Asia Pacific Report 48
Bali in Perspective:
The War Against Radical Islam or Islamism


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    From Asia Pacific Report Number 48, 25th November 2002.

    THEME:
    This is a war against a network of revolutionary guerrilla movements and not just a collection of terrorist organisations.

    The following is an edited text of a speech delivered by APR editor, Frank Mount, to a number of groups in Melbourne between 13th and 20th November 2002.
    One such talk was co-hosted by Perspectives on World History and Current Events on the 16th of November 2002, under the title "Islamic Terrorism in Southeast Asia: The Al Qaeda Connection".
    1. WE ARE AT WAR
    The first thing that should be said is that Bali has shown, quite clearly, that we are at war. Furthermore, it is likely to be a long war and against an enemy far more capable than many people have realised.
    It is essential, therefore, that we know not only whom and what we are fighting, but what sort of war we are involved in. We need to understand the nature of the enemy attacking us and what his motivations, objectives, strategy and tactics are.
    The EssenceThis is not a war just against terrorism, or global terrorism generally or even Islamic terrorism in particular. It is a war against radical Islamism and a network of Islamist revolutionary guerrilla movements which have their motivation and origins in such totalitarian, puritanical and philistine ideologies and theologies as wahhabism and Deobandism. Their grand objective, However fanciful we know it to be, is to conquer the world, ridding it of all non-believers or infidels or kaffirs, including Islamic ones, who do not adhere to their totalitarian theocratic strictures and their intolerant version of Shariah Law. That is, they dream of ridding the world of us Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists, atheists, mystics, moderate Muslims and others either by converting us or killing us. Among other fantastic, messianic statements reminiscent of Hitler, Osama bin Laden has said that he wants to destroy the US and turn all Americans into Muslims. Their strategy is to fight revolutionary guerrilla warfare on a global battlefield, partly in the hope that we will break down and break apart while millions of Muslims convert to Islamism, overthrowing moderate Muslim regimes around the world. Ultimately, they can't win, perhaps not anywhere, but they can cause us a lot of damage and over many years.
    Before going on, I want to say something briefly about the development of wahhabism so that we might better understand al Qa'ida, its temper, its appeal and its aims. To this end I'd like to more or less quote what I wrote in Asia Pacific Report 37, a year ago in November 2001:
    "The form of radical Islamic thought behind the Taliban, al Qa'ida and most Islamist terrorist movements today is wahhabism. Its origins go back to the early eighteenth century and the so-called 'reformist', but in fact radical and intolerant teachings of Muhammad Ibn Abdul Ali-wahhab who had an idealised vision of a seventh century purified Islam which rejected modern science and, indeed, modernity in general. More importantly, it also carried a deep disgust of scholastic and speculative theology (Kalam) and philosophical thought in general. It was also anti-sufi and anti-latitudinarian, indeed totalitarian, with a view to returning to a one, true and unitary Islam to which all must adhere or thereby be called an apostate and consequently killed. In these totalitarian, theocratic beliefs politics is not only co-essential with religion but predominant. wahhab, himself, was declared a heretic shortly after he began preaching these beliefs, and was excommunicated by the traditional religious leaders of Medina and Mecca.
    Ibn Saud
    When the traditionalist Ottoman Empire fell after WWI, the head of the Saud Family, Ibn Saud, allied with and led the wahhabis (if he wasn't one himself), who were known as tough and savage warriors, in a takeover of the Arabian Peninsula (facilitated by the British, French and other major powers). Lawrence of Arabia fought hard at the post-war peace conferences to keep them out of power, that having always been his primary purpose.
    During the war he wrote: "The Wahabis, who pose as the reformers of Islam, with all the narrow minded bigotry of the puritan, and Ibn Saud as their chief, cannot express an opinion which is representative of the rest of Islam"1. He described them as "uncivilised" and warned that they constituted a "threat" to the "Holy Places". (For more on Lawrence, Ibn Saud and wahhabism see APR 40, 31st January 2002).
    1 Cairo Intelligence Bulletin, 10/2/1916.
    From Saudi Arabia, wahhabism has spread throughout the Muslim world while remaining very much a minority. Indeed, being a totalitarian ideology, it aims to expand even beyond that - hence Osama bin Laden's boast that he was working for the Islamisation of America. Some of our moderate Islamic sources in Indonesia and elsewhere describe wahhabism as the 'cancer within Islam'.
    The main vehicle for the international expansion of wahhabism, or Islamism as it is also called, has been the Muslim Brotherhood which was founded in Egypt in 1929. Today, it controls many terrorist organisations such as the Palestinian Hamas and numerous mosques in the United States, Europe and other parts of the Western world.
    Over the years Islamism has found fertile ground among resentful young souls such as Osama bin Laden, as well as rootless youth and alienated students in many developing countries because it provides an outlet for their anger (often over the historical fate of Islamic civilisation in the modern world), offers excitement and action and blames others for their sufferings while promising ideological certitude.
    Saudi Distrust of wahhabis
    Since the House of Saud took control of the Arabian Peninsula with the help of the wahhabis (and the major powers), it has both exploited and distrusted them. It has, for example, used the radical clerics to give its corrupt, materialistic regime Islamic credentials while turning domestic resentment and latent rebellion over economic failure into anti-Americanism through wahhabi mosques and madrasses and a controlled press. In return, wahhabis have been given positions in the government. At the same time, the regime has tried to push the actual terrorist organisations away, being afraid of wahhabi political ambitions and assassination squads - so, for example, it expelled Osama bin Laden from the country in 1992. The policy seems to be to tolerate and financially support some of the terrorist organisations providing they operate outside of Saudi Arabia. Some other middle eastern countries appear to be pursuing a similar approach.
    Bin Laden's Global NetworksNow in pursuit of their truly fantastic, grand global strategic objectives, Osama bin Laden and others have slowly built up over 25 years networks of Islamist revolutionary guerrilla movements, cells and support groups of various kinds wherever they could across the globe. Al Qa'ida did not arise just recently out of nothing! Over that 25 years, the Islamists have slowly taken over or created mosques and Islamic organisations throughout the world, including many in the US, Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and Malaysia, in preparation for the physical assault and war against these countries, their economies and societies.
    In the nineties alone, that is during just 10 of these 25 years, al Qa'ida is believed by American and other intelligence services, to have trained over 50,000 political cadre, guerrillas and terrorists in camps in Afghanistan alone. If this is right, the number trained everywhere and throughout the whole period would be many more than that. Recruits came from Muslim and other countries and regions around the world including America, Australia and Asia. And they are still going. Many of them have gained, and continue to gain, combat experience in Afghanistan, the Sudan, Chechnya, Mindanao, Bosnia and elsewhere.
    Viet CongLike all guerrilla movements, al Qa'ida and its associated networks constitute a small minority of any population in their operational areas. They work in small groups and fight, by definition, many small wars with whatever weapons and resources are at hand, preferably, as Mao emphasised, obtained from the enemy. They are like the Viet Cong.
    Their operational or in-field strategy and tactics involve concealment, deception and surprise terrorist and sabotage attacks, aimed at demoralising and paralysing the enemy's society and institutions, including its economic institutions. As a matter of course, therefore, they attack post offices, villages, trains, planes, schools, banks, restaurants, commercial centres and buildings and so on as well as police stations and military barracks. You might remember that Al Qai'da described the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center as an attack on America's economy. Indeed, they saw the WTC as a symbol of the whole Western and secular world's economic system.
    The fact that al Qa'ida is a political movement or force aimed - as Osama bin Laden has clearly said - at not only terrorising, but taking over and revolutionising the societies it attacks, undoubtedly makes it a revolutionary guerrilla movement - and as such, it trains political cadre who in turn recruit and proselytise among the people.
    Indeed, as Islamists, they are even more than that for Islamists, unlike other Muslims, are theocrats believing politics and religion to be co-essential. That, perhaps, might explain their frequent, and often seemingly senseless, attacks on Christian churches around Asia.
    In addition to the above, it should be noted that like all guerrilla organisations and movements the al Qa'ida network cooperates with criminals and criminal organisations. They support, exploit and work off each other. In fact, as we all know, al Qa'ida is itself a criminal organisation involved in all sorts of transnational crimes including drug running, money laundering, female slave trading and protection rackets. This is how it partly finances its global guerrilla operations. And, of course, it recruits criminals and cutthroats out of Western and other prisons, sometimes deliberately locating mosques for that purpose. Again, comparisons with the Viet Cong and Viet Minh are appropriate, for they too partly financed themselves, at least initially, through bank robberies and counterfeiting. As did the Bolsheviks and the Nazis. Ultimately, however, they all need the backing of sovereign power, which al Qa'ida had in Afghanistan and is now seeking elsewhere, while temporarily, and for the time being, adequately, managing on the partial support of a number of Middle Eastern states (the Viet Cong had North Vietnam, China and the USSR and Mao himself had the USSR.)
    Lawrence of ArabiaAnother important thing must be said about the nature of guerrilla movements if we are to understand al Qa'ida and Islamism, and a useful way of doing that is to quote Lawrence of Arabia when he described an effective guerrilla movement as:
    "an influence, an idea, a thing intangible, invulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a gas"
    What this means is that many, if not most, of the movements and organisations associated with al Qa'ida have no formal shape or structure. There is no chairman or president, secretary or committee. They easily change names and some of them have no names. There are no membership tickets. When Abu Bakar Bashir says that Jemaah Islamiyyah doesn't exist this might be what he means. But in fact they DO exist and they operate very effectively, especially in this age of the Internet, mobile telephones, international direct dialling and frequent and extensive jet transport.
    AmorphousI know this because I have been associated for over 35 years with democratic political movements of this kind in a number of Asian countries including Indonesia where the main concern from the outset - 35 years ago was radical Islam. While some of these amorphous groups have had no names, structures or official leaders, they have nevertheless been capable of doing many very effective things, including putting hundreds of demonstrators on to the streets of Asia at relatively short notice - thanks largely to the modern technology mentioned above - which of course al Qa'ida claims to despise but nevertheless uses a la Mao.
    By way of a footnote, I should say here that the last people in the world to understand, let alone fight, political and revolutionary guerrilla organisations of this kind are conventional soldiers, policemen and intelligence officers and bureaucrats of any kind.
    2. SOUTHEAST ASIA
    In Southeast Asia, the al Qa'ida network has infiltrated countless existing Muslim organisations and created many new ones. It has taken over or created mosques, pesantrens, madrasses, schools, political parties and armies. It has created or developed links with such organisations or groups as Abu Sayyaf and parts of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the southern Philippines; with the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) and its spin-offs in Southern Thailand; with the KMM, the more extremist parts of PAS and other bodies in Malaysia; and numerous organisations in Indonesia, the strategically key country, including Laskar Jihad, Laskar Jundullah, the Front for the Defenders of Islam (FPI), numerous political parties and, of course, Jemaah Islamiyyah. Jemaah Islamiyyah is, as we all now know, not just an Indonesian entity but a regional umbrella one having connections with all of the above mentioned organisations or parts of them - and more.
    Ali Moertopo(You might be interested to know that I first heard of Jemaah Islamiyyah and its leader Abu Bakar Bashir around 1977 from Ali Moertopo and his associates. In 1977, Moertopo had Bashir arrested, tried and jailed on the grounds that he was working for the overthrow of the secular, Pancasila state and its replacement by an Islamic State run in accordance with wahhabi Shariah law - that is, a Taliban-type state, which, of course is what all of these people are working for. If these people ever managed to take over Indonesia, John Howard, Phillip Ruddock and the rest of Australia would come to know what a wave of boat people really looked like!)
    Throughout Southeast Asia, these al Qa'ida connected organisations have been responsible for hundreds of terrorist attacks and Christian massacres across the region over many years - and they continue regularly today. (While acknowledging that not all Christians are innocent in these matters).
    In addition to these local organisations, a number of al Qa'ida's international terrorists have based themselves in Southeast Asia while plotting major terrorist operations abroad. For example, the 1993 WTC bombers worked out of Manila, planning at one stage to blow up 12 US airliners over the Pacific, while some of the September 11 terrorists worked out of Kuala Lumpur.
    It is important to appreciate that all of these terrorists, guerrillas and radical organisations are operating in an environment, or "guerrilla sea" if you like, in which thousands, and by now perhaps tens of thousands, of students and others have returned from the Middle East following months and often years of study in radicalised universities, madrasses and other educational institutions to take up jobs in government departments and educational bodies. And the flow continues. This is especially true of places and countries like Southern Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
    3. INDONESIA
    Before I say anything about the specifics and implications of the Bali Bombings, I'd like to make a number of brief points about Indonesia so that we can consider the bombings in an appropriate perspective.
    POINT ONE: Indonesia is NOT a Muslim majority country. If you don't understand that, you will never adequately understand Indonesian politics. In fact, you will make serious errors. The real Muslim population of Indonesia is about 40% and the radicals, who are not homogenous and, of course, not all terrorists, come to about 12% - which is still a considerable number of people. Official figures showing Muslims to be 85-95% of the population are the result of a statistical deception. This results from the requirement for all Indonesians to nominate a formal religion on their ID cards. Yet most Indonesians and certainly most Javanese belong to no formal religion - they are largely unorganised animists or mystics of one kind or another or nothing at all. But forced to nominate a religion on their ID cards they write Muslim because it is the most convenient. Election results bear these figures out. These people, these nominal Muslims, generally known as abangans, will not vote for a Muslim party.
    POINT TWO: The major issue in Indonesian politics is, and long has been, the conflict between moderate and radical Muslims for the soul of Islam and therefore, perhaps, control of the nation.
    (Again you might be interested to know that I learned both of these things - the two points I have just made - firstly from Ali Moertopo in the late 60's and then later, and perhaps more fully, from his Muslim friend Abdurrahman Wahid, the then leader of the 50 million strong Muslim organisation Nadhlatul Ulama (NU). In the late 60s I travelled around Indonesia with Moertopo at the time he was planning the restructuring of Indonesian political parties in a brave effort to take religion and ideology out of Indonesian politics. Another interesting, educative and colourful person I discussed many of these matters with in the late 60's and early 70's was the very capable and likeable liberal Muslim leader, Subchan Zainuri Echsan, who was then vice-chairman of Nadhlatul Ulama, and known to enjoy an occasional drink and the company of dancing girls.)
    SoehartoPOINT THREE: We should have a clear understanding of the principal reasons why Soeharto was removed from power and who removed him - because it is directly relevant to a lot of what we are talking about.
    Briefly, he was removed from power for two basic reasons: The first reason was his family's outrageous attempt, led by himself, to hijack the country economically by taking over its major enterprises, politically by taking over Golkar and the parliament, and in the end, militarily by taking over the major combat and intelligence units through son-in-law General Prabowo and the promotion of family-connected proxies. The second reason was his promotion of radical Muslims and their allies into positions of considerable power and influence in the government, the military, the parliament and other bodies so that they were gradually getting into a position of possibly being able to make a grab for power if the circumstances were right. This could be seen in his promotion of generals like Faisal Tanjung, Syarwan Hamid and Maulani and his removal of all Christians from the parliament, Golkar and leadership positions in the military and the government and, in many cases, their replacement by radical Muslims or their associates.
    Those who removed him, at the end of a ten year strategy to do so, were people from the same force in politics and the military that put him into power in 1966 - that is, the traditionally dominant secular nationalist faction of the military and its civilian associates, including key journalists, politicians and moderate Muslims such as Wahid. In 1966, this secular nationalist military group was led by people like Ali Moertopo, Sarwo Edhie, Kemal Idris and Soeharto himself. Then followed the Moerdani era and by 1998, it was still the retired Moerdani and his 'proteges' Wiranto, Gumelar, Yudhoyono and Hendropriyono, the last three being in the current Megawati cabinet.
    FragmentationPOINT FOUR: This concerns the nature of the Indonesian military or TNI.
    The TNI has always been a fragmented organisation broken, in effect, into various separate 'fiefdoms', for the want of a better term. There are economic and historical reasons for this - as there are for its many, varied business enterprises. The extent and nature of the 'fiefdoms' depend on who the particular generals and senior officers are at the time and where they have been posted. National command and control charts drawn up by Western academics are usually very misleading, to say the least. Force of personality, so to speak, counts for more than official structure. Generals and senior officers can act with a considerable degree of independence, even within divisions and 'units' such as Kopassus (Special Forces). There is inadequate effective central command and control and a general lack of discipline throughout. Hence the easy development of "rogue elements" pursuing their own agendas, some of which have come to be controlled by radical Muslim officers more than sympathetic to terrorist groups such as Laskar Jihad. Many of these radical Muslims were promoted by generals like the former Armed Forces Commander, Faisal Tanjung. Unfortunately, as a part of this, Faisal and his friends saw to it that radical Muslims took over parts of Kopassus during the 90s which until then had been solidly secular nationalist. (Again, I was taught about the nature of the TNI early on in the 60s by Ali Moertopo, who was not a soldier but a politician in uniform, and people like Harry Tjan Silalahi).
    4. THE BALI BOMBINGS
    Now, what can we say about the Bali Bombings themselves?
    When I first heard about the bombings - I was in Washington at the time dodging snipers - I thought that it would have to be Jemaah Islamiyyah, FPI or one of the other terrorist groups associated with al Qa'ida, because over the last four to five years, they have bombed or burned down numerous bars, discotheques, night clubs, massage parlours and churches in Jakarta and other places while massacring Christians in Maluku and Sulawesi, and "sweeping" international hotels in some cities in search of Americans and other Europeans to kill and for some of that time I was there. (Interestingly, most of the bars, night clubs and discotheques they have attacked, until Bali, have been patronised by Indonesians rather than foreigners. A feint? Are they that clever in setting up surprise?)
    Given what is now developing as a result of the very effective joint Indonesian, American, British, German and Australian police investigations there seems little reason to now think that anyone else was to blame. It seems to be becoming clear that this was an international al Qa'ida terrorist act involving planners and operatives based in a number of countries.
    TNICould there have been a TNI element involved? Yes, of course, if only because there are, or have been, radical Muslim TNI generals and senior officers. Could criminals and protection racketeers have been involved? Possibly. They could be radical Muslims too. But if not, and it was, let's say, just a local Balinese protection payback, it doesn't matter much, because, as I have pointed out, guerrilla and criminal forces co-operate, exploit and work off each other. In the end, the result is much the same for the revolutionary force attacking the established social order. However, every indication, with every passing day, is that it was my old mates Jemaah Islamiyyah and Abu Bakar Bashir, (I should point out that in the 70s and 80s I probably wrote more words on Bashir, Jemaah Islamiyyah, Usroh, Kommando Jihad, Darul Islam and other Islamic rebel groups in Indonesia and around Asia, including southern Thailand and Mindanao which I visited regularly, than almost any other westerner.)
    VictimsThe second point to be made about the bombings is that the principal victims are Megawati's secular government, the Indonesian democratic process, the island of Bali itself and then Australia and other westerners. As far as the leaders of Jemaah Islamiyyah and al Qa'ida are concerned, they want to destroy the secular Indonesian government and replace it with an Islamic state aligned with Islamists in the Middle East, which would drastically alter the balance of power in the South-west Pacific. They know that Vice President Hamzah Haz is sympathetic to them, if he is not one of them himself. We should expect serious terrorist acts in Indonesia and we should prepare for them in Australia. Assassination attempts and kidnappings should also be expected.
    5. WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN FOR AUSTRALIA?
    So, what does all this mean for Australia? It means a number of things, but I'll mention only two:
    FIRST, and as I have already suggested, it means we must appreciate that we are at war, that the enemy is Radical Islamism and that al Qa'ida and its associated forces, including Jemaah Islamiyyah, represent a totalitarian islamist revolutionary guarrilla movement operating on a global field and not just a collection of terrorist organisations. We are involved in not just a counter-terror war, but a counter revolutionary guerrilla war. This is extremely important because the two demand very different military and political responses.
    A revolutionary guerrilla movement has to be met both militarily and politically.
    In the military field, it means, of course, that we must seek to disarm and destroy these international guerrilla and terrorist forces and their supporting infrastructures, co-operating with police, intelligence, special forces, and other agencies in allied and neighbouring countries. It will involve both overt and covert operations and perhaps both large scale and silent gutter warfare. In doing this, we might discover that there are some rural counter insurgency techniques and concepts we learned in Vietnam and Malaya that could be adapted to the largely urban counter insurgency required to defeat al Qa'ida. We might, for example, consider a civilianised version of the South Vietnamese Police Field Force (PFF) developed by Ted Serong and his British Intelligence sidekick, Colonel Monty Rudolfo, both of whom understood that the ideal in this sort of political warfare was to convert the enemy guerrilla, not kill him.
    In the political field, we need to indirectly support moderate Islamic forces everywhere, encouraging them to play stronger political roles generally and to lead the war against extremism. Fortunately, in Indonesia and some other countries, the moderate Islamic leadership fully understands the nature of the problem.
    Australians, for their part, need to get into communion with moderate Muslims and others in Indonesia in order to show solidarity with them in their efforts to root out the Islamist guerrillas and their political infrastructures. The secular nationalists, including the many moderate Muslims among them, should be encouraged by reminding them, diplomatically, that Islam is a minority in Indonesia and that attacking the Islamists openly will not bring a politically significant reaction.
    Aid and TradeOn another level, Australia and other Western countries need to do a lot more to help Muslim states and developing nations in general find acceptable places in the world. While there is a great deal more that some of these countries can do to help themselves, they need more generous aid and trade from the West and encouragement to participate more easily in global political and economic processes like the World Trade Organisation where through free and fair trade arrangements and transfers of technology and know-how, they might advance towards their aims of prosperity with dignity and peace with freedom.
    Secondly, Australia has to do something to improve its humint foreign, and probably domestic, intelligence capabilities. Kim Beazley, the former Australian Defence Minister and Leader of the Opposition, recently said that in his experience this is the first time that America has known more about what is happening in Indonesia than Australia. This is not surprising. People associated with Asia Pacific Report have been told over twenty years, and even as recently as twelve months ago, by very senior members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Intelligence community, that radical Islam was not a serious issue in Southeast Asia and was irrelevant to Australia.
    In fact, between 1997 and 1999, Australian diplomats and intelligence officers in Jakarta and Canberra firmly believed that the future of Indonesia lay with the then Vice President Habibie and his radical Islamic mates. And they were making the appropriate adjustments to accommodate this, even to the extent, apparently, of directing visiting Australian businessmen seeking local partners to radical Islamic businessmen and providing temporary Australian residential visas to people claiming to be leading members of Jemaah Islamayyih in order to protect them from Indonesian authorities.
    Intelligence OperationsFurthermore, some of our best sources say that many of the problems we have encountered recently in Indonesia, East Timor, PNG, the Solomons, Fiji, Vanuatu and elsewhere, might not have arisen had our foreign intelligence operations had been better conceived and conducted over the last 30 years.
    We have paid a heavy price for this, and if the problems are not addressed, we will pay even heavier ones, not only in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, but right here in Australia and, in longer term, in respect of China, Japan and India.
    6. IRAQ
    I have said nothing about Iraq and should conclude by making a short comment on the subject.
    Some of our best intelligence sources in the Philippines, Indonesia, the US and Canada say that there is clear evidence of connections between Iraq - and particularly Iraqi Intelligence - and al Qa'ida in many parts of the world, including Southeast Asia. For example, they say that Ramzi Yousef, the man who organised the 1993 World Trade Center bombings from Manila, was in fact an Iraqi intelligence agent. And they claim that there is an almost constant stream of intelligence and financial support from Iraq to terrorists around the world.
    SaddamThey all believe that should Saddam obtain or build so-called Briefcase Portable Weapons of Mass Destruction, he will pass them on to al Qa'ida and other terrorist groups providing he feels that will advance his aim of taking control of the Arabian Peninsula.
    But just as important is this: The strategists and others say that if Saddam is removed, the whole situation in the Middle East will change, making it easier for the world to deal with, among other things, the Saudis and their problems with the wahhabis, Iran and Palestine.


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