Monday 28 November 2016

Collapse of the Soviet Union

With the death of one of the last Communist dictators — former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro — it might be a good time to relate part of an article from Rodney Castleden's book Events that changed the World viz-a-viz the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Communism destroyed more lives than any other organisation or event in the 20th century, mainly through the murders of citizens by the regimes that were forced upon them. The casualties were often the consequence of the conflicts in which Soviet Union became involved as they attempted to spread the communist system throughout the world. Civil and human rights were denied while the socialist system of central control over food and goods production impoverished many people who weren't part of the top elite of the Communist hierarchy:
The world watched in amazement, in December of 1991, as the Soviet Union disintegrated into 15 separate countries. To the West, its collapse was seen as a victory for freedom, a triumph for democracy and evidence that capitalism was superior to socialism. The United States rejoiced as it witnessed its formidable enemy dropping to its knees, thereby ending the long struggle that become known as the Cold War. In fact the break up of the Soviet Union was so momentous it led to the reform of political, economical and military alliances all over the world. 
There were warning signs before the collapse, and many people picked up on this several years before its actual demise. Some of the member states within the Soviet Union sensed that the centre was weakening. The Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, started agitating for their independence. They were greatly heartened by Poland's success in gaining its independence. In January 1991, Soviet paratroopers were sent in following independence demonstrations; they stormed the television station in Vilnius, Lithuania, killing 13 independence demonstrators. A similar Russian raid on Riga in Latvia led to the killing of four demonstrators. In February, a referendum in Lithuania produced a majority in favour of independence from Russia. The following month referendums in Latvia and Estonia produced a similar result. 
The article goes on to relate how Soviet president, Gorbachev, tried to maintain the union by proposing a new federation giving member states greater autonomy. However, all countries of the former Soviet Union gradually broke free while adopting western standards of administration and democracy with free enterprise. Many became members of the EU and NATO.

Monday 21 November 2016

Muhammad's Return to Mecca

With so much death and suffering going on in Muslim-dominated areas — and certain groups attempting to impose their understanding of Islam on the rest of us by tyrannical means — it might be an opportune time to reproduce the following article from a book called Events that changed the World by Rodney Castleden.
Muhammad claimed to be God's mouthpiece, but was extremely cautious in the way he asserted the claim. For three years his followers formed a secret society, and before that there was a revelation on Mount Hirah near Mecca. The earliest revelations took the form of solemn utterances which rhymed and were revealed only to his nearest relatives. He would speak in a trance and followers wrote down the utterances. The revelations would eventually make up the Qur'an. 
This early work was done in private within the family but, by the time Muhammad made his first appearance as a public preacher in Mecca in 616, he already had a united following. As he became more successful, some of his followers were persecuted and he found refuge for them in Axum. The Abyssinian king took the side of the refugees, apparently thinking that they were persecuted Christians — completely misunderstanding who and what they were. They were nevertheless being supported, and this diplomatic victory infuriated the Meccan leaders who blockaded Muhammad in one quarter of the city. 
Muhammad was glad, for his own safety, to have an invitation to go to Yathrib (later named Medina) as dictator; the citizens at Yathrib suffered from feuding and wanted an outsider to act as arbitrator. Accordingly he went into exile to Medina and 16 July 622 is taken as the start of the Muslim era.The Meccan authorities were alarmed at the prospect of a hostile regime in control at Medina, which lay on an important caravan route, and plans were laid to have Muhammad killed. The Prophet, as he came to be known, took temporary refuge in a cave, delaying his arrival at Medina until 20 September (the Jewish Day of Atonement) in 622. 
From this point on, Muhammad's power grew. He bound his followers to himself and then to one another by a range of ties, instituting brotherhoods. At first, Muhammad seems to have courted an alliance with the Jews, but found no possibility of compromise with them on religious questions. Islam began to evolve its distinct practices and customs to distinguish it clearly from other sects. The spread of Islam was swift and proof of conversion was reduced to a simple test, the expression of belief in Allah and Muhammad. 
He repelled an attempt by the Meccans to capture Medina. Mecca itself fell to Muhammad and his Islamic warriors in 629. It was an historic moment; the moment when Meccans had to recognise him as chief and prophet. Remarkably, within the year, Muhammad had control over the whole of Arabia. Islam was now firmly established as a religion of regional importance, and its future as one of the world's major religions was assured.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Sensational Irish Rugby Victory

Guinness Series:

Ireland 40; New Zealand 29

Last Saturday afternoon, on 5 November 2016, the Irish Rugby team achieved one of the greatest victories in Irish sporting history when they defeated the supreme aristocrats of the game, New Zealand's All Blacks, with a score line of 40 points to 29. This victory was achieved after 111 years of trying and ended New Zealand's current 18-game winning streak.

It is typical of an Irish team to achieve something spectacular when least expected. For me, this was reminiscent of Ronnie Delany's 1956 Olympic gold medal win in Melbourne, Australia and Tipperary's 2011 All-Ireland Minor Football win over Dublin.

The venue of last Saturday's game was also significant. Soldier Field is home to the Chicago Bears and is one of the Windy City's most famous landmarks. It was also one of the prime venues during the "Golden Age of Sports". On September 23, 1927, it hosted the epic Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney heavyweight boxing rematch featuring the controversial long count as a crowd of 104,000 looked on. Having knocked down Tunney, Dempsey went to the wrong corner. By the time the referee directed him to the neutral corner, five seconds had passed before the count started. Tunney, the champ, got up at 9 (which should have been 14) and went on to defeat Dempsey.

In 1944, at the height of World War II, Soldier Field hosted 150,000 spectators for a wartime visit by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and, in 1962, thousands turned up at the same venue to hear evangelist Billy Graham. Soldier Field was also the birthplace of the first Special Olympic Games in 1968.