My take on a popular conspiracy theory:
Let me paint a provocative scenario for you – it was the Americans who shot down Flight MH17. This was a false-flag operation authorised by President Barack Obama. He did so through a clandestine order, and he kept all knowledge of it hidden from Congress. In Washington itself, fewer than 10 people knew about this plan, and all these individuals were firmly ensconced inside Obama’s inner circle. There would be no whistle-blowers; no leaks; no mistakes.
The timing for this false-flag op couldn’t be better. Obama had just visited Malaysia a couple of months back, and he had created a lot of positive buzz in the country. Who would ever suspect his true intentions? Certainly not the Malaysians who had lapped up his ‘hope and change’ rhetoric like eager beavers.
President Obama also had another good thing going – American legislation meant that the Central Intelligence Agency was answerable directly to him. This gave him the authority to bypass all the usual channels, and he could launch this op under the pretext of plausible deniability. Very good.
The paramilitary unit that Obama decided to turn to is known as the CIA’s Ground Branch. They are a subsection of Special Activities Division. This is the very same outfit that tracked Osama bin Laden down in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Highly trained and highly motivated, they would do their president’s bidding without question. A handpicked team was dispatched to Ukraine without preamble.
Obama suffered sleepless nights in the lead-up to the op. What if it was discovered? What would his legacy be? Might he be labelled a war criminal?
As it turned out, all that anxiety was premature. On that fateful Thursday, carrying out the actual op itself proved to be surprisingly easy. Ground Branch operators fluent in Russian commandeered a BUK missile launcher from the Ukrainians. They also dressed themselves in pro-Putin uniforms, complete with the requisite insignia. Then they casually drove their way into Russian-controlled territory, smoothly talking their way through checkpoint after checkpoint. False paperwork with false signatures were provided.
More than once, the Americans encountered GRU operatives. These were elite Russian spooks that had been sent by Moscow to support the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. They were trained in the black arts of counterintelligence. However, for some reason, the GRU operatives were off their game that day. Their operatives failed to see through the Americans’ conceit. Nor did they question why a BUK launcher was being driven into rebel-controlled territory from the loyalist side.
But no matter. The Americans praised God for this stroke of good luck and carried on with the operation. Soon enough, they took up position in an open field just as Flight MH17 was flying overhead. Through an encrypted wireless transmission, Obama got in touch with the leader of the Ground Branch team. After a moment’s hesitation, the president personally gave the order to execute. A single missile was launched. Flight MH17 was blown clear out of the sky, and as bodies and fragments rained down across the landscape, the Americans quickly disengaged and drove off.
Somehow, amidst the chaos and confusion, the separatists and their GRU handlers failed to detect that a BUK launcher was now threading its way back into loyalist territory. Despite the presence of numerous checkpoints, once again, the GRU – so famed for their iron discipline and superhuman powers of perception – missed the opportunity to intercept the American perpetrators. Yes, they were really, really off their game that day.
Later that day, with the BUK launcher firmly back on friendly territory, the Ground Branch began dismantling and destroying the hardware. They would be no proof. No blowback. All the world would know from this point on was that it was the Russians who had committed the atrocity. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, how likely is this scenario?
I asked a fellow author who had once served as a case officer with the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. His response was to throw his head back and laugh. He had very few good things to say about his former employer. The Agency, he observed, was a bumbling and incompetent organisation that got lucky from time to time. The tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden was a prime example of this. For the most part, though, the Agency is hampered by human frailty and bureaucratic stupidity.
Like any office, Agency employees love to gossip about the most petty of things. Whisper that a colleague is a transsexual, and before long, the whole office knows about it. Give it a bit more time and even family and friends on the outside will come to hear about the rumour. For that reason, it’s next to impossible to maintain a secret. A leak will happen, sooner or later.
Operationally, my friend also gave me a very public example of how the CIA has failed to live up to its image. In 2010, despite all the rumblings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the eruption of the Arab Spring caught their case officers and analysts by total surprise. They were genuinely blindsided by the event, and when American-backed dictators were toppled one after the other, the Agency was left scrambling to salvage the situation. Certainly not a good look for intelligence organisation that enjoys billions of dollars in funding.
The myth of CIA omnipotence and supremacy, it would seem, is just that – a myth. For many in the developing world, the CIA has become the convenient bogeyman for everything they hate about America. The torture that was undertaken at CIA black sites under the Bush administration solidified this perception. And, now, the CIA drone-strike programme under the Obama administration has only served to perpetuate it.
America, just like any other superpower, is guilty of misusing its authority and shedding innocent blood. But, frankly, whether you believe MH17 was a false-flag operation or not depends largely on whether you also believe that 9/11 was an inside job. Common sense would dictate that some things just don’t add up.
My article written from the Russian perspective:
There is a Russian proverb that goes like this: ‘With lies, you may go forward in the world, but you may never go back.’ This saying has always held a special appeal for me, mainly because it serves to illustrate the complexities of the Russian soul – it is defined, in equal terms, by melancholy, fatalism and a tragic sense of humour.
For the average Russian, being misunderstood by the outside world is all but inevitable. So they embrace it as their destiny, and with a nonchalant shrug, they march forward and pursue their goals anyway. They see little point in stopping to offer detailed explanations. They know no one will listen.
Nowhere was this development more clear than in 1946. This was when American diplomat George Kennan sent his famous Long Telegram from the US embassy in Moscow. He had observed, up close, what he believed to be a policy of aggressive Soviet expansionism. Russia had come to see itself at war with capitalism, and it was seeking to replace it with communism. This was why Russia had refused to support America in creating the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A clash of cultures was underway.
In 1947, Keenan examined the issue more formally in what became known as X Article. In it, he defined Russia as impervious to the logic of reason but highly sensitive to the logic of force. His recommendation to Washington was a strategy of containment in order to roll back Russian influence around the globe. The Truman administration, alarmed by Kennan’s views, began to adopt a militaristic stance towards Russia. This was a posture that would come to define the entirety of the Cold War.
The Russians, for their part, did not see themselves as aggressive. Nor did they perceive their foreign policy as unreasonable. After all, in their opinion, it was not the American-led forces that had won the Second World War. Rather, it was Mother Russia. In the battle against the Nazi juggernaut, the Russians had suffered more casualties than any other nation – over 20 million dead. The Americans, by comparison, had only suffered 400,000 deaths, which the Russians viewed as miniscule by comparison.
The Russians also believed that it wasn’t the dropping of the atomic bomb that had forced the Empire of Japan to surrender to the Allies. Rather, it was the actions of their Red Army, which had already swept through Manchuria and was poised to invade the Japanese homeland itself.
Anecdotal evidence appears to support this view. In 1918, the Russians had no qualms about executing their own royal family. In 1945, was it possible that they might do the same to the Japanese royals? It was a frightening thought for the Imperial household, and it was for this reason that the Japanese chose to surrender to the Americans instead. American occupation, while humiliating, would at least ensure the survival of the Chrysanthemum Throne and a continuation of the royal lineage.
In Russia’s eyes, they believed they had more than earned the right to be given a leading role in the post-war world. That meant being treated as an equal to America and being accorded a certain degree of prestige and respect.
Unfortunately, that hope did not come to fruition. From the beginning, simplistic stereotypes and racial prejudice poisoned relations between the two superpowers. In the eyes of many Western observers, Russia was and always would be a semi-Oriental nation of barbarians. Devious in character. Antagonistic in posture. Not to be trusted at all.
Now, with the fall of Communism and the breakup of the old Soviet Empire, many things have changed on the surface. In 1989, there were no millionaires in Russia. Today, thanks to the liberalisation of oil and gas, there are not only millionaires but billionaires. Flush with cash and self-confidence, Russian oligarchs are on the ascendency. They are now buying luxury mansions in far-off places like New Zealand. In a stunning role reversal, they have now become masters of the Western art of capitalism.
However, for all the glitz and glamour of modern capitalistic Russia, one thing has not changed. The Russians have never forgiven the West for not giving them ‘face’ when they craved it the most. In their heart of hearts, they rage against the perception that they have been bullied, belittled and sabotaged at every turn. This is the resentment they bear to this day, and this is why they have turned to Putin. Ultranationalism, for all its faults, has given them a sense of renewed pride. What we perceive as ruthless, they perceive as decisive. What we perceive as thuggish, they perceive as masculine.
Often, you don’t need to look far to witness this perspective in action. Just yesterday, on an online forum, I had a conversation with self-proclaimed Russian nationalist. He was angry at my suggestion that Putin had placed geopolitical interest ahead of human life. He said, ‘Why are you Malaysians complaining about the loss of 298 lives? We lost 20 million in the Great Patriotic War. 20 million! Try wrapping your mind around that. And yet, after all that sacrifice, we barely shed a tear. The fact that you Malaysians are kicking up such a fuss over it just shows that you are weaklings and slaves to the West.’
Blunt? Crass? Perhaps. But that sums up the Russian perspective today – a nostalgia for the dignity and respect that the old Soviet Empire once gave them. Yes, being misunderstood is inevitable. But given the choice between being a bad guy and being a nobody, modern Russia will choose to be the bad guy. At the very least, it gives them ‘face’ and offers them a platform in today’s world. Russia has sworn that it will not be treated as a child ever again. And if that means sacrificing 298 civilians in the name of a more muscular and assertive nation, then so be it.
My article on the origins of the Ukrainian crisis:
In the shadowy world of intelligence, there is an innocuous term known as ‘force drift’. It begins when an individual decides to carry out a small act of violence. He believes he is doing it for the greater good. He justifies it as morally necessary. Therefore, over the passage of time, it becomes easier and easier to rely on violence. In steady increments, he escalates his use of it. After all, logic dictates, if some force is good, then more force is even better. Eventually, the amount of violence will drift to ever dizzying levels. This individual is intoxicated by it. He loses his perspective. He loses control. Finally, the escalating force has become so great and terrible that it reaches a tipping point. It ends up becoming a Greek tragedy.
‘Force drift’ can be used to explain a myriad of atrocities that have happened in recent memory. The Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. The torture scandals out of Abu Ghraib. The Obama administration’s use of drone-strike programmes. In each and every case, innocent blood has been spilled, and it has happened simply because those who practise violence have been unable to control their spiralling addiction to it. They may claim that they are using force in the name of good. But, in the end, they only destroy whatever good it was that they originally claimed to defend.
Today, as Malaysians, the term ‘force drift’ will no doubt take on a more visceral and personal meaning. We can see it in relation to the crisis in Eastern Ukraine and the tragic shoot-down of Flight MH17. Prior to this incident, not many of us could have located this country on the map. Few of us spared their troubles much thought. But now, it seems, we are obsessed with Ukraine. Its geopolitical complexities have become inexorably linked with our own.
It’s important to understand how we got here. More importantly, it’s important to understand why.
The misfortune all started in November 2013. Back then, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych made a controversial decision. He announced to his people that he would ditch an agreement to foster closer ties between Ukraine and the European Union. In its place, he would push ahead with an alliance with Russia.
Most Ukrainians were stunned by this development. Ever since Yanukovych won the presidency in 2010, it was common knowledge that he had taken Russian money and had nursed Russian sympathies. But few, if any, expected him to so boldly go against the sentiments of Ukrainian citizens. For historical and practical reasons, most wanted closer ties with the West, not Russia, which they viewed as a threatening neighbour.
So Ukrainians rejected Yanukovych’s zero-sum game, and in a show of people power, they took the streets and expressed their fury. Alarmed, Yanukovych hastily passed security laws that made public assembly illegal. The protestors were ordered to cease and desist and return to their homes. This undemocratic law only inflamed the situation further, and the anti-Yanukovych movement gained momentum. Riots broke out. Government buildings were seized and occupied. Yanukovych had well and truly lost his grip on Ukraine.
Over in Moscow, Russian president Vladimir Putin had been paying close attention to the events unfolding rapidly in Kiev. In recent years, he had been growing steadily more disturbed by the encroachment of NATO and EU influence on Russian interests in the region. The wave of protests that threaten to unseat his ally in Kiev appeared to be yet another Western ploy to undermine Russia.
Convinced that he had to counter it, he made the decision to send Spetsnaz operatives into Ukraine. This would be a last-ditch attempt to prop up his ally, Yanukovych, and prevent Ukraine from sliding out of Russia’s grip and into the pro-Western sphere.
Putin’s operatives were steely and ruthless. These were battle-hardened men who had fought against the Muslims in Chechnya, committing genocide and rape with wild abandon. Their presence in Kiev would be a reflection of that. They had no qualms about using automatic weapons on civilians, gunning them down even as news cameras in Kiev captured the horrific footage.
A lesser people would have been cowed by such aggression. But the Ukrainians were staunch, and they would not stop braving Russian bullets until Viktor Yanukovych was toppled. By January 2014, their goal had been achieved. Yanukovych was finally forced to step down from power, and he fled into exile in Russia.
In the jubilant aftermath, when protestors stormed Yanukovych’s former official residence, they found half-destroyed documents. These were invoices and spreadsheets that indicated widespread corruption, as well as generous payoffs by shell corporations. Yanukovych, it would seem, had been Putin’s stooge for longer than anyone suspected.
At this juncture, the Ukrainian people deserved a happy ending. But, sadly, they would not get one. Even as a new transitional government took over in Kiev and promised reconciliation, Putin played hardball. His pride had been hurt, and worse still, his Western foes had just gained a new ally in Ukraine.
So Putin responded in the only way he knew how – he began massing troops on the Eastern Ukrainian border, where the Russian-speaking population had long expressed separatist sympathies. And then, in an odd reversal of what anti-Yanukovych protesters had done, it was the turn of pro-Putin mobs to seize government buildings in Crimea and declare the territory a part of Russia. A provocative referendum to officially break away from Ukraine was to follow, sparking international condemnation.
Meanwhile, paramilitary action grew in intensity, and soon enough, everything from helicopters to cargo planes were being blown out of the sky by the separatists. Having secured Crimea, Putin’s next move was to punish the Ukrainians for their insolence. He did so over and over again, increasing the tempo of the hostility.
As Malaysians, we paid scant attention to all this because the vast majority of the dead and wounded were Ukrainians. As far as the world was concerned, this was just an internal matter in another distant part of the world. It was certainly not a hot-button issue like, say, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore we treated the crisis as easily dismissed. Easily ignored.
But then MH17 happened, and it hit us all like a traumatic shockwave. Why now? Why us? Who did we ever offend in that part of the world?
There are no easy answers.
Ultimately, the tragedy of all this is that Vladimir Putin probably didn’t intend to shoot down Flight MH17. Chances are, he didn’t even issue the executive order to do so. Nonetheless, by giving his operatives free rein to disregard international law and wage a dirty war, he bears the burden of responsibility. He created the madness that almost certainly doomed the passengers aboard MH17.
Yes, this is ‘force drift’ at its most warped and cruel. So let there be no doubt: the missile that downed MH17 would never have been fired if Putin had respected his neighbour’s sovereignty to begin with.
Husbands. Wives. Fathers. Mothers. Sons. Daughters. I have no doubt that all of the people we have lost would still be alive today if there was no crisis in Eastern Ukraine.
My open letter on the recent tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has been making the rounds on sites such as Malaysia Kini.
I have reproduced it here in full:
When Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States, he had done so on the back of a campaign that promised hope and change. Among other things, he called for a ‘reset’ in relations with Russia. This would be the cornerstone of his new administration – a radical approach in ‘soft diplomacy’. One designed to defuse tensions with America’s former adversary and pave the way for warmer ties. This was a monumental undertaking, but with a young and vibrant president now in the White House, it looked like it might actually have a chance of succeeding.
In Geneva in March 2009, we witnessed what appeared to be an initial thawing in relations between America and Russia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and with the cameras of the world looking on, she presented him with a big red button made out of plastic. The word ‘reset’ was prominently stencilled on it, accompanied by a Russian translation. However, in an unfortunate gaffe – perhaps an omen of things to come – Clinton’s aides had messed up the Cyrillic words on the button. Instead of ‘perezagruzka’, which would have been the correct translation, the one that was used instead was ‘peregruzka’, which meant ‘overcharged’. It was an embarrassing mistake, but Lavrov appeared to be a good sport, laughing off the error.
Around the same time, President Obama noted that Vladimir Putin had recently stepped down as president of Russia, and in his place, Dmitri Medvedev had ascended to the highest office in the land. Like Obama, Medvedev was a former academic and of a similar age. Naturally enough, Obama perceived the new Russian president to be a transformational figure, and it was in that spirit that he wrote a secret letter and instructed a trusted aide to hand-deliver it to Moscow. In the letter, Obama expressed a willingness to make American concessions in return for Russian goodwill. In an age of wireless communication, this unorthodox approach was a throwback to simpler times. Nothing short of remarkable. In Malaysian culture, we might call this ‘giving face’.
In July 2009, Obama, encouraged by Medvedev’s optimistic reply, flew into Moscow for his first official visit to the nation. The two leaders met in congenial fashion. They seemed like a natural fit for each other. And a grinning Obama took the opportunity to solidify America’s commitment to a reset in relations with Russia. All in all, it looked like an unqualified triumph for hope and change. Not bad for a president who had been in office for barely six months.
Five years on, however, Obama’s Russian reset is in tatters, and the world we find ourselves in now is a far cry from that buoyant period. Since 2012, Vladimir Putin has regained presidential power, and he is currently pursuing an agenda of ultranationalist expansion. A former KGB officer in his youth, he has spent a lifetime perfecting the black arts of murder and intimidation.
As a result, Russia today has become a nightmarish country. It’s a place where free speech is crushed, political dissidents are assassinated, and government-sanctioned thugs roam the streets, attacking everyone from homosexuals to foreign students.
Putin has placed the whole of Russia under his iron will, and he is now driven to expand its influence abroad. Soft diplomacy is not what runs in this man’s veins. Rather, he craves the aggressive projection of power, Soviet-style. The invasion by proxy of Eastern Ukraine and the senseless shoot-down of Flight MH17 serves as a testament to his vision.
While the world mourns this horrific tragedy, President Obama, for his part, is looking increasingly haggard. Right-wing critics have savaged his attempt at soft diplomacy with Russia, calling it naïve and idealistic. They claim it never should have been attempted in the first place. The Russians, it would seem, have perceived Obama’s overtures as a sign of weakness, and they have since exploited it to the fullest.
In Malaysia, most of us have remained blissfully ignorant of the storm that’s been brewing for the past couple of years. Even as Putin’s brand of ultranationalist fervour has taken hold, we have chosen to invest in the Russian aerospace, oil and gas industries. We have sent our children to study the Russian health sciences. And even after the crisis in Ukraine erupted, our political leaders did not respond with a note of protest. No one had the gumption to call a spade a spade.
But now, like it or not, we have been drawn into Putin’s dysfunctional world order. It’s not what we asked for. It’s certainly not what we wanted. But innocent blood has been spilled; hundreds of civilians have been murdered with no warning. And to make the atrocity worse, Putin loyalists have interfered with the site of the crash, making a fair and transparent investigation all but impossible.
In this time of grief, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. With the failure of soft diplomacy, who will now bring Putin’s Russia into account? Who will choose to look at the crime instead of averting their eyes?
My latest newsletter:
Most people have never heard of Jeff Cooper. However, in self-defence circles, he is known as one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century.
A former United States Marine, he spent decades studying the psychology of danger. This inspired him to develop techniques that regular people could use to protect themselves.
Their effectiveness comes from their inherent simplicity. A good example of this is the Cooper Colour Code. It promotes a ‘combat mindset’ that helps you to establish your readiness at all times.
Here’s a rundown:
Condition White — you are unaware of your surroundings, and you are not prepared to react if danger strikes.
Condition Yellow — you are alert but relaxed, using your senses to scan your environment periodically.
Condition Orange — you have tensed up in response to a possible threat, and you are gearing up to take action.
Condition Red — you have decided that you are in mortal danger, and it’s time to go into fight-or-flight mode.
More often than not, most of us remain stuck in Condition White. We hear nothing. We see nothing. We slip into a complacent mindset and think, ‘It’ll never happen to me.’
However, ignorance is not bliss. Whether we like it or not, we live in an increasingly violent and turbulent world.
A good idea is to keep your default mode on Condition Yellow at all times. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t become yet another crime statistic.
Do you have questions? Comments? Perhaps you have a real-life story of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me by visiting my website.
Also, if you have missed previous editions of my newsletter, don’t worry. There are recaps available, and you can catch up on reading them by visiting my blog.
Until next time, stay aware and stay safe!
It had all the makings of a perfect storm — a Malaysian diplomat with military credentials allegedly assaulted and robbed a young woman in her Wellington home.
This should have been an open-and-shut case. However, under the Vienna Convention, the accused had the privilege of diplomatic immunity. This made it impossible for New Zealand authorities to try him under the local legal system unless Malaysia agreed to waive his immunity.
Under the Official Information Act, correspondence between both governments was subsequently released. It marked the beginning of an international faux pas.
This is the letter from New Zealand’s MFAT: http://static.stuff.co.nz/files/NZletter.docx
This is the response from Malaysia’s Wisma Putra: http://static.stuff.co.nz/files/Malaysialetter.pdf
Sure enough, the accused was flown back to Malaysia. That’s when a maelstrom of shock and anger erupted.
Like many others, I felt compelled to sound off on the incident. I wrote an open letter, which has been making the rounds on publications like The Malay Mail Online and The Malaysian Insider.
Here it is in full:
When the news first broke that a Malaysian diplomat had been accused of sexual assault in New Zealand, I was struck by that sharpest of emotions — shame. And soon enough, that shame deepened into disgust when official government correspondence was released. They appeared to show that diplomatic immunity had been used to sidestep a criminal conviction, and this was done at the expense of a young female victim.
This international incident has sent shockwaves through New Zealand society. Kiwis are famously known for their cheerful and unassuming nature. But, in this instance, they have grown increasingly vocal at what they perceive to be a miscarriage of justice. Anger has been directed primarily at the present National government for not pushing hard enough to prosecute the offender within New Zealand’s jurisdiction. Anger has also been directed at the Malaysian government for exploiting a loophole in the Vienna Convention that allowed them to fly the offender back to Malaysia.
To understand why this alleged crime has struck such a raw nerve with New Zealanders, you first have to understand this country’s history.
In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world offer women the right to vote. Then, in 2001, it became the only country in the world where the top positions of power were all held by women — Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Attorney General and Chief Justice.
The struggle for an egalitarian society occupies an almost mythic status in the New Zealand consciousness. People here are largely non-religious. Instead they follow common secular philosophy. They call it giving someone a ‘fair go’. It’s what every Kiwi child is expected to learn from a young age — no gender, no ethnicity, no dogma is allowed to supercede another. And the fight to advance women’s rights is placed on the same sacred pedestal as racial and marriage equality.
Little wonder, then, that New Zealanders should take this diplomatic incident as an affront to their values. It mocks over 120 years of liberal tradition. And this hurts all the more because Kiwis have traditionally held Malaysia in high regard. Malaysian restaurants are hugely popular here, and Malaysia Airlines has been a favoured carrier for Kiwis looking to travel to Asia.
Sadly, with the recent uptick in religious extremism, the catastrophic loss of MH370, and now this diplomatic faux pas, Malaysia’s reputation has now been called into question. There are now those whispering that this country is little more than a gangster state. A place where there’s no honesty; no integrity; no respect for women’s rights.
For the Malaysian community in New Zealand, this has placed us in the difficult position of having to act as apologists for the misdeeds of our bureaucrats. Rightly or wrongly, it now feels as if whatever age of innocence we once enjoyed is now long gone. ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ has become an ironic slogan for everything that’s wrong with the country of our birth.
For decades now, through times of war and peace, the New Zealand government has extended its hand of bilateral friendship. It has proven itself willing to give Malaysian citizens a fair go. We have come here as visitors, students and migrants, and throughout, Kiwis have been shown us nothing but warmth and generosity.
The onus now is on the Malaysian regime is prove that it is capable of reciprocating such friendship and goodwill. Only time will tell whether justice will be served fairly and impartially. The Malaysian community in New Zealand are hoping against hope that this will be the case.
As the controversy escalated, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim gave a phone interview to the New Zealand media. He suggested that Wisma Putra’s actions reeked of a cover-up. Red-faced, the Malaysian government had no choice but reverse their previous position. They waived diplomatic immunity and made arrangements to return the accused to New Zealand to stand trial.
Following this development, the New Zealand foreign minister and prime minister have both made public apologies. They have agreed that they should have fought harder to retain the accused within their jurisdiction.
For a country that prides itself as a beacon for women’s rights, this systemic failure comes across as a bad look for the National government. Worse still, it has hurt the young female victim and her family. For a moment there, it appeared as if the accused and his cohorts were actually going to get away with it.
A recap of my latest newsletter:
I had an interesting discussion with a friend just the other day. We were talking about the pervasiveness of violent crime and how the headlines seem to be getting uglier.
Are we living in an increasingly sick society? Are our public policies failing us? Are we on a downward slide to oblivion?
Surprisingly, my friend had a unique take on the situation. She doesn’t believe that criminals are mushrooming in number, nor does she believe that these criminals are becoming more violent than they were in previous decades.
Naturally, I expressed my scepticism at this. If criminals aren’t becoming more brazen, then why are we experiencing so much anxiety about crime? Why do we keep hearing about it? It can’t just be collective moral panic.
My friend rolled her eyes and put the blame squarely on the kind of society we live in today. We have become increasingly urbanised. Grown dependent on modern conveniences. And survival skills that were common only two or three generations ago have been lost. As a result, we have become less self-reliant and more naïve.
My friend recited a statistic to drive home her point. At the beginning of the 20th century, 90% of people were self-employed. They were farmers, artisans, craftsmen. Today that number has shrunk to 2%. We are now almost entirely a society of corporate rats and cubicle dwellers. Self-sufficiency, it seems, is no longer fashionable.
To make matters worse, our senses are no longer as sharp as they were in previous generations. My friend offered an example of this. In 1950, if a young man ventured outdoors for a walk, he would probably have the habit of pivoting his head from side to side, and his eyes would constantly be scanning his environment. Fast-forward to 2014, and that same man would probably be texting on his smartphone or listening to his iPod. He won’t see danger coming. He won’t even hear it.
My friend summed it up like this – it’s the number of victims that have soared rather than the number of criminals. Through a combination of ignorance, apathy and distraction, people are setting themselves up to be targets of opportunity. And unless that mindset changes, we won’t be seeing a drastic reduction in violent crime anytime soon.
While I have trouble wrapping my mind around some of the more controversial aspects of her theory, the gist of my friend’s argument is still sound. What separates a victim from a survivor is the mindset. And if you’re constantly studying your environment instead of squinting down at your smartphone, you’ll become a harder target for a criminal to strike at.
Prevention, as they say, is better than the cure. And making sure you don’t become a crime statistic is even better.
Do you have questions? Comments? Perhaps you have a real-life story of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me by visiting my website.
Until next time, stay aware and stay safe!
I have just sent out my very first newsletter.
For those of you who missed it, here’s a recap:
My name is John, and I’m a Malaysian author based in New Zealand.
You’re receiving this newsletter because you’ve previously shown an interest in my work. From time to time, I will be sending you updates on new book releases. However, for the most part, I will be using this newsletter as a platform to share my thoughts and insights on personal safety.
Today, I want to talk to you about an insidious crime: carjacking. It begins with the seizure of a vehicle from an unsuspecting victim, and it often progresses into kidnapping, rape and murder.
Have you ever thought about what you would do if you were confronted with such a scenario? Have you considered the possibilities? The outcomes?
Unfortunately, most of us are unprepared for such an emergency. We have never given it much thought. And an all-too-common refrain seems to be, ‘It’ll never happen to me.’
But all you need to do is open the newspaper and see how often carjackers strike. And each time a traumatised victim is interviewed, it’s almost a given that he or she will say, ‘I never thought it would happen to me.’
Unfortunately, Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives applies here: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong and at the worst possible moment.
The fact of the matter is that we live in an increasingly violent and uncertain world. Idealism and ignorance will only get you so far. And a failure to prepare often leads to a dire, perhaps fatal, outcome.
The vast majority of carjackings take place because of a lack of situational awareness. Do you enjoy listening to music on your iPod as you approach your parked vehicle? Perhaps you have a habit of texting on your smartphone?
If you’re distracted, you won’t be able to pay attention to your environment. Your senses are muddled. You’re failing to detect danger. And you’re setting yourself up to be an easy target.
So put those gadgets away. Keep your hands free. At all times, you should be aware of other vehicles that are parked around you. For example, if a man is just sitting in one, looking like he’s waiting for something, that’s a red flag.
Even if you don’t observe any suspicious characters, you should still keep your guard up. As you approach your vehicle, take the time to check around it. You can never be too careful. An offender may just be waiting to ambush you.
Always, always listen to your gut feeling. Your subconscious can often detect threats a lot quicker than your conscious mind can. And if you feel something is wrong, then it usually is.
Here’s a tip: most modern automobiles today are equipped with panic alarms. All you have to do is hit the panic button on your car remote, and the alarm will screech and wail. A less obvious feature is that the engine of your vehicle will also go into automatic lockdown. This makes it impossible to start the vehicle until the alarm is disabled.
Use these facts to your advantage. If a violent confrontation is imminent, you should hit the panic button, then throw your remote in one direction while you run in the other direction.
The goal here is to force your would-be attacker to choose: does he chase after you? Or does he go for the remote? Chances are, he will decide to go for the remote, and this buys you precious time to escape and summon help.
Good outcome. But have you actually tested the panic button out for yourself? Do you know the actual range of your car remote? 50 feet? More? Less?
It’s important to practise. During an actual confrontation, when fear floods your senses, you will lose fine motor control in your fingers. If you’re not prepared, you may end up frantically jabbing the LOCK or UNLOCK button instead. That’s bad. Very bad. Don’t let that be you.
An even bigger error is for you to have your car remote in your pocket when a confrontation occurs. Imagine: you are fumbling for it, but you can’t get it out fast enough. Again, that’s bad. Very bad. You should have your car remote ready in your hand before you find yourself in a tight spot.
Now, let’s move on to some everyday strategies that you can use to minimise your vulnerabilities and plug your blind spots.
These days, shopping malls regularly provide security escorts for their patrons. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for one if you’re feeling unsafe. After all, these people are there for your convenience.
Don’t underestimate how quickly danger can strike. A common carjacking tactic is for an offender to surprise a victim while he or she is occupied with loading groceries into a vehicle.
Bear in mind: passive reaction is always slower than preemptive action.
You should remain vigilant even when you’re out for leisure. These days, many hotels, restaurants and clubs offer valet parking. You should use them if the need arises.
If you’re going to a location popular with the public, parking close to the venue itself may prove difficult. Chances are, you will have to park at a considerable distance. Think about it: do you really want to be walking all the way to the venue and back at night?
Be smart about this. Use a valet. Don’t stinge just because you want to save a few dollars. Your life is worth much more.
Now, let’s consider on-road security. Are you safe while you are driving? Are you really? You shouldn’t be complacent. Many carjackings tend to happen in transit. This means you’re targeted while you’re commuting from one location to another.
A common trick is for a pair of offenders to ‘accidentally’ bump into your vehicle from behind. A fender bender like this is a red flag, especially if it happens in a dark or isolated area.
You should divert to a public area with good lighting before disembarking. However, if you have a bad feeling about the situation, lock your doors and call the police instead.
If you feel that aggression is imminent, you should simply drive off and head towards the nearest police station. Forget niceties. It’s better to be safe rather than sorry.
Finally, let’s assume that the worst has happened. All your precautions have failed. You’ve been carjacked. You’re now being forced to drive to a secondary location.
It’s time to take immediate action. Seek out a busy intersection. Crash into it. The goal here is twofold. One — you have just disabled your vehicle, disrupting your kidnapper’s plans. And two — you have just created a public spectacle.
Even if you happen to live in a country with an inattentive police force, a crash at an intersection is always an attention-grabber. It encourages a rapid response from bystanders, and that may well save your life.
Now, what if you are carjacked and forcibly locked in your own trunk? There’s good news: most modern automobiles have a safety release on the interior. Check if yours does, then take the time to practise with a friend. Make sure you understand how to work it in an emergency.
If you have an older vehicle that lacks a safety release, then make it a priority to have a tool like a crowbar handy. This way, you can pry open the trunk’s lid from the inside.
In addition, some automobiles have back seats that can fold down. This provides you with an escape route that you can use as a last resort.
Well, that’s it for now. Please take a moment to reflect on all the safety tips I’ve described above. Think about how you can make them work for you in your daily life. Consider making them habitual.
Do you have questions? Comments? Perhaps you have a real-life story of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me by visiting my website.
Until next time, stay aware and stay safe!
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