South of the M4

I’ve written plenty on what has been going in the African Maghreb, and points east. Lots is going on there, and will be for a while. And even if it can be tamped down for now, there’s a head of steam, and in time it will explode. Several members of the chattering classes have opined that Bin Laden was retired (he is now), and that his role had emptied with the revolutions taking place throughout the Arab world.

I don’t think there’s a conventional retirement plan for terrorists, much like the Mafia or the Opus Dei. And I’m confused about the Arab revolution question. If these analysts are correct (and they include Arabists such as Robert Fisk), then the revolution is coincident with Bin Laden’s views, in which case, shouldn’t the West be far more preoccupied? An Islamic dictatorship throughout the Mid-East, based on various flavors of the Muslim Brotherhood, is the return of the Caliphate. But this time with oil on its side.

In these shifting sands, the oil market is no longer merely the European and American nations. There is a substantial demand from China and India, which will partly support sales. Europe will be the first to suffer, and suffer greatly. Never mind the EU peripherals and sovereign debt, look what happens to Eurozone inflation as soon as oil starts pushing up.

And then there’s the weaponry oil can purchase. In some research for a book I’m working on, I was trying to find out how to go from Syria to Iraq. If you type Damascus in one box and Mosul in the other, Google Maps reports “We could not calculate directions between Dimashq, Syria and Mosul, Iraq.”

I tried Baghdad.

“We could not calculate directions between Dimashq, Syria and Baghdad, Iraq.” Funny, that.

The ancient caravan trail goes through Ar Raqqah, which was once the imperial residence of Harun Al-Rahshid, of Arabian Nights fame. Rabbi Abraham of Beja, who met the spy Pero da Covilhã in Cairo, undoubtedly passed this Syrian city, one hundred miles east of Aleppo, on his way home from Hormuz. By then Ar Raqqah, which sits on banks of the Euphrates, will have been in ruins, razed by the Mongol wars of the 1260’s. But the good Rabbi will have seen the Bab Baghdad, or Gate of Baghdad, marking the old caravan road east. Perhaps he also stopped and contemplated the Qasr al-Banat, the suggestively named Castle of the Ladies.

The gate to Baghdad, on the old road from Aleppo, Syria (photo:

If you cross the Euphrates and and follow Route 4 North, you will hit the M4 freeway some miles south of the Turkish border. Head east for some two hundred miles and you will reach a place called Al Qamishli, similar in many respects to Peshawar. This town, a stone’s throw from both Turkey and Iraq, has a burgeoning arms trade. You can get the latest in RPGs―apparently best purchased at gas stations. As my source states, puts a whole new meaning on the term convenience store.

Also available: Second-hand USSR T-72 tanks, Syrian army surplus, low mileage, one careful lady driver, $3000 O.N.O. Kalashnikovs were ten bucks. Now one hundred. Inflation there too.

With all this news attack following Bin Laden’s death, together with the tanking (excuse the pun) of the euro, and various other upheavals, a small news item almost escapes notice. In my newspaper, it’s hidden away in the inner pages, dwarfed by the immense triviality of the IMF intervention. Only about 25 square inches, 5 X 5 of incredible suffering. I’m talking about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the most punished nations in the world.

Whenever a country’s name begins with “Democratic” I get suspicious. Read King Leopold’s Ghost, a book that vividly describes the nation’s suffering at the hands of the king of Belgium, where ten million died, far more than in the nazi holocaust. When you’re in Brussels, go out to Tervuren and visit the Royal Museum for Central Africa. This is where the spoils of what the Belgians (rather than Belgium, because the Congo was owned by Leopold) stole from the Congo are housed. The museum has been heavily sanitized during the decade over which I’ve been going there. Workers in rubber plantations, some of them small children, had their hands chopped off as punishment. The evidence is no longer in Tervuren. The pictures are in the book. The genocide was carried out in the age of photography.

The small print in my paper hides a gigantic statistic:

Over four hundred thousand women raped every year in the DRC.

Apparently, this is an underestimate. Further, sixty percent of these crimes are commited by relatives and husbands. Which leaves one hundred and sixty thousand rapes by strangers. Think military. The Stony Brook University study is aptly titled If Numbers Could Scream. Maybe the country’s name should change to Desperate Rape Conditions.

The DRC is one of the most populous nations in Africa, with around 70 million people. As a percentage, the rape rate is slightly higher than 0.5%, or 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. I thought I’d link a table that shows the rape rates per 100,000 inhabitants for around sixty nations throughout the world. Which begs the question: where are all the others?

The highest rate on there is for Lesotho, at about one hundred rapes per hundred thousand, although the absolute figures are under 2,000 cases. Curiously, the next highest rate is Sweden. Portugal comes in at a three cases per 100,000. Let’s hope the sovereign debt crowd don’t get hold of that one as well, or interest rates will be on the rise.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


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