Saturday, 14 May 2016

Hezbollah and the Dilemma of the Syrian Civil War


Flag of Hezbollah

The recent killing in Damascus of Mustafa Badreddine who was Hezbollah's top military chief served to raise several key issues. The most obvious related to the circumstances of his death and with whom responsibility for the homicide lay. Initial reports that it had been a targeted assassination carried out by Israel appear to have been laid to rest by a statement issued by the organisation which related that Badreddine was killed by artillery fire emanating from a Sunni militia fighting the Syrian Army to which Hezbollah is aligned in that nation's ongoing civil war.

However, one consistent theme raised in the reports by news outlets was the assertion that Hezbollah's popularity within the Arab world -at its highest in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006-  has plummeted in recent times. This ebb is even said to extend  to its Shia base in Lebanon. 

In many ways this is surprising given the high level of praise heaped on the Russia Federation by large swathes of global opinion in taking on Sunni Islamist militias including the so-called Islamic State. At the same time, the group's involvement in the Syrian conflict has been controversial from the start given the multi-confessional make up of Lebanon and the dangers of the Syrian conflict spreading there. Yet, whatever the misgivings, it is difficult to see how its leadership could countenance the thought of effecting a complete or partial disengagement from Syria given what the organisation believes is an existential struggle to preserve its position of regional influence and ultimately the preservation of peace in Lebanon.
Any graph charting the rises and dips in the popularity of Hezbollah, or 'Party of God', would indicate that it reached its summit in the time following the militia's repelling of the Israeli Defence Force's incursion into Lebanon back in 2006.

That victory, which followed its leading role in resisting many years of Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, consolidated its reputation as a formidable military body. It remains unique in the contemporary Arab world as the only martial entity having both the willingness and the capability of taking on Israel. 

Hezbollah's success in 2006 stands in sharp contrast to the timidity of Arab states in confronting Israel. For instance, the Saudi-led Arab League gave assurances to Israel that none of its member states would intervene against the IDF's destructive invasion of Lebanon in 1982 when Prime Minister Menachem Begin and defence minister Ariel Sharon were on a mission to physically annihilate the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

It was that bloody intervention which actually created the basis for the rise of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is aware that the Syrian conflict was deliberately started by the United States and its NATO allies. The revelations by Roland Dumas, a former French foreign minister, in 2013 clearly identify the root of this policy as lying in the aim of consolidating the regional dominance of the state of Israel. 

Largely funded by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, it is an operation which has involved importing Sunni extremist militias such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and what later morphed into the Islamic State. The intended result, that of the fall of the government of Syria, is one which Hezbollah, allied with both Damascus and Tehran in what is often referred to as 'The Shia Crescent', cannot tolerate. 

In early 2015, retired United States General Wesley Clark made the following admission in an interview on CNN:

ISIS got started through funding by our friends and allies because as people will tell you in the the region, if you want somebody who will fight to the death against Hezbollah, you don't put out a recruiting poster saying, 'Sign up for us, we're going to make a better world.' You go after zealots and you go after religious fundamentalists. That's who fights Hezbollah.

That Hezbollah itself was specifically targeted for destruction cannot be doubted. Prior to the war in Syria, the United States had during the second term of the administration of George W. Bush, re-configured its foreign policy priorities to aid pro-Saudi Sunni militant groups in the Lebanon in operations against Hezbollah.  

In fact, General Clark had mentioned in an earlier CNN opinion piece published in August of 2014 that "while (ISIS) has challenged al-Assad's forces in Syria, it is more focused on carving out its territory in northern Syria (and) destabilizing Lebanon."

It was clear to Hezbollah that if Syria fell to Sunni extremists that such groups would next foment trouble in Lebanon; a nation that was wracked by a devastating civil war in the 1970s and 1980s.

While it is true that Hezbollah do effectively function as a state within a state, it would be remiss not report that the group acknowledges that it would be futile to attempt to dominate Lebanon. It is on record as stating its support for the idea of Lebanon existing as a secular state in which the political and cultural rights of Sunni, Shia, Christian, Druze and others are guaranteed.

The need for peaceful co-existence is of primary concern for the Lebanese who for decades have suffered the effects of deliberate 'divide and conquer' policies followed by Lebanon's French colonial rulers and then by Zionist Israel. Indeed, Moshe Dayan is recorded in the diaries of Moshe Sharett, an early Israeli prime minister, as declaring that Israel needed a Christian military officer to declare a Christian state out of which the region south of the River Litani would be ceded to Israel. 

It was the policy of David Ben Gurion to foment sectarian trouble among Lebanese groups with the aim not only of forestalling the development of a unified Arab nation which could threaten it, but also of creating the circumstances in which land could be acquired. Dayan's plan of course came to fruition with the creation of a surrogate militia, the South Lebanon Army,  which did the bidding of Israel in its battles with the PLO and other sources of resistance.

The emergence of Hezbollah during the Israeli occupation was portrayed in the Western media as that of a uniquely ruthless, fanatical and well-indoctrinated fighting force. The slaughter of American and French peacekeeping troops by suicide bombers in 1983 is still seen as the result of a combined operation of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Another bombing earlier that year at the American embassy although claimed by an obscure pro-Iranian group is also believed in Western intelligence circles to have been carried out by Hezbollah. In more recent times, blame for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri, in 2005, has also been affixed on Hezbollah. 

The group continues to deny responsibility in these incidents.

Amid claims of its waning popularity is evidence of an appreciation of Hezbollah's efforts in helping to shore up the secular government of Bashar al Assad among the Lebanese Christian population. A survey carried out by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information in 2014 revealed that two thirds of Lebanese Christians believe that Hezbollah is protecting Lebanon from what are termed Takfiris; that is, extremist Sunni groups. 

Further, there have been reports of Lebanese Christian communities who have seen the suffering of Christians at the hands of Sunni extremists in Iraq and Syria, turning to Hezbollah for help. The Christian dominated northern Lebanese town of Ras Baalbeck is a case in point. Thus, for many Christians, it is no overstatement to view Hezbollah's actions in Syria as serving to protect Christians in the Middle East. 

Hezbollah's loss of popularity in regard to the wider Arab Muslim world may not be unrelated to anti-Shia prejudices held by ordinary Sunni Muslims who of course represent the dominant group within global Islam. Yet, if the average person on Arab street is concerned about those of their leaders who are bribed by the United States and are otherwise intimidated by the military might of Israel, it is clear that the leaders of Hezbollah do not fall into that bracket.

It is easy to understand the ambivalence of members of the Lebanese Shia community about sending their young men to fight and die outside of Lebanon. But it is only natural that the average person who is mourning the loss of kinsmen or fearful for the lives of those on active duty is not inclined to think strategically.

And while much of the world has enthusiastically applauded the apparent success of the intervention of the Russian Federation which has rolled back the Islamic State, it is worth reminding that this would not have been possible without the aid of Hezbollah.

They are in it not for the popularity stakes but for the long-haul.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Hitler and Zionism: Antony Beevor and a Scrupulous Attitude to the Facts of History

Special medal issued by 'Der Angriff', a newspaper of the Nazi Party, commemorating a joint visit by members of the SS and German Zionist Federation to Palestine in 1934

With many bestselling tomes including ones dealing with the Battle of Stalingrad and the fall of Berlin under his belt, Antony Beevor is a military historian of fine repute. However, his recent intervention in the furore over comments made by Ken Livingstone positing Adolf Hitler as having been a Zionist was high on emotion but fell short of historical accuracy.

After claiming that Livingstone's comments were "grotesque", he went on to speak of "an element of truth". The problem is that Beevor underplays the level and length of contact between Zionists and Nazis while mentioning Adolf Eichmann whose name is synonymous with the planned extermination of the Jews.

There was actually an agreement reached between early Zionists and the National Socialist regime in 1933. The Haavara Agreement which is alternately known as the Transfer Agreement, had the objective of facilitating the migration of all Jews from the German Reich. It was pursued with the idea of mutual benefit: Germany circumventing an international economic boycott instigated by most of world Jewry, the majority of whom were not Zionist, and German Zionists aiding Jewish resettlement in Palestine.

The Haavara Agreement broadly observed the following modus operendi: A German Jew would deposit money into a specific account in a German bank. The money would then be used to buy German goods for export usually to Palestine. The Jewish emigres to Palestine would then receive payment for the goods which they had previously purchased after their final sale.

In 1934, the Nazi Newspaper Der Angriff produced a medal commemorating a joint tour of Palestine by an SS officer Leopold Itz von Mildenstein and an official of the Zionist Federation named Kurt Tuchler. The purpose of the visit was to assess development in Zionist settlements. The following year in May, the official newspaper of the SS, Das Schwarze Korps, proclaimed its support for Zionism.

Reinhard Heydrich, the high-ranking Nazi official who notoriously presided over the Wansee Conference noted at this time in history that "As a National Socialist, I am a Zionist."

It was an unholy alliance that did not meet with unanimous support on both sides. There were vehement denunciations of the agreement within the Zionist movement and the wider Jewish community. In fact, one of its key instigators, Chaim Arlosoroff was assassinated on his return to Tel Aviv from negotiations in Germany. Hitler himself is said to have initially had misgivings about the agreement but later gave it his full backing in the two years preceding the war.

The agreement continued to be implemented until the outbreak of war in 1939.

Beevor recently voiced his concern over what he saw as an attempt to re-write the history of Britain via a revised GCSE syllabus in order as he put it "to bolster the morale of certain sections of the population, rather than a scrupulous attitude towards to facts." He is absolutely entitled to this view. However, in this matter his critique of Livingstone is not based on a full consideration of historical evidence. 

Indeed, it betrays the logic of his maxim relating to having a scrupulous attitude towards the facts.

Antony Beevor on Channel 4 News.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Prince (1958-2016)

Prince etching by Adeyinka Makinde (1985)

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Mystery of the Velodrome: Battling Siki Versus Georges Carpentier

George Carpentier Versus Battling Siki at the Buffalo Velodrome, Montrouge

The history of prizefighting is one that is replete with unending controversy. Were Jack Dempsey's gloves loaded with 'Plaster of Paris' during his world heavyweight title-winning bout against Jess Willard in 1919? Would Gene Tunney have beaten the count had Jack Dempsey not delayed in proceeding to a neutral corner during their world championship rematch in 1927? Did Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight champion, feign being knocked out by Jess Willard under the broiling Havana sun in 1915? And was Charles 'Sonny' Liston ordered to take a dive in his rematch with Muhammad Ali in 1965?

The latter two examples concern the more lurid-based sort of controversy, namely that of match-fixing: the dishonest predetermination of the result of a sporting event.

Boxing is of course not the only sport to have been subjected to rumours of fixes, many of which culminated in scrutiny by administrative and law enforcement officials. The most famous fix in history is arguable that of the 'Black Sox Scandal'; the 1919 Baseball World Series during which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of intentionally losing games to the Cincinnati Reds. Association Football has intermittently had its share of match fixing scandals as indeed has the gentleman's sport of cricket.

Sports are result based activities which garner the interest of betting syndicates, and it is the area of gambling which has often formed the subtext of match-fixing allegations. Yet, in the popular imagination boxing, with its famous associations with organised criminals, has seemingly always carried a reputation for this particular form of underhandedness. 

The story of corruption and the stage-managing of fights memorably received both literary and Hollywood treatment in Budd Schulberg's iconic work The Harder They Fall, the story of Toro Molina, an Argentinian farmer and former circus performer of limited pugilistic skill who rises to the heavyweight championship by illicit means. Using the life story of the Italian heavyweight Primo Carnera as its template, Schulberg laid bare the mechanics of skulduggery and human exploitation as practised by the bosses of organised crime aided by their lackeys in the industry including promoters and pressmen.

Many of the allegations of match-fixing in boxing remain bones of contention. Plagued by rumour and innuendo, they calcify over the years assuredly defying resolution in the manner of the proverbial riddle wrapped inside of an enigma.

Why they remain this way is not necessarily hard to fathom. If it is true to say that underworld figures frequently form the backdrop to such endeavours, then the threat of homicidal retribution for not carrying out the prefigured result or of blurting out the truth looms over the conspirators like a Sword of Damocles.


There are also the matters of legitimacy and reputation. While it may be argued that uncovering the occurrence of match-fixing may provide the basis of a re-validation of the sport in so far as its rigorous adherence to the ethics of probity and fair-play is concerned, the opposite just as surely applies. For confirmation of such a scandal would tend to provide the basis of an affirmation of the underhandedness for which the sport is often accused of being mired in; this alongside the frequent accostment of the inherent depravity of a sport that is predicated on inter-human violence.


The sport of course has it heroes and and one needs to be mindful of this in so far as scrutinizing match-fixing allegations pertaining to its prominent figures. There may be an element of denial especially where such allegations concern the succession to a title. Proof of match-fixing may thus have the wrenching effect of delegitimizing both sport and lauded practitioner.


The world light heavyweight championship bout fought between Georges Carpentier and Battling Siki in September of 1922 provides one such example of a typically hotly debated instance of match-fixing. But it comes with a twist of its own. While most aficionados and historians of the sport do not doubt that the eventual outcome -a victory by Siki- was not fixed, there is disagreement as to whether the fight was made on the basis of a fix; an arrangement from which one of the participants, the challenger Battling Siki, allegedly reneged.

George Carpentier, the reigning world champion was a French idol. A handsome, urbane figure who had served with distinction as an aviator during the First World War, he was the recipient of the Croix De Guerre and the Medaille Militaire. He had unsuccessfully challenged heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey the previous year in boxing's first million dollar gate.

Siki on the other hand was an African immigrant from the French colony of Senegal. Born in the port city of Saint-Louis, he had come to France as the charge of a French woman who later abandoned him. He took up boxing and fought at venues in locations such as Marsailles and Toulouse before the start of the Great War. During the war, he served in the French military and was present at various theatres including Gallipoli. Like Carpentier he also received the Croix De Guerre and the Medaille Militaire.

There the similarities between both men ended. Where Carpentier was the Gallic hero; an amiable and civil gentleman able to effortlessly transcend the brutal nature of his trade, Siki was often portrayed in stereotypically animalistic terms. His manager Charles Hellers once remarked that Siki was "a scientific ape"; adding, "Just imagine an ape that has learned to box and you have Battling Siki."

The bare details of the purported fix were as follows: Siki would be dropped once each in the first and second round before Carpentier finished him off in the fourth. In consideration for throwing the bout, Siki would receive Carpentier's purse of 200,000 Francs. Siki assented to the terms of the agreement on the condition that he would not get hurt.

The fight was scheduled for twenty rounds. In the inaugural round Siki temporarily dropped to his knee after a right hand thrown by Carpentier appeared to graze him. 

In the third, Carpentier threw a powerful blow with his right and dropped Siki. Siki was quick in getting up and in the sudden rush towards his opponent, Carpentier slipped from the momentum of throwing two left hooks, although he quickly recovered his stance. 

Carpentier continually measured his man with his left and unleashed a set of combination punches which caused Siki to lose control of his footing, bending at the knees although not descending to the canvas. Carpentier then chased after Siki until with the Senegalese trapped on the ropes, he unleashed a right hand which put Siki down.

Siki remained on one knee as the referee Henri Bernstein administered a count, but got up to exchange blows with Carpentier until both men fell into a clinch. After this, Siki began to show a willingness to come forward and pressure Carpentier. He unleashed a combination on Carpentier who sank to the canvas while Siki stood glaring at him before Bernstein pushed him back.

The fight resumed with each fighter seemingly wishing to tear the other's head off his shoulders: Siki with an array of short, brutish upper cuts, and Carpentier with a series of desperate right crosses. The round ended with Carpentier trudging back to his corner in a visibly bloodied state. It is claimed that he informed his seconds that he had broken the knuckles of his right hand.

The fourth began with Siki moving menacingly and determinedly towards Carpentier who willingly gave ground. Siki bullied him for some time before Carpentier unleashed a fusillade of punches in a desperate bid to end the bout. It failed, and Siki came back strongly against the champion who seemed as if he could barely stand at the end of the round.

Siki continued to dominate in the next round while Carpentier waned. Frustrated at the punishment he was receiving from Siki, Carpentier resorted to hurling racial epithets at his African opponent. At one point, he charged at Siki, head-butting his opponent to the canvas. Siki's protests came to nothing. Carpentier tried butting Siki while both were in a clinch and soon after charged him into a corner where Carpentier lost his footing. Siki's gesture of helping the champion back to his feet was rewarded with a swiftly delivered left hook to his unprotected face. The round ended with Siki complaining and walking towards Carpentier before his handlers dragged him back to his corner stool.

Siki pounced at Carpentier once the bell sounded for the sixth. He hit him with a series of hooks and uppercuts until he spun the bedraggled champion around. As he did this, Siki's left leg appeared to leave the ground, and whether by design or caused by the momentum, he apparently connected with either Carpentier's mid-section or his shin. Either way, Carpentier sunk to the canvas with his left leg perched on the lower ring rope. Bloodied and exhausted, his nose was broken and his right eye swollen shut.

Bernstein, who did not bother to issue a count, was quick to rule Carpentier the winner by way of Siki's disqualification. The crowd, outraged at this denouement, began to jeer, chanting "Siki is the winner" and "FIX! FIX!" Within the hour, the decision would be reversed and Battling Siki had succeeded in becoming the first African to win a world boxing title.

The question of a 'fix' dogged the fight from the moment Henri Bernstein had disqualified Siki and the reversal of the decision in Siki's favour did little to quell them. It had certainly been a strange fight. Rumours continued to bubble to the surface until Siki himself blew things into the open.

It happened after the federation declared Siki's title as forfeited after an incident which occurred during a bout in which Siki himself had worked as a second in the corner of another fighter. Siki is said to have entered the ring and struck the manager of the boxer his fighter was opposing. Siki made his complaint with the assistance of Blaise Diagne, the representative of Senegal in the French Chamber of Deputies.

It is useful to note that the modus operandi of a fixed-fight may take several forms. Crucially, both fighters do not have to be aware of the fix. For instance, James Napoli, a prominent figure of New York's Genovese family whose operations in illegal gambling intersected with his interests in the field of boxing had a particular technique centering on the compromising of ring officials.

'Jimmy Nap' would sort things out with a match official or two who needed relief from a gambling debt or who just needed an additional injection of cash. The thinking behind this was to favour an underdog who would be in a good position to get a win on points so long as he remained standing at the end of the bout. This was precisely the method used when Paddy DeMarco, a seven-to-one betting underdog, dethroned the lightweight champion Jimmy Carter by a surprise decision in 1954.

Napoli was also involved in another alleged fix in the 1969 world light heavyweight title bout between Bob Foster and Frankie DePaula. Federal Bureau of Investigation wiretaps suggested that DePaula had deliberately lost in the first round in order to secure a betting coup.

Perhaps the most famous dive was that taken by 'The Raging Bull', Jake LaMotta in a bout with Billy Fox who was under the charge of both Frankie Carbo and 'Blinky' Parlemo, the mafia figures who controlled boxing in the 1940s. LaMotta had been compelled to take this action in order to secure a challenge for the world middleweight championship.

In this case, Siki had reported that the conspirators in the endeavour were Georges Carpentier, Francois Descamps who was Carpentier's manager and Hellers. Referee Bernstein was also said to have been involved. Siki was alleging that both he and Carpentier had with the connivance of their managers effectively played a pantomime for a while.

An investigation conducted by a committee set up by the French Boxing Federation declared in January 1923 that it was "absolutely convinced that the match on September 24 (1922) was not preceded by an understanding the object of which was to arrange the events of the match and fix the result."

The federation based its findings on what it considered to be the discredited talk by a boxer named Georges Gaillard who later denied making them during his testimony. The committee also put a great deal of weight on the decision of Siki not to testify before it. The decision was, it announced, underscored by the use of deaf mute lip-reading experts who reported nothing incriminating in the words spoken by Descamps and Hellers which were captured on film of the bout.

Nonetheless, there are those who challenge the findings of the federation as a whitewash intended to preserve the reputation of the sport and some very important names in French boxing. The most compelling evidence of an intended fix which in the end did not materialise comes from Siki himself.

Siki's accusations were detailed and remained unchanged. He proclaimed the intended fix in the offices of the newspaper L'Auto while Heller was present. Heller, he admitted, had declared him capable of taking Carpentier only when others around. It was different when they were alone. He emphatically told him: "You told me to take a dive."

I avenge myself. They disqualified me by inventing lies. They deprived me of my living. I have a wife, I have a kid and me. I was too good to the French, and it is the French who have attacked me. I avenge myself, but I don't want to (do it) against you Hellers, and if they hadn't attacked me, I would have kept your secret.

Siki is then said to have gone on to recapitulate his allegations which his manager did not contradict but only argued over certain details.

The Italian Gazetta dello Sport purported to correct early impressions given in French newspapers of a fix in Siki's favour to that of a fix which had Carpentier scheduled to win by a knockout before Siki had abandoned the ruse. One manager and two trainers who frequented La Chop du Negre, a cafe favoured by the boxing crowd visited the offices of L'Echo des Sports to report on the proof they had of a fix but backtracked when called before the federation's inquiry.

For his part, Georges Carpentier flatly denied involvement in any enterprise to have the fight fixed. The investigating committee reported him as saying, "I never in my life faked a fight nor prolonged one for the sake of the moving pictures."

Part of the resistance to accepting the idea of an intended fix lies in the image of Carpentier as an upright gentleman soldier and pugilist. His image as a war hero had been sold to the American public by the promoter Tex Rickard, as a contrast to the 'draft dodger' reputation of heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.

The idol of France was in the public estimation beyond reproach. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that as co-promoter of the bout and the part owner of the Velodrome, he could afford to dispense with the winner's fee of 200,000 Francs in return for an easy workout against a dangerous opponent. Siki's story had Hellers conveying Descamps' deal as having Carpentier contenting himself with Siki's officially proposed share as well as with the receipt of newsreel royalties. If, as has frequently been believed, Carpentier failed to train properly for his bout with Siki, could the reason for this have been related not to overconfidence in his ability to take care of Siki, but to laxity on his part so far as the assurance that Siki would engage in a staged exercise?

When thirty years after Carpentier uttered the following words, it is unclear whether his bitterness emanated from a miscalculation of Siki based on his overconfidence or in Siki's 'betrayal' of the agreed course of action.

I've been beaten by Siki. I, Carpentier, have let myself be beaten by this nigger I could have stretched out at my feet....after one or two minutes of combat.

It is also worth emphasizing the damage to the name of Carpentier as well as to French boxing if Siki's version of events were accepted. Those who have watched the movie Paths of Glory a fictionalised account of a real incident during the First World War dealing with how the French High Command sacrificed soldiers in order to protect the reputation of the French army will appreciate the raison detre for such a cover up much in the manner that students of history know of the true story of Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army captain whose innocence of espionage was known to the authorities but regardless was allowed to rot in detention for years.

As with Dreyfus, it was not only a matter of preserving the honour of a French institution, but it was a question of not allowing a 'racial inferior' to expose corruption.

If Carpentier was attempting to protect his good image in a situation involving more than a whiff of scandalous behaviour it would not be the last. During the Second World War while the northern part of France was under Nazi occupation, Carpentier was involved with running a tavern alongside a known French collaborator. Situated opposite the grave of the 'Unknown French Soldier', the establishment was popular among the German interlopers. 

Carpentier's close associations with the occupiers did not make for good relations with the French resistance. In March of 1944, the Germans sponsored Carpentier's 50th birthday celebration with a special boxing exhibition. Later that year, an American press report referred to him as a "Nazi chattel".

There was perhaps something of an Albert Speer about him. After the war, Carpentier's denials of pro-German activities were effective enough to at least spare him the fate meted out to collaborators. His service during the First World War had likely played a part in this outcome.

But if he has largely escaped the taint of match-fixing allegations with Siki, the stench of being a pro-Nazi collaborator remained. Seven years after his death in 1975, Gerard Oury's film L'as des As was an obvious attempt at salvaging Carpentier's reputation. The heavily fictionalised account of Carpentier's life via an anti-Nazi protagonist named 'Georges Chevalier' played by the former amateur boxer turned film star Jean Paul Belmondo can be viewed as an attempt to sanitize a legacy tainted by evidence of collaboration with the occupying Nazis during the Second World War.

And of Siki? His career went downhill after his victory over Carpentier. Siki suffered for blurting out the attempted fix by effectively forfeiting his ability to earn a living fighting in France and the rest of Western Europe. He was banned from fighting in Britain by the Home Secretary Winston Churchill who based the decision on the potentially unsettling effect interracial contests could have on public order across the British empire.

After losing his world title to Mike McTigue in Ireland, Siki travelled to the United States where he lost to the light heavyweights Kid Norfolk and Paul Berlenbach. His life spiraled out of control with alcohol abuse and confrontations with the police. He was found shot to death in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York in December of 1925.

Siki's reputation suffered in death as it had in life. But the lopsided view of Siki as a 'child of the jungle' maladjusted to the pressures of living in a 'civilised' environment is changing. He has been the subject of a number of books in recent years where his life and boxing career have been subject to a higher standard of research and analysis. 

The exaggerated stories as well as the myths which for so long had been the staple of boxing wordsmiths have been corrected. For all his faults, Siki was a sensitive human being who contested the dehumanizing effects of racism in society. Unfailingly resplendent in his choice of attire, he was a cultured man who spoke a number of languages including French, Dutch and English. 


His life journey has even provided the inspiration for a jazz suite.


As a fighter, Siki will never be ranked among the great fighters in so far as technique and longevity are concerned. But while there is much to agree with the supposition that he was lucky to defeat a champion who was past his prime, there is also much evidence that he was mismanaged and his potential not maximized.


While Carpentier, a respected ring technician, ranks higher in the esteem of boxing historians for his accomplishments both as a middleweight and light heavyweight, there may be a tendency to diminish Siki's victory on the grounds that Carpentier was ageing and physically unprepared.


Carpentier had, after all, not yet reached his thirtieth birthday. His physical appearance, that of a lithe and well-proportioned boxer which was familiar to boxing audiences, betrayed no evidence of excess fat in his abdominal area. Moreover, he would go on to knock out Marcel Nilles the following year; a fighter against whom Siki had only been able to win on points. 'Styles make fights' goes an often used phrase in boxing and it is possible that Carpentier was unable to deal with the problems caused by Siki's 'awkward' approach in the ring. This includes the idea of combating Siki by fighting him 'inside'and hammering away as suggested by Jack Dempsey. Siki was able to effectively close the gap when Carpentier measured him with his left and he also hurt Carpentier when they locked horns 'inside'.


Any summation of Siki and Carpentier cannot fail to grasp the manner in which each man transcended the confines of the squared ring. Where Carpentier was a national icon of France, Siki was adopted by the likes of Ho Chi Minh as a symbol of the struggle against colonialism. Each man was a decorated war hero who achieved a series of 'firsts' in boxing.


It would be a remarkable feat for any fighter to have negotiated a career in the boxing world at the time they were active without having to compromise on what would be considered to as sound ethical standards. Whatever is the truth behind the mystery of the Velodrome, it should be clear that in the final analysis Battling Siki was no more the devil than Georges Carpentier was a saint.


(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of the books DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal (2005) and JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula (2010)

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

David Cameron and 'Unparliamentary' Language


I can't think of a more accurate appellation for David Cameron than 'Dodgy Dave'. 

While it is true that the antics and language used by MPs in the British Parliament may at times appear childish and comical, I don't think using the term 'dodgy' should be designated as 'unparliamentary' in nature if the speaker did not flag Cameron for referring to former shadow Chancellor Ed Balls a couple of years ago as a 'Turkey'. 

If the argument is that 'dodgy' implies dishonesty then 'turkey' suggests stupidity. 

The system in the United Kingdom is an adversarial one, and jibes have always been part and parcel of the give and take at Westminster. Presumably Dennis Skinner ought to have merely accused Mister 'Ca-Moron' of having been 'economical with the truth' of his tax affairs and off-shore dealings. 

And given how the prime minister had famously called out celebrities for being 'immoral' by avoiding taxes through the use of off shore havens, perhaps the term used by Skinner - the 'Beast of Bolsover'- should have been 'hypocrite'.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

America - Beyond Election 2016

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are both symptoms of dissatisfaction on the part of many of the American electorate about the political status quo.

I have recently argued in an essay of mine -with a focus on Trump rather than Sanders- that a victory by an outsider in the forthcoming United States Presidential Elections will change nothing.

The political system and its processes are run on the basis of favouring the ruling elite comprised of Wall Street and the large corporations.

This has maintained the unfair and frequently fraudulent culture in running the economy. It has also meant with the assistance of influential policymakers of the neoconservative stripe who are entrenched in layers of government that America has remained on the consistent but ultimately debilitating path of militarism.

In the meantime, broad segments of the American population will need to make assessments as to where their future political affinities will lie. This encompasses issues of race, gender and the default ideological bent of individuals.

To which party for instance will white working class males gravitate? Should black Americans continue to overwhelmingly support the Democrats? Will conservative-minded females for the most part only be minded to vote for a Republican nominee who is not named Donald Trump?

Some Americans, feeling that the respective establishments of Democrat and Republican parties will do all in their power to frustrate the candidatures of both Trump and Sanders, are already speaking in terms of protest votes against the preferred candidatures of Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. They speak of the primaries as affording a referendum of sorts on the future of the Republican Party. This would also seem to apply to the Democrats.

For it is that the schisms and fault lines apparent in both parties has the potential to create a political upheaval which may result in major voting realignments within the parties if not in their actual splintering.

How, it may be asked, can the Republican Party continue to accommodate a constituency of Tea Party-belonging working class whites alongside country club and boardroom oligarchs? The fracture in the Democrats is also apparent with a choice between the old-style socialism of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton who is clearly the candidate of Wall Street.

Both major parties pose as what they are not.

The Republican party cannot continue posing as the party of 'limited government', of 'fiscal responsibility' and 'Isolationist' foreign policy. The levels of public debt run up in the Reagan administration and which was brought to an extraordinary level during the tenure of George W. Bush are not consistent with 'fiscal responsibility'. And the interventionist streak begun by George W. Bush took the party away from its traditional isolationist position in an extreme manner.

The Democrat Party which through its recent leaders has made itself beholden to the interests of Wall Street and Corporate America, can no longer hold itself as the party for the working man.

It is clear that part of the solution to America's political morass concerns the need for a creation or at least a tangible 're-birth' of political parties which are clear and transparent in their respective ideological platforms and which serve the interests of the constituencies who have consistently voted for them.

What is also clear is the need for an overturning of the successive Supreme Court decisions which have turned over the control of the electoral process to an oligarchy which ensures that government has been manifestly for the one per cent and not the country as a whole.

The mechanism for instituting regulations on election spending would be that of a constitutional amendment.

America needs to take stock of the underlying reasons for its disastrous foreign policy stances since the ending of the Cold War. Here a reassessment of the prevailing Wolfowitz Doctrine which maintains that America must retain a global hegemony at any and all costs is called for.

The provocations of American proxies in Georgia and Ukraine as well as the expansion of NATO in defiance of an agreement between the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union have threatened to create a conflict with the nuclear armed Russian Federation.

Further, the hand of the United States in the destruction of Iraq, Libya and Syria bear testament to a ruthless and cynical policy to foreign nations completely at odds with the Jeffersonian ideal of the United States serving as an 'Empire of Liberty'.

The rise of Trump and Sanders has had the advantage of bringing to the fore a range of issues of critical importance for public scrutiny. The task is for the electorate to challenge itself to become better informed about the thinking of those in the political classes who rule them.

The general and widespread dissatisfaction with the system is shown through elements of congruence between Trump and Sanders, both of whom tap into an 'America First' feeling in regard to both foreign policy and free trade.

While certain criticisms of either man are understandable, in Trump's case of fostering racial divisions and in Sanders case, the concern that he may be an old school class warrior dressed in different clothing, others such as that offered by the influential political thinker Robert Kagan, highlight the subterfuge that is the calling card of those who are members of the neoconservative movement.

Kagan, who is apparently a Republican, went on record in February to say that he would prefer Hillary Clinton as president rather than Donald Trump. This rationale can only be related to Kagan's support for foreign interventions and unconditional support for the state of Israel.

While Clinton favours an aggressive foreign policy, Trump's expressions of favouring a rapprochement with Russia and of questioning American spending on NATO and aid to Israel has brought condemnation from neoconservatives.

The fact that Kagan's spouse, Victoria Nuland, was the principal deputy foreign policy adviser to former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and is now the head of the Eurasian section of the State Department under the incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama must give informed members of the American electorate some food for thought.

Nuland was of course the overseer of the 2014 coup which brought to power an ultra-nationalist government in Ukraine and fomented a state of strife between Kiev and the eastern region which persists to the present day.

The malevolent influence of those with a neoconservative agenda dates back to the era of Ronald Reagan during which period its adherents were involved in the Iran-Contra Scandal. Several were charged and indicted with federal offences only to be pardoned by the administration of George Bush the senior.

Their influence which rose during the tenure of Bill Clinton was at its highest during the administration of Bush the junior. As events in Libya, Syria and the Ukraine have shown, they are still a formidable presence on foreign policy in the Obama-era.

If the American public in its rumination on the causes of its flawed political process as well as its apparently bottomless national debt and seemingly endless foreign wars, can comprehend and grapple with the origins of the national malaise, then the controversial candidatures of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders will have served a supremely useful purpose.

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)


Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England