Friday, February 01, 2008

Surfing Along the Axis of Evil

The Canadian newsmagazine Maclean's has uncovered the web sites of the remaining members of the Axis of Evil and other sordid types. What Maclean's has found -- in an article entitled "Websites of Evil" -- turns out to be (from the perspective of the web site owners) unintentionally humorous.

Take North Korea, for instance:

If there was one country you'd expect not to have a website, it might be Kim Jong Il's so-called "Hermit Kingdom," North Korea. Then again, Kim could claim to have invented the Internet himself and it wouldn't look out of place at The "brief history" of dear leader's life runs 160 pages; his father's clocks in at 2,161. And the website has a shockingly liberal relationship with facts. For instance, the regional map provided acknowledges the significance of the 38th parallel, as does the "geography" page—but, in boasting 222,209,231 square kilometres of surface area, it seems to be claiming the entire peninsula for the revolution.

In the "business opportunities" section, visitors learn that North Korea "will become in the next years the most important hub for trading in North-East Asia." How will this be accomplished, considering the country's 85th-ranked GDP—149th, per capita? Thanks to the "lowest labour cost in Asia," a "very stable political system, without corruption," and the unbeatable convenience of dealing directly with the government and state-owned corporations. No middlemen!

You can see all this for yourself on one of the periodic tourist junkets organized by the Korean Friendship Association. Undoubtedly the slickest section of the website, it teases the adventuresome traveller with an idyllic panorama of Pyongyang, including a strangely blurred but nevertheless impressive view of the mammoth Ryugyong Hotel. You won't be staying there, however. Conceived as a little slice of Las Vegas on the Taedong River, complete with capitalist decadences like nightclubs, casinos and no fewer than seven rotating restaurants, it is best described nowadays as an empty 105-storey poured concrete shell with a giant crane marooned on top of it. It has been described as "the single most unsettling structure ever erected by the hand of man."

Then there is Iran -- you know, the place that has no homosexuals:
Thousands of miles west, but still along the Axis of Evil, you'll find Iran's surprisingly large English web infrastructure. Parts are almost charming. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's personal site, for example, includes a sample gallery of gifts he's received from visiting dignitaries both domestic and international. An unnamed lawmaker from the city of Neyshabor brought an ornamental pomegranate, while the Indian foreign minister favoured the President with a covered bowl. Both gifts are described as "inorganic."

Those with questions about their faith can send them directly to the Ayatollah [Khameni]...

"If somebody masturbates during the month of Ramadan but without any discharge, is his fasting invalidated?" another asks. Depends, says the Ayatollah. "If he do not intend masturbation and discharging semen and nothing is discharged, his fasting is correct. But, if he intends masturbation or he knows that he usually discharges semen by this process and semen really comes out, it is a ḥarām intentional breaking fasting."
I guess the Ayatollah Khameni is Iran's answer to "Ask Amy."

Maclean's correspondent Chris Selley looks elsewhere in the Middle East, and then to Latin America, but the results of its explorations are mixed:

The content at Hamas', likewise, is of the tenor one would expect from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The "comment" section includes a recent piece by Khalid Amayreh, who compares the Ukrainian Holodomor to what he believes is a looming genocide in Gaza. "Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, as well as the rest of the ruling class in Israel are more or less trying to emulate Lazar Kaganovitch and Genrich Grigorivic Yagoda, another Soviet Jewish mass murderer who probably killed or caused the death of more people than Hitler ever did," he writes. "We must mobilize … in order to prevent Israel from turning Gaza into another Auschwitz, another Treblinka, another Bergen Belsen, or another Theresienstadt. We must cross all the red lines if necessary."

Despite the freedom of information the Internet offers, however, some sites don't last. The various incarnations of Al Qaeda's web presence have disappeared. And the official website of the Colombian guerrilla organization FARC is also currently inoperative. By some accounts, the site was uncommonly slick for a terrorist organization; its content was certainly spirited. According to the Google cache, the final post, on December 20, called Colombian president Alvaro Uribe a Mafioso, a paramilitary, a buffoon, a vulgarian and a slanderous liar. But while Uribe might well have objected to this characterization, it's unlikely he was behind the website's demise. It was hosted, of all places, in Switzerland—proof, perhaps, that free speech is where you find it.

So the next time you're surfing the web late at night, be sure to leave a comment for Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I'm sure they'll appreciate the thought. You might even get a reply -- if black-hooded thugs knocking down your door at 3:00 a.m. is your idea of a reply.

No comments: