reference point for evidence of an Israeli aim to balkanise the surrounding Arab and Muslim world into ethnic and sectarian mini-states, was recently interviewed. He discussed the notoriety of the document which came to a wider audience a few years later after it was translated into English by Israel Shahak. But while Yinon down plays the specific application of his paper to actual geopolitical events, the ideas posited in his article have arguably formed an enduring central policy plank of the Zionist state; balkanisation having been a necessary condition first in creating the modern state of Israel, and thereafter as a means of ensuring its survival and maintaining its military dominance in the Middle East.

The theme of balkanisation has always formed an essential part of the rationale of Political Zionism. The refusal by Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Theodor Herzl’s offer of £150 million (sterling) as a down payment towards the Ottoman national debt in exchange for a charter enabling Zionist settlement in Palestine meant that the early leaders of Zionism would in due course redirect their efforts in seeking a means of creating a Jewish homeland in the Middle East.

A necessary precondition of this would be the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, and a step towards favourably positioning Zionist aspirations in the event of the liquidation of that empire came with the agreement struck during the First World War between the Zionist movement and the British government. The Balfour Declaration and the implementation of the Sykes-Picot accord created the basis through which the goal of securing a future Jewish state within the territory designated as a British Mandate could be focused.

After the establishment of Israel in 1948, a national policy of weakening Arab and Muslim states, balkanising them, or keeping them under a neo-colonial state of affairs has persisted. The prevailing logic was and always has been that any stable, nationalist government in the Arab world poses an existential threat to Israel. For instance, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was vehemently against President Charles de Gaulle’s decision to grant Algeria independence.

Setting communities against each other with the aim of weakening ‘national spirit’ and balkanisation was at the heart of the policy of Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan when it came to Lebanon, Israel’s northern neighbour. As Moshe Sharett, an early Israeli prime minister recorded in his diaries, both men were keen to exploit the differences between the country’s Muslim and Maronite Christian population. They also desired the creation of a Christian state. In a letter written to Sharett in February 1954, Ben-Gurion stated the following:

Perhaps … now is the time to bring about the creation of a Christian state in our neighbourhood. Without our initiative and our vigorous aid this will not be done. It seems to me that this is the central duty, or at least one of the central duties, of our foreign policy … We must act in all possible ways to bring about radical change in Lebanon … The goal will not be reached without a restriction of Lebanon’s borders.

Ben-Gurion had wanted Israel’s northern border to extend to the River Litani. This was made clear through the plans submitted to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 by the representatives of the Zionist movement. The water resources provided by the Litani, the River Jordan, and the Golan Heights were considered to be essential prerequisites for the sustenance of the inhabitants of a future Jewish state.

For his part, Dayan, who served as army chief of staff during the 1950s, envisaged that Israel could groom a Christian military officer who would declare a Christian state in the southern part of Lebanon, out of which the region south of the River Litani would be ceded to Israel. This is evidenced by an entry into Sharett’s diary dated May 16th, 1955:

According to Dayan the only thing that is necessary is to find an officer, be he just a major. We should either conquer his heart or buy him with money, to make him agree to declare himself the saviour of the Maronite population. Then, the Israeli army will enter Lebanon, will occupy the necessary territory and will create a Christian regime which will ally itself with Israel. The territory from the Litani southward will be totally annexed to Israel.

Dayan’s hope for a surrogate militia would come to pass in the 1970s with the creation of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), which did the bidding of Israel in its battles with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and other sources of resistance to Israeli power. In 1979, the leader of the SLA, Major Saad Haddad, a renegade officer of the Lebanese Army and a true life incarnation of what Sharett referred to as the “puppet” desired by Dayan, would even proclaim an area controlled by his group as ‘Independent Free Lebanon’.

While the SLA is now defunct, the leaders of Israel continue to covet parts of south Lebanon. It remains an important factor behind Israel’s goal of destroying Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia which forced the withdrawal of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) from south Lebanon in 2000, and which repelled the IDF’s incursion into south Lebanon in 2006.

It is important to note that the intellectual, if not moral, justification for the policy of balkanisation has come from many position papers produced by Israel-friendly (many would argue Israel-First) neoconservative think-tanks and other right-wing organisations, which have supported the idea of breaking up the Arab Muslim lands of the Middle East and North Africa. These include those disseminated by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and the Rand Corporation. A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, a document prepared in 1996 by the Israeli-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, and presented to Binyamin Netanyahu during his first tenure as prime minister, called for Israel to “contain, destabilise, and roll back” a number of states including Syria and Iraq.

Allied to the intellectual justification is the use of military force to practically effect such balkanisation. This has come through using the United States, over which the the Israel lobby has continually had a decisive influence, as either the main protagonist in military actions such as the invasion of Iraq, or as the overseer of covert operations geared towards destabilisation as has been the case in the Syrian conflict.

In January 1998, members of PNAC wrote an open letter to President Bill Clinton urging him to remove “Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.” This forceful plea was followed by the passage in Congress in October that year of the Iraq Liberation Act which made it official US policy to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It was always understood that the termination of the rule of Saddam’s Baathist Party would run the risk of fracturing the Iraq state into three component parts as Yinon’s paper suggested: A Sunni, a Shia and a Kurdish mini-state.

Israeli politicians including serving prime ministers have at times openly petitioned US presidents to destroy Arab and Muslim countries perceived as threatening Israel’s security. For instance, in January 2003, when the invasion of Iraq was brewing, Ariel Sharon called on President George W. Bush to also “disarm Iran, Libya and Syria”. Also, Binyamin Netanyahu has since the 1990s been actively calling on the Americans to intervene in Iran, another state with a heterogenous mixture of cultures and religious sects, which is viewed as inherently vulnerable to efforts geared towards destabilisation and dismemberment.

Iran formed a central part of the ‘Bernard Lewis Project’, a proposal contrived by the neoconservative academic in 1979, which argued the efficacy behind the West pursuing a policy aimed at dividing the countries of the Middle East along ethnic and religious lines. By encouraging groups such as the Kurds, Lebanese Maronites, Azerbaijani Turks and others to seek autonomous rule, Lewis envisaged an ‘Arc of Crisis’ which would spill over into the Soviet Union. Lewis’s project encompassed the breaking up of Turkey and Arab states such as Iraq and Syria since the creation of a Greater Kurdistan would necessitate this.

The usefulness of Lewis’s worldview to the cause of Israel was explicitly acknowledged by Binyamin Netanyahu who, in eulogising Lewis when he died in May 2018, said that “we will be forever grateful for his robust defence of Israel.” Lewis, whose influence in the corridors of Washington has remained strong over the decades, supported the White House and Pentagon planners of the invasion of Iraq, a conflict which Netanyahu admitted in 2008 “benefited” Israel.

Oded Yinon unsurprisingly singles Lewis out for praise in his interview.

Lewis’s influence on US foreign policy was apparent in the doctrine of the ‘New Middle East’ unveiled by the then serving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in July 2006. The aim of securing change through the fomenting of violence and disorder hinted at the ‘Arc of Crisis’ rationale posited in 1979, with the neutralising of the ‘Shia Crescent’, consisting of Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah being the centre of focus. The ultimate objective of balkanisation was alluded to in a map prepared by Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters, a retired US Army officer which was published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006. It depicted a redrawn Middle East map which included a Kurdish state, the creation of which is a present priority for the state of Israel.

To the perpetual Israeli goals of weakening and destabilising Arab and Muslim states must be added the objective of acquiring more land for the state through territorial conquest, a notable example of which was the annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights in 1981 after it had been taken by the Israeli Defence Force during the war of 1967. The conflict of 1967 was a war of conquest prosecuted by right-wing ‘hawks’ who had seized control of prime minister Levi Eshkol’s cabinet with the aim of completing the task of acquiring land which had not been taken from the Arabs during the War of 1948. One of the most important aspects of this reach for ‘Greater Israel’, in which Israel conquered territory that tripled its size, was the desire to capture Jerusalem.

The war of 1948, while often posited in Zionist historiography as a defensive war, had been waged to seize as much land as could be taken in excess of what had been provided under the vitiated United Nations Partition Plan. An important part of that campaign was Plan Dalet, which sought to expel Arabs from key areas so as to ensure a Jewish majority in all territories which would be controlled by the nascent Jewish state.

That Israel at its inception was a belligerent power intent on extending its borders and its sphere of influence cannot be denied. Just ten days after the declaration of Israel’s independence, Ben-Gurion said the following at a meeting of the general staff of Haganah, the precursor of the IDF:

We must immediately destroy Ramie and Lod. … We must organise Eliyahu’s brigade to direct it against Jenin in preparation for the Jordan Valley … Maklef needs to receive reinforcements and his role is the conquest of southern Lebanon, with the aid of bombing Tyre, Sidon and Beirut. … Yigal Allon must attack in Syria from the east and from the north. … We must establish a Christian state whose southern border will be the Litani (River). We will forge an alliance with it. When we break the strength of the (Arab) Legion and bomb Amman we will eliminate Trans-Jordan too, and then Syria falls. And if Egypt still dares to fight, we will bomb Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo.

While Yinon claims in the interview that Israel does not require more territory, which he links solely to the capacity it has of protecting its existing borders, this is contradicted by the creeping colonisation of the West Bank, considered in Zionist belief to be that part of the ‘Land of Israel’ known as Judea and Samaria. Arab settlements continue to be constricted into small, increasingly non-contiguous entities that many have referred to as akin to apartheid-era ‘Bantustans’. The stringent blockade of Gaza and the intermittent war and military strikes on the territory appear designed to make living conditions so unbearable and hopeless as to convince Gazans to pack their bags and migrate. And if acquiring neighbouring land is not explicitly mentioned, the quest to create additional territory by stealth through the creation of security ‘buffer zones’ on its borders with Syria and Lebanon is real enough.

But just how much more of the ‘Promised Land’ Israel would wish to acquire is an issue not openly discussed in contemporary times. Yinon smirked at the tendency of articles on his paper to reference a map of the Zionist ‘Land of Israel’ in its maximalist borders extending from the Nile Delta to the Euphrates River. Indeed, the claim that Israel continues to seek these borders is one which Zionists point to as a ‘conspiracy theory’.

Belief in Israel’s maximalist borders, which have a biblical origin, was taken up by many in the modern Zionist movement. It was explicitly referred to in the emblem of the Irgun terror group. However, since the creation of Israel, most hardline Zionists have been content to publically refer to securing what they term the sovereign right of the Jewish people to what was the western part of the British Mandate of Palestine, with the Palestinian Arabs entitled to the land east of the River Jordan, that is, the modern state of Jordan. However, until Israel formally declares where it considers its final borders to be, fears that it wishes to acquire more land will legitimately persist.

In the interview, Yinon claims that his plan has never really been implemented by any Israeli government, save for the adoption of some of his ideas by Israeli military intelligence (AMAN) during the present Syrian conflict. An obvious manifestation of this has been the medical and logistical support given by Israel’s military to jihadist militias fighting the Syrian Arab Army near the Golan Heights.

It is clear that the largely jihadist insurgency in Syria which aimed to bring down the secular-nationalist government of Hafez al-Assad has been overseen by the United States as a means of aiding Israel’s geopolitical goals. The objective of American-sponsored balkanisation was clear from a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document which noted that a declaration of a Salafist principality in the eastern part of Syria would serve the interests of the internal and external opposition to the Assad government. With most of the jihadists defeated by the Syrian Arab Army in concert with Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, this goal has been continued by American and Israeli support for Kurdish militias in that part of Syria.

The deliberate and calculated intervention in the affairs of the Arab world is something which Yinon is content to admit is unnecessary given the artificiality of the states which are the product of imperial draughtsmen. That was the criticism levelled at his paper by Yehoshafat Harkabi, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, who questioned the wisdom of working towards the dissolution of such countries if the initial analysis is that they will eventually fall apart.

Moshe Sharett warned against Ben-Gurion and Dayan’s plan to “transform” Lebanon because of what he correctly claimed would be “an adventurous speculation upon the well-being and existence of others”. The corpses of the victims of attempts in recent times to reshape the Middle East testify to that.

Yinon’s claim that an application of the spirit of his strategy has been limited only to the conflict in Syria is patently wrong. The neoconservative-inspired wars waged by the United States on behalf of the state of Israel in Iraq, Libya, as well as the ongoing plans to destroy the Shia Crescent by attacking Iran provide contrary evidence.

The ‘Yinon Plan’ after all merely encapsulates Israeli policy of the past, the present and the future.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Israel: A Lodestar State for the White Nationalist Movement

“I have great admiration for Israel’s nation-state Law. Jews are, once again, at the vanguard, rethinking politics and sovereignty for the future, showing a path forward for Europeans.” - Richard Spencer, poster boy for the ‘Alt-Right’ and White Nationalist Movement.

The aforementioned statement, sent out by Spencer as a tweet on July 21st, was made in response to the passage through the Israeli Knesset of the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the JewishPeople. It was his acknowledgement of Israel’s formal declaration of itself to be a racialist, ethno-state.

It is important to clarify what the primary objective of Political Zionism was from the outset: This was to found a Jewish state centered in Palestine to the exclusion of all other races and religions.

The founding of the State of Israel would entail ethnically cleansing the territory earmarked for colonisation, with the inhabitants being supplanted mainly by Jews from Eastern European lands. It was never intended to be a multi-racial state, but a ‘Jews only’ state, something which the founders of Zionism envisaged would be achieved by ‘transferring’ the indigenous Muslim and Christian Arab population to outlying Arab territories.

The term ‘transfer’ as used by Theodor Herzl and David Ben Gurion was Zionism’s euphemism for ethnic cleansing. Where Herzl envisaged this as been achievable through the offer of inducements: by alternately getting property owners to vacate their land by paying them off at higher than market prices, and by securing employment in “transit countries” for the “penniless population” (failing which they would be “discreetly and circumspectly” spirited “across the border”), Ben Gurion and the leaders of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, although supposedly representing the ‘Accomodationist’ wing of Political Zionism, knew like the Revisionist Zionist apostles of Vladimir Jabotinsky that this would only be achieved by force of arms.

This was largely accomplished through the implementation of ‘Plan Dalet’ during the war of 1948.

Israel’s Basic Law, which stipulates that only Jews have the right to self-determination in the country, merely formalises what was already at the heart of the philosophical and ideological foundations of Israel.

Its drift to a more obvious form of a racial-based state was predicted by a group of Jewish intellectuals including Hannah Arendt and Albert Einstein, who felt compelled to write an open letter to the New York Times in 1948. It was an action prompted by the formation of the Right-wing Herut Party by Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun terror group, in the same year. The establishment of Herut was, they believed, a development full of ominous portent that would lead Israel down the path which would legitimise “ultra-nationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority.”

Herut was the precursor of the Likud Party, which first came to power in 1977, and which has ruled Israel for the majority of years since, usually at the head of a coalition of parties with extreme social, political and military agendas.

It is clear why Richard Spencer approves of the Basic Law. He and like-minded white nationalist ideologues envisage a ‘whites first’ form of governance in European countries as well as in the European-majority nations of North America, Australia and New Zealand.

It is not the first time that Spencer has spoken favourably about Israel serving as a beacon for the new order racial societies desired by the alt-right movement.

Speaking before an audience at the University of Florida in October last year, Spencer ruminated over those states from past to present which have influenced his thinking and concluded: “the most important and perhaps most revolutionary ethno-state, the one that I turn to for guidance, even though I might not always agree with its foreign policy decisions - the Jewish state of Israel.”

He is not the only one on the political Right to think this way. Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who has never failed to express his affinity and admiration for Israel, praised the Israeli move by referring to it as “fantastic” and an “example to us all”. Wilders elaborated:

Let’s define our own nation-state, our indigenous culture, our language and flag, define who and what we are and make it dominant by law.

And while Israel and its supporters rail against those who claim that Israel’s laws and values should not be construed as being similar to those of the now dismantled apartheid regime of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime architect of the system, said the following in response to an Israeli vote against apartheid at the United Nations in 1961:

Israel is not consistent in its new anti-apartheid attitude … they took Israel away from the Arabs after the Arabs lived there for a thousand years. In that, I agree with them. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.

And with laws which include prohibitions against the renting and selling of properties to Arabs and to African migrants, secret policies which sterilised Jewish Ethiopian women, and proposed legislation aimed at making DNA testing a mandatory requirement for an immigration system predicated on a Jews-only Law of Return, who can argue against the proposition of it being a racialist apartheid state?

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. His tweets can be read at @AdeyinkaMakinde

Friday 20 July 2018

NATO and the Irony of its "Everyday Fight Against Terrorism"

A recently released animated video produced by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) depicts the body as being resolutely involved in what the video describes as the “international fight against terrorism”. The irony, however, is that NATO has a history of perpetuating terror in order to achieve the objectives of its political masters.

How can one not react with cynicism to NATO’s claim to “fight terrorism everyday” when its actions in attacking Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 have facilitated the creation and sustaining of Islamist terror organisations?

The occupation of post-war Iraq led to an insurgency by malcontents from the Sunni community, who felt deprived of the power and privileges they had held during the rule of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist Party. It is from the initial rebellion that the seeds of future Islamist terror groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State (IS) were sown.

NATO’s strategic bombing of Libya’s infrastructure and its armed forces was done with the specific aim of overthrowing the secular government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. These actions were in support of a rebellion by Islamist groups, the most notable at the time being the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). In fact, it was revealed that British Special Forces trained these rebels and were embedded with their brigades.

The result was not only the entrenchment of Islamist-friendly militias in what had previously been hostile territory for such groups, but also that Libya became the repository of battle-hardened jihadis who transferred their expertise to Syria where NATO countries were also trying to engineer the overthrow of the secular government of Bashar al-Assad. What is more, sizeable quantities of the munitions depots of the fallen Libyan army have got into the hands of Islamist groups active in North Africa such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and further south, in West Africa, where Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc in Nigeria and Cameroon.

NATO has not only created the conditions for terrorism to flourish, member states have actively utilised Islamist groups as proxies in pursuit of the geopolitical goals of the Western alliance. The aforementioned training of members of the LIFG by British Special Forces is not the only documented interaction between the armed forces of NATO members and Islamist groups. The Turkish High Command was involved in setting up training camps for rebels, and enabling their infiltration of Syria. In March 2013, the British Guardian newspaper reported that British, French and American military officers were giving rebels what it termed “logistical and other advice in some form”.

The truth is that NATO has a troubling historical connection to terrorism.

NATO, to this day, refuses to give a full or even partial disclosure of its role in managing the stay-behind networks in its member states, and the role they allegedly played in fomenting terror as a means of discrediting the political Left during the Cold War era. For instance, an Italian investigating judge named Felice Casson was able to link the bomb which exploded and killed three Carabinieri in Peteano in 1972 to military-grade munitions (C4), only available to NATO, discovered at an arms dump created for the Italian stay-behind.

The stay-behinds were groups of secret soldiers who were tasked with the role of fighting occupying troops of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies in the event of an invasion of Western Europe. The networks were supervised by the Allied Clandestine Committee (ACC) of NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). In Italy, the secret army was known by the code-name ‘Gladio’.

It is widely believed in Italy that Gladio was used to facilitate many key terroristic outrages during the anni di piombo (Years of Lead), which lasted roughly from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. The idea was to forestall the coming to power of the Italian communists and other Leftists who were gaining a significant amount of electoral support. This, it was reckoned, could be achieved by putting in place a strategy of tension, that is, creating the conditions where terror outrages, carried out by state-aided neo-fascist groups, would be blamed on the Left, and the resultant high level of fear and outrage on the part of the population would lead to widespread calls for the firm rule of a Right-wing government.

This modus operandi as applied in the Peteano attack involved using Vincenzo Vinciguerra of the neo-fascist Ordine Nuovo to plant the bomb, and then calling on the services of Marco Morin, an explosives expert for the Italian police, who forged a report which asserted that the explosive was of a kind traditionally used by Brigate Rosse, Italy’s foremost Left-wing terror group. Morin, was also a member of Ordine Nuovo.

The true origin of the bomb used for the Peteano outrage, Judge Casson later discovered, was from a Gladio arms dump hidden beneath a cemetery near Verona. They were military grade C4 plastic explosives used by NATO.

It should also be noted that Gladio’s commander at the time of the incident, General Geraldo Serravalle, would later testify to an irregularity at another munitions dump near the city of Trieste. Gladio had logged seven containers of C4, but when the Carabinieri had stumbled upon a cache of weapons there in February 1972 -two months before the Peteano incident- there were just four containers left.

At the time of the Trieste discovery, the police had assumed that they had stumbled across an arms cache owned by a criminal syndicate. The connection to Gladio was not discovered until Casson’s investigation.

Vinciguerra himself explicitly linked NATO to many of the outrages perpetrated during the anni di piombo beginning with the bombing at Milan’s Piazza Fontana in 1969. In 1990, he issued the following statement to the Guardian newspaper:

The terrorist line was followed by camouflaged people, people belonging to the security apparatus, or those linked to the state apparatus through rapport or collaboration. I say that every single outrage that followed from 1969 fitted into a single, organised matrix… Avanguardia Nazionale, like Ordine Nuovo, were being mobilised into battle as part of an anti-communist strategy originating not with organisations deviant from the institutions of power, but from within the state itself, and specifically from within the ambit of the state’s relations within the Atlantic Alliance.

Although General Paolo Inzerilli, the head of Italy’s secret service would announce in the latter part of 1990 that Gladio had been disbanded, there is no evidence that this was ever done, or that it was simply transformed into a new model of Special Forces irregulars.

Meanwhile, the communist enemy has been replaced by an Islamic one, and it would not be unreasonable to consider whether Gladio-type units are active in fomenting outrages which give the politicians from NATO countries the excuse to sanction military interventions in Middle Eastern countries, as well to pass legislation of the sort that has been gradually eroding civil liberties since the beginning of the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

It is while bearing these historical and contemporary events in mind that one pauses to reflect on NATO’s fight against terrorism. Its motto, Animus in consulendo liber, Latin for “A mind unfettered in deliberation” could arguably be more fittingly expressed as “A mind unrestrained by diabolical conspiracies”.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. His tweets can be read at @AdeyinkaMakinde

Sunday 15 July 2018

The Rebirth of a Nation: West Germany versus Hungary, the 1954 World Cup Final

Fritz Walter (left) and Ferenc Puskas, respectively the captains of West Germany and Hungary, exchange pennants before the 1954 World Cup Final in Berne, Switzerland.

Throughout its history, the popularity and influence of the game of association football has been consistently subjected to a great deal of assessment and analysis through the respective lenses of culture and politics. Football has been posited as the bringer of war and as an arbiter of peace. While some view football culture as the vulgar exercise of tribal rites in modern society and the World Cup tournament an excuse for the mass indulgence in crude jingoism, others have noted its redemptive qualities: To this day, many Germans believe that winning the 1954 World Cup signified the rebirth of their nation, which less than a decade earlier had lain in ruins after the fall of the Third Reich.

British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson believed that he lost the General Election of 1970 to his Conservative Party rival Edward Heath, because of England’s shock 3-2 defeat to West Germany in a World Cup quarter-final match held in Leon, Mexico. And while myth surrounds a claim that Pele’s visit to Nigeria with his club Santos in 1969 led to a ceasefire between the warring armies of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra, it was certainly the case that a two-legged World Cup qualifier between El Salvador and Honduras sufficiently exacerbated already existing tensions between the two states to cause a war. La guerra del futbol lasted for 100 hours.

As is the case with national achievements in sporting events, football events have allegedly caused spikes in birth rates. This was apparently the case with Germany -a country which perennially struggles with a low rate of birth- in the aftermath of the 2006 World Cup tournament. Such is the hold which football has over the minds of millions that Bill Shankly, the man behind the rise of Liverpool Football Club as a force in British and European football, once famously claimed the following:

Some people think football is a matter of life and death, I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.

While some might consider Shankly’s words to be verging on the pretentious –if not outright preposterous, they tend to strike a chord with others. For many German people, the victory of an unfancied national team in the 1954 World Cup Final was more than a temporary moment of popular exhilaration: it was a transcendental event of profound significance to the psyche of a recently defeated and divided nation, and one which would shape their collective destiny.

Dubbed Der Wunder von Bern, the match was a clash between pre-tournament favourites and a team of underdogs that the Hungarian side had trounced 8-3 in an earlier match held in the group stage.

It cannot be overstated just how lauded and respected the Hungarian team were. They were Olympic champions, had a lengthy unbeaten run, and could boast of many great players including Ferenc Puskas. One highlight of the ‘Golden Team’ was the 6-3 dismantling of England at Wembley Stadium the previous year. That victory irrevocably changed the English, who for decades had remained aloof and unimpressed about the development of the game they had created.

While Josef Herberger, the West German coach, had left out several first choice players in the group match for tactical reasons, no one could foresee his team beating the ‘Mighty Magyars’. And victory for the Hungarians seemed a certainty when they quickly raced to a 2-0 lead.

But captained by Fritz Walter, the Germans came back. All seemed to be in their favour. Fortune smiled in the form of two Hungarian plays bouncing off the German goalpost, and a Puskas effort which ended at the back of the net was disallowed. The weather elements played their part, because the rainy conditions in which the match was played was known to German football fans as ‘Fritz Walter Weather’. The more adverse the conditions, the better Walter’s game is claimed to have got. Technology also played a part. The Germans were kitted-out with Adidas boots, which had revolutionary screw-in studs. And the German players were emboldened and fortified by what was claimed to be a pre-match injection of either glucose or Vitamin C, but which some suspect may have been Peritin (methamphetine), a stimulant which had been given to German soldiers during the Second World War.

West Germany won the match 3-2.

Only nine years previously, their nation had been reduced to ruins by allied armies advancing from the west and the east. Many German footballers had been consumed by the flames of war. For instance, the talented Adolf Urban, a player for Schalke who had represented the pre-war German team, was posted to Stalingrad where he perished alongside the many dead of the vanquished Sixth Army.

The aftermath of the war had been a horrific episode in German history. Defeat did not end with the people being subjected to inevitable physical and material privations of what came to be known as “Zero Hour”. Widespread anti-German sentiment meant that they suffered pogroms across the continent, while German females were victims of mass rapes conducted by soldiers of the Red Army. They were also subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation by occupying allied soldiers. Across Europe, ethnic Germans had been ejected from lands on which they were long settled such as East Prussia, the Sudetenland and Volga-Land.

While the reasons for the subsequent Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle, are manifold and complex, many Germans continue to insist that victory in the 1954 World Cup was a key factor in the economic and political resurgence of West Germany in the post-war period. For them, German football commentator Herbert Zimmerman’s exhultant proclamation to millions of his countrymen listening on the radio that “Deutschland ist Weltmeister” symbolised their collective emancipation from “Zero Hour”.

As Joachim Fest the German historian put it, the game marked the “true birth of the country.”

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Wednesday 4 July 2018

“En Même Temps”: Emmanuel Macron Visits Fela Kuti's Shrine in Nigeria

French President Emmanuel Macron poses with Femi Kuti (Left) and Youssou N’Dour (Second from Right) at The Afrika Shrine in Lagos on Tuesday, July 3rd 2018. (PHOTO: Ludovic Marin, Getty Images)

So French President Emmanuel Macron made good on his promise to visit ‘The New Afrika Shrine’ in Lagos.

The venue was built as a homage to the late Nigerian musician-activist Fela Kuti, who was a vehement critic of the military and civilian administrations that governed Nigeria during his lifetime.

I wonder how President Muhammadu Buhari took to Macron’s initial announcement of the visit. You see, Buhari was a member of the military government which on February 18th 1977 attacked and burned to the ground, the original ‘Shrine’. Fela’s ‘Shrine’ was considered by Nigeria’s rulers to have been a den of political subversion and deviant behaviour. And Buhari was of course the person who effectively set Fela up to be jailed for a currency violation offence during his later tenure as military dictator.

Like Barack Obama, who once mildly admonished an NBA basketball star for deigning to introduce him to Fela’s music by promising to gift him a Fela album (Obama: “You think I don’t know who Fela Kuti is?”), Macron is clearly one of these establishment-sponsored, high-achieving politicians who are nonetheless familiar with the pulsating beat and firebrand lyrics of fundamentally anti-establishment music.

Macron’s contradictions are legion. For instance, while he often speaks of his determination to restore French grandeur, he also calls for deeper European integration, a policy which necessarily entails French acceptance of German domination. Also, his initial highly publicised flattery of Donald Trump was followed by a severe rebuke of Trump’s policies in a speech that he gave before the American Congress.

His inconsistencies are underlined by his often used phrase: “en meme temps”, which means “at the same time”. So maybe the conversation with Buhari, or rather, his monologue to Buhari went something like this:

Monsieur President, I am totally against decadent marijuana-smoking, hyper-sexual persons like Fela, who wish to overthrow the existing social and economic order. At the same time, I will be going to pay homage to that principled and rebellious musician who you jailed in 1984 - the same chap who referred to you and other Nigerian dictators as “animals in human skin”.

L’homme est une contradiction ambulate …

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.