Friday, February 6, 2009


A Muslim Voice For Peace

I have written more than 5,000 columns but this one from May 5, 2002 in the Toronto Sun continues to be a favourite on the Internet because it came from the other side of the great war between Muslims, Jews and Christians. The names of the leaders have changed, and there would be changes in the figures - although refugee figures are often frozen cruelly - but the anguish and the blindness and the hypocrisy continues.


Downstairs in the wine cellar of a trendy Yorkville restaurant is an unlikely setting for an Islamic scholar as he rips at Saudi Arabia for its destabilizing evil and condemns those who pretend the Koran justifies the slaughter by suicide bombers.

To further confound those Muslims who will never rest until they drive all Israelis into the sea, Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi points to passages from the Koran showing the land of Israel was given to the Jews.
For example, Palazzi, chief imam (cleric) of Italy's Muslim community, quotes the Koran (17:104, The Night Journey): "And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd.'"

For this controversial cleric, who says his views are more traditional than the present "politicized" consensus of Mideast Islamism, world terrorism and the agonies in Israel can be blamed on the Wahhabis, once just a tribe of Bedouin nomads but now a primitive sect which rules Saudi Arabia through wealth and control of Islam's holiest sites.

He calls Saudi Arabia the "roguiest nation in the world." It isn't a word, but the knot of journalists at the table know what he means, that when you talk about rogue nations, three others of which belong to George W. Bush's "axis of evil," Saudi Arabia must be the leader as it has a foreign policy of using petro-wealth to spread terrorism via fundamentalism.

Those views are the reason Palazzi was busy last week from Montreal to Winnipeg, brought here from his professorial post in Rome by the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research to speak to synagogues, to religious leaders and at the University of Toronto.

When we in the media kept pointing out how different his views were from those coming out of the Arab world, Palazzi reminded us there are Islamic voices speaking out for Israel in the non-Arab Muslim world, from Turkey to the republics of the former Soviet Union. He doesn't brandish his doctorate, by appointment of the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, or his studies at Italian and Egyptian universities, but points out many Koran interpreters are unordained and little educated; that one, for example, a charismatic Hamas leader, admits his title of "sheikh" is honourary.

Palazzi is a roly-poly 40-year-old whose commendable ecumenical beliefs are rooted in family. His father converted to Islam after marrying his Muslim mother, and he's married to a Catholic. There's nothing roly-poly about his rhetoric or logic, though. So much so, a colleague wonders whether he fears death threats from an Islamic world that finds it easy to kill infidels.

He has been "criticized, attacked, insulted, nothing more," he replies. Besides, he imagines the fundamentalist Muslims of Italy - who control more than 90% of the mosques despite their few numbers, thanks to the fact, he says, that they get all the money they need from the Saudis - talk to each other about leaving him alone because, "We can buy space in the media, we can buy politicians, so what do we care if someone is criticizing?"

He demolishes any religious excuse for suicide bombers.

"They (Muslim clerics) play with words to justify it. They are lying in order to please their governments. It is anti-Islamic because suicide is, by itself, anti-Islamic in principle."

Indeed, there are many moral people and faiths who would support his argument, which goes this way: "You are permitted to kill for three reasons in the name of Islam. When you are a soldier, part of an army, you can kill the soldiers of the enemy, not the civilian population. You can kill in self-defence, if all of a sudden someone is trying to kill you, you have a right to defend yourself by killing him. You can execute someone by order of a court for a capital commission. Apart from those three cases, there are no others in which someone is legitimized to kill in the name of Islam, or in which Islam permits killing."

But then a colleague asked about martyrdom, when a Palestinian feels his land is occupied and he has no hope and his children have no food or future. Palazzi said there is no moral difference between this man throwing himself under an armoured vehicle and blowing it up, or running into a pizzeria and blowing up 20 people eating dinner.

It would be wrong, the cleric said, even in the case of oppression where a regime denies religious freedom. Resistance can be organized against the military if religious freedom is denied, but where religion is respected (as in Israel) but there is other oppression, then Islamic law says you "have passions and bear that injustice or you have got to exile and settle in a land that has no oppression."

Palazzi is savagely cynical about the Saudi-American relationships. He says attacking Afghanistan after 9/11 made as much sense for the U.S. as attacking some other country than Japan after Pearl Harbor. The Americans "attacked the soldiers of terror but not the generals of terror," he said. "If they invaded any country, it should have been Saudi Arabia where they must feel invincible."

And going after Iraq is just the U.S. doing what the Saudis desire. Palazzi says Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Liberation Organization don't want a state because PLO leaders make more money now than they would running one. If it happens, he says, the Saudis would just say they had won the first stage of a war and Hamas should keep going.

His arguments spill out in a richer mix than the meal.

Then I climb to the street from the wine cellar and walk by the patio tables under the budding trees, where weather is the only concern, not the fear of those who would kill you because they have been deluded into thinking it is a holy act.


The second part of the column appeared May 12, 2002 under the headline:FINDING A HOME FOR THE PALESTINIANS. It dealt with the sheikh's argument that Israel isn't the only mideast country that should be considered as a home for the Palestinians. Surely we must pay attention to this argument as Gaza continues to be a running sore for the Israeli state.


No wonder so many world leaders ignore the history of the bloodstained rocks of Israel and demand the Palestinians be given their own state. They don't want more coming to their country, as they proved again last week when it became so difficult to find a place to deport the 13 Palestinians from the birthplace of Jesus.

They were said to be militants, proven troublemakers. But there's nothing new about not wanting Palestinians in your backyard. For 50 years, thanks to their leaders, they have proven a troublesome, costly crowd with their home industry of terrorism.

Just ask Israel's neighbours, who are so insistent it give up vital defensive space because they don't want Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority in their cities and towns.

There's Lebanon, with 376,000 Palestinian refugees, Syria, with 383,000 such refugees, and Jordan, with 1.57 million refugees. In fact, in Jordan, the Palestinian state already exists that is the hot wish of the UN and now, George W. Bush. The population of Jordan is over 55% Palestinian, making things unstable for the supposedly purer Bedouin tribes.

The only reason it wasn't called the kingdom of Palestine when it emerged from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, as some suggested, was to make it plain it was exempted from a Jewish home state.

It was the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan then. And Transjordan became just Jordan in 1949 after its Arab Legion seized the Jordan River's West Bank. The UN designated these biblical lands of Judea and Samaria as Arab lands, not giving them to Jordan or Israel (and Israel should have got them, not only because of their history but because Israel got less than 50% of the land it had been promised in the original British declaration). When Jordan formally annexed the West Bank, it was resented by Arab states as well as Israel.

I remind you of this history because when the UN insists Israel withdraw from "illegally occupied Palestinian territory," diplomats are making several mistakes as they kowtow to Arab oil. It is not an occupation and it is not illegal for Israelis to be there. It is disputed territory that Israel conquered in the Six Day War with Jordan, land the world had never recognized as being Jordanian after Jordan seized it against the UN's wishes.

Got that? I don't have enough space for all the language of the Geneva Convention showing that land taken in a defensive war may be kept until a treaty is worked out. Yet I quote the past for another reason, to justify the answer two weeks ago when Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, the Muslim scholar and Italy's grand imam, was being interviewed here.

We asked about this demand for a Palestinian state. The sheikh argued there are already two Palestinian states, Israel and Jordan, and what the world is calling for is a new one on the Jordan's West Bank, one he's not confident the Palestinians really want because their leaders like Yasser Arafat are getting so rich from terrorism.

Palazzi doesn't think the Mideast agony would end with a new state. Surely, only the foolish clutching at straws think it would. Such a state, with or without Arafat, who once again is giving us doubletalk on stopping his suicide bombers, would have terrorism as its largest export, an offensively gross national product. And not just against Israel. What about the old Jordanian targets, especially the royal ones?

I doubt it is ever far from the mind of Jordan's King Abdullah, who met with George W. Bush after another suicide bomber had Ariel Sharon cut short his own talks with the president. After all, his great grandfather, the first King Abdullah, was assassinated by a Palestinian in 1951, a terrorist killed the prime minister in 1960, there was a civil war with the Palestinians in 1970, then in 1971 another PM was assassinated by Black September, a Palestinian guerrilla group, and his father was wounded by a Palestinian assassin in 1971. And there was unrest in between those lowlights.

King Abdullah and his country enjoy good relations with the West since such real peace emerged with Israel in the mid-1990s that Jordanian airliners could fly over the Holy Land and no longer have to go around. I was in Israel the day the king's father was at the controls of the first such flight.

I loved Amman and the great archeological treasures of Petra and Jerash on a visit in 1996, after a world media organization tried to meet in both Jerusalem and Amman but the Jordanian part failed. Old habits die hard, especially where the press isn't free. But I enjoyed the country and its great expanses. Plenty of room here, I thought, if a new Palestinian state was established on both sides of the Jordan River.

After all, Jordan has nearly five times the land Israel has, and its history intertwines with the Palestinians. The only reason the UN isn't hammering it like Israel to donate land to the Palestinians is that they're not the Jews or Christians that evil Saudi billionaires want to exterminate.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Collecting, Even Fingerprinting, The Ages

It's been 50 years between my visits to the Niagara Falls Museum. But its wonders have grown beyond the believe-it-or-not stuff, like two-headed sheep, thanks to the fascinating additions from the ages of everything from shrunken heads to, perhaps, a ghost.
And the collection has moved from the Falls to downtown Toronto, to a loft with expanses of wooden floors, freaks of nature and ethnological gems.
It may have all started in 1827 when this was Canada's first museum with curiosities like those that later dotted the CNE Midway and small tourist museums everywhere. But mixed in between war clubs and swords, and one of the first electric chairs, are costly relics that would be right at home in the great museums of Egypt and the Americas.
Hold a shrunken head in your hand like a grapefruit, smell its old leather scent, then close your eyes, and you can almost hear the war drums beating and the shrieks as warriors are cut down and triumphantly beheaded. The smell is a trifle disappointing because you expect smoke from cooking fires or even a trace of the hallucogenics that transported shadowy figures far beyond the Amazon.
It's all thanks to Billy Jamieson, a beguiling mix of collector, showman and enthusiastic salesman. He saved the museum as it disintegrated into leaky shabbiness, and in the process of financing its purchase sold mummies and coffins for $2 million U.S. to an Atlanta museum.
So Jamieson is remembered in the tight world of Egyptologists as the Canadian who sold the missing mummy of Ramesses 1. The pharaoh now rests in the famous mummy wing of the national museum in Cairo near the Nile. (The Carlos museum didn't feel it could keep one of the kings of Egypt.)
It's a great story about scholarly detective work and it was detailed in a NOVA show on PBS titled The Mummy Who Would Be King. Fascinating, but then Jamieson is rather fascinating himself.
(I have let him describe himself at the end of this blog in material extracted from his Internet site: which is one of his tools in generating interest in his hobby/business/passion. There's also
Walking around his museum/home and listening to him romp verbally from weirdness to displays that have other collectors sweating with envy is a unique experience. He merges an encyclopaedic knowledge with a grisly fascination for the really odd.
It happened for Mary and me because our son Mark was home from China for a visit. He had worked for eBay in Canada and noticed there was a listing for a great whale skeleton. He followed up and as a result a Reuters story appeared around the world about this Canadian who now owned the big whale skeleton that I had marveled at in 1954 while on a high school outing. As a result of the publicity, the skeleton was sold to a sheik for $200,000. (We're not talking about stamp collecting here.)
It was a cold snowy night when Mary, Mark and I visited the Falls collection with a small group, including a forensic constable from the Toronto police and students from a course he teaches. We were an attentive audience as Jamieson walked us through his collection after insisting we must give him our full attention. It was worth it. (The loft is often the setting for fund-raising, even book launches.)
Then the constable and students conducted a unique class project - seeing if they could get a finger print from a mummy that Jamieson still owns, The mummy's value was reduced by the ancient grave robbers that left it unwrapped after probing for treasure, but it's plain from its crossed arms that it is a high priest.
A rubber liquid was squirted around a finger - with a business card below in case it dripped - and then after it hardened, we all had a look. Yes, there was a print. No, the mummy was not damaged, although I kidded the forensic crew as they carefully pried away the mould that if the finger came too, I was going to tell the Sun.
Here I was holding a mummy's leg when normally you can't even touch. Indeed, for more than a decade, the mummy wing in the Egyptian museum was closed while scholars and bureaucrats argued whether it was appropriate to let tourists gawk at the bodies of your royalty.
You can tell from the fingerprinting anecdote that Jamieson is a happy throw-back to the good old days when museums were a lot of fun. Now education often drowns out entertainment.
Oh yes, you were wondering about that ghost. One of Jamieson's acquisition, along with the whale skeleton, the mummies and the two-headed sheep, was the baroque rear of a real hearse that looks like it was made for a Victorian horror movie.
Inside its glass windows you can see a large tropical fish tank. Which takes away some of its spookiness. Except there have been sightings of a ghost that perches above the skulls that line the hearse roof and presumably tries to communicate with the shrunken heads.
I've investigated several ghost houses and have heard two ghosts. So I volunteered to do a vigil with Jamieson to see if this ghost reappeared. I'm not sure the ghost would bother me as much as spending a night with more body bits than are in a small cemetery.
But if a great talker like Jamieson was keeping me company, the night would pass in a twinkling.

Ethnologist, musicologist, antique tribal art collector, dealer. Bill's interests evolve around the forgotten cultures and customs of the South Pacific, Indonesia, South America and North America. Also Bill's fieldwork among the Shuar of Ecuador and Peru helped him learn a great deal about that tribal group. His expertise has been drawn upon by National Geographic's documentary production unit for a series on headhunting, human sacrifice, and canabalism. He is also consulted by museums and researchers.
Because of his interest in disappearing Andean-Amazonian tribal rituals, he has financed and led five expeditions into Ecuador and Peru from 1995 to 2001, researching traditional naturopathic healings and related rituals. Focusing on the Shuar tribe, famous for their past custom of shrinking heads, Bill has amassed the most extensive Shuar library in existence, including a collection of shrunken human heads. Bill has also taken an interest in other cultures and collected early ethnographic material from the Native cultures of North America, South America, South Pacific, Dayak of Borneo, Naga of the Highlands of India and Batak of Sumatra.
IN 1998, Bill purchased Canada's oldest museum, the Niagara Falls Museum. Established in 1827, the museum held title to the name The Explorers Club in Canada. Bill donated the name to The Explorers Club in New York City. Nine Egyptian mummies that had been in the museum's collection since 1861 were sold to the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta.
Bill is also an antique tribal art dealer and he has set records at Sotheby's for sale in Polynesian material. He continues to find great material through traveling, chasing old collections and constant communication with other dealers. He wants to acquire great old North American Indian, Pre-Columbian, African, Oceanic and Indonesian Art, plus oddities and curiosites from around the world.


Some Gripes Never Change

Readers used to envy me when I devoted a column to beefs and what bugged me about the careless service of modern times.
So when I vented on Jan. 8, 2009, in a blog titled DOES ANYONE CARE? IS THERE ANYONE THERE? I'm sure there was some envy about how a little publicity could erase some gripes out of daily life.
If only....
My newspapers now seem to be thrown further from the door. And TIME magazine, one of my favourite reads, hasn't appeared with my mail since I complained about not getting the watch for subscribing again.
My son Mark tried two more times to convert some Chinese money and deposit it into his Royal Bank account. He also tried at TD. Finally got RBC to take the money, on the fourth try, and then got a phone call of apology from the manager the next day. Nice, but he would have preferred to have been able to change the money on the first try.
My wife Mary and I have been banking near Royal York and Bloor for 46 years. The building and the name keep changing - from Eastern and Permanent through Canada Permanent to Canada Trust to TD-Canada Trust. We've got older, the tellers have got younger, the service has got worse.
I did two electronic transfers to ING from our joint TD chequing account in November, one to Mary's account, one to mine. For some strange reason, my ETF didn't go through and Mary's was taken from her separate chequing account, leaving her overdrawn by $3,500.
My wife seldom uses this account but had told them she wanted money automatically transferred from her savings account if need be. Apparently they haven't done this since 2002 and Canada Trust days, but no one told Mary that.
So TD honoured this ETF, because she had overdraft insurance, but then proceeded to charge Mary $150 in fees since then without ever telling her. And she had been in the bank at least eight times in the two months since. Temporarily, there was $30,000 in her savings account. If you wonder how she wouldn't notice, she doesn't use either the chequing or the savings account on a regular basis but uses the joint accounts with me.
So we descend on TD on a snowy day at the end of January to ask what is going on. And filling in temporarly at the info/reception desk is a large efficient man who handles our complaint and eliminates the extra fees. Later we found out he was the manager, Sean Donegan, and he was great.
Surely in the age of computers and ETFs and the fact that any bank can tell you, when you finally get to the head of the line, exactly what you have in that second in all your accounts, there is no need or excuse to be punishing a customer because someone made a mistake on an electronic transfer. Surely when the customer has ten times that money in a savings account a transfer can be automatically made to the chequing account, which, of course, they used to do. But they don't want to do that now because they make more money by not performing such a simple task.
A friend listened to my recitation of beefs in that Jan. 8 blog and just couldn't believe the part that dealt with the ordeal of trying to get my wife out of Mount Sinai hospital after her operation. He's on one of the boards at the Trillium health complex (and I'm also on a hospital board) and pointed out that there a volunteer would have delivered Mary to the side of my car without problem.
If only the downtown hospitals made it that easy. If only they had a reasonable excuse. But these days you often doesn't get an answer, that is if you get them to listen in the first place.